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The Boss

By David Dayton McKean
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

For two years he hung about the Horseshoe, engaging in escapades with other boys and absorbing political lore. He seems to have had few close friends but many acquaintances. One friend was Thomas ('Skidder') Madigan, who had come from Saint Michael's Orphanage. With Skidder he went to dances, swam in the river, boxed, or wandered through the streets and railroad yards. Skidder was illiterate, and he shared Frank's dislike for schools: he was willing, however, to work, and Frank was not. On one occasion Skidder heard that jobs were available wrecking a pier for the Pennsylvania Railroad in New York City. Although the skilled-wages rate of a dollar and seventy-five cents was being paid, and Skidder and all his friends went to work, Frank would not.

As he reached adolescence Frank Hague was a tall, thin boy, with long, fleet legs. His hair was a reddish brown, his forehead high, his eyes pale blue. He spoke with a second-generation Irish accent, which never left him. Though he had many brushes with the police he seems never to have got himself into any serious trouble, and he is said to have expressed often a desire to join the force when he grew older. He had his older brother Hugh as an example of the advantages of public employment; Hugh had settled down when Dennis McLaughlin got him a job in the fire department.

Frank seems to have spent some of his time at John skill as a boxer. He engaged in the street brawls that were McConville's gymnasium, where he developed considerable common in the Horseshoe, but his companions assert that, while he was from the first a leader among the boys of his age, his native shrewdness enabled him to get other boys to do the dangerous fighting for him. When the police ap- peared, his long legs carried him quickly from the scene. Frank Hague could always recognize superior force.

In 1892 John Hague got his son a job as blacksmith's helper in the Erie Railroad shops. He did not like this work, which he later described as being `a nursemaid to locomotives.' In the shops, however, he continued to talk politics. He had always possessed a serious manner, and about the time that he got his first (and only private) employment he became active in Second Ward politics. He was then eighteen.

Just when or why Frank Hague's work with the Erie terminated, it is now impossible to ascertain. He turned, however, from nursing locomotives to managing a professional lightweight prizefighter, a Joe Craig from Brooklyn, whom he had met at McConville's gymnasium. The arrangement made neither of them wealthy, but it enabled the manager to hang about the Cable Athletic Club and the Greenwood Social Club, where lie could make further a fighter or as anything else; in 1939 he was reported to be a acquaintances. Craig apparently never amounted to much as laborer on a WPA project in Jersey City.

The job as manager gave young Frank Hague his first opportunityto wear fine clothes and to get away from the castoff suits of his who were impressed by his four-button, double-breasted, older brothers. There are reports of witnesses plaid suits, and his long draped cape, slung over the left Shoulder, as was then the fashion. His ability to wear clothes, which stayed with him through life, impressed the mothers of the Horseshoe, who urged their sons to emulate him.

Though he strode resplendent through the streets of his native city, he seems to have been uncommonly girl-shy. There is no story of any boyhood sweetheart, no youthful love affair. The earnest, confident manner that he had with men failed him when he talked to women, and he over-compensated by using an elaborate and artificial politeness in his relations with them. This tendency became a habit that lasted through life. In an environment in which marriage was common at sixteen and seventeen, Frank Hague did not not marry until he was twenty-seven and well on his way in his political career. There seems to have been no period of youthful wild oats; rather, he remained at home with his mother and went to Mass every Sunday.


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