2006-11-23 / Little Old Canarsie

Playing Ringolevio In Front Of Grace Church

John Denton

For many years, the late John Denton graced the pages of the Canarsie Courier with his column "Little Old Canarsie." Born here in 1900, Denton's knowledge of the area and memories of his life in Canarsie, from the time he was a boy until he died at the age of 85, quaintly chronicled the early history of the community, from the era when there was nothing here but dirt roads, to modern times.

In keeping with its popularity - and to further inform our newer readers of our quaint, vast, and most of all interesting history - we are running his column "Little Old Canarsie" again. We think it is fitting that it be run, where suitable, almost as written, with Mr. Denton's jargon (we hope not too many misspellings) and idiosyncrasies of the day just as originally written.

So popular was Denton's column that the Canarsie Historical Society looked upon it as a "byword" and an authentic account of the life and times of our burgeoning community from the turn of the 20th century to the present.

Periodically, we are either given or loaned old, historic photos of the life and times of the community and, where space permits, we run those pictures for your enjoyment and, hopefully, education. We ask that if you have any old photos or written memorabilia of "little old Canarsie," please contact us and we'll be glad to run them. They will be returned to you.


Before the first World War, one of the greatest games kids played was Ringolevio. In front of the Grace Church on East 92nd Street and Church Lane, each weeknight we formed a circle of 10 or 12 of us in two teams. The ones who went to hide would then try to sneak back without being caught by one of the guardians of the circle. If a boy managed to get in without being caught, he would yell, "Ringolevio!" and free everyone that had previously been caught. This went on until about 9 p.m. when we had to go home.

Among the boys who played here were George and Herb Jelley, Chas Winterberg, Frank Gladwish, Sam, George and William Ryder, Dan Miller, Arthur McHugh, Robert, Ed and Lou Mathews, Isaac, George and Elmer Bell, Bert Fisher, Frank Carman, the Phillips', Mervin and Frank, Ronald and Clarence Abrams, Herbert Morrisson, Puggy Deiner, Archie McDonald Jr., Knocko Krier, Ellie Mison, the Gibbs, Alonzo and Ditty, Avery Timson and yours truly.

The streets were pretty dark those days as there were only about three lights on each street from Flatlands Avenue to Avenue K. We could look up and see big colored bowls in Louis Chrome's drug store on East 92nd Street and Flatlands, which were filled with green and red chemicals that showed where a drug store was and glowed at night.

Down on Avenue L and East 95th Street, in front of the yellow house covered in front with beautiful French lilacs,was the house owned and occupied by a lovable man we called Uncle Hen Butecke who had a general store on the opposite corner.

The boy at this end also played the game and one night they had all fought so that the other side could go out. They were on the alert on all sides of the ring so he couldn't get in when along came Gussie Hoffman, pushing a baby in a carriage and when she got to the edge of the ring, out jumped Brother Henry, dressed up in baby clothes, and yelled "Ringolevio!"

About 30 boys who were caught ran out to start all over again. Among these boys were the Bach boys Henry and Eddie, the Hoffmans, Henry and John; Rich, Arthur and Frank McAvoy, the Aust boys, Joe, Jake, Tommy and Dick; Al and Dickie James, Walter Bogart Sr., Al and Frank Betchley; Frank Denton, the Thomas boys, George, William and Lester, Harry Lewis, Felix Schroeder and many more I can't remember.

We had good clean fun those days and we respected our parents, teachers and above all our police officers. When they told us to break it up we moved and didn' t stand with our hands on our hips and look defiant or we would get a couple of taps on our shins with the old nightstick to make sure we moved. It didn't do us a bit of harm, as we grew up to become good citizens of a great country.

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