Volume 75, Number 34 | January 11 - 17, 200


Nancy Lane Smith; part Mohawk, part Cherokee, one tough life

Nancy Lane Smith, a homeless woman who made the area around Tompkins Square Park her home for the last 12 years, died on Dec. 23. A Native American in her 40s, she lived along E. Fourth St.

Smith is one of the people who recount their stories in “Stranger to the System: Life Portraits of a New York City Homeless Community,” Jim Flynn’s 2002 book on the Tompkins Square Park homeless.

Smith told Flynn she was born in Buffalo in 1964 to a Cherokee father and Mohawk mother. She said her mother drank while she was pregnant so she was an “alcoholic baby” and her father was shot to death as he was leaving a bar when she was still an infant. When Smith was 2, her mother was paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident, after which her grandmother raised her.

She came to New York when she 14 and for a short time performed in live sex shows on 42nd St., but was able to get out of the business when she met her first husband.

Flynn describes Smith — who called the Tompkins Square homeless her “family” — as always jovial and affectionate and generous with hugs. According to a friend, Stanley Sydorowitz, she was a heavy drinker, with a preference for beer and vodka. She was also epileptic and had asthma.

She had one daughter Lucy, and later gave birth to twins who died in the hospital.

“The people around the park were family, they supported her,” Flynn told The Villager. As for her cause of death, he said, “From what I hear, I guess she had a seizure and hit her head.”

Smith’s photo is one of nine of Tompkins Square homeless persons on the cover of Flynn’s book published four years ago. Today, only six of them are still alive.

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