It was the street your mother warned you about—even if you lived in San Francisco. Long associated with skid row, saloons, freak shows, violence, and vice, the Bowery often showed the worst New York City had to offer. Yet there were times when it showed its best as well.
The Bowery is New York’s oldest street and Manhattan’s broadest boulevard. Like the city itself, it has continually reinvented itself over the centuries. Named for the Dutch farms, or bouweries, of the area, the path’s lurid character was established early when it became the site of New Amsterdam’s first murder. A natural spring near the Five Points neighborhood led to breweries and taverns that became home to the gangs of New York—the “Bowery B’hoys,” “Plug Uglies,” and “Dead Rabbits.” In the Gaslight Era, teenaged streetwalkers swallowed poison in McGurk’s Suicide Hall.
A brighter side to the street was reflected in places of amusement and culture over the years. A young P.T. Barnum got his start there, and Harry Houdini learned showmanship playing the music halls and dime museums. Poets, singers, hobos, gangsters, soldiers, travelers, preachers, storytellers, con-men, and reformers all gathered there. Its colorful cast of characters includes Peter Stuyvesant, Steve Brodie, Carry Nation, Stephen Foster, Stephen Crane, and even Abraham Lincoln.
The Bowery: The Strange History of New York’s Oldest Street traces the full story of this once notorious thoroughfare from its pre-colonial origins to the present day.
SubtitleThe Strange History of New York's Oldest Street
AuthorBy Stephen Paul DeVillo
Published7 November 2017
Dimensions6.00 x 9.00in.
Illustrationsb/w illustrations and photos.
About the author
Stephen Paul DeVillo has spent a lifetime exploring the history and lore of his native New York City. An experienced historical tour guide, he is the author of The Bronx River in History and Folklore. DeVillo lives in the Bronx, New York.
—New York Times
“After four centuries as one of the most famous and infamous thoroughfares in the world, the Bowery couldn’t have gotten a more able, knowledgeable, or companionable chronicler than Stephen Paul DeVillo.”
—John Strausbaugh, author of The Village and City of Sedition
"A cheerful, accessible history of Manhattan seen through the lens of its oldest street, the Bowery.
Written in a witty, conversational tone . . . this is a breezy, fact-filled trip through NYC history."
“The Bowery captures four hundred years of social history through the tale of one of New York City’s most storied streets. Even when recounting lurid events and tawdry deeds, from greedy land-grabbers to brothel-running barkeeps, DeVillo manages to charm his readers. It is an informative and entertaining look at life in urban America.”
—Chris McNickle, author of Bloomberg: A Billionaire’s Ambition
"Stephen Paul De Villo proves that streets and sections of towns can have personalities just like people can. In The Bowery, he recounts tales of hangings, monsters in ponds, ladies of the evening, Jumping Jesus and Mighty Mose, nickel-kickers, and sing sing girls to bring a notorious section of New York City to life. San Franciso has its Tenderloin and New Orleans its French Quarter, but none can match New York’s Bowery.”
—Mike Farris, author of A Death in the Islands: The Unwritten Law and the Last Trial of Clarence Darrow
“As a kid in the suburbs of Northern California, I used to watch my favorite show The Bowery Boys on TV and dream of going to New York City someday to see the Bowery in person. The Bowery was fascinating then and now, and the history of the street as captured in Stephen Paul DeVillo’s book will grab you and hold you whether you’ve ever walked it or not. Get it, read it, and take a tour for yourself!”
—Gregg Stebben, author of White House Confidential
“There is a certain morbid curiosity that comes with tales of Old New York, and the Bowery was the epicenter of the morbid, strange and perilous for much of the city’s early times. Of course, it was not all haunted buildings moral depravity—the Bowery gave birth to some of New York's (and, indeed, the nation’s) great cultural icons through the decades. Stephen Paul DeVillo’s book will not only fascinate readers with its seldom-told stories, it shines light on the places and institutions you thought you already knew.”
—Sean Deveney, author of Fun City: John Lindsay, Joe Namath, and How Sports Saved New York in the 1960s
“Deftly written and based on solid research, Stephen Paul DeVillo’s The Bowery is a delight. It fills a gap in our historical understanding of Old New York. From the economic contributions made from the old Dutch Bouweries to the flop-houses of skid-row Bowery in the 1960s, and then to the punk-rock of the Ramones at CBGB, the Bowery was at the throbbing heart of the Big Apple.”
—Eric Homberger, author of The Historical Atlas of New York City
"DeVillo has written a thorough and entertaining account of one of the most notorious streets in Manhattan. Well researched and entertainingly written, he has captured all the pathos and drama of the Bowery as only an aficionado could have. A must-read for fans of New York City history!"
—Elizabeth Stack, Associate Director of Irish Studies, Fordham University
"I have been fortunate to enjoy the many stories by Stephen DeVillo during his many walking tours along the Bronx River and welcomed his book, The Bronx River in History & Folklore, that complimented all his walks. Mr. DeVillo’s new book, The Bowery: The Strange History of New York’s Oldest Street is a story book, history book, and street guide all in one. If you find yourself shopping or grabbing a beer in Manhattan, after reading The Bowery, this street will become your first destination. The beauty of Mr. DeVillo’s book is that it reads like he is standing right next to you. Each page is filled with facts and fun stories starting in the 1600’s and today, documented with a generous listing of source materials and bibliography. If you cannot read The Bowery at the Bowery, not to worry because with Mr. DeVillo’s book, you will be even able to taste the beer at McSorley's Old Ale House from home. —Thomas X. Casey, President of the Huntington Free Library and Secretary of the East Bronx History Forum