Third Ward's Most Newsworthy Event: A Crime-Boss Funeral

by Nat Bodian

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One of the most newsworthy happenings in the history of the once heavily-Jewish Third Ward was the funeral of Gangster Abner (Longy) Zwillman on Friday, February 27, 1959.

The event took place at the Apter Funeral Home on Stratford Place, a two-block long Third Ward street that was an extension of Prince Street, the main shopping thoroughfare for most of Newark's Jews.

Normally a quiet off-the-beaten path neighborhood street, the Stratford Place Zwillman funeral attracted 350 mourners inside the Apter funeral premises, among them, notables from the world of politics, business, entertainment, and the rackets, and 1,500 onlookers outside.

Two notables observed by reporters interspersed among the crowd of 1,500 on the street outside, were Zwillman's boyhood pal, Hollywood Producer Dore Schary, and Toots Shor of the famed New York restaurant bearing his name. The event made headlines nationwide, and a one-time Longy acquaintance recalled to me that the Zwillman funeral was given three pages in the New York Daily News.

Zwillman had died the day before the funeral on February 26, 1959. The official report said that Zwillman had committed suicide by hanging himself in the basement of his West Orange mansion.

The eulogy was by Rabbi Joachim Prinz of Newark's Temple B'nai Abraham. Prinz, a recognized leader among American Jewry and then president of the American Jewish Congress, kept the eulogy short. He asked for compassion for the Zwillman family.

The bronze coffin was covered with a bed of 100 roses, with his family and 80-year old mother sitting nearby in the front pew.

Seven chauffer-driven limousines and 27 private cars led the cortege to the B'nai Abraham Memorial Park on Route 22 in Union. There, the casket was placed in a concrete vault after the kaddish, the traditional Hebrew prayer by a male relative, accompanied by Rabbi Prinz.1

Although Zwillman had ranked as one of the nation's top crime bosses, and one of the six bosses of Murder Incorporated, he had maintained his lifelong roots in Newark's old Third Ward and his connections with Newark.

As a youth, living in and operating from the Prince Street Jewish neighborhood, Zwillman and his gang had protected Jewish merchants from marauding attacks by anti-Semites.

And in his years as bootlegger and Jersey crime boss, his generosity to fellow Newarkers was legendary.

He funded the Mt. Carmel Guild downtown Newark soup kitchens through seven Depression years.2 He provided needy Newark Jews with food baskets during Jewish holidays, and was recalled to have distributed truck loads of food and toys to needy in the Christian community on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Zwillman's funeral in Newark's old Third Ward (now part of the Central Ward) was probably the biggest happening of its kind ever to take place there, and closed the curtain on one of the Third Ward's most notorious and colorful sons, and an FBI file of 747 pages.


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