PRHLIFE PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, March 10, 1992 GHOSTS OF THE NECK John Senick is haunted by a murderous rampage that wiped out a family in South Philadelphia long before even his parents were born. “I grew up down The Neck hearing the story,” Senick, 69, was saying last night as he sat on the edge of his bed in Methodist Hospital, where he’s undergoing tests for an ailment that he has reason to hope will turn out to be fairly minor. The hospital stay, though, has heightened a feeling he already had about his own mortality. It happens to everybody sooner or later, but Senick is the last of a breed and had a growing need to get some things on record. The murder of the family was just part of the legend of a section of the city that was more rural than urban, where pigs and chickens were raised and the land was farmed, where there was no running water and very few houses had electricity. Senick said his family lived on Stone House Lane, around where 3rd and Pattison is now. At one time, according to newspaper clippings, The Neck extended as far north as Moore Street. By the time Senick was born, its area had shrunk so that it covered only a few blocks south of Oregon Avenue, where the Food Distribution Center is now located. The Neck apparently was first settled before the Revolutionary War by Germans, Swedes and French, among others, by people who were doing what came naturally for a time when the economy was dominated by farming. In this century, The Neck was populated mainly by immigrants who
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were poor and couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. Senick said his parents came to the United States from the Ukraine prior to World War I and built a house, mostly of wood, on East Jones Lane, which was just off Delaware Avenue. They lived next to a yard where railroad ties were manufactured and where Senick’s father found work. Later, the family moved to Stone House Lane, where Senick was born. He said that when he was a kid there were maybe 75 houses in The Neck -- which by then ran roughly between Front and 4th streets -- with only a couple of hundred people living in them. He said two different city dumps, with refuse on them burning constantly, were located within a couple of blocks of the houses. He said as far as he knows, though, the smoke never caused any health problems. “To tell the truth, I don’t remember anybody ever getting sick at all,” said Senick, who said most of the houses in The Neck were heated only by potbellied stoves that burned coal lifted from unguarded railroad cars. He has almost nothing but good memories of The Neck, despite hard times. He remembers neighbors who would welcome newcomers by helping them build their houses and who would keep soup on the stove on New Year’s Day so celebrating strangers could stop in and have something hot to eat. “I think the custom of bean soup on New Year’s Day in Philly started in The Neck,” said Senick. For certain, the term New Year’s Shooters that’s associated with the Mummers Parade came from tough Neckers who brought in the New Year by firing handguns in the air while going from door to door
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