Sunday, July 7, 2019

David Mahler and the Essex Market Police Court

Essex Market Police Court (from NY Historical Society Digital Collection)
Old newspapers hold a treasure trove of family-history possibilities.

Here's a fascinating story I found while systematically searching for each of my Mahler ancestors in newspaper databases.

David Mahler, Charged with "Malicious Mischief"

In November, 1897, it appears that my great uncle David Mahler (1882-1964) was hauled into the Essex Market Police Court, located at the corner of Essex Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, NY. (I wasn't aware of this court until reading about David's predicament.)

According to a report in the Sun and New York Press dated November 22, 1897, "David Mahler, 13 years old, of 58 Chrystie Street, answered to a charge of malicious mischief." He was accused of throwing a brick through a plate-glass window of the store at 69 Chrystie Street.

The news reporter quoted David Mahler as saying: "Dat's all right, me father is going to pay for the window." The storekeeper objected, saying that the court should hold David in jail until the father actually paid the money.

The judge was outraged at the storekeeper--and sets David's pre-trial bail at $500. In today's dollars, that would be nearly $3,000. Where would David's parents, my great-grandpa Meyer Mahler and his wife Tillie Jacobs Mahler, get that kind of cash?

Although I thoroughly searched two newspaper databases and did a general online search, I've found no follow-up. My guess is that the Mahler family settled out of court with the storekeeper and that was that.

Is This My Great Uncle? 

The 1897 news account of teenage mischief is almost certainly about MY great uncle, who in 1900 was living with his family at 88 Chrystie Street in the Lower East Side. Allowing for typos and mistakes, the newspaper said he lived at 58 Chrystie Street. Today, 69 Chrystie Street is a small storefront set into a tenement building. And the age is about right for my David Mahler.

Born in Latvia, David was the second child of my great-grandparents and the oldest son. He came to New York with the family when he was about 4 years old. As an adult, David had a checkered history, and I'm told by a cousin who heard the stories that he was a bit of a black sheep.

During WWI, David worked as a rigger in Camden, NJ (according to his draft registration card). After that, he bounced around and finally was given a job as a utility man at Columbia Studios in Hollywood by an influential executive who was a Mahler in-law. He was working there at the time of the 1940 Census and well into in the 1950s, I can see from California voter registration cards (he was a Democrat).

During the last years of his life, David battled metastatic bladder cancer. He was operated on during January of 1964 and died in the Motion Picture Country Hospital, less than five months later. His sister, Sarah Mahler Smith, was the informant on David's death cert.


  1. This is a really interesting story. It's too bad there was no follow up to find out how the case was resolved or why David hurled the brick in the first place.

  2. No idea why David broke the window or what happened, officially. The storekeeper was understandably angry, but then again, David's reported comments sounded rather flip.

  3. Oh Marian, this reads like the opening scene of a movie. I can see David in his knickers and flat cap in the clutch of a stern cop.