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

Friday, March 1, 2013

Spitting to All Fields, Part 10

There was a great YMCA swimming and gym program at Duggan in the late 1960s and early 1970s, replacing a Y program that was held in an old barn next to South Branch Park on Parker Street.

The late AIC Physics Professor James A. Coleman, who wrote the book The Circle about the rowdy Sixteen Acres gang of the same name, was a dedicated YMCA volunteer who hated it when kids at The Y used bad language—what he called “wirty dords” back then, and he always chastised us when we swore like sailors. This was ironic, because part of the reason his book caused such a local furor was because of the characters’ swearing.

An early edition of the 1970 book The Circle.

“If you don’t use those wirdy dords at home,” he used to say at The Y, “then don’t use them around me.”  He had another favorite saying: Stick up for your rights! Don’t let anyone push you around!”

I had to take his latter exhortation to heart one Saturday at a YMCA carnival outside Duggan Junior High School when I was nine years old and I had won a long string of tickets throwing darts at balloons. I was preparing to cash them in for some kind of bullshit prize when I reached for my back pocket and the tickets were gone.

“They were hanging out of your pocket,” said a friend, “and that guy pulled them out.” He pointed to a member of the Circle Gang, who was holding my string of tickets and heading over to the prize table. Shit. What the hell was I going to do? This kid was twice my age. But there, manning the refreshment table was my savior: James Coleman (pictured below). He was a member of the YMCA Board, and moreover, had befriended the gang. He was their friggin’ mentor. Surely he would tell the scumbag to give back my tickets.

I ran over to Coleman and started blubbering about the Circle kid plucking the tickets from my back pocket. “Can you tell him to give them back before he cashes them in for a prize? I cried.

“Well, you’re going to have to tell him yourself,” he said. “Stick up for your rights. Don’t let anyone push you around.”

Jesus. Some big help this guy was. I crept over to the ticket bandit and tapped him on the arm.

“Whadda YOU want?” He struck a defiant pose.

“Mr. Coleman says gimme back my tickets.”

“Here, asshole,” he said as he handed them over.

“Fucking prick,” I responded, spun around, and quickly walked back over to the refreshment table.

“I see you got your tickets back,” said Coleman. “Oh, by the way, I heard you swear at him. That wasn’t cool.”

“Well, he swore at me. I was just sticking up for my rights.”

He gazed upward in a moment of professorial contemplation, looked at me, and said, “I guess you’re right.”

The Circle, Part 2

I touched on The Circle in my blog entry The Garbage Gang. Now, let’s take a look at its beginning—and ending. Originally designed for a reading area behind the new Sixteen Acres library in 1966, The Circle, around the oak tree pictured above, opened with much fanfare:

Despite the misleading photo on the cover of a later printing of Coleman’s book (above), which shows a bench in front of a peeling BIRCH tree, The Circle was made up of a few benches FACING the tree, backed up by sloped four-foot-high berms of grassy earth with four entranceways around one of Springfield’s oldest OAK trees:

The area was soon, of course, taken over by the Circle Gang. The funny thing about the 1968 article below was that despite the “juvenile delinquency” situation in Sixteen Acres, it took seven years for the proposed Greenleaf Community Center to actually get built.

In the meantime, there was more “ferment,” including, among many incidents, a near-brawl in 1971 between the Circle Gang and Forest Park/East Forest Park kids—the aftermath of a fight at the Sumner Avenue Friendly’s restaurant in East Forest Park (below). I blotted out them names and number addresses of the Circle kids who were busted. Let the guessing begin. No, the one from Mohawk Drive wasn’t the late “Muppy” Murphy. One of the three arrested, whose pseudonym was Mat Elroy in the book, died years ago of—for no better words—“hard living.”

In 1970, the Springfield Union showcased the vandalized benches at the “reading circle” and its missing bricks. (In the book, Coleman wrote about one of the Circle kids pulling up bricks from the ground.) Notice the sloped areas behind the benches. Eventually, the city got rid of the benches, brick walkway, and the grassy berms, which had hidden some of the doings of the Circle Gang from public view.

Below is Coleman’s letter to the editor to the Springfield Union rebuffing criticism of the book by District Attorney Matty Ryan:

How long did the Circle Gang hang around there? At least until the fall of 1973, says the article below. After that, according to one person I talked to, the Friendly’s restaurant at A & P supermarket shopping center relocated to a site southwest on Wilbraham Road. This move put a damper on the gang hanging out at its favorite restaurant. And besides, The Circle kids were getting older and more mobile.

Does anybody know when the Circle Gang finally ceased to exist at The Center? I seem to recall some kids there in ’75, but most people say ’73 or ’74 was the last hurrah for some of the younger members. Wait, who am I kidding? Their presence at The Center lasted even a few more years after that, at the site of the old Friendly’s [insert laugh track here]:

And then there was “The New Circle,” at a tree in the woods behind “The new Friendly’s” on Wilbraham Road. Anyone remember THAT hangout for a whole new generation?

Read The Circle, Part 3.

When the Springfield Civic Center Rocked, Part 5

I found an even better photo of the “old” Civic Center: older than the building itself. It’s a schematic drawing, complete with the overpass to the Civic Center garage on the left.

My friend discovered his late brother’s ticket stub stash of mid-to-late-1970s concerts. Unlike my “When the Springfield Civic Center Rocked” parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, this features the 1976-1978 era— just before I started going to shows there. And what a treasure trove of ticket stubs it is:

The three concerts above, in which the unkind usher’s tear took out the lion’s share and made the stubs barely readable: Dave Mason/Bob Weir, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and Foghat. And now the piece de resistance of his ticket stubs. It has nothing to do with Sixteen Acres, but what a classic: game six of the 1975 World Series! 

Another “new” old photo of Morganetta the elephant!

Yet another “new” old photo of the missing Stone Dog, formerly of Forest Park!

The “Dial a Fight”

The Dial Tone chain of bars was started by Richard Camerlin and at one time had 12 locations throughout New England, including Wilbraham, MA, Hatfield, MA, Waterford, CT, and of course, our old favorite in Enfield, CT. The name, of course, originated with the concept of a phone on each table or booth with a large number on it. You could actually call someone and ask the person to dance.

Believe it or not, there is still dancing going on at the site of the old Dial Tone on Enfield Street (above): it is now Ballroom Fever, Inc. Anyone for a tango?

It takes two to tango—or, at times, ten-on-two. Is it any wonder why we called it the Dial-a-Fight?

Did they actually play oldies there on Sunday nights? Apparently, in 1984, shortly before it closed.

How much was the Dial Tone a part of people’s lives? A recent Waterford High School class of 1972 reunion featured a mock Dial Tone table.

This couple, Kathy Atkinson and Bud Fischer, who met at the Dial Tone in Waterford, decorated their garage to look like the bar, complete with a hanging disco ball and the walls and ceiling painted with glitter. OK, that’s a bit much. I wonder if these lovebirds also relive watered-down 25-cent drafts night?

Anyone remember when the Dial Tone DJ used to announce when the Bay Path Junior College van was ready to leave? Last chance to get a phone number, guys! I seem to recall one night some overzealous Cathedral High School guys following the co-eds to Longmeadow and getting busted for trespassing on the campus.

Speaking of Cathedral, these youths aren’t holding up crib notes in this 1979 photo. They’re flaunting weekly football betting cards that were circulating around the school. I remember around a year later there was a little scandal and a bunch of guys were called down to Room 229, the dreaded realm of the disciplinarian Sr. Julie Edwina. I don’t think anyone got suspended or anything, but they were duly warned.

I believe these babies were 40 cents at some point when I went to Cathedral, but I can’t recall if they hiked the price to keep up with the spiraling 1970s inflation.

I liked the taste of Friendly’s ice cream after a game. It tasted like…victory. This one is circa 1969.

In a previous blog post I included a photo of one of the Orr Cadillac signs after it was taken down when the dealership closed in 2010, but on the web I found one of the roof sign when it was still up!

In that same post I wondered about the fate of The Galley’s sign after the restaurant closed in 2008.

Here is yet another photo I uncovered of the sign when it still lured motorists on Riverdale Road:

It turned out that it was being stored next door at Red’s Towing, safe on a high shelf so a truck wouldn’t back into it. Or was it really safe? Back in January, Red’s Towing was heavily damaged by a fire. Did the sign make it through the inferno intact? We don’t know. If not, this is probably the last photo taken of the sign while in storage:

Honk if you remember Jazzberries!

How about three long honks and a road rage ramming if you remember the Howard Johnson on Columbus Avenue?

My friends and I snuck in the place after it was abandoned and had firecracker fights throughout its hallways, stairwells, and rooms on July 4, 1980. Our exploits that night are detailed in another post.

HELP WANTED: a mind-your-own-business desk clerk for a no-tell motel.

While I was pining for the old Mt. Tom ski area in my last blog post, little did I know about the closest place to ski near The Acres. Check out the trail on the right of the old map of what is now Wilbraham & Monson Academy. It was the end of a ski path that went two miles into the Wilbraham Mountains, starting at an old cabin in the woods (pictured below) and extending onto the campus in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Amazingly, the axle of an old car cranked a rope that served as a hillbilly rope tow before a real rope tow replaced it. There was also a jump! Boy I wish this still existed.

The second-closest ski area to The Acres? In the 1960s and 1970s there were four rope tows at Hemlock Hill in the Three Rivers section of Palmer.

Confused about exactly where it was? Look at the map:

A commenter on my blog entry on drive-in movie theaters clued me in on Hemlock Hill. Her uncle ran the place. Read more about it here.

Whom should I see at the gingerbread house exhibition when I brought my family to the Springfield Science Museum before Christmas? None other than Mr. Bill, who was made of cake and was “parked” next to a gingerbread house. This work of art was made by Queen Bee Cupcakery at Thornes Marketplace in Northampton.

It was difficult explaining the “Kill Bill” concept of this Saturday Night Live Play-Doh character to my seven-year-old son. At least my wife, who is 42, could understand it—even though she had never heard of the skit. Totally unaware of Mr. Bill? Say it ain’t so! Nooooooo!

I took my son to the Harlem Globetrotters at the MassMutual Center on February 20. Yep, the more things change in Springfield, the more they remain the same. For instance, today you could take a very similar photo to the 1978 one below of a happy couple of guys outside Big Y Liquors at the corner of Wilbraham Road and Breckwood Boulevard, although the cars and beer brand might be different. Oh yeah, and replace that Fotomat with a Dunkin Donuts:

“Weekends were made for Michelob…yeah.” Does anyone drink this stuff anymore? Yeah, I guess, or they wouldn’t continue to brew this swill.

Weekends—and weekdays—were made for Bonnie & Clyde’s.

One last Spitting to All Fields expectoration: Tupac Shakur “blowing kisses” to everybody, y’all:


Anonymous said...

Your columns are always informative and very well written. This one is particularly interesting to me because I worked at Friendly's in 16 Acres on and off from April of 1973 thru the summer of 1977 (with time off here and there for the Army Reserve and college). I'm long gone from Springield but I miss the place you describe so well in your columns. Thanks!

Hell's Acres said...

Thanks for commenting. Friendly's was my home away from home. I remember the waitresses, of course, but the only male I remember working there was a blonde dude with long '70s sideburns (and possibly a long handlebar moustache. Perhaps you worked with him--or are him! He made us pay for our meal before we ate, even though we never dined and dashed once.

Anonymous said...

Honk if you ever had to drink a penalty shot for not saluting the audience when you won a shot for guessing the oldies at the "Skip Braese Oldies Revue". Many fun drunkin night with Skip at the old Keg Room on Tuesday night. I never made it to his show at Bonnie and Clydes...West Sider

Hell's Acres said...

Spent many a night in the Keg Room watching the fights spill out onto State Street and stopping traffic.

Parker House said...

Reliable sources have it that the Good Home Cooking sign from the Galley has survived and is still in storage. I did have to tell my source to stop talking in that outrageous accent. But, that's another story...

Lumiere said...

I've enjoyed reading your blog! I was a CAT High Purple Panhter's grad and used to work at Friendly Ice Cream- in Longmeadow. Yes, those were the good ol' days!

Viewing Mr. Bill again cracked me up before retiring last eve... and laughing upon awakening. When I was younger, I just thought it was mean, and stupid. But now, I almost fell off my chair laughing. Hmmm...wonder why my perceptions have changed with age...

Anyhow, I'm curious about your "name", Hell's Acres. I remember Green Acres...lol. Care to elaborate?

It sounds like you had such a great time growing up in Mass. I know I did. As a child, my siblings and I would go out after school in the winters and skate until our legs couldn't take it any longer. Then walk home - sometimes wet from testing thin ice at the edges. I never remember my head hitting the pillow at night as a child...

Or in the spring, the neighborhood kids would all get together to play soccer baseball...as we called it back then. We were all so competitive! But that's what made it fun. During summer breaks, we'd disappear for HOURS...what felt like miles from home... out in the woods, or "out back" picking wild blueberries for my mom to make a homemade pie with, or visiting Santos Pig Farm(this was in Ludlow), only to come home when we heard my dad's shrill whistle. Which, incidentally, he managed to perform sans fingers in mouth. Always wanted to learn how to do that.
Do you remember Teaberry gum? How about Gumby and Pogo? I used to collect colored rabbits feet and troll dolls. (Yes I am female). My sister and I would spend hours playing Barbie, always anticipating a new outfit for them in our Christmas stockings.
As you can see, it was my childhood that bring back the most fondest of memories. Not a care in the world. All your needs provided...ah yes, the good old days!
Sounds like your post high school years were the most memorable. I went off to Boston and stayed there for 6+ years...where many fond memories were had!

Did you go to see the Beach Boys Concert at the Civic Center? Or perhaps Peter Frampton? If so, our paths may have crossed :)

Looking forward to reading more...it's nice walking down memory lane. Seems as one ages, familiarity brings a sort of warmth to the soul. Thanks :)

Hell's Acres said...

Hi Lumiere,

Thanks. I don't know how I came up with Hell's Acres. I thought it had a certain ring to it.

I think I remember Teaberry gum. Was that the weird-flavored gum sold at IHOP cash registers?

Yep, there's nothing like the fatigue you get from skating all day.

I didn't see the Beach Boys or Frampton at the Civic Center, but saw plenty of other bands, that's for sure.

I'm glad you enjoy the blog!

Bud Weiser, WTIT said...

It was interesting to read your take on the Dialtone Nightclubs. When the clubs went disco, I was the lead DJ. Not only dis I work 6 nights a week in the New London area club, but also I ran the entertainment for Torrington & Seymour. I was known by my radio name, Gary Hunter. And that is me in that wedding photo. I was at the Dialtone longer than that marriage lasted. Peace!

Hell's Acres said...

Hey Bud,

Thanks for writing. I thought it was great that you did the Dial Tone theme for your wedding. I didn't know there was a Dial Tone in Seymour. The Enfield one got a little rough at times, especially at last call. Was that the case in Waterford, Torrington, and Seymour?

Hell's Acres said...

Whoops, I just remembered you didn't do the theme for your wedding, but your garage. D'oh!

Anonymous said...

was the dialtone in whately same site as whats now the Castaway?

Hell's Acres said...


I don't know. The only Dial Tone I was familiar with was the one in Enfield.

Bud Weiser, WTIT said...

The Dialtone clubs Dick Camerlin would start and then franchise it out. There were 11 clubs. He had years of collecting significant revenue and did nothing. When I arrived in 1975 he had three clubs fail and reverted to him. They were were Waterford, Torrington & Seymour. Only Seymour was rough, but that had more to do with the police than anything else. Those cops sided with the patrons. In Waterford where I actually did my show 6 nights a week, the cops were great. And the manager Shirley Laskowski put up with no bullshit.Best job ever. I was a a big fish in a small pond with 18 year-old drunk groupies...