Friday, August 26, 2005

"An Inwood Childhood"

These are the responses to my August 16 article, "A City Kid Remembers Growing Up in Inwood." Thanks to all, please continue to provide us with your feedback.


  1. I too was born in Manhattan and my first place of residence was 714 West 181st Street, between Broadway and Fort Washington Avenue. A real nabe. I went to school at P.S. 132 and my kindergarten teacher, a lovely elderly lady was named Miss Applegate. She taught us how to turn cream into butter and supplied crackers to spread it on. The principal was one Mr. Halligan. They were all friendly people.

  2. Henry
    loved it
    sent it to my 3 kids with the following message, PLEASE READ.

  3. Beautiful story, Henry. Really beautiful

  4. Dear Mr. Stern,
    I lived on Park Terrace East in Inwood as a child in the 60s and 70s. My mother was born on Thayer St. in 1928 and went to P.S. 152.Mom,who died last month, would have loved your reminiscences. For me, your article brought back fond memories of a great place to grow up. All the best,

  5. Beautifully written. I especially enjoyed the recollection of your Victory Garden. I'll quote and cite it in my new book on supermarket history.

  6. YES, all memories (within reason) should be preserved. I am reading the new biography of Henry Roth, the Homer of the lower east side of the great wave of immigration right before and after the trun of the century. Another guy's memoir of Mt. Morris Park is also cited, a guy who lived very near Henry but whose memories are not so emotionally harrowing..perhaps more "objective?

    They could be preserved via Podcast and by POD [print on demand publishing]. I could facilitate the latter, if necessary.

  7. Hope you're collecting these for a memoir

  8. Starquest,
    Thanks for sharing these memories.
    I love living in this area. The parks are an incredible gift

  9. loved your reminiscences of Inwood, having grown up on 147th Street and Riverside a few years your senior. (My movie houses were the Dorset and the Hamilton and 10 cents got you in on Saturday at noon. The matron must have been paid bottom dollar.) My trips to Inwood were conducted by my historian father who liked to invoke the spirits of the Indians; there were a lot of oyster or maybe clam shells - supposedly a remnant of their feasts, and also rumors of arrowheads - never found. But the wildness was a wonderful contrast to 147th street, even with Riverside Park tamely marching along the river. Thnaks for stimulating my memories

  10. What a lovely story!

  11. appreciate your memories of Inwood

  12. Wonderful reading, in case few are replying during the August doldrums.
    > The start of a political autobiography?

  13. Growing Up living in the Academy Gardens-Clason Point
    Surrounded by Rosedale, Lacomb, Commonwealth and Randall Avenues the Academy Gardens was a place that me and my extend family keep near and dear to our hearts. We lived there from 1942 until the early '60's. We went to PS 107 then PS 69 when the zone changed. We had lots-empty fields surrounding the 12 building complex- in which we played and developed our imagination. We have life long friends made in our youth that still keep in touch. We were able-for the most part-be on our own afraid of nothing. Ruby's was our Candy Store-and Pete the Barber cut the boys hair. You went into the pharmacist if you had something in your eye for treatment then outside again to play. It was a great environment for developing kids mines and I too are happy that's where I grew up.

  14. As a Bronx boy born in 1950 who sometimes hung out in Inwood and later worked there (NYPD) a great column!!!!!


  16. Henry,

    As usual, I think that you are gifted with ideas that uplift the soul. Thanks for sharing your boyhood memories.

    I have many childhood memories. I will focus in on one story.

    Coming to America

    The trip from Puerto Rico to New York City seemed endless. We flew on Pam American with our new flowered dresses and white rimmed hats with little flowers. There were not many people on the flight. I even recall walking around the airplane while in-flight. We were all excited to e joining my father in the borough of Manhattan. He had come to scout possibilities for employment in 1953 and two years later the family was on its way to “El Barrio” or Spanish Harlem. My dad was a very well educated man and he came to be the Pastor of a small congregation “La Casa de Dios” on 107th Street between Park and Madison Avenues. The church was on the street level and we lived in the 2nd floor apartment. My dad, Jesus Maria Vidal had graduated from the Evangelical Seminary in Rio Piedras in 1928 and earned his Baccalaureate Degree from the University of Puerto Rico in 1934.

    The railroad apartment was comfortable but not like the big house we left behind in Bayamon, Puerto Rico with open spaces; the house with a swing inside the structure and the tall avocado and coconut trees just outside the house door. Our house was on the street called “Calle Cementerio” which was in fact the street that led directly into the cemetery. I remember many processions passing us by.

    In New York City we did not play outside anymore. We spent many hours playing “Teacher” on the 2nd floor roof, right outside our windows. This became our own playground and many of our first pictures were taken at that spot. El Barrio was a very busy place with many characters, each vying for their own space in the new country. It was always an adventure to shop at “La Marketa” the open air market on Park Avenue that ran for blocks under the Park Avenue Metro North Tracks. This was a great meeting place for the people from Puerto Rico. We met many friends from back home and purchased all the foods that we were accustomed to eating in Puerto Rico.

    I started school in the second grade at P.S. 108, the Peter Minuet School, now known as the Angelo Del Toro School. I already knew English and spoke Spanish at home. There are many stories to recount about the two or three years we spent in “El Barrio.” We arrived to a new culture, street with horse and carriages, ice boxes in the window to keep the groceries cool, milk in metal containers and hats gloves and coats. We arrived!

  17. OK Henry: Grew up in Brooklyn (Midwood district-but Stuyvesant High School) and was just yesterday telling someone how when we wanted to play stoop ball, stickball or punchball and didn't have a "spaldeen" or money for one, we would straighten out a wire hanger and use the hook end (looped and almost closed) in the sewers at the ends of the block to find spaldeens, floating in the water, which we would pull up with the hangers, wipe off, and play with. If the ball went down the sewer again, it was thus always retrievable as long as we had the hangers. That, and the Commander Cody (flying guy with jet pack) serial, and the yo-yo contests at the Midwood theater on Ave J on Saturday mornings, along with the double feature, and great "appetizing stores," are some of my fondest growing up in Brooklyn memories.

  18. I really enjoyed this nice evocation of an time poised between innocence and maturity. I’m a few years younger and from Philadelphia rather than New York. Born in 1945, I have no recollection of the War. My first related memory is that my father, a naval aviator, could not find housing for his new family when he mustered out. As part of the GI Bill (I think), he was able to secure residence in a former Naval Training Barracks in North Philly—about seven blocks from what was then Shibe Park. Each barracks that had housed 48 men was carved into four two-bedroom units. The rent was $37 a month ($38 if you wanted a refrigerator). There was virtually no storage –hardly a problem for a generation whose accumulation of goods had been constrained by the Depression and World War II. I do remember Dad had in the linen closet two wooden cases with interior shelves holding model ships, both Allied and Japanese, for identification purposes. My father was remarkably tolerant of me and my brothers playing with them. My mother at some point threw them in the trash (perhaps at the same time she disposed of my baseball cards). I’ve sometimes fantacized about going through the linen closets of all those .units. My guess is that they held emblems of both the past and future: German Lugers, Japanese flags. code books, etc. For the future textbooks for making up college cases and so on. Besides the identifiction models, our linen closet held a dog-earred old edition of Gregg’s Shorthand.

  19. One of the improvements: There's a relatively new boathouse for racing shells on the Harlem River now, just south of Dyckman Street.

  20. Brisket12:09 PM

    Dear StarQuest,

    I enjoyed this article very much. It was a very good way to add variety to NYCivic's archives. It described a simpler, more charming time in our country and city, and we don't hear much today about what life was like for children during World War II. I also remembered some of these stories (especially about your friends who died young) from a conversation we had on the subway. I'm sure many others enjoyed reading this as well.

  21. Dear Starquest,

    Read all your stuff and enjoy it. I particularly enjoyed this one. The memories are sweet....but then I still live closer to Inwood (Riverdale for 40 years) than you do...

  22. Dear Henry:I love the essay.I forwarded it to other Inwoodites I keep in contact with.Your recollections brought back sweet memories of growing up in the neighborhood.

  23. Henry, You really stirred my memories with your description of what it was like during the 30's and the World War II years. But, in Boston, the price of a kid's movie ticket was 12 cents and we spent the whole afternoon (4 hours!) watching the movie, a stage show, coming attractions, the latest episode of a continuing story, and more. We had victory gardens, stamp books for bonds and for rations. As for large parks, in Boston proper, there were and still are the Esplanade, the Commons, the Public Gardens withe the fabled swan boats. And outside of Boston, the Blue Hills for hours of hiking. Yes, polio was a dreaded disease. And, FDR was wonderful--we all felt pain when he left us. Henry, thanks for bringing back the memories


  25. Henry, your strengths are so many, and you are so talented, but (to my mind) never more than when you string together words in story telling such as in the Inwood Childhood. I learned a great deal, and was very very touched by your memories. Thankyou for sharing them with me

  26. Once again, thanks for your Inwood reminiscences.

    A year or so ago, my oldest grandson asked me some questions about growing up in Brooklyn. I told my youngest son who now lives near where I grew up who suggested that maybe we should visit StoryCorps in GCT, and he'd ask the questions that I would answer. I sent a copy of the CD-Rom to my grandsons and kept once for myself (he'd gotten one already).

    It was not only a stir to memories and to a way of life that's almost impossible to imagine now for those who weren't there. It got me to working on a family memoir and am still going on it.

    It's cathartic for me and I hope will be a legacy for the kids.

    My old neighborhood, unlike Inwood, was virtually destroyed over the years -- Prospect Heights and Crown Heights in Brooklyn were killed by drugs, white flight, and total disregard by the authorities. Although we were greatly affected by the Depression (it was a very working class area) we still had a lit right at home to help us all forget spaghetti dinners five nights a week. The Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Public Library, and Prospect Park and the Botanical Gardens were all within walking distance, If we had a nickel we could hop the IRT for "The City," and if we didn't we could go behind Sal's grocery store where he stored the empty deposit bottles, swipe them and go down the street to another grocery and turn them in at 2-cents each so only five were needed and that's all I ever took.

    The City then was a much safer place. Transportation was cheap (transfers) and there was still a million places to go for free.

    Very different times and a lot easier to grow up with. And a place that truly effected me throughout my life so far. Geography and neighborhood really make a difference in how grown-ups regard lots of things.

  27. More on WW II and inflation...

    In his memoirs, a Madison Avenue advertising exec (I think it was Ted Bates) confessed that during his career he had only done one thing he was ashamed of. He helped created War Bond advertising campaigns, which implied that if you didn't buy bonds the boys at the front would have no bullets or tanks. In fact, war supplies were top priority regardless of bond sales. The real reason for bond drives was to take spending money out of an overheated economy.

  28. > You truly grew up during a different time. Your recollections prompted a
    > few of my own.
    > My childhood in New York was brief, but it left a permanent impression.
    > My family had just been brought back stateside from Europe with my Dad's
    > redeployment to Andrews AFB in Maryland. I don't remember anything about
    > his orders, of course, but he left me with his parents in Brooklyn while
    > he left for Maryland. I think my two infant brothers and my Mom went with
    > him, too, since I dont remember them at all from this period. I only
    > remember my grandfather, who closley resembled the statue of the garment
    > worker on seventh avenue (which he was) and my grandmother indulging my
    > strange taste for borscht. I don't recall sweating the details of my
    > immediate's family's whereabouts. I was in second grade in what, for me,
    > was a different country. Up to that point, I had grown up on military
    > bases, so this was my first experience at a civilian school. I kind of
    > remember my Dad, who had grown up in Brooklyn, warning me that New York
    > city schools were tough, and my mom, who was French and had taught me to
    > read in the wrong language, telling me I was the smartest kid in the world
    > with nothing to worry about.
    > Most of my memories about New York centered, predictably, on the school
    > experience. I remember the little black marble-covered composition books
    > that followed me everywhere. I remember the gym as a cavernous, dimly-lit
    > concrete armory full of kids racing past glowing rectangles on the
    > hardwood floor created by sunlight streaming through the high windows. I
    > recall how the lobby to my grandparent's apartment looked as I left and
    > returned each day to or from however many blocks separated the school from
    > my grandparents, and the feeling of passing through that lobby, to a new
    > adventure with new kids at school, or back to the comforts, as they were,
    > of my grandparent's home. (When my kids were seven year's old, I hired a
    > van to take them every day the six blocks south from our apartment to
    > their school on the Upper West Side.)
    > My whole, languid memory as a New York schoolboy probably encompasses a
    > four or five month period, before my parents brought me down to Maryland
    > where they made a new home for our family. I now say I grew up in
    > Maryland. (From the end of second grade to college is a long time.) But
    > I also say I went to school in New York. My own kids, raised in New York,
    > have grown up with a very different lifestyle. Except for one kid's
    > kindergarten year, my kids have gone to private schools. When people ask
    > me if the public schools are really so bad as to justify the fortune I
    > paid for private schooling, I compare my kid's kindergarten experience
    > with my second-grade experience and shake my head. I don't think P.S. 199
    > or P.S. 87 are very different from the school I remember. But parents do
    > the best they can for their kids. I think that's what mine did for me,
    > and, unlike them, I've been blessed with the means to pay for one teacher
    > per 12 kids versus one for 30. Who knows what they will recall.

  29. Henry- I enjoyed your reminisces about Inwood, especially since I represented it in the State Senate for 24 years. I loved it. In many ways it is the quintessential New York City neighborhood adjusting to the changing immigrant population but retaining its availability for and character as a low and moderate income home for new immigrants (with great parks). In contrast the West Side, where my father in l943 finally found an apartment he could afford where he could take care of his two sons (since Washington Heights was too expensive and it was not until 1957 he could afford to move there) while an exciting community (which I also represented) has pretty much lost its moderate income character and heterogeneity

  30. "God bless us [native New Yorkers] every one!" What a darling column, so filled with the flavor of forgotten New York. Do you remember that The Daily News used to have a feature in its Sunday magazine, New York's Changing Scene? It juxtaposed a particular corner fifty years ago with the corner at the time the newspaper appeared. (They also had a daily column called "The Voice of the People" my parents were fond of.)

    I vaguely remember the ice man, although by the 1950s I'm not sure who could possibly still be using those squares of ice the vendor had to hoist with massive tongs. Perhaps I never did see an ice man and am superimposing memories of photographs taken earier on my personal history. One of your readers might be able to set me straight, I hope.

    If you are a fan of Dylan Thomas', I strongly recommend John Malcolm Thomas' Dylan Thomas in America newly restored to print by "Prion" a British publisher. Brinnin writes of "Costello's" and like "joints" --now there's a side of New York City I am utterly unfamiliar with. Weren't these watering holes all on Third Avenue? I have the impression they were slightly more classy that the surviving Irish bars on Third Avenue in Yorkville (the Dew Drop Inn, and the like); the same Third Avenue where the "Irish Echo" was published in a storefront on 89th, cheek by jowl with a moving and storage company!

  31. Dear Henry:
    Thanks for the memories. For years I have referred to taxpayers. Not one person had heard of the expression. Thanks for validating the memory.
    I also remember the modest cost of movies. The Beacon theatre in Manhattan(still active in its reincarnation) usually cost 25 cents, but was 11 cents on Saturday morning. Double feature and a couple of shorts. Maybe also a dish.

  32. NYCivic continues to sustain its value and relevance for me in uncommon ways. The "Oysters R in Season" anecdote reminded me of passing a store on one of the neighborhood high-streets with my father when I was about 10. The storefront window bore six very strange letters, and I asked my father what they meant. His answer to me sounded like "Gosha Bosha," and further inquiry was interrupted by encountering a neighbor and a lapse into "adult conversation" which bored me. Before the interruption, however, I did take away that it had something to do with being Jewish. So the next time I was a guest at the house of Rabbi, whose son was one of my "inner circle", I asked about the sign and was told that it indicated a kosher butcher. This led to further questions about Judaism and jewish customs and practices and, subsequently, a life-long interest in Torah and Talmud studies as forerunners of certain aspects of christain theology. Over the last thirty-five years, I'd lost touch with. After reading this number of NYCivic I recalled these early lessons and was able to trace and effect a reunion.with a person who has known me longer than any of the people I now see everyday, and who is a unique custodian and sharer of a part of my life, unknown to even the closest of my current friends and acquaintances. Thanks.

  33. Mahout3:42 AM

    Since I have only lived in New York City for 4 years, I enjoy learning more about the city's history through your personal recollections, and those of others. Keep them coming.

  34. Thank you Henry!

    I'm having a miserable time in work as deadlines approach and morale lowers even further in the team, a lot of my friends are having personal and health problems and news on a global scale post-Katerina is hard to stomach.

    It's so bad that I'm two weeks late reading your e-mail, something which has not happened in the (nearly) two years that I have been receiving them.

    But then i made a few minutes for myself and i'm glad i did - i was able to drift off and try and imagine what your childhood must have been like.

    You asked for comments, and mine is "keep them coming!". The digital age will allow us to preserve our memories like never before - just ask my mother, she's just finished scanning over 400 family photos and putting them onto CD, so that everyone can have their own set!

    Thank you again,


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  38. Anonymous1:41 AM

    Hey anyone remember the concession stand owned by Joe or Charlie? This was my family's, Italians and Greeks. That was later my grandparents in the 70's and 80's. Please share any pictures or memories you may have. They sold candy soda and hot dogs by the courts and swings. I didn't know them for very long and even a sparse memory of going there would be great to hear about.