We spend enough time in mainstream museums that we often get tired of eating our American history with a slice of apple pie and vanilla ice cream. A new museum soon to open in New York, however, is offering a darker look at “The American Century” and a new book features raw, crowd-sourced images from the time when photography was new. Neither flinch a grit and grime, serving our history up with a slug of bootlegged whiskey.
The Museum of the American Gangster, opening for previews early next month in the old Theatre 80 space on Manhattan’s tumbledown St. Mark’s Place, is a one-of-a-kind collection of photographs, “found artifacts”, and other ephemera tracing the rise of American organized crime from its origins to its Prohibition-Era heyday. Housed in a former theater and restaurant that once employed Frank Sinatra (talk about your mob ties) and was briefly home to Trotsky, the Museum will feature guns, documents, a speakeasy bar, and,“a maze of hidden rooms and artifacts in the basement left over from Prohibition.” How salty.
If you’re not near the Big Apple (or “Big Onion” as it was called) or can’t wait that long, grab yourself a copy of “Folk Photography: The American Real-Photo Postcard, 1905–1930″, the new picture book by America’s foremost chronicler of dives, dirt, and derelict history, Luc Sante. Taken before the age of tourism, these site-specific photographs reveal places and people as the locals saw them, not gussied up for popular or commercial consumption. Like the Civil-War photography of Mathew Brady that are still more horrific and gripping than photos taken in Afghanistan last week, these images are rough and honest, taken by people who didn’t think to use guile or discretion when capturing their surroundings. Both the museum and the book constitute rare looks into the harder side of our shared history.
The Museum of the American Gangster
Opening for previews March 7, 2010
80 St. Mark’s Place, New York, New York, U.S.A.
“Folk Photography: The American Real-Photo Postcard, 1905–1930″
Verse Chorus Press
Images (clockwise from upper left): Cover image of “Folk Photography”, courtesy of Verse Chorus Press, mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano, courtesy of The Museum of the American Gangster, a postcard from “Folk Photography”, courtesy of Verse Chorus Press, an armed group, courtesy of The Museum of the American Gangster.
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