More Childhood Memories of Bridgeport, Connecticut

Provided by John Babina
(Edison 1955, Hall 1956, Notre Dame 1961; and Success Park)

        Ice cream vendors with refrigerated push-carts in Beardsley Park selling "Eskimo Pies". Kids putting a trading card on the forks of their bikes so they would vibrate on the spokes and made a loud buzzing sound. Sitting in the street next to Hall School with a portable radio and listening, in disbelief, to the Yankees losing the '55 series to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Playing stickball at the Success Park power house. Orcutt Boys Club "summer camp" - boys still swam au natural at the indoor pool! The Orcutt baseball team traveling to the North End Boys Club for rivalry games. Cub Pack 230 at Summerfield Methodist Church taking a road trip to Camden NJ and appearing on the Saturday morning Sealtest Big Top TV show. Viewing the animated mechanical toy collection at the Burroughs main branch public library. Memorial Day (used to be called Decoration Day) ceremonies at the soldier's and sailor's monument in Seaside Park, ending with a 3 gun salute. The fence at the GE plant surrounded with flags on every support post, at half mast for Memorial Day. The Gold Star mothers riding in the parade. The big train wreck in Bridgeport (early 50's) at the "Jenkins' Valve curve" which tore down all the catenaries and suspended service. The engineer died and the cause was never determined. The big light stanchions at Hedges Stadium lighting up the night sky on Mill Hill. The last 4th of July when CT allowed legal personal fireworks.  Success Park sounded like a war zone and our ears were ringing for hours afterwards. We were only allowed to have sparklers after that date. After that fateful 4th, some kids made fireworks "runs" via train to Chinatown in NYC to bring back "bootleg" fireworks. Remember when some automobiles were around that still had running boards and rumble seats . . .  split windshields that opened at the bottom and one taillight! Remember when radio - heater (R/H) was still an option and featured in car ads! Two-tone cars became a fad. Swinging around the flagpoles at Edison School, Bullard Havens and the power house (after hours, of course) using the flag rope to swing in a huge arc high off the ground. Going to the Jane Street library after grammar school on the Greyline Bus, (known locally as the "GE bus"), and not needing a parent as an escort. Getting a job as a snack vendor at Hedges Stadium at age 11 and making a "fortune" ($11) in 2 hours. That was big money in the early 50's. (Bunny's had the stadium food franchise.) The opening of the A&P on Boston Ave., which was a huge supermarket for the times. Hiking through the woods at Fairchild Memorial Park with our war surplus "army" canteens and knapsacks. Listening in shock as socialist Mayor Jasper McLevy lost the '57 election after 24 years in office. The national uproar over the destruction of the Wheeler mansion. The local uproar over the RT 8-25 connector cleaving Beardsley Park and shaving off a chunk of Bunnell's Pond. (By the way . . . Remember in our day that ponds routinely froze over solid all winter). The opening day ceremonies of the Highway theater with live performers ('52), the last movie theatre built in CT to include a live performance stage! JFK landing at Bridgeport airport to make a campaign speech ('60). Airplane "skywriters" making campaign messages in white smoke over Pleasure Beach & Seaside Park. (Blimps were used for public ad messages, too!) The ethereal wailing of local air raid sirens taking part in national air raid tests during the cold war - CONELRAD triangle logos on radio dials (on radios manufactured in the '50s) so you could find the emergency message stations, all other stations had to go silent (this was before we had the EBS, and now EAS, systems). Having to duck your head down during the air raid tests. Going to the health building emergency room at "Bulls Head" with a cut. Remember when you had to get "working papers" at 16 and a chest Xray if you were going to "handle food". Going to the GE sponsored Boy Scout "shack" on the GE property off Asylum Street. Going to the Sideshow at the Barnum & Bailey circus at Seaside Park. Watching the roustabouts use the elephants to erect the big top. Opening of the first Dairy Queen on Boston Ave. and getting the soft ice cream with a "brown derby" topping (crisp chocolate crust). Standing in lines, by academic grade, on the cinder covered playground at Edison School before the opening bell.  Boys and girls were in separate lines, monitored by patrol boys. We then marched in, in order, at the opening bell. [The old Hall School had Boy's Entrance and Girl's Entrance cast in the cement over the doors]. Suburban Nike missile bases ringing the city (Westport, Shelton, Ansonia, etc.)  to protect the industrial might of the Bridgeport region from Russian bombers. We were not allowed to wear "dungarees" and "sneaks" to school. Making schoolbook covers from brown paper bags. Selecting a live chicken from the chicken market on Barnum Avenue, which they would "dispatch" in the back room and then de-feather with boiling water and live steam. Mom would then singe off the remaining pinfeathers at home over the open flame gas jets of the kitchen range. Truck beds stacked high delivering the live chickens in these wooden cages. Your grandparents with gardens in the back yard and some even raised chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits! Hooking up the rolling washing machine [equipped with "safety wringers"] to the kitchen sink faucet with a rubber hose. Monday was laundry day. Remember the advertising "soap wars" claiming your wash, hung on the line, would be "whiter than white!" (Soap makers actually doped the soap with an ultraviolet triggered phosphor so sunlight would "juke up" the white appearance). Mom making homemade jelly and used hot paraffin wax as an airtight seal. Putting a card in the window for the ice man to bring ice. Speaking of door vendors: We had an egg man, a Dugan's Bread man, a milkman, a postman, vegetable vendor, Fuller Brush man, a cutter-grinder, and an Avon Lady. We had real paperboys. A family of kids named Sikorsky had a newspaper delivery "dynasty" in Success Park. They were used as examples of hard-working and enterprising young citizens by the teachers. Bringing in 50 cents per week to "bank" in school. The teacher wrote it right into your Mechanics & Farmers Savings Bank passbook! Remember when Mom went to Tupperware parties? There was an itinerate organ-grinder with monkey that collected coins in a cup. The monkey would tip his hat when he got a coin. An old crow (or was it a magpie or raven?) at the Beardsley Park aviary that would say "Aw shut up" when prompted. The huge garbage dump fires at Seaside Park that would burn out of control for days. The distinctive sound of the mechanical calliope at the Pleasure Beach carousel. Pulling the brass ring and getting a free ride. Touring the visiting Naval vessels that would tie up at the Buckley Brothers Dock. Visiting the ice cream factory in Bridgeport with the Cub Scouts and getting free treats. (We also toured the Borck & Stevens Wonder Bread bakery and got cupcakes.) Ballpoint pens eliminating the big tipped "scratch" pens and inkwells in school! Remember the three color ballpoints!

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