UNCOVERING THE PAST

Our own Pat Fenton with an amazing recollection of the neighborhood and the teens who lived here.

In their heart of hearts, most of the guys and the girls who appear in the Windsor Terrace “Brooklyn Gang” pictures, were really good people. Even the photographer, Bruce Davidson has said that the book is not really about a gang, it’s more about a bunch of young people and their lives together. They certainly were not the toughest guys in our neighborhood.

(Courtesy of Bruce Davidson, ‘Brooklyn Gang’)

I was very close to Junior Rice, and Bengie, and Lefty Jensen who appear in much of the pictures, and on the cover of Bruce Davidson’s book. When I was young, I stayed over at Junior’s house on 20th Street almost as much as my own. His older brother Bob Rice and I are still as close as brothers. Unfortunately for them, they got lost somewhere between the violent culture that existed in the 50′s in parts of our Windsor Terrace neighborhood, and the sweet innocence which I think really represented it. Junior passed away recently, and so did Lefty Jensen; Bengie has managed to turn his life around.

This I remember about Lefty Jensen, who I once went out to a shoe store in Bay Ridge with in the 50′s, a place that sold second-hand motorcycle boots, he had this sort of James Dean sensitivity to him. Sadly, it probably helped to destroy him. He died way too young. The only good thing I walk away with is, the three of them, Junior, Lefty, and Bengie will live on, forever young together, on the cover of Bruce’s book, “Brooklyn Gang.”

Truth is, we were all lucky to grow up in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, a neighborhood that to me was like a working-class opera taking place every day of our lives. Yeah, it had its share of violence and drugs, but I think overall it had a certain pride, patriotism, and a strong belief in doing the right thing in life. The choice was ours. And most of us learned well from those lessons we were taught here.

It had the original McFadden Brothers American Legion Post on 9th Avenue when it was located near 17th Street in the vast former, wedding hall of Sorrentos Italian Restaurant. And all through the 50’s and into the 60’s, when neighborhood soldiers came home from the wars, they would be welcomed here.

Simple “football weddings” were made up of cold cut sandwiches wrapped in wax paper and passed across the table like footballs, barrels and barrels of tap beer and plates of cheese and crackers, some set ups of Seagram Seven and ginger ale, and a live three-piece band playing, and people dancing. And they were the best weddings ever.

On nights when Holy Name Church would have a Novena the church would get so packed with kids and adults that they had to open up the gates to the altar to let people sit there. And we all had Holy Name School yard where other lessons of life were being taught to us, lessons we would take with us forever.

Every Irish bar in the neighborhood had a baseball team, and 17th Street on a Saturday afternoon had stick ball tournaments that went on all day. Come the summer and 17th Street would be closed down from 9th to 8th Avenue for a P.A.L. play street. We had the Sanders Theatre and Prospect Park to fish in, and a wonderful zoo that we could walk to. And in the cold winter when the streets were empty and covered with new snow it was still safe enough to go down your block alone and trade comic books at friends’ houses. It was good to be young then.

HOOPS135@HOTMAIL.COM

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34 Responses to UNCOVERING THE PAST

  1. Karen Shanley says:

    There is no other place in the world I would have rather grown up. It was our own little small town in a big city.

  2. Tumpy says:

    My memories of Bengie Powers was that he was a lowlife who stabbed Tommy Ryan and Tommy Smith and almost killed them.I remember a bunch of guys from the neighborhood were looking for him and if we would have found him he would be in a wheelchair today.

  3. Hello Tumpy, can you give more details on these stabbings? Did they happen in 1959, did police get involved and what was the outcome of Tommy Ryan and Tommy Smith?

    • tommy smith says:

      Yes the stabbing was a very long time ago but my stomach still has the 12 inch scar no matter how u cut the cake bengie tried to kill both tommy Ryan and myself that night here is the true story about what happened that night I had just returned to bklyn I was
      with a girlfried in another state I was back one hour when I was walking by the southwest bar on my way to see my friends and spotted tommy Ryan on the ground with bengie on top of tommy and was getting the best of him not knowing bengie had a knife in his hand I pulled bengie off of tommy and the rest is history and if it was not for Sal(junior)Marino I probably would of died that night and as far as bengie having a book written about his life god bless him I wish bengie nothing but the best happy new year

      • hoopscoach says:

        Tommy,

        Thanks for sharing your memory.

        Great to hear from you.

        Happy New Year…

      • Sal (Junior) Marino says:

        Thank you Tommy. I think of that night from time to time and just thank God that you and Tommy Ryan survived. At the time I actually had no idea of what happened and of who stabbed you and had no time to ask questions from other people that were there, I just wanted to get you to the hospital as quickly as possible. Actually, I did not even know Tommy Ryan was also stabbed that night until Tumpy mentioned it here on Container Diaries.

        It’s good to hear from you Tommy. I hope you and yours has a very Happy New Year and God Bless.

        Junior

    • tommy smith says:

      I was one of those kids Bengie stabbed that night and the story he tells in his book is so far from the truth.

      I was 17 at the time, I just came back where I was away with a girlfriend in another state. I was back one hour when I decided to go and see my friends. I was walking by the southwest bar and spotted Tommy Ryan on the floor with bengie getting the best of him. I pulled bengie off of Tommy.

      At the time I didn’t know bengie was stabbing him, then he stabbed me and the next thing I knew I woke up 3 days later. Spent 22 days in the hospital. I was told I was pretty close to dead. Bengie refers to that in his book. Bengie says he is no longer the scumbag that he was and he is rehabilitated; then why is he still lying about that night and making money from the book.

      Somebody who was writing the book should of reached out for me; a lot of people knew where to find me. I am still around. I wish bengie all the best but I thought the scumbag was dead; he seems proud about all he did and if he was truly sorry he had the last 40 years to apologise he chose not to. God bless him.

      • hoopscoach says:

        Tommy,

        Thanks for sharing. Hope you are well.

        Where are you living these days?

        If I recall, you were one of the toughest guys in the neighborhood.

      • Mudge says:

        BILL MUDGE I.LL PINCH HIT FOR BENGI ANY TIME LET ME KNOW.

      • Mudge says:

        I WONDER WHAT STARTED THE FIGHT BENGI WAS 5FOOT 4 INCHS TALL I DOUBT IF HE WAS TRYING TO MUSCLE ANY BODY AROUND AND AS FOR THE SECOND GUY HOW WAS HE TO KNOW YOU WERE BRAEAKING UP THE AND NOT JUMPING IN.

  4. Maureen Rice (Flanagan) says:

    Tumpy, though I am not familiar with those incidents, were they my friends, I know I would have felt the same way- I am not trying to make excuses for anyone, but I do know that people caught up in the grips of active addiction do things they would not do if they were clean- for many years now, Bob P has been a go- to guy for people who need help battling addiction- he has smoothed the way for many addicts re insurance and such and helped people get into halfway houese, etc- I am not sure that balances the books, but it is not my call- that is between him and his Higher Power- and, I am glad you and your friends did NOT catch up with him, because it is likely y’all may have had to do some time.and that would have impacted your lives immensely..

    • hoopscoach says:

      Maureen,

      That is a nice piece of writing. We can all agree that it was a tough time in our neighborhood. I’m sure most of us were connected to people that made poor choices as teenagers. Drugs and booze were the enemy. Now, with that many people will read that and say, “Well the person made the choice” I understand all that. I saw those two (drugs and booze) ruin my family. The incident with Bengie/and the two men was a very long time ago. I’m not saying to move on and forgive and forget, but hopefully we can all learn from his story.

      It’s such a broad topic.

      We need others who read Container Diaries to chime in.

      • Don C says:

        When I was growing up in the neighborhood in the 70’s my friends and I were known to partake in some of the Drugs and alcohol on certain occasions but we all smart enough to know the dangers of addiction. Most of us are successful today because of our upbringing. That involved the love from our parents and the education we received in school and on the streets

  5. TonyF16th St says:

    Steve/Maureen,

    I had a brother who chose to run with a gang in the 50’s and in 1958 at age 16 he shot and killed a guy in a gang war on 18th Ave and Coney Island Ave. You cannot imagine what this did to our family, for a long time we were the most hated family on 16th street

    • Mudge says:

      WAS YOUR BROTHERS NICK NAME BUFFELO BOB AND WAS WITH LITTLE SAL BOTH WERE FRENDS OF MINE AND I KNOW . I HAVE NOT SEEN THEM IN A LONG TIME BUT THEY STILL ARE.

  6. Maureen Rice (Flanagan) says:

    Sorry to hear that, Tony..I can well imagine- often, when I read of a murder, I say a prayer for the victim and also for the family of the person who commited the crime- don’t get me wrong. there are some evil people out there, but so many crimes are committed by people, especially younger people, caught up in something beyond their control at the moment- the desire to look tough, the need to feed a vicious habit, etc. The story in the news now about the 17 year old who crashed his car, where he was the sole survivor, 4 of his friends are dead- just breaks my heart for all involved- who among us has not made a stupid decision as a teen?? Most of us are lucky enough to not have to pay a heavy price for it

  7. Sal Marino (Junior) says:

    I am not sure if one of these incidents pertains to the stabbing of Tommy Smith who hung out with the 10th ave crowd in the 70’s and don’t even recall Bengie being around then. If so, I can tell David that this happened outside of the Southwest bar on the corner of 16th St and 10 ave. sometime in the mid 70’s. I remember exiting the bar and seeing a lot of people running and much screaming as people were pointing around the corner, so I walked down 16th a few houses and found Tommy Smith on a stoop sitting hunched over. Tommy hand been stabbed in the stomach and it looked pretty serious. If I recall around that time I had worked or had been working as a hotel detective for a short period at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel in Manhattan and luckily had taken a course on emergency first aid. I had nothing to use as a bandage so I took off my shirt and applied direct pressure to Tommy’s wound with it. A few people helped me get him into my car and we rushed him down to the Methodist hospital. Tommy was lucky that night, one of the attendants said the emergency first aid probably saved him.

    • tommy smith says:

      A friend of mine brought this to my attention and after all these years I finally get to thank you in a very public way, yes you did save my life and I am very grateful I have never forget what you did for me but I need to correct one part of the story I was only back in bklyn one hour, I was away with a girlfriend of mine in another state all I was doing was going to see my friends when I spotted tommy Ryan on the floor with bengie getting the better of tommy all I tried to do was break it up and the rest is history happy new year junior

  8. Tumpy says:

    Maureen, I agree with all that you said and have not thought of that night for maybe 35 yrs but when I heard that name it was like yesterday.Im happy to hear that Benji has turned his life around and helping people that need help.Sometimes good things come out of a bad event in ones life.We have all done something that we are not proud of and regret today.

  9. Kevin Mahoney says:

    David@newyorkcitygangs.com,

    The creator of this blog can speak better on this issue than I, but I think its safe to say that the general purpose of Container Diaries is for people to share memories of growing up in the Park Slope/Wndsor Terrace area. While not everyone who contributes knows each other personally, we all share a common bond of having grown up in the same area, and speak freely about our experiences, both good and bad. Having said that, I’m not sure its appropriate for you to be “scouting” the blog for material to put in your own website regarding NYC gangs in the ’50’s. If anyone wants to provide details to you, that’s obviously their business, but it seems strange to request details of a painful personal memory from someone you presumably have never met for a commercial purpose. Then again, just my opinion.

  10. jimmyvac says:

    We lived in a great neighborhood and as Karen stated, I too, would not want to have grown up anywhere else. We grew up in the 70’s much like the folks did in the 1950s but crime and drugs became a large part of the landscape. We lost alot of good people to drugs because of bad choices.

  11. @Kevin

    Thank-you for your comment, but I feel I must clarify and address some of your assumptions. In no way, shape or form am I gaining anything from this for “commercial purpose” as you suggest. I asked because when something like two stabbings is brought up, it should be discussed further, as it is a solemn assertion to make. I don’t say this because I doubt what Tumpy said either. History can be both painful and pleasant, and in this case, in my opinion, even though it is a painful memory, it should be discussed as well. I’m sure nobody would be surprised that this topic would generate more discussion than usual.

    I am not from this neighborhood and if comments to articles are only meant for former residents of the neighborhood, I will respectfully refrain from doing so. But let’s leave that decision up to the moderator and owner of this website.

    @TonyF: was this gang war you talk about between the Gremlins and Ditmas Dukes?

  12. Tumpy says:

    Sal……….The incident I was refering to did happen on 16th st 10th ave in the mid 70s and if I remember correctly you drove tommy smith to the hospital and a couple driving by stopped and took tommy ryan to the hospital and on there way to the hospital were in a car accident and were also hurt .I spoke to Tommy Ryan a few days ago and he confirmed it was Bengi who did the stabbing.If anyone is still in contact with Bengi maybe thy can get him to come on and tell his side of the story .Maybe he could even apoligize to the people that he almost killed .That would show that he really did turn his life around.

    • Sal Marino (Junior) says:

      Thanks Tumpy, I never knew the back story of this or many other details of what happened that night. All these years later, I never knew that the stabbing of Tommy Ryan was part of the same incident and happened that night, let alone two other people hurt when driving him to the hospital, thank God all involved survived. I also had my demons and struggled with using hard drugs throughout the 70’s so I am no one to pass judgment and I am also am glad to hear that Bengie hopefully has turned his life around. I saw some of my friends die either directly or indirectly from drug abuse and others whose lives were ruined. Putting the drug issue aside Windsor Terrace in the 70’s was a wonderful neighborhood and there is no where else on this planet I would have wanted to live and grow up in during that era.

    • hoopscoach says:

      Billy,

      Wasn’t Tommy Smith a tough SOB? Do you know why Bengie stabbed the two guys?

      • Tumpy says:

        Tommy Smith was a tuff sob.What I remember from that night was that tommy smith got into a fight with Bengi and was getting the better of Bengi when Bengi pulled a knife and stabbed him.as this was happening tommy ryan was coming from 10th ave and the parkside and saw what was happening and ran over to pull Bengi off tommy smith when Bengi turned and stabbed him in the stomach.There was a couple riding by and saw what was going on and thru tommy ryan in there car and was rushing him to the Methodist hospital when they got into a car accident and were also brought into the hospital.I remember being in the emergency room when tommy Smiths father and his older brother who was also a tuff sob who hung out with south brooklyn came into the room and tommy smiths father sayng to Tommys older brother that you gotta find this guy Bengi and when you do you cant just hurt him you have to kill him if you get him.I will never forget the exchange of words between tommys older brother and his father.

      • hoopscoach says:

        Thanks Billy. Amazing stuff…

      • Willy Wickham says:

        Steve, I knew Bengie slightly back in the late 60’s. He was older by maybe 4 or 5 years and must be 70 or very close to it by now. He was known for dealing drugs back then as he freely admits in that 1999 article. Never found him an easy person to be around because he was extremely paranoid. I last saw him in a subway station back in the early 70’s and we said hello. He still looked paranoid.
        That said, I do believe in miracles and from what I have heard Bengie is one of them. Those were mean streets sometimes. I’m just glad I survived the guy who stabbed me. Also the guy who broke a bottle over my head in Boops.

      • hoopscoach says:

        Thanks for sharing Willy. I hope things are well with you. What have you been up to lately?

  13. Maureen Rice (Flanagan) says:

    That is a good suggestion, I don’t have his # anymore, but I will reach out to people who do..

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