Pat Kramer

Pat Kramer and Darren Boch
Former Mayor Pat Kramer and Superintendent Darren Boch at the Great Falls!

NPS VIP Tim McKenna

Lawrence Francis "Pat" Kramer served as Paterson's mayor for two sets of consecutive terms, 1967-1972 and 1975-1982. Born in 1933 and raised on East 42nd Street between 18th and 18th Avenues, Kramer was the fifth child and first son born to Lawrence and Ann Kramer. Lawrence came to Paterson from Brooklyn and ran a road-construction business. He and Ann, whom he met at a party in Bellville, married in 1923 and lived the rest of their lives in Paterson.

Kramer attended School No. 20 and Central High School, now John F. Kennedy High School. Living only two blocks from Eastside Park, he and his friends always played baseball and football there. He counted among his friends Teddy Rosenberg, Charlie Jacobs, Cordy Gorham, Hugo Munzer, and Charlie Parmelli.

The only time Kramer left Paterson was to attend Clemons University. His father's death pre-empted his studies. He returned to New Jersey and finished his degree at Fairleigh Dickinson University. In 1966, he began to seriously think about deteriorating conditions in Paterson and he wanted to improve them. He ran successfully for mayor on the Republican ticket. Some main goals were to improve education and keep taxes in line.

Then-governor Cahill called him down to Trenton to head up the Commission on Public Affairs. After that, Kramer returned to public office as mayor of Paterson. He and his wife Mary Ellen were instrumental in getting federal recognition of the city's historic district, including President Gerald Ford's visit to dedicate it.

In his oral history interview, Kramer talks further about his love of the city, its features, and its role as the nation's first industrial center.

In a special feature, Kramer provides the riveting story of how Locomotive 299, manufactured in Paterson and purchased to help with the construction of the Panama Canal, came home to the Paterson Museum despite opposition from the Carter administration and logistical problems.

 
 
 

Transcript Part 1

Interviewer: This is Barbara Krasner, oral history intern at the Paterson-Great Falls National Historical Park. Today is Tuesday, August 11, and I am speaking with for mayor of Paterson, Pat Kramer. Good morning, Pat.
Kramer: Good morning, Barbara.
Interviewer: So thanks for your time today.
Kramer: Happy to help with anything that helps that Paterson cause, I'm game.
Interviewer: Good. So I just want to start out with a very broad question: Tell me about your connection to Paterson.
Kramer: Well, when you say "connection," I was born and raised in Paterson, only away for the college years and then came home and started getting concerned with a group of other folks that we felt there was some things that should be happening in Paterson that weren't happening. And the way to do it was to go see what you could do to elect a mayor. I got the short straw. This is now 1966 that we first ran for office. It took off and was successful. And the campaign took office January 1, 1967.
Interviewer: Okay.
Kramer: The political climate of the city, we really got an awful lot of the breaks because it was very ready to make changes. And the result of that something that we were then able to attract some key people. Like pretend modesty it sounds like, but it really isn't. Mayors, they're only as good as the people that they are able to gather around them, any more than any other executive, I think they're running a company. And we were able to attract, I think, some very, very good people in some of those key positions and got Paterson up off our knees and looking in the right direction.
Interviewer: So who were some of those key people?
Kramer: Well, we had people like later to be Judge Dwyer, Arthur Dwyer and Charles Jacobs who ran a department store in town, and they were just tired of what was happening. Larry Ward, Bill Pascarell, who's the Congressman today was a key member in that administration. And we were able to mobilize some things that people were anxious. It was a lot easier to get people excited about what the treasure of Paterson really was, and it's an incredible significance in the history of America, industry being born in Paterson, New Jersey by our predecessors, it wasn't us. But we thought there was a great story to tell there and that it could be fabulously helpful to Paterson at that time and in its future.
Interviewer: So when you say that there were things happening in Paterson that you were concerned about, what were those?
Kramer: Well, we thought that the crime was getting out of hand. Frankly, the cleanliness of the city left a little to be desired at that point, and the typical items referring to the quality of life. The education that was going on in the schools could be improved, people felt I guess, I'm trying not to be somebody that those old damn politicians beat up on everybody who preceded them and everything we did was right. That's just not the case. But I do think that we focused on some of the key issues that people were concerned about at that point in Paterson. Obviously, tax rate to crime, clean streets, quality services that you expect from your city, decent education for their kids, and basic city service that somehow get lost. They end up in campaign talk but do they get people working on them once the victory of that campaign has been attained?
Interviewer: Okay and were you in office for three years the first time?
Kramer: In those days there were three-year terms, yes. And then I was re-elected for another term as well. Then I was asked by Governor Cahill to join his cabinet as Commissioner of Community Affairs which I did. And after that term was finished, I went back and ran for mayor again, was elected and then elected another time. But by that time, frankly, the Kramer kids are starting to get into college and you can't pay for them out of the mayor's office. You got to go to real work. Well, I loved being mayor. Did we do everything right? Of course not. Nobody bats 1000. We had our mistakes, but I like to think we had far more victories. And I think we got Paterson headed in the right direction at that point in time.
Interviewer: So what would you say were the three most significant accomplishments of your time as mayor?
Kramer: Well, I think quality education in schools was a big issue to us that we wanted to see happen, and I like to think we had a great effect there. And the stabilization of taxes because people, what they want are clean, safe streets; quality education for their kids; and all at a price they could afford to pay. And while that's a simple paragraph to recite, if you stop and take it apart, it really puts its finger on what needs to done in a city that was headed in the direction we were headed in. And we've had some folks since then that served in office that were, I'd like to say, very effective as well. Maybe some that weren't, but by and large Paterson elected some good folks after us too. We were able to get the Presidential visit to designate the Falls area and the entire district. That gave credibility to the significance of the history of Paterson. You know, it really did happen here. Uncle Sam does his homework. And you went under the microscope and if you didn't have the appropriate accomplishments for the criteria of those designations, it wouldn't have happened. Well, that represented a lot of quality work from people like Sid Willis who were in charge of those things at that time and helped steer the ship. As I said at the beginning of this conversation, you're going to be as good as the folks you have around you and their capabilities.
Interviewer: All right. So let's back up a little. So when you say that you and your team were able to improve the quality of education, what specifically did you do?
Kramer: Well, I think there it was a matter of making sure that we provided what they needed at the teaching station- class size, focuses on issues of importance for the students, where are they going to colleges when they got out of the Paterson school system? Where are we creating the K-8 level foundations the kids needed? They were good people that made all that happen, not Pat Kramer per se but people that we were able to get to come on board and make changes and then supplying the money to do it which wasn't easy.
Interviewer: Okay.
Kramer: It impacted the budget very quickly. You know, everybody's got grandiose ideas. Why don't we just do this? Well, that's fine, but where does the money come from? It puts a burden on the tax payer. It works as a double-edged sword. It qualifies you positively in one direction but hurts very much in another because they pay the bills.
Interviewer: Right. So how much did you need to rely on state and federal funds?
Kramer: Substantial. We were able to fight for things like revenue sharing that a lot cities were able to take great advantage of. The political realities of folks in Washington don't like revenue sharing because the money is not coming directly from the Congressman or the Senator. They take a vow to get re-elected. But revenue sharing was X dollars to municipalities that showed that they had the need and the qualifications to handle those dollars and turn them into productive programs that existed at that time that were a big help to municipal budgets. But revenue sharing was eventually killed off as the years went by. But in those years they were a big help. And we fought hard and were able to convince the Trenton frankly of changing the urban aid formulas that had been a little prehistoric and weren't good at enabling these large cities to get full effect of those dollars.
Interviewer: And how did the Presidential visit come about?
Kramer: Well, as I started to say I think, some of the folks that worked real hard on that issue that we had this gift in Paterson, the Great Falls, and what it had really meant with the raceways and the ability to attract legitimate industries to town and therefore produced jobs and therefore produced the economy that was needed when… We really recognized that, wait a minute, this jewel is here. We have to take advantage of it quite frankly, and it should be taken advantage of. I think anybody who really understands the history of the United States knows that the magic of America has always been her ability to rise to the crisis when there was a crisis, whether it was World War I or II. Two is a perfect example of it, for instance. The ability for America to produce the equipment that was going to be needed and was needed, well, all that leads back to one place: Paterson, New Jersey. I mean industry was born in Paterson, and America's backbone has always been industry. And that should be a serendipity that works for the city to, yes, recognize what took place and how important it was to America's future and its future today. All born from that falls, its raceways and the ability to attract industries that then of course produce jobs which was the real chemistry because now you got quality jobs for people to build their lives with and at the same time recognize the real challenge was can you have the industrial capability to be a nation that not only stands on its own but quite frankly leads the world.
Interviewer: So when was this visit? Who was President? What was the impact?
Kramer: The revenue sharing was the Nixon years; it seems to me. Yeah, we got it through I think in the Nixon years. You'll have to be patient with me. I'm in the spring time of my senility. And you were asking me to go back to those days. And while I love them and feel strongly that they were important not for our administration, they were important for everyone to know. You know, there's so much to be proud of Paterson. It was tough times, tough opportunities, but the people then they did it. They did it. They made it happen.
Interviewer: So do you remember when that visit was and was Nixon?
Kramer: Oh sure, I think the Presidential visit was President Ford came to Paterson for the designation of National Historic Site. What that did was that caused not only Paterson saying hey, wow, we really do have something special here but it also motivated organizations and groups to hey, wait a minute, you know, folks like the Chamber got involved and the festivals and the functions. And it had a marvelous, contagious effect, I think, on a lot of Patersonians. Wow, we really do have something special here.
Interviewer: Okay and you were involved in getting the park setup, right?
Kramer: Yeah sure. In fairness my wife who is no longer with us, Mary Ellen, was a driving force in recognizing that the area around the Falls had been so neglected and should be brought back to life and cleaned up as a park area etc etc and let people have a good way to go and see the Falls and recognize that magnificent falls that it is. And more than the aesthetics. They should know what that Falls was able to accomplish. It was able to accomplish industry being born in a nation that needed it desperately and obviously has been very successful at it. That's its birth place. Mary Ellen was the driving force there of recognizing that and kept the fire under our feet too to make sure that things that needed to be done for the Falls area were done.
Interviewer: Okay. Can you talk about the riots?
Kramer: Well, they really precede me. You got the wrong mayor. I mean we didn't have anything that could be qualified under those terms. I mean in all truth I think we had a couple of nights where there was some rock throwing, that kind of thing, but we never had any looting. We never had any situations that were out of hand or that Paterson had its share of urban problems. Don't let me be polyannic about it, but the riots took place the administration before us, what everybody calls the riots. And in fairness, they were, the riot is good, but they weren't anything like they were going through in other cities in the country at that time, but that precedes my term in office.
Interviewer: Oh, I thought they happened in '68 in Paterson.
Kramer: '68 Paterson has, how do you explain it? I mean there was some rock throwing and that kind of stuff, but we never had what they were going through in Newark, for instance, or other major cities in the country as well. We were feeling pressure from different communities in the city that say, hey, you know, we've been neglected too long here and stuff. But it is not fair to say that Paterson ever had any riots. I'm not defending the Kramer administration. I'm reporting fact. Did we have sit ins? Sure. We had a sit in that lasted a couple of days sitting in city hall, but it never ran out into the streets, the kind of things we associate with riots, or what we're seeing now in Ferguson. We never had any of that kind of stuff. Newark did, yes, and I don't know it went on for probably eight or nine days there but I shouldn't speak about it because I wasn't really part of it or know it, but Paterson did not. It had community leaders that they wanted change. They wanted things done. They wanted to know they had a participation opportunity within the government, but they didn't preach let's go light some stores on fire and break windows or any of that kind of stuff. We never had any of that.
Interviewer: So let's go back to your growing up in Paterson.
Kramer: Sure.
Interviewer: So when were you born?
Kramer: 1933, February, 1933.
Interviewer: And what were your parents’ names?
Kramer: My mother was Ann. My father was Lawrence.
Interviewer: And were they born…
Kramer: Four sisters. That's why everybody always teases me. You can't have it better than growing up with four older sisters. You know, you could always get a ride. You could always borrow money. Somebody to lie for you. You know, it was great. I had a fabulous childhood. We lived close to East Side Park so of course that was really our built-in playground by and large in Paterson in those days. And then the only time I leave to go to college.
Interviewer: So your parents, were they born here?
Kramer: No, my father was born in Brooklyn. And my mother was born in a little town in upstate New York you never heard of called Newport, New York. You have heard of Utica and Herkimer right up in there, little farming towns. Raised on a little farm up there that we couldn't wait for summers that we could up to, my grandmother was still there. Her father was gone, but we waited all year to get to Newport and spend two or three weeks up there. Was just a special treasure growing up.
Interviewer: So what brought your father to Paterson?
Kramer: His father, obviously. He was born in Brooklyn but comes to Paterson at age two. And they were road builders by and large, not just in Paterson but anywhere in that area. I guess it's probably a very good time to be in that business. And they had a quarry that they got the stone out of, in Paterson, by the way, but they weren't building buildings. They were always doing road work in different places, whether it was Kingston, New York or the cities were all growing evidently at that time. It was probably a very good time to be in that business. And then my dad goes into World War I, goes into the service, and comes out a captain and decides that, his thinking as he explained it to me that after a war is a very good time to be in a building supply business because people have been holding up. All the supplies went to war. Nobody was building much of anything during wartime, but when it's over everybody's anxious for construction. The troops are coming home, and they need houses. That kind of stuff. And we were in the building supply business for many years. And when I got out of school I was there. We since sold the business some time ago. I'm trying to think now; it was probably twenty-five years ago. But life was wonderful. I mean we lived in a great town with great things happening. And then it just got kind of old and uncared for in some ways and as I say that's what got some of us folks going that we really ought to, it's not enough to stand in front of city hall and complain. Get a helmet, come down on the field. If you're not going to get in the game, you lose your rights to complain and moan. And with all the traveling I've done, I never saw a statute to a critic, only the people who tried to make a difference.
Interviewer: So let's just keep this focused for the moment on your growing up years.
Kramer: Sure.
Interviewer: So what school did you go to?
Kramer: I went to school number twenty in Paterson. And then graduated from Kennedy High School, but in those days it was not called Kennedy High School. It was called Central High School.
Interviewer: Okay and…
Kramer: And I go to Clemson, South Carolina. But I don't finish Clemson because my father dies. I finish my degree back here. My degree is really from Fairleigh Dickinson, but I had done my earlier years at Clemson.
Interviewer: Okay and were you always living in the same house?
Kramer: No, no, no. The house I grew up when I got married we obviously bought a house on the other side of town and lived there for many, many years.
Interviewer: Okay. Do you have any particular memories of the war years?
Kramer: Oh, sure. During the war years now, let's see, I'm like ten/twelve years, and I remember very vividly the rationing and what it was and nothing mattered but the war. I mean, my God. I remember my father calling us around the radio, there was no TV obviously, and I could not, we've all heard the Roosevelt speech 1,000 times. I could not have told you what was in that speech until I've heard it again and again. The date which will live in infamy. He is explaining to us that Pearl Harbor has been attacked and we're going to war. I have no idea what Roosevelt said. I remember vividly my father sitting us all around the radio because this was important history and we should remember it and hear it. I remember it being a dramatic moment at home, but if you said to, "What did the President say that day?" I would not, only because I've heard it again and again through the years, but I would not have remembered it from that time. You know what I'm saying?
Interviewer: Oh okay.
Kramer: It was really, you know, my father called us all around the radio. You know, my God, this important whatever this is, you know. And so it- I remember gas rationing and I remember because we had trouble getting fuel for the trucks, brick trucks, we were in the brick business by and large and those kind of things were always constant during the war to get it so you could keep your equipment moving. And my mother counting out stamps, food stamps for sugar, things like coffee and that kind of stuff. And that was a big deal. But we had a big enough family to multiply pretty good by, you know?
Interviewer: Yeah, were you involved in any scrap metal?
Kramer: Oh, my God. So was every kid. In front of every school there was a pile of scrap metal. And your job, any kid, and they all did it. They say you can't make people realize what it was really like unless, you know, I mean it was so dramatic. Nothing mattered but the war and the horror that a telegram would come to your neighborhood and everybody knew, oh God, don't let them stop in front of my house, you know. It was just overwhelming and people did it and they suffered through it and did what they had to do. All leading back to a town that started industry in America. Oh, that was a cheap shot, but I did have to get it in. But anyway, that yeah sugar was a big deal and meat was a big deal and gasoline. Oh, but I started to tell you then your mother whatever she cooked she poured whatever grease was left over into an empty coffee can and you brought that to school when it was full. That was a big deal. They needed the grease. That was to make bullets. Probably had nothing whatsoever to do with bullets, but that's what we all believed and were told. So your mother collected the grease which you brought to school. And anybody who had anything metal brought it to school and threw it on the pile and then every once in a while a truck would come and scoop up your whole pile and we'd have to start all over again.
Interviewer: Were there any contests about this?
Kramer: No, I don't remember anything like that. It was just all, you know, and there were no centers. Everybody was on a team. I got to tell you, I remember when, I was in Israel, the army truck would come around the corner and the people on the sidewalk would applaud. "Go get ‘em fella!" they'd holler to them. And I thought, my God, this must be what my country was like 1776, you know, nothing mattered but the war. And meanwhile at that same time, the reason I mention it, kids were standing on street corners burning their draft cards. Well, I thought, my God, I'm jealous of their commitment. And that's the way it was when I was a kid during the war. I mean there was no dissenter. Everything was applause, applause, applause and hoping and praying that everybody you knew would stay alive. And then it would happen. Then somebody in the neighborhood would lose a son. And oh, God! The whole neighborhood was wiped out for a few weeks.
Interviewer: What street did you live on?
Kramer: E 42nd St between 18th and 19th Avenues, right next to McClean Blvd when McClean was a former mayor of Paterson. He built the boulevard so they named it after him.
Interviewer: Oh, and do you recall any of the friends you had and what you did for fun?
Kramer: Oh, sure. Neighborhood friends. We all grew up together and you know, Teddy Rosenberg lived across the street. We've lost him. And his brothers, great family. And then Parmellis. Today everybody teases us because Charlie Parmelli and I, I'm eighty-two years old, Charlie Parmelli and I are three months apart and we've been friends we think since we were like ten or eleven. But I mean that's the way it was. You know, your friends were your friends, and we all grew up together. Other kids that were all a part of that gang—Charlie Jacobs and let's see some of those other kids that lived in that neighborhood that were Gorham and Corty Gorham. I don't know where Corty came from, but we knew him as Corty. And Leo, Hugo Munzer, my God, but it was a great neighborhood to grow up. We all did everything together. When it was baseball season, we were in east side park doing baseball. When it was football season, we were at East Side park playing football. And it was a great city to grow up in. And it was great respect for we saw policemen, showed nothing but respect and that kind of stuff. I don't remember any wise guys. I'm sure there were a few. Maybe we were and didn't know it. I don't know. But it was a great city to grow up in. And that's why I think some of us got to a point where we thought, you know, we didn't like the direction we were going in in terms of the quality of service and quality of life. And so instead of sitting in the stands and bitching about it, we got a helmet and went down on the field.
Interviewer: Okay. I'm going to come back to that in a minute. What did your family do as a unit? You know, did you all go to the park? Did you go to Hinchliffe?
Kramer: No! We certainly went to Hinchliffe, my God. But I remember my father taking me to the see the Paterson Panthers. That was a professional football team owned by I think the McBrides owned the team at the time. And the quarterback, you know anything about football, you'll get a kick out of this. The quarterback for the Paterson Panthers was a guy named Allie Sherman. And Allie Sherman went on to be the head coach of the New York Giants.
Interviewer: Oh.
Kramer: Yeah, yep, yep, yep. But although we always kid about all roads lead back to Paterson. Hinchliffe Stadium, that was a big deal at Hinchliffe Stadium. And the auto racing on Tuesdays and Friday nights in the summer. They raced midget cars. That was a big hit. And of course our high school games were there, you know. I mean that was. Hinchliffe was a very special place. But everybody, you know, in those days so many people lived around that area and they could walk to the stadium. One of the problems today is parking, but they didn't have so many cars then, you know?
Interviewer: Right. Right.
Kramer: But yeah sure, I do remember lots of fun at Hinchliffe Stadium. And as I say, we grew up two blocks from East Side Park. We really grew up in that park. But as a family all that was a big deal. And my father would load up the car maybe like twice during the summer, and we would go to Steeplechase park at Coney Island. And that was a super night. We all, oh my God, Dad's taking us to Coney Island. And he and my mother would drop us off at Steeplechase Park and they would go and have a fine dinner. That kind of stuff. It was fine for them and fine for us. But you can't have it any better growing up with great parents and four older sisters.
Interviewer: Right. Right.
Kramer: You know, it was just spectacular. I've lost three of them now, only one left. But good memories. Nothing but good memories of childhood.
Interviewer: Okay. So what about like Garrett Mountain?
Kramer: Oh, Garrett Mountain. Well, you didn't get to Garrett Mountain until you had a car and a girl you could chase. And Garrett Mountain was just a little, you could go up there, the view you won't believe, Route 80 on a clear day, my God, Manhattan’s clear as bell and of course it looks down on the city of Paterson. And you can stand there and say, oh my, remember this, remember that. Look over here that used to be, look what it is today. St. Joe's Hospital. My God! The size of that place today. And it grew all through the years and always served Paterson. We had three hospitals in those days. We had the Barnet Hospital. We had the General Hospital and St. Joe's. And today really St. Joe's is really the only one left. The General moved up to Wayne and went broke. And St. Joe's bought what was left, and they operate that one now too. But they're a mega hospital and highly respected and big facility. What else was our old Paterson special? I'm trying to think of some of the things we used to do that was popular? Libby’s hot dogs…
Interviewer: What about? Oh yeah, go ahead. Oh yeah, I know Libby's. Yeah.
Kramer: There's Libby's hot dog joint across from the falls. That's an institution in Paterson, been there I think they started that in the early thirties.
Interviewer: Yeah, yeah.
Kramer: And there was another great restaurant, Victor’s and Tree Tavern. They're gone, but they have been replaced. There's other restaurants there. And it's a different menu and a different clientele, no question about it. The changing times.
Interviewer: What about the downtown area? Did you used to go there?
Kramer: Oh yeah, that was a big deal. On Thursday they were open 'til 9 o'clock on Thursday nights. How that all worked, I don't know, but we weren't downtown. My mother went downtown, you know. You had to go when it was time to get some school clothes, last August, we got to get downtown. It was a pain in the tail. You didn’t, oh, come on, Mom. But you did. And the surrounding towns of Paterson was a big shopping hub. The Hawthornes from Prospect Park, the Cliftons, the Totowas, and what happened, of course, is the malls.
Interviewer: Right.
Kramer: And when the malls came and did their thing. Now those stores in Paterson, you go to South Paterson, you can't rent a store. They're all rented. Are there empty stores in Paterson? Yes. Don't let me give you some polyannic answer that everything's wonderful. No, there are sections that, there's some vacant stores, but the main hub of Main St all the way to the Clifton Line, all leased, all rented, all have tenants. Other sections of town, no. I don't want to pretend some magic wand has gone over Paterson in our administration or others that followed. That's just not real and not honest. We have our problems.
Interviewer: Yeah, what would you want today's generation to know about Paterson?
Kramer: That I always used to use a phrase they would tease me about. I'd say, "All I want about that history of Paterson, I don't want it to be some little museumy thing with purple ropes around it." You know, everybody stand by the rope and look over there and think about the good 'ol days. That's an asset that should be a catalyst to making things in that area economically. I mean just think. If you have a major, national park which it now is about to become with the big dedication in August, what should grow up around that, you know, are the typical things that grow up around other national parks whether it's quality restaurants or whether it's stores but the history should be told again and again for generations that aren't here yet. And the responsibility of present generations are to be sure that that gets maintained so it gets passed along because it shouldn't be forgotten, especially when you realize national parks, you know, they crack me up when they talk about the fact that well, it's too expensive for the Department of Interior. Well, wait a minute, folks. The other parks you paid for them 100%. We'll do our share. We'll raise money. We make things happen. But for God's sake, don't treat us like a stepchild. Hinchliffe Stadium and its history with black baseball. When preceding Jackie Robinson, they played baseball at Hinchliffe Stadium. That's real history. Also, I might point out the activities of so many sections of town that should be, not just evolved, but the surrounding areas. Look at those factories, my God, the way they were built. And some of them have been converted to housing. Some of them are still factories. Larry Dobey, everybody knows the name Jackie Robinson because obviously Jackie was the first to crack the outrageousness of no black players in baseball in the major leagues. So they had black leagues. And a guy named Larry Dobey was so good from Paterson, New Jersey, born and raised in Paterson, grew up in Paterson was the second black man to crack the baseball line and the first to crack it in the American League. Jackie was with the Dodgers, a national league team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. You're much too young. We lived and died with them. And the Cleveland Indians was such a big deal. And when the Indians would come to Yankee Stadium to play the Yankees, busloads would go from Paterson because Larry Dobey was going to be playing. And it those were just treasured memories of things that happened in Paterson. There's marvelous opportunities. Lindbergh himself made his deal with Curtiss Wright in Paterson that he would buy the engine for The Spirit of St. Louis on the condition that he himself would pack the bearings. So on the fiftieth anniversary of his flight, we were putting a plaque on that building where he actually came and did pack his bearings and obviously did it right because his engine worked. At that ceremony, there were probably twelve or thirteen old Paterson gentlemen who had been working on the floor when Lindbergh was there, and I think I was scheduled to be there for thirty minutes or something. I must have been there for three hours listening to stories. I couldn't leave. These marvelous guys they talked about him as a person they said he was very, very bright, very quiet, very unassuming but made no, there was no challenge in his mind about how he was going to do it. Yeah, yeah, he was so matter of fact that how I will do it. I just got to get this damn thing onto to the plane that he bought in San Diego for I think I want to say Ryan but be careful I'm not sure I'm right, but I am right about the Curtiss Wright engine from Paterson. And of course, when the Lindbergh plane came back, it came back by ship from Paris. And Paterson went stark-raving crazy because this miracle had happened with this crazy kid. Well these guys said he was no crazy kid. He was a very bright, young man. A bit of a loner. You know, he wasn't well where's the beer, boys? Let's get the party started. That was not Lindbergh. But a bright, young man who knew what he was going to do and knew how he was going to do it. And of course, did it exactly the way he said he would do it—I'll fly to here, from there I'll turn right.
Interviewer: Do you remember what year that was about?
Kramer: '29 I think. 1929 I think he made his flight. I should know that, but I'm pretty sure I'm right. And of course you can imagine what a hero he was when he comes back to Paterson having chosen their engine that did the mighty job of making the first successful trip across the Atlantic. But those were little treats that, oh my God, I'd stumble on it. That's the kind of thing that should be remembered. I mean look what flight is today. What did I read the other day? That the length of the Wright Brothers original flight at Kittyhawk was less distance than tip to tip on a 747's wings.
Interviewer: Wow.
Kramer: It makes it so real, doesn't it?
Interviewer: Yeah.
Kramer: You know, but anyway, Lindbergh came to it and it was so delicious with these five or six guys standing around and "Hey, remember the time? And remember what he said? Remember" and it was so delicious because you were listening on real history, you know, of the plane that went on I think it was taken by train but it was taken across the country for everybody to see. And I mean it was such a big deal, you know. But again, it was always the Paterson connection. Those kinds of things, the submarine that my God, Hitler almost could have destroyed England with his submarines. The submarine was born in Paterson, New Jersey by a school teacher from St. John's High School who was obviously a very fascinating guy. And we have that submarine in the museum. I'm not sure anybody would ever want to take a ride in it. You'd have to be a little bit nuts. You look at the thing, oh my God! You're going to go under the water in that thing? But he made it work. Absolutely.
Interviewer: Wow. Did you grow up with any kind of ethnic heritage?
Kramer: Probably a huge break. Our neighborhood was so mixed that it never was an issue. The kids, do you have enough guys for the game? But we had, wait a minute, the Rosenberg boys would be out of Hebrew school in twenty minutes. We can get the game started. We need two more guys. Or there was the Murphys. All those damn kids were catechism. All right, we got to wait twenty minutes for them. We get the games, you know. But it never was a thing. I can honestly say it was never, you never heard anything one way or another about it, good or bad. It was just we were all kids. We were all, you know, and our parents, everybody looked out for everybody else. If somebody wasn't home and the kids were sitting there because the family got hung up some place, your mother was on the porch hollering, "Hey, get over here. Come on. It's time to eat." You know, it's just the way it was. I mean everybody looked out for everybody else without even being conscious of it.
Interviewer: Did you have a favorite meal?
Kramer: Oh well me, you know, shanty Irish is shanty Irish, you know, anything that said meat and potatoes. Yeah, it was just very, very fortunate. I look at my grandchildren and their neighborhoods, they seem to be what we had but not quite, is that a fair, a terrible sentence, I guess in structure. But yes they had their buddies. Yes, they had their neighborhood. But it didn't seem quite the same to me for some reason, you know. But I guess to them it is. Now when you grew up, let me…
Interviewer: Oh, well, this isn't about me.
Kramer: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah but tell me where did you grow up?
Interviewer: I was born and raised in Kearny.
Kramer: Oh for heaven's sakes, okay, that was a good Lithuanian neighborhood, Kearny.
Interviewer: Well, I'm not Lithuanian but…
Kramer: Right?
Interviewer: Well, most of the heritage is from the British Isles.
Kramer: Oh, is that right? Okay.
Interviewer: Because of the factories.
Kramer: Yep, yep, yep well see, now Paterson showed them how to build the factories and everybody got a job. You walked right into that one. Okay. Anyway you heard Kearny, my God Kearny, God bless Kearny. The other side of the river we called that.
Interviewer: Yeah, so to me downtown was Newark.
Kramer: Yeah, sure. Absolutely, yeah. Well, that was a big deal too if you went to Newark. What was it? Bambergers?
Interviewer: Yeah, Bam's and Orbach's…
Kramer: Yeah, that was the big store…
Interviewer: Hahne's…
Kramer: …in Newark and some of those guys but the companies that were in Newark made their backbone for them, you know what I mean? They had some of those major names.
Interviewer: Yeah, the insurance company.
Kramer: Yeah, and the law firms. And the you know and they fighting the fight, God bless them.
Interviewer: So let's go back to Paterson then. So what can you tell me about your family celebrations? How did you celebrate Christmas, for instance?
Kramer: Oh, right around the dining room table and waiting for my father to get that turkey sliced open. I mean twice a year you had turkey whether you wanted it or not. I happen to love turkey. But so like I cheat and have it lots of times. But Thanksgiving and Christmas were absolutely, big Christmas card you've seen with the family sitting around the table. And Christmas was always a big deal, you know. Can't wait to see what I'm going to get, that kind of thing. And then Christmas Eve was a hectic, hectic time because everything had to get done. The tree had to get decorated. We were not some families that do Christmas trees. They wanted the kids to think Santa brought the tree so they did it that night when they went to bed. That was not at our house. I mean the Christmas tree was a three-day fun project that started early. And then I'll tell you a fun, after Christmas grabbing any of the trees that were in the neighborhood, and as I said, we had a mixed neighborhood so it wasn't like every house had a tree, but whatever trees were there from our mixed neighborhood would be all brought together and set on fire. And oh my God, look at this thing. It really taught the lesson of be careful around Christmas trees. They'll go off like a hand grenade when you put a match to them if they're dried out, you know, and if they've been in the house until the week after. Usually they stayed up for a day or two after New Year's. So the trees would be eight/nine days old by then, in the house where there was heat. So they were little bombs waiting to go off, and they'd go off.
Interviewer: Why would you set them on fire?
Kramer: Oh, that was a fun thing. I mean to burn everybody, you know, on a lot across the street all the Christmas trees would be dumped on the lot and then a couple of fathers would be there so you idiots don't burn yourselves half to death. And but that was a big deal. And of course the whole thing would last a matter of five minutes because they went off so fast. Go in one big poof.
Interviewer: Did you go to church?
Kramer: Oh sure, active at our church was St. Theresa's in Paterson for 1,000 years and born and raised and yep, sure, did all our catechism work there and that kind of thing. And then when you move, your parish moves sort of because you go to the nearest church. And the church functions in those days too were good basketball, competitive CYO stuff was going on, that kind of stuff between the schools. And Paterson had at that point, let me think, you had St. Mary's, St. Joe's, St. John's. I thought there were, I'm missing somebody probably, Lady of Lourdes or something, all had basketball teams in grammar schools. These were all grammar schools. And they would have good competition between them, you know, in the basketball season. And that and I'm trying to think if there was some other things that we, yeah, there was softball too but somehow those grammar schools were not, I don't remember that being softball games. Once you got to high school it was baseball and football and of course we loved it.
Interviewer: Why do you think you stayed in Paterson?
Kramer: I don't know. I guess you liked it, you'd stay. I mean to me it was home is home and I always loved it. And that kind of thing. It was, how do you explain why you stay somewhere? I mean we were always very happy with Paterson. And of course, feeling a special kinship with the former mayor, that kind of thing, I suppose contributes there too. But the bottom line is that it was a great city, I believe, a great city to grow up in, the diversification, the chemistry between us all. Was everything perfect? Did we live in utopia? Of course not! But it was so many things to enjoy as a kid growing up and participate in that I always felt it was- And the exposure to everybody else turned out to be such a gift. You know, we'd go into the Parmelli house where Mrs. Parmelli was cooking something that smelled absolutely fabulous. I never smelled that in my house, you know, that kind of thing. And then the Rosenbergs across the street. And Mrs. Rosenberg would be cooking something spectacular. Wow, boy, it smells good! There was that kind of experience. And it didn't matter to anybody. It was just the way it was. We were all doing the same things at the same time pretty much and fighting away. And then the first time you lose those kids to college because you all went in different directions. For some reason Syracuse was a big draw. A lot of Paterson kids went onto Syracuse for some reason. And then I was always impressed, even in the Kramer years in the mayor's office, it was one to see what schools our graduates were going to. And I tell you, it was always very, very impressive in those days. I mean some of those schools that these kids were going to said, "Well, somebody's given them a damn good education." If they're going to [?] and Harvard and Yale and Princeton and good God. Of course, those days you could afford it. How the hell does anybody send their kids to college today? In my day you had to come up with $10,000 to get Jimmy through another year at Villanova but today I say to my kids, how in the hell do you educate your kids? You got to rob banks. And they talk about $45,000 a year like you and I talk about who's buying a lunch.
Interviewer: Yeah, at least forty-five.
Kramer: Yeah, I picked a cheap one! But then it repeats. And now the second shadow comes along. And so they hand them a degree and a debt for $250,000 and no job. But wait a minute though, you do remember the marvelous story of the top doctor who had trouble with his commode so he called the plumber in and in ten minutes the plumber fixed it and said, "That will be $150." And he said, the doctor said, "My God, I'm a top surgeon. You were there ten minutes. I don't make that kind of money in ten minutes." And the plumber said, "Well, to tell you the truth, Doc, when I was a doctor I didn't make it either." Right? Sad but true. But anyway. Okay what else can I help you with, anything? What you're doing is marvelous. Please just give our Paterson a break, not the worn out politicians. They don't need any help. We're back in the barn and being dried off but the truth of the matter is do something nice for my Paterson.
Interviewer: Well, that's why we're collecting these histories.
Kramer: Yeah, okay.
Interviewer: Yeah, it's important to do. And so I had a question about when you were concerned about the direction Paterson was moving toward, what made you run for mayor as opposed to let's say starting with councilman?
Kramer: Yeah, well, first of all, in those days you didn't have councilmen. You had an office that had very, very little power. One thing about Paterson is that, at that point, had what they call a strong mayor form of government. The mayor would appoint the boards, people that did not get paid who were quality people in town who were ready to give their time and their talent. You had the Board of Public Works. Well, that was obviously what they did. And you would get men and women in town who were as respected as possible but were capable of contributing in that area to their time and their talent. And they were called commissioners. And you had police and fire which obviously had jurisdiction over police and fire. And you had the Board of Education, the mayor appointed everybody. It was some time back there had been some kind of a problem and they alderman, that's the word I'm reaching for, they were alderman. But they had very, very, very little power. I don't know. They had a dog license or something. And you had all of the major responsibilities of government had a board: a finance board, a board of public works, a police and fire board, a board of education, a board of recreation. And you tried to get people that were interested and would give their time and their talent. Nobody ever got paid. They just worked it. And that form of government was taken to court and found that it really, the power in the mayor's office should in fact have a better system. So they had a charter study which ended up by choosing Faulkner Act D. And Faulkner Act D created the mayor and the council, council six representatives represented each of the wards and three at large, meaning they ran in the whole city. And that became the new government for the city of Paterson. Plus in the sense that you got better representation in the neighborhoods because you had somebody who represents that ward really should know that ward, what its problems are. But the negative is that you took some powers away from the mayor's office when the mayor was responsible and frankly then too it was really a report card. Because if you didn't do the job, you weren't getting reelected because you had all the power. And I had it under both systems. I was the mayor under the old form which was absolutely delicious. I mean, you know. But wouldn’t you love being the mayor when you have the responsibility to get it done. When the council concept came along and we created the Faulkner Act D system for Paterson, big pluses in the sense of representation in neighborhoods or from a ward. But at the same time, you can run into the situation where you can have too many members of the council who really think that they ought to be the mayor. And not necessarily making decisions based on what's the right thing to this issue, but what's the right thing for me to make a problem for the mayor or make myself look better. I know I shouldn't really be saying this but you know, practical politics is practical politics. And the old joke is that, yes, we have one mayor with the responsibility and nine who think they ought to be.
Interviewer: Yeah, so what ticket did you run on?
Kramer: Republican ticket. They were so happy to have a guy that had a clean shirt, spoke English, who asked for the nomination, nobody wanted it. But I made it sound, it wasn't all Kramer, believe me. And I'm not being immodest. The bottom line is I was in the right spot at the right time and was able to get an awful lot of good people in those original campaigns. I mean it still came down to practical politics too. You got to recognize that. And we didn't have any magic wands, but we did, I believe, an honest, good heart and we were looking to do the right thing. And that, you know, at that point the differences in democratic votes, if all the republicans had voted for Kramer and all the democrats had voted for my opponent, there's no way I would have won. You know, you just, but again, right spot, right time. And you got to have the courage to do it or foolishness enough to do it.
Interviewer: So what were the exact years you were mayor?
Kramer: It starts in 1967, and I served two terms so it's six years later and I go into the Cahill cabinet and he is defeated running for re-election as governor. And I come back and run for mayor and serve two more terms. And as I say at that point, the Kramer kids are starting to get into college, and I had to go back to work.
Interviewer: So when did you come back after the Cahill cabinet?
Kramer: Right then. It was an election year.
Interviewer: Right, do you remember the year?
Kramer: Yeah, that would have been, well, let's see. I go to- Let me get it right. Five on top of sixty-seven would be what?
Interviewer: Seventy-two.
Kramer: Seventy-twoish?
Interviewer: Yeah.
Kramer: So it would be '72 then that I come back. And then I served that term and then one more. And as I said, okay.
Interviewer: Okay but wait a minute, this math isn't working out. So if you started as mayor in '67 and you served two terms, that brings you to 1973.
Kramer: Right. No, no, it's five years. It was three and two because I don't serve my lame duck term. That's when I go to Trenton. That lame duck year. In other words, I served five years, go to Trenton, come back and serve two more terms.
Interviewer: Okay. What does lame duck year mean?
Kramer: Lame duck year means that you are not running for re-election. Everybody knows it. So it's damn tough to get anything done because you are a lame duck.
Interviewer: Oh okay, and so how long were you in Cahill's cabinet? Not very long?
Kramer: Well, two and a half years or whatever it was that left in his term. I don't go it with it when he first gets there. I worked like hell to get him elected, help him, I don't get him elected but I help him. And then he calls me and says, "Listen, I'm not happy with what's going on in community affairs. I'd like you to, and you're coming up on your lame duck year anyway. Why don't you consider coming down here?" And I did, and it was a great experience. But I did miss being mayor because I loved it.
Interviewer: And then you did another six years as mayor?
Kramer: You got it.
Interviewer: And what did you do after that?
Kramer: I went for governor and lost to Tom Kean in a republican primary, quality guy, by the way. And then as a I say, at that point, finances are becoming an issue and I go back to the family business. And then a guy comes in and says, "Let me buy the business and you become Executive Vice President of mine." And it's thirty-five years later.
Interviewer: Okay.
Kramer: Which would bring me to my age which would then be about forty-one. I tell everybody it's forty-one for the second time.
Interviewer: How did your parents meet?
Kramer: Oh, my mother was a school teacher and from that little farming town where there were no jobs so she and a girlfriend who was also a teacher heard there were jobs in Belleville, New Jersey so they came down to Belleville to get the teaching jobs which they obviously did. And I don't know, went to a party or something. I honestly can't tell you that detail but how she meets my father, I don't know. But they get married and live in Paterson their whole lives. As I say, my father came out of the war. He was a captain coming out of World War I and then goes into the building supply business.
Interviewer: Right. And do you know when they got married? What year?
Kramer: Tough questions.
Interviewer: Or when your eldest sister was born?
Kramer: Well, let's see, we can work backwards to their ages. If I was sixty-two then Carol would be three years older and is no longer with us but sixty-two and thee is sixty-five. And then three years above that would be sixty-eight. And then the twins were born three years, I think the twins were born in like 1929. Oh no, got to be earlier than that because I'm born in '33 and you got to keep going three years back, three years back, three years back. So where are you? Nine years back.
Interviewer: Okay so that's '27.
Kramer: Nine years back from '33 the twins would have been born. And they would have been married the year before that because I remember my father saying, "Uncle Sam came after me," because he filed his income tax one year and had one dependent, himself. And a year later he has a wife and twins so he files for four. And Uncle Sam says, how can you have four and a year later, what's going on here? It's very simple. You get married and a year later you have twins. And all of sudden there's four people instead of one. And so that would have been, let's see, if they were nine years younger than I, I was born in '33 so take nine off thirty-three and get to you what? Twenty-four or something. So they would have been married in '23 if I got that right. Those are tough questions.
Interviewer: And how did you and Mary Ellen meet?
Kramer: We were both in the same parish, our families were for years. And I see her and then she was in graduate school in Washington, and my father was in Washington in a hospital. And I think I said, "Hey, listen, I'm coming to Washington next weekend. How about I call you and we have dinner?" And you know, it leads to be.
Interviewer: Yeah. That's cool.
Kramer: All right. So that was it. And as I said, the key guys Larry Ward, George Tuttle, Bill Pascarell, Art Dwyer, Charlie Jacobs, Harry Zax. You heard the name Leonard Zax kicked around?
Interviewer: No.
Kramer: Leonard was really the key guy on the driving force on the historic district vis a vis Washington, a very successful attorney, born and raised in Paterson.
Interviewer: How do you spell the last name?
Kramer: Z-A-X.
Interviewer: Z-A-X.
Kramer: And Leonard is a budding attorney who fortunately cares greatly about the historic district and gives him time and his talent and heads up Hamilton Partnership. And he is, it was his father who said to me one day, "Hey, you know something kiddo? If you'd run for office, I think we could take this thing over and make some changes around here." So funny how now it's 100 years later. His son is the key guy to the driving force of the historic district and what it could mean to Paterson's future.
Interviewer: So I have your parent's household in the 1930 census.
Kramer: Right.
Interviewer: In front of me so I have…
Kramer: 354 E 42nd St. Oh, at that point they probably lived on Vreeland Ave.
Interviewer: No, no, it's 42nd St. So I have Lawrence and Ann and Mary and Margaret.
Kramer: Mary and Margaret are the twins. Then June, Carol, and Pat.
Interviewer: Ok so Carol and Pat, you haven't been born yet.
Kramer: Right.
Interviewer: But it's interesting because it shows June as being two months old but the twins being six months old which of course is not possible.
Kramer: They were good, but they're not that good.
Interviewer: So that's kind of interesting.
Kramer: Yeah, I know they were married a year, twelve months practically to the day. They were married January 29 of what year it was.
Interviewer: Oh yeah, so I think it says they're six years old so it is around 1924 or so they were born.
Kramer: There you go. Yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: And it also lists a servant.
Kramer: Yeah, Helen.
Interviewer: Helen, yeah.
Kramer: Helen, Helen, Helen, God bless Helen, yep.
Interviewer: So who was she?
Kramer: She was just some gal, I guess, that was hired to help my mother with the forty-seven kids. And in those days there were no washers and dryers, you know, it was all hard work. And my mother didn't teach once they were married. She just was the house wife. And Helen I don't really know much about Helen because she gets married and gallops off at some point there. But when the whole pile of kids arrive in a hurry, Helen was hired I guess to help you know put her all together, take some pressure off my mother.
Interviewer: Yeah, well, I can understand it with twins.
Kramer: Yeah, and then when we were all there. That's a full-time job, you know. Because I remember my mother coming up out of the cellar, we called them cellars, now they're basements, much sexier name. They were cellars in those days. She would come up. I could see her carrying a basket of clothes which she then put on clothes lines. So the washer and dryer didn't exist. Obviously there was some kind of washing machine. I don't know what that damn thing was all about, but the little real physical work was there to do. And then getting meals ready for the troops, get everybody to bed and get them up again and make sure they had their vaccinations. But they were different parents too. They were a different breed than we are. I always say, the things they went through, they went through wars and depressions and good God, you know, feeding five kids in the depression, come on. And then educating everybody. Everybody went to college. Everybody graduated.
Interviewer: And it seems like everyone on this block had a servant.
Kramer: Is that right? Okay.
Interviewer: Yeah, which is interesting.
Kramer: And it was yeah, let's see, we had the Hammers, Dohertys, Rosenberg—two Rosenbergs—Rosenbergs across the street, my buddy Teddy and his brother Arnold, and then down the street there was Bill Rosenberg and his sister Vera. And then who else do we have on that block? We had the Pappagraves and we had the Hammers and we had the Rehmers. And we had…
Interviewer: Yeah, I see the Hammers.
Kramer: The Hammers were wonderful, wonderful people right next door.
Interviewer: And Anderson?
Kramer: Anderson. Well, Anderson's down on, you got to get down, that would now be McClean Blvd. Hannah Krause's Candy Company, the greatest chocolates you have ever eaten in your life. Don't stop there. It will cost you a fortune, and you will not be able to stop eating the chocolate candies. That was the Anderson home. Later to be Hannah Krause Candy.
Interviewer: Interesting.
Kramer: And builder, let me think who else, oh Mischler's was on that block. You must have the Mischler's. Mischler Jewelry Paterson.
Interviewer: Yeah, I'm not showing them on the…
Kramer: It was a sure thing for my snow shoveling. She'd always wait for me. "Oh no, he'll be along." Mrs. Mischler looked out for me. And who else, let's see. Klugers on the next block. Desmonds on the next block. Who else did we have?
Interviewer: Well, in those days you actually knew who your neighbors were.
Kramer: Oh my God, the kids get such a kick out it, the Kramer kids. If I happen to have one of them in the car and we're riding down the street anywhere in the east side section of Paterson and I start knocking off names and they'll go, "Oh, Dad, don't start. We know, we know, we know who lived there." They're not there now, but we knew and you knew, as I say, everybody knew everybody. It was just a whole different world. And I'm sure it was the same thing in your neighborhood in Kearny.
Interviewer: Absolutely. I could name every family.
Kramer: Yeah, exactly. And you could name their dogs.
Interviewer: I can't do that on my block today.
Kramer: No, I know, I know. It's a whole different world. But see what a great childhood it was to have that. I mean it really was special. And if you had a problem, your neighbor grabbed you, "What's the matter, honey?" Yeah, you know, I remember cutting myself and we had a lot of lots, still had some lots around, now they're all homes on those lots. But I remember cutting myself and I'm running home bleeding and Mrs. Dowd grabbed me. "Get in here. You're not going home. Get over here." And she repaired the wound, you know. That's the way it was. It was wonderful.
Interviewer: Well, I reserve the right to come back to you with any further questions.
Kramer: Oh, any time. I enjoyed it. Absolutely. It conjured up some delicious memories. That's for sure. And I hope it helps whatever the cause is, Barb. You're working hard. Just be good to Paterson. You don't have to be good to me, but be good to Paterson.
Interviewer: All right so I'm going to close this out. It's around 10:47 AM.
Kramer: Okay.
Interviewer: Thanks again, Pat, for your time.
Kramer: Any time, Barb. Take care.
Interviewer: Thanks.
Kramer: Bye bye now.
Interviewer: Bye.


Transcript Part 2

Interviewer:

Okay, this is Barbara Krasner, Oral History Intern at the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, and I’m here again with former mayor Pat Kramer to talk about the locomotive from Cuba. So, go ahead, Pat.

Kramer:

So many locomotives were born in Paterson at two or three different locomotive factories. The industry, like so many other industries that were born in Paterson, essentially moved pretty much to Cincinnati for whatever reasons, but they felt that the trains, the locomotives being carted up Market Street each day and put on the tracks were tying things up downtown so they applied pressure and locomotive manufacturers said, you know something, we’re going to go someplace where they’re very enthusiastic about having us and thus it went. But that triggered several to feel as though, you know if we could get one of those back, and I learned that 154 locomotives, just think, one order of those locomotives went to Panama to build the canal. To help build the canal, I should say, and we thought it would be great if we could get one of them back and I learned that there was one still alive and well in Panama and so we began to try to make some negotiations with Panama over bringing home the locomotive. Well, the real break we got was the fact that, the people aren’t aware of it, forgive me for being a little political at this time, but the President of the United States, which was President Carter at the time, was making the arrangements with Cuba [sic – Panama] to turn the canal over to them. People are not aware of it, that the canal, the zone, is really a five-mile strip right across the isthmus and we just thought it would be so appropriate if our museum had one of the locomotives that was born in the that building that had obviously been part of an important project, i.e., the Panama Canal and that if we could find one and bring it home, and we tracked several, but we found this one in Panama had fortunately, quote-unquote, there were enough people on the committee down there that were very upset because nothing was going home with the turnover of the canal. That is to say, the schools, hospitals, construction equipment, the recreation apparatus, whatever, was in the Canal Zone. But the canal people who lived there for several years, Americans that had chosen to stay after they were part of the construction, etc., of the incredible project, had found out that there was a committee that you had to appear in front of and make your pitch. So I got a tip to do it on a Sunday, be sure to get down there Saturday, and then appear on Sunday in front of this group, and make the pitch on why 299 should go home. And we were fortunate enough to get the votes we needed that afternoon and arrangements were made to put 299 on a ship and send it home. The, I say, electibles, but the fact that I’m the only guy I know that rode a train through the Panama Canal, but that’s another story. At any rate, things went to and from the Canal Zone usually left out of New Orleans and so it was on its way to New Orleans and we were getting tremendous pressure from President Carter’s White House. They they were unhappy that this train, this locomotive, I should say, and its tender, had left. They wanted it back and I just, remember the line I used to the White House, which was, “When they turn the canal back to America, we’ll turn 299 back to their museum.” End of story is, and this gets interesting, because their gauge, their railroad gauge, track gauges, were different than ours, so you couldn’t put the locomotive on the track in the United States. It had to sit on a flat car, low as it was, but it fit the track and when we got all that done, it turns out, that we couldn’t send it straight home, because it was on top of this flat car, raising it higher in the air, it would not fit through the Baltimore tunnel. So, 299 had to go out west, it went west, and then it crossed the top of the country and then came down, but there had been so much press on it –the fight between the folks in Panama that wanted it back and the folks in Paterson that wanted it desperately—that there had been an awful lot of publicity across the country. I started getting phone calls from people who said, I was just at a railroad crossing and guess what went past me, so we could track, we could track 299 by folks calling in that had become part of the story to say, “I just saw your locomotive,” and it went out west, across the top of the country and then came back down, and we hid it frankly in the Continental Can Company in Paterson, because they had a track that went in the building, because we didn’t want to say we had it and bring it home and that’s a celebration for another week or so. So we hid it in Continental Can Company and they kept teasing me over there about how many cans they could make out of that locomotive, but anyway, the end of the story is that the issue finally subsided and 299 and her tender sit outside the Paterson Museum now for some, what, I don’t know, 35 years probably.

Interviewer:

So, a few questions. So, what was the involvement of Cuba?

Kramer:

Cuba was not involved at all.

Interviewer:

Okay, because you said, you said Cuba once. I was confused by that.

Kramer:

Well, then I confused you if I said Cuba. You’re in the springtime of my senility, you’ll have to bear. What can I tell you?

Interviewer:

And, why was President Carter upset?

Kramer:

Because he was getting, obviously, pressure from the Panamanians about this locomotive being taken from them and given to, back to Paterson, where it was born.

Interviewer:

Oh.

Kramer:

So he started to play some real hard ball with us and frankly, we just stood, stood our ground until the issue subsided somewhat. When once we got the punchline in with the “We’ll give them back the engine when they give us back the canal,” the issue kind of died.

Interviewer:

And who was supporting you in the United States?

Kramer:

We had, of course, our local Congressman at the time was doing what he could, and we were putting pressure on our senator, we put pressure on everybody, because we couldn’t get the White House to back off and stop, my God, they got everything else. I think, they got the canal, the canal is probably the least of it, and that’s better brains than mine, so if that’s what they thought they had to do, but it was a bit much, with all you were getting to cry about one locomotive was going home.

Interviewer:

And how old was the locomotive?

Kramer:

Let me think, I should know that, but I don’t really recall. Obviously, it was manufactured a year or two before the construction of the canal.

Interviewer:

Okay.

Kramer:

And it was part of an order for, I think, 152 locomotives. When I saw that figure, I was floored, Barbara, because it made you realize how big the ditch was, you’re not allowed to say ditch, they hate that word, but the Big Ditch, as it was called under construction. If you need that many locomotives, how much earth is really being moved?

Interviewer:

Hmm.

Kramer:

But it was, and it’s fact, and there it is, and 299 was one of those hardworking locomotives. I’ve seen some films of the construction underway at the canal at the time and you’ll see a locomotive go by, and I keep desperately trying to make it 299, but I haven’t seen that yet, wherever it was, it wasn’t where this camera was at the time, the numbers have been some other numbers on those engines, but I never saw 299 working in those little films.

Interviewer:

Okay, so 299 is the number of the locomotive…

Kramer:

I’m sorry? Say again?

Interviewer:

299 is the number of the locomotive.

Kramer:

Correct. Every locomotive has a number and it carries it for its life as I understand it, and 299 was one of them that went to Panama and that’s the one that came home and it sits, as we speak, in front of the Paterson Museum, along with its tender.

Interviewer:

Okay.

Kramer:

The crane to lift it was named Hercules. At the time, it was the largest crane in the world, and had to be, because when a ship went down the canal, it had to be lifted out of there, or the canal would be out of business.

Interviewer:

So…

Kramer:

So you couldn’t get past it.

Interviewer:

So…

Kramer:

[interruption] Hold one second, Barb? Don’t move.

Interviewer:

Yeah.

Kramer:

Go ahead, Barbara, I’m sorry.

Interviewer:

No, I’m just looking online so I see it was bought in 1906…

Kramer:

Right…

Interviewer:

For $11 million…

Kramer:

Where do you get this information? When you started giving me the addresses and the people’s names on 42nd Street…my God, you made the hair on my neck stand up, where do you come up with all that stuff? That’s amazing.

Interviewer:

Well, this morning, I have access to Ancestry.com, so…

Kramer:

Ah, okay, the plot thickens, they have all that, my God.

Interviewer:

Yeah, because I’ve been a genealogist for 20 years.

Kramer:

Okay.

Interviewer:

But I just put in Locomotive 299 and I get all this data.

Kramer:

It was built in 1906, see, there’s some great pictures that exist and you can see them, such as the locomotives going from that factory where it was built, up Market Street, in front of City Hall, and onto the tracks, the Erie tracks at that time were ground level. As the years went by, obviously, they were raised to a trestle …

Interviewer:

Right.

Kramer:

So they didn’t hold up traffic and 20 teams of horses and they said it was really something really to see when they would move a locomotive from the factory as it came out of the quote-unquote assembly line and was taken on up Market Street to the Erie track with 20 teams of horses and you can just imagine someone trying to control 20 teams of horses, so how many men they used, I don’t know. But they said it was, and I have seen the pictures where a locomotive was passing City Hall on Market Street with these 20 teams in front of them.

Interviewer:

Wow.

Kramer:

Yeah, it’s special. Very special.

Interviewer:

Well, good, I’m glad we had a chance to talk about this.

Kramer:

All right.

Interviewer:

Like I said, if I have anything else.

Kramer:

Don’t hesitate, no problem.

Interviewer:

I will ask.

Kramer:

Take care, Barb.

Interviewer:

Thank you, bye.

Kramer:

Bye-bye.

12:14

END



Last updated: April 15, 2020

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