Bob Corbett
September 1999

Catherine was the only one of the six Corbett kids to be born at the 6410 Wade home. Before that the Corbetts had lived on Brockschmitt. Catherine remembers her mother telling her that at the end of "the great war," WW I, she had baked a special celebration cake, covered it with white icing and put it in the window to cool. A short while later she looked and the entire cake was covered with red ants. Her mother, of course upset at the time, later thought that the touch of red all over the white was even more appropriate. Ah, but where was the blue?

Catherine remembers a neighborhood that had a real sense of unity. Everyone looked out for one another and one had no fears. Everyone knew one another. This also acted as a deterrent to behavior that wasn't accepted, since no sooner might one perform such an act than it would be reported back home immediately.

I would interject that this spirit of the neighborhood extended well into the 1950s. I recall getting my bicycle in the late 1940s or early 50s, and when the fourth of July approached, decided to do an utterly forbidden act -- go buy some fireworks. If one road a bit out Olive Street you could buy them. A couple of friends of mine and me took of to do the deed. That evening someone called to tell my parents that they saw me riding down Skinker Blvd. on my bike and thought it best to tell them. Well, the whole plot was uncovered and my fireworks confiscated (though after a few days they were returned in time for the 4th!).

Another key aspect Catherine remembers from her youth was playing in the streets, where they played ball and skated. There were no organized sports, or very few. Again, this not only applied to her childhood in the 20s and 30s, but mine in the 40s and 50s as well.

The Corbetts lived on Wade Avenue and one of few Jewish families, the Novacs lived there too. As Catherine recalled there was complete acceptance of the Novacs despite the tendency toward anti-Semitism in the general culture at that time. The Wade Ave. Novacs did not keep a kosher kitchen, but Mrs. Novac's sister did. The Wade Ave. kids were much amused when she would come to visit since she'd bring her own pots and pans in order to cook kosher while she was there.

In about 1930 Heimy Novac was swimming in the quarry at the northwest corner of Dale and Manchester and had a cramp. Bob Corbett, my father, was playing hooky that day, and was swimming with him, both, or course, swimming in their birthday suits. Dad had to pull Heimy out and he was in some difficulty and had to be revived. The police and many neighbors came, and dad, embarrassed by his nakedness and worried about getting caught playing hooky, had gotten back into the water and wouldn't come out. Finally the police agreed that "they didn't know the lad in the water," and turned away while pop slipped out and away. However, Catherine said that dad had to live with a very grateful Mrs. Novac. She had already lost one child, and every time she saw dad she wanted to hug him, which caused the shy grade school boy to hide away from Mrs. Novac.

Earlier a child of Mrs. Novac's had died when she swallowed a flat whistle which was a very common toy for children of that period. From that time on, whenever she saw any child with such a toy she would immediately get out a dime and buy the whistle from the child and destroy it. She couldn't deal with the memories associated with seeing another child playing with this toy that killed her daughter.

Jack and Catherine were dating during WW II. Jack has first come to Dogtown with his brother. He was dating Alice Corbett, Catherine's cousin. Later the Moser brothers married the Corbett cousins. Charlie Moser had a trio and they played dance music at the White House, a tavern run by Randall Dwyer (another Corbett relative!) at the corner of Graham and Clayton, where the Union Electric sub-station is today. They had a large beer garden and a dance floor. Inside was actually another even larger dance floor. Between the garden and the inside dance floor was a small elevated "stage." The musicians could sit there and it was open to the outside. At any rate, Charlie played the clarinet and saxophone. Neighbors complained about the clarinet's loudness and they had to stop. Charlie found an old cheap broken clarinet in a shop and purchased it. They build a casket for the clarinet and had a "funeral," burying the clarinet in the back yard of the White House.

Just out beyond the property of the White House there were a series of garages and a large space in front of them running out to Clayton Ave. This was the stage for many a great bottle cap games. Bottle caps is a game like cork ball or what today is called fuzz ball. The equipment was a broomstick and the bottle caps from beer bottles. These had cork inside the lid, and sailed neatly when thrown cap up. When through with the edges of the cap up they could be dangerous and really cut. Most games ruled out upside down caps. We all used to collect huge beer cases full of caps for our games. At any rate the key players are the pitcher and catcher on one team and the batter on the other. The pitcher sails the cap and the batter tries to hit it. If the batter swings and misses and the catcher catches the cap, then the batter is out. Any foul ball (or foul cap) is an out. There are often more players, and they stand in the "field" which is only the area around the pitcher and catcher. If a fielder catches a cap on the fly, that too is an out. Otherwise four hits equals a run, and each additional hit in an inning is a run. Three outs and inning. Nine inning games. Most runs win.

The White House bottle cap court was not only central to Dogtown in the 30s and 40s, but I spent a good deal of my own youth playing there in the 50s as well.

Jack Moser related how at that time beer was 10 cents a bottle. Games were played for beer, with an even number of players on each team. Each member of the losing team purchased a beer for the player on the winning team playing the same position.

In the 1970s when my own children were young and we were living in Graz, Austria, I introduced the game to my children and before long the whole neighborhood around "Felix Dahn Platz" was playing bottle caps. We lived next door to a Gasthaus and the Frau there provided us with an unending supply of bottle caps.

Later addition: November 21, 1999

I just happened to be chatting with my Aunt Catherine when she remembered that as a small girl in about 1930 she and her cousin Gerry Corbett were playing near the mine entrance at Louisville and West Park. This was a functioning mine at that time. She said a black man worked in the mine and his job was to lead the blind mule which pulled a small train into the mine and carried out the clay. Gerry had more nerve than Catherine and asked the fellow for a ride on the mule, but as Catherine recalls she didn't get it. I was amazed to realize that the mine was still functioning in 1930.


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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu