Thomas Kelly (Abt. 1858 – 18??), aka Tommy Kelly, Blink Kelly, Blinky Kelly, Thomas Jourdan — Burglar, safe-breaker
From Byrnes’s text:
DESCRIPTION. Twenty-eight years old in 1886. Born in New York. Waiter. Single. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 134 pounds. Brown hair, brown eyes, dark complexion. Right eye out.
RECORD. Kelly is a young New York burglar, and is credited with being able to handle a safe with some of the older ones. He was born and brought up in the Seventh Ward of New York City, and is a member of Patsey Carroll’s gang. He was sentenced to two years in State prison on April 13, 1879, for grand larceny in New York City; again, on December 23, 1880, for two years and six months for grand larceny under the name of Thos. Jourdan, just ten days after his release on the first sentence.
He was arrested again in New York City on August 21, 1883, in company of Patsey Carroll, John Talbot, alias the Hatter, Clarkey Carpenter (now dead), and Wm. Landendorf, “Dutch Harmon’s” brother, at Martin Reeve’s saloon, No. 38 Forsyth Street, New York City, a resort for thieves, charged with burglarizing the premises of Geo. Tarler & Co., manufacturing jewelers, at No. 7 Burling Slip. The premises were entered on the night of August 20, 1883, and jewelry, plated ware, etc., carried away valued at $1,379. Patsey Carroll and John Talbot pleaded guilty to burglary in the third degree in this case and were sentenced to four years in State prison on October 22, 1883, in the Court of General Sessions, New York City. Kelly was discharged.
Kelly’s picture is a good one, taken in 1883.
There is little surprising in Chief Byrnes’ entry for Blink Kelly, a young New York gang member who was coached by his peers in the skills of burglary. Byrnes states that Kelly was brought up in the Seventh Ward; but by 1881, when he was 23, he was called by newspapers “the Terror of the Fourteenth Ward.”
Blink Kelly was an example of one of the young toughs often recruited by political factions to suppress voters or to vote multiple times. Kelly did not seem to adhere to any one faction: in 1876, he supported boxer-politician John Morrissey, who had split from Tammany Hall to lead a different Democratic faction, Irving Hall. Later, in the 1880s, Kelly took payments to vote Republican.
Kelly’s family antecedents have not been traced; nor is it known when and where he died, though one paper indicated in 1896 that he had already expired.
Just when one thinks there is little more to say about the violent, short, felonious life of Blink Kelly, the world of gilded-age New York City finds a way to surprise you.
Theater-goers of this era loved campy melodramas supported by clever stage effects. For the new fall season of 1888, New York producer Thomas M. Davis planned to import a successful British melodrama written by Tom Craven, called The Stowaway. As the New York World later noted, “The success of the play is mainly due to its effective mounting, and its intense realism. The plot is the old conventional one, introducing an erring, but repentant old man; his son, whom he mourns as dead, but who is alive, leading a Bohemian life; a faithless villain; his faithful wife; a good young heiress; three or four toughs; a funny little girl in boy’s clothing, who plays successively a ragged newsboy, a bellboy, and a cabin-boy; a howling swell; and the stowaway, whose business it is to turn up just in time to thwart the villain at every stage of the game.”
Producer Davis had an idea how one part of the play could be improved for New York audiences to sensational effect: in a scene where burglars break open a safe, Davis thought it would generate buzz if he hired two ex-convicts to break open a real safe onstage at every performance, using real flash-powder. The criminals he found were Mike Kurtz and Blink Kelly.
The Stowaway opened at Niblo’s Garden theater in October, 1888, and was an immediate success. How did Chief Byrnes and the NYPD react to the burglary scene?
The Stowaway went on to run for many years, becoming a staple of American theater of the late 19th century. How long Blink Kelly lasted in his role is not known; but in later productions other former criminals took the same role.