River Wards: Then and Now, Old and New: A lifelong Fishtown resident

Jerry McGo­nigle, who lives in the Mar­ie Le­der­er Seni­or Cen­ter.

Jerry McGo­nigle looks at Palmer Park, across the street from his home in the former St. Mary’s Hos­pit­al, and sees things the rest of us can’t.

“I look over there, and I re­mem­ber rid­ing my bike, I re­mem­ber my fath­er sit­ting on a bench right over there,” he said.

His life in Fishtown has come full-circle: he was born and bap­tized in St. Mary’s Hos­pit­al, and lives there now that it’s been con­ver­ted in­to a seni­or liv­ing fa­cil­ity. 

McGo­nigle was born in 1941 and lived on Mem­ph­is Street, where he re­mem­bers his house cost­ing 29 dol­lars per month in rent.

“The same house now just sold for $360,000,” he said with a laugh.

“It’s amaz­ing how you see this neigh­bor­hood change for the bet­ter,” he said, re­call­ing memor­ies of both a pop­corn and a Pep­si-Cola fact­ory in Fishtown. He and his friends would get snacks from both, and then hang out at Palmer Street Cemetery, of all places.

Once, a tomb­stone fell on him in the cemetery, and he was patched up at St. Mary’s. Clearly, he’s got a strong con­nec­tion to the neigh­bor­hood.

The chan­ging vibe of the neigh­bor­hood, McGo­nigle said, is a great thing.

“A lot of old Fishtown­ers call these new young people ‘yup­pies,’ he said. I talk to them in the park, they’re nice people help­ing the neigh­bor­hood. In the years to come, Fishtown is go­ing to be really com­ing up. It’s go­ing to be your next So­ci­ety Hill.”

When McGo­nigle walks around the neigh­bor­hood and spends time at his fa­vor­ite Fishtown bar, Fishtown’s 15th Round, he said he pic­tures his moth­er push­ing his sib­lings in a stroller, or re­mem­bers girls he had crushes on in 4th grade.

“In Fishtown, what you see is what you get. People don’t walk around with a golden spoon in their mouth. The old timers walk around with Fishtown sweat­shirts and have Fishtown li­cense plates. The word I would use is ‘pride.’”

McGo­nigle said he thinks it’s a mir­acle that he was able to come back to live the rest of his life in Fishtown.

“Thomas Wolfe wrote, ‘You can’t go home again.’ Me,” he said, “I can go home again.” ••

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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