Legends and myths still surround Prohibition-era gangster Legs Diamond

 

A journalist and author friend of mine called the other day for information on Prohibition-era gangster Jack (Legs) Diamond’s association with the Barmann Brewery off South Clinton Avenue in midtown Kingston. All I could do was pass along the various myths and legends associated with the legendary Legs while he roamed hereabouts. The records, such as they are, suggest he was more active in the Cairo area of Greene County than Ulster.

The story, after almost 90 years, goes something like this: Legs Diamond, a mid-level bootlegger, somehow managed to gain control of the Barmann Brewery and ship its product via rail and truck to the various speakeasies he operated in this area and New York. More intriguing was that was Legs, after paying off willing Kingston officials, ran subterranean beer lines along sewers to the scores of bars then operating (illegally) in the city.

Legs Diamond

City historian Ed Ford, who came to Kingston as a boy in 1928, clarified the germ of truth in that story. The beer line, he said, ran along sewers from Barmann’s across Broadway to a warehouse on Bruyn Avenue where it was bottled and/or kegged for distribution. There were no direct connections to city taverns, he said.

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“I wonder how it tasted,” said Ford, an apparent reference to the brew’s subterranean journey.

The other story, less told, is that somehow Legs, an enterprising gunman, was in on the disappearance of state Supreme Court judge Joseph Crater, last seen alive in August 1930 getting into a car in Manhattan. Legend has it that his remains might have been buried on the Barmann site. Back in the day, the judge was said to be buried almost everywhere. Legs was shot and killed in an Albany rooming house in December of 1931.

Of late, the Met Life property and the Barmann baseball field were bought by housing specialist Rupco. The former Metropolitan Life building, to be known as The Metro, will be converted in collaboration with Stockade Works into a space for use by the film industry and as an incubator for start-up businesses. Rupco announced last week that the adjacent Knothole Little League baseball field will be donated to the city and its facilities used as the site of a city park.

“At The Metro, we honored nickname local children have called the baseball park area for years, ”wrote Rupco chief executive Kevin O’Connor. “The community benefit this property holds – engaging residents in America’s favorite past-time now and for future generations – will flourish under the city’s ownership. Presenting this Kingston treasure to the people of this city is an honor beyond words.”

Historian Ford also notes that prior to its brewery days the site was an encampment for Civil War soldiers. Rupco has hired consultants to look into its historical significance.

There is one comment

  1. MIke Berardi

    Great article Hugh
    The Town of Ulster plays into the Legs Diamond story. Local author Gary Levine in his book Jack “Legs” Diamond Anatomy of a Gangster (1979, Purple Mountain Press 1995) devoted a chapter to Diamond associate Harry Western and the Chateau Roadhouse located in Lake Katrine “considered the liveliest place in the Hudson Valley”. An interesting story!

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