There was a different kind of fun to be had at Joe’s other gig – guessing ages and weights at Willow Grove Park. Although the park has been a shopping mall of the same name since 1976, it was established in the late 1800s as an amusement park and entertainment center. Its founders, the owners of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company, hoped to stimulate shopping in an area close to the trolley lines but outside of the city limits. Joe, his brother Walter, and a few other friends would troop across town by trolley, work their shifts at Willow Grove, and then take the trolley home together at night. The trolley stopped at the entrance to the Ardsley cemetery, and the boys would often get off there and cut through the cemetery to arrive closer to home. It was an eerie shortcut, but the friends made good use of the opportunity to tease one another.
“Look out...there’s a ghost!”
“There’s a man behind you!”
Until one night, there was. The group had reached the creek and was just about to jump over when, through the shadows, they saw a pair of legs sticking out across the water. Petrified, they tumbled into the creek, landing on top of one another in a frightened heap, and then bolted out of the cemetery to the nearest house with a light on. The house’s kindly resident – who had been Ardsley’s air raid warden during World War II – followed the boys back to the cemetery and helped solve the mystery of the phantom legs. They belonged to a local drunk, who survived the incident despite being startled out of his sleep by the frightened boys.
Within a few years, Joe and his brothers and cousins had gone from guessing weights and ages to wielding .22 rifles in the woods behind Fitzgerald Farm. Muskrat skins brought in good money at Sears and Lichtenstein’s: Joe could sell a fur for four dollars, which was well worth crawling out of bed at 4AM to check the trap lines. He and his friend Billy Carter, a fellow student at Weldon Junior High, had a couple dozen traps set up along the Sandy Run Creek. They’d catch two or three muskrats a week, skin them, put the furs on a shingle, and take the trolley ride to the department stores to reap their reward.
Indeed, Joe made it through his childhood intact: rugged, ruddy, and ready for the next great adventure. Little did he know that two hundred fifty miles north, his future wife was making childhood memories of her own.