So there I was, cross-country skiing on Veterans Golf Course on January 8, when I came upon the course’s northern side bordering Plumtree Road. It was there that I had a flashback to the Trail of Swears.
Let me explain. You’ve undoubtedly heard of the Trail of Tears, the cruel removal of at some 20,000 Cherokee Indians from the mountain valleys of Appalachian Georgia and the Carolinas to western Indian territory in what is now Oklahoma in 1838. Forced to march 1,200 miles through bad weather and without proper clothing, at least 4,000 Cherokee died of starvation, exposure, and disease on the trail.
With apologies to Native Americans for trivializing the name of this death march, the Trail of Swears on Plumtree Road also caused untold suffering. It occurred on a brutally cold day in December of 1979 when my brother Dan and I chose to skip school and had to brave the elements. It is a story of missed opportunities and dashed hopes on what could have been the ultimate hooky day. It is a saga of both unbridled optimism and crushed dreams. It is the tale of the Trail of Swears.
Our desired destination that day: the Promised Land, the heavenly place that would take us out of our frigid misery. We wanted to go to the Eastfield Mall. We were snowbound, and then we were mall-bound, because the Man upstairs appeared in the sky and told us to go this mythical place, where Orange Julius flowed like nectar, where exotic tropical plants grew, where fountains sprouted, where the sounds of pinball, Asteroids, and Space Invaders resonated in the Dream Machine. We had no choice but to go on our pilgrimage because we were on a mission from God. Because it was the cool thing to do. Would we get there? Read on.
In the spirit of all the snow we’re having this winter, let’s re-enact part of my arduous journey by following my ski route on the edge of Veterans along the Trail of Swears, shall we?
I stepped through the brush off the golf course for a second to get a view of Plumtree Road. No kidding, five seconds after I put my camera away, the Eastfield Mall bus came whizzing by. Why, oh why couldn’t this bus have materialized on that fateful snowy morning in 1979? It would have saved us much anguish. It would have delivered us from the Trail of Swears. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
I didn’t want Monday to come. But it did, anyway. Imagine that. And it came with the fury of the Abominable Snowman. Yes, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I did not want to go to school that day. First of all, there was this blizzard to end all blizzards, but for some insane reason school wasn’t canceled that awful day in 1979. My brother Dan and I stood shivering at the bus stop, but my mind wasn’t on my ever-numbing hands or the snow piling up on my hat-less head. No, I was worrying about a history test I didn’t study for. What the hell was I going to do?
When the Cathedral High School bus showed up, we shook the snow off our heads and shoulders and we boarded. I should have studied in my seat, but I was tired, and I was trying to drift off to sleep. But shit, it was impossible to catch a 20-minute cat-nap, because the bitch bus driver was cranking her CB radio at full volume. “Blah, blah, blah (crackle) over,” shouted some bus-driving fuck from the speaker. Jesus, I loved how these ass-wipe bus drivers pretended they were truckers every morning. Couldn’t they just shut the fuck up and let me sleep? No they couldn’t, especially THAT morning, because they were all squawking about the snowstorm and the unplowed streets and the traffic and the delays, etc. etc. etc. etc. God! Shut the fuck up!
And then the bus died on Sherwood Road, right behind Venture Pond. She couldn’t start the engine. She begged for a backup bus on the receiver, but none were available. “We’re just gonna have to wait,” she explained in her unexplainable southern accent. I must have Kathy Bates portray this wench in the movie version of The Trail of Swears.
After about 15 minutes, we could see our breath as we swore—the bus had no heat. So I guess our Trail of Swears began right there. We had our fucking rights, goddamn it. Our mutiny was building up steam: we didn’t have to sit in the cold. But to where could we retreat? It was Antarctica outside.
“No, you don’t have to sit there,” the cranky bus driver answered. “You can go wherever the hell you want.”
“Hey guys, we can go to my house,” volunteered Bill Carr. “My parents aren’t home. We can hang out.”
“Yes!” exclaimed Paul Santaniello.
“Perfect,” declared Rob Gostofsky.
“Suit yourself,” said the driver as she opened the door and we filed out.
This was too good. At the end of the day, Dan and I could tell our parents that we didn’t feel like sitting there in the dead yellow icebox on wheels and sought the nearest shelter. School should have been canceled anyway. Most important of all: it was the cool thing to do.
Bill, Paul, Rob, Dan, I, and a few others walked away from the bus. And then the backup bus arrived. Oh oh.
Bill, Dan, and I froze in our tracks. Rob, Paul, and the others marched back over to the backup bus. What were they doing? Fucking lame-ass!
“I’m not going to school,” Bill said to my brother and me. “My offer is still good. We can go over to my house. We can even hit the liquor cabinet a little bit.” Thank God. I would avoid a test I was doomed to fail, and I would also catch a buzz.
“C’mon guys,” yelled Bill to the fools who actually wanted to go to school that day. “Where are you going?”
But Paul actually started trotting to the bus, slipping and almost falling down in the process. Jesus. Look at the school fools. See Paul run. See Paul slide. Run Paul Run. Fall Paul fall.
“Run, ya bunch of fags!” I yelled.
“Don’t let the bus get away!” bellowed Dan.
Running to the backup bus. It was not the cool thing to do.
So the three of us hooky boys trudged over to Bill’s house and warmed up in his living room and Bill turned on the TV. “I’m just gonna call my mother at work and tell her the bus broke down,” said Bill, picking up the phone and dialing.
“Why?” I asked.
“I got caught skipping in September,” he said. “Sister Julie called my mother and I got in shitload of trouble.”
Fair enough. Dan and I watched Leave it to Beaver while Bill talked to his mother. He cupped the phone, looking worried. “She put me on hold,” he said. What the hell was she up to?
Then we could read his face and it was obvious his heart was sinking. “Okay,” he said dejectedly to his mother. “Okay.” He broke the news to us: “She called my neighbor. He’s gonna give me a ride to school on his way to work. You guys can come if you want. Sorry.”
What the mother fucking son-of-a-bitching goddamn cocksucking ass-licking bastard hell? Christ on a crutch! How did this happen?
Dan looked at me with hurt eyes for big-brotherly advice. Was our skip day shot to shit? No, goddamn it! We certainly weren’t going to go to school. We decided that we were taking bus to Eastfield Mall. Because it was the cool thing to do.
But we couldn’t just walk down Jeffery Road and catch a bus on Wilbraham Road, because one of our neighbors might see us skipping. I decided that it might be better to walk the other way on Sherwood, toward Plumtree Road.
“Hey, Bill, there are buses on Plumtree that go to the Eastfield Mall, right?” I asked.
“Yeahh,” he said with a tinge of uncertainty. “I usually take the one on Wilbraham Road, but there’s one that goes down Plumtree too.” It wasn’t a declaration of confidence, but this was all we had going for us.
Once we stashed our books at Bill’s house, there was no turning back—we certainly weren’t going to school after THAT. Bill turned the TV off and we parted ways.
It was a great plan until we opened Bill’s door and the wind and snow hit us, forcing my eyes closed and driving my chin into my chest. We were hardly dressed for this adventure: no hats, no gloves. But we pressed on toward Plumtree Road. “Because it’s the cool thing to do,” I insisted.
“We’re on a mission from God,” Dan replied.
When we made it to Plumtree, it occurred to us that there was a problem (aside from potential frostbite). We had no bus fare. BIG problem, right? No money for bus, the Dream Machine, or lunch? No problem. We’ll just walk a little further to Ursuline Academy, our old grammar and junior high school. The nuns will be thrilled to see us, right? We’ll tell them about the school bus breaking down, and they’ll give us fare for the city bus, right? Sure. It was all we had. Despite the prospect of begging bus fare from the nuns, despite the fact that my ears were about to fall off, “It’s the cool thing to do,” we both said in unison. It was our mantra. Because it was the cool thing to do, it would all work out. It was the cool thing to do. Ow! My ears!
The march down Plumtree Road, the Trail of Swears, was awful and swearful. The wind and snow battered us. “Where the fuck is Ursuline?” we asked. I couldn’t get any traction in my dress shoes. What the hell was I wearing on my feet? Hush Puppies or some foolish brand. Many students at Cathedral got out of the “no sneakers” rule by buying Timberland boots (and wearing them with the laces untied, of course). Why didn’t I get a pair of those motherfuckers? My feet were soaked and cold! The wind whistled though my pitifully thin polyester pants. “Where the fuck is Ursuline?” Ah, finally, our oasis was ahead. We could barely make out the building in the whiteout.
During my cross-country skiing flashback on Veterans, we’ll have to depart from the Trail of Swears at the 14th hole, because to get to Ursuline on skis you have to take a left at the woods and hit the trail below.
Ah, yes, here we are at good old Ursullne—now the Pioneer Valley Christian School. Ursuline closed in the mid-1980s.
Now let’s go back in time again to 1979, where we made our first stop on the Trail of Swears at Ursuline.
What a strange feeling it was for Dan and I to walk through those doors again. We went into the office to the right and explained who we were to the receptionist, who we didn’t recognize. The principal, who was also new, didn’t make it in that day because of the storm. Imagine that! So why were Cathedral and Ursuline even open that day? It’s one of Glorious Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. We told her that we were there to say hello to our favorite nuns. “You know Sister Kathleen, right?” she said. “You’re welcome to go visit Sister Kathleen. She’d love to see you. Her class is over in 27 minutes.”
Christ! Twenty-seven minutes? We had to get going to the mall, bitch! We were going to have to wait 27 minutes to shake down Sister Kathleen for bus fare? What if she didn’t have it? The thought of the old bag’s vice-like grip for the inevitable reunion handshake really put me off. I have felt the pain of her lobster claw clamping on my shoulder—and pulling me down the hallway by my earlobe—many times, and I wasn’t looking forward to her crushing my hand, which was still stinging from the cold. I’m sure she hasn’t lost much strength in three years—if anything, her hands would be bonier to apply maximum hurt. And she might not even have bus fare!
“Sister Kathleen’s classroom is the second on the right,” said the receptionist.
“Okay, thanks,” I replied. Dan and I walked down the hall. What were we going to do? I checked out the first classroom on the right—this was my fourth-grade homeroom, and it was completely empty, even though the lights were on and there were books in the open-front desks (as opposed to the “lift lid” desks that I had at Ursuline. I heard the echoes of basketballs bouncing in the background. “They must be at gym,” I said. Then I noticed what had to be some kid’s lunch money—actually, lunch money and THEN some—countless quarters practically spilling out of his vinyl pencil case.
“Do you see what I see?” I asked Dan.
“Holy shit!” he whispered. “The idiot didn’t even zip it shut!”
There had to be at least four dollars in change in that fucker. But we didn’t touch it. Because that wouldn’t have been the cool thing to do. Not at all.
I guess some of that Catholic brainwashing worked on us, because we just couldn’t bring ourselves to swipe the cash. To be fair, we received a good education at Ursuline. The five R’s (reading, writing, ’rithmatic, religion, and regimentation) were drilled into us. But the nuns didn’t exactly promote creativity—in fact, they stifled it. Still, some of the lay teachers saw the importance of nurturing our imagination. For two years I took a journalism course taught by the Springfield Union sportswriter Garry Brown, who oversaw the production of the student newspaper The Ursuline Eye. No, the penguins certainly didn’t like my cartoons, including my editorializing of detention (below), in which we had to sit in chairs, in the gym, with our hands on our laps. (No reading material allowed!)
Below was my opinion of the mandatory necktie. But Garry, regardless of the cartoons’ depiction of violence, published them anyway. Just sitting and wondering if Garry had any moments of anxiety when he saw those drawings in the paper.
Walking back into the hallway, Dan and I were resigned to the fact that we might just have to wait until Sister Kathleen’s class was over to try to get bus fare. But then, whom did we see, marching toward us with the deliberation of a store detective approaching a shoplifter, was none other than Sister Immaculata AKA Sister Godzilla. I looked in amusement at that familiar frown. My god, her scowl seemed to have been frozen in amber since I was in first grade.
“Excuse me, do you two have any business being here?” she barked.
I looked at Dan, who was taken aback. Wincing, even. Unbelievable. Oh well, he was only a year out of Ursuline and the old fire-breathing dinosaur still intimidated him.
“Hi Sister Immaculata,” I said with a smirk. “It’s me, Bob Shaughnessy, and my brother, Dan.”
She cocked her head, and then her trout-like mouth uncharacteristically twisted into a distorted smile. It was an unfamiliar expression, and in truth the revealing of her teeth was more of a grimace than a smile. Nonetheless, she was happy to see us. Jeez, I had never seen her happy about ANYTHING.
“Ah, yes the Shaughnessy boys,” she said. “How is high school treating you? How are you doing in your English classes?
“Okay,” we said in unison.
“Wellll,” she chortled, I’ll wager you’re doing better than OKAY.” She pronounced “okay” an octave lower, mockingly rocking her head back and forth with each syllable. This was, I initially thought, her way of lambasting us for not speaking in a complete sentences, that we weren’t using the vast vocabulary that we were fortunate enough to acquire in her seventh- and eighth- grade classes. Then it occurred to me that her sarcasm also reflected her disappointment that we weren’t showering her with appreciation for what we had learned under her tutelage. So we were either ungrateful or worse: we were squandering our education by being mediocre students.
You see, year after year Sister Immaculata had told her classes that even with her draconian measures, cruel bullying, and the horribly unfair workloads and impossible expectations foisted upon us, in the future we would all come to see that she wasn’t such a fucking Godzilla. She had insisted that countless numbers of her former students made pilgrimages back to Ursuline for a special visit of gratitude—to thank her profusely for being such a bitch, because they had come to realize that she nailed us to our crosses and slapped crowns of thorns on our heads for our own good, because we would be resurrected in high school as A-plus English students, destined for academic and professional glory, because we had supreme command of the English language.
Wow. She was expecting us to thank her. Why wasn’t she teaching a class at the moment? She had a free period, she explained, and she was in the chapel praying. She asked us why we weren’t in school. I told her that Cathedral canceled school that day and we had walked up to Ursuline for a nostalgic visit. Our ultimate destination, I explained, was the library downtown, and then we realized that neither one of us had bus fare. It was a lie I had concocted for Sister Kathleen, and I was using it on Godzilla.
There was an uneasy silence. Did she believe me? She started to “grin” again—obviously pleased about our visit, but there was still the matter of us not genuflecting at her presence and then lying prostrate at her feet and thanking her, as she claimed all her former students did.
So why didn’t we start kissing her ass to get her to spring for bus fare? I’ll tell you why we didn’t! Because we were still suffering from PGSD: post-Godzilla stress disorder.
Sister Immaculata’s reign of terror over ALL Ursuline students—not just those in junior high school—began in the early grades, when she was the school librarian and would hound and humiliate you to hell you over an overdue book. God, she would scream and reduce you to tears for a lousy fifteen cents. How the hell could we ask her for bus fare? Well, technically, I didn’t. I merely stated that neither one of us had it.
Sister Godzilla scrutinized us. Her piercing eyes looked right through us, and we braced ourselves for her fire breath to blast us. We were ungrateful bastards for not thanking her and then we had the gall to look for a handout.
But at the moment we couldn’t thank her—even if it meant bus fare. The bitterness was still there. I wasn’t even thinking about the time she sucker punched me in the back in fifth grade for “pouting” at her after I got chewed out over a lost library book. No, the real resentment that kept me from supplicating to her over bus fare was her treatment of us in the dreaded seventh- and eighth-grade English classes. Fresh in my mind was her practice of seating the class in the order of the students’ grades, and at the beginning of each month rearranging this seating order with high drama.
And what a scene it was. A drum roll please. The students in the front row were geniuses. The dregs in the fourth row were fucking idiots. She used to comment on a couple of students being forever stuck in “quicksand” in the back row, in danger of being demoted into the “other” class. How I used to pity the kids in the back row until I landed there one month straight from the front row, when my test and quiz grades took a nosedive. I could see it all like it was yesterday. “You’re sinking fast, Bob,” she announced to the class. “Faaasssst!” God. She sure was out to get me back then.
Believe it or not, I actually have film footage of Sister Immaculata teaching a class in the 1970s: click here.
Sister Immaculata’s cold stare on this snowy skip day jolted me back into 1979. I bit my lip. And then I blurted it out. “You know, sister, I really appreciate the education I got here,” I said.
“You mean the education you RECEIVED here,” she interjected.
“Yes. Received. I learned a lot, but most of all, I learned discipline.” There. I made it as generic as possible. But her arched eyebrows let me know that my nose was tan—not brown, the way she wanted it.
“Thanks, Sister Immaculata.” I added.
“Yeah, thanks,” echoed Dan. Our noses were now so far up her ass we were in danger of suffocating. But it worked. She whipped out her little black change purse—the one all the nuns had—and withdrew sweet coinage.
How much was bus fare back then? Ya think I’d remember, especially after recalling so many details on our Trail of Swears. But it escapes me. Let’s just say she gave us each 30 pieces of silver. Some poor schmucks’ overdue book fees.
“I hope you both have a productive day STUDYING downtown,” she said with a smirk. Was she onto us? Who the fuck cares? We got our money. Fucking Godzilla.
Let us momentarily come back to January 8, 2011, when I was standing there, gawking on my skis, taking pictures of my old school. Wait. What was that I saw bursting through the roof? Oh no! Say it ain’t so! The ghost of Sister Immaculata!
All right, let’s take the way-back machine back to December of 1979, when Dan and I walked out of Ursuline and were back trudging on the Trail of Swears, heading toward Bradley Road. Cutting through the WNEC woods across the street, which would eventually lead to Wilbraham Road, was out of the question. We needed the bus—the elusive PVTA bus—RIGHT NOW. Where the motherfucking hell was it? It was occurring to me that the Plumtree Road-Bradley Road bus route must have been one of those “dotted line” routes—not the steady “solid line” route that we were used to going down Wilbraham Road—and that meant only a handful of buses a day on Plumtree, and probably NONE during a friggin’ blizzard. How could we be so stupid? Because we thought it was THE COOL THING TO DO.
We walked. We froze. We swore. We suffered. We swore again. And again. We took a right on Bradley Road. The sidewalk wasn’t shoveled, so we walked in the road as the cars missed us by inches and sprayed us with snow. Drivers blew their horns at us. We gave them the finger. We spat at their cars. The snow was too fluffy to pack into snowballs. Where was the bus? Were there ANY PVTA buses in Springfield that day?
We waited briefly at the bus stop in at the corner of Bradley and Cherokee Drive. Zilch. We moved on. We froze at the stop at Shirley Road. We damned the PVTA bus system to hell at the bus stop on Keddy Street. At the bus stop on Fredette Street I punched the bus stop sign, but my knuckles didn’t feel a thing.
Dan and I slogged all the way down Bradley to Wilbraham Road. I spotted Duggan Junior High through the whiteout. No cars in THAT motherfucking cocksucking lot. THEY didn’t have school, why did we? I should have been still asleep in my bed, not swearing my ass off on the son-of-a-bitching Trail of Swears.
We approached Wilbraham Road, but there was no bus in sight. Now it was a question of survival. “Screw it,” I said. Here was my plan: we’d wait at the stop in front of Western New England College, and if no bus came, we would warm up in Louis and Clark and read magazines until they kicked us out. Then we could cross Breckwood Boulevard and read magazines at Ryan Drug until they kicked us out.
“After that we c-c-can j-j-just g-go into B-Big Y f-f-for a while,” said Dan, his mouth so numb he could barely talk.
So the snow accumulated on us—as it does on statues—as we waited in front of WNEC. Have mercy! Been waitin’ for the bus all day. We waited. And waited. And we swore. And then we swore some more. We pointed down Wilbraham Road and chanted “The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!” (Remember that scene from The Exorcist?)
Finally—a bus! It worked! Never underestimate the power of swear and prayer. We made out its destination sign: Eastfield Mall. Good old Eastfield Mall. We flagged down the driver—he saw us frantically waving through the blizzard. He felt sorry for us—we looked like a couple of refugees. Actually, we were. We were truant blizzard survivors, but it wasn’t our fault, because the school bus broke down, and trying to make the most of it was the cool thing to do.
The bus doors opened and a blast of heat enveloped us. Oh yes, the bus to Eastfield Mall. Heaven. I swear I could smell the large soft pretzels at McCrory, the incense burning at Spencer Gifts. I could hear Led Zeppelin blaring out of Mall Records and into the mall hallway. We passed through the pearly gates ascended the stairs bus. We got off the Trail of Swears and onto the stairway to heaven. Yes there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run there’s still time to change the road you’re on.
Oh joy, sweet warmth. Thank God. The bus was a sauna. We were back in business now, and it started to seem like the cool thing to do again. Ouch. My feet really started hurting as they were thawing out. I experienced this kind of searing pain once before, after taking off my ice skates and I warmed up my feet too quickly by the heat vent in my bedroom, but this time the suffering was truly excruciating. Ow! Shit! Motherfucker! The pain! I guess we were still on the Trail of Swears as we cussed all the way down Wilbraham Road. There might have been a couple of people on the bus hearing me swear—I can’t remember—but there was certainly no one waiting at any bus stops as we crawled toward Sixteen Acres Center in the blizzard, took a left on Parker, and then a right on Boston Road.
The Eastfield Mall at last. Dan and I limped off the bus and walked under the black awning that sported the giant “e”—the old logo for the mall.
The Eastfield Mall Cinema was on our left and the deserted Dream Machine video arcade was on our right. But, alas, we just had bus fare, so we could enjoy neither establishment. We walked straight ahead, and there it was: the gazebo and the “big” fountain.
I refer to it as the “big” fountain, because there was also the “little” fountain in a sunken-in area in front of Steiger’s and next to the old Flaming Pit restaurant (AKA the Flaming Armpit and the Flaming Spit, with its beloved red globule candles wrapped in white plastic fishnet, the Sip ’n Bull Bar, and the treasure chest of cheap toys for kids). The little fountain may have been small, but it was a big hangout, offering teens benches to sit on and sneer at passersby, and ample opportunity to piss off the Steiger’s manager. Both fountains are long gone.
The gazebo used to feature Santa and other holiday entertainment—looks like a children’s choir in the photo above from 1976. It was undoubtedly a psychedelic coincidence that the cotton balls on the kids’ hats matched the marquee light bulbs on the gazebo. Nice effect, huh? Check out the Peerless sign in the background. The Providence-based chain went from Peerless to moneyless in 1990 and declared bankruptcy, leaving the mall scrambling for a replacement.
There was really nothing for Dan and I to do at the mall that day—nobody was there and we had no cash. It was a place to stay warm and skip school. We wandered from store to store. We looked at jeans in The Cover-up. We checked out the smoking paraphernalia case at McCrory. We made fun of the platform shoes, the curly perm and the John Oates mustache on the fag salesman in Chess King. We grooved under the black lights at Spencer Gifts, and checked out the posters in the back.
There was Farrah—the poster came out back in 1976, but it was still in the poster section because it was such a classic. But she had to compete with some new babes, such as Susan Anton…
…and, of course, Adrienne Barbeau. Did you know that the word “barbeau” means “booby” in French?
And then there was Kathy Lee Crosby, co-host of the TV show That’s Incredible. And I watched That’s Incredible back then every week because…that’s incredible.
Lynda Carter was a wonder as well.
Oh Chrissie, you naughty girl, hiding in the back corner of Spencer Gifts when you should have been in my bedroom—as a poster on my ceiling, that is. Did I write ceiling? I meant wall.
Whoops, how did THAT picture get there? Sorry to leave my male readers feeling “deflated.” When I’m juggling all these photos on the blog, sometimes they get misplaced. Maybe it reflects some subliminal anxiety that we were experiencing as we used Sister Immaculata’s bus fare to gawk at the hotties of the Seventies.
There. Perhaps this Cheryl Tiegs poster will give you at least a halfie.
This poster was always a groovy favorite under the black light.
My friend Rick Riccardi had that lame-ass black light panther poster in his room.
Remember this one? I had balked at buying the Suzanne Somers poster several times because of my parents’ potential objections, so I certainly wasn’t going to test their temper with “Stoned Agin!”
“Bumps and Grinds,” which was sold at Spencer Gifts, intrigued me. What would it be like, I always wondered, to play this board game version of strip poker with Farrah or Susan or Adrienne or Kathy Lee or Wonder Woman or Chrissie or Cheryl (both Tiegs and Ladd) or all of them at once? I wonder…
Is it getting hot in here, or is it me? Excuse me. I’ve got to take a “rest” from writing. I’ll be right back.
Okay folks, done flogging, time for blogging.
Here is a partial list of old Eastfield Mall businesses off the top of my head, but I undoubtedly missed a few, so please fill me in (leave a comment): Thom McCann, Chess King, the Cover-Up, Wilson Leather, Orange Julius, the Matador Lounge, Kaybee Toy and Hobby, Spencer Gifts, Mall Records, Flaming Pit (closed in 1985), Friendly’s, Anderson Little, Mall Drug, Tobacco Villa, Fanny Farmer, Lerner’s, Baskin Robbins, and, of course, Forbes & Wallace and Steiger’s. Was Casual Male there? I forget. Forbes & Wallace and Steiger’s, along with Sears, were the mall’s anchor stores for decades, but all that remains of the original stores are Sears and Mall Barber.
Steiger’s closed its downtown store in 1994 and sold its Eastfield store to May Department Stores of St. Louis, which opened Filene’s in its old space (now Macy’s).
Forbes & Wallace, after it closed in 1976, was eventually replaced by a JC Penney Outlet. McCrory, which had a lunch counter and that “orange drink waterfall aquarium” contraption, was located where Old Navy is now.
A couple of Cathedral chicks work the counter at Mall Drug in 1980 (above). Are those the “expensive” Dunhill cigarettes in front of the register at 99 cents a pack? What a bargain.
But there were no Cathedral babes to keep Dan and I from getting bored out of our skulls at Eastfield Mall on that wintry day in 1979. The place was bereft of poeple. How long can you stare at the posters and the lava lamps in Spencer Gifts? How long can you throw stuffed animals at each other in Kaybee Toy and Hobby? There is only so much professional wrestling and slap fighting you can do with your brother in the gazebo before attracting the security guard. And, alas, there was no one but us hanging out in the “little” fountain, and the rent-a-cop was getting impatient with us throwing mulch chips and litter into the water and running around the fountain in circles, jostling each other in our makeshift roller derby game.
We looked at albums in Mall Records for a while, but the store pretty much sucked. In my daydream on the bus, Stairway to Heaven was playing in the store, but the douche behind the counter was cranking Journey. And if you listen very hard, the truth will come to you at last: Journey blows! Strawberry’s, a much bigger record store, was across the street at the Springdale Mall, but we certainly weren’t going back out in the snowstorm. And, furthermore, Springdale “Mall” was a dinky little piece of crap.
Dan and I weighed our options, and at 1:30 finally agreed, because we were starving, to call it a day—but not before we walked over to the mynah bird cage next to the “big” fountain and tried to teach the animal to swear. My friends and I had been trying to extend the bird’s vocabulary in this fashion for years, but it never mimicked our profanity. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck this fucking shit!” Dan yelled to the bird. “Come on! Say it! Fuck! Fuck!!!” This speech coaching, echoing throughout the gazebo area, attracted the rent-a-cop, so we headed down the corridor back to the bus stop. So, technically, our Trail of Swears had continued into the Eastfield Mall.
It was time go go. Right before the exit, there was Mall Cinema on our right. The ad below was prior to its expansion to two theaters in 1980.
Dan and I waited for the bus inside by the door, next to the theater, because even though the giant “e” awning outside might have protected us somewhat from the elements, it was still too cold out. The security guard watched us from a distance for a few minutes, and then realized we were no threat, and he walked away. “Fucking rent-a-cop asshole!” I yelled as he turned the corner. Was that cowardly? No sir! It was the cool thing to do.
That was the end of the Trail of Swears. I don’t think we uttered any more obscenities that day. The fucks stopped here.
The Eastfield Mall was remodeled in 1986 (giving it a food court but leaving it without a movie theater for 13 years) and renovated in 1999, but if you look hard enough, you can still see rare vestiges of its 1960s past. Check out the “lost Sears doors” above, right next to the former Sears outdoor “patio” (where the store kept the lawmowers, snowblowers, etc.). The old Sears Roebuck and Co. lettering also graces the main entrances.
Walking down the old Sears stairwell (below) is just like walking into a time machine. I wonder how many times I descended those stairs and waited for the Ticketron machine to spit out my concert tickets?
A bit of history here: Eastfield Mall was built in 1968 to link Forbes & Wallace, Steiger’s, and Sears, which were formerly free-standing stores. (Hence the bizarre shallow stairs and ramps at various locations in the mall—the building was constructed on uneven ground.) It was one of the first malls in the northeast, attracting shoppers from not only Worcester, Hartford, and Pittsfield, but also from as far away as Canada! But it suffered a period of decline in the ’80s and ’90s. Holyoke Mall opening in 1979 took away business at Eastfield the same way Eastfield spelled the beginning of the end for downtown Springfield’s stores in the late ’60s.
But don’t blame Holyoke Mall for ending Eastfield’s glory days. Eastfield had the potential to be every bit as sprawling as its Holyoke counterpart became, but in 1974, Springfield’s Planning Board voted against Eastfield’s expansion, citing a policy established two years earlier that it would not approve further retail development in Springfield’s suburbs until the city’s downtown was revitalized.
Then came downtown’s (and Eastfield’s) slow slide toward oblivion with the closing of all the Forbes & Wallace and Steiger’s stores in 1976 and 1994, respectively. By the mid 1990s, the Eastfield Mall’s retail space was 50 percent leased, and its owner, Rouse Corp., wasn’t investing much money to improve the place. In fact, the mall was having trouble scrounging enough funds to touch up the peeling paint, mow its lawn, and trim its bushes. Gangs of kids were beating the crap out of each other and scaring away shoppers. Eastfield was on life support and was in danger of shitting the bed—as the Fairfield and Mountain Farms Malls eventually did.
However, in 1998 the New Jersey-based Mountain Development Company bought the Eastfield Mall and saved it, investing $30 million in renovations, and adding a 16-screen theater. In 2005, mall management imposed a curfew requiring anyone under 16 to be accompanied by an adult after 5 p.m. to reign in the thug life wannabes.
The recent announcement of the JC Penney outlet closing is a blow to the mall. Nonetheless, it’s still more than 90 percent leased. It’s not exactly the premier shopping destination, and it hasn’t been for a while, but it’s not on the brink of death either.
In fact, the Eastfield Mall is the perfect place in which to skip school. Because, after all, it’s the cool thing to do. Especially when you’re on a mission from God. But a word to the kiddies: please don’t kick each others’ asses or hassle the shoppers. There’s a difference between being a Mall Rat and being a Mall Rat Turd. A little roller derby and professional wrestling is OK, but just say no to the beat-downs. They’re bad for your health. They’re bad for business. Peace out.