Comments on Bowery Boys Red Hook history podcast

Pier 9B, Red Hook, Brooklyn
Posted by Carolina Salguero

A recent podcast on the site THE BOWERY BOYS covers Red Hook history with a strong focus on gangs and crime. 

There is much good about the piece, but it also has some errors, and in dwelling on crime so much, it skews the area's history.  I wrote the creators; and in order to facilitate getting the word out, I post my email to them below.  

In an idea world, I'd have time to upload supporting data, but I don't. I did add a link about the Carnegie Library in the version below.

You can write them yourself at the following email addresses;, and/or post a comment here.

Dear Greg and Tom:

I am glad that you love Red Hook and chose to dedicate time to the place, your piece reflects that love; but your history has considerable errors. 

I'm the Founder and Director of PortSide NewYork a waterfront-themed non-profit here in Red Hook.  We are based on the oil tanker MARY A. WHALEN docked in the Red Hook Container Terminal.   

One of our missions has been to research Red Hook history on a water theme and produce related cultural tourism products.  More here

I don't have the time to write out a detailed correction of all the errors in your podcast and so will just rattle off some observations.
It was Norwegians first, not Irish.  Planners did lay out grid for the streets in the early mid 1800's, but large parts of eastern Red Hook remained watery through the late 1880s.  
Though Red Hook had gangs, as you describe; well before Red Hook was known as the crack capital of the USA, the neighborhood was also home to huge industry and many lower middle class and middle class residents and a booming retail corridor.   

There was a Carnegie library, wealthy people using the Hamilton Avenue Ferry, built to facilitate access to Green-Wood Cemetary and soon used by commuters from what we now call Carroll Gardens to go to work in lower Manhattan's business district.  

In short, Red Hook housed great poverty, but for decades was more mixed economically than your focus on gangland stories describes.  Personally, I find what is most distinctive about Red Hook over the years is the capacity of this small place to hold AT THE SAME TIME a striking economic range in its residents and a striking range of land use from major industry to residences.

Also, residents of Carroll Gardens did not drive the name change of their area, it was real estate brokers who changed the name, my mother being one of them. It was a technique to attract buyers (and lenders) for brownstones who might be dissuaded by the name of Red Hook, which by the 1960s was associated with things dark.  

Your most significant error is to say that the movie "On the Waterfront" is based on Red Hook. That is an easy error to make as that is oft repeated here. I myself made the mistake of writing so in one of our early Red Hook guides.
After additional research, I can confirm that this is not so, nor was Elia Kazan's movie of that name based on Arthur Miller's script.  

In a zeigeist way, a number of people were likely focusing on dockland stories at that time, the issues having been recently been outed by a long expose series in the press. 

"On the Waterfront" is based on another script by Budd Schulberg and based an actual person Father Pete Corridan who was facing issues on the docks on the westside of Manhattan and Union County, New Jersey, not Red Hook.  Note that the Red Hook docks were by then controlled by ethnic Italians and not Irish.  

A full length book, based on in-depth academic research, was recently published about the dockworker issues and the movie.  The book is called "On the Irish Waterfront."  It is a corrective to much popular misunderstand about how the famous movie came to be and the conventional interpretation of the movie as being an Elia Kazan apologia for testifying before HUAC.  

I can put you in touch with the professor Jim Fisher of Fordham who wrote the book. His blog has information about the book, though lately it has veered into more personal terrain, so try this post.  

The book's Amazon listing is here

If you do follow ups or corrections, feel free to get in touch.

I may publish the content of this email in some form as a blogpost to facilitate these corrections being available to a wider audience which may be misled by your history.


Carolina Salguero
Founder + Director

PortSide NewYorkBringing NYC's BlueSpace to life

Tanker engine parts – first week of December 2008

We interrupt this gripping narrative to tell you about the Whalen’s 70th birthday party.

It was great! It was a hoot! We were mobbed! The December weather held!

It wasn’t without hiccups, mind you.

There was a bit of a glitch getting setting up due to someone outside the organization being slow to vet some paperwork, so the Whalen did not get towed to Atlantic Basin Friday morning for the Saturday event. Friday towing would have allowed our Friday volunteers to begin setting up the site in Atlantic Basin. But that didn’t happen, we got towed over at 2130 Friday, and I had to get our electrician in from Staten Island as the officially supplied one had gone home at that hour.

After that, our electrical guy, the master of old systems and all-around Mr. Fix-it Ed Fanuzzi, kicked back in the galley and chatted with Scott, a friend who had brought me take out dinner. I sat in the office writing the party program while the two guys drank coffee, smeared Nutella on Lorna Doones and told dirty jokes. “Carolina’s Home for Wayward Boys,” I dubbed it.

Early Saturday morning, while I was still in a pre-caffeinated state, I got a call from our insurance agent Totch Hartge. He was outside on the dock! He came bearing a gift for the Whalen, a brass ship’s lamp.

Next call was good friend and former neighbor Gary Baum. He had just driven his wife to the subway and was wearing a coat over his pajamas. “Howzit going?!” “We’re behind, we got here a day late.”’ He showed up in pajamas to pitch in.

The event caused such excitement that all the volunteers who’d RSVP-ed actually showed up. (You usually can’t be sure of that). Actually, volunteers we hadn’t heard from showed up! We had more volunteers than we needed! Here’s some text from the post-event PR we sent out. Please forgive me for not writing more original copy. Too much to do...

“December 6th, a happy horde of about 500 came from as far away as Maryland to cheer and visit the tanker Mary A. Whalen, home of PortSide NewYork, during her 70th birthday party.

The tour guides were a salty lot: Bob Moore, Vice President of Atlantic Container Line a shipping line that calls on ports both sides of the Harbor, Gerry Weinstein and Mary Habstritt of the Lilac Preservation Project, John Weaver, son in law of Alf Dyrland who had been captain of the Whalen for twenty years, and Will Van Dorp, author of the blog Tugster who sagely dubbed the harbor “the sixth borough.”

The galley and engine room were clogged with visitors of all ages, including former crew members, maritime buffs and rank landlubbers. The latter included one woman who stepped off the gangway to say “where’s the tanker?” but all had a grand time. Former crew members came bearing old photos and boat parts, from the Whalen and other tankers, in an effort to put her back together. Waterfront bloggers from Philadelphia and the Long Island Sound chatted over the wood stove; urban and ship preservationists found common ground while discussing things afloat.”

Guests arrived by water: PortSide partner the tug Pegasus attended, as did one working tug. The luxury yacht Manhattan came into Atlantic Basin for a salute. Two gigs from the Village Community Boathouse rowed over from Tribeca, and kayakers came from two other islands, Manhattan and Staten. Local Red Hook businesses got in on the action: Atlantis, a home furnishings store, loaned their signature six-foot red velvet hook for the café area; Steve’s Key Lime Pie compensated for the lack of a boathouse in Valentino Park (hello Parks Department!) and allowed visiting kayakers to leave boats in their garage. Maritime photographer Jonathan Atkin served as Master of Ceremonies.

Tours ceased during a half hour of formalities when proclamations were presented by Anthony Chiappone of the New Jersey State Assembly, the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office, and Roberta Weisbrod of the Working Harbor Committee. PortSide NewYork and the Lilac team gave Sal Catucci, CEO of American Stevedoring a Historic Ship Hero awardan illustration made by Christina Sunfor helping save historic vessels by providing free berths to three ships Nantucket, Lilac and Mary Whalen .

Carolina Salguero, Director of PortSide announced that most of the missing parts needed for the Whalen’s cannibalized engine had been secured in Seattle thanks to the co-operation of Stabbert Maritime and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Derelict Vessel Removal Program which had just scrapped an old tanker similar to the Whalen.

Salguero also announced that the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation had invited PortSide to produce a performance on the Whalen in the Navy Yard, and she asKed for performing arts groups with water-themed work to get in touch.”

After the public left the party, some folks hung around in the galley. Some PortSide volunteers, two tug captains (one came by land and one by sea), some harbor activists. I ordered pizzas and realized as I served that it was all guys. Carolina’s Home for Wayward Boys” AGAIN I laughed to myself.

I also marvelled at how easy life could be if we got the Whalen out of a containerport or out of an industrial park; because after three years of life that included Erie Basin, Red Hook Marine Terminal and Brooklyn Navy Yard, this was the first time that takeout food could be delivered right to the boat.