A 46th Street Boyhood
by Steven Wolfe
I moved into Sunnyside in 1943 when I was four, and we moved when I was 19, so my entire boyhood was spent in Sunnyside. There is a picture on the website showing a dozen boys lined up. The picture was taken on July 4, 1950 by Alfred Lowenherz who was an accomplished amateur photographer.
The picture reveals the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood. In the picture was Jackie Dawson, who was Irish, Ronnie Aldana who was half Italian and half Puerto Rican, Georgie Krause who was German-American, Billy Gullo who was Italian and Bobby Sheridan who was also Irish. Several boys were Jewish but with ancestors from all over Europe. Despite this diversity, and aside from the fact that we were all white, we were a remarkably tolerant group. We had disagreements and even fights, but I never heard an ethnic slur. It was a dream time of idealism and we knew our country had endured a dreadful war and that we had been the
There are several things I recall that are unknown to most of you. Jackie Dawson’s family was evicted from their apartment and their furniture was piled high in the street. I was very disheartening. An elderly man who lived along took the Dawson family in, and there they lived for years as tenants. It was a neighborly thing to do and changed the solitary life of lonely Mr. Ackels and surely helped the Dawson clan.
Billy Gullo’s father was an immigrant who was an artisan. One day he replaced the entire sidewalk in front of his home. When he finished, he carved his initials in a corner of the sidewalk. If you walk in front of the house, I’ll bet the initials are still there. It is his private memorial.
Wartime brought soldiers to Sunnyside. A company of soldiers was billeted in the apartments on 46th Street between Skillman and 43rd Avenues. Periodically, they marched down the street and I remember watching them and saluting them, 1 5 year old boy on the sidelines.
1944 also brought the hurricane. In the front yard of the home of the Kappel family stood an enormous weeping willow tree. The storm uprooted it, and it fell across the alley that went to 47th Street. I remember calculating that if it had fallen in the opposite direction, it would have crashed through my bedroom window.
I remember seeing FDR in a motorcade on Queens Boulevard and I recall hearing on the radio of the death of FDR. I also heard about something called D-Day but did not know what it was. I had an uncle who fought in the war and survived but he never talked about it.
We never locked our doors at night. Then there was a burglary in a house on the street and we began to lock our doors. But aside from that, I recall no other crime. The Chase Manhattan Bank on Queens Boulevard and 47th Street was robbed by Willie Sutton, but he was not interest in private homes. A reporter had once asked him why he robbed banks, and his answer was, “Because that’s where the money is.”
The best holiday was Christmas of 1947. It started snowing on Christmas eve and just kept on. All the cars were covered with at least a foot of snow, and they remained that way for a week. Every day we went out in the snow. We had snowball fights, we built forts out of snow and we sledded down the hill on 39th Avenue from 47th to 48th Streets because there was no traffic. It was a glorious entire week because there was no street cleaning and we were all on vacation.
Firecrackers – yep, we had them. There were three kinds: little one-inch firecrackers which were not dangerous. They were called Chinkies because they had indecipherable Chinese writing on them. Then there were the cherry bombs. They were bright red with a fuse and they were powerful. Finally, there were the ashcans. They looked like ashcans turned on their side, and they were powerful.
On Halloween we each took a long sock and packed it with flour. We swung at each other. It did not hurt but left large white marks on your clothing. We also did some trick or treating but just did it for the candy and never played any tricks. The younger boys were mischievous. One year, they packed a paper bad with dog excrement, placed it on a porch, lit it on fire and rang the doorbell. The unwitting homeowner opened his door and saw a small fire. He did the predictable – he stomped on the bag to put the fire out. The tricksters were Larry Kappel and my brother, but I will not reveal the name of the homeowner who was selected only because he had a large, flat front porch.
Moving ahead a few decades, for my 65th birthday, I brought a very expensive wine to Aspen and arranged to have it served in a restaurant. I went to the restaurant in the afternoon to leave the wine. It was empty except for two customers. I told them why I was there and one of them said that his son was a waiter there and he would take charge of the wine. We spoke briefly and I went to leave. As I did, the helpful customer stared at me and introduced himself saying, “My name is Allan Ehrlich.” I looked at him, and asked if he had gone to P.S. 150. He said he had, and I told him my name. We had been very close friends in Sunnyside but had not seen each other for fifty years. We hugged, sat and talked for a while and when I left, I realized that if he had not introduced himself, we would have passed each other like ships in the night.
Steve Wolfe is a partner with the law firm Eaton and Van Winkle. His interests include amateur photography, philately, tennis, card playing, reading history especially about World War II and the Holocaust, and world travel which has taken him to four continents.