Monday, July 25, 2011

The other Richard Toner; or, At least MY ancestors didn't bite off rats' heads

Online newspaper searches taught me that not only was my great-great-great-grandfather not the only Richard Toner in late 19th century NYC, he was also not the most interesting Richard Toner in NYC.* Although g-g-g-grandpa lived a memorable life (high- and low-lights include immigrating to America with his bride, and trying to kill himself after a fight with his teenaged son), he was not nearly as newsworthy as the young man who shared his name, the Richard Toner who was known as Dick the Rat.

My ancestor Richard Toner almost certainly knew of the existence of the younger, and seemingly rougher and scarier Richard Toner across the river in Manhattan; Dick the Rat was written up in NY and Brooklyn papers for any number of things, and even appears to have been the subject of an early silent film short by Edison's studios, Rat Killing (1894) (now lost).

Dick the Rat made the newspapers for such diverse accomplishments as:

(1) Taking over his father-in-law's business
The New York Times, 2 Jan 1871

(2) Explaining his trade to the New York Times
The New York Times, 30 Jan 1876
(Read the rest of the article here.)

(3) Being arrested on suspicion of shooting John Casey in the thigh
The New York Times, 17 Feb 1876

(4) Handling a dog who could kill 7 rats a minute

The New York Times, 18 Feb 1878

(5) Shooting himself in a drunken stupor
The New York Times, 3 July 1880

(6) Being inappropriately intimate with a married woman
The Sun, 4 Dec 1887
Wikipedia reports that he was also known to regularly bite the heads off of rats, but I haven't come across that tidbit in any of the contemporary sources that I currently have access to.

*My ancestor Richard Toner died before consolidation in 1898, so he wasn't ever really a Richard Toner in NYC. He was a Richard Toner in Brooklyn, and Dick the Rat was a Richard Toner in Manhattan. But even before Brooklyn became a part of New York City, the two cities were geographically and culturally close, a connection that increased dramatically with the building of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883.

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