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Patrick Hamou

I have always been fascinated by old mugshots, and it was in their faces of blank, unconcerned expressions that really caught my imagination. After doing more research – it became apparent that incredible stories behind most of these men, though … Read More

By / November 15, 2007

I have always been fascinated by old mugshots, and it was in their faces of blank, unconcerned expressions that really caught my imagination. After doing more research – it became apparent that incredible stories behind most of these men, though violent, were laced with quite a bit of humour as well, and I wanted to share them with others. I had a public exhibit for some of these illustrations where I had attached biographical backrounds for the viewing public to connect with the artwork a little more, and reaction was one of morbid curiousity and fascination. The book has become an extension of that exhibit as I was given the confidence that perhaps I was unto something.

These illustrations will accompany the book I'm working on called Six For Five. It's a look at the long forgotten era of New York's Jewish gangsters from 1900 to 1941, and their colorful and criminal past. The title refers to what they called their lending practice when it came to loansharking. For a five dollar loan, you owed six. The illustrations are the result (so far) of three years of work and research. While they were active in many parts of the US, I decided to keep my focus on those based in New York City where it was a fertile breeding ground due to the huge influx of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century. They were a reaction to America's promised land of opportunity which had become a different story once they landed on these shores. They were a result of overcrowding, poor living conditions and capitalism. That options were few and some chose the crooked ladder to climb out of their situations. The Jewish gangster as an era was a short one, barely lasting one full generation of high activity.

A few books have already been available on the subject but I believe my take is a different one, as its visually driven and will enable people have a real feel for that period in history.

This can at times be a touchy subject matter with some, and its in no way meant to glorify their actions in any way. Pop culture has had a longstanding fascination with gangsters throughout the 20th century for the most part because they buck the system. They are outlaws like no other, another world within our own. It's an undeniably unique, and not always well known part of Jewish American history.

See more Jewish gangsters on Patrick's website.