Monday, October 24, 2011

A tribute and a Family History

 When I started this blog nine months ago, my hope was that it would start a buzz and get people thinking and talking about the Trenton in which they grew up.   There were (and still are) thousands of pictures in the archives down at the Trenton Public Library that needed to be identified.   We’ve made some progress there and you’re invited to look at the archives linked to this blog and add some more ID’s.  I hoped to interview a number of current and former Trentonians about their memories of the city’s Golden Age.  I’ve done some, but time restraints have limited the number.   But to make this project really work, I needed the readers to provide material to research and that has happened, too.

This blog entry is different from many of the past ones and I hope the beginning of a new chapter here.   After reading my article about the Butchers of Trenton, Stanley Saperstein, who I met at the first meeting at Adath Israel in March, sent me an e-mail, promising that he was going to work on a history of the Saperstein family and that it would take him about a month to put it together.   That was on October 19th.   On October 21st, I received the family history.   That’s fast turnaround, but it wasn’t all that surprising to me. 

Which leads me to a personal tribute before we move on to Stanley's family history.

Once you set your mind to doing something like this, the words just seem to fly on to the computer screen.  It wasn’t always that way for me, but if you’ve followed the news at all, you know that Steve Jobs of Apple fame passed away a couple of weeks ago.  I used to struggle to write.  Sitting at a typewriter was absolute torture.  Where to start? Where to end? what to put in the middle?  I was haunted by the need to organize your thoughts and then type them, almost perfectly, or rip up the paper and start over.  Sure, we had onion paper and then White-Out, but to produce a relatively neat final draft was almost impossible.   It wasn’t as much writer’s block as it was the incredible waste of trees and the mechanics of putting word to paper.   That all changed in 1984.   I was working at the CBS Morning News and one of my responsibilities was to work with Dr. Bob Arnot, who was incredibly young, very smart, but didn’t know much about writing video scripts.   He had one of these new computers called a Macintosh.   I watched in awe as he was able to highlight, then drag and drop letters, words, phrases paragraphs.  I remember asking him if I could touch the mouse and try it for myself.  My sister was in college at Penn and she was the real impetus for me to buy a computer of my own.   For $1700, I bought a Macintosh Plus.   It was a small one piece unit, with an even smaller black and white screen, 1 MB of internal RAM memory (today's come with at least 2,000 times more memory), a floppy disk drive (a relic), and no hard drive (today you can buy a terrabyte of memory-1,000 x1,000 megabytes for about $70).  By today's standards, that little computer is the equivalent what a Model A is to a brand new Mercedes-Benz.   It came with a word processing program and it worked.     I still have that Macintosh Plus at my office (along with a few newer models).   After Steve Jobs died, I took the old computer and plugged it in.  I wanted to see the smiling Mac that displays at start up.  

 Of course, I didn’t have the system disk, so all I got was the question mark on the screen.  But it was still enough for me.  It was my homage to the man and the device that really changed the way I write.  I throw words on the screen as fast as I can, then move them, remove them, edit them, drag them, organize them and no trees die in the process.   It’s a freeing experience to write now and all I can say is thank you, Steve Jobs.

I trust that Stanley wrote his family history on a computer and that the speed with which he was able to write it had something to do with word processing software. 

The Saperstein Family

The Saperstein family is one of the original Market/ Union Street families. Meyer Saperstein and his wife Anna arrived in Trenton sometime around 1900. Meyer had a cart and horse that he collected metal scraps with. He started a scrap yard on New Street off of Union Street sometime after 1900. By 1915 he was wrecking old cars for parts and metals. Trenton Auto Parts was born around this time. Meyer sold used auto parts along with scrap metal. The business eventually went to my father Samuel and my Uncle Jacob called Jack. Jack was the elder born in 1904 and my father the youngest of seven brothers born in 1913 and one sister. The Brothers were Albert the oldest and owner of a pool hall, Simon who started his own scrap metal business, Joseph known as Jumbo was a bootlegger in the 1920s era and then a bookie. (Editors note:   Stanley tells me it's OK to let you all know that he still has Uncle Joe's gun.   "It is a 32 caliber Colt commonly known as a Saturday night special."   He had a luncheonette on Market Street. Edward married into a Maine lumber family and built up a very successful building supply business in Waterville Maine. Solomon was called Spotty because he had a white spot in his hair before he went bald. He and his wife Estelle owned Kalen’s Fine Arts, a Framing and Art studio, a Trenton landmark,   Ester was the Sister.

Here are all the brothers and sisters minus Albert, who had died of diabetes.
From left to right. Sam, Sol, Joe, Ester, Jack, Si and Ed 

Trenton Auto Parts was taken over by my father and Jack after Meyer died in 1950. Both of them entered the business at a young age. My father at 16 and Jack around the same age. The business did well in the 1920s. Both my father Sam and Jack learned how to rebuild parts. How they did this I never figured out. Jack specialized in transmissions and rears. He could fix any kind. Sam rebuilt carburetors generators alternators and other small parts.

During the thirties they almost starved in the great Depression. My father used to tell stories of how they ate spaghetti every day and were lucky to get it. WWII led to boom years with scrap metal bringing big prices and with no cars being manufactured, the parts business boomed. From that time on the business did well.

Sam Saperstein at the Civil War Monument in Cadwalder Park Trenton. 1940.
The cannons were still there when I was a kid and we played on them many
times. They were 12 pounders-Napoleon style. The carriages rotted away and
the barrels are now in the National Guard museum in Lawrenceville NJ

 My father opened Five Points Auto Parts on Warren St. but it was destroyed in a fire in 1957. In the sixties the Urban Renewal Project of Trenton took the business on New Street which by that time was half the block and part of the alley that ran perpendicular to New Street.

 Left to right:  Bob Saperstein, Stan Saperstein (the author), and his father, Jack Saperstein 1961

 The Saperstein Brothers;  Top: Jack, Joe, Sam Bottom: Si, Sol "Spotty"
I spent the summer of 1966 helping move the business to Southard Street where it remained until it closed with Jacks death at age 86 in 1990. My father had been disabled by a stroke a few years before. He died at the age of 79. The business at that time was the oldest auto parts store in Trenton.

When I was old enough to go the Yard short for Scrap Yard and get filthy playing among the old wrecks I was in heaven.  My cousin Jean Finkle, Jack’s Daughter, said she did the same thing. She is about 15 years older than me. Jack had four daughters.
Jack and my father were business opposites Jack was a no nonsense business man and my father would give the store away. Between the two they tempered each other. Jack was very generous to the family. He would do anything for his daughters and treated my brother and I like sons. He took me fishing many times  ( see photo) and when my brother Bob showed an interest in pool Jack took him under his wing. Jack played pool on a pro level learning in his brothers Al’s pool hall. Jack was also a antique glass collector. My father was a table tennis champion and taught my brother who to this day is a national ranked player. He also coached all our sports teams at the JCC and was voted Man of the Year.

Bob and Stanely Saperstein-Akiba Team Basketball-JCC Photo-1957-1958

My Uncle Spotty took over Kalen’s Fine Arts with his wife Estela when her parents passed on. The store was on South Broad Street. They sold high end art and did much of Trenton’s framing. They expanded the store to Princeton at Palmer Square and to Morrisville. As Trenton deteriorated they closed the Trenton store. They closed the Princeton location as they got older and ended up with the Morrisville store just before they retired. My brother learned framing from  Spotty and I learned to restore Gesso frames.

Thank you Stanley for taking the time and effort to write this family history and find these pictures.      Stanley also reports, "I am encouraging my brother –in-law do a similar article on the Popkin Brother Fruit and produce business. His grandfather started it and his father and uncle continued it. On his mother’s side his grandfather had a grocery store and were  involved in the Workmen’s Circle."  I hope this entry has also inspired others to sit down, right what you know about your family and share it with your family and with us.  

1 comment:

  1. I worked for Mr. Saperstein at Kalens Fine Arts while going to college at MCCC. It was there I learned the art of restoring old paintings, framing & matting. Quite the education that was.