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Leo Hershkowitz, 92, Dies; Unearthed New York Metropolis Historical past – New York Occasions


And, from bundles of papers earmarked for disposal by the town comptroller’s workplace, he saved coroner’s data from the late 18th and early 19th centuries that recorded infanticides, suicides, drownings — and the killing of Alexander Hamilton by Aaron Burr in a duel throughout the Hudson in Weehawken, N.J.

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A five-pound notice from the Colony of New York in 1759 was amongst Leo Hershkowitz’s many finds.

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New-York Historic Society

“It’s a lonely world,” Professor Hershkowitz told The New York Times in 1990 about his dives by way of archives, a few of them dusty sufficient to require sporting a protecting masks. “I don’t have a lot firm.”

Professor Hershkowitz, who taught historical past at Queens College for about 50 years, died on Aug. 10 in Boston. He was 92.

His son Herbert Berger-Hershkowitz stated the trigger was polycythemia vera, a slow-growing blood most cancers.

Professor Hershkowitz’s archival adventures have been put to their most famous use in “Tweed’s’ New York: Another Look” (1977), a revisionist take a look at the highly effective machine politician who was memorably lampooned by Thomas Nast, the Harper’s Weekly cartoonist. Professor Hershkowitz discovered dusty packets of meticulously stored payrolls and vouchers that helped type his view that Tweed didn’t pilfer the town’s treasury of tens of tens of millions of dollars, as his accusers have lengthy believed.

“So little has been carried out to acquire even primary details about the person, and what’s recognized is usually fallacious,” he wrote. “Maybe by no means has a lot nonsense been written about a person.”

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Leo Hershkowitz discovered a presidential marketing campaign ribbon for Horatio Seymour and Gen. Frank P. Blair, who misplaced to Ulysses S. Grant and Schuyler Colfax in 1868.

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New-York Historic Society

Quite than portraying him as corrupt, Professor Hershkowitz decided that Tweed had been the sufferer of illicit machinations at his embezzlement trial; that he had proven extra imaginative and prescient concerning the metropolis’s progress than some reformers; and that he had been prosecuted to deflect consideration from Republican corruption in Washington. Certainly, he stated, the trial prosecutors organized with Gov. Samuel J. Tilden of New York to handpick a decide who was prejudiced towards Tweed.

Tweed was discovered responsible in 1873. However he was “by no means tried or discovered responsible of graft or theft, the crime Tweed stands accused of by historical past,” Professor Hershkowitz advised The Occasions in 1976.

“He was convicted after some unusual, improper, even unlawful judicial proceedings,” he added, “which have been, in some ways, worse than something Tweed supposedly dedicated.”

Professor Hershkowitz’s conclusions have been removed from the consensus view of Tweed and his Tammany Corridor cronies.

In a evaluate of his guide in New York journal, the historian Walter Karp dealt skeptically with Professor Hershkowitz’s argument for Tweed’s innocence as a “courageous thesis.” If Tweed was harmless, Mr. Karp wrote, “How might so many individuals mix in so large a conspiracy towards an harmless man?”

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Leo Hershkowitz recovered a Invoice for work “Don att Metropolis corridor” by John Carr in 1728.

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New-York Historic Society

And in Commentary magazine, the scholar Suzanne Weaver wrote that “on the essential query of the kickbacks themselves, Hershkowitz’s solely verdict is, ‘In all probability nobody will ever know.’ ”

Leo Hershkowitz was born within the Bronx on Nov. 21, 1924. His father, Elias, labored in a tie manufacturing unit, and his mom, the previous Bertha Wachtel, was a homemaker. As a teenager, he stated, his resistance to authority prompted the principal of one in every of his faculties to foretell, “You’re going to be a bum.”

After serving within the Military, fixing airplane radios in Hawaii, he attended Hunter School in Manhattan, then acquired his grasp’s from Columbia School and his Ph.D. from New York College. He informed his household that with out the G.I. Invoice, which enabled him to go to school, he may need ended up making ties.

Professor Hershkowitz, whose experience was New York Metropolis historical past and the early historical past of Jews within the metropolis, started educating at Queens School in 1960. In later years he additionally taught at N.Y.U.

There was an outside complement to his seek for data in warehouse and workplaces: He was additionally an city archaeologist, digging at websites the place he hoped to unearth historic artifacts. In 1968, on the monumental ditch the place the unique World Commerce Middle would rise, he sifted the bottom for weeks, and his work was rewarded with Colonial pottery, handblown glass bottles, early picket metropolis water pipes and clay smoking pipes.

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Professor Hershkowitz rescued a New Netherland property deed, in Dutch, from 1661.

Credit score
New-York Historic Society

Earlier than the skyscraper at 55 Water Road was erected, he dug up gadgets like Revolutionary Conflict-era wig curlers.

“Each time he noticed an excavation in New York Metropolis, he’d sneak into it,” his son stated.

William Asadorian, a former scholar who accompanied Professor Hershkowitz to archives and digs, stated in an interview, “He saved an incredible quantity of courtroom data, however as a result of he needed to save lots of historical past, he additionally had an curiosity in archaeology.”

In 1971, Professor Hershkowitz ventured to the northwest corner of City Hall Park to confirm that Metropolis Corridor had been constructed on the location of an 18th-century jail, insane asylum and home for vagrants. Utilizing previous maps that he had found, he and a small group of scholars dug three holes, every two and a half ft deep, to find the inspiration stones of the complicated and set up its footprint.

Along with his son Herbert, Professor Hershkowitz is survived by one other son, Henry; 4 grandchildren; and a sister, Frances Spiegel. His spouse, the previous Marcia Berger, a lawyer, died in 2013.

At his longtime residence in Freeport, on Lengthy Island, and later at his condo within the East Village of Manhattan (throughout the road from land that was as soon as the farm of Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch director-general of New Netherland, which included New Amsterdam, the settlement that turned New York Metropolis), he displayed excavated artifacts and the fashions of early ships that he made.

However it’s probably that the paperwork he saved from shredders’ blades will probably be his legacy. Albert Rosenblatt, a former decide on the New York Courtroom of Appeals, wrote about Professor Hershkowitz’s work in a ebook he co-edited, “Opening Statements: Regulation and Jurisprudence in Dutch New York” (2013).

“He has climbed into Dumpsters to retrieve unappreciated gadgets,” Decide Rosenblatt wrote. “He tells of listening to, `You need this stuff? Take ‘em.’ ”

He fortunately took them — and preserved some chapters of historical past.

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