When Judge Edward McCullen died in 1971, so apparently did the last active member of New York’s infamous Tammany Society, which ruled the political scene in the 1950s.
Edward J. McCullen, my grandmother Mabel’s uncle, was elected to the Court of General Sessions in New York City in 1942. He took the bench in January 1943, during the era when Carmine De Sapio ran Tammany Hall, using his power and influence to deliver votes and control elections.
De Sapio allegedly engineered the election of Robert Wagner, Jr., as mayor in 1953 and Averell Harriman as state governor in 1954. At about the same time, he blocked Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. from becoming state Attorney General. By the 1950s, according to “La Storia; five centuries of the Italian American experience,” by Jerre Mangione and Ben Morreale, De Sapio controlled New York City.
He named judges and administrators, granted construction contracts, and conferred innumerable jobs to the faithful,” the authors wrote. “He worked and was friendly with men who lived on the edge of legality, including Frank Costello, William O’Dwyer, and Longy Zwillman.”
“In May 1966,” they continued “one officer of the society remained: eighty-one-year-old Judge Edward McCullen, Tammany scribe. Tammany’s century-long domination of the city, brought about by alliances between politicians and racketeers, was finally over.”
De Sapio, though, had been removed from power in 1961 by a group organized by Roosevelt, who joined with Herbert Lehman and Thomas Finletter to form the New York Committee for Democratic Voters. By the mid-60s, the Tammany Society ceased to exist, except for McCullen, who had retired from the bench in 1956.
The Tammany Society, which was initially an Irish organization, enjoyed its most power in the 1860s, when it was impossible to get elected to a city office without its support. The group made a comeback in the mid part of the last century. We may never know whether De Sapio orchestrated McCullen’s election, but the judge was very active in the Tammany Society even early in his career.
McCullum at some point served as Secretary of The Sachems and Braves of the Society of Tammany (or Columbian Order). He was also very active in The Society of Friends of St. Patrick.
Edward J. McCullen was born on May 28, 1886. He attended evening classes at Fordham and New York University, and was admitted to the 1st Dept. in 1931. His wife died at an early age. The couple had one daughter. I probably have an unlabeled picture of him.
Before he became a judge, McCullen served as librarian of the Supreme Court in New York county from 1926 until 1942. In 1933, at the request of the Library Committee, Mr. McCullen drafted legislation that consolidated the Bronx county library with the New York County Supreme Court Library.
He was also the author of the definitive book, “Examinations Before Trial,” on the discovery process in New York law. It was praised by legal scholars for its thoroughness and its readability. “The book constitutes a substantial contribution to the study of a very important subject,” according to a 1939 review in the Yale Law Journal.
The handsome judge was apparently in high demand for marriage ceremonies. He presided at the marriage ceremonies of a number of famous people who wanted a good-looking judge in their wedding picture. But McCullen was also know for passing down harsh sentences. Within the family, he was known as a “hanging judge.” New York Times articles from the 1940s seem to corroborate this view.
Edward McCullen died on Aug. 5, 1971 in Greenwich, Conn.