The Sayreville Oral History Project
Narrator: Marian McCutcheon Gregoire
Interviewer: Jason J. Slesinski
Date: December 27, 2009
Location: Joseph Karcher Library, Sayreville Historical Society Museum
Jason Slesinski: Where were you born?
Marian Gregoire: On Dane St, Sayreville NJ, May 29, 1934.
JS: And your parents were from Sayreville?
MG: My father was from Sayreville, Phil McCutcheon, but my mother was from originally Jamesburg, and then South River, and then Sayreville.
JS: What brought her to Sayreville?
MG: Marriage, to Phil McCutcheon.
JS: How did they meet?
MG: I don’t really know.
JS: Where were her parents from originally?
MG: I would say Poland, both from Poland.
JS: And where were you father’s parents from?
MG: His mother was from Germany, and his father was from Scotland.
JS: And why did they come to Sayreville?
MG: I guess it was the ‘promised land,’ and I guess that’s where they settled.
JS: What did they do for a living?
MG: My grandfather William McCutcheon had a trucking business, and he worked at Dupont in Parlin, and he trucked dynamite for Dupont. And my father, and my uncle Bill and my uncle Robbie, they all worked for him, and they all drove trucks for awhile, and they quit every Friday and got hired again every Monday. They just didn’t like trucking dynamite very much, but they kept coming back.
JS: Did they think it was dangerous?
MG: Yeah, because it was all dirt roads bouncing around with dynamite in the truck.
JS: When did they pave the roads?
MG: I really don’t know.
JS: By the time you were born?
MG: Oh, yeah.
JS: And what did your mother do, after she was married?
MG: She just was a homemaker.
JS: Before she was married?
MG: I understand she worked at a cigar factory, at Nabisco cookie factory, and that was it.
JS: So what school did you go to?
MG: Our Lady of Victories.
JS: And then you went to…?
MG: Sayreville High, which was on Dane St also.
JS: What do you remember about OLV?
MG: That it was a lot of fun, we had a lot of play time out in the yard, and everything, we used to make houses, and play house out in the yard. We always had fun at recess, we played a lot of games, hopscotch and such.
JS: How many students were in your class?
MG: In my class, I would say about 25, 30.
JS: And they were all from the immediate area?
MG: Yeah, everybody knew everybody.
JS: Nobody from other parts of town?
MG: Yeah, we had a couple kids from like Old Bridge, South River area. They were state children that came to our school, but most of the kids were from Sayreville.
JS: Were they predominantly, Irish, Polish?
MG: Irish, Polish, German, yeah.
JS: And all together at the same school?
JS: Was that the only elementary school?
MG: It wasn’t the only catholic school, St. Stan’s also had a catholic school, and then there were all the grammar schools, Washington School, Roosevelt School, Lincoln School, these other schools were around.
JS: What determined which school you went to?
MG: Wherever you wanted to go in your area, because most of the time you walked to school. There was no school bus and stuff like that, unless you came from farther away, but most of us all walked.
JS: Was there a difference in ethnicity from the schools?
MG: Not really, everybody was just kids, just kids. Nobody called you a name or anything like that. You were friends with everybody. It was a small town, everybody knew everybody.
JS: But you knew who was Irish, and who was Polish?
MG: Oh yeah, from your last names and stuff like that.
JS: Was it ever an issue with the parents?
MG: I didn’t think so, no, no.
JS: Because everybody worked together? Did the parents work together at the factories?
MG: I really don’t know, I knew some kids, that they worked at the plants, Hercules or Dupont or whatever.
JS: The kids, or the parents?
MG: The parents. National Lead, Jersey Central, places like that.
JS: What did you do on the weekends?
MG: Basically you, played with the whole gang on the street, Dane street, we had so many kids, everybody. The Stores family had a whole pile of kids, the Newton family had a whole pile of kids, the Olsen’s down the street. We all played up the hill on the flat part in front of my grandmother’s house, we played all our games there.
JS: So there was always someone to play with?
MG: Always, that’s all you did when you were a kid, play, go outside and play. I don’t know what the kids are doing now with all these video games and stuff. We were outside constantly, the only time we came home was to eat, and go to bed.
JS: Was there a lot more open space, did that make a difference?
MG: Yeah, on Dane street where we lived, basically the whole street was filled with houses, but where the school was, was all wooded area, and we would pack a lunch, and go, “big deal,” and go back to the woods and have lunch, and there was a spring back in the woods, and we would drink the water from the spring. And we used to spend time there, then come back, Dane Street, and do your stuff there, playing games.
JS: So there were a lot of woods to play in?
MG: A lot of woods, yeah.
JS: Did you swim?
MG: No, not at, we swam at Major’s Pond all the time. Everybody learned how to swim down there.
JS: Duck’s Nest?
MG: Ducks Nest is when I moved to Parlin, that was my favorite place too, and then once in awhile you got over to Hercules, which they called Hercules pool, but it was a pond, a manmade pond over at Hercules plant, but you had to know somebody that worked at Hercules to go there, but the best part about going there, they had a concession that you could buy soda or something like that after you took a swim.
JS: What about vacations, what did you do?
MG: Well, we would take a trip either down the shore, or every once in awhile we would go on vacation with my grandmother, we would take my father’s mother, we would take her to visit family out in Ohio, different places, but most of the time we just did family vacations, take a beach thing, or, it wasn’t often, a couple years apart if anything. Whatever was affordable.
JS: And you would take the car down?
MG: Yeah, you would drive down.
JS: Did your family always have a car?
MG: Yeah, yeah
JS: What was World War II like, as a child in Sayreville?
MG: The only thing I remember, I guess I was too young to know about a war, but I remember when the war ended, and all the horns in town went off, all the factories were blowing whistles, everybody was blowing whistles. My mother and father got out a fire truck, and were riding around town, everybody was riding around town, making as much noise as they could make. And everybody was just so happy.
JS: So you were always aware of the factories, they played a big role in life in town?
MG: Yeah, because your parents, your fathers all worked there. If you heard the whistles go off, you knew there was a fire or something there, you would hope and pray that everyone got out safe.
JS: So you would know, based on whistles?
MG: Yeah, the sound of the horns. And then if you were swimming down at ducks nest, at quarter after three the whistle blew at Hercules so you knew that it was time to go home for supper. That was our signal, you had to start getting out of the water, dry off and walk through the woods to go home and eat
JS: Do you remember houses being built very rapidly in Sayreville after the war?
MG: Yeah, there was a lot of construction, like from Sayreville to go to Parlin, that section was all open, woods and everything, and we used to call it the hollow, that you walked.
JS: Where did Sayreville end and Parlin begin?
MG: Sayreville ended at what we call Smith Street now, and Quaid Street, and then it was the hollow section, and then Edward Street started Parlin, for us, but Parlin started a couple blocks down, the official section of Parlin.
JS: And it was just woods in between?
MG: Yeah, all woods, and then developments started in all these places. But Washington road was the one that didn’t have, from Smith Street to Edward Street, there were no houses.
JS: But it was paved?
JS: Was it a busy road?
MG: Not like now.
JS: How did things change with all of the new housing? What was the first noticeable change in the way people lived in town?
MG: More traffic, more schools had to be built, things got busier, more businesses opened, and things like that to give people more jobs and more grocery stores, neighborhood butcher shops, neighborhood stores. You didn’t have supermarkets or anything like that [before]. The big shopping place was to get on a bus to go to New Brunswick or you had to get on two different buses to get to Perth Amboy which was shopping areas, but basically Sayreville was mom and pop stores, there was no shopping centers or anything. Sayrewoods Shopping Center was the only big deal to come to Sayreville, but that’s considered in the Old Bridge area now, but you still had to drive there, basically you walked to the butcher shop a couple blocks away.
JS: So as far as business in town, the influx of housing didn’t change much. There were more business but the same types of businesses?
JS: And where did you live after high school?
MG: After high school I lived on 25 South Pulaski Avenue, and then my father built another house on south Pulaski avenue, and I lived there until I got married in 1959, and I moved to Stanford Avenue in lower Sayreville.
JS: You bought the house?
MG: No I lived with my mother-in-law, Pauline Slesinski, because she was widowed, and I wanted to, you know…
JS: So everyone lived together?
MG: Yeah the three of us lived in the house.
JS: When did you buy your first house?
MG: We were married in 1959, Kevin was 64, Kathy was 65, probably in the 70s, on Sherwood road in Parlin.
JS: And that was new at the time?
MG: No it was 5 years old at the time. In fact we had to wait a couple of months to buy the house because the people had a mortgage that they were committed to paying, 5 years on the mortgage before they could sell it, so we bought it in February, in a blizzard.
JS: Did you always work?
MG: I worked on the Raritan River Railroad, from the time I graduated to the time I adopted my son, Kevin, and then I quit and took care of him, then adopted my daughter Kathy. Then after my husband died I went back to work for 9 months again, and then I stopped working.
JS: Did you enjoy working on the railroad?
MG: I loved it, because I like people.
JS: What did you want to do when you were younger?
MG: I wanted to be a nurse, but I had to change my course because I took at the time commercial secretarial but to graduate and be a nurse you had to have more sciences so I said I would do that after high school, but then I got a job on the railroad a week after I graduated and the money was so good so I stayed there.
JS: How did you get that job?
MG: My father worked at Dupont right on the other side of the track of the railroad station and talked to the people at the station all the time because he was taking care of the railroad cars that were coming into the plant, and they said oh, we need somebody, so he said my daughter is graduating in June, and they said tell her to come, so I got on the bus and I was telling the bus driver that I was going to get a job at the railroad station, but I’m not sure I want to work, I think I want to stay home awhile or go on vacation, so I got off the bus, and with the commercial secretateial of course you were told you had to be proper, so I had a hat on, I had gloves on, I had a purse, I was all dressed up. And I get into this railroad station and I say I’m supposed to see Mr. Shepherd, and they said he’s right behind you. He was the man on the bus sitting next to me and I didn’t know it was him, and I was saying how much I didn’t want to work, and here I was coming in for a job, and I was just saying I didn’t want to work, and now I wanted him to hire me, so he did, he hired me, and I stared June the 26th.
JS: So you had to choose a vocation in high school?
MG: Yeah, when you went to high school, you had commercial secretarial courses, or you had college prep if you were going to go on to college, or if you didn’t know what you wanted to be and took quite a few courses, you graduated general. Those were the three things offered at the time.
JS: What did most people you went to school with end up doing?
MG: Most of the girls were commercial secretarial, and most of the guys that were gonna think about college, did college prep. There were quite a few girls that did that too, but most of them did commercial secretarial. And with our school, your senior year in commercial, you went out to businesses, and worked, practicing to be a secretary. So Hercules, Dupont, National Lead, Chicopee, all these places that were around, our school would ask them if they would like someone to be an apprentice there and we would go to these different places, you would do like 6 weeks there, 6 weeks here, 6 weeks another place, the last half of your senior year. And a lot of girls got a job right from that too.
JS: So the factories had a close relationship with the schools?
JS: So everybody in town felt a relationship with the factories?
MG: Everybody was interested yeah
JS: Your father was in politics, but he worked at Dupont otherwise?
MG: Yes, he was always a worker, and he was a mason by trade when he was younger also, his uncle taught him the masonry trade. So he loved to build things, he built our house, he built the monuments in town for the war.
JS: What got him into politics?
MG: He just loved people. He started out as a councilman, and then he became a mayor, and then he became a tax assessor. He was one of the originators of the Sayreville First Aid Squad, he just loved all that kind of stuff. It was a non-paying job, but someone had to do it, and he volunteered to do it.
JS: Were most of the politicians in town employed at the factories?
MG: Yeah, nobody, was rich enough to be, there was no such thing those days that you were rich enough to be just a politician. It wasn’t a paying job at all. Once in awhile you got a gift from somebody, but other than that, it wasn’t a paying job. It was a thankless job, at times.
JS: So there weren’t any particular families that stood out as wealthy?
MG: Everybody was working, everybody was working. Maybe you considered, say Mr Karcher, who was a lawyer and had a reputable job as being a little well off, but other than that you didn’t think of anybody as the rich or the poor, everybody was equal.
JS: Do you think that changed at all, after the war?
MG: No, I don’t think it changed after the war, but I think that the more people came to town, they demanded more things from the town. The local people were always satisfied with the way things were going, but when things started to build up in town, when developments came in, they wanted more to do in the line of education, your schools, they want this better, and that better, they wanted the best for their kids, and you can’t blame them, but it was different from years ago, everybody was in the same boat.
JS: So prior to that, people even built their own houses?
MG: Well not everybody was talented, or had somebody to build it, or a developer came in and you bought from a developer.
JS: Did that happen often? Were there parts of town that developed before the war?
MG: No, not really. It was more after the war. When more people were getting married, and more people needed places to live. Years ago people, even after they got married, lived with their parents until they got established. At that time there was the depression, so things were tight and people that came out of the depression were hard workers
JS: Did you feel that there was a sense of community?
MG: Strong community ties. I think that everybody looked out for everybody a little bit more. Everybody knew everybody.
JS: And that wasn’t the case when you moved into your first home, in Sherwood Forest?
MG: No because people then became a household that both parents were working, and you didn’t socialize as much as years ago, people worked from say 8-4 or 9-5 and then they had family ties over the weekend. Every Sunday we would go to both grandparents house, it was like a tradition. You went to the first grandparent for half a day, and then you got in the car and went to the other grandparent. Families got together a lot, we would get to my grandmother’s house on Dane Street, the McCutcheon side, and be sitting around and everybody laughing and the kids out playing, and she always had family dinners. Then we would go to my other grandmother’s house in South Amboy behind Sacred Heart, the Polish church, and my uncle loved crabbing and clamming, so if he went crabbing that day, you had a feast, and spread newspapers all over the table and had fun.
JS: Do you think that went away, then?
MG: Yeah because families didn’t get together, cousins weren’t on top of one another, you had no place else to go, not that many people had TV, so it was all conversation, family ties.
JS: When did you get your first TV?
MG: The Mortinsons had the first TV in our neighborhood, and we used to go and sit and look at that TV, and I don’t know how old I was when we got our TV. If you wanted color you put this cellophane bubble over top and it gave you this color rainbow effect.
JS: Did it change the way families spend their time?
MG: Its like everything, with progress, everybody changes in this day and age, you kids with your computers and your DVDs and your iPods and your texting and cell phones, nobody is walking around not talking on the cell phone or texting anymore.
JS: Did you use the bus to get around a lot?
MG: We used to the bus to get to school. We had bus tickets, you had a book of tickets, and that’s how you got on the bus.
JS: What buses were there?
MG: Public Service, Public Service came out of New Brunswick, and they went from New Brunswick all the way to South Amboy I think. Another Marathon Bus Company ran from South Amboy into Perth Amboy. It was big bus companies, they all came out of New Brunswick or Perth Amboy; they were the main bus terminals.
JS: And that’s where you would go for clothes?
MG: Yeah when you did your big shopping outside of going to Greenfield’s in Sayreville and getting things.
JS: Is that where you would get everything else?
MG: Basically if you went to New Brunswick, once in a blue moon we would take a trip to Newark to shop there.
JS: And you drove there?
MG: My father would drive us up there and drop us off and go to a show and meet us and we would go out to lunch and then come home. My mother was famous for going into Orback’s and Macy’s to see all the new gadgets that were out and these demonstrators that would do things, like a new knife would come out, or something to make your french fries different, these novelty things, she used to stand there and watch these guys and then buy the stuff, she enjoyed that.
JS: What was Newark like as a child, was it exciting?
MG: It was a big deal, because it was a big city.
JS: Did Sayreville feel rural, did it feel wooded, as a child, or industrial?
MG: It just was a place that was home. We knew that there were businesses around, but we were kids, we didn’t care.
JS: Where did you go to church?
MG: Always, until I got married and Joe and I moved to Florida, that was our parish. It was my parish from the day I got baptized until the day I moved in ‘93 to Florida.
JS: Do you remember when the Garden State Parkway was built?
MG: Vaguely, it was a big deal to get on a road that was without traffic lights and things like that.
The Sayreville Oral History Project
Narrator: Donald G. French
Interviewer: Jason J. Slesinski
Also present: Carol Kadi
Date: December 29, 2009
Location: Home of Don French, Maple Street, DuPont Village, Parlin, NJ
Jason Slesinski: Ok, Don. So where were you born?
Don French: 3 Crossman Ave.
JS: And that was by DuPont?
DF: Right, that was the old DuPont Red Village and that was just right about where the Quik Check is today on Washington Rd.
JS: And what happened to that? Because it’s not here today.
DF: Just before World War II the Such’s clay company wouldn’t renew the lease. They owned the property and DuPont was just leasing it from them for the houses. The houses were part of the complex to have people available near the plant for World War I and that’s how this house was built. This was built in 1916 and they were Montgomery Ward Houses. They were precut homes and they bought them and had them put up so they could get them up quick.
JS: So DuPont built this neighborhood, which was the Green Village.
DF: The Green Village.
JS: After the Red Village.
DF: After the Red Village.
JS: Were there any other DuPont villages?
DF: Nope. That, well, on the road that the First Aid is now, there was six or eight homes there and where the post office is there was a little bit of, I think three bungalows and the other was a, well it wasn’t a boarding house it was I think three families lived in a little complex there. Not as you would know the complexes today as monstrous that they were. But everything was just thrown up in a hurry for the war effort.
JS: And these were built so there would be available man power?
DF: Man power because in the olden days you didn’t have all the cars and buses, the transportation. And my dad got moved into this house so that he would be handy because he was a millwright and if anything went wrong the people had to be able to walk to work to repair whatever was failing, you know.
JS: So anybody could be put in here by DuPont, managers or any sort of worker?
DF: Yeah, well Washington Road was generally those big homes there as you cross the railroad tracks and went up where the big home is on the corner there. That was the DuPont Y and as you went up, the next house up was one of the top supervisors. The big house next to that was the plant manager from the Photo Products and the next house up was the plant manger from the Paint Plant.
JS: So, as people, say, retired from higher positions, did the employees who took their positions also assume their residences?
DF: Most of the time.
JS: Yeah, so when they retired they…
DF: So it was handy for them and I guess some were in the early 50’s. Then the first plant manager to move out of the DuPont home was Harry Pretty. He moved to Westfield.
JS: What you’re describing seems to show that all of the homes in this immediate area were owned by DuPont and lived in by DuPont employees and their families.
JS: Did anybody else live here that wasn’t affiliated with DuPont?
DF: Not in these homes at the time. Now there’s probably nobody working at DuPont now.
JS: When did that changeover occur? When did non-DuPont people start buying homes?
DF: DuPont was forced to sell the houses. The government said they couldn’t own real estate for the employees working for them. That was about 1949 or 50, in that neck of the woods, that DuPont sold the homes to the people living in them.
JS: You were living here before that had occurred?
DF: Yup, I was four years old when my dad moved over to this house.
JS: So your father was a DuPont employee too?
JS: And where was he from originally?
DF: South Amboy.
JS: And your mother too?
DF: My mother was from South River.
JS: From South River. So I can assume they came to this location because of DuPont.
DF: My dad, he started out as a baseball player in South Amboy. He played for Sacred Heart Church and Pennsylvania Railroad. He was a millwright on the Pennsylvania Railroad. My dad was a shortstop and he was rather good at it. He had his offer from the Brooklyn Dodgers to go commercial in baseball but one of his parents were sick and his contract got torn up by the other parent. And DuPont ended up hiring him away from the Pennsy Railroad because in the olden days the industrial league was a major event for the whole community and the league that they were in the DuPont plants’ National Lead played in Perth Amboy. I think its still called Water Stadium and they used to play all the way from there up to all the way in Trenton. And the guy that owned Englishtown market at the time, he sponsored a pro-team or a semi pro-team and he didn’t have the money to have the people to pay the people in cash so he used to pay them for their services for playing ball they’d get a bushel of corn or a sack of potatoes. You paid them off in produce for each game that they played and if you sat on the bench you only got a mere pittance so everybody wanted to play to get the goodies during the prohibition… or the recession, I should say, Depression.
JS: The Great Depression.
JS: So what was growing up in this neighborhood like, for you as a child?
DF: Good. It was good Sayreville then. Not like it is today. There’s no woods left for the kids to play in. We had lots of woods.
JS: What role did the woods play?
DF: It was a place for us to play soldiers and combats and build our own tree houses. I used to hunt right out besides the street here, on the other side of the railroad tracks. It was very good hunting: deer, rabbit, fox. Sayreville way back when was mostly undeveloped. Then they started building the houses wholesale and there was no stopping them.
JS: What was it like socially in DuPont village before the War, for your parents? How did they socialize with the neighbors, what sort of practices?
DF: Well the blue collars didn’t socialize that much as groups but the salary people they socialized all the time and the old DuPont Y, they had monstrous parties. Huey Singleton who was the First Aid man in the film plant, Fabrics and Finishes, he was the anesthesiologist in the plant hospital. He used to make some of the best bathtub gin there was so he always got an invite to every party.
JS: And that was during Prohibition?
DF: That was during Prohibition.
JS: That he would do that.
DF: And going into the War. During the war booze wasn’t that easy to get either and he used to brew the stuff up for all the parties.
JS: And there was no issue with the law?
DF: No I don’t think anybody outside of the DuPonters knew he was making it ‘cause he wasn’t selling it or anything, it was just for their own parties.
JS: Did the area around DuPont and the families here feel isolated, because you mentioned woods?
DF: No, not really. Because you had the DuPont village here and as you went up the other side of Minisink Avenue, that started the Hercules Village, and Hercules put, in I guess they had about may thirty homes up there that they built for the same reason DuPont did.
JS: About how many DuPont homes were there in all?
DF: Well at one point they had about sixty homes.
JS: Did any of the other factories in town employ the same technique with housing their employees?
DF: The only one that I knew that had some homes was way back Sayre and Fisher and I think that was mainly supervision and they had the old row homes apartments down there and that’s about all that’s left.
JS: Was there any sort of socializing between the different neighborhoods?
DF: Oh yeah there was the rivalry baseball games between the DuPont Village and the Hercules Village. Most of us went to Sayreville High. The old Sayreville High, which is back to being the Wilson school again.
JS: How did you get there in the mornings?
DF: Public Service Bus.
JS: Which went up Washington Road?
DF: Went up Washington Road and you met everybody on the way and everybody socialized on the bus along with people that were going back and forth to work.
JS: Where did you go to elementary school?
DF: The old Roosevelt school right there on the hill. My step-grandfather and I started first grade together at the Roosevelt school.
JS: At the Roosevelt School there were children of DuPont employees and also Hercules employees?
DF: Oh, yeah.
JS: Given the location. Ok. What role did the railroads play at the time when you were a child?
DF: At the time that I was a child the freight going through here was an important part of life. After you heard the trains for the first week that you were here you just ignored it; you didn’t even know that they existed.
JS: Were they going by often?
DF: Yeah they used to drill down here in the sidings. It was a lot of railroad tracks. The sidings, I think there was about five or six sidings where they would sort out the freight that was going through here, there, or whatever. The Raritan River Railroad, its history in my mind, was the only railroad in the United States that never got a subsidy. They were always self-sufficient and the main reason was because they were the intermediate railroad that connected the other big railroads and all the freight that connected from one railroad to the other had to go through Parlin and Sayreville. So it was a very, very prosperous railroad.
JS: Were a lot of people in the area also employed by the railroad?
DF: Yeah. In fact one of our neighbors over here, Roberts, the grandfather was the engineer on old number 8 which was really great because a lot of times our parents would give us money to go to the movies in South Amboy, the Old Empire Theater. We would have bus fare to go down and come back and we’d go down and it was a few of us, that old Barney and Joe Toth, the firemen, they would take us down on the train and we’d save that money from the bus fare and that was our candy at the movies. Times were tight then and you didn’t get money for candy.
JS: Where did you family grocery shop? Where did your mother go to get food for the family?
DF: Well it used to be that the original shopping was over at Perth Amboy. DuPont at the time up where the circle is had a commissary there and they used to have a lot of stuff for like your daily needs. Bread, potatoes, stuff like that at the store and that was cheap. I think bread at the time, I remember going over there on the bicycle. We were paid something like six cents for a loaf of bread.
JS: What about clothes?
DF: Clothes, you had to go to Perth Amboy.
JS: And you had to take the bus?
DF: South Amboy had nothing. You had to take two buses. From here you took the public service buses to South Amboy then you got the marathon bus from South Amboy to Perth Amboy.
JS: What about New Brunswick? Did you ever go into New Brunswick?
DF: Very seldom. New Brunswick just seemed like it was out of reach for most of the people. Until I would say probably around the 50’s then we started migrating to New Brunswick to go to the theater and all. The one in South River closed down, Sayreville closed, South Amboy closed so you either had to go New Brunswick or Perth Amboy to go to the movies.
JS: Was it just because everything was closing or the wider automobile ownership perhaps.
DF: Wider ownership, those strip malls all started in then and Two Guys from Harrison came in and that become the store for everybody in the area. They started over in Woodbridge on route 9 there as a war surplus, the original store. My dad being a millwright and all and doing all stuff mechanically with tools we used to go over there for great buys and tools. And it was an auction right in the back of it. In those days you got good buys.
JS: When did people starting owning cars more in DuPont village? You know, when you were a child did every family have a car?
DF: Pretty much so. Most of them did. DuPont paid in the early days they paid a good wage as compared to most industries. At DuPont, Hercules, and National Lead, and those three were the leaders in the whole area.
JS: Sayre &Fisher by that time had begun to decline or they had less employees?
DF: They were down to nil in the 40’s, very small operation then.
JS: How often did you go into Sayreville as opposed to Parlin?
DF: Ah we used to go to the movies in Sayreville all the time.
JS: Before it closed?
DF: Before it closed. That was every Wednesday night I think was dish night. Most of the families ate their meals off the dishes they got at the movies.
JS: The movies would make food?
DF: No you got a single plate, or a cup and saucer and that was a gift for each person with a paid ticket. It wasn’t real good china.
JS: But families would collect them and bring them home.
JS: What else did you do in Sayreville? Besides the movie theater was there any other forms of entertainment around?
DF: No, not really.
DF: Recreationally there was nothing.
JS: What about family vacations?
DF: My dad always had a boat so we spent the whole summer out on the water.
JS: Where did you dock the boat?
DF: Down in Morgan, Morgan Creek. And it was at Keyport for the first couple of years but he built the boat. Right where my motor home is there used to be three big trees that’s now my kitchen. And he built a twenty-six foot boat out here by hand and he used a chain hoist and a block and fall and turned the boat over cause it was built upside down and the whole neighborhood came out. There was a big beer bash that day, the turning of the boat over. The guy next door that was living there was a supervisor in the photo. In fact at the time he became the system plant manager. He worked his way up and probably would have been chairman of the board if he hadn’t died of a rare disease, but he went up the line so quick. He started as the plant supervisor. And in the time of ten years he was vice president of DuPont.
JS: Why do you think that was?
DF: He had a photographic mind and a personality to go with it. He was a super person. I used to baby-sit for him when there would be a basketball game and all the gals would be at the basketball game. And if he had to go out some place I’d pitch in as the baby-sitter. And he treated everybody like he knew you forever. If he’d met you today ten years from now not only would he say hello to you by name but he would remember your wife’s name, your kids’ names, if they were going to college and what year they should be in, I mean it was phenomenal.
JS: Were there many people in the neighborhood like him? I mean was he unique in that sense?
DF: He was unique within DuPont and he never forgot anybody when he went up the line. The last I saw him was he had just become a vice president and he had come to Parlin on a visit and he made sure he looked me up in the Photo Products. In fact he shook all my supervisors that were over me and all. And he shook them up because he interrupted a meeting and they asked if he could borrow me because he promised his wife Margaret he’d look me up when he was in Parlin.
JS: What do you think it took to rise up the ladder in DuPont?
DF: They didn’t hire people for being a super genius. They wanted people that could think for themselves and apply themselves and the one thing with a supervisor they wanted you to make a decision and they wanted you to be consistent with your decisions. They were fair. I had 30 years in and it was a good place to work. They used to do good for the community tremendously. Where the Hindu Temple is over here that used to be a parking lot, DuPont’s, and they end up giving that to the YMCA, free. The Y was built on DuPont property. Where the First Aid is DuPont owned that property. They gave that to the First Aid. Where the Post Office is, they transferred that over to the government for a dollar, after they built that Post Office.
JS: DuPont built that Post Office?
DF: They wanted the Post Office handy because they had a lot of mail correspondence going out. It was like half a truckload everyday just from DuPont when the two plants were in full swing.
JS: Do you know if that had anything to do with Parlin having its own zip code?
DF: Yeah, because that Parlin Post Office had a bigger mail distribution than the Sayreville one ever had.
JS: Was Hercules using that?
DF: They used that too. The first post office I can remember that DuPont had was up right at the circle. It was an old wooden building in back of the one that’s still standing out front there. That used to have a barber shop in back of the Post Office and a dentist chair. They were both available to DuPont employees.
JS: So that was your health care?
DF: Yes. And right across was the commissary and the little grocery store.
JS: You mentioned the circle twice. What is that specifically?
DF: It’s right there. If you cross the tracks and go up that road, there was a big concrete circle there. I think it’s still there. That was right outside the main gate going in to the Paint Plant.
You mentioned about healthcare, I was about 5 years old and I had my tonsils taken out by old Doc Hinton in the DuPont Hospital. When Hinton ended up retiring, Doc Barnhart took over. He used to have the house catty-corner in back of me. He lived there and he doctored almost everybody in DuPont for years.
JS: What do you think are some of the differences between people living in this neighborhood today and leaving town to go to work and everybody doing different things and people doing the same job?
DF: I think it changed society in that people have such a long commute that when they get home, they’re tired and all they want to do is relax. They don’t want to bother with anyone else. When I grew up here, all the women knew all the other women, all the kids played together. And their moms and dads were active in whatever was happening. Everyone worked close together.
When I worked in the Photo Products, when they finally opened the two plants together, for years they were separate plants because they were separate unions. The front plant was a company union and the back plant was international. The fence divided them inside. When they opened up the gate and said you could use it, it was faster to walk to my office than it was to walk from the parking lot to my office.
JS: So that led to a very strong family life.
DF: Yes, everybody knew everybody. When I first started working the one summer in Photo Products I used to stop in the changing room and have coffee and pastry with my Dad. The cafeteria set it up so that you had the donuts there and the coffee there. You got a good sized donut from Gutkowski’s Bakery for a nickel. They weren’t making any money on it, but it was a convenience to the employees.
JS: Do you remember the first time you ever went out to a supermarket?
DF: The first time? It was probably 1941, went over to Shoprite over in Perth Amboy. Just on Smith Street just as you went over the train bridge there. By car, my Dad had a ‘41 Ford. The rumblings of war, the drums were getting louder and louder. And he went into hock and bought a ’41 Ford because his other car was getting older and older. That’s what we had until 1951, he had that car ten years.
JS: How did the war change life in DuPont Village?
DF: I think it was a closer community because the people knew that the stuff that they were making in both plants were for the war effort. And the people knew they were contributing.
JS: What about the loss of manpower?
DF: I don’t think they really had that much of a loss of manpower. The Photo Products hired a lot of women for their jobs. They were jobs that women could do without any effort.
The front plant though, my Dad was exempt because of his job for the war effort. But a lot of the people that worked in the plant all joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary and during the night when they got home from work, they’d go over to South River. Along the riverbank there where Laffin’s used cars were, that part of the river was open then. They took and rebuilt the one boat and made it into a patrol boat. They had hot water heat in it with an old pot belly stove that they hooked up. And the women would take turns making the meals for them. They’d come home from work and go right on to patrol duties. They patrolled the Arthur Kill to Leonardo. With Leonardo and all of the refineries that was a prime area for saboteurs. That was all voluntary.
JS: Do you remember the war ending?
DF: Yes we celebrated here in the Village pretty good, on V-E Day and V-J Day both.
JS: Do you remember the victory parade?
DF: Don’t remember the parade so much. They had a big parade in New York but half the time you didn’t have TV, you saw it in the newsreels. Now one soldier is wounded or killed and you hear about it in the media right away. Things have really changed that way. My next door neighbor, the Dill family, there was two of them in the Navy. Homer Dill that became the coach and principal of the high school, he was in the Navy and his younger brother. My brother-in-law was in the Navy. Used to be during the war, the parties would be between their house and our house here. My sister was a cheerleader for Sayreville High and the whole gang they always partied between the two homes. That was the big party celebrating the War being over.
JS: Did everyone in DuPont Village attend the same church?
DF: No. They went on their own. You didn’t have as many people, I don’t think, going to church as groups as you do today because now transportation isn’t a problem. If you got to church once a month, it was a lot, because it was very inconvenient to get there. OLV and St. Stanislaus were the only ones in the Sayreville area, other than the two churches on Main Street, I think one’s Methodist, one’s Protestant. They were both there.
JS: Were most people Catholic here?
DF: A good bit of Sayreville was Catholic for years.
JS: Was this neighborhood more Irish or German or Polish?
DF: It started out Irish and German and I think Sayreville became predominantly Polish for a good while. In fact, when I went off to college down in West Virginia, I had such an accent living with the Polish people and going to school with them for so many years, they all thought I was from Brooklyn. I had a very distinct accent then. All of Sayreville was predominately Polish way back. I’d say probably two out of three people that I knew were Polish, at least.
JS: What sort of music did everyone listen to, say, at DuPont functions?
DF: Pretty much mixed. They did some square dancing at the Y and at the parties they had there. People seemed to like that because you could squeeze the gal you were with. I learned that in the old Roosevelt School. When you got into the eighth grade that’s when you mixed with almost entirely Polish people. The eighth grade was at Wilson School. Only the first seven grades were in Roosevelt School.
JS: Do you think that made this part of town different from other parts?
DF: Neah. Everyone got together good.
JS: Did you listen to the radio a lot?
DF: That’s all you had to do in the olden days. Our first TV was a repossessed television that Thompson at the corner of Washington Road and Main Street, the TV place there, he had gotten ahold of this set that was repossessed that had belonged to the Deal Fire Company. They said the TV would go blank. In those days for a little screen that big, it was all for two people to carry, that TV set had to go close to 100 pounds. I mean it was a monster of a set with just that little tube. The only thing that was wrong with it, my uncle was an electrician, him and my Dad opened it up took it apart and found there were two cold solders on it, resoldered it, and we had one of the first TV’s in the area. All my buddies came in. Heindle down here, Billy Heindle he was a supervisor in the F&F Plant, he had one. Billy became postmaster of Parlin there for a good many years. When we got a set everyone would pack in here. The first idea of color TV they used to have a piece of celluloid that was green on the bottom, brown in the middle and then blue on the top and you held that in front of your TV and that was your color TV. It would work for cowboy pictures but that’s about all.
JS: Did having TVs in the home change everyone’s social lives in the Village?
DF: Not in the very beginning because there wasn’t many of them but as the games came along, yeah, it changed drastically because the kids instead of going out riding their bikes and all they sat playing games on TV.
JS: At the same time that was happening the woods were disappearing.
DF: They were almost all gone by then. The loss of open space was drastic in the area. When we lost Johnny Czernikowski as mayor we lost what was left of our playgrounds, I think, because he stood up and wouldn’t let them take it. He was still Mayor when I had the boat so this was the 70’s going into the 80’s. He was a super mayor, he was a full time mayor. When he retired from National Lead he had time on his hands and he applied it to the town.
JS: So up until his time as mayor housing was just going up.
DF: Getting more and more. He was taking a stand. A lot of property was leased for playgrounds. They are all gone now.
JS: Why do you think the town let so many developers come into town?
DF: I don’t know. I wish there was an easy answer.
JS: Were most people against the construction?
DF: Yes, I think so. But with politics as normal, it’s who you know. They sign together as a group, they don’t even go to the people. We had the open council meetings. If something was coming up that they thought might affect you they’d call you. Quite a few times I got calls from Czernikowski when he was Mayor over Major’s Pond because he knew I liked to water ski on Major’s Pond. As ordinances were coming up he’d call the people, “Hey, we’re having a meeting. You people should come.” You don’t see that today.
JS: Do you think it’s just that there are so many more people in town?
DF: No, we had a fist full of people then. It’s different politics. Back then I think that the town was a lot more friendly. Now, we have a lot of people out of New York and all that come in who don’t know anybody, don’t care to know anybody. Before all the people all grew up together. It was a completely different atmosphere.
JS: You said they didn’t care to know anybody. Did anybody in Sayreville care to know them?
DF: Not really. I often thought I’d like to write a letter to the editor of the Suburban newspaper for the Sayreville Bus Drivers from our Board of Ed. I’m not saying the other school buses, the ones that say Board of Ed on it. The most courteous people, they are all Sayreville residents. I have yet to stop and not have one of those bus drivers motion you on. It’s contagious too. But it makes your day, especially if you are in a hurry and the school bus stops and they say go ahead. The only ones I have observed it routinely is the Sayreville buses. I think they are all women.
JS: Aside from the courtesy which was lost , what else do you think is lost of value in the late 40’s and early 50’s when people started moving in?
DF: Now you have a lot of gangs you didn’t have then. Sure you had everybody from the DuPont Village together and the ones from Hercules together, but it wasn’t cutthroat. There was no such thing as drugs. Even when I went off to college at West Virginia U. there wasn’t any drugs on the campus.
JS: There was certainly lots of alcohol in town.
DF: Oh, there was lots of alcohol! When I went to West Virginia, they were rated the third partiest campus going.
JS: What about drinking here in town?
DF: Oh yeah! A lot of partying! There were a few taverns where as long as you were big enough to put your money on the bar you could get served. Nobody seemed to care going way back.
JS: What about women? Did they go to the bars?
DF: Oh, yeah! There were as many women as there were guys in most of the bars. In the evening, not during the day, they’d go out with their husbands for a few drinks. For years Clark’s Tavern was one of the social places. It’s now Big Shots. Clark’s father was mayor of Sayreville I think way back when. That’s where I spent my youth, at the bar at Clark’s.
JS: When people became involved in politics, did you know anybody at DuPont that became involved? What motivated them?
DF: Oh yeah! They were interested in doing something for the community. I think the politics were different then. It was a drive to do something on a want-to basis. Not looking at the monetary basis. Today’s politics are more monetary than they are a desire to do something to help. In the olden day if I were at the bar at Clark’s Tavern and got drunk, the bartender would call the police and the Sayreville Police would drive you home. That was years ago. If you were in South Amboy the South Amboy cops would take your keys and drive you to the border and the Sayreville cops would drive you home. The communities then I think were a closer knit people overall than they are today. Today I think we have the typical cold-shoulder of the Northeast, the New York syndrome. Now, I think Sayreville is a third New York now.
JS: What do you think made it that way, more than anything?
DF: All the people coming out of the city. They had a different lifestyle. They didn’t have the friendly attitude like here. Here no matter what you were doing, people gave their neighbors a hand doing whatever they were doing and they looked out for each other.
JS: How do we get that back in town?
DF: I don’t know, I don’t know all of the people in the village. I used to know them all. Too many people today just live in their own little shell and that’s it pretty much.
JS: When did DuPont Village become mostly outsiders?
DF: I’d say probably somewhere in the 70’s, late 70’s.
JS: So after DuPont gave the homes away, most people stayed?
DF: Almost everybody bought the homes. The price was right on the homes. This house here sold for, as memory serves me, $3400 and the property was worth more than that. But the homes, a lot of them were in bad repair. It took a keg and a half of nails to re-nail the house, they had boards the full length of the house with two nails holding them. They didn’t take the time to put the extra nails in.
JS: Do you think that the word suburb applies to Sayreville?
DF: Not as much as it used to.
JS: What made it more a suburb before?
DF: I think the fact that you didn’t have buses going all over to bring people in and out of town. You didn’t have all of the commuting that you do now and there was a lot less traffic. I don’t know how the teachers are today, but I know in the olden days they took a personal interest in you. Margaret Walsh, who was the Principal at the high school, I know she was responsible for a lot of guys going to college including me. I said I can’t afford it. She said, “You’ll find a way, apply, apply!” I went to West Virginia, there was eleven of us from Sayreville High at West Virginia. It was cheaper to go down there than it was for me to go to Rutgers and commute. And I lived there on the campus, worked at the University to make money. But it was a hell of a lot cheaper down there.
JS: What years were you at West Virginia?
DF: I started in’53, graduated in ’59. I went in advanced ROTC so that added a year.
I was in an auto accident that smashed my nose and I had to get out of the Chemistry, I couldn’t take the odors any more.
JS: How do you think college benefitted you when you came home to Sayreville?
DF: It was good. In fact I never even put an application into work at DuPont. I was having lunch with my father, he worked in the Paint Plant and the plant manager said to me, “Don, when you’re getting out, you make your draft resume up, why don’t you give a copy to your Dad, maybe I can help with some suggestions. We are always interviewing.” Gave him the draft, three days later I got a phone call from the Photo Products and they offered me a job. I never even filled out a DuPont application. He hired me on my draft copy. DuPonters looked out for DuPonters in those days.
JS: Did you ever consider doing something else?
JS: Did you ever consider leaving Sayreville?
DF: Yeah, I had a couple offers. I had an offer from Chris-Craft to be an industrial engineer at their plant in New Smyrna Beach, Florida but they wanted a decision, and I would have had to quit and be there in less than a week. And you don’t quit a good employer without giving notice. I couldn’t do that. The other one, Alco-Brovure, gave me a good offer, a lot more than I was making. But that company was all politics. The bottom man on the totem pole is throwing the parties for all the rest and it’s kiss behind, you know. The politics, I’d rather tell them to go to hell rather than play those politics. Even though the money was good, I couldn’t live that kind of life.
JS: So you were happy you stayed with DuPont?
DF: You didn’t have to play that politics at DuPont.
JS: Thank you very much, Don, for sharing your memories.
The Sayreville Oral History Project
Narrator: Harold Boehm
Interviewers: Jason J. Slesinski and Carol Kadi
Date: January 12, 2010
Location: Home of Harold Boehm, Winkler Road, Sayreville, NJ
Jason Slesinski: Can you state your name for the…
Harold Boehm: Sure, Harold Boehm, 7 Winkler Rd. Sayreville, New Jersey.
JS: And where were you born?
HB: I was born right here in Sayreville in the house right behind me.
JS: Is it still there?
HB: Sure right there!
JS: That was your parents house, where were they from?
HB: Sayreville, Jacob Henry Boehm and Wilhemena Fritz.
JS: And where did they come from?
JS: Where did their parents come from?
HB: Germany, both families. We’re all German at that time. The Polish people came into Sayreville after WWI. Before that, it was German and Irish.
JS: Why did the Germans and Irish come?
JS: For the brickyards, and why did the Polish come after WWI?
HB: Same thing: brickyards, work, brickyards.
JS: How did they find out about Sayreville?
HB: You know, communication. God knows, Germany and Poland were so close - borderline. Who knows, could be families. They had names that we know. You know, changing a name don’t mean you’re not still family. You know, like you’re a McCutcheon; you don’t have a McCutcheon name, but you’re still family.
JS: So what did this neighborhood look like when you were born?
HB: When I was born, this was all woods. Mr. Solook had a blacksmith in that little building over there, and he was a blacksmith. There were no homes here at all. Back at the end of this road, Bill Albert was a contractor building homes. He built that last home in the back there where Joe Karcher lived. He built that for his daughter when she married Jack Bishop in New Brunswick. See, she went to St. Peter’s High School. That’s how she met Jack Bishop. He was from New Brunswick. They were back in the woods all by themselves and the two young couples, I guess Mocky [Mrs. Karcher] wanted to get out of there, ‘cause she’s by herself. So, she wanted to get out. She wasn’t happy there. So Mr. Albert turned around and built her a home on Edward Street. Alright, and I think one of the Bishop boys may still live there. And then, that home was sold to George Patri - no, to Joe Karcher, alright. Joe Karcher, wife didn’t like it there. So he sold that house to George Petrusko and Joe Karcher moved back to his family home on Main St. down in Lower Sayreville. Alright? Joe Karcher being an attorney and wants to study at night, the traffic bothered him. Come back here, bought the house off Petrusko, gave him this piece of land free! Then George built that house there. George Petrusko was from New Brunswick, but his wife was from South River. He was Hungarian and his wife was Russian. You know, down the alley. Finally, Joe Karcher built both of his daughters’ homes. You know, then of course then, Benny built right there, then he must of built, I don’t know, maybe five years or so after me. These two houses are all Sayre and Fisher brick.
JS: So you purchased the brick yourself, and then built it?
HB: Yeah, I… I build this home myself. I was the contractor. Alright, I bought this land for $750 off my uncle. He gave me… he sold me this land for exactly what he paid for it. I became the contractor. I got my blueprints, went up the bank, and got a GI loan for $10,000.
JS: What year was this?
HB: Nineteen forty… I started, I think it was ’43, wait now, I got married in ’49… two years, ’47. So I probably started around ’47, ’46. The Petner brothers in South River dug the hole for the house, you know, and they’re all gone - the Petners, and I subcontracted the work. The Vasquez’s done the brick work and I hired the contractors by the hour - $1 an hour. Alright. This house cost me, you ready for this? Property and all, complete, after it was painted, under $15,000. What do you think… and these are plaster walls, no sheetrock. Flooring, the attic – everything - everything is complete. Today you try to build something like this -
JS: It would be much more expensive.
HB: When I started this house the best part about it - everybody told me I was crazy. “Prices are going to drop! Wait ‘till next year.” Oh yeah, they told me that. “Wait ‘till next year Harold. You’re foolish! Prices are gonna drop!” I listened to nobody and went right ahead. Thank God I did (laughs).
JS: How soon after you built did the rest of the area develop around you?
HB: George Petrusko, as I told you, that one was built by George. Albert Piekarski built that house. That’s Ronnie Albert, of course she moved down to Florida later on, and Piekarski was a local builder. They were partners. They built that house. And George Petrusko had it until the people have it now. And next to it Joe Karcher built that house for his daughter. And then the following house up there, he built - no, across the street was for his other daughter. And Alan was up there next to him. Today we don’t have a Karcher living in Sayreville. They live in Princeton. Alan Karcher’s wife is a councilwoman in Princeton. You know, and I understand Alan’s daughter - I don’t know how true it is - but, I understand that she’s out west. She married a guy in the forestry. And Alan Karcher’s son, Timothy, is a lawyer down in Princeton.
JS: Why did they leave Sayreville?
HB: You know, it’s a funny thing. My boy, Renny, he’s… he died… he and Bernard was the best of friends - Bernard Reavey, and of course Joe Karcher was his grandfather. And Bernard, he used to tell Renny, “You know Renny, my grandfather tells me that we own this town (laughs).” You know? In other words, you know? You should never say that to a kid. Because you know a kid’s actually gonna go and spread it (laughs).
Carol Kadi: When you first moved here, what were the roads like?
CK: And Main Street and Washington Road?
HB: Washington Road when I was born was sand. I used to ride the trolley car. My mother’d put me on the trolley car here and she’d tell the motorman to drop me off at River Rd. Norman’s Tavern - know where that is, River Road, Norman’s Tavern?
JS: Yes, it’s right on the corner across from the Reading Room.
JS: The tavern’s not there now.
HB: The tavern’s still there, it’s not open.
JS: You’re talking on Main Street…
HB: Main Street and River Road.
JS: The trolley went from here to Main Street?
HB: The trolley went from here down Main Street to Blew’s Hill. That was the dead end.
JS: What’s Blew’s Hill?
HB: Down the end of Main St. Alright, after you get down below the Gutkowski’s market or bakery rather. You know, used to be Gutkowski’s, but who has it now?
CK: It’s, well, it’s still called Sun Glo.
HB: Sun Glo? But anyway, it went down the end down there, turned around, and came back - trolley. But, the trolley did not go to Parlin. It went down that way, come around Main St, then went right to South River, through Milltown, into New Brunswick. Electric, I used to get on the trolley. My Aunt Sue used to pick me up, then drop me off, watch me go across the street and get my hair cut. Uncle George Norman had the candy shop, cigars, and barber shop. Later on, he got a beer license, went to a saloon, and it’s a saloon today - still a saloon. Jake Zollinger’s two daughters got the license on it. Cause when Florence Zalinski died she was a Norman. You know, that’s family! George Norman and Susie Norman were my godparents. When I got christened, they were my godparents. That’s going back - 1920. God spare me - this September I hit ninety!
JS: So what kind of other things did you do as a kid?
JS: What did you do as a kid for fun?
HB: As a kid? We played touch football out in the back. We played baseball. We had no… Hey! Johnny Solook used to make our own baseballs. You know those little rubber balls the girls used to have on the string? He would stick the hard rubber ball in there and wind and wind and wind and wind. We’d save string to make a baseball, then we’d tape it. We had our own baseballs. You didn’t buy a baseball. During the Depression, you were lucky if you had a dime in your pocket! I mean it. I can remember the day, and seriously, that we’d have potatoes made up different ways for five days and you’re glad to get ‘em. And of course, my mother used to trick us. Always something new! Something new, yeah, but it’s still potatoes! (laughs) It was new in the way of makin’ it! You know? And my dad of course the kiln came down on him when we were kids - down at Sayre & Fisher. Vinny Chevalier, you know him? The cop?
CK: I know of him.
HB: Well, his father got killed in the same accident that my dad was in. And when the kiln come down on him my dad ended up with a crippled shoulder for the rest of his life. In those days there was no benefits, no benefits at all, and no hospitalization either, nothing from the company. You paid everything. I went to school with patches in my pants, holes in my shoes, and put cardboard in my shoes so it wouldn’t hit the dirt! I said to my boys many a times. We are in a real recession, you fellas couldn’t live in it. Women today aren’t prepared for it. How many girls prepare their own food? During the Depression we went down in the cellar, we ate canned applesauce, we ate canned peaches, and if possible we had the pear tree, you had canned pears, that was it! You weren’t going out buying. Then another line of string beans, you know? Everything was jars and jars and jars!
JS: You grew it all?
HB: Yeah, you grew, but you bought in volume!
JS: Where did you buy them?
HB: The family used to go and chip in, each one. They’d order a wagonload of potatoes - five bushels would go here, five bushels would go to that member of the family. The family united by the whole bushel because that was cheaper. I mean the whole wagonload rather, those days, the wagonload. Everybody had a potato bin in their cellar. Oh yeah, you wanted a potato you just run down into the cellar and got it, you wouldn’t run to the store. Onions would hang by the bag. You had no heat in your cellar in those days. It was like a refrigerator. You had a coal stove or a wood stove in the kitchen. There was no eating all over the house. Everybody had feather beds. Do you know what a feather bed is? Everybody had them because brother, you couldn’t live otherwise, because the warmest room in the house was the kitchen. If you did any homework it was in the kitchen at the kitchen table. You never went in the dining room or the living room. The living room was never touched because it was too cold. Then they came out with the, remember the heaters in the basement with the big opening where you put the fire - the heat come up out of it - the what do you call it? Big square like this, but it’s like a fire scope.
CK: It’s like a vent.
HB: Yeah. And the heat used to come up. I’m telling you. It’s a picnic.
JS: So where did you buy the foods? Where did you get them, in town?
HB: Everybody had their own garden, everybody canned.
JS: Everybody canned, okay.
HB: Everybody had their own garden. And if you ran short, I used to go to Hensler’s… that little place up there that’s painted, that’s painting with the big red up front Hensler’s lane right up the street right there - that was Hensler’s meat market. My mother would send me up for a piece of chuck that makes soup because that’s the cheapest cut of meat you could get, but make sure you get at least two bones for soup. You never made soup did ya?
JS: My mother’s made soup (laughs).
HB: Did you ever make it?
HB: No? I learned to make it when I was your age. My dad could cook as good as my mother. My mother died of cancer. My sister Joanie was 12 years old. She married Ray Sweeney. My dad taught each one of us how to cook, and let me tell you something we learned because you’re gonna need it. You’re married, you get married, and have children and lose your wife what are you gonna do? Hire someone to come in and do the cooking?
JS: Canned food?
HB: Truthfully though, what are you going to do? Are you going to starve? You can’t eat sandwiches all day. I make a big pot of soup. I take care of Bennie’s wife because there’s four of us and always someone else is here. You always got someone in the house, but you know there’s no woman in this house. We gotta do it all ourselves. We do all the window cleaning, the vacuuming everything.
CK: When did you get a vacuum cleaner?
HB: Here? I’ve had one since I was married, but my mother you mean? Oh my God that was a used Hoover. You didn’t get nothing. Hand-me-downs.
JS: What about a washer and dryer?
HB: No such thing! You had your washer, a Maytag, but it was a used one, not a new one. You bought used, you didn’t have money for a new one. Of course someone in the family was buying a new one, and he got a hand-me-down and they were the old, old washing machines with the ringer on it. I used to go down and watch my mother put clothes through the ringer.
JS: So she always had that, your mother?
HB: Not always, no.
JS: What did she have?
HB: She used the old scrub board. Before the washing machine come in women had to wash and they used the scrub board with thickened soap or Kirkman soap. You guys don’t know how lucky you are. How would you like to sit down and have jelly, bread, and homemade peanut butter six or seven days a week? That was your sandwich because you made it. Everybody had their own grape arbors. We always had grape jelly, grape jam, always we ate apples, pears. Everybody had fruit trees. Who in the world grows their own fruit trees today? Can I tell you something? You see that tree out there? You see that tree out in the front over there? I got another one just like it. You know what they are? They’re pear trees. You know anyone else who grows pear trees in their front yard? Well, you want to be here and see the kids when they go by and I say, “If you want a pear, help yourself!”And see them run up there and grab a pear.
JS: Why do you think people don’t grow their own…
HB: Because, hey, they want scenery, they want this because it looks good in front of their house. I mean it, I got two pear trees in the front of my yard. Everybody thought I was nuts when I did it, but I enjoy seeing the kids run up and grabbing a pear. You come up here in the fall and see the kids come home from school and say, “Mr. Boehm can I…?” “Help yourself!”
CK: Did anyone around here have animals?
HB: Mr. Solook had a cow in that little building over there. He had the blacksmith shop and a cow in there. We used to get our milk off him.
CK: In order to have a blacksmith shop you probably had to have a lot of horses.
HB: I’ll tell you something. He was the only blacksmith here besides Bill Forsythe’s father in East Brunswick. On Milltown Road there was a blacksmith shop years ago. Years ago the old graders, remember the night before they used to come down and rip up the roads? See, he did all that. Blacksmiths done all that work. Today of course they buy new, they throw the old ones away. Years ago they’d bring in tampered, banged up, made like new. As a kid I watched him at the forge. I wouldn’t change my life for yours. I’m glad I lived when I did. If God spares me, I hit ninety in September.
JS: Did everyone have room in their yards for trees?
HB: Everybody had fruit trees. It was food. Food! They weren’t worried about appearance. It was food. In front of my house we had a pear tree. I lived on Washington Road and it was the real hard winter pears. I can’t think of the name of them. We used to pick them. Take ’em down the cellar lay them on screen and they ripen. We’d have fresh pears until Christmas time. Apples you couldn’t do it to, ‘cause apples they ripen fast. Down the cellar where it was cool, they got so soft you didn’t even have to have teeth. Without teeth you could bite into them, you could gum it.
JS: You said your grandparents were from Germany and they came to this location and you said before the Polish people came and it was all German and Irish.
HB: That’s what I was told. I’m going by what I was told. My dad could speak three languages. My Dad could speak English, German, and Polish. Mr. Solook here he was born on the Austrian-German border. He spoke three languages. Many a times I stood over there and my Dad and Mr. Solook talking in Polish. Next time they were talking in German. I was confused, so I asked my Dad. And he told me, “Mr. Solook can speak three languages like I can.” Oh yeah! See, Mr. Solook was what they called an Austrian Pole. Mrs. Solook was a Walus, she was Polish.
JS: So where did the Irish people live?
HB: You know the Quaids? That’s an old family in Sayreville. Down Lower Sayreville, Quaids were. Clarks, Clarks had this grocery store, was it before the Boehms or after the Boehms, I forget now. Remember Buddy Clark had the tavern on the top of the hill? On the corner of Quaid Street? Now I don’t know who owns it [Big Shots]. That was built by Buddy Clark’s father. That big building only has a small basement, just the boiler and some room for a little beer. The rest of the building has no basement. It’s one of the old buildings, you know.
JS: Who lived up in Tangletown?
HB: Tangletown was mostly Polish people except a couple like Julie Sylvester. Smith Street was mostly Polish. Little Broadway was almost all Polish, because my cousin Joe Rzigalinski was from Little Broadway most of that was all Polish. Embroidery Street was 50/50. John Street, Joseph Street were mostly all Polish. The Polish section seemed to be right in there. Down Lower Sayreville, you had the Polish section on Boehmhust Avenue and those side streets. Because the older families before they [Polish] came in were German and Irish or whatever, the Scottish or whatever. The McCutcheons, they were Scottish, Frank Hartman, Hartmans were Scottish.
Today we are all mixed in. Hey! Half my family is Polish. My wife was French. Her parents came from France for Michelin, the tire company when they moved from France to Milltown. And of course the French came over to Milltown. I met my wife at Warnstoffer’s house. My Dad was a County Road Foreman and Mr. Warnstoffer was a Road Foreman. My Dad asked me to run papers up to Warnstoffer. That’s how I met my wife. I called her for a date and she refused me.
Whitey Rhatican, you know Whitey? Whitey said to me, “Harold how about going out on a double date with me. He was going with a girl by the name of Helen Nehica. She worked for the police department in East Brunswick. I said, “What the hell, I’ll help you out, I’ll go out on a double date with you.” We go out on this double date. Whitey picks up Helen, he picked up her girlfriend, comes down and picks me up. Who do you think was in the car but the girl that I married, the girl who refused me the date!
I found out later… You know, I was a wild guy when I was young, oh Christ I was as wild as they come. If I didn’t know all the cops, good thing I did, I’d be in jail for 20 years. Remember John Markulic the cop? He says, “Hey, you! You pull what you pulled last night,” he says, “I’m going to put you in jail.” I guess I came down the hill both ways. I was a stinker I grant you that. My wife when we got married, she tamed me. Oh, Christmas sakes, I’m telling you.
JS: What sort of trouble did you get into?
HB: Mischief, mischief stuff. We used to go out and steal apples right over on the other side of the building here. The Dolans live there now, no relations to the other Dolans and of course Jud Swede had his barbershop in there. They had a nice big farm in there and it was always wet, the land. It was like walking on a sponge. They used to plant watermelons in there. Oh, nice sized watermelons! When they were ripe that’s where we were, in the watermelon field. And I’ll never forget, you know Tom Gorman, Nick Gorman, lives up here on Roma Street? He was in there taking a watermelon one night, didn’t know at the time they were waiting for us. He grabbed Nick. “What are you doing?” Nick did a hell of a job in his pants. He’s back in the ditch cleaning his underwear and pants. He didn’t want to go home that way, you know. Oh, my God! I’ll never forget it as long as I’m alive.
We did mischief things. We had nothing else to do, we had no money. Heck, you were lucky to get a nickel for an ice cream cone. My Grandfather was good to all of us, though. My mother’s father, of course my Dad’s parents were dead. If you went to church, and you went down to see him, you’d get a dime on a Sunday. At that time that was an ice cream and a bar of candy. Sometimes if the ice cream was cheap, you got a double dip for a nickel. And brother, you had to go to church.
JS: What church did you go to?
HB: Our Lady of Victories. And I got married in Toms River.
JS: Why Toms River?
HB: Father Flaherty and I were personal friends. And he was here for awhile and Tom and I got together. I was still single, I had the gas station. He used to come over and wash cars, put jumpers on and help the guys wash cars. That’s the kind of guy he was! He was the only child of Mr. & Mrs. Flaherty. Would you believe that one was Catholic and one was Presbyterian? They raised their only child a Catholic priest. He and I became real close. He always said, “When you get married, I’ll marry you no matter where I’m at.” He was down Tom’s River. He got transferred from here down to Tom’s River. He stopped here one night. The house was just finished. We were sitting in there talking, Evette and I. He comes in. We were sitting on fruit boxes. We had no chairs, we just got finished. In fact, the painters were just getting done. Under my GI loan that I got for the house, I had to give all contracts out. Mr. Litz got the contract. Then he [Fr. Flaherty] come in he said to me, “The house is completed now, when are you getting married?” I said, “Tom, ask her.” He pounded her and pounded her until she gave him an answer. She picked August the 5th, it was a Friday night. My brother Benny and my sister Joan stood up for us. And Father Flaherty asked if his mother could go down to see us get married because she had never seen him perform a wedding, and my Dad. That was it five of them, Evette and I were seven. That was my wedding. We were broke. We built a house, what the heck, you know! Christmas sakes! This house I built for under $15,000. And this is a brick home. There’s no wood in this home. The only wood is in the inside walls. Nobody would believe I could build this house for that price, because I only got a GI loan for $10,000. Charlie Robinson from the bank, told me when I went for my loan. He said, “Harold, you’re never going to build that home for what you are asking for. I’m going to leave this open, so that when you need more money you tell us how much.” When I got done, I didn’t ask for no more money, but I’ll tell you something, I had the gas station and I had some very good friends, they all came in with their hammers. They put the subflooring down. I had Johnny Zollinger, Jake Zollinger the builder, his father not him but his father. His father was the supervisor of carpenters and millwrights in Squibb’s New Brunswick. He built this house. He’s the man that actually built this house. And I’ll tell you something, we didn’t skimp no where. Everything is double reinforced. You take above the doors, you know how they build the doorways today with a single board in the middle, not him, that’s X’ed, X’ed! Johnny said, “Harold we can build it to save money”. I said, “Johnny, I build it the way you would build it if it were going to be your home.” I got double oak floors up and down. I got a full floor in the attic, not double just a full.
JS: Where did you buy the wood?
HB: Miller, Bergen, and Welsh, South Amboy, and I was very fortunate. Mr. Welsh married an Allgair from Sayreville who were very good friends with my Dad. When I went down to see Mr. Welsh for my house lumber he said, “Harold (this is right in front of Johnnie Zollinger), you’re going to get everything here at contractors price, furthermore (After the War, you had to watch the lumber, there was a lot of knots and whatever, in other words they were pushing the junk) any piece that you don’t like, you just set aside, reorder, and tell my truck driver and he will pick it back.” We had the best of lumber because of Mr. Welch.
JS: Everyone looked out for everyone else.
HB: I’ll tell you something, like Mr. Welsh, he didn’t do it for me, he did it because of my Dad. You should not kid yourself; you’re Henry Boehm’s son. Same thing with Johnny Allgair, he married a Miklos girl. Johnny Allgair was a civil engineer. Renny needed a job, land surveyor Renny was. And he says, “Geez, Dad, I understand Samuels has got the outfit now.” E&E or whatever they call it. But Samuels took over from Johnny. Johnny had a daughter that had a Mongolian head, in other words enlarged head. She’s down in Florida. Samuels has to take care of that girl and pay all those expenses as long as she is alive out of the corporation and Samuels is an honorable man. I know as long as he is alive, he’s going to keep his word. You know, because people like that, wonderful! But Johnny Allgair, hey! I’m glad Samuels got the business instead of an outsider. Johnny took care of a local boy. He put him in charge in case anything happened to him. Johnny lost his wife to cancer and what happened to him, the same damn thing.
JS: You came back from the War and you built this house and everybody helped out.
HB: Oh, the guys at the gas station, I’ll tell you something, Joseph Gnacek, John Giera, trying to think now... my brother Benny of course ran the gas station when I was back here working. They came with their hammers! What are you going to do? I built this house for under $10,000.
JS: At the same time you were building this house huge complexes were being built around here by outside contractors and people were moving into those.
HB: When I built this house there was no big developments going on. The only big development was one on Sandfield Road. It was all those little houses, that was the only one.
JS: Who moved in there?
HB: A lot of them were local people. A lot of GIs bought down there. I think Art Muschick built that, his father used to have the barber shop right here on the corner. You know where Dr. Karr’s got his office? The next building? You walk those steps, the first door going in, that was the barber shop. That’s where I came for my haircuts, if I didn’t go to Lower Sayreville to Uncle George and Norma, but when he died, I went over here.
Thank God I was born when I was. My friends were good friends and they were devoted friends. Today a lot of guys, if you don’t have a buck in your pocket, they don’t want you. Of course we were raised without a buck in our pocket, we always got along. During the Depression, a guy had a dime, he was rich.
Adam Szumoski, Parlin, had a Model T and it was parked out in front of Morris Roth’s at Dane Street - Main Street. Morris Roth’s, it was a candy store, ice cream parlor. It had an ice cream counter. We used to meet there. Adam Szumoski was the only guy in the gang who had a car, a Model T. He bought junk parts, and made it. Adam was given a gift of God as a mechanical genius. He built this Model T. Let me tell you something, it ran good! It had a rumble seat! Two guys in the front with the driver, and two guys and four or five of us could get in the car. Next thing was let’s go for a ride. You got a dime, I got a nickel. Gasoline was five cents a gallon. We all chipped in. That’s how we got out and went for a ride.
JS: Where would you go?
HB: South River, usually South River, ride around South River. Cause you were going to South River High School, knew the guys over there. Down the alley, when I went to South River High School, if you went down the alley and you weren’t known, you were out, you’re lucky to come with your skin, boy. The Russians controlled the alley. You take the alley now. You know the alley good? South Whitehead Avenue? This side the tracks was all Polish. Once you got beyond the tracks it was the Russian section. Now it’s mixed up. And those Russians boy, they didn’t want you fooling around with their women. Ohh, no oh! When I was in high school I buddied up with three and they were all Russians: Nick Mroz, Streaky Suskowitz, and Joe Borak. Joe Borak’s brother married my sister Kate. Streaky got killed in Saipan, during World War II. But I could go down that alley and nobody would say a word to me. And they lived down the end of the alley, Armstrong Avenue. That’s where they lived and I could walk there and nobody said a word to me. But I never bothered any of the girls either. I knew better, come home with your head off your shoulders. Oh, brother! Then you had the Hunky section in South River.
JS: Where was that?
HB: You know where the Lincoln School was? Prospect Street? Rose Street? That’s the Hungarian section. The Bodnars used to control that. Oh yeah! Then you take upper Main Street and the side streets in there were the German and the Irish. South River didn’t have no church, you know when I went to school. They used to all come to Sayreville. Corpus Christi was built later and a lot of them came here because they didn’t want to go to St. Mary’s Polish Church because it was a Polish church. Going back years ago you know, if you didn’t marry your own kind you were in trouble. I mean it!
JS: What about the first Polish people in Sayreville, where did they go?
HB: St. Stan’s, for as long as I can remember St. Stan’s has been there. After the war ended in 1917… hey, it’s mixed. They call it Polish Church, this is the Irish Church. Usually you never said St. Stan’s and Our Lady of Victories, it was the Irish Church and the Polish Church. Today, it’s different. You go to the congregation, you’re going to find it’s 50/50, maybe 40/40 and 20, different now. I mean it. Take for an example my family now, there is only one person in my family that married a German girl: Benny, Katherine. My wife was French, sister Kate married a Russian, Joanny married a half-breed (Sweeney is an Irish-German), and Jimmy Creamer an Irishman.
JS: Did your parents encourage you to marry German?
HB: Can I tell you something? No! I never heard that argument in my house. I never heard my father swear in my house.
JS: You said in South River there were very defined sections.
JS: It wasn’t like that in Sayreville?
HB: Yeah, yeah, certainly. You had the Polish section up by Clark’s in there. Sylvester Street was German, I think. Sylvester? I don’t know what it is to tell the truth.
JS: What about Parlin?
HB: Parlin you had Hercules and DuPont Village. A lot of the side streets were all woods. You take Edward Street, that was all woods. We used to go swimming in Duck’s Nest. Up there where they got the pumping station, there was a path going right through the woods to Duck’s Nest. There was no houses in there at all. That’s before Ray Truchan built his auto body shop there. That was all woods. Oh, yeah. Right back in there I used to pick swampers, magnolias, Lady Slippers. Lady slippers when you talk about it, they don’t know what a Lady Slipper is. It was a beautiful flower came out of the ground just like a slipper. When we were growing them back here and Coyle was going to build here I called the environmentalist in here. I said, “You know there’s Lady Slippers in there?” You might as well talk to the wall! Environmentalist from the State of New Jersey! You don’t see those no more. Skunk cabbage, if you were walking through the woods and stepped on it, did they stink! My God did it stink! Just like a cabbage. We used to go back off of Journee Mill road, we used to pick swampers. We never bought blueberries, we picked them. Even when I got married, I used to take the boys out. Pick our own. Evette would make our own blueberry pies. There’s nothing like a wild blueberry pie. Wild, not this cultivated stuff, no taste. You go back in there maybe you’d find some bushes. Maybe one of these days I’ll take a walk in there. Oh, yeah. Live and learn.
CK: How did you get to school?
HB: Walked. South River we got a bus ticket. One mile. But one year I had to go to Washington School, Lower Sayreville. From here to Washington School I had to walk because it wasn’t a mile. That school board was strict. You had to be one mile, and it was not quite a mile. I had to walk. I think that was 7th grade, because Wilson School only had six grades. That’s going back.
JS: Where did you go before that?
HB: I went to Lincoln School, down here first. That’s gone.
JS: So the trolley was gone by the time you went to high school.
HB: Oh, yes. Buses were here. Yes the trolley only went as far as Lower Sayreville and stopped. It didn’t go nowhere in Parlin. The men used to live in New Brunswick and South River and worked in DuPonts and Hercules, they got off here and had to walk through the woods up to Hercules and DuPonts.
JS: It was all woods up to Edwards Street?
HB: Sure, all woods. Back here this was all woods. I mean it. It was nice. Right across from Our Lady of Victory Church, they got McCutcheon Street going down? Across the street from the church there was so much water coming out of that hill, the church, we had big streams going down. We used to go ice skating from here on down to MacArthur Avenue in the winter. Ice skating in these big ditches. It was good because if you went in you end up with a wet foot, no deeper! Today it’s all houses.
JS: What do you think is better?
HB: I don’t begrudge anyone a home.
CK: When was the first time you went to the movies?
HB: The Liberty Theatre was owned by Tom Dolan. Then it later closed up and then became the Colony Theatre. Then it closed up and that was the end of it. Joe Karcher owns that building today. I think. Of course he’s dead but maybe… Big warehouse in the back of that where the movies was. ‘Cause they took everything out.
JS: Did you ever go to South Amboy or New Brunswick to the movies?
HB: Never to South Amboy, South River yes, and New Brunswick once in a while. We used to play hooky from high school, save the bus ticket and go to New Brunswick to the movie. Instead of going to school we’d go to the movie.
CK: How far back did that place go?
HB: Oh, my God! They were there before I was born because they were my godparents. Uncle George Norman was a half Chevalier. Neally Chevalier and Uncle George Norman were half brothers. Mrs. Chevalier married twice. She married a Norman and he died, and then she married a Chevalier. That’s why in this town when you talk about anybody, watch out who you talk about.
Hey, I’m going to tell you something. Frank Musak was my uncle. He’s deceased now. I’m running for council. He says to me, Harold, he says, “How do you stand with so and so?” I said well he’s a good friend of mine, he’s one of my supporters. Frank looked at me and said, “You better check on him because he’s not supporting you.” I said, “What!” He says, “Harold, I’m telling you.” Musak, who the hell would think he was Polish? They are talking in front of my uncle not realizing it against me. That’s why we say in Sayreville, watch who you talk to. I mean it. Jay Thomas, Hungarian from South River married my mother’s first cousin Neally. In Sayreville and South River it’s tied in because years ago there was no such thing as… there were horse and wagons. You got to know each other through families. My Dad and Mother, both families were against the wedding. They got married in New York. My grandmother’s sister made the arrangements. Because that was all over religion. My mother was Catholic and my father was Presbyterian. The Boehms were all Presbyterian. Of course we were raised Catholic because of my mother. We were raised in the mother’s faith. You never know, especially in this town boy. Watch who you talk to. Urrr!
JS: Why did you get started in politics in the first place?
HB: I had the gas station business and the gang got me involved. I ran once for office, I lost by eight votes or something like that. My Dad wanted me not to get into it because he was in politics. And his father was in politics. I was the third generation being in public office in Sayreville. My Dad says, “Harold, you’d be better off staying where you are.” My Dad told me that. The gang got me into it, the gang hanging around the gas station: Stanley Swider, Richy Litz, Jacky Giera, Walter Markulic, I can’t remember all the names. Thing is I went into it because they asked me to. One of the fellows tried to get a job in the Borough and he was turned down. Tell you what happened. Dennis Grobelny had a brother by the name of Ronny. Ronny Grobelny, our club had him to go on the Middlesex County Park Police. I’ll tell you the hatred between us. That job was killed by Democrats in Sayreville. Eddie Fielek hated me so much he killed his job. Eddie and I could never see eye to eye. Eddie was too much of a schemer to get along with. Eddie was the guy, always, “I’m innocent, I’m innocent”. He was up to here! He’s lucky his head was out of it. But I knew him. You sit down with a man long enough, I don’t care who it is, you can judge a man by his character.
Leo Farley and I are first cousins; our mothers were sisters. His wife is Eddie Fielek’s niece. So I was put in a hell of a spot. We’re going for cops. I promised Mrs. Markulic when John Markulic died and Gene worked in the gas station for me. She said to me one night, “Harold, I want you to make a promise to me.” “Sure Stella anything in the world for you,” like that never realizing what she was going to say. “If you ever get into politics and you become a councilman, I want you to put Gene on the police force.” And I looked at her and said, “Stella if it ever happens he’s got the job.” Just like that.
We’re going to put cops on. It’s hard to believe what I’m going to tell you, but it’s God’s honest truth. After a meeting one night where we had been discussing it, out in the back yard behind the Borough Hall, Eddie Fielek comes over to me. He says, “Harold you’re going to put these cops on now, will you go for Leo Farley?” I looked at him and said, “I’m going for Markulic, I made a promise to his mother.” He says, “I’ll take care of Markulic, will you go for Leo.” Now Leo and I are first cousins. I said, “I want to know why.” He said, “I got to go for a Polish boy.” I looked at him. I said, “You mean to tell me because Leo Farley is Irish, you won’t go for him?” He walked away on me. Eddie Fielek, I’m telling you, was a vicious man. I could never get along with him and his word was never no damn good. He’d say yes to you now, tomorrow he‘d be no. His word was never secure. I told that to Leo. I said, “Leo, I want to tell you something in case you hear different,” and I told him exactly what I told you. Leo says, “Harold, you stand by your word.” And I did. After I get out of politics Leo went on the police force and so did Geney but I’ll lay you a hundred dollars to one that somebody’s hand got fed from Markulic to get Geney on.
I can look any man in the eye. I never took a dime for a job and I put a lot of people to work. County, State, George Grella I got in the State Police, George Rezinski, from Morgan I put him on the State Police, Bobby Rhatican State Police. Shorty Ostrowski, I put him in the ABC with Dick Steely. Shorty got in a jam stealing liquor. Shorty come to me to help him. I says, “I can’t help you.” How can I help a man who steals. His brother called me up on the phone and Tony lives down in Morgan, calls me all the SB’s in the world. How in the world can I do it Tony, your brother stole! They got witnesses. No matter what I do, it don’t mean nothing! I was called everything by Tony down in Morgan. But the guy who stole is OK! UHH! My brother? I’d need his neck off! What the hell is the matter with you, you damn fool, you had the job and you can’t take care of it.
CK: Was there a division between sections in town?
HB: No, no. Not that I know of. My main support when I ran was from the Morgan gang, Sayreville here, Proper. My problems were Lower Sayreville, Swanee’s gang, that was based particularly on nationality. You had a few sections here the same way. 50/50 President Park. But Morgan was my main strength when I ran.
JS: People supported people based on nationality?
HB: Without a doubt. George Otlowski was a Freeholder. He come to a dinner at St. Stan’s. In the audience was a bunch of my boys who are Polish. At the dinner, Eddie Fielek and I are running against each other, he says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, before I leave here when I get done with the speech, I want to make sure you all to understand one thing, the election is coming up, make sure you go out and vote for your own kind,’ George Otlowski. George Otlowski was going to go for Congress against Ed Patten. I had the gas station. I can’t think of her last name… very active in politics… come to the gas station and said to me, “Harold you can’t go for Patten in Congress because if you go against George Otlowski, we will knock you out of the Council.” Bogaczick! Mary Bogaczik! And I said, “I’m sorry, I’m going for Ed Patten.” I’ll tell you why. Dave Wilentz was very good to us giving jobs. The whole county garage down there was mostly all Sayreville boys. We had people all over getting jobs through Dave Wilentz. Dave Wilentz… made a call to me, “Harold, I need a favor.” I said, “What do you need Dave?” “I need an endorsement for Ed Patten in Sayreville.” Tony Popowski would not endorse Ed Patten because he wouldn’t go against a Polish boy. I said, “I can’t give you the endorsement but I’ll call a meeting and call you back.”
The executive board was Joe Rzigolinski, myself, Jacky Giera, Walter Markulic, Al Beede, and Charlie Muth. We sat down at the table. I said, “Well boys here it is, Dave has done us favors, now he wants one. He wants an endorsement.” And I told them what Mary Bogaczik told me. Don’t worry about me they’ve been good to us. I can’t stand in the way of anything like this. We decided to endorse Ed Patten and it paid off double in jobs. Believe me. Call up Dave, “It will be in the paper tomorrow. Men’s Democratic Club of Sayreville endorses Ed Patten.” Oh the threats I got! Oh, you can’t imagine! I was threatened for going against a Polish boy! Even from out of town! I’ve got uncles and aunts who are Polish. All right? I’m going to go against them? But that’s how it was. They never judge a person by their character, they judge them by their nationality and it still goes on today. It goes over the county, over the state. You go to one of the Hungarian, German, Irish, Polish organizations. The Knights of Columbus today, they go strictly for Catholics don’t they? Eh? It goes on today. They try to keep it quiet, but it still goes on.
JS: If you were divided in politics were you divided growing up?
HB: No! Never! I had black people have lunch with me more than once in my kitchen in my home in grammar school, Joe Gennies and the Rivers.
JS: Where did they live?
HB: They lived in Sayreville down in the big brick house down there. That was all black. Now it’s apartments, and it’s white, on Sanfield Road, MacArthur Avenue. Oh yeah! I’d bring them home and my mother served both of us. Oh, yeah! In our classes, we all had black in the classes because of Sayre & Fisher. That made no difference to me. No.
I’ll tell you a story. I was more or less in Supervision in the County Road Department. I was a Highway and Bridge Inspector. During a snow storm the foreman out there got sick out in Monroe and the Superintendent says, “Harold will you do me a favor, go out there , get off the road and run the area for me? So I go out to Monroe to run the area. I walk in and I say, “Look fellows, I don’t know the area as well as you fellows do. Who’s the senior man in the area?” One fellow puts up his hand. It’s a black man, the only black man in the group. “You’re acting foreman, take the truck, tell the men what to do. You need me, call me.” I went in the office. The white guys all resented me. I could see it. But I went according to seniority, they couldn’t get back at me.
JS: Do you think it was difficult being a black family in Sayreville?
HB: All depends on who the person is. I can’t judge you, who am I to judge her? I always say when a person is going to go and condemn somebody, God gave you two ears. You know what the old-timers used to say? “In one ear and out the other.” You want to carry it, you carry it. They go in one ear and they go out the other. You don’t say no to them, you don’t say yes. You just listen.
JS: Not you, but the other people in town?
HB: See, years, ago, I’m going to be frank with it. After World War I is when the Polish came in, before that it was the Irish and German. And you take the brick yards were here, so all the bosses were German and Irish. There may have been some resentment but that was before my time. How the hell do I know? I have Polish uncles, Italian cousins. I’ve got everything. I’ve got Lois Uszczak, my cousin, married an Armenian. What the hell are you going to do? Benny’s got a daughter married an Armenian. My home, my mother use to say one thing, “Try to marry your own kind.” That’s it. Never mentioned what religion. Nothing, just, “Marry your own kind.” You know what she meant by that? Religion. I know what she meant, religion, because there were family problems in my own family over religion. So she always said, “Make sure you marry your own kind.” But she meant religion, because I just told you it had big dimensions in my family. My Dad never said to any one of us who you should go with or who you can’t go with. I was the happiest guy in the world that my wife met my mother before she died. My mother was dying of cancer when I was going with my wife, and they got to know each other a little. Let me tell you something, if half the guys in this world were as lucky as I am, er, I was with the marriage I had, more power to them. I was a stinker, I admit it. My wife raised the family, I was in politics. Everybody said, “You raised a good family.” I say, “Not me, my wife.”
JS: Why did you do it? What did you hope to do for Sayreville?
HB: What I did. I was condemned by the Democratic Party. I voted against a whole water system in this town. I voted against the water tank in that town. Today, they are both out. That concrete water tank could never stop leaking. Remember that? You know why? It was was built with Japanese steel and the steel didn’t have the structural strength. It was a deal made under the table. Go and check the record. Check the record on the water plant. How in the world could you have a sewer engineer build a water plant? If you are going to build a water plant, you hire a water engineer, don’t you? We hired a sewer engineer because he was the best friend of the Mayor. All that had to be replaced. Who paid for it? The taxpayers. I am not ashamed to face anyone, any argument at all.
JS: How was the town changing when more houses were being built?
HB: I never begrudge anybody a home, provided it’s above board. I never dealt with a contractor, a developer. Never dealt with them, don’t even know them. If I thought it was all right on paper, planned and submitted, I’d go for it. I never had a private meeting with any one of them.
CK: Did it seem to get more crowded in town after World War II?
HB: See, after World War II this development down here came in and a lot of GIs were building their own like I was. We weren’t watching. The Borough had the chance to pick up all of Laurel Park if they wanted to off Such but they didn’t. Just like the Borough had a chance to pick up the YMCA and have a swimming pool for our kids, they didn’t. What they got there now is a problem. They could move that church somewhere else but you try to get down there you can’t even get down Washington Road. The First Aid can’t even get out. It’s a disgrace.
JS: What would the Borough have done with Laurel Park if they bought it?
HB: Make a park. See what DuPont just did? You know all that land behind Laurel Park to Ernston Road right on through, to make sure there are changes. DuPont gave all that to the Borough of Sayreville, under Green Acres, but remember they don’t pay taxes anymore. So, you are picking up the tax tab. You can say it’s a good deal, yeah, but who’s paying for it.
Most important things in building any project, remember this, is water, sewer and roads, because they’re the things that cost the property owners in case they’re bad. This laying down tar and stone, that’s no road. That just keeps down the dust. A good road, you want at least 4 inches of heavy stone, 2 inches of smaller stone, then you put a cap on of asphalt. Then you put a finish surface on top of it, that’s 6 inches.
CK: When did that become the norm?
HB: You know what they say? It’s only going to be a light traffic street. Since when are our garbage trucks light traffic? Our big trucks in the Borough? That’s heavy trucks and they are on there every day. It’s like anything else, when you build a home. My father told us, all of us children, used to say, “Always make sure you wear good shoes.” You know why?
HB: What’s your foundation? Your feet. As long as your foundation is strong, the building is strong. If you’ve got good shoes, your feet are in good shape, you are in good shape because you can move. Once you can’t move you are in rough shape. I’ll never forget that, never cheat on shoes.
JS: Why did it stop [construction] for ten years?
HB: Because the contractor could not make no money building that road. The year I left the Council, Eddie Fielek beat me in the Primary, I was going out of office in November - end of December. I got a call from Dave Wilentz. Now, Dave done me a lot of favors. He says, “I hear you are leaving office. I’ve got some people putting pressure on me. Do you think you can do something on the Road Ordinance?” I said, “Dave I can’t touch it.” He says, “Try it.” I said, “I’ll try it for you.” Brought it up at Council meeting, it was turned down. Once I got out of office, Eddy Fielek brought it up and it passed. Boom. Check the records in Borough Hall. Check the records.
JS: Why was there a push to stop construction?
HB: Schools! The taxpayers! Don’t forget that each child that comes into this town, the taxpayers are picking up the tab. And you are hiring school teachers and they are not cheap. You can keep up if you want to keep raising taxes. Your first obligation is to the people who are here, not the people who are not here. To the people who are here. And you tell that to a contractor. I was called a lot of things in my life. I say prove it! I know what I did! My Dad told me and I’ll never forget this… I was sworn into the Council, the first time, my father was alive. After the Council meeting, he says, “Hey, you see that chair you were sitting in, you don’t own it. That belongs to the people, not you.” Another thing he said, “I served on the council for many years, I left my father with a clean name and I expect the same from you.” …Thank God I had the parents I had.
The Sayreville Oral History Project
Narrator: Martha Hartle
Interviewer: Jason J. Slesinski
Date: January 14, 2010
Location: Library of the Sayreville Senior Center, Main Street, Sayreville, NJ
Martha Hartle: Well, they do apparently have a great deal of information on the internet now.
Jason Slesinski: About Sayreville?
MH: Yes, for Sayreville, the background of people, for background of people, I was amazed, I don t have a computer, but I had questioned something, and somebody who’s doing a lot of things for their family said, “Oh Martha, I’ll just look some things up for you.” And we found out that my grandfather, on my father’s side, was involved in starting Sayreville, the borough.
JS: Oh really, what was his name?
MH: McKeon, M-C-K-E-O-N, Patrick.
MH: But, long story short. Somewhere along the line something happened and nobody’s been able to find out what it was, he seems to have disappeared, and whatever it did - caused the mother to go into a mental institution. And the children, my grandfather for one was put in an orphanage; and then some of the relatives got their acts together they took them out of the orphanage. A couple of them went to relatives, O’Neals in South Amboy, and the other two, my father and his older brother, were here with what they called Uncle Ed Nugent, and they were what used to be called a poor farm years ago.
JS: What is a poor farm?
MH: Well actually what it was, I think it was more or less like people who could not - hadn’t any place to go. But, actually it was a farm really. And that was right here in one of these fields a little bit. My dad would talk about that. But, even I had a cousin that we couldn’t find out what happened to the father, no one seemed to know, one of the scandals that didn’t get written down any place, I guess.
JS: So, where was this poor farm?
MH: Um, well, just down… all right… from your traffic signal you’re going right here on Washington Road, from the traffic signal your going down, the older houses were there. But then from that, that whole area now that‘s all houses and whatever was all farm land and there was a house, a big old house up there at that time. You got the Nugents in town that were related, the McKeons who were not related to the McKeons in South Amboy, the McKeons in South Amboy, no not, they’re a different group, we’re related to the O’Neals in South Amboy, the O’Neals, the ones that I was aware of, they were school teachers in South Amboy.
JS: So, your grandparents came to this part of Sayreville and worked on the poor farm.
MH: They were dormed what we call, let’s put it this way, down here where you got the shopping center now, that whole area,
JS: Which one?
MH: All right, let me get you oriented, we’re going down Washington Rd. We have a little street before you would turn as if you were going back towards Shop Rite or whatever, by the police station, way back this way before that, it’s like a road they used to have, back in there that whole area is one of the areas where my father had lived, my grandfather had lived before, it’s where he grew up, where he was born in that area. But it’s hard unless you see a map of what Sayreville was like before we had all these developments.
JS: Was it before Parlin if your coming from here, before DuPont?
MH: I’m talking, we’re over on this part, we’re in Lower Sayreville.
MH: We’re in Lower Sayreville, not in Parlin…
MH: Parlin was where I grew up. I grew up on Pulaski Avenue.
JS: Oh, OK.
MH: Born on Hillside Avenue, but grew up on Pulaski Ave.
JS: And, what year were you born.
MH: 1918, a long time ago, I have a 92nd birthday coming up next month.
MH: And I’m very healthy.
JS: That’s very exciting.
MH: Yes. I am healthy and that’s the important part. So you keep training, keep doing strength training and some therapy so that when I put my foot down it stays there and I don’t go down. I’ve rambled enough, what would you like to know?
JS: Well, you say your grandparents came here to this part of Lower Sayreville, and where did they come from?
MH: I don’t know, my grandfather on my mother’s side um, they’re German, they’re from Germany, Becker, B-E-C-K-E-R, all right, um, and they at one time owned all the property on what now is Elizabeth Street. It was Becker at that time, and so all up and down the street, that is where I live now, it was property that kept being my grandfather’s and was given to my mother and then we bought part of the property and one of my brothers bought the other part and we built then on Pulaski Avenue on Elizabeth St. Because they called it Elizabeth Street, it was Becker.
JS: And it was a farm there on that the Becker family operated?
MH: Um, no, lots of times the older people didn’t talk too much about what went on, my understanding is… mother said it was a gravel bank and sometimes in the last time they were taking gravel out she would be allowed to ride into South Amboy with the horses, so, yes, we’re gravel.
JS: So they would sell gravel to businesses?
MH: I don’t know whom, but it was a gravel bank at that time, I never remember it being a gravel bank. By the time I can remember, we had, my great-grandmother lived right on Deerfield Road, the house is right down on Deerfield Road, and my grandfather and grandmother lived above it on the next one, and I had an uncle, two uncles who lived in the next two houses, and then we had free land for a while and then, I said, later on, now as I said, I bought, we bought some of the property that belonged to my mother and my brother bought the other property, we split the whole section in half, so I bought, we have half and he had half; then he sold his half but unfortunately they moved to Pennsylvania. I’m still there.
JS: So, you were born on Hillside?
MH: I was born on Hillside, yes, They tell a story that it’s not as far as Sayreville goes but they said I was born on what we called Ash Wednesday in the Catholic Religion it would be Ash Wednesday. I was born at home, of course, and Mrs. Switzer, and there are Switzers on Pulaski Avenue too. It would be their Grandparents, was with my mother, and she had already been and had got her ashes. And the doctor came in and said to her “Mrs. Switzer you have been too close to the stove, you have ashes on your forehead,” she said “No, it was because it was Ash Wednesday.” See why I’m so healthy, I was born on Ash Wednesday. And, since you’re green [shirt], my daughter was born on St. Patrick’s Day, but, so as I said, we lived there until my parents built on Pulaski Avenue.
JS: How old were you when they built on Pulaski Avenue?
MH: I was about maybe two years old at that time, my brother was a year and a half.
JS: What did Pulaski look like then?
MH: Well, I was, we were 13 Pulaski Avenue, and my parent bought the property alongside them and that was never built and there was just a little bit more property, some of the older houses that are there that have been modernized were there across the street, and they too were like relatives and seemed to have bought together but they, um, but you had a lot of open land, it was open from like Charlotte Street down and you know you had the cemetery, the other side was all open. If I wanted to come to my grandmother on Elizabeth Street, I walked through the woods that whole area from my house on 13, across was all the cemetery, part of the cemetery was still there but it wasn’t as wide as it is now. It was all you had, a path through the woods, no big deal, back and forth, go stay at grandma’s house. Staying in grandma’s house, my grandmother had a featherbed, at home we didn’t have a featherbed, and it was so nice in the winter time to stay with her, because of course there was no heat upstairs.
JS: So your grandmother had a featherbed, what did you have at home?
MH: Probably, just regular quilts. I don’t remember anything special at that time. In the old stoves no heat in the house, you know, you had the kitchen stove which was coal. We had one in the room that was supposed to be the dining room, but really became more the living room, the living room was too cold so the dining room was the room where everybody congregated, if you weren’t in the kitchen, and that was one of those old fashioned pot belly stoves, a pot belly stove had to be that was so nice when the heat, we finally got heat in the house, many, many years later.
JS: I can imagine!
MH: Well, that was the time you didn’t have pavement, you had gravel streets, you had outhouses you know, all those kinds of nonsense things.
JS: When did you first get indoor plumbing?
MH: Oh, heavens well, gee, I can’t remember to tell you the honest truth, it probably wasn’t too long, when they built the house, it’s funny because when the house was built, the room was supposed to be the bathroom, and the furnishing went in there for a complete bathroom but they weren’t connected, it was a while before they were connected.
JS: Now, the roads were gravel.
MH: Oh yes.
JS: When did you get your first car?
MH: Our house didn’t have a car. My grandfather had a car, so he would take us on trips, a real long trip on a Sunday. We went to church and came home, and then my grandfather and grandmother would come along and pick up the kids and my mother, my mother, not my father, up. A big trip was Lake Hopatcong on a picnic. You know nowadays you talk about, make sure everything has ice, and I can remember my mother putting potato salad in a quart jar, and just put it in the car, and we survived.
JS: How long did it take to get to Lake Hopatcong?
MH: Well, it probably took us a couple of hours, I’m sure.
JS: What was that ride like?
MH: Well, it was, he had an Oakland, is that what you would have called it? I think it was an Oakland, a Pontiac, you just took a chair and put it in there so there was room for all of us, you sat sideways, you didn’t have to worry about any of the seat cushions or seat belts or anything like that, at that time, of course your weren’t riding that fast either. My grandfather would drive, my grandmother would sit in the back, she never would sit in the front.
JS: Was she scared?
MH: I don’t know, even if just the two of them went, she always sat in the back. Grandma would not sit in the front, she never drove, my mother didn’t, my father didn’t want my mother driving so of course, there was no car; until I went to work and bought a car. And that was 1940, no, we didn’t - there was nothing, you went out and took the bus, you walked out to the corner and took the bus, and of course, at that time you had bus transportation every half hour.
JS: Where did you catch the bus?
MH: Ah, Washington Road and Pulaski Avenue, it was Elizabeth Street at that time it wasn’t Pulaski Avenue. No wait a minute.
JS: Kathryn Street.
MH: All right, I’ve forgotten what it was, all right, senior moment.
JS: Was Pulaski Kathryn Street?
MH: OK, that was it, you remember for me. That was! You used the public transportation.
JS: Where did the buses go?
MH: South Amboy, South River, New Brunswick. If you wanted to go to Perth Amboy, of course, you had to change buses in South Amboy, you would go to South Amboy, then the other line the Marathon Line would pick you up if you wanted to go to Perth Amboy.
JS: What did you use the buses for, entertainment, or shopping?
MH: Um, Well, primarily I think, my mother would go grocery shopping on them, and then we would meet her and would help her when she got off the bus and help with the packages. You had local stores you’d use too, for clothing shopping you would use it. Actually, entertainment per say, at that time, there was a movie theater on Main Street. You didn’t have to worry too much.
JS: Here in Sayreville?
JS: Did you go there often?
MH: No, we couldn’t afford that, we were lucky when the ice truck came down the street, in the summer time they had the frozen ices. Two sips you got in the paper cups with ice in them. Frozen ice, no, five cents was a lot of money way back when. I think when I started to work I got paid like thirty-five cents an hour at DuPont.
JS: What did you do at DuPont?
MH: I started out working in what they had at that time was household cement, making sure they had all the um, that there weren’t any leaks in the tubes and they put the tops on correctly, that’s all, and then I did transfer to the Photo Products later on.
JS: Did you enjoy working at DuPont?
MH: Well, let me put it this way, it was… it was money, it was not what I personally wanted to do. But we couldn’t afford college, I did have parochial high school, because the church paid for that, and I graduated at the top of the class, but there was no money, you know.
JS: What school was that?
MH: It’s St. Mary’s in South Amboy. My grammar school education, the kitchen downstairs was first grade, I started here in this building [Sayreville Senior Center].
JS: In Washington School?
MH: Yes, then the other one in this particular town was Roosevelt which was over at Washington, the Hercules area, so it was there. I had one or two years there and of course, we were transferred back. In those days you were transferred from here to there. We were transferred back here to Washington. I was here. Even at that time parents could be unhappy about schooling. I understand we were like going to be in the fifth grade, supposed to be in Parlin, in the Roosevelt School, and a couple of the parents on the street,
with my mother, my father wouldn’t do this but my mother would, decided that they weren‘t going to allow their children to walk on Washington Road. It was too busy a street; they wanted us to be able to come back to Washington, to go down here to Washington School because they could walk. It was safer; they got their way. For that time, anyway, after that I was in Roosevelt School in a different time, but that particular time they got their way.
JS: How busy was Washington Road?
MH: How can you compare it, it would be very difficult. You wouldn’t have three cars in every driveway, you would be lucky if you had one car in any driveway.
JS: Now, when you were in St. Mary’s, how did you get there every day?
MH: The local bus. And public service at that time you could buy a book of tickets, it was a little cheaper, I don’t remember exactly what it was but you did have a book of tickets and you were only supposed to use it for school.
JS: I guess you used it for other things too?
MH: Of course you did, if you wanted to go to New Brunswick or Perth Amboy of course, you did use them during school hours, but no, there was, at that time that was something that was a little bit cheaper, now I guess we call them grants, but at that time you did, that’s what it was.
JS: When you were in school, what is it you wanted to be, wanted to do?
MH: Well, probably would have been teaching, that’s the, at that age you either went into business… in St. Mary’s all you had, you either had the college courses or the business courses, and of course they had put me in the college courses, when I got out forget it I had no business training, but uh, that was it, and I was not a sports person. More the studious type where you’d come into the class, be in the hallway and some of the boys, the jocks would say, “Can I copy your notes? Can you do my homework for me, or can I see your notes?” Alright, it went on then as well as it goes on now.
JS: Did you read a lot at home as a child?
MH: I can remember, I did read a lot yes, there was always a book in my hand all the time. I can remember the first book I had, it was given to me, that was wrapped up, as a gift.
JS: What book was that?
MH: I wish I remembered. But I don’t. It was the idea that someone really took the time to wrap something up. We didn’t have that, my mother and dad were raising five of us, my mother had eight normal births but three of the babies died in between, in a matter of weeks. But, try and raise five, we didn’t have a lot. My father worked in DuPont as a mechanic… a machinist, excuse me, not mechanic. Setting the knives that would cut the film and then you lived in the dark when you watched the film to be sure there weren’t any defects on it, some of the things you did when you were in photo products. You went around and took samples of the different rolls to see if they were coming out as they should , but that was not necessarily Sayreville per say, I was doing with DuPont, but you know, we don’t have those industries any more. We don’t have DuPont, we don’t have Hercules anymore. We really were a blue collar town as you probably know from your grandparents too, and great-grandparents. We aren’t any more. But it was a quieter life, you wanted to go some place you walked. Healthier, maybe.
JS: So, do you think the industries did a lot of good for the town?
MH: Yes I think so, thinking back I think so, at that time it was a reasonable wage, you had decent health insurance yes, I would say so, and of course with the tax, they definitely were a help as far as taxes in town no question about that. I don’t remember any scandals, the people who were supervisor, superintendents, or whatever, had nicer houses. And did live closer to the plants so you know you had the Hercules Village, where most of the people in that village at that time, were foreman or supervisors so that, as you would know is the idea that they could get to the plant quickly no question about that, it was an advantage to the company. And it was the same thing with DuPont. DuPont had some really big houses, you see some of them still on Washington Road that are up for sale again, they were big houses. And they did all up and off Deerfield Road. Whatever, the houses the foreman and supervisors they were built for them what we call the red village, all right and that too, no evidence of that at all. You have, you go from where the temple is and from there on that was all the village.
JS: Why was that torn down, do you know?
MH: The houses were sold, they were, the company was cutting back and they weren’t providing housing for their supervisors, at that time, and if you were an employee of the company you could buy one of the houses and move it, so some of the houses that are on Maple Street, off you got Deerfield Road, then you got Maple Street up in there, they are all houses that were moved from what was the red village, my brother, one of my brothers had a house there.
JS: I grew up in that neighborhood, on Greenhill Avenue.
JS: So the green village wasn’t there, that was the green village at the time.
MH: Red village, red village.
JS: So those were the houses that were moved from…
MH: From there and they were up on Maple Street up where I am, and if you wanted to buy them you could buy them cheaply and move them.
JS: What about houses here that weren’t affiliated with industry? Did people just build their own houses?
MH: Yes, when my parents got enough money, put money aside to buy the property and a few years later they were able to build a house on that piece of property, and a few years later they bought the piece of property along side of them. There were all the houses across the street from us were individually. They were all similar so maybe there was one builder. I can’t remember, I don’t remember that. But, most all on Pulaski Avenue there all individual houses, this lower end any way, they were all individual houses. People when they got the money they built them. Sayre and Fisher had brought people in, had brought in the terminology right now is, Afro-Americans from the South to work in their brick yards. When they shut down the brick yards they moved them out. And some of those people had lived over in the area of St. Stan’s Church over in that area and like those houses that are together one after the other, some of those people did move into South River I think too, but a lot of them just moved back south.
JS: When was that when that happened?
MH: Well, when I was in grammar school they were still here, probably when I was in high school in the early 30's.
JS: Sayre and Fisher was becoming a smaller operation by then. Who was working in the brick yards before that?
JS: From where?
MH: Probably Polish more so than anything else, I think, I don’t remember. I don’t think the Germans came in as workers in Sayre and Fisher. I think they were more the Polish immigrants. At least the actual people that worked you would have truck drivers would be different also. But, no, they, and then, as I said, as they do now one family helps another family as they do now, and the first thing you know, you got the whole; everybody here; there is a job for you, you know, I don’t think we were quite as stringent in bringing immigrants in as we are now.
JS: So Sayreville was very welcoming to Polish populations.
MH: I would not call them wealthy South River was wealthy. South River was wealthy Sayreville wasn’t.
JS: But the immigrants were welcomed in?
MH: Oh, welcomed. Yes. Oh yes.
JS: I guess they needed a lot of people.
MH: Well yes, they build their own church, St. Stan’s. St. Stan’s has been in existence primarily as long as Our Lady of Victories, Our Lady of Victories is what 120 some years. Then you had your German Church, you have your Presbyterian Church over across the street. But they were primarily all at that time, going back in my time, at that time. But, I don’t remember any kind of feeling of difference, you know, families lived differently within their homes. They had different foods, but as far as being in school, you know, you were you, and you had all these names, and that was it. I don’t remember any kind of bias shall I say, not in the school system. Now whether it was at work I don’t know. Everybody seemed to get along.
JS: Why do you think that was?
MH: I guess everybody was in the same boat, let’s put it that way. No one had very much at that point in time, there might have been a few people, but they would have been a very small minority.
JS: Who were wealthy…
MH: Put it that way. Probably they bussed them to places like Rutgers Prep that I’m not aware of growing up, I wasn’t aware of that, but uh, we were all kind of in the same boat.
JS: Was there a sense of community, as a Sayreville community or was it more of, say a DuPont community, a Hercules community, or a Sayre Fisher community, or even an OLV community and a St. Stan’s community?
MH: Well, I think you had the labels of the different areas, I don’t know that it affected you as an individual. It was just that’s where you lived, you know, in fact if you were to talk about where I lived, everybody across the street later on, well, I’ll take that back, some were Polish and some were German, we were happy with all of them. No question about that. Did I talk long enough for you?
JS: You’re doing a wonderful job. You say that your street was Polish and German predominantly?
MH: Primarily, yes.
JS: What happened when WWII broke out? When Germany invaded Poland?
MH: I’m was not aware of any conflict, now whether there was a conflict under the surface I don’t know. No, we still, so many of us at that time were not German! German! German! Put it that way. We had a couple of generations that were born in the US and they were American. I don’t have any recollection of any kind of problems with the difference.
JS: Did everybody think of themselves as Americans first?
MH: I think so.
JS: What about people who were born in Poland and say came to Sayreville?
MH: I don’t, um, if there was discussions, I was not aware of it, let’s put it that way, in my German grandparents they would have people come to visit them and they would talk in German, my mother could understand it she said, but she never spoke it, so I don t know in that respect.
JS: Were there a lot of languages spoken in town in public?
MH: I think in public people tried to speak English. I think within the homes sometimes because in many instances you had more than one generation in the house, you would find different. I have one of my neighbors, who is really twenty years younger than I am, who had to grow up in her grandparents’ house for reasons her mother had to move back. The grandparents there who were really responsible for her along with her mother never spoke English, so she knows a lot of Polish because she was exposed to it all the time; it wasn’t necessarily what she wanted but that was it. They insisted that she and her uncles with whom she was living also, would speak English, but to one another, she said, it was always Polish.
JS: Now you already graduated high school by the time WWII broke out. Do you remember hearing on the news that America was attacked?
MH: Not that on, WWII unfortunately, No not really. Um, thinking back, no, no.
JS: Do you remember WWII changing life in Sayreville?
MH: Well, I think you were more aware of it, very aware of it, as I said WWI I don’t think affected me.
JS: You don’t remember…
MH: No. But, WWII… well, I had three brothers who were in the service, and I had a husband who volunteered to go in the service because he felt it was his duty, we had no children. But uh, so, we were well aware of WWII because they were in all different areas. I had them in the Navy, I had them in the Army, my brother in the Army was in Africa, and came across Italy and they came up that way, my brother was in the Navy was on the west down there in the South Seas, down in that nonsense. Um, my husband at that time, they did not have the Air Force per say, it was the eighth Army, it was the eighth Air Force so of course he was England, helping to keep all those planes going. But um, my younger brother that went in with the CB’s and then he was down in the Philippines helping to clean it up afterwards so. So you know, personally, very much involved in that respect.
JS: You had family on every corner of the earth.
MH: Yes. They were. Into the Islands they didn’t get into Japan or China, Korea you know up in that area, but, into the islands, yes. Very definitely. Yes. And I said, when my husband was, he never told us, but he went down in Belgium but never talk about it, somehow or other they got him out, he would just say in one of those little sheets of paper that was so thin you could hardly touch him he had a broken ankle he didn’t said why. But uh, he was, it was one of the things he was proud of, he flew the fighter plane that Jimmy Stuart was piloting. Because he had… he was with the, he was one of the ones that told them whether or not all their equipment was working correctly, and he said you would have to go up with them, have to go up on the plane with them, and many of the pilots were reluctant to turn over the equipment to him, and he said Jimmy Stuart just looked at him and said “Tell me when you’re done.” And we do have in our archives, the things that we have, we have a letter from Stuart saying that my husband flew with him at one time or other so. But, so that was WWII.
JS: Do you remember the victory parade down Main Street?
MH: Ah, a parade, yes all the different parades, everybody all dressed up, Yes, I think something, I have a picture some place at home of sitting on the front porch because at that time we lived in what is now the Post Office, where the post office is, where it was Allgair’s, we were still living there in the apartment in Allgair’s, and of course it was the open front porch so we’d sit on the open front porch. There is a picture of me on the open front porch with a few other people, but interesting all the way around.
JS: Soon after WWII ended a lot of people started moving into Sayreville from out of town.
MH: I don’t know just how soon.
JS: Within a few years new housing developments.
MH: Oh yes, Kaplan.
JS: What’s Kaplan?
MH: Kaplan was the person who owned a great deal of the property here and still does. K-a-p-l-a-n. Kaplan.
JS: And sold it to developers? Or developed it themselves?
MH: Did a lot of developing themselves.
JS: Was there a reaction among the locals to new people coming in?
MH: I really don’t think so because at that time there was a lot of empty land. Now there’s a problem, definitely, because there’s not that much open land for anybody, but a great deal of what we have now came after WWII.
JS: So it was a good thing in a way to use up land that wasn’t being used.
MH: It was, where uh, what I would call Laurel Park, those people came from Staten Island and worked for Proctor and Gamble in Staten Island and it was cheaper, the houses were going up here and it was cheaper to live here and commute. So a lot of Laurel Park came because they were moving out of Staten Island for one.
JS: Did a lot of local people move into housing development such as Laurel Park?
MH: No. No.
JS: Why not?
MH: I guess they probably didn’t feel the need.
JS: I mean if families were growing.
MH: No, anything that I remember of Laurel Park, and I was deeply involved with girl scouting over the years, and so I know a great deal of what went on, and almost everybody in Laurel Park came from someplace else to Laurel Park.
JS: How did it change your life, having so many new people in town?
MH: Traffic, traffic definitely. You know the older I get more traffic pattern. I will say, though, if I had not been appointed to the human relations commission, I would not have been aware of how the town has changed. Because on my human relations commission, we have Indians, we have Jamaicans, we have Jewish, all those years um, now we have Puerto Rico, we have Jamaica we have Mrs. Poor who is Reverend Poor’s widow at the time was Jewish. Irish we had Pat Sullivan very Irish. I guess I’m a mix. I’m a mix of German and Irish. We had Ed Samuel who was Polish. That’s it. It was, to me, it was such an awakening of a cross section of town. I really was not and my own circle is more or less here. My family is scattered so my interaction is primarily with seniors in more or less the same kind of a category as I was in so in fact I’m happy to see such a cross section and I’m sure I’m not involved in the school system, and I did sit on committees when they wanted to enlarge the high school and that’s fun to say, but my daughter was out of here, my daughter’s 62 now, so she’s out of here before we had a great influx of different cultures, I don’t think she had that many when she was in school as we have now.
JS: How is the current influx of different cultures different from say when you were younger, the Polish and Irish and German people mixing?
MH: My interchanges right now are primarily just through my seniors who are primarily Sayreville my age or 70 up who are people who are primarily most of them have been here a while. We do have in the building, we have other people, but my own interchange is primarily with people the same kind of people who are not, I don’t want to say the word, it’s not like, the same type of people, with whom I fall.
JS: Same background
MH: Same background, might be the better word to use.
MH: Very definitely.
MH: I think I’ve given you more than… I’ve chatted and chatted and chatted.
JS: You’ve done a great job…
MH: We still have some time.
JS: I guess, Do you still have some stories about Sayreville that you think are worth sharing?
MH: I can remember, and I don’t know how it came about, I can remember when I was a child getting on a train or trolley or whatever that went through here, however we did it, I don’t know, whether we went to South Amboy and then got on the train, but we went to Asbury Park, and there’s pictures in my mother’s album, of us under the boardwalk at Asbury Park. And I’m thinking, how did we do that then?
JS: So you don’t know how you got there?
MH: Off the top of my head I have to say no, I can guess kind of something but I don’t really remember sitting on anything before I got to Asbury Park. But you know that was a big deal to go to Asbury Park.
JS: How often did you go down the shore?
MH: We didn’t have a car.
JS: Yes, so I guess that was the time you went down, aside from the Sunday drives to places with your grandfather.
MH: With my grandfather, yes, once in a while. But, my father was a home person, and he wasn’t happy if his family wasn’t home, he had a good relationship with my grandfather and grandmother on my mother’s side, but still perhaps because the way he grew up, because he wasn’t very sure of who he was, I think he liked having his family closer to him. What we did with my father though is we took long walks on Sunday mornings after church.
JS: Where did you walk?
MH: Well, at that time everything was open, and we would walk as if we were walking down to Hercules, follow the railroad track all the way around to the other end of town, to Lower Sayreville, and he would show us where he lived when he was a little boy, then we would walk around back again and by the time we got back up to our house dinner would be ready.
JS: Was it more open fields or woods?
MH: Oh yes, primarily that area was fields.
JS: Were there still operating clay pits near Lower Sayreville?
MH: Yes, as I said, we followed the railroad tracks it was, and we did it with dad, dad would do it with us, he didn’t do too much else, he was there you know, he was there. You knew you had your father.
JS: So you were around eleven years old when the Great Depression sort of began?
JS: Do you remember the difference between life before the Depression and after?
MH: Well, as my mother used to say every time my father worked overtime, one of the kids would get sick so the two dollars he made overtime would go to the doctor. So in that respect they didn’t get ahead is really what you’re saying. We never starved. My father worked at DuPont, so there was a steady income. You were limited. You didn’t have a lot of fresh vegetables, because we didn’t have a garden; some of the Polish families across the street had gardens, we had grape vines. We had grapes and you could have wine, and there were times when we bottled root beer, you know the old fashioned, and sometimes they popped too and you had root beer all over the basement. But as I said, we never lacked for food, but your Christmas stocking… we’d get a couple nuts and an apple maybe, and you didn’t get all the things you’re getting these days. As I said, there wasn’t… In the summer, because the vegetable trucks would come around, we would have fresher vegetables, at that time.
JS: If you weren’t growing them yourself?
JS: What’s a vegetable truck?
MH: You had trucks that came around with vegetables as you had trucks that came around with your goodies, you know ice cream in the summer time, or those kinds of things, or you had Mr. Jensen or somebody before Mr. Jensen came around, the fish monger, you’d get your fish. Definitely through Lent they came all the time, you always had to have fish for Friday.
JS: And they went to all the houses? All the streets?
MH: Up and down the street. And if you wanted something you’d come out. Yes. Yes.
JS: That’s really nice.
MH: Just like the ice cream people now, the ice cream truck coming now, he’d ring a bell. At that time you just knew, here comes the fish man, you’d get your money and go out, now I want, this is what I want, as I said, because the other things you know for us, I said my mother generally did her shopping, we’d go to South River. I don’t know what store now she went to. I know in Sayreville we used to go to the A&P which was down near the borough hall. She would go and she’d come back with a couple of bags and we’d have to meet her to help carry her bags home. My assumption at that time was like sugar and flour and canned goods. A big holiday meal for me would have been a pot roast of beef with potatoes cut up and put in with it and carrots in with it or the dried lima beans. It was a long time when I ever tasted fresh lima beans. ‘Cause that’s what you had.
JS: Did anybody have animals in your neighborhood?
MH: My father had a hunting dog, we had beagles, but they were outside dogs, my house did not have a pet. I think some of the other people may have had but not ours, you didn’t touch those dogs, they were hunting dogs.
JS: And they would go hunting?
MH: My father would go hunting, rabbit hunting only.
JS: In Sayreville?
MH: Yes. They went out. He would put on his clothes and walk out with his gun and come back and go down the basement and my mother would have to help him skin the rabbits.
JS: I couldn’t imagine doing that today in Sayreville.
MH: I never ate it. I didn’t like it. I guess part of the reason is because I realized what they were doing and the odor of, I don’t know.
JS: I like rabbit.
MH: No, no, no, I’m not that kind of courageous person, let’s put it that way, to try the different kind of things not even now when you find it on a special menu.
JS: I guess I’ll ask one more question since we have ten more minutes. What do you think is the biggest most profound change in Sayreville that you’ve seen in your lifetime? What is the thing that has changed the most?
MH: Well, people are people, that particular thing has not changed. You know, you have different people and um, I guess primarily is the fact of how it has grown from being a very small, tiny community to this overflowing community, for the lack of a better word. The uh, we don’t have, I told you we could take hikes, now if you want to hike I guess you have to go to Kennedy Park and keep walking round and round and round. You don’t have any, I guess perhaps that would be one of the great changes the lack of the open space for one thing and it wasn’t thought at that time, like after WWII, property is there, they are building the houses, fine. We don’t have, also what I think is a great change is not just Sayreville, I think a great change is the lack of feeling secure. I would never, I would not allow a grandchild of mine to walk on Washington Road to the school, now. My daughter did it, I had no qualms, I put her out the door and let her go. I wouldn’t do it now. We came from the age of not knowing what a backdoor key was, because the back door was never locked, maybe the front one was locked once in a while, because everybody came in and out the back door, you never came in the front door unless you were company. You know now no matter where you live you keep your doors locked, you keep your windows locked, even thought you feel you know your neighborhood. It’s become not necessarily because it’s crowded, it’s because the access to everything in the community is so much easier.
JS: Is it because Sayreville felt isolated at one time?
MH: I would say, I don’t know that we felt isolated, because you had the transportation, you could go and you had the trains out of South Amboy, you could go here or wherever. I think it was considered more a small community and I don’t think we have that feeling now, even with the numbers of the seniors at the present time are outrageous. Well, I’m glad we have seniors because it means we are living longer. But it’s uh, I guess it’s kind of not being able to look out and see, not a forest, but to be able to look out and not see houses on top of houses on top of houses. Fortunately on our street there is a little space between houses. But, in many instances there aren’t, you know, and I think, it’s changed the whole complexion of the whole community in that respect. Not that you want to go backwards, you can’t go backwards. That’s one thing, you cannot go back. You may not like what happened in the past but try to profit from it and move forward, that what we have to do.
JS: Well, thank you.
MH: I hope you can use some parts of it.
JS: Yes, it was very enlightening.
MH: It gives you a chance of knowing something more.
Funding in part has been provided by
the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission,
Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders,
and the New Jersey Historical Commission/Department of State.
Transcriptions by: The Sayreville War Memorial High School National History Honor Society, and Sayreville Historical Society members Olivia Blaszka, Arlene Hahn, Amy Pachula, Carol Kadi, and Jason Slesinski.
The Sayreville Oral History Project
Narrator: Wanda Slesinski Maydish
Interviewer: Jason J. Slesinski
Also present: Carol Kadi
Date: January 21, 2010
Location: Home of Wanda Maydish, Main Street, Lower Sayreville, NJ
Jason Slesinski: We’ll start with your name?
Wanda Maydish: Wanda Slesinski Maydish.
JS: And you were born in Sayreville?
WM: Sayreville, all my life, native.
JS: Where in Sayreville were you born?
WM: It was a little street off of Pulaski Avenue which of course at that time was Kathryn Street. They used to call it Farley’s Lane and yet on my birth certificate, it says Elk Avenue. And there were only a row of houses, about five houses on that street there and that’s where I was born. Now they’re all gone, you know where Swanee’s had – you know, in that little, before you got to Swanee’s – over there. It was over there. Now they got those big monster homes that they built over there instead. They knocked all those down and I was so sorry I never took a picture of those homes when I lived there. Isn’t that crazy, you never think of doing something like that.
JS: When were they knocked down?
WM: Quite a few years ago. Don’t you think those new homes over there behind Farley’s there? You know? Quite a while now that they’ve been knocked down, maybe about five years now, maybe more. And I was so sorry, I used to take my granddaughter on a walk and we’d stop by the thing and never think of taking a camera or something or taking a picture. I showed her where I was born. And yet dopey, I never did think of taking a picture of that house. I don’t know if anybody has it.
JS: When did your parents move into that house?
WM: In that Elk Road, Elk Street or whatever? Well, I was born in 1924, so they must have moved in, because I think my brother Frank was born on Pulaski Avenue there someplace and my brother Walter. So it must have been just before I was born, they must have moved there. That’s where me and my brother Eddie were born.
JS: Where did they live before that?
WM: On Pulaski Avenue someplace, I don’t exactly know where. I guess a couple of different places. And then after that they moved down onto Boehmhurst Ave. My mother hated that house. How she hated that house! She couldn’t wait to get out of there. I don’t know why she didn’t like it. She didn’t like that house at all.
JS: The house on Boehmhurst Avenue?
WM: Uhmhm. She didn’t like it.
JS: When did your family move there?
WM: I think I might have been about seven and a half years old when we moved, so that was in 1930 something I think (31 or 32 something like that). That was a big house, a lot of property. I guess too much work.
JS: Why did they move?
WM: Cause we couldn’t live in that little shed. There were only four rooms in those little homes. There were two rooms upstairs and two rooms downstairs. And that’s all they had in those Farley homes. So that wasn’t enough room so we had to move out of there.
JS: What was it like moving over here?
WM: It wasn’t too bad. Of course as a kid you don’t care as long as you have some place to live, it’s OK.
JS: What did your parents do for work?
WM: My father worked in DuPont, well first he worked in Sayre & Fisher’s. After that he got a job in DuPont and he worked there until he died. My mother, well, she was single when she worked for Sayre & Fischer, Mr. Fischer, and who else took over after that? The Lockharts. I think she even was there a little while with the Lockharts, but mostly it was for Mr. Fischer. She liked it over there.
JS: She talked about working there?
WM: Yeah. She said she liked it. He was very nice to her. They used to gamble downstairs, the men would come down, they had a big place downstairs. The men would come and gather around. They’d play. The next day she was cleaning up she’d find coins or something. She’d give it, “No, you keep it, that’s yours.” He was really good to her but his wife was no good.
JS: Why was she no good?
WM: She used to mess around with the chauffer. My mother said she was terrible, cheated on him like crazy and he was such a nice man. When she [mother] left he gave her an awful lot of things. In fact that tourine came from the Fisher house. My mother got so many other things, I gave them to my niece and she took them to Newark. And when she left there she left them all. They were beautiful plates and everything. And I have some crystal, but I think 5 glasses of them were broken. You know as a kid we lived here and I guess I had them down the cellar. These here. I had this, this and three of these and there’s five of these are missing. He gave them to my mother. Yeah, he really liked her.
JS: How did she get the job working for the Fisher family?
WM: I really don’t know. Probably they needed help. She might have just got married or just before she got married when she started there. Then worked as a domestic, she even slept in the attic. Might have been before she was married and then she kept it up. After my brother Frank was born or something she had to quit, because she had the baby to take care of.
JS: Why did she come to Sayreville? Because she was born in Poland…
WM: She wanted to come to America and her sister already lived in Riverhead, Long Island. So her sister gave the money for her to get here. So when she came here she went to Riverhead, she stayed over there. Then she worked as a domestic in South Hampton, Long Island. Then she had a sister that came after that and she lived in South Hampton. And then another sister came later on and she lived in Connecticut. There were four of them who came from Poland.
She lied about her age, she was 15 only at the time when she came, she said she was 16. She was awfully sick on the ship coming in. She said that one time she was so sick and this one passenger I guess felt sorry for her and he told her, ‘Eat an apple and drink a beer and that’s going to help you.’ And it did. She wasn’t sick, she wasn’t throwing up no more or anything. Isn’t that strange? And then she came to Sayreville somehow after that and she stayed on Pulaski Avenue, well like I said, Kathryn Street at that time. Then I guess my father came here a couple years later and he stayed with my… well we always called him Dziadek, Adam Grudzski and that was my father’s uncle. So he went to stay with them. And I guess my mother lived with somebody and I guess she liked him. I guess the store was there. Stacia Targonski had the store. My mother would walk by the store every now and then just to see if my father would be there. And then they got married and that was it.
JS: Did they ever miss Poland?
WM: Well my mother went back, I think it was maybe in 1962 or something. She might of gone back with my aunt from Connecticut. But she said she would never go back again. It was terrible. Oh, God it was terrible! She had a sister there that was shipped to Siberia with her husband during the war. He died there, she came back. But she never saw her sister. She only got to see her brother. And that was the only one she ever got to see and her nephew and nieces and that was it. She said she would never ever go back to Poland again to live. She said she was so happy she came here. It was a rough life.
JS: Did she stay in touch with her parents?
WM: I guess a little, but it was kind of hard I guess with children and everything and letter writing. She had no schooling but yet she was able to learn the English language and she learned how to write. She was pretty good. My father too, had no education, and yet he took care of societies and all that kind of stuff. He was really good.
JS: What clubs was he involved in?
WM: From Chicago they had this insurance company and Mr. Lajewski from Pulaski Avenue was involved in that and my father used to help him with that. They’d sign people up for insurance and he learned all that and he did good on it. So he was a pretty smart man without an education. And then he got a job in DuPont and he did real good over there.
JS: They spoke Polish or English?
WM: They spoke Polish, they didn’t know English at first. And they learned pretty fast. My mother would come over when I had the kids. I’d be talking to them in Polish, I wanted them to learn a little bit of Polish. And she’d be talking to them in English. My Helen says to me, “Ma, why did she do that?” She said, “I would have loved to learn the Polish language but Babci always talked to me in English.” So I gave up talking to her in Polish and she didn’t know anything anymore. Isn’t that funny?
JS: Why wouldn’t she speak to them in Polish?
WM: I don’t know. I guess she just wanted to talk in English. She wanted to get in touch with the kids that way and she spoke to them in English. And that was it.
JS: When they came here they always went to church?
WM: They got married up in St. Stan’s in 1919.
JS: Do you remember going to St. Stan’s as a child?
WM: Yes! And I’m still going there. Eighty-five years and I’m still in church. Isn’t that something? Yeah. They went there. They got married there. All the kids were baptized there, my kids were baptized there. They made their confirmation there. My daughter got married in that church. It was nice.
JS: Did you walk there?
WM: Well, we had to walk I guess because nobody really had cars or anything at that time. It took many years before my father finally got a Packard for himself. I think maybe I might have been maybe about seven years old when he got that. So that was something. Everybody was so happy with the car in the yard. Isn’t that funny? Today, my gosh, almost everybody has a car. Years ago they didn’t have that.
JS: What was that walk like?
WM: It was all empty, all fields and everything, nothing there. You just had to walk past Fisher’s brickyard. You’d see the men working and all those cars coming down the ramps.
JS: So it was busy down there?
WM: Oh yes! That’s where my father used to work. That was his first job over there.
JS: Did he talk about it? Did he like it better than DuPont?
WM: I guess he probably liked DuPont better, cause that [Fishers] probably was harder. But he had to walk to DuPont to go to work though too. Even from Boemhurst he used to walk to DuPonts, cut through the back roads through all the woods here all the way into DuPont.
JS: Was your mother involved in any clubs?
WM: Not really. She belonged later on to the VFW. First she belonged to the Gold Star Mothers, they had a place in South River.
JS: What was the Gold Star Mothers?
WM: Because my brother Frank was killed, so they called them the Gold Star Mothers. So she belonged there for awhile and then later she joined the VFW Auxiliary. And she stayed with them until she passed away. And I belonged there too and I still belong to the Auxiliary. In fact I was even President of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary one time.
JS: So, where did you go to elementary school?
WM: Washington School! It was a beautiful school (Where the Senior Center is now). It was a beautiful school.
JS: But it looks the same pretty much? Right?
WM: Well, I suppose, but the auditorium, they leveled everything off. We used to have a platform, you know, the bleachers were up there and then [floor] real low. Then they closed all that up and now it’s all even flooring. There’s a big gap underneath that floor.
JS: Where you speaking English before you went to elementary school?
WM: First I went to Polish School for about a year, ‘cause my brothers went there for awhile. Then when they didn’t go there anymore, my mother didn’t want me to go myself. So she took me out and she put me in Washington School and because I came from Polish School they put me back one year.
JS: Was your English good?
WM: I guess so. Cause I used to help the teachers too with the Polish, because some of the people that were there, teachers didn’t know what they were saying. I would help them with that too because I understood Polish and I knew English. So I helped them with that. But they put me back one year. And then I never graduated from high school, I didn’t go. I went to Vocational School instead.
JS: Where was the Polish School that you and your brothers went to?
WM: St. Stan’s, right underneath the church.
JS: But they taught in Polish?
WM: Umhum. They had nuns teaching.
JS: Were there any other languages in Washington School?
WM: No. Just English.
JS: But there were some students who spoke Polish, you said you helped them?
WM: Well some of the kids that came from Polish families, it was kind of rough. But…
JS: Were there kids that spoke other languages other than Polish?
WM: I don’t think so.
JS: So you went to Washington School until you went to Vocational High School?
WM: I went to Vocational School in Woodbridge. It’s not there anymore but it was a nice school, a beautiful school.
JS: How did you get there?
WM: By bus.
JS: Get it on Main Street?
WM: Ceal used to go too, Ceal Pasterick. Her and I and my girlfriend Gap, Szatkowski, and Irma Conan I think it was. We used to take a bus and we’d go. Take a bus and come back home. We had a good time. It was nice. It was a beautiful school. I wanted to be a beautician but I wasn’t old enough to take the course, so I wound up taking up sewing.
JS: Where did you catch the bus?
WM: Out on the street. The bus would stop and pick us up [Main Street]. We’d stop and pick up other kids on the way, different places and then we’d go to the school. It was fun though.
JS: Do you remember when war broke out in Europe in 1939?
WM: Slightly. I remember I was walking down the street and one lady hollered to me something that there was a war going on, that they bombed Pearl Harbor or something that time. But I was still young at that time yet too. And then later on my brother had to go to service. Eddie went and Walter went. They all went. Frank never came back. My brother Walter was injured. I don’t think your grandfather went overseas. I think he was in Hawaii if I’m not mistaken. He was the only one that didn’t have to go overseas. The others were. I even got the darn telegrams that my mother got when my brother was killed. I still have them. I kept them all these years.
JS: What was it like having three brothers not home anymore?
WM: It was awful. It was terrible, because by that time already Walter was married. Your grandfather was still pretty young yet too. He wasn’t married at that time. Frank of course, never was married and he was only 25 when he lost his life over there.
JS: Were they drafted or did they all enlist?
WM: Drafted. And he got killed just before the war ended. The war ended I think what February or March and he got killed in February.
JS: Were there other families in the neighborhood that had a lot of sons fighting?
WM: There were a lot of people. I even had a little scrapbook that I have pictures of some of the soldiers. I still have that book. A lot of pictures are gone. I don’t know, somebody must have taken them. The letters, the write-ups about them, if you want to see them I could show them to you. I got those telegrams. They were mixed up too. Some of them said he was killed March something. Another telegram would say he was killed in February. Nothing was ever the right date. I never got any kind of personal - like a dog tag. I got nothing of his! I called. I checked. Oh, I inquired so many places and never got anything.
JS: Did they want to go?
WM: I really don’t know. I doubt if anybody really wanted to go at that time. According to one of the letters we got, my brother was supposed to have been buried someplace in Luxemburg. Then they brought his remains over here. They had a big funeral over here. That was sad too.
JS: How did the community react?
WM: They had such a big turnout. I had pictures of all the veterans and everybody showed up. It was really nice but very sad.
JS: Was it like that for a lot of funerals during the war?
JS: What was the community here like around Boehmhurst Avenue? Was it close-knit?
WM: They were good. You know neighbors helped each other years ago. Today you don’t get that from people anymore. Everybody is out for themself it seems today, but years ago if you had a problem, the neighbor was right there helping you out. They were all very close. They’d come help you, then they’d go play cards, pinochle cards. They’d go play pinochle at night. That was their enjoyment.
JS: The parents played pinochle? What did the children do?
WM: We’d be home, go to bed, leave the doors open. Parents come home, had no problems. You can’t leave the doors open today. But years ago you could leave the doors open, and didn’t have to worry about a doggone thing.
JS: You all played together in the yards?
WM: The kids, yeah we’d play in the backyard and in the back woods. Make believe we had play toys and make a house, put toys there. Crazy kids, you know when you are little you do all that stuff.
JS: What did your neighborhood do on the 4th of July?
WM: Nothing really. Maybe get some Sparklers, you know those little sparklers that they had. They didn’t do too, too much. Now of course the people go crazy with all fireworks and everything but years ago they didn’t go for stuff like that.
JS: What were the big holidays?
WM: Christmas and Easter were the best ones, I guess. Other than that nobody really… your mother probably didn’t do nothing much like that either. They didn’t have much going on either.
JS: Was most of the neighborhood Polish?
MW: Just about everybody was Polish then. Yeah. Just about everybody. Uhmhm.
JS: So when the kids were playing together, did you speak Polish or English?
MW: English, we were all pretty well versed in it already. We’d play out in the street. Play Hopscotch and “May I” and all the crazy games the kids play. Today if you tell the kids you did that they would look at you, “What the heck you talking about? What kind of game is that?” They never heard of something like that before.
JS: Where did your family buy groceries?
WM: Well there was a grocery store right on the corner and there was a tavern there, Bootsie’s Tavern (Pawlowski’s), and Jenny and Moe I guess ran the grocery store. And they had a book. If you bought something they would write it on the book (how much you owed). Then when you went and you paid your bill, they would give you a bar of soap or something as a “Thank You” for paying the bill. But that’s where they mostly got all their meats and stuff like that.
JS: Did you grow anything in your yards?
WM: Oh my God! They had such a big garden. That’s why I guess my mother didn’t like it, it was too much work. That one whole… I bet you it was maybe 50 x 150 feet. They had all kinds of stuff in there, my mother and father… on Boehmhurst Avenue. They had pigs, they had chickens, they had ducks, geese, beehives, big apple trees on the other side of the house cause it was a big property on the other side of the house too, all big apple trees. They were good. Kids used to go around stealing them because they were big yellow ones. They would come around and take all the apples and eat them, not that anybody cared. Yeah they had pigs and all that. I remember when one man would come to slaughter the pigs. I said, ooh God you could hear those pigs squealing! The man was killing them. Then they had like a cellar where they put all the meat after while. That’s how they lived. They had to, nothing easy at that time. It was rough.
JS: Did you get most of your food that way?
WM: Just about, yeah. Your vegetables and all of that, we had eggs and all of that. Yeah.
JS: Did other houses also have gardens?
WM: Most of them had stuff like that too, yeah. Not everybody, but quite a few people did.
JS: Where did everybody learn how to garden?
WM: I don’t know.
JS: Had your parents done that in Poland?
WM: They were too young I guess. They were only what 15 or 16 or so when they came here, so they didn’t have too much doing there. But I guess you just pick it up or something. It was a rough life and then the Depression came and that was rough.
JS: How did the Depression change things in town?
WM: Well it was kind of hard. And of course people were too proud to ask for any help, not like today everybody gets everything for nothing. And people then they were ashamed to ask for help. They did the best they could. I remember even my mother, she would make a pot of soup. There was a piece of meat in there and my father would say, “No, give it to the kids, they’re growing, they need the meat more than I do. They felt sorry for the kids. And today you throw food away like mad! Isn’t that the truth? You do! You throw it out. People waste an awful lot of stuff today.
JS: When did you first feel people started becoming more wasteful with food?
WM: Quite a few years ago, it wasn’t too, too bad yet you know. Maybe about ten years maybe now or more, it started to get bad. Years ago people were still pretty careful with what they did and today, I don’t know, they don’t give a doggone about anything.
JS: Do you remember your brothers coming home from the war?
WM: Yeah, kind of. Walter came home and of course Eddie. You missed them. After all they were gone for quite awhile. When they don’t come home at all, that’s when it hurts. And Frankie and I were like this. I guess I was his pet. My brother Frank and I were the closest ones.
JS: Did you write each other when he was away?
WM: All the time. Then the letters stopped coming and that was it.
JS: Where was he fighting? Germany?
WM: Uhmhm. Yep.
JS: Did your other brothers march in the Victory Parade?
WM: I think Walter did. I don’t know if your grandfather did or not.
JS: Did your family go and see it?
WM: Oh, we all went to see it.
JS: After the war your parents remained living here on Boehmhurst Avenue?
WM: Umhm and then they moved here right next door.
JS: Did this neighborhood change after the War?
WM: Oh God! It changed altogether. Now you don’t even know half of your neighbors or anything. It’s awful.
JS: Was that right after the war that happened?
WM: No about maybe ten years ago, no maybe even more than that. Everything changed. You get new people moving in. People moving away, new people coming in.
JS: So it seems that most of the people stayed here.
WM: Most everybody else like that stayed.
JS: So the character of the neighborhood stayed the same?
WM: Umhm. I’m in the same place that’s going on 50 some years. I’m in the same house, I haven’t moved. Guess I’ll stay here the rest of my life.
JS: So when did you get married?
WM: 1949. May 7, 1949.
JS: And your husband was from Sayreville too?
WM: Perth Amboy.
JS: Did you go to school together?
WM: No I met him in town one time. I was on a date with somebody else and I met him. And that was it. And he served in the Phillipines and all these different places too.
JS: Where did you move when you got married?
WM: We lived on Pulaski Avenue for about a year in Ziemba’s house (212 Pulaski Avenue). Helen was born and I think we lived there until she was about a year and a half and then we built this house and we moved here in 1951. We didn’t go far: from there to Boehmhurst Avenue and back to Main Street.
JS: So you didn’t buy this house, you built this house?
WM: It was more of a pre-cut and we did almost all of the work ourselves. He was pretty handy. He did almost everything here himself. We even did the whole cellar. We got the whole cellar all fixed up. It’s like an apartment down there. “I’d be standing. That’s straight. That’s crooked. No. Cut this.” I used to help too. We only had four rooms and later we added on the bedroom over there and later we extended this to make a bigger kitchen. Later when the kids came you needed more room, cause four rooms wasn’t enough.
JS: How was this neighborhood different from other neighborhoods in Sayreville?
WM: I don’t know. Just too noisy though. That’s the whole darn trouble. That’s the only thing. The noise, the traffic it’s awful.
JS: But before when you were younger?
WM: Oh younger! It was good! I remember too when we had the trolley car running through here too. It was a long thing and it would stop at the corner of Pulaski Avenue there. You know, where the light is. We did ride it.
JS: Where did you go?
WM: I think a couple of times my mother and father might have gone to the store, to the hospital when my brother was sick or something. New Brunswick they had to go. My brother Walter was sick and they had to take him to the hospital. So I guess they must have been taking that because they had no car at the time either.
JS: What were the roads like?
WM: Dirt. And this was all wooded over here at the time. Everything was all wooded. Nothing good here, all dead wood here, trees.
JS: Is it better without the woods?
WM: I think the woods were good. Now we don’t have too many trees laying around here or anything. I don’t know. Maybe it’s better if we had more and less traffic.
JS: Did anybody in the neighborhood hunt?
WM: No, but my brother Frank used to go for muskrat. He used to catch muskrats. In the meadows he’d set up the traps, get the muskrats, then he’d skin them, put them on these boards and then he would sell them and he made money that way.
JS: Who would buy muskrats?
WM: For fur. That was fur. He used to put them on the boards. The exact way the skin came off he put in on the board. It stiffens it out and they would sell it. He used to catch quite a few of them. And hunting, no, I don’t think any of them really went hunting. And then of course they went crabbing and fishing, stuff like that.
JS: Where did they fish?
WM: Down by the river, crabbin’ down the creek. The creek too I even went with them. Of course they’d chase me out but I’d go with them anyway.
JS: Did you eat the stuff they would catch?
WM: The crabs, oh yeah, I like to eat. Now, I still eat the crabs. The only thing I don’t like is eel, too much like a snake.
JS: Did you go ever to the theatre on Main Street?
WM: Umhm. And they used to give out dishes or cups or whatever. When you’d go you’d accumulate quite a few things. And then they had one in South River. We walked so we could buy something to eat, a piece of candy of something and go to the one in South River.
JS: How often would you go?
WM: Not too often. I guess you couldn’t afford it at that time either.
JS: What else did kids here do for fun?
WM: I did go bowling. They had a bowling alley on Main Street. The guys used to set up the pins. They had the pin boys putting up the pins. I remember that. They had the Chinese place there now across from the Borough Hall, that used to be a bowling alley over there. The pin boys would have to set up the pins. Now of course it’s automatic, everything is automatic, but at that time the pin boy was there. And then they had a bowling alley on Jernee Mill Road too. That building that they just tore down? That was a bowling alley there too. I went there too. I bowled in there too. That I enjoyed. I liked bowling. Now, I can’t do it no more. Your grandmother, too. We belonged to a team in Sayre Woods; they had a bowling alley over there. Her and I and two other ladies belonged to the same team. We used to go bowling over there.
JS: Did a lot of girls bowl?
WM: Quite a few. A lot of girls went really. It was fun.
JS: In the summers did you swim?
WM: Oh yeah. We went out to what they called the pond over here. We went through all the woods, there was a great big pond. We used to go swimming there. That was in Sayreville here. I don’t know where it would be now, if you ever went to look for it. We used to go swimming there and then we used to go down Horseshoe Lake. You know where the Main Street Extension is? There was a place over there, they had a Horseshoe Lake over there. And that’s where my cousin almost drowned. My father pulled her out just in time. Only her hand was sticking out. Oh my God, I said, “Pop!” He went in to get her. I remember he had cigarettes in his pocket and he went all the way up to here and he got her out. And she was from Connecticut. Oh my God! She was visiting.
JS: Do you remember getting your first television?
WM: Oh gosh. I don’t remember when we got that. I know we didn’t have it at home. I guess I must have got it after I was married sometime.
JS: Do you remember listening to the radio?
WM: We used to listen to that: the Green Hornet and stuff like that, and Amos and Andy. You’d sit there and listen to the darned thing. Now they have everything, computers and all that.
JS: Did you remember the Garden State Parkway being built?
WM: You know when you have kids you don’t pay too much attention to what else is going on.
CK: The difference between before and after WWII.
WM: I don’t know. You got busier, because you had kids, you had to do different things. Take them to ballgames and stuff like that. When I moved here, Fieleks they had the 2 boys at that time and I had Helen and Tommy at that time. And later on Nicky and Jimmy were born. Then you didn’t have time for anything. Nicky and Jimmy started in baseball. So I used to take them to their games, helped at the stands. Helped out wherever I could, selling hot dogs and soda at the games.
CK: Did you ever go to the Borough Hall for meetings?
WM: Very seldom I went. Not too often.
JS: What did it mean to be Polish in Sayreville as opposed to being say German or Irish? How was it different for somebody who was Polish?
WM: I guess it didn’t matter. Some people are ashamed of their nationality. I’m not. Some people I imagine they are and I can’t see why. I wish I knew more languages in fact.
JS: I’m interested in the garden you said your mother had.
WM: We had to pull the weeds. They had big grapevines, too you know, trellises with the grapes. We had to do all that. The Japanese beetles would be on the thing, we had to pick those off. They shared whatever anybody had because it would rot so you might as well give it to somebody instead of throwing it away. But it was an awful lot of work in the garden: pulling out the darn weeds, make sure everything is growing, keep it watered.
CK: Did you can the food to preserve it?
WM: My mother used to can lot of things and even when they killed the pigs and that, then they would clean the casings and they would stuff it to make the sausage. I had to help in the cleaning of them. We’d be laughing and I remember my mother going swish across the face with the vein. We were kidding around but we had to do the work. It wasn’t an easy life when you were young, not at that time.
JS: Did you make jams?
WM: Um. They canned that and made pickles. They had no kind of chemicals in there. It was a heck of a lot better than what we have today. Today you don’t what the heck you’re getting. They tell you but you really don’t know.
CK: How did you know about weather?
WM: The only thing I didn’t like is thunderstorms. That I didn’t like. The lightning especially, but other than that, didn’t really bother you that much. And the snow storms of course I didn’t like. We used to get an awful lot of snow when we were young. It would be about that high, used to cover the windows in the basement on Boehmhurst Avenue. You couldn’t even look out of them, that’s how much snow we used to get.
JS: Did they ever close the schools because of snow?
WM: Trudge through the snow, up to here in snow! No buses, no nothing, you had to walk. I don’t remember ever staying out of school. Evidently we managed to get through the snow and that was it. We built igloos when we were little, all that stuff in the yard when we had snow.
I know your grandfather tried teaching me how to drive one time, before you could get a license you know. He was a pain in the neck. He was always complaining and complaining. Then my brother Walter says go do it yourself because there were no cars then, no traffic. I’d go up and down the street myself. Eddie took me once I think it was in South Amboy and I was backing up and I almost hit something. He got mad at me! I said, “Oh the heck with it!” And Walter says, “Come on, I’ll help you!” But Eddie had no patience, he never liked to help.
CK: Did you go far?
WM: Later on I used to love to drive. Even when we’d drive to Indiana to my daughter’s, I would do most of the driving, it’s about a 16 hour drive, I would do most of the driving. When I would drive I never moved. When [my husband] would drive he was always [twisting] this and this. When I was finished driving there was a hole in the seat, an indentation and he was always squirming. I loved to drive. I used to go to New York, take my mother to visit her sister in Long Island, to the station in Newark and New York. And I took the kids to the ballgames in New York. Driving? I took chances. And I did pretty good. Thank God I’m still here. We had no accidents.
JS: Where did you go on vacation as a child?
WM: Down mostly to my aunt’s on Long Island because they had a great big farm and they had everything out there. They raised potatoes and all kinds of stuff. My father used to drive. We couldn’t wait till we got there. We would see the farm in the distance, “Oh, we’re almost there.”
JS: Thank you. Thank you very much.