CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY
By Hon. Richard S. Hyland (ret.)
|THE BARRISTER - MAY 2012|
Back In The Day
By Hon. Richard S. Hyland (ret.)
Given all the depressing and horrible stories coming out of Camden City on almost a daily basis, younger members don't realize what a wonderful place it was to grow up there, so let me take you on my sentimental journey to back in the day, circa 1950.
Parkside was predominantly Jewish. We lived a "stone's throw" from Beth El synagogue and enjoyed the singing of its wonderful choir on the High Holidays. Legendary Rabbi Kellman on his way home from services would stop to chat with me about my schooling and career plans and he remained a valued friend in later years. By musical contrast, 1 was intrigued by the dulcet singing of the Gregorian Chant by the Dominican nuns while we attended Sunday Mass at their convent on Haddon Avenue, which was all the more mysterious since they were cloistered and hidden behind a screen.
We could walk to all of our schools: Parkside (excellent and innovative). Hatch Junior (our first experience with diversity), and Camden High (the uniquely designed "Castle on the Hill") which graduated many of our area's legal and medical professionals.
We were also close to beautiful Farnham Park which provided sledding on its hills, ice skating, fishing, swimming, and ample fields for football and baseball using a ball tightly wrapped with black tape. We "chose up sides" and the worst player was relegated to right field. We had no uniforms or cleats and our mothers did not come to watch us which would have been most embarrassing. Occasionally, a foolish teammate would challenge some Polish guys from Whitman Park or Italian guys from South Camden lo a match on our home field and we always got thrashed. In later years, these guys were the stalwarts of the high school teams while I and my teammates (and some of them) were elected to the National Honor Society.
Adventures included playing ''Cowboys and Indians" (No—not "Native Americans") among the tombstones in Harleigh Cemetery and around May 1st checking the door of Walt Whitman's tomb to see if the wreath from the Camden Communist Party was there. We also took the ferry across the Delaware River to historic Philadelphia to revisit the historic sites my father had taken me to, and walked back on the Delaware River Bridge (not yet the Ben Franklin) without revealing my escapade to my parents. My sisters and father proudly worked at RCA which fostered a family-like workplace. On his way home my father would buy an Evening Bulletin which had better sports coverage than Walter Annenberg's morning Inquirer. (He had an undisclosed feud with the local NBA owners and blacked out any coverage of the team for the entire season.)
However, my friends could still follow basketball with the Sphas (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association) team. On a 10" black and white TV in 194S, I watched the Eagles win their first NFL title, 7-0 against the Chicago Cardinals (Yes— not the St. Louis or Arizona Cardinals) at Shibe Park in the snow with Steve Van Buren plunging for the score. Little did I realize that 1 started a habit of watching the NFL on Sundays which continues to the present. Parkside had a full service business community which included a movie and a tavern known as Donkey's. In our teen years we would hit the movie and then Donkey's where the owner allowed us to drink birch beer and feast on a great steak sandwich which was unique and far superior (and still is) to anything South Philly had to offer. We could go to first-run movies in center city at the Savar (owned by Mike Varbalow's family) and on Sundays the Stanley for stage shows too, featuring the top entertainment in the country which in those days was the "big bands" like Duke Ellington and Count Basie etc. Our innocence was shaken on the last day of our 1949 summer vacation when we learned that Howard Unruh had murdered 13 victims in East Camden. At the time Camden was known only as the home of champion boxer Jersey Joe Walcott, but now as the home of the nation's first serial killer. Prosecutor, and later Federal Judge, Mitchell H. Cohen adroitly elicited admissions from him in a pre-Miranda interrogation and he was committed to Trenton State Hospital for the Criminally Insane by saintly Judge Bartholomew A. Sheehan who, upon retirement, became a brother in the Jesuit Order.
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