Rumbles on E. 49th: 1950s fighting rules in Goodrich-Kirtland Park

Rascals and Rogues column writer Ralph Horner continues his chronicles growing up in the neighborhoods around East 55th Street and Superior Avenue during the 1950s in his newest series, Rumbles on E. 49th.

Growing up on East 49th Street in the 1950s,“the old neighborhood, could be rough for a kid. In fact, according to a report on juvenile delinquency in the Jan. 8, 1955 Saturday Evening Post, crime and disorder committed by teenagers increased by a 45% between 1950 and 1955. Horner recalls what life on the streets of Goodrich- was like back then.

When you are a kid, it is not really easy to be a bad kid. Oh, some kids are indeed inherently bad, and most kids have a bad spell occasionally.

But in the 1950s, being bad seemed to be a lot easier. Fighting in Cleveland’s old neighborhoods in the 1950s seemed to be as much a part of life as getting out of bed and eating breakfast. The prototypical juvenile delinquent was not an urban myth—It seemed to be the general rule in some of these neighborhoods.

I cannot say whether this phenomenon occurred in the suburbs or not during this period because I had never been in a suburb back then. Suburbs were new, and new was an alien concept to us in that time frame.

The old neighborhoods are firstly called the old neighborhoods because that is where we used to live. But, to me, I look back at them and think of them as old because everything in them was old—old houses, old buildings, old streets, old ideas, old attitudes, old prejudices, old grievances.

I cannot speculate that this had anything to do with the abundance of fighting that occurred because I have no training in the fields of sociology or anthropology. But I think the old attitudes, prejudices, and grievances could have been a part of it. I think most fights occurred over a matter of honor.

One party would say or do something that would impugn another party’s integrity or manhood. It was personal, and the fight was on.

Fighting was also a form of entertainment for the onlookers. Fighting was exciting to watch, and it usually always drew a crowd. The air was electric when two individuals were about to square off on one another.

There was something visceral in watching hand-to-hand combat. It could be enjoyed vicariously—especially for the meek and weak-hearted. An upside was that, after the violence was over, hard feelings were assuaged and peace prevailed once again.

Bad behavior? Simple explanation: It could be fun and the danger of it was exciting. To survive, you had to belong—or at least look like you belonged—to be in that environment.

In this series I will share with you a select number of juvenile delinquency stories. These stories include my witness to and my careful (sort of) participation in this behavior.

1950s Survival Manifesto

Life could be harsh sometimes for young men in the 1950s, but it is possible that it was good in some ways. It did teach young people some beneficial things. Such as:

  • Rules and laws can sometimes be arbitrary and can be open to personal interpretations.
  • It is possible that doing bad things does not really mean you’re bad, they are just exciting adventures.
  • Engaging in bad behavior gave you the ability to sense danger almost immediately.
  • Hanging out in the old neighborhoods taught you negotiating skills that helped save your behind sometimes.
  • If you did happen to get into a fight, (and that was not uncommon), the best offense was to fight as fast and furiously as possible. That tends to demoralize your opponent.
  • Defensive strategy? Forget it. Take your licks and keep on firing away.

Finally, never fight anyone with a reputation.

These guys definitely had a reputation: Ed Zablosky, Bummy Parker, the Bell brothers, Bob Mason, Gypsy Johnny Baba, and Jim Martese. Never get any of these gentlemen mad at you.

Hint: If you see one of the Bell brothers coming your way, duck into a doorway or cross the street. If you see both Bell brothers coming your way, say one Our Father and three Hail Mary’s and try to make yourself invisible.

Ralph Horner
Ralph Horner

About the Author: Ralph Horner

Ralph Horner grew up in the 1950s and 1960s on Whittier Avenue in the Central and Hough neighborhoods. In the 1960s and 1970s, at the age of 19, he managed a French Shriner shoe store on Euclid Avenue, where he got to know many of the people who hung out on Short Vincent.  A self-proclaimed juvenile delinquent living in the inner city, Horner observed the characters who were regulars in the neighborhoods he lived and worked in. Now in his 70s, Horner shares the stories of some of his more memorable experiences on Short Vincent with the FreshWater series, Rascals and Rogues I Have Known.