Monday, August 9, 2010

The Day the Mayor of New York City Was Shot by Michael Miscione - Manhattan Borough Historian

One hundred years ago today a discharged city watchman, bitter over losing his job, shot William J. Gaynor, the mayor of New York City.

He took away my bread and meat. I had to do it,” said the gunman, James J. Gallagher, with no apparent regret. Gaynor, who was standing on the deck of a steamship in Hoboken, N.J. about to depart for vacation, was rushed to St. Mary’s Hospital where he eventually recovered.

This remarkable but little-remembered incident is the subject of a small new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, and an article in the New York Times City Room blog by Sam Roberts.

The exhibition features a stunning news photograph taken just a split-second after the mayor was struck and a long-forgotten plaque that I rediscovered several years ago. I had been reading up on the shooting when I came across a reference to a large bronze tablet designed by the artist Charles R. Lamb that had been given to the sisters of St. Mary’s Hospital by Gaynor’s supporters as a token of gratitude for the nuns’ kindness and skill. Since there was nothing in NYC that marked the assassination attempt -- it took place across the Hudson, after all -- I thought I'd go looking for plaque.

Thus began a historical detective saga only slightly less complex than the plot of The Maltese Falcon. But seriously, to make a long story short, I eventually traced the tablet to a basement in Brooklyn! I didn't do anything about the discovery until recently. When I realized that the centennial of the shooting was fast approaching I proposed to the administrators of the MCNY that they create an exhibit featuring the long-lost plaque, and they agreed.

I want to tip my hat to the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor for allowing the plaque to be displayed. Another tip goes to Susan Henshaw Jones, Sarah Henry, Kathy Benson, Giacomo Mirabella and the rest of the talented and fast-acting team at the museum.

And a third tip goes to Sam Roberts for his outstanding write-up.

See the links below to read Roberts’ piece and contemporaneous accounts of the shooting from three NYC newspapers, the Times, the Tribune, and the Sun.

Sam Roberts’ article in the New York Times City Room blog
New York Times lead article, August 10, 1910

New York Tribune front page, August 10, 1910 *

New York Sun front page, August 10, 1910 *

* These two links will open an interactive window that shows the entire newspaper page. Note that the window has handy links to “Previous Page,” “Next Page,” “Previous Edition” and “Next Edition” that make it very easy to read the coverage over several days.