Some old tales from news­pa­per reporters

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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.”

He didn’t.

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?”

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