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.

Continue reading “56c-Serrapede Family in America-A Depression Era Childhood-On the Radio”

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.

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

56a-Serrapede Family in America-A Depression Era Childhood-Little Treats, Part 1

Introduction

Despite growing up during the Great Depression, Emily Leatrice never felt deprived. She remembered her early childhood fondly and would recount stories about the little pleasures that made her days special and life sweet.

We’ve focused on the memories and family stories Emily shared with us and round them out with additional details gathered from the readings noted in the Resources section.

–Sam Serrapede, Jr.

–EmilyAnn Frances May

Relationship Note

Emily L. Serrapede (1931-2011)  was the daughter of Sam and Josie Serrapede. She was the older sister of Gerry and Sammy. EmilyAnn knew her as “The Mom.”

 Family Story: The Little Mouse

Emily liked to be in the kitchen on Sunday mornings whenever Sam was grating a chunk of Locatelli or Romano cheese. Josie was usually at the stove heating up the tomato sauce and cooking the pasta that were part of the main meal for the day.

 As Sam grated the cheese Emily would stare at him until he stopped and asked her “Che fa? (“What’s up?”) Emily pointed to the large chunk of cheese and said one word, “Please?” Sam laughed and cut off a small piece which she took and enjoyed eating.

 In a few minutes she’d come back and stare at him again. This time he’d ask her what she wanted and she would reach over for the chunk of cheese. He’d cut another little piece and she’d go into the living room and enjoy the sharp flavor of the cheese.

 When she came back again, Sam would tell her to get out of the kitchen quick otherwise she’d turn into a mouse. Emily was not to be deterred and she’d wait for one more little piece before calling it a day. She knew that more than three times would get her into trouble.

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Italian cheeses and olive oils were very expensive during the Great Depression. Since food preparation linked the family to their own culture and ancestral country many Italian families went without newer clothing or shoes just to make sure the quality of the traditional dietary items was the best they could get. This might be one of the reasons why Sam carefully measured out the size of the slices of cheese he would give Emily.

Continue reading “56a-Serrapede Family in America-A Depression Era Childhood-Little Treats, Part 1”

Our Family Circle: The Mystery Wedding Photo

Mystery Wedding late 1920s-early 1930s

The Mystery Wedding Photo.  Was this happy couple from New York City or Wilmerding, Pennsylvania?

We all enjoy mystery stories.  Even more so we enjoy how  the unfolding of the story provides hints  that help answer some or all the questions so that a degree of closure is reached.  Right now Uncle Sammy and I are turning to our extended network of family and descendants of the paesani of Josie and Sam for help in solving a mystery.

One of the photos Josie left is that of a very happy young couple posing for a studio portrait on their wedding day.  Based on the style of the wedding gown and the studio background we estimate the time period to be the late 1920s-early 1930s.  What makes this picture even more of a mystery is that Josie did not leave any notes on the back or on an enclosed piece of paper.  The large cardboard frame the photo is in does not have any imprint from the studio. Continue reading “Our Family Circle: The Mystery Wedding Photo”

54c-Serrapede Family in America-Emily Leatrice’s Studio Portrait 1935 (Part 2)

Introduction

This posting is a continuation of 54c-Serrapede Family in America-Emily Leatrice’s Studio Portrait 1935 (Part 1) where we shared a studio portrait of Emily taken in 1935.  The name of the studio on the picture frame prompted us to learn more about the photographer, Joseph Weise.  We followed the growth of his business from 1930 to 1940.  We now continue with our review of the findings which showed that Mr. Weise had studios in two different neighbhorhoods where the mix of immigrants and American citizens created the opportunities for expanding his client base.

Joseph Weise Photography Studios in Bensonhurst and Borough Park

The Weise Studio located at 4723 13th Avenue was situated in the part of Brooklyn formerly known as Blythebourne in the late 19th century.  In the early 20th centuries Jewish immigrants settled in the area becoming the majority population.  Italian and Irish immigrants also lived in this neighborhood.  By the 1930s a shift began to take place as Hasidic Jews moved in.  Today, the Hasidim dominate the community outnumbering the Orthodox Jews who were the dominant Jewish group at the time Joseph Weise opened his studio on 13th Avenue sometime after 1933 and before 1935.

The studios at 6408 18th Avenue (in 1933) and 6411 18th Avenue (in 1935) were situated in Bensonhurst.  Up until the end of WWII, Bensonhurst had almost equal percentages of Jewish and Italian immigrants living in the community.  With the development of middle class housing in the suburbs after WWII many of the Jewish residents moved out leaving the Italian-American community as the dominant ethnic group in the area.  Today Bensonhurst is home to a much smaller Italian-American population.  The up-and-coming immigrant groups are Chinese and Russian.

Continue reading “54c-Serrapede Family in America-Emily Leatrice’s Studio Portrait 1935 (Part 2)”

54c-Serrapede Family in America-Emily Leatrice’s Studio Portrait 1935 (Part 1)

Introduction

The first studio portrait of Emily Leatrice was taken when she was 14 months old in 1932. We shared that photo and the research results about studio where the photo was taken in these previous postings:

53c-Serrapede Family in America: Emily Leatrice’s first studio portrait, 1932 Part 1

53c-Serrapede Family in America: Emily Leatrice’s first studio portrait, 1932 Part 2

When Emily was 4 years old in 1935, Sam and Josie had another photo taken of Emily at a different studio. This photo comes with a pretty cardboard frame that is attractive enough to use as is. In the back is a stand so that the photo may displayed on a table. There is also a tab with a hole in it that makes it possible to hang the photo on a wall. Despite being stored in nothing other than a brown paper bag that was placed into a sturdy, cardboard carton with other photos, the frame is still in good condition. This may have been due to the fact that the attic where Josie stored her photo collection was usually warm and dry in all seasons.

54c-Emily L Serrapede 1935 portrait watermarked

Emily Leatrice Serrapede.  Photo take in June 1935 at Wiese Photo Studio, Brooklyn, NY.

Continue reading “54c-Serrapede Family in America-Emily Leatrice’s Studio Portrait 1935 (Part 1)”

53c-Serrapede Family in America: Emily Leatrice’s first studio portrait, 1932 Part 1

Introduction

Josie left an extensive photo collection to her daughter when she passed away in 1995. There are almost 300 photos of all sizes and types. Josie had a box camera which she used extensively throughout the 1930s and 1940s. In the photos she took we have many scenes of the neighborhood around 66th Street where the family lived. There are also many studio photos taken as part of special occasions such as weddings and Holy Communion.   Studio portraits of family members are also part of the collection.  This posting is about the earliest photo we have of Emily Leatrice. She always said that she was born with blonde hair. Judging from this studio portratir her hair may have been a golden brown, perhaps a shade darker than popular 1930s child star Shirley Temple’s.

53c-ELS Della Monica Photo INTERNET

Emily Leatrice Serrapede, June 1932.
Close-up of the photo taken at the Studio of A. Della Monica, Gravesend, Brooklyn, NY.

Josie treasured her photo collection. We do not know how she did it but the photos have remained in good condition despite being stored in nothing but brown paper bags and then carefully stacked in brown cardboard boxes. Many of the original cardboard frames complete with the studio labels are still intact as well.  Because of this we know the name of the photographer and the location of the studio for Emily Leatrice’s 1932 photo.

Continue reading “53c-Serrapede Family in America: Emily Leatrice’s first studio portrait, 1932 Part 1”