Historic, but not famous

Christopher Keyburn  (Kit Burns), saloon keeper, rat pit runner

Christopher Keyburn  (Kit Burns) (1831 – 1870) was an American sportsman, saloon keeper and underworld figure in New York City during the mid-to late 19th century, he and Tommy Hadden being the last-known leaders of the Dead Rabbits during the 1850s and 60s. He founded Sportsmen’s Hall, also known as the Band Box, which served as a popular Bowery sporting resort, dance hall and meeting place for the gangs of the area.

The hall ran for almost 2 decades and was closed down by the ASPCA due to the horrific dog and rat fights organized in the pit of the first floor of the bar. He also held illegal bare knuckle boxing tournaments in the hall.

Burns was one of several saloon keepers targeted during the public crusade against John Allen, then called the “Wickedest Man in New York”, and it was soon reported in the press that he and others had been “reformed” by religious leaders and agreed to hold prayer meetings in their establishments. Though he had declined their offers several times, he eventually allowed his “rat pit” to be used for a high fee, rumored to be $150 a week. This was portrayed in the film “Gangs of New York” by Martin Scorsese.

Mr. Burns died of pneumonia on December 19, 1870, right before his trial for dogfighting and animal cruelty. Although little of the original structure remains, Sportsman’s Hall occupied the land where the Joseph Rose House and Shop, a four-unit luxury apartment house at 273 Water Street, It is one of the oldest structure in Manhattan.

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