A Depression-Era Recollection of the Knot-Hole Gang

by Nat Bodian


Back in the 1930s, to encourage young school-age children to become future baseball fans, at around the age of 11 or 12, we were invited to join the Newark Bears Knot Hole Gang.

I do not recall precisely how it worked, except that you bought a ticket at your school and it was good for a specific number of Newark Bears baseball games at Ruppert Stadium in the Ironbound. The game dates were referred to as "Knot Hole Gang Days."

At Monmouth Street School

At my elementary school, Monmouth Street School, in the old Third Ward, I recall that on Knot Hole Gang Days, a bus would pull up in front of the school and transport us to and from the games.

I later learned from a baseball memorabilia ad, that the back of your Newark Bears Knot Hold Gang membership card had cheers printed on it.

I seem to recall that on the days I attended the Knot Hole Gang games, that Ruppert Stadium was full of youngsters -- all boys

Three fellow Old Newarkers have written Old Newark Memories in which they mention their Knot Hole Gang memberships. Besides myself, there was Seymour Pierce, who lived in the old Third Ward just up the street from me, and John Keegan, who grew up in the Ironbound. We, all three, are 88, so I am thinking we must have been about 11 or 12 back then, so it could have been around 1932 or 1933, during the Great Depression.

Another Old Newark Memory was written by Steven Eli Schanes also mentions his membership in the Newark Bears Knot Hole Gang. His "Memory" specifies 1935-1938, so he was at least several years younger than Pierce, Keegan and myself.

Being younger, his memory is likely to be more reliable. His recollection of the Newark Bears Knot Hole Gang mentions "I went to eight games a year, for five cents a game, and saw all the future big stars playing."

Knot Hole Was Opportunity

In the early 1930s, when most of us were from struggling or impoverished families where money was short, the opportunity of visiting a baseball stadium and watching a first-class professional baseball game presented a window of opportunity for us that would otherwise have been impossible.

I know that, in that era, Seymour Pierce shined shoes near the Lincoln Statue after school on upper Market Street. I hawked Star-Eagle newspapers, late edition, after school just three blocks down Market Street opposite Bamberger's.

Steven Schanes augmented his two-cents school-day allowance by soliciting customers for the Saturday Evening Post in his Clinton Hill neighborhood for which he earned credits toward premium awards, usually toys or sports equipment.

His father had a piano-teaching practice and money was tight in his family. He recalled "One day I won a $2 raffle. That was more money than I had ever seen."

Elliot and Ira

Elliot Sudler and Ira Symkowitz, who were neighbors at 131 Bragaw Avenue, were both "Knot Holers" in the 1937-1938 era. The two would leave on the bus two hours early so they could enjoy the crowds and excitement of being in a stadium with uniformed professional baseball players.

Sudler recalled "I had no money, but Ira delivered newspapers and he treated me to a ticket. It opened up a whole new world to me, whose only world before that time was the Bragaw Avenue Playground"

Sudler is now a retired pharmacist. Symkowitz was a Newark bank executive.

Knot-Holers Into Fans

Those Knot Hole Game days turned many of us into avid baseball fans. A decade after attending those games, I was a sports writer for the Newark Star-Ledger, and a Newark 'stringer' for a number of out-of-state papers, and a news wire service.



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