Between Yankee Stadium & Gaelic Park
The following content was automatically extracted from the PDF file displayed above and is useful for online search. Due to inaccuaracies in OCR, the text may, in places, be jumbled or difficult to read. For an accurately readable version of article, we recommend consulting the PDF.
NYIHR member Mary Clogston (nee Murphy) worked in real estate, insurance, and health care before retiring a few years ago. Both her parents were from County Clare. Her mother, Margaret (nee Melican, b. 1911), left Lissycasey for New York in 1929; her father, Timothy (1901-1969), emigrated from Kilmihil in 1926. "Mrs. Murphy, we're gonna have a party later on, so it might get bit noisy. "Never mind the noise, dear, and have a gIood time for yourselves." was one of the Waxman boys from upstairs, still in uniform. Both brothers had survived the war and were now home for good. 1972 sounded like a year out of a science fiction film back then, too far off to be imagined. It was the number of our building on Washington Avenue, a typical Bronx apartment house of 1920s vintage, consisting of two wings joined in the middle by a long stoop. Halfway up the stoop there was a landing which made a perfect shaded playground when the sidewalk got too hot, as long as our constant plague, the super, was not around.
Among my first memories of that house were the women in their bathrobes gathering nervously outside our door early in the morning during the war years. The mailboxes were right opposite our ground-floor apartment, and they were waiting for word from their husbands, sons, and brothers overseas.
One morning there was a commotion on the other side of the house and a scream. It was Mrs. Mushnik's daughter. Her husband had been killed in action. As soon as my mother heard, she rushed over to give them what comfort she could, and later on in the day Mrs. Mushnik came down to spend some time with us. She was my mother's best friend in the house at the time, a short, stocky Russian Jewish woman who could have played a sturdy Slavic farm worker in a 1930s Soviet film.
About a year later there was another commotion, this time down in the street. It was still dark outside when we were suddenly awakened by the rattling of garbage-can lids. A crowd was gathering at the corner below and getting more boisterous by the minute. Next thing they were all singing and shouting their way down the middle of the road, using the lids as cymbals and banging pots and pans as they marched. Many were still in their night clothes. Record players were set up onthe sidewalk and there was dancing out in the street for the rest of the day, with confetti raining down intermittently from the windows above. The high point came in the late evening when effigies of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo were strung from a lamppost and thrown into a large bonfire at the intersection of Washington Avenue and 179th Street. World War II was over.
Tremont Avenue, a block-and-a-half below us, marked the beginning of a large Jewish neighborhood that extended southwards to Claremont Parkway. Bathgate Avenue, which ran the length of it, was simply known as the Jewish market. My mother did a lot of her shopping down there and I often had to go with her, much as I tried to get out of it.
By the time you got home you felt like you had been put through a wringer. The whole street was jam-packed with wooden stands, crates, and pushcarts overflowing with everything that grew or moved. Half-plucked chickens dangled from rubbery yellow legs in butcher-shop windows, their blank eyes fixed forever on the sawdust below. Shirts, jackets, dresses, blouses, bathrobes, lingerie, and underwear hung overhead on both sides of the street like banners in a parade. There was not much room left for the throngs of pedestrians, sO you usually wound up walking with one foot on the sidewalk and the other in the gutter, competing for space with the endless stopand-go caravan of delivery trucks and cars.
Both sidewalk and gutter always seemed to be oozing with somethingeither juice from leaky pickle barrels or melting ice from the fish stands- -and you also had to watch out for the odd trampled banana or crushed egg. All this made for a pungent brew on hot summer day, relieved only by the occasional waft of fresh bagles, bialys, and challah.
Each dealer tried to shout down the other as they announced their bargains of the day, while customers jostled, wrangled, and haggled. The latter seemed to come second nature to my mother, whose own mother had once run a small shop, in addition to tending to the cows and pigs Vol.12, 1998 NEW YORK 1R1SH HISTORY PAGE 55 on the farm back in Ireland. She knew the game and made sure she never got the short end. Conversations in Yiddish could be heard on all sides and Hebrew letters were on display over shops and synagogues, of which there seemed to be three or four on every block.
Bearded old men sat in doorways reading the Jewish Daily Forward, while grandmothers in faded babushkas shlepped along with their bundles, looking like they had just arrived from Riga or Minsk. Elbowing our way through it all, we didn't know that we were looking at the final snapshots of : world that was being completely eradicated at that very moment.
To the east of us was an equally dense concentration of Italians. But while everyone went down to the Jewish market, it was only the Italians who went over to the shops and stands on Arthur Avenue to get their cheese, bread, sausages, and pasta.
The fact that we did not belong to either endave made our neighborhood a kind of ethnic free zone where each of the world's nations seemed to have sent at least one representative.
In our building there was an Armenian; Pole; a Scottish man and woman; Turkish Cypriots; Italians; Jews from Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Rumania and Hungary; and Irish from Down, Tyrone, Roscommon, Leitrim, Wicklow, Cork, Kerry, Galway, and Mayo. My own parents were from Clare. Downstairs the Chins lived in the back of their hand laundry, and for a while a family of gypsies from Godknows-where ran a tea room across the street. A musty-looking, star-studded curtain separated the front from the back, and our imaginations knew no rest painting pictures of what went on behind it. There were a few African-American families up the block, but as elsewhere in the segregated New York of the time, they were generally restricted to the poorest housing.
We even had a contingent of WASPs. On Sunday mornings the steps of the Tremont Wesley Methodist Church on 178th Street, half a block below us, would be all white shirts and ties and flowery dresses as the congregation stood around after the service waiting for word with the minister, the Reverend Lloyd Lee, Jr.. The structure, whose rustic wooden spire seemed lost in its concrete and brick sorroundings, dated from Civil War times and was probably the oldest one for miles around.
Unfortunately it burned to the ground one late afternoon in the mid-sixties.
On the high holy days it was it the Jews' turn.
The men would don their suits and hats, the women their fur stoles and pearls, and head down to the shul on Washington just below Tremont. According to neighborhood lore, it had been the original St. Joseph's Church before the massive stone fortress we attended was built just north of Tremont in 1898. Set high up on Bathgate Avenue, St. "There was much less of us and them' where we lived, and no such thing as 'sticking to your own kind.TM Joseph's dwarfed the Methodist church below, and its spire was made not of wood, but of solid granite blocks, in case anyone doubted who the new masters were. Wesley got back in the end, though. During a violent storm in the forties a lightning bolt damaged the spire and it had to be dismantled. A small copper stump went up in its place.
There were plenty of Irish neighborhoods in New York at the time, but my parents preferred to live in a mixed one. There was much less of "us and them" where we lived, and no such thing as "sticking to your own kind." Often in the evening when the cooking and washing up was done, my mother would go across the hall and spend an hour in the kitchen with Mrs. Gross, Hungarian Jewish woman who ran a clothes shop with her husband south of Photo: The stoop is now silent at 1972 Washington Avenue in the Bronx, 1997. Courtesy of James Murphy.
Vol.12, 1998 PAGE 56 NEW YORK 1R15H HISTORY Photo: Murphy family portrait in their Bronx living room, spring 1945. Claremont Parkway. We never locked our door day or night, and sometimes we would enter the living room in the morning to find Mr. Gross sitting on the couch puffing away on his cigar, waiting for one of us to get up so he could have chat.
In the gathering of nations that was our neighborhood there was an unwritten law that everyone seemed to know and respect. The culture of your own particular group was a private matter and you didn't impose it on your neighbors. We had stacks of Irish 78sthe usual collection of songs and dance music by the Flanagan Brothers, the McNulty Family, John McCormack, John McGettigan, Dan Sullivan's Shamrock Band, Hugo Stirling, Mary Carton and Steve McHugh-and our old crank-up victrola, a battered survivor of the 1920s, seemed to be going all the time. But whenever there was a knock at the door we would automatically turn it off in case it was one of the non-Irish neighbors.
The one exception was parties. If our neighbors could make noise at theirs, we could do the same at ours. Before getting married my parents had been regulars at Donovan's Dance Hall at Columbus Circle and 59th Street, and had won competitions there more than once. As the house filled up with children there were no more evenings out for the time being. Unable to go to the dance hall, they brought the dance hall to us. Every few months they would clear out the front bedroom, set up folding chairs along the wall, and send out invitations to twenty or thirty relatives and friends from back home. The music was provided by two first cousins of my father's, Mike and Jack Eustace, both of whom played the accordion. I used to be afraid the wooden floor would cave in under them all when they were up doing the Clare set, but luckily there was no one below us.
The ancient victrola and the improvised bedroom c?ilidhs were not our only links to Irish life in the City. In 1947 my mother enrolled me and my younger brother and sister in James McKenna's dancing school. The classes took place in various venues throughout the City, and the first one we went to was the Leitrim House on 59th Street and 3rd Avenue.
It was always an adventure travelling down to Manhattan on the rattling, roaring Third Avenue El, which ran above ground all the way from the north Bronx to Chinatown. Long before you could see the train, you knew it was coming because the whole station would start shaking. They were all constructed of dark wood and had hardly changed since they were built toward the end of the last century. Some of them even had their original pot-bellied stoves. When you gotdown to Manhattan the houses were so close to the train in some places that you could almost reach out the window and shake hands with the people sitting on their couches and lying in their beds. We felt the El belonged to us because our father was among the blue-uniformed regiment of Irish conductors and motormen who ran it.
The lessons took place on Sunday afternoon and cost 50 cents. About twenty to twenty-five boys and girls from all over the City danced, or tried to, to the live music of a young fiddle-player called Vincent O'Connor. McKenna, a heavy-set man in his fifties, was remarkably light on his feet and did all the instructing himself. remember him as an amiable type, but my EIN Vol.12, 1998 Left to right (front): John, Margaret, Mary, Timothy; (back): Timothy, James, Margaret. Courtesy of Mary Clogston. NEW YORK 1R15H HISTORY PAGE 57 sister claims he would give you a kick in the leg if you didn't get a step right. We learned the jig, double jig, reel, hornpipe, and something called the rocking reel. In 1949 the lessons continued at the Corless Hall on Willis Avenue, the main thoroughfare in the Irish South Bronx, the area below 149th Street. A year later we switched again, this time to Croke Park, also known as Gaelic Park, on 240th Street and Broadway. was not out to win medals at the [United Irish Counties Association] feis, although did compete in a few of them. I simply enjoyed dancing and didn't need much coaxing to go through my repertoire whenever relatives came over. My brother and sister joined me a few times at the Irish Night in St. Joseph's Church hall. There was standing room only at the annual affair, and we stole the show every time with our three-hand reel. The truth is we didn't have much competition. The only other act I can remember was a schoolmate of ours, Frankie Reilly, singing A Little Bit of Heaven in I high-pitched, ear-piercing squeal. But people had a good time and there was a big dance afterwards.
When the youngest member of the family was old enough to walk, my parents could no longer resist the call of the dancehall, and sometimes they would take all five of us down with them to the Star of Munster on 138th Street near Willis Avenue. It was the kind of place where people went to meet friends, and many of them brought their children along with them. There was always live music, traditional sets alternating with the usual ballroom dances. On my last visit there around 1952, with a neighborhood friend and her mother, the Irish exodus from the area was already underway. Soon afterwards the fiddles, flutes, and accordions were replaced by the brassy sound of salsa bands, and the name was changed to the Casino Puerto Rico.
When I was old enough to go to dances on my own, I usually headed for the Jaeger House in Yorkville, or to the Tuxedo or the City Center Ballroom in midtown Manhattan. I also joined the Fordham Irish-American Club, where I met a lot of good friends ] still keep in touch with today. With few exceptions the boys were recent immigrants, while the girls had grown up in Manhattan and the Bronx. As with my earlier excursions to the Irish South Bronx, I was a visitor from outside at our meetings in the Irish Northwest Bronx. Maybe the fact that l had grown up with so many different kinds of people had something to do with it: I was among the few in the club who eventually married someone who was neither Irish nor Catholic. About a year later I said goodbye to the Bronx and didn't shed any tears over it.
The year was 1966 and my parentswere still living in the old neighborhood, which by this time was in free fall. Other buildings had met the same fate as the Tremont Wesley Methodist Church, and doors that had never been locked in earlier years, were never left unlocked now. Spanish had replaced English, as Italian shoemakers and Jewish tailor shops made way for bodegas and Pentecostal storefront churches.
When the first Puerto Rican families moved in around 1950 the children immediately joined the flock of kids on the street and in no time their English was indistinguishable from ours. But as more followed and the old neighbors left, the children had less and less opportunity to pick it up on the street and found they could get along without it anyway.
My mother was friendly with some of the women whose English was better. There was Mrs. Pi?ero, for example, who lived in the Waxman's old apartment upstairs with her two sons, Joey and Jimmy. My father would always exchange a few words with whatever neighbors he met on his way to or from work, or at the Spanish mass at 11 o'clock on Sunday, which he often attended. It was no surprise when a number of the Puerto Rican neighbors turned up at his funeral in St. Joseph's in 1969. My mother, now alone for the first time in over thirty years, moved away a few months later. Before long the building stood completely empty, and eventually the entire block was torn down.
In the small city in upstate New York where I now live, the Bronx seems far away in time and space. Still, whenever I hear a baseball game echoing from a distant radio on a sultry afternoon in July or August, think of the summers spent between sidewalk and stoop, the hordes of children playing ball and jumping rope, the water cascading across Washington Avenue from the open johnny pumps, and the neighbors on their way home from work and from shopping, lingering for a chat in front of the house before climbing the stairs to their steaming apartments. " they would clear out the front bedroom, set up folding chairs along the wall, and send out invitations to twenty or thirty relatives and friends from back home." ? 1998. Published with the permission of Mary Clogston.