Kayaks and Cockeye Dunn

Last Saturday we did radio interview while hoofing, skittering across the parking lot of a Garden State Parkway rest stop. I was seeking ideal spot far enough from station wagon with kayak on roof and Charlie the Gent inside, with his current favorite CD (Louis Jordan; mid 40’s r&b pioneer) swinging loudly enough to potentially intermix with my responses to Sandy Boyer’s questions. I just kept talking as per usual but noticed on playback an unusually giddy even mirthful tone which might have jarred agin subject of waterfront mayhem.

I do caution in book against a literary and folkloric tradition of representing waterfront violence in cartoon-like strokes; yet it’s true even real victims at times found humor amid the grimmest of circumstances. As he lay dying in St. Vincent’s Hospital in January 1947, Pier 51 (foot of Jane Street, West Village: think of Andy should you ever find yourself near the charming maritime-themed playground that now occupies the site) hiring boss Andy Hintz identified Cockeye Dunn as his assassin. When the leading enforcer of the West Side’s code of silence “reminded” Hintz–backed by legendary steely glare–that he was surely mistaken, Andy assured detectives there was no mistake, then fired his parting shot at Cockeye: “and you Dunn good, too.” Hintz died a few days later.

Andy Hintz’s “dying declaration” led to the murder convictions of John “Cockeye” Dunn and two confederates: nobody in the Manhattan DA’s office could remember the last time a West Side waterfront homicide case had been successfully prosecuted. Hintz’s courage dented but did not break the code of silence. I’ve been heartened by a number of responses to the book from folks–a few of whom I’d corresponded with previously–who are only now identifying themselves as relatives of waterfront denizens from across the spectrum. Yet my thus-far unsuccessful internet search for images of Cockeye Dunn and similarly camera-shy personages evokes the visual code of silence that also prevailed in Irish waterfront days. Should anyone have access to such images…this is an interactive medium yes!

We’re in Lower Manhattan and Long Island this coming week for readings: a new event Nov 12 at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City has also been added albeit not yet loaded under ‘Appearances’ tab atop homepage.
Looks like no kayaking in the meantime during this purportedly soggy weekend, though if an always game and fearless Charlie should exclaim ‘kayak yes’ we’ll be the twosome in the only vessel bobbling through choppy Barnegat Bay.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Kayaks and Cockeye Dunn

  1. Tom O'Leary

    Thanks for a wonderful presentation this evening at the Tenement Museum. I’ve long known the frustration of the Cross Harbor Rail Freight Tunnel
    left unbuilt , and I’m reminded of it every time I see myself surrounded by eighteen wheelers as I cross the G.W. Bridge, but I had no idea how the culture of corruption at the docks had contributed to that effect.
    I’m looking forward to reading your book.

    • A pleasure meeting you Tom on a wonderful evening at Tenement Museum. The unbuilt freight rail tunnel would have written an entirely different history for the Port, no doubt. Out here in N. Jersey we warily eye prospects for a new ‘people tunnel’ as promised via ‘stimulus’ package. Hope you enjoy book; for me it’s delight to meet folks with such vast knowledge of Port and its history and its issues.
      all the best from Jim

  2. Mike Conte

    Dont know if anyone will see this reply. There is an image of John Dunn in the NY Post in an article that was published yesterday, June 20th, 2017. My grandmother was very close with John Dunn’s sister Mary. I remember Mary as a little kid. She was tough as nails, but had a kind heart. When my dad came back from Europe after the war, John got him a job on the docks. My dad, from what i was told, did not last long, as he could not handle the violence he saw routinely on the docks. The night John Dunn was executed, my grandmother and John Dunn’s sister were together, praying and crying.

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