No. 563
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
July 6, 2022

Thimble Rig A La Mode.

March 18, 2014
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Eli Bence has always been a person of great interest to Borden case historians, even though his testimony did not get considered at the trial in the end. He has been a person of personal fascination for me for 30 years and I was delighted to learn his home in Pittsfield, MA sold in July 2020 and the realtor included some interior photos of the graceful 1900 – built home. Bence had some heartaches in his life, the death of his daughter Priscilla, and first wife, Sarah Hayhurst- and he, himself died tragically at the peak of his illustrous career as a pharmacist. His story, pharmacy in New Bedford in 1894 and second marriage to Annie Maxfield have been covered fairly extensively on the Warps & Wefts blog over the years but here is a new photo of Eli in 1885, and photos of his Pittsfield home as well as two obituaries you will enjoy reading. The link will take you to interiors of his 64 Commonwealth St. Pittsfield home, which sadly, have been greatly modernized. I have always been a great believer in what Eli had to say in 1893. https://www.realtor.com/…/64-Commonwealth-Ave…
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 7/6/2022
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'SOAPY' SMITH AND TWO COLLEAGUESObject ID 2017.6.350Courtesy of Salvation Army Museum of the West(Click image to enlarge) New photograph of "Soapy" Smith?NOT EVEN CLOSE.      A B & W photograph, said to be of Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith, and two colleagues. Soapy is in the middle, marked with an "X." The photo was taken in Alaska,
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 4/11/2022
Via Newspapers.comHere we have your bog-standard “prophetic dream” story, but with a rather unusual twist.  Usually in such accounts, telling the dream to others saves a life.  In this case, it was what doomed the victim.  From the “Madisonian,” May 25, 1839:A letter from Hamburg contains the following curious story relative to the verification of a dream. It appears that a locksmith’s apprentice
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Strange Company - 7/6/2022
An article I recently wrote for the British online magazine, New Politic, is now available online. The article, “The Criminal Origins of the United States of America,” is about British convict transportation to America, which took place between the years 1718 and 1775, and is the subject of my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: […]
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Early American Crime - 12/17/2021
 1n 1827, Elsie Lansing lived with her husband John, in Cherry Hill, the stately mansion overlooking the Hudson River near Albany, New York. Jesse Strang was a servant living in the basement. When Elsie and Jesse fell in love, their torrid affair led to the murder of John Whipple.Read the full story here: Albany Gothic.
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Murder By Gaslight - 7/2/2022
The Gilded Age was a captivating era of growth, greed, and deep cultural changes that set into motion the way we live today. It was a time when men and women typically occupied vastly different spheres: men in the outside world of business and industry, women as the center of home, family, and society. But […]
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Ephemeral New York - 7/4/2022
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
What it is Coming to in Chicago. | Unmindful of their Attire.

Thimble Rig A La Mode.

thimble rig The way they do it on Rockaway sands—How beauty and skill conspire to make the rural heart and the rural pocket-book sicker and realize the old song, “Beware; Take care; She’s fooling thee!” [more]

A Lovely Law-Breaker.

A three-card monte man plied his illegitimate craft near the steamboat landing at Rockaway on Wednesday, attracting quite a crowd. From time to time he would cast a malevolent glance up the footway and make some remark about a swindling game up there. This attracted a Police Gazette reporter’s attention to another crowd gathered some hundred feet away, which upon close inspection proved to be collected about a woman who was carrying on a thimble-rig game after the most approved fashion. She was a woman of thirty, with a handsome face, but a hard mouth and keen, quick eyes; solitaires sparkled in her ears and on the fingers with which she deftly manipulated the tools of her trade flashed several valuable gems. Her attire was in the latest style and of costly material, and she wore it with the nonchalance of one accustomed to such sumptuary gorgeousness.

A couple of cappers, one an elegantly dressed young fellow, with a three-carat solitaire in his shirt front and its match on his left little finger, and the other an elderly individual in a black suit of a clerical cut, with white cravat and broad brimmed felt hat assisted her. Trade was dull, however, and in spite of the fascination of the rigger and the encouragement of her supporters, only one victim advance to the sacrifice of a $5 note. He went away after creating quite a disturbance, and the three tricksters after a brief colloquy departed toward the nearest hostelry with a negro boy carrying the stand on which the illusive balls had rolled about under the deceptive cups. An ancient personage who smelled too strongly of fish to be mistaken for anything but a native, observed to the reporter:

“It’s just too rich for anything. I was expecting a fight all along, for its bound to come.”

“That countryman did end up rather rough,” assented the reporter.

“Countryman be blowed.” Responded the native, “It’s the monte man down thar I’m talkin’ about. They’s been a row brewin atween them all summer and just wait if you want to see the hair fly.”

“What do you mean?”

“Why his and the woman’s, both. You see they used to be partners, accordin’ to the laws of the State of New York, but she got mashed on that young chap you seen with her. Her and the old man had no end of rows, and last month I seen him lay her out with an umbreler up in the saloon there. The she left him, and the next I knowed was working the thimble game. I guess she done it more to spite him than anything else. She gets as close to where he sets up as she can, and the sight off a woman dealing such a game, tracts the people from him right along. You’d just die laughing to see how mad he gets sometimes. He just rears around, and once he went for the young chap and gev him a turrible whaling. Never seen a man worse laid out, but lo and behold, he came out the next day, all tied up in rags, and they kep’ the game up as lively as ever. It’s as good as a circus and don’t cost noting either unless you’re sucker enough to bet your eyes against her fingers. In which case it’s your own fault and nobody else’s.”

Among the knowing ones at the beach the feud is spoken of with much humor. Rockaway enjoys this year the attention of quite a crop of these speculators on the capital of public credulity whose operations are not sanctioned by the law, and the actors in this little drama are well known to all of them. The fair professor of the thimble rig is said to be an ex-business woman of the class not acknowledged in polite society, who retired to private life some years ago to share her savings with a well-known small gambler upon whom she had chosen to lavish her favor. This gentleman, like all of his class, no sooner found himself prosperous than he proceeded to waste his property after the fashion known to him and this year found it necessary to resume trade or starve. His benefactress backed him in a monte game, with which he opened the season at Rockaway only to find himself supplanted there by a detested rival. The Gazette representative found him on Wednesday afternoon, recuperating for a renewal of his labors on roast clams and beer, and with him he entered into a conversation upon his grievance.

“He’s welcome to her,” he said in conclusion. “Lord knows he’s got all the bad temper and clear cussedness any man need to have for his own benefit. But what I despise is that I taught her the rig itself. I was the boss rigger in this country till I had these her fingers shot off out in Deadwood, and if it hadn’t been for me she wouldn’t know one ball from another. Never you do a good act to any body, especially a woman, young feller. Gemme another beer and a tooth pick.”


Reprinted from the National Police Gazette, October 15, 1881