Chapter 7

Jackson Street

The Move to Jackson Street

We left the house on River Street and moved to one on Jackson Street.  This was a very small house, with three rooms downstairs, an adjoining shed, and an enclosed stairway to the upper floor.  It also had three rooms where a very old couple, Frank and Mrs. Latour lived.  Mr. Latour had a wealthy brother named William who owned most of that property where the Notre Dame Church parking lot is now.  He also owned the long building, also across from Notre Dame, later used by the First Ward Booster Club.  The rich brother had little to do with his destitute brother, and there was little love lost on either side.

Dump Wagons

Mr. Latour used the lot across from Notre Dame to park numerous wagons of all types, including dump wagons or construction wagons.  These wagons were the precursors of our modern dump trucks and had a hinged bottom running lengthwise under the wagon.  The bottom was locked while they were being loaded.  When they reached the site of unloading, the hinges were released, the load fell under the wagon, and the horses merely pulled the end of the wagon over the load.  Of course, horses had a lot more traction than a truck, so this was no problem for them.  The McConville Brothers had a lot full of similar wagons on their lot on River Street, between the flouring mills and Verniers Produce Warehouse.

Frank Latour

Old Frank, as we called him, would go every day with an old cart to the bay in back of the cattle sheds, where all the driftwood floating down the river would collect.  He heated his flat all winter with the wood he collected in the summer.  A rawboned man, Henry Abar, would work for a couple of days sawing up the wood to manageable size, and stack it in a shed attached to the house on the corner, in which a family named Duquette lived.

Gladys Como Goes Blind

Of all the places we moved to, this house and neighborhood had more impact on my memories than any other.  At home at this time was my father, my sister Margaret, Elizabeth, Dick, myself, Berenice and Gladys.  A niece of my mother’s who had married a German die-maker named Ernest Schmidt, took my sister Berenice back with them to New Jersey for a year, since they had no children of their own.  My sister Gladys, who had been cross-eyed from birth, had her right eye removed in an effort to stem her rapidly failing sight.  The state subsequently sent her to a blind school in Batavia, New York, where she learned the Braille system and to more or less cope with a state of complete blindness, to which she would ultimately be reduced.  She returned each summer, during vacation, and would return in the fall to Batavia.

Dunn’s Marine Motors

Across the road from us was the building of the defunct Dunn’s Marine Motors Company.  this company in its day built complete motors on its premises.  There was a small foundry in the back part of the building and a large machine shop in the front.  When we lived on Covington Street, we used to bring junk down to this place, copper and lead most, and Mr. Dunn would give us a penny or two for it.  In 1929, however, this place was out of business, unable to compete with the large manufacturers  such as General Motors, Chrysler, and others, which at this time were buying out smaller plants to become the present day giants.  And so Mr. Dunn, in his last years, was forced to eke out a living dealing in junk.  By the time we had moved to Jackson Street, this place was all boarded up, except for the foundry in the back which had all its windows broken out and served as a place for our neighborhood kids to play in.

The Martins

At the time we lived on Covington Street, the area on the north side of Main Street, from Dunn’s to two houses and Burns Bottling Works, almost to St. Lawrence Avenue, was mostly swamp which extended to the siding alongside the freight sheds.  This whole area was used as a dump, and was still a dump when we moved to Jackson Street.  The nearest house to the dump was occupied by a French family, the Martins, one of whom ultimately became my brother-in-law.  The three boys  whom I knew of  were Vincent, Joseph and Marious.  Vincent and Joseph did not get along too well with my older brother Pete, who was about the same age.  Nor did Marious get along with my brother Dick, also of an age.  In any scrap, the Como’s always won.  I, of course, was too young to become involved in their battles.


Madden Coal Company

Shortly before this, George Madden broke with the Hall Company and built his own coal company next to the Martin hosue.  He built an office at the top of the hill, coal silos at the bottom, and a railroad spur to service his enterprise.  The company went out of business in the late fifties or early sixties, but the buildings remain.

Dupont Recreation Center

After this area was finally filled in, it was bought by Al Dupont, who owned a drug store, soda fountain, and branch post office at the corner of Lake and River Streets.  Dupont put in a miniature golf course, tennis courts, shooting gallery, and hot dog stand.  Dupont ran his enterprise for a year or two, and then went out of business.  This area was used for small wandering tent shows, mostly religious, and was finally taken over by St. Joseph’s Orphanage as a playground.  Such it remained until the orphanage was terminated.

Yo -Yo’s

About this time the yo-yo was invented and became a national rage.  A cheap one cost ten cents.  One half was painted black and the other half was painted red.  A good one cost a whole quarter, but it had what was called free-wheeling.  It would spin at the end of a string, and with a slight jerk would catch and return to the hand.  Every kid in school had to have a yo-yo, no matter how poor they were.  Otherwise you were not even considered to be a member of the human race.  Professional yo-yo experts gave exhibitions at Dupont’s amusement park.  They had one in each hand and would do tricks with them.  In retrospect, this seems quite silly, but no sillier than some of the things which are popular today.


The term “free-wheeling” was taken from cars which came out shortly before the yo-yo. These cars were equipped with a device by which the rear axle was disconnected from the rest of the car, enabling it to coast while going downhill or at a high rate of speed, with no drag whatsoever from the power components.  This was outlawed shortly after, however, since in order to regain control of your car, it was necessary to re-engage the rear axle.  This was sometimes difficult, as a nationwide surplus of homo-burgers could attest.

The turret top

Another innovation which came out about this time was the turret top, which was supposed to replace the canvas tops which even the sedans had up to this time.  The turret tops were an amazing innovation in cars since they were heavy gauge steel.  Although some may say that cars are built better today, they are not built safer, since it was quite common for the new cars to run off the road, roll or tumble end over end, and still acquire little damage to the roof.  This is quite impossible with the flimsy frames of today.


While I am on the subject of cars, I would also like to add the fact that any eleven or twelve year old boy knew every car on the road by sight.  This was due to the fact that no matter wheat type of car, be it convertible, phaeton, sedan or touring car, the front end of each model by each manufacturer remained the same.  A kid had only to glance at the front end to tell the make, and the front end remained more or less the same, year after year.  This was before the present lunacy of demanding a completely redesigned car every year.  Some of the makes I remember from those times are the Whillys, Whippet, Franklin, Peirce-Arrow, Rokne, Hudson, packard and many more, all quite common then but no longer made now.

The smallest car I ever saw at that time was the Austin, about half the size of a Volkswagen.  The most popular model of any car, especially among the younger crowd, was the roadster.  Many good middle aged citizens of today owe their existence to the complete privacy of the roadster’s rumble seat and the dexterity of their parents.  It was not really easy to make love in a rumble seat but, thank heavens, it was not impossible.  In view of a dearth of hasty marriages, it is possible that the decline of the roadster came about due to the parents refusal to allow their children to own one.

My Brother Dick

I have mentioned my brother Dick.  He could have become a great artist, since he loved drawing so much.  He studied animals at the cattle sheds and in books and showed a great deal of promise.  He was also an ardent fisherman and he and my father’s cousin, Jimmie Hoadley, were always fishing during the summer months.  Even though we were nearly of a size, we rarely traveled around together.  I disliked fishing, but was a voracious reader which he, in turn, disliked.  He had buck teeth, which gave him a perpetual smile and he was liked by everyone while I, being a bookworm, was quite shy.  I was never able to master the art of small talk and, indeed, was little interested in it.  He loved sports, I did not.  He liked hunting with his BB gun, I did not.  My insatiable curiosity perhaps enabled me to catch up in school with Dick and my sister Margaret.  We were all in seventh grade together, although in different classes.

Although in my lifetime I have never had a close friend, this was perhaps due to my reluctance to allow anyone to become too close to me.  Outside the immediate members of my family, I have always enjoyed my own company.  You will pardon me at this point if I mention the fact that it was not until my own sons grew up that I had a chance to converse with someone who had interests similar to my own.  Although there were many around, I was never fortunate enough to meet them.


The one interest my brother Dick and I had in common was our live for swimming.  When he was not fishing and I was not reading, we spent the rest of the time in the water - in the summer, of course.  Most boys then were excellent swimmers.  There was little else to do on hot summer days.  Although swimming across the St. Lawrence is an event today, at that time it was not worth notice.  My brother Dick, my cousin Buddy Wicks, our friend Bert Gilbert and I would walk up to the Klondike, or the Acco dock as it is called today, give our clothes to a non-swimming friend to carry back, and swim down the river, past the railroad car ferry and thence to the city dock.  The object of this was to see who would quit first.  We all quit at one time or another, but the object of the game was to swim to the city dock without once touching land, and we all did it many times.

Buddy Wicks

My cousin, Buddy Wicks, although smaller and younger than the rest of us was a far better diver.  He would dive from any height on a dare.  We all liked to dive and our favorite place was off the railing of the Lake Street Bridge, or off the end of the Car Ferry dock.  The fourth ward gang liked diving off the grain elevator, but we never got down that far, and we were not that good.

The Power Canal

For all swimmers in the second ward, the most popular spot by far was the gates of the power canal, opposite the water works.  In front of the gates was a long breakwater plus several piers. Between the breakwater and the dam, heavy timbers were chained to prevent debris from entering the power canal.  Bear in mind that no water ran over the dam in the summer.  All water, with the exception of the little used by the water works was diverted into the power canal, which supplied the water for the wheels of several industries.  The power canal supplied water power to the hub factory, Proctor’s Manufacturing and Lumber, Green Manufacturing  and Maple City Milling.  These factories were supplied with water from a large holding basin built up with levees on the river side. The continuation of the power canal was cut out of solid rock and crossed Lake Street, continued on for perhaps a hundred feet, made a sharp right angle, crossed Main Street, and then River Street.  The factories served by this section were the Babcock Pump Factory, the Ogdensburg Power and Light Company, Bill Bell & Co., and the Ogdensburg Roller Mills.

General Newton Martin Curtis

The Maple City Milling was formerly owned by General Newton Martin Curtis, the Civil War hero of Fort Fisher.  In spite of the extensive reading I’ve done on Fort Fisher, I’ve never found any mention of him.  I can only conclude that all generals were heroes or, conversely, maybe all heroes were generals.

Swimming Under the Power Canal Gates

To get back to my story, the gates to the power canal were generally lowered until the bottoms were several feet under water and naturally there were numerous whirlpools in front of them.  Once in a while someone would dare everyone else to swim under the gates and several would take the dare.  It was always possible to back out, but several feet from the gates was the point of no return.  Then, of course, you were committed.  The only course then was to dive as deep under the gates as possible  so that the current would not slam you against the bottom of the gates, and well in the middle to avoid the sides of the structure.  The water came boiling up on the other side and when you came to the top you were tumbled end over end.  It was necessary to hold your breath for quite some time until it was possible to stay on top of the water.

I Almost Drown

Some of us would swim under the power canal to the bridge on Main Street.  The bridge was below the surface of the water so we would dive under and swim until we could see light, then come to the surface.  At this point we would climb out of the water.  Although I had done this many times, I almost got into serious trouble once.  At the bridge on River Street there was a grill placed so that it caught debris before it got into the water wheels of the mills on the other side. While swimming under the Main Street bridge, I misjudged and just  as I broke the surface, I was pinned on this grill.  Luckily my head was above water, but the enormous current held me and I was unable to move.  Luckily my friends notified the fire house alongside the canal and a couple of firemen fished me out.  I never again attempted this stunt.  It is really surprising that none of us was killed, but I have never heard of any kid suffering an injury of any kind during these stunts.

The Story Teller

In the summer of 1932 a superb mechanic, at least for the times, named Harold Barr, acquired the abandoned Dunn property across from our house and opened a garage.  he employed what to us was a gigantic negro who used the small office as living quarters.  This superbly muscled negro wore an undershirt of the times, which was a great deal skimpier than the modern T-shirt.  He would regale us with tales of warfare among the natives in Africa.  He had a large scar on his back and he assured us that this scar was caused by a spear thrust.  All the kids in the neighborhood idolized him.  He was full of wonderful tales, and we would all gather around him after supper and listen, wide-eyed, to his wonderful adventures until well after dark.  He would occasionally buy a small bag of candy for us, which was a rare treat then.  Perhaps his lonely man enjoyed our company as much as we did his.  Although my mother was terrified of negroes, he was so pleasant and courteous that even she like him.

Our Yacht

On Main Street lived a man named Captain Edmund Fleming, who owned a yacht which had been anchored for years on the river below Covington Street.  It sank around 1929, and after being on the bottom for a couple of years, it was dragged into shore where it was patched and refloated.  It was bought in 1931 by a mechanic at the New York Central roundhouse named Cecil Marks, who had broken up with his wife.  He had it taken to a slip behind McConville’s where he stripped it down to the hull.  He brought all new deck planking, cut to order, as well as lumber for all the living quarters.  He planned to make a home out of it, since he was due to retire.  But he and his wife made up.  Somehow or other it came into the possession of my father, who was a fairly good friend of Marks.

My brother Dick and I were constantly down admiring our yacht, figuring how to put the decks on and where we could find and place masts.  Naturally we would have nothing to do with motors.  We studied square rigged ships and we knew exactly what we wanted.  This yacht was a good size, about fifty or sixty feet long, and we even had the places for our cannon all figured out.  As you can guess, we planned to sail down the river and out to sea, standing heroically on the poop deck or the bow sprit, or whatever the hell one stood heroically on, and good-naturedly sinking every ship we came to, while the rest of the family cowered below decks, seeking protection from a storm of musket shot, grape shot, hot shot or half shot.  naturally before we sank each ship we would relieve them of all valuables, such as nickel candy bars, which were quite large then.  We would make everyone aboard walk the plank, including girls which, at our age, were thoroughly detested.

It never occurred to us that anyone might object to this sort of thing.  After all, it never seemed to bother LaFitte, Blackbeard or Captain Kidd, who considered it good, clean fun.  We had no desire to really hurt anyone.  All we wanted was to blow them all to hell, stick a sword in their ribs, and watch beautiful young maidens tearfully begging for mercy while we disdainfully booted them off the plank.  Unfortunately, about this time my father developed a monumental thirst, and he sold the whole works for enough to finance a binge for a couple of days, and our plans came to naught.  I still think that a few months of buccaneering would have fitted me for a successful career in politics.  But, as it was, I was forced to work for a living for the rest of my life.

Our Clubhouse

This same summer my father acquired a half dozen doors and built us a fantastic building, which we used as a clubhouse.  Since our career in piracy was done, we plotted to overthrow foreign governments.  It was easy to determine which ones were to be our victims.  We would rattle off a list of countries and the ones we could not pronounce were doomed to destruction.  Another successful career was nipped in the bud when a man walking by observed that our clubhouse would make a good chicken coop.  He offered my father three dollars for it.  Since my father had developed another thirst, he immediately accepted.

The Gang

The gang we hung around with at that time consisted of Chet Vinch (being oldest he was our leader), Jimmie Jerome and his snot-nosed brother Harry, Buck Harvey, Bert Gilbert, my brother Dick and I, Billy Hopwood (whose father operated the florist shop now operated by Farrands), Eddie and George Coleman, and sometimes Johnny Tyo, whole lived in the Gates Curtis home.  The two Coleman boys were too young to really be in our gang, but they were most accomplished thieves.  Whenever we wanted something we contacted these brothers and they were only too happy to oblige.  This was the happiest summer in my memory.  So much happened then, and never afterward were things quite so exciting.

The Victory Garden

Although Hoover kept repeating that there was nothing to worry about, that the country as on a sound basis, and that hard work would pull us out of  this synthetic depression, he unbent enough to provide all the poor with free seeds.  These seeds were probably designed by some big city expert whose sole qualification for the job was that he must know nothing whatever about gardening.  The packet came in a brown craft container which contained an assortment of seeds.  Each envelope in it had the name of the plant on it and nothing else.  There was one packet to a family whether you were a bachelor or had fifteen kids.

My father immediately went out and stole (OOPS, sorry Pa) acquired a spade and dug up the vacant lot next to us for a garden.  The plants grew successfully and were a great help to us, with some exceptions.  My father planted lettuce, cucumbers, potatoes, corn, carrots, radishes, all of which we ate.  He also planted white turnips and rutabagas.  My mother tried to cook white turnips, but no one would eat them.  The plants grew surprisingly large.  As a matter of fact, the two plants that we had the least use for grew the best of all.  while the rest of our products were edible, they were somewhat skimpy, but the turnips and rutabagas were magnificent.  We spent many evenings weeding the garden, removing potato bugs from the potato and tomato plants, and spraying them with paris green.

For the benefit of anyone who has never seen a rutabaga, it is a large plant with very thick leaves, like a cabbage.  If I remember right, they also had a large root.  No one seemed to know whether the top or the root was supposed to be eaten, including the insects.  Although our garden was crawling with pests, I never saw a bug on a rutabaga, not even a dead one.  Apparently, even though insects might fly over these plants and expire in mid air, they somehow found the strength of crawl off and tumble to the ground where they could die with dignity.  All the gardeners used to walk around praising each other on the size of their rutabagas.  When Fall came they were uprooted to form compost for the next year’s garden.

The Battle of Lighthouse Point

The fourth of July that year was the usual thing.  My parents managed to spare a couple of dollars for fireworks which we divided up and nursed all day.  The fireworks then were kept by the wholesalers in a small stone building below the dam.  We would go down before the fourth and watch the wholesalers sell fireworks to the various merchants.  Sometimes the wholesalers would demonstrate various fireworks to the buyers.  One item in particular was called “Whistling Pete”.  It consisted of a cardboard tube mounted on a small block of wood, with a fuse.  When set off, it would shriek to a rising crescendo, and burst high in the air.  At this time we were disgusted with Western movies because there were too many girls cluttering up the screen, so we concentrated on war pictures.  The sound effects of whistling petes sounded exactly like the aerial bombs dropped from airplanes.  so imagine our delight when, a week or so after the fourth, the Coleman brothers managed to break into the stone building and steal a whole case of these items, which they then donated to the gang. 

This was too great a treasure to expend without some thought.  We managed to find some old pipes into which the tubes fit fairly well.  We then repaired to the back of the cattle sheds where we divided up our forces and ammunition, and the battle was on.

The enemy forces held the point near the lighthouse, while us good guys held the cattle sheds and its store of valuable manure.  We shot the explosives by inserting the fireworks in he pipe, lighting it, and pointing the pipe at the enemy which was ensconced in the cattails near the lighthouse.  I dislike belittling the efforts of our boys in World War I, but if the movies were any indication, the battles of the Marne, or Chateau Thierry were not in the same class as the Battle of the Lighthouse Point.  Although our side was in no particular danger, it was easy to imagine the group at the lighthouse with shell craters six feet deep, and arms, blood and guts flying in all directions.  We had a half dozen cannon on our side, and we were firing as fast as we could reload.  Being caught up in the fever of battle, we had absolutely no mercy.  After all, this was war!

I thought at the time that some pacifist had called the police.  But in retrospect, it is hard to imagine that the whole city was not aware of the sounds of battle.  At any rate, the cops came screeching down he road to the cattle sheds.  After declaring a hasty armistice, we beat a retreat, leaving the enemy to shell the cops at their leisure.  Since there was no retreat for our opponents, the police easily rounded them up.  I am proud to say that in the true traditions of the Mafia, or should I say military, they refused to squeal on those who got away.  They got off with a reprimand, I imagine, because the next day we were plotting our next caper.

The Gang’s Clubhouse

In that section of the second ward known formerly as tanbark alley, the houses along the canal had been torn down before our time, and the land had grown up into trees and underbrush.  This property could be called a peninsula, I suppose, although it was not more than ten feet across at its narrower end.  One side of it served as the bank of the power canal as it made a left angle across Lake Street.  On the other side it served as a wall for the holding basin which served the mills on East River Street.  We decided that it was time for our organization to have our very own clubhouse.  Lumber was a problem since most loose lumber fed the kitchen ranges of the community.  But across the holding basin was Proctor’s Lumber Company which stored its lumber in open sheds.  This might seem unbelievable now, but actually most people were honest then, and their unguarded lumber was quite safe.  At least until we came along.

We conceived the idea of helping ourselves to all the two-by-fours we needed and our club house was proceeding beautifully.  The Coleman boys had stolen all the nails we needed, and all the boys chipped in with their fathers’ tools and our shack was nearly completed when the police came.  My brother Dick and I dove into the power canal, but the police merely walked along the canal until we were forced to come out.  We still could have gotten away, but we felt guilty about the others holding the bag and came out on the side of the police.  They caught all of us, but our only punishment was that we had to knock all the nails out of the lumber and carry it back to Proctor’s.  The fact that my brother and I were related to Mrs. Proctor may or may not have had something to do with it.  The adults then seemed to be more tolerant of young boys.  We probably did nothing worse than they themselves had done and it perhaps brought a few chuckles and a lot of memories.  Some stole because they were hungry, and some because they were cold.  But anything else was safe in your unlocked house, or unfenced yard, and vandalism and muggings were unheard of by teenagers.

Dick and I Build a Shack

My brother and I got tired of adults calling the police, so we decided to build our own shack.  We went out to the slip and gathered all the lumber we could find and built our own shack against the foundation of a former house in our back yard.  We met with our friends constantly during the day and after dark, including an older girl named June Marlow, whom we thought quite beautiful, and our cousins Esther and Gladys Recore.  We also met with Irene Slamski, Mary Neski and Lena Gilbert.


I found, to my astonishment, that my brother Dick had a crush on our cousin Gladys, and she reciprocated.  Although I despised girls, I would not be outdone, so I decided to have a crush on all the rest of them.  The only difficulty was that I was not sure just what a crush was.  One night my cousin Gladys, Dick, Lena Gilbert and I were in our shack.  While my brother Dick and our cousin were occupied, Lena decided to teach me all about romance, from he light stuff to the real heavy stuff.  I had to keep my head outside, because my mother had fantastic hearing and could hear a girlish giggle for three hundred feet.  This night was no exception, and my mother was soon out in high dudgeon.  The moment she perceived that we were having loads of fun, she gave us holy hell.  There were to be no more girls in our shack, etc., etc., etc., and etc..

One of the heaviest crosses we had to bear when we were kids was the fact that when we were really enjoying ourselves, an adult always, always intervened to ruin it.  I would like to add that even when I myself became an adult, I still faced the same problem.  After this second attempt to study female anatomy and the subsequent frustration, I could see the dreary years stretching before me whit a thousand grim-faced adults watching my every move.  The moment I should smile at a girl, the inevitable comments “You dirty little boy” or “You dirty old man” or even “You dirty toothless old centenarian”.  I resolved then and there to have nothing further to do with girls, since I could not conceive being with one long enough to ask her to marry me without adult interference.