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Stone Grease
August 10, 2008 7:00 AM   Subscribe

The history of Chicago's greaser gangs of the 1960s and 70s is an interesting one. Greaser gangs were street gangs made up of young white men who emulated the style of 1950s Fonzie-esque greasers, and existed in opposition to the perceived threat of Latinos and other minorities who were moving into their formerly Irish/Italian/Greek/etc. neighborhoods. Gangs such as the Simon City Royals and the Almighty Gaylords (previously) fought amongst themselves and against Latino gangs such as the Latin Kings and the Vice Lords throughout the late 60s and 70s, even employing racist/extremist logos and imagery to intimidate their enemies. Racial divides became less important with the advent of the drug trade, as formerly bitter enemies untied under the People and Folk nations and graduated from comparatively innocent Outsiders-style street battling to violent warfare. Read all about this real-life version of The Warriors directly from the people who lived it.
posted by DecemberBoy (35 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great post! As far as I know, though, with a few exceptions, the Vice Lords' sets have always been mostly black, not Latin.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:14 AM on August 10, 2008


I bet the "Almighty Gaylords" never had to look far for a reason to get into a fight. The name reminds me of the graffiti tag nearby here that just says "FEMS."
posted by Countess Elena at 7:15 AM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


The name reminds me of the graffiti tag nearby here that just says "FEMS."

Their name doesn't sound very intimidating now (at least if you buy into the stereotype of "homosexual = effete/weak", I've met a few gay men who were into weightlifting and such and could effortlessly take me apart), but according to their site, the name goes back to a time before the modern meaning of "gay", i.e. "gay lords" = "happy lords".
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:21 AM on August 10, 2008


This happened in New York, too. Richard Price wrote about some of these gangs in his debut novel The Wanderers. Some surprising people were supposedly in these outfits. According to wikipedia, Blackie Lawless of WASP and Ace Frehley of Kiss were members of The Duckies and Jerry Nolan and Johnny Thunders were members of the Ellery Bops.
posted by jonmc at 7:23 AM on August 10, 2008


"I'm a rock, I'm a stone, I'm a Gaylord to the bone."

That's fucking brilliant! Good post, DecemberBoy.
posted by sveskemus at 7:25 AM on August 10, 2008


although, the ones in NYC were more in the late '50's to the late '60's. After that, white gangs became more oriented around biker culture.
posted by jonmc at 7:26 AM on August 10, 2008


against Latino gangs such as the Latin Kings and the Vice Lords

Er... pretty sure that the Vice Lords were black, not Latino.

Vice Lords, Warriors of the Streets by Lincoln Keiser is a great ethnography of the group.
posted by wfrgms at 7:33 AM on August 10, 2008


Fascinating and well put together post DecemberBoy. The Greaser Demographics on your first link are so interesting.
posted by nickyskye at 7:36 AM on August 10, 2008


the Vice Lords' sets have always been mostly black, not Latin.
Er... pretty sure that the Vice Lords were black, not Latino.

Yeah, that should probably read "Latino and black gangs", although the rivalries seem to have mostly been white vs. Latino. The Gangster Disciples are another rival black gang mentioned.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:41 AM on August 10, 2008


The Gangster Disciples are another rival black gang mentioned.

The Gangster Disciples notably ran a candidate for alderman in the third ward against Dorothy Tillman in 1995, forcing a runoff.
posted by enn at 7:57 AM on August 10, 2008


Awesome post.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:02 AM on August 10, 2008


Found via the Gaylord's site: UIC research on Chicago gangs, apparently a subsite of gangresearch.net.
posted by the_bone at 8:02 AM on August 10, 2008


Very cool, thank you!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:06 AM on August 10, 2008


STAY GOLD, PONYBOY!
posted by spicynuts at 8:08 AM on August 10, 2008


The Gangster Disciples notably ran a candidate for alderman in the third ward against Dorothy Tillman in 1995, forcing a runoff.

Yeah, but that's nothing. In the 60s the VLs had Government and Rockefeller foundation funding. Links 1, 2, 3, 4.

This is something of a derail, but this thread is still going much better than the Gaylords thread linked above.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:12 AM on August 10, 2008


My favorite weird gang name is the El Rukns, who once tried to buy weapons from the government of Libya in exchange for committing terrorist acts on U.S. soil. Later, a news story surfaced that some members of the El Rukns were given the right to smoke marijuana and have conjugal visits with their girlfriends in exchange for testimony about fellow gang members. The inevitable headline: Sex, Drugs, and Rukn Role.
posted by jonp72 at 8:13 AM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Gaylords are still somewhat active, it seems, and still feeling a little stabby. They're obsessive self-googlers, too. Several of them sent threatening replies to a blog post I made a few years ago wherein I announced my plans to go to a nursing home and roll one of them for their sweet pink gang sweater.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 8:25 AM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Boy was I surprised when I saw that jonp72 linked to Rick Ross dot com.

Also, History channel totally mentioned the Lybia-Rukns thing on Gangland one time.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:26 AM on August 10, 2008


Been checking the Stone Greasers site out. It's very readable.

My first thought when I saw the photograph of the Gaylords was how young they looked, just kids.

Then I remembered going out with a 15 year old kid when I was 13, Kenny, who lived in Stuyvesant Town on Manhattan's East Side. His mother was Irish, his father Jewish and a cop, His mother had a large cross above her bed. Kenny proudly called himself a greaser and hung out with other boys/girls who did the same and used to enjoy rumbles. They were violent, used to enjoy breaking windows, beating people up and get a rush being part of an angry mob. His favorite expression was, "What a goof." Blimpie on 14th Street was their hangout. In 1967 this seemed such a throwback to the 50's. I was embarrassed Kenny identified with being a greaser and mystified that he would want to rumble in those intensely hippie days. He ended up in Hawthorne, then in prison, don't think he survived his drug addiction.

In the Capone Lords of Chicago, there's an Al Pacino printed on the card and I wondered if it was the actor. It's not but reading Pacino's bio it seems he grew up in Italian Harlem (didn't know there was such a thing until I read the Stone Greasers site).
posted by nickyskye at 9:20 AM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


it seems he grew up in Italian Harlem (didn't know there was such a thing until I read the Stone Greasers site).

My Uncle Len grew up there. Born on Pleasant Avenue. He said that when he was a kid, he used to go buy a coke and sit on the rock by the river and watch the Triborough Bridge get built.
posted by jonmc at 9:49 AM on August 10, 2008


Strange coincidence - I spent the morning at a toddler playground one block away from one of the Gaylords's corners (which I crossed twice getting there and back). Great post, totally puts my morning in a different light.
posted by true at 10:06 AM on August 10, 2008


This post implies that the greasers were adopting the style of Fonzie in Happy Days. Or throwing back to an earlier style in opposition to the hippies.

As someone who attended school in the Chicago suburbs from 1960 - 71, I can attest that greasers were a cultural phenomenon throughout Chicagoland, and were abundant long before the hippies and Fonzie. In junior high (64-67) the cliques were greasers, jocks, and surfers. It wasn't until high school that they evolved to greasers, jocks, and hippies. The greasers I knew then were not in gangs (and were not Mexican as the term is used in California.) They were found at every local high school.

It wasn't so much that they were throwbacks to the 50s, but that the cultural mindset of the earlier era was still alive. America was more fragmented then. TV's Fonzie was very late in the game.
posted by fellene at 11:39 AM on August 10, 2008


It wasn't so much that they were throwbacks to the 50s, but that the cultural mindset of the earlier era was still alive.

Yeah, that's a good point fellene. As a kid, when anything five years ago seems to belong to another eon, I assumed that the greaser gang movement with its macho testosterone of The Wild One, Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story (which I thought of as greaser classics) was followed neatly by the testosterone-turned-into-sex/sensuality of the Beat Generation, which morphed into the male-and-female-hormones-with-everybody hippie generation. Now I know that greasers, surfers, jocks, Beats and then hippies co-existed, evolved and devolved in an overlapping kind of way.
posted by nickyskye at 12:15 PM on August 10, 2008


Yeah - I was by Kilbourne Park this AM. I was in high school in the early seventies, I used to have one of the Taylor Jouster's cards - might still have it in an old wallet.

I had forgotten much of this, but these affiliations were taken very seriously. The dupers/doopers mentioned were really just an Oak Park, Cicero and Berwyn thing as I remember.
posted by readery at 12:18 PM on August 10, 2008


As someone who attended school in the Chicago suburbs from 1960 - 71, I can attest that greasers were a cultural phenomenon throughout Chicagoland

Thanks for the info, from what I read I assumed they were like the skinhead/mod revivalists in the late 70s in the UK, and were adopting the style of an earlier time. So in fact they were present throughout in an unbroken link back to the original 50s greasers?
posted by DecemberBoy at 2:48 PM on August 10, 2008


This is fun because I just went to Greazefest last weekend. Sadly, there was little to no jitterbugging.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:51 PM on August 10, 2008


The cards on stonegreasers.com - does anyone know how they functioned? Were gangsters giving out business cards? Did only the higher-ups have them? Certainly somebody must be collecting these . . .
posted by with hidden noise at 6:25 PM on August 10, 2008


aw man, I was just thinking about posting this site to MeFi. you snooze, you lose!

One of the Gaylords wrote a somewhat rambling but very interesting autobiography: Lords of Lawndale.
posted by jtron at 7:50 PM on August 10, 2008


My father grew up not far from the corner of Grand and Noble. He's mentioned that he used to play baseball/softball with the Gaylords. He said they all got into one time, nothing like a serious gang fight, kind of like young kids squabbling. They then would go get some sodas and go down to the lake. Interesting stuff to hear about Chicago in the 60's.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:59 PM on August 10, 2008


Good post. I've often wondered about this mythical era of all-white street-gangs, as depicted in movies like The Warriors and the Outsiders. Apparently they were real. I wonder what spelled their demise. It seems there are still lots of lower middle-class and middle-class white youths around, but for whatever reason, they're no longer banding into gangs and beating each other up over cardigans.
posted by decoherence at 6:11 AM on August 11, 2008


decoherence, the greasers referenced here were nothing like Ponyboy or Kenickie or Ajax. I lived and went to high school in Chicago from '77 to '82, and when these guys weren't wearing their colors, they were pretty much invisible. In fact, I really only knew that they were around because of their graffiti, such as the following:

When I die, have no pity
Bury me in Simon City
Place two shotguns cross my chest
And tell the Royals I did my best

To be honest, I mostly stuck around West Rogers Park, with the occasional forays down to Lincoln Square, Uptown, and of course the Loop, so maybe there were some corners where Brylcreemed guys in leather jackets doo-wopped on the street corners. But I doubt it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:11 AM on August 11, 2008


I always wanted to join The Pharoahs.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 9:19 AM on August 11, 2008


Halloween Jack: Did you follow any of the links? Several of them (including the first one) mention The Outsiders, with a few explicitly refer to it as an example of these sorts of gangs in popular culture. One of them says the book was based on greaser culture in Tulsa, with the follow-up novel, Rumble Fish, chronicling the transition from greaser culture to the freaks/hippies/drug culture that occurred sometime in the early 70's. I'm sure there's poetic license involved, but after looking over the photos and content in the links, these gangs seems pretty much exactly the sort that were depicted in the book and movie.

Anyway, my impression is that the sub-culture in general and gangs in particular would've been on their last legs in the late 70's and early 80's. It's not surprising that there wouldn't be Brylcreemed doo-woppers on streetcorners during those years, but 10-15 years earlier, they seem to have had a presence.
posted by decoherence at 10:07 AM on August 11, 2008


What, no mention of a gang from Coney Island?

Warriors...come out to play-ay

posted by djgh at 10:26 AM on August 11, 2008


decoherence: I think that we're cross-talking here. I was just pointing out that, in my experience, the kids who were still being called greasers in the late 70s bore no resemblance to the popular image that most people think of when they hear the term. That's all.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:48 AM on August 13, 2008


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