Memories of Newark

by Jerry Barbierri


I happened on the web site by chance while searching for some childhood memories to share with my children, and what a welcome surprise!

I was born in Newark at Beth Israel Hospital in 1954. My parents met at the old Rubberset Company off of Ferry Street. We lived in a flat in a three family house at 238 Elm Street near the corner of Adam until 1967 when Rubberset, by then in East Newark, relocated to Crisfield, Maryland. My Dad helped set up the new operation in Maryland and we moved with the company just after the summer of '67 riots. I'm still living in the area and Rubberset remains in operation making paint brushes and still owned by Sherwin Williams.

My Newark memories are extensive. I went to Lafayette Street School, the same school that my mother and grandfather attended. I remember starting in kindergarten in the basement and progressing up the floors to the 4th floor when I made it to 7th grade before moving. It was a great school with wonderful teachers.

My group of friends consisted mostly of kids from Italian families and each of their parents were like your own. We played stickball on Monroe Street and baseball in the back of the old Food Fair on Lafayette and Monroe, making sure we didn't knock a window out at the St. James Convent. Football was played in the street, except when we got serious and played the kids from New York Ave. at Independence Park.

Speaking of the park, does anyone remember when they would put a make-shift ice skating rink on the basketball courts and we would get to skate when the water froze? For serious skating, my Dad would take me to the real ice-skating rink at Branch Brook Park, or we go over to Harrison and skate at Kennedy Stadium.

We attended Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church. I barely remember the original church on Ferry Street near Penn Station, but we spent most of our time at the "new" church on Oliver Street. Except for confession. I always went to Holy Trinity Church on Adam Street for confession since the priests there didn't understand much English and no matter what you told them, you got "3 Our Fathers, 3 Hail Mary's, and 3 Glory Be's" for penance.

I also remember the feasts that Mt. Carmel had during the summer. Oliver Street was shut down for several days as people ate and danced in the street. A statue of Our Lady would be paraded around the neighborhood and parishioners would pin money on her.

Ferry Street was our local shopping center. Whenever we kids had a little change, we would head for Lorchacks (sp?) 5 and 10. Mom shopped in Goldfingers, and our first TV and air conditioner came from Rothhausers. I remember shopping for my Dad at Nuesbaums, and movies at the Rivoli. In fact to this day, my mother uses china that she "made" at the Rivoli.

During the summer, there's was nothing better than Lemon Ice. No matter what flavor we got, it was called Lemon Ice. There was one stand on Adam Street between Elm and Lafayette operated by I think a Mrs. Criscola. There was another stand further down Adam toward Ferry Street. On summer nights, we'd sit on the stoops and wait for the Good Humor man. He'd let us climb on his truck, ring the bell, and play "Beverly Hillbillies".

The big shopping was saved for Uptown. Bambergers, Orbachs, Kleins, and Kresges were where we shopped. Hahnes was too upscale for our family. As a kid, the Fairyland Fountain at Bambs was "the" place. My brother took a job as a soda jerk there before we moved. We would also venture out to Sears on Elizabeth Ave when Dad needed anything for the car.

One great childhood memory was when my Dad took me to the see the "Three Stooges" live, I think at the Branford Theatre. Moe, Larry, and Curly Joe DiRita appeared on stage to introduce one of their "space" movies. I loved the Stooges so much that every afternoon after school I would catch Officer Joe Bolton and the Three Stooges on television. I remember Officer Joe always telling us kids not to imitate the Stooges. I poked a finger in many an eye as a kid.

My brother went to East Side High School, and I remember walking all the way down Wilson Ave to the old Ruppert Stadium on crisp fall Saturday afternoons with my father, brother and cousins to watch East Side football games. I also remember some unpleasant experiences when fights broke out after the game. The old baseball scoreboard at the stadium had a hole in it. Legend had it that Babe Ruth caused the hole when he hit the scoreboard with a home run while playing the Newark Bears in an exhibition game.

I also remember going to School Stadium during later summer to watch the Newark Bears semi-pro football team play in the Atlantic Football League.

We even went to Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City to watch professional wrestling. Roosevelt Stadium also had a DMV office where you went to get your driver's license. Since my Mother was the only Aunt in our family with a driver's license, she took most of my older cousins there for their drivers test and I tagged along.

Our family was very fortunate in that my Dad's parents lived in Belmar, one block from the beach. We were able to spend every summer weekend in Belmar and three weeks vacation there each year as well. My friends left behind to swelter in the city had to resort to opening fire hydrants to stay cool.

From time to time I have returned to Newark to take my mother to funerals for family members. The old neighborhood, although the ethic mix has changed, looks much the same as when we left in 1967. St. James Church is gone, but the hospital and school remain. Lafayette St. School hasn't changed. The park is the same, but the old places on Ferry Street are gone.

But of all these memories, the greatest times I had as a child were in our own house. Like many Italian families, we shared a home with our relatives. In our three family home we had three sets of aunts, uncles and cousins. And Nona, the grandmother. The cellar was the family gathering place. Just about on any holiday we had a celebration in the cellar when the entire Cecere family including my 14 cousins would gather for a party. When we left in 1967, the hardest part was leaving our family and those special gatherings behind. I can go on and on about my childhood memories, but maybe at another time.


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