January 19th, 2013
TODAY IN HISTORY:
The Death of Murray Hall: 1901. The headline in the January 19, 1901, New York Times undoubtedly shocked a lot of people who thought they knew a gregarious Tammany Hall politician pretty well:
Murray H. Hall, the woman who masqueraded as a man for more than a quarter of a century, and the secret of whose sex came out only after her death last Wednesday night at 145 Sixth Avenue [renumbered in the 1920s to 453 6th Ave, between 11th and 12th streets — ed], was known to hundreds of people in the Thirteenth Senatorial District, where she figured quite prominently as a politician. In a limited circle she even had a reputation as a “man about town,” a bon vivant, and all-around “good fellow.” She was a member of the General Committee of Tammany Hall, a member of the Iroquois Club, a personal friend of State Senator “Barney” Martin and other officials, and one of the most active Tammany workers in the district.
She registered and voted at primaries and general elections for many years, and exercised considerable political influence with Tammany Hall, often securing appointments for friends who have proved their fealty to the organization never exciting the remotest suspicion as to her real sex.
She played poker at the clubs with city and State officials and politicians who flatter themselves on their cleverness and perspicacity, drank whisky and wine and smoked the regulation “big black cigar” with the apparent relish and gusto of the real man-about-town. Furthermore, Murray Hall is known to have been married twice, but the woman to whom she stood before the world in the attitude of a husband kept her secret as guardedly as she did.
Hall’s secret was found out when his doctor was called to treat him for an illness he had been suffering for many years. That illness, it turned out, was breast cancer. By the time the doctor made the diagnosis, the cancer had spread to the heart. He died two days later. The Times reported that Hall was a book lover, preferring scientific and medical books, which led to speculation that Hall was trying to treat himself for cancer before finally succumbing. C.S. Pratt, the bookseller who Hall dealt with (and who to whom Hall sold his library three months before his death), had no clue that Hall was anything other than a man.
“He seemed to me to be a modest little man, but occasionally he showed an irascible temper. He would never talk about himself and shunned garrulous and inquisitive companions. In fact, when I met him on the street he was either accompanied by his black and tan dog or some woman or women, strangers to me, who I supposed were clients.”
“During the seven years I knew him I never once suspected that he was anything else than what he appeared to be. While he was somewhat effeminate in appearance and talked in a falsetto voice, still his conduct and actions were distinctively masculine. This revelation is a stunner to me and, I guess, to everybody else who knew him.”
Hall had been quite successful in the rough-and-tumble political world of Tammany Hall:
Why,” continued the Senator, “when the County Democracy was in the heyday of its glory, Murray Hall was one of the bright stars in that constellation. He was the Captain of his election district when he lived and kept an intelligence office between Seventeenth and Eighteenth Street, on Sixth Avenue. That was some years ago, when the district was cut down, making Fourteenth Street the northern boundary. Hall moved so as to be in with his political pals. He used to hobnob with the big guns of the County Democracy, and I knew he cut quite some figure as a politician.
He also cut quite a figure as a ladies man. Married twice, both wives complained that he was “too attentive to other women.” His adopted daughter, Imelda Hall, had no idea about her father’s background. When she testified at a Coroner’s inquest two weeks later, she referred to her father as “he.” The Coroner interrupted to ask, “Wouldn’t you better say ‘she’?” She replied, “No, I will never say ‘she’.”
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