The block’s evolution unfolds via its numerous residents, who included the Fabers (house owners of a manufacturing unit in Brooklyn that made No. 2 pencils); the Davises (whose red-and-yellow baking powder cans stay a kitchen staple and who have been scandalized when a widowed heiress married her chauffeur); relations of the Goodyear Tire household; Marion Davies, the movie actress and paramour of William Randolph Hearst; Duke Ellington; and Saul Bellow.
Among the many unsavory characters who discovered refuge in 1934 at 334 Riverside, which by then had been renovated right into a rooming home, was the ebook’s title character — Bernard (Bennie the Bum) McMahon.
His leg was, certainly, sawed off (each, truly – one amputated, the opposite severed so his physique could possibly be stuffed right into a steamer trunk) after he suffered a self-inflicted shotgun wound after what was then the most important armored automotive heist in American historical past. The robbery at the Rubel Ice Company warehouse in Tub Seashore, Brooklyn, totaled $427,950 (about $eight million in immediately’s dollars).
Mr. Wakin wrote that he was drawn to his topic as a result of whereas the seven townhouses on Riverside Drive have been “deeply acquainted” to him, “I knew nothing of the lives that have been carried on inside these partitions.”
He continued: “And a few day a type of forgotten tales can be mine. Different individuals dwelling in my residence would marvel concerning the nameless residents of generations previous.”
Ms. Shapiro was researching an article on St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr Church within the East Village, the oldest Polish Catholic church within the New York archdiocese, when she stumbled upon the identify of Billy Gawronski, whose story, she wrote, “reads like that of some character sprung from the pages of Robert Louis Stevenson or Mark Twain.”
Billy was born in 1910 in a Decrease East Aspect tenement and raised as an adolescent in Bayside, Queens, in what appeared like an age of infinite fortuity.
He had already achieved fame, of types. When he was 14, his stray mutt gained first place in a canine present sponsored by the New York Ladies’s League for Animals and he was featured in The Day by day Information.
He was enthralled when his favourite librarian at an area department offered him with a replica of “Dick Byrd: Air Explorer,” a biography of the pioneering polar pathfinder, however was bitterly disenchanted when, as a result of his father insisted that learning for finals at Textile Excessive Faculty in Manhattan took priority, he was not allowed to attend the June 1926 parade for Admiral Byrd, who had simply returned from his airborne North Pole flight.
Lower than two years later, although, Billy swam throughout the Hudson from Manhattan to Hoboken and stowed away on Byrd’s ship for the primary American expedition to Antarctica (the writer drew many particulars from Russell Owen’s protection in The Occasions). He was found, however was ultimately enlisted as a multitude boy.
His mom begged Byrd to not take her son on subsequent expeditions. In consequence, Billy by no means returned to Antarctica. However the teenager had skilled the journey of a lifetime.
“The expedition offered an escape from the dreary future in his father’s upholstery enterprise that had appeared so unavoidable at 17,” Ms. Shapiro wrote. “It launched him to a world of hazard and discovery that had existed solely in his scrapbooks and library loans, and gave him the essential seaman’s coaching with which he made a profession.”