A comedian caught in Chinatown’s Tong wars

In 1909, Chinese-American comedian Ah Hoon was a well-known actor, performing regularly at the Chinese Theater. Located at 5-7 Doyers Street (pictured below in 1909), the theater was a popular venue for Chinese- and English-speaking audiences, who enjoyed the trip to exotic Chinatown. 

Ah Hoon belonged to the On Leong Tong, and he had a habit of making jabs at rival Tongs the Four Brothers and the Hip Sings while on stage.


Bad timing. A Tong war had just broken out, and rival Tong leaders didn’t like the jabs. So they decided Ah Hoon had to be killed. They warned him of his fate and even told him which day would be his last—December 30.

Ah Hoon took them seriously. He had a police presence on stage with him at the Chinese Theater that night, and he escaped to his nearby boardinghouse through a tunnel. On Leong members guarded the boardinghouse entrance.

Still, he was found shot in the heart the next day in his room. How did the rival Tongs get in? Apparently they lowered a gang member on a boatswain’s chair off the roof and into a window in Ah Hoon’s room. He murdered the comedian using a silencer.

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7 Responses to “A comedian caught in Chinatown’s Tong wars”

  1. Ricky Says:

    Obviously, the Tongs were on the cutting edge of technology because the silencer or Maxim Silencer, named after the inventor, Hiram P Maxim, was invented in 1909.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Ricky, I did not know you were so knowledgeable about guns!

  3. Laura S. Says:

    If this is the place I am thinking of I was told that Irving Berlin was once a waiter at the Theater. Isn’t it now a post office?

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    I think it’s a store or restaurant of some kind. I’ve heard Irving Berlin was a singing waiter in Chinatown…does anyone know where?

  5. oldeastsidr Says:

    Just about all the online pages about Irving Berlin show it as Pelham’s Cafe in 1906. I have not found an exact address — just many references to Chinatown district.

  6. Sean Says:

    Tongs still exist and actually have offices: On Leong Tong on Mott and Hip Sing on Pell.

  7. great comedian charlie Says:

    great comedian charlie…

    […]A comedian caught in Chinatown’s Tong wars « Ephemeral New York[…]…

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