Friday, June 24, 2005

Bill the Butcher's hood

I guess I'm an odd sort of fellow: I'm the guy on the subway planning my day of sightseeing with a copy of the Not For Tourists Guide to New York and a much more worn copy of The Gangs of New York.

After yesterday's trip to Hell's Kitchen, I decided today to find the remains of the Five Points, which was the center of criminal activity in New York for years. Charles Dickens, that old slummer, wrote about it and other period writers compaired it to London's Whitechapel district (home of Jack the Ripper, of course).

Much like the infamous Hell's Kitchen, the Five Points are gone. This time, literally: most of the five streets that came together to form the Five Points are history, and much of the area is taken up by the courthouse district. The remains as described in Gangs isn't even whole anymore, and what used to be the center of infamy in the city is now the corner of Worth and Baxter, along with part of the very pleasant Columbus Park.

I was feeling a little depressed about my inability to find any real criminal flava in New York (which, I should note, is very different from finding real criminals) when I heard a brass band playing a mournful song that sounded very similar to the funearal dirge from the beginning of The Godfather Part II. The East Side of Columbus park is a very sudden line between the courthouses and Chinatown, and I'd stumbled onto to an ornate Chinese funeral. I'm not suggesting that the person who died was a member of a Tong (does anyone know a place to find Chinatown news?), but the only funerals I'd ever seen like this one were in gangster movies. The brass band played, women wore long pieces of white fabric over their faces, and there was one of those half hearse/half El Camino things, the back filled with flowers and an ornate photo of the deceased.

So there I stood, in the epicenter of New York's bloody criminal past, watching a Chinese funeral with Godfather undertones when I realized I was just around the corner from the Bloody Angle in the Bowery, and I decided I like New York.

Later I went to the Strand bookstore, which has a pretty good true crime section. Another question: has no one written a true crime guidebook to New York? Because the Strand had a copy of 100 Places to Kiss in New York or some such twaddle, but no crime guidebooks. What's up with that?

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