Leo Hershkowitz, 92, Dies; Unearthed New York City History

And, from bundles of papers earmarked for disposal by the city comptroller’s office, he saved coroner’s records from the late 18th and early 19th centuries that recorded infanticides, suicides, drownings — and the killing of Alexander Hamilton by Aaron Burr in a duel across the Hudson in Weehawken, N.J.

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A five-pound note from the Colony of New York in 1759 was among Leo Hershkowitz’s many finds.

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New-York Historical Society

“It is a lonely world,” Professor Hershkowitz told The New York Times in 1990 about his dives through archives, some of them dusty enough to require wearing a protective mask. “I don’t have much company.”

Professor Hershkowitz, who taught history at Queens College for about 50 years, died on Aug. 10 in Boston. He was 92.

His son Herbert Berger-Hershkowitz said the cause was polycythemia vera, a slow-growing blood cancer.

Professor Hershkowitz’s archival adventures were put to their most renowned use in “Tweed’s’ New York: Another Look” (1977), a revisionist look at the powerful machine politician who was memorably lampooned by Thomas Nast, the Harper’s Weekly cartoonist. Professor Hershkowitz found dusty packets of meticulously kept payrolls and vouchers that helped form his view that Tweed did not pilfer the city’s treasury of tens of millions of dollars, as his accusers have long believed.

“So little has been done to obtain even basic information about the man, and what is known is generally wrong,” he wrote. “Perhaps never has so much nonsense been written about an individual.”

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Leo Hershkowitz found a presidential campaign ribbon for Horatio Seymour and Gen. Frank P. Blair, who lost to Ulysses S. Grant and Schuyler Colfax in 1868.

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New-York Historical Society

Rather than portraying him as corrupt, Professor Hershkowitz determined that Tweed had been the victim of illicit machinations at his embezzlement trial; that he had shown more vision about the city’s growth than some reformers; and that he had been prosecuted to deflect attention from Republican corruption in Washington. Indeed, he said, the trial prosecutors arranged with Gov. Samuel J. Tilden of New York to handpick a judge who was prejudiced against Tweed.

Tweed was found guilty…

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