Gaslight Lawyers: Criminal Trials and Exploits in Gilded Age New York

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From the 1870s to the early 1900s, post-Civil War New York City was becoming a wonder city of commerce and invention, art and architecture, and emerging global prominence. The city and its innocent inhabitants needed to be protected from crime and corruption. Order had to be maintained. Then, as now, malefactors had to be brought to justice. But not every victim was quite so innocent, and not every defendant was as guilty as he (or she) looked.

The Gaslight Era has been called the Second Golden Age of the New York Bar. The book sheds new light on a gallery of notables of the day, including the exploits of famous William Big Bill Howe and his archrival, Tammany prosecutor Francis Wellman (author of The Art of Cross-Examination), along with trial tactics and ethics of the day skullduggery on both sides. It tells of the passing of the old guard, exemplified by Howe, and the rise of a new generation of criminal defense lawyers, including Emanuel Manny Friend and Abraham Levy, and the aggressive and sometimes ruthless prosecutors William Travers Jerome, William Rand, and James W. Osborne. The book also chronicles judges and politicians, police bungling and corruption, and famous physicians and alienists, like Dr. Allan McLane Hamilton, the grandson of Alexander Hamilton. Other characters, such as photojournalist and reformer Jacob Riis, Tombs Angel Rebecca Salome Foster, and infamous criminals, like Madame Restell the abortionist and Marm Mandelbaum the notorious fence, illuminate the social conditions in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century New York City.

Drawing from the experience of a legal scholar and from a wealth of meticulous research gleaned from trial transcripts, other court records, contemporary newspaper stories, and memoirs, Underwood also reconstructs and recounts the absorbing legal drama of a number of spectacular criminal cases. Among the murder trials are the Nack-Thorn-Guldensuppe scattered body parts case, the trial of Frenchy for the murder of Old Shakespeare (the so-called Jack the Ripper case), the trials of Italian immigrant Maria Barbella, who escaped the electric chair with a defense of psychic epilepsy, the ordeals of the unfortunate Dr. Samuel Kennedy, and the trial of Florodora Girl Nan Patterson for the murder of gambler and man about New York Thomas Caesar Young.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages284
StatePublished - 2017


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