Thursday, January 25, 2018


The chapters which are numerical are factual. The chapters which are alphabetical are fiction, though in some instances the fiction modestly drapes what is factual. I will post one chapter a week, alternating factual and fiction.
Across the playground from our front door, Armistead Way was a boundary of sorts. On the other side of it there was undeveloped land going north from where Newcomb Way came into it. Going across Armistead Way there was a steep path down into a wooded area with a stream coming out of a culvert and going east. That stream was another boundary to the project. After about a city block of woods there was an open field. The summers we lived on Newcomb Way my father made a garden in that area. We had no plow so he had to use a spade to turn over the soil in the area he planted. I helped in the garden, planting seeds after he prepared the rows.
Following the stream a bit further, it became wider and deeper at one place. There was more water sometimes than other times. When it was deep enough the children would go swimming. I don’t remember, but my sister insists that once she and I went “skinny-dipping” there.
Further north along Armistead Way, it was dense with bushes and trees. One time I found a butcher knife and went hacking a path through the brush and low hanging tree limbs. Maybe I thought I was a jungle explorer and the knife was a machete. Something went wrong. I hacked into the top of my wrist. It was a very nasty cut. I don’t know what I did, other than run home. I’m sure my mother was scared to death. I don’t know if she took me to the doctor or bandaged it herself. I do know that it left a distinct “F” shaped scar which was duly noted in my military records years later. 
When we first moved into Armistead Gardens, the Presbyterian church was the only Protestant church. It met in the community building. The building was built of concrete block. The ground on which it was built was on a steep slope. The front of the building faced Armistead Way and was almost on street level, but the back, which faced Horner’s Lane, looked like it was more than a story to the beginning of the main floor. The church services and adult Sunday School classes were held on the main floor, a few steps up from street level. The children’s Sunday School classes were held a million steps down in the “basement.” The rooms in the basement were gloomy. It seemed like a dungeon.
I remember a Hallowe’en Party in the basement of the Community Center. I think the Presbyterian Church organized it, but it was for any of the children in the project. The organizers decorated the room with flickering red lights, fake cobwebs, cardboard skeletons, witches hanging with black thread from the ceiling so it looked like they were flying on brooms. There was punch made of red Kool-Aid, large grapes made to look like eyeballs. After we ate the obligatory cup cakes, washed down with Kool-Aid, there was a costume contest and bobbing for apples.
The Catholic Church met in Fox Mansion, a real mansion with a rich history dating from before the War of 1812. After the new section was built it became the community center for that area.
The new section had been built long before we moved to Armistead Gardens. The houses were much more attractive both inside and out. Some of the houses were brick, while many were row houses built of cinder block. They all had pitched roofs. Their houses faced streets with sidewalks rather than narrow alleys. They had hardwood floors and drywall walls. They were heated by coal furnaces instead of fuel oil which had to be carried into the house every day.
The summer after we moved onto Newcomb Way we had visitors. My Grandad and Grandmom Pritt came from Elkins in a new Ford. My Uncle Donald and his new wife Delania came with them. Beverly and I had been living with Grandad and Grandmom when Donald returned from the War. We had learned to love Uncle Don, but Dad had not seen Don since he was drafted into the Army.. Delania lived out in the country and the road to her parents’ farm was paved with large stones. Tires at that time were not good quality and Donald had a number of “blow outs.” I remember Grandad saying, “If you don’t marry that girl soon, you are going to go broke buying tires for the car.”
They had loaded the car with home canned food and some dishes and other treasures Mom had left with them. Strapped to the back of the car was a bicycle they brought for me! They were not selling bicycles in the stores at that time. This was an old pre-war bicycle. It was made of steel so it was heavy. Don had sanded it and painted it royal blue (The paint used by Western Maryland Railway on its passenger coaches). He had shined up the chrome spokes and wheels. It looked brand new. That bicycle opened a whole new world for me.
I think they were only with us two days. They must have stayed in a motel for several nights. I guess they also went to Washington to visit Myrtle (one of my father’s sisters} and Gene before their long trip back to West Virginia. The second day they took us on a picnic to Bay Shore Park. The trip out to the park was across a long bridge. What I remember was hunting for shade. There was plenty of beach but no trees. With red hair I sun burned easily.
After they left I rode that bicycle on every street in Armistead Gardens. I had to learn how to fix a flat tire, put the chain back when it came off, and other mechanical skills. The bicycle took me to every place in the Gardens and I made a lot of new friends.
There was a Maintenance Office for the project. There were men who would repair plumbing, the furnace, or other problems in the house. They also loaned tools for the lawn and gardens. They gave out grass seed. They would also give paint for doors and screen doors. Automobiles were scarce, but some people in the project were finding old pre-war cars and fixing them up. Some of these old clunkers sported new paint jobs using screen door paint from the Maintenance Office applied to the cars with rags.
Most of the people in the old section lived on the edge of poverty. I remember one day when there was a knock on the door. When my mother opened the door there was a little boy dressed only in his underwear. “Lady could you gimme a piece of bread?” She took a slice from the loaf. “Is this all right?” “Well, do you have some oleo or jelly you could put on it?” All the time he was shivering. As soon as she handed him the sandwich, he devoured it and ran off, barefoot, up the street.
From Christmas time until the end of February many of the men were laid off and had no income. Either the coal miners were on strike, the steelworkers were on strike, the longshoremen were on strike – always some reason to lay off the workers in the dead of winter. That was when the weather was cold. The fuel oil tanks were soon empty and unless some money could be borrowed at the loan company or from relatives, concrete block houses with concrete floors were miserably cold and damp. My parents’ first stop for Christmas shopping was at the two loan companies where they had accounts to see how much they could borrow and add to their account.
During this time, we would see oil trucks that did not usually deliver oil in Armistead Gardens. When I was older I learned that they were delivering oil to Freemasons who were out of work.
My sister and I enrolled in P.S. 231, Brehm’s Lane Elementary School. A school bus came for us and carried us to a brick school building in a very nice neighborhood. In later years everyone I knew who lived in that neighborhood were upper middle class – the manager of an upscale leather goods store, an executive of American Stores grocery chain, a banker, a manager in an industrial plant, a lawyer.
We attended that school the rest of the school year and all of the following school year. I have my report cards from those years. They show an unusual number of absences. I am surprised that I passed.

Thursday, January 18, 2018


The chapters which are numerical are factual. The chapters which are alphabetical are fiction, though in some instances the fiction modestly drapes what is factual. I will post one chapter a week, alternating factual and fiction.
As the Second World War was drawing to a close, many Germans could see that defeat was inevitable. Those who held positions of authority in the government or the National Socialist Party knew that if/when the Axis powers were defeated, they and their families would both be vulnerable to arrest by the ruling power installed by the conquering armies and to revenge by disgruntled fellow Germans.
Some of them sent their families out of Germany to Switzerland or to Turkey or Morocco. From there they made their way to Uruguay and Argentina. Some of the fathers were subsequently killed in the waning months or weeks of the War. Others used that time to collect as much money, gold, jewels, or other portable booty and then fled themselves. Whether any high ranking Nazis evaded arrest and made their way to these two South American countries has been material for many articles, documentaries, and stories. The undisputable fact is that following the War there were large colonies of Germans and Ukrainians in Argentina and Uruguay.
In Baltimore there were many first, second, and third generation German-Americans. Before the War started, the German Bundt brought together thousands of Germans who supported Hitler. Their building in downtown Baltimore was a classical Greek structure whose auditorium held at least 2000. Many dropped their support when they found out what Hitler was doing to the Jews or when their own sons were being killed in the War. The Bundt was outlawed after our country entered the War. There were still a sizeable number who silently maintained their allegiance to Nazi Germany.
Several of these Nazi sympathizers secured jobs in the Rental Office and the Maintenance Office in Armistead Gardens. They worked hard and gradually worked themselves into supervisory positions. Mr. Wieneger became the Manager of the Rental Office. Mr. Schwartz became the Supervisor in the Maintenance Office.
During the War good workers were being bled away by the draft. Every time there was a job opening Mr. Wieneger and Mr. Schwartz hired only men or women who were supporters of their cause. By the time the War ended, all of the workers belonged to their Cause.
They recognized that the column of duplex houses which ran along Pulaski Highway might be useful to them some day because a road running parallel to Pulaski Highway was an innocent and unobtrusive passive barrier to the other residents of the project.
When the project was turned over to the Baltimore City Housing Authority there were some anxious weeks and months worrying about whether the Authority might send in some of their own people. As time went by their worries were laid to rest, because Armistead Gardens was run more efficiently than any of their other projects.
Mr. Schwartz had a short-wave radio in his office. There was a sophisticated antenna array on the roof of the garage where the trucks and equipment of the Maintenance Department were stored. In the evening after the offices were closed, Mr. Schwartz was occupied with his amateur radio. The radio hams he was contacting were in Argentina and Uruguay.
Now that wealthy ex-pat Germans had reached the relative safety of South America, their next goal was to reach the United States and settle there under a new identity. There were many less wealthy German immigrants who would have to adjust and content themselves living in a Latin society that was less developed, less modern, less cultured than Germany had been before the War.
The leaders of the Noble Cause had decided to establish Kamp Armistead in that row of duplexes along Pulaski Highway. The duplex facing Armistead Way was unsuitable for their use because of the heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic- too many people with too many eyes and too many brains and too many mouths.
As for the other duplexes, if a family moved out, the Cause sent one of their followers, who had an apartment or house elsewhere in Baltimore, to occupy that unit until it was needed by the Cause. Other families were gradually moved to units in the new section with the excuse that the State wanted to widen Pulaski Highway. In six months they had control of all the duplexes except the one facing Armistead Way. Kamp Armistead was ready to open. There were twenty three-bedroom units.
Mr. Schwartz kept in communication with the Noble Cause each evening. When encryption was necessary, they used some book with 365 pages or more. This year it was Moby Dick. The page for that day was ruled off in rows and columns. The first 26 lines stood for letters, the 27th line was space and the 28th line was “period.” In this manner Mr. Schwartz communicated to Argentinian and Uruguayan collaborators that Kamp Armistead was ready to receive twenty families.
These families could not fly to Baltimore or travel by commercial ships because they did not have valid passports and visas. Travel was on yachts. The amount of baggage they could take with them was limited. The captains of the yachts were cautious concerning the weather. It was a long trip to travel by yacht in the Atlantic Ocean. They had to stop often to refuel. Most of the passengers were seasick at least part of the time.
When the yacht reached the Chesapeake Bay, it steered for Back Creek. There was a yacht club there with some members who were loyal to the Cause. One of them would take one family and its baggage to Kamp Armistead at night. The next night he would take another family. In six months’ time, only ten families had been moved into Kamp Armistead. Then winter halted any further travel.
There were some families who tried other ways to get into the United States: through Mexico and into Texas or Arizona or through Cuba flying to Canada and from there into Detroit or New York. None of them made it without being arrested. The location of Kamp Armistead was kept secret, even the fact it was in Baltimore. It was thought that they might be followed and the existence and location of Kamp Armistead would be discovered.
When a family arrived, the person who had been house-sitting would stay with the family a week, helping them get settled. They all had learned basic English beforehand. He showed them the Acme Market and went with them on their first trip. They were encouraged to walk up the sidewalk along Pulaski Highway so as not to be noticed by the residents of Armistead Gardens.
Mr. Schwartz would buy a car for them (with their money). A Cause volunteer would coach them in learning the highway laws. Most could drive but they needed a few practice drives before taking their test. A driver’s license was an important identity document. A volunteer also took them on the city bus. They would go with them to the center of Baltimore and go through the department stores with them. They showed them the German neighborhoods.
The whole elaborate set-up was almost shattered. One of the German  undocumented immigrant families in Kamp Armistead, the Krachts, had a teen age son. He was in Fox’s 5&10 when Mr. & Mrs. Fox were heatedly arguing about something. Mr. Fox used some rough language in Yiddish. The boy may have thought Mrs. Fox was Aryan because of her blonde hair.
That night the boy returned with a can of black spray paint. He sprayed a giant swastika on one window and KIKE in giant letters. He probably would have put more, but a young man driving by saw him and yelled. He stopped his car and gave pursuit but the offender got away. Mr. Schwartz had a good idea who had done it. The family was put into a station wagon, driven up into the mountains and left to fend for themselves and die. Too much was at stake.
The enforcers for the Cause did not reckon on “mountain people.” A man in an old pickup truck came upon the family huddling in a shelter of snow and fir branches by the side of the road. He picked them up, took them home and his wife fixed them a hot meal of cornbread and beans. She gave them old ragged blankets with which to wrap themselves. The foreign people did not know where they had been living. Their teenage son was sick with a bad fever. The mountain folk had no extra beds and no telephone but they made the people as comfortable as they could.
The next day the mountain man drove into town and told the storekeeper who called the sheriff for him. The sheriff took the three foreigners to the hospital. Since they could give no address and had no identity papers the sheriff called the FBI.
The wheels of justice grind slow but exceedingly fine. The family was kept as long as questioning them was yielding useable information. Just the names “Fox’s 5&10”, “Kamp Armistead” and “Mr. Schwartz” helped to pin down the location of this camp for undocumented aliens. When the FBI was finished with them, the family was sent to their last legal residence, which was now in East Germany. The entire staff at Armistead Gardens was sent to various other projects and was replaced by other Housing Authority employees. Mr. Schwartz was fired and was indicted on several Federal charges. The remaining residents of Kamp Armistead were deported to Germany.
Mr. Schwartz was able to warn two important residents before the authorities arrived. Mr. Karl Bruning and Mr. Eisen Schultz had been in high administrative posts at the Dachau death camp. If they were arrested and deported they would face prosecution at the Nurenberg War Crimes trials. Both men took off on foot for Horners Lane. They entered the National Bohemian Cemetery. One of the graves had a concrete covering on the grave. The concrete had cracked. It was only an inch thick. Its purpose was to disguise a metal door the size of the “grave.” They lifted the door. Its hinges were rusted and protested with a loud squeak.
This bunker had been put in place about five years before America became involved in World War II. The Bundt had built it as a refuge for spies who might be sent from Germany. There were a number of attempts during the War to infiltrate spies into the U.S.A. but they were all unsuccessful and the bunker had been unused for its original purpose.
When it was built, the bunker contained a shortwave radio which had a telescoping antenna which used the metal cover to reflect its signal while transmitting. It had half a dozen beds with wool blankets. Storeable food and water in sealed cans, and a cache of American money were all part of the bunker’s contents. There was a latrine connected to a septic tank.
When Bruning and Schultz entered the underground retreat, they discovered that it had been plundered. The radio was gone. The mattresses and blankets were gone, all the food and all the money had been taken. Someone who had been involved in building and stocking the hideout, and knew how to get into it, had returned at a later time and liberated the contents.
They were in a real jam. They would have to remain in the bunker at least until tomorrow. Maybe the authorities would be gone by then. They could go back to their now vacated homes and scavenge whatever food or clothes remained in them. If their cars were still there, they could get away in them.
They spent the night lying on metal cots with no mattresses, shivering in the cold. The next morning, they broke open a couple cans of water. It tasted awful. They used the latrine and then lifted the hatch to exit. As they did, they found themselves facing two Federal marshalls.
“We knew about this hideout. When we saw the broken pieces of concrete scattered on the ground we knew for sure you were inside. We have been waiting here for you. There are some people in Nurenberg who want to hold you accountable for your roles in killing hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children.”

Friday, January 12, 2018


The chapters which are numerical are factual. The chapters which are alphabetical are fiction, though in some instances the fiction modestly drapes what is factual. I will post one chapter a week, alernating factual and fiction.
I was born in Elkins, West Virginia. Although we lived in several different houses when I was an infant and toddler, the two houses I remember were across the street from my paternal grandparents. The first one was a two-bedroom house my father built from plans he bought from House and Gardens magazine. My sister is one year younger than I am. When I was six years old, my brother was born. My parents bought a larger house next door, directly across the street from my grandparents. We were living there when I started school.
My father worked as a machinist on the Western Maryland Railway in Elkins. When World War 2 ended, he accepted a job on the Atlantic Coast Line Railway in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. My parents sold the car, a 1937 Oldsmobile, and all the furniture, pots and pans, dishes, and linens. My mother and baby brother went to Baltimore to live with her sister. My sister and I went across the street to live with our grandparents. I was beginning the second grade.
My father lived in a boarding house while he was working in North Carolina. However, he couldn’t find a house for us. Just before Christmas, he quit his job in North Carolina and went to Baltimore to look for a job. He worked as a machinist in several places including the Bethlehem Steel shipyard, Glenn L. Martin, and the Pennsylvania Railroad. Eventually, he went to work at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s Mt. Clare Shops.
Soon after Christmas 1945, my parents sent for my sister and me to join them in Baltimore. My sister had pneumonia and couldn’t travel. I went to Baltimore on the train by myself. I’m sure that now a seven-year old child could not travel without an adult accompanying him. But, I’m sure the conductor had strict orders to watch out for me. My Grandad Pritt was the track foreman who was in charge of all the tracks in the yard in Elkins, the terminus of the Western Maryland Railway.
I left in the morning while it was still dark. When the train went through Thomas, West Virginia, I could see the coke ovens on the hill above. I didn’t know about coke ovens. They looked like dragons with fiery eyes and flames shooting out their nostrils. I was really scared and tried not to cry.
The train arrived in Baltimore late that evening. I had eaten the sandwich Grandmom Pritt had packed for my lunch. It was a manly meal made with thick slices of homemade bread. But by the time I arrived in Baltimore I was really hungry. Dad met me at the railway station and took me to the apartment where my Aunt Ginny, Uncle Darld, their two daughters, Darlene and Margaret Lee and now Dad and Mom and my brother Marshall Lee were all living in a two bedroom apartment on the second and third floor in a housing project. In hindsight, I cannot imagine how we all found places to sleep.
Aunt Ginny had fixed a plate of food for me and poured a glass of milk. I had barely begun to eat when we heard the loud screech of brakes and people screaming. A crowd of people came pouring out of the apartments and ran to the street intersection. A newspaper boy had gone through a trackless trolley hawking the evening news. He exited the bus and ran around to cross the street at the intersection. The driver pulled away from the curb, did not see the lad running across the street in front of him, and hit the boy. An ambulance came, but it was too late for the newsboy; he was dead.
Two things I remember clearly from the time I was at Ginny and Darld’s home. There was a playground between the two long rows of apartment buildings. I went out and was swinging on one of the swings. A boy came up to me and told me to get off the swing because he wanted to swing. When I continued to swing, he pulled me off the swing and proceeded to beat the living daylights out of me. I never could or would fight. I went back to the apartment with a bloody nose and bruises. Darlene (who was my age) said, “Show me who it was.” Out of the second story window I pointed out my attacker. She marched down the steps, crossed the playground to the swings, and yanked the boy off the swing. She beat him up so bad that he ran back to the apartment where he lived.
The second thing I remember is that Aunt Ginny made butter. The War was over but a lot of commodities, including butter, were still not in the stores because price controls were still in effect. Ginny got milk from Golden Guernsey Dairy. Their bottles had a bulbous shape at the top. There was a plastic stopper you put in the neck of the bottle to pour out most of the cream. Ginny poured the cream off every bottle into a pint jar. When the jar was nearly full she put the lid on the jar and shook it vigorously. When she was tired, she enlisted the help of her daughters and even me. After much vigorous shaking there were some clumps of butter and buttermilk. 
During World War 2 the Federal government built and operated hundreds of housing projects in cities where there were defense plants. They had to house the workers who came from the small towns and rural areas to work in the plants that were producing military equipment and supplies needed for the war effort. So many people moved from West Virginia to Dayton, Ohio to work in the rubber plants that people jokingly said the largest city in West Virginia was Dayton, Ohio. Virginia Lee and Darld Isner lived in the Perkins Project which was near Baltimore’s harbor and the shipyard. Since the War was over, the Federal government was in the process of turning the projects over to municipal authorities to operate.
My parents were able to get a two bedroom row house in Armistead Gardens, another housing project. We moved there in the beginning of February 1946. I don’t know what furniture there was in the beginning. I know my brother, who was about 18 months old, slept in a wagon, his Christmas present. I don’t know if my sister joined us while we were at Darld and Ginny’s or after we moved to Armistead Gardens. My father’s sister Myrtle and her husband Gene, who lived outside Washington, DC, brought her from Elkins in their car.
Our house was at the end of a row of houses, 1127 Newcomb Way. There were two bedrooms and bathroom upstairs. The living room, kitchen/dining area, and fuel oil hot air furnace were on the first floor.
Armistead Gardens was just inside the northern city limits of Baltimore. Pulaski Highway was on its eastern side. The houses in Armistead Gardens were originally built to house workers at the Glenn L. Martin plant. It was built in two stages. We lived in the “old section.”  The houses were built as row houses – five or six houses joined together. These units were on both sides of a narrow alley with no sidewalks. There were several streets in that section suitable for vehicular traffic and these had sidewalks.
In the old section the houses were built of cinder block and had concrete floors and flat roofs. The cinder block of the outside wall was also the inside wall. The cinder blocks of the outside walls were 12 inches thick. The walls between each house were 8 inches thick. The cook stoves were gas. Gas, water, and electricity were included in the rent However, the heat was from fuel oil. Trucks came around to fill up 55 gallon oil drums which lay horizontally on concrete stands. There was a spigot to fill the can you carried into the house and poured into the hot air furnace. You had to pay the oil truck in cash for the oil.
The thin walls between the houses meant you could hear the neighbors arguing. We lived in a house at the end of a row, so we only heard one set of neighbors. Lying in bed some nights I would hear the man and woman next door fighting. Sometimes I could hear him hit her. More than once I heard her screaming, then tumbling down the steps. They had three daughters – twins my sister’s age and an older girl my age. I wonder what it must have been like for the girls living in the midst of it.
This same couple would sometimes have a dozen or more children from nearby houses come to their home and sit on the floor in the living room. They would turn out all the lights and tell ghost stories.
The kitchen/dining area, the furnace, and the bathroom all faced the alley which was Newcomb Way. The front door from the living room opened onto a long playground. Directly in front of our house was a “monkey bars.” It was a squarish gridwork of pipes that children could climb on, hang upside, and all kinds of activities. Further down were swings and see-saws. In the middle was a large grassy area where ball games were played. At the far end there was a large area of smooth concrete where children could roller skate, play hop-scotch, etc. In the center was what resembled a giant metal mushroom. On the rounded top was a large shower head. In the summer, when it was blistering hot, they turned on the sprinkler, the children put on bathing suits and ran through the water.
Between our house and the first house of the next row of houses was a large area of what should have been grass but was hard packed dirt. It was there that we boys played marbles. Each boy had a bag of marbles and as the play went on a bag became filled or emptied. Each boy had a large marble which he used as a ‘shooter.” That is also where we played “mumbley-peg” with our pen knives.