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Pete Hamill

Poet Of New York But Mostly Brooklyn, Pete Hamill, Was 85

“You know the old joke about Shakespeare, the one that goes, “’Hamlet’ is just a bunch of clichés strung together?” That’s the sense you get when trying to assess the life of Pete Hamill, who died yesterday at 85 after a few years of fragile health. He so embodied midcentury New York — the city of egg creams and Fiorello La Guardia and Benny Leonard — that he was easy to miscategorize as a nostalgist, one who thought New York’s best days were behind it. He was, after all, a guy who smoked and drank with Sinatra. I once called him up and asked whether he’d known Weegee, and he offered the quintessential Hamill answer: “I met him once. It was at Lindy’s.” He laughed as he said it, too, because it was so on the nose. But that deep, deep bank of absorbed knowledge could overshadow his real strength, which was that he was a great observer, a true newsman, and his literacy underpinned a deep curiosity and engagement with the here and now. He knew the history cold, but he wasn’t lost in it.

Dan Barry: “The truly great Pete Hamill died this morning. Newspaperman, novelist, mentor to so many, citizen of the world. I once wrote that if the pavement of New York City could talk, it would sound like Pete Hamill. Now that city weeps.”

“The day the planes hit our buildings in 2001, he was in downtown Manhattan for a meeting about the Tweed Museum, and after he survived the sheer terror of being separated from his wife, the writer Fukiko Aoki, after they managed to find each other in the chaos of those downtown streets that day, he did what he had always done: He went to work. He wrote. It was Pete Hamill who said that the true greatness of his city showed itself to the world on Sept. 12 that year, and Sept. 13, and the days that followed. “It was,” he said, “like watching us all get to one knee, and finally straighten all the way up.”

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