13 May 2009

Literature & Education: The Grand Street School

By Eliza Tucker

School isn't just for good little boys and girls.

In the 1870s, there thrived in the Lower East Side of New York City, a school open to children of all colors and creeds. Located near the intersection of Grand and Clinton Streets in a dry good shop owned by Prussian immigrant Wolfe Mandelbaum, The Grand Street School became the most highly esteemed school for young criminals in the United States.

By the time the school was established, Wolfe's wife, Fredericka, had become New York City's most well-respected receiver of stolen goods. She employed expert pickpockets and thieves who not only helped fill two large Manhattan warehouses with items that once belonged to the city's finest families, but took in children aged ten and younger to learn how to scam, cutpurse, and rob. Even the advanced classes in safe cracking, burglary, blackmail and conartistry were free of initial charge for astute students.

The best and brightest graduates of the Grand Street School were offered salaried positions, but they had to surrender anything they stole. This offering didn't last long: "Marm" Mandelbaum found several of these employees were double dealing by turning in their better finds to her rivals.

The Grand Street School only operated for six years, when, in an act of rebellion, a well-known police officer's son applied for training. Marm Mandelbaum realized the educational venture was too common and bad for her other businesses. In 1884, Marm Mandelbaum--New York's own Fagin--was captured in a sting operation led by the Pinkerton Detective Agency.

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