Brooklyn Public Library

Mobile AppDownload our Mobile App

eNewsletterSubscribe to BPL eNews


The Little Fugitives Part I

Jul 16, 2012 12:16 PM | 0 comments


Running away from home at a young age is hardly ever a good thing, especially now, in a world in which evil waits on every corner to prey on the young and vulnerable.  An illusion it may be, but from our perspective the fifties seem a simpler, more innocent time, when wandering children for the most part made it back home again, safe and sound. 

While looking through the clipping file drawer in the morgue I noticed that the envelope labeled "Runaway" was particularly large, practically bursting at the seams, packed with articles about children who decided to break the familial shackles. The majority were from the 1950's.  Were children of that era really running away with greater frequency?  Was it a new phenomenom, or was it just being reported more often? Did television and movies beaming fantastic images of far away places induce them to pack their bags? Or was it the call of the ships along the waterfront that beckoned youngsters to see beyond the shore?  For whatever reason, more than a handful of children in Brooklyn were filled with wanderlust, and with an independence and determination that would have made Whitman proud, they proclaimed to themselves, "I Am Outah Here!"         

Our first deserters are 10-year-old Philip and 8-year-old Joan Gamble. In the spring of 1951 the siblings became captivated by scenes from a TV western. It could have been the Kit Carson, Jim Bowie or Range Rider shows that convinced them to leave the asphalt jungle surrounding 224 22nd Street. We'll never know which. But they developed a hankerin' to see the wide open plains of Texas and decided to take a ship there. They set out to walking to the place where they knew they could catch one. Well, our two tumblin' tumbleweeds didn't make it any further than the waterfront. 


Trouble was thar' warn't no ships sailing to Texas that day, or any other day, I reckon. The two desperados had to turn around, mosey on back home and face the long arm of the law--their Mama.  Dagnabbit!           



One youngster who did find a ship to sail on (the S.S. United States to be exact) was Eugene Hart of Bushwick. His two week odyssey began one morning as the lazy hazy days of summer were drawing to a close in September of '54.  Our young lad was at home with his grandmother trying to decide what to make of the day ahead.  As the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported:

Gene left his home at 18 Schaeffer St, and failed to heed his grandmother's warning not to go far and be "back in time for lunch." As the boy described it today, he had toyed with the idea of going to a movie that morning but had decided to visit the superliner instead. A guard permitted him to go aboard without paying the customary visitor's fee.

Well, as everyone knows children are by nature a curious species, and Eugene treated that ship like one big English muffin, exploring every nook and cranny of the huge vessel.  To his amazement he soon he found out that the ship had set sail, for ENGLAND, and there he was aboard world's fastest ocean liner with 19 cents in his pocket.  Eugene was discovered by a stewardess during a life belt drill and subsequently confined to the ship's hospital. He spent his trip to Southampton, Cherbourg and back to New York walking along the deck, making friends, and reading his comic books.  


The ship carried such luminaries such as Henry Ford 2nd and Vincent Astor, but the real star was Eugene, who made the front cover of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Hugging his mother and presenting her with a bracelet, he vowed this voyage would be his last one for a long time.      


And then the pair mugged for the obligatory camera shots


Our tales of childhood breakouts are too many to fill this one blog post.  They will continue with the tales of the boy who lived in a manhole, and another brother and sister team whose adventuring took them to the big apple.