East Camden Memories
Ron Blizard's writings

In August of 2009 Ron Blizard e-mailed in the stories below, concerning people, places and experiences he had as a young man growing up in East Camden in the 1950s and 1960s. After reading them I am sure you will agree with me that it would be a wonderful thing if Ron wrote some more! In the meantime, I am hoping to provide a bit more background on "Tony the Barber" and "Mrs. Molotsky".

Phil Cohen
February 6, 2011

Tony the Barber

I grew up in East Camden during the 1950’s. Unlike the suburbs, most of the essentials were within walking distance of home. One of those places was Tony the Barber's, a storefront on the 2900 block of Westfield Avenue. It had a white barber pole out front with spiraling red and blue ribbons, two chairs, but only one barber. From the time I first needed a haircut and had to sit on the special booster seat placed across the arms of the barber chair, I got my haircuts from Tony. All the men in the neighborhood including my dad did too. In those days a barber shop was a ‘men only’ place.

Tony was a thin man with a thin face and a prominent roman nose. He had dark olive skin that looked perpetually sun tanned, even in the middle of winter. His wavy receding hair was black mixed with flecks of silver-gray and combed straight back. He was also a quiet man and never said much, and worked silently and meticulously, snipping each hair carefully and evenly so that that each hair lay perfectly. Tony had electric clippers, but only used them on the back of necks and for trimming sideburns. He used scissors over comb for the majority of his work. When you left Tony’s, you knew you had a haircut. In the style of the time your hair was closely, almost microscopically cropped, with sidewalls going up that got progressively longer, but the effect was so even and precise that it was a work of art, a labor of love.

As a young lad, going to Tony’s was uncomfortable. First, it was unbearably quiet, almost like being in church. In those days children were to be seen and not heard, especially in Tony’s barber shop. It was an unspoken rule that only men were allowed to speak, and then only in hushed voices. Boys never said a word. It was something we just intuitively knew and understood. The only sound that was to be heard was the snip snip of the scissors and the soft clacking of scissors against comb as Tony lifted each hair and cut it to his exacting standard.

Secondly, you had to wait an interminably long time for any other men and kids in line ahead of you. Tony never rushed or gave you less than the best haircut no matter who you were or how many were waiting. On long afternoons of waiting, occasionally the aroma of garlic and fresh homemade spaghetti sauce would waft in from the kitchen in the back. Tony’s wife was rarely seen or heard, respecting the sanctity of Tony’s workplace, but the aroma from her labors was deliciously inviting.

I was about 10 when I was enticed and fell away into barber shop apostasy. There was another barber shop that opened 3 blocks down Westfield with 4 chairs and no waiting. Better yet, they had an AM radio tuned to WIBG or "wibbage" as it was known, the pop radio station. There was conversation and laughter. The barbers were younger and talkative, but the truth was they didn’t know me, didn’t know my father either, and didn’t care. They used electric clippers over comb, so hair cuts took a lot less time, but the results were never as good, which my mom noticed and complained about. Still, to me it seemed a good tradeoff. I continued to go to the other shop, passing by Tony’s and occasionally looking in as Tony performed his work on his faithful clientele. Our eyes would meet and I would feel that I had betrayed some primal code, like abandoning one’s religion.

Sometime after I graduated from high school for some inexplicable reason, I returned to Tony’s. He ushered me to the chair and draped the sheet around me as if I had never been gone. Men’s hairstyles were different by then and my hair was much longer. Tony didn’t complain. His only terse comment was that what he lost on me, he made up for with my dad, who was bald and only had a little bit of hair around the sides of his head. At the end of this haircut, Tony performed a service that he reserved only for his adult customers, strapping a hand vibrator onto his wrist and rubbing my shoulders. Although I was only a freshman in college, I felt I had passed through a door on my way to manhood. I was now worthy to be accorded this service, now a man among men who had put their shoulders to the wheel.

Within a year or so my parents moved out of Camden and I never saw him again. He probably did not survive age, cigarettes, and the rapid decline of Camden for much longer. I like to think that Tony didn’t have to witness the rise of unisex hairstyle salons in the seventies. There is nothing more detestable to a man than to have one’s hair cut by a woman as she insistently regales you with stories of the difficulties her girlfriend is having.

Tony was one of those men that I didn’t understand or appreciate at the time. Today I would give anything for a haircut by Tony, but barbers with Tony’s character and commitment to his craft are very rare in my generation.

- Ron Blizard
August 2009

"Tony the Barber" was Anthony Farsaci, who passed away in June of 1977. Mr. Farsaci owned and operated his Blue Ridge Barber Shop at 2938 Westfield Avenue as early as 1943, after moving from 2406 Federal Street, where he had done business from the late 1920s through at least 1940.


Mrs. Molotsky

I attended Garfield Elementary School in Camden in the 1950’s. My fourth grade teacher there was Mrs. Molotsky. She was a short dark-haired woman with glasses and a strict demeanor. Though matronly, she had a youthful vigor about her. Opening exercises at the beginning of each school day included a reading of a Psalm out of the Bible. She would read slowly and distinctly, so that we could catch each syllable and appreciate the majestic cadences of the King James Bible. One of her favorites was Psalm 24:

“Lift up your heads, O ye gates;

And be ye lifted up ye everlasting doors;

And the King of Glory shall come in.

Who is the King of Glory?

The Lord strong and mighty,

The Lord mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads O ye gates;

Even lift them up, ye everlasting doors;

And the King of glory shall come in.

Who is the King of glory?

The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.”

We were thus lifted up out of our mundane circumstances and had our imaginative understanding of life enriched. Though we did not understand the words and could not understand the meaning except as fleeting dream-like images, we were given to understand that life consisted of things that transcended the circumstances of our daily existence, that there were things at stake in how we lived our life and in how we achieved whatever we were going to achieve that were more important than what our immediate circumstances were or how we might have felt about things at any given point in time.

The other thing I remember from that time of my life is that my buddy and I were fascinated by WWII and used to draw planes, ships, and battle scenes depicting the things we had seen on TV, like Victory at Sea or Navy Log. One afternoon as Mrs. Molotsky was walking the aisles as we did our class work, she took notice of a Messerschmitt 109 I had drawn on a book cover with a swastika on its tail and invited me to stay after school.

After all the other kids had left, she walked over to my desk and gently asked me if I knew that the Germans had killed millions of Jews during the war. Thus it was that I first learned of the unimaginable evil of the holocaust. As she spoke to me of the horrors and inhumanity I was dumbfounded. It marked a turning point in my understanding of evil in the world, that people with power could be not just illegitimate, but also profoundly and irretrievably evil. I didn’t, of course, fully comprehend that at the time, but the most immediate effect was that I never drew another swastika.

- Ron Blizard
August 2009



One of the facets of city life was the availability of a near-by corner deli or grocery store in every neighborhood. Many of them were dim, dirty, unremarkable places, but one stands out in memory: Brands. It was located on Dudley Street, one block south of Federal. The proprietor, Mr. Brand, was a portly, patient, and kind man who always wore an apron while he worked. I remember as a kid how my buddy and I, in order to scarf up some spending money, scoured the neighborhood for empty bottles to return to collect the deposit. We showed up at Brands with a wagon load. Mr. Brand frowned at us at first, but then paid us for every bottle, even though many were from bottlers and companies he did not do business with. It was a bonanza we never tried again.

I attended Woodrow Wilson from ’65 to ‘68, and Brands was a welcome respite from the school cafeteria. I don’t think anyone could produce food more loveless and forlorn than what they served up in the cafeteria. Who knows what horrors it had undergone in production, transportation, or preparation, or what payoffs suppliers had made in order to keep delivering the wretched stuff. 

Brand’s was conveniently located just one block from school and was always crowded at lunchtime. All the usual high school social games were played out as guys stoked their egos, girls casually flirted or subtly tried to get noticed, complaints about teachers and homework were shared, jokes and wisecracks rang out, and furtive, longing glances exchanged. 

Brand’s hoagies were truly remarkable. Always prepared on a fresh roll, they contained thinly sliced cooked salami, never ham, and always provolone cheese, never American singles. The tomato slices were 
thin but always red and ripe. The lettuce and onions were fresh and crisp and thinly sliced. Oregano, salt, and pepper were liberally sprinkled over the contents. And hot pepper relish, which I always requested, gave it even more zest. It all blended together so perfectly. It may be nostalgia, but there are very few hoagies I’ve had since that taste as good or are as satisfying as the ones I got from Brands.

The corner grocery stores have been largely superseded by convenience stores, particularly in the suburbs. It is the character and personality of the proprietors and the uniqueness of each store that sets the progenitors apart from the impersonal convenience chains of today. Convenience stores are always located on main arteries and intersections, never deep within neighborhoods like the stores of my youth. They require the use of an automobile to access. They’re impersonal and they rarely become gathering places for kids in the neighborhood. They’re not places to linger or socialize. I doubt that a future generation will find them worth remembering.

- Ron Blizard
September 2009

Although under different ownership, the corner grocery store that was Brand's for so many years is still in business as of this writing. - PMC

A Boy's Life in East Camden

Growing up in East Camden during the 1950’s was a time unlike any other in my life.   It was a time when the effects of ages past were still present in society.  Women and men still obeyed the norms and assumptions of the Victorian age.  With the exception of the automobile, which was now well entrenched in the consumer culture, the lives of my parents, their neighbors, and the values they lived by would have been readily understood by previous generations.  There was a broad and strong consensus on what was right and what was wrong.  My parents as well as the neighbors around us were all products of the depression, which had left its mark on them in their frugality and their eschewing personal luxuries, even later in life when they could afford it.  

Even though Camden’s economy was long driven by the industrial revolution, as a young boy in the early to mid-fifties, I can remember horses and wagons would occasionally be seen on the streets.  Farmers would show up in mid-summer from that vast agrarian exurb outside Camden, selling fresh vegetables from their wagons and flatbed trucks.  In our neighborhood, a “huckster” named Beaumont was especially esteemed.  He was an individualist, colorful, unselfconscious, like a character actor from an early Hollywood western, a man with an unusual sounding voice and manner of speech.  He had a passion and enthusiasm for the vegetables he grew and his calls announcing his arrival rang through the neighborhood.  His fresh tomatoes and ‘shoe peg’ corn sold from his farm truck were eagerly bought by the neighborhood wives and mothers.  Fresh corn-on-the-cob was a summertime treat.  TV dinners were in their infancy and women prepared their meals from scratch.  

I remember gray-haired old ladies pulling two-wheeled wire baskets on their weekly treks to the Food Fair (on the 2700 block of Federal Street) to buy their groceries for the week.   They all wore sensible (and one would presume comfortable for the time) lace-up shoes, the kind you used to find in a Vermont Country Store catalogue.  Their attire was also something that one used to recognize from a VCS catalogue

 Refrigerators were still called ‘ice boxes’.   Ice deliveries, though rare, were still made for those who could not afford refrigerators.  Coal heating was still used and coal trucks were still seen in the neighborhood making deliveries.  My elementary school – Garfield - was heated with coal shoveled by the ironically named Mr. Shivers.  It was probably some malfunction of that ancient heating system that caused the fire that destroyed the school in January of 1960.  It was a school boy’s dream come true and I had visions of an early start to summer vacation, but within a week we were all transferred to Davis or Vet's for the remainder of the school year.

 Divorce was not unknown in those days, but unlike today, it was the rare exception rather than the rule.  Divorces were viewed as something done by the morally deficient.  People were reserved and kept to themselves, and whatever miseries they suffered, little was said about them.  Certainly as kids we were sheltered from the more shocking forms of human failure and misery, unless, of course, it was within our own families, but even then truth was concealed and secrets kept.  There was more community life, as one can see perusing the pages of this website.  E Pluribus Unum was the rule rather than diversity, and the result was a more cohesive society.

 When I was 5, I met the kid who would become my best buddy for the next 8 years in the back alley that bisected a half block between 30th and Dudley Streets near Federal.  His name was John Fitzgerald, or Fitz as I called him.   He lived on North Dudley, and I on North 30th Street.  The entrance to this alley can be seen just to the right of the tree in the picture below:

Federal Street at Dudley looking west, circa 1957

This picture is part of our world which included Dudley Grange Park which is not shown but lies to the right.  We spent every afternoon after school in that park if it wasn’t raining or cold.  If it snowed, we steel-wooled and then waxed the runners of our flexible flyers with candles and sledded the hill in front of Dudley Grange Library.  Though we weren’t very fast runners when we belly-flopped onto our sleds, we were always the fastest down the hill and went the furthest thanks to this trick I learned from Fitz. 

 The park was our second home.  Early in our boyhood we spent afternoons after school building roads with our Hubley dump trucks, constructing bridges with popsicle sticks.   We pushed our miniature toy cars over the dirt metropolises we built.  We climbed the trees, starting with the low pines and advancing to the maples and tall oaks as we got older.  My buddy could shinny up a tree trunk without any assistance, a skill I was never able to learn. 

 We walked the railroad tracks that ran adjacent to the northeast edge of the park, always being careful to listen for approaching trains, sometimes putting our ears down on the rails to detect the faint sounds of a far off train.  We put pennies on the rails or sometimes nickels if we were feeling extravagant and watched as they were flattened into thin oblong shapes by the passing trains.  Our worst nightmare was what would happen to us if we were caught on the tracks and were not able to get off.    

 The Dudley Grange Library was another great asset.  We spent many afternoons browsing its shelves for any book that looked interesting to us.  My favorites were war stories by Quentin Reynolds and the Hardy Boys series by F.W. Dixon.  We drank the rusty water from the stone water fountain located in the circle next to the library on hot July days.  We roamed and explored every square inch of Dudley Grange, acting out our boyhood fantasies and dreams of glory. 

  During the course of our boyhood, the world around us was changing.  Early on, steam engines moved the freight at Pavonia yard and the line that ran along Dudley Grange Park.  I can remember crossing the 27th Street Bridge when a train simultaneously passed underneath enveloping everything in an impressively thick cloud of steam and smoke.  Within a few short years diesel locomotives replaced them.  In the air overhead propeller driven DC-3’s, DC-6’s, Beech 18’s, and Lockheed Tri-Stars lumbered on their way to the Philadelphia Airport.  The airfield that was once where the Pennsauken Industrial park is located near the Airport circle was closed down by this time, but people still recalled the spectacular crashes that had occurred there during the thirties.  After 1960, jets took over the skies.  I confess to finding the sound of a radial aircraft engine as moving as the sound of a steam engine is to railroad buffs.    

 Kids were rarely driven anywhere.  Fitz and I walked or rode our bikes to get around.  Our bicycles had one speed only, and stopping was accomplished by reverse peddling to engage the coaster brake.  We regularly locked up our rear wheels leaving skid marks on the pavement as our signature.  Fitz named his bike “Pistol Packin’ Mama” and painted that on the center tank.  We must have logged several thousand miles on our bikes before we got our licenses.

 There were two days in our calendar that were pure unalloyed joy:  Christmas, and the last day of school in June.  Those were true holy days to us and were avidly anticipated and looked forward to.

 Occasionally on summer evenings, my buddy’s dad would take us in his black ‘50 Studebaker to the Cooper River Park to sail our sailboats: 

We watched as our little boats plied the great waters of the Cooper River, anxious to eventually retrieve them.  Those were never-ending summer days when twilight seemed to last all evening and we would reluctantly trudge to our beds and instantly fall asleep.

 Fitz remembers being shocked and scared as a boy on a shopping trip to the Food Fair with his mom.  He came face-to-face with a large tarantula unexpectedly hiding among the bananas.  It seemed ready to adapt to life in East Camden and haunt the arachnophobic dreams of little boys.  Not that we were especially afraid of spiders, at least the normal sized ones we found in the neighborhood.  We would capture them in jars, put in some twigs and leaves for habitat and keep them as pets, feeding them ants, fly’s, or other insects.   

 The center of our bliss was the hobby shop located on 2700 block of Federal Street, next to the Food Fair Parking lot.  Everything that we desired and that we deemed necessary for boyhood fulfillment was there: plastic models, electric trains, battery powered boats, Jetex rocket engines, Cox .049 powered model airplanes, and every accessory to go with it.  Oh, the calculus that ran through our souls as we measured our limited resources against the fulfillment of each choice.  Anytime we had money we would spend hours at the hobby shop making a decision on how to spend it.  Eventually we did sample a good portion of everything offered there.  Our bedrooms were filled with plastic ship models and airplane models suspended from the ceiling.

    Being boys, my buddy and I often invented ways to prank or annoy people.  My older sister was a convenient target.  One day we got an empty medicine bottle and filled it with a sampling from the medicine cabinet, mixing Iodine, Witch Hazel, Mercurochrome, Ipecac, and whatever other nostrums that were kept in medicine cabinets in those days.  We labeled it ‘Love Potion #9’ and put it on my sister’s dresser with a note saying, ‘Boy do you need it!’    

 Throwing snowballs at passing cars and trucks in winter from our hide in the back alley was another such thing.  We favored large tractor trailers because they were easy targets and unlikely to stop.  The sound snowballs made hitting the side of a truck was very satisfying.  If no trucks were available, cars served as more challenging targets for our marksmanship.  Though no actual damage was done, car drivers did occasionally jam on their brakes when we hit them and irately exit their cars in search of whoever launched those snow balls with the intention of doing us great bodily harm.  In those cases we would have to take off and run for our lives.  We would split up and each take a different escape route.  We knew every short cut and hiding place and were never caught.  We would disappear until the danger passed and then reconvene with the shaky glee of having escaped certain death. 

In the summer time, instead of snowballs, we used the rotten pears from Dr. McCarthy’s pear tree [2 North 30th Street- PMC].  We would hide on top of Dr. McCarthy’s garage roof and launch them at passing cars from there.  If we could find any pears without worm holes, we would eat them, no matter how hard and unripe they were.  We were never discovered up there.

One of our continuing quests was to create something that would explode.  Since the State of New Jersey outlawed fireworks or anything else that was fun, we resorted to tearing out the center of caps with our fingernails.  We would spend hours doing this in order to amass enough gunpowder to make one firecracker.  We wrapped the powder tightly in newspaper strip rolled into a tube with a small Jetex fuse stuck in the end.  We then wrapped the tube solidly with thread or string and then coated it with furniture finish to further solidify and seal the tube.  We saved these for special occasions like 4th of July or other times when a sharp explosion would satisfy our fun quotient.

Later on, we discovered that Rexall Drugs sold potassium nitrate in a convenient jar.  We got sulfur from our chemistry sets, a brick of charcoal, and set about mixing and grinding the 3 ingredients together with a mortar and pestle to make our own gunpowder.  The potassium nitrate was not pure enough to be explosive, but it burned brightly, and mixed with iron filings would produce impressive sparkles.  On occasions when our parents weren’t home, we filled the basements of our houses with thick white smoke experimenting with it.  

The world of one’s youth is a magical place.  It is a time when all seems well in the universe, especially on warm languid summer days, when forever seems to exist in the right now.  Even though we had regular air raid drills in elementary school, we were generally untroubled and unconcerned about the world.  The only exception was during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, when it really did seem possible that World War III was at hand and the blinding flash of a nuclear bomb might destroy life as we knew it.  It was the only time that I can remember being afraid of a global catastrophe.  The only thing that quelled the fear is that life continued as usual.  We went to school and none of my classmates seemed afraid or even concerned, so I adopted their nonchalance and carried on as if nothing threatened our existence.   

The Cuban Missile Crisis passed, but then a year later came the Kennedy assassination.  I was in 8th grade at Davis Junior High School and I will never forget the gruff voice of Mr. Showalter coming over the intercom interrupting Miss Jackson’s English class, as he announced the president had been shot and patched in the live news report.  We didn’t know it at the time, but it was the day the Sixties really started.  All the assumptions we had about life and the values that were handed down to us would subsequently be challenged and the convulsions of each new assault on the bedrock truth of generations past would change us in unpredictable ways.  It was the end of innocence.

The world of my youth came to an end.  Fitz and I drifted apart around that time, which was natural since he was 3 years older than me and had discovered girls.   Up until that time, we were soul mates who explored the world of East Camden in the fifties and early sixties.  When we reconnected in the nineties we found that we had both married the women of our dreams, but that we were very different people from what we were then.  He had served in Vietnam and returned a married man.  He also became an excellent amateur photographer whose work can be viewed here: .  We still keep in touch and have a deep and abiding respect and affection for one another.  There is a bond that we don’t share with anyone else.  This recollection is dedicated to him for his friendship and making the world of my youth such a special place.

                                                                                           Ron Blizard
July 2009

Easter, 1956

John Fitzgerald (left)
Ron Blizard




By Ron Blizard
February 2011

One of the most unusual and unique teachers I ever had was at Davis Jr. High School back in the mid-sixties. Mr. Motzer taught 9th grade Latin. He had a long craggy face with thinning hair greased and combed straight back, often badly colored with what his students commonly assumed was black shoe polish. He was undoubtedly Irish-Catholic and a product of the Catholic education system, perhaps the Jesuits. How he got marooned teaching at Davis is a story that is unknown. One wonders if he befell the common trip stones for Irishmen of the bottle or women or both.

He was loud, colorful, passionate, opinionated, intimidating, and a strict disciplinarian. Any male student full of their adolescence he would call to the front of the class with disdain in his voice, saying, "Come here sonny boy" and proceed dress them down in front of the whole class.

In his class he expounded on his principles, the first and foremost was, "Children, your religion comes first". It seemed quaint even back then before the mention or support for any traditional faith in the public schools had not advanced to the crazed politically correct hostility we know today. He usually reaffirmed that principle around holidays, whether Jewish or Christian, as his way of being non-sectarian.

He would shamelessly flirt with Miss Ryan, our gray-haired spinster librarian, calling her "the apple of my eye" whenever she entered the room. She would even beam up a smile on her otherwise dour face at such obsequious and flattering attention. No doubt she was embarrassed but still liked being appreciated by a man, no matter how weird or homely an admirer.

He was no less effusive in his praise of men, calling Dr. Ferren, his proctologist, "One of the nicest men God ever gave breath to". That was the highest praise he could bestow on his fellows. His worst epithet for someone he disapproved of was to call them a "yahoo", that Swiftian denigration that has fallen out of popular language. 

Mr. Motzer tried to instill in his students a sense of integrity. He drilled into us the nominative declensions and verbal conjugations of Latin inflections ("Children, you must get your perfect passive participle"), but the ardors of translating even simple sentences from Latin led to a lot of homework sharing in homeroom. Somehow he found out about it. That morning he closed the door to his classroom and was so overwhelmed with indignation and disappointment that he went into an apoplectic fit and couldn’t even get words out of his mouth. No one who was there will ever forget it.

Despite all his eccentricities, the thing that we all understood was that he cared. His pedagogical methodology was rote memorization and drill. It worked – I can still recite the first two declensions even today. Mr. Motzer is an example of one of my most firmly held convictions: that people are not remembered in this life because of their title or how much money they make, but because of who they are, because of the principles they live by..