His grandfather, Thomas Skelly, entered the department in 1893, when the NYPD was little more than a brutal gang of organized enforcers, and Tammany Hall a corrupt political machine that could make or break an honest cop's career. His father Frank's career would span World War II through the sixties, taking him from street cop to squad commander of the 41st Precinct. Better known as "Fort Apache," it was a place from which few cops emerged whole. His brother Frank McDonald, Jr. went on to become a decorated officer, waging an undercover war on drugs and crime that would ironically lead, in 1987, to the most agonizing choice a good cop can make.
From the birth of the modern police department through Vietnam, from turn-of-the-century Brooklyn to the South Bronx in the seventies to the bedroom communities of upstate New York where cops fled to keep their families safe, My Father's Gun combines an intimate family story with turbulent social history. It is a rare inside look at the life and times of cops-told by one of their own
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.34(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)|
Read an Excerpt
In short there's simply not a more congenial spot ... than
here in Camelot. Alan Jay Lerner, Camelot
My mother didn't want to move out of the Bronx. Period. She was more than content in the Fordham neighborhood in which we lived. When my father brought up the subject, my mother became quiet or began to talk about the weather or the nosy downstairs neighbors. She was a city kid, born and bred. All she had ever known was the Bronx. She liked that her friend Theresa lived one floor below. She liked that Alexander's was a few blocks away at Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse. In the Bronx, her first question to a new face at Devoe Park at the bottom of Sedgwick Avenue was "Are you from this parish?" St. Nicholas of Tolentine, gothic and cathedrallike, was more than just her church; it gave her her identity. For my mother, a move to Pearl River might as well have been a move to Russia. It was a foreign landfar too spread out, and far too far from the Bronx. "Do they even have Catholics there?" she had once asked my father, only half jokingly.
But by 1954, my father began to tell my mother that he was concerned for the safety of my older brothers, Frankie and Eugene, then nine and eleven. Neighborhood gangs, like the Scorpions, the Golden Guineas, and the Fordham Baldies, had begun to make their criminal presence felt. Though at that time, Fordham gangs were little more than juvenile delinquents, with most oftheir nefarious activities conducted between the factions (rumbles and the like), my father knew how quickly that could change. In the 41st Precinct, where he worked, just two miles or so south and east of Fordham, the seriousness of teenage gang crime was already in evidence. The Puerto Rican Lightnings had members just a few years older than Eugene. And, though he wouldn't broach the topic with my mother, who thought the Irish were the true chosen people, the Gents, a South Bronx Irish gang, had a division called the Junior Gents that were Eugene's age.
He had witnessed the handiwork of these pint-sized gang members, who gathered, sometimes thirty strong, in front of Eddie and Miriam's candy store on the corner of Hoe Avenue and West Farms Road. He saw the gaping wounds ripped in young flesh by car aerials (then the weapon of choice). One night, a young mother who lived over Eddie and Miriam's dumped a pot of cold water on the young toughs for making too much noise and keeping her baby awake. The Junior Gents retaliated by decapitating a stray cat, shoving a broomstick in the bloody corpse, and firing it like a lance though the woman's window. The Junior Gents were already using zip guns and marijuana. For most of those kids, heroin and revolvers were just around the corner.
Though his children's safety was undoubtedly of paramount importance, it wasn't my father's only motive for moving from the Bronx. Unlike my mother, he hadn't been born in New York City, but grew up in a small coal-mining town in eastern Pennsylvania. Though he moved to New York when he was only eighteen, and had, by 1954, been a city cop for twelve years, his allegiance to the Bronx wasn't anywhere close to my mother's. His dream was the garden-variety American versiona house, with a driveway and a backyard.
Even my mother had to admit that a home in the "country," as they called Pearl River at the time, would be a luxury of space. With four boys then (I was born in 1954), a move out of the cramped two-bedroom apartment at 2300 Sedgwick Avenue had become a necessity. But my mother's solution to the problem lay right across the street. She would take the stairs up to Tar Beach and look longingly at the newly erected apartment house, which advertised "studios," not the no-bedroom city apartments of today, but three-bedroom flats, with twomy God, two!bathrooms. In the hopes of dissuading my father's intentions, my mother concocted a scheme with her friend Theresa to buy a coin-operated Laundromat, then a futuristic idea. My father humored her for a while, until it came time to fork over the down payment. He wasn't about to let her anchor him to the Bronx with a business. He wasn't going to gamble their savings. That money was going to be a down payment on a home.
Though my mom gave in to my father's wishes for a move out of the city, she didn't cave easily. During the spring of 1955, my parents took several car trips to Rockland County looking for houses. With each new house they considered, my mother would formulate some sort of excuse. It's right in front of a mountain, she said of one. The mountain, my father remembers, was little more than a hill. Another, in the neighboring town of Tappan, was in a community without a Catholic church or schoola sacrilege, she said. Others just gave her a bad feeling. When they looked at the house on the corner of Blauvelt Road and McKinley Street, my mother was caught in her own trap.
With my father walking ahead, angry and frustrated at her lack of cooperation, my mother chatted with the sales agent, who told her that this house was already promised to a doctor. But, the sales agent said, this was the model; there were other identical homes in the development that weren't taken. Mom saw this as an opportunity to prove that she wasn't being stubborn. After taking the tour of the house, she told my father that she liked it, and would be interested if this house, and only this house, was available. The builder, Mr. Lombardi, happened to be working in the yard that day, and my father went to speak to him. From the window in the kitchen, my mother smiled with approval at my father and then at Mr. Lombardi, all the time confident that the house was already sold.
In the yard, Mr. Lombardi told my father that the doctor had yet to come up with a binder for the home, and that if he really wanted it, it was his. In near despair, my mother watched as my father and Mr. Lombardi shook hands on the deal.
A little over three months later, on a blistering July day, the Seven Santini Brothers moving truck pulled in front of 2300 Sedgwick. As we drove over the George Washington Bridge, my mother cried; leaving the Bronx was a hurt she would never really get over. Yet, when the whole family walked (and carried me) into our new home, the first order of business was to hold hands and jump up and down listening to the beautiful silence of no one knocking back.
It was almost as if developers like Lombardi had civil servants in mind when they built their houses. They were ugly, cheap, and all looked the same. Asbestos-shingled Cape Cods and split-levels, carbon-copied twelve and fifteen at a clip, each with its own weedy and stony half-acre, sold on the average for $15,000. With as little as $500 down, and mortgages of thirty years obtained with the G.I. Bill (most of the buyers were World War II or Korea veterans), lifelong city apartment dwellers could be home owners. No more paying rent. No more trying to find the building super to fix the toilet. No more city buses blowing their horns below your bedroom window. With the completion in 1955 of the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River, and the extension of the New York State Thruway, cutting the commute from Rockland County to New York City to less than half an hour, people could keep their civil service jobs and still live like country lords. It was a carrot hung from blue-collar heaven, and the houses sold like sheet sets at a white sale. Between 1950 and 1960 over 50,000 people moved to Rockland County.
In my memories from our early days in Pearl River, my father is standing somewhere in the background. Freshman lanky, but with a prodigious beer belly that made him look like a kid smuggling a basketball out of a gymnasium. He would pat it often and say: "Cost me plenty." His hair was coal black, thick and swept back. His face was long and his nose was just a size or two too wide for it. Most of the time his expression was dour, the corners of his mouth turned down. But when he did laugh it resonated with a deep baritone, and his stomach would shake.
The reason my father isn't in the forefront of my memories is simply because he wasn't around all that much. It wasn't that he spent all his off time in the bars, like some cops did. No, it was his job that kept him away. Often, the phone would ring at dinnertime or afterward and I'd listen to his all-business detective-boss voice. When he hung up the phone he would go to his closet, strap his gun back onto his belt, put on his suit jacket, and after a short muffled explanation to my mother, head out the door. Once in a while, I would answer the phone when one of those calls came for him. The gravelly voices on the other end would sometimes say: "Could I speak to your daddy?" Sometimes, disregarding my age, they would just ask for Lieutenant McDonald.
But even when my father was there, at home, he erected a wall between himself and his family. Each evening I'd watch for him to pull into the driveway. I didn't run to him and jump in his arms the way some kids did when their fathers came home from work, the way you'd see on television shows like Father Knows Best. Instead, I'd peer out of my bedroom window, or from the side lawn, where I played whiffleball, sometimes just by myself, pretending I was Ed Kranepool launching homers into the big pine tree on the corner of our property. My father's long legs would fold from the car and he would stand on the driveway for a moment and stretch his back. He wore tortoise-shell sunglasses, the kind you see in photographs of John F. Kennedy on his sailboat off Hyannisport. He would rub the back of his neck before climbing the brick steps to the house. Inside, he would fix himself a scotch and sit silently in his chair in the living room.
When I did hear him talk about his work, the words bubbled up uncontrolled, like gas from a corned-beef-sandwich lunch. From these utterances I knew his precinct was a "jungle," and that it was filled with "Mau-Maus." I knew that the word "junkies" was always preceded with the imprecation "goddamned." I knew, too, that he was "in the chorus," the euphemism he used for the police department, although this was at first confusing. "Why do policemen sing?" I asked my mother.
I somehow knew his job was important. But I came to this conclusion not because of anything he said, but because of what he wore. Meticulously hung in the vestibule closet, over his neatly positioned size eleven "David" wing-tip shoes (two pair, one black, one brown; stretched with shoe trees, polished regularly, and resoled and reheeled once a year), his suits had "weights" for summer and winter. Some of them came with two pairs of pants.
But it was his expression rather than his clothing or few words that told the full story. With each year, his face became more stoic until it looked as though it had been chipped from pale rock. The details of what went on each day and night at his job aside, the result of that struggleeven to a six-year-oldwas obvious. The cops were losing.
Pearl River prior to the suburban explosion of the 1950s might well have been a country town in any number of places in rural New England. It was heavily wooded with birch, pine, and elm, dotted with cattail-filled marshes and undulating hills. There were orchardsapple and peachand fields of corn, cabbage, and tomatoes naturally irrigated by tumbling streams. Even after we moved into the house on the corner of Blauvelt Road and McKinley Street, I can remember deer and red foxes scampering through the backyard, and, of course, raccoons who welcomed suburbia and the garbage that came with it with open paws. One of the favorite pastimes my friends and I had was to search for arrowheads in the woods of a section of the town called Naurashaun, which, three hundred years before, had been inhabited by the Lenni-Lenape Indians. Though we found plenty of rocks, we unearthed no trace of the tribe.
Throughout southern Rockland there were pre-Revolutionary War homes, and graveyards with crumbling and tilted tombstones, that dated back to the 1700s. George Washington's Continental Army had once made camp in Orangeburg, a town bordering Pearl River to the east. In 1781, Washington celebrated his victory over Cornwallis at Yorktown in Mabie's Tavern in the neighboring town of Tappan, not far from where, in a farmhouse owned by a family named Bogart, General Lafayette had once set up headquarters. Major Andre, the British spy, was tried and convicted of treason in a tavern in Tappan, now a restaurant called the 1776 House.
In 1890, an industrialist named Braunsdorf purchased a parcel of southern Rockland named Muddy Creek, after a lazy brook that wound through the area. He built a sewing-machine factory and then enticed the New York and New Jersey Rail Road, a subsidiary of the Erie line, to build a line of tracks nearby by erecting a train station, which still stands in the middle of what is now Pearl River. Early lore has it that railroad workers or local residents (or both) found pearls in freshwater oysters embedded in Muddy Creek. But more likely, Braunsdorf changed the name of the community to Pearl River as an early public relations move, to entice business and settlers to the growing community. Braunsdorf was a visionary. He built stores and the first post office in Rockland County. He was also an inventor. If it weren't for Thomas A. Edison's idea some years later, Braunsdorf's electric arc light might have made him a household name.
In the fall of 1942, the Army Corps of Engineers, along with several local contractors, built a troop staging camp on farmland in Orangeburg. With its proximity to the Hudson River, and thereby to New York Harbor, Camp Shanks became one of the two largest GI embarkation facilities in the country (the other was a sister camp, Camp Kilmer, at New Brunswick, New Jersey). Through the barracks of Camp Shanks, 1.3 million U.S. soldiers passed on their way to Europe to fight the war. Thousands more were processed through the camp on their way home; most of these were frontline soldiers.
In the years after the war, stories in the Journal-News, the local paper, told about G.I.s from around the country who first saw Rockland County during their time at Camp Shanks, liked it, and returned to settle there. The camp was also used as a processing facility for German and Italian prisoners, both those on their way to internment in POW camps in the United States and those being repatriated back to their homelands. There was even a story in the paper of a German POW who first saw the lush, rolling hills of the county through the barred windows of Camp Shanks and returned to Rockland after the war, where he made his living as a Volkswagen mechanic.
One of the American soldiers who passed through Camp Shanks on his way to Europe but did not return was army lieutenant Vincent Skelly, my uncle. He was killed in action in Saint-Lô, France, a few weeks after the Normandy invasion.
In 1956, the 1,300 acres that made up Camp Shanks was sold to housing developers, and the land became part of the suburban explosion.
The multitudes of city cops who eventually moved to Pearl River actually began with just a small group of apostles. In 1955, there were only about a dozen city cops living in the area. Some of the earliest, along with my family, were Edward "Tink" Bentley and his brothers, Walter and Andrew, who were radio car partners on the West Side of Manhattan; Frank Eckart, also a cop on the West Side, who moonlighted as a lifeguard at Nanuet Lake, the swimming club to which we belonged; and Ed McElligott and Ray Sheridan, detective partners in the 48th Precinct in the Bronx, who bought homes right next to each other in Pearl River. The reason cops were such a small percentage of this initial migration was simple. For them, it was illegal to live in Rockland County.
Back in the Depression, the longtime Bronx borough president, James J. Lyons, had championed a law requiring municipal city workers, such as cops and firemen, to live within the five boroughs of New York City. His rallying cry was "Local jobs for local boys." Although exemptions to the law were passed in the late 1950sand by then, for the most part, police brass tended to ignore the regulation (probably because more and more of the upper echelon of the NYPD was moving out of the city, too)the Lyons Law was still very much in effect when my family moved to Pearl River. My father, like the other early cop settlers, had to "maintain a residence" in New York City. On tax forms and other official papers, he used the address of my mother's sister Ruth, who lived in Parkchester.
For my father, the move to Pearl River was something of a gamble and very uncharacteristic. He was a stickler about adhering to the rules of the police department. Once, as a patrolman, during the first days of World War II, he and a small squad of other rookie cops were assigned to guard the reservoir in Central Park as rumors swirled that the Japanese were planning to poison the city water supply. It was a late December night, and the temperature dove to near zero. There was a windowless pump station near the reservoir that was heated, but he refused to even warm himself for a minute, because his explicit orders were not to leave his post. He might have frozen to death had it not been for a grizzled old patrol sergeant who pulled him off the post and drove him back to the station house to thaw out. One of my father's favorite expressions was "play by the book," and he did, throughout his police career. Apparently, however, his desire to get out of the Bronx was so strong, he was willing to do so at the risk of his careerone that was filled with promise. In 1955, as a detective-lieutenant squad commander, my father had arguably the highest profileand undoubtedly the highest rankof all the city cops in Rockland. For the first few years we lived in Pearl River, he rarely drove his own car to work. Fearing being spotted by either a boss or a shoofly (an Internal Affairs investigator), my father took a lift with a Con Edison worker who lived in town and worked near his precinct in the Bronx. Perhaps there is no one better at hiding from investigators than cops, and my father was no exception. When a case made him miss his lift home, he would borrow a car from a used-car dealer near the station house. We never knew what kind of broken-down heap would pull in to the driveway. It could be an old round DeSoto or big-finned Chrysler. But he wasn't only fearful of shooflies and bosses. He was also worried about the native neighbors, who didn't exactly roll up the welcome wagon to the homes of any of the new arrivals from New York City. Though some native Rocklanders, especially the businessmen and merchants, were happy with the encroachment of suburbia, some saw it with the enthusiasm of a Parisian watching the Germans march through the Arc de Triomphe.
By the late 1950s, though it was still illegal for them to live in Rockland (exemptions in the Lyons Law allowed for cops and other city workers to live in counties that, like Westchester and Nassau, were contiguous with the city limits), the number of New York policemen in the county increased dramatically. Because of the clandestine nature of the situation, official records of how many city cops actually lived in Rockland were not kept. But to offer some insight, three of the twelve homes in the development where we lived were owned by city cops. Given the fact that there were hundreds of new housing developments throughout lower Rockland at the rime, and although the ratio of cops to non-cops varied throughout, at the very least the original twelve had grown by twelvefold.
As each day the shadow of New York City crept closer to their bucolic way of life, the suburbanites feared that lurking in that darkness were all of the city's ills. Sometimes these suspicions boiled over into pure resentment. The people who lived across the street from us wouldn't let their children play with my older brothers, because Frankie and Eugene were "city kids." But nowhere was this animosity more in evidence than in the relationship between the local police and the city cops.
As it had been from its earliest existence, the New York City Police Department of the late 1950s was the most insular of societies. In a paramilitary organization, with overwhelmingly homogeneous ethnicity and culture (read: Irish, Catholic) the danger of the job and a common enemy (criminals) encouraged a locker room-like camaraderie. For the city cops living in Rockland County at this time, this brotherhood was intensified even further by their secretive living situation. They car-pooled and socialized together. They joined fraternal organizations like the Knights of Columbus. Their familiesour familieswent on vacations together to the Police Camp in the Catskills. For city cops, there was no good reason to venture outside their circle. In their minds, the outside world was a place they had little in common with, a place that did not operate under the same rules and codes. In those years, Rockland County was the outside world.
Before the Palisades Interstate Parkway was completed in 1958, offering an exit to Pearl River and Orangeburg, city cops would drive home from work on the winding two-lane country road Route 9W. Just off 9W in Tappan stood two taverns, Sullivan's and the Orangeburg Hotel. It was here that the two cop cultures first collided.
Perhaps, on the part of the Orangetown cops, there was a feeling of being outgunneda pure machismo type of thing. By 1957, 1958, the twenty-four-man force of the Orangetown Police Department was outnumbered five to one by the big-city counterparts living in their jurisdiction. After day shifts and midnight tours, Sullivan's and the Orangeburg Hotel would be thick with the cigar smoke of city cops sitting shoulder to shoulder at the bar. As at Rick's Café Américain in Casablanca, nothing infuriates the locals more than when the saloons fall to the occupying army. What irritated the Orangetown cops even further was the use of the local ball fields.
For years before city cops came to the county, the high school field in the middle of Pearl River had been a favorite spot for Orangetown police and other native Rocklanders to play softball. The city cops practically took over the field. They had enough players for two teams to play against each other, with a third full team waiting to play the winners. It was after losing the softball fields that the Orangetown police had a meeting at which they decided not to extend any professional courtesy to the city cops. During this time, my father was pulled over for a broken taillight on one of the junk heaps he had borrowed from the used-car dealer. When he told the Orangetown cop he was a lieutenant on "the Job" in the city, the local officer was unimpressed. Though my father wasn't issued a ticket, the local cop gave him a stern warning (what any other citizen would be allowed), and promised the next time he saw him, he would write him up. Other city cops weren't as lucky. Their cars parked near the ball field routinely received tickets for the most inconsequential of offenses. Some were pulled over for minor traffic violations and given summonses. Certainly, in looking back, these indiscretions on the part of city copsmatters of softball fields and barsseem trivial. But, perhaps, for the Orangetown cops, ball fields and bars represented resentments that ran much deeper.
City cops were better paid; the detectives wore better suits, and they worked in a job that was world renowned. In 1960, the pay for Orangetown cops was less than $5,000 yearly, far less than the city cops made, and that salary came without medical benefits or a pension. All of the Orangetown cops had to work second jobs. For them, the New York City cops were not only an occupying army, but their guaranteed twenty-year pension plans meant they were going to be in Rockland County forever. What's more, Orangetown cops were often the target of ridicule by the city cops. Then, there was essentially no crime in Rockland County, save the occasional drunk driver and teenage prankster. City cops joked that their country cousins shot a squirrel once in a while just to make sure their guns worked. But the rift between the two police departments didn't last forever. And, ironically, it was a scandal involving an ex-New York cop that marked the end of the division.
On Thursday, March 26, 1959, with hatchets and sledgehammers in hand, a task force of twenty-one law enforcement agents, including members of the New York State Police and the State Crime Commission, and agents from the Rockland County district attorney's office, broke through the front door of the Comfort Coal building in Piermont, executing a midnight gambling raid. What had tipped off the local authorities was the preponderance of "gangster cars," black Lincolns and Cadillacs, parked throughout the sleepy hamlet on specific nights of the week. Piermont, just a few miles from Pearl River, was like the town time forgot. So unusual was its Depression-era look, Woody Allen would years later use it as the backdrop in his period piece The Purple Rose of Cairo. In 1959, a black Lincoln parked anywhere in Piermont went about as unnoticed as a farm tractor pulling into an IRT subway station.
Once inside the building, the agents arrested forty men and confiscated some $6,000. Orangetown cops who had staked out the building for some weeks prior said that the gambling operation's weekend take reached $50,000 and more. The night of the raid, most of the gamblers were found sitting around plywood tables playing three-card monte and gin rummy. Though the accommodations were rustic, they were also quite genteel. On a plywood buffet table sat platters of fried chicken and sliced watermelon, and bottles of anisette. Most of those arrested had New York City addresses. The raid was conducted without notice to the local police chief, John J. Smith.
Smitty, as he was known, had been the police chief of Piermont for less than two months. Before his short tenure as chief, he was a New York City plainclothes policeman assigned to the 10th Division vice squad in Harlem. In April 1958, less than a year before the Piermont raid, the Tenth Division had been disbanded for ties with "KGs," police parlance for known gamblers. Smitty and others from his unit were packed off to the Bronx Park Precinctin exile, to be sure. In August of that year, after Piermont residents had voted to form their own police department (they had been under the jurisdiction of the Orangetown police), the Piermont Village Board began conducting a search for a police chief. The job paid $5,500 a year and came with the responsibility of heading a force of four officers.
Just how Smitty became a candidate for the position I'm not sure. I do know, however, that his subsequent appointment was fought by the Rockland County Police Benevolent Association. They contended that Smitty, still a member of the New York City police department while he was under consideration for the Piermont job, was required to live in New York City, and so couldn't possibly have fulfilled the Piermont job's requirement of six months' Rockland County residency. Still, in January 1959, the state civil service commission approved Smitty's appointment, over the PBA's objections.
The night of the raid, Smitty resigned his post, but that bit of theatrics didn't solve his problems. Three months later, he was indicted by a Rockland County grand jury on gambling charges. At first, Smitty contended that he was not involved in any way with the gambling operation. But as time went by, and information was gatheredmainly from the gamblers themselvesit became known that Smitty was not only aware of the game, but was involved in its operation.
What frightened the local residents, fueled the investigation, and ultimately put Smitty in an untenable situation was not the size of the game, but the players involved. One of the men arrested that night was Michael "Big Mike" Pinetti, from East Harlem, Smitty's old beat. Pinetti was a real-life Nathan Detroit. He ran crap games and other gambling enterprises all over Manhattan. He also had close ties with Willie Moretti, a high-ranking member in what was then the Luciano crime family. For native Rocklanders, Pinetti was their worst fears made real, and in Smitty they saw the personification of the slick big-city cop who thought they were all rubes. Because of this, Smitty took the worst of the punishments handed down by the grand jury. While Pinetti was sentenced to two months in jail, the ex-chief was given one year. His crime was officially "neglect of public duty." But for most city cops, including my father, Smitty's crime was much more grievous: he had stained the reputation of all the cops who lived in Rockland, and, for that matter, of every good cop in the entire department. In my father's view, there was only one thing worse than a bad cop: a bad cop who made good cops look bad. But besides besmirching good reputations, Smitty's actions also drew a spotlight on the city cops living surreptitiously in Rockland County. Though none of the city cops had to leave their homes and move back to the Bronx, the last thing they wanted was publicity, which is exactly what the Piermont raid brought. For two solid months, Smitty was the headline in the local Journal News. He even made, the day after the raid, page one of The New York Times.
Still, in some ways, Smitty's transgression helped heal the break between the Orangetown and New York City cops. For one thing, it took the wind out of the more blustery city cops. It turned out the Orangetown police didn't only shoot squirrels. They were trying to do their job and weren't as naive as their big-city counterparts thought them to be. And, on the part of the Orangetown cops, even for the most hostile of them, a year's jail sentence gained Smitty a certain amount of sympathy. Orangetown cops knew he was a father with a house full of children. They also knew that jail time, for a cop of any stripe, was an unthinkable punishment.
But perhaps what gained Smitty the most sympathyin time, even from the city copswas that it was just hard not to like him. In the years that followed the raid, Smitty's personality overshadowed his crime. He later became a bartender, working in a number of taverns in Pearl River. Smitty had the perfect temperament for behind the bar, gregarious and fast with a funny line. As each generation of Pearl River teenagers reached drinking agemany (myself included) New York City cops' childrenSmitty kept watch over them like a defrocked priest in a Jimmy Cagney movie. So, too, did Orangetown cops flock to the other side of the bar from Smitty. There they confided to him that card and crap games had in fact existed in Piermont for years before he arrived, albeit in a more localized form, in the back of the barbershop and the grocery store.
But there was another reason why the rift between the two departments disappeared. As the number of city cops in Rockland County increased, they moved to houses across the street and down the block from Orangetown cops. When they became neighbors, a familiarity grew between the two police departments. They had plenty in commonthe struggles of home ownership and putting children through school. Not too long after the Piermont raid, a popular New York policeman named Gately was killed on the way home from work when his car crashed on the Tappan Zee Bridge. His funeral was held at St. Margaret's in Pearl River, and the church overflowed with New York City cops. On the steps of the church stood a color guard sent by the Orangetown Police Department. If there was any animosity left on either side, it was dispelled that day.
Table of Contents
|Camelot (Pearl River)||9|
|Tammany (Thomas Skelly)||43|
|The Squad Commander (Frank McDonald, Sr.)||79|
|Detective Brother (Frankie McDonald)||167|
What People are Saying About This
My Father's Gun is a wonderful, wonderful book. It is a unique look at an Irish family's hundred years with the police department. It is unflinching, joyous, sad, angry-and full of love. -- (Peter Maas, author of Underboss and Serpico)
My Father's Gun is a must read for every cop family. As a writer I applaud Brian McDonald's fascinating and beautifully written tapestry of experience and history. As a 20 year NYPD vet I welcome this incredibly heart-felt and intelligent peek behind the blue curtain. It turns the white-hot light on the inner lives of cops: from back alleys, to precinct back rooms, to their own bedrooms and the people they love and hurt the most. -- (Ed Dee, author of 14 Peck Slip and Nightbird)
An absorbing, extraordinarily well-written, moving, exciting and sometimes funny history of generations of New York City policemen. It allows us to see cops in a new light, one that helps us to understand and admire them. -- (Stuart Woods, author of Orchid Beach and Worst Fears Realized)
With My Father's Gun, Brian Mcdonald has written a cop book unlike any other, one that explores police life on the home-front as well as the front lines. As Brian McDonald traverses three generations of his own family's history in the New York Police Department, he gives readers an unprecedented and indelible portrait of pride and heartache, volcanic rage and pensive solitude-the whole range of human emotion that is usually hidden by the "thin blue line. My Father's Gun is as compulsively readable as the best crime books, but it plunges immeasurably deeper than they do into the soul. -- (Samuel G. Freedman, author of The Inheritance and Small Victories)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is a nice true crime read, of life in a NYPD family. McDonald not being an officer himself gives this story an observational feeling, which humanizes the characters. It's a good book to sit down and read on a rainy weekend.
I read the book, then watched the documentary. Then I read the book again. A real Irish, New York history lesson. A+
I wish I could give this book ten stars. One of the best cop/Irish/American/New Yorker books I have ever read. I missed a nights sleep reading this book. The documentary was just as good.
The picture on the cover caught my attention. It spoke so eloquently that I just had to have the book. I am not particularly interested in cop stories but I felt this book promised something about people and families and not just cops. I was not disappointed. In the telling of family stories of each of the three generations, the author has brought his ancestors to life. He enables us share their pain and their joys, because we KNOW them. And it shows that police work is not all like what we see on TV - which we all know - but here in this book we can understand it. I walked around all weekend with this book in my hand. It is a very good read, one I shall not forget.
Brian McDonald has written a book which almost makes the reader feel as though they are sitting in a coffee shop listening to a friend reminisce about his youth and the stories passed down by his ancestors. History about the NYPD, as background to the events which affected his family is intertwined in such easy telling style that one almost doesn't realize the educational aspects of the book. At times there are some 'Spillane-esc' cliches, but these are few and go practically unnoticed after the first 10 pages. A definite recommend, especially to those who will enjoy learning about New York City, the people who protect it and their families.