Benjamin Cooper was born in the dark morning hours of May 8, 1885 in the outermost neighborhood of the Bronx, New York, a waning moon overhead. A robust baby of nine pounds, he was the first born son of Russian-Jewish immigrants Vlad, a skilled violin maker, and Marjorie, the county's foremost authority on herbal alchemy.
Having demonstrated great scholastic promise, Cooper set off to study law at the University of Pennsylvania, with aspirations of becoming a legislator. He was the top student in his class when his academic career ended suddenly and bitterly, just short of his first year. The precise circumstances remain unclear, but some sources claim he was wrongfully expelled after an altercation with the son of the Dean of Humanities.
Following his dismissal, Cooper began working at a bonded whiskey house in Philadelphia, a job which afforded him a great deal of friends and admirers in the nighttime establishments of the area. One such friend was John Ross Hardy, a self-made real estate tycoon and notoriously lubricated bachelor. Hardy and Cooper formed a fast friendship that led them to take a hunting trip to Hardy's native St. Louis, a holiday from which Benjamin never returned.
Enchanted by the spirit of adventure, Cooper took a job as the barkeep of the riverboat The Unknown Splendor. Touring up and down the Mississippi, he acquired a substantial taste for earthly pleasures and a reputation as a merciless card player. The crew was out for a night of amusemen