Cover image for Vampires, Dragons, and Egyptian Kings : youth gangs in postwar New York
Vampires, Dragons, and Egyptian Kings : youth gangs in postwar New York
Schneider, Eric C., 1951-2017.
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xx, 334 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV6439.U7 N467 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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They called themselves "Vampires," "Dragons," and "Egyptian Kings." They were divided by race, ethnicity, and neighborhood boundaries, but united by common styles, slang, and codes of honor. They fought--and sometimes killed--to protect and expand their territories. In postwar New York, youth gangs were a colorful and controversial part of the urban landscape, made famous by West Side Story and infamous by the media. This is the first historical study to explore fully the culture of these gangs. Eric Schneider takes us into a world of switchblades and slums, zoot suits and bebop music to explain why youth gangs emerged, how they evolved, and why young men found membership and the violence it involved so attractive.

Schneider begins by describing how postwar urban renewal, slum clearances, and ethnic migration pitted African-American, Puerto Rican, and Euro-American youths against each other in battles to dominate changing neighborhoods. But he argues that young men ultimately joined gangs less because of ethnicity than because membership and gang violence offered rare opportunities for adolescents alienated from school, work, or the family to win prestige, power, adulation from girls, and a masculine identity. In the course of the book, Schneider paints a rich and detailed portrait of everyday life in gangs, drawing on personal interviews with former members to re-create for us their language, music, clothing, and social mores. We learn what it meant to be a "down bopper" or a "jive stud," to "fish" with a beautiful "deb" to the sounds of the Jesters, and to wear gang sweaters, wildly colored zoot suits, or the "Ivy League look." He outlines the unwritten rules of gang behavior, the paths members followed to adulthood, and the effects of gang intervention programs, while also providing detailed analyses of such notorious gang-related crimes as the murders committed by the "Capeman," Salvador Agron.

Schneider focuses on the years from 1940 to 1975, but takes us up to the present in his conclusion, showing how youth gangs are no longer social organizations but economic units tied to the underground economy. Written with a profound understanding of adolescent culture and the street life of New York, this is a powerful work of history and a compelling story for a general audience.

Author Notes

Eric C. Schneider is Assistant Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and Adjunct Associate Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Schneider, an assistant dean at the University of Pennsylvania, is a historian, but he also grew up in working-class Manhattan. His study of Manhattan's youth gangs in the years after World War II blends academic disciplines with the author's recollections of the events he traces. Schneider examines social factors (economic change, migration of African Americans and Puerto Ricans into the city, and urban renewal and slum clearance), outlines statistics, and offers case studies of Washington Heights and East Harlem. He then explores such themes as "the centrality of masculinity in understanding gangs" and the gang culture that brought together gang members even as they fought each other; the various paths members took as they left their gangs and assumed the responsibilities of adulthood; and the effect of New York's gang intervention programs. Closing chapters consider the decline of New York gangs in the mid-1960s and compare the largely economic role of contemporary New York gangs with the social roles they played in the postwar period. Fascinating history. --Mary Carroll

Library Journal Review

Historian Schneider, author of In the Web of Class: Delinquents and Reformers in Boston, 1810s-1930s (New York Univ., 1992), jumps forward in time and down the coast to examine the phenomenon of New York City youth gangs after World War II. Drawing on countless sources, meticulously noted, he offers reasons for the emergence of gangs, shows us their particular culture, assesses intervention programs, and traces their decline in the 1960s and resurgence in the 1970s. Throughout, he augments his scholarly research with excerpts from interviews with former gang members (including authors Claude Brown and Piri Thomas and 1950s and 1960s teen singing idol Dion DiMucci) and street workersÄsocial workers assigned to work with gangmembers. Schneider's chapter comparing gangs of yesterday and today seems a bit cursory, but modern gangs are not his focus here, and his observations are still interesting. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Jim Burns, Ottumwa, P.L., IA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface: Crossing 96th Street
Introduction: The Capeman and the Vampiresp. 3
Ch. 1 Remaking New Yorkp. 27
Ch. 2 Discovering Gangs: The Role of Race in the 1940sp. 51
Ch. 3 Defending Place: Ethnicity and Territoryp. 78
Ch. 4 Becoming Men: The Use of the Streets in Defining Masculinityp. 106
Ch. 5 Making a Gang Culture: Form, Style, and Ritual in the Gang Worldp. 137
Ch. 6 Leaving the Gang: Pathways into Adulthoodp. 164
Ch. 7 Intervening in Gangs: The Problems and Possibilities of Social Workp. 188
Ch. 8 Drugs, Politics, and Gangs, 1960-1975p. 217
Conclusion: Comparing Gangs: Contemporary Gangs in Historical Perspectivep. 246
Notesp. 263
Indexp. 319