In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Photo of George Appo from Louis Beck's New; York's Chinatown (1898). Timothy Gilfoyle is an assistant professor of history at Loyola University of Chicago and the author of City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920. He is grateful to the Newberry Library and Loyola for providing financial assistance in his research on the life of George Appo, and to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia University for permitting quotations from George Appo's Autobiography. A PICKPOCKET'S TALE: The Autobiography of George Appo / Timothy J. Gilfoyle Introduction George Appo was no ordinary criminal. Forgotten by the time of his death in 1930, Appo was a quintessential underworld celebrity in nineteenth-century New York City. He grew up in poverty, supported himself by picking pockets, became an opium addict, engaged in counterfeiting schemes, and was incarcerated for over a decade in five different prisons. In 1894, his tales of police corruption before an investigative committee generated not only front-page attention in the penny press, but earned him hatred in the underworld. Perhaps most extraordinary, George Appo wrote an autobiography. The criminal autobiography was in vogue at the turn of the twentieth century partly because urban crime was a burgeoning problem. Cities in the United States confronted unprecedented levels and forms of antisocial behavior in pickpocketing, prostitution, assault, counterfeiting, and graft. Public interest in the underworld grew as government investigations and newspaper exposés increasingly illuminated the pervasive and seedy connections between public officials and outlaw activities. Urban crime narratives had enjoyed considerable popularity earlier in nineteenth-century America, as well. Beginning with Edgar Allan Poe, and continuing with George Foster, George Lippard, George Thompson, Ned Buntline, and George Wilkes, writers had exploited the public's fascination with the antebellum underworld. These initial forays into the dark side of city life, at once sensational and morbid in tone, emerged out of penny-press journalism. Many authors of criminal lore began their careers as reporters. In most cases, they depicted the city as a dichotomy, divided into areas, both geographic and social, of darkness and daylight, of sunshine and shadow, of respectability and unrespectability. Late in the century, law enforcement officials joined this literary fraternity. Police chiefs and detectives like George Washington Walling, Thomas Byrnes, and William McAdoo of New York, Benjamin P. Eldridge and William B. Watts of Boston, and Allan Pinkerton of Illinois examined the most organized forms of crime. The detective became a fixture in the crime story. Such nonfiction accounts paid close attention to the structure, operations, and life-styles of criminal life. As firsthand but outside observers, these writers possessed an authority which gave their tales a sense of legitimacy and urgency. Crime, they argued, was increasingly professionalized, almost an art form. "The ways of making a livelihood by crime are many," wrote Byrnes, "and the number of men and women who live by their wits in all large cities reaches into The Missouri Review · 35 the thousands." The only way to counteract crime was through better law enforcement.1 Simultaneous with these original observations of the underworld appeared the earliest memoirs of American criminals. George Bidwell's Forging His Chains (1888) and Langdon W. Moore's His Own Story of His Eventful Life (1893) were among the first. Such autobiographies, however, were written as moral adventures. Bidwell, for example, insisted that his story was not a simple catalogue of crime. He warned "the young men of America to avoid the temptations by which I was beset, and to restrain that inordinate thirst for gold which seems fully as insatiable to-day as it was a score of years ago."2 Bidwell even came from "respectable" stock, his ancestors having included seventeenth-century Puritan immigrants and a Revolutionary War captain. Such narratives provided not only guidepaths through the subculture of crime but to the life of virtue as well. Other criminal memoirs, like Opie Warner's A Pardoned Lifer (1909) and W. H. Flake's From Crime to Christ (1915), were little more than evangelical tracts or allegories of Christian conversion. Alongside these admonitory and evangelical texts, however, appeared a new type of criminal memoir. Josiah...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 34-78
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.