Jamaica Plain Memories of Richard Charles Hoeh
Transcribed by Cynthia Hoeh Stancioff and edited by Katherine Hoeh Griffin.
I was born on July 18, 1930 in the Faulkner Hospital, which I believe is in Jamaica Plain. Back in those years, Jamaica Plain was mostly Irish and German, with a few Greeks, English and French. My mother, Margaret, and her two brothers, Otto and Freddie Morlock, owned a large block of apartments and shops on the corner of Centre and Paul Gore streets. The address was 414 Centre Street. They also owned a smaller apartment house next door at 408 Centre Street. Freddie and his wife Florence lived in the building at 408. They had a son Freddie who was one year older than I; they had a daughter Loretta who was one year older than my sister (Ruthie); and then later on a second set, Barry and Leola. One of the tenant families was the Peterosses who ran the Greek store on the corner (where the Morlock family originally had a German bakery). The father was Agamemnon Peteross, the oldest girl was Helen, then Georgie, and then Chrysanthemum. To the back of the apartments was a large yard pretty well shaded with giant elm trees. The front of the house bordered on Centre Street, and had a piazza, or porch, overlooking Centre Street. Centre at that time was cobbled, and Paul Gore Street was brick. On our porch or piazza in the back was a rather large coop of passenger pigeons, and this was something of a hobby for my father (Frederick A. Hoeh) and my uncles.
Running down Centre Street from Forest Hills and Hyde Park was a trolley line. When it came to the front of our house there was a junction – to the left the tracks went down South Huntington Avenue, and in front of our house they went straight down Centre Street. When a trolley came down Centre Street they had to make a decision right in front of our house at the juncture, and if they were going to South Huntington, the conductor would have to get out of the car and throw a switch on the tracks. He’d also have to pull the mast off the wires and adjust it to the other set of wires.
The street lights were gas lamps and had to be lit manually each evening. Across Centre Street to the left was the Curtiss House. This was a large, white colonial with a green roof, probably tile, and shutters, green shutters on the front. It was pretty well covered with arborvitae so it was difficult to look in. Around the perimeter of the house was a large, black wrought-iron fence. The story held that the roof contained one or two cannon balls fired during the Revolutionary War. There was also a library, the Post Office, and to the right a movie theater. On Centre Street on the opposite side was a very large Catholic Church [Blessed Sacrament], and just down the street from the Catholic Church was the Plant shoe factory.
My early memories as a child involve smells and sounds as well as sights. Some of the earliest sounds were the trolley going down Centre Street and also the various vendors in their horse-drawn wagons. I can remember home delivery on ice – you just hung out the sign and they’d deliver the ice, milk and fish. There was also a man that came around collecting rags and old newspapers, also a knife sharpener and a scissors sharpener. To accommodate all these horse-drawn wagons was a manure man who came by every morning with a large barrel suspended between two good-sized wheels. He also had a shovel and a broom and he used that to collect all the horse manure.
One of my early memories involves my mother reading to me on the front porch overlooking Centre Street, and I remember one of the early books was The Water Babies [by Charles Kingsley]. I don’t remember much about the story. Also early on were the walks around Jamaica Pond, which wasn’t very far from the house. Jamaica Pond at that time was in pretty good condition. The path around it was gravel, but it was well-policed and there were no signs of trash.
I was about three years old when my sister Ruthie [Ruth Elizabeth Hoeh] was born, and I have plenty of memories of that event, including a visit to the hospital to see her there before she was even ready to come home.
Early memories of friends included the Dougherty boys that lived across the street. There was Paul and Donald I believe. Across the courtyard in the back was the Sievers family. This included the Daddy, Hans, and Martha (the mother), and the children were (in order) Gerhardt who was about the age of my cousin Freddie, and then there was Herbie who was a year older than I was, and Werner, who was my age. This was a very German family. Hans, the father, had a mustache that looked like Hitler’s and also the same hair-do. He would take the family up to Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire about every Sunday when the weather was nice, and they would promptly climb to the summit and then march back down.
Hans was an engineer somewhere and made a pretty good living. Werner attended first grade with me at the Wyman School. Our first grade teacher was Mrs. Johnson, who was also my mother’s first grade teacher, and she remembered my mother [Margaret Morlock] quite well. The school was several blocks down Centre Street on our side of the road. To get there we had to pass Braun’s delicatessen, which was a German delicatessen with barrels of pickles and sauerkraut and also bratwurst on every Thursday. There was a penny-candy store right next to the school and in there were all kinds of candy and also bubblegum with cards.
Games in the schoolyard included marbles, as well as “scaling” these picture cards up against the wall, and whoever’s card was closest to the wall got to pick up the rest of the cards. The cards came with bubble gum – for a penny you could get a card with bubble gum. In order to get enough cards you had to buy an awful lot of bubble gum, so you can imagine that this in itself became a problem. One of our great games was to feed the bubble gum to the horses that were parked alongside of the street. Of course the horses would chew the bubble gum until it became all frothy and dribbled down their fronts, so this didn’t make the vendors very happy.
On the way home from school we would pass a saloon on one of the corners, and by then the doors would be open and we could smell the stale beer and this was something that I remember very vividly.
I went to the first grade was in 1936, and I remember very vividly that the Sievers family decided to go back to Germany for a visit, just about the time the first grade was over. So they spent two months or more over in Germany. Hans, as German as he was, recognized that there was a real problem in Germany, and when he came back he shaved off his Hitler mustache and he combed his hair in a different way and seemed to behave in a more “normal” manner.
In 1937 we went to the second grade at the Lowell School, which was only a block or so away from the Wyman School. Now why this was necessary I don’t know. When the Sievers returned from Germany, Werner had missed a month or more of the second grade, but instead of making him make up this time they put him in the third grade. I think it was because he was very intelligent and all of his testing would show this. For the third grade I was transferred to the Mary Curley School, so here you have three different schools in my first three grades. I don’t understand exactly why it worked that way.
Our playground back in those days was Jamaica Pond, which was a short walk from the house. Jamaica Pond was clear and the rumor was that it had no bottom. There was ice skating there every winter. First they’d test the ice by running a loaded sand truck on the ice, and if it didn’t fall through then they figured the ice was safe enough for skating, and they would proceed to plow it off and cover it with fresh water to make for a real smooth skating area. I remember the Children’s Museum was on a shore of Jamaica Pond back in those days in a red-brick building. I also vaguely remember some ramps that went down into the water, and I believe that this was a remnant of the ice houses that were on the lake years ago.
There was fishing out on the lake but you had to rent a boat from the boathouse in order to fish. There was no fishing from the shore allowed, but this was not a problem for us – we would go down there with hand lines and little dough balls and we would catch sunfish and bluegills. I remember that the Sievers were very active in this, and Herbie Sievers was really the one who introduced me to fishing. I can remember sitting on the shore with the clear water and seeing large trout cruise by and this was probably what got me all excited about fishing as my favorite recreation.
I remember one time the Children’s Museum had a pet show, and I took my dog Nightie down to the pet show, and my sister took one of our passenger pigeons. Much to my dismay the passenger pigeon got a second-place award, and my dog was ignored. My dog Nightie was a pleasure. She was a black (probably part Labrador) mongrel and she fit very well into the neighborhood. Every morning she would go across the street and down to get a doughnut or a bun at the bakery, and then she would go further down the street – there was a meat-cutter down there who would give her a bone. She’d take all this and go out in the middle of the street and lie down and eat it. Frequently the trolley car had to stop and the conducter get out and move her out of the way before they could proceed. My cousin Freddie had two friends: Otto Becker (another German), and Bud Kissel, and they would take Nightie for walks and that would be a pleasure for the dog and give her a lot of exercise.
Some of the other memories from those early days included the airplanes that flew over several times a day, and this was really the beginning of commercial aviation. It was NorthEast Airlines running between Boston and New York and then on down to Philadelphia on a regular schedule. I can remember in 1937 when the German dirigible, the Hindenburg, was coming over to the United States, and this was well advertised in advance, and the Hindenburg came in over Boston and circled the town twice before it proceeded down to New Jersey, where it blew up just as it was docking at the airport in New Jersey. My mother was prepared for this sighting of the Hindenburg, and she took us up into the attic where we had a good view as it circled the city, and you could see the swastika on the back – I remember that part. I also remember torch-light parades down Centre Street, and one at least was the German Bund, and they had a lot of torches as well as a marching band. Up Centre Street somewhere were the baths, and my mother and father would go up there once or twice a week to take showers, since all we had in the apartment was a tub.
Much of my family’s social life was centered around the Church. This was a Methodist Lutheran Church down on Amory Street, and it was built out of granite blocks and really looked like a church. The place was so German that once a month, at least, the service was in German, including the sermon. I didn’t get anything out of this and I’m not sure how much of it my folks got. My father [Frederick August Hoeh] sang in the choir, along with his sister, Flossie [Florence Hoeh], so Christmas Eve was a big deal down in that church and my father and his brother Robert [Hoeh] furnished the Christmas tree and had a lot to do with the decorations. My father’s sister Florence, we called her Auntie Flossie, her husband Frederick [Schwarz] and my cousin Eric lived down in the area of the church so we saw them frequently. My grandmother [Katherine Yetter Hoeh] was still around back then and I don’t remember her very well. My grandfather [Charles Hoeh] had died.
After my father graduated from Boston University he went to work for an outfit that was headquartered in Maine and run by a fellow named True, and they manufactured bottle box partitions and textile winding boards, so my father decided he would take off where Mr. True ended, and he had an idea for a reusable box partition. Heretofore, all the extant box partitions were used once and then thrown away after you got through with the bottles, but he had an idea for a partition that he called “metallock,” and this included a metal strip across the partition which gave it rigidity and longevity and could be used over and over again, so he patented that and he started this factory with that as the primary product.
My father and his brother started the business and started manufacturing in his uncle’s barn. The product was bottle box partitions and they called the company Pulpboard Products, Inc. The business eventually got big enough so that they abandoned the old barn and bought an old garage down on Mindoro Street in Roxbury, and that’s were the business really took off. In addition to bottle box partitions, they made laminated cardboard textile winding boards. Back in those days there were a number of breweries in Boston and there were small breweries and bottling companies all over New England. Of course the textile industry was still going strong back then, too, and a lot of cotton and woolen mills ranged all the ways from up in Maine on down to Nashua and Manchester, New Hampshire and down to Lowell in Massachusetts, and then on down to into Rhode Island, and Pawtucket and Woonsocket.
1937 brought us to the beginning of the war years. I can remember my mother all excited one morning at breakfast when she heard on the radio that the Japanese were moving into Manchuria, and she declared that was the beginning of the war. Pretty soon we hung big maps up all over the kitchen so that we could follow the battle primarily between Germany and Russia, and all the counterclaims of all the victories, which of course were mostly imaginary.
One of my mother’s favorite vendors was the fish man who came every Thursday. He was German, and still spoke with quite an accent, and they enjoyed just talking about things in general. One time the fish man didn’t show up, and it was several months before he came back again, and he was limping, and he had scars and several other healing injuries, and it turned out as he reported, he was quite a ways off shore in his fishing boat when a German submarine surfaced and machine-gunned the boat. He was one of two survivors, so he wasn’t too fond of the German effort after that.
My folks were anxious to get out of Boston – I guess they figured this wasn’t the best place for the children to grow up – so they bought a brand-new house in Needham Heights, which was about eight miles west-southwest of Boston. The house I remember cost $7,500 and it was a two-story colonial with a single-car garage and a nice porch on the side. This was one of about fifteen houses in a neighborhood that was called Carlita Park. Upstairs at the back of the house faced east, and we could see the city of Boston way off in the distance. Back in those days the only tall building in the city of Boston was the Custom House Tower, and this was just about all by itself. [Note: the Needham house is still standing.]
[Editor’s note: This Jamaica Plain memoir is part of a longer memoir covering the greater part of Richard’s life. Richard died on January 26, 2017.]