DISCLAIMER

Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Circle Gang, Part 5


What’s this? A get-together at The Circle tree more than four decades after the gang hung out there?

It’s actually a memorial gathering at THE tree behind the Sixteen Acres Branch Library on April 13 for Phil Chechile, a founding member of the Circle Gang who died March 6 at the age of 62. There were Circle guys there, as well as a couple of the Motleys (also known as the Razorbacks)—the older guys who ruled Sixteen Acres Center before the Circle Gang.




Yes, that’s a U.S. Marines flag. By the time the book The Circle came out, Phil was long gone, fighting in Vietnam, and attaining the rank of Corporal. According to one of those who attended the memorial, although the Circle guys broke the law continuously in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when you talk to them now, they stress the bond that existed between them, not their illegal activity. And that bond continues with many of them to this day.

Despite their reputation, they were also very approachable to anyone who wanted to join their gang. As Phil once put it: “If you weren’t cool, we made you cool.”

His ashes may or may not have been scattered in the old Circle area. Since it might be illegal to spread “cremains” in a public park, let’s just say that only memories, stories, good wishes, and maybe a few tears were dispersed there that day.

The family of Phil, known as Tony Cirelli in the book, was not at all happy with author James A. Coleman’s depiction of him as a guy who would kick a guy when’s he’s down and being pummeled by a group. And his family especially took exception to Coleman’s portrayal of Chechile’s father beating his kids with a rope, which never happened. Coleman, however, claimed that his book was “95 percent true,” and conceded, prior to The Circle’s release, “Some of the parents will appear much worse in the book they actually are.” Was Coleman writing composite characters or simply making some facts up? We’ll never have an answer to this question. He died in 2006.

“You dirty son of a bitch,” said the father of Willy Bogart (his name in the book) when he ran into Coleman in Russell’s Restaurant in the 1990s. Yes, some parents’ enmity continued for a long time.

“So, how are you today?” replied Coleman.

“Fuck you.” 

“How’s [Willy]? I haven’t seen him for quite some time.”

“I haven’t seen him in 23 years and I don’t want to see him. And I don’t want to see you. So get the fuck out of my way, professor.”




Curiously, Coleman said in the above article that he “made up the main character,” Mike Moran, but years later he states, in the article below, that Moran is married to a fine young woman, is financially successful, and is a contributing member of society.





So who was Mike Moran? Most concur that he did base the character on a real person. No, I won’t reveal his name, but here’s a clue: he’s one of the “initialed” lads who were arrested in the story below about a gang fight between the Circle Gang and kids from Forest Park:


When The Circle when it came out in 1970, sales were brisk, and this soon raised the ire of adults, including District Attorney Matty Ryan, who said Coleman “used” the kids and the book “only serves to lengthen the generation gap.” A teacher who taught most of the gang members called the book “garbage” and said Coleman tries to “glorify what the kids did.” Ryan admitted that he didn’t read The Circle, saying that any book sold “under the counter” wasn’t worth reading.





Coleman and others responded that it was sold under the counter at drug stores because teens were stealing it:


Then the charges really started flying, with Coleman asserting that the Springfield Police Department was trying to stop the sale of the book and attempting to get residents to sign a complaint against him.


Coleman’s feud with police began, according to his book, when a couple of Circle guys find a large set of keys in an “appliance store parking lot” (House of Television). After they brag that they’re going to take a joy ride with the store’s trucks, Coleman snatches the keys and brings them back to the store. End of story, right? No.

When H.O.T. gets burglarized and trucks are broken into, Lieutenant Mudd (Is it Wayne Budd, eventual US Attorney, or feared Acres cop “Mush” McCarthy?) puts pressure on Coleman after they read the police report that includes a mention of the keys. Surely, the police reason, the punks had made copies of the keys, and Coleman will spill the beans on the kids if they threaten him with a larceny charge, right? Wrong. He says nothing, and is left alone—until his book is published, and then the police came down on him again.

Coleman’s line has always been that he was there to help these kids, but he also added that there was poor parenting involved in a lot of the families that led to them acting out. I always took this with a grain of salt, because kids from even the best families do these kinds of things when they are bored. He always thought they accepted him because he provided parental guidance that they lacked in their homes. Maybe it’s true in some cases. Plus, they must have liked his wrestling and boxing lessons so they could kick ass more efficiently. (Insert laugh track here.)




Do you recognize any Circle guys on this Parker House softball team?

So what became of the Circle Gang? Most became law-abiding members of society. Some: not exactly. The numerous premature deaths of Circle members begins with the accidental shooting of Frank Archidiacono, when he a couple of friends were fooling around with a gun in 1968, and continued three years later with the fatal crash of a twenty-year-old member, and the list goes on: a 1997 drunk driving death, a fatal heroin overdose in 2000, a death due to alcohol-induced liver disease the same year, three suicides: in 1982, 1998 and 2003.

As for the fate of Mickey Callahan, (his book name), Coleman remembered giving him a ride when he was hitchhiking on Wilbraham Road in 1979—about five years after the Circle Gang broke up—and noticing pockmarks on the backs of his hands. When the professor asked about them, Callahan replied that he had run out of places to shoot heroin into his arms, so he used any convenient veins.

“Mickey” was the brother of a guy I know on Bellamy Road from my partying days at The Gully, a wooded area that was a hangout for kids in the immediate neighborhood. Coleman knew that Mickey was in rough shape, but there wasn’t much more he could do for him at that point. He was always the wildest of the Circle Gang—too wild even for their taste—and soon he would be dead.

In 1983, at the age 28, he hung himself with a sheet in Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord shortly after being jailed for violating his parole. He was originally sentenced to ten years for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and armed robbery after he robbed the Gasland Station on Wilbraham Road in the Acres twice with four days in 1974. His sister told me one night that he was put back in jail for threatening his doctor. “He was being treated for heroin addiction and he got into a big argument with the guy,” she said. “The doctor was trying to reduce the amount of methadone in his prescription, and he flipped out.”

His family was devastated, but they knew he was spiraling out of control. When “Mickey” was in the Circle Gang, his sister remembers him being locked up in the Westfield juvenile detention center for a while for stabbing a kid, and as soon as he was released he grabbed her piggy bank full of money she had earned babysitting—tucked it under his arm like a running back and took off.

Will I get some blowback for mentioning this? Possibly. I don’t know. I recently ran into Mickey’s brother at a wake for one of our friends, Dave O’Brien (not his real name), who figures prominently in this blog and died at the ripe young age of 50. Maybe Mickey’s brother will read this. Maybe he won’t. 

Five days after the second Gasland robbery, another member of the Circle Gang (also now deceased) was caught trying to steal two diamond rings from the Arthur Cooley jewelry store on Main Street.

At last count, there are approximately 16 members of the Circle Gang (and probably more) who have perished prematurely—some, from “hard living,” or “death on the installment plan”—others simply have succumb to diseases that tend to accompany aging baby boomers.

So was The Circle a bona fide gang, or simply a bunch of rowdy kids? It depends on whom you ask. Coleman once told me that he spent the first ten years of his life in an orphanage, which might help explain his lifelong desire work with troubled children. But how many of the Circle Gang were truly “troubled,” and how many were simply doing what kids in the late ’60s and ’70s in an era of outright rebellion? Again, it depends on whom you ask. And here’s another $64,000 question: did Coleman’s book actually result in the opposite of his intention, emboldening Circle members (and other youths who read The Circle) into committing crimes and boosting their “street cred”? What do YOU think? Leave a comment!

Read parts 12,  3, and 4 about this crew in various posts, along with an account of the tragic death of one of its members, Frank Archidiacono.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

my name is jack Sutton, in dec 68 ne and tony cirelli joined the corps together, we left in early feb 69 for parris island, now as for mickey calahan he was a loner was never a member of the circle, he was a POS, untrustworthy to everyone, he died in jail next to a drug dealer he ratted out, he ratted everybody out all the time he deserved to die,I don't one nice word for that POS ,he was responsible for turning a beautiful girl into a junkie, she died of aids and other related ailments a couple of years agoI knew him since we were around 8yrs old, we both hung out at treats,(where I came from) I must have kicked his ass 8 or 10 times over the years. As for coleman,I didn't trust him, seemed like a pervert to me, what the hell is a grown man hanging around with young boys for and wrestling, sure liked it. he used to drive us to gang fights,and the book that was pure exploitation, a lot of truths but not exactly how the events went down also a lot of falsehoods too

Hell's Acres said...

Hey Jack,

Thanks for weighing in. You're not the first to use the P word about Coleman, but no one ever came forward with any accusations.

He used to drive you to gang fights? Wow, that's one I never heard before. Which gangs did you fight?

Also, what were some of the falsehoods in the book?

Any light you can shed is appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Jack again, falsehoods well the things he wrote about the parents totally false, I know many of the parents ,they were good decent people ,infact I went to candys house onc time for supper her mother was very nice and a good cook, no sign of drunken debauchery, tonys parents were great people infact I never met anybodies parents that weren't solid people that loved their children,one instance concening me was in the chapter on guns, he said I ratted on everybody when in fact it was mickey Callahan who was the rat. gang fights to the nall we fought the mall rats Ludlow and some we didn't know who they were,if we needed to go somewhere he was right there. I didn't like the man and he knew it. In the book he made a lot of "on purpose mistakes ' that I think were so there would be no lawsuits, remember he was a college professor ,not a stupid man. at any rate after the book came out it took a few months and his reign with the circle gang was over.There is a much better story after the basic circle gang, about in the early 70s all the center groups became the '[acres ' a unique blend the circle motleys razorbacks treas(clan)hood street pinepoint boston road and friends, coleman wouldn't have survived thse 15+years

Hell's Acres said...

Hey Jack,

Thanks again for commenting. You know, I thought I had heard about the Pine Point "Corner Gang" joining up with The Circle Gang to fight Ludlow, but it's hard to remember.

I always wondered how the Clan guys and Circle guys got along. I knew one Clan guy on Catalpa Terrace who used to refer to the Circle as "The Circle Jerks," but he did say both gangs got together to fight the Orchard. He also mentioned the South End coming up here one time and pistol whipping a Clan guy, and the Clan fighting football and soccer players when the college kids came across the street over to Treats.

It's funny you mention the Razorbacks--I had never heard that name until recently. I assume they were the same gang as the Motleys. I wonder how they came up with the name Razorbacks?

I always wondered what was the last year the Circle Gang, but you kind of cleared that up--all the groups kind of got together in the early '70s. I know people started hanging out at the logs, and there was also the Rail Gang and Foster's Field. And I always wondered what happened to the Clan, because my friends and I used to go to Treats in the early and mid-'70s once in a while and nobody was ever in there.

Anonymous said...

Jack again, Treats is a place, before us there were guys hanging out there as far back as the late 50s that I can remember, greasy hair peg pants and white t shit types reminiscent of james dean,we were real young then but I remember them,, some were older brothers of friends or guys aroud the neighborhood to us they were cool saw some good fights too. the school busses dropped all kinds of people right there at the corner, seemed to be the spot for a hang out, I can remember sometimes there were so many kids you couldn't see the stores, we had lots of heros there, by 60 61 our group was growing. we had people from Bradley road some from Wilbraham road area and breckwood blvd neighborhoods, probably around 40 or so, but we rally didn't hang at treats, across the street at wnec ans watershops pond although you could find us at treats it wasn't the main hangout, around end of summer fall 1963 we got our first dose of pot, cheap mafia pepperweed,we used to go down to Cunningham st and get some old black guy to get us alcohol, yeah we were on our way. there were fights all the time for the smallest reason, you were tuff or gone, more and more guys showed up there all the time, some times I didn't know who half of them were, by 66 180 was a good number on the average I fought all the time, we adopted the name "the clan" sometime in 65 maybe, there were 3 buildings at wnec then and we hung at the soccer field, the nets got destroyed somehow and the college jocks came looking for a fight, they got one,there was a gully behind the soccer field where we hung out, the jocks made the mistake of chasing a few of us down into the gully where 40 or 50 of us were hanging around, for them it was game over, campus security didn't fair much better. We hung out at sandy beach on watershops pond, lots of good times there,we had a basicley white neighborhood for a long time, then several black familys moved in no problem really till they tried to establish their territory several incidents happened in our favor, so they got some brethren together and were going to try again down at sandy beach, my job was to swim across the pond and fetch reinforcements up at treats, I got about 25 or 30 and when we got to the road to the beach the had already gotten their ass kicked by the 5 or 6 guys at the beach, we intercepted them at this point and kicked their ass some more the one who thought they were getting away ran into their house where we broke the door down and beat them in their own bedrooms,there were so many stories from the clan that the circle book was a cute story and if coleman had tried to befriend us guys he would have ended up in traction real quick,there is no book of the clan or the treatsters, it exists only in the minds of us who lived it

Hell's Acres said...

Hi jack,

It's funny, the last time I contacted the Catalpa guy (Ray), he said, "Why do you want to write about them guys (The Circle)? They got enough ink. (Yeah, a whole book, and them some.) Over the years he had (reluctantly) told us a couple of tales about the Clan, but not too many. He did recall the fight with the Orchard, and also looting the burned out Jumbo supermarket of cigarettes, and hanging out in the ruins, which they called the "Citadel."

He also cited the gang's numbers, which I thought were exaggerated, but then again, this was the height of the baby boom. I had no idea it went back to '65 and really even earlier.

In the blog I have never really explored the whole racial thing with the black kids behind Duggan and all. There has always been friction--I never knew you guys went at it with them. Ray did talk about were the Tech riots, which I know the Clan were heavily involved in, including Bill McD..., Dan C...(from Ashland Ave.)

How did you end up in the book? You must have hung around The Circle guys at one point. Ray didn't think much of the Circle--thought they were a bunch of punks who caused too much trouble lol.

I was hoping to see Ray at Buzzy's wake, but he's pretty housebound right now from what I hear.

Anyway, thanks for the comments. Like you wrote, there is no book for you guys (even though there should be), but it doesn't hurt to get the story out decades later.

One more question: how did the fight with the Orchard start?

Jack, I know I have a lot of questions, but you're the only Circle/Clan guy to respond so far!

Anonymous said...

Jack I just learned of your blog an hour ago,what and interesting topic am thoroughly enjoying reading it.. I remember most of the guys from the circle quite well I lived in the first house behind bridle path pharmacy in early to late 60s and for that reason I also knew all the guys from the Bridle path gang as they were called though I'm not quite sure that they officially could be called a gang,I spent a lot of time a professor Coleman's house he opened his home to all of us especially those of us from what they called broken homes,it is where I was first introduced to wrestling. All who wrestled with us at Prof Colman's home enjoyed wrestling against our own schools team.as far as Coleman and the label pervert that a tough one for me to believe in the four yrs I wrestled there I never heard or experienced anything that would even conjure up the P word as a matter of fact if you ho to the Spfld hall of fame for school sports many of those wrestlers got their start in Coleman's basement.

Stephen Eldsen said...

I saw your blog maybe less than a year ago. Found it interesting. Recently stumbled upon it again seeing the photo of the 16 Acres baseball team eating ice cream out side I presume a Friendly's restaurant. I wore one of those uniforms. Can't say I'm one of the kids in the picture unless its the one with his head down. Also my little sister road that Elephant.

Anyway. I can say I knew Colman when he was researching for a second book that I never heard was written. Someone stole his notes though and he pretty much got dissed from us, possibly on account that we thought he was gay.

I knew most of the Croutos's (sic), used to wrestle with Danny out on my front yard. That kid was strong as an ox. I even got a cold case call just a few years ago. I wish I knew more to say about that. His next older brother however was not as strong I beat the shit of his bother Micheal once when him and my brother were trying to tell us we couldn't hang around. That was many years latter though.

I knew Phil C. according to his youngest brother got discharged from the Marines because he smacked an NCO in mouth with a hammer. I'm pretty sure Peter joined up too. And I met their father. When I did he was good to Paul. Maybe his older brothers wore him down.

Now what I can't figure is who you are. I did the Sixteen Acres, Duggan, Classical Route and then it was into the Military, (not by order of a judge which was kind of common). It seems you were Cathedral and seems from your posts maybe a few years older than me. I'm guessing by your associations you may of lived near Plumtree. Me I was on the opposite side of the block from Giovanni's Pizza and Flair Cleaners. I knew the circle when it was flat. Up. And flat again. But when I was aware of the circle gang they all had long hair. Not like in the pictures you showed. And yes I read 'The Circle Gang' book when it first came out. Even at my young age I thought it was tripe, but I used to read alot. It was interesting though.