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If You’re Going to Shamokin – a sonnet by Pete Wambach

  • July 4, 2014
Pete Wambach courtesy of Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission

Pete Wambach courtesy of Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission

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.


If You’re Going to Shamokin


(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.)

By Pete Wambach


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.



Image Exhibits:

Original Newspaper Clippings from The News-Item



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