Some family stories are so fascinating and memorable that they are passed down through multiple generations, becoming a well-known piece of lore; others, while equally interesting, get lost in the shuffle. The latter truism might explain the story of Christopher Taylor.
My role in this story began when my girlfriend asked me to help her work on her genealogy. As is often the case, the first several generations proved easy to determine through personal knowledge and well-kept documentation. However, upon reaching her great-great-grandfather, a man by the name of Christopher Taylor, some creativity was required.
Knowing that his children were born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, while he himself was born in Ireland, we were able to locate census records which provided us with some key information. Not only did we find his address, we also found his occupation: ‘saloon keeper’ in 1915 and ‘hotel keeper’ in 1920. I was struck by this, and set out to find the location of the saloon he kept. In the process, we also found Taylor’s naturalization papers, which claimed that he arrived in Brooklyn in 1898 and worked as a bartender when the papers were filed in 1904.
This search eventually led me to an article published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on 4 August 1920. The headline “Saloon Man Routs Amateur Gunmen” caught my eye. I could barely contain my excitement as I read the story, which told of a saloon keeper by the name of Christopher Taylor who was held up by four young gunmen at his bar late one evening. Taylor was able to thwart them, causing all four would-be robbers to run away. The article noted that Taylor had owned the saloon for nineteen years and that he had never been held up before.
Still, I remained skeptical, as I knew the name Christopher Taylor was a fairly common one, especially with the number of Irish immigrants in New York City during that era. The article did, however, provide an address for the saloon, 275 Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn. I then realized that this was the same address listed as Taylor’s permanent residence on the 1915 census. It is it likely that he lived above the saloon with his family, as many other families were listed as residents in the same building.
Still, one question remained after reading this article. While the story was published in August 1920, prohibition was ratified in New York in January 1919, leaving me to wonder why the operation of a saloon in Brooklyn was not the focal point of this story. How did Christopher Taylor avoid any repercussions for operating a saloon? Perhaps the fact that the 1920 Census lists him as a ‘hotel keeper’ explains his exemption. Listing his business as a hotel may have allowed him to skirt the anti-alcohol laws, although we cannot know this for sure. However, Christopher Taylor did not avoid law enforcement officials completely, as a later article in the Eagle lists him with other saloon owners who were ‘rounded up’ for violations of excise laws.
This fascinating story somehow managed to slip through the cracks of Taylor family lore. With a search through local newspapers, we were able to uncover a story which would otherwise have been lost to history, reminding me that newspapers are a valuable resource to genealogists trying to establish family history beyond vital statistics. Now that so many newspapers of the past are digitized and available at the fingertips of genealogical researchers, stories such as these can be found and passed down through subsequent generations, not only to tell of the lives of our ancestors but to serve as a representation of days long past.
 1915 United States Census, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, household of Christopher Taylor, District 15, Block 9, p. 76. 1920 United States Census, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, household of Christopher Taylor, District 607, sheet 4A.
 Eastern District of New York, Petition to be Admitted A Citizen of the United States of America, Christopher Taylor, 20 June 1904, p. 333.
 “Saloon Man Routs Amateur Gunmen,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 4 August 1920, p. 2.
3 thoughts on ““Saloon Man Routs Amateur Gunmen””
Great article, Zachary! I am lucky enough to have dozens of years of old county newspapers, which I am slowly indexing for our county historical society, shelved in my basement. The collection came from the county library when they had a water problem in their facility and were going to throw the bound volumes out. I am so thankful they called me to see if I wanted them. I took a pickup truck and brought them home!
Nicely done Zachary – a great reminder for us all to check the local news of any particular time period for our wayward “brick walls.” More often than not those old brick walls can find their way into an article or two. – Very cool research.
Wonderful story! And a reminder to look at ALL possible sources for stories about our ancestors. I suspect that with my family, I’ll find some good ones.