Mike Walsh – The Fighting Congressman

I am still working on the book and had dinner with Kevin DeVerrell a few weeks ago. We talked for several hours. In order to keep my brain limber, I often have to write about other things, so today if you want you can read about the legendary Mike Walsh!

Image from a campaign poster

Image from a campaign poster

Mike was described by a modern writer as a “working class punk and proletariat dandy” and surprisingly, little has been written about him.

Walsh came to America from Ireland as a boy and his family settled in Manhattan. When he grew up, Mike became a rabble-rousing street politician from the Bowery and eventually ended up a congressman.

He and his group of loyal Bowery B’hoys once spotted a political opponent leaving the courthouse and accosted him by dousing him with sacks of flour and then running him up the flagpole for display, as if he were Old Glory. To make matters worse, Mike then described the incident in a newspaper article, which deeply humiliated the older man and later cost Mike $25 when he lost the civil trial for libel. Mike’s verbiage was of the “rat-faced, vermin infested” school of insult journalism and he was damn good at it.

The Bowery Boy was a colorful, fighting politician cut from the cloth of the mid-nineteenth century New York street tough: day laborer, news reporter, street fighter, and later assemblyman and congressman. Walsh gave hilarious speeches and with his b’hoys would invade rival political meetings and commandeer the stage, events of which were followed always by “two or three beautiful fights”. He could incite the mob to thunderous cheers, and he could ad-lib and deliver a two-hour speech – no script required.

After a quarrel with authorities in Rhode Island, he once even threatened to show up in Providence with five-hundred Bowery Boys in order to re-decorate the place. Mike also once challenged one of the corrupt town bosses to a knife-duel, while producing two large Bowie knives. The boss declined the invite. When he became a congressman, an admirer who had been touched by the legend, approached Mike on the streets of D.C. He asked if he was “the” Mike Walsh. He was told yes. But this man was in disbelief – surely Walsh was taller and more grand. After this comment about his height followed by an insulting gesture, a flurry of punches was his reward and the man was quickly on the ground. But he jumped to his feet in glee – this was Mike Walsh after all. They then became fast friends and merrily went about to the hotel bar for drinks.

As an assemblyman in Albany, a fellow legislator, with sparse red hair “and not much of it”, appeared one day in the chamber sporting a bright, new black toupee. For the following account relayed forty years later by Mike’s lawyer friend who was in the gallery that day, we hereby owe a debt of gratitude.

The newly coiffed man’s name was Watson, and as he took to the podium for a speech, Mike was loading his canisters; he would not miss the sporting opportunity to call out this ridiculous rug. Feigning non-recognition of Watson, Mike interrupted him by shouting:

“Mr. Speaker, are we now going to permit any person to invade this chamber to give stupid and boring speeches?” (mild laughter followed)

The house speaker responded,

“The podium belongs to the assemblyman from Albany, Mr. Watson.”

Now rising from his seat, Mike slowly approached the podium, and in a half-stooped, head-cocked sidewise posture, quizzically squinting, Mike exclaimed,

“Oh my God… it is Watson!” (the chamber erupted in loud laughter)

Mike had done what every other man had been thinking.

Years later, after losing re-election to Congress by a mere 18 votes, Mike became an alcoholic. Following a monumental drinking binge, he was found on a Manhattan avenue with a fractured skull, his pockets emptied. Mike was just 48 when he died.

Source: Old articles from the Brooklyn Eagle