“The Swede makes his territory: The fighter’s circle. Daring a cross of it; until finally he puffs his long trunk and the angular slant of his splayed chest and shoulders for a grunt in the air that of a bull ape’s summoning.”
The Swede (b. 1889), is not Swedish at all, but is a gangly 6’5″ Irish-American with blond hair and gigantic fists. Born James Finnigan, The Swede is an enforcer for White Hand gang leader Dinny Meehan. With a permanent “gaunt scowl” and a ferocious temper, he is known in Irishtown for his raging tantrums and is inordinately protective of Meehan. In the early 1900s he lead a group of young thugs in Red Hook, Brooklyn. In 1912, Meehan paid the Italian Black Hand a $500 ransom when The Swede’s sister Helen was kidnapped. Afterward the gang, including The Swede, robbed a Black Hand undertaker of thousands of dollars. He beat Darby Leighton “to death’s door” after the sensational trial for the murder of Christie Maroney. When Charles McGowan was killed by Pickles Leighton in Sing Sing, The Swede became Meehan’s righthand. Rumors of his having a child with his sister Helen have persisted after the ransom for her was paid. In fact The Swede is known to have such a deep and enduring love for his family that it crosses into the taboo.
What you need to know before starting DIVIDE THE DAWN: In 1915 The Swede beat an Italian immigrant to death at the Fulton Ferry Landing. He also led the way during the Donnybrook in Red Hook. In 1917, Wild Bill Lovett secedes from the gang and claims part of the White Hand’s territory. After a swarm of enemies surround the gang, an ominous warning from Detective William Brosnan, and building pressure to provide for his family, The Swede attempts to commit suicide by shooting himself in the heart. Now his left arm is lame, taking away his ability to fistfight while the pressure continues to mount. Later he, along with Meehan, Vincent Maher and Lumpy Gilchrist are arrested for robbing a shoe store when Mickey Kane is murdered.
“Harry looks down toward the parlor where the Burke boy stares and groans, his mother speaking to him in warm, sweet tones even as we can see her cold breath in the room. She rubs her hand up and down his arm to keep the cold off him, then looks toward Harry and I.”
Thomas Burke (b. 1893) known simply as Burke, is small of stature, but has a large family. Having stumbled into the White Hand gang and the Brooklyn underworld, he is apprehensive and nervous about their shadowy, often violent dealings. Living in a rundown building by Prospect Park, Burke had terrible difficulties finding regular work to feed and shelter his wife and four children. His eldest son, stricken with what is deemed “The Palsy” in Irishtown (Multiple Sclerosis), is in need of serious medical treatment. Wanting to help, two White Hand gang members offer him a job as a longshoremen. Even though he is not strong enough for the type of physical demands required to unload ships, he is eager to work and his wife becomes friends with a gang member’s family, securing his position. Burke wants no part of the violence the gang is involved in, but he is in too deep now.
What you need to know before starting DIVIDE THE DAWN: As Harry Reynolds and Liam Garrity fix up a dilapidated room in anticipation of Garrity’s mother and sisters’ arrival from Ireland, they notice an eight year-old child strapped to a chair, which is strapped to a wall. Later they notice the chair and table are missing. Burke tells Reynolds and Garrity that due to the severe coal shortage in Brooklyn, they burned the table and chairs in the fireplace during a freezing night. Hearing this, Reynolds offers Burke a chance to work on the docks and proves himself loyal and hard-working. As tenement neighbors, the Burke and Garrity families become close. When several gang members are jailed and Liam is forced into being a dockboss, Burke watches fearfully as Garrity and others beat immigrants who challenge them. With a gang war looming, he feels trapped.
“They’re comin’ now, just slow. Gatherin’ up like a giant swell, they’ll swallow ye like the great suck o’ the ocean and leave ye bathin’ in a welter o’ yer own blood and bones, all o’ ye. Oh they’re comin’, sure enough. Slow and sure o’ themselves.”
William Brosnan (b. 1864, Dublin), also known as the Tunic, is a detective with a dark past and father-in-law to eager, blackjack-swinging Patrolman Daniel Culkin. While his young wife was giving birth during the Great Blizzard of 1888, Brosnan was on patrol in Irishtown when he found a baby in the rubble of a fallen tenement. He desperately ran the baby to a hospital, where he found out his wife died during childbirth. Moments later, he was told the baby he found in the fallen tenement survived. Despondent, Brosnan came to believe that a darkness followed him. The baby he saved turned out to be Garry Barry, the grimmest, most malevolent of street urchins. Barry, Brosnan believes, is a wraith and has a role to play in the dark, pre-Christian prophecies he heard as a boy back in Ireland, “When the veil between life and death is thinnest during the storms of dawn, we are exchanged like pieces on a chessboard.” Brosnan concludes that his wife’s life was taken for Barry’s to fulfill a prophecy that has its origins in Ireland’s Great Hunger (potato famine) where “the keening songs of the banshees croon hastens an ascension, like the rising of the moon.” A single father, Brosnan raised his daughter on a patrolman’s salary until she married the eager Culkin. Since Barry was reported to have died in 1918 of injuries from a White Hand gang beating, Brosnan’s superstitious fears were allayed. But in 1919, during the “Storm of Slanting Snow,” Culkin finds Barry alive. Shaken again, Brosnan is convinced another death must be exchanged for Barry’s life and worries it’ll be Culkin. Or worse, as his daughter is pregnant.
What you need to know before starting DIVIDE THE DAWN: In 1915, Brosnan and Culkin show up in the Dock Loaders’ Club after Wild Bill Lovett murdered an immigrant for pulling a cat’s tail. Before the Donnybrook in Red Hook, Brosnan was forced to accept payment from the White Hand to look the other way. In 1916, Brosnan is promoted to detective for getting the conviction of Non Connors, who wrongly was named leader of the White Hand. A year later he is publicly reprimanded by the Waterfront Assembly’s Jonathan G. Wolcott and the newspapers for looking the other way while gangs run the waterfront. Brosnan and Culkin show up at the Dock Loaders’ Club and make demands of White Hand gang leader Dinny Meehan for an increase in their hush money and angrily describe how they are all going to fall prey to the Anglo-American ascendency, who has the real power in New York.
“They shooed the whore away an’ tied me to the bed. Then this Ivy League dago comes in, duded up like he’s some gaudy business man with a pinky ring. But you can’t put a blond wig on a guerrilla and convince me her name’s Mary.”
Sixto Stabile (b. 1893), also known as theYoung Turk, is a self-assured, sardonic and overly polite South Brooklyn Italian who graduated from Harvard University. Sixto’s Italian-born father paid for his schooling via the bawdyhouse (brothel) he owns, called the Adonis Social Club on 20th street & 4th avenue, which is protected by Frankie Yale and the Black Hand. In 1916, Yale’s man Il Maschio was murdered by the Irish White Hand. Still angry that Red Hook is populated with Italians, yet the dock winnings are collected by the Irish, Yale decided to temporarily emphasize friendlier relations with the powerful White Hand Gang’s Dinny Meehan. Highly educated Sixto was a perfect fit to smooth things out. Working with the ILA’s Thos Carmody, Sixto helped put together a brilliant three-way peace deal, which gave the Italians the southern terminal of Red Hook in exchange for the (failed) murder attempt of Wild Bill Lovett, while both the White and Black Hand longshoremen unionized.
What you need to know before starting DIVIDE THE DAWN: With the assistance of Jonathan G. Wolcott‘s NY Dock Co, and headquartering his new gang in Red Hook, Lovett seceded from the White Hand in 1917. Dinny Meehan was backed into a corner, so Sixto sprung into action. At the Adonis, Sixto and Carmody kidnapped White Hand enforcer Vincent Maher and gave him peace terms that would break Lovett’s stronghold in Red Hook and kill Wolcott’s strategist and muscle, Silverman. The plan succeeded. Even though Lovett survived, he was sent to the Great War in a plea deal after murdering a Black Hand assassin. In 1919, after Maher is jailed, Sixto and Yale visit him and offer him a job in Chicago, warning him that Meehan plans on setting him up for the robbery of the Hanan & Son shoe factory, just as he’d set up Pickles Leighton, Non Connors, and even Lovett before him.
“Sadie looks up into my eyes and smiles. She wipes a tear away and hugs me. And so does L’il Dinny, hugging me by the leg. She whispers to me, ‘Now you need to start makin’ a plan for yourself an’ your family, to escape Brooklyn.’”
Sadie Meehan (née Leighton,b. 1891) faces a terrible decision: Staying with her gang leader husband, or leaving him in order to keep her son safe. Sadie was raised in the terrible poverty of East London. In 1910, her cousins Darby and Pickles Leighton paid her passage to Brooklyn, New York where she again lived in desperate conditions. She was courted by both Dinny Meehan and Harry Reynolds of the White Hand gang, but when Meehan was arrested for the murder of Christie Maroney, Harry came to her the night before the trial. Her cousin Pickles was then convicted, while Dinny, McGowan, and Vincent Maher were exonerated. Feeling closer to Dinny and seeing that he could best pull her out of poverty (Meehan also promised to get her cousin out of prison), she shunned Harry. Sadie cared for three orphans that Dinny brought home and helped groom them as productive gang members. Within months of Meehan’s release, she gave birth to a son, Li’l Dinny.
What you need to know before starting DIVIDE THE DAWN: Sadie takes in the homeless immigrant teenager Liam Garrity. Later she gives Liam a haircut, flowers and advice on courting women when Dinny attempts to betroth him to Anna Lonergan. She is startled when her cousin Darby sneaks up on her and L’il Dinny, who shames her for marrying the man who banished him and set up Pickles (her cousin) for the murder of Maroney, then offers her a cryptic warning. When Darby and Anna throw rocks through Sadie’s window while Dinny is in jail, she goes to Liam, but Harry says he “can’t talk to Sadie.” Liam then pays for her and L’il Dinny to stay in a hotel on Long Island. Scared to go back to Brooklyn and the coming gang war, she plans on keeping her son far away.
“Knowing things is what I’m known for, and I’m the guy waiting in the long shadows to use them against you.”
Darby Leighton – (b. 1890) is a man of the shadows. Sickly and with calm, dead eyes, he has the look of a lost soldier as he’s been banished from the White Hand gang. He has never been able to decide his own fate, but now has a family and is ready to emerge. Having been abandoned as children in 1900, Darby and his brother Pickles Leighton lived under a rotted pier in Brooklyn until joining an early version of the White Hand gang. When a young Dinny Meehan appeared, the gang became profitable. Darby was the one who saved money to bring his cousin Sadie Meehan (née Leighton) to Brooklyn. Darby looked up to Meehan, but was made to follow his brother Pickles in joining Wild Bill Lovett‘s Jay Street gang one block over. When Pickles was convicted of murdering Christie Maroney, Meehan’s enforcer The Swede beat Darby to “death’s door” and “eightysixt” him to the shadows. Having lived under cover for so long, he’s learned to spy on the gang and has worked in the background to gather valuable information against it. In the meantime he met an Italian immigrant who could not find her family when she got off the boat. Soon a baby came, but how are they going to support their new family?
What you need to know before starting DIVIDE THE DAWN: In 1915 Darby is seen running from The Swede again on the streets of Irishtown. Later, a gang member who openly questioned Darby’s exile was murdered. From the shadows, Darby snuck up on Sadie and son, L’il Dinny. Feeling she’d left him to rot while marrying the man who banished him, he gave her a cryptic warning, “One day Bill Lovett’s gonna kill ya husband, and I’m gonna know about it ahead o’ time.” But in 1917, Lovett’s revolt against Meehan failed, leaving Darby deeper in the shadows than before. In 1919, Lovett reappeared, seemingly from the dead, and gave him his .45, telling Darby to get it to Richie Lonergan in order to kill Meehan’s cousin, Mickey Kane. With Lovett returned, Darby hopes to overthrow Meehan and become a dockboss to support his young family.
“It’s all about the Leighton brothers. As long as Pickles sits in Sing Sing and Darby’s eighty-sixt, Lovett’ll never get wit’ us. Even after givin’ it to McGowen like they did.” ~The Swede
Pickles Leighton (b. 1889) is a murderer and prisoner in Sing Sing. He does not appear in Divide the Dawn, but is often spoken of. In 1900, he and his brother Darby Leighton were abandoned. By 1908, Pickles clashed with Dinny Meehan and joined upstart Wild Bill Lovett‘s Jay Street gang. In a show of solidarity, Lovett allowed Pickles to go with Meehan to murder Christie Maroney, the king of Irishtown in 1912. But Pickles was the only one convicted. Meehan grew concerned over controlling the inside of Sing Sing and the many convicts that could support an uprising against him, so he had his righthand McGowan plead guilty to a small charge in order to kill Pickles in Sing Sing. In the War for the Inside, many battles occurred that maimed Pickles, including losing an eye, but in the end Lovett paid a screw (prison guard) to beat McGowan to death. Now that Lovett has returned from the Great War alive, Pickles’ release could provide him a great many paroled soldiers in the gang war against Meehan and the White Hand.
“Vincent Maher has no moral issue in both separating virginity from a young female with his blood-filled cock as he does removing the life from a male with his snub-nosed, single action revolver.”
Vincent Maher (b. 1894), also known as Masher (obsolete word for a ladies man) is a chatty charmer with a crude, sexual intelligence and enforcer for White Hand Gang leader Dinny Meehan. Always carrying his snub-nosed .38 in his belt, Vincent splits his time between the violent underworld and Italian bawdyhouse, The Adonis Social Club. He is best known for having a very large penis and when he was questioned for hurting a whore, he pulled down his pants and said simply, “she asked me to go to the hilt.” With his connection to South Brooklyn Italians and union recruiter Thos Carmody, he helped foster a deal between the White Hand, the Black Hand and the ILA. Vincent was the second orphan Dinny and Sadie Meehan cared for and was successfully groomed to be an enforcer. In 1912, he was arrested along with Meehan, McGowan and Pickles Leighton for murdering the King of Irishtown Christie Maroney.
What you need to know before starting DIVIDE THE DAWN: In 1915, Vincent found homeless immigrant Liam Garrity and brought him to McGowan’s Wake to meet Dinny Meehan. When the gang was under attack from many enemies, Vincent and Richie Lonergan struck first in a wave of attacks by killing Mick Gilligan, who was made an example to those who consider breaking the Code of Silence during the Donnybrook in Red Hook.
In 1917, with the White Hand gang again facing extinction, Vincent played a role in bringing three former enemies together against Wild Bill Lovett and the New York Dock Company. Afterward, He again struck the first blow when he and the ILA’s Thos Carmody worked together in murdering Jonathan G. Wolcott‘s strategist and muscle, Silverman. Vincent is currently in jail with Meehan, The Swede and Lumpy Gilchrist for robbing a shoe factory, and has been fielding rogue, yet tempting offers from the Black Hand to undermine Meehan.
“That biddy ol’ flab? She comes here all the time askin’ for favors. She wants her eldest son to open a bike shop, but of course she don’t have the money for it. So she wants Dinny’s help.”
Mary Lonergan (b. 1876), also known as MourningMother Mary, is a tragic, abused and defeated Irish mother of fifteen (though two have died). Known for a facial disfigurement from when she was scalded by her husband who threw hot grease at her, she is an Irishtown curiosity. Mary is religious, impulsive, comically boisterous, strongly opinionated and defensive of her many children, although her old-world superstitions actually led to the death of a son. She is the mother of White Hand gang member Richie “Pegleg” Lonergan and the fiery nubile Anna Lonergan. Her dream is to ingratiate herself with the King of Irishtown, not any up-and-comers like Wild Bill Lovett.
What you need to know before starting DIVIDE THE DAWN: In 1916, she showed up at the Dock Loaders’ Club demanding word with White Hand gang leader Dinny Meehan. A deal was struck that if her eldest son Richie worked for the gang, Meehan would pay rent for a Lonergan family bike shop that she would run. In 1917 her six year-old son Tiny Thomas died of an infection because she believed that if she took him to the hospital, they’d give him “the black box,” (poison him to give the bed to a Protestant). In 1918 a second child died of the Spanish Influenza. Lovett has also abused her since she wants her son Richie to stick with whoever is the current king of Irishtown, not an upstart. She consented to her eldest daughter Anna’s betrothal to Meehan follower Liam Garrity to ensure the Lonergan family connection to the gang, though Anna vehemently refused.
“You see that guy over there? That’s Garry fookin’ Barry. Don’t ever trust’em. He’s a fookin’ psychopath, that one. Trouble, nothin’ but. If he comes up on ya, just play dumb.”
Garry Barry (b. 1888) In the year he came into being there was a great blizzard in New York. On duty in Irishtown, Patrolman William Brosnan found the baby in the wreckage of a fallen tenement. Twenty years later, Barry was beaten to death by the White Hand gang outside a saloon. Newspapers reported on the public trouncing and quoted doctors that he was expected to die of massive head injuries. In 1919, after another great snow storm, he again reappears, hiding out off Flatbush avenue. Barry was the former leader of the Red Onion gang that paid tribute to Christie Maroney. He is known for being indolent and unsound, believing he should be leader of the White Hand gang, even though he has but a single follower. When the White Hand took power after 1912, Dinny Meehan considered him for a dockboss position. But Barry obstinately challenged Meehan to a fist fight for leadership of the gang. Meehan then battered Barry, knocking him out within a minute and leaving him out of the gang’s inner circle.
What you need to know before starting DIVIDE THE DAWN: A fringe gang member, Barry was present at the Donnybrook in Red Hook, when the White Hand took back power on the docks of Brooklyn.
In 1916 Barry went to the Black Hand with an offer to assassinate Meehan, if they supported him being the new leader. Barry was seen by Liam Garrity in a saloon with a knife looking for an opportunity to murder Meehan on the night of Black Tom’s Explosion. In retaliation, Meehan sent Whitehanders after Barry and viciously beat him in front of an entire neighborhood, leaving him for dead. Refusing to go away, he now has grotesque facial scars where he was crudely sown up. In 1919, Barry was found by Patrolman Daniel Culkin and Amadeusz Wisniewski who, at the behest of Waterfront Assembly Director Jonathan G. Wolcott, gave Barry an envelope full of money to burn down Meehan’s home and take over the gang with their assistance.