1st Generation Tattoo Artist est. Early 1930s
2nd Generation Tattoo Artist est. Early 1950s
3rd Generation Tattoo Artist est. Early 1970s
It's noon on a warm sunny day in the 1940s when a regular drunkard awakens, thirsty, in his flophouse to find his bottle empty. He leaves the flop house, seeing the few rays of light that manage to shine through the overhead "El" to refill his bottle of "Sneaky Pete". After reloading, he walks past the scoundrels, bastards, and degenerates of this skid row, while quenching his thirst. He occasionally has to step over the unconscious, still inebriated from the debauchery of the night before, as he stumbles into Willy's Barber & Tattoo Shop for a shave. The man relaxes comfortably in the barber chair as Willy, the proprietor of this fine establishment, dresses him in the barber cape and preps his straight edge razor. Willy then lathers on the shaving cream and slowly proceeds to give the man a close shave. Halfway through the shave a few other denizens come into Willy's shop asking for tattoos. As Willy sees that the man he was shaving has passed out he brings the customers in the back one by one for them to pick out a design off the walls of tattoo flash and then proceeds to give them all tattoos. After these customers leave with their new artwork permanently etched into their skin Willy finishes the previous shave, collects his payment and kicks out the drunkard. This is just another day on New York City's skid row, The Bowery.
William “Willy” Moskowitz an immigrant from Russia moved to New York City with his family to meet his father Wolf Moskowitz who had previously come over. In the 1920s Willy was a barber giving shaves, haircuts & black eyes made to look natural to his clientele at #12 Bowery, while renting out the back of his barbershop to transient tattoo artists including Al Neville and Phil Duane. After having tattoo artists not show up to work, his good friend Prof. Charlie Wagner taught him to tattoo. Willy would then become the only barber/tattoo artist on the Bowery. Willy loved life on The Bowery and he would teach his sons, Stanley & Walter Moskowitz how to tattoo and make it a family affair. Willy also taught Stanley & Walter’s brother in law Stanley Farber how to tattoo. Stanley Farber tattooed in Coney Island and he would later open a shop in Brooklyn’s Flatbush which lead to his name “Flatbush Stan” where he employed Jack Dracula, Tony "The Pirate" Cambria & Tony Polito separately at various times. Stanley Moskowitz also known as “Bowery Stan” was the first to learn from Willy and Walter would follow a few years later. While a boy Walter would attend Yeshiva during the day and tattoo on The Bowery at night. By age 16 he was tattooing full time and supporting a family while buying a house and car. Willy and his boys moved to a better location at #4 Bowery as they got more and more business and Willy decided to stop cutting hair and begin tattooing full time. Walter and Stan, the only kids tattooing on the Bowery, became known as "The Bowery Boys". The trade on the Bowery required blood, sweat, but no tears as "The Bowery Boys" were constantly fighting to protect themselves. This lead to their infamy along with tattooing over 50 people a day.
"The Bowery Boys" crossed paths with many tattoo legends as Walter sold Tony Polito his first tattoo machine and later unofficially named Tony's brooklyn tattoo shop "Old Calcutta". Walter gave Crazy Eddie Funk, later known as Philadelphia Eddie, the 2 blue birds on his chest which Eddie hilariously retells in his autobiography. While Walter was learning to tattoo, a young Huck Spaulding was fine tuning his skills in the shop under Willy's tutelage. Bill Jones or "Jonesy" built his machines in the shop as Walter and Stan tattooed. Thom DeVita also visited the shop on several occasions with Willy giving him his first tattoo. Willy later got sick so the brothers Walter and Stan moved to #52 Bowery not anymore needing a barbershop. Willy then retired and Walter and Stan became the last Bowery tattoo artists at this time. Willy Moskowitz passed away in 1961.
In 1961 tattooing became outlawed in NYC so Walter and Stan briefly tattooed underground working with Tony D'Anessa before relocating to Long Island. "The Bowery Boys" moved to Suffolk County and opened "S&W Tattoo", the first ever tattoo shop on Long Island. During this time the surrounding area of the shop on Long Island was like the wild west, much like the Bowery, with bikers, police raids, robberies, and others trying to cause problems. In all their battles on the Bowery and on Long Island "The Bowery Boys" remained undefeated. They even had blood stained flash hanging on their walls.
Walter's son Marvin would be the last family member brought into the tattoo business. He first learned at S&W then was sent to Tony Polito to fine tune his skills. The only people to work at "S&W" were the family, Stanley, Walter, and Marvin, where they would establish the "S&W" supply company and make their "Black Beauty" tattoo machines. "The Bowery Boys" would receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the original NYC Tattoo Convention in 1999. "The Bowery Boys" worked side by side for over 50 years until they closed their doors in 2001. Walter would later open his last shop "Wally's Tattoo Studio" with his son Marvin in 2005. Walter passed away from a very tough bout of Cancer but his voice and stories live on in the family made audio book "Last Of The Bowery Scab Merchants". Marvin continues to carry on the trade to this day.
L to R: Willy Moskowitz, Dick Hyland "The Human Autograph", Stanley Moskowitz, & Walter Moskowitz
The birthplace of modern electric tattooing