Joe Fletcher


DS:      This is an interview with Joe Fletcher, The date is July 22, 2009, the location is 116 Delancey Street, Philadelphia, PA, and the interviewer is Dorothy Stevens.

            Joe, could you give me your present address?

JF:       My present address is 1812 Laurel Avenue, Boothwyn, PA 19061.

DS:      And when were you born, Joe?

JF:       I was born in 1952, February 3. Hahnemann Hospital.

DS:      Hahnemann Hospital. Joe, I want to begin with your grandfather and your grandmother and their connection to this neighborhood.

JF:       My grandfather was from Fishtown, an Irishman, Samuel Fletcher. He (1:00) married a young Italian girl, Julia Farro, from Third and Wolf area. And I am told, and of course I was born in 1952 and I’ve just heard stories of their marriage, but I am told that when they got married, that was considered an interracial marriage. They weren’t able to live here in the South Philly area because of that; so they went over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge] and lived on a farm somewhere over on the other side of the river. But by the time my father was born, which was ‘23 – no, he was born on the farm. It was the youngest that was born here on Delancey Street, and he was only about 13 years older than me. So he would be 70 today. So 70 years ago he was born here in one of the houses on Delancey Street, either 122, 124 or 126. I’m not sure which one.


            My grandfather had a saloon at Front and Spruce, [southwest corner] which I think was three or four stories tall, I know it was three stories because I’ve been on all the floors. It was a bar and a restaurant area in the back. [Later the narrator added that the place was named Fletcher’s Bar and Restaurant, but it was commonly called simply the Saloon.] The second floor was all restaurant area, and the third floor was a butcher shop and kitchen area, and they had a dumb waiter that took food up and down and so forth. There may have been a fourth floor for storage, but I’ve never been on the fourth floor. But I’ve been on one, two and three floors.


[Narrator’s later addition: Joe’s father was born at 130 Delancey, but the family still was living on a farm in New Jersey. Joe’s grandfather rented 130 Delancey to have his wife, Joe’s grandmother, close to his Saloon at Front and Spruce when she was having babies.]

DS:      So the third floor was a butcher shop where people would go and buy meat?

JF:       No, where they would prepare all the food. I mean, they got – well Dock (3:00) Street was Dock Street back then, OK? And all the shopping, the waterfront right here was ships coming in, receiving goods. We call it Penn’s Landing today, but it was just a waterfront back then. All the workers that worked on Dock Street and down on the docks were his customers in his Saloon, and he had to be open at 4 in the morning, because that’s when they started coming in. I don’t necessarily remember what was behind his Saloon on Spruce, but my travels would be back to Delancey Street; so I traveled this block [the 100 block of Delancey Street] and then down to the Saloon. Across the street here [from 116 Delancey Street] I know there was a pickle factory, somewhere over here across the street. My sister says there was a bubble gum place there. I don’t remember that. She’s four years older than me. I do remember the chicken coops towards the end of the block here, where they slaughtered chickens. I can remember them hanging (4:00) the chickens up and plucking them and all that down there.

DS:      When you say a chicken coop, you’re talking about a house where they did this?

JF:       Well, this building on the end – of course, it’s all different now – but there was a building towards the corner here –

DS:      At Front [Street].

JF:       Yes, and there was all these chickens in there, and it was a place where they slaughtered chickens.

DS:      It was a house with chickens in it. And they slaughtered them in there.

JF:       Yes.

DS:      And what would be on the second and third floor of all these houses?

JF:       You know, I don’t have a recollection of that – if people lived there I don’t know…. I don’t necessarily remember any residents in that side of the street.

DS:      On Front Street.

JF:       And on Delancey. I don’t remember residences [on the north side of Delancey Street, 100 block]. I remember stores and things like that. My grandmother had a candy store. It was up towards the corner. She had another one on Market between Second and Third Streets, right next to the Horn and Hardart’s that used to be on Market.

DS:      Market and Second. She had a candy store?

JF:       Yes. She had a candy store there and a candy store here, towards the market up here, at Second and Pine. Back then, through the ‘50s, the market was a market, from (5:00) what I recall. It was in the ‘60s it shut down, and I guess it was rehabbed during the ‘60s. I was in school at St. Peter’s at Third and Lombard, and I remember the market becoming an arts and crafts location where we at school would bring our own works to the market area here –

DS:      You’re talking about Headhouse?

JF:       Yes, Headhouse Square – and we’d put it on display there, along with other arts and crafts people in the city who would bring their things there and sell.

DS:      And that would have been in –

JF:       The ‘60s. Early ’60s.

DS:      But the food produce center was gone by that time.

JF:       That stopped, yes. But over here, like where the Headhouse Square was, across the street, you could enter into the area where the wagons for the ice – the ice (6:00) wagons, milk wagons and all that, the horses were all kept in stables here.

DS:      You’re talking about where, now?

JF:       If you’re up at 130, 128, 130, behind those houses –

DS:      128, 130 what?

JF:       Delancey. Behind those houses was where those horses were kept and housed, and these wagons were there for the milk and the ice. They used to ride down the street and deliver off the wagons. That was gone in the ‘60s. But it was there in the ‘50s.

DS:      That would be on the northwest corner of Second and Delancey? That area?

JF:       I would think it would be the southeast side.

DS:      OK.

JF:       Right behind this row of homes going up behind me here. Right behind them, and coming across the street from Headhouse Square, was the entrance where the (7:00) wagons would go in. And of course Abbotts Dairy was the other prominent thing which was in this location, which was between Lombard and South and Third and Second. They had a big building there. And the only reason I remember so well is because they used to give us ice cream sandwiches on Friday nights at the dock. You know, they used to slip ‘em out to us kids.

DS:      Free.

JF:       Yes. St. Peter’s School was a school for boys; it was a choir school back then. And every Friday evening we stayed after school, and we practiced, I guess, all the way up till dinner time. And one or two of the parents came in and supplied dinner to all of the boys and the men, around 6:00, 6:15. Then after dinner we all had to practice more with the men with the works that we were doing at that time. Between dinner and (8:00) practice we would sneak out and run around to the dairy and get an ice cream sandwich.

DS:      And they’d give it to you free?

JF:       They had a guy who would give it to us at the dock. You know. I don’t know his name. I’d love to know who that was, but it was always a fun trip to run over and get an ice cream sandwich.

DS:      So, how many boys would have been in your group, your choir? Approximately.

JF:       I would say somewhere between 15 and 20 at any given time.

DS:      And is that when Mr. [Harold] Gilbert was there?

JF:       Dr. Gilbert, and then after Dr. Gilbert there was Joseph Parcells. He followed Gilbert. And after Parcells, there was Mr. Robinson. He followed Parcells. And then I left after that.

DS:      What year did you leave?

JF:       I stayed there till I was through 8th grade; so probably 14. I know my voice (9:00) had changed before I left. I once was the boy soloist there…. This group over here at St. Peter’s was the catalyst for what we now know today as the Boys’ Choir of Philadelphia. We were the only real boys’ choir back in the early ‘60s, and we used to perform up by Independence Hall on the corner. It was Sixth and Walnut, not Chestnut. There was a bank there. We used to perform in that bank lobby every Christmas time. We used to perform at the Academy of Music. We used to do operas like Tosca and Carmen and The Masked Ball. I performed in all of them many, many times, over and over and over.

            There was a time I was billed at the Academy of Music with the Vienna Choir Boys, and I was amused at that, because I was (10:00) back stage, and my father was there, and he always was with me. I wanted to get the Vienna Choir Boys to sign the program, because I kind of looked up to them. And they wanted me to sign their programs. And I told my dad, “I don’t understand why they want my signature.” And he said, “Have you looked at the program? It says, ‘Featuring Philadelphia’s own Joseph A. Fletcher, Jr., soloist, with the Vienna Choir Boys.” So I was as important to them as they were to me. But being 9 or 10 or whatever I was, it didn’t impact me that much. And then we performed on [Channels] 3, 6 and 10 every Christmas. We would tape for Christmas morning shows. I could be home and watch all of us performing, and that was always fun.

DS:      Did your father belong to the choir, too?

JF:       No.

DS:      So there was no history there.

JF:       No history before me.

DS:      You went to school there?

JF:       I went to school there.

DS:      And what grades was it?

JF:       Third through eighth.

DS:      Third through eighth. OK. Did you know a boy with the last name of Snyder? Raymond Snyder? (11:00)

JF:       Yes.

DS:      You did. All right. Anything else you want to say about St. Peter’s? The church? The churchyard?

JF:       Oh, it was fantastic. I don’t think it’s what it used to be – today it’s different. I think the school is a separate entity today. Before, they were molded together. I was there when Kennedy was assassinated. I remember that vividly. I was in history class, of all things. And I remember Mrs. Wilson, who was the English teacher, calling our history teacher, who was Mr. Tweed, out of the room. And we were looking out. She had her handkerchief and was sniffling. We didn’t know what was going on. He came back in, rather flushed, and said that something terrible had happened to the President. (12:00) At that point I don’t think they were talking that he was dead. Something had happened. We were all to get up and we were going to church. And we had a ceremony. By the time we got to church then the word was out that the President had died. We went to church and did a special little service there, prayers and so forth. And while we were doing that, the administrators were calling all the parents to let them know that we were being released early, so that they could prepare for us to come home early. Many of us had many areas to travel to, all over the city and beyond. At that time I was traveling with my grandfather most of the time, because we weren’t here any more. I was in Yeadon. I was living in Yeadon.

DS:      When did you all move out of this neighborhood? How old were you?

JF:       I would say – I’m trying to think – that’s pretty fuzzy for me, you know, (13:00) being relatively young. I don’t know exactly how old I was when we, for example, shut the bar down. Because the bar was all that kept us here. We had moved out of the homes, ’58, ’59, ’60-ish. My grandfather had these three homes, 122, 124, and 126 {Delancey Street], and he allowed his children and their families to live in these homes until they could buy something else or until they wanted to move. So he bought all these homes for his family.

DS:      Because he owned the bar.

JF:       Because he owned the bar, and all his sons were working at the bar.

DS:      And how many sons did he have?

JF:       He had four, and they were all working at the bar. So they would live here and work there, so to speak. Of course all his sons stole from the bar, except my father. He was the only honest one. The others, they would steal from him, but he didn’t care. He (14:00) seemed not to care. Matter of fact, when the Redevelopment Authority came in, they made him sell the bar, the property. There was nothing he could say to keep that. They gave him $25,000 for the bar. That did not include the license. I think he sold the license separately for twice that much. But before he sold the license, he said to my dad, “The license is yours. I’ll put you up in another location. But the rules are, it’ll be your place, but you have to hire your brothers.” And he said no to that. So the license was sold and the business ended, started and ended with my grandfather.

DS:      Tell me about your grandfather owning these houses on this block.

JF:       Well, the Redevelopment Authority told him that he had to tear them down and could have them rebuilt.

DS:      He couldn’t just fix up the outside of them?            (15:00)

JF:       No, that wasn’t an option. They were tearing them down. And then of course what upset him was, after he sold them to them, according to your records here, it was $20,400 for the three of them. He had told me he got $25,000 for the bar and $25,000 for the houses. Again, I was 10, 11 years old, I could have had that wrong.

DS:      It looks like your grandfather bought those properties, houses, December 31, 1924, and then he sold them to the Redevelopment Authority on November 8, 1962.

JF:       Yes, well my father was born in ’23. He was born in 130 [Delancey Street]. But he [my grandfather] didn’t own 130. So he [my grandfather] must have bought these three houses [122, 124 and 126 Delancey St.] right after he [my father] was born. (16:00)

DS:      But he didn’t own 130. He must have rented it. Your grandfather rented 130?

JF:       Yes, he did not own that house. But my father was born in it and then I’m not sure who was actually living in it, because they were living on a farm for the first few years of my father’s life. Maybe he rented that property just to have some place close to the Saloon. But I don’t know. I wasn’t under the impression that they all lived in there right away.

DS:      So at this point, in 1924, he probably owned the Saloon, too.

JF:       Oh, he owned the Saloon first.

DS:      First, OK, first. What is the background on your grandfather? Was he born in the United States?

JF:       Yes, he’s from right here in Philadelphia. My grandmother was born of immigrant parents.

DS:      So their parents were immigrants. (17:00)

JF:       Right. My grandfather had a short life. In ’66 he died of cancer, terminal, throughout his body he had cancer, and all of his siblings have subsequently had cancer. Every one of them.

DS:      How many were there?

JF:       Five, four boys and a girl. Girl first and then the boys. Matter of fact, when my aunt, his sister, was pregnant with her first child, my grandmother was pregnant with her last child, and the uncle, in this case, was born two months after the nephew. So that was an old, crazy thing that went on in the family. Lots of stories about that. Their name was Henning. My aunt married a Ralph Henning. He was a railroad engineer, (18:00) and the Hennings lived in 122 [Delancey] for a while. I don’t know how long. They were there for a while. That would have been his daughter and their family. They didn’t own it.

DS:      They didn’t own it.

JF:       Sam owned it.

DS:      So the Redevelopment Authority told your grandfather they were going to knock them down, but apparently they didn’t because they have been restored.

JF:       Right, right. Every one that he had to sell them is still standing and has been restored.

And again, he really should have sold them, because everybody had left. My grandmother was over at either 58th and Hatfield or 60th and Baltimore. We had moved out to West Philly by that time. The Saloon was closed. It was still standing when he sold these houses, but it was coming down. I remember when they took this whole block (19:00) down. I was still down here when they built these condominiums across the street. They built them after they built Society Hill Towers. I was here for that, too.

DS:      What do you mean you were here for it?

JF:       I was still in school. I saw the Towers get built. I watched – I was here when Dock Street moved, for example. They closed down the Dock Street Market and moved it down by the sports complexes and then built those towers. The Society Hill Towers. That was a real big development going on in the ‘60s. And built this block. I recall that.

DS:      This block was built in 1970 [the 100 blocks of Delancey and Spruce Streets, between Front and Second Streets.]

JF:       Well, I saw the beginning of that.

DS:      Because you were at school here. So tell me, you said your mother owned some candy stores?

JF:       My grandmother. Well, my grandfather owned everything, Samuel Fletcher. But his wife Julia ran the candy stores. (20:00)

DS:      Did she own the candy store on Spruce, in the 200 block? On the north side?

DS:      That could have been where it was. It was near Second Street. That’s probably it.

DS:      On Spruce, 200 block. It was near Second Street. She had one on Second and Market. And that was on Market Street, right near the Horn and Hardart’s that was there.

DS:      Your father did the bar; your father worked his entire life in the bar. Right?

JF:       Yes. Back in those days, we had in the neighborhood what was called bums. These were street people. Today they would call them street people. And we had a lot of bums in this area that lived here. And my grandfather knew them all very well.

DS:      Did they work at the produce center? (21:00)

JF:       They might have done work anywhere they could get work. Not that they all wanted to work. They were bums. But what they did do, my grandfather fed them. So every morning at four o’clock in the morning, he opened up and he would feed them their first meal of the day. Then during the day, they could come to the back door of the first floor, and he would give them sandwiches. Then every Sunday, he brought – my grandmother would cook dinner for the family every Sunday. After church everybody would come here. We would all eat; we would be here with all the grandchildren and everything. There could be 15 to 20 people there. And if you’ve been in the houses, you’d realize how cramped that would be. But she would lay out the Italian style dinner – the roast beef, chicken, the pasta, whatever, all at once. All of us would eat. Then she (22:00) would clean that up and my grandfather rounded up all the bums, and they would come in the back of the house. There was a service staircase that went up the back. I think it was 126 {Delancey]. But there were two staircases in that house. One came up from the back, and one came up from the living room. They would go up to the third floor, and they would take all their clothes and put them in the dirty hamper, go get showered, and get dressed in new clothes, and when they came back down, she would have that dinner laid out for them. Same exact dinner we all had as a family. And that was every Sunday.

DS:      Wow! This is your grandmother.

JF:       And she hated it.

DS:      She hated it?

JF:       Yes, my grandfather made her do that.

DS:      They were taking a shower in your bathroom, the family’s bathroom. How many bums would this have been?

JF:       Well, I was a little kid, so I – I’m sure it was between six and 10 at least, (23:00) maybe 12. But I was a little kid, and everything looked bigger to me, I’m sure. But there was many, many of them.

DS:      And would she wash their clothes while they were taking a shower?

JF:       No, by the next week they would get clean clothes again. And my grandfather, like I told him, “Pop Pop, Mom Mom hates when you bring all those bums in the house.” Of course, he brought them in the back and up those back steps. They never got in the main part of the house, so to speak, or in the kitchen. He said, “Well, if I don’t feed them, who will?” I said, “I don’t know. It’s not your fault that they’re who they are.” He said, “Well, let me tell you, no one has ever, ever broken into my Saloon.” That’s because they made sure of it. So they were his security guys is what it boiled down to. When he (24:00) locked up and went home – he was only locked up for maybe five hours a day. The rest of the time he was open. For that five hours when he was locked up, he didn’t have to worry about anybody breaking into his Saloon, because it wouldn’t happen. These guys took care of it. That’s where breakfast was coming, lunch was coming, dinner on Sunday, fresh clothes. So he felt it was well worth it.

DS:      So when you say he would come home from church, you mean come home from St. Peter’s? (25:00)

JF:       Well all of us would. Well, my grandmother and grandfather were Catholic. I was baptized Catholic but ended up being confirmed Episcopalian here at St. Peter’s. Even till today, I’m in an Episcopal church today. But I’m baptized Catholic, confirmed Episcopalian. But the majority of our family were Catholic, so they didn’t all go to St. Peter’s.

DS:      Do you know where in the neighborhood they did go? St. Joe’s? St. Mary’s?

JF:       No, I don’t.

DS:      Tell me about your mother.

JF:       She was Episcopalian. [laughs] She of English descent. She lived on Bainbridge Street, above Broad.

DS:      OK, on the other side of Broad.

JB:       And she had one sister. There was two girls in the family, and they were living on Bainbridge Street with a single mother and her parents; so her grandparents. And her grandparents were from England. As a matter of fact, they both worked at a castle. One was a butler, and one was a maid. They got married and came to America for a (26:00) new life. They worked for the Masons. They still served as a butler and a maid for whoever Mason was in Philadelphia. He was a prominent man, a wealthy man in Philadelphia. They were working for him here.

DS:      And then something happened to him? And she was living with her two daughters?

JF:       No, no. My mother and her sister and her single mother lived with the grandparents, which would be my great-grandparents. Her mother married a fellow whose last name was Glen. His first name started with an O. It was rather weird. Ortho or Orthio or something. And he was an alcoholic, so it got so bad they had to get separated and divorced, which way back in those days was probably a strange thing. My (27:00) grandmother and my mom and her sister moved into the grandparents’ house on Bainbridge Street. They were living in North Philly from one through four years old. Then they came back here. How my father met – I think my father might have met her like at West Catholic. I think there was a Boys’ and a Girls’ West Catholic. But they met somehow at school, and they got married rather young. I think when he went in the Army for World War II, he wanted to get married before he went to the invasion of Normandy; so they did. She would have been like 18, maybe 19 or 20. Something like that. Rather young, they got married. Then, of course, he went to the battle and lived through it, and came back to his wife. I guess a lot of women married fellows that didn’t (28:00) come back, which could have easily happened, as you know. When they came back, they lived on Hatfield Street, 1500 block, when they first got married. And then they lived in 24.

DS:      124 Delancey?

JF:       Yes, for a short while. Then they went to Yeadon.

DS:      Tell me about – on Front Street, where all these chicken houses were, there must have been terrible smells.

JF:       Well, yes. This block had a stench of its own.

DS:      The 100 block of Delancey.


JF:       Yes. This wasn’t a desirable place to live. I mean, you lived across the street from the chicken coops, and all of these places over here where there was a pickle factory (29:00) and a bubble gum place, they were all emitting odors. It wasn’t, you know …. I remember, there used to be a lot of fights on Delancey Street. I mean, I was little, so I was hidden. When that would start, I was in the house. I remember a lot of them. I guess it was because they were drinking. It seemed like all of the men drank when I was a kid. You know, I can remember all of the men were drinkers. During Prohibition I wasn’t around, but my grandfather during Prohibition, we have pictures of him sitting in Washington all dressed up with spats and everything else sitting there with some liquor with his friends, smoking a cigarette. I never saw him smoke in my life, but there was one in his hand. They were drinking whiskey. It was during Prohibition, and they were in DC; I know that. I know that he has some works, when the Feds would come into your establishment and test your liquor. It had to meet the standards; so they know (30:00) it wasn’t bootleg. And my grandfather was selling bootleg liquor over there, but he had the test kits that the government had, and he made his liquor to pass their tests. When they came and tested it, it was good. But in fact, it was bootleg. He was a big bootlegger. I guess he made a fortune on it. I don’t know. I have a teamster card for him; he was a teamster guy down here on the docks or something at some point in his life. I have that scanned into my computer. I found that.

DS:      A different world.

JF:       Yes, he was a hotshot. You know when the cars – he always drove the big Buicks and with what was then probably the luxury line. His wife had a new car every two years, a new Buick Special. I can remember all these big, huge cars. But they were all with the latest gadgets. I mean, if you went in his cars, you saw the top end of what we (31:00) normally didn’t get. My parents probably driving Ramblers. He was driving Buick Specials. And of course, his youngest son was the one that tried to get all those cars whenever he was done with them. He was the youngest. He got spoiled the most.

DS:      Tell me about these houses, your childhood memory. They had indoor plumbing?

JF:       When I was around they had electricity, plumbing. I’ve been told stories of times before that, when they had gas lamps and things like that. And I do remember some gas lamps. I don’t know where they were, if they were on the curbs or against the house, and they had those special mantle-type lights in them. You had to go to the gas company to get them. I don’t know what they’re called. They burn gas. It’s not a bulb but the (32:00) idea of a bulb, something they would use in gas lamps. They would last for quite some time, but when they went you’d get the gas company to give you a new one. But it was all electric in my memory, and it had plumbing.

DS:      And heating?

JF:       Yes. Well, we had fireplaces. I remember the fireplaces because of all the marble mantles and stuff like that. Matter of fact I went into 130 [Delancey] during its reconstruction in the ‘70s, right before it sold. I know they were asking close to a million dollars, or $800,000. I can’t remember now. It was a lot of money in my father’s eyes, the house he was born in. But they let us come in. The original mantle and fireplace was still in the house. I mean, they refurbished the whole house, but the flooring and the fireplace was the same. Of course, my father sat by that fireplace many times (33:00) as a kid; so he took notice to that.

DS:      During your father’s time, the fireplaces were the heat.

JF:       Right. I do remember coal. People used to deliver coal. Down in the basement we had a bin to store coal. So there was some coal heating going on back then.

DS:      Where did your father go to school?

JF:       He graduated from West Catholic.

DS:      Oh, yes. Your mother, too. That was the connection. OK.

JF:       He worked here at the Saloon, into the ‘50s, deep into the ‘50s.

DS:      The food produce center moved out in ’59.

JF:       Right. My father was gone by then also. My father was probably gone by ’57 or ’58, out of the Saloon. So that could have been sold any time after ’58. (34:00)

DS:      OK.

JF:       …. I went all the way up to the third floor to tell my dad what just happened. He was up there cutting meat.

DS:      Your dad would be in the butcher business.

JF:       He was the worker. Of all the boys, he worked. He would be up in the kitchen getting all the food together for lunches or dinners, whatever was happening. The boys, his brothers, would be downstairs tending the bar where they loved to be. My dad tended bar, but only when he had to. Most of the time it was the brothers downstairs tending the bar.

DS:      Tell me the story about Ed Parker, the cop.

JF:       Ed Parker, the cop. Ed Parker, a Philadelphia police officer, he retired as a (36:00) chief inspector, when he started his career, he was walking a beat right here on Front Street. So my dad and him and my grandfather, they had face-to-face encounters with Ed Parker when he was a rookie cop in Philadelphia. Now, somewhere in the ‘50s, my dad became a cop in Yeadon, and he ended up being the chief of police in Yeadon, over his career.

DS:      Your dad.

JF:       Right. He and Chief Parker interfaced several times over their careers, one being in Philadelphia, one being in Yeadon. During investigations, robberies, things like that. So they had this professional interface that happened every now and then, plus they had that first interface down here on Front Street when my dad was in the Saloon and Parker was a beat cop on Front Street. Well, then, I got a job at Globe Security, and I’m (37:00) about – I was about 30 years old. And Chief Parker – Fishman owned Globe Security – he’s a good, old boy. He was a good friend. He knew Chief Parker personally, although Chief Parker retired from the City of Philadelphia. Fishman hired him at Globe. He became a supervisor. And I happened to be the Operations Supervisor; so I was in charge of these five supervisors, and Parker ended up being one of them. Now, I don’t know Ed Parker prior to this time, OK? And he was one of my supervisors, which is (38:00) absolutely ridiculous. He’s a retired chief inspector out of the City of Philadelphia. He should be my boss. But that’s now how it played out, and I always told him that. But he said, “Joe, you’re my boss. You tell me how you want me to do things. I’m working for you.”

            Well, we got to be very good friends, and I would tell my dad that we hired this chief inspector. “Parker,” he said, “I know Parker. He used to be on the beat on Front Street. I’ve interacted with him a few times over the years in the capacity of police.” I said, “I’m going to have him over for dinner.” I had Chief Parker over for dinner with my mom and dad, and everything was going fine, but they start talking about Front Street and all those years that transpired between now and then and what they’ve done. Here it ends up – they start talking about World War II and prior to the war and all this (39:00) – my father and Chief Parker went to a CC camp in Virginia. It was some kind of a military style, boot type camp for boys, teenage boys.

DS:      Teenage boys.

JF:       Right. And here they went to the same CC camp in Virginia, but they were in different companies. But my dad went upstairs and got all these pictures out and brought them down, and there’s a picture of this CC camp at some ceremony, and Parker’s in it and my dad’s in it, as boys. So their history went way back. Talk about a small world. It’s phenomenal. So that night, I lost my guest, Chief Parker, at the dinner table, because they went on a tangent for hours and hours and hours. I went to bed.

DS:      And what does CC stand for? Do you know? [Civilian Conservation Corps.]

JF:       CC. I should know, because I’m sure I’ve been told. CC camps, and they were before World War II. (40:00)

DS:      And they were to train teenage boys?

JF:       They were kind of a military-style boot camp –

DS:      To prepare them for –

JF:       Probably to prepare them for service, I guess. I guess back then everybody served. I don’t remember where that happened. I know when I was raised there was a draft. I don’t know how it was back then. We’re talking about the ‘30s, I guess. I’m not sure how the military operated these CC camps…

DS:      Tell me about what the inside of St. Peter’s looked like when you were growing up. They still had the stained glass windows in it?

JF:       The church?

DS:      Yes. Was it very insular because of the neighborhood and what was going (41:00) on around them, or were they out and open –?

JF:       St. Peter’s was pretty open. Of course, it has a very old graveyard attached to it. There’s rich history in the graveyard. We used to study some of those things, some of those people that were out there, through the history classes. I think there might be some Indians that were buried in that graveyard. And right now, do they have a whole square block now? There used to be homes beyond the original school building. But in the ‘60s they were abandoned, because we used to run around and play in them and pull fire alarms and make the fire company come down. Why the fire alarms were still hooked up in the buildings I don’t know – empty. And today, if you would have left (42:00) buildings like that, people would live in them. They’re empty.

DS:      This would have been from where St. Peter’s School is –

JF:       Yes, they were 319 Lombard.

DS:      Toward Fourth Street.

JF:       Yes, they were 319 Lombard down to the corner. On the Lombard side there were homes there. Behind those homes was the graveyard. That went all the way on Pine. But those homes were empty, evacuated, when I was in school at St. Peter’s. Now, today, I don’t know if the school bought the block or what.

DS:      The church owned the lot, owned the whole square block. They sold that grass lot to the school for $1.00, and if the school ever wants to sell it, it has to come back to St. Peter’s [church]. Did you know a David Morrison? He was a choir boy, maybe a little older than you [inaudible] – (43:00)

JF:       The name sounds familiar.

DS:      He said they used to play baseball in the graveyard. Did you all ever do that?

JF:       No, we weren’t allowed to play in the graveyard.

DS:      Wonderful.

JF:       Now, Koci was the rector. Very strict. Militant type of guy. I didn’t know it then, but I know it guy. You know, with the crew cut. He was a militant type of guy. Kids were disciplined very hard. He wanted them to just be perfect. It was kind of sad. He was tough on his kids, tougher than he was on us. And he was tough on us. There were these trees over there, between the schoolyard and the church. I don’t know what you call them, but they had these big, green –

DS:      Osage oranges.

JF:       They would fall. The only baseball I could think of was when we used to bat them around the schoolyard, split them open and everything. It would have been (44:00) a little bit annoying for them, I’m sure. I remember them falling down in the yard there. The schoolyard was a parking lot and a school yard at the time. There’s an addition on there now that was put on after I left.

DS:      Other stories. About Front Street.

JF:       Oh, South Street was much friendlier than it is now. South Street was always a lot of mom and pop stores. There was not this attraction that it’s become after Society Hill took over here and did what it did. Then South Street became something different than when I was a boy. Like when, later on in life, when everybody was going to South Street to go to the bars and do all these things on South Street. I was a kid there; I grew up (45:00) down there. It wasn’t anything like that, so I came back down and saw it and realized it had changed.

DS:      When you grew up, it was more of a –

JF:       Mom and pop stores. Anything and everything you could need, you could walk over on South Street and get it. And the stores on Second Street – early, mid ‘60s people started opening stores on Second Street. There wasn’t stores. It was just the market. Those other little things weren’t there. That was later in the ‘60s.

DS:      But there was the market? Underneath the Shambles?

JF:       Yes, the market stopped being used as a market in the late ‘50s, but it was used as a gathering place for, like I said, the arts and crafts shows, and things like that would happen in there.

DS:      Any other stories about the street? Anything else you want to (46:00) contribute?

JF:       The areas that I am most familiar with, was more or less allowed to go around was from Front Street up to Fourth Street and between Spruce and South. That was my entire world back when I was a little kid.

DS:      Did you ever go down to the river? We were not allowed to go down to the river without an adult. So Front Street was the end. We weren’t allowed to head down to – it was Delaware Avenue back then. You weren’t allowed to go down to Delaware Avenue or cross Delaware Avenue without an adult. I was 14 when I left the area, so by the time I was 14, the river wasn’t really anything back then. It was developing to what it is today. The ships had gone. The market left. This was quite a bustling – I tell you, living here wasn’t – it wasn’t the (47:00) spot to live. This was a busy, busy, bustling area. Like I say, 4 o’clock it woke up. It didn’t stop until midnight. Every day. This was a very active area.

[End of first side of tape. Second side of tape.]

JF:       – the horse and buggy would be coming down the street, and this guy who) drove it, would take numbers. Again, I am a kid, and I don’t really get the whole gist of this numbers thing, but he would take numbers. Well, down here by Front Street, one of the people living in one of the houses down near the end, they had a radio or something, and all the people sitting out on the stoops made sure they tied this guy up long enough so that he could get the results of the race. So that by the time he got to your house here, everyone here knew who won. You know that I mean? Then the neighborhood would split the money.

DS:      The neighborhood?

JF:       Yes, because we’d all taken a part in holding him up so that he couldn’t get to Front Street before the race went off, because we needed the race to go off so that the guy with the equipment to hear it knew who won. And the word would trickle up the (1:00) street who won, and every second or third house could play the winner, so it didn’t tip him off. If everybody hit the winner in the last five houses, he would be tipped off. So we had to scatter it down the block. Now, of course I’m a kid; so I’m not in play on this, but I’m aware of it.

DS:      And your father and his –

JF:       Yes.

DS:      And your grandfather? They played the numbers?

JF:       Yes.

DS:      And do you know who the guy was?

JF:       I don’t know who he was. It was one of our neighbors down here.

DS:      On Delancey?

JF:       On Delancey. One or two or three houses up from the corner. They had whatever equipment they needed to hear the race. Whether it was a special radio, I don’t know. But they would know the number that would win by the time he got to 26. We’d all know the number.

DS:      Do you remember any other horse and carriage kind of deliveries? (2:00)

JF:       Just the milk, juices, ice. I mean, there was an ice cream or ice water or snow cone type guy that used to come around with a little horse and carriage. I don’t remember so much like ice cream like when I was – like Good Humor, Jack and Jill – coming around. We had Abbotts Dairy with a lot of ice cream. I don’t remember the style like we have today. It was a more raw, you know, with the syrups and the chopped ice, and you’d pour grape syrup over the chopped ice. I remember that. I don’t remember these delicious Italian water ices that we’ve grown up on since then.

[Tape is turned off, then on again.[

DS:      This is a story about St. Peter’s camp for the choir boys.

JF:       It was social for the school, church, all one. It was in the Poconos. We had (3:00)

a large campsite right in the valley of the hill, and there were three or four cabins built there, and then a large kitchen and assembly area where we would eat or do arts and crafts. And then there was an in-ground swimming pool behind that. It was a concrete, very rough pool, rough on your feet, the concrete was so rough. And cold. The water was cold. And then beyond that, going back towards the hill, on the right side, there were three flat, wood decked areas with tents built onto them. They were the areas the boys would sleep in. And off to the left side of them was the outhouse, which was always a scary experience. We would all get together there every summer.

DS:      How many boys would this be? (4:00)

JF:       We would fill two of the cabins, two of the tents – eighteen or so.

DS:      Tell us about the cook.

JF:       Mrs. Michikay

DS:      Can you spell that?

JF:       Oh, no. I might be able to get somebody to spell it. My sister, or somebody, or my mother. Mrs. Michikay also had a son, who I think attended St. Peter’s before me.

DS:      And she was a parishioner.

JF:       She was a parishioner, she was Cuban. [Transcriber’s note: On the tape, he says she was Italian, but he later said she was Cuban, after he consulted with his mother.], and she was a cook. And she would go to camp with us every year and did all the cooking. My sister was one of the girls that went to help her around the camp. Mariane Lacey. She was Marianne Fletcher then. She used to cook – what all little boys loved to eat (5:00) this woman made. But the big thing, at least once during the week we were there, she would take these hamburger buns and make them into little pizzas. And you could have all you wanted when she was cooking. They were fabulous. We looked forward to that. Of course we had the big fires, the big bonfires. They used to try to scare us. I remember one night we heard some noise outside of our tent, and normally someone would say, “That’s a bear,” or something like that, which it could be, coming out of the hills. But I look outside the tent, and here’s these Indians, and they have these torches and they got a big campfire going. It was all the counselors. They were all dressed up as Indians. They were about to raid us and drag us out to this campfire and do whatever they do to exhilarate us. It was pretty funny, but we had figured it out – that they were out there before they got to us, because they had trouble lighting their torches.

DS:      So this would be for only one week? (6:00)

JF:       Maybe it was two weeks. I can’t remember. It might be two weeks. I know the first year I went – talk about my grandfather Samuel Fletcher – I don’t know how old I was. Can’t remember that, but the first year I went, I hated it. Of course, Mr. Koci was up there. I’m telling you, he was very militant like. So that reveille call, come out to muster call, and all the rules and everything, that song that came out, “Here I am at Camp Granada.” Well, that related to what I was experiencing. I wrote a letter home. “Come get me. I gotta get out of here.” And I think on Wednesday that week – we got there on a Saturday. By Wednesday, my grandfather picked me up and took me home. And the problem was, by the time he got there, I decided I liked it. But because he drove up, I had to go home; so I got cut short that first year at the camp, because I wrote a letter (7:00) saying, “Get me out of here.”

[End of interview.]

Transcriber’s Note: When reviewing the transcript, the narrator made a number of additions and changes to the text of the interview. So there are some inconsistencies between the transcript and the recorded interview.



© 2009 Project Philadelphia 19106.™ All rights reserved.

About the Interview

Dorothy Stevens
Cynthia J. Eiseman
Interview Location
1041 Buttonwood Street
Interview Date
November 5, 2008
Fletcher, Joe
Narrator Type
Lifelong Resident
Oral History Sources