Back in the middle 1980's, when I was Editor and Publisher of a magazine for newspaper collectors, I had the fortune to have as a subscriber Stanleigh Nettleton. At the time he was in his late seventies and described himself as the "Original Bionic Man" as he had false teeth, a replaced hip, eyeglasses and a pacemaker for his heart. Unable to actually write an article for my magazine, he sent me an audio tape of his experiences in the 1930's while working for the Chicago Herald-American newspaper. Below is a transcript of one of his experiences from 1939.
About 1939 I was working the complaint desk on the Chicago Herald-American one Sunday morning. The complaint desk was simply where people call in that missed their paper and I would call the branch manager and he would send a kid over there with another paper. However, it was also the message center for 7 district managers and 91 branch managers who were supervising 3000 carriers delivering over 100,000 home delivery papers in Chicago.
About 6:30 I got a call from Freddy, the branch manager in 158. He called in and simply said, "The boss is looking for me, tell him I'll call him when I get back. I just got a call from Austin Avenue Police Station that they are holding a couple of my kids out there, so I am going out there now to see what the beef is."
Well, about 8:30 Freddy calls and he says, "I'm back and everything is OK." I asked "What about the kids the cops picked up?" He says, "Well, that's a long story. I'll tell you Tuesday when I come in the office."
Come noon Tuesday Freddy comes over to the desk and says, "Let's go eat." As we ate lunch Freddy tells me about the carriers.
Out on Wilcox Avenue in Chicago's West Side there was this big apartment building that was entirely occupied by Jewish families. In one of these apartments was an old Jewish fellow who managed to flee the Gestapo and came to live with his son in Chicago. One Sunday morning the father goes out into the hall to pick up the paper and as he turns to come back in the apartment, he freezes with fear, for right in the center of the door was a big "X" mark made from white chalk. This was exactly the way the Gestapo would mark the houses in Germany when they took the Jews away to the concentration camps.
He finally stopped shaking enough to go in and wake up his son. He brought him out in the hall and pointed to the door. Wouldn't you know it, there wasn't any mark there now. Well, the son thought the old man had some horrendous experiences in the past couple of years so maybe his memory was failing, so the son went back into the apartment and went back to sleep.
The following Sunday the old man watched the apartment door all day long and nothing happened. But the next Sunday when he went to pick up the paper the mark was there again. This time he didn't hesitate and ran in and got his son, brings him out and shows him the mark on the door. His son related to his father that if it happened again he would call the police. When he said that his father shouted "No, No, No." He believed that if the police knew he was there that they would call the Gestapo and he would be back in trouble again. So the disagreement went on. Then for the next 4 or 5 weeks the mark would appear and then mysteriously disappear. Finally, the son called the cops.
Well, when the cops got there, there wasn't any mark on the door. The cops thought both the son and father were a little bit crazy. However, the cops told them that if it happens again to call them and they would come out. So a couple of weeks later it happens again. This time they were there in time to see the mark on the door. The cops asked them if they had received any threatening phone calls or threats of any kind. They hadn't.
The following Sunday the cops sat out in front of the building and watched the front door from 6 to 7 a.m. Come 7 a.m. the cops both agreed that no one had been in or out in the last hour except the milkman. So they grabbed the milkman and hassled him. The milkman was able to convince the cops that he didn't know what they were talking about and that he had only been on the route for three weeks. Since this had been going on for longer than that, the cops finally let the milkman go and gave up for now.
Finally, one Sunday morning, the old man heard the paper thump against the door as the kid threw it down on the floor. He goes out and picks up the paper with the boy still there. Next, the boy takes a piece of chalk out of his pocket and draws an "X" on the door. When the old man sees that he grabs the kid by the shirt and starts yelling. He yells in Yiddish. He yells in German. He wakes up everybody in the building including his son. The son went back into the apartment and called the police.
Soon the police arrived and started questioning the carrier. Soon another carrier walked down the hall and wiped the mark off the door. At this point the cops took the kids and the son to the Austin Avenue Police Station and called Freddy (the kids' boss).
Freddy came down and listened to the newsboys, the cops and the son. Finally he says he can explain everything. He says "First, the kids weren't anti-Jewish or anti-anything else. All they were doing was a good job in delivering their papers." Freddy then went into detail relating what had actually happened. He explained that the carriers were brothers and shared a route. When they started the route, one brother would start on one end of the building and the other brother at the other end and work towards each other. When one finished delivering all the papers he had, he would place a chalk "X" on the door to let the other one know that that apartment was the last one to get a paper. The boy would then go right home and not wait for his brother. The other one, seeing the 'X' would then wipe it off. Since the old man lived near the middle of the building, his door received most of the 'X' marks. This explanation satisfied everyone.
About two weeks later I saw Freddy and asked him how the two brothers that the cops picked up were doing. He says to me "They decided that it would be safer not to place a chalk 'X' on doors anymore, but last week I got a call from a lady in the same building wanting to know why we were stopping her paper. I checked and couldn't find any stop order so I asked her what makes here think we were stopping her paper. She told me that when she went out into the hall to get her paper there was a note on her door that read "Last Paper".
Mr. Nettleton died about fifteen years ago. This is my way of continuing his legacy and keeping him immortal. I still have and treasure the original audio cassette of his experiences.