Hanging Henry Gambrill
On a warm night in September 1858, a number of well-dressed young men set out from a restaurant in Baltimore's west end to serenade newlywed friends. These were not just any young men but leaders of Baltimore's most feared "political club," the Plug Uglies, whose reputation and exploits were fast spreading across the country. Before the night was over they had crashed a party, a police officer lay dead in the street, and one of their number--handsome, soft-spoken Henry Clay Gambrill--was in jail.
Hanging Henry Gambrill places the reader amid the raw color and mayhem of Baltimore's tumultuous streets as never before. With a historian's meticulous research and a novelist's flair, Tracy Matthew Melton has brought to life the gangs behind the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant violence of the 1850s: The Rip Raps, Black Snakes, and Blood Tubs; the Regulators, Rough Skins, Double Pumps, and Calithumpians. Here, too, is the redoubtable New Market Fire Company and their deadly rivals, the Mount Vernon Hook-and-Ladder, whose members proudly rallied under the Plug Ugly banner. "Country" Thompson, Petty Naff, and Arch McAleese lurk and swagger through these pages with Crab Ashby, "Ready" Craig, Kitty Chambers, and Boney Lee, assassinating rivals, battling at the polls, even provoking the intervention of U.S. Marines to protect the ballot in the nation's capital.
And finally we have the spectacle of four men on the gallows in the jail yard (a yard still visible from I-83 North off Center Street) singing a farewell song to an enormous crowd of spectators on a blustery cold, gray April day. All appeals exhausted, 15,000 people on the surrounding hills, like an amphitheater.
2005, Tracy Matthew Melton. 493 pp, Hardcover