A real character, it would seem: A quick web search uncovered a 1994 Times profile that starts with the angling in the basement adventure. (Funny the folks at the Times couldn't find anything more about this in their archives.)
The article locates "the pickerel" escapade in the basement of a hardware store at 992 2nd Avenue sometime in 1955 and clearly identifies post-hurricane flooding as the precipitating cause. But, amazingly, it turns out that this guy's brush with subterranean sea-life is not all he's famous for. Jack Gasnick wrote letters to editors all over town, in which, by turns, he told stories about Marilyn Monroe, Kathrine Hepburn and Irving Berlin ("the stingiest man I ever saw"), all of whom regularly partonized his East Side hardware store.
[Photo by Berenice Abbott-1936 via NYPL Digital Archive]
In the early 1970's -- unbelievably, given how influential Gordon Matta-Clark has become in the last few years -- Gasnick began buying and collecting "gutterspace," or small slivers of land left over from zoning or surveying errors. He said that after a little while he couldn't stop: "It's like collecting stamps; once you've got the fever, you've got the fever."
He bought a slice in Corona just behind Louis Armstrong's house, a piece near Jamaica Bay where he once filled a pale with sea-horses, and yet another adjacent to the Fresh Kills landfill where he claims an abandoned sea Captain's house still stood... On the weekends, he would sometimes drive out to the tiny parcels and help the milkweed and laurel grow, tend to the turtles, and sit down for a picnic. "This jump of mine from flower pot to apple tree bears witness to the fact that it doesn't cost much for an apartment-living guy to get a share of the good environment," he wrote in 1974. To be exact, it cost between $50 and $250. But the taxes he had to pay were enough of a hassle that he gave away (or otherwise lost track of) all the pieces by 1977.
And believe it or not that's not all. According to the Wikipedia entry on the longest-lasting lightbulb, the very same Jack Gasnick -- owner of Ganisck Supply at 53rd Street and 2nd Avenue -- was also the owner of the third oldest, continually running lightbulb on the planet. Apparently, though, it's a distinction he vehemently protested. In 1981, the entry says, he wrote Dear Abby and denounced the oldest, or "alleged" oldest, running bulb in Livermore, California as a fraud.
Could he be the fraud? The lightbulb thing appears to check out: according to both Wikipedia and Roadside America, he holds third place for a lightbulb that ran continually from 1912 until 2003, when his building was demolished to make way for a tower of luxury condos. But another letter-to-the-editor in 1981 might cause you to think he's prone to exageration:
"When I used to talk to Marilyn Monroe on those Thursday nights over the six-foot bar at Bill Chan's Gold Coin, she once mentioned The Seven Year Itch. I have good friends like Sidney Skolsky, Earl Wilson, Humphrey Bogart and Billy Wilder,' I recall her saying, 'but the nicest is Tom Ewell, gentle, kind and worried.' And here is Miss Monroe's tribute to Jack Lemmon, for she added that it was a tossup when Billy Wilder in 1954 chose Ewell over Lemmon for the lead."
Then again, maybe he was just a good talker. Jack, if you're still around, here's to you.