• Behind the Iron Curtain: Komsomol

    I am not sure what to make of the fact that one year anniversary of this blog falls on the 90th anniversary of Komsomol – Communist Union of Youth which I joined at the ge 14 back in 1983. Komsomol was a third step in the Soviet brainwashing pyramid after the Little Octobrists and the Young Pioneers. Knowing that the big 90th anniversary is coming up I was trying to think what do I remember about being in Komsomol and couldn’t come up with anything. By 1983 joining all the communist organizations while still mandatory, became more or less a formality. People who refused to join were constantly harassed by Komsomol leaders appealing to their non-existent communist spirit; on the other hand, “troublemakers” and openly religious people weren’t easily accepted, which could have had a negative influence on their future lives and chances of getting into college.
    In order to join one had to fill out an application and be recommended by two members of Komsomol and/or Communist Party and also by a local Young Pioneer Organization. To make it look even more serious the candidate had to study the Komsomol Bylaws and be able to answer specific questions. If I remember correctly “specific” questions were supplied to us ahead of time. An artist’s depiction of the ceremony in 1962 looked like this:

    For your homework find a difference between the painting above and its previous version from 1949. Discuss amongst yourself.

    In my case it didn’t look anything like that; several people got accepted at once after answering some questions with prepared answers. A member of Komsomol had a membership ID like this

    and a pin like this

    On the right side of the membership ID you see one of the pages where a payment of membership dues was marked with a special stamp. Komsomol was the first of the Communist Organizations that had actual dues. Since the Soviet kids didn’t work (unlike poor exploited children in the West) the monthly dues were two kopecks, pretty much a pocket change but multiplied by millions of members it added up to huge amounts of money.

    I continued to pay membership dues throughout the technical school and in the army. It increased a little but was always a small amount.

    One could stay in Komsomol until the age of 28. Some joined the communist party before that, some just let their membership run out. For my generation Komsomol slowly dissipated without a trace and no memories. When I was leaving the country in 1992 I didn’t even know where my ID was. Many Komsomol leaders used their positions, connections,probably some of the dues and other property to acquire huge amounts of wealth and become oligarchs. The rest of us just moved on…

    Just like many other attributes of the USSR Komsomol is now fondly remembered by some. Big celebrations were held this week to commemorate the 90th anniversary. Years are like beer-goggles of history, they make even the ugly past look better.

    And now we dance…

  • He’s Still Standing, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!

    After a brief hiatus my favorite dealer hot dog vendor Adam Clay is back, serving the best and the cheapest hot dogs North of the River and in surrounding areas.


    Continue reading →

  • Old Photos: Charles Binaggio

    These old photo posts are probably not my most popular posts but definitely some of my most favorite. I usually start with a random query, then something attracts my attention and turns into a short lesson in history. This time, almost by accident, I found a few photos of Charles Binaggio and of course had to find out who Charles Binaggio was.

    Charles Binaggio (January 12, 1909 – April 5, 1950) was a Missouri gangster who became the boss of the Kansas City crime family and concocted a bold plan to control the police forces in Kansas City, Missouri and St. Louis, Missouri.

    Charles Binaggio sitting with his wife, while attending the William M. Boyle Jr. testimonial dinner.

    Charles Binaggio sitting with his wife, while attending the William M. Boyle Jr. testimonial dinner. © Time Inc. George Skadding

    Kansas City politician Charles Binaggios house, where he is a quiet nieghbor and enjoys working in the yard.

    Kansas City politician Charles Binaggio's house, where he is a quiet neighbor and enjoys working in the yard.© Time Inc. George Skadding

    On the night of April 5, 1950, Binaggio and his underboss, Charles “Mad Dog” Gargotta (a notorious enforcer within the Kansas City family), were called to meet some unknown persons at the First Ward Democratic Club near downtown Kansas City. Binaggio left his driver/bodyguard, Nick Penna, at a tavern owned by the mob, saying that he would return in a few minutes. Binaggio and Gargotta then borrowed a car and drove off to the Democratic Club.
    Shortly after eight pm, residents in apartments above the Democratic Club heard several shots. Eight hours later, a cab driver going to a nearby cafe noticed that the club door was open; he also heard water running inside. The police were called and they found the bodies of Charles Binaggio and Charles Gargotta inside the club. Binaggio was seated at a desk and Gargotta was lying inside the front door. Both men had been shot in the head four times with separate .32 caliber revolvers. The police theorized that Gargotta had been trying to escape the club when he was shot in the back of the head. As for the running water heard by the cabbie, it came from a broken toilet and was unrelated to the hit.

    Kansas City politician Charles Binaggio and his wife, were last seen here gambling.

    Kansas City politician Charles Binaggio and his wife, were last seen here gambling.© Time Inc. George Skadding

    The wake drawing crowds from all citys to see Charles Binaggio.

    The wake drawing crowds from all cities to see Charles Binaggio.© Time Inc. George Skadding

    Some people theorized that Binaggio and Gargotta were murdered by St. Louis gunmen; others said the hitmen came from Chicago. However, it is most likely that the two mob bosses were killed by members of their own crime family under orders from the Mafia Commission in New York The probable organizer of the hit was Gizzo, who no doubt received the leadership of the Kansas City family as a reward. In any case, the murderers were never found.

    Charles Binnagio’s grave is at the Mount Saint Mary’s Cemetery.
    Murder on Truman Road – an article in Time from April 1950.

    I have a lot more of the Life Magazine photos bookmarked and I intend to share them  mostly on weekends, so if this is not something you enjoy feel free to skip these posts in the future.

  • A Flash Of Life

    No place makes life seem so short like a cemetery. Birth, childhood, first steps, first words, school, first love, family, kids, work, feelings, thoughts, achievements, joys, tragedies – everything that makes up a person’s life becomes just a dash between the two dates. Most of the people will never have anything named after them, will not be a subject of a documentary or even have their own article on Wikipedia; no one will want to dress up like them, sell their costumes or posable figures. At the cemetery we promise not to forget, but to the next generation a person becomes just an image on strangely colored photos, a subject of nostalgic anecdotes and a name on a small gravestone. Their children will wonder about the origins of their foreign-sounding middle names, tracing them on a family tree compiled by an aging relative, trying to capture the memories before they are slowly dissolved in time. The only difference between us and our ancestors is that we leave more proof of our existence – photos, videos, blogs, facebook profiles – these things will probably float around somewhere long after the end date is stamped on our gravestones.

    No place makes a person want to live like a cemetery…

  • Old Photos: Back To The Future Of the KCMSD

    I usually stay out of the KCMO school-related topics, but when I read about another time-wasting event, I remembered a few old photos I bookmarked some time ago that fit the occasion. The year is 1950:

    Pre-election Parade for the Kansas City tax vote (1950)

    Pre-election Parade for the Kansas City tax vote.© Time Inc. Lisa Larsen

    Pre-election Parade for Kansas City tax vote.© Time Inc. Lisa Larsen

    Pre-election Parade for Kansas City tax vote. (1950)

    Pre-election Parade for Kansas City tax vote. (1950).© Time Inc. Lisa Larsen

    Five dollar prize if you find Dan on one of these trucks.

    More 1950 elections.