Birth and Early Memories
On December 8, 1919 there occurred one of those rare events that happens only once in history. On this date, in a humble eight-room house, was born a man whom I have never ceased to admire - me. This might not
seem especially rare to anyone else, but you must admit that unless you are a Hindu mystic, that no one is born twice. So this occasion was sufficiently rare, at least to me, to merit my undivided attention.
The house, so I have been told, was built on a piece of land now under the woodpile at Diamond International. I have been further informed that Frank Augsburg Sr. later bought the property later. Rather than
dismantling the house piece by piece and carefully erecting it later on a suitable spot to be maintained by the National Park Service, he had the effrontery to pile the pulpwood on top of it until the place was
My earliest memory was of myself standing on a dock with what I believed to be a tugboat. If someone had not screamed and snatched me away, it would not have imprinted itself on my mind. My next recollection was
the day we moved to what was known as the Ferry Dock. That is, the district was called the Ferry Dock. I would not have you believe that circumstances were so bad that we were camping on private property. We
moved to a house on North Water Street, and I quickly made a friend of a boy my own age in the neighborhood named Peter Lalonde.
The Barn Fire
As I was not yet in school, I had a lot of attention from my mother - attention I sometimes found onerous as there were so many things I wanted to investigate. I remember that in back of Lalondeís there was a
large barn. One day Peter and I were playing with matches and set a small pile of hay afire that stood next to the barn. We watched it for a while until it became quite a little fire when for some reason we lost
interest in it and went elsewhere to find other interests. We heard later that the entire barn had burned down. Being the only self-portable kids in the neighborhood not in school, we were both questioned about
it. We were unable to connect a burning pile of hay with the destruction of a barn next to it, so we denied having anything to do with it. Since we were not punished, it was probably deemed an act of God, a
broad-shouldered deity more capable of accepting blame than two lovable five-year olds. In all honesty, however, I can look back on it now and admit that there may have been a nnection.
Eddie St. Germain
One of the best friends I made there was a boat builder named Eddie St. Germain whose shop was almost directly in back of our house. There was also a small bay in back of our hose, and Eddie had a dock built on
it where he would launch his newly-made boats until the planking had swelled enough so they would not leak. then he would paint them and offer them for sale. I spent a great deal of time with him and he would
set me to work caulking boats for him. He would use cotton batting soaked in white lead which was driven into the seams with a putty knife and a wooden mallet. After he thought I had worked until I was tired, he
would give me a penny for my labor, a princely sum for me. I have often thought of the extra work this patient and kindly man must have done after I left, to undo the work of a small child and then do it over
again. But in all the time we lived there he never failed to compliment me on the great help I was to him. Those times I might be sick he would always give my mother a bag ofandy for me. He would discourage
other kids from hanging around his works, but he apparently became attached to me, just as I became attached to him. My mother never had to worry where I might be, sine he always walked me home after work, a
matter of perhaps twenty or thirty feet.
Another man I liked was Dave Dinberg. He would come around every few weeks buying scrap bottles, paper, rubber or clothes. I would help him carry everything out to his wagon and he too would give me a penny for
my work, and then go clop-clopping off in his wagon. I would give anything to hear that sound again, an iron-shod horse and an iron-wheeled wagon going by on a cobble-stoned street, a sound so common then, but
now gone forever. I can remember little of him except his beard. He had a junk yard on the Spring Street side of the bridge and I imagine he must have been quite successful since he had his own railroad spur and
a large house very close to the upriver side of the bridge. I understand he also had three sons, one of whom owned Dinbergís Glove Factory, another owned Dinbergís Clothing Store, and the third owned a quite
defective mind, though he was supposedly harmless.
Mr. Dinberg was found murdered one night - done in with a hammer, and the safe wide open. The mentally defective son was picked up, charged with the murder, and spent the rest of his life in the state hospital.
Many people to this day consider him innocent and have always maintained that the police made it easy o themselves by rushing a conviction on an innocent man. There was a little doggerel making the rounds of the
city after that, author unknown, and it went like this:
Oh listen all my children
For Iíve a tale to tell,
How poor old Davey Dinberg
Was hammered all to hell.
For years afterwards most kids hated to walk on that side of the bridge at night, because a man had been murdered in the place. Finally in the late thirties or early forties someone set the house afire and it
burned completely down. One of the most fascinating things to me at that age was the times I would accompany my older brothers or sisters over to the Sorelís. My brother Pete hung around with young Joe Sorel
while my sister Margaret hung with his sister Maggie. They were related to us in some way, since Old Joe married into my motherís family. Anyway, Mr. Sorelís father-in-law was named Sharpe and he was always
drinking tea. Being a very old man he had palsy something wicked. He drank his tea the same way a lot of older people drank it, which was to pour it from the cup into a saucer and then drink it out of the
saucer. The advantage of this was that if the tea was too hot you could pour it into your saucer, blow on it to cool it off, then drink it. I could never understand the science behind this nor could I imagine
how this old man, shaking as he was, was able to do this time after time without spilling a drop.
I was told my many people at the time that Mr. Sharpe had died and all his friends had gathered at his wake prepared to give him a good send-off out of this vale of tears, fortified with good bootleg whiskey,
groaning tables of food, and the latest supply of jokes. Wakes in those days were held in the home rather than at funeral homes. Come to think of it, there was no such thing as a funeral home. As they finished
their sad or happy tears, whatever the case may have been, and were preparing to dig in, Mr. Sharpe very inconsiderately climbed out of his coffin and ruined the whole thing. I suppose it was rather like saying
good-bye to a favorite mother-in-law on her way to Europe after a six monthsí stay with you and then having the ship sink at the dock. He died again shortly after we moved out of the neighborhood. This time they
had him embalmed and he stayed put.
Origin of Pete Comoís Name
I think I should mention here something about my brother Pete. His name is not Pete at all, but John Francis Como. For a long time all the adults called him John P., and I assumed that someone had called him that
after John P. Morgan, a noted financier of the time. But he himself told me that an aunt named him that because of unreliable kidneys. At any rate, he was stuck with it. It was later shortened to P. or Pete and
so he is called by all his family and relatives to this day.
Peter Lalonde Drowns
It was around this time that I lost my friend Peter Lalonde. Between our house and the George Hall Coal Company there was a large pile of sand on the edge of the dock. All the kids in the neighborhood would climb
to the top of the pile and then slide down the steep parts. Naturally as time went on the pile became shorter and broader until there was sand clear to the edge of the dock. It was almost dusk one day when
someone went by the house screaming that Peter had slid clear off the dock and into the river. My mother, being terrified, did not allow me to leave the house, so I had to watch from a window. They found him
that night. The practice then was to roll a drowned person over a barrel to force out the water. Although this was done, it was of no use. Needless to say, no one in the district was allowed on that pile again.
The Mattress Raft
My father threw an old mattress out in the back yard and my brother Dick and I dragged it down to our little bay ad into the water. It floated very well and we had a couple of long sticks ad pushed it around the
water for quite a while. It is hard to realize the feeling a kid has with his own raft or boat or whatever, so we became more and more bold, even though our mattress was becoming water-logged and slowly sinking.
Somehow or other we went too far and before we knew it, our sticks would no longer reach bottom and the current was dragging us down the river.
The ferry dock was just ahead of us and the Miss Vanderbrug was preparing to dock. Miss Vanderburg was an old side wheeler ferry. She had a steam engine with alternate stacks and steam was expelled out of each
stack alternately so that she sounded somewhat like a city sump pump. Apparently the pilot and most of the passengers saw us on a collision course and the wheelman, knowing maritime law to wit: that a sailboat
or other unmanageable craft has the right of way over a steamer, frantically went into reverse to avoid running us down. Also, no doubt, to avoid harsh penalties from the officials enforcing this law. The ferry
managed to stop and the border patrol picked us up in their cruiser while our sinking mattress went down the river where she must have soon foundered, joining the heroic ranks of the deep, along with the Titanic
and the Lusitania.
Adjoining St. Germainís boat works, you might say back-to-back with it, was a carriage house. In this carriage house were several carriages of different types, one in particular being what I believe was a former
hack. A very narrow alley ran between the two buildings and with a couple of slightly older girls my brother Dick and I would repair to the hack which was enclosed and therefore ideal for scientific or
intellectual conversations of all types. My brother and I were taking a course in female anatomy, aptly taught by the aforementioned girls, a course which we found highly interesting, until my mother came
looking for us. Taking a look at the exhibits, or perhaps you would say the curriculum, the course came to a screeching halt. Sad to say, I was not allowed to resume my studies until a good many years later. I
could never understand my motherís aversion to this sort of thing. Even had we known what to do, at that age we had very little to do it with.
My Fatherís Car
About this time my father acquired his first, and only, car. It was not necessary to have a license then, and Iím not sure if cars carried plates. You paid your money, the dealer showed you how to operate it, and
then you were on your own. This car was a large Studebaker. It had a back seat and a front seat, and if you wanted to carry more passengers, two more seats folded out from the floor between the two. My mother
always claimed that this was when my father became an alcoholic. He was on the Utica run, and he would take a train to Utica., lay over for a day or so, and take another train back. He would stay at his sisterís
in Utica. Since there was little to do, they would spend the time comparing the merits, or lack of them, of various brands of bootleg hooch. Like all dedicated scientists, they soon became engrossed in their
experiments, even to the extent of my father carrying on his research alone. He was so occupied one night when, due to double vision, he was presented with a choice of twotreets occupying the same space.
Unfortunately he chose the wrong one and wrapped his car around a tree.
George Hall Company Burns Down
Somewhere around this time the operations of the George Hall Coal Company burned down. I remember it was at night and it was quite a large fire. But of course my mother would not allow me to get a closer view.
The coal silos caught fire and were completely demolished. They moved their operations to the property of the Hannan Coal Company, where they are to this day.
As I remember, starting at the bridge on Lake Street, the first building I am sure of was Hackettís hardware. Next was Katzmanís junk yard. Beside them was Chandlerís, a company which dealt in eggs and butter.
Then came the Hall Company, a house, then our place. There were several more houses to the corner, all this on the river side, of course. Then there was Derochies Coal Company, the Yacht Club, and then the City
Park. At the very end of Isabella Street was the Ferry terminal and next to that was Lammachiaís Fruit Wholesalers. Cater corner to Derochies was Clarkís Grocery.
The Yacht Club
I remember the Yacht Club for a good reason. I fell or was pushed into one of the slips behind it. Iíve always thought that sibling rivalry led one of my older brothers or sisters to try to do me in because they
had a premonition of the brat I was to become. It was quite shallow and someone pulled me out before any harm came to me except for a large goose egg on my head.
The Yacht Club burned down in the thirties. It had a large fireplace on one end of the building which survived, but the club itself was demolished. A small building was later added to the free-standing fireplace
and people from out of town were amazed at this small building with the huge fireplace. During the war it was used as a plane spotting center by Civil Defense. To make this round-the-clock spotting more
interesting, the Civil Defense generally paired a male and a female on each shift. When I was released from the Army this sounded very interesting, and I was anxious to volunteer my services to my country, but
my wife took a very dim view of this. At that time keeping the peace at home was even more important than keeping the peace abroad, so I acquiesced.
The Dime Mine
Shortly before we moved from the Ferry Dock, I happened to notice an open drawer in a commode in our home. Being naturally inquisitive, I took a look and found a roll of dimes right under my nose. I helped myself
to one and went my way to Clarkís store where I purchased a goodly supply of candy. Being naturally good-hearted, I treated all my brothers and sisters. My mother, being equally curious, asked me where I
obtained the money. Being so magnanimous, I showed her my silver mine and politely invited her to help herself. She not so politely informed me that not only did she have prior mining rights, but had in fact
loaded this mine herself. I was punished for claim-jumping. From then on I was classed as a thief, even though I had no idea then what a thief was. Even to this day no member of my family will leave cash laying
around when I am present, especially dimes.
I can remember little of the clothes we wore then except for our shoes, clothes being an unnecessary evil as far as most kids are concerned. The shoes themselves came slightly higher than the ankle and it seemed
that shoes were always bought a size or two too small to save on material. The tongue was stitched all the way to the top of the shoe and instead of laces they had round buttons. To put on a shoe you stood on
the floor with your toes inside the shoe. Then a shoe horn was inserted into the back of it and all your weight was put on the shoe. After a few minutes all the blood in your foot was squeezed into your upper
leg and the shoe went on. After prying out the shoe horn, the same was done with the other foot. You then used a button hook, which was a small hook slid through the holes. When you wanted to take the shoes off,
you grasped a solid part of the house firmly attached to the foundation, and a husky adult would pull until you were stretched horizontally. then either the shoe or the footame off. Iíve always wondered why the
boys in our family were taller than our parents. It is also understandable why, in the early West, so many men died with their boots on. Probably the Badlands National Park became so because men clawed at the
rock while others attempted to remove their boots.
When new shoes were bought for us, my father would go to a meat market and get a pound or so of suet which was rubbed into the shoes a couple of times a week until they were pliable and absolutely
waterproof. I havenít seen suet for quite a few years now. I wonder if cows still grow it.
It was my fatherís custom that as soon as the weather became warm and school vacation had begun, to shave our heads. Our shoes came off, not to be put on again until school restarted in the Fall. None of the kids
in our neighborhood wore shoes in the summer.
Saving Bottles and String
Back then, practically all bottles were returnable. The kids kept the district pretty well cleaned up, so there was never any broken glass laying around. Any bottles not returned to a store were sold to the junk
man. Since there were very few packaged goods in the stores, there was very little trash in the streets except for the ashes from the hayburners, which the sparrows took care of. All paper bags were saved as was
also string. Every family had their ball of string saved from the markets, and some of them were quite large. String had a thousand uses then but, except for flying kites, practically everything is taped today -
even Presidential conversations [Refers to the conversations in the Oval Office that were taped by President Nixon] . By the way, if you donít know what a hayburner was, a more common name for it was a horse.
Very little was thrown away then. Thick clothing like coats and also rags were sold to a junk man. But first, all buttons were removed. Here again, every family had a button box. As soon as an article of clothing
became unserviceable, the buttons were removed and used to repair other clothing. Many of these buttons went back, perhaps to before the Civil War. They came in all shapes and sizes and were made out of all
kinds of materials. Some buttons had cameos inserted, others were filigreed with gold-plated wire. Many were strikingly beautiful and were simply too pretty to throw away. I doubt that the ingenuity or
craftsmanship exists today to create such a diverse multitude of buttons. If a housewife wished to be undisturbed by her children, she would bring out her button collection and the children would play for hours
trying to find two alike or just admiring their beauty and diversity.
When clothing was no longer usable and the buttons were removed, they were cut into squares. After a suitable amount of different types of material and patterns were saved, these squares would be sewn together to
make patchwork quilts. After enough had been sewn together to make a covering for a bed, cotton was sewn between the quilt and a plain cotton backing. These quilts were very beautiful and warm and, of course,
every woman was proud of her quilts since they represented a great deal of work.
Another method of using rags consisted of tearing off strips of the material with no attempt being made to match colors or material, and then sewing the strips together to make a rag rug. Our house and most
houses had bare wooden floors, well scrubbed, with a rag rug in the middle.
Another method of making rugs was with the use of a hook. If you admitted then that you had hooked a rug, it was something to brag about. Nowadays if you were to admit you had hooked a rug, some busybody would
probably call the police. The fist linoleum rug we ever had was bought when we moved to Covington St.
There was once a sand bar at the mouth of the Oswegatchie River. It was so shallow that at times it was possible to get out of your boat and walk around on it. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would periodically
ring in a large dredge to get rid of the excess sand since there was a great deal or river traffic then. I donít believe it has been dredged since the Ogdensburg -Prescott bridge was built. It will probably
become a marshy island again, just as it was shown on early maps.
My grandfather Como owned a punt and often he would take my brother Dick and I for a boat ride while he would troll. I believe Eddie St. Germain built the boat. It was nothing fancy, but very seaworthy. He would
troll most times on the sand bar at the mouth of the Oswegatchie or at least cross it. Some times he would row clear around the slip and beach the boat beyond the paper mill. The waters of the St. Lawrence were
crystal clear then, and it was possible to see bottom at perhaps thirty feet or so. One of the things that always intrigued me was rounding the end of the railroad slip and seeing the brilliant green of the St.
Lawrence where it met the black of the Oswegatchie. The demarcation line was so sharp that you could almost trace it with a pencil. A far cry from the filthy river of today.
At this time my Grandfather Como was a carter. I donít believe he owned his own team, he probably drove for someone else. The busy corner then was the corner of River and Lake Streets, where all the carters would
line up with their teams and wagons, waiting for business. Years later, I heard from Mr. Bailey, an oculist who knew my family very well, that my grandfather was the best man on an ice saw in the business. He
also worked for Northrops Cooper Works, making barrels. My father told me a story once where Mr. Northrop paid my grandfather in an envelope which contained a twenty-five dollar gold piece. My grandfather had an
idea that Mr. Northrop was testing his honesty and insisted on returning it, whereas my father, who had a great deal of larceny in his heart, called him a fool. As it developed, Mr. Northrop had no idea he had
made a mistake. In later years my grandfather became quite an athlete, being able to stand on one foot while he booted himself with the other each time he recalled the incent.
Grandfather and Grandmother Recore
Just before we moved from the Ferry Dock, we went to visit our Grandmother and Grandfather Recore, who lived then on Commerce St. While we were there, my grandmother Recore was rummaging around on a shelf, and
knocked off a pair of scissors which fell and went straight into the eye of my sister Berenice, who was quite small then and was looking up. She was rushed to the hospital, not far away, where they were taken
out and she has been practically blind in that eye ever since. My father broke the ends off the scissors after they were returned and from then on he would break the ends off any scissors that came into the
house, lest this accident be repeated.
My grandfather Recore came originally from Malone, N.Y., and as a young man had fallen under a train and had both legs cut off, one at about the knee and the other just above the knee. At any rate he did get
married and had thirteen or fourteen children, no doubt with a great deal of cooperation from my grandmother. He had large pads fastened onto the stumps and walked around with a short pair of crutches. He was an
immensely powerful man, no doubt from walking around on his hands in the privacy of his home, and he was well able to handle his kids. I remember still his extremely broad shoulders. His oldest son, my Uncle
Alec, never married, but lived with my grandfather and was always afraid of him. After he married my grandmother, apparently he made a living by having his children work in the fields of Malone picking hops
which, as you probably know, is one of the main ingredients of beer. When I knew him he did not work, but would go down on Ford Street and sell pencils out of his hat. I was always uneasy those times when I
visited by grandparents Recore. The smell of tea was overwhelming. They drank a lot of tea. I much preferred the smell of good honest hooch from my Grdfather Como.
Feud Between Mother and Grandfather Como
I suppose I should mention here that my mother and grandfather Como had little use for one another. My grandfather always lived with us and there was no way he could please my mother. I have heard that it all
went back to a time before my father and mother were married. Gramp and pa lived together and were a pair of happy bachelors. My grandfather preferred it that way. When my father decided to get married, my
grandfather was furious. At that time my parents rented a flat on the corner of Commerce and River Streets, since torn down. My grandfather, brooding over the injustice of my father leaving him for a mere woman,
waited for him to come home one night and, under cover of darkness, belted him one. My father, not knowing who had hit him, belted my grandfather in turn, giving him a bloody nose. He achieved partial revenge,
however, by wiping his bloody nose on every stitch of washing my mother had hung out. He came to live my mother and father after that. My grandfather loved my father very much but from then on it was more in the
way of an armed truce.