JUNE 1855, NEW YORK CITY – The sad-eyed little girl sat in her dim
kitchen and massaged her callused hands with the tips of her fingers.
She kept looking up at her mother who stood in front of a jagged piece
of a mirror that was hanging somewhat precariously from a badly
splintered wall in the kitchen. Their dismal, two-room, one window flat
was one that begged to be patched and painted.
Mom’s perfect body was wrapped in a tight-fitting green dress. Her
striking face was made even more beautiful by her green eyes and red
hair. The little girl watched as her mom did a last minute touch up of
her hair. The dress her mom wore was a gift to her from the acclaimed
artist, Dion Frazer, for whom her mom had once posed.
Nine-year-old Angie was a perfect reflection of Angela, her mother—she
too had green eyes and red hair, and a few freckles. She sat with her
upper body completely exposed, just like a boy, which her mother did not
like. Of course she had nothing to hide; she was only a child.
“Angie darling, you’re not a three-year old. You shouldn’t walk
around like that. Cover yourself,” said her mom. “You’re a young
lady now. And why do you always got to wear your father’s old work
trousers? Why don’t you wear that damn dress I got you? I went all the
way down to Jew town to get it.”
“I gots nuttin ta cover!” She slapped her hands where her breasts
should be. “Anyway, I build like a guy. A strong guy.” Which she
was, for she had the lean muscular body of a hard-working young man
rather than the petite soft-skinned nine-year-old girl she was meant to
be. She liked walking around shirtless in her apartment. Every chance
she got, she’d stand before the piece of mirror and flex those muscles
just like boys did. Her arms, chest, and shoulders, including her calves
and thighs, were lined with well-defined bulging muscles. Or she’d be
posing with her dukes up, throwing punches and mimicking her favorite
prizefighter Yankee Sullivan. She still adored him, even after his
defeat by Tom Hyer, the hero of the nativists, in a much-heralded fight.
Yankee was the favorite of immigrants. “Wish I wuz a boy,” she said.
“Yeah, I know. I wish you’d stop saying that. What am I gonna do
with ya?” her mother muttered.
The child reached her arms across the table, tightly gripping its far
edge, flexing the many muscles of her strong arms. “When ya gonna
learn mees to read?” she asked, looking her mom in the eyes through
Her mom’s mouth moved, but said nothing, silenced by a rush of guilt.
Letting her off the hook, the child changed the subject. “Look,” she
said, flaunting the palms of her hands. “My blissers is all healed.
Guess I won’ts be gitten anymore a dem.”
Her mom’s face was a picture of heartache. “I never wanted you
working with that father of yours. But we needed the money, honey.”
Her daughter’s hardened hands were the result of two years of hard
labor, working six and seven days a week with her dad, digging out
cellars for the tenant houses, factories, and warehouses being built
along the Westside. The same reason she was stacked with muscle. Some
people thought she was a freak of nature. They couldn’t understand how
such a pretty face could be attached to such a muscular body, a body
that belonged to a young man of fifteen or sixteen, who did the same
laborious work. Her strange appearance made her the target of ridicule,
forcing her to become a tough little street fighter. Often enough, her
pretty little face was flawed by a swollen lip, bloody nose, or a black
eye, and on some occasions, all of the above.
She and her father were inseparable. Often times they were seen together
without her mom. “Was he abusing her?” the gossipmongers asked over
and over. But that speculation ended abruptly one recent morning when he
up and disappeared, leaving the girl and her mother destitute. The
contractor who employed them would not keep her on without her dad, and
her mother was unemployable.
The only job Angela could get was that of a seamstress that paid $1.00 a
week. Her rent was $6.00 a month for a ramshackle tenement that stunk of
shit and dirty humanity; where the cold winds of winter came howling
through cracks in the walls; where the heat of summer was unbearable.
The only option left for this husbandless woman of exceptional beauty
who had a body that drove men crazy was prostitution. Against all she
stood for, she began selling herself to men for a living. Her plan was
to prostitute herself just long enough to get the two of them back on
their feet. And if she were lucky, she would again pose for artists.
Several months earlier, a well-known painter was hired in complete
confidence by a super-rich client of hers, to paint her portrait; in the
words of that important man; “To capture forever her unique Celtic
beauty.” For this she was paid $50. The artist also painted a full
body likeness of her, in a provocative tight fitting dress—the one she
wore tonight—“to capture the perfect form of her body.” This
painting the painter kept for his studio. For that she received $45 and
was permitted to keep the dress.
But for Angie, who just couldn’t understand the whys and whats of her
mother’s new line of work, it was confusing and hurtful. Angie was
especially hurt when her mother’s work called for her to be out three
or more nights a week, sometimes working into the early hours of the
“Doan go, mommy,” the angry girl snapped, shoving a book in her
mom’s face. “Ya shud be here learnin mees ta read.”
“Darling, please. Don’t start that again. You know I gotta work.
Mommy gotta feed her beautiful daughter. Pay the rent,” she said while
dabbing perfume on her neck. Angela then asked her daughter, “How do I
“Weal nice. Ya teaches me to read da morra? Will ya?”
“I’ll be leaving now and be home by morning,” Angela said. They
hugged and kissed each other. “Mommy loves you, baby.” Without
another word, her mother was out the door.
Those pretty but sad green eyes stared from behind a once-white, drab
curtain that hung over the apartment’s only window. She watched an
all-too-familiar scene on the muddy street below. The big black stallion
and the one-of-a-kind Brougham carriage it pulled were parked out front
of the wooden tenement in which she lived. She couldn’t understand why
there was nobody about the street. Usually, at that time, the women and
their children would be all over the street.
From behind that curtain she watched her mother descend the stoop
presenting a most confidant image. She was adorned in her skimpy lace
garb that accented the drive-men-crazy curves of her body. Angie also
saw the tall, well-dressed owner of that beautiful horse and carriage
that regularly picked her up, step out of the white carriage. But this
time he looked different. Instead of his hair pony-tailing from the back
of his head, it hung wildly down over his shoulders, covering his face.
She chuckled, thinking he looked like a madman.
Something else didn’t look right. The chauffeur was too tall, too
burly, and much too young to be the regular driver. She admired his size
and strength, but when he stepped down from the driver’s seat and
joined another man, the two of them began clobbering her mother until
she was unconscious. Angie was horrified. She watched as they picked up
her mother’s sagging body like it was a sack of meal and threw her
into the carriage.
The nine year-old flew down the stairs, I gotta save my mudda, but the
beating and abduction were over in a matter of seconds. The crime
happened in total silence, so as not to draw anybody’s attention. The
big black stallion and the one-of-a-kind Brougham carriage bolted down
the street. All the while Angie’s eyes were stuck on the image of the
black stallion painted on the carriage door, with the word Blackie
spelled below it. After that, her mind shut down and she retreated back
upstairs to the kitchen.
Dawn’s light had started to break over the city when the nine-year-old
awoke to an empty house. A strange sense of loss overcame her; she knew
she would never see her mom again. For almost two more days she sat by
the window, watching for her. By then she was finally convinced that her
mom had abandoned her. And why not? Her father had done the same. But
there were some doubts. Why did she leave a few pieces of clothing she
owned and a handful of silver dollars?
In the early morning hours of that third day, she slipped out of the
flat for the last time, bringing with her their few possessions: her
father’s Ulliean Pipes, the silver dollars, a family photograph, and a
photo of Yankee Sullivan dressed in boxers’ tights. Included were the
few threadbare trousers and shirts she had worn while digging cellars
with her father.
Barefooted, she descended the gloomy dark stairs down to the street,
where she vanished into the night.
* * * * *
Every Sunday when possible, Angie had spent a lot of time with her folks
down by the North River. There, they could isolate themselves from the
cruel world and relax in a peaceful surrounding. She enjoyed the flocks
of seagulls and loved being in the water, eventually becoming an
exceptional swimmer. During the warmer months, she spent much of her
off-work time swimming in that river.
Knowing the river shoreline as well as she did, she already knew where
her new home would be: the old, rickety shed on the unused MacAdams
property, as long as it was okay with Battle Axe, the undeclared leader
of the area’s vagabonds.
All she had to do now was clean out the long vacant dugout beneath its
wooden flooring. And she was pleased with its isolation.
The wooded area that surrounded the shed kept her out of view of the
workforce at Macon’s slaughterhouse. If her presence were known, the
pretty little thing would definitely have occasional, unwanted male
visitors, whom she feared, having witnessed too often her mother, and
even herself, being abused by the male species.
She quickly settled in to her damp and chilly abode. Her first order of
business was to figure out a means of income. The muscular young girl
chose to work the ferry terminals for tips, carrying people’s luggage
to their waiting carriages. The regulars did not welcome her, but after
a few punch outs, they left her alone. Eventually, her peers came to
admire the gritty little tiger with the broad shoulders. Her choice of
work wasn’t easy. She was jumped twice and the baggage stolen. On both
occasions the owners accused her of being part of a team of thieves.
After a while, the few dollars she earned lugging people’s luggage no
longer cut it for her. She wanted more than just enough for a couple of
skimpy meals a day. Only on rare occasion could she afford the pleasure
of a play in the Bowery and the cost of the fare to get there.
She had known for a long time how to up her income. The pickings were
good at the ferry terminals. Like everything was up for grabs: watches,
jewelry, wallets, handbags, briefcases, and light luggage. Whatever, you
name it. All she had to do was sharpen her pickpocket and grab-and-run
skills. She already had the gall. Once she made the decision to change
jobs, she began visiting the different ferry terminals to familiarize
herself with their schedules.
Shortly afterwards, she started bringing home the receipts. At first she
lifted items of little value: hats, umbrellas, and articles of clothing.
Not long thereafter, what she brought home had great monetary value:
jewelry, watches and wallets with money in them. She even brought home a
diamond studded gold watch. While these items began to accumulate in her
hovel, she had no regular fence that she could count on for a fair
price. But she knew whom to turn to for that information. Her neighbors
also dealt in stolen merchandize, especially things that glittered in
the sunlight. She would speak to Battle Axe, who advised her, “Thomas
Brogan is your man. And when you deal with him, nobody will mess with
Excerpted from "No Irish Need Apply: A Novel About New York City's Hell's Kitchen in the Mid-1800's" by John Finucane. Copyright © 2015 by John Finucane. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.