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Hall, Abraham Oakey (1826-1898)

Journalist, Lawyer, Playwright, Politician

Born in Albany, Abraham Oakey Hall lost his father to yellow fever at the age of three and entered the public school system. He excelled in journalism from an early age, and his earnings from contributions to various periodicals helped him pay for his education at the University of the City of New York. By 1844 Oakey had received a B. A. and an M. A., followed by a semester of study at Harvard Law School. His studies at Harvard were cut short, possibly due to a lack of money, and he went to work at Charles W. Sanford’s New York City law office (Carman). He quickly left this position and moved to New Orleans where he worked as a reporter. Here, again, Hall moved away from the path he had chosen. His time as a reporter ended quickly after he decided to resume his legal studies. He was accepted into the New Orleans Bar Association and, in 1851, he returned to New York City and received permission to practice law there.

Soon after his return to New York, Hall began delving into politics, where he carved out a "political career which if not outstanding was at least notorious" (Carman). From 1851-1868, he held positions as an Assistant District Attorney and as a District Attorney. As District Attorney, his record showed that "during the last six years of his incumbency in this office he sent twelve thousand persons to prison and pigeon-holed more than ten thousand indictments against others" (Carman). At this time he also became associated with the Pfaffians, and is identified as one of the “Knights of the Round Table” of Bohemia in Charles Pfaff’s obituary (2). According to Francis Wolle, Walt Whitman described Hall as one of the leaders at Pfaff’s (126).

In 1864, he left behind his associations with Whigs and Republicans in favor of the power of Tammany Hall. This shift in alliances proved to be beneficial and, in 1868, he succeeded John T. Hoffman as Mayor of New York City. Hall’s years as Mayor were filled with shady dealings. He was implicated along with William M. "Boss" Tweed in the corruption scandal of Tammany Hall, but he denounced the charges and, acting as his own defense, won an acquittal in the 1872 trial.

A New York Times article published in March of 1877, speculating about the cause of Hall’s “mysterious disappearance” from the City, describes his irregular habits and evidence for mental derangement. It writes that, despite no evidence of decline in his legal pursuits, his friends “have noticed for some time past that he has had a habit of talking at random, that he would ramble off in his conversation in the most extravagant and dreamy fashion, talking about his past life and alluding in the most mysterious manner to his troubles, and sometimes talking about times gone by in a manner that appeared extravagantly untrue.” The article also refers to his financial troubles and his passionate yet unsuccessful defense of convicted murderer James Rice. Hall returned to the city the following November, declaring that he took a needed six month’s rest but has “no right to dispute with old constituents whether I am eccentric or not” (“A. Oakey Hall Back Again”). In 1879 Hall became the city editor for the New York World. He left the World in 1882 and traveled to London to work as a correspondent for the New York Herald. He also became editor in chief of the Leader after John Clancy’s death (“Obituary: Henry Clapp”).

Throughout his life, Hall maintained a love of literature and an enjoyment of writing. He was both an author and a playwright who created such books as The Manhattaner in New Orleans or Phases of "Crescent City" Life (1851), Old Whitney’s Christmas Trot (1857), Sketches of Travel (1859), Horace Greeley Decently Dissected (1862), The Congressman’s Christmas Dreams and the Lobby Member’s Happy New Year: A Holiday Sketch (1870), and Ballads of Hans York (1880). His plays include The Crucible, Loyalina, Brigadier General Fortunio and His Seven Gifted Aides-de-Camp (1864), Humpty Dumpty, Fernande, and Let Me Kiss Him for His Mother.