Swing Street was the scene for New York's jazz clubs and a hangout for GIs.

Swing Street was the scene for New York’s jazz clubs and a hangout for GIs.

I am sorry about the lack of posts recently. This is the time of year when I slow down a bit, relax, and prepare for the coming academic year. I’ve spent much of the past week and a half listening to the Mets lose night after night. Queens’ Major League Baseball Club has not won two game in a row since July 6.

I had an interesting experience at Governors Island last week. I was there this past Thursday to conduct two oral histories with another volunteer. The first one was with a gentleman who worked in the Military Police in the 1950s. I took the opportunity to ask him a question that had long bothered me. Some readers may know that Castle Williams served as an Army disciplinary barracks for many decades. In my reading of many jazz histories and biographies over the years a recurring theme that Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and others repeatedly came back to was the considerable Military Police presence on 52nd Street. “The Street” as it was known–no number was required if you mentioned jazz–was notorious for men in uniform drinking, fighting and causing mayhem. (It is a story for another time, but in retrospect it seems obvious that many of these GIs were suffering from ptsd.)

It was always my speculation that when these servicemen got into trouble the place to which they were usually taken was Governors Island. The Army would have handled such matters, not the civilian NYPD. Still, this was all conjecture on my part; in all my reading on both jazz and Governors Island, I never saw anything in writing that backed up my educated guess. That is, I had no corroboration of this until last week, when during the oral history I asked the interviewee if such was indeed the case. To my great satisfaction he confirmed what I had long suspected: that the uniformed servicemen picked up for making trouble on 52nd Street back in the days of the great nightclubs were indeed brought to Castle Williams on Governors Island. It fits into the narrative of Castle Williams as a minimum security facility. These troublemakers would be brought to be processed, sleep it off, and wait for the next step in the process. I cannot tell you how pleased I was to hear this firsthand from the former MP himself.

(image/William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress)