THE BEANERY GANG
C. G. GIFFORD
Once Beanery Boys plotted “capers” on the corner. Now they can dance in a church
THERE always was a gang and there always was trouble.
As far back as Lippy or Beef or any of the other boys can remember there was always a gang of teen-age boys hanging around one of the corners in the neighborhood of College Street and Dovercourt Road in Toronto’s West End—and there was always a policeman telling them to move along.
Lippy, who is now 19 and one of the older members of the present gang, can remember the earlier gang that occupied the corner when he began to hang around at the age of 14. And the members of that gang, who are married now and live around the area, can remember a gang before that. Old, old-timers can remember as far back as 1912 when the Dufferin Park Gang, in the same neighborhood, caused the police a lot of trouble, and the old Square Gang a few blocks away got themselves newspaper notoriety before the war came and their leader got himself a Military Cross in France.
But nobody can remernlier hearing as much public talk as there has been about the Beanery Gang, which since mid-July has had the full glare of newspa|>er publicity focused squarely upon it. Close to 100 separate news items in Toronto alone have contrived to mention this one gang. Teen-
agers all over the city have boasted to their girl friends and threatened their enemies with the usually spurious fact that they are Beanery Boys. A recent fire in a city playground was blamed on “hoodlums who might have been the Beanery Gang.” When a youth was pushed into Lake Ontario in September he said his assailants “looked like Beanery boys to me.” A group of citizens at Wasaga Beach, a summer resort on Lake Huron, urged that the gang’s mem tiers be horsewhipped. One Toronto alderman said he would like to see one of them punched in the face. A psychologist blamed World War II for the gang’s activity; a rabbi blamed it on the fear of World War III. The police were ordered to break the gang up. They couldn’t.
The notoriety began last July after 15 youths tagged as “Beanery Boys” were picked up by police following a fracas at an out-of-town summer resort. Later it turned out they belonged to the rival Junction Boys but it was the title “Beanery” that caught the public fancy. Shortly afterward four youths appeared in court charged with an assault on a girl at a wiener roast. One of them was a Beanery boy. He was acquitted when the girl testified she’d never seen him before. In August a large-scale battle involving nearly 100 teen-age boys at Wasaga Beach shocked summer-resort residents and brought the arrest of 13 youths—all said to be Beanery Boys. Actually only one was. He was acquitted. A string of feature stories and news items about
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The Beanery Gang
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juvenile delinquents followed. Although several other gangs were involved, the Beanery Gang bore the brunt of the blame and, naturally enough, the public was aroused and angered at the spectacle of a group of boys who deliberately flouted the law, beat up other hoys, swore loudly in public and generally acted big.
Actually, social workers say, the Beanery boys are no better and no worse than the hundreds of other teen-agers who belong to the gang strata of all industrial cities. Like the other Toronto gangs—the Junction Boys, Tipps Gang, Cabbagetown Boys, Cody Corners gang, Christie Pits and Balmy Beach gangs and others—the Beanery Gang has no formal organization. There is no leader, no membership rules. Although 50 or 60 boys feel that they “belong” to the corner and are part of the white-fronted hamburger counter nicknamed the “Beanery,” there are actually less than 20 who are “real Beanery.”
Even the members of this “cabinet,” as the police call it, aren’t exactly sure what their number is or how you become a member. “You just know, that’s all,” says Lippy, who has been on the corner five years. (The newest Beanery member has been on the corner two years.) The boys’ ages run from 16 to 21. Most of them are Irish, English or Scotch stock. There is a sprinkling of middle European boys, mainly third-generation Canadians, and one Jewish member.
The Gang Has a Gode
The unwritten requirements of membership are simple. They apply to all gangs and sound very much like the English public-school code: you must be able to give and take a beating in the vicious street scuffles and gang battles and you must never betray a gang member. If you run from a fight you’re a “chicken.” If you betray a friend you’re a “fink.” Boys in this gang stratum all over the city know one another by sight and often by name and know which gang each belongs to. The mores of one gang are almost identical with those of the others.
It is the “beefs” (brawls) which help to hold these gangs together. They usually involve only half a dozen boys and can take place anywhere: in the corner pool hall or Beanery or movie house (which gang members attend religiously each Monday and Thursday when the movie changes), on the moonlight cruises or summer-resort dances which are popular in the summer or, more usually, on the street.
The boys like the thrill of fighting and will do so on the slightest provocation (a slighting reference to a girl friend, a casual word, smoke blown in another’s face). Unwritten gang law pledges each youth to come to another’s aid at once. Fights are fierce and violent. And when one boy goes down his enemies jump on him and “give him the boot.” Most boys stop kicking when they draw blood but the more excitable ones sometimes have to be pulled away.
Gang members learn to expect severe beatings. “Beef,” who got his nickname because he gets in more beefs than anyone, has 22 stitches in his head, a broken knuckle in his right hand and a broken finger on his left. One boy was sent to hospital with brain concussion after a brawl. Lippy and two friends once jumped a ne’er-do-well named “Stinkin’ Sam” who was beating a cripple. They broke Sam’s nose, jaw and ribs. When a rookie policeman shoved one of the boys, half a dozen set on him and beat him into insensibility. When a hanger-on flipped a cigarette into Beef’s face one night, Beef knocked him down and fractured his skull.
The larger gang fights, involving as many'as 60 boys, are a later development and more infrequent. They can take place at a dance, at one of the summer resorts, or at Dufferin Park, a few blocks from the Beanery. Last fall, a group of the Junction Boys, who are sometimes the enemies, sometimes the allies of the Beanery Gang, set upon two of the Beanery members in the park and beat them until their faces puffed out like pumpkins. (As in real warfare, the gangs only attack when the enemy is outnumbered, although they will never run from a superior attacking force.) Instantly the gang members began recruiting around the corner. They ran into the pool hall, the movie house, the Beanery and up and down the street with the news that there was a beef planned at Dufferin. Sixty or more youths armed with lead pipes slung on rope handles, and in two cases with fencing swords, piled into trucks and headed for the park. This fight didn’t come off. “The place was packed with law when we hit there,” Lippy says. “Somebody finked.”
As individuals, the boys differ radically. Lippy, who would liked to have been a social worker, works in a small manufacturing plant. Jackson, who is getting married and breaking off from the gang, works for a finance company and belongs to the YMCA. Beef, who is 20, and Red, who is 16, both live by their wits. Jules, just out of jail for vagrancy, and Llewellyn, just out of Guelph Reformatory for physical assault on a policeman, have no jobs at present. (Llewellyn is an amateur artist in oils.) Neither has The Arab, who can’t drive a truck any more because his license was taken away for drunken driving. The Wop works for a plumber and Stash for a gear manufacturer.
Most of the remainder are in Guelph Reformatory. Llewellyn spent the last four Christmases in Guelph. Jules has been convicted twice of theft. Beef has faced 13 assault charges and two of resisting arrest (but has only been found guilty once). The majority of the boys have been in juvenile court (for boys under 16) at least once, but
Lippy, Stash, Jackson and the Wop have no records.
Although the boys’ individual outlooks differ all the way from Lippy, settling down to night school and marriage, and Beef who could become a professional criminal, there is one striking point of similarity in their backgrounds. In every single one of the 11 boys whose family backgrounds we looked into, we found that there, was something lacking in the father-son relationship.
Jules’ parents have separated and he has fended for himself since he was 13. Red’s parents are getting a divorce and he suspects his father was a thief. He left home a year ago. The Wop’s father was incapacitated and died when The Wop was nine. Llewellyn’s father is 30 years older than his mother and Llewellyn no longer lives at home.
Jackson began coming to the corner at the age of 13—about the time he discovered he was an adopted boy. The Arab’s father has heart trouble and hasn’t worked since The Arab was nine. Stash’s father deserted his mother when Stash was three. Beef’s father went off to war when Beef was turning 14 and his mother paid little attention to him, perhaps because she had lost her first two children. Two other boys, now in Guelph for taking a car, have fathers who have been physically incapacitated all their lives.
This absence or incapacity of a father during each boy’s growing years has made it difficult for any of them to work with people in authority, whether it be a policeman (“The cops are always trying to muscle you,” says Stash), a YMCA worker (“the YMCA’s too supervised,” says Lippy), or a boss
(Beef has quit four jobs after disagreements with the boss. “They’re always bothering you,” he says).
Psychologists insist that boys growing into adults need a male parent whom they can like and admire, who can form their attitude to life and people. In the case of these boys there has been no such person nor did the community take steps to find a substitute: Toronto Welfare Council survey in 1942 named the Beanery neighborhood as one of three out of 40-odd which is in very great need of recreational services.
The result has been the corner gang: a place where boys who felt rejected at home or who felt they were “different” were completely accepted by their fellows. “Around the corner,” says Red, “nobody tells anybody else what to do. You never let any guy make a sucker out of you. All the guys are your friends and you know if you ever get in a jam you’ve got friends.”
There are two other factors: all the boys quit school after second-year high or earlier and have been earning adult’s wages since the age of 12 or 15. The Wop, for example, was 12 when he went to work after school as a bootblack to help his widowed mother. He soon quit school and worked full time. At nights the gang supplied his only outlet: he had no room of his own in the three-room, third-story flat he calls home. He sleeps on a couch in the living room.
The gang was so important to Lippy that when a juvenile court judge ordered him out of town for six months he sneaked back to the corner every night of the period. His whole existence for the five years during which he has been growing into manhood has revolved around this one corner with its theatre, drugstore, pool hall, barbershop and Beanery.
A slim, snub-nosed, 19-year-old, Lippy always stood among the first five in his class before he quit school after a year at high. A juvenile-court intelligence test shows his rating far above average. He reads avidly and has read with particular admiration James T. Farrell’s famous Studs Lonigan trilogy which deals with street gangs. “That guy sure knew the score,” Lippy says of Farrell.
When Lippy visited the Youth Employment Centre to enquire about being a social-service worker he was told he’d need eight years more schooling. Lippy decided this was impossible for him; his father, a drunkard, deserted his mother when Lippy was nine.
Just for Laughs
Lippy began to hang around the corner at 14 and went to work the next year. The corner was two blocks away from the present one at the time, but moved shortly after when the owners of the original Beanery kicked the boys out and they changed their centre of gravity to a new Beanery. “One night,” says Lippy, “we were out on a jackpot and three of us decided we’d call ourselves Beanery Boys for laughs.” That night they got into a street brawl and boasted of their Beanery Gang.
In those days there were three fights a week and a “caper” almost every night: two of the gang would climb on a delivery truck at Dundas Street, loosen a package and throw it off to the rest lying in wait at Dufferin Park— usually cigarettes or chocolate bars which were consumed or sold. “It was more of a kibitz than anything,” Lippy says. “We did it for excitement, not profit.”
There were other capers. One night the gang visited a “Holy Rollers”
church and The Arab created a commotion by announcing that he was God. Another night, The Arab, clown of the gang, was barred from the movie house for running onto the stage and making love to the screen.
When Lippy was 15 the pastor of a neighboring Negro church offered the boys the use of the church hall. The gang responded eagerly. They formed a club, played floor hockey, boxed and danced and went to the hall, instead of the corner, every night. During the few weeks this hall was open no member of the gang got into trouble with the police.
Then the Negro church, short of funds, rented out the premises to a labor union.
“After that,” says Lippy, “there was a minor crime wave.” One gang member was jailed for theft, another for breaking and entering, a third for carrying a gun. “The guys used to nail heaps (steal cars), drive ’em into High Park and run back and nail another,” Lippy remembers. “There musta been 30 guys sleeping in the park at nights.”
Shortly after the hall was closed Lippy and the others were standing on the corner, bored to tears. “We had nuthin’ to do,” says Lippy. “It was Sunday night. We decide to go for a streetcar ride for somethin’ to do. We pass this cigarette stand and somebody shouts out, ‘Let’s nail the joint.’ That started it.”
The boys jimmied a basement window and escaped with cartons of cigarettes, the police close behind. Lippy remembers wading hip-deep through the cold waters of Grenadier Pond in High Park to escape. The next day he tried to sell his share of the cigarettes and was arrested. “Some creep finked,” he says. The judge ordered him out of town and away from the gang.
Gangsters and Girls
Now the gang’s interests centre more on girls and liquor. Lippy smoked at 12, drank at 14 and “really got stavin’ ” (drunk). He drinks little now. “My old man was a drunkard,” he says, “and I always hated it.” He has had a steady girl friend for two years and she is slowly replacing the gang as the focal point in his life. “Man, it’s had a good effect on me,” he exclaims. “The guys just can’t believe it. I just don’t hang around any more. They all laugh when a girl keeps a guy down—I used to, too—but, I mean, it happens to ’em all.”
But sometimes, after he’s taken his girl home, Lippy comes back down to the corner and stands around, as in the old days, with his gang.
There are three classes of girls in Toronto’s gang strata. The boys’ girl friends don’t come near the gang. “I wouldn’t think of bringing my girl down here, all the dirty talk that goes on,” Stash remarked the other day. The “Beanery Girls” are a different type. They travel with the gang, swear like sergeants, go on most capers, but don’t fight and are treated exactly like boys. Gang members have no sexual relations with them. “She’s a Beanery girl—you can’t touch her,” is a common saying. The third class consists of hangers-on—“tramps” in their teens who come around for sexual excitement. and are generally despised. “Good for a one-night stand, that’s all,” the gang members say.
Lippy has had five jobs in four years. The first and longest lasted a year and a half (record changer for a wired music concern). The shortest lasted two weeks. Last February almost every gang member suddenly quit his job, no one can explain why. Between jobs Lippy lived by “shamateur” boxing
(he’s had 39 bouts), by bootlegging, or by shooting crap.
Beef’s first steady job was a $40-aweek stint for a bootlegger in the dry war years. Last summer he did well bootlegging at Wasaga Beach—a Lake Huron summer resort. Many of the boys have made fair money luring suckers into a pool game (“grabbing a mark”) or by rolling drunks. Red has sometimes badgered money from homosexuals who lured him into dark alleys. (He had no homosexual relations with them.)
Two of the boys have indulged in burglary with girl partners. The girls are not girl friends—merely business associates. One, who likes to talk big, doesn’t go for petty pickpocketing: “Big or go broke—that’s us,” he’ll say. His jobs, he says, usually involve $200 or $300. After he “goes on a score” he’ll give his mother $60, spend the rest on a good time—clothes or a party.
The other, who’s 16, has no record but expects to get caught and jailed sooner or later, then to settle down to a steady job. Illegal activities for profit are not a gang activity—they are purely individual matters and many of the boys take no part.
All the boys, except Jules and Llewellyn who are out of work now and living with other boys and wearing borrowed clothes, are “crisp” dressers. They all wear the familiar drape-style trousers with the balloon knee and tight cuff which the public calls “zoot suits.” Red has five suits and 10 pairs of slacks or “strides.” The Wop pays between $18 and $30 for his shoes.
A Cleric’s Solution
The gang has now lived out its normal life of five years and would probably have broken up by now to be replaced by a new generation of 14year-olds if it hadn’t been for the recent newspaper publicity. Now with the world against them and “Muscles” O’Rourke, the cop on the beat, telling them to move on nightly, the group has become a tighter unit. “What does he want us to do, die?” the boys ask. “He can’t find anybody to muscle so he muscles us. What a creepy individual !” But the police believe that when the gang gathers, there’ll be trouble. Their job is to protect property, not to find a solution for city gangs.
Nobody found a solution until last October when the Bathurst United Church discussed the gang at its Sunday - night forum. Up spoke a woman whose son had just been packed off to Guelph for taking a car. “We hear a lot of church talk about
helping these boys—but when is somebody going to do something?” she wanted to know. The Rev. Gordon Domm, a man of great tolerance and infinite patience, accepted the challenge. Then and there he turned over his church hall to the boys.
The response was astonishing. Domm is fast replacing the missing fatherimage in the boys’ eyes. “He’s a real good guy,” Lippy said the other day. “He doesn’t try to supervise us too much. He lets us handle ourselves and we play square with him.” But at Domm’s suggestion the boys have elected a president and a committee which by a great stroke of diplomacy includes Beef, the most pugnacious of the group. They have kept their promise not to fight or drink in the club. When Llewellyn got out of reformatory he went straight to the club’s Wednesday-night dance. For the first time in the gang’s history a boy on his first night of freedom didn’t get drunk.
Domm’s next move is to get the boys working with younger boys on the Alcoholics Anonymous principle of self-therapy. A short time ago the gang proudly ordered sweaters with the words “Beanery Gang” on them. The police tried to get Domm to order the boys not to wear them. Domm knew better. “It would be senseless to try to work outside the framework of the existing group,” he says. “Instead of changing the gang’s name I’d like to help make the name mean something to be proud of.”
Domm knows his work is cut out. The police are still sceptical, though two young policemen have started to teach the boys basketball and have been astonished at the cordiality of their reception. Other gang members have come to the dances to break them up and stayed to drink Cokes. Now 60 or 70 attend.
But Domm, with the rest of bis parish to minister to, knows he can’t handle the job alone. “I’ve got to have a trained social worker,” he says. “And I’ve got to have funds. If it cost $50,000 this year, the city would be $100,000 in pocket in cold cash.” But there is little cash forthcoming.
d'he public attitude to the Beanery Gang and the other gangs is still the same: horsewhip them, jail them,
punch them in the nose, break them up. But until an organized effort is made to get at the root of street-gang psychology and as long as fatherless growing boys with nowhere to go get restless standing on the corner and begin to run with the pack there will always be gangs and there will always be trouble ★