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McGurk's Suicide Hall Poster

McGurk's Suicide Hall Poster

McGurk's Suicide Hall Poster

McGurk's Suicide Hall Poster

McGurk's Suicide Hall Poster

295 Bowery was once where a tall skinny brick building stood. This building was quite famous not for its architecture, but for the bar that it once housed. This bar was not just any bar, it was considered one of the most infamous dive bars in New York City. The John "McGurk's" Resort (just above Houston) was known throughout the county and the world over for its debauchery, red eye booze, filching, Mickey Finn drops, murder, and suicide. This controlled mayhem lasted from 1883-1902.

Of all the dive bars nested in the Bowery, it was McGurk's who held title for being the last resort. The booze was cheap, watered down and camphor was added to give it a nice color. The bartender was named "Short Change Charlie" Steele and he kept a bottle of chloral hydrate behind the bar, which was used liberally on unsuspecting customers until they woke up in the back alley a day later and many dollars short.

The first ever bouncer in New York went by the moniker of "Eat 'em up Jack McManus". McManus was a boxing champ and was legendary for beating his opponents with his big hammy hands. McManus was also associates with Paul Kelly, the leader of the notorious Five Points gang.

What made McGurk's stand out from the rest of the dive bars in that viper's nest known as The Bowery, were the soiled doves. Should a woman find herself tangled up in the prostitution racket and find herself at McGurk's, it was considered the last stop to nowhere.

In 1882, James D. McCabe wrote a bleak description of the prostitute plying her trade at McGurk's:

"You would find her in the terrible dens, sailors' dance houses, and living Hells of some kindred locality. She is a mass of disease, utterly vile and repulsive, steadily dying from her bodily ailments and the effects of rum and gin. She knows it, and in a sort of dumbly desperate way is glad it is so. Life is such a daily torture to her, hope has so entirely left her, that death only offers her relief."

1899 was the year when six ladies took their own lives and another seven attempted suicide. The only way out for these women were jumping to their death or downing a bottle of carbolic acid.

Blonde Madge Davenport and Big Mame had had enough, and decided to end their lives together by consuming carbolic acid. Blonde Madge succeeded where as Big Mame ended up spilling it all over her self, which ended up disfiguring her face. McGurk threw her out onto the street because she was scaring the customers.

McGurk - always the businessman - took the suicides in stride turning lemons into lemonade by using his new found infamy to his advantage. He renamed his bar and put a new sign out which read, "Suicide Hall".

After a while, folks were getting fed up with McGurk's and he eventually split town in the dead of night skipping out on $1,000 bail.

John McGurk, his wife and daughter headed for sunny California with nearly half a million dollars in cold hard cash. His reputation finally caught up to him when his beloved daughter Martina was denied admission to a convent school after they found out who her father was.

John McGurk died in 1913 at the age of 59.

The building was torn down in July, 2005.

The Bowery
by Charles H. Hoyt and Percy Gaunt
From the Broadway play A Trip to Chinatown (1891)

Oh! the night that I struck New York,
I went out for a quiet walk;
Folks who are "on to" the city say,
Better by far that I took Broadway;
But I was out to enjoy the sights,
There was the Bow'ry ablaze with lights;
I had one of the devil's own nights!
I'll never go there anymore.

The Bow'ry, the Bow'ry!
They say such things,
And they do strange things
On the Bow'ry! The Bow'ry!
I'll never go there anymore!

I had walk'd but a block or two,
When up came a fellow, and me he knew;
Then a policeman came walking by,
Chased him away, and I asked him why.
"Wasn't he pulling your leg?," said he.
Said I, "He never laid hands on me!"
"Get off the Bow'ry, you Yap!," said he.
I'll never go there anymore.

(Repeat Refrain)

I went into an auction store,
I never saw any thieves before;
First he sold me a pair of socks,
Then said he, "How much for the box?"
Someone said "Two dollars!" I said "Three!"
He emptied the box and gave it to me.
"I sold you the box not the sox," said he,
I'll never go there any more.

(Repeat Refrain)

I went into a concert hall,
I didn't have a good time at all;
Just the minutes that I sat down
Girls began singing, "New Coon in Town,"
I got up mad and spoke out free,
"Somebody put that man out," said she;
A man called a bouncer attended to me,
I'll never go there anymore.

(Repeat Refrain)

I went into a barbershop,
He talk'd till I thought that he'd never stop;
I: "Cut it short," he misunderstood,
Clipp'd down my hair just as close as he could.
He shaved with a razor that scratched like a pin,
Took off my whiskers and most of my chin;
That was the worst scrape I'd ever been in.
I'll never go there anymore.

(Repeat Refrain)

I struck a place that they called a "dive,"
I was in luck to get out alive;
When the policeman heard of my woes,
Saw my black eye and my batter'd nose,
"You've been held up!" said the copper fly.
"No, sir! But I've been knock'd down," said I;
Then he laugh'd, tho' I could not see why!
I'll never go there anymore!

(Repeat Refrain)

This poster is 17 inches wide by 22 inches high, generous black ink lushly printed on parchment stock.

PLEASE NOTE: This poster image was hand-drawn by Madame Talbot using General's Cedar Pointe #333-2HB pencils on Crescent 201.6 Hot Press Medium Weight illustration board at original poster size. An antique Koh-i-Noor rapidograph pen and Dr. P. H. Martin's Bombay Black India ink were used for final inking.

After completion, the image was hand-delivered to Ryan Gwinner Press in Portland, Oregon and printed on an offset printing press.

Absolutely no computers were used in the creation of this poster - from start to finish.

The copyright notice is on the website image only and not on the printed poster.

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