For a 13-year-old boy in 1953, that was money worth having. “You didn’t get too many 15-cent tips,” Mr. Bozart, now 75, said this week.
One of those weekly tips would turn out to be the stuff of a vivid chapter in the history of international espionage gimmickry and dramatic Cold War diplomacy that played out across the front pages more than a half-century ago, and that is the subject of an acclaimed film by Steven Spielberg released last month.
That same tip would also be the source of a rich piece of Brooklyn folklore, untold in the movie and nearly all official histories, but passed along over the years with great relish: that Jimmy Bozart, a newsboy of modest background, had shrewdly turned a private reward for helping catch a Cold War spy into a series of successful businesses, including investments in restaurants, discothèques and resorts during the gay liberation era.
“That got me my start,” Mr. Bozart said.
The story begins on the evening of June 22, 1953, as he walked downstairs, counting coins from the teachers. He stumbled. The money clattered onto the steps. He quickly recovered 45 of the 50 cents, then kept hunting.
“I found the wafer-thin back of a Jefferson nickel — the Monticello side,” Mr. Bozart said.
Somehow, the back of the nickel had detached from the front, which rolled a few feet away. The front still had the side rim, and a tiny piece of black microfilm was nestled into it.
Back home at East 43rd Street and Avenue D, Jimmy, with his father, a baggage handler for the New York Central Railroad, held the microfilm to a lamp and looked at it with a magnifying glass. “It seemed to be a file card, with columns of eight- or 10-digit numbers,” Mr. Bozart said.
A girl in his eighth-grade class at St. Therese of Lisieux was the daughter of a detective in the 67th Precinct. Jimmy took the nickel to her house, but the detective was not home, so he went out to play stickball.
On hearing about Jimmy’s strange find, the detective and other officers scrambled to find him.
“They went up to the church and impounded the bingo money, in case I gave the nickel to my mother and she spent it there,” Mr. Bozart said. “Then they grabbed the Good Humor guy and took his money, in case I bought an ice cream with it. Then they found me on the street. ‘You’re Bozart? What did you do with the nickel?’ ”
He handed it to the detectives and heard no more about it. More than four years later, in the fall of 1957, arriving home for the weekend from his first semester at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he was greeted at the top of the stairs by his father.
There were news reporters in the house.
“We had a very humble house, lived above a bar,” Mr. Bozart said. “No one was ever in it. Springs were coming out of the sofa.”
Unknown to the Bozarts, the hollow nickel with the microfilm, bearing a coded message, had been identified by a Soviet defector, who had led the authorities to Col. Rudolph I. Abel, a Soviet spy arrested in June 1957. (The defector apparently had mistakenly spent the nickel years earlier, sending it on an unmapped journey across the city to the newsboy