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Local Legends | ‘Monk’ Eastman

Monk EastmanCourtesy of Rose Keefe. ‘Monk’ Eastman.

Eleven days ago, the arrest of nearly 125 mobsters reacquainted many to the fact that the mob still has life outside of the occasional H.B.O. series.  Federal officials labeled the bust “the largest mob roundup in F.B.I. history,” and once the media got ahold of the accused’s food-centric monikers – here’s lookin’ at you “Junior Lollipops” – curiosity ensued.

Americans have a longstanding fascination with the mob. As Eric Ferrara, director of the Lower East Side History Project puts it, “The outlaw is timeless. They have a certain brazen quality that people tend to admire.”

In light of recent gangster coverage, The Local thought it might be the perfect time to take a look at one of the East Village’s own “brazen” outlaws – one with whom you may not even be acquainted.

Before Al Capone, before Luciano, and definitely before “Tony Bagels,” the gangster to be feared and admired was “Monk” Eastman.

Born Edward Eastman in 1873, the mobster known as “Monk” was a frightening figure to behold. As the historian Herbert Asbury described, “He began life with a bullet-shaped head.” He was broken-nosed, bull-necked, and had a face scarred from smallpox and a lifetime of brawling.

In the 1890’s, the Lower East Side was a warren of disease-friendly tenements for the immigrated poor and, by all accounts, its streets were a breeding ground for pickpockets, thugs, and slummers of all stripes.

It was on these same mean streets that Mr. Eastman carved out a reputation as a neighborhood tough and eventually recruited his own gang: the Eastmans.
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