This story has sat on my back burner for several years, ever since I started the Buzz & Pee Wee Butchie & Me series in December of 2000. In fact I didn't know if I was ever going to write about it. The story resurfaced however when my nephew Jerry sent me this photo this past August of 2003. It was taken 44 years ago in August of 1959, (five years before he was born). Fresh out of Vinny Orlando's barber shop and sporting a new jacket from The Bee Hive ...I was less than a month away from entering the 8th grade and Butchie who got a new jacket too from Swezey's department store, was going into the 10th.
The photo got me thinking about that day and digging up some other memories too. Back in 2000 Kenny Vitellaro spent some time in the Center Moriches Library on my behalf digging up the Knapp Mansion Fire Story out of their microfilm. We all know what trouble he started with that! Well he sent me some other stuff too, that he ran across. Inadvertently there was a news item and photo on a page he sent that I never saw before. But as soon as I saw the photo, knew what the story was about and flashed back to the day above. Even if I had read it at that time it appeared in the Moriches Tribune,(March of 1959) I would of never knew it was going to lead to what would happen to us in August that year. And no it wasn't a plaque for winning the Shirley Regatta with the Little Chief....
But before I loose you totally, or you start clicking on the links and wandering off ....let me start at the beginning.
It was a Friday evening in early April of 1959 in Mastic Beach. My father was out somewhere, he may of been working overtime. Our phone rang and Mom took the call. From what I could hear of one side of the conversation I could tell it was from a stranger, but I could also tell it was pretty important because she kept saying "Oh My God!" and "He Never Said A Word About It"
After about twenty minutes she hung up and said "Your never going to believe what your father did." I was still about 30 days from hitting 12, so I was pretty wide open to believe. She told me the story and just as it was getting pretty unbelievable, Pop came in and we got the whole story straight from the horses mouth.
The call was from a fellow in Bellport named Charles Pilger and he started out by asking Mom if this was the home of a Walter Joseph who worked for the New York Telephone Co. ........
When Pop came in Mom started out with "A Charlie Pilger just called and told me what happened last month....... Pop said, 'Oh...... how is he doing?' "He's ok.... his son is doing fair too. They have been looking for you for weeks" Butchie came in around that time too and here is the story the way I remember Pop telling us what happened that morning in March, along with my observations of it some 44 years later.
Spring of 1959 : The family was down to one car at the time and that has a whole lot to do with how this all happened. The car still running was our four year old 1955 Volkswagon Convertible. That had become Mom's car. She was working part time then as a nanny for William Floyd teacher Mrs. Nelson who lived just around the corner, but sometimes she had to run Mrs Nelson's son Steven who was in the first grade to and from school. Just down the block from Mrs. Nelson's house, an old Knapp converted barn, the Knapp Mansion was still a very visible pile of rubble.
Pop's machine, a 1950 Ford Country Squire had a burned out rear end and was just sitting in our driveway before the junky towed it away. We had owned the big nine passenger woodie for several years and I recall the last couple of months with it, a loud hum coming from behind the third seat. Both cars would be replaced in the merry month of May with what was my favorite, a mint condition, Arctic white'58 Ford Fairlane 500. Anyway Mom had taken Pop to the train station and just as he was just about to board the 7: 05 to Patchogue, he ran into our neighbor and co worker of his Larry Hauser. Larry's daughter Betty Ann was taking the train someplace.The Hausers only lived one very short block away from us on the corner of Beaver Drive and Elm Road. It was that meeting that led to what happened next.
POP: Well Larry Hauser said to me "Wally why don't you ride in to work with me?" and so I did. When we got into Hegerman we saw it. It had to have just happened and of course we stopped. It was a head on collision and it was bad, real bad. Larry attended to the guys in the Chrysler and I went to the guys in the Ford. The young kid had got the worst of it. He had gone through the windshield head first and when he pulled back he really did some damage. It had opened up one half of his face and his eye was hanging out. I did what I could for him by applying pressure to try and stop the bleeding.
I must of worked on him for about twenty minutes or more and trying to calm his father down who was broken up behind the wheel, but not bleeding too badly. I knew if I stopped working on the kid he would bleed to death. I basically tried to keep the father calm and the boy from reaching up and touching his face which he kept trying to do. Others were gathering around me, but I was concentrating on the kid. Finally I saw Doctor Gelband standing there and I said. GOD....... DOC I'M GLAD YOUR HERE or something like that. He had a look of horror on his face when he saw the kid and said "Your doing fine Wally Your doing just fine" The son of a bitch disappeared back into the crowd. (note Doctor Gelband who had an office on Montauk Highway in Mastic was our alternate family doctor at that time. Doctor Remey in Center Moriches was Mom's first choice)
Well after what seemed like eternity the ambulance showed up. I told the ambulance guys to radio ahead and tell them to have some blood plasma ready as this guy is going to need it badly. Then I walked away and threw up behind a building. Larry and I were late for work that morning.
John Pilger survived and when Charles Pilger who watched in pain as Pop worked on his son, got out of the hospital, he wanted to thank the man who helped them that morning. He got a lead on where Pop might of worked, and showed up at the Patchogue garage of the New York Telephone Company. Pop's foreman Cookie got wind of it and it started to snowball from there. It seems the phone company had a medal for such things. The Theodore Vail (he was the first phone company president) medal that they awarded to their employees who were involved in life saving activities. At the time they were also sponsor for the weather portion of the Gabe Pressman evening news on NBC.
Well the big PR suits in New York at the phone company decided to really make an event out of it. They wanted to include the Pilger Family and of course had to wait till John was well enough. By July we knew there was going to be a big day coming up and that we were going to be on the evening news .... live television....in front of millions......YIKES.....Butchie and me were pretty jazzed about that as was Mom. Pop was kind of taking it in stride, but he too seemed to talk about it more. But then again he initially had never said a word to anyone...it was Larry Hauser who told Cookie when Charles Pilger first started inquiring around the garage that Wally Joseph was the guy he was looking for. Pop was an installer / repairman so he was out on the road all day.
With all of us appearing on TV, Mom went into overdrive to make sure we looked our best. Two weeks before the big day, it was a trip to Patchogue to get new outfits. I know my jacket came from The Bee Hive and I only got to wear it a few times after that day. When we went to Washington DC the following year with the 8th grade, I was already outgrowing it. Along with the clothes it was time for haircuts and I've told this part of story before along with our various Mastic Beach Orlando's Barber Shop adventures through the years here.
Now on top of all this hub bub there were major changes happening at our house too. We were in the middle of doubling the size of it and the construction was causing its share of excitement, mess and all the little problems that come with it. But when the big day came our folks got to forget about it all for awhile. We left carpenter Tex Lanham and his sidekick Harvey back at the ranch with their hammers and saws. Cookie, I think his last name was Cooksun, picked us up in his '56 two tone, four door Dodge about 8 AM. He and Pop in the front and Mom, Butchie and me in the back. Cookie liked cigars...he liked them far too much and the odor even with the windows down really got to us in the back. For those who were around back then you will recall that a motor trip to New York took a lot longer than it does now. No parkway until you got to the Southern State in Bayshore. And getting to Bayshore was Montauk Highway all the way to Patchogue before you could pick up the Sunrise Highway. We arrived in Manhattan around 11:30. It was a HUGE building somewhere downtown.
We went up to the umpteenth floor and the Pilger family was there. Johns face had a pretty bad scar but he seemed pretty happy to meet all of us and Pop had a brief private chat with the two of them. All sorts of Bell System and NY Telephone Co execs were there too when suddenly they snapped to attention as The President walked in. Not Ike mind you, but their president whose name escapes me now and probably did the day after too. He made the presentation of the Vail Medal, and a check for $1000.00. Then someone from the Red Cross gave Pop the certificate you see him holding in the photo. There were lots of photos taken that day . The photogs were blinding us and cranking their Speed Grafix for all they were worth. We used to have the entire set and I'm glad we still have this one. Also passed around were the accident photos which were not the thing to see because the next thing on the Company Agenda was LUNCH... In the executive dining room.
Looking back at it all now, I would like to know what was going through my fathers mind as he chowed down with his company president, who was probably not even born when he started working for it. Pop started there in 1926 when he was 16. He would continue on until 1976 . He already had 33 years invested when he broke bread with his prez that day. The luncheon lasted till about 1 then we all said our good byes and had a few hours to kill until we were needed at the NBC Studios for the 6 O'clock newscast. Cookie took us sight seeing, which was not a great idea because of his damn cigars and the August humidity. Butch was usually the one to get car sick and Mom sent him up to the front seat as a preventive measure. We went up to Central Park and by then I was getting green around the gills. We stopped at the Tavern On The Green, I had some lemonade and my stomach calmed down a bit but then it was back in the Dodge. We had to report to the studio at 30 Rockefeller Center by 5:30 for make up. Mom got the idea to get there early and we went up to the roof for a little sight seeing. We had been to the top of the Empire State Building a year or two earlier, but on Rockefeller Center you actually were outside on the roof...holy cow it was high. Then we headed down to the Rainbow Room for a very early dinner. It was a mighty fancy place with a strolling violinist. I can't recall what I had, as I was not very hungry, but I remember Butchie had Pheasant and Wild Rice. Mom said its a good thing the Phone Company picked up the tab or else Pop's $1000.00 check would of taken a major hit. Plus she had plans for it in her remodeled kitchen back in Mastic Beach. I remember Butchie and me going into the mens room and encountering an attendant which was something totally new to us. He offered us some cologne, but we passed. Hey were were a couple of hicks from the sticks.
We finished our dinner then got in the elevator and so did Pat Herndon the TV weatherman. Everyone was cordial and jolly. At the next stop Gabe Pressman got in. He nodded to Pat but didn't say anything else. Pat had an umbrella with him and I wanted to ask him why, because it sure didn't look like rain. Gabe looked just like he did on TV. Pat looked a whole lot taller. When we got to our floor, someone from the station met with us briefly and it looked like they were surprised to see Butchie & Me.
Anyway our folks were taken off to the make up room and Butchie & me were led off to the control room by a page. At first I thought maybe they don't use make up on kids, but it soon became apparaent that the TV debut of Butchie & me was not going to happen this evening. The control room was cool though, kind of like a spaceship. It was up a spiral metal staircase and full of all types of blinking lights and controls.
The lead story on Gabe Pressman's newscast that night was the capture of "The Capeman". He was the infamous Puerto Rican gang leader arrested for a heinous stabbing murder. Paul Simon would very mis guidly turn the Capeman's story into Broadway musical forty years later. It flopped thank goodness, other wise we might be hearing future musicals on Charlie Manson or worse.
The neat thing about being in the control room was, you saw what went on in the studio when the anchor person was not on camera. Not that Gabe did anything spectacular. But he did smoke this HUGE Cigar. He kept it under his desk and would wave off the smoke before they came back to him. Then it was time for the weather. Pat did his forecast with the map and such and the camera panned to an easel with a portrait of the Vail Medal. While they did that. Pat told the story of what had happened with Dad and The Pilgers. While he was talking. we saw the stage hands bring in our folks. They looked as stiff as cigar store Indians except they were mighty pale. Mom was holding her own but Dad looked like he was going to faint. As Pat was winding up his story he said something like "And on behalf of New York Telephone Company we are proud to present Mr. and Mrs Walter C. Joseph." Pat said congratulations and then asked Pop something but Pop's response wasn't audible. It was almost like Jackie Gleason's Honeymooner segment, Chef Of The Future when he and Norton went on TV to sell kitchen gadgets. I really thought he was going to faint. Pat must of sensed it too and he quickly wrapped up the segment. For years that story always brought a huge laugh at the dinner table. The still photo NBC took that we used to have, bore out the stage fright and I wish I knew what happened to it.
It was a long ride home in that Dodge and Cookie kept on puffing away. We had the windows down and the only thing that saved me from throwing up was the light rain that cooled down the August air. I was so beat by the time we got home I think I slept in my clothes. Next day Pop went back to work, Mom framed his awards and Tex and Harvey pounded away with their hammers. As for Butchie and me, we told our friends the basic story you just read.