LESTER MICHAEL MULVIHILL
Lester Michael Mulvihill was born June 4, 1911 in West Hoboken (now Union City), NJ to Michael John and Anna Maloney Mulvihill. A family legend has it that the birth scale only went up to 12 lbs., and Lester pegged the needle, so they estimated his birth weight at 13 lbs.!
Lester was born into an extended family of TEN. They had Anna’s two children from her marriage to the late Patrick McGettrick, his two children from his former marriage to Unknown, and three older sisters – Anna Mae, Helen, and Irene. He was the youngest by four years, and became the favored plaything of six older sisters and step-sisters. His only stepbrother, Francis (Frank) McGettrick, was 12 years older and he formed a lifelong attachment bonded by admiration and respect for his “big brother”.
By the time Lester was 5, Frank had convinced his mother to alter his birth certificate so that he could enlist in the Army, at age 17. America had just entered WWI and patriotic fever was sky high. Frank’s wartime exploits would only add to Lester’s adoration of his step-brother.
He entered the parochial school at St. Michael’s monastery in West Hoboken, which was not far from the family’s home at _______________. A left-handed writer, Lester would suffer the wrath of domineering Nuns who believed that the use of the nether hand was the taint of the devil. They eventually broke him (and several rulers) of the trait, and in return gave him a lifelong ambidextrous talent.
Despite his prodigious birth weight, Lester was a slight child of average height, but with flaming red hair. This would cause him no end of taunts from his classmates.
These were difficult years for the family. His father was a trolley car mechanic at the huge “car barn” and turntable in Union City, but money was very tight. It was also a time when Irish immigrant families formed the bottom of the social ladder – except for a new influx of competitors. The Italian immigration was reaching it’s peak, and neighborhoods were often clearly delineated between the two, mutually distrusting groups. To walk into the wrong neighborhood as a young boy risked a heap of abuse, if not worse. Lester also seemed to attract the ire of dogs. Several nasty episodes formed a lifelong distrust of “man’s best friend”. But pugnacious neighbors and aggressive canines weren’t the only threats that Lester faced. One day he was hit by a passing trolley car and had his leg broken. A passerby helped him to a local doctor, who set the leg. But his troubles had just begun – he got a beating for not being more careful, AND causing his father to have to pay a Doctor’s bill!
Everybody in the family worked, and contributed to the household. Young Lester’s duties were to rise before the rest of the family and stoke the coal stove to get some heat up in the house. The coming of the good times after WWI didn’t seem to have much effect on the Mulvihill household, and the “Roaring 20’s” saw Lester forced to quit school and get a job, never making it to High School. He worked as a delivery boy and stockboy for the local grocer. His step-brother Frank, meanwhile, had returned from the War and opened a Dental Mechanics shop, making dentures and other dental appliances. Lester worked in the shop in his teens.
The 1920’s saw the explosive development of the automobile. Henry Ford’s mass production techniques put a car in everybody’s future, and the industry was booming. So was radio. The early syndicated variety and news shows captured the imagination of the public, and it wasn’t long before these two marvels were married – by an upstart company named Motorola. Lester saw the opportunity and taught himself some mechanics and radio technology and began converting home radios to mobile car sets.
The depression of the early 1930’s however, ended the free spending boom times, and he scrambled for employment – selling service for another new phenomena – the telephone. It was a nasty, competitive business, though, and it wasn’t long before his friendship with some local police officers (including his relatives, the Cranes) gave him the idea to try private detective work. Like most guys, he reveled in the romance and swagger of the job, in an era where Hollywood was making the profession into popular icon.
He was young, single, good-looking, enjoying life thoroughly by this point, and exploring the social arena. He joined the prestigious NY 7th Regiment of the National Guard. They had gained fame during the Civil War, and were a premier social club in the New York City scene.
In 1938 Lester met Vera Cole. They dated for a year and a half, and married on August 12, 1940.
The wedding was a bittersweet affair, as Lester’s mother was hospitalized with endstage stomach cancer and couldn’t make it to the wedding. Instead, they brought the wedding party to her. She passed away two months later.
The newly married couple lived in the upstairs apartment of a two-family house in North Bergen. Lester landed a job as a Marine Electrician at Todd Shipyards in Hoboken, just as war drums began to sound in Europe.
By 1941 Vera was pregnant with their first child, and they needed a bigger place to live. They moved to a two bedroom apartment on the fourth floor of a five story building at 235 75th St. in North Bergen. It was right across the street from Robert Fulton Elementary School.
Unfortunately, the pregnancy ended in miscarriage.
Lester’s job at the shipyard proved to be the most rewarding of his life. He thoroughly enjoyed shipwork, and trained himself on electrical circuitry and took courses on a new technology – radar. WWII had begun, and shipbuilding became a frenetic and critical part of the war effort. Todd, together with the Brooklyn Navy Yard across the river, were working around the clock retrofitting warships and beginning the legendary building program for the troop- and cargo-carrying Liberty ships.
Leisure time was at a premium during this period. Much of the couple’s free time was spent at Vera’s parent’s country home in Libertyville, Sussex Co., NJ. The property was 60 miles away, and gasoline was being rationed. Frivolous trips such as these were discouraged, and receiving a ticket for that offense was an embarrassing event. None-the-less, the times at the country were a welcome respite, and became a popular gathering place for the entire family.
By late 1942 Vera was pregnant again, and delivered James Michael on June 12, 1943.
Young James proved to be allergic to cow’s milk had to have a regular supply of goat’s milk. This need resulted in considerable inconvenience, not the least of which was Lester’s trudge for several miles during a snowstorm in the winter of 1943 in search of a supply. Other than that, the end of the War passed in hectic, if uneventful times.
The time was early 1946 and a second blessed event was on the way. Thomas Charles was born on September 27.