Last night, local historian, teacher, and author Geoffrey Cobb delighted a full house at Shayz Lounge (130 Franklin Street) with a selection of readings from his latest book, The King of Greenpoint. The book is about Peter J. McGuinness, the man for whom McGuinness Boulevard is named.
McGuinness was born on Eagle Street in 1888, and despite having no high school eduction and being a 300-pound lumber handler and blue collar laborer, managed to become one of the most influential politicians Greenpoint has ever seen.
Through pure charisma, lots of street smarts, and an ardent dedication to his everyday, working class constituents, McGuinness was able to get elected as an alderman in 1919, thus beginning a long and rich political career.
By the time of his death in 1948, he had used his political power to secure many important contributions to Greenpoint, including McCarren Park Pool, the Greenpont Avenue Bridge, The American Playground, The Greenpoint War Memorial sculpture in McGolrick Park, and most importantly of all, the G Train.
Cobb shared many fascinating passages from his new book, all of which captured McGuinness’ vivacious, outrageous and ultimately irresistible working class character.
“Originally, they weren’t going to route the G Train through Greenpoint,” Cobb said. “Then, McGuinness stood up at one of the meetings and, in his booming voice, yelled: ‘What is Greenpoint? Siberia!?’ They re-routed it through Greenpoint after that.”
In another amusing anecdote, Cobb related the story of how, in 1921, during McGuinness’ first on the city council, a proposal came up to buy eight Venetian gondolas to put in Central Park Lake. The proposal was to cost $10,000, an exorbitant figure at the time.
McGuinness promptly asked his lifelong friend and then-president of the city council, Fiorello L. Guardia, for permission to speak, and followed up with this gem:
“That seems like a lot of money to spend! Why do we need to buy eight Venetian gondolas? Why don’t we just buy a male gondola and a female gondola and let nature take its course!?”
Despite his lack of education and over-the-top antics, however, McGuinness continually managed to succeed throughout his political career, relying on an indomitably fierce love for his working class Greenpoint and a knack for saying the right thing at the right time.
Cobb recalled how, at the time of his death, in 1948, McGuinness was so loved that all of Greenpoint shut down for his funeral.
“Ten thousand people came out into the streets, and there was not a business that was open,” Cobb said. “Many of the houses were dressed in black, he was that much of an unbelievably loved character in this neighborhood.”