I commuted to college from Caldwell to
Newark Rutgers on the 29 bus that rolled down Bloomfield Avenue,
stopped at Washington Park where I hurried through the park to classes
on Washington Place, or across Broad Street to Rector Street, where
the buildings shook from the heavy truck traffic on McCarter Highway.
After class I waited on Washington Street which was one way up past
the Newark Library and from there back to the end of the line stop
which used to be the trolley station at Central Avenue in Caldwell.
The trolleys must have stopped not long before because I remember
taking the trolley to high school football games in Glen Ridge,
the field being right on Bloomfield Avenue. The tracks made a path
right down the middle of the road and when the busses started, Bloomfield
Avenue was smooth and dark all across, instead of the rails underfoot
and those electric wires overhead which flashed with sparks and
scared me when I was a little child.
Newark Rutgers, and I would love to see others' memoirs of the
time, was a haven of incredible scholarship in the heart of a Newark
which was still in its grandeur of a magnificent city crowned with
beautiful parks, wonderful statues, bright and shining movie marquees,
tall buildings from the Pru to Bambergers which I remember had nine
or more floors. First Hahnes, then S. Klein, where I bought wonderful
dresses for $10, Kresge's, Orbach's, and a lovely shoe store across
the street from Orbach's where I only looked--I could not buy shoes
that cost $9.98! Streets teeming with shoppers and workers, at each
light, a crowd waited to cross. The big stores had restaurants and
cafeterias, many of my classmates worked at Hahne's and the others.
They were serious, studious and grateful to be attending college,
holding high hopes for success in medical school, teaching, sciences,
nursing, pharmacy, law and journalism.
Our professors were amazing--graduates of the best schools in
the country, Harvard, Columbia, etc., I can't imagine how Newark
Rutgers attracted them, but it was our wonderful gain. While my
friends who went away to college in central Pennsylvania studied
PA history, we had amazing guest and staff profs who were from Johns
Hopkins, for example, teaching Roman and Greek classics, and many
went on to very prestigious appointments after they left us. Our
favorite English prof had been (at least the rumors persisted) a
resistance member during WWII with the scars to tell, and he spoke
of women he had loved in every meaning of the word, he admired us
young fresh-faced girls and made us blush.
Student life: well, not much. We all returned home, most had jobs
to support themselves. I was a freshman at age 16 because I had
skipped a grade in elementary school. In my class was my older brother
who had been a Marine in Korea and was starting college the same
year I did. By this time he had a child and worked full time as
well as attending college. One of his friends, a Navy vet, married
my sister. In my sophomore year, I took an advanced writing class
and was the only member who was not a Korean war vet. They attended
college on the GI bill, were serious, no-nonsense guys who wrote
about their experiences in the service and beyond. Little me, 17
years old, baby of the family, totally innocent, learning to write.
My friends were for the most part Newark residents who went to
Weequahic (spelling?) High School and Arts High School. They were
scholarship students who could not have gone to college otherwise,
and there were no fashion shows or new cars in our lives. I am still
friends with several and they have had long successful careers,
some happy marriages with wonderful children.
Crossing Broad Street: from Washington Place we had 10 minutes
to get to classes on Rector Street, the corner of which is the site
of NJPAC nowadays. If we were lucky the lights were with us. There
was that wonderful dark stone church, the Robert Treat Hotel, the
new Y was just built, then down the wind tunnel of Rector Street
to the former brewery building with OPA paintings on every floor
landing. The wonderful library was in that building, a huge several-story
room with stacks below and a second level which overlooked the main
floor. The building vibrated under our feet. It was a former Ballantine
brewery and the heavy iron structure supports were visible.