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In response to her letter, Helgelien flew to her side in January At this time, she started to have problems with Ray Lamphere. In March , Gunness sent several letters to a farmer and horse dealer in Topeka, Kansas named Lon Townsend, inviting him to visit her; he decided to put off the visit until spring, and thus did not see her before a fire at her farm. Gunness was also in correspondence with a man from Arkansas and sent him a letter dated May 4, He would have visited her, but did not because of the fire at her farm.
Gunness allegedly promised marriage to a suitor Bert Albert, which did not go through because of his lack of wealth. The hired hand Ray Lamphere was deeply in love with Gunness; he performed any chore for her, no matter how gruesome.
He became jealous of the many men who arrived to court his employer and began making scenes. She fired him on February 3, Shortly after dispensing with Lamphere, she presented herself at the La Porte courthouse.
She declared that her former employee was not in his right mind and was a menace to the public. She somehow convinced local authorities to hold a sanity hearing.
Lamphere was pronounced sane and released. Gunness was back a few days later to complain to the sheriff that Lamphere had visited her farm and argued with her. She contended that he posed a threat to her family and had Lamphere arrested for trespassing. Lamphere returned again and again to see her, but she drove him away. Lamphere made thinly disguised threats; on one occasion, he confided to farmer William Slater, "Helgelien won't bother me no more.
We fixed him for keeps. However, his brother, Asle Helgelien, was disturbed when Andrew failed to return home and he wrote to Belle in Indiana, asking her about his sibling's whereabouts. Gunness wrote back, telling Asle Helgelien that his brother was not at her farm and probably went to Norway to visit relatives.
Asle Helgelien wrote back saying that he did not believe his brother would do that; moreover, he believed that his brother was still in the La Porte area, the last place he was seen or heard from. Gunness brazened it out; she told him that if he wanted to come and look for his brother, she would help conduct a search, but she cautioned him that searching for missing persons was an expensive proposition.
If she were to be involved in such a manhunt, she stated, Asle Helgelien should be prepared to pay her for her efforts. Asle Helgelien did come to La Porte, but not until May. Lamphere represented an unresolved danger to her; now Asle Helgelien was making inquiries that could very well send her to the gallows. She told a lawyer in La Porte, M. Leliter, that she feared for her life and that of her children. Ray Lamphere, she said, had threatened to kill her and burn her house down.
She wanted to make out a will, in case Lamphere went through with his threats. Leliter complied and drew up her will. She left her entire estate to her children and then departed Leliter's offices. She went to one of the La Porte banks holding the mortgage for her property and paid this off.
She did not go to the police to tell them about Lamphere's allegedly life-threatening conduct. The reason for this, most later concluded, was that there had been no threats; she was merely setting the stage for her own arson.
Lamphere suspected of arson and murder. Joe Maxson, who had been hired to replace Lamphere in February , awoke in the early hours of April 28, , smelling smoke in his room, which was on the second floor of the Gunness house.
He opened the hall door to a sheet of flames. Maxson screamed Gunness' name and those of her children but got no response. He slammed the door and then, in his underwear, leapt from the second-story window of his room, barely surviving the fire that was closing in about him.
He raced to town to get help, but by the time the old-fashioned hook and ladder arrived at the farm at early dawn the farmhouse was a gutted heap of smoking ruins. Four bodies were found inside the house. One of the bodies was that of a woman who could not immediately be identified as Gunness, since she had no head. The head was never found. The bodies of her children were found still in their beds. Leliter came forward to recount his tale about Gunness' will and how she feared Lamphere would kill her and her family and burn her house down.
Lamphere did not help his cause much. At the moment Sheriff Smutzer confronted him and before a word was uttered by the lawman, Lamphere exclaimed, "Did Widow Gunness and the kids get out all right? A youth, John Solyem, was brought forward. He said that he had been watching the Gunness place and that he saw Lamphere running down the road from the Gunness house just before the structure erupted in flames.
Lamphere snorted to the boy: Then scores of investigators, sheriff's deputies, coroner's men and many volunteers began to search the ruins for evidence. The body of the headless woman was of deep concern to La Porte residents. Christofferson, a neighboring farmer, took one look at the charred remains of this body and said that it was not the remains of Belle Gunness.
So did another farmer, L. Nicholson, and so did Mrs. Austin Cutler, an old friend of Gunness. More of Gunness' old friends, Mrs. May Olander and Mr. Sigward Olsen, arrived from Chicago. They examined the remains of the headless woman and said it was not Gunness. Doctors then measured the remains, and, making allowances for the missing neck and head, stated the corpse was that of a woman who stood five feet three inches tall and weighed no more than pounds.
Friends and neighbors, as well as the La Porte clothiers who made her dresses and other garments, swore that Gunness was taller than 5'8" and weighed between and pounds. Detailed measurements of the body were compared with those on file with several La Porte stores where she purchased her apparel. When the two sets of measurements were compared, the authorities concluded that the headless woman could not possibly have been Belle Gunness, even when the ravages of the fire on the body were taken into account.
The flesh was badly burned but intact. Meyers examined the internal organs of the dead woman. He sent stomach contents of the victims to a pathologist in Chicago, who reported months later that the organs contained lethal doses of strychnine.
Thus Louis "Klondike" Schultz, a former miner, was hired to build a sluice and begin sifting the debris as more bodies were unearthed, the sluice was used to isolate human remains on a larger scale. On May 19, , a piece of bridgework was found consisting of two human canine teeth, their roots still attached, porcelain teeth and gold crown work in between.
Norton identified them as work done for Gunness. As a result, Coroner Charles Mack officially concluded that the adult female body discovered in the ruins was Belle Gunness.
Asle Helgelien arrived in La Porte and told Sheriff Smutzer that he believed his brother had met with foul play at Gunness' hands. Then, Joe Maxson came forward with information that could not be ignored: He told the Sheriff that Gunness had ordered him to bring loads of dirt by wheelbarrow to a large area surrounded by a high wire fence where the hogs were fed. Maxson said that there were many deep depressions in the ground that had been covered by dirt.
These filled-in holes, Gunness had told Maxson, contained rubbish. She wanted the ground made level, so he filled in the depressions. Smutzer took a dozen men back to the farm and began to dig. On May 3, , the diggers unearthed the body of Jennie Olson vanished December Then they found the small bodies of two unidentified children.
Subsequently the body of Andrew Helgelien was unearthed his overcoat was found to be worn by Lamphere. As days progressed and the gruesome work continued, one body after another was discovered in Gunness' hog pen:.
Reports of other possible victims began to come in:. McJunkin of Coraopolis near Pittsburgh left his wife in December after corresponding with a La Porte woman; Olaf Jensen, a Norwegian immigrant of Carroll, Indiana, wrote his relatives in he was going to marry a wealthy widow at La Porte; Henry Bizge of La Porte who disappeared June and his hired man named Edward Canary of Pink Lake Ill who also vanished ; Bert Chase of Mishawaka, Indiana sold his butcher shop and told friends of a wealthy widow and that he was going to look her up; his brother received a telegram supposedly from Aberdeen, South Dakota claiming Bert had been killed in a train wreck; his brother investigated and found the telegram was fictitious; Tonnes Peterson Lien of Rushford, Minnesota, is alleged to have disappeared April 2, ; A gold ring marked "S.
May 28, " was found in the ruins; A hired man named George Bradley of Tuscola, Illinois, is alleged to have gone to La Porte to meet a widow and three children in October ; T.
Tiefland of Minneapolis is alleged to have come to see Gunness in ; Frank Riedinger a farmer of Waukesha, Wisconsin, came to Indiana in to marry and never returned; Emil Tell, a Swede from Kansas City, Missouri, is alleged to have gone in to La Porte; Lee Porter of Bartonville, Oklahoma separated from his wife and told his brother he was going to marry a wealthy widow at La Porte; John E.
Hunter left Duquesne, Pennsylvania, on November 25, after telling his daughters he was going to marry a wealthy widow in Northern Indiana. Joseph, Missouri; A possible victim was a man named Hinkley; Reported unnamed victims were:.
Whitzer of Toledo, Ohio, who had attended Indiana University near La Porte in ; an unknown man and woman are alleged to have disappeared in September , the same night Jennie Olson went missing. Gunness claimed they were a Los Angeles "professor" and his wife who had taken Jennie to California; a brother of Miss Jennie Graham of Waukesha, Wisconsin, who had left her to marry a rich widow in La Porte but vanished; a hired man from Ohio age 50 name unknown is alleged to have disappeared and Gunness became the "heir" to his horse and buggy; an unnamed man from Montana told people at a resort he was going to sell Gunness his horse and buggy, which were found with several other horses and buggies at the farm.
Most of the remains found on the property could not be identified. Because of the crude recovery methods, the exact number of individuals unearthed on the Gunness farm is unknown, but is believed to be approximately twelve.
On May 19, remains of approximately seven unknown victims were buried in two coffins in unmarked graves in the pauper's section of LaPorte's Pine Lake Cemetery. The trial of Ray Lamphere. Ray Lamphere was arrested on May 22, and tried for murder and arson.
He denied the charges of arson and murder that were filed against him. His defense hinged on the assertion that the body was not Gunness'.
Lamphere's lawyer, Wirt Worden, developed evidence that contradicted Norton's identification of the teeth and bridgework. A local jeweler testified that though the gold in the bridgework had emerged from the fire almost undamaged, the fierce heat of the conflagration had melted the gold plating on several watches and items of gold jewelry.
The real teeth crumbled and disintegrated; the porcelain teeth came out pocked and pitted, with the gold parts rather melted both the artificial elements were damaged to a greater degree than those in the bridgework offered as evidence of Gunness' identity. Lamphere was found guilty of arson, but acquitted of murder. He died of tuberculosis on December 30, On January 14, , the Rev. Schell came forward with a confession that Lamphere was said to have made to him while the clergyman was comforting the dying man.
In it, Lamphere revealed Gunness' crimes and swore that she was still alive. Lamphere had stated to the Reverend Schell and to a fellow convict, Harry Meyers, shortly before his death, that he had not murdered anyone, but that he had helped Gunness bury many of her victims.
When a victim arrived, she made him comfortable, charming him and cooking a large meal. She then drugged his coffee and when the man was in a stupor, she split his head with a meat chopper. Sometimes she would simply wait for the suitor to go to bed and then enter the bedroom by candlelight and chloroform her sleeping victim.
A powerful woman, Gunness would then carry the body to the basement, place it on a table, and dissect it. She then bundled the remains and buried these in the hog pen and the grounds about the house. Belle had become an expert at dissection, thanks to instruction she had received from her second husband, the butcher Peter Gunness. To save time, she sometimes poisoned her victims' coffee with strychnine. She also varied her disposal methods, sometimes dumping the corpse into the hog-scalding vat and covering the remains with quicklime.
Lamphere even stated that if Belle was overly tired after murdering one of her victims, she merely chopped up the remains and, in the middle of the night, stepped into her hog pen and fed the remains to the hogs. The handyman also cleared up the mysterious question of the headless female corpse found in the smoking ruins of Gunness' home.
Gunness had lured this woman from Chicago on the pretense of hiring her as a housekeeper only days before she decided to make her permanent escape from La Porte. Gunness, according to Lamphere, had drugged the woman, then bashed in her head and decapitated the body, taking the head, which had weights tied to it, to a swamp where she threw it into deep water. Then she chloroformed her children, smothered them to death, and dragged their small bodies, along with the headless corpse, to the basement.
She dressed the female corpse in her old clothing, and removed her false teeth, placing these beside the headless corpse to assure it being identified as Belle Gunness. She then torched the house and fled. Lamphere had helped her, he admitted, but she had not left by the road where he waited for her after the fire had been set. She had betrayed her one-time partner in crime in the end by cutting across open fields and then disappearing into the woods.
Some accounts suggest that Lamphere admitted that he took her to Stillwell a town about nine miles from La Porte and saw her off on a train to Chicago. She had a small amount remaining in one of her savings accounts, but local banks later admitted that she had indeed withdrawn most of her funds shortly before the fire.
The fact that Gunness withdrew most of her money suggested that she was planning to evade the law. Aftermath and Belle's fate. Gunness was, for several decades, allegedly seen or sighted in cities and towns throughout the United States. Friends, acquaintances, and amateur detectives apparently spotted her on the streets of Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles.
As late as , Gunness was reported alive and living in a Mississippi town, where she supposedly owned a great deal of property and lived the life of a doyenne. Smutzer, for more than 20 years, received an average of two reports a month. She became part of American criminal folklore, a female Bluebeard. The bodies of Gunness' three children were found in the home's wreckage, but the headless adult female corpse found with them was never positively identified.
Gunness' true fate is unknown; La Porte residents were divided between believing that she was killed by Lamphere and that she had faked her own death. Two people who had known Gunness claimed to recognize her from photographs, but the identification was never proved. Carlson died while awaiting trial. On November 5, , with the permission of descendants of Belle's sister, the headless body was exhumed from Gunness' grave in Forest Home Cemetery by a team of forensic anthropologists and graduate students from the University of Indianapolis in an effort to learn her true identity.
It was initially hoped that a sealed envelope flap on a letter found at the victim's farm would contain enough DNA to be compared to that of the body. Unfortunately, there was not enough DNA there, so efforts continue to find a reliable source for comparison purposes, including the disinterment of additional bodies and contact with known living relatives.
Black Widow of the Heartland. Farmhand Joe Maxson's first thought when he awoke that morning of April 28, , was that Belle Gunness was cooking breakfast. That hickory smell that sometimes blended with the cedar wood in the house to give the air a strange, almost pungent aroma.
But, the more he lay there, slowly, steadily awakening to his own senses, the quicker he realized that his initial perception had been wrong. What he smelled was charred wood, the sickening breath-consuming, smoky odor of savage fire. He leaped out of bed. Something caught his attention outside his window - something drifting by. While his feet maneuvered into a pair of slippers at his bedside, his eyes followed to where a gray cloud of smoke bellowed up from below his windowsill and, caught in a morning breeze, pirouetted like an amoebic ballerina, to dance like the devil before it whooshed out of site.
Only to be followed by another signal of smoke. This time blacker and, carrying with it, a stench of hellfire. Throwing up the window, he popped his head out. From below, from what was the kitchen window of the house, smoke issued in puffing rhythm, accompanied by an intermittent snap of a flame that seemed to be teasing what was left of the white lace curtains. My God, he thought, the house is afire and the inhabitants are asleep!
Grabbing a robe from the bedpost to cover his woolen drawers, he simultaneously reached with his free hand for the bedroom doorknob. It was already hot. One hand couldn't budge it, so he tried both hands - to yank the door inward - but it wouldn't yield.
The wooden frame had blistered to wedge the door. He banged with his fists upon the thickness of the door - not because he himself was trapped, for he knew he could escape easily enough through the window if need be - but to rouse the sleeping landlady and her children.
The house is burning! His own room was filing with hacking fumes - and he was afraid that, at any moment, the tin of kerosene he had bought yesterday for Widow Gunness, and which she had him put in the kitchen, might explode. He dashed through the smoke, raced down the servants' stairs that led to the kitchen and, groping, somehow found the screen door to the yard beyond.
A golden morning sun was tipping the eastern horizon of Indiana cornfields, unaffected by the unfolding tragedy. Flailing arms, yelling in panic at the top of his lungs, he circled the house, but found every window lapped by flame, impenetrable.
Somewhere inside, he knew, was the senseless Gunness family - trapped by the carnage: Belle, 48, and her three children, Myrtle 11 years old , Lucy nine and Philip five. Were they already dead, licked by flame? Or were they yet untouched by the fire, but slowly, methodically, lapsing into a coma under asphyxiation of smoke? Maxson spotted two neighbors racing toward him on respective bicycles, young Mike Clifford and his brother-in-law William Humphrey. Both men had spotted the flames in the pre-dawnlight.
They immediately shot to work, helping the farmhand waken the household by throwing house bricks, used for patchwork and laying in a pile near the storm shelter, through every window. Maxson and Clifford were shoulder-ramming the locked front door, hoping to force it. Only the crackle of the flames continued respond from within. He had found a scaling ladder near the barn and setting it against the exterior walls. Climbing, he peered in several windows but saw no signs of life.
Soon came the Hutsons, and the Laphams, and the Nicholsons - all neighbors from up and down old McClung Road, a cloud of red clay hanging over the entrance to the Gunness farm where their buggies and wagons had crossed in a dither, one after another. They yelped and hallooed and howled, but no one could stir the Gunnesses. And they tried to yelp and halloo and howl some more until it soon became apparent that the louder they became the more impossible it was that any living soul could remain in the fireball that had been the Gunness abode.
By the time Sheriff Smutzer arrived, leading a brigade of volunteer firemen and their clanging hose cart from nearby La Porte, it was much too late. The farmhouse, the outbuildings and the elm trees whose branches had tipped the window casements were all gone.
Poor Belle Gunness, unfortunately a fitting end for a woman whose entire life had been pocked by misfortune. Woman of Black Luck. Belle Gunness had been born under an unlucky star, so said the kindly, the sympathetic neighbors of La Porte, Indiana. Since she had come to their town and settled in the old Altie house a mile north of town square, she had suffered one disappointment and heartbreak after another - and they admired her quiet suffering, her ability to go on with head held high.
By , Belle's once-hourglass figure had fattened, but her silken blonde hair, accompanied by a full Nordic smile of white teeth and pair of flashing blue eyes, still turned heads.
Weighing in at pounds, she nevertheless was able to tighten her corset to emphasize a inch bust and a pair of curving inch hips in an era when curves, no matter how expansive the girth, epitomized glamour and sex appeal.
Ladies whose facades were not naturally as full and flowing as Belle's stuffed their corset covers with ruffles and wore droop-fronted shirtwaists.
Belle Gunness was right in style with a waist that would pull into 37 inches. When she donned her ruffled silks and put her diamonds in her ears, men thought her well worth a second glance.
She had been a familiar presence in the hard-working hamlet of La Porte, a weekly frequenter to its wholesale shops, its bank, its grocers, its milliners. Her greetings of good morning had been pleasant to all she passed and her kind stare would be remembered by many.
Her Norwegian accent was like a song amid the monotonous plains drawl of the Hoosier frontier. La Porte, with its shingled hoses and its front-porch-sitdown attitude and its slowly growing population of ,, was not about to claim, nor want, big city ways. Sixty miles from Chicago, its only connection to the big city was the New York Central Railroad line that traversed it. Both papers ran the story of the tragedy the following morning, relating how in the debris were found the charred bodies of Mrs.
Gunness and her three children, two adopted, one Phillip her own. The body believed to be that of Belle Gunness was headless. So did the courts. So did the clergy. So did the newspapers. So did the townsfolk. So did the neighbors along dusty McClung Road. And it was no secret who the suspect may be. Most everyone who walked the streets of La Porte at least once a day had heard about Ray Lamphere's threats to "get even" with the widow after she fired him as her farmhand.
The deputies had found Lamphere that morning working at his new job, as field hand at the John Wheatbrook farm.
He had had no stand-up alibi as to where he had been before sunrise when the fire was ignited. He was pinched and tossed in the courthouse jail awaiting arraignment. He cried innocence and told the reporters he was being framed for something he had nothing to do with. Bad luck was bad luck, and he didn't think it right that the widow's ill-lit star was now shining its spoiled glow on him. The town began to wonder if maybe Lamphere had a point. In retrospect, yes, everyone who had anything to do with Belle Gunness the good woman she was!
Born as Bella Poulsdatter in in Trondhjeim, Norway, her father was a somewhat successful stonemason whose son, Bella's brother, followed his profession. Knowing that her younger sibling was unhappy in a life that was going nowhere, Anna sent for Bella, who joyously sailed to the new world at the age of 24 in Eventually making her way to the Midwest, she boarded with the Larsons until she could make it on her own.
They lived in a highly Nordic community that faithfully clung to each other for contentment in a strange land. She wasn't in Chicago long when she met department store guard Mads Sorenson, a hard-working conservative who was eager to start a family in the states.
Attempts at conceiving a child came to nothing, so Mads and Bella who Americanized her name to Belle were in a financial position to adopt children in the neighborhood from parents who could not afford them. Over the next 16 years, the Sorensons fostered three girls, Jennie, Myrtle and Lucy. Domestic life was happy and troubles were few.
Oddly, the family troubles with fires - they had to move three times after a fire consumed their houses and, miraculously, left them all untouched.
As well, according to the La Porte Historical Society, the Sorensons owned a small store in Chicago "that only turned a profit after it burned and they collected the insurance". On the whole, Chicago neighbors recalled Belle as a good wife to Mads and a doting mother who rarely raised her voice except to, here and there, scold her children with a simple, "Ja, ya' all eats the broosel sprouts or dere iss no tappey-oca pooddings for da dessert.
Tragedy struck in early when Mads died suddenly of undetermined causes. His only symptom had been chest pains the day of his death. Doctors signed the death certificate, heart attack. Packing up her three foster children-and the cash tight in her purse strings - Belle moved to La Porte, Indiana, an area heavy with fellow Norsemen that her late husband had known about and where he had been planning to eventually retire.
She plopped the insurance money down on a farm up for sale by the county, a former house of ill repute that had fallen into disrepair since its madame, Mattie Altie, passed away at a crisp old age. It was a square house of red brick, two stories high, and set on the edge of an orchard on one side and a shallow swamp and forest on the other. McClung Road, which paralleled it, rolled over mild hill and dale south to La Porte whose church steeples peeked from over the patch of woodland a mile south.
Belle swept out the ghosts of its painted women and aired out their cheap sour perfume that dallied in the narrow hallways and recesses. To the Christian relief of her neighbors who had always hated such a "business" operating so near where their children were playing, Belle Sorenson turned the abode into a comfortable home for her and her happy brood. Explains de la Torre, "Mattie Altie's showy marquetry parlor floor and its dark walnut furnishings were polished until they shone.
Simple ruffled curtains of white were put up to brighten the tall, narrow, tree-darkened windows A handsome front fence was put up by a young hardware clerk, Charles F.
Pahrman who was puzzled however by the square of Kokomo link fence that penned hogs in the back on the rise that sloped to the swamp. The house had six bedrooms, a spacious dining room, a long kitchen, and a high-beam cellar. Kerosene lamps throughout kept the place well illumined. Carpenters, like Pahrman, were retained to free the clogged-up drain spouts, straighten the sagging shutters and reinforce the small barn that stood across a patch of a yard.
Not long after she arrived in La Porte, Belle produced out of nowhere a new husband. He was tall, good-looking blonde and bearded Peter Gunness, a farmer by trade.
He brought with him a baby boy from a previous marriage who, not long after moving with his father, contacted a virus and died. The Gunness family's grief soon mellowed out under the many hours of hard work required to keep the cornfields thriving. Irrigating, planting, sowing, everyone had his or her responsibility. Her children helped where they could, feeding the hogs, cleaning the corncrib, raking.
Peter Gunness and Belle became regulars in town on trade day, selling their cattle for meat and trading manure for tools. Then, one winter eve just before the close of , daughter Jennie, hearing clatter below, rushed from her upstairs room to find her stepfather Peter writhing in pain on the kitchen floor. Standing over him, weeping, was Belle who screamed that the large iron meat grinder had fallen off the shelf onto his head.
He died before sunrise. Over the next several years, the farm prospered, better than Belle's luck with men. Farmhand after farmhand that she hoped would turn into a husband left her dry, often in the middle of harvest, when muscle was especially needed. Time after time, it appeared that perhaps one of them, such as hefty Peter Carlson, was turning into a suitor; some even talked marriage openly - then disappeared in the dead of night.
Nineteen-year-old Emil Greening, son of a neighbor, often came forward to offer his services between Belle's would-be suitors, but of course he had no attraction to the older woman. His interest lay in Jennie, who had developed into a lean, rosy-cheeked blonde of dimples and giggles.
But, his interest in the Gunness place waned after Jennie suddenly decided to go to college in San Francisco, Cal. Then came Ray Lamphere. Belle had first seen the curly-headed year-old odd-job carpenter about town in the spring of and, knowing he was looking for work, asked him to hire on as her farmhand. He was glad to have the work, if for nothing else than to support his drinking habit, and took up residence in Belle's spare room on the second floor.
According to de la Torre, Lamphere was "not too bright," but was talented with hammer and nail and not afraid of work. It wasn't long after that they were seen together arm in arm about town, he as lean as she was obese. In the gin mills, which he frequented, Lamphere would boast to his pals that she had seduced him because she thought he was "quite a man," then display the watch she gave him, or the vest, or the beaver hat, or the high-top leather boots.
But, something wayward happened to the affair and as the Christmas season of rolled about, Belle was suddenly traipsing about La Porte with a new man who, like most of her others, seemed to materialize out of the ether. More stunned than anyone was Lamphere when he learned the couple had paused at Obbereich's Department Store to purchase a wedding ring.
No sooner had the fires of jealousy begun to send Lamphere to the saloons to rant and rave to his comrades about the treacheries of femaledom than this latest of suitors vanished. But, the farmhand's relief was short lived, for shortly thereafter yet another gentleman appeared to have captured Belle's devotions. This time, neighbors said, it looked like true love.
Described as "a big Swede," Andrew Helgelein beamed when he strolled the country lanes and town byways with his woman.
He was a slap-happy, good-natured man who seemed in his usual high spirits when he stopped at the town bank to withdraw all his funds from another bank in his native South Dakota.
He announced to the teller that he and Belle were getting married. That evening, Belle asked Ray Lamphere to vacate his quarters at her residence and find other lodging. She was turning the room over to Helgelein until the wedding day, which wasn't far off. Lamphere, vehement, took it a step further by quitting his position and wishing his employer bad luck.
Again he was seen and heard at the bars spouting hellfire to Belle Gunness and "that big Swede". A week later, Helgelein was gone, too. Belle wept to her neighbors, "When am I ever going to learn?
What do I do wrong that these men take such advantage of me? To help with the spring harvest, Belle hired a local man of good reputation, a man who was known for his truthfulness and get-it-done attitude, Joe Maxson.
There never was an insinuation of any relationship between he and Widow Gunness. Away from work, which he kept up long after sunset, Maxson remained to himself in the cozy room Belle had given him over the kitchen, reading the newspaper and playing soft refrains on his fiddle.
Often, the Gunness children were lulled off to sleep by the soft murmur of his stringed lullabies. The only time he stuck his nose into others' business was to warn his employer, as directed, when former farmhand and jealous lover Lamphere was trespassing again. Constant threats to the woman's being, even after Andrew Helgelein disappeared, had forced Belle to have him arrested time and again, but Lamphere would continue to harass by distance.
Maxson would often see Lamphere peering from behind the elms that lined the perimeter of her yard, Knowing he was spotted, the later darted off like a frightened salamander. On April 27, , Belle visited an attorney, M. Leliere, for the sole purpose of writing her last will and testament.
She seemed distracted and told the lawyer that she feared what Lamphere might do to her. In the will, she left her property to her children or, in the event of their deaths, to the Norwegian Orphan's Home. When Leliere suggested that that wasn't the official name of the orphanage - that he needed a day or two to get its real name before he could authorize the will - Belle flustered. She insisted that such business could be completed after the fact and that they should both sign the will now.
With a sigh, Leliere consented, placing his name at the bottom of the document beside hers. That night the Gunness farm burned. A few days after the fire, Ray Lamphere brooded in the courthouse lock-up, sorry he had ever heard the name Belle Gunness. He realized he was in a precarious position and hoped that he could wiggle out of this situation, somehow. He had no money for a lawyer.
The law alleged he had killed Belle Gunness, but first the law would have to prove it was Belle Gunness who was found dead. And from what he was hearing from friends who visited him in his cell, popular opinion was quickly moving in his favor.
Much of the town really didn't believe that the headless woman found under the rubble of the farmhouse was its owner; rumors mentioned a much smaller victim than the corpulent Norse woman. More so, if there was a scoundrel in their midst, it wasn't considered - at least today-Ray Lamphere. The name whispered on everyone's lips with horror these days was none other than Belle Gunness herself.
There was a lot of reticence in La Porte. Suddenly, there were doubts. Why had so many suitors come and gone to fade into thin air, often leaving behind their personal belongings? She had been seen in the fields afterwards, wearing their long coats to plow, their hats to shield her from rain. Where was Jennie, the daughter? The college she was supposed to have attended in San Francisco had no record of her. Where was she getting her money? She seemed to be living too well for the meager income her trade would allow.
Suspect clues were starting to turn up in the rubble. Men's watches, men's coat buttons, men's billfolds, emptied. Then a human rib cage, recently buried. Then a skeletal arm, recently buried. Then a complete skeleton, recently buried. Sheriff Al Smutzer, wanting like hell to keep this scandal to his peace-loving town quiet, hired Joe Maxson and Belle's neighbor Daniel Hutson to quietly dig through the rubble to see what else might turn up - in particularly, Belle Gunness' head-and report directly to him, no one else, if they found something relevant.
But, the diggers couldn't hide themselves, especially since a daily parade of town's folk passed the charred remains of the house; sometimes, they would stop their buggies to gawk and whisper and cross themselves, warding off the demon that brooded in the midst over the silent ruin. In May, a small little man approached the sheriff in his office and introduced himself as the brother of Andrew Helgelein, that "big Swede" from South Dakota who, like so many others, wooed Belle one day and were gone the next.
Having read in The Skandinaven newspaper about the Belle Gunness fire, and not having heard from his brother since he had left for Indiana, he came to La Porte to investigate. Andrew, he explained, had first heard of Belle from the mail-order brides column in The Skandinaven, where immigrant brides often advertised for a husband.
In his possession were dozens of letters - six months' worth - that Belle had written to Andrew, entreating him to join him as husband in La Porte. In one of her letters, says the La Porte Historical Society, "she included a four-leaf clover for good measure". It just didn't make sense. Belle's correspondences were earthy and painted herself as "a good Norwegian woman" desiring a faithful husband, lover and provider for her and her family.
As the relationship grew through the written word, however, Belle began to surface more and more with monetary motivation. After Andrew had made up his mind that he was coming to La Porte, Belle exhibited a wiliness borne from experience.
Do not send any cash money through the bank. Banks cannot be trusted nowadays. Change all the cash you have into paper bills, largest denomination you can get, and sew them real good and fast on the inside of your underwear.
Be careful and sew it real good, and be sure do not tell anyone of it, not even to your nearest relative. Let this only be a secret between us two and no one else. Probably we will have many other secrets, do you not think? Sheriff Smutzer thought that Asle was overreacting; Belle Gunness, he said, was not a gold-digger and surely no murderess.
But, Asle Helgelein was unconvinced. The latter knew of the digging taking place on the farm and heard that certain belongings such as watches were churning over across the property.
Perhaps he might find an article belonging to his prodigal brother. Asle introduced himself to Joe Maxson and Daniel Hutson and offered to help them dig. As he explained later, he "had a hunch". He asked farmhand Maxson if Belle had dug any holes on her property - perhaps for trash or cinders - since January, the time his brother had been there.
She had me cover it over around March. Without reply, Asle picked up a shovel and began to dig where Maxson had pointed. On cue, the two others followed, unearthing clumps of earth at a time. Near the top they uncovered boots, pieces of crate, trash of a general variety.
But, then, according to Lillian de la Torre, author of The Truth About Belle Gunness, "an unnatural smell began to assail their nostrils In a little while the spades struck something covered over with some old oilcloth and a gunny sack. The stench was stronger. The diggers lifted off the covering, and saw a human arm They lifted from the earth, vivid and rotten, the remains of what had once been a man.
Asle looked at the pulpy sightless eyes and fixed mirthless grin of a face he knew. Andrew Hegelein's body was in pieces -- arms, legs, head, packed hastily in a series of flour and produce sacks.
The sheriff was summoned and the digging continued. Before the day was out, they had disinterred four more bodies - two males and two females -- packaged in the same manner as the big Swede.
Of the women, one was obviously Jennie, the foster daughter who hadn't gone to California after all. Though badly decomposed, her facial features were recognizable; as well, her long blonde hair that flowed so prettily in the Indiana sun still clung to what was left of her skull. It is a conjecture of the La Porte County Historical Museum that, "Jennie got suspicious because her stepmother's suitors always left the farm during the night.
La Porte shrieked with dismay, and in terror. Belle Gunness, lonely Belle Gunness who everyone felt sorry for - she was a Lady Bluebeard with the greed of Mammon and the heart of Satan. Try as he may, Sheriff Smutzer could no longer conceal the truth from the world, and serene La Porte turned into a media circus overnight.
Eastbound trains and westbound trains and special flyers chugged into the depot hourly depositing reporters from as near as Terre Haute, Ind. They converged on the largest hotel in town, the Teegarden, and quartered its terraced dinette as a virtual newsroom. Between it and the Gunness farm buggies-full of notebook-scratching snoops and busy-fingered photographers rambled night and day.
Well into the morning the clitter-clack-clatter-click of their wireless machines clapped out the dirge of Belle Gunness, black widow who for dramatic effect might still be alive! They intercepted the residents of the town for whatever information they could get about the woman of the hour. Many knew her and expressed their shock. Many replied that, now they think about it, yes, she did act awfully suspicious.
And as for those bodies found on her premises The names, the faces He had been another of Belle's potentials. Writes de la Torre, "Mr. He was escorted by Mrs.
Gunness and had not been seen since. His sons had written to ask what had become of him, and the bank cashier called on Mrs. She said Ole Budsberg had gone to Oregon. Swan Nicholson, a La Porte resident was asking, particularly, about a fellow he had come to know and like.
He was fresh from Norway, about thirty years old, and a fine-looking young fellow He was moving the old privy on Belle's property off its hole. Next time I visited the farm, there was Mrs. Louis to see the fair. Another name that left people guessing was that of Henry Gurholt.
The merchants in town recalled his pleasant disposition and his courteous way of handling Belle's affairs on market day.
Christofferson remembered the spring-like day that day Gurholt arrived in - "I helped him carry his trunk upstairs" - and he remembered the week he washed into oblivion - "In August, Belle came to me to help stack oats, because Henry had left her flat in the middle of oat-cutting to go off with a horse trader. Certain farmhands were on the farm so briefly that the townspeople never had a chance to know their names. For instance, said butcher Emil Palm, "There was a young boy at the farm last summer who came into La Porte several times with Mrs.
Gunness, but then stopped coming. One time I asked her what had become of the boy, and she looked up at a piece of meat and remarked what a lovely cut it would make. There were others, many others. What became of all these men? Throughout May, the digging continued and some of the above missing persons were, as suspected, discovered under the soil at the Gunness farm. Among them were Budsberg, Gurholt and Emil Palm's anonymous lad. As with the other victims, heads were detached and the bodies were severed at several joints.
These latest revelations were found in a pile of soft earth that also contained a woman's shoes, a purse frame and a truss, probably belonging to the unidentified female corpse discovered earlier. And deep down, under the others, was a skeleton of a young boy whose wisdom teeth had just begun to grow before he was killed.
Speculation turned to the deaths of Belle's two husbands, Mads Sorenson in Chicago, who died of unknown causes, and Peter Gunness, crushed accidentally by a tumbled sausage grinder.
Of the former, a doctor named J. Miller from Chicago now came forth to admit that Mads showed all the signs of strychnine poisoning. However, Miller's superior did not prefer to cause the widow needless pain - for she was a basket case -- and, since he had been treating his patient for a heart disease anyway, indicated the cause of death as "enlargement of the heart" and signed the death certificate.
Miller remained unconvinced these eight years. Mads succumbed on the one day, according to de la Torres, "when two insurance policies, overlapping, made his death worth twice as much as it would have been worth on any other day.
Belle had wept her way out of an autopsy. There had been an inquest a year later when Peter Gunness died. The law questioned the suspicious nature of the death; it bore all marks of mischief. There was, after all, no reasonable explanation as to how that meat grinder could have fallen. Throughout the hearing, Belle wailed and wrung her hands. The sheriff wasn't satisfied, nor was the coroner who even went as far as to question young Jennie about her foster parent's relationship with each other, hinting murder.
Briefly surfacing were allusions to Peter's child's death while in Belle's care, again tickling foul play. But, in the end, the verdict was accidental death.
Gunness was cool at the funeral During the preaching she sat moaning with her fingers before her eyes," to quote Lillian de la Torre. Townsman Albert Nicholson, however, could see that she was "peeking alertly between them to check the effect she was making.
That made him certain of her guilt. Only a week before the fire she had whispered in the ear of a small schoolmate, 'My mamma killed my papa. But now, in May, , Belle Gunness' secrets were exploding out like pyrotechnics at a Fourth of July celebration. All the world waited and watched, and prayed. This is no place to argue the viability of the old idiom, "Every crime has its scapegoat," except to say that in the case of the Belle Gunness murders there certainly was one. And the goat had a name: The state believed in his guilt and wanted to prosecute.
Because the jealous lover had so many times tried to intimidate, even threaten, the widow, prosecutor Ralph N. Smith, representing the state of Indiana, believed he had it in him to murder. And, besides, a political party always fairs better at election time when they've caged the wolf that attacked the sheep herd. But - a technicality existed. Even though the bodies of the Gunness children were found and identified, until that headless woman found with them was proven to be Belle herself the defense would have in its kit-bag of tricks the more enduring loophole.
It was Belle who Ray wanted dead, not her children - and given the state of affairs at the Gunness farm, who was to say that Belle didn't commit the murders of her own doves before she flew the coop? In an effort to nevertheless have Lanphere indicted for murder when the grand jury reconvened in May, Smith put pressure on the Gunness farm diggers to find Belle's skull. Sheriff Smutzer, a staunch Republican and of the Smith regime, sent his county police in all directions to find evidence - any evidence - that might implicate their current guest at the county jail.
But, the investigators found nothing and the only material turning up under ash and brick at the fire site were more watches, scraps of a burned anatomy guide, silverware and everything useless to an ambitious lawyer and sheriff seeking justice and votes, according to some towns folk.
Gunness' dentist, Ira Norton, volunteered helpful information. Gunness is dead in the fire, those teeth are still in the ashes. An ancient LaPortian who had once prospected for gold in Colorado was called upon as advisor. Louis Schultz told Smith that if he could have a sluice box, the type they were now using to find nuggets in the Klondike, Smith would have his gold teeth within a week. Schultz provided the promise, Smith the sluice box.
In the meantime, the citizens of La Porte were dividing between pro-Lamphere and con-Lamphere: Nowhere were the factions more evident than in the two opposing papers in town.
Darling, derided the notion that Lamphere was anything but a patsy. The Herald saw Belle Gunness dead, the Argus envisioned her alive and well and on the lam to the devil knows where. Because of his political affiliation, the city workers under his patronage naturally, at least vocally, enlisted the pro-Lamphere leanings.
To the point that the city police refused to cooperate with Sheriff Smutzer's troops in helping to prosecute Lamphere. Fish, out in hot pursuit of fugitive Belle. Simultaneously, Darrow's law partner, Wirt Worden, offered his services au gratis to defend the Republican's pawn. On Tuesday, May 12, Schultz the prospector found Belle's dentures. Norton agreed, "They're hers! On May 22, the grand jury indicted Ray Lamphere of arson and the murder of the Gunness family.
As the trial drew near, La Porte evermore became a center of busy activity such as it had never been before. On May 29, an auction took place on the Gunness property to sell off those effects which survived the fire, including Belle's Collie dog which had been outside during the blaze. While the fraternal organizations such as the Masons, the Elks, and the Moose were and are national and international , there were many clubs that were simply local groups.
Frank Dumbleton - T. Earl Griffith - Ernest N. Dowsley - Charles Johnson - Walter E. Russell "Russian" Taylor - Clifford H. Harding - Edward Cuzner - Gove S. Petitions for highway safety measures or improvements usually come from adult individuals or organizations. But there Is an yearold North Camden boy whose horror at seeing a car drag a 4-yearold neighbor 40 feet. When queried as to the aim of his visit, William pulled out of the pocket of his denim trousers a wrinkled and many times folded piece of ruled paper.
In pencil he had written: I personally think that some zones and traffic lights should be put up there on State and York Street. Would you find room for this letter, please? William McQuade wasn't speaking just for himself, he explained, after an editor had read his letter and praised his purposefulness. Young McQuade, a seventh grader at the Cooper school was referring to the misfortune that befell his neighbor, Dennis Taggart, 4, of Point Street , who was struck by a car while playing near the Intersection of Front and State.
Dennis, his skull fractured, is still in a critical condition at Cooper Hospital. William, Marvin and another playmate, pretty, blonde Catherine Wilczynski, 10, of Point Street , who also had seen Dennis injured, later stood at the corner of Front and State and pointed to the corners where they believed stop signs or traffic lights should be erected.
I bet it wouldn't cost as much as the hospital bills and doctor bills for Dennis Taggart. And he's just one boy who's been hurt. There have been others. Lewis Edwards, 45, of North 2 nd Street, was buried up to his armpits tons of earth when the cave in occurred at 3: Doctors at Cooper Hospital said he suffered several cracked ribs, shock, and possible internal injuries.
The Fire Department Rescue Squad from Fifth and Arch aided company employees in digging Edwards out after more than ten minutes of partial entombment. Downey, vice president of the company, said the accident occurred while a new pipeline in the plant was being laid on the Fifth Street side. The two other workmen in the trench with Edwards were not immediately identified, but both scrambled to safety before the crumbling earth caught them.
Camden Courier-Post - March 23, Young Albert on the pony was later known as Big Al. Surrounded on three sides by water, North Camden was destined to become an industrial neighborhood at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. By North Camden was fully built up, and between factories, residences, shops, and public buildings, just about the only piece of open ground was Pyne Point Park!
Below is a short list of some of North Camden's major employers. Click on the links to got to web-pages about these businesses. Hollingshead Corporation John R. Mathis Company Shipyard Flexitallic Gasket Company I grew up in Camden, and when I am at our Camden campus, the memories of a childhood in the city come streaming back. I loved those Campbell Soup tomato trucks - the smells, the sounds, the sights, even the taste, when some baskets "fell" off the trucks. We carried salt shakers for just such occasions.
Every city block was exciting. We had the truck from New York delivering exotic vegetables to the Chinese family who ran the dry cleaners, and the savory smell of salmon cooking in Mr. When I was very young, I would wait for my grandfather after he left work at the Hollingshead factory, and we would go to Nittenger's Tavern. His drink of choice was Camden Beer, and for me, they made great sandwiches. There were wonderful hot summer nights with families telling stories and kids hearing what we weren't supposed to, like what Mr.
Unruh did in the barbershop where my uncle took my cousins. The cousins were supposed to have been there that day - "might've been killed," we heard. I could leisurely ride my bike around the bridge plaza, and wait for my mom to come home from work at the Walt Whitman Hotel.
I loved that hotel. For my 10th birthday, she arranged for me to be a guest. The elevator operator called me "Sir. There was a TV and they delivered my lunch. My formal education began at all-boys Sewell School, which was across the street from all-girls Northeast. Having us separated gave me a reason to look forward to attending the new coed Pyne Point Junior High.
When I got there, besides girls, we had a new school that looked just like one on TV, and movie-like "rumbles" combining south and north Camden turf. Pyne Point Park also had a factory that made gelatin out of bones, which was creepy and mysterious. Close by was Petty's Island with rumored hidden pirate treasure. Downtown we had elegant J. Penney's and the less chic Woolworth's, where my aunt sold candy, with the best counter lunch. We had the Savar or Stanley movie theaters for wide-screen popcorn spectaculars and the Midway for all the horror we could handle.
If I rode my bike to East Camden, I found a TV world of white- steepled churches, lawns with roses surrounded by glistening white conch shells, and plastic lawn decorations.
My Camden was magical, and I loved it. I am proud I was born there. It captivated me in my youth and it is those memories that have pulled me back. Why is Camden invincible? Because each new generation redefines it and creates its own memories. Working now at the college, where the Walt Whitman Hotel once stood, I am excited to again be part of the city that gave so many so much and now is poised to give great memories to another generation.
Thompson is a vice president at Camden County College. Mary Becoskie with children Raymond, Michael J. Video of The Great Garloo. Michael Becoskie with Christmas air rifle in dining room. UHF television would not be introduced for a few more years. Linda Becoskie in front of our new washing machine. Michael Becoskie in the backyard of North 7th Street. Ray Becoskie with new daughter Linda Michael Becoskie.
To the Northeast, back of Birch Street houses. Picture is looking north on North 7th Street, from in front of Nittinger's Tavern is in background. Left to right, rear: Kitchen of Elm Street, Becoskie on front porch.
Becoskie on block of Elm Street. We found an abandoned camera thrown in the weeds with other articles at the Admiral Wilson Blvd. It had two pictures left on it. I took them of Jack while he searched for more items. Mom had the film developed and gave me these two pictures. Edward, Philip, and Sylvia. By the time the census was taken he already owned his own grocery store. Philip Litwin was driving a truck for the family business in After the war, the two Litwin sons married and lived nearby in North Camden.
The Camden City Directory reveals that Edward Litwin having established a wholesale produce business. By the Litwins had moved there homes from North Camden. It appears that at this time the brothers had both returned to their fathers business. When the Chek-In closed its doors in the early s, only Litwin's remained. In the Litwin Market still is in business at 8th and Elm Street, and the Litwin Brothers Check Cashing business also serves North Camden, providing a service not available in that neighborhood, as no commercial bank has done business in North Camden in over 50 years.
I got one, Dave Litwin got one, and Eddie bought one for his daughter Eileen. Evans factory at rear Photo Courtesy of Floyd L. Twenty-seven properties, some of which are landmarks of generations past, are to be acquired by the Delaware River Joint Commission to make way for the proposed North Fourth Street underpass beneath tracks of the Camden bridge rapid transit line.
The properties extend along both sides of Fourth Street , from Linden to Main. In explaining the condemnation proceedings to be taken, Joseph K.
Costello, secretary to the joint commission, said that a commission, composed of Camden real estate men, will be appointed to value each parcel of property involved. The owners will be reimbursed at whatever figures the commission sets. The properties are occupied mostly two and three-story houses.
Although the building, which once was the home of Cyrus H. Largest of the parcels is the 25 by foot property of Genevieve A. Two other properties in the neigh borhood may be acquired at Fifth and Linden Streets, where the high-speed line subway will swing south on Fifth Street. Engineers have not however, decided whether they will be needed. It is owned by Harry L.
Rolf and Eleanor T. Stanley own in equal shares the building at Linden street. According to plans of Ralph Modjeski, bridge engineer, the Fourth Street underpass will begin at Linden street and end at Main.
The Camden underpass is necessary because under Modjeski's plans the high-speed line will reach street level at the West side of Fourth street and cross to enter the ground in a curve toward Fifth street. Unless the underpass is constructed, it would be necessary to block all traffic on Fourth Street. Fifth street already is shut off because of the bridge and eliminating Fourth street would seriously interfere with vehicular travel between North Camden and the central section of the city.
Fourth Street will remain a two-way thoroughfare and because of the necessity of building four-foot walls topped with large railings to protect pedestrians and motorists against the danger of falling into the ramp, the Fourth Street properties will have to be tom down, it was explained by Costello.
This added width, Costello said, will permit the free flow of traffic to Pearl street. Fourth Street , from curb to curb, will measure 76 feet, with the underpass in the center measuring 28 feet from the insides of the walls and 36 feet overall.
There will be 8 foot sidewalk on each side which will make the distance from building line to building line 96 feet. The surface traffic lanes, northbound on the east side of the underpass and southbound on the west side, each will measure 20 feet.
These measurements will mean the destruction of 18 feet of the properties required. Owners of other properties and their assessed valuations, are listed in the city tax office as follows: Frank and Helen N. At 5th Street there is a pedestrian tunnel, which is still in use. Note the cobblestone paving, and the stairway leading up to the pedestrian walkway on the bridge. Boys and girls from North Camden would take advantage of the ramps to roller skate and bicycle in days gone by.
Imagine THAT in ! Click on Images to Enlarge "You had to cross the railroad tracks on Main street to go or come from tunnel. There were no rail crossing gates, just a railroad crossing with blinking lights and a bell.
A lot of guys would hop those boxcars for a short ride. That was a fun trip, but dangerous. Note Rutgers University Building in background. Click on Images to Enlarge Under the Bridge. Inside the 5th Street tunnel, looking South. Note Rutgers University Building in the background. Inside the 5th Street tunnel, looking North. Note Northgate townhouses in the background. Fire truck belonged to Engine Company 6. I slept in the same bed with my older sister Chris, who was only 18 months older than me, and later, my 5-year younger sister Cindy joined us in a crib added to our bedroom.
There were only two bedrooms in the house: One, the front bedroom, where our parents slept, and ours, in the back. My sister and I liked to look out our bedroom window, which faced the back of our house and from which we could see across the river into Philadelphia. We used to watch the PSFS sign flashing its red neon through the night. It was a little haunting—out there all by itself on top of that tall building standing among all those other tall buildings all lit up after the workers had long gone home from Center City.
But, at the same time, it was comforting, because we were safe and snug in our cozy bed in our cozy room and our parents were right in the room next door, or just downstairs watching television.
I mostly felt safe. Now there were always sounds in the night in Camden: Maybe I felt good knowing that I was probably at least a little braver than my sister.
Play on the neighborhood street often involved sneaking down the alley which ran down the side of the strip of row houses and across the back of the houses allowing access to the tiny concrete backyards. I always liked the sound of our footsteps and voices in the side alley. Because large tall buildings enclosed it on either side, narrowly, an echo would be created by any noise made in that alley. It was kind of like a spooky tunnel without a roof. The alley running behind the houses was not like this, but it was full of interesting things to see.
We always liked to look at those. The scariest thing was going down the alley as far as the house where it was rumored an old witch lived. Okay, we made up the rumor, but it took on a life of its own. We walked to our school J. Read School , which was a few blocks away. Probably in part because of interesting things that you would find and people you would encounter on your way there and back.
I remember one morning there was a dead white cat lying in the gutter. It must have been run over by a car, because one its eyeballs were out and lying in the street next to it. To this day, although I am a cat-lover, the mere sight of a white cat gives me the creeps. Because I went to public school and my family was Catholic, in addition to going to mass every Sunday, I had to go to catechism classes in preparation for First Holy Communion.
These classes were after school, one or two nights a week, in the Holy Name church schoolrooms. Now it was a slightly unnerving thing for a child of my tender age to walk to catechism alone and into that huge cathedral-like church, up the marble stair along the heavy wooden banister up to that classroom. There would be the nun, back then in full habit with starched white bib and long headdress and wimple.
Thanks for clearing that up. More vividly I remember the walk home, alone, especially in winter, because in winter, by the time I got out of catechism, it would be dusk. It seemed as if the street was entirely empty except for my tiny self. My pace was always quicker then and I furtively glanced around me waiting for that stranger to pop out of an alley and kidnap me, or maybe that rocking-chair tiger… who knew?
It was always with such a sense of relief to walk into the front door of our house—all warm and smelling of dinner cooking. I had survived another day out in the world alone! It was all we knew. The continual, real threat of an all out, apocalyptic nuclear war with Russia was just something we were born into and had to get used it.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, she was 9 and I was 7, so she understood far better than I did what was going on. And, of course, there were the civil defense drills.
But there was some feeling of safety and security once the shades were drawn over the windows and we were steadfastly crouched under the metal school desk. I was well trained. Anytime I was outside alone and I heard a siren of any kind, I would press my back tightly against the nearest wall and wait for the wailing of the siren to stop. I started to realize that everyone else around me was just going about his or her business as usual, so I was probably overreacting to a fire siren or something and I stopped doing it.
Maybe we all just got complacent. Growing up Polish-American was interesting and a source of great pride today. The neighborhood in which my grandparents lived and the church community of which they were a part was mainly Polish.
That was primarily reserved for holidays. On Easter, it was hot beet soup into which we put slices of hard boiled egg and fresh kielbasa, beets, and torn up pieces of rye bread. After the soup were ham sandwiches both red and white i. Also at Easter would be the traditional breaking of the opoetek, and the breaking of the hard-boiled eggs with each other end to end to see whose would crack.
Around the corner on Mt Ephraim Avenue was a bakery where we loved to go and see the Felix the Cat clock on the wall as its eyes and tail switched back and forth from side to side with the ticking of the clock. There we could get cookies, or powdered cream filled donuts that were delicious. In its hall was held just about every wedding reception I had ever been to as a kid—and probably all the wedding receptions of the members of the local Polish community.
Mostly I enjoyed just going to the PACC with my grandfather on a weekend afternoon and sitting on a bar stool next to him while he had a beer or two and chatted in Polish and English with other bar patrons. I would sip a coke with a cherry in it, or, if I wanted to feel really grown up, a ginger ale, through a straw as I breathed in the aroma of stale beer and played with the pressed cardboard coasters with the Ballantine Beer logo on them.
There are memories that come to me in bits and pieces of the eight plus years of my life in Camden. The red bricked schoolyard ringed by a black wrought-iron fence in which we played tag and dodge ball and other games at recess.
Watching fireworks in Pyne Point Park. My sister, Chris, and my cousin Larry and I would lay on our backs in the grass and pretend the sparks from the fireworks were going to fall upon us like tiny arrows of flame.
Near Pyne Point park was also the school where we went to line up to get our oral polio vaccine: The bakery around the corner where the Felix the Cat clock flicked his tail back and forth, back and forth in time to the ticking of the clock as his eyes traveled side to side.
The powdered sugar cream donuts were my favorite and the powdered snowflake rolls made delicious sandwiches. But I will always remember and treasure my memories of Camden and the little house at Grant Street.
Pedro Fontanez winced as he watched 8-year-old Jahaira Miranda expertly steer her bare feet through pebbles and glittering shards of broken glass. She wanted to show her favorite place to hide. She didn't choose the five abandoned houses near her apartment off Cedar Street. She walked past spare tires piled high against a fence. She ignored the mound of black earth Fontanez said had been illegally dumped on the land next to her home.
She showed a dented silver Plymouth Breeze parked on the grass. She plays there when it's not too dark or dangerous to go outside. As he watched Jahaira, Fontanez squinted into the setting sun. With community activist Lillian Santiago, Fontanez helped fit about 20 neighborhood children with sparkling earrings - tiny lights provided as part of a National Night Out celebration.
During the National Night Out, neighbors try to send a message to criminals that they're fighting back. An estimated 10, communities were expected to participate in 50 states on Tuesday, according to the National Association of Town Watch in Wynnewood, Pa. Sixteen South Jersey communities were scheduled to celebrate. Because of the recent rash of crime in Camden, Santiago said the National Night Out celebration was especially important. Thirty-four people have been murdered so far in Camden this year.
The record was set in when 58 people were killed. Santiago calls her community group the North Camden Stars. She tries to get as many children as possible involved to show them that "the drug life is no good for them," she said. Fontanez plays an important role with the children in North Camden, she said.
He's working with children to rebuild bicycles and distribute them for Christmas this year. He's working with the local high school and elementary schools, trying to build a program where the older children tutor and act as mentors to the younger kids.
City school officials will meet to discuss the proposed mentoring program today, he said. Fontanez said he tries to restore goodwill toward state troopers in a city where they have not always been welcomed. A high school dropout at age 17, Fontanez later became a pilot, a licensed practical nurse and a state trooper.
He returned from military service in Iraq last year. He wants children - and adults - to know that "if given the opportunity, every child has the chance to succeed.
From behind, they were small silhouettes in the setting sun, surrounded by graffiti, potholes and boarded up homes. I was familiar with most of the streets of N. Camden as I was a paperboy for the Philadelphia Bulletin. At times when we were playing on 10th Street, we would cross the State Street Bridge when it used to rotate to let the tug boats through. Sometimes the bridge operator would allow us to stand on it's walkway while he rotated it, if we promised to behave and stand still.
Seeing the caretakers house at Pyne Point brought back memories also. The Ben Franklin Bridge was one of our favorite playgrounds, walking or riding our bikes across.
Loading up our pockets with stones to throw them in the river from the middle of the bridge. One last memory for now is the City Hall. All Laundry was sent out or done by hand on Mondays, if I remember correctly. Everyone in Camden was enterprising!
Their was one more article by a lady, I forget the street. But she talked of buried treasure on Petty's Island. I'm now glad we always flipped over in shallow water, or I wouldn't be typing this today! Ray Becoskie May 4, My name is Warren Ash Jr. I now live in Tacoma, Washington.
I used to live at N. My father, Warren Ash, bought the house in the 50's from a Mr. I was born in My mother's name was Georgia Ash and I have one younger sister, Diana. We lived there until , I believe. I have seen pictures of on the web and it isn't pretty. Looks like a fire may have burned out the place.
I was by there in the seventies and someone was still living there. Austermuhl of State Street and Mr. Dalton of Dalton's Pharmacy on the northwest corner of 8th and State. The store on the northeast corner of 8th and State used to be a milk store. On the southwest corner of 8th and Vine Street was another drugstore, complete with soda fountain. It was the old typical green metal exterior with the big Coca-Cola circle emblems. I used to get my candy there.
I went to school at both schools a little further up Vine Street. The older school was called Sewell School. The school on the southwest corner of 7th and Vine was called Northeast School. My father attended Sewell school also. Northeast used to be an all girl school when he was a kid. Of course, the old building has been replaced by a newer structure. I was in class in the second grade at Northeast School when President Kennedy was assassinated.
Another childhood memory was watching the Mummers parade marching from State Street , down North 8th Street. I can also remember watching a large fire in an abandoned factory located on the northeast corner of North 9th Street.
It lasted most of the day and was something a kid will always remember watching. That is where most of the gang members of my youth used to live. I also remember that bridge on State Street being stuck in the open position because it was so hot outside when they opened it, it expanded and wouldn't shut.
The fire department had to hose it down for awhile so it would close. Anyway, just before that bridge, on the North side of the street, there used to be businesses and stores. My Mom saw a doctor for her thyroid there and there used to be a pizzeria and deli and another drugstore where I got my first Cherry Coke, handmade at the soda fountain.
My dad would also take me to the bridge over the rail yard on East State Street. We were both train nuts. As a matter of fact, got my first train ride down in that yard. We were walking around and an engine crew wanted to know if we wanted a ride. My Grandfather, Warren S. Downstairs at was the business office and my Grandfather lived upstairs of both and My Grandfather moved the hardware business further downtown to an old Packard dealership.
He stopped selling to the public and dealt with schools and businesses. This was before the riots in I forget the town he moved his home to and my family moved to Collingswood.
We didn't stay there long. My dad worked for IBM and we started to move fairly regularly after Never lived in New Jersey again after that. He was a IBM customer engineer for all of South Jersey, fixing those giant computers that now fit in a laptop.
Hope the information was useful.! Philadelphia Inquirer - July 12, Click in Images to Enlarge. Pyne Poynt Athletic Association July 4, William Wagner, 65, of Forty-eighth Street, Pennsauken township, bitten on leg.
Number of Out-of-town Members Among 60 at 25 th Banquet Session More than 60 members of the Pyne Poynt Athletic Club joined celebrating the club's twenty-fifth anniversary at a banquet and entertainment Saturday night at the organization's headquarters North Fifth street. Camden Courier-Post August 5, Annual Banquet February 26 The time now is approaching when the annual banquet will be held. June 23, " Camden Courier-Post - April 15, Could Be Avoided "If there had been a light to slow the cars down at that corner, that accident never would have happened," William insisted.
Wicker - Easter Parade - Youth Association. I grew up in Camden, and when I am at our Camden campus, the memories of a childhood in the city come streaming back. Michael Becoskie in the heart of the house. Ray Becoskie and son Michael.
In the background, the George C. Ray Becoskie with new daughter Linda. Philip Litwin - Underpass Seen Necessary Unless the underpass is constructed, it would be necessary to block all traffic on Fourth Street. Fourth Street Properties Joseph B. Click on Images to Enlarge. A Child's Life on Grant Street: Elsa Olah Charles A.
Rittenhouse Edwin Figueroa Dr. Camden Courier-Post April Mrs. Philadelphia Inquirer - January 24, Robert Linthicum operated his delicatessen and grocery at North 8th Street, the corner of 8th and Birch Streets, at the time of the census. A Pair of North Camden Churches. North Baptist Church Linden Street. Schools in North Camden Cassady.
Welsh Big Ed's Place Gone. Caesar's Sandwich Shop Johnny Moore's. Camden Courier-Post - October 13, Camden Courier-Post - June 4, Returned to civilized living, this group of 23 children is happy once again. Camden Courier-Post - June 9, Camden Courier-Post - June 20, Camden Courier-Post - June 23, Camden Courier-Post - June 25, Fourth of July in North Camden in the s and s.
Summer on Segal Street - August 8, Camden Courier-Post - February 17,
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