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

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The South End-Forest Park Gang Wars of the 1970s

Who knows how the South End-Forest Park gang wars of the 1970s started? Does it matter more than 40 years later? At the time, however, emotions were high as gang beatings fanned the flames of hatred between teenagers of the neighborhoods.

Both sections of the city were known for their gangs. The South End Gang had been there for years. Forest Park gangs popped up in the 1960s and 1970s: the X Gang, the Dairy Mart Gang (corner of Dickinson and Belmont), the Center Gang (Holy Name Social Center), the Circle Gang (Florentine Gardens), the Terrace Gang(s) (Trinity/Longfellow Terraces) the Johnny Appleseed Gang (Johnny Appleseed Park), and the Brown House Gang (the Rustic Pavilion and the green pavilion in Forest Park).

But the South End Gang gained a reputation for its viciousness when members attacked several youths from Enfield who pulled onto Main Street on May 11, 1968. Neighborhood teens (although one was from East Forest Park) exchanged words with the Connecticut boys, who jumped out of the car and chased the gang down the street. Paul M. Plath, 17, of Thompsonville, continued the pursuit into an alley and ran into a trap, getting hit in the head with a board. He died at Wesson Memorial Hospital:

The South Enders were also blamed as being some of the “outsiders” who helped instigate racial brawling outside Tech High School in September of 1971.

Again, it’s not clear what touched off the fighting between the South End and Forest Park, but the violence reached the newspapers in the fall of 1973:

In May of 1974 the brawling was the subject of a meeting between city officials and a lengthy article in the Springfield Union:

These battles were not the classic rumbles in which gangs agreed on a time and location and fought it out. Rather, they were ambushes:

A commenter on this blog from Forest Park, Classical ’75 Guy, agrees with the assessment that the problem was the South End Gang. A self-described “Purple Heart vet” of those wars says the South Enders were cowardly. “What I hated about those guys is they didn't fight fair,” he writes. “It was always 10 of them on one of you. Like fuckin’ ants they’d be all over someone before they even knew it, and they didn't mind kicking in the head and face either until you were near death. They loved it when they knocked someone’s nose to the other side of their face, that was the goal I think.”

However, South Enders at the time insisted that “Forest Park always starts it.”:

The hostilities between the groups went back years, according to the article:

The multi-generational beefs in the article fit Classical ’75 Guy’s description of older and younger versions of the gangs. For the X Gang, there was the “Big X” and the “Little X,” and the same was true for the South End.

The assaults got particularly nasty when girls were beaten as well. One attack took place in the Cathedral High School parking lot, and the other at the old Friendly’s in East Forest Park:

These were the typical South End beatings: savage and always outnumbering their targets, according to Classical ’75 X Guy: 
“They only did it when the victim was relatively defenseless, when it was just him and one or two other guys. They used to drive around in their cars with an ITALIA sticker in the center of the rear window. They’d wear Italia flags on their shirts, and a gold chain with a gold horn and gold fingers around their necks. You’d never see just one of them. They’d lean way over so it looked like they were driving from the middle of the front bench seat—the ‘gangster lean.’ We hated those SOBs, but we simply couldn’t exert the same level of brutality that they could. We did our best in one-on-one, well really 10-on-10, but mano y mano when the odds were relatively even. They were a bit pussyish when they didn’t have their friends behind them. And God forbid, you could never go down into their hood. If you did, the fathers, grandfathers, uncles, mothers, sisters, nieces and nephews would all be in the fracas.”

The subject dominated a City Council meeting, and Mayor William Sullivan scheduled a conference on the gang wars.

Although boys will be boys, it gets dangerous when things escalate:

There were no deaths from the South End-Forest Park gang wars, but in the coming years, there was some tragic fallout from this kind of hooliganism. In 1975, the South End guy from Marble Street who involved in the Friendly’s beating described in the article above became embroiled in a violent feud with a group from East Springfield. This continuous bar fighting between the South End and East Springfield gangs resulted with him losing an eye in a gang fracas in the Viking Lounge. While he was in the hospital, his friends tried to ambush one of the East Springfield assailants at his job at a package store, but the East Side guy pulled a gun and shot two of them, killing one.

Then, in 1976, as more Hispanic families were moving into the South End, there was unrest in the summer as Italian and Puerto Rican gangs fought. As a result, 20 Hispanic families moved out of the neighborhood to escape the violence. On July 3, 22-year-old Gary Galland from Locust Street was shot in the back as he walked out of a doorway on Saratoga Street. They never found the shooter. For all we know, he had not been part of the violence until then—but he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and police believed the murder was related to the area’s race problems.

That same summer, when the South End Gang invaded one of the many keg parties thrown at Camp Seco in Forest Park, a Forest Park teenager suffered brain damage from a beating he took. “I haven’t seen him in years,” wrote the Classical ’75 X Guy. “But the last time I did, he had slurred speech and wasn’t quite all there, kind of like a stroke victim.”

Okay, folks, who were the true “bad guys” in this lengthy neighborhood conflict? I realize that I only have a Forest Parker’s point of view in this post, so there is a risk of bias. Indeed, South Enders insisted in the original Springfield Union article that Forest Park was the instigator. I know that there were accounts of South End outnumbering their victims, but I also know that Forest Park kids also had a habit of ganging up on people back in the day. If anyone growing up in these neighborhoods has something to add, by all means, LEAVE A COMMENT!

Granted, I know I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of this feud, and I have been accused of screwing up the facts in the Brown House-Johnny Appleseed conflict (as well in as the Sixteen Acres Gangs of the 1990s post), so please feel free to chime in.