Entertainment was simple but effective. Who can forget
the organ-grinder with his little monkey? These duets amused shoppers
from Westchester Square to Mott Haven with their music and antics.
Street singers, too, were popular throughout the Bronx. Charlie Digl often entertained the residents of Melrose with tunes
such as "My Mother's Eyes" while his cohorts passed the hat.
Tenants above would often wrap a coin in a piece of paper and
drop it out the window. Occasionally a somewhat disenchanted youngster
would heat a penny over a flame and when it was good and hot, cast it
out the window and watch the reaction when it was picked up.
The popular German bands were a familiar sight in Melrose as
they marched along "Dutch Broadway," stopping here and there
to entertain wherever people might gather. They played the rousing
beer drinking songs at the saloons and might be treated to a
lager or two. At the produce market, the proprietor might
provide the musicians with an apple. Their tunes would turn to
sonorous "lch sing ein Lied fur dich" or "Liebe Sonne,
lach doch wieder" near shopping areas to arouse memories of the
homeland in the ladies and hopefully attract a coin or two from those
who stopped to listen.
Many young girls would entertain themselves with jump rope much
as they do today. Some of their rhymes have been around for decades
while others have been lost to time. Who recalls "Clap hands,
here comes Charlie?" Others begin "I love coffee, I love
tea..." or "Fire, fire false alarm, I fell into Johnny's
Who can forget the soulful dirge of the Italian marching band
leading a funeral cortege along East 187th Street? The great white
plumed stallions pulling the hearse as the lamenting family followed
in uneasy steps with armbands of white for the children and black for
adults. The sounds and sights of distress are no easier to forget
than the sounds of joy. The unshuttered doors of an era long past
brought neighbors closer and the suffering was borne upon many shoulders
in an empathy all too often shared in those hard times.
Another less distressful sound but yet one of sadness was the
cranking of a chain and winch outside ones window.
The Department of Sanitation made their rounds relieving
the streets of the carcasses of the horses whose lives were spent
serving their masters on the cobbled roadways of our fair borough.
The clanging of these chains has long been silenced but in the quietude
of our minds the strains of yesteryear will always peal, albeit
gently softened by the patina of time.