A Family of Bootleggers
comes to the Neighborhood


Toward the end of our stay in the Ginney Block, a new element moved into the neighborhood. The Campo family, a family of bootleggers, bought the two story frame house that sat at the very end of Race Street, across the street from an abandoned coal yard that separated the Ginney Block from the edge of the bluff on the west side. This house became the headquarters of the Campo Brothers, whose reputation as bootleggers had become legend in the city of Cleveland since the passage of the Volstead Act in 1919, which had ushered in the Prohibition Era. This was the year 1926, and by this time the Campo Brothers' fame as purveyors of illegal liquor throughout the city and state of Ohio, was only exceeded by their notoriety for mayhem and violence in the conduct of their bootlegging business. They apparently had moved into the house in the early morning hours over a weekend, without the neighborhood's knowledge.

We, the Ginney Block families, were shocked and angry because we were all well aware of the Campo family's reputation. We all felt betrayed by the former owner of the house-- old Mr. Harris the junk dealer who had lived there as a widower since his wife had died some years ago, and had conducted his junk dealings quietly, bothering no one.




As neighborhood children, we liked him, because he was a good source of spending money. We enjoyed scavenging for scrap iron and other junk. We also enjoyed taking it to Mr. Harris because it was fun bargaining with him; trying always to get him to up his first offer. As I look back on our youthful deals with old and shrewd Mr. Harris, I really believe that my ability to negotiate today stems back to my early dealings with Harris, the junk man. We all knew that Mr. Harris must have gotten a very nice price from the Campo family for the house. And so it was that the toughest bootleggers in town became our neighbors, much to our dismay and fear.

It wasn't very long before we got to know the Campo family. Much to our surprise, we found that Carlo, the older of the two Campo Brothers, was married. When we met his wife and children , we were amazed to find that they were warm and friendly people. Mrs. Campo was a very attractive, light skinned colored woman, tall, a little on the heavy side, with a beautiful head of auburn hair, bobbed much in the style worn by Clara Bow the movie star. We got to know her as a person who loved children, forever spoiling her own, while at the same time being generous to a fault in her hospitality to those of us who became friends with Mary and young Carlo. Mary and Carlo had inherited their mother's looks, both having the same golden skins and the same attractive auburn hair . Mary, who was sixteen, became the belle of the neighborhood, constantly surrounded by the neighborhood's young men of her age. Carlo, who was close to me in age, became one of my best friends. In fact he and Herbert Jordan Spicer, another young colored boy, and I became inseparable.




I thought Mrs. Campo had a pretty name. It was Leola. It seemed to roll off of Carlo Senior's lips lovingly and mellifluously when he spoke to and about her. The love he showed her and his children belied the cruel, hard reputation that he had gotten over the years in his business. I thought, he had to be two different personalities, the one he showed when he was with his family and the other that came through in his business dealings.

Early one day during Spring vacation,, Carlo Junior, my brother Art, Herbert and I had gone to the Old Market House on Ontario Street. [We] begged orange crates from one of the fruit vendors, one crate for each of us; carried them back to Carlo Junior's back yard, where we attached the orange crates to two-by-fours, four feet long, under which we affixed ball-bearing wheels salvaged from old, partially broken roller skates that we had gotten at the Salvation Army for ten cents a piece. In a matter of an hour or so we built skooters to race on the smooth asphalt pavement of our street.

That afternoon while testing our skooters, we noticed a black touring car with four well dressed men in dark suits and dark grey hats, enter our street. We watched the car drive slowly down to the end of the street and turn into the abandoned coal yard across the street from the Campo house. We thought nothing of it. In fact I thought that the men looked a lot like the men who used to run the coal yard before it went out of business a couple of years before.




Young Carlo, my brother Art, Herbert and I decided to race each other on our newly made skooters. We began at the Ontario end of our street, having decided that we would end the race in front of young Carlo's house. As we reached the house, neck and neck, in a dead heat, gun fire erupted; bullets were flying over our heads from the coal yard into the second floor windows of friend Carlo's house. We saw Carlo Senior in one of the upstairs windows returning the fire. As we dropped to the street to protect ourselves, we saw the four men in black run across the street, into the Campo House, where we heard sustained gun fire for several seconds. The shooting stopped as suddenly as it had started. We got up quickly and ran behind the Ginney Block to hide. Thoroughly frightened, we stayed there until we heard the touring car roar off down the street. Herbert, my brother Art and I ran to our respective homes as Carlo Junior, crying and scared to death, ran into his house. A short time later we learned that Carlo Senior had been wounded, presumably by former associates.