"New York, New York, a wonderful town....", and to us kids growing up there during the 1930's, it certainly was! For our parents the early 30's was a hard time. We were still in the "Great Depression". Feeding, clothing, and sheltering the family was not an easy task. It sometimes became necessary for children to quit school and find a job, to help the family survive. By the mid 30's things began to ease somewhat.
But, this page is not about those hard times, it is intended to tell of the things we kids enjoyed doing as we grew up during this decade. Although this is about New York City, I am sure this will stir up memories of similar doings, to readers raised during this era, in almost every city throughout the country.
Each season of the year meant different activities. Let's start with:
The winter weather was now behind us. Days were getting warmer, trees were beginning to bud. Spring began with the St Patrick's Day parade. A green line was painted in the middle of 5th avenue, for the length of the parade, usually about 2 miles long. On this day EVERYONE was Irish. Green articles of clothing could be seen worn in every ethnic neighborhood of the city. The Mayor, always referred to as "Hizzoner", would lead the parade along 5th avenue, accompanied by politicians and other dignitaries.
The parade is passing the reviewing stand in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral.
We now started looking forward to Easter and Passover, partially for the religious aspect, but mainly for the schooltime vacation! It was at this time that the "Barnum and Bailey Circus" usually came to the city. This magnificant show was held at Madison Square Garden, the city's sport palace. There was always some event taking place here, throughout the year. These included boxing, wrestling, basketball, and ice hockey. With a school G.O. (General Orgnization) card we were able see the sporting events at a special discounted admission price.
Spring was also the start of the baseball season, and New York had 3 major league teams, each with their own stadium. The Yankees, at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, the Giants, at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Dodgers, affectionately called "Dem Bums", at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.
Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, N. Y.
The price of admission to any of these stadiums was 55 cents for the cheapest seats (Bleachers), and $1.10 for the Grandstand seats.
The streets now became playgrounds for the boys.
Not being able to use a bat and a hard ball to play baseball, lest we break a window or hurt someone, we used a broomstick and a rubber ball. This was "Stickball".
The rubber ball cost 5 cents, or if you could afford 10 cents, you bought a better ball called Spalding. To us it was known as a "spaldeen".
Stickball and punchball were the main games. Your rating as a batter depended on the distance of "how many sewers can you hit". (This referred to sewer man-hole covers which were spaced out in the center of the street). If you could hit 2, you were a fair hitter. At three you were GREAT!
Boys played Tag, Johnny-On-A-Pony, Ring-a- leevio, Red Rover, Skelly, Immies (marbles), Box Ball, Stoop Ball, and if you were lucky enough to have a pair of "Chicaga's" (Chicago), you roller skated, or played Roller Skate Hockey. You could use one of the skates to make a scooter. If we found a discarded carriage, we used the wheels to make a "pushmobile". We played with yo-yo's, and tops that we would spin. Baseball cards and Indian cards we played with, saved and traded.
The girls played their games on the sidewalk. They jumped rope, did "double dutch", played "jacks", hop-scotch (known to New Yorkers as "potsey"), and other games where they would turn a leg over a bouncing ball as they recited various rhymes. I think their most popular one was, "A, my name is Alice, my husbands name is Al, we come from Alabama and we sell apples". They would continue through the alphabet, or until they goofed.
Everyone played verbal games. "Actors and Actresses" was a favorite. You would give the initials of an actor or actress, and the other person had to guess who it was. "Geography" was another popular word game. You would name a state and the other person would have to name its capital city. We collected Dixie Cup (ice cream) lids that contained photo's of movie actors and actresses.
Saturdays were our movie days, and Sundays usually were reserved for family visits.
School's out! It's vacation time! For those who could afford it, a bungalow in the Catskill mountains was their summer home. Monticello, Swan Lake, Parksville, Liberty, South Fallsburg, and Ellenville were all part of what was affectionately known as "The Borscht Belt", or
the "Jewish Alps". Laurels Country Club on Sackett Lake, the Concord Hotel on Kiamesha Lake,
and Grossinger's Hotel in Liberty were among the larger hotels. The masses went to the bungalow colonies. Some spent the entire summer there, while others only stayed a couple of weeks.
Those who stayed in the city spent their weekends going to the seashore. The beaches at Coney Island in Brooklyn, Rockaway Beach in Queens, Orchard Beach in the Bronx, and Jones Beach in Long Island, would be jam packed with people. On a hot Saturday or Sunday during July and August, Coney Island crowds often exceeded 1 million people. The kids who couldn't get to the beaches went swimming in the East, the Harlem, or the Hudson Rivers.......if they lived close by.
Going to Coney Island was a great day. It was a huge playland, containing all sorts of amusements and rides. Luna Park and Steeplechase were huge amusement complexes. And as for food, well who hasn't heard of
Most of the city people lived in 5 or 6 story "walk-up" apartment houses. Air conditioning could only be found in the better class of restaurants and movie theaters. In our apartments
we sweltered when the heat and/or humidity was high. People often slept on their fire escape, or their apartment house roof. We jokingly referred to the roof as "tar beach".
We played our street games, went to the movie shows, and if we were lucky enough to be members of the Boy's Club, Christadora House, or any of the many settlement house clubs, we were taken to the circus, boat rides, and baseball games.
Our 10 week summer vacation came to an end on Labor Day. The following Monday it was back to school.
Autumn in New York.....A truly festive season. We started looking forward to Halloween at the beginning of October. It was our day for going "trick or treat", in whatever homemade costume we could devise. Boy's would all have colored chalk, and everyone we confronted was legal game for us to chalk up, as we would holler "HALLOWEEN"! The girls were our favorite targets, because they would usually scream and run.
The girls continued with their same games. Although we guys still played stickball, the popular game was becoming football. We couldn't tackle anyone on the hard surface of the street, so we tagged instead. This type of football game was called "touch tackle", or "association".
The weather was now becoming cooler and less humid. Leaves were starting to change color, from green to that autumn hue. We were now getting that "Thanksgiving" feeling. On November 11th, Armistice Day, at 11 a.m., in our school classrooms we would all rise and observe a minute of silence, in memory of all those servicemen who were killed in World War 1. After World War II, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day.
Turkey Day had us attending our high school football game. We played against our traditional enemy. My school (Bronx Vocational) had no football team, so I usually went with my cousin and watched his school team (Thomas Jefferson) play aganst their rival (Tilden).
Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade was the big show of the day.
Then it was back to my home for that much looked forward to Thanksgiving dinner, with the family and friends. There were usually about 10 or 12 people at the dinner.
Thanksgiving was the official start of the Christmas season. Holiday music and decorations could be seen and heard everywhere. Pine trees were now being sold, even though Christmas was a month away.
It was now countdown time to Christmas and the Jewish festival of Chanukah. To us kids it meant another 10 day vacation was awaiting us. Our football street games still continued. However, we wished for snowfalls.
Snow meant a new round of activity. We built forts on both sides of the street, and fought snowball wars. A garbage can lid made a perfect hand held shield, leaving the other had free to throw the snowballs we had stockpiled beforehand.
Small children would go sled riding, usually pulled by a parent or older sibling. We "big guys" would carry the sled about waist high, run to pick up some speed, and then drop down on the sled, onto the ground. This was known as "Belly Whopping". My Flexible Flyer sled was almost 5 feet long.
Snow also helped us earn some pocket money. For a price we would shovel the white stuff from the driveways of private homes, and from the sidewalks of the individual storekeepers.
And now we came to New Years Eve. Most of us fellows and girls would go to Times Square to ring in the new year. The crowd there was in the hundreds of thousands. Wall to wall people! Everyone joined in the verbal countdown of the old years last 10 seconds, as the huge lighted ball atop the N.Y. Times building descended. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.......HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Our Christmas vaction ended the day after New Year's
Our activity for the rest of the winter was limited, depending primarily on the weather. However cold the day would be, we were still out there playing our touch tackle football. On a cold night, roasting mickey's (potatoes) was a fun thing. We each would bring a potato from home (or steal one from a vegetable store) and cook them in a fire we had made in a large metal can. When we guessed the potatoes were done, we put out the fire and ate these well burned black lumps of carbon. They were de-lishus.
I won't tell you how we put out the fire!
The girls continued with their sidewalk games....weather permitting. Needless to say, we were now looking forward to the arrival of spring.
Yes, New York City was truly a kids playground.