Those Hot Sweltering Newark Summer Nights

by Barbara L. Rothschild


I am sitting here in the comfort of my beautiful air conditioned home, and despite all the wonderful amenities of our modern age, my mind travels back to a more innocent time in childhood, during those hot, sweltering Newark summer nights, in my humble little abode, located at 321 Belmont Avenue, Apartment #1, first floor.

It was a time of neighborly congeniality, when most all of our neighbors considered it a blessing, just to have the comfort of a familiar window box fan, if that at all. If one was truly fortunate, the convenience of a round floor fan, which sat usually in the middle of the living room, or the "parlor", as it was referred to, was an added luxury.

I will never forget the cacophony of the whirling, noisy sounds of those box fans, joined in chorus with the floor fans. With any luck, one might also acquire an oscillating table fan, usually a G. E. or Westinghouse brand. I can recall many summer afternoons, sitting at our enamel- topped, wooden kitchen table, (one which had an intact silverware drawer set square in the middle of it), reading my latest comic book, while enjoying the breeze of that singular electric fan. For amusement, or out of boredom, I can recall following the oscillations of the fan,with my eyes, (counting how many a minute), and "singing" directly into the fan, especially the box window fan, to enjoy the "sound" of my voice, caused by the direct vibrations of the fan! After that, a sheet of paper could be placed on the reverse side of the fan, to see how it would adhere. By this time, along would come mother, to caution or rather chastise me for fooling with the fan. Usually, the cautionary admonition would follow, about getting your fingers or tongue amputated by the whirling blades of the fan, "so stop it right NOW!"

On an especially hot day, there was mother's delicious home-made lemonade to enjoy. None of that sickeningly and artificially sweet stuff that is on the market today! I can recall yet today, the delightful and refreshing coolness of the taste of that lemonade...none can compare today. Mother would usually allow me to help her make the lemonade, by hand squeezing the lemons on top of that familiar glass dish, (one that was shaped by the conical glass in the middle, with reserve channels along the inside, to contain the juice of the lemon or orange, and the cup ring on its outside, to hold on to the glass dish, while squeezing the fruit and its pulp.) Mother would then take the reserved lemon skins, and add that also. I recall the beautiful, wet streaks on the drinking glass, as mother added the lemonade into a large drinking glass, filled with yet more ice cubes. I would always delight to free the ice cubes from the metal trays, by raising the lever, which kept the cubes in place in the tray. I would always be the first one honored to "taste" the lemonade for its sweetness or its tartness, and that would also make me feel special. These were some of the simple pleasures of growing up in Newark during the long summer breaks from school. 
Around once a week, in the heat of those torrid afternoons, the "merry-go-round" man would arrive, to break the monotony of an urban summer day. His was a truck mounted amusement ride, also another similar one which was called "the whip", and also a very popular and welcome diversion for us Newark kids. For fifteen cents, or two rides for a quarter, children could experience a simple little pleasure, which only a bus trip and visit to Olympic Park could surpass. Going to Olympic Park, riding the #56 public transportation bus from the bus stop at the intersections of Avon and Belmont Avenues, was the ultimate thrill that a city kid could hope for on a lazy summer day, or summer weekend. What could be more exciting than a day at Olympic Park swimming pool, for the grand entry price of fifty cents? One would be issued an elastic band bracelet containing a metal tag, which bore the number of the locker in which one's clothing was stored. Leaving the pool, you would enter the locker area and call out "Locker Girl,(locker boy), number.....," and the locker room attendant would come with some type of master key, enabling one to retrieve their street clothing. 
Nights at Olympic Park were the ultimate. Games of chance and the flashing and bright neon lights of both rides and concessions were extremely alluring in the eyes of children and adults alike. I recall the excitement of the many game concessions, with their spinning wheels of fortune, and later the counter mounted flashing numbers and lights, which the patron would only hope their dime would become the winning number. Hopefully, they would become the instant winners of dolls, radios, lamps, clocks, teddy bears, and whatever fancy drew a busy crowd to those games of chance. I think the beginning of the end for Olympic Park began with the banning of those games, for it was viewed as gambling, at a later date in time. The games were true crowd pleasers, and even insignificant consolation prizes were occasionally awarded at times, making everyone at least somewhat complacent or at least partially satisfied. Everyone left those games of chance with a "better luck next time" attitude, yet having enjoyed themselves tremendously, despite their evening's "unlucky streak." Our home was filled with countless trophies won at Olympic Park. Mother always swore the number 8 was the magical "ticket" for winning our many household treasures! And then again, there were the times when my dad could have purchased a doll for me, for much less than what he lost at those game stands! (I guess it was my child's tears, which spurred him on in the hopes of winning a prize for me!) It was mother who always consoled me, and tempered common sense to have dad stop putting down all those dimes. 
There was even a daily live circus performance at Olympic Park, twice a day, at 1 P.M., and and at 4 P.M. >From high wire acts, trapeze performers to lion tamers, it was all there, all included in that single admission price to the park. Joe Basile, Jr. provided the very lively circus music, which accompanied all the acts. My family usually stayed at the swimming pool until 4 P.M., and from there, it was straight over to enjoy the circus acts, before finishing the evening with the thrilling rides and the games of chance previously outlined. I especially enjoyed the beautiful carousel, now located in Disney World, in Orlando, Florida, yes, the one and the same from dear old Olympic Park!

Another special memory is the fun mirrors near the picnic/beer garden area of Olympic Park. What a thrill to view myself as taller, stouter, thinner, and much, much shorter, as the distortions of these mirrors made all of this possible. In this area of the park, in a multi-colored lit bandshell/gazebo, the exciting strains of Joe Basile, Jr., entertained the surrounding picnickers, while they enjoyed food, along with the draught beer on tap, which could be purchased in this section of the park. As to Joe Basile, Jr., he was also featured on the afternoon Saturday television program called "The Big Top", which was a circus performing program. I recall that the air raid sirens held every Saturday in Newark, exactly at noon, were the signal in our home to put the television program on for this event, and there was Joe, providing the same kind of music enjoyed at Olympic Park!

On hot summer evenings, while our parents enjoyed the latest round of neighborhood gossip seated on the brick "stoop" of the apartment building, we children amused ourselves by catching fireflies in mayonnaise jars, holes punched in the lids, trying to out vie one another by trapping the greatest number of fireflies. There was always "heartbreak" and great disappointment, following an evening of firefly hunting, when mothers said trophies could definitely NOT be brought into the house! What sadness and pain to release the evening's catch!! Children also amused themselves with games of One-Two-Three Giant Step, Red Light, Tag, jump rope, (especially "Double Dutch"!), jacks, and showing off our penny "punks", which were thin, long wooden sticks,coated with an aromatic type incense, which, when lit by a match (our parents lighting them), would allegedly ward off the evening mosquitoes and other flying insect pests. I can still recall the aroma and spiraling smoke made by those punks, to this very day! It was akin to a fireplace wood burning odor, which one experiences in autumn, just as the crispness in the air announces the changing seasons.

While our parents smoked cigarettes such as Raleighs, Pall Malls, Chesterfields, Lucky Strike,(think Lucille Ball and Desi's program sponsors), and Camels, we would play" pretend" cigarettes, with those sweet, chalk-like candy cigarettes, bought in a cigarette box-like pack at the corner candy store, five to the pack, in emulation of our parents. I recall that Raleigh's was a favorite brand of cigarettes for the parents, because for a number of premiums garnered from each pack and carton, any number of "prizes" could be sent for and obtained. I can recall the parents discussing what prizes they relished, and how many premiums were needed to obtain the object of their desire. In a sense, the Raleigh premiums were the forerunner of the green stamps later given out at the early supermarket chains, which were collected in books for this purpose, to be redeemed for merchandise later, as well. I believe it was the Acme Supermarket, Clinton Avenue, near Lincoln Park, which first offered the redemption stamps, which were called "Merchants' Green Stamps." I recall mother diligently pasting said stamps in a book for later redemption, and occasionally, I was given this "honor", when mother was busy doing other things of more importance.

On especially steamy and torrid nights, when even the convenience of the window box fans did little to prevent the oppression of those evenings, and sleep was almost impossible during those unbearable times, mother would fill the old claw footed bath tub with cold water, for a quick "dip". Feeling much better, cooled and refreshed, it was back off to bed again, hopefully to enjoy a more refreshed, peaceful, uninterrupted and restful night of sleep, for the balance of the night. It was difficult, back in those days, to overcome the accumulated heat of the summer months, held constant in the building, clinging and owing to the surrounding construction of solid brick and steel walls. What relief came with those cool baths, inviting the sleep back into childrens' eyes!

Occasionally, neighbors also met on such hot evenings on the roof of the building to share in and enjoy random "potluck" dinners, discussed, decided upon, and donated by any number of mothers. July 4th evenings on the roof, were a special thrill, for from the height of that five story walk-up, the fireworks of Olympic Park could be viewed in the distance, while families together oohed and ahhed at the beautiful spectacle of all those colored and cascading lights. The children were held in rapt attention, as they, too, witnessed this wonderful event.

During hot afternoons, the roof was also a convenient place for teenagers and adults to work on the acquisition of a good suntan. It was the poor man's alternative, in lieu of a Long Branch or Asbury Park getaway to do so, and we, as children, were naturally prohibited by our parents from going up to "tar beach". One brought up a blanket and convenient "tanning lotion", self-concocted with Johnson's baby oil and iodine, no fancy alternative here, such as Coppertone or the more costly Revlon Bain de Soleil!

As another summer comes to an end shortly, these are my dearest memories of summers so long ago, enjoyed in our beautiful City of Newark. Here's hoping yours was a most enjoyable summer season, and that you continue to relish these long past memories of those hot, sweltering Newark summer nights of your own childhood days as fondly as I do, with the hopes and dreams of yet many more happy and healthy future summer seasons for one and all!


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