Remembering The 20th Century: An Oral History Of Monmouth County
Interview: October 18, 1999
Ms. West: Ms. Rifici, would you mind giving us your date of birth and your age, please?
Ms. Rifici: My date of birth is June 26, 1915.
I am now eighty-four years old. I have lived in Asbury Park all of my
life. I remember way back when I was a child; I grew up on 1257 Washington
Avenue in Asbury Park. And I went to Bangs Avenue School. From Bangs
Avenue School I transferred when I was twelve years old to Our Lady of
Mt. Carmel School in Asbury Park. I graduated from Mt. Carmel School in
1929. I remember Asbury Park very, very well when it was a beautiful,
beautiful city. And I remember during the Second World War we had a lot
of different things that we had to do to help "the cause," as
they said. We had to put our shades down at a certain hour. We had
to make sure we had all kinds of inspections going on the roads to prevent
anyone from harming us. And one of the things that they did in Asbury,
under the direction of our mayor, who at that time was Mayor Thomas Shebell,
and now he is deceased, was the fact that on the Boardwalk in Asbury Park,
which was a gorgeous place, they had put black curtains on the Boardwalk,
so the lights of the Boardwalk would not go out to the ocean where the
U-boats from Germany were going in the waters to try to bomb New York
Harbor. So our black curtains stopped the lights from going out to the
ocean; but we continued with our activities on the Boardwalk. One
activity was skating at the Asbury Park Casino. We had the Paramount,
where they featured some of the best well-known actors in that era. One
was Rudy Vallee, who was a wonderful leader of the orchestra. We had William
Holden. We had Clark Gable come down. We had all these wonderful stars
who came to Asbury Park and I remember every one of them, because I was
there as a teenager watching them. Then we had the beautiful Berkeley
Carteret, which entertained many, many beautiful public figures. So consequently,
our town was one of the best known towns around the area. From there,
I lived on Washington Street. I worked downtown on Cookman Avenue
at the HL Green 5&10 for fifteen years. Then I went to different jobs
in the area. I remember the riots on Springwood Avenue very, very clearly.
I remember when the town was burning, and we couldn't get home.
I had to go way out of my way to get back to my home, which was on Stule
Avenue in Asbury Park, because the police and the FBI agents were all
over town while the town was burning on Springwood Avenue.
Ms. West: What is in Freehold?
Ms. Rifici: Freehold is our County Seat, as far as we are concerned. They have wonderful Freeholders, who are very generous to the city. To our city especially, and the most generous person to our city is assemblymen Tom Smith and his colleague, Steve Corodemus, who is also an assemblyman. They help Asbury Park as much as they can. And I thank them very much for it. I'm glad I'm still living here, and I hope I stay here a few more years.
Ms. West: What important historical events have happened in your lifetime?
Ms. Rifici: I mentioned the burning of the town. That was really bad. One thing that was very, very nice: we used to have a beautiful parade every year celebrating Columbus Day. We used to have the landing at the Boardwalk in Asbury Park for about forty five years; we had that landing of Columbus coming on his boat and all that. Well, I understand the city decided to cancel it, but there was so much outcry from the people, that they put it back on again. But it is not as well attended as it used to be. We had fireworks going all over the place for years and years and years and that was cancelled also. So the town has been rebuilt and I don't know how they are going to do, but I wish them lots of luck.
Ms. West: This landing: did the people wear costumes?
Ms. Rifici: Yes, the landing was done by a gentleman called Joseph Palaia and he dressed in the Columbus era suit. He has the sailors all dressed the same in costumes. The Boy Scouts helped. I hope the houses are much better now then they were a few years back. The development has helped a little bit. Some of the homes are in very terrible condition. But now I understand that some of the people are doing a wonderful job of rebuilding their homes. In fact, fortunately, Asbury is beautiful compared to the way it used to be a few years ago. And most of the people who live on Freewood Avenue, who are Black people, have moved toward Fourth, Second, and Third Avenues in Asbury. They have done a beautiful job of keeping their homes up to date.
Ms. West: How is the Boardwalk now?
Ms. Rifici: The Boardwalk is not too great. We have the Paramount Theatre and we have the Convention Hall, which is operating, but not too great, like they used to be. And the Boardwalk hasn't done too well this year. I know that they have had a lot of trouble at least, I would say, since July of this year. We've had a huge barge anchored off the Convention Hall parked by the landing up by the Boardwalk to make the land larger than what it is. And so far the people are afraid to go down to the Bay, so the has been no Baying season this year. Otherwise, the Convention Hall is supposed to be repaired, and I hope they repair it soon, because that was one of the most beautiful places in Asbury, as far as skating was concerned. Ice skating, roller-skating was all held there. Some of the wonderful stores that were there for many, many, many years are not there anymore. And I hope one day soon that they will rebuild them.
Ms. West: Are there any rides or anything on the Boardwalk now?
Ms. Rifici: I think there is one ride. I'm not sure if that's even activated in the summertime like it used to be. They have tried to so something. Trying to bring some of these golf courses back, which I hope they do. They tried to open some of the stores. In fact, this year was the first year that they had vendors on the Boardwalk on Wednesday and a Saturday to help the people to come back to the Boardwalk. I hope they do.
Ms. West: Do you have any keepsakes from over the years? From Monmouth County or Asbury Park?
Ms. Rifici: Well, I tried to keep pictures of the different developments in Monmouth County: I know that they have developed quite a bit. In fact, the only objections I have that they haven't done, is that they haven't completed Route 18. That's still closed, and it has been going on for forty years. I wish they would hurry up and open it up.
Ms. West: What memories do you have of your school days?
Ms. Rifici: I had wonderful years in the Bangs Avenue School, which used to be North. We were the North and then the South was where the Black children used to go. Then after a while we decided we would combine them. We start integrating children back and forth. Of course, I left when I was twelve years old because Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic School opened. My mother and parents wanted me to go there, which I did. Had wonderful years in Asbury and at schools. I went to the Adler Park Business College which was situated on the corner of Banks and the Railroad Station, which is now not there anymore. I didn't go to college because I had to help my parents support the other children.
Ms. West: What about the classes? Were the classes integrated?
Ms. Rifici: No, they were not. There were Black teachers for the Black children. There were white teachers for the white children. They did not get together. They taught on their side and we taught on our side.
Ms. West: What about during recess?
Ms. Rifici: Recess was separated, too. Then of course, I went to Mt. Carmel School, and that was different. We had Black children and white in the same classes being taught by the nuns.
Ms. West: What books do you like to read?
Ms. Rifici: I love to read, and my favorite book is, a wonderful book by Thomas Burton. Thomas Burton has a wonderful book out about the different types of religions and how we should help other people of all nationalities, of all races. I love that book. In fact, it was put in the papers the other day, all over again. It's time to revive it again. I think we need a lot of religion in this world today because it is gone. I like biographies and I like the biography of Booker T. Washington, and I think they are wonderful reading for people in this day and age who do not understand what happened many, many, many years ago. And how we got to this point. This is a wonderful era and we are going into the year 2000. I hope that these younger people will understand we went on and helped. They're not doing too much helping, the younger people: they're too busy running around doing other things which are not that important to their lives. I think they should get together and help as much as we can, everybody.
Ms. West: Heroine?
Ms. Rifici: Well, my heroine was Amelia Earhart. She was a woman flyer, a pioneer. She was attempting to fly solo around the world. Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean communication was lost and her plane disappeared with her many years ago.
Ms. West: Any others?
Ms. Rifici: Well, I don't have too many heroes. But there were a lot of heroes and heroines. There were so many of them in the World War II.
Ms. West: Who influenced you the most in your life?
Ms. Rifici: My mother and father, who
were of Italian extraction. They didn't take any kind of response from
us, as far as answering back. In that time, I didn't think they were
doing the right thing, but they did. Because later years proved that they
were right, absolutely right, and they guided my life all these years.
I didn't get married until I was sixty-seven years old when I married
Mr. Rifici. My maiden name is Cesare. I married Mr. Rifici who had
been married. He was the brother of Dr. Rifici. Then I started my
married life. On top of that I inherited a stepdaughter and a stepson.
My stepdaughter had three children; she died young. I raised three grandchildren
up to this date, who are now twenty-five, twenty-four, and twenty-three.
At the time of their mother's death, they were sixteen, fifteen, and fourteen.
I think I have accomplished a little bit by raising the children. They
taught me how teenagers operate, which is a little bit different from
the way we operate.
Ms. West: Thank you very much for this interview. It has been very interesting.
Ms. Rifici: Thank you.