How a book about Chinatown made me remember my first New York date.
I’ve spent much of the summer totally captivated by Tong Wars, Scott Seligman’s comprehensive account of Manhattan’s Chinatown at the turn of the twentieth century. The book narrates the half century of history that followed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which made it illegal for Chinese, known at the time as “Celestials,” to immigrate and become naturalized American citizens. Those who traveled to New York from the American West (the New York Herald described them as an “army of almond-eyed exiles”) often found jobs as laundry workers and, according to Seligman, not a few of them spent their evenings gambling illegally in low-lit basements or nursing serious opium addictions.
In Tammany Hall–era Manhattan, Chinatown covered the area between Mott Street, Pell Street, and the Bowery. The neighborhood was the site of violent battles between the Hip Sings and the On Leongs, gangs that fought each other using everything from hatchets to bombs. Doyers Street, the dramatic alley off Pell Street, saw so much violence that it became known as the Bloody Angle. (“More people have died violently at Bloody Angle,” the Times reported in 1994, “than at any other intersection in America.”) Read More