Forging America: The History of Bethlehem Steel - Chapter 5

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When he couldn't keep his golf ball out of a sand trap guarding the fourth hole, Grace complained to Vincent ''Pat'' Pazzetti, the College Football Hall of Fame quarterback from Lehigh University who maintained the grounds. ''Pat,'' Grace said one day in the late 1930s, ''that sand trap at the fourth hole has been giving me a lot of trouble. Maybe it would be a good idea if it didn't do that again.'' Making it the only priority that weekend, Pazzetti and his staff pushed one mound of ground this way, another mound that way. By the time Grace teed off the following week, the offending trap had vanished. He played on as if nothing had happened. Pazzetti later became general manager of the Bethlehem plant.

In her book, Porter describes how her grandfather's imperious nature and lust for golf kept the Bethlehem police scrambling.

''At 3 p.m. every day, the horn blasted at the steel mill announcing it was time to go home. I am told that at exactly 3:05, Mr. Grace donned his old threadbare camel's-hair coat…, a golf cap, and, wrapping a scarf around his neck regardless of the temperature or time of year, announced he was ready to leave for his daily golf game or lesson at Saucon Valley Country Club.

''Outside the office building, his brown Cadillac waited. And the moment he was seated behind the wheel, the Bethlehem Police Department was alerted to watch for the safety of motorists and pedestrians who might make the mistake of crossing his path. Officers were dispatched to every traffic light between the plant, Five Points (in south Bethlehem, where Wyandotte, Broadway and Dakotah streets meet), and the highway leading to the golf course. No red light was permitted to slow Mr. Grace's progress to his beloved golf game at Saucon. … Legend assures us he drove 50 mph through every intersection.''

When Grace finished his game and got in his car to go home, golf pro Ralph Hutchinson hurried to the caddy shack to call the police. ''Mr. Grace just left,'' he'd say. Officers rushed to Five Points, the Hill-to-Hill Bridge and Prospect Avenue to keep Grace's route clear.

Grace had a chauffeur, Phil Malone, and a limousine, but preferred to drive himself. ''He'd just take the keys and make me sit in the back,'' Malone recalled for Porter's book. ''But there were days when … I just got in and drove, and watched in the rearview mirror as he relieved his tensions by taking putter in hand and cracking golf balls against the opposite door of the limousine.

''One day, the slow traffic and steel business got the best of Mr. Grace. Caught in a traffic jam on the narrow old New Street bridge behind a slow-moving truck, he lost his patience and pulled the hand strap right out from the upholstery.''

Grace had the power and influence to stand above the law. He had ample time and money for golf at the country club, as did his associates in Bethlehem Steel's executive offices. Rich men, they breathed the rarefied air at the top of the social pyramid.

Far below them, at the bottom of the pyramid, was the common working man. He worked long hours in the mill for meager pay, under harsh conditions that brought sickness, injury and death. He had no guarantee of health care or job security. His continued employment hinged on whether he could keep his foreman happy with gifts and services that had nothing to do with the work. He got by with little more than the essentials in a shack, a row house or a twin. He was the target of racial and ethnic discrimination and hatred. He was at the mercy of city policemen and officials in the company's pocket. On the streets of south Bethlehem, he had to contend with crime and corruption.

The city of Bethlehem, formed in 1917 by the merger of Bethlehem and South Bethlehem, had 57,900 residents by 1930, four times as many as two decades earlier. Some were coarse-as-sandpaper characters who worked in the mills and contributed to the South Side's reputation for wildness.

In the Roaring '20s, the area around the steel plant was a hive of brothels and smoke-filled, gin-soaked speakeasies. Corrupt police officers chose not to enforce Prohibition, allowing the South Side to become awash in illegal alcohol, and tolerated widespread gambling and prostitution. If an honest policeman tried to do his job, he came up against surly bootleggers and gangsters who weren't about to let anyone stand in the way of easy money and easy women.

South Bethlehem's reputation spread across state lines and drew mobsters and other unsavory visitors in search of a good time, or what they called ''a lost weekend.'' In her pamphlet, ''Saturday Night on the South Side,'' south Bethlehem historian Joan Campion writes: ''When the cars with New York license plates rolled across the so-called 'penny bridge,' which stood where the Fahy or New Street bridge is now located, Mr. Santee, the toll keeper, ducked down in his booth and didn't even try to collect from them; he didn't want any trouble.''

With violence going unchecked, some called the South Side the ''Bucket of Blood.'' Then-Mayor James Yeakle claimed that 95 percent of the crimes committed in the city happened there. ''It is here that we have a preponderance of foreigners. In fact, there are no less than 48 nationalities represented among the labor element of the city. It is among them particularly that all the law violations occur.''

A tough new administration took over City Hall in 1930. Mayor Robert Pfeifle, elected on an anti-corruption platform, and his superintendent of police, the Rev. Frederick T. Trafford, succeeded in calming the South Side, though its merchants weren't pleased. ''They reacted as they might have done to the threatened closing of a major industry, which vice at that time was,'' Campion writes.

In its first year, the Pfeifle administration claimed to have shut down 241 speakeasies and ''bawdy houses,'' arrested 190 prostitutes and 105 johns, and seized and destroyed 105 gallons of gin, 2,900 gallons of moonshine, or corn whiskey, and 159 gallons of mash, the crushed malt or grain meal used to make beer and whiskey. They also seized 10 tons of copper that would have been used to make stills and sold it to junk dealers.


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