Growing Up in New Haven

The title of Philip Roth’s 1959 novella Goodbye, Columbus refers to a disc recording awarded to graduating Ohio State seniors evoking songs, cheers, and the nostalgia of bright college years — the weakest among them played on iPhones into their grave. It almost happened to me growing up side by side the Yale campus immersed in Eli popular culture together with the campus sartorial legacy of family business

J. Press —the mixed metaphor of my life. I never chanted Boola Boola, escaping childhood fantasy at Dartmouth. Growing up in a college town New Haven, Hanover, Ithaca, Charlottesville or whatever, stays with you forever.

 In 1940s New Haven, classmates at my public elementary school came from surrounding Irish, Italian and Jewish neighborhoods. I never enjoyed a WASP peer until my parents sent me to New Haven’s historic Hopkins day school for seventh and eighth grade preparation for boarding school years at Loomis Chaffee. I left home for Dartmouth to escape my Dodge City years growing up surrounded by all those Skull and Boners.

Me and my pals were regulars at all the Bulldog athletic events. Heroes included Levi Jackson, former star at Hillhouse High School prior to entering Yale. His father was a dining-room steward at the college. Jackson became the first black football captain in the Ivy League. My father once furnished a birthday treat bringing Jackson with us to the fabled Louis’ Lunch, alleged U.S. home of the hamburger. I was so excited I threw up in the men’s room.

I also worshipped balletic hook-shots of all-American basketball star Tony Lavelli, a scholarship kid from Somerville, Massachusetts who made pocket change playing the accordion at the Loew’s Poli movie palace before the preview, cartoon and newsreel. And not to forget George H.W. “Poppy” Bush, the Yale baseball captain described in a prior column.

Not only sports. My best friend and I howled alongside arrogant Yalies at a Shubert Theatre try-out hysterically booing alcoholic Yale movie star Sonny Tufts when he drunkenly forgot his lines and mangled dance routines in “Ankles Aweigh,” the dreadful burlesque musical. Poor Sonny was immediately replaced but the show still flopped on Broadway.

New Haven stays in my blood more than half a century removed from the old hometown. Especially the memory of Grandpa Press’ funeral service at Temple Mishkan Israel. His longtime pal and fishing companion, Yale Chaplain and Pastor of the Church of Christ at Yale, Sid Lovett, left our family pew gently placing a New Haven pond lily upon my grandfather’s open coffin.

 

Goodbye, Columbus.

 

RICHARD PRESS

12 comments

Just love your stories about Ivy League days, long gone!

Pete Schreier D'59 May 27, 2020

As a fellow Dartmouth 59’, I love these stories of the Ivys back in the day!

Pete May 08, 2020

Always enjoy your memories of Ivy colleges and college days.
Best,
Hugh Graham Harvard ’55, U. Chicago ’59

Hugh C. Graham, Jr. MD May 08, 2020

Mr. Emmaus, kindly permit me dramatic license. Louie’s Lunch both looked like and was the size of a New Haven trolley. I went outside to throw up. Levi Jackson was actually tapped by Berzelius, the first black member of a Yale secret society.

Richard E. Press May 06, 2020

Sir Richard, Dad’s a Bronx High, Cornell Grad, benefit of V-12. Mom and Dad were in the fashion business, Chicago, NYC and LA. Fashion and Ivy sports are in my bones. Went to Kenyon (Yale of Midwest), law school, and a stint at Yale SOM, 2010. Been to all the J. Press stores. Thanks for the memories! .jkr, esq.

Jeffrey Rucker May 05, 2020

That sounds like New Haven. Great town and a nice bit of history.

Mike Devine May 05, 2020

I don’t remember Louie’s lunch (in its original location) having a restroom. It was a tiny space, with a lunch counter for about half a dozen customers, and possibly three two-person booths and some assorted pew-like wall seating, as I recall. Most customers stood in the middle of the lunchroom to pick up their orders. There was a cellar, from which the owner would mysteriously appear through a trap door with the fresh ground meat which he grilled over a gas stove. The revolving toaster was also gas, I think, and toasted Pepperidge Farm white bread. Cheese-Whiz and fresh sliced tomato were standard. The owner’s wife and mother also worked there, the mother serving hot coffee all day long. I have never been to a better lunchroom in my life. To me, it was authentic New Haven!

Robert W. Emmaus May 05, 2020

It is said — maybe Richard can confirm — that when Levi Jackson was asked about becoming the first African American member of Skull and Bones, he responded to the effect that “they never would have taken me if my name had been Jackson Levi ….”

Gerald Brecher May 05, 2020

Thanks for this vivid and affectionate description of growing up in New Haven. Like many of your customers, my memories of New Haven are usually Yale-centric. The last time I encountered an analysis like yours was from your fellow New Haven native Vincent Scully. Although Scully’s speech and bearing seemed aristocratic he made it clear he was “an Irish kid” who grew up in some tough neighborhoods.

Hope this finds you well and safe.

Arthur Greenwald May 05, 2020

Dick. I’m enjoying your writings as a welcome distraction from self quarantine. Hoping you are coping. Bob

Bob Werbel May 05, 2020

Thank you for evoking memories of New Haven. Mayor Dick Lee lived in my grandparents home on Dixwell Ave and often served as a babysitter to my brother and me. later we moved to Hubinger St where I attended Edgewood Grammar, Sheridan Junior High and then James Hillhouse.
Yearly we looked forward to our visit to J. Press where my father took us to dress in grey flannels, blue blazers and white bucks. Even though I went to college at the University of Michigan I`ve never forgotten the memory of the Elm City. Thanks again

Curtis Wells May 05, 2020

I am Yale 77 and lived in Pierson College. I returned to Yale for graduate school. I passed your store daily for many years of my life and still go to your Washington, DC, location when I want a really nice jacket or something in seersucker. Thank you for these stories. They enrich treasured memories. I read them and feel myself standing on the corner of York and Elm, probably in the rain.

Greg Stringfellow May 05, 2020

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