I was recently looking at the Wikipedia entry on Greenpoint and it incorrectly lists two famous people as Greenpointers: the notorious bank robber Willie Sutton and the great twentieth century writer Henry Miller.
Willie Sutton, arguably the cleverest bank robber who ever lived, was indeed from Brooklyn, but he never lived a day in Greenpoint. While doing the research for my book Greenpoint’s Forgotten Past I thoroughly investigated Sutton’s origins. Sutton was born in raised in the area around the Brooklyn Navy Yard, then called “Irish Town.” The writer of the Wikipedia entry probably got confused because Sutton was born on Nassau Street, not Greenpoint’s Nassau Avenue. Which is sort of too bad, because if he had been a Greenpointer he would have made an unforgettable character in my book. But I write history—I do not make it up.
By the way there’s a great story about Sutton, but also not true, yet worth refuting. Supposedly a writer traveled to prison to interview Sutton and asked him, “Willie, why did you rob banks?” His reply was supposed to have been,”Cause that’s where the money is.” However, Sutton never actually said this.
Henry Miller was born in Williamsburg, not Greenpoint, in a house that still stands at 662 Driggs Avenue. I think again that the writer was lazy and did not realize that Driggs travels through both our area and Williamsburg. Miller once said about patriotism,”I am a patriot of the fourteenth Ward in Brooklyn.” The fourteenth ward was Williamsburg, while Greenpoint was the seventeenth ward. Miller did have a Greenpoint connection, however. One of his early infatuations was with a girl who lived at 181 Devoe Street in what he called Greenpoint. Miller was also a fascinating character and one whose story is great material for a book, but we cannot in any truth call him a Greenpointer either.