Long before MGM built its casino in Springfield, persons interested in gambling had to seek out illegal sites to place their bets. One of these was Sharkey’s, which was located on Longmeadow Street at the state line. A century ago, in December 1920, Sharkey’s made the news. At 3:15 in the morning on December 20, seven masked bandits held up a gambling party which was being held at Sharkey’s café and they got away with about $15,000 in cash and $5,000 in jewelry. Twenty-six gamblers, many of them high rollers from Springfield and NYC, were robbed. Here is the story from one who claimed to be “on the inside” as reported in the Springfield Republican of December 20, 1920.
“The gunmen were led to the second floor and three of them stood outside, the other four entering the room. Much gun play followed and the gamblers were told to ‘shell out and damn quick about it.’ There was some hesitating by the gamblers. One of them approached ‘Blue Patton’ and relieved him of $300. Joe Marshall, another player, handed over a diamond ring worth $1200. John Madden gave up a valuable watch and chain and $1000 in cash. About $400 was Herman Manner’s contribution and Jack Roache lost $1200 in bills. The bandits met some opposition from Terry Goldberg. He gave them $300 and one of them asked for a ring that Goldberg was wearing. Not wishing to lose the ring Goldberg pretended he couldn’t get it from his finger. “Give me the hammer,” shouted one gunman and a wicked looking wrench was produced. Goldberg received a blow on the hand and immediately gave up his ring. “Sam the Baker”, an Italian, put a valuable ring in his mouth and managed to hang on to it. When the robbers found nothing on the Italian, they struck him on the head with a revolver. The man who ran the game and the roll hid behind a curtain but was detected in the act by one of the robbers, and badly beaten for his attempted detection.”
The robbers then quickly left the building, took the spark plugs from the car in which they had come, cut several telephone wires, then left in a car with New York plates. The gamblers returned to Springfield. The article asserted that these gambling sessions have been regular features of the nightlife of Sharkey’s. Most of the gamblers had made their fortunes through the sale of liquor, an illegal activity during Prohibition. John Sharkey charged $10 for the rental of his back room. Not surprisingly, the state police visited Sharkey’s after this incident and arrested John when they found that he had a gambling device. This device was a slot machine, but it was not a slot machine like you would find at MGM today. This was a small, portable machine that accepted pennies. And, if you won, you won a cigar. Sharkey pled guilty to this crime and paid a $50 fine.
Vintage cigar slot machine
Aside from hosting these nefarious activities, Sharkey's had a dance pavilion and sold gasoline and fuel.
Sources: Springfield Republican, December 20, 1920; January 5, 1921
Contributed by Elizabeth Hoff, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member
Originally published December 10. 2020