John’s Cameo: Fine Italian Cuisine on “Boardwalk Empire”

Everything lasts once.  Each passing second is time’s own, occurring and ceasing to exist in the blink of an eye.  It is then difficult to truly recreate a moment which has long been passed in order to tell a story or, in greater retrospect, to piece together some viable truth in life.  Boardwalk Empire, however, does a pretty good job.

Based in the 1920s when Prohibition had just begun and organized crime was burgeoning across the United States, Boardwalk Empire receives most of its critical acclaim not only for its fantastic script but the thoroughness of its historical accuracy.  It is true that the story mostly surrounds fictional figures, yet the show incorporates potent portions of realities via historical moments and the real people which inhabited them.  Entertainer Eddie Cantor is a reoccurring character on the show as is then-future president Warren G. Harding.  Yet out of all these portrayals none can be seen as realistic as those included in the New York mafia.

Although mainly taking place in New Jersey, the show branches out to various locations where the mafia was heavily located.  One such place that would nearly be synonymous with organized crime is the city of New York, particularly in the city’s Lower East Side.  The area was highly populated by Jewish and Italian immigrants who, due to their low status both in their home countries and in the United States, conglomerated into a community where their own cultures and ways of life were persevered in the New World.  They formed religious centers which complied with their religion, had music halls which catered to their religions.  Most importantly, they had restaurants which churned out food that stirred nostalgia from home, bringing the community together over a hearty meal.  One such place located in the Lower East Side was John’s of 12th Street, an Italian restaurant opened by John Pucciatti and his wife that not only served traditional Southern Italian meals and illegal alcohol come the twenties, but who happened to be a particular favorite spot for New York gangsters Joe Masseria and Lucky Luciano, a past fact that Boardwalk Empire brings to life.

The show first introduces Lucky Luciano in its premiere season as one of Arnold Einstein’s, the notorious Jewish mob boss who fixed the world series, henchmen.  This is long before Luciano’s rise to fame in the thirties as the mob boss of New York, the mob boss that would eventually give structure to organized crime via the original Five Families.  The Luciano of Boardwalk Empire is young with a temper, frustrated with is underling status and ready to make the moves to the big time.  The show depicts Luciano’s trajectory to notoriety together with his partner, Meyer Lansky, another soon-to-be-infamous Jewish mobster, when they run a gambling establishment on Joe Masseria’s territory and subsequently kill both of Masseria’s nephews who murdered them to stop.  One scene which takes place on the show is that of Lansky and Luciano together with Masseria and Rothstein reaching a compromise for their actions as opposed to resorting to all-out turf warfare.  And what better place to do that the over some traditional Southern Italian dishes?

The scene which takes place at John’s is authentic not only because of the costuming and the antiquated accents which the characters put on, but because the interior of the restaurant has barely changed since these events in their actuality occurred.  In the background behind Masseria and Rothstein is the famous melting candle, which serves to be an anachronism due to the fact it was lit to symbolize Prohibition’s end.  Alas, this fact goes unnoticed for the show’s less-savvy viewers, and the scene plays out as Lanksy and Luciano hesitantly sit across from their superiors.  The restaurant is empty save a few patrons towards its entrance on 12th street, the name “John’s” scrawled backwards above Luciano’s head as he walks in.  Juxtaposed next to the clean linens and the hearth-like atmosphere of John’s itself, it is hard to imagine in the show or historically the nefarious events that took place there.  The place advertises itself based on the fact that such famous gangsters ate under its roof, and patrons now may relish in the historical settings and the significance these characters had to history as a whole.

But what many fail to remember over the antipasto is just how dirty and ruthless those men were, something the show does well to portray.  Rothstein, although calm and collected, must cater to both Masseria’s powerful status and Luciano’s temper, the both of them threatening to draw more blood and discussing the proceeds behind the newly burgeoning heroine trade.  Again, this all took place in a restaurant where people ate to be together, enjoying eachother’s company and camaraderie in a neighborhood they could call home.  Yet here they were, four men monopolizing an illegal business that would ultimately ruin unaccounted lives, a contradiction to what John’s was about.  But the true signifier of separation and alienation comes at the end of the scene.  Standing up as soon as the meeting is over, Masseria asks Luciano why he associates with “these Christ killers,” deeming it a sort of betrayal that Luciano would work with people not of his ethnicity.  This in a nutshell is why the mob was formed in the first place; one ethnicity felt unprotected by those around them, and thus stuck to their roots.  Luciano’s move to the Jewish mob was a move out of the Lower East Side home he knew and, ultimately, out of his Italian roots.  In that moment Luciano looks like a little boy who lost his parents: he’s lost and confused to his identity, but is all the more liberated by the fresh slate.  Twenty years later, the world would see just what he would write on it.

As soon as the past passes by, it is gone.  We of the future can only learn from it by texts and images that rarely do it justice.  Yet it is our duty to analyze these texts as best we can, and to assess just what we can gage from the actions of those that come before us.  Sometimes, even if its just one two-minute scene on a historical fiction show, the writing is on the walls.

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Ragtime: Real Fiction

Ragtime

   One of life’s eternal questions is this: does art imitate life, or does life imitate art?  From depictions of daily activities on cave walls to artistic representation in film, one cannot help but wonder whether these images merely capture life as it is or influence how it will be. The novel  Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow is no different.

Originally published in 1975, Ragtime was listed as one of the best English-language novel of the twentieth century and would eventually become a hit Broadway musical still on stage up to this day. Set from 1902 to 1917 , the novel could almost be read as a historical document originating from that time despite its being published nearly six decades after its premise.  For one thing, the realism behind the story stems from the juxtaposition between the two settings and the families which inhabit each:  the nouveau riche suburbanites living comfortably in New Rochelle and the impoverished Jewish immigrant struggling to raise a daughter in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

The story introduces the suburbanites first, solely referring to the main family via common nouns such as “Mother” and “Mother’s Younger Brother.”  Already in a way this enhances the story’s historical value, because as time progresses names are lost, the memory of people reduced to nameless photographs archived in museums.  Within the first paragraph of the story’s introduction there are some key historical facts that come into play and highlight the general themes of the story.  Not even three sentences in, the book reads, “patriotism was a reliable sentiment in the early  1900s.  Teddy Roosevelt was President. The population customarily gathered in great numbers either out of doors for parades, public concerts, fish fries, political picnics. social outings, or indoors in meeting halls, vaudeville theaters, operas, ballrooms…That was the style, that was the way people lived…There were no Negroes.  There were no immigrants” (Doctrow 2).  Already the cookie-cutter cleanness which allowed for the those who lived away from urban areas to make a comfortable living for themselves.

Yet, as with all eras, there are nefarious undertones.   With Father’s career as a bunting and flag  manufacturer and the statement about patriotism being a reliable sentiment, Doctrow highlights anti-immigrant sentiments that would come to legal fruition via the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Alien Act of 1918, both acts making citizenship and patriotism a must to avoid negative repercussions. Differentiation between social classes, particularly the wealthy lifestyles of those living outside the city, are also underhandedly addressed.  At one point the Little Boy mulls over his desire to see the immigrant performer Harry Houdini, whose “audiences were poor people–carriers, peddlers, policemen, children” (Doctrow 3).  Each a profession for the uneducated, each prevalent on the Lower East Side, far beyond the white walls of New Rochelle.  The family has their own proper past times to attend to, such as tennis, alienating them further from dirty street vaudeville, a street present through the depiction of Tateh and Little Girl.

The complete opposite of the previous family’s, the lifestyle of Tateh and his daughter depend heavily on the Jewish community on which they so rely on due to the lack of tolerance received anywhere else. Their urban habitat on the Lower East Side is dirty and land-based, the opposite of the liberating feeling and mobility the family’s nautical lifestyle on New Rochelle allows for.  It would make sense, then, that a people shunned from society due to their religion would then congregate together, as many Italians and Jews on the Lower East Side were wont to due.  Their societal status also impedes on their methods of making a living, forcing them to resort to either paltry sums (such as Tateh’s profession as a street silhouette cutter) or a life a crime, making it no wonder that the Mafia has roots in the Lower East Side.  Particularly, it allows for the upper crust of society to keep those of a lower status under their thumb, something which unfortunately happens to Tateh’s daughter, Little Girl.  A great beauty, Little Girl attracts the attention of a city socialite, whose frivolous ways eventually ruin the lives of Little Girl and her father, who, with their new introduction to wealth, find themselves more miserable than in their previous state.  This highlights the idea of the United States as a “melting pot” being rather modern idea.  Although Tateh and Little Girl live in the States and eventually reach a high economic status, they are still outsiders that were more comfortable living amongst people of their kind, not the cosmopolitan city folk or the rich suburbanites.

It is hard to discern between art and reality, life and depiction.  Perhaps in the end, they are mere reflections of the truth and must be taken with equal gravity.  The struggle of Tateh and Little Girl is not obsolete nor uncommon, and despite the book’s fictional story, one must take it as truth in order to allow true progress.

John’s Menu: Plain, Simple, and Speaking Volumes

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    Although change is necessary to progress, the stability and familiarity associated with consistency has the habit of giving people a peace of mind that cannot be found in updated technology or altered hemlines.  The past can help one ground oneself, giving people a means to relate to each other based in fond nostalgia through tradition.  Sometimes that tradition involves prayer or going to a particular area, and more likely than not that tradition involves food.
John’s of 12th Street is the full embodiment of food as tradition.  Hailed as the “East Village’s most authentic Italian restaurant” in the entirety of the East Village’s Italian restaurants, John’s menu has remained virtually unchanged since it opened its doors in 1908, despite the addition of its “vegetarian-friendly” platters.  The take-home menu is plain enough: cheap printer paper, white, with the John’s logo looming above the address, all in red.  “Free delivery, 7 days a week,” it claims, sounding very modern ad-man indeed.  But in its simplicity there are a few key features which stand out, features which reflect that John’s, despite the new-age vegetarianism and the selling component, hasn’t changed all that much from the century in which is was born.
For one thing, right beneath the address and the proudly-displayed birth date reads the subtext “Credit Cards Are Not Accepted.”  In an automated world were things are transferred through plastic cards, the concept of having to pay with paper cash has become absolutely alien and, as a consequence, antiquated.  Already this is reflective of the time from which John’s was established, where money in its physical form was what made the world go round.  Only a little over two decades after it was first built would John’s be surrounded by a world ultimately ruined by credit, only to watch the same thing happen decade after decade.  So, maybe with this in mind or maybe not, the restaurant has remained a strict “cash only” policy, letting people know by displaying it on its menus.  This only seems to add to its “no-nonsense” attitude, something which the gangsters which frequently sat at its tables were made of.   Again, this attitude is a reflection of the past, for people these days seem more willing to shamelessly compromise at the expense of their integrity rather than remain in a firm position.  The menu indicates this attitude right off the bat, and with that causes the initial appeal.
Yet it isn’t just the exhibition of a cash-only attitude which makes the menu at John’s so era-centric.  It is the repetition of the restaurant’s location and even the showy font branding the name which expresses one of the most prevalent needs in an era where creating a Facebook page was not an option: leaving a mark.  Before there were blogs there were uncharted territories, lands that could be named after those who set foot on them so their memory could live on long after they were gone.  John Pucciatti lived in a time when he was just another struggling Italian immigrant attempting to make a living on the Lower East Side.  Yet as opposed to going the ordinary route of working the factories or as a tailor, John decided to open a place that took pride in what was considered a belittling ethnicity.  He provided people with the alcohol when they could not obtain it anywhere else, and opened his doors to people others did not dare to look in the eye.  On top of it all, he put his name on it, displaying it in swooping pink neon right above the front door and pasting it all over the menu.  It is John’s of 12th Street, not on, granting the memory of John and the time he lived in an eternal ownership of a physical part of the city itself.  He conquered the territory and left his mark, letting people know through a simple leaflet of food that he’s here to stay.
Time may be of the essence, but the essence which defines a time is what gives the past its allure.  This allure creates nostalgia, and this is the true element which allows for places such as John’s to remain the same for over a hundred years.  It reminds people that there are more substantial ways for letting future generations know that one existed.  Sometimes all it takes is an opportune location, a mouth-watering menu, and a century’s worth of grumbling stomachs.

Night-Eating: Better in the Dark

 

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             Humans have always dealt with the fear of darkness, much in the same way every child fears a birthday party in which no one shows up.  There is something primitive in the anxiety that grows as shadows lengthen.  Yet darkness cloaks as much as it may stifle, and in a city where light lasts well after the sun has set, it may liberate or encourage practices that may not have the freedom to exist in daylight.
Keep in mind that not all such practices are bad.   As Joachim Schlör discusses in his essay “Night Walking,” “the street has been the theatre in which conflicts between order and disorder, between security and insecurity, morality and immorality have been played out.  In all those debates it was also the metaphorical place to which the images and ideas of freedom and control, the dissolution and demarcation of boundaries referred” (Schlör 235).  In other words, people at night are essentially freer to be themselves.  They can be drunk and get silly or be loud without the harsh daylight exhibiting them to the world, reveling in such ambiguity as the only night may allow.  This happens most prevalently in modern-day bars and clubs, as one must only walk a few blocks in the East Village on a Saturday night (or early morning) to see this. But throwing off your daylight best and donning your nightly shades is not reserved solely for the bacchanal youth. It can take place for anyone who suffers from the stress of the daylight hours, and one has to look no further than John’s Restaurant.
Located on  directly on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 12th street, John’s of 12th is home to the finest, home-cooked Italian cuisine. During the day, the spot is relatively silent; the restaurant isn’t even officially open until 4:00 pm, when the day starts to hint at ending, particularly during the winter. If one were to go to John’s during one of the off-hours, one would see this: an empty hall dotted with stiff tables, immaculately covered in white linen, not a soul to be seen within. In the back, the famous candle which was erected in celebration in the demolition of the 18th Amendment sits patiently, bland. In the light one would not think that John’s would be a very exciting if not welcoming place. Then again, the events which led to John’s on 12th’s fame could be said to have been founded in nightly activities, its most attractive hour being those after four o’clock.
The majority of the restaurant’s history stems from the fact that it was not only a speakeasy that sold and distilled illegal whiskey, but a favorite gathering ground for the most prominent (and soon-to-be infamous) New York gangsters of the time. It makes sense, then, that this lingering comfort in dark dealings left its mark on the restaurant’s appearance up until today. It’s “‘suivant les heures de la journéé ‘; [its] appearance and reputation change with the daylight hours” (Schlör 236). During the day couples who may not even know the establishment’s past (or, as is so typical of people walking in New York, realize its existence) still manage to walk in a prim fashion, aware of the tasks to be done and completed before the night takes its shift. Then, as soon as four o’clock starts and the doors open, the change begins.
There is something about the act of eating that has remained strictly communal throughout the millennia, and John’s restaurant embodies this perfectly. The once-empty tables are slowly filled, then emptied, then re-filled up until closing time with hungry people eager to eat a good meal and catch up with the people sitting around them. And eating dinner– the meal that takes place during the night– is far different from the meals of breakfast and lunch. People may make the claim that either are the most important meal of the day, but neither are as much fun or looked forward towards as dinner is. And the sheer extravagance that goes behind the planning of the ingredients, particularly the large plates of carbs and meats that John’s serves, along with slices of warm bread in wicker baskets. It is at night, during dinnertime, where people can reward themselves with a glass of wine and maybe even a late desert for working so hard during the morning, an energetic liveliness that is rarely found while eating cold breakfast cereal. John’s of 12th wakes up in the night, the old candle in the back flickering in delight as it watches patrons and decades pass through.
The fear of the night, such as the fear of most things, stems from ignorance and imagination. When a person experiences the night, lives on its streets, he or she may find it is not so riddled with crime and discord as previously thought. Sometimes there’s plates of chicken parmagiana ready to be eaten and glasses filled with wine to be drunk, all in the graces of good company and a very wise candle at the back of the room.

Lucky Luciano: Legend, Myth, Man

      From a young age human beings are taught a simple principal: the good will be rewarded, the bad will be punished.  From this doctrine, society and those within its restraints vie to be as goodly towards each other as they possibly can, all the while abiding by the law in the hopes that eventually, there promised reward will come.  Then comes along a man men such as Lucky Luciano, and the world is turned upside down.
Originally born in Sicily in the year 1897, Salvatore “Lucky” Lucania is a prime example as to how the bad and their actions are more often then not romanticized, even idolized, as opposed to vilified by the media.  At age ten, Salvatore and his family immigrated to the United States, settling in New York’s lower east side at 265th east 10th street in an apartment where the young Sicilian would remain for most of his life.  It was in New York where Lucky (now legally named “Charles Luciano”) quickly gained a reputation for being a bit of a hooligan, dropping out of school at fourteen and making a living through the newest up-and-coming drug on the market, heroin.  Yet the heroin business was merely Luciano dabbling.  From the Prohibition right up until his death in 1962, Luciano would not only commit such vile acts such as pimping and murder, but would also become known as the so-called “Father” of the organized crime model, instilling a continuation of these acts and the tragedies which surround them to this day.  Yet despite the deplorable lifestyle, the media image of Luciano remains a type of awe, a borderline admiration of someone whose gritty lifestyle and tough persona excuses their sins because they were willing to forget former childhood teachings and defy the law.
One may look no further than Luciano’s portrayal in HBO’s original series, Boardwalk Empire.  Despite it’s richness in violence and gratuitous sex, the show can’t but help to paint Luciano as a “cool” if not lovable ruffian who struggles to prove his self worth to a boss that constantly condescends him.  In an interview for the Atlanta premiere of the show’s second season, Vincent Piazza, who plays Luciano on the show, describes his character as “[seeing] himself more as a businessman, but he’s [Luciano’s] achieving his assets to get what he wants.” In a separate interview, Piazza describes Luciano as having a rough life at a young age, his time working in the sulfur mines in Sicily only to grow up in an unwelcoming new country “taking away most of his innocence at a young age.”  Similarly in an TIME magazine article, Luciano is described as having “downsized…restructured…and used Standard & Poor’s as much as Smith and Wesson to change forever the face of Organized Crime.”  The media’s opinion of Luciano, then, is of an underprivileged boy who grows up hardworking and ambitious, succeeding in rising above the odds.  This would resonate deeply in a country where hard work to achieve higher status is prized, explaining why Luciano and so many other criminals like him (think Bonnie and Clyde) are more folk heroes then felons.
Yet in their desire to relate to someone supposedly unshackled by society’s restricting boundaries, people tend to forget how exactly the means by which this type of success is achieved.  The TIME‘s article even attributes the term “gangster chic” to Luciano’s lifestyle, watering down Luciano’s life to nothing but fancy cigars and grand hotels.  Yet articles found in the New York Times archives dating back to the thirties speak of a different kind of Luciano.  Most likely due to the fact that time has a habit of dispelling former sins through colorful storytelling, the articles are more clear cut to Luciano’s criminality not only due to the stylistic requirement, but because living and seeing such acts committed is much different then simply hearing of them.  Reading his actions so starkly printed puts a grave reality of what monstrosities men can be capable of in their greed.  The shooting of pedestrians, one being an eight year-old girl in New York only for the weekend; the finagling of money; the bribing; the prostitution: countless lives were either directly or indirectly affected by this man, and not in a positive way.  By showing solely the glamorous side, modern-day portrayals place Luciano upon a pedestal as one who started from the bottom and reached the top by defying societal structures while ignoring what he really was: a ruthless and notoriously vicious criminal.
At the end of the day, people are drawn to drama.  The intrigue and the boundaries broken by criminals are enough to gain them fame if not admiration long after their dead.  But one must keep in mind just how they became famous, being wary that those that are so feared and abhorred today may be the next decade’s Lucky Luciano.

Sources
http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,989779,00.html

http://query.nytimes.com/search/sitesearch/?action=click&region=Masthead&pgtype=Homepage&module=SearchSubmit&contentCollection=Homepage&t=qry391#/lucky++luciano/since1851/articles/1/allauthors/oldest/

http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F50C10FD385D1A7A93CBA91783D85F468285F9

Assignment #3: John’s on 12th Street and the Italian Mob


The year is 1922; the time is 11:45 a.m.  On the southwest corner of 12th Street and 2nd Avenue in New York City, Agnes Egglineger, age eight, was playing outside with her grandfather when she was abruptly shot in the chest.  Three gunmen, possibly four, had rushed out of a local restaurant, not only seriously injuring the girl and an innocent street cleaner but also successfully murdering one of their intended targets, Umberto Valenti.  It was the second open gang-war that week, and only one in a series that would occur within that area of that time, for the restaurant to those who knew signified much more than a place where families could go and eat.

New York’s Lower East Side, the area in which John Pucciatti and his wife lived and where their restaurant would be opened, was heavily populated by Italians who had been continuously emigrating to the United  States since the 1870s from factors such as poverty and natural disasters.  Due to their general illiteracy and status as manual workers, Italians were (like so many immigrants before and after) heavily disregarded as true members of American society, sticking close to members of their own ethnicity in response.  Much like Jews, which had suffered from prejudice far longer in Manhattan than they had, Italians took matters into their own hands, forming their own laws that helped them counteract those lawmakers which refused to protect them.  John’s Restaurant and its surrounding area would become an enclave for such activity.

With the advent of the 18th Amendment, many men with keen eyes for business saw opportunity to get rich quick, albeit illegally.  It makes sense, then, for this prospect to be particularly pleasing to a struggling lower class with minimal social and educational mobility.  It would also make sense that, in such a heavily Italian-populated neighborhood as the Lower East Side,  John’s Italian Restaurant would become one of the more well-known speakeasies in the city.  The restaurant was opened in 1908 by John, an immigrant from a small village in Italy’s Umbrian region, and his wife to whom patrons affectionately deemed “Momma John.”  Seeing opportunity in the now unlawful liquor business, the two constructed a “hooch” still in the backyard where they concocted wine and whiskey to sell to patrons in the upstairs speakeasy.  It was here that those locals in search of a now illegal good time could go.  It was also here that some of the most notorious names of Mafia history came to discuss matters surrounding  the burgeoning organized crime  world, a world which was most notoriously created by Italians, a culture that remains to be synonymous with the word “mob.”

It was in the buildings surrounding job that some of the most notorious mobsters lived. At 265th East 10th Street, merely two blocks from John’s, lived Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Luciano would become known as the father of modern organized crime. Together with his Jewish partner, Meyer Lansky, Luciano would divide the New York City mafia into five different “families” headed by one unified Commission.  This, however, would not occur until the 1930s.  In 1922, when the shooting in front of John’s occurred, Luciano was one of the top men in Joe Masseria’s organization.  Masseria, growing up only five blocks away from John’s, became known as the “man who could dodge bullets” when he survived an attempted assassination with only two bullet holes in his hat.  It was Masseria that would arrange for a peace meeting at John’s Restaurant between himself, Umberto Valenti, and another former underworld boss named Peter Morello.  The only problem was, when Valenti and his men showed up at the restaurant, only Masseria’s men were present.  When it became apparent the “peace conference” was a setup, all men went for their guns and opened fire, Valenti managing to open fire from a hailed taxi cab before being shot dead himself.  It was rumored that Luciano was the one who fired the shot that ended Valenti’s life, the assassination earning Masseria a place as a head in Morello’s family, a spot that would eventually take him to the top.  Ironically, it would eventually be Luciano who killed Masseria in yet another restaurant, this time located on Coney Island, breaking bread with a man before allowing his own underlings to shoot him to death.  The Mafia would then break from its confines in the area surrounding John’s, spreading nationwide and making its mark in history as how a wronged people can, with the right opportunity, turn an entire country upside down.

Although the Italian mafia is gone and new immigrant  groups have emerged, John’s Restaurant still stands.  To signify the end of prohibition, a giant candelabra was placed in the back of the restaurant.  To this day the candles are lit, and to this day staff must tame the wax that drips over vintage wine bottles whose sale was once so eagerly and bloodily fought over, a grotesque reminder that eventually, after if filled with criminality and murder, life quickly empties out and leaves one eternally hollow.

Works Cited
http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F70F15FB355A1B7A93C0A81783D85F468285F9

http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=FB0B17FE34581B7A93C3A9178BD95F468285F9

http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F50C10FD385D1A7A93CBA91783D85F468285F9

http://gvshp.org/blog/2011/07/06/prohibition-revisits-the-east-village/

http://eastvillage.thelocal.nytimes.com/2012/03/27/gambling-drugs-and-shootouts-a-walking-tour-of-the-mob-in-the-neighborhood/

http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/10/21/idUS187218+21-Oct-2008+PRN20081021

http://www.nypl.org/sites/default/files/lowereastsideguide-final_0.pdf

http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/historyonline/italian_immigration.cfm

The Old New York: How the Big Apple Came from the Big Oyster

  Oyster on beach

  When looking to the past, one may more likely than not be able to deduce just how something or someone became what they are in the present.  History is a wealth of information that allows one to pinpoint which tinier factors led to bigger equations.  The colony of New Amsterdam and its history leading up to what it is today are no different.  
  The first Europeans to lay claim to the area were the Dutch.  Seeking to establish a banking system between the wealthy nations already settled throughout the New World, they instantly found the area of “New Amsterdam” to be opportune in both the centrality of its location and the natural resources at their disposal.  In their book Gotham: A History of New York to 1898, Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace illustrate in their first chapter how rich the land was in its “miraculous size and quantity and [the] variety of things” (Burrows and Wallace 1) that the land had.  This already indicates the future wealth the future-city would obtain, the “twelve-inch oysters…[that] crowded offshore waters” (Burrows and Wallace 4) eventually serving as New York’s original economic claim to fame  as the “Big Oyster”.  However, it was the people who settled there then the place itself that would help to attribute to New York’s stance in the future as a city open to those of political, ethnic, and ideological backgrounds.
  The original Amsterdam had made a name for itself as a haven for those not tolerated by the tyrannical Spanish government that was now in power.  The transfer of those ideals from Europe to America would eventually help to plant the seeds of future American ideals of democracy and the open-doors attitude the city is now famous for.  For one thing, the Dutch approached slavery much different then most other nations.   Not only had they come into the slave trade later than most, the Dutch also created a social stratum in which there were “free blacks.”  Although the word “free” may be a gross misrepresentation in that slaves were only given “half-freedoms”, the fact that the Dutch had recognized slavery as an immoral phenomenon as early as the 1600s was extremely progressive for that era.  In 1650, one Dutch settler by the name of Adriaten Van Der Donck illustrates the injustice of slavery in that the children of freed slaves are deemed in servitude despite the fact “it is contrary to the laws of every people that anyone born of a Christian mother should be a slave” (Empire City).
  Yet Van Der Donck brings up another interesting point in his discontent.  In his text, Van Der Donck makes the claim that the poor governmental structure set by the Dutch West India Company was the source of much disdain.   “It is bad government,” he states, “…that is the true and only foundation stone of the decay and ruin of New Netherlands” (Empire City).  Again, this mindset could be seen as extremely maverick for the time in which it was spoken in that colonial criticism of their governing countries  was generally unheard.  The statement could also be seen as a history yet-to-come, a history that involved a group of colonists rejecting sovereign rule and vying for freedom that would eventually lead to the United States of America.           
  Every event which occurs helps to shape the present and, consequently, the future.  Key aspects began to hint early on as to what kind of city Gotham would become.  Although not entirely perfect, certain financial foundations and ideological concepts began to piece themselves together to fit a bigger picture.  This picture would expand and diversify in such a way that it would form not only one of the most famous places in the world, but would help play a role in shaping one of the most influential and democratic nations to arise since the history first began.