Joseph Tisa


JOSEPH TISA was born on the island of Sicily, in Italy, on March 16, 1906, the son of Benedetto and Maria Tisa. Bendetto Tisa came to America the following year, and by 1910 was able to bring his wife and son to America. The Tisas lived Philadelphia up until the 1920s. Sons Domenic, Charles, and John Tisa, were born there. The family lived at 1040 Reese Street in Philadelphia when the Census was taken in 1920. The Tisas subsequently moved to Camden where in 1930 they lived at 214 Benson Street

Joseph Tisa had a bit of a wild streak and had numerous minor brushes with the law. For many years he ran a shoeshine stand on Broadway at Mickle Street, underneath the elevated railroad tracks then known as the "Chinese Wall". Last a resident of Camden, he died in May of 1967.

Brother John Tisa was well known as labor organizer, and late as the owner of Tisa's Pet Shop in Pennsauken NJ. Sister-in-law Antoinette Tisa was well known in Philadelphia, Camden, and South Jersey as an opera singer during a career that ran from the 1940s through the 1960s.

Uncle Joe and Aunt Anne at a family wedding in Camden- 1950's

Photo courtesy of Benedict Tisa

Broadway & Mickle Street
As seen looking Northwest from the Stevens Building, 1936

The elevated railroad track was known as the Chinese Wall. This is where Joseph Tisa had his shoeshine stand.

Joe Tisa Remembered

Uncle Joe was the first born of the Tisa family. Born in Delia, Sicily on March 16, 1906. He came with my grandmother to the US around 1909. \

Due probably to a poor infant diet in Sicily, Uncle Joe was what we today would call "challenged".  Uncontrollable, he would never go to school, was always hanging out on the corners, shooting dice, pitching pennies or bumming nickels, and as the Courier-Post post noted in 1928... sometimes a little resourceful in making a living. 

In the neighborhood, South Camden, he was know as "Joe 15" because he was always going around asking people: "I have 10 cents, give me a nickel to make 15 so I can get a pack of cigarettes". During his life he was a soldier, merchant marine, circus strongman, numbers runner, shoe shine expert and later in life, rode on the back of a garbage truck. But for most of his life he made his living as a shoeshine man and had a two-chair shine stand on Broadway in Camden under the railroad overpass.

It was on this shoeshine stand that he taught me the skill of shining shoes so that I could work in my fatherís barbershop on Berkley Street. As he taught me, first you put in cardboard sock protectors inside the shoe, and then you gave them a quick brushing to remove the dust and dirt, after that you used a cleaner on the shoes that was a special mixture made by my Uncle Joe. That followed by the polish that you put on with a rag wrapped around your two fingers. This was applied in a swirling motion paying particular attention to the toes and heels of the shoes. You then gave the shoe a good brush polishing to bring up the shine. When done you applied the black paint to around the sole and heel of the shoe. This is the part that I liked best for the black paint came from a bottle with a little brush attached to the cap. You finished off with the polish rag, snapping it when you could, to bring out the gloss of the shoe. When the job was finished you tapped the shoe to let the customer know it was finished and to put his other foot on the stand.

When they were growing up, Uncle Joe lived in a small room off the kitchen and part of the screened in back porch on Benson. He always seemed to have a cough and they thought that the coolness of the back porch would be better for his health. But I think that the fact that there were only two bedrooms in the small row house for 6 people was also a reason he slept on the back porch. As he got older he wasnít around much, either he was working in the traveling circus or at sea with the merchant navy. Once he was stranded in Brazil when his ship left without him. Sometimes he would leave the house and go missing for days on end with no one knowing where he was, but he always ended up coming home. He was covered with tattoos from his many voyages, he was like a walking comic book with ships and flags on his chest, stars on his ears. On one arm he had a camel and on the other a hula girl that he could make dance when he flexed his muscle. And for every tattoo, my father said he had a story. My father told me that he liked telling his young brothers stories of his adventures. One that my father told me was that when Uncle Joe was in the merchant navy he told his younger brothers that his job was to swim ahead of the ship to look for sharks.

A big man, Uncle Joe usually weighed more that 300 lbs. He was a heavy smoker and that caused him to have a horrible phlegm filled cough that along with his huge tattooed body seemed to scare the younger members of the family. Later in life he was so big that he slept in a chair and while in that chair he would smoke in his sleep. On my first home leave from the navy I went to visit and brought him a carton of duty free cigarettes. I wore my uniform with my fireman apprentice stripes, when he saw the red strips on my arm he got very upset saying that I was too smart to be working in the "black gang" stoking the boilers as he had had to do. I explained to him that now the red strips were for engineering and electrical and that I didnít shovel coal and that navy ships no longer used coal as fuel. That seemed to satisfy him that I was going on the right path. All throughout his life, he always encouraged me to do the best that I could, get an education and a good job and raise a family, and as he would always say. "Donít be a dummy like me, go to school."

Next door to his shoeshine stand under the Broadway Street rail station overpass was the Metro Donut shop. This was a slip of a store in between the train station and a clothing store. It had one small counter with four or so stools. Its centerpiece, however, was in the front window and was a donut machine. It was a large greasy square-ish machine that had a squirting nozzle that sent an ďoĒ of dough below into the waiting vat of hot oil. A gear-like paddle wheel arrangement would move around the raw donut as it cooked in the hot oil. The best part of watching this was seeing the flipper flip the donut over half way and at the end when it flipped the hot donut into a waiting tray. This is where Uncle Joe met his wife Anne. She was working at the shop but had lost her place to live so Uncle Joe offered to marry her and she could move in with he and my grandmother. She accepted and became Aunt Anne.

When Uncle Joe married he got a job with the city in the sanitation department working on a garbage truck. During the several years that he worked on the truck he filled his house with broken appliances and ceramic statues of animals that he found in the trash. Like a good middle class family he had 2 TVs but only one worked, the other was for show. One winter Uncle Joe fell off the garbage truck and went on disability. We never knew much about Anne and when Uncle Joe died in May 1967, she sold the house and just disappeared.

So there is something about Joe Tisa...

Benedict Tisa
January, 2006

Camden Courier-Post
April 6, 1928

John W. Golden
Edward Wright
Joseph Tisso (Tisa)
Benson Street
Mickle Street
Market Street
North 2ndStreet
South 3rd Street

Uncle Joe and Aunt Anne at a family wedding in Camden- 1950's

Photo courtesy of Benedict Tisa

"Me, Uncle Joe, after he retired from the sanitation department in Camden, Aunt Anne who worked at the Metro Donut Shop, My cousin Ken who is an art professor at the Maryland Institute of Art, and in front my Cousin William who is a gym teacher in Camden. Picture taken in 1959 at my parents house in the Fairview section of Camden."

- Benedict Tisa
January 2006

Photo courtesy of Benedict Tisa

...my Uncle Joe...he was know as "Joe 15" because he was always going around saying "I got 10 cents, who will give me a nickel to make 15 to get a pack of cigarette?". He was always in trouble....  For years he had a shoe shine stand under the train tracks on Broadway.

Benedict Tisa
January 2006

Many thanks to Benedict Tisa for his assistance in creating this page.

BENEDICT TISA is the nephew of John and Joseph Tisa. He has two web-stes of his own that are worth visiting, and has contributed many images the Camden Postcards section of the website.

www.btisa.org www.digital-sistas.org

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