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