NEW YORK: Grief in Greenpernt

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Residents of the Greenpoint (pronounced Greenpernt) section of Brooklyn never really thought Peter J. McGuinness would die. He was an old-fashioned Irish ward boss flourishing improbably in the 20th Century — and he seemed as durable as the last of the cigar-store Indians. Also, he was in such demand as a pallbearer that it was almost impossible to imagine him playing a passive role at a funeral.

He was an enormous man with an enormous voice. In private conversation it was husky and confidential, in public debate it was as penetrating, resonant and hard to shut off as the foghorn at Montauk Light. He had the bearing of a beefy Roman emperor, a lobster-red face and white hair which he wore reached. He thought Greenpernt—its lumber yards, varnish factories, dreary flats and all—was the "garden spot of the universe" and defied the world to find "a more moral race of people" than its citizens.

Blarney Justice. He was a one-man chamber of commerce and court of domestic relations. He administered blarney, justice or the back of his hand as the case demanded; he fished in Tammany's pork barrel for 28 years to bring improvements to "me people." He was rigidly honest. "If I wasn't," he explained, "I might get caught and have to go before a judge I mightn't even know."

When he was quizzed during the Seabury investigations of 1931 he hauled out a wallet as big as a horse's nosebag and extracted his father-in-law's collar button and a wad of bank books which accounted for every aspect of his financial affairs.

Samuel Seabury was asked why he kept McGuinness on the stand for six long hours. He replied: "Because I like to hear him talk."

Peter J. McGuinness had always liked to talk. He was born and raised in Greenpernt and left it only once, to work as a lumber inspector in the South. He soon came back explaining: "I don't like that Jim Crow they got or their goddam white crow either." As a young dock walloper he was the king of Greenpernt's waterfront. He got into a fight every night, flattened everyone he ever fought, and always leaped up on a lumber pile afterwards to give the spectators "a hot spiel."

Idle Whiskey. He became Democratic leader by wresting control of the assembly district from one James A. McQuade, member of a family known as the "thirtyfour starving McQuades." He ran for office (alderman, sheriff, etc.) more than 30 times, and "was sent back with glorious colors" every time. He named his headquarters the Greenpoint People's Regular Democratic Organization, welcomed one & all, but kept his telephone padlocked in a wire cage. He opposed Prohibition, cried bitterly: "It's a shame to allow whiskey to lie idle when there's people at Death's door that might be saved by it."

Last week Peter J. McGuinness, 59, suffered a heart attack, died. When his funeral procession moved slowly down Greenpernt's streets, stores were closed, windows were draped in black, flags flew at half-mast, and thousands lined the curbs to bid him a silent farewell.