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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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Two Towns

By Emanuel Berkowitz, '32,

The Magpie, June 1931, v. 32, n. 2, p. 71.

It was only after I had left New York, that I realized what a living on the lower East Side was. The first day of my five year stay in Connecticut gave me a chance to compare the hubbub of fifty yards from the East River with the tranquility of a hundred acre farm. Although I was only seven years old then, I knew enough to understand that my going to a different state was a stroke of fate, which, at times, can be kind. When I try to recall incidents that happened in the slums of Manhattan, a queer feeling grips me, and I remember only the bad ones.

On the lower East Side, where I had the misfortune to live, the theory of survival of the fittest prevailed in the winter. In the summer, it was survival of those who had enough brains and luck not to fall into the East River. Each month saw the passing of one or two playmates of mine. The force that kept me away from the docks was a severe beating given to me by my father. The first drowning I ever witnessed, and unfortunately, not the last one, was that of a young boy who could not have been more than seven years old. Many people on the docks who watched his body go down under the oily waters, had to be helpless on-lookers, because of the strong whirlpool made by the power engines beneath the roof-garden. It would have been impossible for any swimmer to have saved him. Although I tried to forget this incident, the sight of the child's mother pulling her hair, and with heart-throbbing cries attempting to throw herself in after her son, has always remained one of my never-to-be forgotten remembrances of the tenement district.

The big problem that the civic workers and police had to cope with, was, without a doubt, the question concerning youthful criminals. Little did those thoughtless policemen know that every time they chased children off the streets, enemies of society were made. By trying to keep young boys who had no playgrounds from getting killed by machines that never went by, those who called themselves the upholders of the law cultivated in the hearts of these youths a deep hatred for lawful righteousness. Small wonder then that the slums bred such men as Gyp the Blood, Louis the One-Eyed, and other gangsters. He was a wise man who said, "A child's first impression is everlasting."

The most disgraceful as well as destructive place, was the saloon on the corner. Here, on Saturday night, all the weaklings who had back-bones like jelly fish, came to exchange the money that was meant for rent, for some alcohol that stimulated their latent spirit and poisoned the little feeling left in their hearts. Of course, false nerves always insured that bullets would fly. It was, therefore, a natural sight to see men, and sometimes the owner's daughter, carried out of the saloon on a stretcher. How I hated that place, which, according to stories I hear, still stands, but not as a saloon. Now, it is one of the numerous speak-easies that have made New York the center of crime and vice.

My family spent six years managing a hotel and farm four miles from a historic town called Lebanon. I seem to derive endless pleasure when I tell my friends that George Washington's Headquarters, and many old Protestant Churches, relics of the Revolution, still stand in old Lebanon, a truly historic place. But my favorite story is the one about the old gravestone in the pasture back of our little one room schoolhouse. The inscription on this stone, which is the only one left in the graveyard, reads:

DANIEL WEBSTER
DIED—1776
May My Bones Rest in Peace
Till Christ Doth Come.

It was said that the man beneath the stone was an ancestor of the famous Daniel Webster. But in spite of the childish desire of people to lift up the gravestone, no one has ever been successful in the attempt....




The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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