Grandma and Grandpa Stines lived in a large, stately house on Maspeth Avenue, just past P.S. 72 which is now Martin Luther High School. Seems like just about every boy and girl attended P.S. 72, as St. Stanislaus and Holy Cross schools were not yet opened. On the same large property as the house was a two (2) story factory in which they manufactured Navy uniforms for the sailors that were serving in World War I. The workers were all local Maspeth women earning a living, while their men were serving in the armed forces.
Just about two (2) blocks further down Maspeth Avenue was a dairy farm where cows were milked by hand. The milk processed and shipped via horse drawn wagons throughout the city. It was a common sight to see herds of cows being driven from other dairy farms down Grand Avenue, Perry Avenue, Maspeth Avenue by local herdsmen to the milking barns.
Trolley cars, the forerunners of buses, were the means of public transportation in those days and they were equipped with a device on the front of them that was called a “cow-catcher,” so that no harm would come to an errant cow; or other animal.
In fact, a Mr. Callahan who lived in the vicinity of Hamilton Place, where the Long Island Expressway is now, owned a jackass that had a penchant for sitting on the Calvary car tracks and no amount of pulling, tugging, or pushing could get him to move until he was gently prodded by the “cow-catcher.” Guess what the animal was called?
The Calvary Car Line resembled a miniature trolley and tracks, almost cartoon like, that ran from Metropolitan Avenue down Juniper Avenue (now 69th Street) to Brown Place past Grand Avenue and Mount Zion Cemetery to Long Island City. Its schedule was very erratic, mostly because riders or mischievous boys pulled the guy wire off the overhead power line and it would stop; causing the motorman to leave the car and restore power.
In the vicinity of Mount Zion and lower Calvary cemeteries were swamps. Frogs, polywogs, goldfish were plentiful among the tall cattails and were sport for young boys. Punks were plentiful among the cattails, the plump brown ones were cut down, dried in the sun and when lit gave off an aromatic scent that was not only pleasing to the smell, but was said to keep away mosquitoes which were a nuisance.
A short distance away along Maurice Avenue, was a Gypsy Camp. A core group of gypsies lived there permanently and others came from far and wide to visit. Colorfully dressed in gypsy regalia, they danced, sang, and partied, cooking suckling pigs on spits over roaring fires and living in ramshackle huts and tents. For them a carefree existence, but I must admit, for the local lads and lassies a somewhat frightening scene and we watched from afar. When a member of the tribe died, the wake was most often held in Vogel's Funeral Parlor which was located on Grand Avenue opposite the main entrance to Mount Olivet Cemetery. Gypsies from all around the country would come to pay their respects, especially if the deceased was a member of the Royal family.
Vogel's and Megiel's were two (2) of the original funeral parlors in Maspeth and while Vogel's is closed, Megiel's is still serving the community in its grand tradition.
All the stores along Grand Avenue were Mom and Pop stores. Griff's, Leberfeld's, Albert's, Dudzik's Butcher shop (always a free piece of bologna or liverwurst for the kids), Jim Luallo's Shoe Shine & Hat Blocking Store (where Paul the barber is now). Three (3) big chairs on a high stand, men having their shoes shined, while on the other side of the store their fedora's were being cleaned, steamed and shaped. Oh what dandies they were when they left there.
But, what about a Blacksmith? Horses abounded and were still pulling the vegetable, coal, and hay wagons. Oh yes, we had a Blacksmith, Andy, by name. His shop was in the shed that Griff's now uses for storage, next to the locksmith. What a wonder it was for the youngsters to watch the bellows fan the forge turning the metal rods white hot and Andy, muscles rippling, veins almost bursting, hammering them into horseshoes, or other shapes. You name it he made it!
Next door feed, grain and hay barns. In the rear, stables for the horses. Where Pryor's Law Office is today, Rey's Hardware Store, frozen in time, wide board woodfloors, old glass showcases, lanterns, tools, barrels, but mostly I remember the scent, a pleasing passage back in time.
In the accompanying photograph can be seen Rey's Hardware Store and slightly to the left (on the second floor) the hay loft doors and the beam to which the pulley was attached to hoist the bales of hay up to the loft. The other photograph shows per-diem men shoveling snow (after a large storm) into uncovered sewers, as was the custom at the time. Further up the street can be seen Griff's Hardware Store.
Across the street was Stokes Ice Cream Parlor where delicious home-made ice cream was served and was a social center for dating couples, as well as singles. Later to become a Card & Gift Shop. One of Maspeth's oldest family run businesses. Still going strong, albeit at a new location.
Where the Bingo Hall is now was the Maspeth Movie House. Saturday afternoon three (3) feature films, four or five (4 or 5) cartoons, sometimes a free comic book and always
the watchful eyes of the matron. Who can forget the matron? Her flashlight zeroing in on noise makers, or disorderly youngsters and threatening eviction.
Dish nights were an enticement to attend the movies. A free dish with every admittance. Attend weekly and acquire a complete serving, that is if you didn't drop and break it, as many did to a chorus of boo's from the audience. The price was right too, only ten cents (10¢). A far cry from today's eight to ten ($8.00 to $10.00) dollar admission and four ($4.00) dollar bar of candy, or popcorn and soda charges.
But, don't ask how many movies you had to see to acquire a complete place setting for four (4). But, many did and they were truly a welcome addition in local households, as money was very scarce indeed.
In fact, a Mr. Bartkus was the owner of a store next to Vogel's from which he sold malt, hops and all the paraphernalia necessary to make your own home brew. Completely legal as opposed to the illegal speakeasy's which flourished throughout the town. Knock a specified number of times, say the secret pass word and gain entrance to the ginmill (as they were called then). However, keep a watchful eye out for a police raid and know where the backdoor is.
A different time, hard but happy, neighbors helped each other, shared their meager food and possessions, low crime and safe streets for the children.
A time that can't help but induce pleasant Maspeth Memories.