From Afterthoughts

"Um-brel-las! I can fix your um-brel-las!" I can still hear the sing-song voice of the peddler and fix-it man who drove through our South Bethlehem neighborhood every week from the 1910s through the 1950s. His horse-drawn wagon – and later, his ancient truck – rattled along slowly, loaded to overflowing with brooms, pots, pans, washboards, bolts of cloth, and tools to repair almost anything.

When he stopped at the corner of Morton and Fillmore Streets, women came to look at his wares and make their purchases. Money came from leather coin purses tucked into their apron pockets. He spoke with an accent, doing transactions among the Windish, Hungarians, Slovaks, Polish, and Portuguese in a broken English that sufficed for everyone. He seemed to have no name and was simply called 'the boney man.' Word preceded him from backyard to backyard as women called to each other over fences and hedges: "The boney man is coming!"

…South Bethlehem certainly wasn't paradise, but it was one of those iconic American neighborhoods where people came, stayed, and made a life; a place to which many returned after they'd left. It was a place that became part of your identity for a lifetime. South Bethlehem was part Brooklyn, part Bleecker Street, and part Bowery. In the heyday of its industrialization it had more pollution than Foggy Bottom. In South Bethlehem's wicked and wayward years, when it was known for its bars and brothels, when special trains from New York City brought people to Bethlehem to 'have a good time' – before the crime-busting reforms of Mayor Robert Pfeifle, who closed 241 speakeasies and brothels in 1930 alone – it was rumored that South Bethlehem had more bars than Bourbon Street and more brothels per square mile than the South Side of Chicago.


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