Rail Kid: Rockland's gangs

By Terry Economy | Jan 20, 2011

During the early part of our century most cities in the United States had its boyhood gangs. Boyhood gangs came in era before television and computers. Kids whose father's were working six days a week and kids with no fathers at home, especially during WW II, made up most of the gangs. It was camaraderie at its best.

When I was a boy, Rockland had five gangs: The North End gang, the South End gang, Union Street gang, Thomaston Street gang, and the Alex gang, of which I was a member. It was the most feared gang of them all. Rough, tough, and tumble. Each member was taught on how to defend himself should there ever be a need. I was not too much into fighting during that period. I had only three fights in my youth, and won them all, thanks to my training.

The Alex gang was located on Orange Street in the south central part of Rockland and was allied with the other gangs except the Northenders. To my knowledge, the gangs never fought each other. Gangs did not mean fighting. Far from it. They competed in sports, neighborhood cleanups, helping the elderly; they were the watchdogs of their neighbors. Each member had his own nickname.

The leader of our gang, Christy Alex, was called the "boss." He was our leader and the gang's teacher. His reputation as a protector and leader gave him respect from the other allied gangs. He was one of the nicest guys you would want to meet, straight up.

Being a fellow Albanian, though not related, Christy and I became the best of friends. I had my own bed at his house where I slept over on occasions. His father, Steve, owned a pool room and shoe-shining business in Rockland. He and his brothers, George and Peter, were excellent pool players. And most of our gang members were taught to play pool during off-hours. He was a gifted athlete and taught other gang members how to play baseball, basketball and football.

The Alex Gang’s sports teams were competitive in sports and the other gangs, especially, the South End gang had a real rivalry in football and baseball with plenty of fun moments on the Pleasant Street field.

Going to the movies at the Park Theater were the best pastimes. Each gang had a separate section of the theater where they sat. And most gang members shared their theater goodies with each other, the popcorn and candy. There was cheering when the good guys overcame the bad guys in the feature movie and laughter during the Three Stooges shorts and Tom and Jerry cartoons.

After the feature movie, our gang would recreate the film in play form... cowboys and Indians, if it was western, or play army after a war movie. The problem we had? No one wanted to play the part of the bad guys.

Halloween was a favorite time with Rockland gangs. Going through our neighborhood, soaping windows, occasionally cutting a clothesline, putting a trash can on the front door step, and with no intent of any home damage. We had costumes, but little trick or treating.

During summer evenings, gangs had their own fun by playing games like kick the can, hide and seek, sitting on a porch telling stories and sharing jokes. In winter, we skated Steven’s Pond, sliding on Pill Hill and Pleasant Street, and built a gang snow fort on the Alex's front lawn.

The Alex Gang headquarters was the second floor of their old barn. Seems every time you would visit, there would be a least one gang member around. We had make shift bunks, oil lamps, decorations, comic books, and heat was provided by an old tin wood stove. It's a wonder we did not burn the barn down. It was a place to meet for "boy talk" and discuss life's events.

As we got older into high school in the early 1950s, meeting new friends from all over the city, gangs era in Rockland came to an end. Now 50 years later, whenever I meet a former gang member, the first words are "do you remember?"

Terry Economy was born in Rockland. He graduated from Rockland High School and has had a long career in broadcasting, and is a member of the Maine Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

 

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