There is in my childhood a loose connection to infamy. I was born on Pleasant Street, in the heart of the west end of St. John’s. It was a great neighbourhood. I was born at house number 112, in 1946. That is right by Atlantic Avenue. Guess who else was from Pleasant Street? The answer is the family of the notorious Boston mobster, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger. The Bulgers lived just up the street at 168. The house still stands, and it is across from where Patrick Street intersects with Pleasant Street. Now that street used to be called ‘Lazy Bank’. You may have heard that. When the Bulgers were there, it was Lazy Bank Road. The story in our Furlong family was that the name Lazy Bank came from the river that ran down from Mundy Pond and the habit of the parishioners of the day of St. Patrick’s Church to linger on the river bank after Sunday mass to smoke pipes and gossip. It a nice story of the neighbourhood. The river is buried now but it runs still underground near our house at number 112. In the spring you can still hear it beneath the pavement. We had a French drain, which is a hole in the basement lined with crushed stone in our home, and that kept spring flood waters from coming up into our basement. If you lie down on the ground, you can still hear the Lazy Bank River. I did it last year. I walked up the hill, then towards Patrick Street, and I wondered about Whitey Bulger’s family. Would they, like me, have listened to the bells of St. Patrick’s or smelled the lilacs of the west end of St. John’s after a summer rain. Could they smell the brewery at Riverhead? Did they know the magic smells of the St. John’s harbour and, like me, did they go down on Fridays to the cove to buy a fish for dinner? They are all intriguing questions without answers.
My parents spent all their adult lives on Pleasant Street and went to work at Parkers Shoe Store on Water Street. They never strayed any further than that. I was raised on Pleasant Street.Whitey Bulger’s people, on the other hand, continued their journey, left Newfoundland and settled near Boston. Both our families had ‘come out’ from Ireland and became part of a massive diaspora that sought a better life in Newfoundland. The Furlongs stayed here but the Bulgers became part of what came to be called “the two boat Irish” when they settled in New England. That is name given to people in New England who had not settled directly from Ireland but who had come to Newfoundland and other places first.
Whitey Bulger was a criminal of the worst order and a very bad boy. I won’t go on about his crimes, but they were legion. He led several gangs in the Boston area. Eventually, he became a kind of boss of bosses and a big time crook, killer and general psycho villain. Eventually he ended up on the run. Now beyond being a criminal, he was an informer and that is not a good thing to be in the world of crime. They are despised. So it was that he was finally captured and, in very short order, was murdered in prison. It was a gruesome killing, but few shed tears.
That is the story. Two families from Lazy Bank whose paths crossed by geography. One of James Bulger’s brothers was a successful politician around Boston. Whitey will be remembered as a bloody killer.
Sometimes when I walk up Pleasant Street, I think about the Bulger family and how they were ‘near neighbours’ of my family. Two Irish families so very different but who passed close together, as ships in the night, on a street in the west end that once was called Lazy Bank.