(This post is the first of a series called Village People: A Who’s Who of Greenwich Village, which will explore some of this intern’s favorite Village people and stories.)
453 6th Avenue is an apparently unremarkable building, now home to a noodle shop. Before being renumbered in the 1920s, this was 145 Sixth Avenue. Murray Hall, a prominent Tammany Hall politician and city bail bondsman, lived here in the late nineteenth century. He died here in 1901 of untreated breast cancer. Afterwards, Senator Bernard F. Martin would call him one of the ‘bright stars’ of the Democratic Party in New York. Yet Hall is now remembered mainly for the fact that upon his death, it was discovered that he was female.
Murray Hall was born Mary Anderson, possibly sometime in the 1830s-40s. Havelock Ellis claims that, in contradiction to other reports, he was born in Govan, Scotland, and came to the United States when his secret was discovered while working in Edinburgh. The language of the time makes it difficult to understand how Hall would have identified himself. But whether has was a woman living as a man in order to hold office and vote, or considered himself man, we can be sure that has was not alone. Quite a number of female-born people living as men inhabited the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Frank Blunt (Anna Morris) was married to Gertrude Field in Wisconsin, ‘George’ Green was married to a woman for thirty-five years in Virginia, ‘William’ C. Howard and one Miss Dwyger were married in Canandaigua, New York, and ‘Nicholas’ de Raylan was divorced from a woman in Arizona. (Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History) Charles Durkee Pankhurst worked as a California stagecoach driver until he died in 1879, and Jack Bee Garland fought in the Spanish-American War.
Hall went twenty-five years ‘passing’ as a man. He was known as a ‘man about town,’ engaging in the same gambling, card-playing, cigar-smoking, womanizing, and whisky-drinking that Tammany Hall politicians were stereotypically known for. Hall fit the stereotype so perfectly that those who knew him often found it difficult to believe that has was born female. One C. S. Pratt, who sold books to Hall and his family from 161 Sixth Avenue, said:
‘During the seven years I knew him, I never once suspected that he was anything else than what he appeared to be. While he was somewhat effeminate in appearance and talked in a falsetto voice, still his conduct and actions were distinctively masculine. This revelation is a stunner to me and, I guess, to everybody else who knew him.’
Senator Bernard F. Martin said:
‘I wouldn’t believe it if Dr. Gallagher, whom I know to be a man of undoubted veracity, hadn’t said so.’
‘Suspect he was a woman?’ he continued, ‘Never.’ Many colleagues made comments to the same effect. By all accounts he engaged in all the activities that his colleagues did, drinking and smoking and playing poker. Hall was apparently also known to have fought with a policeman on at least one occasion, succeeding ‘in putting a storm cloud draping under the officer’s eye before he was handcuffed.’ He also married twice, to women who kept (or were unaware of) his secret. Hall’s second wife was Cella Lin Hall, who neighbors later said would argue with her husband, saying that he was ‘too attentive to other women.’ The couple had an adopted daughter as well, Minnie Hall, who apparently had known nothing of the secret.