Greenpoint, October, 2015

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Serious Ladies of Staten Island - Part VI

Hard to believe, but only in the sixth entry do we come to a serious lady actually born on Staten Island. Lois A. H. Mosley was born in 1926, and lived for her first thirty years in Sandy Ground, the community established by free blacks in the mid-nineteenth century, chronicled by Joseph Mitchell and Minna Cheves Wilkins (Serious Lady #5).

Lois A.H. Mosley in 2008
(Staten Island Advance)
"Even after moving to New Jersey in 1975," Mosley writes, "I still come back to attend church every Sunday, and take part in other community activities during the week. Three generations of my family are buried in the A.M.E. Zion Church graveyard. In my mind Sandy Ground will always remain my true home. I hope you will enjoy reading about the remarkable people who once lived there."

It is due, in great measure, to Mosley's contributions to Sandy Ground Memories, published by the Staten Island Historical Society in 2003, that we know about these remarkable people, as well as the places they lived, worked, and played. Mosley graduated from Tottenville High School and became a dietician, working for most of her career at the notorious Willowbrook School (now site of the College of Staten Island). She moved from Sandy Ground to the Mariners Harbor Houses in 1957, then to New Jersey in 1975, and passed away in 2008.

Rossville A.M.E. Zion Church (Jan. 2014)
While most of the houses and buildings that made up the Sandy Ground community have disappeared, either to fire or redevelopment, a few remain. The incorporation of the original Rossville A.M.E. Zion Church in 1850 is the historical marker for the beginning of the community and remained its centerpiece. The first church was replaced in 1897 with a new one (above), which still operates.

565 & 569 Bloomindale Rd. (Jan. 2014)
More remarkably, one of Mosley's (nee Henry) childhood homes, 569 Bloomingdale Road (on the left), still stands, one of two houses proposed for designation as landmarks in 2011. The Henrys' landlord was Mr. Hunter, the subject of Joseph Mitchell's acclaimed New Yorker article, "Mr. Hunter's Grave." Mosley tells a story of life on Bloomingdale Road (a main thoroughfare of Sandy Ground) before they could afford a "real telephone":
We invented a telephone system of our very own. Between the McDonalds (at 509), the Moores (at 565), and the Henrys (at 569 rear), we had a "Knock, knock" system that was unique. When we had running water installed in the three houses they were all on the same meter. We could turn the faucet off sharply and it knocked. To call a neighbor we each had a code. The number of knocks let you know who should stick their head out the door for a message.

In many ways, Mosley's memoir is like many reminiscences of childhood in bygone days. Other stories, however, bring a sharp reminder (though never bitter in her telling) of the prejudice that Sandy Grounders experienced deep into the twentieth century. Here she describes goings on at Reinhardt's, "a combination ice cream, candy store and saloon," located on the southwest corner of Bloomingddale Road and Sharrott's Road:
It was an amusement park for white folks and it provided much fun for us Sandy Ground kids.... The bold kids, mostly the boys, would go down to Reinhardt's and entertain the picnic folks. They would show off and dance and the people would give them nickels. Sometimes the bolder kids would steal the little red reflectors from the license plates of the patrons' cars. At these picnics and clambakes, the picnickers ate and drank all day long. When evening came we kids became beggars. We would run home and the people would give us the leftover food and clam chowder to take home. We were usually a quiet neighborhood but I do remember the fight that erupted in 1935 between a few Sandy Ground men and some of the [white] patrons at Reinhardt's. A paddy wagon took John Cooper, Lester Moody ("Leaky") and others to jail. 

From Sandy Ground Memories
Reinhardt's, renamed the Sleepy Hollow Inn, was purchased in 1967 by Margaret Sklenar. A member of the Reinhardt family continued to operate the business. Only after he died in 1971 were blacks employed and allowed to eat at a restaurant in the heart of their own community. The building was demolished in 1989. As with much of Sandy Ground, townhouses occupy the site.

Site of Reinhardt's/Sleepy Hollow Inn (Jan. 2014)
To think, within a square mile or so of this quiet end of Staten Island, Jane BowlesDorothy Day, and Lois A.H. Mosley all spent parts of their lives.... Three serious ladies, for sure.

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