A short story about Tenney Park and the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood, told by Stephen Webster.
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Interviewer: This is Carol Griskavich, we are at the Tenney Park Century Celebration, on May 19, 2019. And we are here today with:
Narrator: Steve Webster, W-E-B-S-T-E-R.
Interviewer: Great, so, Steve, tell me, what's your connection to Tenney Park and the Tenney Park neighborhood?
Narrator: Well I grew up at 23 East Johnson Street. And I, lived with my grandmother there, and I've been coming to Tenney Park since the late forties. And I was gonna tell a couple of stories about Tenney Park—
Narrator: and not take a lot of time.
Narrator: What I, what I really used to like about the place was the old warming house. ‘Cuz I started skating down here probably in, maybe in 1950, '51, '49, something like that. And, uh, the old warming house was a wooden structure, and it had a big wooden stove in the middle of it. Right in the center and it was built in a round fashion, and there was a metal restraining, you know, railing around it. And the warming house was such that since it was a wood stove, the fire that came out of it, and the heat that came from the wood stove was terrifically hot. But the back of the shelter was cold; just as cold as it was outside, except for maybe the wind.
And in those days there was no Velcro or anything, so whatever people wore to Tenney Park to skate in, it got soaking wet. ‘Cuz we used to play "Crack the Whip", where we would skate and then throw somebody off and they would fall into the snowbank and then everybody would file on top of them into the snowbank. So when your clothes were soaking wet you would go to the warming house and stand. And you'd stand in front of, if you stood, when you managed to get up to the fire, you would be, just, burning hot from the wood, radiation when it was there, but your backside would be cold. But then you'd turn around and turn your backside, and the steam would just pour off as your clothes evaporated from the snow, and so the warming house just had terrific, terrific amounts of steam all through it. You could see it, you could smell it. And it smelled like, you know, sort of like the gym at the, at the school. But it was a wonderful place with an enormous sense of community where everybody was, you know, knew everybody else and was pushing everybody over and down and stuff. That was one quick story.
And then I, I also use to fish a lot here. And the part of the lagoons which are over by Gorham Street where there's a little gravel path there. That always had hundreds and hundreds of bluegills in it. Now, the bluegills weren't any larger than your fist or smaller than that, but you could go and catch twenty or thirty bluegills in an hour and they weren't keepers, you'd have to catch them and throw them back in again. But I remember dreaming about seeing my bobber on my cork on my fishing pole going up and down, cuz I was catching so many bluegills in that area.
Interviewer: Oh my! So, uh, do you still live in the neighborhood?
Narrator: I live on the north side.
Interviewer: On the north side.
Narrator: Yea, I never lived west of Orchard Street.
Interviewer: Ahh ok, and, so, obviously you've spent a lot of time here, what changes do you see in Tenney Park and the neighborhood?
Narrator: Well, actually, I think Tenney Park has changed very little from when I was a kid. I mean, there are still a lot of people here. They still come here to do the same things, to have parties and to have picnics and to go fishing and to go ice skating. Umm. And I really, uh actually I don't think Tenney Park has changed very much. Maybe we have cultural diversity, which, like we didn't have before, particularly with Asian people. But there was a historic African-American neighborhood downtown that [unintelligible] was near. I went to played at Conklin Park primarily. I mean, Tenney Park was a big park, but I could get down to where Conklin Park was the primary park. I went to Lincoln Elementary School. You know,
[SINGING] "Lincoln School we all love you. We will always try to be true. Beautiful school on Mendota’s shore, each year we love you more and more." [END OF SINGING]
Narrator: [LAUGHING] That’s fantastic!
Interviewer: I think I'll go now, and let somebody else—
Narrator: Thank you so much!
Interviewer: Thanks a lot!
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