Crime, Teen Gangs Roused Concern In Sept. ‘59
Get into a conversation with a long-time Queens resident and you're likely to discover a subscriber of the Long Island Star-Journal , a daily paper that informed the community about local and world news until it folded in 1968. A banner across the Star-Journal masthead reminded readers that the newspaper's name came from the merger of the Long Island Daily Star (1876) and the North Shore Daily Journal--The Flushing Journal (1841).
Attorney General William P. Rogers and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover announced a 9.3 percent increase in crime in the United States in 1958 over 1957. A murder occurred every 64.2 minutes and a criminal attack every 36.1 minutes. Youths under 18 represented only 12.1 percent of arrests. They accounted, however, for 64.1 percent of auto theft arrests, 49.9 percent of burglary arrests, with 48.5 percent of those for larceny. New York City Police Commissioner Stephan P. Kennedy also reported that teen murders were up 30 percent over 1958.
September in Queens began with news that police had thwarted a re-engagement in a war of gangs from Jamaica and Hollis. One innocent 14-year-old bystander was shot in the chest. Twelve boys, some under 15, were arrested, and an arsenal of knives, broomsticks, chains and metal whips was seized. The boys were released into their parents’ custody and were to appear in court in Jamaica.
Police in several precincts had been observed chasing youngsters from street corners in the early evening. A sergeant in one precinct was assaulted when he stopped to question a group of men loitering on a corner. More than 60 additional policemen were patrolling Queens streets during the late evening and early morning hours as part of the police department’s latest drive on teenage violence.
It was estimated that there were more than 100 gangs in the city with a combined membership in the thousands. The overall juvenile delinquent problem had grown to such proportions that the Senate Juvenile Delinquency Committee began hearings in Congress to study the nationwide problem of “teenage terrorists.” Mayor Robert Wagner vowed to put 1,080 more policemen on the streets. Governor Nelson Rockefeller announced that the state would move immediately to curb the problem by setting up work camps for potential hoodlums.
Five hundred transit policemen stood ready to fight the rising teen violence on their own time and without pay, and the Queens Chapter of the Reserve Officers Association proposed forming an auxiliary force of war veterans who had served in occupied areas abroad to patrol city streets and amusement areas to ensure enforcement of a proposed 9 p.m. curfew for teenagers.
On September 17, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev visited New York, after having met with President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington. It was estimated that 40,000 people lined the streets for his trip from Pennsylvania Station to the Waldorf-Astoria. The crowd remained mostly silent except for scattered handclapping, an occasional cheer and an occasional boo. The Russian leader had forecast Communist domination of the world. He was to unveil a new disarmament proposal in a speech at the United Nations the following day.
The Vanguard rocket retired on an upbeat note by successfully launching a 100-pound satellite, Vanguard III, into Earth orbit. The rocket had succeeded in only three of 11 launch attempts.
At Edwards Air Force Base in California, the X-15 rocket ship passed its first powered flight test with flying colors. Its next major step would be taking a man 100 miles up to the fringes of space at speeds of more than 4,000 miles an hour. Although the X-15 test pilots were the first Americans in space, they had to wait until 2005, more than four decades later, to be awarded their astronaut wings from NASA.
Park Commissioner Robert Moses warned that the proposed 1964 New York World’s Fair would not be ready on time unless Congress acted swiftly to authorize President Eisenhower to invite other countries to participate. At a luncheon, Moses declared that the fair plans called for a $10,500,000 program to develop 35 acres, some of which were wasteland, the Kissena Corridor Park, and a $35,000,000 extension of the Van Wyck Expressway which was to link it with the Whitestone Parkway. His proposals featured other major road improvements in Queens and the construction of a third Major League stadium on the Willets Point parking field.
But New York had not been approved as the site of the fair yet, and Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas had proposed appointing a committee to look at other sites before giving New York the nod. On September 24, Governor Rockefeller and Mayor Wagner called on President Eisenhower to submit an application to the Bureau of International Expositions in Paris asking that the body consider Flushing Meadows as the site of the fair. Eisenhower was not asked to exclude other cities from the application, as groups in Washington and Los Angeles had been pushing their cities. The bureau was to meet in November to select the fair site.
Calypso , the 141-foot-long research vessel captained by famed French underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau, docked in College Point. Costeau had spent nine years scouring the ocean depths. At the College Point pier of the Flushing Yacht Club, Captain Cousteau unveiled the ship’s new jet-propelled underwater diving saucer, which could dive to 3,000 feet under its own power independent of the mother ship.
On the evening of September 25, notorious gangster Anthony (Little Augie Pisano) Carfano, 62, once number two man in the nation’s underworld and right hand man to Al Capone, and his companion, Mrs. Janice Drake, 32, the beautiful blonde wife of Forest Hills comedian Allen Drake, were shot to death in a car on a street in Jackson Heights. The killers, who may have been hiding in the back seat of the car, pumped several slugs into the back of the victims’ heads. Authorities surmised that Mrs. Drake was killed simply to silence her about the incident. Queens District Attorney Frank O’Connor probed the possibility that “Little Augie” was rubbed out to prevent his testimony before the Senate Rackets Investigating Committee.
Playing at the movies were “Return of the Fly,” starring Vincent Price; “South Pacific,” starring Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi; “The Horse Soldiers,” starring John Wayne and William Holden, and “Some Like It Hot,” starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.
That’s the way it was in September 1959!
For more information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-728-0700 or visit www.astorialic.org.