The House That Tweed Built


When Tweed was arrested in December, Connolly, Sweeny, and most of the other leading members of the Ring fled to Europe or to Canada and were never punished. Connolly wandered about Europe and died there, a man without a country, while Sweeny returned to New York in the eighteen eighties and lived out his years there in quiet respectability. One who did not flee was Mayor Oakey Hall. At his trial it was asked how the Mayor could have signed hundreds of padded courthouse warrants and not been aware of it. His attorney explained that the Elegant Oakey had “an ineradicable aversion to details.” Hall was acquitted.

Only the Boss paid a price, a small price considering the crime. Tweed spent less than half his remaining years—from his downfall in 1871 until his death in 1878—in jail. In 1873 he was sentenced to twelve years in prison for fraud, but the court of appeals reduced the sentence to a year on a legal technicality. After his release in 1875 Tweed was arrested as the result of action brought by the state of New York to recover six million dollars he was accused of having stolen. While in prison awaiting trial the Boss was often allowed to visit his home under guard. During one such visit, in December of 1875, Tweed escaped to Cuba and then to Spain, only to be recognized from a Nast caricature. He was returned to New York in November, 1876, and was confined to the Ludlow Street Jail to await trial. He died there on April 12, 1878, at the age of fifty-five.

In the years after Tweed’s death the horrendous scandals of his Ring softened into just another memory of old New York, but one which Tweed had made certain would not be forgotten. The shabby little building in City Hall Park, the house that Tweed built, was as unforgettable a memorial as a statue in Times Square. And Tweed had provided his own epitaph. When he arrived at the Blackwell’s Island prison to begin his one-year sentence, the warden asked him what his profession was. The Boss, in a clear, strong voice, answered, “Statesman!”