Thursday, July 1, 2010

I Cover The Waterfront

Last night's Tenement Talk featured Nathan Ward speaking about his new book, Dark Harbor.. Kevin Baker, a special FOKV, lead the discussion. I highly recommend Ward's book. Though concentrating mostly on the west side docks as portrayed in On The Waterfront, Ward's story includes the east side docks that were so close to Knickerbocker Village and the fourth ward. Back in the 1930's-50's this area was largely influenced by Joseph "Socks" Lanza. I was going to ask a question about the rumor that the Normandie's 1943 sinking was actually the work of mobsters looking to subsequently gain a government alliance to offer sabotage protection. This was referred to in Joe Bruno's spoof of Fulton Fish Market history. However, this obnoxious guy asked first. Both Ward and panelist member T.J. English answered that the rumor was false. Below an excerpt from a review of the book from the nypost
Inside New York's 'Waterfront' mob, By GINGER ADAMS OTIS
In the decades surrounding World War II, corruption flowed as freely as oily water on the waterfronts of Red Hook, Jersey City and lower Manhattan.
Headed by charming “president-for-life” Joe Ryan, the International Longshoremen’s Association ran the piers, the mobs ruled the union, and both fed off the blue-collar dock hands who had no choice but to offer kickbacks so they would get jobs during “the shape,” the daily bruising line-up for work.
Until one oppressively hot night in 1951, when a socially progressive Jesuit priest named John M. Corridan crossed the Hudson River to the New Jersey docks. There, in the heart of Charlie “The Jew” Yanowsky’s mob territory on Labor Day, Corridan preached against the festering corruption that polluted the harbor.
“I suppose some people would smirk at the thought of Christ in the shape,” Corridan said, kicking off a sermon that would become known as “Christ on the Waterfront.”
His audience — a hardboiled bunch of union bosses and longshoremen who assembled at the local Knights of Columbus hall — stirred in their seats.
“It is about as absurd as the fact that He carried carpenter’s tools in His hands and earned His bread by the sweat of His brow. As absurd as the fact that Christ redeemed all men irrespective of their race, color, or station in life.”
Picture Christ burdened by “bread and butter and meat bills and rent” in the morning cattle call, Corridan urged the astounded dockhands, who’d never heard anyone make their distaste of the mob-run dock system so plain.
Jesus “stands in the shape knowing that all won’t get work, and maybe He won’t. He works on a certain pier. He knows that He is expected to be deaf, dumb and blind if He wants to work . . . Christ works on a pier, and His back aches because there are a fair number of ‘boys’ on the pier. They don’t work, but they have their rackets at which so many wink.
“You want to know what’s wrong with the waterfront? It’s love of a lousy buck, whether it’s one or a thousand or ten thousand,” he thundered. “God or no God, a man is going to get them in any way he can. In many ways, you can’t blame the mob.”
Corridan would be immortalized as Karl Malden’s crusading priest in Elia Kazan’s 1954 classic “On the Waterfront.” But long before Marlon Brando coulda been a contender, the corruption of New York City’s waterfront was real — and it took decades, journalist Nathan Ward explains in his riveting “Dark Harbor,” for a collection of brave informers and journalists to force authorities to make more than a token effort to clean it up.
To work on New York’s docks was to face death daily, if not from the potentially fatal work of hauling in cargo from waiting ships — which regularly cost longshoremen fingers, legs and arms — then from the dangers of running afoul of brutal mob enforcers and their union stooges.
Brutal mob bosses like “Socks” Lanza, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, Meyer Lansky and syndicate killers like Albert “Mad Hatter” Anastasia and his brother Anthony “Tough Tony” had infiltrated the lucrative dock unions and ruled with impunity.
Anastasia, like Lanza, was an Italian-born immigrant who arrived in New York with nothing and quickly found his home on the waterfront. Technically he worked for the ILA — but in reality he was a mob killer, with ties to many of the men who would eventually become leaders of New York’s “Five Families.”
PS, I wonder if any of the Fulton Street workers shown in the slide slow may have been neighborhood residents.

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