Roaring into the new 20’s
This one is a bit off tangent, and a long one so boil the kettle, but I hope you find it a little interesting at least. Thanks for indulging me.
I recently had occasion to do some research into a figure, and during the course of that research, it wasn’t so much the chap himself that grabbed my attention but the era he lived in, which I’m now convinced is very under-rated having read up on it.
Whilst many would easily and automatically answer the sixties if asked which decade contributed the most to the modern world, I’m not so sure I could agree.
As we do anything but roar into the 2020’s, mingling privileges withdrawn and the future more uncertain than ever, looking back at this time a century ago the roaring twenties seem more and more like one hell of a decade, perhaps the biggest yet.
The decade to be there imo.
There would have been a feelgood factor around the planet heading into the 20’s with the great war having ended seemingly successfully, the Titanic tragedy being slowly forgotten, and of course Ireland had emerged from what must have felt like a never ending circle of violence with a new free nation, Eire, and a not so free province to the north.
All would have seemed well in the world at the turn of the decade, with technological advances being made, a new sound and dress style, super stylish cars far more crafted than today’s cookie cutter dispatches, the sight of Zeppelins gliding so effortlessly above, cries of ‘Extra Extra’ on every corner, and the new craze the cinema becoming a global. That’s only the start.
As far as the beautiful game goes Belfast Celtic had a more successful decade than its Glasgow counterpart even though it was banned from playing for a few years, securing a very impressive 4 in a row. The club’s darling was “Blind” Sammy Curran, blind because he only had eyes for the goal, lol. He must have been prolific to earn that nickname, and perhaps it was cemented by the winning goal for Ireland against Scotland in Glasgow or maybe a brace in a 4-2 Easter Monday friendly win over the Glasgow Hoops, no doubt all fans watching their backs from the notorious Billy Boys who were in operation back then.
In the East End there are three characters primarily associated with the club during this decade. It was to be Willie Maley’s last full decade in charge, and he was generally considered to be fading after a glorious spell before that had culminated in his own four in a row.
Still he found the prodigious James Mc Grory who although, missing the first four years, was the main man up front for the remaining six and famously caught Arsenal’s eye in the process. He refused to go, of course. But the decade will always be tinged with sadness also for Tims as we lost two great Celts way way before their time. Regular readers will recall the tragic tale of Peter Scarff on here who heartachingly asked ‘I wonder if they will miss me’ of the crowd before passing away from tuberculosis.
But it was the death of ‘The Prince of Goalkeepers’ John Thompson that was said to have hit the conservative Maley, plus the fans, extremely hard. RIP Peter and John. They can at least be assured that a hundred years later they are far from forgotten.
As far as sports go though football remained localised without a global competition however America’s favourite pastime Baseball had exploded in popularity particularly among the working class, and this despite the fixing by Arnold Rothstein and subsequent court case revolving around the 1919 World Series. Much of this can be laid at the feet of the main player of that decade and any since such was his impact, one certain Babe Ruth. He won 7 World Series in 15 years with the Yankee’s, an incredible feat and he also led the infamous batting lineup of ‘27 known ‘Murderers Row’.
It would be fair to say I believe that although very talented , not all his news was good news. In ‘22 his actions were sufficient enough to be asked to sign a Morals Clause, seen as an effort to curb his excessive drinking.
The twenties was also the founding decade of the National Football League, which would grow into the advertising behemoth we see today culminating in The Pepsi HalfTime Show during every Superbowl, but the one sport that could rival baseball in the popularity stakes was the Gentleman’s Sport, boxing.
Having spawned race riots in the teens after ‘The Great White Hope’ failed to best the hated champion, but during this decade the sport had been held enthralled by its newest revelation , the Manassa Mauler Jack Dempsey. His aggressive fighting style and devastating power from either hand made him extremely popular to the public and a testament to that was the fact his bar restaurant on Broadway existed for many years, closing only in ‘77.
Chances are in the twenties you would have been reading stories of a different kind regarding a well known boxer. Mike Tyson has taught us all that pugilists are far from perfect human beings, but this chap could have taught Iron Mike a thing or two about just how much a man can go off the rails despite the supposed discipline that accompanied his prior profession..
Married an incredible ten times, yes 10, the chap had already shown his resolve by fighting numerous times for the light heavyweight title despite being only 160lbs and standing 5’11.
But that was during the previous decade, and now this fighter had gone off the rails and was down and out with nothing seemingly beyond limits. And this despite the fact his movie star friends had given him roles and Hollywood opportunities which makes it all the more tragic.
His fate was sealed after his girlfriend was shot and killed in her apartment while they were alone, and the next morning the disheveled fellow robbed 18 men, shooting one of them.
This trial was just one of many that would have captivated the public imagination and helped those broadsheets fly off the shelves during those ten years, perhaps the greatest ever for that industry with the amount of newsworthy characters having emerged in a new and prosperous world.
‘Kid’ Mc Coy tragically committed suicide in 1940 having served time in San Quentin for that murder, deemed manslaughter at the time.
He is accredited by some as being the source of ‘The Real Mc Coy’.
One of Kid’s movie star friends is probably the first film icon, and he famously came second in his own look-a-like competition which if you don’t find funny, check yer pulse.
One glimpse at that face and you know Charlie Chaplin immediately, and with cinema’s screening non stop offering cheap easy access, the world had found the man who would keep those isles full. With sound not being available yet, a vast range of facial expressions with accompanying body language were the tools of the trade, Charlie excelled at both.
I’ve visited one of his hang out haunts, Hearst Castle here in California, and stood on gold plated floors in huge guest rooms that had central heating despite being built in the twenties,,featuring three types of swimming pool plus a private zoo. At a cost of 700million in today’s money, one would expect groundbreaking luxuries which they are, but that amount of opulence could have drawbacks such as the infamous Patty Hearst kidnapping by the left wing Symbionese Liberation Army, who managed to turn her in captivity in what might be described as a clear case of Stockholm syndrome, before she went on to perform numerous serious crimes with the group after her kidnapping and ransom attempt. The ransom by the way was a demand that the group give every needy family in California 70dollars worth of groceries, a move estimated to cost around 400 million in today’s money. They got two million dollars worth of food immediately but still refused to release her.
She stayed with the group and got 35 years of which seven were served, and she attends dog shows today here in California of which she has won several.
How could someone afford 700 million on a crib you might ask?
Well it’s one hell of a pad as you can imagine, but youre right it is an obscene amount of money for the holiday home which was referred to as Zanadu. But they made their money through publishing, in the main newspapers. As mentioned this was the golden era imo for the newspaper. A kid on every corner with stacks in front of him, just drop a nickel down (5p) and grab your not very thick but info packed couple of sheets. The Pulitzer prize began in 1917 upon the death of Joseph Pulitzer who had also made his fortune in newspapers, and in order to not only leave a most noble legacy but also to drive his beloved profession onwards and upwards created a prize in yearly prize in 21 different categories of journalism, which is seen as the Holy Grail in that field.
Im afraid Joe probably wouldn’t like what he sees today, but don’t worry we try hard six days a week Joe to stick a nail in their coffin and give the masses ad free and spin free food for thought.
The pen is and always will be mightier than the sword my friend in ink.
There was little shortage of stories during that hallowed decade, and I’m not talking Scottish press style spin, so perhaps that’s why the newspaper industry could create multi mega millionaires. This was before television in the home remember, so if a fellow wasn’t getting home until the evening say, he might grab all three editions of the daily news to keep up to date, as a man would in the ever changing world. As already mentioned there were numerous trials emanating from the sports world to capture the public’s imaginations. That was just the sports world though.
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In the real world there was plenty going on to fill those columns.
In India Mahatma Gandhi was, in his own non violent way, fomenting his fellow Indians to reject any further British rule after they had stepped up and helped their oppressor empire in its time of need. That fomenting would ultimately prove successful and India would get its freedom and be left to its own devices, although it tragically cost Gandhi his life.
Melbourne was undergoing something of a growth spurt which had gave rise to slums and to combat this the coppers formed a group called the Terrible Tens, who basically acted outwith the law and applied their own methods to keep the populace in order.
The Mexican revolution had just ended which resulted in a large population migration to its northern neighbour, while Italy seen fascists refuse to accept a newly elected left wing government by storming the building and killing nine of them, this movement would eventually help see Il Duce Mussolini rise to power with significant consequences for the nation.
However in the big cities of the USA this was the era of the celebrity gangster, which gave those broadsheets news aplenty day in day out in a country that had exploded in wealth and prosperity, welcoming immigrant after immigrant who was not wise to the modern trickster.
Now there was many a trickster out there, but I doubt there was or ever will be another with as much ingenuity and gallus as a certain Victor Lustig.
This chap was a pure career criminal who had the necessary poise and gallus to pull off some of history’s most infamous cons. He sold the Eiffel Tower for scrap twice, which when one thinks about it must have taken incredible character building and confidence.
The US treasury department was so worried about the quality of his fake hundred dollar bills they felt if he made a large run of them the entire economy was at risk, they even fooled bank clerks with their attention to detail.
But the one scam of his that drew my attention was a trick so hard to believe, only a madman or someone with the ultimate charisma would even attempt it much less succeed.
There’s a reason you have probably never heard of the Rumanian Money Box scam, it only would have worked in that era.
“ Lustig had a cabinet maker in New York City make a handcrafted mahogany box with a narrow slot cut in either end. One side of the box, Lustig had installed a series of complicated handles and levers, Lustig told his marks that the mahogany box was the world’s only money duplicating machine. He would place an authentic $1,000 dollar bill in one end, along with a piece of paper, and then turn a series of cranks and knobs. The only problem was that the process, he told his victims, took six hours to complete per bill. Together, he and his victim would wait six hours then Lustig would turn the crank to produce another authentic $1,000 bill. Lustig would then have the victim take both bills to a local bank to confirm their authenticity. They were real bills in actuality, because Lustig had concealed a second real $1,000 bill in the box. Once his mark, sensing high profits, paid an incredible sum for the box, Lustig would disappear- and no real money would ever come out of the box again”.
He was that cunning when they locked him up in Alcatraz they locked him in under a fake name.
If a gentleman decided to take his lady for a night on the town the music was undoubtedly jazz and the lady in question would more than likely wear a flapper, a type of dress. Suit with tie and hat for the gentleman.
Now this new style of music wasnt for everybody and especially one critic who deemed it ‘an unmitigated cacophony, a species of music invented by demons for the torture of imbeciles’.
But jazz wasnt going anywhere, and emerged the dominant sound of the decade with zero challengers.
Heading to the jazz club the lady would Im sure like to arrive by car, which weren’t so much A to B vehicles as works of art back then as the link below will show. Suicide doors were the trend, ever popular with the gangsters for its easy dumping of a body whilst still moving, but somewhat reassuringly one could have bought many of the brands still seen on the roads today, from Mercedes to Ford, who produced 3 of every 4 cars sold at one point.
Photos of the 20’s do not show streets lined chock-a-block with vehicles, and perhaps that elite factor kept designers on the cutting edge, pushing boundaries to create the new must have instead of ‘what can we mass produce cheaply that the masses will feel happy with’, which is today’s current car makers mindset. This resulted in some masterpieces which must be seen to be believed, please check them out below.
Of course a club isn’t a club without drinks, and as you might know the 20’s was the age of prohibition. I’m not best positioned to judge this one, as one who enjoys a drink or two, but I doubt the consequences were envisioned when this came into law. The Speakeasy was born, so called because folk were urged to keep their voices down to not bring attention, in other words speak easy, but a bar needs booze and that is where the rumrunner comes in.
He might be Canadian like the other possible Real Mc Coy, or a local, but the booze had to flow, and had to paid for outwith the prying eyes of the law also.
With the stacks of cash at stake everywhere it was inevitable that serious crime would get involved at some point. It did with a vengeance and thus due to a hungry determined press pack the 20’s became the age of the celebrity gangster, or as they were known then ‘Public Enemies’.
Some of these 20’s gangsters are so well known and renowned that even now the names just roll off the tongue as if it was yesterday, so embedded they are in current folklore and media,, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Dutch Schultz, and Bugsy Siegel who went on to form Murder Inc during the twenties. The press seemingly did not help the situation, and indeed often appeared at the courthouse with camera ready to snap and question anyone connected, easily giving column inches and notoriety to criminals. This in turn emboldened them, making them dress snappier, having their quips ready for the next edition, and giving their legend (and egos) growth they could only have dreamed of before.
It was a recipe for disaster.
But theres one character that stands out for me through them all, in what seems to be the decade of the character in my opinion, for it never stopped producing them.
Gweedore,Donegal ,July 1908 a local woman was taken to the tavern and guesthouse to give birth.
Gweedore sits in the Gaeltacht area, so its possible that baby,Vincent, wouldn’t have heard any English at all until his family arrived at the port to begin their emigration. The McGeady clan are also from the area I believe, one of whom we know well, and these two families could well have crossed each other’s path. Nevertheless, while he was under one year old his family decided to take the chance of a new life in this new nation looming large and sailed for the USA from the port of Derry.
Little could anyone have known that decision would reap 6 movie portrayals, 3 tv show portrayals, numerous books, and become part of one of the deadliest era’s New York City has ever seen.
Its hard not to imagine Vincent taking to this new life much easier than his parents, who would have had language and cultural barriers in their strange new homeland, plus the struggle of finding legitimate work. He entered the 20’s a boy of 11 but by the end of the decade he had made more than a name for himself, starting out with the Gophers street gang and then accepting employment from Shultz himself. But the kid had ambitions so had put together his own crew on the side, and had resorted to kidnapping and robbery on the side also. While some robberies were of the traditional nature, it seems the victim of choice was another criminal but one whose gang would pay a ransom for return. Kidnapping and ransoming criminals is one hell of a risky business when you think about it, considering they can and will extract revenge outwith the long arm of the law and generally tend to be ruthless characters due to the nature of the job, but the Gweedore Gangster had no qualms about it despite the inherent dangers.
Some feet were burnt to a crisp to entice the phonecall to get made, others boiled, but with every ransom paid the reputation grew. It was only a matter of time before a split with the boss, and a shooting war. When his elder brother was killed it was a fight to the death, yet despite his financial and numerical advantages Schultz was unable to make any headway in this war.
Unfortunately during an attempt to kidnap of Dutch’s gang members a gunfight ensued in which several innocent bystanders were shot and one, a five year old boy, was killed.
This murder caused absolute outrage in the nation with the NYC mayor himself announcing Vincent “ a mad dog “. Shultz himself walked into a police station and publicly announced “A house in Westchester” for whoever killed the Mad Mick which tells us not only how vexxed he was but how much influence he believed he held. The subsequent search eventually caught the killer and trial was set for the childs murder, with an infamous Jewish lawyer retained for defense.
The case collapsed based on the strength of the witness statement and Vincent walked free, so he did what any man would do, get married.
Every gangster needs a moll, and Vincent was no different. Charlotte ‘Lottie’ Kreisberger was a gangster in her own right, and was said to have channeled Vincent’s inner aggression in the direction she wanted. Said to been called Queen Lottie by some she was probably older than Vincent, and would herself serve time for murder after a jewellery store robbery gone wrong proving this wasnt a case of opposites attract. Love however did nothing to tame his other appetites.
He had entered the roaring twenties a gullible boy but at the end a hardened criminal had emerged, perhaps the most feared and infamous in the city and things were not slowing down at all. Even the mob were using him to clean house and he accepted the contract to whack Lucky Luciano only to be minutes late, another crew had got there first. He still got paid though.
But some of the mob had either been rubbed up the wrong way or realised that at some stage they would be crossing swords someday with the Mad Mick, plus they had a lot of cash rolling in from those speakeasies. A $50k contract went out on Vincent’s head (around 600k today).
Two years into the thirties he made his last phone call, ironically to another gangster demanding 50k or he would kidnap his brother, and whilst in the phone booth was hit with two barrages of fire.
15 bullets were pulled from his corpse, many passed clean through.
At the tender age of 23 Vincent ‘Mad Dog’ Coll was no more, and many would sleep a little easier at that fact. The boy from Donegal had a life less ordinary, witnessed the roaring twenties at their peak and end, and became part of its folklore forever.
He rests now in the Bronx.
The 20’s themselves also ended badly, with what is known as the great depression hitting the nation in ‘29. I’ve read that the current crisis dwarfs that depression, but that’s not to take anything away from the seriousness of the situation people would have faced then, though its a great example that history repeats itself.
I doubt that history could ever repeat itself in such a fashion, but if the twenties we are about to enter are half as interesting as the last, then we are in for a hell of a ride.
Enjoy your decade.