Gerry Gemian

Gerald Gemian was born in New London, Connecticut in August 1922. His parents, who were refugees from the Armenian genocide, had learned the art of silk-weaving in their native Armenia. They eventually decided to move to Paterson, the "Silk City," in 1925. He attended School #2 and Central High School. At the age of ten, Gerry's father and uncle joined the picket lines during the massive 1933 Silk Strike. Gerry remembers standing hand-in-hand with his father on the line as the Police Department arrived on horses and rode through the crowd to disperse the strikers. Gerry learned several valuable lessons from the strike; he explains, "The effect that [the strike] had on me that it was indecent to not provide a decent wage so that the living conditions can not be improved. The other effect it had on me that individually a person couldn't accomplish much, but as a group… you could accomplish a great deal. We learned cooperation and we learned the power of a group as opposed to individuality and also we learned that the power could sway elections in our favor." He also recalls the anger that reverberated throughout the city after the police violently broke up the strike. Gerry's father and uncle lost their jobs when the silk mills shut down during the Great Depression, and the family was forced to go on food relief.

Gerry explains that he would do whatever it took as a child to earn money for the movies, including returning soda bottles for deposits, returning used newspapers, and catching goldfish with his bare hands in the Passaic River to sell to a five-and-ten store. Although times were tough, Gerry still managed to find time to participate in many of Paterson's social activities, including swimming in the "Tubs" under the Great Falls, going out dancing, and attending baseball and football games at Hinchliffe Stadium. Gerry enlisted in the Army and served overseas during World War II, returning to Paterson in late 1945. He became a sub-contractor in the defense industry and worked with Link Aviation on the Apollo Project, meeting with noted astronauts such as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. He currently lives with his wife in Morris County.

 
 

Index of Mr. Gemian's Interview:

00:00-30: Introduction 0:30- Gives birthplace/date as August 1922, New London CT, and describes move to Paterson NJ

01:20- Describes parents birthplace in Armenia and parents' experiences during the Armenian genocide, including his mother's experience as a teenager in the resistance settlement on the Mountain Musa Dugh. Continues to describe his mother's work as a Red Cross nurse during the battle and his parents' dedication to American culture and learning English.

9:30- Describes moving to Paterson to gain work as silkweavers and moving around different neighborhoods, including moving to South Paterson and relocating to Downtown Paterson in 1935.

10:40- Describes working conditions in silk mills at the time.

11:15- Describes large Armenian community in South Paterson at the time. Compares closeness of Armenian community to Italian community and explains ethnic-group segregation in Paterson at the time.

13:15- Explains how father and uncle were involved in 1933 Paterson Silk Strike. Stress that 1933 Strike was inspired by 1913 strike. Explains that he was there at the strike as the police officers ran through on horses, breaking up the strike.

15:45- Explains that prior to strike, father had no involvement in unions; explains that Paterson had no regular unions prior to the strike.

18:00- Describes how nothing changed remarkably after the strike

19:30- Describes experience growing up during the Great Depression, including experiences being on relief

21:30- Describes different activities he would do as a pre-teen and young teenager to earn money, including saving newspapers, scrounging for copper, and catching goldfish in the Passaic River to sell.

24:20- Describes being so poor that was forced to stand outside Libby's Hotdogs and watch and the impact that the Depression has on him to this day. Continues to describe jobs that he held throughout high school.

29:00- Additional comments by Al Marocco (interviewer's grandfather, friend of interviewee).

30:00- Explains that joined army underage to get 3 meals per day but was reported to company commander and discharged.

31:00- Explains social activities, including going to dances 3-4 times a week, activities at Hinchliffe Stadium

32:00- Additional comments by Al Marocco

33:00- Describes being able to go swimming on one occasion in Circle Pool for $0.25 and famous actor/swimmer visiting the city to go to the pool

35:00- Describes flare parades the night before the Eastside-Central game at Hinchliffe Stadium

36:15- Describes Paterson's own radio station- WPAT

36:30- Describes famous people who lived in Paterson, including meeting the boxer Pat Kommisky (?) while hitchhiking and attending the Diamond Gloves boxing tournament at Hinchliffe Stadium

39:40- Describes listening to radio programs in evening

40:30- Describes attractions of nightclubs in nearby New York, including friendship with Frances Wayne, who sang in Woody Herman orchestra

45:00- Explains all the jobs that he held in Paterson growing up and after the family moved to East Paterson after the war.

47:00- Describes moving to California working for Western Electric telecommunications company

49:00- Describes working for Curtis-Wright's flight simulator program as a factory foreman

49:45- Describes working for Singer as an engineering administrator, including working on ballistics missiles and with Link Aviation working as a contractor on the Apollo Program, including experiences meeting astronauts such as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

55:00- Explains that signature was on plaque that was left on moon after the Apollo Mission alongside other subcontractors from Grumman Engineering. Also explains his impression of mission control and the various astronauts that he met.

57:30- Explains working as a sub-contractor at Three Mile Island

58:00- Explains jobs at end of the career, including working on the 95th floor of the World Trade Center and traveling through Venezuela, the UK, and Germany for work

01:00:15- Details moving out of Paterson in 1953

01:01:15- Describes housing shortage in Paterson after the war- explained that people moved to Paterson to take war-related jobs and stayed after, creating a housing shortage for soldiers.

01:03:30- Describes lack of interest in labor movement or working in the mills

01:04:00- Describes his impression of current neighborhood in Paterson

Last updated: June 5, 2019

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