Remembering Irvington, "These were the good old days."

By Bill Kraft

     I grew up in West Baltimore in the Irvington area. West Baltimore is surrounded by cemeteries, Loudon Park, Mount Olivet, Western, and New Cathedral. For the most part there is a profusion of row homes, with a few single type homes sprinkled here and there. In the 30’s and early 40’s the men worked and the women stayed home to raise their children. This picture changed during WWII. These were lean years with the country still struggling from the depression. But for us kids, "These were the good old days."

     I went to 71 school, while most of my friends went to Saint Joseph Monastery. When school let out for the summer, it signaled the start of baseball. As sure as the sun rises in the East, you could always find our gang behind 71 playing ball. Lynch, Prager, Donahue, Fauble, Cousins, Collins, Shoffer, Amer, Bahline, Brown, City, Herron, and Truffer were a few that played from sun-up to sun -down. Tar taped balls and mended bats were the equipment of the day. When the score got into the higher double digits, we would chose sides again and start over. We even played a few away games next to Gwynns Falls Junior High, against the Kids from North Monastery. In the fall our interest turned to football, again being played at 71 or behind the new Monastery Church.

     War cards, baseball cards, and marbles also played a role in those early years. For a penny one could buy a war card or baseball card. The pack also included a piece of gum the same size as the card. War cards were crudely drawn depicting battle scenes. We would skim these cards up against a wall, and the closest to the wall won all the cards. Baseball cards were more revered. With these we made line-ups, and would then roll dice to see if that player, got a hit, walk, or out. The girls played with dolls, hop scotch, or jacks. The girls, Bahline, Daugherty, O’Hara, Wilson, Clark, Lazacus, Hibbets where are they now? At night we would join forces and play Red Line, Red Rover Red Rover, or relay races. Another past time was after a good snow, it brought out adults and children of all ages to the Culver Street slope. From Old Frederick Road to St. Joseph Street the Flexible Flyers were the sleds of choice.

     In the evening we would be glued to our Philco’s listening to Dick Tracy, Don Winslow of the Navy, Sky King, Little Orphan Annie, and Jack Armstrong the All American Boy. If one had a decoder, they could decipher a secret message given at the end of a program. Throughout the week, around the eight o’clock time, we would listen to Jack Benny, Amos and Andy, Lux Radio Theater, Duffy’s Tavern, Fred Allen, Fiber McGee and Molly, and Joe Lewis defending his heavy weight title. Sunday comics was a treat, some of my favorites were Buzz Sawyer, Katzenjammer Kids, Alley Oop, Tailspin Tommy, and Ozark Ike.

     The arrabers selling fruits and vegetables from horse drawn wagons, along with the milkman, and iceman were familiar sights. People left the milkman notes for their milk and bread orders on the porch in the returnable bottles. Before refrigerators everyone had ice boxes, and with them came the daily chore of emptying the drip pan. A job that took one minute to dump the water in the sink somehow ranked up there with cutting the lawn. The iceman didn’t have to knock on doors, a 10 x 10 card placed in the window would tell him what size piece of ice to deliver. We would wait for him to make a delivery, and then jump on the truck to get slivers of ice. Do you remember the whistling iceman from Wiskow’s Ice Company?

     Litsal’s Bakery on Culver street made those mouth watering twisted coconut buns. Behind the bakery on Kossuth street was Ottenger’s Grocery Store. Boots Ottenger was the owner and meat cutter. Later his son Donald and his wife Hilda took over the business. Diagonally across the street was Falter’s Tavern. A men only spot that catered to the locals. Carry out tapped beer in a bucket was a popular item. In the next block was Kelly’s Drug Store. A nickel bought you a cherry coke. Superman and Batman comics were a dime. Three houses from Kelly’s was the haunted house. That’s what us kids called it. An old two story house without electricity, encompassed by trees, tall grass, and hedges extending into the trees, didn’t need a no trespassing sign.

     Wiskow’s was on the south side of Frederick Ave between Collins and Loudon Ave. The bowling alley was on the second floor. Across the street was the Alco Lunch, and the car barn. All the # 8’s streetcars from the mostly wooden type to the streamline newer models were housed there. In the next block there was the Cut-Rate store and High’s. Across the street was Ledig’s, and the Irvington Theater. The movies only cost 11 cents, but that was still too steep for us to frequent. Saturday was the favorite day to go to the movies. Not only did one get to see the main attraction, the news, a cartoon, but best of all the serial. Each week there was a cliff hanger with the hero either going off a cliff, tied up in a burning building, or getting blown up. Somehow he always managed to escape in the next episode.

     Then there was the class of 45 from Gwynns Falls Jr. High. Hollingsworth. Hoffman, Ridgell, Street, Moore, Runkel, Kendall, Ballou, Cunningham, Shaw, and Krone. Where are they now? In sports, there were the World Champion International League Orioles of 45, the Baltimore Bullets, and the Baltimore Colts of the A.A.F.C., "These were the good old days."

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