Visited Farall’s, just south of Prospect Park on 8th Ave . . .
Farrall’s has been around since 1933, a holdover from the days when Park Slope was an Irish neighborhood. Not so long ago, it was the haunt of Irish New York luminaries like Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hammill. I’d walked by but never gone in. From the outside it looks like any old time New York bar – long wooden bar, big glass windows. I’d heard it had been taken over by cops and firemen who were generally hostile to anyone not one of the above but on that Sunday afternoon it was almost empty. Two men behind the bar – one young, one old, the older guy talking about how a rich mayor like Bloomberg could never be good for the New York working man.
People came and went, some hipster types like me, or youngish couples grabbing styrofoam cups of beer with the plastic lids at the bar then going back outside, presumably to enjoy the sunny afternoon in the park. I started talking to the old guy. When I said I was from Canada, he said he used to go to Montreal in the 50’s and early 60’s, back when “everyone stayed up all night, every night” reminding of that part of my birth city’s history when the NY jazzmen went up to play in the clubs, when the strip shows, the gambling joints, made Montreal the decadent – and deeply corrupt – outpost of New York and Boston, indeed the entire northeast. He told me Farell’s used to be the haunt of a lot of Mohawk Indians, down from Khanawakhe, the same Mohawks who came down for almost a century to work as high steel ironworkers, whose lack of fear of heights was legendary – some 500 Mowhawks, I’ve read, worked on the World Trade Center (In looking up basic info on the Mohawk ironworkers, I found this excellent post about the Mohawks by undercoverblackman including a link to a radio interview with one of the ironworkers and some great comments with more stories).
The bartender said they used to live in the area. “They had to spend a certain amount of time on the reserve to keep their treaty status so they’d just declare their neighborhood in Brooklyn a ‘reseravation’ and claim their treaty status that way. They liked to drink beer – some of them even drank beer before they went up to work – but they couldn’t touch hard liqour, they’d go crazy and you wouldn’t even recognize ’em.” He said they all went back to Khanawakhe (just south of Montreal) in the summer of 1990 when the Mohawks in Khanawakhe and neighboring Khanasatakhe faced down first the Quebec police force, then the Canadian Army. In that long hot summer, they blockaded the Mercier Bridge, cutting off 6000 suburban Montrealers from downtown, inspiring blockades by native Indians across Canada. Since I was raised in western Canada and saw first hand the desperation of native life, the Mohawks had my full sympathy, and I was glad the Canadian Indians had rallied together and put Canada on notice. When I came back to Montreal that fall, the city felt like it had been occupied, with army helicopters and APV’s buzzing around, heading for the two reserves – each less than five thousand people – south and east of the city.
The barman intimated that the Mohawks hadn’t been around for awhile and I didn’t ask what had happened. In Joseph Mitchell’s excellent essay ‘Mohawks In High Steel’ he mentions that they were centered in the Gowanus region, in the area now called Boerum Hill, but perhaps some lived around Park Slope as well. The links with the Irish go way back – many Mohawks have Irish features, with square faces and even freckles, a legacy of the 18th and 19th centuries, when the Iroqouis Confedaracy was strong enough to play off the French, British, and the Americans, when their relative prosperity made them attractive enough that many Irish immigrants simply went native. St. Catherine Tekakwitha, the only native American Catholic saint, comes from Khanawakhe. Yet I wonder what happened to these legendary Mohawk ironworkers, why they didn”t come down anymore, especially since unemployment on the Mohawk reserves, I’ve ehard, has shot up in recent years . . .
And it’s funny, in the ever-changing tableua that is Brooklyn, America’s clearing house, to see these links with a past that has been swept away.