LITTLE BALKANS CHRONICLES — The old neighborhood

J.T. Knoll
Senator Porter Home, 502 W. Kansas, 1915

Here’s another episode of Gary Gleason’s ‘Boyhood Days in Pittsburg.’ As usual, I identify with about all of it - dirt lawn, broken windows, lost balls, wicked neighbors and crab apple wars - even though I grew up in The Republic. — J.T.K.

Our front yard was our playground. A football field in winter, baseball field in summer. My brother and I would play full nine inning games by pitching a tennis ball into the steps fielding the ball off the steps.

Many times we missed the steps hitting the screen tearing the front porch screen out of its frame. It drove Mom and Dad batty. Dad finally replaced the screen with plywood board. We busted those out too.

We played a game of marbles called “pots” in the front yard digging out five potholes in the ground, Mom never complained. The front yard looked like war zone. Our yard was all dirt and sidewalk with torn out screens and marble potholes all over the yard. No grass to mow in the front or back. Mom gave up; keeping a nice yard was futile.

West Kansas Street was purplish brick with cement patches all about. The Fogartys, who owned Fogarty News, were our next door neighbors — three boys, all older. Robert walked with a limp due to a motorcycle accident. I truly believe this is why Mom never allowed me to have a motor scooter. I dreamed of owning a Cushman one day, but Mom said I could hardly play cowboys and Indians without nearly hanging myself. She was right. I probably would have torn myself up.

The widow Ms. Black lived next door — one minute she was handing out candy the next minute yelling at us for playing ball in her yard. We never knew what to expect, but she was very fond of my little sister Carol. There was a special bond between them.

Mrs. Swisher lived behind us across the alley. She was wicked. All the kids in the neighborhood were scared of her. When we hit a ball into her yard, we feared going after it. She kept a lot of our balls, abruptly ending many games.

The Packards lived across the street from the Fogartys. Mr. Packard worked at McNally. They had a new, 1956, sky blue & white, four hole Buick, the envy of the neighborhood. The kids were Diana, Charlie and Jim. Diana was DeAnn's age, Charlie was my age and Jim was Mark’s age.

They had a pear tree and a tree house in their back yard, that’s where we spent most of our days. We were close friends with the Packard kids. I had a crush on Diana. Charlie and I played ball, then hung out in his tree house.

We had a crabapple tree in our backyard, crabapple fights were inevitable, evolving into bitter neighborhood wars. At one point Packards and Fogartys joined forces, ganging up on the rest of the neighborhood. We had some serious engagements. Black and blue marks abounded. Mom threatened a hundred times to chop down the crabapple tree.

The Scariest Place in Pittsburg

Every Halloween I ended up with dozens of popcorn balls in my bag. Mom made four cookie sheets full of popcorn balls every year. I believe all the neighborhood moms got together to make popcorn balls because they all seemed to taste the same after awhile. It was a conspiracy! A guy can only eat so many popcorn balls.

The scariest place in Pittsburg, by far, was just a couple blocks down from our house on West Kansas. It was an abandoned sanatorium. That's right, a huge, three-story, dilapidated, abandoned, yellow brick building with broken out doors and windows. Every kid in the neighborhood was scared to death of this place. There were bloodstained sheets, gurneys, false teeth and wheelchairs, and in there, I swear!

Walking home at night, I would crossover to the other side of the street and run full tilt to get past it. I was so scared, sometimes I would go a block out of the way to avoid it. You just knew crazy people were inside. It was even scary in the daytime when several of us kids got up the nerve to go up on the front porch. We double dared each other to go inside. I did it once. It haunted me for a long time. That’s how I know for a fact there were bloodstained sheets, gurneys, wheelchairs and false teeth in there. Nothing has frightened more than that old sanatorium.

Years later I returned to Pittsburg and drove by the location. The Sanatorium was gone. It may be gone forever but The Old Sanatorium still lingers in my mind.

Later on, I learned it was the beautiful home of a Senator Porter long before it became a sanatorium. Doesn't make me feel any better. Still was the scariest place in Pittsburg.

— Gary Gleason

If you have a remembrance and/or photo to share, send it — along with your name, address and phone number — by email to jtknoll@swbell.net or by land mail to 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, Kansas 66762. You can phone and text photos to 620-704-1309. — J.T. Knoll