57-Serrapede and Muro Families in America-Bergen Beach, 1936

Introduction

Josie’s photo album contains two photos of an outing her brother Peter Muro and husband Sam took to Bergen Beach in Brooklyn during June 1936. At first we thought Peter was in Brooklyn for a short visit. We got in touch with Claudia Muro in Pennsylvania for some help with questions we have about Peter’s life during the 1930s and 1940s. Claudia is married to Peter’s youngest son Robert. The information she provided expands the story behind the photos. It also provides a possible link to other paesani in the Serrapede family’s network who may have helped Peter while he was in Brooklyn. We also learned quite a bit of local history as we pieced together a short history of Bergen Beach. What started out as a posting about two photos turned into a pleasant journey back in time based on the memories Uncle Sammy and Robert shared. It also validated family stories Mom passed on to me about my Grandpa Sam’s attitudes towards visits from relatives. The shorter they were the better to his liking.

Relationship Notes

Josie Muro Serrapede (1909-1995) was the wife of Sam Serrapede (1900-2002). They were the parents of Emily, Gerry and Sammy.

Peter Muro (1913-1992) was Josie’s younger brother. Their parents were Nick and Letizia Muro.

Emily Leatrice Serrapede (1931-2011) was EmilyAnn’s Mom and Sammy’s sister.

Bergen Beach, Brooklyn-June 1936

There are two photos from Peter Muro’s vacation in Brooklyn during June of 1936. One is of Sam in a rowboat looking very unhappy as he sits hunched over some rope in the boat.   On this photo Josie wrote “Bergen Beach, June 1936.” The other photo shows her brother Peter enjoying himself during the little excursion on the water.

The family knew that Sam did not encourage prolonged stays when the relatives from Pennsylvania came to visit. The Serrapede family was living in a very small apartment so the addition of one or two guests meant the living room would be crowded. Sam would not be able to relax and read his newspapers or listen to the radio when he came home from work. Sam never declined a request from his in-laws or own relatives when they needed a place to stay for a short time. He let Josie take care of the meal planning, sleeping arrangements and sightseeing activities. He felt that the little apartment was first and foremost a refuge for him, his wife and their children. Given the size of Josie’s family (11 siblings altogether) he thought it was the reasonable and right thing to make it clear what the guidelines were as far as staying over. He was very upfront, in a polite way, about that point.

Uncle Sammy and I saw this trait at work in Sam throughout his life. He was passionate about his privacy and having the full attention of his wife, children and grandchildren. Sam was dubbed “The Codge” by Uncle Sammy, a nickname we use with great affection whenever he comes to mind. Although “The Codge” would complain about all the work a visit from the relatives made, he was the first one to pour a glass of wine for the visitors and then engage them in a conversation.

The photographs used in this posting were digitized in 2014. The service we used eliminated the decorative borders around the photos as well as Josie’s handwritten comments.

Peter Muro in Brooklyn, NY 1936

In her email reply of April 16, 2016 Claudia Muro informed us that Peter came up to Brooklyn at the recommendation of his sisters. We think these were his oldest sister Josie and his second sister Filomena, both who were living in Brooklyn. His third sister, Rosie, was just 15 years old at the time. We do not think she came to Brooklyn until a few years later.

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56e-Serrapede Family in America-A Depression Era Childhood-PS 187 (Part 2 of 2)

Introduction

This posting is concludes an overview of the events reported in the news about P.S. 187.  The school played a big role in Emily’s childhood and also served the community as a polling place.  The school also encouraged the students to be civic minded and aware of proper healthcare and diet.

1931

56e-The_Brooklyn_Daily_Eagle_Wed__Apr_29__1931_Arbor Day

Activities like Arbor Day created a sense of participation in the care of trees in the community.

Students of class 6B planted a tree in front of the school. Exercises like this promote appreciation for beautifying the community. Arbor Day is an annual civic holiday when people plant trees in their communities. The holiday was first started in Spain in the 16th century. In the US Arbor Day was first celebrated in Nebraska City in 1872. Starting with President Roosevelt in 1907 school children were encouraged to plant a tree on Arbor Day as a way to learn about, and appreciate, conservation efforts and forestry.

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56e-Serrapede Family in America-A Depression Era Childhood-PS 187 (part 1 of 2)

Introduction

As Emily grew up, Josie and Sam took many photos of her in front of P.S. 187. The school building is also in the background of many photos of the older relatives and cousins in the Serrapede family. There had to be some reason why the school was considered such a desirable location.

Uncle Sammy and I could not locate a website that had information about the school from its earliest days. The next best thing was for us to reconstruct a timeline consisting of events in the local newspapers where P.S. 187 was featured. From this review we saw how the school served the community in many important ways.

Relationship Notes

Emily L. Serrapede was the daughter of Sam and Josie Serrapede. She was the sister of Sammy and Gerald. EmilyAnn knew her as Mom.

Family Story: Bread and Butter

56e-ELS picnic with school friends

Emily is in the first row on the right. This undated photo may have been taken at P.S. 187 or during a school outing. Circa late 1930s.

On a warm day in early June during the end of the 1st grade, Emily and her classmates received slices of brown bread and butter from their teacher. Emily had never seen such bread before. When she asked the teacher what kind of it was the teacher informed her it was whole wheat bread. The teacher explained that it was very healthy to eat bread like this and encouraged the students to ask their parents to buy it for them.

Emily went home and told Josie how delicious whole wheat bread was. Josie looked at Sam enjoying his glass of wine with Italian sausage, slices of provolone cheese and pieces of crusty Italian bread. Emily always laughed when she related that Josie turned back to her and said, “He wouldn’t like it.” That was the end of the story as far as the inclusion of whole wheat bread in the diet of the Serrapede family.

Emily wanted to know what she should tell the teacher when she asked about her parent’s response to the request that the children eat more whole wheat bread. Josie told Emily to tell her teacher, “My mother thanks you for letting me have the slice of bread for a snack.”

Josie continued to buy her white bread and Italan bread fresh from a bakery on 11th Avenue, near the apartment building where the family lived.

–As told by Emily L. Serrapede to her daughter EmilyAnn Frances May as a child.

P.S. 187 in the pages of the “Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1922-1937

We were not able to create an actual timeline for the history of P.S. 187. Instead our search through “The Brooklyn Daily Eagle” provided a series of announcements and news reports that show how the school played an important role in the life of the community.  We will cover news items from 1922 through 1937. This overview enabled us to summarize the roles the school had in the community. We got a good idea of what the setting was like when Emily started school in 1936. We will continue with this exploration of P.S.187 through the pages of the “Brooklyn Daily Eagle” in future postings.

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56c-Serrapede Family in America-A Depression Era Childhood-On the Radio

Introduction

 56b-Westinghouse Radio
1930s radio made by Westinghouse.
Public Domain image.  Photo by Joe Haupt.

In the past two postings we learned about the kinds of treats and books Emily enjoyed as a child during the Great Depression.  Other memories she shared were about how important the radio was for her family.  In the early evening, after dinner, she was allowed to listen to one or two programs before going to bed.  For this posting we researched one of her favorite childhood programs.  When we focus on her teenage years, we’ll post about the programs she listened to at that time.

In the Resources section you will find a link to an archive containing many recordings of the show featured in this posting.  We recommend you take a half hour to listen to one or two broadcasts.  Unlike the TV or a computer screen, you can freely move around and do other things while the program is in progress.  During my time listening to the program I enjoyed doing some crochet and tidying up the apartment.

Relationship Note

Emily L. Serrapede was the daughter of Sam and Josie Serrapede.  She was the older sister of Sammy and Gerry.  EmilyAnn knew her as “The Mom”.

Family Story:  Get ready for “Let’s Pretend”

 56c-art deco radio
1930s Art Deco Radio.
Public Domain image.  Photo by Joe Haupt.

Josie encouraged Emily to read on Saturday afternoons or when she was home from school.  When she had finished reading a story or some rhymes, Josie engaged her in a conversation about what she read.  It was important for Emily to state a reason as to why she liked or didn’t like something.

Sometimes she didn’t like reading a story because she had difficulty imagining just what a wicked witch, a scarey giant, a charming prince, a poor little girl lost in the woods or a beautiful princess should be like.  This is where Josie found “Let’s Pretend” a great tool to develop Emily’s imagination.  It was one radio show she reminded Emily to get ready for each week. By developing careful listening skills Emily was able to get a feel for what the personality of each character in the story was like.  When the program was over Josie reinforced the experience by questioning Emily about the characters and asking her who she liked and didn’t like and why.

An overview of “Let’s Pretend”

56c-Nila_Mack_Billboard_crop

Nila Mack as featured in a 1944 issue of “Billboard” magazine.  Public Domain image.

The series went through several changes in title and hosts after its start in 1928.  The format, though, remained the same.  The hosts took the children on a journey into the world of make-believe for the duration of the story’s telling and then returned to the present at its conclusion.  Starting in 1934 the series’ creator Nila Mack took over as director.  The title was changed to “Let’s Pretend” and Nila had a successful run with it until her death in 1953.  The last show aired in 1954 under another director.

“Let’s Pretend” was not merely storytelling:  it was theater in its simplest form for children.  The show was very popular and received several awards including two Peabody Awards.  Nila believed children should be the tellers of the story so young children, pre-teens and teenage voice actors were selected to portray the characters in each show.  Some of these voice actors and actresses were born and raised right in the boroughs of New York City.  We’ll take a quick look at two of them, Miriam Wolfe and Arthur Anderson.

“Let’s Pretend” was broadcast before a live audience consisting mostly of children in the WABC studio in Manhattan.

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56b-Serrapede Family in America-A Depression Era Childhood-My Book House,Part 2

Introduction

This posting is a continuation of 56b-Serrapede Family in America-A Depression Era Childhood-My Book House, Part 1

The creator and editor of My Book House, Olive Beaupre Miller

Olive Beaupre Miller founded the Book House for Children Publishing Company with the purpose of not only teaching children how to read but to develop good character and choices in literature. She also wanted the stories to teach children about life, values and a variety of cultures as they grew up. Consideration was given to the material in terms of suitability for each stage in a child’s development. Each volume was focused on a certain age for the child and presented vocabulary, concepts and plot structure suitable to that age group.

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56a-Serrapede Family in America-A Depression Era Childhood-Little Treats, Part 2

Introduction

This posting is a continuation of  56a-Serrapede Family in America-A Depression Era Childhood-Little Treats, Part 1 in which we retold the family stories and memories Emily shared with us over the years.

This posting continues adds some photos of the treats and vendors mentioned in Part 1.  It concludes with Uncle Sammy and I sharing memories of our favorite childhood treats.

Memories of Sweet Times with Charlie Roose

Josie enjoyed little treats every so often. She didn’t need a reason to do indulge so long as there was extra money available. Often these little treats came when Josie and Emily were out for a walk on 13th Avenue. Emily remembers the site of a baker or vendor selling a sweet kind of sponge cake with a high tower of whipped cream. She called them “Charlie Roose”. It was something she enjoyed so much she didn’t know what part to have first. Sometimes she worked through all the whipped cream and then had the cherry before eating the little piece of cake at the bottom of the cup. Other times she just had the cherry first and then worked her way through the whipped cream to the cake. If she ate too fast Josie would tell her to be careful so as not to dirty her clothes.

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What Emily pronounced as “Charlie Roose” were actually called Charlotte Russe. The original recipe developed in Europe during the 18th century and was considered a very elegant dessert. The main ingredients were a light sponge cake with a layer of fruit or jam topped with a towering swirl of whipped cream. In France the recipe was named Charlotte Russe. It gained popularity in New York City during the early 20th century, especially because in its simplified form it consisted of a small piece of cake topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry on top. Bakeries could use fresh sponge or one that was not so fresh. The Charlotte Russe was widely available in bakeries or through vendors selling them on the street.

During the days when Emily grew up, Charlotte Rousse was a winter time treat because cold temperatures kept the whipped cream from going bad. In 1982 Mimi Sheraton, writing in the New York Times, describes her delight at locating a bakery in New York’s West Village that still made Charlotte Rousse. She remembered that they originally cost from 5 to 7 cents.

Once popular throughout Manhattan and the boroughs, today very few bakeries make them. In 2012 Leah Koenig wrote about Charlotte Rousse for “Politico”. In her search she located only one bakery that still makes them. Holterman’s Bakery in Staten Island sold about 48 Charlotte Rousse a week in 2012. At that time the owners were not sure they would continue to make them.

Memories of Cold Weather and Hot Potatoes

After picking Emily up from school, Josie would take her for a walk on 13th Avenue to buy any foods she needed for the next day’s meal. When the weather was very cold she bought Emily a hot, baked sweet potato from a street vendor. This was a hearty after school treat that quickly alleviated those after school cravings for a snack.

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Sweet potatoes sold on the streets were baked inside of coal fired ovens. These small ovens were on wheels which made it easy for a vendor to move around to the busiest locations. At his blog the late author Abraham Rothberg, shared many fond memories of eating hot potatoes on the street during the winter months. Abraham was born and raised in Brooklyn. His family could not afford to buy sweet potatoes, so he took some white Long Island potatoes from home and baked them over a fire he and his friends would make to keep warm. He also remembers the roasted chestnuts that many sweet potato vendors sold. The vendors wrapped the chestnuts and sweet potatoes in few sheets of newspaper so they could be handled. As they were held hands and face were also warmed.

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