Cold Water Flats

by Newark Talk Collective


Nicky G.:
I don't know how many were poor in the old day, but did anybody live in a cold water flat? We would take a bath on Saturday because that was the only day my mother would heat up the water. The rest of the time we would go to the public baths. Mine was on Morris Ave. I'm only talking about the poor people now. By the way it cost 5 cents.

Jule Spohn:
Hello Nicky. I lived in a cold-water flat on South 12th Street. We had the kerosene heater attached to the kitchen stove, and another heater in the living room. Every day before I left for school I had to go to the basement and bring up 5 gallons of kerosene and fill the one in the kitchen. That kept the back of the house warm until my father came home and would then fill up the one in the living room. We had a heavy curtain which separated the rooms in the back of the apt - kitchen and bedrooms, from those in the front of the apt - dining room and living room. Also, in the kitchen we had a huge silver water heater. We had to light the flame every time someone wanted to take a bath - no shower in those days - or wanted to do the dishes. You had to keep feeling from the top down to see how much of the water was getting hot. God forbid if you forgot about it - KA BOOOOOM!!!

About being poor. We always had plenty of food - my father drove for Acme and he and his brothers, who drove for A&P, always "swapped" different meat and veggie's. However there wasn't always a lot of extra money around. When I graduated from St. James High in 1960 I did not receive my diploma - I received the empty holder instead - because my parents owed $125 for my tuition. Several years later when I was in the Marine Corps and stationed in Korea I sent the school the $125 and received a nice letter in return from the nuns stating that I was a "very nice boy" for paying my tuition. Those were the day.

Nicky, We had the same living conditions as Jule. Kerosene stoves for the living room, water heater in the kitchen, black coal stove to cook on before we could afford a gas range. My mom bathed us once a week whether we needed it or not and because we were small kids, my two sisters would bathe at the same time and then I would be bathed in the same water because it was still warm and we tried to use as little gas as possible with the water heater....anyway, my sisters didn't get very dirty in those mom was German and everything had to be spic and span all the time...she would have made a great marine drill instructor. We had an ice box and bought ice from the ice man for 15 cents or so. The ice lasted a couple of days. When we got holes in our shoes my mom would line the inside of our shoe with cardboard to cover the hole until she saved enough money from her tight budget to buy a new pair for us.

We never considered ourselves poor. I remember vividly that during the mid thirties, near the beginning of the end of the depression, unemployed men would sing songs in the court yard of our tenement house, using a megaphone in hope that someone would reward them with a coin or two or some food. My mom always found something to give the poor guys. Even though things were a bit tight for us, my mom always managed to extend a helping hand.

We lived in a cold water flat also, railroad rooms, stove in the kitchen, bathroom on the back porch. We also always had food as my Dad drove for A&P and Friday night was "cake" night.

Jule Spohn:
Hello Nicky, Quint, and all. Forgot abut the iceman. Our iceman's name was Danny and he had a horse and wagon. Like Quint said, he would come every several days. My job after school was to empty the pan under the icebox. The icebox was out in the hall and I had to try to walk through our living room into the kitchen without spilling a drop. Most of the time I managed it.

Holes in the shoes. I don't remember how many times during my childhood my mother or I would have to cut up the cardboard that the shirts came back from the cleaners in, or from cereal box tops, to put in my shoes. I can still remember how it felt on the soles of my feet as the cardboard started to wear out.

It's funny how you forget about these things as you get older but they were such a part of your life as a child.

When I was working on Wall Street, and still drinking, many times I would order a bottle or two of Dom Perrigone, or some other expensive champagne or wine, which cost over $100 a bottle in those days, 70's and 80's, and think back to my childhood when my father never made more than $100 a week. After taxes he came home with $75. He kept $15 and gave my mother $60. Out of his $15 he put gas in the car, bought his glasses of beer at the bar for .10 or .15 cents, and his cigars. With the $60 my mother took care of the house, food, clothing, etc. Amazing how they did it.

Poor!!!! Yup-there were many of us too. We had the ice man but this would be a luxury. No electricity-no food-ketchup sandwiches were like a steak and so were mayo sand. A cucumber sandwich was better yet! Many days I remember the refrigerator door sitting on the counter-no food -no electricity. Rubber bands around the top of my socks to hold them up and the holes in the toes were mashed at the tip of my shoe. YET, there were many worse off.

Charles McGrath:
Remember the old saying:
"Money doesn't bring you happiness"
I remember an old guy's answer to that.

He said:
I have been rich and I have been poor.
Believe me it's no fun being poor.

Jule Spohn:
Hello Mary Tee and all. You just reminded me of something else. My Aunt Mary was a seamstress and worked in various laundries sewing up the holes in table cloths, sheets, etc. When either mine, or my father's shirt collars or sleeves became too ragged she would take them to work with her and "turn" the collar and sleeve and bring it back like new - although the collar or sleeve always seemed to be a little more bright in color than the rest of the shirt. Haven't thought about that in over 50 years.

Also, speaking about Aunt Mary, sometime in the late 40's or early 50's I broke my leg, had a cast on it, and walked with crutches. Was living on South Orange Ave and 12th Street. Aunt Mary would take me for a walk up to Fairmount cemetery and there she would go over to where they had the piles of old, dead flowers, that were taken off of the graves, and take the ribbons off of them and then use to ribbons to make different things out of. I was always embarrassed by her also, but on second thought, they were only going out in the garbage anyway.

Jule Spohn:
Speaking about being poor. I remember my mother telling me about how it was when she was growing up in the early 1900's. She said her family was so poor that her mother used to wash and iron the toilet paper. Somehow I always thought that there was a "wee bit of Blarney" in that story though.

To All!
I now realize that our mom's were the original recyclers!

Nicky G:
Hi all everybody told me about the oil & coal. But Nobody said where they took a bath can't be in tub all the time.

Jule Spohn:
Hello Nicky. I remember many times visiting my Aunt Anna Balcome who lived at 161 William Street - around the corner from St. Benedict's/St. Mary's Abby. She and Uncle Bill lived in a cold-water flat up until she died there in around 1977 or so. I had to pay her last month's rent which was $11.00. Her bathroom was a tiny little room off of the kitchen with only a toilet - a toilet that had the water box over your head and you had to pull a string to make it flush and it went - SWOOOOOOOOOOOSH!!! real loud.

In her kitchen was a long, metal-like tub about 5 feet long which had two tops which you then raised against the wall. That was her tub. Against the other wall was one of those beautiful, old, black, cast iron stoves, with about six round burner tops that you had to use a spring-like metal holder to life them up with. By the time I grew up this old-fashioned coal stove had been converted to gas burners. Her regular stove was also antique with a shelf on top, three burners, with square, oblong handles on it, and a brown/tan/color door which you pulled down. It was built on four legs which were about 8 to 10 inches above the ground. Haven't thought of this place since Aunt Anna died.

When she died the landlord sent me a bill for $22 for the two months rent when she was in the hospital.

The landlord's name was Michael Bauderman - he had a pretty old, good reputation, plumbing business here in Newark.

Bob Jeffery:
Was born in a "walk down" cold water flat on High & Central; then to Seth Boyden. Remember well the cardboard in ones shoes and when it was wet the cardboard only lasted a short while despite folding it over several times. YES, we have come a long way but most of us earned it as our families had little to pass on. JULE: Used to work part time as a mechanic and Frank McGovern, Tommy Kane, and Bill Scully were "regular" customers. Best to all!

Jule Spohn:
Hello Bob and all. "Walk Down" Never heard that term before. Does it mean walking up and down a certain number of flights of stairs, or what? That's at new one on me.

Bob, on the corner of High and Central, across the street from St. Michael's is a little triangle of a park. On the other side of Central is the very old Mueller Bro's Florist Supply Company. On the north side of that triangle is a one story building, very ornate roof line, which looks like it could have been a car sales store, or a bath house, or something similar. Do you remember it and if so, what was it? Next to it are two or three story apt houses which go to the corner of High Street.

Yes, indeed, almost everyone of us has "earned" everything we have today. And yet we owe a terrible debt of gratitude to our parents and grandparents who struggled as hard as they did, with all of their faults, to try to do the best for their family. I was the first one in my family, either side, to ever go college. Put myself through college and graduate school at nights after working all day in National Newark and Essex Bank or with Merrill Lynch on Wall Street. I was the first one in my family ever to go back to Europe and visit the town where my great-grandparents came from in Germany. Don't know exactly from where the Irish great-grandparents came from but I think it is somewhere in the North Western part of Ireland around the Sligo area. Still doing research on it. As the song says, "We've come a long way baby."

Charles McGrath:
Jule Spohn:
Hello Bob and all. "Walk Down" Never heard that term before. Does it mean walking up and down a certain number of flights of stairs, or what? That's at new one on me.

Jule, That was an old phrase.
It was "Walk Up" not "Walk Down" .
It implied that the building lacked an elevator.
The former was remembered longer than the latter.

I had an aunt who lived on the third floor of the old Prudential Apartments. We referred to it as a "walk up" and moaned every time we climbed the three flights of stairs.

Jule Spohn:
Thanks Charles. I always heard them called "walk ups." Heck, in Manhattan today there are still 5 or 6 story "walk ups." I get tired just thinking of it.

Nicky G:
Jules, I think that was you who want to know about the little park. We had a cab stand there. The only thing I remember there was gas station. On the side of the park and across was, I think, was an auto supply store. Jerry the fireman, he might remember.
As far as I know it's how much you had to drink. Then you didn't know if you were going up or down. But I remember walk up.


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