Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Spitting to All Fields, Part 1

Bumper Sliding

Grab the car bumper of a total stranger on a snow/ice covered street and go on a sweet slide ride. I used to think this was just an Acres thing, until I found of that kids from Forest Park also bumper slid.

So, for years after this revelation— that ruffians in The X enjoyed this winter sport just as much as folk from The Acres—I discovered that the youth of Haverhill, MA partook in this pastime as well! A friend of mine who went to college with my brother explained the Haverhillian tactic of slowing down the car enough to grab the bumper: have your friends start a fake fight. Works every time.

“Wow!” I exclaimed. “That’s how kids from The X did it too!”

We weren’t nearly as imaginative on our street, but, make no mistake, we knew how to rein in a car. If we were tossing a football, an errant pass usually went in front of the car, and then, presto: the vehicle braked to bumper sliding speed. Just run up and grab some steel. Many motorists on Parker Street used to cut through our neighborhood to get to Wilbraham Road, and they felt the need for speed in doing this—bombing down Sunrise Terrace, and then speeding down Maebeth Street. Consequently, we felt the need to slow some of them down on Maebeth with a little bumper sliding action.

The reaction of the driver, of course, was usually one of shock and then swearing. Well, shut up and roll up that window and drive slower. And by the way, Speed Racer, would you like a snowball chaser to go with that bumper slide?

I recently read the memoir Townie by Andre Dubus III, which contains a story that corroborates my Haverhill friend’s account of bumper sliding being an unofficial sport in his city. Early in the book, one of Dubus' friends in Haverhill indeed grabs a bumper and treats a car like a dogsled. Did kids do this anywhere aside from Springfield and Haverhill? Let me know. This is important research.

My friend Rick Riccardi once pulled an impulsive bumper slide when he visited me in college in upstate New York, and the police witnessed the act. “What were you doing back there?” one of the cops asked him. “Bumper sliding,” he said matter-of-factly. But the looks on the officers’ faces resembled that of the startled drivers who used to tow us on the icy streets. They had never heard of such a phenomenon. “Well, don’t do that,” said the cop. “It’s dangerous.”

No shit. It’s also a lost sport—almost. Below is a video of some bumper-sliders, but they know the driver, so it doesn’t really count. Unfortunately, today’s bumpers are nearly impossible to grab, unlike their 1970s and 1980s metal counterparts.

I'm taking an informal poll. Which was more fun: bumper sliding or hitting cars with snowballs? Please let me know in the comments section at the end.

Care to guess where the photo above was taken?

I snapped that picture just before picking up some food at Ginger Blossom in Sixteen Acres Center. The wall on the north side of the restaurant sports the iconic pharmacist’s mortar and pestle—where Acre Drug was located. I think it’s great that they keep on painting it, decades after Acre Drug closed.

After taking that photo, I took a good look around, and whadda ya know: the old “No Loitering” sign from my childhood is still on the Family Dollar/Goodwill building next door, formerly home of the A & P Supermarket and then the Plywood Ranch. A.C. White and his father, who headed their namesake real estate company, owned the building and apparently didn’t want any punks hanging around A & P. But A.C. the Third died in 1997, so I guess someone should tell the Circle Gang that it’s safe to loiter and smoke cigarettes there now.

I think my first act of shoplifting ever, when I was around six years old, was grabbing peanuts from that peanut barrel in A & P and stuffing them in my pockets. Did any other Acres folks do this at A & P? Please fess up in the comment section at the end of this entry. I think the statue of limitations has run out on this heinous crime.

What else was in that shopping center? Oh yes, Friendly’s, which was replaced by the Parker House, which was replaced by Jilly’s. Next door was Barsom Beauty Salon and then at the far end, on the right, was Liberty Bakeries.

On the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, my dad walked into this very bakery and the old Irish woman who worked there was crying. I also cried like a baby the day Kennedy died. I pissed and shit myself as well. After all, I was only seven months old.

The old neon House of Television “HOT” sign in The Acres: after I wrote a blog entry on the sign’s demise, who should opine in the “comments” section but HOT owner Moe Feldstein’s daughter. His son had briefed me about the sign’s demise at the hands of Milton Rosenberg, who owned HOT’s successor, Bernie’s House of Television, but not the building. Still, he had the sign dismantled anyway. Tracy Feldstein had this to say about the fate of the iconoclastic neon beacon that ruled over The Center:

“I’ve never talked about this subject before... but when that sign came down, it really ripped me up.

“It was amazing how gracefully mom and dad took it. One day the sign just wasn’t there. They called Milton (or his lawyer, I can’t remember which) and were told that he just “threw it away.” There was no love loss there, for sure.

“Mom told me that when she said she wanted to keep the sign she was told that it was useless and what could she possibly want with it, anyway? She said that she would ‘put it in the backyard.’

“For me, it really was a beginning of the end. There was no time to squabble. Dad passed away within a few weeks.

“I'm in California now. I’ve gone to the Burning Man Art festival 8 times. I’ve brought big art out there and every stinking year I have this fantasy. I imagine that he hadn't thrown it away and I take it out to the beautiful Nevada desert and set it up for 50,000 people to see. H...O...T... HOT...HOT..H...O...T...HOT...HOT... The full word flashed two times. Burned in my brain...It was part of my family.”

“Thanks,” added Tracy, adding that the blog entry “means a lot” to her.

No problem, Tracy. You know, I’ve got a great idea: someone should commission a live-sized replica of the HOT sign for a sculpture!

Tracy also related a story to me about Moe’s attempt at selling albums in a record bin at HOT in the early 1970s: “Dad wasn’t what you’d call ‘hip’ and the Engelbert Humperdink just sat there.”

And then there was the time that Moe, always wanting the latest in technology, was thinking about adding 3-D movies to HOT’s video rental operation in the mid-1980’s: “The only thing that dad could get in 3-D was an X-rated move called Sexcalibur. So there he was, sitting in the house with a pair of paper glasses on watching a triple-X movie, totally oblivious to the content.”

Moe wasn’t impressed. “This doesn’t look three-dimensional,” he complained. “Does this look 3-D to you? I don’t think 3-D television will ever work.”

Across Parker Street, where Sixteen Acres Mobil is now, I had always heard that there was a bar on the corner waaaay back in the day. And, sure enough, here is a 1929 ad for a “frolic” at Club Dolan on New Year’s Eve.

Were there beverages alcoholic at the frolic? It was during Prohibition, so who knows what weaselly ways people caught a buzz at the Dolan. Emptying flasks into their drinks under the table? Boozing it up before they went out? Probably.

Let’s move from The Center down Wilbraham Road to Breckwood Boulevard. Does anyone remember the fountain that was in front of the old AM/PM Mini Mart, which is now a Shell station? Surely you can recall kids putting dishwashing detergent in the fountain, which then emitted suds that sometimes flooded into the intersection. The fountain pool is now a flower bed, which you can see bordered in a white curb next to the fire hydrant above and below.

The shopping strip behind the fountain was once home to Big Y Supermarket and Big Y Wine & Liquor, the latter of which is now Winn Liquors. Below is a 1978 ad for Big Y Wine & Liquor. Mmmmm. Big Y Vodka. How much time did we spend on the side of that establishment waiting for someone who was willing to buy beer for us? Too much time, especially in the freezing friggin’ cold.

I can’t believe the neon sign below on Winn Liquors still works! Protected from rock throwers by wire mesh, the sign is a beacon for college students—as well for as the alcoholics who hang around the west side of the lot in the afternoon, drinking in their cars and stumbling back into the store for more. No, the neighborhood ain’t what it used to be. Below is a photo of the cinemas that used to occupy the Big Y supermarket building. Now the structure is vacant and looking quite derelict.

Anyone recall Ryan Drug in that shopping center?

Across the street is Duggan Middle School, or, as us old geezers say, Duggan Junior High School—the students of which, dare I say, were the perpetrators of the ol’ fountain suds prank. Or maybe it was the kids from Western New England College. Who knows? Possibly both. Anyway, below is a snippet from the 1973 Duggan yearbook. I felt compelled to include the page below because the “most musical” person in the class was Laurie MacAlpine. That should come as no surprise because she was the sister of Pine Point’s virtuoso guitarist Tony MacAlpine, arguably the most famous rock musician to come out of Springfield since Taj Mahal (other than the Staind guys and NRBQ’s Tommy Ardolino).

Tony MacAlpine

RIP Matt Gosselin, who was voted “best sense of humor” in the Duggan Class of ’73, along with Anne Biscaldi, according to the page from the yearbook above. Matty died in a house fire on Pine Point’s Wisteria Street in 2004.

The land on which Duggan sits was a former landfill, back when this section of Springfield was mostly farmland. During the Great Depression, the dump on the Duggan site became a pathetic Hooverville-style shanty town inhabited by homeless people. Then a large shack, dubbed the “Hotel O’Shay,” was built there and converted into a mess hall for unemployed laborers who were temporarily hired by the city to toil on public works projects.

Prior to Franklin Roosevelt’s sweeping New Deal economic efforts, the burden of public work relief programs fell on state and local governments. However, during the fall of 1932 the much-reviled Hoover administration provided loans to help cities such as Springfield fund their relief budgets. Hoover lost the ’32 election anyway.

As you can see above from a snippet of a Springfield Daily News story from December 12, 1932, these public workers plugged away on outside jobs throughout the winter, and they were grateful from the opportunity—although a sleet storm that day slowed things down a bit, with only 150 men showing up instead of the usual 900 to 1,000.

The “welfare laborers,” according the story, were busy with clearing and grading work on not only the new South Branch Parkway, but also on the “Breckwood tract”—the new Breckwood Boulevard, as well as digging out the new Breckwood Pond and building a dam for the pond and the portion of the road above it to enable motorists to cross over the North Branch of the Mill River.

In these photos you can see a waterless Breckwood “pond,” the dam, a sewer pipe, and the snow-covered hill to the south of the ravine.

Below, a scally-capped gentleman stands in front of a wheelbarrow. A tree in the middle of the photo provides an excellent coat rack for the laborers.

Part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which employed millions to carry out projects on roads, bridges, buildings, and other endeavors. Springfield WPA workers assembled at the Hotel O’Shay in the photo below are waiting in line for a meal.

The federal WPA program was a godsend to many Springfield citizens, even though at times there seemed to be a bit of a stampede for the free food.

A small vegetable farm was grown at the site of the Hotel O’Shay (also called Shea’s Hotel), and the meals were cooked there by chef Henry M. Thomas, grandfather of the Urban League of Springfield CEO Henry M. Thomas III. My uncle’s father worked for the WPA and to this day my uncle keeps a gourd in his garage—a keepsake vegetable from his dad’s garden plot at the Hotel O’Shay! Needless to say, the next time I visit my uncle I’m going to get a photo of this sucker and post it.

The WPA also built the bridge over the South Branch of the Mill River on Bradley Road (below) in 1933.

A year later these workers built the more elegant bridge over the North Branch of the Mill River (in the photos below), on the western end of the North Branch Parkway, between Breckwood Circle and Sunrise Terrace.

Both bridges were made of the red sandstone that one finds all over this area.

Years later, WPA workers dug out and damned one of the two North Branch streams that would be called Putnam’s Puddle, named for Springfield Mayor Roger Putnam. Below is a portion of a 1938 article about a City Council order authorizing various WPA projects, including “building an artificial pond” near the North Branch tributary parkway: the one and only Putnam’s Puddle.

My uncle’s father was one of the crew that dug out Putnam’s Puddle. In fact, to prolong the job, on one Friday afternoon the workers clogged the dam’s openings with sandbags to prematurely flood that portion of the ravine over the weekend. This resulted in additional work the following week to remove the blockage and drain the area. Scandalous? Oh, what the hell—desperate times call for desperate measures.

Fast forward nearly four decades: in the woods next to Putnam’s Puddle, my friends and I undertook a public works project of our own: an underground party “fort” that we called The Pothole. Now the hole, which had a “retractable” half-roof (a sheet of plywood) for rainy-day festivities, is eroded and covered with leaves :

Above is a recent photo of the dam at Putnam’s Puddle, where we also used to gather. The structure was patched up by the city—and by neighbors—over the years, but it was always in tough shape. In 1970 a guy named Mark Gilfoil took advantage of the wet cement on the structure to leave his name for the ages (below).

Who was this guy? I did a quick web search, and according to the Social Security Death Index, a 20-year old Springfield resident named Mark Gilfoil died in July of 1974, but I couldn’t find his obituary on microfilm. Does anybody know anything about Mark? His birth date was listed as December 9, 1954. The name above his is either R.A. or A.A. White, undoubtedly a friend. I’m not trying to be morbid or anything. I just think his family would appreciate the fact that Mark, if he indeed passed away, lives on—his memory, and his name, embedded in the dam.

Once in 1976 or 1977 my friends and I discovered that someone laid fresh concrete on the dam, and we got busy putting OUR initials in it for posterity—until the older kids who had fixed the structure caught us in the act. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” one of them asked. “We put down that cement! We have to cross this dam every day to go to school and you’re fucking it up!” He pointed to a repaired section that was formerly a wide gap—a tricky one that you were forced to jump over in order to cross. We weren’t exactly sabotaging the dam, but they made us smooth over our initials.

We always hated those sons of bitches from “the other side” of the pond (the North Brook Road area). Those dirtbags didn’t even have curbs on their streets! We used to yell at them from the safety of our side (and vice versa), with a convenient water barrier to prevent a fight, but at the dam it was another story. There were too many “other siders” that day, and they were a few years older than us. Damn other-siders! Damn them to hell! It was OUR dam too, dammit! A member of my family helped build this damn dam!

Alas, the poorly maintained dam proved to be too much of a patchwork affair, and in 1982 slabs of concrete gave way, and all the water rushed out of Putnam’s Puddle. The Puddle returned to a piddling stream, and the tributary area is now overgrown with trees and brush. The city had plans to fix the dam and restore the pond, but it never did.

In the video below I take a walk across the dam. Do I see cast-away beer cans from successors of the Pothole Crew?

Here is the back of the dam:

Below is a video of the “Puddle” as it exists today. The stream was pretty accessible after the pond drained through the breach in the dam, but the whole area is now overgrown with phragmites, an invasive species of reed that crowds out native plants and animals along banks and shorelines. This is a 360-degree view from the ravine at the end of Maebeth Street.

Another WPA effort: in 1921, the city decided to build a road called Crosstown Boulevard, which was later renamed Roosevelt Avenue. The project wasn’t completed until WPA workers built a bridge over Watershops Pond in 1938. Construction (pictured below) took 300 days to complete.

The finished bridge (below) was named for Gen. Clarence M. Edwards, the World War I commander of the 26th Yankee Division.

The city put on a big parade for the dedication, according this article:

The Ruins of South Branch Park, Part 3

It was remiss of me in The Ruins of South Branch Park, Part 1 and Part 2 not to include some photos of the WPA efforts on THIS conservation land, including the long lost “scenic lookout” on the South Branch Parkway. A pathway in the woods immediately to the right of the Veterans Golf Course parking lot, on the back nine holes of the course, will lead you to the abandoned skating rink and the ruins of Camp Angelina. But before you find these ruins, if you keep your eye on the right, you will see a large stone wall.

Hike up the incredibly steep embankment and you’ll see how large this redstone structure actually is, and how it was built into a cliff.

You’ll also see that it curves at the sides. Follow the left curve to the very top, wipe the sweat off your brow after this almost totally vertical side hike, and check out the semicircle platform lookout to the right. To the left is the South Branch Parkway. When the WPA built the road it created this rest area, which has long since been closed to cars and taken over by nature.

Just look at this view (below). Yep, you just climbed up that dizzying incline. And if you’re less inclined to walk back down, slipping on leaves and grabbing trees to prevent a fall—there’s no pathway here; it’s all bushwhacking on the hill—then simply walk along the Parkway back to the parking lot, stroll down the golf cart path a little bit, and then hit the trailhead again to continue your hike.

As I wrote before, to see the other features of South Branch Park, it’s probably best to park in the Walgreen’s/Blockbuster Video lot on Parker Street, cross Parker, and stroll a little south to see the waterfall.

The city of Springfield had the foresight to pursue the preservation of these woods back in the early 1930s. Proposals for a park there date back to at least 1926. After a large land gift from property owners, the Springfield Daily News wrote in an editorial on March 28, 1931: “One feature that makes the gift the more remarkable is the fact that those who contributed in turning over this tract of 156 acres of land to the city are not representative of the wealthy classes for the most part, but really represent a cross-section of the citizenship of Springfield.” Another 42-acre tract was donated to the city in 1933.

Below is a photo from early last century of the small pond in the foreground just above the waterfall. In the background is the connecting Mill Pond.

The bridge over Parker Street has changed a bit over the years. I should walked uphill a little but and captured more of Mill Pond in the photo below to provide more of a before-and-after effect. You’d think I would have run back over there and snapped the better picture by now. Nope. Too lazy. This is all you’re getting, until the next time I’m there.

A pathway toward the back of the old South Branch Park lot takes you on a great walk to the rest of the reservation, but what has been lost over the years is the pathway just past the falls that follows the raging brook and provides a commanding view of the gorge and rapids. It’s all overgrown now, but it’s worth bushwhacking and limbo dancing under low tree limbs to follow the old path, on which you can walk down redstone stairs that were laid there by WPA workers:

And then, at the bottom of the stairs: a great vista of the raging water.

It’s views like these that captured the imagination of famous landscape painter Roswell Morse Shurtleff (1838-1915), as mentioned in The Ruins of South Branch Park, Part 2. Below is a painting of a “Sixteen Acres trout stream” by George Harrington (1833-1911). I’m betting it was within the South Branch Park area, which was known for its beauty.

Here is an old stone wall (probably not the work of the WPA—most likely a farmer) on the Plumtree Road side of the reservation:

This walkway below, however (also on the Plumtree Road side), smacks of WPA excess. “How can we stretch this job even further? I know—let’s build an unnecessary walkway from the street!”


Let’s move from The Acres to downtown and take a look at the old Top of the Round revolving restaurant at Holiday Inn on Dwight Street. What a treat this was in little old Springfield: watching the downtown skyline from all angles while eating dinner. It wasn’t the first revolving restaurant I had been in—I had dined at the Sklylon Tower in Niagara Falls. Still, it was cool to see such landmarks as Sacred Heart Church from a unique vantage point.

Opened in 1968, this was Holiday Inn’s fifth revolving restaurant. There was also a lounge there with live music, and one musician recalled a one-of-a-kind experience in the place: he always got to play to a new audience every few minutes. For the band, it was like performing “in the round,” only the listeners were revolving, not the stage. I’m not sure when the revolving restaurant was replaced with a stationary one. Zaffino’s succeeded Top of the Round, and then came the Panorama restaurant. One of these eateries, I assume, replaced the red upholstery:

A couple of episodes of The Simpsons cartoon included a revolving restaurant, and for years I believed that the Springfield on the show HAD to be based on Springfield, Mass. because of this fact. The sign on the show’s establishment read “Springfield Revolving Restaurant: Sit-N-Rotate.”

I was disappointed to discover, however, that The Simpsons’ revolving restaurant (above) mocked not the Top of the Round, but Seattle’s Space Needle (below), which was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. After the fair, a restaurant was built in the revolving top of the tower, so diners could sit and spin in space age luxury. In The Simpsons episode, Principal Skinner tells Patty Bouvier on a date: “You know, the food tastes better when you’re revolving.”

In The Simpsons’ 1999 Halloween episode Life’s a Glitch, Then You Die, the world’s computers malfunctioned because of the Y2K millennium bug, causing the Sit-N-Rotate restaurant to spin at a high speed until it detached and flew away. This is apparently what happened at the Holiday Inn in Springfield, because here is how it looks today, totally devoid of any evidence of the Top of the Round:


Please forgive the scatological nature of this blog post as it goes from Sixteen Acres to elsewhere. That’s why it’s called “Spitting to All Fields.” Because my last two posts in March and April have been about Springfield’s downtown and Hampden’s Laughing Brook, respectively, my friends have been nagging me to bring this blog back to The Acres. And that’s what I did. But you can’t stay in The Acres forever, can you?

Whoa! What the hell is that doing here? You know, you find the darndest things when you are spinning the wheels of the microfilm machine though the Springfield newspapers. I never thought I’d see this grizzly bear again. The menacing creature’s former home was the Springfield Natural History Museum (now the Springfield Science Museum) and it was posed attacking a fleeing elk. By the mid-1970s, however, so many visitors “petted” the critter that it started falling apart, and the museum staff made it a point to keep it on display to warn visitors of what happens to mammal exhibits when too many inconsiderate people touched them: they lost their fur.

Unfortunately, the bear seems to be long gone—either in storage or in the landfill. It’s too bad, because the creature was easily the most entertaining of the stuffed animals—even more exciting, in my opinion, of Suicide Sam the elephant. My five-year-old son would have loved him, although I doubt he would bravely face down the grizzly like the brave soul pictured above.

I also found an old ad that is destined to be inserted into my drive-in theatres blog entry: Riverside Park-In Theatre in Agawam, the area’s first ozoner. I apologize for the blurriness of the clipping. The 1933 movie is entitled Narcotic. The ad reads: “Perverted crimes against innocent womanhood by dope-soaked men. Leaves nothing to the imagination. Authentic facts boldly revealed.”

Hmm. Could there be anything on the web about this movie? Of course! Below is the movie poster:

And...yes! The whole flick is on YouTube in seven parts. Below is Part 1. It’s not as good as Reefer Madness, but check out the obviously Caucasian actor made up like a Chinese man, puffing on opium and speaking in the most fake Chinese accent you’ve ever heard:

Speaking of Asian stereotypes, how about Oriental Jade? Ooh, how exotic!

I bet many moons have passed since the last time you’ve thought about the fact that they showed soft porn at the Enfield Cinema. Perhaps you even visited the establishment. I only went once—I swear—and I was horrified to see one of the hottest babes at Cathedral High School in the ticket booth. I stopped in my tracks and balked at getting in line.

“Holy shit,” I said to my friend. “She’ll know we’re going to see a porn.”

“Yep,” he replied. “But she’ll know that WE know that she works at a porn theater.”

“True,” I said as I took out my wallet and headed to the line.


Well, I have one more expectoration for you in my “Spitting to All Fields,” this one from the Iron Sheik:

“Iran num-behrr one! USSR num-behrr one! USA…