Edward Funk is known as Crazy Philadelphia Eddie to his friends and the entire tattoo industry. Tattooing since 1952, Funk has not only shaped, influenced, and equipped the tattoo business, he’s also worked with other artists to protect it in New York State’s highest court. And he’s quite the character. In this interview, Crazy Philadelphia Eddie discusses why he wanted to unite tattoo artists, his fight against the New York City Department of Health’s ban on tattooing, writing his books, and his recent experience on the convention circuit.
INKED: You tattooed for more than 50 years, opened numerous shops, and started the National Tattoo Association. What was it about tattooing that made you want to accomplish all these things?
EDDIE: Well, I think it really had to do with Chinese
food. [Laughs.] What made me want to accomplish these things? When I’d seen how authorities, people with authority, health departments, and city officials wanted to do away with tattooing, my goal was to protect tattooing, to keep tattooing alive and flourishing, and the way to do this was to unite the tattoo artists. In uniting, we had power. It was money that could be collected from everyone, and you could get lawyers and fight opposing people that wanted to do away with something that has been going on since time began. Tattooing, they say, is one of the first two professions. Prostitution and tattooing—we don’t know which came first, but I like them both.
INKED: As you say, tattooing has always been under fire, and it was banned in New York City and throughout much of the East Coast in the 1960s. What was it like fighting the ban in court?
EDDIE: It was a battle that I felt I could not lose. I didn’t feel that I had all the winning components on my side, but I felt, if I lose this, that’s my life. My life was tattooing, so I had to win this battle.
INKED: You’ve never done anything except tattoo?
INKED: And you chose your profession at the age of 15?
INKED: And the guys before you—Brooklyn Blackie, Max Peltz, Jack Redcloud—were they always coming under the same fire from the authorities?
EDDIE: Brooklyn Blackie used to say—he used to get raided when I worked with him—he’d say, “We get raided three or four times a year. You have to expect to be arrested for some minor shit like tattooing a minor every two or three years.” Every two or three years you had to expect this to happen to you. It is part of the profession, part of the trade, and part of being a pirate.
INKED: What do you remember about the New York State Supreme Court trial? I kept saying to myself, “This judge [Justice Jacob Markowitz] is for tattooing.
EDDIE: I wouldn’t be surprised if he lifted up his robe and had some tattoos on him” because everything the health department was throwing at us, the judge was saying to our lawyer, “Don’t you object to that?” and the judge appeared to be extremely fair and in favor of saving the tattooing. There was no jury. It was up to the judge. At the very end of the trial, the judge said he has heard enough, he will take everything under advisement, and give us his verdict in a short time. My lawyer said that short time could be months, could be three months, six months, a year. He said, “This is a big case, and he can’t make a decision like that. He’ll have to take that under advisement, and talk it over with other judges and lawyers before he can even make a decision because you can’t make a decision to break the law, and you can’t make a decision
that is unfair.” So it would take a lot of advisement before he could make a decision.
INKED: How underground was tattooing in New York during this ordeal?
EDDIE: At the time, Coney Island Freddie [one of the case’s plaintiffs] lived and worked in this housing development that was a secured community where you had to come through a little gate. A security guard there would ask you who you were coming to see and phone the people. So Freddie was tattooing inside this little fortress, and therefore, he wasn’t going to get arrested. He would tattoo the people, and if somebody was coming who was not welcome, the security guard would alert Fred by saying, “so-and-so is here to see you.” So Freddie was having a great business inside this little security community.
I had already been established in Philadelphia, and when the decision came down [in 1963] that tattooing could be practiced safely in the city of New York, and the health department should get officials to supervise it, and that … it was legal to open … Freddie and I were not interested. We were happy with what we were doing. A few people did open in New York, and then the health department came back with an appeal to overrule the verdict [in 1964], and they eventually won [in 1966] because there was nobody there to fight.