Warren and Clare Mulch moved into the home at 6240 Famous Avenue on Sept. 9, 1948. Warren was thirty-five years old, a former teacher who had moved (most recently) from Moline, Illinois, to take a job as a “Child Welfare Worker” (truant officer) for the St. Louis City Schools. His “district” would include four of the most poverty-ridden schools in downtown St. Louis. Many of the students he served would live in Shantytown.
Clare would soon be working as a secretary at Atlas Powder Company, whose offices were then located in the Continental Building in Midtown. (One storage magazine for dynamite was located in an undeveloped area off Mackenzie Rd. near Hwy. 66.)
My parents had only one child. I turned five years old the day we moved into the house on Famous Avenue. My first night was spent being terrified by the noisy trains that ran just north of our home--on the Frisco and Missouri Pacific Lines. Later, I learned to love watching the trains and would run to the window in hopes of seeing an old- fashioned coal-burning engine.
My father often laughed because so few people could find Famous Avenue. It was only one block long, bounded (as a triangle) by Knox on the eastern end and Wilson to the west.
Scullin Steel was still operational. In fact, my father told me many times that the homes in that area had been built “fifty years ago” to accommodate the families of factory workers. Other industries bordered along Manchester Road.
(School colors: blue and gold)
Even if there is a question about whether I lived in Dogtown, there is no question that I attended school there for eight years.
In those days, children began school at age four-and-a-half. That meant a year of kindergarten and a half year of “Transition Unit.” Also, at that time children could begin school in January as well as September. Schools were arranged with “half year” classes to accommodate the January enrollees.
Coming from Illinois, I was half a year behind. However, Miss Loddoke was persuaded to let me skip transition unit, so I did become one of the youngest members of the first grade class--because of my September birthday.
Gratiot was a school with a relatively smaller enrollment (a bit more than 200 students in eight grades). Dad had moved me from Mason (where I attended kindergarten) partly because of distance but also because he firmly believed (based on his own experience as a teacher) that smaller was better when it came to class size!
In fact, the classes were so small that we had three levels in each room. In Miss [Lily?] Loddoke’s room, we had transition unit, one-low and one-high. I loved the arrangement. I would listen to the lessons being given to the higher levels. By the time I got there, I was familiar with the work.
We were not allowed to cross the railroad tracks on the way to school, so had to walk the round-about way across the Hampton Viaduct. The winds whipped very cold up there during the winter! We did a “dress up” show while I was in first grade. Mother cut down a taffeta dress of hers for me and we danced and sang for our parents. Miss Loddoke was “old school”--very strict. She got headaches and taught some of us to massage her temples to relieve the pain. We were rewarded with a piece of candy. She also taught us phonics, although the experts were then recommending “word recognition.” (I’ve always been glad I learned phonics although I see a place for both methods.) Annually, we had a fall festival. We could wear our Halloween costumes and the Mothers’ Club that sponsored it always had some old- time movies to watch as well as a bake sale and crafts. We had Christmas party, too and one on Valentines Day where we exchanged funny Valentines.
My favorite event was the annual school picnic held at the Forest Park Highlands [amusement park] on Oakland each May. The police would close off Hampton so we could march up there. In the early years I twirled a baton. Later, I played the drums with the drum and bugle corps. We would practice after school for several weeks in spring before this event.
I hated the Bobsled. (We were given tickets for the Bobsled, carousel and airplane rides.) I quickly learned I could trade my Bobsled ticket off for a ride I preferred! I didn’t ride the comet (a test of our courage) until I was in eighth grade!
In the earlier years, I envied the fellow students whose mothers didn’t work. The mothers would come to the amusement park with baskets of fried chicken or sandwiches and watch the kids have fun or even ride with them. As I got older, I was happy to be with my friends and not have a parent watching me!
Mother would sometimes pack me a lunch for school but I vastly preferred to eat lunch at Miss Haley’s across the street from Gratiot school. Why? Because after we ate at school (and that took about five minutes) we would have to sit SILENTLY at the desk in the lunchroom with our heads down for 25 minutes. I hated that. I never could understand why I could spend five minutes eating at Miss Haley’s and then go back to the girls’ playground at 12:05 and it was okay, but they wouldn’t dismiss us from the lunchroom then. Guess there was some issue of responsibility or liability.
(As an adult, I have more sympathy for the elderly teacher who had to oversee us. That was probably her only quiet time.)
I frequently ate lunch at Miss Haley’s. She would have cooked hamburgers earlier in the day and they were set out in a pan of hot water in back of the store. We could purchase a hot dog on a bun for a dime or a hamburger sandwich with pickles for fifteen cents. A soda (we called it “pop” in Illinois) was a nickel, so was a bag of potato chips or a candy bar. I would have to decide how to use my quarter budget each time. We kids had to eat standing up in back while the factory workers sat and ate in the main part of the store.
The lunches my mother packed were much more nutritious. She would always include an apple and some carrots and celery. Frequently, I would have soup or hot chocolate in a thermos bottle.
I was really glad when they built the Steak ‘n Shake at Hampton and Wilson. That gave me more variety. I could get chili or spaghetti and their hamburgers tasted better.
At Gratiot, teachers did a great deal with very little in the way of equipment. At recess we were divided into boys and girls. (The boys played in the north side of the school yard, the girls in the south.) That often happened during physical education, too.
Usually, we played kickball. (The ball ended up in the street at least once per game.) Sometimes we would jump rope or play hopscotch. Our “equipment” consisted of a few kickballs, softballs and bats. (I think there were “baskets” in the gym in the basement of the school.) We did calisthenics such as “squat-thrusts” and “windmills.” In Miss [Catherine] Heidker’s room (two-low, two-high and three-low) we started using ink (from an inkwell) and blotters in order to learn to write. (You can guess what else those inkwells got used for. I can imagine the teachers’ collective joy when ball-point pens came into use a couple of years later!)
At Gratiot, there was a “special” room for “retarded” students. Some of the kids made fun of them. By third grade, I had been assigned to help the teacher with them. I had a lot of compassion for them because I was also teased. (Turns out that one of the older boys was the custodian when I went to work in 1986 at Christian Board of Publication. He was an orphan. Actually he was very knowledgeable about radio and TV and making records--but functionally illiterate. He would bring me things to read for him before work started). Mrs. [Delores] Bamert taught three-high and four-low. She was my first “married” teacher. Up until after WW II, married women could not teach school in Missouri. There was no similar problem with married men like my father!) She was a good teacher, fair and more relaxed.
The rooms of all the lower grades were on the first floor of the school. With the beginning of four-high, we got to move upstairs. We were assigned a teacher new to the building (and new to teaching as well, we learned many years later). We took Mr. George Pachiva for granted. It was only in subsequent years that we learned his history. He had delayed his education to serve in the Navy in WW II while still in his late teens. He saw action in the South Pacific. After the terrible images of the war, he told his wife he wanted to do “something that mattered.” So he used his GI Bill to get a teaching degree. We were his very first class. We never guessed it! He poured out his energies on us. His classes were vibrant with variety and enthusiasm. We never could have imagined that he was working just ahead of us! He told us many years later of how he had studied art books before he taught us how to make papier mache “animules” or how he worked with books and recorded music before he taught us square dancing. We learned to bargain in Spanish using Mexican money. With his help we wrote and produced historical skits. We had heated political debates. We went on field trips. We had all feared our next promotion to the room of the dreaded Miss Dionysius who oversaw the penalty classes. Our prayers were answered when she retired and Mr. Pachiva was “promoted” with us. He was our teacher for a total of three years!
I think we must have worn Mr. Pachiva out. He went into administration within a few years. His excellent record of service to school children has outlived him. Over the years, we have heard many praises for his years in the Lindbergh School District.
My last two teachers, Miss Smyth and Mrs. Reeg were also excellent but much more conventional.
From forth grade on, an instrumental music teacher, Mr. Masson, came in to instruct us. Some of us learned to play the violin.
We also learned some things not on the curriculum list. Somewhere around sixth grade, one of us was to be given the chance to be on TV in a spelling bee. Two members of my class were good spellers. Still the selection was made arbitrarily by the principal. We were puzzled. She had chosen one boy in our class who could not spell very well. We all knew it. We did notice that his mother was president of the Mother’s Club that year. Sure enough, he lost out on the third round. We were not happy!
The graduation class of January 1957 was comprised of five students; our June graduating class had nine. Some of the boys had already dropped out to go to work.
Our Principals were Mr. Granger, Miss Karlskeindt and Ms. [Isobel] Tucker. Miss Karlskeindt had also taught kindergarten. Bob Mirelli (class of June 1958) adds the information that he remembers a Mrs. Henry. He had Mr. Huff in 6th grade. Mr. Gamash was the Drum and Bugle Corps instructor.
Our immediate neighbors purchased many food items, particularly bread, canned goods, penny candy and ice cream bars, at a confectionary at the corner of Knox and Famous Avenues. The store was run by a woman still called “Mizzus Lambert” although the widow had subsequently married Walter Leonard several years before we moved in, and he helped at the store. (People did not seem interested in catching up with that change. If I talked about Mrs. Leonard, no one seemed to know whom I meant!)
I don’t remember hearing the name “Dogtown” until I was in eighth grade. But I certainly was aware of St. James Church and school because several neighbors attended there.
Ed and Marie Schoening lived next door with Ed’s sister Miss Clara living upstairs. They attended church at St. James. The Damico children who lived at the end of the street on Wilson went to St. James School and so did the McNicholas children and the Dattoli’s large family.
I attended at least one homecoming there and also went to Mass with my friends occasionally. (They were not allowed to go to my church-- Union Avenue Christian Church, located a block from Delmar at Union.) Because we had only one car, mother and I depended a great deal on the busses. We were close to both the Hampton and Manchester bus lines. Bus riding or walking was particularly necessary in summertime because my dad would either go to graduate school or work at a camp out of town. I would frequently meet Mother at the Maplewood swimming pool or the Maplewood Theater after work. With no air-conditioning, it was the best way to cool off.
The frame farmhouse style home we lived in had six rooms, four downstairs and two and a bath up. It also had porches front and back and we used both porches a great deal, as it was often unbearably hot indoors in summer by 3 p.m.
In winter, the whole house was cold and drafty. Dad said there had been a fire and the house had “settled.” You could feel the cold air streaming in around the window frames until we finally got storm windows in the mid-1950s. Our water pipes froze at least once or twice each winter.
Our basement foundation had only three finished walls. The fourth was a bank of mud with a low foundation wall above it. Mother described standing in water up to her ankles while shoveling coal in the early years before they got all the holes plugged. (They eventually converted the furnace to gas heat.)
It was dark and smelled bad in the cellar--a haven for spiders and waterbugs. Concrete steps served a double cellar door that opened to the outside of the house. (Yes, I used to slide down the cellar doors and get splinters!) We never opened those doors, so dad piled canned goods on the concrete steps and my job was to retrieve them when he needed something.
Our meals frequently included a “mystery” can. Dad would buy canned goods that had lost their labels. We wouldn’t know until we opened one if we were having corn or green beans for supper or peaches or plums for dessert. Whatever it was, we ate it. (Except dog food which we shared with the neighbors since we didn’t own a dog.)
When we moved in, we had 26 trees in our yard. My favorite was a large oak with a perfect, nearly level branch where Dad tied a rope swing for my friends and me.
We were ecologists by necessity. We “used it up or wore it out.” We burned all our paper and cardboard trash next to the alley behind the house. In all but the coldest weather, Dad buried our biodegradable garbage into the rose bushes after supper each night. When the garbage man came, we had only one small can (about a five-gallon bucket) to set out. It easily held all our garbage.
Milk was delivered by Pevely Dairy in glass bottles that were reused. The only time we complained about milk was occasionally in spring. The milk would taste funny. Finally we found out that the cows would eat onions and some of the flavor would get into the milk.
We had two “iceboxes”--it took me years to say refrigerators. (My parents had relied on iceboxes until we moved to St. Louis.) The first one, ordered from Sears in 1948, took six months for delivery. (Conversion from a wartime to peacetime economy was slow!) The freezer was so small it could only hold some icecube trays or a few small items. The second refrigerator, added a couple of years later, had a freezer big enough to fit in some ice cream. Both had to be defrosted.
A Saturday ritual was taking the food from one refrigerator and stuffing it into the other, then defrosting the empty one. As they did this, my parents made “Saturday Soup”--the combined leftovers from that week. We had some pretty exotic combinations that might include liver or red cabbage combined with Lima beans or mustard greens. Not all of the combinations were tasty. Still we would eat Saturday Soup for suppers until Tuesday or later when (thankfully) the supply ran out.
Dad had grown up on a farm near Quincy, Illinois. When his family (eight children) lost the farm in the rural depression that immediately preceded the Great Depression of 1929, they moved to town. Dad was the youngest and the only child to finish high school. He managed to get two years of college (enough to begin teaching in a one-room schoolhouse on the bottom land near the Mississippi River). He finished his college degree in 1941 and finally obtained a Masters Degree in Education in 1958.
Mother was born to educated parents who chose to be poor. (Her mother had graduated from Drury College in 1897 and taught school until she married at age 36.) Her father was a circuit-riding Methodist Minister who often was paid in eggs, flour or produce. She never lived in more than one place (in Arkansas or Missouri) for more than three years. She attended eight schools before graduating from High School in Eureka, Missouri in 1931. She received a two-year degree from Central Methodist College in 1933.
My parents were married in 1938. Living in “two rooms and a path” on the bottom land at the end of the Great Depression, my parents found food where they could. They made jelly from wild grapes. Dad hunted rabbits. They fished for food, not just for pleasure. They kept a garden and canned. So when they moved to St. Louis, they still took advantage of what they could find. Dad brought home watercress sometimes harvested from the cold spring at Rockwood Reservation. In spring we ate dandelion greens raw in salad and cooked. We did not die from the mushrooms Dad collected. My parents fished when they had a chance. Dad was well-acquainted with Soulard Market where he bought up “older” produce. He also brought home calf’s brains to fry. Crisp and squishy. Uggh!
Mother had learned to play the piano as a child. She played for church from the time she was nine. We always had a piano. She would play by note or “by ear” and friends or relatives would sing along. We got our TV set rather late. My parents had outside interests. They had developed a taste for the Muny Opera when they lived in Edwardsville, Illinois, in 1942-44. (Mother had worked for the Labor Relations Board of the Wabash Railroad then. She had commuted by train to downtown St. Louis every day to work. Dad taught civics at Edwardsville High School.) They also commuted to visit the zoo and art museum at Forest Park, to see Shaw’s Garden and to take in movies and to shop.
Once we moved to St. Louis in 1948, they continued taking advantage of these institutions and also attended lectures and stage plays. Mother attended every free concert she could find.
(Mother had been so happy to move to Edwardsville where, for the first time, they had a reliable source of electricity and didn’t have to depend on batteries to hear the radio--batteries they sometimes could not afford. She listened constantly and considered it a marvelous treat. But there was a tradeoff. When the wind blew from Granite City, her newly washed clothes would come off the line “dirtier than when I started washing them” because of the pollution.) They both were active at church. Dad taught Sunday school for adults occasionally; Mother played the piano for the primary classes every Sunday. They both served on the board and both served as liaison representatives for the Silent Bereans (hearing-impaired members of the congregation). Of course Mother sang in the choir and also helped serve dinners.
When friends visited, they played Canasta or Bunko or Pantomime Quiz. Or perhaps they would play “older” games such as Euchre or Rook. A newly-married couple rented our upstairs two rooms for more than a year after we moved in. He was a recently-returned serviceman who worked at the Star station on Hwy. 66 (Watson) near Mackenzie Road. (Between the Depression and WW II, housing was at a premium, so this was not unusual. In fact, within my memory we had always shared a bathroom with at least one other family who rented from us-- until I was nearly seven.) This couple eventually moved into a tiny four-room tract home similar to thousands that were being built around 1950. I was a “latchkey” child. Dad had needed an extensive and expensive operation for a disk in his back. With no insurance, Mother had to go to work when I was three. I was fed and “watched” by “the woman upstairs” until I was nearly seven. Then I was on my own. When we moved to Famous Avenue in 1948, my neighborhood range was small, bounded by Knox and Wilson Avenues. We had a four-party phone line and I had to learn how to dial a “station” and four digits. (In Moline, Illinois, where we had previously lived, you could just pick up the phone and an operator would dial the numbers for you. I could call my aunt even before I learned to read.)
I had to walk to school past a vacant lot on Evaline. The older boys played there, but I was not encouraged to do so.
As I made friends at Gratiot, my world expanded again--to the shabby apartment houses along Manchester, the new tract homes just east of Hampton near West Park and of course to the comfortable homes on Graham and Gregg, Wade, Tamm, West Park and Victoria. My parents were very trusting and I was allowed to roam far from home to visit friends after school. I just had to call my mom at work and tell her where I was going and when I would be home.
I also took advantage of public service transportation at an early age. I was six or seven the first time I took a Manchester bus to Grand and caught a streetcar to Olive. I had made the trip several times before with Mother to visit her office in the Continental Building. I don’t remember being a bit afraid to go there on my own after school. (They still had elevator operators in those days.) At Christmastime, Mother would give me about two dollars, and I could shop at Woolworth’s on Grand to my heart’s delight, finding presents for my parents and teachers and friends. Then Mother and I might stop at the Fox and see a vaudeville act and movie.
By the time I was eight, neighbor children and I might walk to the Columbia Show. Parents usually picked us up afterwards. When summer arrived, we began walking to the Maplewood pool. We’d lobster ourselves by swimming for three hours at a time. Then we might stop at Woolworth’s in Maplewood for a bag of roasted nuts to munch on the walk home. Hot? Yes. But no one we knew had air-conditioning, so we never thought about it. It was hot at home, too. We’d pick up an aluminum tumbler of lemonade and sit on metal chairs on the porch to cool down. And sometimes a neighbor would drift over to talk. As I learned to read well, my trips to the Roe School Library became more frequent. I loved books and preferred them to (one channel) TV. Busses were more reliable then. During the day, a person could usually catch a Hampton or Manchester bus in ten or fifteen minutes at the most. I think a trip cost five cents if you were “under twelve.” I thought nothing of riding busses/streetcars to my doctor on North Grand or to church at Union and Enright. We frequented the Maplewood Theater and Goldies and Katz Drug Store.
Dad came from a large family. We frequently had relatives in the house--as many as twenty sharing one bathroom. (We slept everywhere including on the floor.) Dad loved to take his company to Shaw’s Garden and the Zoo, to ball games with the Cardinals or Browns, to the art museum and Jewel Box and the [then called] Jefferson Memorial [now History Museum] to see the Lindbergh trophies. He also took them to the burlesque and to see shows on the Goldenrod Showboat. He would drive visitors around to the posh homes in Clayton and Ladue and then end his trip down around the brewery-- “so that our home would look pretty good after that.”
When a good friend moved to South St. Louis when I was eleven, I added the South Grand/Gravois section of town to our wanderings and Cherokee and Southtown Famous. And as I got older, we went downtown to window shop at Famous-Barr.
My parents and I saw the Lone Ranger and the Ice Capades at the Arena. We also attended a great many wrestling matches and stock car races up on Oakland. And my parents still attended nearly every Muny performance. I was not as enthusiastic. My favorite parts happened before the show-- fishing for sunfish or feeding old bread to the ducks. When I finally got a bike, we would ride to friends’ houses or up to the zoo. (Good thing it was downhill coming home.)
As teenagers, we roamed the neighborhoods. I loved to go roller skating at the Arena and skate around in circles to the song “You, You, You.”
We’d walk to Wethington’s on Hampton or to Tamm Pharmacy hoping to see friends along the way. We’d cross the street to stay away from O’Shea’s and Gus’s. Good girls didn’t go there. At night, a group of us often went to the Fox show. (My husband and I never gave our own children the kind of freedom we had!) vThe first time I remember hearing the name Dogtown, I was nearly in my teens. Then one of the boys I knew informed me that he lived in Dogtown and I lived in Shamrock. Then we had a discussion about where the lines were drawn. (The lines have certainly changed since the triangle of Famous/Knox/Wilson is now totally cut off from the south by I-44.)
I also don’t remember talking much about nationalities. Oh, we knew the Damicos were Italian and Irish (complete with red haired Patrick). But it didn’t mean anything. During WW II, we had all been Americans first and last! At Gratiot School we represented just about every Northern and Eastern European possibility and after 1956, we added African Americans to the mix. And I can not remember hearing disparaging names being used toward nationalities until I went to high school. We did start wearing green on St. Patrick’s day, though. That was something my family hadn’t heard of in Illinois.
My father was well known to Boy Scouts in many areas of town including Dogtown. He spent several summers at Irondale giving nature merit badges as Nature Director, and later at a Forestry camp near Lesterville. He also gave merit badge instructions to boys who visited our home.
Other young men might not want to admit they had met my father. By then, he was the teacher for boys incarcerated at the Juvenile Detention Center. (I have run into one young man who said Dad helped him turn his life around.)
By 1961, my husband and I lived at the other end of Dogtown--at 6221A Clayton Rd. The large brick flat where we had a three room apartment has been demolished and the location is now part of the parking garage that serves the Nurses School next to Forest Park (Deaconess Hospital) Medical Center.
With the birth of our daughter, I had many reasons to use the Tamm Pharmacy. The pharmacist (to my great surprise) extended me credit so I could get the baby things we needed and pay him at the end of the week when my husband got his check.
We had a kind neighbor in the next apartment. Instead of complaining when the baby cried and cried, Katherine Cinnater would bang on my door and ask if she could hold the baby for me. What a blessing. That is emblematic of the kind of neighborliness I remember in Dogtown.
Probably the most notable events in the early 1950s included those that really did not much involve me. We had converted to natural gas for heating at home by the time the coal strike hit. Our church had not. So we shivered through some services before it was settled. More inconvenient for my parents was the transportation (bus) strike. Mother would have to walk several blocks from work to pick up a ride with my father because it was virtual gridlock in Midtown at 5 p.m. when she got off from work on the days when the busses did not run. I learned an important lesson in the mid-1950s. Both the garbage workers and the journalists at the newspapers went on strike about the same time. There was such an outcry as the garbage piled up that the garbage workers were back to work in about eight days. The journalists were out for about four months! That gave me a different perspective on who was really most important in our society!
I was little touched by the Korean War. What scant information we heard of it was mostly on the radio. What I did know was that we had to be afraid of communists (who all agreed with each other and walked in lockstep). I don’t remember the McCarthy hearings but do vaguely remember Estes Kefauver and his hearings. Actually, I was more afraid of invaders from outer space--the subject of several popular movies at that time.
My parents always voted in every election but they didn’t always agree--particularly in 1956.
I did observe the results of the tornado of 1959. (Remember I lived by the trains.) Apparently I slept through the main event. But as I stood at the bus stop at Hampton and Evaline the next morning about 7 a.m. on my way to Southwest High School, I couldn’t help but notice that the big TV tower on Oakland looked like some giant had stepped on it and squashed it. Then I became aware that some of the roofs on top of the houses on the hill also looked disturbed. (I was shocked that we had not heard the tornado as it passed over our heads. Those who did told us it sounded like a big freight train!)
My mother went to work at Christian Board of Publication in 1958. She eventually became an assistant editor of a magazine with a national subscription rate of 200,000. She moved to a home in Maplewood shortly after my father passed away in 1962. He had been teach at McKinley High School the two previous years.
When Dad died, at age 49, three hundred people crowded the church at the funeral. He had touched many lives.
I grew up feeling safe in that neighborhood. The day I locked myself out while I was home alone, sick (and trying to get the mail), a neighbor took me in, fed me lunch and taught me how to make doll clothes. (We kept a spare key in a gallon container of popcorn on the back porch after that experience.)
Even when a hobo came by and asked for food, I didn’t feel particularly threatened. For good or ill, people kept an eye out for each other. I always believed I could ask for help from any of the neighbors if I needed it. That’s why I grew up not being afraid to be home alone so much of the time.
We rarely locked our doors before bedtime. (Of course we didn’t own much worth stealing!) Only once was our house broken into--and then all they had to do was cut our screen door and open the latch, because that is all we had locked.
The spirit of Dogtown fit in perfectly with my family’s philosophy. “We didn’t have much, but God gave us the gift of being able to enjoy what we had.”
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