Mike Tyson and Vinnie Torre

One of the great things about these WordPress blogs is that the moderator is able to see which search terms visitors are using to reach this page. Lately there has been a big upsurge in searches for “Vinnie Torre”, “Hoboken Museum,” and “pigeons.”

Mike Tyson and Vinnie Torre © 2011 Animal Planet

I wrote about Vinnie last year in my very first Illustration Concentration post.  I met Vinnie and his girlfriend Lynne Earring when I illustrated a chapbook for the Hoboken Historical Museum. Turns out Vinnie has recently been featured on a new Animal Planet documentary series mentoring boxer Mike Tyson on the finer points of pigeon racing. I haven’t seen the series. In the trailer, Mike Tyson tells about the first fight he ever had. He was 10. He beat up the Brooklyn kid who ripped the head off his pigeon. In honor of the uptick in searches for Vinnie and pigeons, I am posting a few more of my Hoboken sketches, some of which never made it into the chapbook.

Pigeons at Vinnie Torre's Hoboken loft © 2011 K.McCloskey

Lynne told me that Vinnie used to cut down the iconic Hoboken clotheslines that hung in the way of his pigeons’ final approach home. Vinnie looked wounded, he said he never did any such thing. Maybe, once or twice, he witnessed somebody sanding clotheslines so that they were so frayed that when the women hung their family’s heavy, wet clothes they “naturally” broke. He assured me that would happen only in the case of a very important race.

Vinnie Torre with Lynne Earring, Hillside Lofts © 2011 K.McCloskey

I drew a pigeon before I arrived at Vinnie’s house. Vinnie took one look at it and shook his head. It looked like a street pigeon, he said. He told me to thicken the neck and add more waddle on top of the beak. Here is how it looked after I took his suggestions:

Pigeon Sketch, watercolor © 2010 K. McCloskey

You can download the whole book for free here: The Pigeon Guys: Recollections of Vinnie Torre and Lynne Earing. The 40-page chapbook, designed by Ann Marie Manca is part of a nifty series of Hoboken oral histories. Lisa Sartori interviewed Vinnie and Lynne. Holly Metz edited it, I donated the illustrations, and Museum Director Robert Foster added historic and new photographs.

By the way, I was in Hoboken last weekend and stopped by the Hoboken Historical Museum. They have a sweet show on the walls now, about Hoboken’s love affair with candy and desserts. It began way before the Cake Boss. At the museum you can sit in a booth on loan from Schnackenberg’s Luncheonette and watch a truly touching 10-minute film about Schnackenberg’s, a Hoboken landmark. The film entitled Counterparts was made in 1989 by Nicole Lucas Haimes who has since gone on to a successful career as a documentary filmmaker.Vinnie Torre is a great booster of the Hoboken Historical Museum. In the Animal Planet videos he can be seen wearing his HHM T-shirt. It is a worthy institution and well worth a visit anytime.

“The Pigeon Guys” illustrated by Kevin McCloskey Free E-Book

I had fun doing the illustrations for The Pigeon Guys: Recollections of Vinnie Torre and Lynne Earing. Click on the title above to download the entire 40 page book in pdf format for free. It is part of the Vanishing Hoboken Series, made possible by a grant from the John Wiley & Sons Publishers, and in this case, the Hudson County Pigeon Club. The text is an edited version of a Lisa Sartori’s interview of Vinnie and Lynne. The art director/designer is Ann Marie Manca. Bob Foster contributed additional photos.

The Hoboken Historical Museum publishes this wonderful series of little booklets on all things Hoboken. You can also download more  chapbooks including my favorite title- I’d Rather Lose a Clam than a Customer, Recollections of Michael “Brother” Yaccarino. The Hoboken Oral History Project is edited by the brilliant Holly Metz, who years ago collaborated with famed illustrator Sue Coe on the graphic novel How to Commit Suicide in South Africa.

I used to live in Hoboken, so I drove in to see my brother Brain and he joined me for a tour of Vinnie’s loft one spring morning. Vinnie and Lynne graciously posed for sketches and told us some amazing things about pigeons. For example, mother pigeons nurse their young!  I know it is unbelievable, but go ahead google pigeon milk, or ask your local ornithologist.

That morning in Hoboken reminded me why I love illustration, because it is about sharing interesting stories.

-Kevin McCloskey