The Great Depression, which started in 1929, flourished and spread its devastation throughout the country. Prohibition ended in 1933, but it had little effect on the economy. In Brooklyn’s Red Hook, an area sarcastically called Hoover City, was located near the shipyards, where unemployed homeless individuals, and families, lived in makeshift shacks made from discarded lumber, sheet metal and tin. The Irish ruled in the police departments and the public schools. The cops on the beat and in patrol cars were Irish., as was the public school principal and the teachers in Public School 30. The Irish owned the active barrooms. Machinists and tool makers were mainly Germans, while Irish shipyard workers and stevedores were slowly being replaced by Italians. There may have been a few from other European nations, but no Blacks. There were four Jewish families living in Red Hook. Each family owned a small business, and they struggled to survive.. There were many desperate applicants for jobs. Daily, stevedores and shipyard workers would line up, hoping they would be chosen to work that day.
The Federal Steamship Laundry, Co. located at 216 Conover Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York founded in 1900, was owned by my father. The laundry occupied the ground floor of the building, consisting of a front room, with a long counter for dealing with sales, customers laundry, and for packing, and sorting. Behind the counter were shelves where packages of finished laundry was stored awaiting their owners. Laundry and supplies entered through wide front doors. Beyond this front room was a work room where, production mangling, curtain stretching, and commercial sorting was done. The room beyond was the room where two large rotary barrel wash machines stood on cement drainage pads. Five horsepower motors transmitted power by wide leather belts to the two speed transmissions on the washing machines, Hot water for washing machines came from a gas fired boiler in the corner of the room. Added to the main building was a one story extension in which four tables were for hand ironing, and when needed, four women did the ironing. Gas heated grills and ovens held numerous varied flatirons, Beyond the extension was the yard in which two telephone poles at the farthest end held numerous clothes lines for drying. The laundry was located in the middle of the block, between Coffee and Dykeman Streets. On the corner of Coffee Street was a busy bar for dock workers, stevedores, and seamen.
Over the laundry, accessible by an entrance at the corner of the building, were two cold water flats. We lived above the laundry, and the flat above us was rented. Each flat had two bedrooms, a kitchen with a wood and coal burning cast iron stove, which also was the only heat for the apartment. The toilet for all the occupants, and the workers in the laundry, was a two hole toilet in a small outhouse in the yard. Illumination in the apartments was by gaslight The laundry on the first floor had electricity for the motors and lights. Only in the late twenties, electric was installed for lighting in the two apartments. Toilets for the tenants were installed in the halls, but the wood and coal burning cast iron stoves remained as the only source of heat for cooking and heating. At night, a folding iron gate was stretched across the front of the laundry. and a steel ramp..
The steel ramp that was used in lieu of steps, facilitated the passage of pushcarts and small wagons from the sidewalk or street into the laundry. The doorway to the apartments was not blocked by the iron gate. Almost daily, in the morning, when the gates was folded back, the ramp and entrance had to be washed of urine and, also at times, of vomit. Ours was the only business or building on the block that was treated this way. Bigotry existed between the different ethnic groups, but they seemed to unite in their bigotry against Jews. The doorway to the apartments above the laundry were never violated, undoubtedly because an Irish Catholic family lived on the top floor.
At night, Mike’s Bar was a bedlam of loud voices. Often drunken brawlers staggered out to fight and bloody each other. It was during the night that the laundry entrance was desecrated. I was determined to stop this filthy practice. Many nights in a row, I entered the darkened laundry store to sit unobserved near the store window. After four nights of watching, I found the main culprit was Bill Monigan, and his friend Tom O’Dwyer. My father had laundry problems and confrontations with both of them.
While helping my friend Tommy work in his father’s auto mechanic’s shop, or when working weekends around Roosevelt Field. I developed a plan to use electricity as a shocking solution to the defiling of the laundry. I gathered or borrowed; assorted wires and clips, a 6 volt battery, a 20,000 volt coil, a magneto, and an airplane engine inertia electric starter I waited in the darkened store, and my chance came on payday, on Friday when the stevedores and dock workers flocked to the bar for liquid refreshments. Under the door I slid an insulated wire and clipped the bare end to the iron gate. Another wire with a bared end made contact with the iron plate. I placed wood wedges under the lower end of the plate to insulate it from grounding. >From my position at the window I could manipulate the battery, coil, and inertia electric engine starter, I could pass current through either or both the gate and iron plate.
Bill Monigan, and his friend Tom O’Dwyer, walked unsteadily down the street. Bill stopped and came to the store front, unbuttoned his fly and said to his bleary eyed friend, “Come on. Let’s piss on the kike.”
Holding his hose he urinated, waving the urine spray back and forth. Then with the wire from the charged, high-voltage coil, I contacted the wire running to the iron gate. A twenty thousand volt shock raced up the conductive urine stream. Bill’s eyes seemed to bulge out of their sockets, his breath exploded from his lungs, his mouth opened so wide that I thought he would dislocate his jaw. He fell to his knees, his stupefied mind did not know what happened. He grabbed the gate and started to pull himself erect. Then I sent a
quick series of high voltage electric shock to the gate. He could not let go of the gate, and his body shook in spasms while spurts of urine spewed with each shock wave. I stopped the electric shock treatment and watched him collapse onto the iron ramp. He rose to his hands and knees, mumbling and cursing incoherently.
His friend, Tom, reeled and watched in amazement at Bill’s antics, then he slowly staggered and came to help him. It was hard for me not to burst out in loud laughter at what would happen next as I churned up the high voltage, inertia electric engine starter. The iron plate, wet with urine was a good conductor to Bill’s hands and knees. When Tom came close and reached to help Bill to his feet, I touched the wire from the inertia starter to the iron plate. I impact of the initial fifty thousand volt current raced through Bill and the full impact hit Tom. He screamed, and continued screaming and cursing even after I stopped the flow of current. Tom tore loose from Bill, and muttering curses, he hurriedly staggered down the street. Then I sent the full voltage of the current from the inertia starter into the metal ramp again. Bull was crawling on his hands and knees when the electric shock hit him.. His back humped up like a frightened cat, vomit burst from his mouth. I stopped the current flow. I was suddenly worried that I had killed him when he collapsed on the ramp. Fearing the worst, I was getting ready to go to him when I saw him move. He looked ghastly as he made a few futile attempts to stand up, then he resigned himself to moving and crawling. He must have emptied his bowels, because as he crawled away on his hands and knees, he left a splattered brown trail.
I waited a long time before I went out with a pail of hot water, a mop, and broom, to clean up the mess. It took a number of pails of hot, soapy water and much scrubbing to clean the ramp and front entrance to the laundry. In the years to come, there were few incidents of a sullied laundry entrance. They must have been random occurrences of individuals who had the uncontrollable and urgent need to urinate. .