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Walter Moskowitz 1937-2007

Monday February 05, 2007

From Marissa @ 'I'm utterly saddened to write that tattoo artist Walter Moskowitz passed away last night. In December, I had the honor of meeting the legendary "Wally". I admit, I was nervous. What would I say to one of the Bowery Boys, "one of the last links to New York's tattoo heritage" as per Michael McCabe's New York City Tattoo: The Oral History of an Urban Art. But Walter Moskowitz was warm and welcoming and instantly made you feel at ease -- the perfect tattooer trait. He was also a gifted story teller. Listening to him, transports you to the 50s, NYC's Lower East Side. His father, Willy Moskowitz, emigrated from Russia and opened up a barbershop. He soon learned that he could support his family better through tattoos than cutting hair, so he had his friend Charlie Wagner, another legend, teach him the craft. Along with tattooing came the drunken shop brawls between (and with) rowdy clients, police harassment, and the general hustle to make a living during and after the Depression. Not an easy life, but a good trade. Willy Moskowitz passed down the trade to Walter and his brother Stanley. According to the article The Kosher Tattoo Kings, Walter learned to tattoo at night after spending the day studying the Torah and Talmud at a Brooklyn yeshiva. The article quotes Walter as saying "It has been a very interesting life. I came in contact with every type of personality, from the highest to the lowest -- and sometimes the highest was the lowest." An interesting life is a humble understatement. Many of us tattoo history buffs pass around stories of the Bowery Boys with a bit of awe. McCabe says it best: "Young tattoo artists are always asking me about the Moskowitzes. The mythology of these guys is like that of the Bowery in the 1940s and 50s -- big, bad and bold." I love that mythology, the stories. But I'm also thankful that I got to meet Walter in person, feel his strong but friendly handshake, and thank him for the history lesson. I'm also thankful to his youngest son, Douglas, who made the introduction. Doug is not a third-generation tattooer like his brother Marvin, but shares a love and appreciation of the tattoo traditions. Marvin, aka Marty, runs Wally's Tattoo & Piercing Studio in Ronkonkoma (Long Island), New York, named after his father. Walter tattooed there before his retirement. In fact, Walter set up one of the first tattoo parlors on Long Island in the early sixties; that was around the time when the health department ordered all tattoo parlors in NYC closed following a hepatitis scare. He brought with him the Charlie Wagner flash designs, the old acetate stencils from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, among other tattoo memorabilia -- some still on view at Wally's Studio. "If it hadn't been for the Moskowitz brothers, tattooing might have died out altogether," McCabe says. "These were the guys that hung in there before tattooing was popular and gentrified." Walter Moskowitz will be truly missed. My deepest condolences to his family.' From Marissa @

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