Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gray Area

Regarding my middle name, Gray: it was carried to Manhattan in 1860 by an Irish laborer and sometime hod-carrier, who planted it in Hell's Kitchen (including 20 years in the tenements of "Battle Row") before his butcher/boxer son uprooted it, brought it across the East River to Woodside, Queens County, in 1899 or 1900, and pinned it to his thirteen children, including my grandfather (born, coincidentally, the very day before Howard Pyle died), who passed it on to his three daughters. And then my mother presented it to me. Somewhere along the way I shed it from my "professional" name, but, having traced the colorful history of the Grays, I regret not keeping it - especially since it's the only part of my name that's easily pronounced.

Speaking of "Battle Row" - I first came across the term in The Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury, but I just found another reference to it in The Thirty-Sixth Annual Report of the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor for the Year 1879 (published about the same time my people moved to the block):
On West 39th Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, stand a block of tenements known as "Battle Row," and almost equally well as "Murderer's Row." For years this place has borne an evil reputation, having always been a source of great trouble to the police. Its inmates are the terror of the neighborhood. It is the cradle of some of the worst Tenth Avenue gangs, and the scene of constant broils, both domestic and with whoever the roughs may chance to pick a quarrel. Arrests are of such frequent occurrence as to excite but little remark. The police themselves are frequently attacked, one, nicknamed " The Brute," having been knocked senseless with a brick only three or four weeks ago; another, the officer with whom I conversed, was himself struck with a similar missile....
More can be found here. It's no wonder the Grays escaped!

1 comment:

Mema said...

Very good Ian. You have done such a good job "fleshing out the bones" of the Grays and we are indebted to you for it. Now, Tom knows more about his "Gray roots". Although he has no hier, ahem hair!