Memories of Growing Up in Manhattan, N.Y.

The following was written by my father in the last weeks of his life as his present to his eight children. I am his fourth of eight children and am in my 15th year of intermittent family history research.  I am also the current Irish Study Group Leader of the BIFHS-USA society in West Los Angeles and currently work for a manufacturing firm as an Engineer. See: 

NOTE: Hard bracket enclosed [text] and most parenthesis (text) was added my me.

Memories of Growing up in Manhattan, N.Y.

By: Daniel G. McNamara

First Home, Tricycle Ride

My earliest recollection was living at 101 W. 102 Street above a Pawn shop.  It was a cold water apartment.  I guess I was about three years of age riding my tricycle on Columbus Ave.  My mother was with me and some of her friends.  She told her friend she would be right back.  I could see my mother about one-half block away so I peddled my trike block after block thinking she was just ahead.  I wound up at Lincoln Pk. where Broadway crosses Columbus Ave. and crosses Andserdam Ave.  That was over two miles.  Trying to cross that big intersection I was stopped and the cops took  me home.


It was a short time later we moved to 128 W 102 St.  It was only down the street; we took the top floor.  We had steam heat and hot water also a beautiful piano.  We had the run of the roof to play on also.  The Columbus Avenue ‘L’ was almost a block away so no more noise from the ‘el’.  

1929 - The Stock Market Crash

My mother had invested in US Bank stock and lost everything.  She also bought property in Long Island from three Irish men, Brady, Crine, and Collerin.  It was in Massapequa.  I think the taxes ate that up.  My dad was running groceries up state for four different Grocery Companies.  My mother went and we moved near Times Square, one block away, and took over a three-story house.  It was only a year or two later my Dad had to sell each truck to pay off each driver and was down to one truck and himself.  His truck was idle most of the time.  It cost money for garage rent, feeding the dog, etc. 

Boarding House

We as a family had a lot of work mostly all day Saturday and Sunday, cleaning all the rooms, sweep and mop, change the linen and towels, clean the bowls and pitchers that they used to wash in, clean the windows, etc.    As part of the family we didn’t consider it work.  My mother found offices to clean and we helped with that also.

Hell’s Kitchen

Tammany Hall - Democratic Party used to send people for us to help them put in a room and feed.  We had a butcher who used to pay off with meat.  My mother used to cook up a couple of big pots of Corned Beef Cabbage or Ham etc.  I had to take it on my wagon down to 10th Ave, (Hell’s Kitchen), where these transients had taken over condemned apartments and houses.  We had a big Restaurant stove, hot oven above.  One side was gas the other side was for coal but we burned wood.  When they pulled these condemned buildings down; we gave them two dollars for full truckloads, which they would dump off the rollers in the street.  It would take my brother and I all day long to cart it into the yard.  Then when I had time I had to chop it up and pack it in the shed to keep the wood dry.  Our stove had a water bag inside, which kept the water hot.  My mother washed all the linens by hand and hung everything out winter and summer.

Holy Cross School, Choirs, Catholic Hour, the MET, Carnegie Hall

I went to Holy Cross School one block south of us, 43 Street.  Church was 42 Street.  Father Duffy chaplain of the 69th during WWI was the pastor.  I sung in the choir.  Professor Boshay was conductor.  I sang high soprano.  Slattery who was Father Finn’s assistant conductor for the Paulist Chorister heard me, as I was soloist most the time.  He insisted I have a try out with Father Finn at Saint Paul’s.  I was accepted and considered it a great honor as they were considered the best choir in the world.  I also went to Sacred Heart College of Music for a contest and won a twenty-dollar gold piece for a prize.  We sang Catholic Hour every Sunday.  Saint Paul owned WLWL radio station twelve hours a day.  We went on singing tours, sang at Carnegie Hall at least twice a year, once a year at the Met Opera.

[A note from my cousin Anne who once heard our Grandmother singing in New York:]

[Hello Cousin James, I have been recalling some things about our grandmother. Your father most likely inherited his beautiful singing voice from her. I recall going to some church in New York City where I heard her sing Ave Maria. She was accompanied by an organist and supported by a small choir - all women. We could not see her as she sang because the choir loft was behind the congregation. Her beautiful, rich voice filled the whole church, and I remember weeping involuntarily. I was very embarrassed until I noticed others were wiping at their tears. When I looked around, it seemed that her song had called to each heart, uniting everyone in pure and naked prayer. I think this must have been a Christmas or Easter mass, in the mid-1950s. I may have been about seven or eight years old. It was before she and Grandpa moved to Hoboken.

After the service people complimented her and she made reference to her son Danny who could sing Ave Maria much better than she could ever do.

Whenever we visited with her she would find any excuse to burst into song, usually from the old Irish folk tradition. She could do all the ditties and children's songs, but her specialty was in the melancholy mode. She could really deliver those heart wrenching ballads. When she sang Danny Boy, she added in a few of her own verses and poured in all the power of her love for her own two Danny Boys, her husband and her son. She had an amazing vocal range with spooky low notes and high notes that opened up heaven's gates.]

Shoe Shines, Protecting Cars

I remember making a shoe shine box and charging $0.05 for a shine.  Most of the people gave a dime.  At night I used to watch cars as we were one block from the legitimate theaters like Shuberts, etc.  Most (people) gave you a dime or a quarter when they returned anywhere from 11:30 PM to 2:30 AM.  I used to make from $4.00 to $8.00 for the night.  You had to keep your eye on these guys from the garage as they would try to put an ice-pick in the tires.  They would later fix them and collect on it again.  That is why I stood out in the cold and really watched the cars.

Papers, Fire

When the Lindberg baby was kidnapped, I bought 3 papers for $0.05 supposed to make $0.01 on 3 papers.  Being around the shows I would holler extra and collect $0.10 a paper.  Pretty good profit.  They had a fire at a poster place on the corner.  I got $2.00 a day after school for cleaning up the mess.  Any money we made was always turned in to mom.

Woolworth’s Heiress Wedding, More Choirs

One time while singing at Woolworth’s heiress wedding my voice cracked on high notes.  I could not sing one note above high ‘C’ at that time.  I could still sing pretty good, but could not hold high notes without cracking.  The Woolworth heiress married Edgar A Guest the polo player.  An ad in the paper was looking for choir boys.  I answered the ad showed up for an audition and was accepted.  It was Church of Heavenly Rest on 90th Street and east 5 Ave.  The pay was $10.00 a week.  I stayed in the Paulist Choristers whenever it didn’t conflict.  The $10.00 a week was a from a high Episcopal Church.  My mother made me ask Father Duffy if I could do it and he said get every dime you can out of them.  Rockefeller Plaza got built and they had a week of choirs.  The first one was the Paulist Chorister.  The conductor, Professor Heppenstein of the Episcopal Choir, told all of us we should go Monday and see how the Paulist Choir did it.  I think they were 3rd or 4th choir to sing.  I paraded right past a couple of Heavenly Rest Choir.  When I went to sing with their choir they told me they saw me.  I said not me that was my brother who looks like me.

Pioneer Gym

Most the boys and me used to hang out together.  The Pioneer Gym was on our block.  Most of the best fighters in the world trained there.  One of the fighters was the bantam weight champion.  He ran into a little bad luck and we hadn’t seen him for about a year or better.  His manager showed up with another guy and tried to pass him off on us, but we refused to recognize him.  That stopped their plan.

Longshoreman’s Work 

Two of the boys lived around the corner.  Their Dad worked on the docks longshoring.  He got his two boys work there, shape up at 4 PM.   I was then in High School and I shaped up for work at 4 PM.  Sometimes we worked four hours and sometimes eight hours.  We used to work every day at $0.48 an hour.  It was an open shop.  After general strikes it was a closed shop.  I could not get work there any more. 

Boxing Training

I was playing stick ball against the Gym, (Pioneer).  The manager came out with two punchies.  They attempted to pull me into the Gym to teach me a lesson.  I round housed one of them with a right and it floored him.  My buddy talked to them and they said they would make sure I learned to fight.  For months they toughened up my stomach.  It got hard as a rock.  They taped my right hand behind my back, put 16 oz. gloves on and put a punchie against me.  I got knocked all over the place for about three months.  Then I started using my left hand and got aggressive.  Then they taped my right hand in front of me.  I could duck my chin under the glove to protect my chin (and use) my elbow to protect my ribs.  I was on my way.

My buddies used to wake me up in the middle of the night and we would trot up to Central Park, go all the way around it back to 59th Street back into the park and around the reservoir, then back home, shower, and then (to) school.  I fought in a few fight clubs for bet money.  Then we had Golden Gloves at school. I won all four fights real easy because of the training.  I fought at 155 pounds.  I then had trouble with a big colored guy, broke my left knuckles, (split).  They wanted me to soak my hand in brine for six months and it would be okay.  My mother did not want me to fight (anymore) so I didn’t.  When I got in the Army, I had to anyhow.  All fights were easy because of my training.

Elevator Operator, Printing Shop

I worked running an elevator in a Jewish apartment house in the Bronx after school until 1 AM, from 4 PM, nine hours a day, seven days one week, six days the next week, for $12.00 a week.  Then I got a job with the biggest menu printer in NY City.  I had four years of printing in High School.  I could do everything in the shop except the line-o-type.  I ran presses, did composite type, set types, read proofs.  When the driver got in trouble, I took over deliveries.  It was not hard.  Hours were short, though before 4 PM.  At night three or four nights I drove an old moving van delivering signs to theaters in Bronx, Long Island – Brooklyn, and got $5.00 a night.

October 1940

When Congress was trying to pass conscription, my manager Jimmy talked me into signing up with the 212th National Guard.  They turned him down but took me.  I had to teach them to drive trucks as we had to get all the equipment to Georgia.  We left in FEB, 1941.  I entered the Army as a 1st and 5 class ($42.00 a month), and ended service OCT. 1945 a PFC.  We were in North Africa, Italy, South France, 3 years (Army) 5 years (total) service.

Right: Daniel after Army Service

Top Image: Daniel’s First Holy Communion photo

Views: 1070

Tags: Diaspora History, Genealogy, Preservation

Comment by Brendan Hamilton on March 12, 2014 at 2:42pm

This is great stuff, James, thanks for sharing! The Irish side of my family lived in Hell's Kitchen, Harlem, and the Bronx. Boxers and printers among them too; I wonder if they ever crossed paths with your dad and his folks.

Comment by James McNamara on March 12, 2014 at 9:47pm

Hi Blood, I have thought of it.  These short blog posts can start the ball rolling.  I have one piece in work and hoping to have that out soon. 

Comment by James McNamara on March 12, 2014 at 9:51pm

Hi Brendan, What era are you talking about?  My Macs were there from about 1916 or so and left in early 60s to go to Hoboken, NJ.  I would not be surprised at all if our ancestors knew each other.  I can check for your Hamilton folks in the censuses when I get around to it.  All the best.

Comment by Brendan Hamilton on March 13, 2014 at 12:51pm

The Hamiltons were in Hell's Kitchen/Chelsea (particularly W 30th betw 10th and 11th Aves) from the 1860s-1890s. They then moved to Hunt's Point (Burnet Pl) in the Bronx, but my great-grandfather Thomas Hamilton worked as a printer at a shop in Hell's Kitchen up through at least 1918, so he still spent time in his old neighborhood. By the 1920s he and his family had moved to Harding Park in the Clason Point neighborhood of the Bronx. My grandfather and father both grew up in Clason Point.

Thomas Hamilton's wife, my great-grandmother Mamie (nee Curley) grew up on West 13th (1880s). She later lived in East Harlem and the Bronx (East 155th St) before marrying Thomas and moving in with him in Hunt's Point.

Don't know if any of that overlaps, but I've found the corresponding census records for all of them and can share anything if you're curious.

Comment by James McNamara on May 13, 2014 at 11:14pm

Hi Brendan, just curious if you know what school your Hamilton's attended (in this area), what church did the family attend?  I think the overlapping period our families were in this area is short, (about 1916 to 1920s when yours went to Bronx).  Thanks.


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