The Barracks

by Bill Newman

Following the end of World War II in 1945, a housing shortage existed in Newark and in many other places in the United States and for that matter, the world.

For years there had been no home building due to regulations, a shortage of building materials and a labor shortage. Now with millions of service men and women returning home there was a demand for housing that could not be satisfied with the present supply.

Many municipalities, Newark included established some sort of a "Veteran' Temporary Housing Commission". In Newark the temporary housing took the form of erecting army type barracks to be rented to returning servicemen till the shortage was over. An ex-serviceman had to apply to "City Hall" to have his name added to a long list of applicants. A surer and faster way to get living quarters was to know someone with influence in the commission.

In 1948 I found myself in desperate need of a place to live for myself and my wife, who was pregnant and shortly due. Fortunately I had a brother-in-law, that had a brother-in-law, that had a close acquaintance with a member of the commission. After a short wait I received a notice that I had been approved.

Most of the barracks were constructed along "cookie cutter" lines, with little differences. There were usually several places where joints didn't match and drafts were frequent. The street my barrack was on was a steep hill. The barrack was up another hill leading away from the street. Our rear stairway led to an unpaved area adjacent to an apartment house driveway. We never used the stairway as it was so rickety.

We paid $36.50 a month to live here, that included gas and electricity. In each "apartment" was a kerosene stove that was used for heating in the winter. Outside of each "apartment" was a steel drum perched upon a stand that stored the kerosene. If you look closely the storage tank can be seen in the above picture, it is the black object next to the garbage can. We used a 1-gallon jug to transport the kerosene from the drum to the house. Heat was controlled by opening or closing a knob that raised or lowered the amount of kerosene flowing into the stove. If too much kerosene flowed into a stove it glowed red. That was the signal to closed the flow and hope for the best. It was not uncommon to read about an explosion in some barrack.

Our first night in the barrack we were in our "living room" and we could clearly hear the voices of four men in the next "apartment". They were playing cards and the conversation went like this:

"Why are you dealing from right to left? You're supposed to go from left to right."

"You already gave us six cards, why are you giving us more?"

"Who' going to open the betting? Someone is supposed to."

Talk like this went on for awhile, each facet of the game was questioned and rehashed. Finally, when everything seemed to be agreed upon a voice popped up asking, "What game are we playing?"

My wife and I both laughed. One a of the players then cautioned the others to, "Keep your voices down, I think someone can hear us."

After we were in bed a few minutes I said that I had to get up as we must have left a light burning someplace. I checked and found out that I had not left a light burning but that light from the next "apartment" was showing in mine. The wallboard separating the two "apartments" did not reach the floor all over.

One hot summer night the Jersey mosquitoes were out in force. We planned to hose down the roof and stay inside to avoid getting "eaten alive". While we were inside we suddenly smelled smoke and heard someone yell fire. I rushed outside and found the cause for alarm. A neighbor, having had his fill of the mosquitoes had set fire to an old overcoat. The coat did not burn, it smoldered producing large amounts of smoke. He was waving the coat about in an effort to ward of the mosquitoes.

Saturday nights in the winter months after my daughter was asleep my wife and I would watch shows on our Silvertone console TV. We watched Paladin, Gunsmoke and whatever Saturday Night Movie that was on. Saturday nights in the summer months a neighbor and myself would drive to "Little Italy" and bring back pizza from The Rendezvous and Italian hot dogs from 'Jimmy Buffs'

Toward the end of our lives in the barracks and the end of the barracks life the neighborhood was changing and we did not feel as secure as we once did. As an apartment became vacant it was not rented. We suspected that vacant "apartments" were being broken into and used by unauthorized persons. I had set "booby traps" in some of the nearby "apartments". They were not designed to catch anyone but I believe that they did scare some people away.

We suspected that there was as at least one "Peeping Tom" visiting us. A neighbor and myself made a plan to combat "The Tom" and did catch him. He was turned over to the police. How it ended up I never found out.

The barracks are long since gone as well as "The Veteran' Temporary Housing Commission". Let's hope that there is no necessity for them to return but IT WAS FUN WHILE IT LASTED.


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