Hinchliffe Redux

In 2014, I wrote a blog post about an abandoned and dilapidated New Deal era stadium in Paterson, N.J. At the time there were actual trees growing up through the cracks in the concrete stands and what was once the playing surface was a mix of dirt, broken glass and cracked pavement. Some Paterson high school kids had volunteered to paint the outside walls with paint donated by Valspar. That improved the eye sore but Hinchliffe Stadium had little going for it other than its history.

Built in 1932, Hinchliffe was home to two Negro League baseball teams, the New York Black Yankees and the New York Cubans. It had track meets, soccer, even auto racing. Abbott and Costello performed here. So did Sly and the Family Stone. It hosted numerous high school athletic events, most notably for many Patersonians, the annual Thanksgiving football games between the city’s two high schools, Central and Eastside.

The last Thanksgiving football game was played in 1996. In 1997, the stadium was condemned when part of the playing field collapsed into a sinkhole. It sat unused for some 25 years.

But around the time of my blog post, Hinchliffe was designated a national historic landmark. Shortly thereafter an act of Congress redrew the boundaries of the adjacent Great Falls National Park to include the stadium. A couple decades later a $100+ million renovation got underway that included a parking garage, senior housing and a yet-to-be completed Negro League museum.

Now, 85 years after the NewYork Black Yankees played their last full baseball season in Paterson, the independent minor league  New Jersey Jackals have begun their first Frontier League season here. There is even some talk of reviving the Thanksgiving Day football game between Eastside and Kennedy (the school that replaced Central).

Here’s a look at Hinchliffe reborn on Jackals game night.

Hinchliffe Stadium
Hinchliffe Stadium
Hinchliffe Stadium

Some before and after:

But however good the stadium renovation, this is what it looked like in the stands on a pleasently cool Thursday night. The Jackals would appear to have a massive marketing task ahead of them.

Hinchliffe Stadium
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Growing Up in the 50’s: The Automat

I grew up in a suburb about 15 miles west of New York City. For my family it might just as well have been 1500 miles. Neither of my parents commuted. Public transportation in the town I lived in was limited to a bus to Paterson.

To my father New York might have been the name of one of Dante’s circles. He may have passed through Manhattan on his way to a ballgame but that was about it. My mother would take me into the city occasionally, showing me things like the Museum of Natural History, the UN and Radio City. She also brought me to an eye specialist when I was a first grader for treatment of a lazy eye condition.

What do I remember about those trips to New York City with my mother? The automat. Every venture ended at one of them.

The automat at 877 Eighth Avenue may well have been one of the ones I enjoyed with my mom.

The automats were mostly in big open spaces with cafe tables. There would be at least one wall of glass fronted cubes, maybe 6X8 inches. You put coins in a slot, opened the glass door, and pulled out your food. Like a vending machine? Not quite because there was a kitchen on the other side of that wall and staff was filling and refilling each compartment with freshly prepared food, appropriately hot or cold.

What did I eat at the automat? I have no idea, although I remember my mom liked the coffee. For me, it was all about the process and as a kid, I wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else.

Older New Yorkers may be surprised to learn that the idea for the automat came from Germany. The first automat, named Quisisana, opened in Berlin in 1895. When Philadelphia restaurateur Joe Horn visited after the turn of the century, he bought into the technology and he and his partner Frank Hardart opened the first Horn & Hardart Automat in Philadelphia in 1902. Here’s how the Philadelphia Inquirer (June 10, 1902) described America’s first automat:

“Horn and Hardart have solved the rapid transit luncheon problem by opening a restaurant called the Automat, at 818-821 Chestnut Street. It is a mammoth nickel-in-the-slot scheme, and the only one of its kind in the United States. Heretofore, the man with one minute and thirty-seven seconds for lunch has fumed while a waiter has been getting his order. In the Automat all this is changed. If a patron’s lunch is not forthcoming speedily it will only be because he is unable to decide, oft hand, whether he wants one of a large assortment of sandwiches, pies, coffee, soup, ice cream and the unusual variety of quick lunch fare….

“There was a great rush at the Automat yesterday, and its success will doubtless continue as the service is as neat as it is rapid.”

Two Ladies at the Automat, NYC
Two Ladies at the Automat, NYC, 1966 photo by Diane Arbus

The first New York automat opened in 1912. Eventually there would be 40 of them in the city. Despite being confined to Philadelphia and New York, it became America’s largest chain eatery. The New York Daily News (Sunday, May 15, 1921) offered this colorful description of the volume of food served up at the automats:

“Automats feed 100,000 people a day, enough to fill the Hippodrome, with a capacity of about 5,000, twenty times. 

“Used 9,000 eggs a day. If placed in a line would reach 2,200  feet or 7 times as high as the Statue of Liberty.

“Use 18,000 pies a week — enough to cover the grass in City Hall Park. 

“Use 11,000 loaves of bread a week for sandwiches alone —  placed in a line would be twice as long as Brooklyn Bridge.”

It is not just the food or the technology that automat patrons remember fondly. It is also celebrated as a place for everyone. Race, mother tongue and social status mattered little. The same Daily News article cited above noted: “At the Automat restaurant at 1241 Broadway I saw a theatrical gentleman, evidently in reduced circumstances, lunching on a cinnamon bun and a cup of coffee.” It was also kind of a predecessor to the modern coffee shop. You could buy a cup of coffee and sit there with it for hours. That is, perhaps what Edward Hopper was thinking when he created his famous “Automat” painting.

Automat, Edward Hopper

What happened to the automat? Ultimately it was replaced by a different sort of fast food restaurant, the McDonald’s and Burger Kings. (I can’t imagine that decades from now anyone is going to wax nostalgic about a Burger King.) There are many other reasons offered to explain the decline. One is the much despised decision in 1950 to raise the price of a cup of coffee from five cents to ten cents, though it is also noted that before that increase Horn and Hardart was losing money on every cup of coffee they sold. Inflation in general made the “nickel-in-the-slot” approach impractical. (How many rolls of nickels would it take to buy a meal in a New York City restaurant today.) Hard economic times in the 1970’s may have taken their toll and it has been suggested that cost-cutting impacted the quality of the food.

The last automat closed in New York City in 1991. There have been and continue to be attempts to revive them, most only lasting a couple of years. There is a website by a company calling itself Horn and Hardart that sells “automat” coffee.

I am hardly alone in fondly remembering the automat of my childhood. A recent documentary “The Automat,” which is currently streaming on HBO Max, offers up the similarly fond reflections of Mel Brooks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Colin Powell and former Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode, among others.


Some other “Growing Up in the 50’s” posts:

The Corner Store

Christmas Time in Paterson

Thinking in Ethnic Slurs

The Night Two Guys Burned Down

A Decade of DIY

Tricky Dick on Main Street

Bomb Scare!

The Shop


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Savannah’s History in Bronze and Marble

Statues and Monuments in Savannah, Ga.’s, historic district.

Waving Girl
The Waving Girl is Savannah’s Florence Martus. Between 1887 and 1931 she waved a cloth as a greeting to ships entering the port of Savannah and to say goodbye to those heading out.
Les Chasseurs Volontaire de Saint Domingue
Les Chasseurs Volontaire de Saint Domingue were a regiment of soldiers from Haiti who volunteered for a campaign to capture Savannah from the British. They were the largest unit of soldiers of African descent to fight in the American Revolution.
A World Apart
A World Apart. Wiorld War II memorial honoring Chatham County, Ga., veterans who died in the war.
S.S. Savannah
In 1819, the S.S. Savannah became the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
John Wesley
John Wesley is best knows as the founder of Methodism. he spent some time in Savannah ministering to colonists beginning in 1735. The Reynolds Square site of this monument is believed to be near where he lived.
James Edward Oglethorpe
James Edward Oglethorpe , a British soldier and former Parliamentarian, is considered the founder of the colony of Georgia. During his time as colonial governor, he banned both slavery and alcohol.
Jewish burial plot
Oglethorpe welcomed the Jewish community to his colony and donated this plot to be used as a Jewish burial ground.
The African American Monument
The African American Monument in honor of Dr. Abbie H. Jordan, educator and community activist.
Nathaneal Greene monument
This monument to Revolutionary War hero Gen. Nathanael Greene is in Johnson Square. Greene’s remains are buried under the monument.
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Something Old, Something New: The Telfair Museums

Telfair Academy

The Scapegrace, Jan Theodoor Toorop
The Scapegrace, Jan Theodoor Toorop
Frost und Nebel, Georg Sauter
Frost und Nebel, Georg Sauter
Bordeaux, View from the Bridge, Winter Day, Alfred Smith
Bordeaux, View from the Bridge, Winter Day, Alfred Smith
Stuyvesant Square in Winter, Ernest Lawson
Stuyvesant Square in Winter, Ernest Lawson
Ice Boats on the Hudson, Henry Golden Dearth
Ice Boats on the Hudson, Henry Golden Dearth
Marketing, Robert Gwathney
Marketing, Robert Gwathney

Savannah Scenes

Bird Girl, Sylvia Shaw Judson
Bird Girl, Sylvia Shaw Judson
Smoke Plumes of Savannah, Eliot Candee Clark
Smoke Plumes of Savannah, Eliot Candee Clark
River Nocturne, Mark Sheridan
River Nocturne, Mark Sheridan
Old City Market, Augusta Oelschig
Old City Market, Augusta Oelschig
Shrimp Boats, Augusta Denk Oelschig
Shrimp Boats, Augusta Denk Oelschig

Jepson Center

Folk Singer, David Shapiro
Folk Singer, David Shapiro
Untitled, Larry Connatser
Untitled, Larry Connatser
(My) Precarious Life, Whitfield Lovell
(My) Precarious Life, Whitfield Lovell
Joe Morris Watching Cars Go By, Butch Anthony
Joe Morris Watching Cars Go By, Butch Anthony

Photography’s Last Century

Identical Twins, Diane Arbus
Identical Twins, Diane Arbus
Georgia O'Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz
Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz
Untitled, Gerard Petrus Fieret
Untitled, Gerard Petrus Fieret
Untitled, Gregory Crewdson
Untitled, Gregory Crewdson
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A Mistake for the Ages

The Prohibition Museum, Savannah, Ga.

The Temperance Campaign

Prohibition Museum
Carrie Nation
Carrie Nation made a name for herself by busting up bars with her hatchet, the result of which was usually an arrest and a spike in popularity for the attacked bar.

And then it happened…

Prohibition Museum
Prohibition Museum
Prohibition Museum
To keep the business alive, Bud sold frozen egg, Coors opted for malted milk and Stroh’s gave malt syrup a shot.
Prohibition Museum
What does this remind you of?
Prohibition Museum
Thelma Holland
Mrs. Thelma Holland, a 22-year-old pregnant mother, was arrested in 1929 for operating a liquor still in Los Angeles. She was given probation.
Prohibition Museum

And like Prohibition itself, the museum ends with a speakeasy.

Prohibition Museum
Prohibition Museum
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SCAD Museum of Art

Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Ga.

Goldstein, Rachel Feinstein
Goldstein, Rachel Feinstein
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American Dream/Cambodian Nightmare

A review. “A Refugee’s American Dream: From the Killing Fields of Cambodia to the U.S. Secret Service,” by Leth Oun with Joe Samuel Starnes

A Refugee's American Dream book cover

In 1976, Leth Oun is a 10-year-old working in what amounted to a slave labor camp in the Killing Fields of Cambodia. In 2012, Leth Oun is part of the uniformed Secret Service detail traveling with President Obama on his visit to Cambodia. This book is about everything that happened in between. The title refers to an American Dream, but the subtitle could well have been about a Cambodian nightmare

It is unfathomable that a young boy could come of age going through what this man did and not only survive, but eventually thrive. He spent almost four years in the Killing Fields. His days went like this. A guard with a rifle would shout to wake up and head out to the rice paddie. Standing in a few inches of  water, with leeches attaching themselves to his legs, he would plant rice seedlings or harvest the rice depending on the season. There would be a break for lunch which was always a watery rice soup in a dirty bowl. Then it was back to work until sundown when the armed guard would send him back exhausted to sleep on the ground. And, since he survived, that was a good day.

When the Vietnamese overran the Khmer Rouge, Leth and his mother found their way across the Thai border and into a series of refugee camp’s run by the U.N. In 1983 they were flown to America and settled in Maryland where they had a family connection. It is there where the Horacio Alger part of the story begins. It starts with Leth riding his bike through dangerous Washington traffic to work every shift he can get at a Tenleytown convenience store, a place where he would first encounter Secret Service agents who would come in for a sandwich or a coffee.

There is a lot more to the story of Leth’s life in America but for me the power of this book is the amazing first hand account of the Killing Fields. No historical tract or news report could come close to capturing the Khmer Rouge era the way this personal memoir does. Leth and his co-author Joe Samuel Starnes describe his experiences in such a straightforward manner that it almost belies the cruelty and degradation that was inflicted upon his family and so many of his countrymen.

There are heartwarming parts of the story as well. Despite being separated and shepherded about, his family continued to find and support each other. And there are well-meaning folks, in Cambodia, in Thailand and in America, who help make Leth’s story turn out the way it does.

As I read this book, I thought about the xenophobes in America who want to put a padlock on the border. I thought about the people responsible for the wave of Asian-American hatred that reared its ugly head. If only they could read or hear this story or meet this man. For me, Leth Oun is a lot more of what America is about than any of them are.

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Everything from Everywhere All at the Met

Perseus with the Head of Medusa
Perseus with the Head of Medusa, Antonio Canova

Exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art

Throne back
Throne back, Guatemala or Mexico, 7th-9th century

European Painting

Richard Avedon Murals

The Chicago Seven
The Chicago Seven, Nov. 5, 1969
The Mission Council
The Mission Council, U.S. generals, ambassadors and policy experts who ran the war in Vietnam, Saigon, April 28, 1971

Chroma: Ancient Sculpture in Color

Color reconstructions of ancient sculptures by Vinzenz Brinkmann and Ulrike Koch-Brinkman

Bronze Riace Warrior
Bronze Riace Warrior
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Sounds Like Savannah

2023 Savannah Music Festival

Lucas Theater for the Arts
Lucas Theater for the Arts

Today is the last day of the 2023 Savannah Music Festival. The 17-day event, now in its 34th year, took place at a half-dozen venues, both indoor and out, in Savannah’s Historic District. While maybe not as well known outside the Savannah area as some other festivals, all the performances I attended drew large and enthusiastic crowds. The short clips below give you some idea of the diversity of live music that was booked for this festival.

Who knew there were white guys from Alabama who played soul music like this?

St. Paul and the Broken Bones at the Lucas Theater

A professor of folk

Bruce Molsky at the Steel Building at Founders Garden

Make you want to dance?

The Lost Bayou Ramblers at the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum

Pedal steel heaven

Roosevelt Collier at Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum

A great American band on their 50th anniversary

Los Lobos at Lucas Theater
Trinity Church
Several classical performances were held at Trinity Church which dates back to 1848.
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Activist City

from exhibits at the Museum of the City of New York

Remember Trans Power Fight for Trans Freedom
Poster by Micah Bazant and Audre Lorde Project, 2015
Thahitum Mariam and Shahana Hanif
Thahitum Mariam and Shahana Hanif, Bengaladeshi feminist community organizers.
New York Taxi Workers Alliance
New York Taxi Workers Alliance protesting for relief from Medallion debt.
Gay Right Activists 1973
Gay Rights Activists demonstrating for passage of a ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, Diana Davies, 1973
Juan Gonzalez, Young Lords
Juan Gonzalez, founding member of the Young Lords, outside the organization’s office. Hirman Maristany, 1971
American Woman, Rich Ambrose, 1970
American Woman, Rich Ambrose, 1970
Housing discrimination protest, 1950
Housing discrimination protest, 1950
Rev. Milton Galamison
Rev. Milton Galamison, who organized boycotts against school segregation, is shown escorting white students into a predominately black school in Brooklyn. 1964
Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance rally for Chinese relief
Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance rally for Chinese relief, 1938
Fiorello La Guardia
Fiorello La Guardia, New York congressman (and later mayor), protests Prohibition by pouring himself a beer in his congregational office. 1926
Triangle Fire, March 25, 1911
Triangle Fire, March 25, 1911, Victor Joseph Gatto
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