Some new pictures of Pigtown by E.E. Rutter that have made their way to us, started me wondering where exactly Pigtown was. I am now in a position to answer that question: it was, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of April 6, 1921, and allowing for some flexibility of boundaries, "that part of Flatbush which is bounded on the north by Malbone st., on the south by Midwood st., on the east by Albany Ave and on the west by Nostrand ave." The images show tracts of wasteland, ash dumps, garbage piles, stark new dwellings fronting empty blocks defined by crudely laid out streets, and a few scattered holdout shanties. Goats roam free, but at least in 1923 when these pictures were taken, not a single pig thrusts its snout before the camera. Malbone Street became Empire Boulevard in December 1918, after a disastrous subway accident associated the name "Malbone" forever in people's minds with death and horror.
Another name for the district that appears in early articles is "Oaklands", but Pigtown seems to have suited the character of the place rather better. In the 1880s, there were pigs, for sure. The residents of Flatbush were up in arms over the prospect of the development of a Hospital for Contagious Diseases near Pigtown. During the discussions, it came to light that in the vicinity of East New York Avenue there were in 1888 over one thousand pigs, a matter which had "agitated the health authorities for a long time." A Mr McKnight, a man with a gift for a colorful turn of phrase suggested that "it was straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel to kick at a few pigs and take in a hospital for contagious diseases..." However strong the arguments of Mr McKnight and his cohorts, the hospital was built, appearing on the Rand McNally map of 1912 on Fenimore Street between Kingston and Albany Avenues.
In 1891 a Pigtown pig was raffled and won by a Judge Sweeney, who lived west of Pigtown on Vernon, now Tilden Ave. It was stolen in the night by a pair of practical jokers who turned out to be a town constable and an assistant keeper of the hall of records. So much for the law-abiding citizens of Flatbush.
Pigtown does seem to have been a rough place. In 1896 a Thomas McCormack, known as the "Terror of Pigtown" smashed John Divine's nose, swallowed two live canaries in a Flatbush barber's shop, and then took five bullets in an argument with a Michael Lynch. We know that McCormack lived to continue his depredations, because three months later he is in the news again, his exploits exaggerated to comic book proportions. According to a larceny report of June 26, 1896, McCormack had taken not five but twelve bullets, seven of them remaining in his body.
Another Pigtown character of note was a Louis or Thomas Calandrilla who it was said could "swing every vote in the district." As his name suggests, Italians as well as Irish contributed to the area's population. They formed a mutual aid society, the founding of which was celebrated with a festival and a salute of guns on June 24, 1902. But by the 1920s, the reports of fights and burglaries give way to reports of plans for new development. The penitentiary closes, most of the goats are gone, influential members of the community form the Marconi Realty Corporation, and plans are afoot to rename the area "Crown Slope," a name that apparently failed to thrive. Roads are cut through the wasteland, sewers are laid, and houses are built that conform to the New York City building code. As one journalist writes in 1924, "It looks as if the Pigtown of 1916 is doomed...to merge itself into the surrounding middle class neighborhood and to be transformed into what perhaps maybe described as a more tidy and respectable, if less interesting Flatbush home section."