Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at MCNY.org
“Mayor of Chinatown” Chuck Connors enthralled New Yorkers around the turn of the century with tall tales and colorful language describing the ethnic neighborhood he inhabited. Connors claimed to have been born and raised near the Bowery, but other sources indicate that he most likely hailed from Providence, Rhode Island. Nonetheless, Connors personified the tough, streetwise “Bowery boy” that the emerging middle class admired and envied.Connors lived rent-free in the heart of Chinatown, at 6 Doyers Street, thanks to Richard K. Fox, publisher of the Police Gazette. Guidebooks that catered to well-heeled tourists characterized Doyers Street as “the crookedest in [the] city, making half a dozen turns in its short stretch from Chatham Square to Pell St. ” The implication that the street was crooked in more ways than one was implicit – and Connors was happy to oblige the sightseers who paid to gawk at what they perceived to be an exotic, seedy side of the city. Connors even devised a scheme with his friends Georgie Yee and Blonde Lulu, wherein the two would pose as addicts languishing in an opium den, which was really just their apartment. “These poor people are slaves to the opium habit,” he would tell the middle class slummers.
When Connors was not entertaining tourists, he could usually be found in one of the watering holes that lined the Bowery. Over time, he attracted the attention and praise of people such as Arnold Daly, Chauncey Depew, Nat Goodwin and Israel Zangwill. In 1904, with the help of Fox, Connors wrote an autobiography, “Bowery Life.” He summed up the experience this way: “It was a pipe to get next to doin’ de act wid a pen an’ ink, an as fur de readin’ gag, oh, good night. I wuz Johnny on de spot wid dat.” His dialect and mannerisms characterize those adopted by the original “toughs” of the neighborhood. 
When Connors died of pneumonia on May 10, 1913, newspapers reported that his passing left a gap on the Bowery. According to the New York Times, his funeral was one of the most elaborate that Chinatown had ever known. People from all walks of life – mission workers, gangsters, and Tammany Hall politicians – attended the funeral to pay respects to the “Mayor of Chinatown.”
1. Alvin Fay Harlow, Old Bowery Days: The Chronicles of a Famous Street (New York: D. Appleton, 1931), 428.
2. Bruce Hall, Tea That Burns: A Family Memoir of Chinatown (Simon and Schuster, 2002), 123.
3. Mary Ting Li Lui, The Chinatown Trunk Mystery: Murder, Miscegenation, and Other Dangerous Encounters in Turn-of-the-century New York City (Princeton University Press, 2005), 39.
4. Hall, Tea That Burns: A Family Memoir of Chinatown, 123.
5. Chuck Connors, Bowery Life (New York: Richard K. Fox, 1904.)