Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Gypsy Lane

John Brenkacs Hungarian Gypsy Orchestra, Cleveland Press Collection, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Gypsy Lane forms the northern border of Youngstown. I always thought that was an interesting name. Why Gypsy?

I couldn’t find out much about this, but there is one oral history by a North Side resident, John Manning, who speaks of a settlement of Gypsies in the vicinity of the intersection of Belmont Avenue and what became known as Gypsy Lane. He claims that’s where the name came from. He states there were old fairgrounds in that area and this is where they arrived when they came to Youngstown.

I cannot find any other confirmation of this information, but Steve Piskor, who has written a history of Hungarian Slovak Gypsies in America, states that between 1885 and 1910, Hungarian-Slovak Gypsies settled in Braddock, Homestead, Uniontown, and Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Cleveland and Youngstown, Gary, Indiana, as well as New York City. On his website, he has a picture of a Gypsy orchestra of Gypsies in Youngstown. Underneath he says these Gypsies or Roma migrated from Kassa, Hungary (which is now the largest city in eastern Slovakia, but then part of Hungary). He says they lived in Youngstown for about thirty years and then most moved to Cleveland to join the larger community there, the largest in the country.

One of the stereotypes the Gypsies (also called Roma or Romani) faced was that of thievery or con artistry. What was distinctive about them was the music, and every community had its orchestra. They were known for their fiddlers and their music influenced Franz Liszt, Bela Bartok, and Zoltan Kodaly. Chris Haigh has posted an extensive history of this music down to the present.

But who were these people? Most histories trace their origin to Northern India. They migrated first to Persia and then arrived in Europe in the Middle Ages. Many at the time thought they came from Egypt, hence the name “Gypsies.” But both genetic and linguistic evidence point to a North Indian origin. The Hungarian-Slovak Gypsies migrated to the U.S. in the late 1800’s.

I would love to know more about the history of this group in the city, and wonder if there are any descendants still living in the Valley. And it would be interesting to confirm that Gypsy Lane owes its name to a real Gypsy community in the city.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!