Editor’s Note: Joe Russo is a “Nortsider”, a teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear a couple of times each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside”.
On the old Northside it was a virtual Winter Fest. My father, Armondo, grew up on Division Street just a half block away from the original Danzer’s Restaurant. According to my father, back in the 1920’s and 1930’s when it snowed they didn’t plow the streets. The Northside was a walking neighborhood and those who had cars put them up on blocks for the winter. Imagine being 10 years old and school is closed because there is so much snow. No snow plows to clean the streets and no cars on the road, but your trusty Flexible Flyer is ready to soar down the Division Street hill. In your childhood imagination you are headed straight for DiLauro’s Bakery, leaning, steering, leaning toward DiBello’s Grocery store, as good a run as your waxed rails could deliver. Maybe one day your Flexible Flyer would have enough speed to reach North Salina Street.
In my father’s time they played street hockey in the winter and football was so much fun in the snow. A roof covered arena with a synthetic turf field wasn’t necessary. Because, as Armondo would say, “…kids back then, they were tough.” They also invented their own games, negotiated their own rules created their own adventures. A big adventure back in that era was a toboggan ride from the round top at Schiller Park. The round top was the highest point in Schiller Park and had a beautiful view of the Syracuse city scape. The park roads back in the 20’s and 30’s were not blocked off, so a toboggan ride had a free run all the way to Park Street near the current Riley’s Restaurant. My father remembered eight kids placed strategically around the toboggan. I imagine in a way like the Olympic Bobsled teams getting ready to run for gold. In unison all eight were sliding the toboggan back and forth, back and forth until the rhythm was just right. Then they would run to build up speed. Each Olympic Northsider jumped on at the right time and the downhill fun began, destination Park Street.
In my time a snowball fight on the way to or from school was commonplace. My sister Maria and I walked to Our Lady of Pompeii School with the Morelli brothers, Joey and Patsy. We always encountered other neighborhood kids willing and ready to test their arm strength and accuracy. Patsy Morelli made the perfect snowball. They were round, tightly packed, and made us feel like we could hit the bull’s eye almost every time. He would make several snowballs for each of us. When we passed kids from Franklin Elementary or Grant Junior High on the way home we were ready to let the snowballs fly. Later in life, Patsy moved to New York City and became an artist and sculptor. He is most famous for his 10 foot bronze sculpture “Behold”. It is a father holding up an infant toward the sky. He donated the statue to the Martin Luther King historic site in Atlanta, Georgia. It is currently on display at this site.
My father and my uncle Harold Seib enjoyed the snow and became sculptors as well. In the photo below you will see a wonderful snow sculpture that could win the gold medal in any Winter Fest contest. I remember the joyful way they gathered up the backyard snow and built it into a mound. Then carefully and slowly they used pieces of wood to sculpt and shape their creation. The triumphant moment came while posing for pictures. I remember my mom, Sarah, carefully squeezing the shutter button on her Brownie Hawkeye and capturing the moment in black and white. As I look back over the last 40 to 50 years it seems that I enjoy the old black and white photos the most.