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For Shamokin’s 125th Anniversary celebration, Pete Wambach was brought to town by WISL’s Tom Kutza to do what he did best, talk. For this special occasion, Pete chose to write a sonnet encompassing everything it meant live, breathe, eat and die in Shamokin. The sonnet was delivered by Pete at the 125th Anniversary Banquet on Friday August 25th 1989 and printed in the News-Item that weekend.
25 years later, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of our city, it’s appropriate to bring back Pete’s wonderful words. A special thanks to Rose Broscius for locating and scanning these old newspaper clippings.
So please take the time to read, remember and learn about the incredible and colorful people, and places that made Shamokin the place we all know and love.
(Editor’s note: Pete Wambach, speaker at Friday ‘s 125th anniversary banquet, wrote the following sonnet which he presented to Shamokin as a gift from him and his wife, Rita.)
If you’re going to Shamokin, come and see the town with me
I’ve been going to Shamokin since the early century
Took the late run up from Philly, took the early rattler back
With Winfield Scott Heil waving each excursion down the track.
If you’re going to Shamokin you’ll get coal dust in your hair
And the greatest welcome in the world that you’ll get anywhere
You’ll get handshakes, hugs and love from every person that you meet
And meet everyone you ever knew on Independence Street.
From Gowen up to Elysburg, Paxinos to the ‘Gap
From Kulpmont to the Irish Valley, that’s Shamokin’s map
Its here they come from everyplace to hassle and to greet
And get together Saturday on Independence Street.
The Hegins farmers sell potatoes, apples, corn and pears
The stores and five-and-ten have discount signs to sell their wares
And after high school football games, you’re deaf from all the cheers
They’ve been cruising Independence Street for more than fifty years.
Moskovitz and Hirsch’s shoes had soles that never did wear through
And Jones’ Hardware sold huge tractors and the smallest screws
And every merchant on the street was proud to treat you well
And after shopping you could lunch at Madison Hotel
Look! That culm bank out yonder is our backdrop and design
The miners dug it out of hell from Anthracite’s deep mine
They blew those earthy seams apart, those hard and muscled men
And with heart and guts and black-lung, they went down there once again.
There was history and culture, there was greed and labor grief
There was cave-ins on the mining men whose lives were young and brief
There was carbon black that burned bright red and gave the world its heat
And they struck, when striking sometimes meant that families could not eat.
Johnny Mitchell, John L. Lewis came to town in ‘twenty-two
And we helped ’em form the Union called the U.M. Double-U.
Say, there used to be a picture of that meeting at St. Ed
Now, those patriots of labor fights have all gone up ahead.
Out from Luke Fidler Colliery Black Diamonds of all sorts
Were shipped down on the Reading to the long pierced Philly ports
And the world got finest Anthracite from Shamokin’s family
And Shamokin folks got worldly goods for their economy.
I remember greeting Senior Citizens at Mountain View
I bought my shirts at Cluett, and got fifty discount, too
And sometimes at the Ukie Club I hear an old time sax
You could bet your bottom dollar, it was Lou Polyniaks.
You never had a better ride than on Shamokin’s trolley
San Francisco’s cable cars could not compare to it. By golly!
There were thousands who would come to town to dance into the dark
And get aboard that Toonerville with joy, for Edgewood Park.
And they danced to Jim and Tommy Dorsey, oh! the sound was pretty
And they listened to the music of Les Brown from Tower City
And some spent their time while swimming in the biggest pool around
When Russ Morgan came from Wilkes-Barre and brought his big band sound.
There was dancing at the Coal Hole, too; the young’uns jammed the door
And they rocked and rolled and hustled and got home at three or four
Or they cured their heads with breakfast at the Coney; light of day
You could smell those gold Greek onions up at Bear Gap miles away.
And then along the sidewalk you’d hear Pete DeRito’s song
His harmonica played “Happy Birthday” when Pete came along
It was “Hello Friend” to everyone when he had played his tune
Harmonized with Old Shamokin’s Coll’iery whistle sound at noon.
At the movies, “The Majestic,” we saw Pete Smith’s bouncing ball
And Fitzgerald’s Travel Talks, and Gunga Din, and that ain’t all
Errol Flynn, the Light Brigade; another wartime charge by Pickett
All of this and much, much more for just a sevenpenny ticket.
The favorite place they’d go for treats was Marty’s Ice Cream parlor
You could buy a lot of double-cones and get change for a dollar
And the taste of it was Paradise-in-your-mouth, to say the least
The biggest ice cream cone they served in the entire East.
I remember Covaleski and the way that Polsky hurled
And I’ve eaten at St. Stan’s, the “Platsky Capitol” of the World
And I’ve lectured out at Lourdes and eaten Gerty Snyder’s cake
And I’ve spoken at the Wayside, and I’ve been there for a wake.
I’ve been on TV with Bernie Romanoski’s sports-for cancer
I’ve enjoyed the morning radio with Kutza’s “What’s the Ansers?”
And I’ve listened to myself at five-of-nine on I-S-L
Saying that the day was “Bee-youtiful,” when it had rained like hell!
If you’re going to Shamokin, wave to folks for me again, ‘n
Say hello to “Bull” and Tom, is every Irishman named Brennan?
If you say a word ag’in’ that pack, you’ll surely have to fight ’em
But you’ll get a nice obituary in tomorrow’s News Item.
Ah, those firemen Sunday picnics out at Fairview to the west
And the breakfasts, dinners, suppers, were the most and were the best.
And Ed Helfrick or Bill Zurick would each buy a half of beer
And that became the signal that election time was near.
I remember in Shamokin Doctor Linnet and Doc Knox
The brothers, the Konopkas, one-the Mushroom; two- the Fox
Why, the one could spot a fungus; cook it, edible and done
And the other, politician, I once beat him two to one.
I remember Artie Sherman, I remember old John Shroyer
And they tell me now the mayor is a Democrat named Boyer
And if Henry Lark had been alive, that would have been “no deal”
Then, we wouldn’t have known Kelly, and we’d not known Pete Krehel.
At election time you’d buy the drinks at fifteen bars a night
And I didn’t think that it would help, but they said it was right
And a man I never say before picked up the tabs, he did
And when we stopped again, he said-“you’re gonna win it, kid!”
I campaigned at every church bazaar as no one had before
And I beat the nearby hustings and I knocked on every door
Herman Schnebelli stayed in Congress, rest his soul, he’s gone away
But, I won both Shamokin and Coal Township on that day.
Oh, those church bazaars, we loved ’em during all our summer breaks
With halupki, burgers, blinis, hot dogs, powdered funnel cake
And the wheels of chance, while judges and the DA strolled about
With the never-ending kegs of beer and pork and sauerkraut!
Oh I’ve heard the Welsh folks singing like you’d lifted heaven’s lid
Singin’ “Men of Harlech in the Hollow,” holler? they sure did!
I walked in with Mayor Thomas for a Sunday singin’ shout
And with fifty tenors there, this old bass singer could blast out!
Yes, I’ve heard the Sunday hymn-sings at the churches, Glory be!
And I once attended services at Holy Trinity
Tho’ I didn’t see the apparition some folks said was there
Like the people of Shamokin I know God is everywhere!
I remember perfect Bloody Marys mixed by Woody Jones
And I wondered at the energy within that skin-and-bones
I recall the St. Ed’s fire-all was finished. God forbid!
But he told the Bishop “we’ll rebuild!”, and by God, they sure did!
I know the sound; the Slavic liturgy of Byzantine
And the domes of Orthodox are Shamokin’s prettiest scene
On the quiet Sabbath I’ve heard First United or Grace bell
And I’ve heard soft sounds of ancient Hebrew from Beth Israel.
Hey, come into Old Shamokin, have one at St. Francis Club
Where my old friend Sheriff Kearney once enjoyed the beer and grub
I remember punch boards at the Moose, and spent a fortune tryin’
Where you’d better watch your manners, or get tossed by Willie Ryan.
If you’re going to Shamokin call O’Brien and the bunch
Tell Frank Fendt, Duke Maronic, the old Eagle’s in for lunch
Call Rosini, Romanoski, they can argue things with Pete
Or we’ll smell the flowers, or watch the grass grow out on Market Street.
Say hello to Leon Misco, with that big hat on his ears
Say hello to Pete Swoboda, union man for many years
I knew Rumberger and Dietrick, I knew Snyder of renown
And the Appichelli family lived in every nearby town.
When the mines were out our needle-working women showed their worth
And they say the Eagle was the largest silk mill on the earth
And for all its goods, it’s Eagle’s baseball team Shamokin knows
Which was good enough in any year to beat the nation’s pros.
Sport? Why everybody well knew, Shamokin High would shine
Mel Paul coached champion wrestlers every season, more than nine
And Johnny Barr was All-American on Penn State’s five
And then played NBA as well as any guy alive.
I think I’ve mentioned Stanley Covaleski’s Hall of Fame
His brother Harry was as good as pitching any game
And if the fighters in the East were looking for abuse
Johny Smetra fought ’em all, and dropped ’em–at the Moose!
But football was the zenith of all sport, and it is still
Jim Thorpe himself once ran amuck up there on Bunker Hill
And now when sport fans sit around and want to let off stream
They talk of Johnny Butler and his undefeated team.
When any other schools came in- the Lourdes Shamokin crowd
Are in each other’s stand and dating-cheering mighty loud
And when they play Mount Carmel, they’re together to a “T”
But when they play each other, that’s the end of unity!
For they gather in the twilight; how they struggle in the mud!
As they smash each other s lines, these former pals are out for blood
Up in the stands there’s a thunder-heaven help the school that’s beat
For there’ll be no cruisin’ for them-down in Independence Street.
So listen to mule drivers who sit by Glen Burn mine
And Mary Madden (Richardson) was here in ‘thirty-nine
To Macks and Reeds and Arvey’s Restaurants lift up your beers
To Bill Good all who never missed a game in fifty years!
Take me back to old Shamokin where the neighbors were all good
Don’cha wish they still made F&S to wash your lunchtime food?
Where the folks are still a ‘living, loving, laughing all the time
Where people welcome strangers, and not smilin’ is a crime.
If you’re going to Shamokin, shout “hello” to it for me
And tell ’em all there’s no place on the earth I’d rather be
Where the fixing up of “Sixty-One,” I guess, is never done
In that valley, under slate-rock hills, a bit past nine-o-one.
Well, when my time has come, I’m sure that I will surely meet
That good old gang of mine who cruised on Independence Street
The merchants, miners, sportsmen, teachers, lawyers (just a few)
Who proved that what we heard about God’s mercy sure was true.
I won’t see spots of coal-dust intermingled in that blue
It might not be Shamokin but I guess ’twill have to do
I’ll see Johnny Mitchell, Woody Jones and Zupicich up there
And know I’m in Shamokin, ‘cause I’ll see God everywhere.
So, as you celebrate the town’s fifth quarter-century
That’s why I’m here-to reminisce this anniversary
Just pray that old Shamokin will forever be as fine
As on this August twenty-fifth in nineteen eighty-nine.
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