Ghosts of Christmases Past

Hart1.jpg This is a 1950’s picture of Hart Island Warden Edward Dros and Commissioner Ann Kross watching an inmate mend a doll that will be given to needy children at Christmas. Hart Island is where New York maintains a Potter’s Field. At the time there was a prison on the island, and the prisoners dug the graves. The prison is now closed and they bring inmates in from Rikers to do the digging. (They like the work. It gets them out of the prison.)

I wrote about this picture in Waiting for My Cats to Die. I know everyone meant well, but I felt bad for the old inmate, who looks as frail as the doll, and the poor children who would be receiving the second hand gifts.

“A Daily News photographer took pictures for a story they ran in the 50’s. Men in suits and a woman in a nice hat pose with the inmates as they work. They’re all very proud.”

And then I describe that picture in particular. “… they hover over an old inmate struggling to sew a dolls dress back together. She’s missing a foot and three fingers on one hand and even if that prisoner manages to fix the hole in the dress (badly) she’s still going to be an old doll with no foot and missing fingers and do they really think some little girl is going to be thrilled to get her? Although I can see a child loving the doll in a misfit toy kind of way.”

The picture is from the wonderful website of the New York Correction History Society, maintained by Tom McCarthy. This is their Hart Island page. There’s a treasure trove of information about the history of Hart Island there, and stories of people who search for their friends and relatives buried on the island.

My plan for today: Write, work-out, then watch Christmas movies, dinner with Howard, more Christmas movies.

Alternate plan: All of the above except the writing and working out parts.

The First Casualty of Christmas

deadtree.jpg Only a few days of the holiday season left!! Here are the movies I plan to see before Christmas:

Bundle of Joy. A holiday movie with Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. I have a song from this movie on my ipod. I sing it to my cats as a lullaby.

Mr. MaGoo’s Christmas Carol. You might have to be a baby boomer to get this one.

A Christmas Carol. The Alastair Sim version, which I see is not airing this year. Good thing I OWN A COPY.

My plans for today: I’m going to try try try to write. Really. I’m going to try. Must. Not. Read. Or. Watch. TV. Ah, I have Frank Sinatra singing Ave Maria in the background. He was such a thug, but what an angelic and perfect voice.

I Killed It

killedit.jpg Here’s the “I killed it” audio. Poor Charlie Brown. Urban Outfitters actually sells a “Charlie Brown Pathetic Tree” which looks exactly like that tree, right down to being tipped over by a christmas ornament. But it’s sold out! We love that sorry little tree.

My accomplishments yesterday: I went to the gym, and back out to Brooklyn for the fire incident report, and I’m down to one last Christmas gift to get. No work on the Duke book, but that I will get to today.

It’s the home stretch for the holidays. Oh! My friend Cricket sent me Paine’s Balsam Fir Incense. I lit one and I swear it’s like taking happy drugs, having that scent in my apartment. Thank you, Cricket!

Christmas Stress

caroling.jpg I feel like I accomplished nothing yesterday. I went out to Brooklyn to get some fire incident reports, and they told me it would take at least an hour so I called some detective friends who work nearby and we went out to lunch. Very nice, but when I got back to the FDNY the records section was closed! God damnit to hell. I just put my head on the counter and moaned, “I must die now. I can’t take it. I have to kill myself.”

Neander and Jim hosted their annual Caroling Party, even though everyone is Jewish except for a few of us, which includes ME. From left to right that’s Jim, Mark, Extra T aka Ellen, me and Cricket with the camera. She and Neander had a little dueling camera thing going. Lots of other people were there, but I’m afraid to name them because if I leave someone out they will be mad that I forgot them.

I have to have a productive day. Somehow I have to:

– Schlepp back out to Brooklyn to get fire reports.
– Finish Christmas shopping.
– Go to gym.
– Work on parapsychology book.

We’ll see how much I get done. WE’LL JUST SEE.

Memories of Jamaica Estates

dadkid.jpg My earlier posting of my grandparent’s house brought a flood of memories from my father! Since they included a bunch of New York figures and some New York history, I asked him if I could post his email here (that’s him on the right).

From my dad:

“The pictures really bring back memories. That was my fire truck in the picture. I still remember that gift clearly, and I was very young that Christmas, probably six or seven. If you look, you will see my folks all dressed up. In those days a lot of the neighbors would go around in a sled (if there was snow) and sing carols, and drink any grog at each house where they stopped. This was all after we were all sleeping.

When they were finished they came home and dressed the tree. You can imagine what time that was. We never saw a sign of a tree until Christmas morning. They were blessed with an excellent community spirit which still continued throughout my growing up. Jamaica Estates was a particular community. A good deal of that spirit came from your grandfather who put in many hours working as president of the association, which he was for the most years of his living there. It’s amazing how the area has retained it’s status to this very day. Some of the homes were much bigger than ours, and I would guess worth several million in this day’s market.

Many hugely successful people lived in the Estates. King Kullen, father of the modern supermarket lived on Radnor Road, the next street. Donald Trump’s father, Fred, would walk up to our house with little Donald in a carriage to gab with my father. The Conway’s lived down a couple of blocks. Jim Conway worked with me when I bought the house in Centerport. His family ran the Long Island City Savings Bank, which has grown to be quite large. Neighbors ran Sulka’s, a great mens store, FAO Schwartz, the toy empire, and on and on. One of the men was the first to buy the Empire State Building when it was resold. There are numerous stories there in Jamaica Estates. It would be fun to see how the history has gone.

You should look into the history of Jamaica Estates – it is very interesting. You might remember that the “great” depression was in 1929. I was born in ’28. My grandfather, Peter, was, among other things, a builder. When my father got married my grandfather built two houses, side by side, on Avon Road. My father designed both. My grandfather told my father that he would get the house which did not sell first. After the house next door sold to the McKenna’s, my father got our house. The Estates was to be a clone of Tuxedo Park in Westchester. The initial homes built were quite large, even by today’s standards. When the depression broke things came to a quick stop. The later homes were smaller than the earlier ones, but followed a tradition of upscale which exists even today.

When I was young, I would go into one or two of the big homes which were abandoned as a result of the depression. One beautiful big Tudor had been left so quickly that all the furniture and clothes were still there until they were finally taken by people going into the house. It was a big adventure to sneak ninto the ‘”haunted” house. There are many stories around the area which I remember fondly.”