The Last Pirate Of New York: A Ghost Ship, a Killer, and the Birth of a Gangster Nation
By: Rich Cohen
Spiegel & Grau (June 4, 2019)
The Last Pirate Of New York is a fantastic prequel to Cohen’s first book, Tough Jews. While Tough Jews tells the story of Murder Inc. and the five New York mob families in their heyday, The Last Pirate Of New York answers the question: Who was the original New York gangster anyway? I especially enjoyed the twist about half-way through this volume. I don’t want to give it all away, but Albert Hicks was no criminal neophyte.
Two of my favorite quotes:
As soon as I was old enough, I moved to New York. I said I was looking for a job, but I had really come in search of the truth behind my father’s stories. This became my career. Parents: be careful what you tell your children at night. I explored the parts of the city where I knew the old-time gangsters had operated: Little Italy and the Lower East Side, East New York and Brownsville, Brooklyn, the piers that had been the heart of the old Fourth Ward. I was consumed by New York history—not the story of marble buildings and glad-handing mayors but the alternate story that ran parallel and beneath—the story of the underworld, its heroes and stool pigeons, founders and visionaries.
With him, the pirate turned into the gangster: he emerged onto dry land and took up in bars and casinos—Blackbeard morphing into Al Capone. Hicks became infamous during New York gangland’s prehistory. Writing about him, reporters created a basic underworld type. He was the first swamp angel, the great-grandfather of every mob punk and Bowery psycho who would follow.