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Getting to Know Brooklyn

By MeleCo, 10/30/2014 - 11:54am

In the mid-twenties, Brooklyn was the suburbs to Manhattan. The opening of the BMT subway line which ran from Times Square in Manhattan to Coney Island in Brooklyn was an important factor in its rapid growth. My grandfather lived only five or six minutes from the Newkirk Avenue station, an express stop, about thirty minutes to Times Square.

Coney Island Avenue ran from Prospect Park to Coney Island and had trolley cars for transportation. The fare was five cents – same as the subway. In the summer, the trolley cars were open – there was no air conditioning. My great uncle Ed and my grandfather were transferred from St. Rose to PS 217 after my grandpa’s first year. Their mother was concerned for their safety as Coney Island Avenue was wide with trolley trucks and had no traffic lights – dangerous for children. There were no mothers or fathers as traffic monitors in those days.

The first thing my grandpa noticed at PS 217 were the girls in his class – St. Rose had separate classes for boys and girls. The second thing he noticed was that the school was only one block away on Newkirk Avenue. The principal was Ms. Lieberman. My grandfather remembers his second grade teacher, Ms. Rappaport, well - she was young and very pretty. One other teacher he recalled, but forgot his name, was the “shop teacher.” In 8th grade, shop was required – where the students learned how to make things from wood.

PS 217 was a relatively new school. It had a large playground area. It was used after school by many of the kids. It had a good handball court, a couple of basketball courts and a large area where my grandfather and his friends played touch football in the fall and softball in the spring. None of them had any money but there were plenty of fun activities. In the winter, the school gym was available in the evenings and there was a basketball league. The boy scouts also used the gym for their weekly meetings. There was also a movie theatre, named “The Leader,” on Coney Island Avenue and believe it or not my grandpa recalls seeing silent movies. He remembers being in the theatre when he was about six, seeing a silent movie and a fellow playing a piano to accompany the film. Talkies, movies with soundtracks soon arrived and on Saturday a double feature plus a serial could be seen for only ten cents!

Getting the 10 cents wasn’t easy though – it was in the midst of a terrible depression. Earning money was difficult. At first, my grandpa helped his older brother Ed with a newspaper route, making deliveries and collecting payments from the customers once a week. He actually paid their manager for the papers, at a discounted price, and made a profit when the full price was collected from the customers. It wasn’t always easy collecting payment during a time of great depression. Friday was collection day.  Some couldn’t pay. Some gave good tips. Occasionally a few owed for four weeks. A terrible thing happened while my grandpa was trying to collect money from one customer. A woman owed him for four weeks and it was difficult to find her home. He made a special call late on a Friday hoping to find her home and she was. My grandfather had borrowed his brother Ed’s brand new deluxe bicycle, which Ed had saved up for many months, and my grandpa parked it outside the house. While he was distracted collecting the money inside the house- the bike was gone when he opened the door. He knew one of the women’s sons stole it. My grandpa cried when he noticed it gone and went to the police station. The police sympathized but nothing happened. He wondered how he could return home and explain what happened to Ed. It was one of the most devastating experiences of his life, as he would say.

Now back to the movies. The other way my grandpa earned more money was to be a “Shabbis Goy” at the Synagogue on Friday nights, turning off the lights. From this job, he got his movie money – ten cents!

In those days of the depression, Tuesday night at the movies was special. Each attendee would receive a plate for free. If you went every week eventually you would have a complete set. This was popular at the time.

Stay tuned for more stories and thanks for reading!
Elizabeth Mele