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'Frankenstein' is not a cowboy movie

During World War II, I lived with my grandparents in the tiny mill town of Salem, New Jersey. As a third-grader, each day after school and on Saturdays, I earned my keep by setting pins in the nearby bowling alley.

In those days back East, bowling alleys used short pins called duckpins and a three-pound ball, little larger than a softball. The game was very popular among elder males during the war, but was later supplanted in popularity by 10 pins.

Pin setting was a somewhat dangerous occupation because even if you were agile, and I learned to be, you could get dinged by flying pins. We pinsetters straddled the low partition between two alleys, working two alleys at a time and collected a nickel from each person per game. On a good night, my take was a dollar. Most I gave to my grandmother, and with some, I bought 25¢ stamps for my war bonds booklet.

On Saturday nights after the bowling alley closed, I always splurged on whatever late movie was playing at the only theater in town. The usual Saturday fare was a cowboy movie (Buck Jones and Hopalong Cassidy were my favorites), a serial such as “Captain Marvel,” and a newsreel — all for a dime.

One Saturday night, I folded myself into a seat in the half empty theater with my box of Jujyfruits at the ready to watch a film called “Frankenstein.” Perceptive me soon discovered that this was not a cowboy film. I saw most of the movie from between fingers only partially covering my eyes. And even though most of the violence by today’s standards was not explicit, my vivid imagination conjured up gore most foul. The monster was horrible.

Real terror awaited me when the film ended. Our house on Wesley Street was five long blocks away and it was already after midnight. Standing beneath the streetlight at the corner of Broadway and New Market Streets at JC Penney, I plotted my route to safety. Like most small towns, Salem had one lone, dim streetlight on each street corner — narrow streets lined on both sides with huge overhanging trees, streets and trees where the monster might be lurking.

Silent, pitch-black streets — dark as Hitler’s soul! Goaded by a vivid imagination, I ran as fast as I could down the middle of New Market to the light at Hires Avenue all the while watching for the monster, then dashed the next block to Carpenter Street. I stopped, panting, watching. Block by block, street light by street light, down the middle of each street, until reaching the corner of New Market and my street, Wesley Street.

Turning left, I sprinted to the light at Walnut, then onto the porch of our house, where I tore open the door, entered and collapsed exhausted on the living room couch. Everyone was already in bed, but now I felt safe from the monster.

H. Bernard Hartman lives in Medford.


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