Updated 02/23/2010 12:56 PM
Mafia Museum To Open In East Village
From "The Godfather" to "The Sopranos," the Mafia has been a big part of the culture of this city and nation, and now organized crime is getting a museum of its own in Manhattan. NY1's Roger Clark filed the following report.
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The building at 80 St. Mark's Place, in the heart of the East Village, held an old speakeasy during Prohibition, owned by a gangster named Walter Scheib.
Now, the building's illicit past is coming to the foreground, as it will house the new Museum of the American Gangster.
"People would come down the subway stairs into the front business, which I think was a butcher shop, go out into the alley, into the back door and into a whole other world where there was good jazz and Canadian whiskey," says Lorcan Otway, the museum's co-founder.
Otway's family bought the building from Scheib 46 years ago and opened a theater there, but recently Otway was inspired to create the museum.
Among the items visitors will see are a replica of a Thompson machine gun, the so-called "Tommy gun" seen in all the old gangster films, as well as old newspaper articles about gangsters like Al Capone and Jack "Legs" Diamond.
Another stop on the museum tour is a Prohibition-era beer cooler, where all the speakeasy's illegal beer was stored.
"There will be an immediacy. Really visiting the times, visiting the people involved through the museum, that it's going to be a very human experience," says Otway.
Then, there is an interesting discovery that Otway's father made inside the building.
"The first year that we owned the building, my father discovered two locked safes, called Walter Scheib and said he was too curious to own a building with locked safes and too cautious to open them without them," says Otway. "And they opened the safes and in the second safe they found $2 million in gold currency -- which part of the experience of coming to the museum is that there is a living mystery around that money."
Otway says Scheib took the paper, which was worth nothing in the United States, and managed to make money selling it in Eastern Europe.
The Museum of the American Gangster begins previewing to the public on March 7. For more information, go to MoAGNYC.org.