Tattoo History: Charlie Wagner & Millie Hull Leave an Indelible Mark on the Bowery

Posted on: November 14th, 2013 at 11:09 am by
This image has been archived or removed.

Let’s dive back into the tattoo history of the Bowery, kicking off with Charlie Wagner.

This man became another indelible mark on the history of the Bowery, and no, we’re not talking about the famous baseball player.

Wagner was New York’s most skilled and revolutionary tattoo artist of his day, plying his ink trade behind the partition of a “five-chair barber shop” on the Bowery, according to a 1943 New York Times article. Men and women in New York City sought his talented hand from the 1890s up until his death in 1953.

During this six-decade career, he even revamped O’Reilly’s groundbreaking tattoo machine and received his own patent in 1904 (#768,413).

This image has been archived or removed.

This image has been archived or removed.

This image has been archived or removed.

The next artist worth noting is a kindred spirit, insofar as not many could get down with the rough-and-tumble Bowery set. Not only did she hold her own, she boasted her own shop.

Meet the Queen of the Bowery herself: Mildred Hull (aka Millie Hull), whose life was too short.

Millie was born in 1897, and later began her career in the circus as an exotic dancer. However, she was tattooed by Charles Wagner so often she eventually became known as the “tattooed lady.” By 1939 she owned her own shop called the Tattoo Emporium, which she shared with a barber and fellow tattoo artist. Many sources claim this man was Charlie Wagner.

This image has been archived or removed.

Damn, Millie. That’s quite a sign!

The etymology of tattoo has soldiers and sailors embedded in it. Apropos for the Bowery wouldn’t you say?

Word origin time!! I was surprised at this, from Dictionary.com:

Word Origin & History
tattoo “signal,” 1688, “signal calling soldiers or sailors to quarters at night,” earlier tap-to (1644, in order of Col. Hutchinson to garrison of Nottingham), from Du. taptoe, from tap “faucet of a cask” (see tap (2)) + toe “shut.” So called because police used to visit taverns in the evening to shut off the taps of casks. Transf. sense of “drumbeat” is recorded from 1755. Hence, Devil’s tattoo “action of idly drumming fingers in irritation or impatience” (1803).

Oh, but that devil got to Millie. She committed suicide in August of 1947, drinking a vial of poison (we don’t have this commonality, not to worry).

This image has been archived or removed.

We’ve got more for you…part three coming up.

Recent Stories

Sauce on the Sidelines for Another Month (at Least)

Still on the sidelines, Sauce might soon return. Workers busy with renovations inside the Rivington Street restaurant said to expect a reopening sometime “next month.” Given the apparent state of the interior, though, that seems ambitious. You’ll recall that a kitchen fire at the end of December knocked out the locals favorite (Monday nights half […]

‘Spreadhouse Cafe’ Closes After 5 Years on Suffolk Street

Spreadhouse Cafe is no more. The establishment closed down last week after spending five years at 116 Suffolk Street. A two-by-three grid of graphic printouts – featuring an image of Bartman in pose – announces the closure (“for now”) and to “stay tuned” for whatever might be next. So far, there are no updates on […]

With Kushner Likely Out, Hotel on Rivington Listed for $70M

It would appear that Kushner Companies is no longer under contract to purchase the Hotel on Rivington. The firm had entered into an agreement to acquire the twenty-story glass eyesore last November for $65 million. Six months later, the real estate firm filed a complaint in New York Supreme Court demanding that hotel ownership (Paul […]

Art Pigeon of Elizabeth Street Garden Stars in Next Season of HBO’s The Deuce

When both sides of the street are lined with 1970s gas-guzzlers, it could only mean one thing. HBO’s The Deuce is filming in the ‘hood. Viewers flocked to the first and second season of the Time Square series for a look at the seedier side of the city. Now that the show is transitioning into […]

Landlord Raphael Toledano Settles Harassment Lawsuit for $3M and Other Penalties

Controversial landlord Raphael Toledano, long a perpetrator of harassment in his residential properties, must now pay the piper. Attorney General Letitia James yesterday announced a settlement with Toledano for $3 million in damages and penalties. An independent monitor will also oversee his real estate holdings to ensure fraud and harassment has ceased. Nor is he […]