The Peek-A-Boo Gang of Washington Avenue
versus the Elmira Heights Trio

Compiled by Diane Janowski
©1999-2011 All rights reserved.
From the 1850s to the 1870s, the Weiss Brewery made beer near today's northwest corner of East Washington Avenue and the Clemens Center Parkway In Elmira, New York. Dug into the hill on Michigan Avenue (just to the west) were the vaults where the beer was stored. The brewery’s owner’s house sat at 171 East Washington Avenue (the northwest corner of Washington and Michigan). After the brewery closed, the idle beer vaults became the playground of vandals and neighborhood children. The dark tunnels were given the nickname “Peek-A-Boo” because of the games played inside. Eventually, a gang of young Poles from the neighborhood began meeting at the house of Joe Bossic, who now lived at 171. The neighborhood rivalry turned vicious, and some very bad things happened. Edited from the newspaper accounts of 1909:

 

May 24, 1909 Monday, “Murder Likely Will Be Result...” John Vosnick, age 24, a bridge worker {American Bridge Works] lies at the point of death in St. Joseph’s Hospital the result of a serious stabbing. Five men are in jail having taken part in the blood curdling encounter that happened between 10 and 11 pm last night in Joe Bossic’s place at 171 East Washington Avneue. The neighborhood called it Peek-a-boo. Maybe called so because the brewery's passages lead from it back into the Washington Avenue hill. These vaults were storage cellars of the old brewery situated there a generation ago. Frank Bossic of Stowell Street, age 22, is seriously injured. Wladeslaw Narzynski, an undersized Slav of 22 years, the principal suspect bears an ugly scar on the left side of his head as evidence in the deadly fight. It is a difficult case since the Poles under arrest decline to speak English and tell conflicting stories.

“There were 8 in the room when the fight started.” Somebody blew out the light and they went at each other with knives fighting in the darkness. The Peek-a-boo is an old tumbled down two-story building that sits in the side of the hill on the Lehigh Valley tracks. Occupied by the families of Joe Bossic and John Yonkowski as a place of residence. It is also used as a meeting place by Polish bridge workers, who are numerous in that locality. Sunday afternoon and evening being a favorite time to gather. They have a barrel of beer on tap, and have a musician to furnish music for drunken dancing. Affairs usually beginning harmoniously and visitors and residents of the place, including children, mingle freely and drink beer. Sometimes women are present.

Last night a Polish violinist furnished music and after 9:30 there were no women. All were full of beer. As the evening passed, bad blood developed. The men were ready to go after Vosnick. Bossic tried to take Vosnick home. Narzynski pushed Bossic away. Bossic got mad, Narzynski threw a glass of beer and hit Bossic on the cheek, wound 4 inches long and to the bone. Two versions: Either light was blown out or fight was out in the street. John Vosnick received two ugly scalp wounds that went to the skull - done with a knife. The wound that will probably end his life was a horrible gouge on the right side of his back 6 inches long and an inch-and-a-half in his lung.

While the fight was in progress, Bossic ran to a friends house at 100 Rose Place. Friend took him to the Police Head Quarters. Meanwhile, the assailants left Vosnich for dead and covered every bit of traceable evidence. Vosnick dragged himself to a nearby hotel [3 blocks away] near the corner of Washington Avenue and Lake Street. Blood ran from six wounds. The hotel people endeavored to stop the blood. One of them called the police. Dr. Alexander Mark of East Church Street was summoned and the boy was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital when he is in excrutiating pain. The men arrested first refused to talk, then were taken into the chief’s office and treated to the “third degree.” Police are working hard forcing the Poles to tell the “true story.” The knife has not yet been recovered.

May 25, 1909

Police have gained the upper hand in the situation. The accused criminals remain mute. Police say that some of the women guests at the Peek-a boo said that the three Poles came to the club with the intention of getting into a fight. They carried knives and caused trouble the whole time they were there. A beer glass was thrown at Bossic, the light was blown out. The three began their assault. Vosnick staggered out into the street where they kicked him on the head. They left for Elmira Heights and disposed of their knives.

May 26, 1909

John Vosnick, the young Pole of Grand Central Avenue was assaulted in the Peek-a-boo house at 171 East Washington Avenue last Sunday night, is in critical condition today. Doctors do not think he will recover. Three men aged 19 - 24 years, called the “Elmira Heights Trio” are being held for questioning.

 

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