January 20, 2011

When Gangs Came to Uptown, or Uptown and Hollywood

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent

We always had a good time growing up in Uptown, hardly any problems, no gangs so to speak of. We all belonged to many groups but not one specific gang. I would hang out on Leland and Kenmore, sometimes at Wilson and Hazel, Clarendon field house, or with the group from the Arcadia Roller Rink. About 1949 / 50 a change started to take place in Uptown

I noticed that there were groups starting to call themselves gangs. A book came out called The Amboy Dukes by Irving Shulman [Ed. who wrote West Side Story]; it was about a gang in N.Y.C. We all read it and it wasn't a big deal until a movie came out called "City Across the River" (Tony Curtis' first role). Then all hell broke loose. Gangs were forming--zip guns, clubs, brass knuckles, blackjacks, and weapons of all kinds were appearing. Even my good buddy Howie made a zip gun that shot a .410 shell. Everyone was walking around trying to look cool and imitate Tony Curtis. We all got D.A. hair cuts (Duck's Ass or Duck Tail, however you remember it.) We started wearing clothes with strange names, One Button Roll, Pegs, Drapes, Outer Seams, Drop Loops, Box Cars, Slim Jims, and Mr B's. We developed a new way to walk, sort of a shuffle. We had to have our collar turned up at the back of the neck, and when we walked, we had to have our hands in our back pockets.

I think John Wayne copied from us.

We just all walked around looking cool and no one really got into any serious trouble.

Now if any one of our friends got into any difficulty with a rival group, we would mass together to meet the other group and usually end up with a lot of name calling. That was about it. Once we were going to fight some stupid group that came in wearing gang jackets. Our gang equipment was adhesive tape, which we put on our noses and backs so we could identify each other.

The Cops from Town Hall station got wind of this and came down hard on everyone that was there. We pulled all our tape off and walked quietly away and the stupid gang with matching jackets got beat and arrested by the cops.

Editor's Note: Bill Matteson is a regular correspondent for the Uptown Chicago History blog. Click the link below to read more of his stories of growing up in Uptown.

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