Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween: costumes and candy

Like probably most young kids in Ambridge in the '50s, I loved Halloween.

What wasn't to love?

Cheesy costumes that came in a box and usually weren't much more than a printed flimsy synthetic fabric (What were those costumes made from? Nylon? Acetate?) with a neck opening that tied shut, and maybe was divided at the bottom for your legs if you were a boy. Stiff plastic or cardboard masks that made your face hot and sweaty, made it hard to see, and were held on by a string or thin black elastic. Well, "held on" wasn't exactly accurate. It was more like "kept the mask from slipping too far below your ears."

Or your mom would dress you in a flannel shirt, dungarees, tie a man's red "work" handkerchief around your neck, plunk a cheap felt cowboy hat on your head, and--ta-da!--you were a cowgirl.

Another option if you went to Doris Singer Dance Studios or Peggy Ann Studios of Dancing, was to recycle last season's recital costume and go as a puppy or "Suzy Snowflake."

If you went to Catholic school, maybe your mom would make you a lovely, detailed nun's or St. Peter's costume, which impressed the nuns and maybe got you extra points towards heaven.

And the always-popular fallback, especially for boys, was "hobo." What family didn't have some old clothes you could wear?

There was a costume party at school that involved eating goodies like on Valentine's Day, but didn't involve the pressure of wondering if you'd get Valentines. Changing into our costumes at school was incredibly exciting. Did we focus on learning anything on party day?

Then, after dark, trick-or-treating, going to house after house, block after block, coming home with a bag of candy that was getting almost too heavy to carry, emptying it out, and then setting out again for homes on blocks you hadn't hit yet, hopefully, this time without your younger sister because she was too tired to walk anymore and slowing you down.

While exciting, Halloween wasn't the big event it is now. There were no multimedia productions at houses with lights, and scary sounds, and animated figures, and fake fog. Homes were decorated with, perhaps, a few cardboard Halloween black cats or witches, and on your porch, the jack o' lantern you'd carved, lit by a candle that hopefully wouldn't set anyone's costume, or your house, on fire.

Halloween was a kids' holiday. Adults didn't get dressed up. They perhaps helped you carve that jack o' lantern and waited at the door to give out candy. If you were really young, and didn't have an older sibling to tag along with, an adult would go with you as you went door to door. But siblings were better if you had them because they went to more houses than parents thought necessary.

And moms would also totally ruin your Halloween costume by insisting that you wear a jacket over it because it was cold, and she didn't want you to get sick.

The sidewalks would be filled with bag-toting kids, and the air would be filled with their happy, excited voices. I'd start at my house on the 1500 block of Beaver Road and head north towards 16th Street. Beaver Road was a tough street to trick-or-treat on, because in my neighborhood, the houses on the east side of the street were far above street level, and I had to walk up a lot of steps to get to the front door. But, I did it because...candy!

I knew most of the neighbors on my block, and yet they never guessed who I was beneath my mask.

One neighbor I didn't know was an elderly woman who always seemed to be so pleased to see us and whose house always smelled like buttered popcorn and hot sugar. Every year, she gave out homemade popcorn balls and tiny bags she'd filled with candy corn.

I'd work my way north up Beaver Road to maybe as far as 19th Street, then make a left down to Lenz Avenue, then another left, work my way south on Lenz, maybe up 16th Street and back towards home to drop off a load of candy (and my sister), then go out again, hitting the homes on 14th and 15th Streets.

Finally, long after I'd set-out, the streets, which had earlier been packed with trick-or-treaters, were beginning to empty, porch lights started to go out, and I was cold despite the jacket my mom forced me to wear. The quieter night seemed spookier than it had been until then--were ghosts real?--and I'd head towards home.

My dad would help us sort our loot. There was always enough to cover the kitchen table that seated six, and sometimes we had more goodies than could fit on it.

There would be an apple or two (really?!), small boxes of raisins (meh), maybe some packages of peanut butter filled cheese crackers, and Indian brand pumpkin seeds, OK because I liked them. Sometimes there would be a few pennies or even nickles (yay!).

And there was always a religious tract that ended up on our bags every year. Clearly not Catholic. This would not please my Catholic mom. Maybe if it had been a Catholic holy card, but Protestant proselytization? In our Halloween bags?! Our Catholic Halloween bags? And now on her Catholic table in her Catholic kitchen? Not acceptable!

My dad would have the candy sorted by type. First the candy bars. Big full-sized 5-cent bars. I was always happy to see Clark bars--my favorite; Zagnuts, not chocolate, but still yummy; Mallo Cups; Sky Bars; Reese's Cups; Hershey bars, with and without almonds; Mr. Goodbars; Crackles; Butterfingers; Nestle Crunches; Mounds; Almond Joys; Snickers; Milk Ways; Three Musketeers; Baby Ruths; 5th Avenues; Heaths; Milkshake bars; Paydays, also not chocolate, but I was a fan; Chunky bars which I generously allowed other family members to have because I didn't--and still don't--like raisins in my candy.

There would be many rolls of Smarties, which I usually ate while deciding which candy I would eat; Lifesavers: butterscotch, Pep-O-Mint, Wint-O-Green, and Cryst-O-Mint; Necco Wafers, I liked the brown (chocolate) one the best, wasn't fond of the purple (clove); Chick-O-sticks; Dum Dum pops.

Bags of Whoppers and M&M's. Boxes of Good 'N Plenty; Mike and Ike; Boston Baked Beans; Hot Tamales; Cracker Jack (they had good prizes then.)

And if that wasn't enough to make a dentist cry, there was candy that was both sweet and sticky: Tootsie Rolls, big and small, and Tootsie Pops; BB Bats; Bit-O-Honey; Chuckles; Sugar Daddy suckers; Black Cow suckers, which were like a Sugar Daddy, only better, because they were covered in chocolate; Jujubes; Jujifruit; Turkish Taffy; taffy kisses.

Maybe the sugared gum we'd gotten would help clean our teeth? Teaberry; Black Jack; Beemans; Beech-Nut; Juicy Fruit; Wrigley. At least we'd have fun pulling sticky gum off our faces when we tried to blow big bubbles with Dubble Bubble; Rain-Blo; Bazooka, which came with a comic strip.

I usually finished up the candy around the Christmas holidays.

Good thing we had to walk everywhere to burn off all those calories.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

It's in the Book

by Robert Giles

This remembrance is about Baden. It may be out of place here in "Ambridge Memories". I hope you will overlook that and read on.

As a child, I went to the Baden Methodist Church. That is where I was baptized, attended Sunday School, was confirmed, took communion, and joined the Youth Fellowship (MYF).

Two of my brothers met their wives and were married there, as was my older sister. A minister of the Baden Methodist Church officiated at the funeral services for my father and mother.

When I saw a picture of the old church recently on Facebook, it aroused many memories.

My brother Chuck has many gifts, among them a gift for comedy. He was in the class play at Highland School, where he played one of three suitors.

He was the reticent, bumbling suitor. His thin hair was parted in the middle and slicked down on the sides. He wore a dark baggy suit. He spoke in a high reedy voice. He was nearsighted. You get the picture.

Chuck was a ninth-grader. I was in sixth. Our class went to see the play. I laughed with everyone else when Chuck courted his lady love. He, breathlessly - "Yes, yes, yes." She, turning away - "No, no, no."

When the play was over, my classmates all remarked about how funny Chuck had been. I was so proud to be his brother.

A year or so later, Chuck had wowed them again.

The MYF was putting on a variety show to raise funds. Most of the acts were pantomimes of popular songs. It was amateurish to be sure, but so much fun. That was my sister and brothers up there on stage. Weren't they brave, and talented?

Linda and Jim performed "The Little Nash Rambler" with a few of their friends. They all pretended to be riding in a cardboard automobile. "Beep, beep. Beep, beep, his horn went beep, beep, beep."

The best was saved for last - Chuck.

An assistant started a phonograph as he shambled up to the pulpit, in the guise of an old time minister of the Gospel. He started with a sermon on "Little Bo Peep" and ended with the congregation singing an enthusiastic "Grandma's Lye Soap". (Members of the MYF sat in the background, playing the part of the congregation.)

Our pastor and his congregation didn't mind Chuck's satire. In fact he did a reprise of his act, by special request, for the Methodist Men.

Years later, in Trigonometry class, the teacher answered a question from a student, then thumped the text and surprised everyone by exclaiming, "It's in the Book." The teacher gave me a wink as if to say, "We know where that comes from, don't we Bob?"

Just this morning, I learned for the first time that Johnny Standley's comedy record was number one on "Billboard" in 1952, selling two million copies. You can hear it on Johnny Standley "It's in the Book".

It's more than a little cornball, but I hope you will enjoy it and have a few laughs with my brother and me.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Small Game

by Robert Giles

Pete Dinnerlein lived on the edge of Legionville Hollow just above the path we took into the woods. He liked to hunt. He had a beagle named Cody.

It was a July morning. My brothers and I were on our way to the other side of the hollow to pick blackberries.

I stopped at Cody's to say hello. As usual, he was chained to his doghouse.

In his fretful roundabouts, Cody had trampled away every blade of grass in the circle circumscribed by his chain.

In winter, he had a lawn of mud and ice. In spring, the lawn was merely mud. In midsummer, it was dry as dirt, which in fact it was. It was autumn that Cody lived for.

I didn't insult Cody by trying to pet him or scratch his ear. He was a working dog, and proud to be one. Pete had cautioned that affection would take the edge off his hunting instincts.

Cody made a sudden u-turn with his head and neck to attack an itch at the base of his tail.

His tormentor vanquished, he turned to me, as if to ask, "Why don't you hurry along and catch up with your brothers?" Cody let out a sneeze.

Suddenly autumn had come and Cody's long stretch of unemployment was over. Pete took him down into the hollow to exercise. Cody splashed through the creek. He chased squirrels up trees. He snapped at a dragonfly. He was a puppy once again. Rejuvenated. Reborn. Ready for the hunt.

Pete and his dog crossed Duss Avenue near the Legionville Bridge. Pete wore a red plaid jacket, green pants, and an orange cap. Cody, as usual, wore his tan and cream coat.

I ran to catch up. I didn't know if Pete would let me tag along - he never had before. Maybe I was old enough now.

Pete shouldered his shotgun. "OK, Bobby, you can come along. But do as I say. I would hate to accidentally blow your head off."

I said OK.

We walked along the roads of limestone slag that led through Byers' Field. There were a few stunted trees. Each one seemed to contain a red-wing blackbird, defending his territory. As soon as we stopped trespassing on one blackbird, we seemed to offend another. "Scold, scold. Keep out. Get going."

We crossed the Byers' railroad siding just at the top of the wooden steps leading down to the tracks of the "Pennsy". Beyond was the Ohio River. (The final stretch of Route 65 had not as yet been cut through to spoil the view.)

We didn't go down the steps. Instead we walked along the siding north toward Baden.

Cody had run off ahead. He stopped and snuffled the air on both sides of the track. Then he was off into the high grass to the east, his shoulders low and his tail erect. We watched the tip of his tail until he disappeared entirely.

The air was crisp, the sun was bright, a 20-gauge, a good dog, warm clothes, rabbits in the grass. Who could ask for more?

"He's on to something." Cody had let out a single sharp bark. Pete added evenly, "He'll turn it toward us in just a second. Stay back. Get out of the way. Now!"

About 40 yards away, a rabbit burst from the weeds. After him came Cody. He no longer wore an air of intent concentration. Somewhere in the grass, he had exchanged it for an air of noisy exhilaration.

He was level-headed enough to give Pete room for a shot. He had felt the sting of shotgun pellets once too often.

I heard a bang from Pete's gun. The rabbit tumbled toward us, moving forward even in death. He lay at our feet.

Quickly, Pete wielded his knife. In a moment, the insides of the rabbit lay on the ground, steaming in the cold air.

The dog had pined for this reward. He had earned it. Now it was his. The steam vanished.

Pete put the gutted rabbit in his bag and tied it to his belt. By then Cody was off in the brush looking for seconds.

One dead rabbit, one happy dog, one fine morning in small game season.

Halloween window decorating contest

I remember when I was a young child, walking down Merchant Street as Halloween neared, and admiring store windows with large painted Halloween scenes on them: pumpkins, ghosts, witches. I liked things that were different from everyday Ambridge, so I thought the paintings were wonderful. 

I knew that the scenes had been painted by older students for a contest, and that I was too young to participate. I thought, "I can't wait until I'm old enough to paint a window too." But by the time I would have been old enough, the Halloween window decorating contest was no longer held.

I seem to remember the painted windows during several Halloween seasons, but so far, all I've found is this photo from the October 22, 1957, Beaver Valley Times.

Photo of Ambridge Junior  High School students preparing pictures for the Halloween window painting contest, Beaver Valley Times, October 22, 1957

The text under the photo says:

KICK OFF HALLOWEEN CONTEST--Three Ambridge Junior High School students--Walter Conte, Mary Simko and Carmel Humbert--are shown preparing pictures similar to the ones they will draw on various merchants' windows during the Halloween window painting contest sponsored by The Beaver Valley TIMES, Daily Citizen and Ambridge Jaycees. Looking on, left to right, are Kenneth Hare and Theodore Homjak, head of the Jaycees' committee in charge of the event. Prizes will be presented the winners.

Was there only one year of Halloween window painting, 1957? If the decorating occurred over a number of years, what were they?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Better than Perfect

by Robert Giles

Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitched what many think was the greatest game by a pitcher in major league history. On May 26 1959, Harvey retired 36 Braves in a row - no runs, hits, errors, walks, or hit batsmen - twelve innings of perfect pitching.

My brothers and I stayed up to listen to the game on the radio. Usually we turned it off about 9 o'clock. Lights out. Bedtime.

At nine, I was a few years younger than Chuck and Dave, my brothers.

That night the game had a different feel - Harvey was pitching a no-hitter.

"Let's just listen to one more inning."

"OK, turn out the lights."

"Turn down the radio. And be quiet, Mom won't know we are up." Chuck held a finger to his lips.

Along about the eighth inning, the announcer, Jim Woods, as casually as he could, said that Harvey was working on a perfect game. He didn’t want to say more - if he did, he'd throw a wrench into the works. Harvey would be jinxed.

It was difficult enough for Harvey as it was. The Pirates were getting plenty of hits but couldn't score. No one had gotten closer to the plate than Roman Mejias, who was thrown out at third base trying to stretch a double.

The villain in the piece, Braves' pitcher Lew Burdette, was also pitching masterfully. If you're going to give up twelve hits in nine innings and win, you have to be evil. Pitch around the hitters. Leave those  base-runners stranded out on first or second. Let the opposition hit some long fly balls for outs.

The ninth inning was over. The game was going into extra innings. Still perfect. The tenth, the eleventh, the twelfth. Still perfect. Still no score. Maybe we ought to say a prayer.

"Darn that Mejias. He should have stayed at second. We could have won if it wasn't for that bone-head."

It was midnight. We were wide awake. The tension grew with each out. It was the top of the thirteenth. Again no Pirates had captured home plate.

Felix Mantilla led off the bottom of the thirteenth for the Braves.

"Felix Mantilla, what kind of a name is that? Come on Harvey, put him away."
Mantilla hits a sharp grounder to Don Hoak at third. Hoak fields the ball cleanly. Easy out. No wait, the throw to first is short. Rocky Nelson can't scoop the ball out of the dirt. 
Mantilla has reached base. Until now, Haddix has pitched a perfect game. But he can still win. 
Oh no, the meat of the Milwaukee lineup is coming to the plate - Matthews, Aaron, and Adcock. With horses like these, no wonder the Braves have been champs for the last two years. 
Matthews executes a perfect sacrifice bunt. Mantilla is now in scoring position. Hank Aaron steps to the plate. 
The signal goes out to the mound - don't take a chance with this guy. First base is empty. If Mantilla scores, Aaron won't matter. Swallow your pride. Walk him.Harvey pitches wide four times to Smoky Burgess, the Pittsburgh catcher. 
Joseph Wilbur Adcock strides out of the Milwaukee dugout. Remember when Joe hit four home runs in a single game against the Dodgers a few years back?Joe takes the first pitch for a ball.

It was then that Harvey made his first mistake. He threw his trademark breaking ball, but hung it for an instant ... before Adcock slammed it over the 394 foot mark in right-center.

The game was over, right? One clean shot off the bat of Mighty Joe and we all go to bed.

Except ... I didn't feel like sleeping. I felt like crying.

The radio was still on and making confused noises.

Aaron had gone to sleep on his way to third and Adcock had overtaken him. That made Adcock out for overtaking the runner ahead of him. Aaron had then gone towards the dugout. No, wait. He had tagged up at third for some reason, then crossed home plate. Since he hadn't touched third, he went back to tag the bag. Milwaukee had won 3-0, no 2-0.

Wait a minute. Shouldn't it be 1-0, since Aaron had gone out of the baseline and therefore had made the third out? What if Aaron had made the third out an instant before Mantilla crossed home plate?

Instead of a home run, Adcock's blast was ruled a ground-rule double. It would take a team of lawyers to score that last half inning.

Sweet Jesus. Perfection itself was ruined by a throwing error on an easy play to third. And on top of that, Harvey and the Pirates were beaten by a ground-rule double. Tragedy had descended into farce.

O, ye gods and mortals!

Monday, October 14, 2013

51st Anniversary of the JFK Visit - Part II

by Robert Giles

Below is President Kennedy’s calendar for October 12th and 13th, the two days he campaigned in Western Pennsylvania. Note that his day began in New York City with a fund-raiser and that he spoke at Columbus Day festivities in Newark, NJ and in New York City that same morning. He then boarded Air Force One and flew to Pittsburgh.

(His agenda and appointments for the entire month of October 1962 is at  History Central.  History buffs may be interested in the entries for the twelve days beginning October 16th - the Cuban Missile Crisis.)

October 12
  • The President gave a brief address at a fund raising breakfast at the Carlyle Hotel (New York, NY).
  •  The President drove to Newark and spoke at the Columbus Day celebrations in Newark NJ.
  • The President returned to New York City to review its Columbus Day Parade.
  • The President flew to Pittsburgh.
  • The President spoke at an Aliquippa PA political rally (from a stand in the municipal parking lot).
  • In the evening the President gave a speech at the University of Pittsburgh (Fitzgerald Field House).
October 13
  • The President began the day with an address at McKeesport PA.
  • The President traveled to Monessen PA.
  • He then spoke at the Washington County Courthouse (Washington PA).
  • The President traveled to Indianapolis IN where yet again he gave a campaign speech.
  • Next he traveled to Louisville, where he addressed a Democratic Party rally at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds.

At Aliquippa and elsewhere, JFK campaigned for Democratic candidates. At Aliquippa he endorsed Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth (governor), Senator Joseph Clark (reelection), and Representative Frank Clark (reelection). Outgoing Governor David Lawrence was also on hand to provide support.

Kennedy's speech in Aliquippa is standard campaign boilerplate but the forceful, polished delivery makes it almost inspiring. Here is a real politician at work.

A sound recording of the speech is at the JFK Library.

Kennedy's strong voice does not reveal a whit of fatigue despite his grueling schedule and the fact that he has just flown 400 miles. Aliquippa was his fourth campaign appearance of the day. It is still early in the afternoon.

(When I saw him on Latimer Avenue in Ambridge he seemed aglow with energy and good health. In actuality, JFK suffered from a number of very serious medical conditions including Addison’s disease. On October 4, scarcely one week earlier, the President had cancelled all appointments due to an illness.)

You may be interested in newspaper accounts of the rallies in Mon Valley towns on the second day of his visit --

Monessen PA

It is interesting that the case President Kennedy made against Republican recalcitrance 51 years ago is echoed in the complaints of Democrats today. 

In reply, conservative Republicans and their allies would claim that JFK's domestic agenda (minimum wage, Medicare, housing, aid to education) steals money from the better off, diminishes states' rights, curtails freedom, and contributes to the debt. 

I inserted the word "conservative" because in 1962 the GOP had a moderate to liberal wing. The GOP until recent years included politicians like William Scranton, who defeated Mayor Dilworth in the PA governor's race that November. It was Governor Scranton who tried to face down the Goldwater steamroller at the 1964 Republican Convention.

It was actually a coalition of conservative Republicans and Southern Democrats who defeated most of Kennedy's legislation.

In politics, even a little complexity will ruin your story every time. We can't expect the President to campaign against his fellow Democrats. 

Watch this video at PG Video. (Wait a moment for the commercial message to clear.)

In the video, David Shribman, executive editor of the Post-Gazette, expertly sums up the Kennedy visit in the context of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of the President just over a year later.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The best baseball game ever played: Pirates vs Yankees, 1960 World Series, Game 7

I tell people in Baltimore where I now live, that I can name more players on Pirates teams in the late 1950s and 1960s, than I can current Baltimore Orioles, or for that matter, current players in all of professional baseball combined. I'm not necessarily proud of that, wait! I am.

My love of the Pirates of that era can be traced to the many evenings I spent with my grandfather on the front porch of our house, in the dark, him in his wooden rocking chair, me on the wooden porch swing, listening to the Pirates games on his radio.

Even with the occasional clanging of steel or the clatter of train cars, the night was quieter than the day was. And then, from the radio would come Bob Prince's rich voice, flowing through the darkness. I can still hear him calling the games, "Full count on Groat," and when the game went well, you could feel the excitement in his catch phrases: "Kiss it goodbye!" "How sweet it is!" "We had 'em all the way!" During the 1960 season, Prince got to unleash those happy phrases more than ever before. That season ended with a game that will be seared into my mind, and my heart, forever.

In the '50s, the Pirates followed one losing season with another, until 1958, when the team went 84-70. And they managed to scrape together another winning season the following year, narrowly, going 78-76. Then came the glorious 1960 season.

The Pirates were different that year, they were winning. Longtime fans were thrilled to have a team they could be proud of. Finally. And non-fans became fans, caught up in the excitement. Pittsburghers love to root for a scrappy, hard-working underdog, especially when that underdog is winning. The cry of "Beat 'em Bucs!" seemed to be everywhere. The team ended the regular season with a 95-59 record, winning the National League pennant, seven games ahead of the second place Milwaukee Braves. Fans were ecstatic.

But the joy of winning the regular season was somewhat tempered by the knowledge that the Bucs would be playing the elite, mighty, heavily-favored Yankees in the World Series. The NY season record had even been better than the Pirates': 97-57. Winning the American League pennant was routine for the perennially talented Yankees. This was the Yankees team with a lineup that included legends Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra, plus two other MVPs: Elston Howard and Bobby Shantz. In comparison, the Pirates had season MVP shortstop Dick Groat, Cy Young award winner Vernon Law, and a young star-in-the-making, right fielder Roberto Clemente.

The Pirates didn't look great during the series. Although they won Game 1, 6-4, the next two games were Yankee blow-outs: Game 2: Yankees 16, Pirates 3; Game 3: Yankees 10, Pirates 0. In Game 4, the Pirates eked out a 3-2 win. Game 5 was better, with the Pirates winning 5-2. But then in Game 6, another Yankee rout: Yankees 12, Pirates 0.

And so, the Pirates reached game 7, out-pitched, out-batted, and outscored. But not out-supported by their fans.

The 7th game of the series was on October 13, a sunny, warm Thursday. I was in school when the game at Forbes Field started at 1 PM. I could barely sit still I was so excited. I drew pictures of pirate ships captioned "Make the Yanks walk the plank!" When school was finally over, and the school bus dropped me off, I rushed home to see if the game was still going on. And it was, barely. The game was already in the 9th inning. And the Pirates and Yankees were tied, 9-9.

My grandfather, along with my uncle, and my grandmother, who ordinarily didn't watch or listen to baseball games, were watching the game on TV. It had been a tense one, tension I could feel in my grandparents' living room. The Pirates had scored two runs in both the 1st and 2nd innings. The Yankees scored a single run in the 5th, but came alive in the 6th, adding 4 more. The Yankees scored 2 more runs in the 8th, but, wonder of wonders, the Pirates scored 5 runs in the bottom of the 8th! The Pirates were winning 9-7! But then, the Yankees dampened the Pirates fans' joy by scoring twice in the 9th.

I bet most Pirates fans were, like my grandfather, on the edge of their seat, leaning forward, tense, concentrating, willing the Pirates to win. I hadn't even bothered to sit down. I stood there, staring at the TV, not daring to move.

The first batter in the bottom of the 9th, Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski, stepped up to the plate. Ball one. And then, the second pitch. Maz hit the ball, hard. It soared over the left field fence. Kiss it goodbye! The game was over! The series was over! The Pirates had won 10-9! They were World Champs! My Polish grandfather was overjoyed and so proud of Mazeroski. "The Pollock did it!"

Forbes Field went wild as Maz rounded the bases, waving his batting helmet over his head. As he headed towards home, he was greeted by his teammates and fans, some of whom had raced after him as he ran from third. Much rejoicing ensued throughout Pirates-land.

This is what greeted fans on the front page of The Beaver County Times, October 14, 1960:

"THE BUCS GO ALL THE WAY", front page headline, Beaver County Times, October 14, 1960.

Front page photo, Beaver County Times, October 14, 1960, credit UPI Telephoto.

The text under the photo says:
THE FUSE - Accompanied by bug-eyed fans, Bill Mazeroski dances toward home plate with the winning run of the 1960 World Series. Moments later, he was surrounded by the fans and teammates, and thousands more, forming the reception committee around the plate. This was the fuse that touched off the wildest sports celebration in the history of Pittsburgh.

No game will ever top that final game for me. On that beautiful, wonderful October day, it was--and it forever will be--the best baseball game ever played. And I'm not the only one who thinks so: "The greatest game ever played" by David Schoenfield.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

51st Anniversary of the JFK Visit - Part I

by Robert Giles

I remember standing with my brother Dave on Latimer Avenue in Ambridge waiting for President Kennedy.

It was a warm, sunny afternoon in October. We didn't have to go to school that day - it was the Columbus Day holiday.

Dad had dropped us off before going to work on the afternoon shift at American Bridge.

I wasn't aware that the President was coming. Word had passed through the steelworker locals to get out and greet the President's motorcade. I'm guessing that is how Dad knew.

Dad always voted Republican. Offhandedly, he asked us if we would like to see the President.

Would I??? What’s the matter, old man? How can you ask?

I don't know if Dave shared my enthusiasm but we both climbed into the back seat of the Ford.

The crowds lining Latimer Avenue would have satisfied the most demanding advance man.

We elbowed our way to the curb. There was a hush, then the growl of a hundred motorcycles. It was the cops, outfitted for the highway patrol: crash helmets with face-plates, white shirts, blue pants, and black boots. Jesus.

The motorcycles were followed by a parade of open Lincoln Continentals packed with politicians  - the Fourth of July had come on Columbus Day, 1962.

There he was - my hero, John F. Kennedy. He waved right at me. He was tan. He oozed the Kennedy vigor. He had charisma (just like it said in Time, Look, and the Saturday Evening Post).

Athletic-looking men jogged alongside the President's limousine, looking carefully from side-to-side. I had just turned 13 - I didn't realize until  later that they were Secret Service agents, dutifully guarding the President, who sat exposed and vulnerable in the open car. 

In a moment, the street grew quiet. The motorcade had turned the corner and was on its way south on Ohio River Boulevard.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Pittsburgese spoken here

Yesterday, I was at the website to get the link for the previous post, and when I went to bookmark the page, my Chrome browser asked if I wanted to "translate to English." Made me laugh.

Apparently I am bilingual, although not as fluent as I used to be when I lived in Ambridge.

Being able to speak Pittsburgese never got me a foreign language credit in school though.

Going downstreet

600 block of Merchant Street
circa early 1950s

When I lived in Ambridge and was going shopping on Merchant Street, I went "downstreet." What a curious term. Yet, it didn't seem odd to me, as everyone I knew went "downstreet" to shop in Ambridge. It was only after I moved away, never used "downstreet" again, and never heard "downstreet" used anywhere else, that I realized how unique "going downstreet" is.

When we said we were going "downstreet," we meant we were going to places like the 600 block of Merchant St. shown in the postcard above.

Growing up in Ambridge, I had assumed that "downstreet" was simply a way of distinguishing a shopping trip to Merchant Street from one in Pittsburgh. Because in addition to shopping "downstreet," we also went "downtown"--into Pittsburgh.

Perhaps "going downstreet" is just a shortened version of "going down to Merchant Street."

On the other hand, maybe the "down" in "downstreet" refers to direction, since some people who grew up on Park Road, to the west of Merchant Street, have told me they went "upstreet" to Merchant. While the numbered streets in Ambridge run west to east and cross Merchant Street rather than run parallel to it, the building numbers go "up" as you go from Park Road to Merchant Street.

Or maybe the "down" in "downstreet" simply reflects the reality of living in Ambridge. If you go to Merchant Street from most of Ambridge, you go "down." As in "downhill."

But then, folks who lived on Park Road, which was between the Ohio River and Merchant Street, who said "upstreet" didn't need to go "uphill" very much to get to Merchant Street, as Park Road isn't much lower than Merchant Street, especially compared to streets uphill from Merchant. But I'll grant that Merchant Street is "up" from even Park Road as opposed to going "down" to the river.

I thought perhaps that "downstreet" was unique to Ambridge until someone pointed me to the "Pittsburghese" website. Is "downstreet" used in Pittsburgh? If so, is their "downstreet" also "downtown"? Or is "downstreet" primarily a Beaver Valley/Beaver County expression?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

When American "compact" cars weren't so compact: Valley Dodge ad October, 1963

Here's a Valley Dodge ad from October 7, 1963, touting the "compact" Dart. Of course, the ad says the '64 Dart is "a fresh new compact in the large economy size." Because what could be better than a compact in a large economy size? I guess in comparison with other cars being sold at the time, it was compact.

Valley Dodge ad for "Compact Dodge Dart," Beaver County Times, October 7, 1963

Compare the Dart with the size of the Oldsmobiles in the Stettler Motor ad in the same issue of the Times.

Stettler Motor Co. ad for '64 Olds models, Beaver County Times, October 7, 1963

Valley Dodge, Inc. was located at 10th and Merchant Street, Ambridge.
Stettler Motor Co. Inc. was located at 916 Merchant Street, Ambridge.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Penney's October 1957 ad

Here's a Penney's Northern Lights ad from the same Beaver Valley Times as the previous Davidson's ad. My family shopped at both the Penney's in Northern Lights and the one at 601 Merchant Street, Ambridge.

Penney's Northern Lights ad, Beaver Valley Times, October 4, 1957

Penney's was one of the original tenants when Northern Lights opened on November 1, 1956, and occupied the central spot in the shopping center. It moved to the Beaver Valley Mall in 1996.
After the move, the Northern Lights store remained vacant and was recently razed, leaving a large gap in the middle of the shopping center. It appears that the empty area may now be used as part of an entrance road to a new Walmart being constructed on the hill behind Northern Lights.

The Merchant Street store was open at least through 1967 when I left for college. I am trying to find out when it finally closed. Sol's Sporting Goods currently occupies that building.

Davidson's Department Store 1957 coat ad

Davidson's was a large, independent department store at 510 Merchant Street, Ambridge. They carried very nice clothes, but our family never shopped there much because the clothes cost more than we could afford.

Here is a Davidson's coat ad from the October 4, 1957, Beaver Valley Times.

Davidson's coat ad, Beaver Valley Times, October 4, 1957

I think I might balk at paying $125 for a coat now. But in 1957? Look at the "Female Help Wanted" ads from the same issue of the Times:

Female Help Wanted ads, Beaver Valley Times, October 4, 1957
Clerk: salary to $45 per week
Laboratory Technician: salary to $350 per month
Resident Director: salary to $300 per month

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator, the cost of those $69.95 to $125 coats in 2013 dollars would be $582 to $1,040.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool expansion: the solons' inspection

While you're waiting for the next article about the Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool, enjoy a photo about the pool expansion plans. I think it's a nice segue from the posts about the bathhouse to one about the pools themselves, since the "solons" are standing on the bathhouse roof.

Photo about the planned pool expansion from The Beaver County Times, February 4, 1960.

The text under the photo says:
SOLONS INSPECT SWIMMING POOL - Several Ambridge Borough officials inspected the borough swimming pool area Wednesday in connection with plans to enlarge the sun deck and construct a picnic pavilion adjacent to the pool. Shown here, left to right, are Councilman John Kaiser, chairman of council's redevelopment committee; Joseph Rodio, borough secretary; Floree Aquino, president of council; Charles Radakovich, chairman of the recreation committee; Stanley Phillips, chairman of the property committee, and Ollie Werner, a representative of Michael Baker Jr., Inc., borough engineer.

While I remember the deck being expanded when the sloping area was added on the baseball field side of the pool, I don't recall "a picnic pavilion adjacent to the pool" being constructed in the 60s. I hope to find out more about the planned pavilion.

Update June 1, 2014:
According to the Times' caption under the photo below, the pool deck expansion being contemplated in 1960 wasn't completed until before the 1965 season. (Sorry for the poor quality of the photo. That's the way it was published in the online digitized version.) I still have not found any further mention of the planned "picnic pavilion adjacent to the pool".

Ambridge pool inprovments,
Beaver County Times,
May 22, 1965

The text under the photo says:
POOL IMPROVEMENTS - Ambridge Water Authority employes [sic] install a new water line at Ambridge swimming pool. The bathhouse has been painted and sun deck extended in preparation for the start of the 1965 swimming season on Memorial Day.

Today's vocabulary word: In case you were wondering, as I was, what a "solon" is, it's "a member of a legislative body." Impress folks by using "solons" the next time you talk about the Borough Council.