Frederic M. Thrasher’s 1927 publication of The Gang : A study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago was the book in which I found not only the first punchcard, but also obtained the first images for my first series, 6 Degrees. It was in these pages that I got lost. For what Thrasher describes as Gangland I liken to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the shadow of the city; a place that is, to me, one of great mystery and misery; darkness and light.
“…of railroads and factories, of deteriorating neighbourhoods and shifting populations, which borders the city’s central business district on the north, west, and on the south. The gangs dwell among the shadows of the slum. Yet, dreary and repellent as the external environment must seem to the casual observer, their life is to the initiated at once vivid and fascinating. They live in a world distinctly their own- far removed from the humdrum existence of the average citizen. It is in such regions as the gang inhabits that we find much of the romance and mystery of a great city. Here are comedy and tragedy. Here is melodrama which excels the recurrent “thrillers” at the downtown theaters. Here are unvarnished emotions. Here is also a primitive democracy that cuts through all the conventional and social racial discriminations. The gang, in short, is life, often rough and untamed, yet rich in elemental social processes signifiant to the student of society and human nature.”
Enterprise Nights (Looking Over Sundays)
7″ BY 7″
“The quest for new experience seems to be particularly insistent in the adolescent, who finds in the gang the desired escape from, or compensation for, monotony. The gang actively promotes such highly agreeable activities as rough-house, movement and change, games and gambling, predatory activities, seeing thrillers in the movies, imaginative play, roaming & roving, exploration, and camping. The gang, moreover, stimulates the boy to an even greater craving for excitement. His adolescent interest in that which thrills becomes reinforced by habit; ordinary business and pleasure seems tame and dull in comparison with the adventures of the gang. Habituation to this type of life in adolescence goes a long way toward explaining behaviour in the young-adult gangs and even of the hardened gangster.
When I first moved into the neighbourhood I met two brothers who took me one night with the rest of the gang- about 13 boys, eleven to twenty-two years old. We stayed out till nine, pitching pennies on the corner. They showed me their hang-up in a barn, where there was an electric light, and we began to stay out till two or three in the morning.
We used to bring up pop and candy to eat, and play cards. It was a big room, with furniture and everything. The people had stored an old dining room set, a library table, a kitchen table, and an army bed up there. We had to go up a ladder, through a trap-door. It was lots of fun. It was not really a club, just a hang-out.
On a corner we would pitch pennies and then it got to be quarters. I wanted to learn to play Stud-poker, but no one would teach me. Oftentimes we shot dice for pocket-trash. Sometimes when we were hollering and playing games, the flying-squad would chase us away. The horse-cop would run us like anything, but we were too fast for him. Then he’d throw his club and we’d throw it back again at his horse’s feet to make him prance. We’d call him “Old Mickey Cop.”
Gold Dust; Infamy
7″ BY 10″
“The best time for the romantic exploits of the gang is at night. The night hath a thousand eyes, and they are all winking their invitations to boys to come out and play. Danger and adventure lurk in every dark corner. Opportunity for daring is increased a hundred fold. Under the mantle of darkness the gang can do its mischief and make its escape.”
I was born and raised in Vancouver and in the span of two plus decades I’ve seen it change, extensively. Yet, the old ways of the city are not completely bygone. Still remaining are derelict brick buildings, desolate railyards, and leaning back alleyways. I walk downtown and feel it- something like nostalgia. The same nostalgia is evoked in pages of The Gang. I hope only to never lose it, this obscure feeling of familiarity for a time that wasn’t mine. It; nostalgia.