It seems like Almost Yesterday that the movie, “The Gangs of New York” shocked American audiences with its graphic portrayal of New York City in the middle of the nineteenth century. Martin Scorsese’s 2002 production is a shockingly violent account of the gangland struggle for the territorial control of lower Manhattan.
The film grossed over two hundred million dollars and won a number of significant awards for direction, acting and music. Ticket sales were helped by the publicity surrounding the leading actors: Leonardo Dicaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis.
Residents of Southeast Missouri were interested in this prominent movie due to the fact that it was based upon the 1928 book: The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld, written by Herbert Asbury of Farmington, Missouri.
Asbury was born in Farmington on September 1, 1889, the son of Samuel and Ellen Prichard Asbury. Educated in the public schools of Farmington, Asbury attended Carleton College and in 1917 joined the U. S. Army, served in France, and rose to the rank of second lieutenant. In 1918 he was seriously affected by exposure to poison gas, causing permanent damage to his lungs.
After leaving military service Asbury began a career in journalism, writing for newspapers in Illinois, Georgia, and New York City. He first gained national recognition for a controversial article about a lady of the night from Farmington which appeared in H. L. Mencken’s magazine, The American Mercury.
Prior to his death in 1963, Asbury published seventeen books, hundreds of articles, and numerous plays for screen and Broadway. But, this most famous writer from Farmington, Missouri will always be remembered for his account of the “Gangs of New York.”