The Heroic Gangster: The Story of Monk Eastman, from the Streets of New York to the Battlefields of Europe and Back Paperback – 9 Jul 2013
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One of the things I looked for was his assessment of Eastman's ancestry. Until recently it was pretty much universally accepted that Eastman was a Jew born as Edward Ostermann. As Hanson explains, this is one of those myths that found its way into gangster lore. Hanson also managed to dig up a later photo of Eastman that takes us beyond the mug shot on the cover of his book, a photo that has been the only example of Eastman most people have seen. Beyond these findings, the book is a good read that is well organized, provides all the sources and includes an index and bibliography. Since Hanson covered all the bases there will be no book to surpass this one. This will be the definite work on Eastman, period.
A crime infested environment on New York's Lower East Side entrapped Eastman into a life of crime as it did for several others. Immigrants to New York were sad to see their children turn to a life of crime as a way of life. This section of the book really makes a mockery of the poem on the Statue of Liberty "Give me your tired and poor yearning to be free." The "tired and poor" were thrown into a garbage dump on the Lower East Side of New York making them wonder why they ever came to this country.
Despite not having received any medals for his bravery during World War I Monk Eastman distinguished himself in the eyes of his peers. He was several years older than the average soldier, and his "combat" in New York in the slums of New York actually worked to his benefit in adjusting to life in the army. A fellow doughboy was about to shoot a German soldier approximately fifteen years old when Eastman told him to take the boy as a prisoner of war instead.
With the conclusion of the Great War Eastman returned to New York just as Prohibition was about to take place. Following a drinking party Eastman was shot and killed under mysterious circumstances which still contains a number of unanswered questions.
I especially liked what the Reverend James Lockwood of a Methodist Church said at Eastman's funeral. In part he said, "It has been said there is so much bad in the best of us, so much good in the worst of us, that it does not become any of us to think harshly of the rest of us. That is one way of saying, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."
English historian Hanson has done a creditable job in finding Edward “Monk” Eastman, a notorious gang leader from New York City's Lower East Side. A man who lied about practically everything, Eastman operated from the 1890's through about 1907, when he began a ten-year sentence in Sing Sing Prison. By 1900, at the ripe old age of seventeen, he led a gang of some two thousand thugs, prostitutes and thieves. At his release from prison in 1917, political and neighborhood demographics had changed; Eastman was no longer protected nor trusted by either side and he joined the New York National Guard, lying about his age, saying that he was 39 when he was 42. Shipping out to France as a part of the 27th Infantry Division, Monk and his fellow New Yorkers saw heavy combat beginning in May, 1918, as the Allies began the assault on the Hindenburg Line and the final defeat of Germany that November. Although neither decorated nor promoted, Eastman distinguished himself in brutal combat, repeatedly risking his life to save his comrades. In their eyes, at least, he partly redeemed his nefarious past. Returning to an “honest” civilian life, he couldn't quite remain completely straight and was murdered by person or persons unknown in 1920.
Neil Hanson paints a decidedly ugly portrait of New York City's Lower East Side – one that is undoubtedly true – comparing it unfavorably to Dickens' London: the Lower East Side was dirtier, scarier and more crowded with downtrodden humanity than practically anywhere else on the planet. Hanson's impeccable research reveals Eastman to have come from a respectable New York family of English extraction, not Irish or Jewish as every other writer has made him. Also, a life of crime was something he chose.
This is a biography and an excellent history of the time period.