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Sunday, January 9, 2011

New York Merchant Carried "Huge" Bowie Knife

The next few posts are going to feature accounts of bowie-knife use in the New York City area, just to underscore the fact that it was not exclusively a weapon of the South. The following report is from the Brooklyn Eagle of May 10, 1893:
William R. Hennig, a diamond importer of 101 West Fourteenth street, New York, was fined $25 by Justice Kavanagh in the Long Island City police court today on a charge of disorderly conduct. Hennig had a dispute with Officer Fitzgerald while going over the Hunter's Point ferry in a carriage Monday night. The officer swore that Hennig tried to strike him with his whip. At the station house a huge bowie knife in a sheath was found concealed on Hennig. The prisoner said he always carried the knife, as he usually had a considerable amount of amount with him.
Here, as in the previous post, we see a bowie knife described as huge. But does the reporter mean huge compared to a small pocket knife, or huge compared to a typical bowie knife, which is understood to be large? If you were referring to a professional basketball player who is six-foot-four, would it make sense to call him "an incredibly tall professional basketball player"? Tall, yes, but not particularly tall within his ranks.

Let's face it: then as now, reporters do not hesitate to sling adjectives around in order to lend drama to an otherwise mundane story. The most common adjectives associated with the bowie are "huge," "foot-long," "razor-sharp," "glittering," "wicked," and "murderous-looking," but I have occasionally read articles that describe a man as being armed with "a small bowie knife." That's an oxymoron, like "jumbo shrimp."

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