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Capt. Dan, part 5

the continuing autobiography of Capt. Dan

In 1930, we rented a large bungalow in Bayville on Madison Ave. My maternal grandmother stayed with us there. I remember the Lyon’s girls who lived there all year round in a house at the corner of our avenue, Madison, and the beach. I had a crush on Regina. Her sister, Marie, was about six years older.
There were many kids my age around the neighborhood, the Lynches, McSherrys, Croaks, etc mostly Irish. In fact, a Pat Kerr owned the house we rented. The Croak family had about five brothers; one was a priest, then Babe, Tom, Phil. I can’t remember the other one. They built a beautiful home for their mother a few blocks away. Phil use to date Marie Lyons. We had a raft out off our beach where we guys and gals use to assemble. We had beach fires at night, and went canoeing at night. I use to ride my bike up to Center Island a lot. Again, we had lots of company on weekends. Regina would ride a bus from Bayville to a Catholic girls school in Jamaica. The Croaks were the only family that lived there in the winter. She went to college later on, became a chemical engineer, married and had six children. I got my driver’s permit and was allowed to drive the Chrysler to the Glen Cove theatre. There use to be a good ice cream parlor on Bayville Ave about three blocks from us. It had the best malts and sundaes. My Aunt Bessie rented a house down a lane near the bayside just down from the ice cream parlor. I remember it was loaded around her area with mosquitoes and green sand flies. When you dug for clams in the mud on the bayside, you had to keep one hand free to swat the green sand flies! We had milk delivered and Dugan’s bakery truck came by everyday. Their cup cakes were my favorites, also the French coffee cake. We went to the little Catholic Church about a mile away down the road, opposite where the Harrison Williams’ estate used to be. The red brick wall of the estate is still there. Like many of the old estates, it was subsequently sub divided.
In 1931, we rented a large bungalow on the beach right next to the home of the Lyons girls, oh boy! My maternal grandmother lived with us. We also had an Irish maid and my father had his handyman from the Press Club out occasionally to do some work around the bungalow. Tony built me a small wooden kayak type boat. He had been an Italian Naval officer in WW1. One night at the Press Club, where he lived, he shot and killed a burglar. Babe Croak, or his brother Phil, used to row a boat and coach me swimming long distance from Oak Neck Point to the ferry slip at Reinhardt’s Beach. Again, we guys and gals use to row or paddle a canoe to the freighters forming the ferry slip breakwater; and picnic aboard, swim, play an old phonograph, etc. I swam in a one and a half mile swim in Oyster Bay, finished 15th out of 140 some odd entries. All the NYAC, Dragon Club, YMCA swimmers, etc were in it. One time when Vinnie Sims spent a week with me, we took the Mandy Lee, a sport fishing cruiser out. My father had gotten a boat from a friend who owed him money. It was 55′ of wooden lap strake construction. It was anchored on the bayside of Bayville. We had to go through the bridge that connects Bayville to Oyster Bay. As we headed south on Oyster Bay, the salt water-cooling line separated at a connection, doused the engine causing it to quit. While Vinnie and I were busy trying to find out what had happened, we drifted over onto a rocky shoal off Center Island and bumped gently on top of a big boulder. Vinnie immediately got an anchor out, which we should have done sooner. Vinnie reconnected the hose fitting but couldn’t get the engine started. We signaled a passing small boat, which came over and was able to get alongside as it drew less water than us. He looked the engine over and said we would have to wait awhile and let things dry out a bit. He towed us out to deeper water. Later we got it staffed, headed for the Sound via Cold Spring Harbor area. We got around Rocky Point and headed for Bayville Beach opposite our bungalow. I took many of my friends out for a ride plus my mother, Tommy and Margaret. My father was away at the time and did not know anything about it. Vinnie and I eventually got it back to Oyster Bay and anchored it without further mishap. One weekend my father took Vinnie Sims, Vinnie Guido and my family to Fairfield, Conn. to visit his partner Tom Lynch who had a cottage there. I can remember us hanging onto a towrope getting dragged astern at 10 kts, lot of fun! We also had aquaplanes that were towed behind the boat. It was sort of a flat board with a small bridle at the front connected to a towrope. You stood on it holding onto another bridle that came up from each forward corner, lots of fun, forerunner of water skiing. Labor Day came late that year, and school started a week later, so I was able to enjoy Bayville a little longer.
My mother would pick us all up at school on Friday afternoons, and let me drive the car to Bayville; which we did each weekend until Columbus Day. How I loved those Indian summer days, warm days, cold nights! Water remained halfway warm until the end of September. On such Friday nights at Bayville, it was cold canned salmon, Franco-American spaghetti, salad, cheese, fruit, cake and milk for supper. We had to dress in the kitchen by the stove especially in October, as there was no heat in the bungalow. On July 4th everyone had fireworks on the beach. My father liked to buy the biggest fireworks to outshine the neighbors. One of his skyrockets fell over after it ignited and flew out and hit a canoe in the side putting a hole in it. He arranged to have it repaired. No one hurt. We had periods of being inundated with large jellyfish that stung like all blazes, also had horseshoe crabs. It was fun picking one up and chasing some girls with it. I rigged a rowboat out as a small windjammer one time and we sailed around Oak Point, but had to row back against the wind. I also talked an Italian kid, who had a nice outboard motor and boat, to take a trip across the Sound to Greenwich. Our parents gave us hell when we got back. We had no problems over or back. It was an all-day trip.

to be continued….

Capt. Dan, part 4: Long Island Gentry, Speakeasies, and the Stock Market Crash

The continuing autobiography of Capt. Dan.

In those days, the great wealthy families had estates on the major points of land projecting into Long Island Sound. A mile to the west of us was the Harrison William’s estate; J.P Morgan’s was off Glen Cove, Tommy Mansville, and the asbestos family across the sound at Greenwich, Vanderbilt’s out at Huntington, etc. All of them had high-speed 50′ to 60′ express cruisers that could make 50 mph. They were beautiful mahogany custom jobs. They ran like clockwork, so much so that we kids could tell what time it was in late afternoon when they were returning from Wall Street to their Long Island estates
In 1929, we did not go to Bayville. My father teamed up with a Tom Lynch, and they opened the Press Club on 45th St., between 3rd and Lexington on the north side. They had the entire 4-story tenement building. The bar, which was a speakeasy, was in the basement area. The first and second floors were dining rooms. The third floor was for gambling while his maitre de, Mario, lived on the top floor. They also had a beautiful patio setup in the backyard for the summers. The advertising, sports, and news media people hung out there. All the great comic strip artists had a small mural around the wall of the barroom depicting various characters that came there. I remember Tom Mix and Texas Guinan coming to our house on Ithaca St one time. I remember my math teacher, Mr. Young, from PS 89. I made my confirmation at St Bartholomew’s a few blocks away. We use to pick wild strawberries and apples nearby. Jackson Heights, on the other side of Roosevelt Avenue, was mostly vacant lots. We use to play baseball and football in them. Later they were filled up with apartment houses. I had a crush on a Grace Wainright. One time at a birthday party in her home, I pulled her chair aside as she sat down causing her to fell on her butt. Her mother chased me home. Later on I brought her an artificial Easter bunny filled with jellybeans, and all was forgiven. My freshman year at Newtown was in the Annex, which was the top floor of my grade school, PS 89. After that, it was in the main building located over past Corona Ave. The school had a 10,000 enrollment. Some of the classes we had to sit two to a seat. We had split sessions. I averaged B-plus. I even got 100 on State Regents exam in trigonometry. I liked school and didn’t mind homework. During the summer of ’29 1 went to Bayville with the Guide’s a few times Oh yes, getting back to 1927. I broke my collarbone playing football. My mother took me to Bellevue where they put a wrap-around cast on my chest and left arm. After a few weeks, I told my mother it hurt and still felt funny. My father got Doc Woods, who was team doctor for the Yankees to look at it. My Dad knew Doc from the Press Club. I went to St Francis Hospital where he reset it. Apparently, it was healing with one part of the bone over the other. He wired it together and it came out ok. While there, Babe Ruth came down and gave me a ball signed by the entire Yankee team. The next spring my brother Tommy took the ball, which was shellacked, out and played baseball with it, scuffing it so badly that it was destroyed. I could have killed him at the time.
In ’29, the stock market collapsed. My father’s partner, Tom Lynch, was wiped out. My father did not play the market. His money went on horses and cards. We had a new ’29 4DR Chrysler sedan. I believe we moved to 74th Street just off Woodside Ave about this time. We had a fold up pool table that my father and some of Costello’s crowd use to play on. We lived on the top floor of the two family units. A family named Rockefeller, who lived bellow us, owned the place. St Mary’s became our new parish. We would take the train up to Westchester County near White Plains to visit my sister Margaret, who was in a Catholic girl’s school. We also use to drive up once in awhile and visit Aunt Bessie who had moved to a fancy house in Scarsdale. Aunt Bessie lived with her daughter Betty and husband Louie Crone.

to be continued…

Capt. Dan: part 3

We use to hitch rides on the back of Yellow cabs. In those days, they had old-fashioned bumpers and a bar on the rear that you could hold onto. The cab driver could not see you in the right rear. When we wanted to get off we would bang on the side, the cabbie would get mad, slam on the brakes, we would hop off and run for our lives, and if he caught you, he would punch you. We also hitched rides on trolley cars by standing on a truck, where the wheels were, and held onto a ledge near the windows above. The conductor could not see us. It was easy to get off as they stopped every few blocks. We also use to take long rides in the “Elevated” trains. It was only a nickel, same for trolley, and the Staten Island Ferry.
We swam in the East River off the coal docks at 56th Street. I almost got hung up under a scow one time. I tried to fetch under the scow and ride the current. My trunks got caught on a huge splinter of wood hanging from its bottom; I had to tear the trunks off to free myself. Many times, we swam naked. We hid our clothes, when cops came we dove in and rode the current down a few blocks. Our friends who had escaped by running would come back get our clothes and bring them to us. The river was full of raw sewerage. Naturally, we were not allowed to swim in it, but our parents did not know. When the Boston steamers came by they made huge waves that we called “lollypazoozas.” We would dive into them as they reached the docks.
We had a baseball field, dirt, under the Queens Borough Bridge at 59th Street. We use to ride sleighs down the sidewalk section of the bridge in the winter starting at mid-bridge and ending up at the foot at 2nd Ave where there was s 20′ pile of ashes to prevent us from going out onto the avenue. It was a good slope and really fast.
My maternal grandmother, Mary Margaret McNamara, was a laundress to Ambassador Davies’ family up on 79th Street off 5th Ave. I used to go up to see her occasionally, to borrow money for my mother, or just to see her. The “downstairs” servants always gave me something good to eat. Mr. Davies had been Ambassador to Russia.
I was doing real well in grade school so in September of 1926, I was sent to an advanced junior high down on 12th St and 1st Ave. I rode the 2nd Ave El to get there. I would ride out and see my Aunt Bessie; who had married Louie Crone, and moved to a fancy apartment house in Jackson Heights. I also continued visiting my Aunt Mary who was living on 52nd Street between 1st and 2nd Aves. In 1927 we moved to Ithaca St in Elmhurst. This time a moving truck moved our furniture. On our previous moves in the city, our stuff was moved in an ice wagon. My brother Tom and I rode the ice wagon up to the new location. I finished out the term at the junior HS in the city and started in PS 89 just a block from where we lived. Kids I remember from there were Eddie Leonard, Placid LePanto and Vinnie Sims. The latter later moved to Chicago and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1939. I attended the graduation, and I even got to sleep in Bancroft Hall one night. Vinnie started out as a surface line officer but after his ship, the carrier LEXINGTON, sank, he applied for Naval Aviation and became a fighter pilot. He was killed after the war as a test pilot at Patuxent.
In the summer of 1927, my folks rented a bungalow on Warren Avenue in Bayville, the third house in on west side from the sound. They paid $500 to rent it. They could have bought it for $5000. They rented it again in 1928 for same amount! My father loved company. Oodles of relatives came plus many of his business associates. I remember him coming home one Friday evening in a taxi from NYC with the cab loaded with groceries and meat plus lots of spirits. It must have cost him some $50 for the cab. About this same time, my father had opened a speakeasy on Lexington Ave between 45th and 44th Streets, on the east side above a store, which served as a front. The advertising crowd and newsmen used to frequent it. He made plenty there, but gambled a great deal on horses and cards. Many times my mother would send me down there to get money from him for the house.
At Bayville, we played a lot of baseball in the parking lot of Ferry Beach, owned by the Reinhardt family. We actually had a ferry there that ran to Rye Beach on the Connecticut side. We rode it two times to go to the Playland amusement park where they had a roller coaster and other entertainment. My father use to have me row him out to Rocky Point at the east end of Bayville Beach. We left at 4 A.M. and came back about 9 A.M. I was the fastest rower around my neighborhood! We boys became “peeping Toms” as there was a “grass widow” who use to take showers in her basement ala nude, and we could see her through a rear basement window.
I had some bad sunburn the beginning of each of those summers as we were covered up in the city for 9 months of the year. I think it was 1928 when I had sunburn, with huge blisters on my arms and shoulders. My Mom had to take me to Doc’s. They punctured blisters, put salve on and some bandages. About two days after that, I was playing chase or something, and one kid chasing me grabbed me by my shoulders, causing both of us to fall with my arms and shoulders getting full of sand in the raw parts that were just starting to heal. It took a lot of washing to get all the sand out. I use to carve out boats and play for hours with them on the sand and down in the water. We had to dig deep holes in the sand of a wooded area where we had to take our garbage, as there was no service there in those days. We would cover the garbage each day with sand. To get the mail, we had to walk about quarter of a mile to the village Post Office. Two large WW1 wooden freighters were scuttled there to protect the ferry slip. They still had a good bit of super-structure on them and us kids used to climb all over them, dive off them, etc. It was a good 50′ dive off the bow. I was poking around near one of the freighters one day with a rowboat. Tommy was in the bow, I was standing up in dorying position, and we were sliding up on some 1ft wide jellyfish when we bumped into a side port of the ship. The bump caused a heavy mushroom anchor to fall off a thwart and almost cut Tommy’s big toe off. I had him hold it on while I rowed as fast as I could back to the beach. My mother got him to the Doctor and they saved the toe. Unfortunately, it didn’t save my fanny. I got a licking for that. We swam, rowed, fished, played games, etc., and before you knew it, it was time to go back to Elmhurst and school. It was a sad day for all us kids but a glad one for my mother. The Guido brothers use to walk over and play with us when they came to Ferry Beach, which was only a block or two away. We use to pick beach plums, from which my mother made jelly.

To be continued.

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….

Autobiography of an American Surfer: Capt. Dan

This is the first installment of a series of segments from the autobiography of Capt. Dan. He was one of large group of senior surfers that called Tourmaline their home break. Each morning any number of these gentlemen (and women), many of them surfing since the 1930’s, would gather and socialize and often surf. They were and are a treasure recognized by anyone with the time to listen and the humility to understand what a valuable thing their experience is.

It is my understanding that Capt. Dan put this story down at the urging of Ron St.John, and for that, we should all be grateful. Ron has agreed to allow me to pass this story along. I’ll try to keep the segments manageable and put them up over the course of the next couple of months.

This is not necessarily a surf story, but is a story of a surfer. It is a glimpse into American history from Tammany meetings in Central Park, through prohibition and World War II into the present. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

My father and mother were married in 1914 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NY. I was the first child, born May 25, 1915 in a coldwater flat at the NW corner of 55th Street and Third Avenue. My sister Margaret was born there June l8, l9l6. Later in life, I remember my parents telling me that I almost had my fanny carved by a celebrant from either the christening reception in our flat, or from a wedding reception in the next flat. They had me on the table with a ham, roast beef, etc.
My father had odd jobs and boxed in car barns for money. One job was as a dynamiter working on Park Avenue when they were excavating to put the New York Central tracks underground, where they are today.
We moved to 335 E. 45th Street about 19l8. My sister Catherine was born there in 1919 and my brother Tom in 1920. Tommy’s birth is my earliest memory, a midwife was employed, and I could hear my mother yelling. I am sure we all came into this world at that time by way of midwives. My father went to work with the Manhattan Sand & Gravel Co. as a truck driver. The company garage was at 49th Street and the East River, and owned by the Peter C. Gallagher family.

I started school at St Agnes on 44th Street between 3rd and Lexington Avenues. The nuns gave us lots of homework and had very strict rules. You carried all your schoolbooks home every day – no lockers. Besides, you needed all of them to do your homework. There were four flats to a floor in our coldwater tenement. One toilet assigned for each two flats. We all washed in the kitchen, as there were no bathrooms. The kids got a bath every Saturday night in a galvanized tin bathtub or the soapstone washtub. I can recall having to put my head in my mother’s lap while she fine-combed my hair to make sure I had no lice. She polished the black iron coal stove on Saturday night after finishing baking and cooking. She used a scrub board and soapstone washtub to do laundry then hung it on a clothesline running from the rear window to a tall clothesline pole in the back yard.

I remember chasing horse drawn fire engines, and Uncle Pete Cuggy driving an electric-driven Railway Express truck, down Second Avenue. The dairies used horse drawn wagons, as did ice wagons, etc. We use to sleigh ride on 4lst Street between 1st and 2nd Aves. Milk was 5 cents a quart; you brought your own milk can to the grocery and ladled milk out from a large can in the store. Bread, for a pound loaf, was 7cents. There were no supermarkets then. You went to grocery, vegetable, bakery, dairy, meat, pork, coffee etc, stores for those requirements. I recall our grocer had a ledger where you could charge your purchase. He entered each item you had ordered and the cost. Most families paid him on payday, or if your father was out of work, he carried you for a time.

Modern apartment houses, occupied by United Nations employees, replaced the tenements on 45th Street after WW11, as the UN was located between 42nd and 46th Street along 1st Avenue and down to the East River. This whole area had been slaughterhouses when I lived there; we even had a brewery right behind the clothes pole in the backyard. I use to climb up the pole and watch the bottling and conveyor belt operations. A kid in my tenement tried to leap from the pole to the roof of the brewery, which was about 4 feet away. He missed and fell on a fence bellow and was killed. The brewery was one owned by Jacob Rupert who built Yankee Stadium and owned the Yankees. Movies were 10 cents at the theatre on the corner of 42nd and 3rd.

I got my head stuck in my parents’ brass bed and had to have the firefighters get me free with lots of soap. I thought sure I would end up with jug ears. I had a good fight with the Muldoon kid. We both had black eyes and bloody noses, guess you could call it a draw. The grown-ups were whooping it up for both of us. I would walk up to my Aunt Mary (Cuggy) on Sundays and mooch a cold cut sandwich and sweet bun. Uncle Pete would also give me a quarter, which was a lot back then.

On May Day, all the Irish went to Central Park for the Tammany Hall picnic. We kids got bats and balls, lots to eat and games to play there. I remember going on a few bus tours out to a lake in New Jersey and taking the excursion boat to Asbury Park, NJ, and one to Bear Mountain State Park on the Hudson. My paternal grandmother, a Kenny by birth, died in 1922. I remember visiting her a few times before that. We all had to kiss her on the forehead in the casket. The day of the funeral was cold and rainy. We rode out in horse drawn carriages and she in a horse-drawn hearse. It was a solemn occasion. She was buried next to my grandfather, Daniel, in Calvary. That same year I made my First Holy Communion at St Agnes.

In 1925, I had a hernia operation in hospital on 42nd St between 1st and 2nd Aves. I believe we started going to Port Washington in the summers starting that year. My father had become skipper of Gallager’s yacht, the AMURAY, named after his son Murray and daughter Alice. We lived in a WW 1 Army tent, divided into three rooms, with wood sidings that came up about 5 feet, above the wood were screens and canvas. We had to fetch water, cooked with a kerosene stove, and had an icebox. The outhouse was about 200′ away from the tent. Other help of the Gallagher’s on the estate had either a house, or tent like ours. The estate ran from the Port Washington Yacht Club to the Manhasset YC, and from the bay back to the main road. In later years, the estate was converted to an exclusive tract with nice homes. The original Gallagher main house was still there by the water next to the Manhasset YC in the early 1990’s. I use to lug a 5-gallon can of kerosene from the village, until I got smart and used a canoe or rowboat to cut across the curve of the bay. I think that is why my arms seemed longer in later life. One morning a cow was hung up in our tent ropes and was about to pull the tent apart. My mother got a broom and whacked the cow free, but not until all the pots and pans, etc. were knocked down inside. I remember going to Port Washington in Gallagher’s Pierce Arrow or the sport touring Maxwell sedan. From the water, the land rose to what seemed like a good hill up near the main road. One day the kids were all up there hiking when we started throwing stones at a hornet’s nest. They came after us and we all tumbled down the hill screaming our brains out. We averaged at least six stings apiece and were miserable for quite awhile.

The Gallagher’s had their dock and float in front of the main house. He belonged to the Knickerbocker YC, just beyond the Manhasset. One could say that Republicans belonged to the Manhasset and Democrats to the Knickerbocker. My father taught all of us to swim by tossing us in deep water. Two incidents come to mind in my Port Washington days. One time I caused my brother Tommy to break his leg. He was about four at the time. I had him on the end of a large boat haul out-cart that had two 8-foot wheels in the middle with a long boom or cradle on which a boat would rest. The rig was perfectly balanced so that one could tip it up or down at each end. I put Tommy on one end and then I climbed out to the other end. As I was letting Tom’s end go back down he lost his balance slightly and his leg got under the boom, so that when it hit the ground it broke his leg. I got a good whacking for that. While Tommy’s leg was in a cast, I had to push him around in a carriage. One day, I started running with the carriage, hit a bump, and out fell Tommy. Fortunately, his leg did not break again. Tommy’s howling brought my mother to investigate and another trip to the woodshed for me. It seems like I could not stay out of trouble. I had been warned not to take my youngest sister Catherine or Tommy out in the canoe. My sister Margaret talked me into taking Catherine, who had an infected arm with a big bandage on it, out in the canoe. We also had a friend of Catherine’s, who had blond hair like Tommy, with us. Tommy was not in the canoe. You guessed it. It tipped over! Well, fortunately, there were sailors diving off ships near where we had capsized. I was struggling to keep Catherine’s arm out of the water and the girls were yelling. The sailors finally got us to the beach. My mother had heard the commotion, came to the dock, saw the kid with the blond hair, and thinking it was Tommy, dove in to save him. Well, guess what it was, back to the woodshed for me! Actually, it was my sister Margaret rocking the canoe that caused it to tip.
The Gallagher sons, Peter and Murray, would take me for rides in an old model T Ford chassis. We sat on the gas tank and hung on for dear life, as they raced around the sand hill part of the estate. They also would take me for rides in their pony cart, as did Jack Nobel who was sweet on the Gallagher’s daughter Anne. They were all about 8 to 10 years older than I was. My father used to have to go up and get the Gallagher boys from the police as they would be arrested for reckless driving, or as on one occasion, they rode their horses through the village shooting at store windows with a BB gun. I am sure old man Gallagher paid plenty of hush money to keep his sons from getting booked.

One time, when the Gallagher’s were leaving on the yacht, I wanted to go with them. The sons said it would be ok, but my father, who was skipper, said no. I can remember standing on the dock crying my eyes out. They were on their way to cruise the St. Lawrence River area. They usually cruised those waters and the Maine area in the summers. My father would take the yacht south in the fall to Palm Beach where the Gallaghers had another estate. He would bring it back to Port Washington in the spring. One time he took all of us plus relatives for a cruise around Manhattan Island. We were picked up on the dock at 49th Street and the East River where they kept their trucks. I learned much about boats from those days; I rowed, paddled, shined brass, and scrubbed paintwork.

Pete Reilly was the engineer on the AMURAY. There was also a Japanese cook, by name of Willie. I used to pick berries and he would make a pie for me. One time he jumped in and saved my brother Tom, who had fallen off the float. The Gallagher sons would slip sandwiches, etc. to me through a hedge behind where their family had outdoor lunch on the patio. There was a large carriage house on the estate, a hosteller living above it. I loved the smell of harnesses, etc. It was clean as a whistle there.

Old man Gallagher had become an alcoholic. He would think nothing of having someone call from some place in Connecticut for “Jim,” my father to come and pick him up with the yacht. Actually, old Pete loved my father; I think more than he did his wild sons. My father told me in later years that Pete told him he would get the yacht when he died. One morning in 1925, my father found old Pete dead in his stateroom on the AMURAY. Many times he would go down and sleep in the yacht when he was drunk, as his wife could not stand him when he was in that condition. Since nothing was in the will saying my father would get the yacht, of course he did not. Mrs. Gallagher knew that her husband on many occasions had stated that fact. My father was bitter. He “borrowed” the yacht, went up to Nova Scotia, picked up a load of whiskey, brought it back to NY area then quietly returned the AMURAY to Manhasset Bay. From then on, he was in the rum running business.

To be continued.

Hadji: a life well lived

I just heard today that one of my personal heroes has passed. After suffering a massive stroke last week, Hadji apparently passed a few days ago. I was fortunate to count him among my friends and have to say, he was a constant inspiration.

Hadji was one member of a crew, inspired by Skeeter, to return to surfing later in life. The crew, including Billy Goldsmith, Captain Dan, Black Mac, Bud Powell, Ron St. John, Larry Gordon, IRS Dave, John Bishop, Inge, Mary Helen and Dave Ish, and a host of others I’m not remembering at the moment, were always a constant presence at Tourmaline in the mornings. They were a concrete link to the history of surfing and ocean lifestyle in San Diego.

Hadji will always embody the positive attitude and joy that surfing brings to life. I had the honor and pleasure of sharing many sessions with him and the rest of the boys and will treasure the memories forever.