Tag: Henry Amlung

Car Trouble

Does it seem as though roads are becoming more hazardous? In the early days of our church, when cars were still a novelty, our second Pastor, Reverend Crane, thought so. And vehicles moved a lot slower back then!

As the number of motorcars began to increase in the city — intermingling with horse carts, carriages, trolleys, bicycles, and others sharing the roads – officials took some odd advice in the struggle to keep everyone safe. In June 1912 – a year after our church building was finished – The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that our Reverend Crane was asked by the coroner to serve on a jury “composed of clergymen” ruling on an “automobile fatality” case, in which a man driving a “motor truck” ran down and killed a woman pedestrian. Six clergymen of different (Christian) faiths “were asked to serve on the jury as a result of a recommendation made a few months ago at the national convention of coroners, the object being to give the clergy an opportunity to impress upon members of their congregation, as well as upon chauffeurs and the owners of automobile and other vehicles, the dangers from the careless driving of motorcars” (The driver in the case was held responsible for the death and remanded for trial).

January 1916 brought traffic issues a little closer to home when the Inquirer ran a short news item headed “Auto Runs Down Aged Man.” In that incident, an SFDS parishioner, John F. Wholey, of 4822 Windsor Ave. (whose father Timothy Wholey would donate our St. Francis de Sales statue in 1920) “was taking a party of friends in an automobile to a wedding in Merchantville” when a man “stepped in front of the machine” at Day and Federal Streets, Camden; was knocked over; and suffered a “probable fracture of the skull.

Not all automotive troubles were accident related. A different danger made the news in February 1919, with the headline “Motor Bandits Get Furs Worth $5000; Terrorize W. Phila.” The Inquirer reported that a woman who lived next door to the fur store of SFDS parishioner Henry T. Amlung, at 4810 Baltimore Avenue (today, an empty lot behind a wooden fence),  heard a noise one evening, looked out from an upstairs window, and “was struck speechless by witnessing one man tossing furs out of the window, and into the arms of an accomplice, who was putting them into a limousine automobile.”

Fast-moving motor bandits quickly became a significant class of criminals, so police – still on foot – had to invest in vehicles and equipment in order to keep up. On December 23, 1920, the Inquirer reported that “Philadelphia’s Christmas presents for motor bandits are ready. Here they are: One hundred and fifty armed motorcycles, most of them with sidecars. Six fast automobiles for bandit-chasing owned by the city and a fleet of privately owned automobiles at the call of the police. A stack of short-range sawed-off shotguns, each pumping six shells of buck shot in rapid succession…” (The shotguns were thought to be a kinder and gentler approach to crimefighting than the submachine guns proposed in New York City to deal with a similar automotive crime wave). Speedy police vehicles might have discouraged automotive crime, but were unlikely to improve safety for pedestrians or other traffic!

As to Reverend (by then Bishop) Crane, the hazards of the new automobile age soon became very personal. On Nov. 11, 1922, Catholic News Service reported that “Rev. Cornelius X. Leahy, pastor of the Church of SS. Peter and Paul at Tower City, died last Sunday as a result of a fracture of the skull sustained in an automobile accident. This accident occurred when Father Leahy was driving with a party, including Bishop Crane, of this city, from Tower City to Tremont, where Bishop Crane was to administer Confirmation.” Curiously, there is no further information on what caused the accident or whether any of the other passengers were injured. We know only that the funeral took place in “St. Canicus’ Church, Mahanoy City” and began “with Divine Office at 10 o’clock. The Right Rev. Bishop Crane presided.”

The world keeps moving. A century later, cars are old news, but the car troubles are still familiar – and now we face challenges Bishop Crane never could have imagined, as we navigate hazards of life online in the new age of the internet!

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Henry Amlung and the Motor Bandits

amlung furs

Today, neighbors routinely fret about parking spaces and inattentive drivers, but in the early 1900s,  parishioners like Henry Amlung (who owned a fur store in a time when furs and cars were both desirable luxuries) – and city government – had to adjust to some “new normal”  challenges at the dawn of the automotive age.

On February 11, 1919, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s front page reported an innovative crime wave: “Motor Bandits Get Furs Worth $5000; Terrorize W. Phila.” The news story continued:  “Motor bandits — believed by the police to have been the same who were frustrated in an evident plot to hold up storekeepers in the vicinity of Sixty-second and Race Streets…made a $5000 haul just twenty-four hours later from the fur store of Henry T. Amlung at 4810 Baltimore avenue.” (today, an empty lot behind a wooden fence).

“Discovery of the thieves in the very act of transferring furs from the store to a waiting automobile led to an alarm which saved the balance of the stock, valued at close to $50,000…”

“Mrs. Letitia Hanganer, who occupies an apartment on the third floor of 4808 Baltimore Avenue, directly adjoining the Amlung establishment, first heard the robbers at work, but thought it was Amlung trying to enter his store and for a few moments returned to bed. She had been attracted to her window by the noise of someone in the adjoining sideyard below. She thought Amlung had locked the store up leaving his key inside, and was trying to re-enter by the window.”

“A few minutes later she was again attracted by the same noise, this time accompanied by the subdued voices of men. She returned to the window and for a moment was struck speechless by witnessing one man tossing furs out of the window, and into the arms of an accomplice who was putting them into a limousine automobile…Mrs. Hanganer …awakened William Brooke, who conducts a tailoring establishment on the first floor of 4808 Baltimore avenue, and he ran to a second-floor window, shouting at the thieves.”

“Without abandoning the bundle of furs they then had in their arms the men dashed for their car, clambered in and fled.”

Police, on foot, stopped a trolley driver, who “saw the car drive east on Baltimore avenue as far as Forty-fifth street, at which point it might either have turned or continued on toward the central part of the city.” The police couldn’t chase them without vehicles! The paper reported that “an interesting development of the day was the loan to the police of the station at Fifty-fifth and Pine Streets of two fast automobiles for the purpose of waging war upon the motor bandits…” by local garage owners, but it wasn’t enough, and “motor bandits” just became bolder.

It wasn’t until the end of the following year, on December 23, 1920, that the Inquirer reported “Philadelphia’s Christmas presents for motor bandits are ready..: One hundred and fifty armed motorcycles, most of them with sidecars. Six fast automobiles for bandit-chasing owned by the city and a fleet of privately owned automobiles at the call of the police. A stack of short-range sawed-off shotguns, each pumping six shells of buck shot in rapid succession…” The sawed-off shotguns were thought to be a kinder and gentler approach to crimefighting than the submachine guns proposed in New York City to deal with its similar automotive crime wave.

Sadly, it came too late for Henry Amlung, a member of the Holy Name Society and Knight of Columbus – he died a month after the incident, of “cardiac decompensation,” possibly weakened by influenza, and, perhaps, by worry. He was buried from our parish in an “auto funeral” (with an automotive, rather than horse-drawn, hearse and procession of cars driving from SFDS to Holy Cross cemetery) on March 29, 1919.

Baltimore Avenue Amble

A short three-block stroll along Baltimore Avenue hints at how St. Francis de Sales Parish  is woven into the fabric of the neighbourhood.

cherry tree inn

Beginning at 46th Street, the Aksum Cafe at 4630 Baltimore stands on the site of the original yellow clapboard Cherry Tree Inn – a historic rest stop on the Baltimore Pike, named for an ancient cherry tree that once stood out front (a bar at 4540 — today’s Gojo — adopted the name as an homage in 1933, causing lasting confusion). Our first parish chapel/school building – now a wing of SFDS School — was built on the back section of the old inn’s property towards 47th Street in 1891.  Some records suggest that piece was once a lake – more likely, it was the water-accumulating “dip in the waffle” created by surrounding raised road construction. (Incidentally, the firm of James “Sunny Jim” McNichol, who donated our St. Joseph Altar, built and paved some of the larger roads in the city including Baltimore Ave., the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and Roosevelt Boulevard).

In the early 1900s, most of the 4700 block of Baltimore Ave over to Warrington was occupied by the Wilson farm which included a house, a barn, an orchard, and several cows. Our parish purchased the property in 1920, intending to build an annex to the school. Third grade and commercial classes were held at the farmhouse (approximately where the Warrington garden is today) for a couple of years, and several parish fairs were held on the grounds. In 1926, plans changed, and a wing was added to the school along Farragut Terrace, instead. The Wilson property was then sold to Brown & Sons Developers, who built the present block. This ad appeared in the Parish Monthly Bulletin:

47th & balt

 

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Byrd Theatre 4720 Baltimore Ave.

Dream of popcorn in today’s municipal parking lot at 4720. Or huskies pulling sleds? The Byrd Theatre, named after famous polar explorer Admiral Richard Byrd, opened in 1928 and was torn down in the 1960s. It was, reportedly,  never profitable as a movie venue, but in 1933, during the Great Depression, it had a moment of glory when SFDS held its de Sales Night gala there one year, instead of the usual big showy “do” at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel downtown:

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SFDS De Sales Night at the Byrd Theatre 1933

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While you are there, take a little time to admire the beautiful murals in the parking lot painted by David Guinn in 2008. He’s included a number of local landmarks – can you find our church?

 

sfds bookstore 1948
The SFDS Parish Bookstore was located at 4726 Baltimore Avenue

 

Now continue on to 4726 Baltimore Ave. Today, it’s part of Vientiane Cafe. Some folks might remember that Mariposa Food Co-Op used to be here (before it moved to 4824). Long before that, from 1944 to 1954, it was home to the SFDS Parish Bookstore and Lending Library – offering blockbusters such as Communism and the Conscience of the West by Fulton Sheen and Of Flight and Life, by Charles Lindbergh. Imagine the walls lined with bookshelves, and earnest customers choosing uplifting reading material through the general haze of cigarette and pipe smoke characteristic of the era.

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McHugh Realty was at 4800 Baltimore (where the Gold Standard now is) for over forty years. Gerald McHugh, Sr. represented the parish in many real estate matters, and went on to become the broker for the Archdiocese. The McHugh family has been in DeSales for four generations.

1955 mchugh realty

An old parish record notes that the IHM Sisters moved to a house at 4804 Baltimore Avenue for two months in 1915 while their original convent – a house at 47th and Windsor — was renovated (The present convent was built in 1926).

It’s an empty lot, today, behind a fence, but parishioner Henry Amlung’s fur store once stood at 4810 Baltimore Ave. His store made the news in 1919, when it was robbed by the “Motor Bandits” who were “terrorizing West Philadelphia” in a newfangled automobile. Under-equipped police eventually had to borrow a car to chase them! Here’s Amlung’s Parish Monthly Bulletin ad:

amlung furs

Last, but not least, number 4830 was the home of Ruane Electrical – started by current parishioner Joe Ruane’s Grandfather. Joe recalls delivering flyers and arranging the windows in the late 1940s, and he spotted a fire in the shared basement that once saved the block.1943 ruane baltimore ave

‘Nuff said for now: Parish stories are many, but time is short!

Find more stories of Baltimore Avenue on our sister website, https://streetofhistoryphiladelphia.wordpress.com/