I thought I’d return to the Forgotten History of Staten Island today, with this account of origins of Stapleton and its little remembered NFL team, the “Stapes.”

The Founding of Stapleton as a Religious Community by Grandpops and Pops Staples (later of the Staples Singers)

 The story of the founding of Stapleton (Staten Island) by Roebuck [Pops] Staples (later of the Staple Singers) and his father Rev. Sears [Grandpops] Staples could be considered a tragedy of biblical proportions, which is only fitting as their intentions were to create a religious community. As with many tragedies, the seeds of the Staples downfall were sewn by their greatest triumph. This occurred when the elder Staples successfully installed the island’s first fully functioning electrical grid to fulfill the family’s dream of making Stapleton a “shining city on a hill.” This led Pops Staples to discover the electric guitar (or “devils instrument,” as it was referred to in gospel circles at the time). Thus a rift was created between Pops and Grandpops that resulted in the dissolution of Stapleton as a religious community, and its reinvention as the brewing capitol of Staten Island. Though not before Grandpops initiated an experiment that would forever change the course of American sports.

In an effort to attract more people to the Stapleton community, Grandpops acquired an NFL team, which he named somewhat prosaically “the Stapleton team.” Due to his religious background, and his belief that man was created in god’s image, Grandpops frowned on animal nicknames such as ‘Chicago Bears,’ or ‘Carolina Panthers.’ And a team general manager who proposed christening the team, ‘The Stapleton Rats,’ was summarily fired. In lieu of a more colorful name the Stapleton team was affectionately nicknamed “the Stapes” by the local community. This episode was just one example of Grandpops discomfort with professional sports marketing Although he played a fearsome left tackle at Elmira Bible College, Grandpops was generally unfamiliar with the newly emerging sport of professional football. And he was shocked to discover that professional games were played on Sunday, a complete anathema to this devout, but creative man. At the time a Saturday game would have been impossible, because it would have meant competing with the (then) much more popular sport of college football. So Grandpops devised a scheme to employ his newly developed electric grid, to shine lights on the football field, thereby creating an institution we all know today as Monday Night Football.

Although one hurdle was cleared, another source of conflict developed relating to the team. Brewers, that made Stapleton their home, were outraged that Grandpops (who was a diehard prohibitionist) refused to sell beer at the Stapes football games. This led to heated conflicts with the Bechtel and Rubsam & Hormann breweries, including a scene where Pops Staples had to face down an angry mob of beer drinkers carrying counterfeit “free all the beer you can drink” coupons at a Stapes home game. As a last resort, this talented musician launched into a dazzling display of electric guitar work that soothed the savage beer drinkers. Soon after the coupon incident, Grandpops’ tabernacle caught fire and burned to the ground. Although it was never proven, both the fire and the counterfeit free beer coupons were believed to have been initiated by brewing interests diametrically opposed to Grandpops’ prohibitionist policies. But even more devastating to Grandpops Staples, than the loss of the Tabernacle, was Pops quelling of the potential beer riot with his electric guitar dexterity. Grandpops forbade his son from ever using an electric guitar (“devil’s instrument”) again. But Pops adamantly refused to put down his ax.

Thus their partnership ended, as did the future of Stapleton as a religious community. Soon Pops left town with his mellifluously-voiced offspring (Pervis, Cleotha, Yvonne and Mavis) in tow. However the Island’s loss was gospel’s gain, as Pop’s exile from Stapleton set the stage for not only the Staples Singers international success, but for the now widespread use of electric instruments in gospel music.


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