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Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Penn Packing Days and The Joe Jones Affair

By Nancy Leitz

In 1948, I was working at the Penn Packing Company at 6th and Callowhill Streets in Philadelphia. I was the bookkeeper. I had been working at Loft's Candy Store on Market Street, but that wasn't the best job I ever had. I worked 54 hours a week and my wages were $19.00, AND those 54 hours were every day except Wednesday from 9AM to 6PM, which meant I worked every Saturday and Sunday for the same pay as a weekday and never had a weekend off. I really wanted to find a better job.

One morning on the train ride from Prospect Park to Philadelphia, I looked at the want ads and saw a Help Wanted for an assistant bookkeeper. I knew absolutely nothing about bookkeeping, but thought if they were looking for an assistant, they must already have a bookkeeper and I would just do whatever she told me to do.

The pay was very attractive ($33.00) and I wondered why they were paying so much. I couldn't wait to call for an interview.

I called Penn Packing and was given an appointment with Mr. Marty Lipoff. I had made arrangements with my boss at Loft's to tell Mr. Lipoff, if he called to check, that I was a bookkeeper at Loft's. That little fib was not necessary because Mr. Lipoff could not wait to hire me since I was the only person to apply for this job and it had been open for months. Why? Because it was a slaughterhouse!

When I walked in off of Callowhill Street, it was the noisiest,greasiest, slipperiest place I had ever seen. Butchers in white coats and straw hats were picking up huge slabs of bacon and links of sausages. I almost ran away as soon as I entered but everyone was so surprised to see a young blonde in their midst that all commerce stopped and they ran over to see why I was there.

When I told them I had an appointment with Marty Lipoff about the job they almost carried me to his office. They were afraid I would go away and they knew Marty really needed a bookkeeper because their bills from the current person in charge were always wrong, and they were just waiting for someone to come along so they could let her go.

Of course, I didn't know any of this when I applied. They just told me that the current bookkeeper was leaving and they were looking for a replacement.

I was hired on the spot and Marty told me to take over the desk because she was leaving shortly .So much for doing whatever the bookkeeper told me to do. I went from decorating the candy store window on Market Street to being the head bookkeeper in a slaughterhouse in about two hours.

The former bookkeeper left shortly after that to get married and she was replaced by Hannah who told me she knew nothing about bookkeeping, but Marty had told her to just do whatever I told her to because I was the head bookkeeper. I, who only two months ago was decorating a candy store window.

But I settled in at Penn Packing and actually began to like my job there. Everybody was delighted that the billing was correct and the arguments had slackened off a bit. There were four partners led by the Patriarch of the family, Pop Lipoff. Pop had started the company during the depression and with the aid of his son and his two sons-in-law had made it very profitable.

But he was eccentric, to say the least. He had a bathroom installed for his own personal use. It had been added to a back wall and had NO heat. One bitterly cold January morning, Pop went into the bathroom but the seat was so cold he couldn't sit down; but he HAD to sit down, so he took the Philadelphia Daily News, tore it all up, put it in the toilet bowl, and set fire to it. This in the middle of a meat packing plant with grease everywhere.

In about five minutes there were two hook and ladder trucks, a pumper, an ambulance and four police cars. Needless to say, there was hell to pay and Pop was fined $1,000 by the city. A fortune in those days.

Now I am going to tell you about the Joe Jones Affair. Joe was the lard maker at Penn Packing. He was a tall, lanky, black man who never had much to say and seldom smiled, but he was very pleasant and everybody liked him.

Lard is not easy to make and Joe was the only person in our company who could mix and cook it and have it turn out consistently saleable. He would make the lard and record every pound. He would bring his records to me and we would enter his daily production in our lard book. If Joe was out for a day, no lard could be made.

One day, Joe did not show up for work and that was unusual. Someone in his family called and told us that Joe had been arrested and charged with murder! They had taken him to police headquarters for further questioning. In those days, further questioned meant being beaten by the police until you confessed, which Joe refused to do.

Two days later, the detectives came to question all the people who worked with Joe. I was scared to death because I had never seen a real detective in my 19 years and here were two of them asking me about a murder!

I told them I knew very little because I never saw Joe outside of work, did not know where he lived, and had never met any other members of his family. The detectives were just ready to leave after speaking with everyone in the company when a light bulb went on over my head. Wait! The lard records.

Joe was the only person who knew how to make lard, right? Yes. Everybody, even the cops, agreed. If my records showed that lard was produced on the day of the murder, it would mean that Joe was at Penn Packing all day and could not have killed anyone.

The cops asked for the lard records and sure enough, on the day of the crime, Joe had made 200 pounds of lard and, therefore, could not have been the killer. Case closed on Joe!

When Joe came back to work a few days later, he was in terrible shape. The cops had really tried hard to beat a confession out of him. We were all proud that he withstood the pressure to confess to a murder he did not commit. He went on making lard for many years after that – and, he smiled and said, "good morning and good night" to me every day until I left to be married. And, on the day I left, he gave me a present. A two-pound package of lard!!

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Great story Nancy, Good on you for speaking speaking up and saving Joe from the charge of murder.

Nancy, you have a million of 'em'. I am still laughing about your wedding present. I hope you knew how to make pie crust.

You are very resourceful - imagine knowing nothing about bookkeeping and becoming self-taught. That must have been scary, but, like another Nancy (Drew), you always solved the problems. I know how happy Joe must have been that you were one sharp gal. (You still are.)

You are one terrific story teller Nancy, and what a story. Such a wonderful caring way for Joe to say thank you.

Hi Grannymar,
Glad you feel well enough to comment, and happy that you liked my story.

I had no idea at that time how to make a pie crust. Joe gave me that lard in vain; but,yes,it was nice of him to think of me.

Claire Jean,
Thanks for always reading my stories and commenting. It means a lot to me...

Nancy, you have done it again. Not only is the story telling great, but just the fact that your life has always been so interesting. Joe was a truly blessed man to have had you cross his path.

Thank you ,Annie for reading and commenting on my story. I always look forward to your remarks.

I really enjoyed reading this!!! Bet you really felt good to be able to help Joe.

I did feel good about being about to help Joe, Linda.

I was so young and so afraid of those cops but I managed to think of the records and I've always be grateful I did.

Thanks for your nice comment. I appreciate it.

Nancy, I am sorry it took me so long to get here, but this is a great story. You DO have a million of them!! How good you must have felt, knowing that you cleared a man of murder charges!!

I might be a couple days late Nancy, but I'm glad I didn't miss this one. Another great story. Leave it to you to be the one to help Joe...I'm not surprised. And your reward...LARD! Well, I guess it depends how you look at it. Great post.

Hello Judy,

Thanks so much for your nice comments. Penn Packing was a terrific place to work and they were top drawer payers,too. Did you notice that I made $33.00 a week? A veritable fortune to me in those days.

Hi Joy,

Thanks for reading my story.Yes, lard was my reward. I think because lard was pretty much Joe's whole life, he thought there was no better gift to give someone.

And to make it even more special he gave me TWO pounds!

He was such a nice person

You probably saved his life! (And, ironically, the cholesterol in that 2 pounds of lard...oh, well, never mind...! LOL)

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