Capt. Dan: part 2, Rum Running, Diphtheria, and Childhood Games

This is when he teamed up with Frank Costello and company. He worked for Costello hauling whiskey up from the Caribbean, St Lawrence, and Nova Scotia areas. He told me Navy and Coast Guard Cutters would board the big rumrunner sailing vessels out beyond the 12-mile limit and their skippers would have a drink with him. Of course, they couldn’t arrest him out there. Since radar was not in use at that time, it was easy to evade patrols. Eventually, the rumrunners were stopped from getting into major harbors due to more patrol vessels, so they shifted strategy to having fast boats come out and rendezvous with a “mother ship,” pick up a load then hightail it to small inlets along the Atlantic Coast. When the government caught on to this, they began using small boats to cover the inlets. The rumrunners countered with a new tactic. The small high-speed boats would come out, pick up a load of whiskey, hightail back to a deserted beach area, and dump the whiskey just beyond the surf line. The waves would wash it onto the beach, where crews of beachcombers, clam diggers and local fishermen, would wade into the surf and recover the booze. Then it would be loaded on sand sleds pulled by a tractor to the bay side of the offshore island, reloaded onto a barge, towed to an isolated area on the mainland, and then trucked up to warehouses in Philadelphia and New York. My father got a dollar for each case that got ashore.
One time, before they resorted to inlet and beach landing operations, the Coast Guard caught him in the Race off New London. He had a large 5-masted lumber schooner at the time with lumber on deck, but the holds filled with whiskey they had picked up at Halifax. They became becalmed for two days in the Race, and since they had no power, kept going back and forth with the tides. Finally, a Coast Guard Cutter came out, boarded the vessel, “FRANCIS P. RITCHIE,” and found the whiskey. Costello’s lawyer finally got my father released from jail in Boston. In the meantime, there was a big story about the capture in the New York papers, which proved very embarrassing for my Uncle Pete Cuggy. Seems my father got Pete to sign papers showing he was the owner of the vessel. Poor old Pete, who was only an innocent worker for the Railway Express, was arrested; but again, Costello’s people got him cleared of any wrongdoing. He was sore at my father for a good time after that but eventually got over it.
When WW11 came along, the Coast Guard Admiral in New York contacted my father to see if he would take a commission and advise them on where to set up foot patrols along the coast, as they were worried about German saboteurs landing from U-Boats. The Admiral knew my father from his rum running days, and how foxy he had been escaping all the time after the Francis P. Ritchie incident; and the Admiral was aware that my father knew the coast very well. Unfortunately, Washington would not go along with the idea, due to the fact he had a felony conviction in his record from rum running. Even so, he told the Admiral where to set some of the patrols, which proved of value later on.
Naturally, during his rum running days, he was gone for a few months at a time. One stormy night he came home when we lived on 56th Street. He had his Southwester rain gear on and a big beard plus a valise full of big bills. On such occasions, he and my mother would go off for a few days with her mother minding us kids. In 1929, when we lived on 4th Street in Elmhurst, he took my mother out to some place in Montauk Point for a weekend. He told her to drive back by herself with our big Chrysler Sedan. Unbeknownst to her it was loaded down with whiskey. The seats, doors, and underneath the chassis had hollow places where the bottles with the straw around them were concealed. When he returned to our place he had a man come and move the bottles into a phony delivery truck and taken to his speakeasy, the Press Club. My mother found out about this ruse later on and was very mad.
After Pete Gallagher died in 1925, Mrs. Gallagher sold the Manhattan Sand &; Gravel Co. to Generalissimo Pope, who changed the name to Colonial Sand & Gravel. When my father was a truck driver, he had taught Pope to drive. Over the years, Pope got into publishing Italian newspapers, etc. No doubt, he stole a good bit of sand and gravel from Gallagher when he was a truck driver by dumping part of a delivery at some hidden place where he would resell it with his own truck. I knew his son Gene later, during the early fifties. Gene ran an Italian wire service, which was the prime source of all news coming from Italy. Gene later started the Enquirer newspaper.
We moved from 45th Street to 57th Street in 1925 to a five-room coldwater flat, between 1st and 2nd Aves. It was on the top, fifth floor, and was walk-up. It ran from backyard to street side. I started public school, which was only a block away on 50th between 2nd and 5th Aves. This is where I met my oldest friends, Vinnie and Dick Guido who are still around as of 1990 and whom I see on my trips back east. We had a dumbwaiter in the building that I use to have someone pull me up and down in. People used it for getting packages up to their floor or down. After St Agnes, public school was a breeze, still lots of homework though. Only thing I can remember there was being punished for dipping the blond curls of a girl in front of me in my inkwell.
In 1926 we moved to our fanciest place yet on 5oth. Street between A Avenue and Sutton PI. It had steam heat, carpeted hallways and stairs, hot water, bathroom, and a gas stove. My father was riding high with the money he was making. I played with the Guido brothers and another Italian kid, Leno. I had many a good Italian meal with them. Vinnie’s father knew my father when they fought as prizefighters. He was a middleweight while my father fought heavy weight. His father drove a horse-drawn milk wagon for Borden’s, climbing up and down tenement stairs to leave fresh milk and pick up empties. Later, in the morning, he would come around weekly to collect from customers. We still used iceboxes with icemen bringing a 50 lb or so block of ice up to your flat and putting it in the icebox. The Guido’s took me to Bayville a few times in the summer. Vinnie’s mother Rose, who was Irish, was a great Italian cook, guess she learned from Vinnie’s grandma. She also made the best sandwiches. His father, on his days off, would drive out to Montauk to go deep-sea fishing; which he did almost until the time he died in the early eighties.
We had some bad luck in the 56th Street flat. On Christmas Eve, 1926 my sister Catherine died of diphtheria. Her tonsils were too swollen for the doctor to treat her throat by painting it with silver nitrate, which was the method then in use. I came down the same day with it. Margaret and Tommy also had it but the Doctor was able to treat them. That same day the Lionel train my folks gave me shorted out, as the engine was made for AC current, while our flat was on DC current. We were in quarantine for about two months. Relatives and friends use to leave groceries, etc. at our door, which had a big quarantine sign on it, which was the law in those days. My poor mother had to stay in with us and take care of us. My father happened to be away when we started coming down with the bug, so when he returned he stayed with my Aunt Mary Cuggy.
We all went to St John’s church on the corner of 55th Street and 1st Avenue. I made a booboo there one Easter Sunday. I had my new Easter suit on and tried to climb over a picket fence to get out of going to Sunday school. In doing so, I ripped my “Plus-4 knickers” on a picket, caught hell from my mother. The old saying, “God will punish you when you are bad,” was fulfilled that day. I was shot in the eye with a hairpin; we kids were playing in my home hiding behind furniture. We were using rubber bands to shoot hairpins at each other. I looked up over the top of a chair at the wrong time, and was hit. My mother rushed me to hospital in a taxi with the hairpin sticking out of my eyeball. The doctor pulled it out, treated the eye, and made me wear a patch for six months.
Another time, my gang stole a few bottles of beer from the Peter Doelger Brewery a few blocks away. I had opened my bottle by knocking the cap off on a picket fence. One of the other kids couldn’t get his cap off so I took it and trying to knock it off, the bottle exploded due to it being warm and all the shaking. When the bottle broke, I severely cut my thumb. I ran home holding the thumb together. Again, my mother had to take me in a cab to the doctor who stitched it up. I was lucky I was not blinded from the hairpin and no lockjaw from the thumb severing.
I use to hide costume jewelry in a cigar box and climb up a stone wall at the foot of 58th St by the East River and hide the box, coming back every so often to see if it was still there. It was up a good 50′ on the wall and tricky to climb. We use to climb around the new fancy apartment houses going up on Sutton Place, and we would play chicken by going hand-over-hand hanging onto a steel beam a good 10 story above the ground. Oh yes, after the diphtheria siege, my mother put us kids in the hospital and had our tonsils removed, so that never again would she lose one of us like happened to Catherine
We use to make wagons from baby carriage wheels; using two-by-fours and a wooden box with clothesline attached to the front 2×4 with small wheels. The big wheels were in the back. We would push our wagons over to Central Park and play cowboys and Indians. The games we would play were touch football, box ball, stoop ball (you throw a rubber ball at the steps of a stoop, the ball had to get past the curb on a fly. Fielders tried to catch it; if they did, it was an out. If they didn’t it was a hit. If you got it over the last kid near the opposite curb, it was a homer, much like OTL. We also played baseball checkers, laid out 10″ squares in each corner of a sidewalk section. You started from home by shooting your checker for first base. It had to land in the 10″ first base square without touching any of the lines. If you did, you then tried to shoot it into the second base square. If you missed at anytime, the next player shot. He had choice of shooting for the next base he was heading for, or if he could hit your checker, he got another shot. When you made all the bases it was a run at which point you shot at any opponent’s checker. If you hit it, you won it. You would then try to get another one. If you missed, the next player could shoot at yours. If he had all ready been around all the bases at the time, and he shot and hit yours, he got it. We also played marbles, using “steelies,” which we rolled down along a gutter. If you hit someone’s marble, you won it. We played handball, pitched pennies (closest to wall won) roller skate hockey, chase games like one called “Ring-A-Levio.” (It must have been Italian origin). The players were split up into two sides. One side was given a good start and would hide, other side would hunt all up and down the block behind cars, trashcans, etc. When someone was caught, he was brought back and placed in a square that was the holding tank. If one of his teammates could sneak back without being caught and reach the holding tank, all “prisoners” were free to escape.
We played “Seven-up” for United Cigar Coupons, which were redeemable for merchandise. We went to movies on 55th and 3rd Avenue and to RKO Proctor, the one at 58th Street and 3rd Avenue. The latter had some vaudeville with the movie and a sing along organist. Kids up the block would make war on the kids down the block in the backyards. We would start by climbing over the fences separating the tenements. The other gang would lie in wait for us by hiding behind one of the fences. When we reached their hiding place, they would rap our hands with boards as we tried to climb the fence. We boosted each other and managed to get over somehow screaming like Indians. The other side would break and retreat. As they did so, we chased them whacking them on their butts as they climbed over a fence.

To be continued….

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