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Growing Up In Upper Manhattan In the 1950\'s

Nov 9, 2008
by
Michael Hogan

The neighborhood I grew up in ranged from 187th St to 192nd St on Broadway in Manhattan. It was a valley separate and apart from neighborhoods called Washington Heights and Inwood. While Irish gangs ruled Inwood and Washington Heights, our Broadway valley was a mixed message.

While Jewish immigrants from Germany, and other places in war ravaged Europe, thought our Broadway hangout as a tough place, your Irish reporter continues to remember Broadway in the 1950\'s as the only intellectual milieu I ever knew in America. I suppose we were to young to have inculcated the American ideal of anti intellectualism in ourselves, as yet.

Gangs called the Rams and Eagles dominated their domains on Washington Heights and in the Inwood valley below. The gang from Inwood was led by Bobby McNichols and the leader of the gang from the heights was named Tommy Ryan. There were fierce fights.

When we played football in a park along the Hudson River at Dykman Street, Bobby McNichols was unstoppable. He ran over anyone and I prayed he wasn\'t going to hit my side of the line. When it came to halftime in the dead of winter, all but one stood around a fire in a 55 gallon drum.

We watched as McNichols began to undress. When he was down to his underwear, McNichols climbed over the fence separating the playing field from the river. McNichols dove in and had a swim. He looked as if he were in the south of France. McNichols died swimming in the Hudson years later.

Tommy Ryan had been accepted to West Point. Rather then walk up a huge hill to return to the heights, Tommy walked along the subway tracks from the Dykman St IRT subway station to the 191 St station many times. He was electrocuted by the third rail on his last walk.

The center of intellectual life in the neighborhood was a luncheonette at Broadway and 187th St. There were many thoughtful conversations of the type I never experienced again in life. Larry Richman described Jack Kerouac\'s "On the Road" 50 years ago when it was first printed. Tony Guida reviewed David Reisman\'s "The Lonely Crowd" as we stood on the corner. Then there were conversations about class.

As I grew older, my fellow adults concluded there is no such thing as class. Writers are writing books today denying the existence of class - insisting we are one class. President George Bush, the elder, told us all there is no such thing as class in America. It is always amusing when wealthy patricians tell me class does not exist. In the old neighborhood, we were to smart to be told class does not exist. Those who were in college taking Sociology classes were our mentors. They verified the existence of class in society.

Unlike modern middle class religious fanatics, we accepted secular Sociology and the existence of class. As kids, our conversations centered around trying to figure out what class we were. Were our families working class or middle class? There was no stigma attached to being working class in the 1950\'s. The most popular TV shows featured working class characters, as in "The Life of Riley" or "The Honeymooners."

To be continued!
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