As Cliff Scanlon ran to help neighbor in trouble, he was triggering the birth of Ragamuffin

Father George McKenna & ‘Friends’, father of four focused Bay Ridge on kids at time of NYC crisis 

Back in the troublesome riotous 1960’s, the city was having one of the worst moments in its modern history. The story in Bay Ridge was no different from other communities.

Crime, especially on our streets, did run amok. You can look it up. And in Bay Ridge, too much of it was attributed to young people victimized by the drop-in, drop-out drugged darkness of that day. 

It should come as no surprise that one of the first meaningful and successful efforts to light the darkness took place here when a community, which really did care for its children, (it takes a community) embraced the inspirational message of Ragamuffin Founder Cliff Scanlon and his hardy bunch of volunteers.

Some might be surprised to learn the event which led to the start of Ragamuffin took place in the early summer of 1967.

Civic-minded resident of Bay Ridge Parkway, Scanlon was alerted by the sounds of a woman’s screams in an apartment house at 238 Bay Ridge Parkway across the way from his home. He immediately sprang into action.

Enlisting the aid of a much-younger neighbor and friend, together they sped across Bay Ridge Parkway, armed with nothing more lethal than a wooden clothes hangar. On the way, Cliff called the police.

They entered the sub-walkway of the building just as the screams came to a jarring halt and were replaced by a young woman’s distressing sobs. The well-meaning pair then heard someone running toward the back and engaged in a huffy but fruitless pursuit.

By that point, other neighbors had gathered around the victim’s apartment to offer aid. They also called the NYPD.  

“We told [the NYPD] how terrible it was for her and dangerous for us all to have these drugged-out kids roaming the streets and assaulting innocent citizens,” one neighbor exclaimed. 

Bay Ridge’s ’64’ Police Precinct Was Woefully Undermanned 

Finally, almost twenty minutes later, a patrol car from the old ‘six four’ showed up. The cops were nice, concerned and professional but as one of them explained, “We only have four cars out for the whole 64 precinct.” 

In a personal aside to Scanlon, the officer added, “Well his family don’t let our kids out at night! “

Cliff and Nancy Scanlon had four young kids so Cliff took the apparent youth crime wave personally and Cliff promised his neighbor, “We gotta do something about this!”    

The following day, Cliff did something. He and his neighbor, paid a visit to Capt. Mac Edelstein, commander of the ‘old six four’ precinct located then at the corner of 86th Street and Fifth Avenue.  There, classically grizzled veteran Edelstein listened as Cliff explained the mugging, the delayed response of the NYPD, adding that he was concerned for his family, particularly his four young children. 


Cliff Scanlon & Co. Lead Historic Ragamuffin Parade. File Photo

With Fr. McKenna and friends, Cliff ‘Hit’ a light which has shined here for over 57 years

As a responsible and concerned father, Cliff couldn’t let the matter rest. 

The following day, he and his friend traveled over to the Our Lady of Angels Parish House where a very responsive Fr. George McKenna not only agreed, but wanted to do something. After a series of talks with friends of Cliff, Nick Albanese, Tom Clavin, Frank Comerford and others later such as Jim Clark, Monroe Seifer and columnist Ted General decided to hold a parade. 

But it would be a family-oriented parade. It would have a theme which could help parents grow closer to their young children. It would require kids and parents to create costumes which would portray them as urchins, or ragamuffins, from the old England of Charles Dickens.

This concept really caught on in spectacular fashion. By 1972, the annual Bay Ridge Ragamuffin Parade would feature thousands of costumed kids with over thirty thousand spectators, according to the New York Times.  We in the local press of course agreed.

The Scanlon Team drew scores of volunteer workers in the early years to get the word out to local schools. They sold sponsors on the cause who contributed thousands for prizes. Each kid got some kind of gift. At times, it hit a rough road but as we’ll all learn come September, the Ragamuffin Parade remains healthy till this day. 

It’s also weathered the terrible pandemic thanks to its later leaders over the years such as Dilia Schack, Jim Sempepos, Colleen Golden, Barbara Slattery, and Ilene Sacco just to name a few.  Currently volunteers such as Pres. Allison Greaker and Treasurer Ted General have the backing of a solid hard-working committee.

Grand Marshal, Person of Year headline parade 

Hundreds of talented leaders have served as grand marshals and person(s) of the Year.  

Last year, Bay Ridge’s very talented district manager Josephine Beckmann marched as Grand Marshall and Civic and Youth Leader John Quaglione wore the Person of the Year sash. 

Last year, John Quaglione, far left was Ragamuffin Person of the Year.  Far right is Dist. Mgr. Josephine Beckmann, 2023 Grand Marshal.  To the left of Josephine is Shirley Chin, scout leader and Ragamuffin Committee members. File Photo

We asked John about the experience and his reply says more about Ragamuffin than we could say here in hundreds of words:   

“When I was a kid growing up in Bay Ridge, the Ragamuffin Parade was by far the most awesome event of the year,” he said. “It’s exciting t great to see that our local children will continue to have the same opportunity to take part in something that is so much fun thanks to Ragamuffin Pres. Allison Greaker, Ted General, Ilene Sacco, Kelli Kilbride, Chuck Otey and the others on the Committee.  Thank you for your dedication to this community tradition, and commitment to restoring the Ragamuffin Parade to its former grandeur.”

Couldn’t have said it better, though in the coming weeks and months we’ll certainly try.

Here’s the 2024 Ragamuffin Parade schedule: 

Pumpkin Roll: Saturday Sept. 14th 

Ragamuffin Kickoff Brunch: Sunday, Sept. 15th 12-4 p.m. at Greenhouse Café.

Ragamuffin Fundraiser: Sunday, Sept. 22nd 1-4pm (live music and food) The Leif Bar 

Ragamuffin Parade 2024: Saturday, Sept. 29th 1 p.m.

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