Timothy Sullivan

  (Redirected from Timothy D. Sullivan)

Timothy Daniel Sullivan (July 23, 1862 – August 31, 1913) was a New York politician who controlled Manhattan's Bowery and Lower East Side districts as a prominent leader within Tammany Hall. He was known euphemistically as "Dry Dollar", as the "Big Feller", and, later, as "Big Tim" (because of his physical stature). He amassed a large fortune as a businessman running vaudeville and legitimate theaters, as well as nickelodeons, race tracks and athletic clubs. Sullivan in 1911 pushed through the legislature the Sullivan Act, an early gun control measure. He was a strong supporter of organized labor and women's suffrage. The newspapers depicted Big Tim as the spider in the center of the web, overstating his criminal activities and his control over gambling in the city. Welch says that, "assigning the role of vice lord to Sullivan gave Tammany's enemies a weapon to be wielded in every municipal election between 1886 and 1912.[1]

Timothy Sullivan
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from New York
In office
March 4, 1903 – July 27, 1906
Preceded byThomas J. Creamer
Succeeded byDaniel J. Riordan
Constituency8th district
In office
March 4, 1913 – August 31, 1913
Preceded byJefferson M. Levy
Succeeded byGeorge W. Loft
Constituency13th district
Member of the
New York Senate
In office
January 1, 1894 – December 31, 1902
Preceded byThomas F. Cunningham
Succeeded byJohn C. Fitzgerald
Constituency9th district (1894–95)
11th district (1896–1902)
In office
January 1, 1909 – December 31, 1912
Preceded byWilliam Sohmer
Succeeded byJohn C. Fitzgerald
Constituency12th district
Member of the New York State Assembly
from the 2nd New York County district
In office
January 1, 1887 – December 31, 1893
Preceded byThomas Maher
Succeeded byMichael J. Callahan
Personal details
Born(1862-07-23)July 23, 1862
Manhattan, New York
DiedAugust 31, 1913(1913-08-31) (aged 51)
Bronx, New York
Political partyDemocratic

Personal lifeEdit

Larry Mulligan and Tim Sullivan (right)

He was born in the slum of Five Points to Daniel O. Sullivan Emigrated from Tousist on the Beara Peninsula County Kerry and his wife Catherine Connelly (or Conley), from Kenmare, County Kerry, Ireland. His father, a Union veteran of the American Civil War, died of Typhus in October 1867 at age thirty-six, leaving his wife to care for their four children. Three years later, Catherine Sullivan married again to an alcoholic laborer of Irish descent named Lawrence Mulligan, having six children by him.[2]

At age eight, Tim Sullivan began shining shoes and selling newspapers on Park Row in lower Manhattan. By his mid-twenties, he was the part or full owner of six saloons, which was the career of choice for aspiring politicians. Sullivan attracted the attention of local politicians, notably Thomas "Fatty" Walsh, a prominent Tammany Hall ward leader and father of stage actress Blanche Walsh.

In 1886, Sullivan married Helen Fitzgerald. He gradually began building one of the most powerful political machines, which controlled virtually all jobs and vice below 14th Street in Manhattan. His base was his headquarters at 207 Bowery. By 1892, Tammany Hall leader Richard Croker appointed Sullivan leader of his assembly district of the Lower East Side.

In May 1910, Sullivan sailed to England on a boat with many social luminaries among fellow passengers. One of them, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, wrote years later in her autobiography about Sullivan, calling him "a tall, well-set-up, smooth-shaven Irishman, who talked a blue streak in the voice and phraseology of the New York-Irish of the East Side..." In her judgment, years later,[3] Suliwan was "as straight and well-intentioned and genuinely sympathetic in his personal relations and humanitarian enterprises, as he was callous and corrupt politically."[4]

Political careerEdit

Sullivan was a member of the New York State Assembly (New York Co., 2nd D.) in 1887, 1888, 1889, 1890, 1891, 1892 and 1893.

He was a member of the New York State Senate from 1894 to 1902, sitting in the 117th, 118th (both 9th D.), 119th, 120th, 121st, 122nd, 123rd, 124th and 125th New York State Legislatures (all seven 11th D.).

He was elected as a Democrat to the 58th and 59th United States Congresses, holding office from March 4, 1903, until his resignation on July 27, 1906. According to some accounts, Sullivan was dissatisfied with the graft and anonymity of Washington political life, prompting his resignation. he was quoted as saying, "There's nothing in this Congressman business. They know 'em in Washington. The people down there use 'em as hitchin'-posts. Every time they see a Congressman on the streets they tie their horses to him."[5]

He was again a member of the State Senate (12th D.) from 1909 to 1912, sitting in the 132nd, 133rd, 134th and 135th New York State Legislatures. In November 1912, he was elected to the 63rd United States Congress but, due to ill health, did not take his seat, and died a few months into his term.[6]

It could be said that Sullivan was one of the earliest political reformers, since he was aligned with women's rights activist Frances Perkins and sponsored legislation limiting the maximum number of hours women were forced to work, improving the conditions of stable and delivery horses and the Sullivan Law, city gun control legislation.[7]

Rise to power in Tammany HallEdit

Dewey Theatre, owned by Timothy D. Sullivan and George Krause and leased to William Fox who used the venue for vaudeville. Attendance averaged 9,000 patrons a day.[8]

Despite his political and criminal activities, Sullivan was undeniably a successful businessman involved in real estate, theatrical ventures (at one point partnering with Marcus Loew), boxing and horseracing.[9]

Along with various other Sullivans, Big Tim also branched out into popular amusement venues such as Dreamland in Coney Island, where he installed a distant relative, Dennis, as the political leader.[10] Sullivan, whose control extended to illegal prizefights through the National Athletic Club, influenced the New York State Legislature to legalize boxing in 1896 before ring deaths and other scandals caused the law's repeal four years later.

Among other laws he helped pass was the Sullivan Act, a state law that required a permit to carry or own a concealed weapon, which eventually became law on May 29, 1911. Upon first passage, the Sullivan Act required licenses for New Yorkers to possess firearms small enough to be concealed. Possession of such firearms without a license was a misdemeanor, and carrying them was a felony. However, with many residents unable to afford the $3 registration fee issued by the corrupt New York Police Department, his bodyguards could be legally armed while using the law against their political opponents.[11]

He was extremely popular among his constituents. In the hot summer months, tenement dwellers were feted to steamboat excursions and picnics to College Point in Queens or New Jersey. In the winter months, the Sullivan machine doled out food, coal and clothing to his constituents. On the anniversary of his mother's birthday, February 6, Sullivan dispensed shoes to needy tenement dwellers. The annual Christmas Dinners were a particularly notable event covered in all of the city papers.[12] Although he had a loyal following, his involvement in organized crime and political protection of street gangs and vice districts remained a source of controversy throughout his career.

Electoral fraudEdit

Sullivan was an expert in using electoral fraud to retain his power. In a quid pro quo arrangement, constituents voted the way that they were instructed. In return, they were the recipients of Tammany largesse which included coal in the winter, clambakes and outings in the summer, jobs on the city payroll and all-around assistance. In 1892 when his pct went 395 to 4 for Grover Cleveland over Benjamin Harrison in the presidential election he said, "Harrison got one...more vote than I expected, but I'll find that feller!" His most common tactic, with no voter ID, was to use "repeaters." Here's how he described it, "When you've voted'em with their whiskers on you take'em to a barber and scrap off the chin-fringe. Then you vote'em again with side lilacs and a mustache. Then to a barber again, off comes the sides and you vote'em a third time with the mustache. If that ain't enough, and the box can stand a few more ballots, clean off the mustache and vote'em plain face. That makes every one of 'em good for four votes." (Rothstein by David Pietrusza. Pgs 53-55.)

Involvement in criminal activityEdit

During the turn of the century, he developed contacts with many influential figures, including Monk Eastman, Paul Kelly, Arnold Rothstein and disgraced NYPD Lieutenant Charles Becker, who was able to attain the latter a high-ranking position on the New York police force in 1893.[13]

A close associate of Charles Francis Murphy, who succeeded the exiled Richard Croker as head of Tammany Hall in May 1902, the two forced corrupt police chief William Stephen Devery out of Tammany's Executive Committee as part of Murphy's campaign to eliminate any direct links between vice districts and Tammany Hall.

However, Sullivan was allowed to keep his kickbacks from the Lower East Side and Chinatown as a means of keeping him from becoming Murphy's political rival (he had used his considerable political influence from keeping Croker's reform group, the Committee of Five, out of the Bowery only two years before). In exchange, Sullivan had to furnish gang leaders Monk Eastman and Paul Kelly, amongst others, to commit election fraud on behalf of Tammany Hall.[14]

At the time, it was widely known that Sullivan and his subordinates were active in a number of illegal activities including prostitution, gambling and extortion. A number of these revelations came to light in the New York State Lexow Committee hearings as well as through the investigations of the Rev. Charles Henry Parkhurst.[15]

Later yearsEdit

Suffering from tertiary syphilis during his later years, his health continued to deteriorate until he was judged mentally incompetent and finally committed to a sanitarium in 1912. According to the Incompetency hearings, Sullivan elicited paranoid delusions, believed he was being spied upon and his food was being poisoned.[16] On January 12, 1913, the New York Sun reported in a prominent page two article that he was mourned after being committed, "beyond cure" (without naming illness), suffering from "religious mania".

After nearly a year, he managed to escape from his brother's house after eluding nurses on the early morning of August 31 (although other accounts claim he had escaped from orderlies after an all-night card game). Within a few hours, his body was found on the tracks in the Eastchester area of the Bronx, New York.

Sullivan's family did not report him missing for more than 10 days, and his body was brought, and held, at the local Fordham morgue. Finally, after a fortnight, Sullivan was classified as a vagrant and scheduled for burial in Potter's Field despite his tailored clothing and "TDS" diamond monogrammed cufflinks.

Just before removal, his body was finally recognized by Police Officer Peter Purfield, who was assigned to the morgue detail. The New York Times later speculated that Sullivan might have been killed and placed on the tracks. In fact, the engineer of the train that struck Sullivan stated that he thought the body was already deceased. And, adding to the speculation of foul play, Thomas Reigelmann, the Bronx coroner and Tammany political appointee who signed the death certificate, failed to recognize the body of his longtime friend despite the lack of trauma to the decedent's face.[17]

Sullivan's wake was held at his clubhouse, located at 207 Bowery and over 25,000 people turned out for his funeral at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, New York on Mott Street. He was interred in Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York.[18]

For the next seven or eight years, there was a protracted battle over Sullivan's estate, which, by some estimates, ranged as high as $2.5 million. After creditors were satisfied, the bulk of the assets went to Sullivan's full siblings, Patrick H., Mary Anne, and half-brother, Lawrence Mulligan. For several years after Big Tim's death, Patrick H. Sullivan attempted to maintain his late brother's political and criminal clout. However, he proved to be an ineffectual leader and requitted himself from politics to pursue real estate ventures.[19]

Sullivan had one child with his wife Helen, a daughter who died in infancy. He did, however, father at least six illegitimate children, many with actresses affiliated with his theatrical ventures, two of whom were Christie MacDonald and Elsie Janis.[20]

In popular cultureEdit

He was portrayed by Joseph Sullivan in the 1914 silent film The Life of Big Tim Sullivan; Or, From Newsboy to Senator,[21] one of the earlier people to be the subject of a biographical film. He was also a main character in Kevin Baker's novel Dreamland, about life in turn-of-the-century New York, set in part in the Coney Island amusement park of the same name.[22]

On film himself, Sullivan appeared in a silent short Actors' Fund Field Day,[23] a 1910 short film denoting an actors' fundraising. Sullivan more than likely knew many of the persons in the film.

Further readingEdit

  • Czitrom, Daniel. "Underworlds and Underdogs: Big Tim Sullivan and Metropolitan Politics in New York, 1889-1913." Journal of American History (1991) 78#2 in JSTOR.
  • Harlow, A.F. Old Bowery Days: Chronicles of a Famous Street. (1931).
  • MacIllwain, Jeffrey Scott. Organizing Crime in Chinatown: Race and Racketeering in New York City, 1890-1910. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2004. ISBN 0-7864-1626-2
  • Dave Ranney, or Thirty Years on the Bowery - Autobiography of a Bowery Dweller, published in 1910, from Project Gutenberg
  • Welch, Richard F. King of the Bowery: Big Tim Sullivan, Tammany Hall, and New York City from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era (SUNY Press, 2009). ISBN 978-1-4384-3182-6
  • Memorial Addresses on the Life and Character of Timothy D. Sullivan. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office (1914).
  • A fictionalized account of some of Big Tim Sullivan's later years is featured in Dreamland (Kevin Baker)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Richard F, Welch, King of the Bowery p 107
  2. ^ Records, Mulligan, Lawrence & Catherine, Transfiguration Church, 29 Mott Street, New York City, May 1869. See also: Schedule 1, "Inhabitants in the 6th District, 6th Ward in the County of New York," p. 11. Census, New York City 1870, 6th Ward.
  3. ^ Longworth, Alice Roosevelt (1980). Crowded hours. Signal lives. New York: Arno Press. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-405-12846-2.
  4. ^ Longworth, Alice Roosevelt (1980). Crowded hours. Signal lives. New York: Arno Press. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-405-12846-2.
  5. ^ MacNeil, Neil (1963). Forge of Democracy: The House of Representatives. New York, NY: David McKay Company. p. 120.
  6. ^ Carlebach, Michael (2011). Bain's New York: The City in News Pictures 1900-1925. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc. p. 179. ISBN 978-0-4864-7858-6.
  7. ^ 3Chapter 195, "An Act to Amend the [New York State] Penal Law in Relation to the Sale and Carrying of Dangerous Weapons." May 1911. See also: "Suffragists Cheer Big Tim Sullivan..." New York Times, March 31, 1912. C6. For a listing of Sullivan's legislative activity, see: New York Legislative Index, 1909-1912. (New York State Library, Albany)
  8. ^ "Dewey Theatre". Cinema Treasures. Retrieved March 25, 2016.
  9. ^ For background about Sullivan's theatrical interests see: "Plan for a 'Dewey Theatre'". New York Times. July 1, 1898. p. 7. Retrieved March 25, 2016 – via newspapers.com. "For a New Theatre in Second Avenue" (PDF). [New York] Morning Telegraph. January 26, 1903. p. 7. Retrieved June 23, 2013. "Sullivan's New Theatre". 'New York Times. October 22, 1903. p. 9. Retrieved March 26, 2016 – via newspapers.com. Variety, March 13, 1914, 5; Variety, March 27, 1914, 5; Variety, April 3, 1914, 1; Variety, December 14, 1907, p. 10. For in-depth coverage of Sullivan's boxing interests, see: Riess, Steven A. Riess. "Sports and Machine Politics in New York city, 1870-1920," in Making of America. ed. Donald Spivey. (Westport, CT. 1985)
  10. ^ Dennis, ("Flatnose Denny) was a brother of U.S. Rep. Christopher D. Sullivan. The former, a one-time police detective, was murdered on the Coney Island boardwalk in June 1922, see "Dinnie" Sullivan Slain by Blackjack, New York Times, 21 June 1922, 1. For additional information on the Sullivan clan, see: "Little Tim Dead at Forty." New York Times, December 23, 1909. 1. See also: "Sullivan is Last of a Famous Line, New York Times, August 3, 1937; "Sullivans and Tammany." New York Times, August 6, 1942. Editorial
  11. ^ Czitrom, Dan. Underworld and Underdogs: Big Tim Sullivan and Metropolitan Politics in New York, 1889-1913. Journal of American History. 78.2. (1991)
  12. ^ "Fed by Senator Sullivan: Three Thousand Bowery Lodging House Men his Guests." New York Times, December 26, 1899.
  13. ^ Logan, Andy. Against the Evidence: The Becker-Rosenthal Affair. London: Weidenfeld, 1970
  14. ^ New York Times, September 17, 1903, p. 8; New York Times, September 20, 1903, 1. See also: Humbert s. Nelli. The Business of Crime: Italian and Syndicate Crime in the United States. New York, 1976. 101-140
  15. ^ Clarence Lexow, Report and Proceedings of the Senate Committee Appointed to Investigate the Police Department of the City of New York, 5 vols. Albany, 1895. See also, Parkhurst, Charles Henry. My Forty Years in New York. New York: MacMillan, 1923
  16. ^ New York State Supreme Court, "In the Matter of the Application for the Appointment of a Committee of the Person and Property of Timothy D. Sullivan." January 24, 1913
  17. ^ New York World, "Says Blackjack May have Killed Big Tim Sullivan," November 18, 1914, 1; New York Times, September 10, 1913, 1; New York Times, September 11, 1913, 4; New York Times, September 14, 1913, 1; New York World, September 10, 1913, 3. "Bureau to Identify Bodies Will be Established as a Result of Sullivan Case." New York Times. September 27, 1913
  18. ^ Records of Calvary and Allied Cemeteries, Woodside, NY. Section 9, Plot 197, Graves 1-9. See also: [1] and [2], keyword: Sullivan, Timothy D.
  19. ^ "Depose (P.H.) Sullivan as Bowery Leader." New York Times, February 16, 1916. 1.
  20. ^ Aida Sullivan, rumored to be Big Tim's natural daughter, was formally adopted by the Sullivans from the New York Foundling Hospital in 1894. She ultimately received a $50,000 life insurance policy from the Sullivan estate. See: "Says She Will Sue: Miss Sullivan Asserts Big Tim Made a Will Providing for Her." New York Times, September 18, 1913, 2. Sullivan's had another daughter, Margaret Catherine, born to Margaret A. Holland, who received a $50,000 life insurance policy from his estate. See, New York World, December 10, 1913, 1; New York Tribune, December 10, 1913
  21. ^ IMDB
  22. ^ The Life of Big Tim Sullivan; Or, From Newsboy to Senator. Gotham Film Co., 1914. Sullivan left no diaries and very few private letters. Autobiographical materials comes largely through his own statements in the press of his era.
  23. ^ Actors' Fund Field Day; IMDb.com

External linksEdit

New York State Assembly
Preceded by
Thomas Maher
New York State Assembly
New York County, 2nd District

Succeeded by
Michael J. Callahan
New York State Senate
Preceded by
Thomas F. Cunningham
New York State Senate
9th District

Succeeded by
Julius L. Wieman
Preceded by
Joseph C. Wolff
New York State Senate
11th District

Succeeded by
John C. Fitzgerald
Preceded by
William Sohmer
New York State Senate
12th District

Succeeded by
John C. Fitzgerald
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Montague Lessler
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 8th congressional district

Succeeded by
Daniel J. Riordan
Preceded by
Jefferson Monroe Levy
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 13th congressional district

Succeeded by
George W. Loft