Some old tales from newspaper reporters
Through the years, I always enjoyed hearing funny tales of old-time reporters.
For instance, Nate Klegar, long an Evening Bulletin police reporter, told me about the early morning the City Desk called him in his radio car to go to the Philadelphia mental hospital at Byberry and pick up an envelope from a doctor there, who, to preserve his privacy, I’ll call Dr. Smith.
Nate climbed a stairway to the hospital offices. A young man whose clothing identified him as a patient was sitting at a desk at the top of the stairs.
“I’m a reporter from The Bulletin, to see Dr. Smith,” Nate said.
“I’m Dr. Smith,” said the man. “No, you’re not,” said Nate. “I know Dr. Smith, and you’re not Dr. Smith.”
“Yes, I am,” the man insisted. Just then, Dr. Smith himself came out of his office, called Nate in, and gave him the envelope. As Nate left and passed the man at the desk, he muttered, “You’re not Dr. Smith.”
“Well,” the man snapped in a retaliatory tone, “then you’re not a reporter from The Bulletin!”
Another tale came from Si Schaltz, who later became a wellknown public relations agent. In the early ’30s, Si was a young reporter for the old Philadelphia Ledger. At that time, the FBI was looking for John Dillinger, who, among many crimes across the nation, had held up 24 banks and, remarkably, four police stations. While Si was in the police station at 12th and Pine streets one evening talking to the desk sergeant, the officer took a phone call.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, “we’ll look into it,” then hung up and sighed.
“What’s that?” Si asked. “This old broad around the corner on Camac Street calls here all the time with unfounded complaints,” the cop said, “just trying to get a man to come there. Just now, she claimed that Dillinger is hiding at her house.”
At first, Si thought that was funny. But then, the optimistic young reporter thought, what if it were true? What a story!
He got the woman‘s address from the amused cop, went to the little row house and rang the doorbell. The door was opened by an elderly woman, overweight and double-chinned, with an elaborate hair-do, heavy mascara and lipstick, wearing a fashionable negligee.
“What can I do for you, honey?” she cooed.
“There was a report that John Dillinger was here,” said Si.
“He just left,” said the woman. “But come on in.”
Here’s a tale of my own. I was in the reporters’ room in City Hall one night in the ’50s, on duty for The Evening Bulletin. The fire department radio reported a multi-alarm fire in a North Philly factory, and I decided to go there. I asked Charlie Gilbert, an old-timer for the Inquirer, if he wanted a ride. He said no.
I went to my car, battled through fire-caused heavy traffic and managed to find a parking place. I interviewed fire officials and bystanders and took lots of notes. Then I saw Charlie Gilbert, standing on the steps of a nearby corner tavern.
“How did you get here,” I asked.
“Subway,” he said. “Got everything you need?
“All but the names of the families that had to leave their houses across the street,” I said.
Charlie handed me a used envelope. On it were those neighbors’ names.
“Where did you find them?” I asked.
“In the taproom,” he said “Where would you be if your house was on fire?”