Folklore of Newark in the 1940's

by Charles McGrath


In folklore we had special people who were very different, like Rip Van Winkle. Rip as you remember would do work for other people but would never do work for his wife. I guess we always had special people.

The other day I was trying to recall people that I remember in Vailsburg and Newark who were very different, special or both. Here are some of my recollections as a young boy living in Newark during the 1940's. If anyone else remembers these people please let me know.

1. Corbey

A tall lanky man around 30 years old with a pipe in his mouth. Corbey was always friendly and enjoyed fooling around with us kids. He could always be found walking around Lincoln Grammar School or Stuerze's candy store at the corner of Cliff Street and Richelieu Terrace. To the best of my knowledge he didn't work (or at least he didn't have a formal job). At times he would sleep in the basement of Stuerze's candy store.

Corbey had been given a very special gift in life that made him special. He was a wood carver. If he wasn't seen walking, he could be found sitting on the edge of a curb carving. The wood he used was from orange crates (1/4" x 4"}. As a kid, I thought his work was high quality. It consisted of cartoon characters and other scenes (sort of like the Last Supper). He would never part with his carvings. Many times he was offered money for them, but he always refused. I have no idea what he did with them. If we brought him wood (orange crates) he would sometimes carve a wooden sword or dagger and give it to us.

Where did he come from? What happen to him?

He may have been a veteran from WWII with problems.

I have no idea what happened to him. He just disappeared?

2. Two young newspaper boys

On the corner of South Orange and Sandford Avenues (in front of the Marquier's Drug Store) every night newspapers would be sold. They would go on sale right before midnight. Passing motorists would stop or slow down in their cars and buy them (they were mostly New York papers). There were two poorly dressed white boys that sold them. One was around 14 and the other was 16 years old. They were both brothers. I heard that they lived alone in rented room on Prince Street. They were very poor but they worked very hard. It was a tough job and they froze in the winter. The older brother would try to take care of his younger brother the best he could. It reminded me of the picture from Father Flanagan's Boys Town "He not heavy, he's my brother. "

Where did they come from? What happened to them?

They may have been released from an orphanage (16 was the discharge age), or trying to stay out of one.

I don't know what happened to them but with their brotherly love I would like to think they made it.

3. The woman on Norfolk Street and South Orange Avenue

She was a white woman around 50 years old. Most times when I would ride to downtown on the #31 bus I would see her. What made her special? The poor soul didn't have a nose. Can you imagine this woman going through life with two holes above her mouth for a nose. What a sad sight. One day I saw her wearing a white plastic nose held on with a rubber band. Almost like a mask. Wasn't that sad? What happened to her? I was told by someone in later years that she was murdered.

I remember a friend telling me awhile back the following "when you see the suffering that some poor people have to go through in life, you know there has to be a heaven for them to right it someday."

4. The black man on the corner of Norfolk Street and South Orange Avenue

He was a beggar on that spot for many years. He was a giant of a man but was special because he didn't have any legs. He would transport himself in a little wooden cart not much bigger than a shoe shine box.

5. The black man that was a sign painter near Kern's Corner

This man would paint signs on most stores on both Springfield Avenue and South Orange Avenue. He appeared to be hyperactive and would yell and shout a lot. But what made him special was that he was a midget.

6. The newspaperman on the corner of Halsey and Market Streets

He had a little wooden newspaper stand. He also appeared to be hyperactive. He was always shouting and yelling. As a little boy getting off the #31 bus at this corner I would always give him a lot of room. What made him special was that he was also a midget.

It was said that if we were to put our problems in the middle of a table along with others, we would gladly take our own back.

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From Manny Gamallo

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