The Night Bringhurst Street Collapsed

By Jim McAdoo

A number of other titles ran through my mind as I thought about writing this story—“The Germans are Coming, The Germans are Coming”, “The Night We Were Bombed”, and “The Attack”, to name just a few possibilities. To those of you who did not live through WWII, you are probably thinking, why all the melodrama, but to a young kid in 1942 or 1943, that’s exactly the fear I experienced on that cold winter night.

To put this story in its proper context, I was seven or eight years old at the time and lived in constant fear that the war would soon come to our doorstep. Our country was engaged in two wars, Europe and the Pacific; however, the war in Europe felt closer. German U-Boats had been sited off the New Jersey coast; air raid alerts and blackouts were constant occurrences. Everything was rationed and many food and clothing items were impossible to purchase. We recycled newspapers and magazines, tin cans, and even fat, anything to aid the war effort. We have read much about the patriotism generated by that war and indeed the country was united, but I was a scared kid. Air raid drills at school were a regular happening. Every afternoon the kids on the block played games of war, which sometimes even ended up in street fights.

One cold night in the middle of the winter, we were awakened by a very loud noise that sounded like a bomb had been dropped. That thought was immediately confirmed when we raced downstairs, opened the front door and could not see Bringhurst Street. It had disappeared! There was nothing there but a large crater that covered two-thirds of our block-long street. The water and gas mains were broken, the gas streetlights were out, electric wires were down, the gas from the broken main had ignited, and water was everywhere. A scene of utter war-torn chaos existed—or so I thought. The air raid wardens, the police, and the firemen were all there in the darkness trying to figure out what had happened.

We were not permitted to go outside until the next morning and when we did, it truly looked like a bomb had struck. The roadway had dropped about 15 feet. There was no damage to the sidewalks or any of the row houses. When things got sorted out here’s what we discovered had happened.

Bringhurst, Queen, and Ashmead Streets are three one-block parallel streets with Clarkson Ave. running perpendicular to them at one end and Magnolia Ave running perpendicular at the other end. The three streets including the sections of Clarkson and Magnolia were built on a section of an old quarry that had been filled in with ashes when houses were built in the late 1920’s. A sink hole had developed and over the years weakened the road base until it finally collapsed.

It was amazing how quickly services were restored, probably no longer than a week, although it took months for the street to be repaired. No cars were lost because no one on our street owned a car during the war.

That’s my war story.