TAT Tattoos in American Seaports Up To 1960

Discussion in 'Vaginarium' started by Buttons, Sep 25, 2008.

  1. Buttons

    Buttons OT Supporter

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    Up to the end of the 50s New York was the undisputed capital of American sailor tattoos. However, also in other parts of the country, tattoo artists set up their tattoo shops or worked in hotels, pool rooms, bars or shops. One of the greatest was certainly August "Captain" Coleman.
    Coleman was born in 1884 near Cincinnati (Ohio). Although Coleman claimed his father was also a tattooist, his name has not surfaced as part of tattoo history. Many of Coleman's tattoos, which included the large eagle, the flag chest piece, the ship on the stomach, the sun designs on the kneecaps and the fancy sock designs, could be seen on a small statue that was displayed in his shop window in Norfolk. This statue is now part of the Mariner's Museum collection in Newport News, Virginia.
    In 1918 Coleman set up his tattoo shop in Norfolk, VA. Norfolk was a major seaport at this time with ships from around the world arriving and departing daily. The street was lined with plenty of bars, clubs and tattoo shops and plenty of sailors to fill them. Coleman opened his shop on East Main Street near the Majestic Theater, a favorite striptease and burlesque house frequented by sailors, which soon became legend in the tattoo world. Coleman's business card stated that he offered cover work. He didn't even think it was necessary to mention his address, and simply stated: "Look for Coleman's place on Main Street".
    His flash sheets were used by many tattooists around the world and his drawings are an important reference point for the traditional sailor tattoo inconography. Coleman, who always wore a captain's hat, remained in Norfolk up to 1950, when tattooing was ruled illegal by the City Council. Coleman moved across the Elizabeth river and set up shop in Portsmouth where he died in 1973.

    The West coast was also a big tattoo center. Georges Fosdick came to Portland (Oregon), in 1912. Portland was one of the great seaport towns on the West coast. "Sailor" Georges was born in Wisconsin in January 1885. He was said to have served in the United States Navy and the Merchant's Marines where he learned to tattoo. After he arrived in Portland, he set up his shop near the waterfont on Burnside Street joining Sailor Gus and Charlie Weston. Other tattooists arrived over the years such as Danny Danzel and Fred Marequant. The neighborhood was called "Old Barbary Coast". It was only a few years later that a avery young Bert Grimm came to Portland where he would sell newspapers and hang out at the Burnside shops. Bert later developed a friendship with Fosdick whom later became his tattoo mentor.
    In 1935 George moved to Seattle, whose port in the meantime had become much more important than Portland's. At the time there was Arc Hank's tattoo shop on First Avenue and Danny Danzel's on Pike Street. Four years later he moved back to Portland and worked with Sailor Walter Larson until 1940. He died six years later. Pike Street was the center of California sailor tattoos. In the great amusement park in Long Beach, a few kilometers from Los Angeles, the Pacific fleet covered their skin with tattoos: 300,000 sailors invaded the six tattoo shps on the Pike every year. Bert Grimm (1900-1985) ran the most famours tattoo shop at no. 22 Chestnut Street. He started practicing with Sailor George, but Grimm started his tattoo career in 1916 in Chicago, then he moved to Missouri where he tattooed the sailors in San Louis. Legend has it that Grimm tattooed some of the most famous gangsters of the time: Bonnie, Clyde and Pretty Boy Floyd. Many great future tattoo artists worked with him: Bob Shaw, Colonel Todd.. Owen Jensen worked not far from here, in Los Angeles. Owen Jensen was an old sailor always riding high.

    Another important tattoo center on the West coast was San Diego. Massage shops, tattoo shops and gambling houses were all located in the center of the city... Docc Webb, who got his material from Charlie Wagner in 1926, was one of the most famous. He tattooed for almost 40 years wearing his sailor hat (he died in 1986). In the 30s he went to Tahiti Felix who had been working already for about 12 years in Ocean Beach, another big tattoo center in Southern California.

    Besides the traditional patriotic icons other typical sailor icons appeared:

    • The letterings 'HOLD FAST' tattooed on the knuckles of sailors to help them hold the riggings
    • A pig on the top of one foot and a rooster on the other to help the seaman from drowning because both of these barnyard animals cannot swim so they would get the seaman quickly to shore
    • The phoenicians tattooed the head of a pig on their neck to help them from being shipwrecked
    • An anchor showed the seaman had sailed the Atlantic Ocean
    • A full rigged shop showed the seaman had sailed around Cape Horn
    • A dragon showed the seaman had served on a China station
    • A golden dragon denotes a seaman who has crossed the International Date Line
    • A shellback turtle denotes a seaman who has crossed the equator
    • Port and starboard ship lights were tattooed on the left and right side of the body
    • A rope tattooed around the neck meant the seaman was a deckhand
    • A pair of swallows helped the seaman get out of the water in case of a shipwreck
    In 1929 the Great Depression reduced many Americans to poverty and even the work for tattooists dropped considerably. Charlie Wagner from New York was able to attract most of the customers thanks to his fame and the choice to drastically lower prices: tattoos that used to cost 2 or 3 dollars were now done for 25 cents. These were the lowest prices in town.
    The subjects changed and patriotic icons weren't so popular anymore: the traditional eagles with flags left space or were used along side more romantic symbols dedicated to mothers and fiances. Even ground soldiers and the soldiers of the Air Force didn't get as many tattoos due to the end of the war and in the years that followed the tattoo shops were mostly frequented during wartime: the civil war, the Hispanic-American war in Cuba, World War One.
    In the 30s New York was still the center of tattoo in the United States, but many tattooists in the meantime had left the city to relocate in other towns and new ones arrived: Apache Harry, Sailor Ralph and Mille Hull a female tattooist. Barber Willie Moskovitz started tattooing encouraged by Wagner and he alternated between cutting hair and tattooing. Tattoo designs and hair lotion bottles lined the walls of the studio; his sons Stanley and Walter would be the last tattooists to work on the Bowery in Chatam Square before the studios closed in 1964.

    The outbreak of World War II was a "fortune" for the tattoo shops which started to work night and day. In the 40s Sand Street came back to life, the fleet invaded the shops and patriotic feelings became great tattoos on the arms of the sailors. Jack Redcloud moved to no. 176; Phil Duane called Dudo to no. 125. During the depression, only one tattooist remained out of seven: Jack Redcloud whose shop was at no. 139. In fact Donnelly had gone back to Great Britain, Wilson returned to Panama and Lew the Jew to Newark, NJ.
    The tattooists in Sand Street were able to slow down a bit during the war, but by the end of the war the tattoo center had already moved to Coney Island. From the beginning of the 20th century the long strip of sand that ran along Brooklyn had become a regular weekend place for many New Yorkers and it became even more popular in 1920 when the Metro made it even easier to reach the various amusement parks in the area: Luna Park, Dreamland, and many other attractions which attracted up to one million people on a good day. Tattooists slowly started to move where the customers went. Samuel O'Reilly had already started to move to a shop on Stilwell Avenue during the summer where John Wicks -- the youngest of all the tattooists -- painted the signs of the shops whereas Franck Graff, Deafy Grossmane and Max Pelz worked on the main street. From the 50s to 1961 many New York tattooists worked in the shops on Stilwell Avenue and Surf Avenue: Tony the Pirate, the Greco brothers, Max Pelz, Mickey Colantuono, Crazy Eddy and of course Coney Island Freddy. At the time, the tattoo of a name, a heart or a rose cost 3 dollars and if an artist managed to earn about 15 dollars it was a great day. Hygiene was simple and the same needles were used up to 15 or 20 times and were replaced only when they couldn't be used any longer. In those years only Brooklyn Blackie had a real shop with doors and windows.
    Brooklyn Blackie who had started out on the Bowery as Wagner's apprentice, opened his own shop in the 50s on Coney Island and became one of the most popular tattoo artists from New York. Many tattooists worked in his studio: his three brother Billy, Jamesie and Joey, known as the Greco brothers who took advantage of Blackie's popularity and set up a shop right in front of his.
    In 1961 this world disappeared. On November 1, a law was passed that prohibited tattoo in all the five departments in the city of New York: Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx. Coney Island Freddy who had just set up his shop fought till the end. In 1958 there had been a serious hepatitis epidemic, which lasted two years; people were dying like flies and the Health Department established that it was caused by contaminated shellfish. The lawyers of the fish industrialists threatened to sue the Health Department. The Department feared it had to pay a lot of money in damages if they had lost the lawsuit, so they established that the epidemic had spread through tattoos and banned tattooing the following day.
    The Council stated that twenty cases of hepatitis had occured after receiving a tattoo but it was impossible to prove this in court. The judge declared himself in favor of tattoo studios but it was election time and the Health Council decided to appeal the case. Freddy had no more money for anotheer trial and didn't find anybody willing to help him with his legal expenses. So, tattoo was banned from New York. The official version is that tattoo "could" contribute to spread hepatitis. Most of the tattooists moved to other states where tattoo was legal and others remained and worked illegally out of their home: Coney Island Freddy, Tom De Vita in Chinatown, Tony Polito in Brooklyn. Finally in 1998 tattoo was again legalized in New York.
     
  2. BillyJackNCoke

    BillyJackNCoke I've got something to say, I raped your mother tod

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    awesome story
     
  3. Buttons

    Buttons OT Supporter

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    This one was typed up 3 different times and everytime some asshat at worked closed the window. :wtc:
     

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