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Lost Boys of the Bronx

Lost Boys of the Bronx

4.8 12
by James Hannon

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Straight from the streets of the mid-1960s Bronx comes a book about one of the borough's most feared gangs - The Ducky Boys. While their unusual name alone might contradict their reputation, in the Norwood/Bainbridge section of the Bronx their appearances provoked an ominous dread. So much so, that when Richard Price needed inspiration for a terrifying gang in his


Straight from the streets of the mid-1960s Bronx comes a book about one of the borough's most feared gangs - The Ducky Boys. While their unusual name alone might contradict their reputation, in the Norwood/Bainbridge section of the Bronx their appearances provoked an ominous dread. So much so, that when Richard Price needed inspiration for a terrifying gang in his novel (and later movie) The Wanderers, he knew exactly which gang to choose.

Lost Boys of the Bronx tells the story of the Ducky Boys in their own words. It is a story of how a few pre-teen kids in the Botanical Gardens turned into a gang of hundreds - and a gang so alarming that rumors of their arrival would shut down local schools.

This is also a study of the mostly Irish Bronx neighborhood in which the Ducky Boys were born, and where so many of the Ducky kids got caught up in the tumultuous times of the '60s where their fierce loyalty was the only thing that got them through.

This is not your typical gang book. It neither praises nor demonizes the gang for the things they did, but rather simply reports what happened - warts and all. You'll see the truth behind the Ducky Boys' gang - their lives, their loves, their pranks and crimes, and so much more.

To borrow from a particular product's slogan - with a name like the Ducky Boys, you knew they HAD to be tough.

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Lost Boys of the Bronx

The Oral History of the Ducky Boys Gang
By James Hannon


Copyright © 2010 James Hannon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4520-2054-9

Chapter One

The Bronx

To understand the Ducky Boys, it's important to know something about the New York City borough that they came from. The absolute basic soundbites of information about the borough that anyone interested in the Bronx should know:

"The Bronx is the northernmost of the five boroughs of New York City. It is also the newest of the 62 counties of New York State. Located northeast of Manhattan and south of Westchester County, New York, the Bronx is the only borough situated primarily on the North American mainland (while the other four-apart from the very small Marble Hill section of Manhattan-are on islands)."

"In 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that the borough's population on July 1, 2008 was 1,391,903, inhabiting a land area of 42 square miles (109 square kilometers). This makes the Bronx the fourth-most-populated of the five boroughs, the fourth-largest in land area, and the third-highest in density of population."

"Although the Bronx is the one of the most densely populated counties in the U.S., there is a lot of open space there. Almost a quarter of the borough is open space with parkland such as Woodlawn Cemetery, Van Cortlandt Park, Pelham Bay Park, the New York Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo."

"The Bronx was named after Jonas Bronck, a 17th century Swedish sea captain. In 1639, Bronck sailed up the East River on a ship named The Fire of Troy, and acquired five hundred acres of land across the river from the village of Harlem. This farm became known as Bronck's Land and covered roughly the area south of 150th Street in the Bronx."

"Mr. Bronck died in 1643 and his land was eventually sold off. The area was known as 'Broncksland' only through the end of the 1600s - so the modern name of the New York borough does not come directly from it. However, the river which runs North-to-South through the mainland area, and which his farm butted against, kept the name Bronck's River, eventually being abbreviated - or misspelled - to Bronx River. This name stuck, and it was this river, which splits the borough in half, that The Bronx was named after."

Wikipedia contributors, "The Bronx," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Bronx&oldid=334704679 (accessed December 29, 2009).

That will be all of the "academic" history of the Bronx you will find in this book. If you want to read more about this great borough, there are plenty of excellent resources out there, particularly, many books authored (or co-authored) by Professor Lloyd Ultan, the current official Bronx historian, and Steve Samtur, the editor of Back in the Bronx magazine.

For most people, just hearing the words "the Bronx" conjures up many images, often negative. Sure, the initial images of crime and poverty are so often portrayed in the media that they will usually prevail. But there are plenty of good memories, events and stories of the period, which Bronxites have experienced. Thanks to the Bronx being so densely populated, there are many current and former Bronxites spread across the country, and even the planet. Chances are good that you might have interacted with at least one in the last few days, wherever you are in this world!

I'm guessing that there's a good chance you picked up this book because you may be one of the aforementioned Bronxites - or you've been through the Bronx at least once before. So I'd like for you to take a moment and think of your earliest memories of the Bronx.

Were those memories nostalgic ones? Like the sound of a cracking bat and the roar of the crowd at Yankee Stadium? Or maybe it was the sound - or smell - of all the exotic animals at the Bronx Zoo. Maybe it was something much simpler like the attention Mom gave you after getting sunburned at a family outing at Orchard Beach, or the praise from your dad after you caught your first fish at City Island, or even the first time you climbed into the historical Poe Park bandstand or visited musty old Poe Cottage.

There are just so many warm, evocative, and fond ways to remember this much-maligned borough that people who haven't experienced the Bronx first-hand cannot begin to understand. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not living in a fantasy world, and I do realize that there were plenty of unfortunate experiences too. But I just wanted to remind people that things weren't as thoroughly bad as the media would have you believe.

Some more good memories just to drive home the point even more. Do you remember the goldfish pond and the lit "stars" sparkling in the dark ceiling of Loews Paradise movie theatre? How about finding the perfect gift amidst the hustle and bustle of Alexander's on Fordham Road? Perhaps you remember the thrill of a successful attempt at crossing the Grand Concourse, with all the cars whizzing by. Or maybe you can recollect the surprisingly comforting sound of the screeching wheels coming to a halt on the Jerome Avenue el train?

One of more serene memories of the Bronx is the lush green landscape of the Botanical Gardens and Bronx Park. This wonderful stretch of forest, river and lakes in the middle of the concrete jungle of the Bronx was a great oasis and refuge for people of all ages.

As kids, Bronx residents would go to catch turtles and climb trees; as teens, they would go and find quiet time to be alone with their girlfriends and boyfriends; and as they got older it was a place to enjoy the serenity of nature and sort out any problems that the daily grind of the city may have thrown at them.

And right outside this expanse of parkland is a small neighborhood that is now called Norwood, and this is where most of the Ducky Boys came from ...

Chapter Two

Ducky Neighborhoods

The neighborhoods that most of the Ducky Boys came from were mainly Irish working-class areas known as Fordham-Bedford and Norwood, although a few gang members would travel from surrounding neighborhoods such as Woodlawn and Allerton.

Many Bronxites who left prior to the 1990s have never heard of the neighborhood called Norwood. Wikipedia explains:

"Due to its use in city publications, subway maps, and local media, Norwood is the neighborhood's more common name, but the entirety is also known as Bainbridge, most consistently within the neighborhood's Irish American community-centered around the commercial zone of Bainbridge Avenue and East 204th Street. However, as this Irish community largely fled the neighborhood during the 1990s, the name Bainbridge has accordingly lost a great deal of currency. Even the name Norwood does not carry a great deal of currency as do nearby neighborhoods such as Riverdale and Woodlawn."

Wikipedia contributors, "Norwood, Bronx," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Norwood,_ Bronx&oldid=330634609 (accessed December 30, 2009).

There were some generally accepted street boundaries of the Ducky neighborhoods:

The Southern Border was East 196th Street, which was a few blocks north of Fordham Road, one of the largest shopping areas of the Bronx. At the Briggs Avenue intersection were two schools, Public School 46 and the Catholic school Our Lady of Refuge, where many of the Ducky Boys went to grammar school. The P.S. 46 schoolyard was also a very popular hangout, and many of the Ducky Boys used to congregate there, before or after their time in the gang.

The Western Border was the Grand Concourse, considered to be the major thoroughfare of the Bronx. Lined with ornate buildings, the 1939 WPA guide to New York called it "the Park Avenue of middle-class Bronx residents, and the lease to an apartment in one of its many large buildings is considered evidence of at least moderate business success." Ducky kids living near this western border usually ended up going to the Catholic school St. Philip Neri.

Defining the Northern Border unearths some controversy amongst the gang members. Some have described it as being East 204th Street near St. Brendan's Catholic School, while others say it was Gun Hill Road near Reservoir Oval Park. A small minority of people even included McLean Avenue by Woodlawn.

Everyone is in agreement, however, that the Eastern Border was Bronx Park and the Botanical Gardens. Not far from the 52nd Precinct (which came to know the Ducky Boys intimately) lies a small duck pond called Twin Lakes which, as you will see in the next chapter, would become the epicenter of the Ducky world.

Amazingly, in this area of the Bronx during the late 1950s and '60s, Irish-American teenagers comprised about half of the total population.

Let's hear from the Bronx Historian, along with some former neighborhood residents, about how this neighborhood came to be such fertile ground for the Ducky Boys.

Bronx Historian, Professor Lloyd Ultan In that neighborhood in the '60s, the largest single ethnic group were the Irish. You also had a very large number of Jewish people who lived in that area and there were some small enclaves of Italians, but those were largely the people who lived in the area at the time.

Neighborhood resident, Gary Weiss I grew up on the Concourse in the early '60s, and the neighborhood during those days was divided up ethnically to a certain extent. It was largely Jewish along the Grand Concourse, but down along the side streets towards Webster Avenue, it became more and more Irish.

Neighborhood resident and friend of a few Ducky Boys, John Cunningham Back in my day a lot of us were first- or second-generation Irish, so I remember the majority of kids being Irish with the fathers and moms having accents. There were Italian kids in our group, but most of the Italian kids lived on the other side of the Concourse and were from the Villa Avenue area.

What made the children of this generation different from previous ones?

Professor Ultan The people who had lived in the neighborhood for a very long period of time generally had a strong family life. In the 1930s and '40s, the emphasis was always upon family. However in the 1950s and '60s, you have people who grew up in that period of time and were starting families of their own.

Similarly, there were an overwhelming number of youngsters around -much more than the older people. This is the baby boom generation that we're talking about, and you have that huge demographic bulge at that time, right after World War II.

So the baby boomers were born, and when the 1960s arrived, they're now teenagers. And teenagers of course are always looking to go out on their own, to defy their parents in one way or another, be a little reckless and a little dangerous.

And as a large portion, perhaps even more than half of the people in that area, were now teenagers, you have a lot of people with teenage attitudes. And these teenagers were also not going to be disciplined that much by their parents because their parents did not want to inhibit those kids, since they were inhibited by the rigors of the Great Depression and World War II.

That was a period in transition. In most cases, you had a single parent working. But that started to change as inflation began to take hold in the second half of the 1960s, with the expenditures for the increasing involvement in Vietnam, and fewer goods available causing an increase in prices. Many couples decided to make ends meet by having the wife go to work, either full-time or part-time.

And that meant that the teenagers who were trying to break away from their parents and cut the apron strings had a much easier time doing it, with much less supervision.

Teenagers have a tendency to drift together anyway. Since the biological imperative is to establish your own identity and break away, the first step is to socialize with people of your own group. And since they were now under less supervision, they tended to be reckless and take more risks. And you begin to have this ethos that begins to grow around them. In many cases, but not all, it shifts to, "Hey, let's see if we can get some money by intimidating somebody," or by doing other kinds of unsavory things.

And with an idea of how the neighborhood kids got to this point, let's meet these particular "unsavory" teens who would make up the Ducky Boys ...

Chapter Three

Ducky Origins

The origin of the Ducky Boys is a controversial topic, as there are quite a few different versions of how the gang came into existence. As you'll see, some of the stories are more "out there" than others ...

Mark Lind, the lead singer of the punk band "The Ducky Boys," recalls hearing this version:

[The Ducky Boys band] played a show in 1997 with (punk band) The Dictators in Connecticut. Handsome Dick Manitoba, the lead singer, was kinda fascinated with our Ducky Boys merchandise and came over to talk to us.

He asked us if we knew anything about the [Ducky Boys] name and he went on to explain an elaborate legend which was kinda cool because, if it's accurate, then wow, but if it's not, it still increases the notoriety of the name.

Manitoba said that he grew up in the neighborhood where the original gang came from and that [the gang] was named after a hitman, or leg-breaker, or something like that, who had the last name of Ducci, or something that sounded like that. He said there was a phonetic spelling of it, and they just changed it 'cause it sounded like "Ducky."

According to Manitoba, this Ducci guy had been arrested, and as a gesture to the "powers-that-be" in the organization, cut out his tongue, and that's why in the movie they didn't talk. I just thought they didn't talk 'cause they were badass.

Dick Manitoba's version of the origin may seem just a little far-fetched if you ask one of the Ducky Boy leaders.

Lenny Lim What the f**k are you talking about? That never happened!

The actual Ducky Boys would tend to agree with Lenny, but this story shows just how much the legend of the Ducky Boys was exaggerated. A more realistic, although a bit romanticized, version, is this:

Multiple Ducky Boy older brother, Joe F. The Ducky Boys were formed in the beginning of the '60s. Four kids aged eleven to thirteen started to hang around in Bronx Park around Twin Lakes, which was eventually referred to as "the Ducky." They were two sets of brothers - Jimmy and Frankie Byrne, and my younger brothers Biff and Jerry. And they used to fish, and ride their bikes around the lake.

There was another group of older guys and girls (eighteen to about twenty years old) who used to hunt birds and rabbits with slingshots in the park. I remember Bobby and Terry being in that group. They were teenage troublemakers with nothing better to do. These older guys started messing with the kids and eventually threw one of their bikes into the lake. The kids fought back valiantly, but the age difference was too much for them.

Janey V, a girlfriend of one of the older guys, felt bad for the kids and stopped the older guys from picking on the younger kids. The kids all developed crushes on Janey, and she would look out for them. From that day forward, she was dubbed the "Queen of the Ducky" and she called the kids her Ducky Boys. And it just grew from there.


Excerpted from Lost Boys of the Bronx by James Hannon Copyright © 2010 by James Hannon. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Lost Boys Of The Bronx 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
ATroll More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Anyone growing up in the Bronx in the '60s probably at least heard of the Ducky and the Ducky Boys. And like me, may have even known one or two members but until this book came out we really didn't know much "about" the Ducky. What I really liked about this book is that it stays with the facts and doesn't try to Greaser up the Ducky to fit the usual image of urban gangs but shows them as an independent young group of like-minded friends who while being Bronx street savvy and tough, actually had their home turf in tracts of parkland amidst the sights and sounds of nature. This incongruous identification with nature (animals, birds, trees, lakes, rocks, tunnels, fire) added to their mystery and separated them from other city gangs of the era. Through documentary-style reminisces we are brought back to a time when anyone, whether friend or foe, who came in contact with the Ducky Boys (and Girls) knew up front that they were the real thing. James Hannon's book has saved this neglected corner of Bronx history from the windswept ravages of extinction. I give this book 5 stars for its honesty and for giving us insight into such a unique and legendary subject matter.
MozerDozer More than 1 year ago
How do you do justice to the past, whether recent or far off past? There is not easy answer to this question. Too often I find that there are few writers who handle any past history objectively, rather than presenting an unbiased true account of events the writer bandies about their own opinions regarding historical people or events without truly knowing the state of mind of those who actually lived during those times. More often than not when one reads an account of someone's life, the account is presented in a very methodical almost professor like tone which causes the reader to fall asleep after only a few pages. I am very pleased to say that the book Lost Boys of the Bronx: the Oral History of the Ducky Boys Gang is unlike any historical account of a group of people that I have ever read. The author James Hannon approaches the history of the Ducky Boys Gang in an entirely different way than what I am used to reading. He actually obtained the information, not only from literary research, from the mouths of those people who actually lived as a part of the gang. James takes these stories and research and molds them together flawlessly in a way that is both entertaining and informative. Another thing that I was impressed by while reading this book was that James remained objective, simply stating what happened in the lives of the Ducky boys gang without inserting judgmental opinions or without glorifying any wrongs that may have been committed by those about whom he wrote about. There is an easy accessibility to James' writing that draws the reader in and holds them enraptured by a tale that is both exciting and tragic at the same time. This is a book which talks about love, sadness, anger, frustration, joy, mischievousness, etc. Lost Boys of the Bronx: the Oral History of the Ducky Boys Gang is, in my humble opinion, a story of the human condition and of one man's journey to know more about his own backyard. This Book is an essential read for anyone. When you finish this book you walk away with the feeling that you have been a part of something INCREDIBLY special. It is like the reader is sitting right next to James as a partner sharing in the stories and history of the Ducky Boys Gang equally. I can easily guarantee to anyone that after reading this you will not remain unaffected. You will, like me, find yourself as you close the book uttering the words "Ducky Boys Forever!"
BFox825 More than 1 year ago
Hey everyone......I just wanna say I am looking forward to receiving this book. This book is based on some of my family members. My uncle Kevin is one of the people that helped with the information provided to the Author. My family was very large and had alot to do with the Ducky Boys. The house they speak of as "The Ducky House" is actually my grandmothers house. With that being said, I am very excited to order/receive and read this book. I've heard many stories of my families past and I've also seen The Wanderers in which The Ducky Boys were one of the gangs that were focused on. Thank you Mr. Hannon for writing this book and focusing on a great piece of 1960's gang life. I'm looking forward to reading this. Once I am done reading I will post a review from my standpoint. I'm very proud of the history of my family and heritage and I think this book will be a very exciting read. Thank You again Mr. Hannon
Vicky571 More than 1 year ago
The Lost Boys of the Bronx is eloquently narrated by the author and former members of the gang making this book a quick read. Additionally, you will find that even if you are not an Irish American kid that grew up in the Bronx, you can still relate to this book because gangs sprout just about anywhere. Some are urban while others are suburban and secretive but hardly ever an isolated phenomenom that would affect more an ethnic group over another. I enjoyed the historical bit and stats on the Bronx in the intro. Awesome job by Mr. Hannon!
Bronx_JohnC More than 1 year ago
I'll start with the disclaimer that I was interviewed for this book (as an outsider of the gang who knew some later members) as a result of my contact with the author through the Bronx Board. I just finished reading the book and it was a bittersweet trip through the Norwood Bronx of the 60s. I thought it was an honest, unbiased account of the neighborhood and the members of the gang and a couple of their victims too. For posters on the Bronx Board who have voiced their displeasure with the notion of a book about the gang, you may take comfort in the number of casualties the members endured. There are quite a few who did not make it to adulthood. Those people are missed but not necessarily glorified by the accounts in the book (nor are they disrespected). Readers may also be impressed with those members that went on to lead productive/successful lives. The maps and photos were pure nostalgia. Quite interesting to see the old neighborhood through aerial photos and my (now) adult eyes. I used to think everything was so far away (we walked everywhere) and to see how close it all actually is to each other makes me want to walk those streets again with my grown up legs. Bronx historian Lloyd Ultan provides a socio-economic explanation and back drop to the dynamics of the neighborhood at the time that gives you a perspective of where members of this generation fit in the evolution of the Bronx. I have shared Prof. Ultan's books (It Was Only Yesterday, The Beautiful Bronx) with my children so they could gain a perspective on where their old man comes from. I will do the same with this book. The book had that same effect that other Bronx books (i.e. Sewer Balls, From the Block, The Amorous Busboy, Dreaming of Columbus, etc.) have had on me; I didn't want it to end. James Hannon delivers the story in a unique format and gives us an opportunity to meet and gain the perspective of some of the central figures of the gang as adults. Well done, Mr. Hannon. It's a must have for your Bronx library.
MaineFilm83 More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down. It was a great that the author let the Ducky Boys tell their stories, he let them speak for themselves. I also really liked how the author put in little "author notes" where he explained exactly what they meant from a certain place you might not know (slang) to a certain kind of breath mint they were talking about. It left me wanting to hear more stories about the Ducky.
L_K More than 1 year ago
An easy and entertaining read, this compilation of interviews/stories is one that anyone from the Bronx can easily relate to. Even those not from the Bronx will appreciate the honesty that comes straight from the mouths of Duckies!
special8 More than 1 year ago
This book is not your typical 'gang' story. The author brings you back in time to the 60's in the Bronx, and how it was for the teens of that era. I loved the illustrations and the way he made you feel you were 'right there' in that time and place. It's a very easy read book, and you can not only 'imagine' the places he writes about, but also 'see' them through all the pictures along with the story. He brings you through the fun, the sadness, the problems and antics of that era, along with the group called the Ducky Gang! I thoughroughly enjoyed being taken back to that time, and the descriptions of what 'really was' by reading the actual interviews the author James Hannon had with many of the gangs former members. You just can't help to feel involved with the members and the area. A Must read!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Should have been called the Sucky Boys. Boring... No surprises here.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What is this book?!