DISCLAIMER

Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Circle Gang, Part 4


I’ve posted about Sixteen Acres’ Circle Gang before, but never with photos of the actual gang from 1969! In the picture on the top are 20 of the guys and two girls who hung out at The Circle, which consisted of four grass berms and four benches around the old oak tree behind the Sixteen Acres library. They are pictured on one of the berms above and one of the benches below. Needless to say, click on the photos to enlarge them. If you’re viewing them on a smart phone, get thee to a computer. They are priceless!


The “reading area” is long gone, but the tree is still there. Here it is in 1969:


You would be correct in assuming these images, not seen by many, were provided by a former member of the gang. Who snapped the pictures? The photos may or may not have been taken by The Circle author James. A. Coleman.

One thing is for sure. I’m not going to name names. You’ll have to figure the identities out for yourself.


BOY did these guys like their cigarettes.


There may or may not be one of Croteau boys in the above photo. Oops! I promised not to name names! Sorry!


Circle guys flipping the bird? Say it ain’t so. And it looks like the guy on the second from the left is making a “circle” with his fingers. Gang signs in 1969? These guys were ahead of their time.

When in 1969 were these photos taken? A clue is on the left in the top photo. If you look closely, you’ll see that the guy is holding a MAD magazine from October 1969:


Since MAD typically arrived at the newsstands listing the upcoming month back then, I think it’s safe to assume these pics were snapped in September of 1969, since the leaves on the trees were still green. And, anyone who read the book The Circle can tell you, this was after one wild summer.


No, this isn’t a rumble. They’re not stomping some poor fellow. The boys are staging a fake fight for the camera. Or are they? Only The Circle knows.


Whoops! Pardon my foot in your face! And what’s with the black and white saddle shoes, dude? Are you trying to be Archie Andrews or what? Is this Archie and Jughead’s gang?


Actually, according to reliable sources, saddle shoes and letterman jackets were sort of the gang’s signature look for a while, and partly because saddle shoes packed a wallop when used for kicking somebody.


No, these guys, with their drinking, gang fighting, housebreaks, and staging demolition derbies with stolen cars in the “horse field” in the Hillcrest Park Cemetery woods, certainly weren’t angels.


Here are some of them at a mound of their empty cans they called “Bud Hill.”


A photographer for The Springfield Union took a picture of Bud Hill:


The caption writer does a stupendous job explaining the advantages of partying in the woods, huh? Duh!

This one of Bud Hill was probably taken by James Coleman:



Coleman’s 1970 book about the gang created quite a furor in Springfield because he quotes the kids using bad language and its 109 pages portray many parents in a negative light. Some of the gang members’ parents also objected to the negative depiction of the adults, which Coleman seems to want to diffuse in a special letter that he included in complimentary copies of the book he gave to gang members (below).

“Some of the parents will appear much worse in the book they actually are,” he wrote. “To these I say that the book is only a story which is reader interest and should not be taken to seriously. But to those parents who appear in the book to be as bad as they really are I say, ‘If the shoe fits, wear it.’”


Yes, this letter may or may not have been furnished by a former Circle Gang member.

After he published the book, Coleman reportedly received one threat, and one pair of parents wanted to sue for slander, but their lawyer persuaded them that a lawsuit would do them more harm than good.

The father of Jerry and Joe Powell (their names in the book) was angry at Coleman not only for the book, but also because Coleman bailed out the older son after the boy stole a car—his father had refused to go down to the police station to get him.

“If he had been in jail before for car theft, I might have left him there all night too,” Coleman told me years ago. “But he was a 15-year-old kid in jail for the first time. So his father hated me, and his kids hated him.” Coleman said the guy had the bizarre habit of shoveling his driveway without a shirt no matter how cold it was outside, and that he was also shirtless in the house all winter. The father, an avid gun collector, blew his brains out one day, and had no friends at the funeral—all the mourners were friends of his kids.

It has been debated back and forth how accurate book is, and Coleman claimed to me it was “95 percent true.”

A question to those in the know: how true was the book in your opinion? Leave a comment! That includes you, former Circle Gang members. The statute of limitations has run out on your crimes!

Read parts 1, 2, and 3 about this crew in various posts, along with an account of the tragic death of one of its members, Frank Archidiacono. You’ll have to scroll down in the posts to find the paragraphs, but so it’s worth the effort, because everybody likes reading about the Circle Gang, right? And now we have these rare photos. Calling the pictures “the icing on the cake” doesn’t do them justice, because every cake has icing, right? Let’s just call them the girl who jumps out of the cake!

I hope you enjoyed these images. I sure did. It was a relatively innocent time. The numbers—and crimes— of the Circle Gang went on to expand exponentially, and the drug of their choice, alcohol, was soon joined with various other substances. But back then, when these pictures were taken, their motto was:

“Sin, sex, booze, and wine. We are The Circle ’69!”

Next month: The Circle Gang, Part 5.