viva hojas viva

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Hockey night for a guy from Havana (Photo: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Alexandra Studios fonds))

The first hockey game Fidel Castro ever saw, he had great seats at Maple Leaf Gardens. I thought. I mean, look at the photograph: Castro, right?

In 1959, in April, the newly minted prime minister of revolutionary Cuba did visit Canada. He was 32. Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Hamilton were on his original schedule. It was the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup final that spring, Geoffrions and Moores and Richards versus Bowers and Bauns and Mahovliches. It would have been some great hockey to see. Except that Castro was still in the United States when the Canadiens wrapped up the series on April 18 and lifted the Cup, so there was no hockey to see by the time he got up here. Not that he made it to Toronto, anyway.

In New York, the police and the FBI had information that hired killers were after him. “I don’t believe it at all,” was what Castro said. Five brothers from Philadelphia were implicated along with two other brothers from somewhere else. They’d already been paid. I’m not making this up. The Philadelphia brothers, who had criminal records for disorderly conduct and assault, were possibly riding in a black 1957 Chevrolet with a white top and Florida plates. The other brothers might have been in a dirty grey Cadillac from Michigan. Castro had 30 plainclothesmen guarding his hotel suite. “I sleep very well,” he said, “and don’t worry at all.” The brothers were named Scoleri — that was the next thing the newspapers came up with. Also that they were back in Philadelphia and also Las Vegas. The other gangsters were named David Rosen or Joe Stacher or Doc Harris, and may have been associates of the racketeer Meyer Lansky and — and they weren’t in New York, either. A man with a makeshift bomb was arrested at a speech Castro gave in Central Park. His name was John Feller. Continue reading