Visit with Sam Bellamy
Bob Corbett, interviewer
Sam Bellamy was born in Dogtown in 1915. His family lived at 6428 West Park, a home Sam's grandfather purchased in 1903, but which had been built in 1895.
Sam remembers stories from his father of how trains stopped at Tamm and Manchester to loaded goods for the building of the World's Fair in 1902 and 1903. Then wagons moved the goods up Tamm Ave. and into the park at what was called the "Cheltenham" entrance at Tamm Ave. Many items, he was told, never really made it to their destination and several homes in Dogtown were built with lumber intended for the Fair. (Later, a significant number of homes were built with lumber from buildings torn down after the Fair ended.)
Sam's father first had a "filling station" at the wedge of Wise and Clayton, and he was one of the first merchants to give Eagle Stamps. For those of you too young to know, a buyer was given Eagle Stamps as a percentage of the purchase. For a $1.00 purchase you might get one eagle stamp, I can't recall the rate, it might have been one for each dime spent. There were small books and you accumulated eagle stamps. Then there was a catalog and catalog store where you could redeem your stamps for goods. One of the things the nearly every kid did was to cadge eagle stamps from the adults, easier to get out of them than money. The Eagle Stamp Company knew this and had lots of kids good in their catalog.
Sam's father was also a radio nut, having first a crystal set, but later got the very first radio in Dogtown with a regular speaker. This was just before the famous Tunney / Dempsey fight for the heavy weight championship, the fight famous for the "long count." Sam's dad mounted the speakers at the station and played the fight for the neighborhood, and much of the neighborhood turned out.
The Bellamy family was Protestant and West Park (then Cheltenham Road) was Catholic, as was much of Dogtown. There was a good deal of resistance to the Protestants moving in since religious tolerance was not what it is in Dogtown today. However, once the family was in and part of the neighborhood, they were fully accepted and they never had a problem.
In fact, Sam is a great fan of Father P.J. O'Connor. He recalled that when the old Dominican Convent was torn down in preparation for building the current (now mainly vacant) convent, the contractor gave P.J. the bid for tearing it down. There were quite a few men in the parish who had no work, Sam, the Protestant among them, and he offered them the work rather than have the money go out of the neighborhood.
Sam himself followed his father's later profession, sign painter. Once when P.J. was running his carnival at St. James, he sent work that he wanted to see Sam. When Sam got to the rectory (the one that was on the east side of Tamm, near lower Wade), P.J. wanted to play a gambling game. There were numbers and one bet on a number, then there was wheel which turned to point to a number. The two of them liked the game and P.J. said: "Make me one for the carnival." Sam did and he thought it was quite nice at that. The day of the carnival the game was in full swing when, early in the afternoon P.J. made his tour of the carnival. He discovered the game was taking in a great deal of money, so he shut it down!!! It was depression times and P.J. thought the game was just taking too much money from the men. Sam thought this was a most sensitive act on Father O'Connor's part.
During the early years of the depression Sam had the paper boy corner at Tamm and Clayton, a most desired spot, and raking in $12 to $18. a week, he was making more than many men in the neighborhood. At this time the Arena was being built as was an extension to Deaconess Hospital (is there ever a time when they weren't building an extension to Deaconess Hospital?). Sam would get his afternoon papers early, take a stack up and leave them at Deaconess. People would take their paper and leave the money on the papers. Ha! Try that one today. Then Sam would hurry up on Oakland Ave. to be there when the workers were leaving their jobs. They would buy papers from him. He would head back to his corner at Tamm and Clayton and finish out his day. Sam was, of course, still in elementary school! Being a non-Catholic, Sam went up to Dewey School and not to St. James.
Sam reports, as did Virginia Lorenz, in the early 1930s, the land between Clayton and Oakland, Tamm and Louisville, was empty. It had been a clay mine. Sam remembers one of the entrances to the mine was behind the barbershop which was on the north side of Clayton near Tamm. Once he was wrestling with Bill Hense. Sam is a small slight fellow and it was just in play, he wasn't into real fighting. Just kids playing. There were in the mine area, where they often played. He had his arm around Bill's neck and other kids started yelling for him to let go, he was choking Bill. He left go, but Bill fell into the mine shaft and badly cut his head. Sam, Bill and a trail of other kids, walked Bill all the way to West Park and Hampton where there was a doctor's office, and the doc fixed up Bill Hense.
One of the real sights in Dogtown each spring was the coming of the gypsies. Near Louisville and Clayton, on the north side, there was sort of a pond. Each year gypsies came and camped out there on they're way to Sam knew not where. It was an interesting sight for the kids of the neighborhood, but put the merchants on edge. They had a great problem with the gypsies stealing things from the stores, so they weren't a welcome group to many of the adults. But the kids, well that was another story.
Sam lived on West Park, just west of Tamm, near the top of the hill. One of the fun things for Sam and his friends to do was ride they're wagon (or sleds in the snow) on the LONG RIDE. They didn't have to worry about cars, so they would go to the top of West Park, and down they would go, across Childress, speeding down the very steep West Park, and, still with a good deal of speed, turned left on Louisville,for the long ride down that hill, to Dale. Not finished yet, they would turn left at Dale and see how far they could still coast on the level terrain of Dale Ave. If the wagon wheels were well oiled, or the snow especially icy, they might even get as far as where Dale turned toward Manchester. A very long ride indeed.
When Sam was growing up one of the Pilla families living down on Graham ran a dairy service. (Another person told me the Pilla's not only sold and delivered milk, but eggs and chickens as well, and had some goats.) Sam remembers Joe Pilla, himself a boy, leading cows up West Park from Graham to tether them to trees in Braem's lot. (Brame's lot ran along Childress Ave. from West Park toward Wise, and ran as far as the alley. It was on the east side of the street. I grew up on Childress, just exactly across the street from Brame's Lot, where I played a lot of soccer and baseball, and roasted potatoes in ground fires at night. But never until I chatted with Sam did I know it was once called Braem's Lot. The present houses there were built sometime in the late 1940s.)
One of the very fun parts of my conversation with Sam was to run down memories of businesses that once operated in Dogtown. There was a long period from the turn of the (last) century until about the 1960s when Dogtown was rather self-sufficient in the retail market. Relatively few people had cars and the businesses came to them, on their block. Sam was remembering the period from about 1920 to 1950 in which he mentioned:
We could have gone on. Sam and I were sitting on his front porch over on Fyler Ave. on a cool late summer evening enjoying our trip to memory lane, but I'd been there a very long time and we finally parted. I'm expecting that Sam will come up with yet more memories to share as time goes on.
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