Life Lessons from Swampoodle

Life Lessons from Swampoodle

unconditional love, being ready to love, unexpected love

Did you ever hear of Swampoodle? Even if you haven’t, but you are interested in learning from the beauty of a Philadelphia neighborhood in the 1940’s/50’s…keep reading!

Recently, my brother and I found ourselves in a time warp. It was like walking into a neighborhood from the 1940’s or 1950’s.

On a Sunday afternoon, we walked into the Union Hall of the Elevator Constructors in the outskirts of Northeast Philadelphia. We were there to represent my father, who passed away in 2004. We were there for a Swampoodle reunion.

We were the youngest people by several decades. I couldn’t believe how much I learned from my father’s old friends, and from his old stomping grounds

A Generation and Neighborhood Leaving Behind a True Legacy

Swampoodle was a neighborhood in Philadelphia. The nickname came from the Irish immigrants in the area, who apparently thought combining “swamp” and “puddle” was a fine name for a neighborhood.  About five decades after its christening, my father grew up there. Friendship and community abounded. It struck me that the same spirit was lacking in neighborhoods today. We’re used to going to reunions, but neighborhood reunions?

Fifty years after they grew up in Swampoodle, these people still saw each other as family. We heard stories about Dad we had never heard, saw pictures we had never seen and even learned his nickname: Sharky. Apparently, he was the best card player Swampoodle had ever seen.

Many Swampoodlians  went out of their way to connect with us, encourage us about our father and impart heartfelt insights and stories. They wanted to make us young bucks feel welcomed, and did a good job of it. As I watched them jitterbug, I could only smile about the sweet happiness that filled the room. To them, life was fresh and new, and, although in reality my father’s old neighbors might now be considered elderly, they were still children.

Swampoodle was a special neighborhood from a special time. Children played games kids wouldn’t even know how to play today, like stick ball, wire ball and pinochle. They would spend countless hours each day at “their special neighborhood corner”. It was the hang out. Period. Furthermore, young kids could walk into center city Philadelphia at any time and parent’s would not worry. They just needed to be home by dinner to avoid a spanking from Pops.

A Different Time

My father’s generation from Swampoodle grew up before every house had a television. They got married before living together.  For them, time-sharing meant togetherness, not computers or condominiums.

They were born before before penicillin, before polio shots, frozen foods, Xerox, plastic, contact lenses, and Frisbees and birth control pills. They were before radar guns, credit cards, atom splitting, laser beams, and ballpoint pens. They were before pantyhose, dishwashers, clothes dryers, electric blankets, air conditioners, drip-dry clothes, and before man walked on the moon.

They got married first and then lived together (as we should to bring God honor and glory). In their time, closets were for clothes, not something to “come out of”. Bunnies were small rabbits, and rabbits were not Volkswagons. They were before gay rights, computer dating, dual family careers, and commuter marriages. They were before day-care centers, group therapy and nursing homes. They never heard of FM radio, tape decks, electronic typewriters, artificial hearts, word processors, yogurt, and guys wearing earrings. For them, time-sharing meant togetherness, not computers or condominiums. A chip meant a piece of wood. Hardware meant hardware, literally. Software was not even a word yet.

Back then, the term “making out” referred to how well you did on your school exams. McDonald’s and instant coffees were unheard of. They hit the scene at the five and ten cent stores. For a nickel you could ride a street car, make a phone call, buy a Pepsi or enough stamps to mail one letter and two postcards! You could buy a new Chevy coupe for $600…but who could afford one? A pity too, because gas was 11 cents a gallon!

In their day, grass was moved, Coke was a cold drink, and pot was something you used to cook in. Aids were helpers in the principal’s office.  They made do with what they had, and they were survivors to the core!

What Can We Learn

I was able to see my late father in a way I never had before, but more importantly I was challenged to be a part of living out a modern day Swampoodle; to retain the innocence and integrity that were expected from people back then. So what can you learn from them today that could change how you live and love? Perhaps you had parents who grew up at the same time? Feel free to contact me and share your stories or insights with me.

God bless,

Joe

*I help my coaching clients focus on important life lessons like these so they can achieve better balance both personally and professionally. If you’d like to find out more about my life coaching company, Live With Purpose Coaching, feel free to contact me at (717) 283-2377.


  • Jim Conklin

    I am looking for photographs of Corpus Christi Church or school and the surrounding area to use as table placards at my daughter’s wedding.

    Thanks in advance for any direction that anyone out there is Swampoodle history can provide.

    Jim C

  • walt cunniff

    Joe,Two books I would recommend are Just a Philadelphia Boy by William lynch and Growing up in Heaven by Joseph Roddy the former mostl about corpus and the former St.Columba,I have meet people who have told me that they never meant anyone so attached to their old neighborhood.Connie Mack stadium was a centerpiece for Swampoodle .Corpus had a little neighborhood north odf Swampoodle called Paradise .

    • joesharp

      Thanks for the input Walt! I appreciate you sharing it 🙂 – Joe

  • James Jim Kelly

    I was born at home, 2542 N. 19th Street, just over the railroad bridge from Shibe Park. That house is torn down. (Google it.) The whole block needs to be torn down. I spent 2 years at St. Columba School before going to Girard College in September, 1939. I believe our mother knew Joe Roddy’s parents. If so, we visited, walked to, their home often. I didn’t know there was still the enthusiasm for that long gone, handsome Section of Philadelphia.

    • joesharp

      Jim,
      Yes there definitely is still interest. There was a woman in Boston area that recently wrote us and was trying to find out when the reunions were. Here name is Pam Rodgers – saialaw17@yahoo.com. If you didn’t connect with her already and can tell her that would be great!
      Joe Sharp (Robert Sharp’s son)

  • Betty McFadden Hannigan

    I grew up in Swampoodle on Harold Street. Lots of wonderful memories. We did not have to go to college to
    learn about diversity. On our block we had immigrants from Germany, Russia, Ireland, England and Italy. The
    druggist, butcher and tailor were Jewish. I do not recall any interracial fighting. Everyone seemed to get along fine.

    We had two cars on our street owned by the Police Commissioner and a Detective. Everyone was pretty much
    “in the same boat” so to speak. Yes, it was a great place to live and I would love to hear about any reunion.

    Thanks for your interest in “Heaven”……..

    • joesharp

      Thanks for sharing your story about the wonderful memories of Swampoodle. My dad loved it there as well, and I only wish many neighborhoods were like that today, were people could get along as well as you all did then. Happy Thanksgiving! God bless – Joe

  • Paul DiBenedetto

    My name is Paul DiBenedetto and I live in Swampoodle. I was born and raised on the 2800 block of North 20th Street. If you see the old aerial view of Shibe Park from the northeast corner (dead center field) my parent’s house and my grandmother’s house, side by side, are the last two house roofs you see in the lower edge of the picture, about a third of the way from the right hand side (http://www.philaplace.org/media/4969/) I currently live in what was my grandmother’s house where my father was raised from a young age (he is 79), next door to my parents, in the house I was born and raised in. My grandmother was raised from a young age right down the street in the 2000 block of West Indiana Avenue. Her maiden name was Fortunato. My grandfather DiBenedetto was also raised in the neighborhood but I don’t remember exactly where. The neighborhood was filled with relatives on both sides until the 60’s when so many moved away. All told we have roots in the Swampoodle that go back about 100 years. My father is the pastor of the Geiger Memorial Brethren Church at 26th and Lehigh Avenue. It is the church he grew up in since he was 14, and has been the pastor of the church since 1967. We are also connected to the old neighborhood in that at one time or another three generations of DiBenedettos worked for Tastykake. All told my great-grandfather, grandfather, grandmother, and father all worked for Tastykake. My grandfather gave his all for Tastykake in that he lost the fingers on his right hand in an accident at the plant. My generation is the first that hasn’t worked for Tastykake. Thought you might like to know that there is still a presence in the old neighborhood.

    • joesharp

      Thank you for sharing Paul! I was blessed to know more of my father after his death as I met so many during a reunion. Swampoodle was an amazing place. One I would have loved to live at growing up! – Joe