The man was ahead of me about 50 yards. I saw him as I approached a short running track that I planned to use for a few laps. He was picking up trash that had been dumped from two trash cans beside the track in a park in Scranton, Pa.
I stopped and began helping him pick up the debris: water bottles, alcohol seltzer, and various other trash.
(I don’t know the man’s name. I thought about calling him “Joe” for the purposes of this column, but decided against that for reasons that will be obvious later. So, I’ll call him “Sam”.)
“Did racoons or people do this?” I asked Sam.
Sam looked at me as if I were asking the stupidest question he’d ever heard.
“People!” he said.
Sam was an unlikely looking public servant. He had a week’s beard growth and wasn’t wearing a city-employee uniform. I assumed he walked this route regularly and had cleaned up this same area other Sunday mornings.
We went about our tasks separately. I found a plastic bag and put items in it before dumping it into a trash can.
We came together at one point. Sam looked at me and said with indignation, “They just don’t care!”
“Apparently not,” I responded.
That was the last time I talked to Sam. He wandered off to another part of the park. I resumed running around the track.
The park was about a block away from the boyhood home of Joe Biden. A framed certificate at the end of the sidewalk to the house is titled, “From this house to the White House”. That comes from a note Biden signed on the living room wall when he visited the house on Election Day 2020.
I figured the home’s current owners put the sign there to reduce the number of out-of-towners who come to the house, ring the doorbell, and ask, “Is this where Biden used to live?”
The park itself has historical significance other than being near the current president’s former home. Called Crowley Park, it’s named in honor of Jim Crowley. He was one of the famed “Four Horseman” at the University of Notre Dame in the 1920s. According to a news story about the rededication of the park in 2020, Crowley moved to Scranton later in life and was the last living member of the “Four Horsemen” when he died in 1986.
Unless you’re a college football historian, you may not know about the “Four Horsemen”. Notre Dame football, was, and still is, legendary, and these backs were national celebrities in the 1920s. They were coached by another legend, Knute Rockne.
Their fame was burnished in a story by sportswriter Grantland Rice that begins: “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army football team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds yesterday afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down on the bewildering panorama spread on the green plain below.”
Writing critics have pointed out that Rice must have been my lying on the ground if he saw the “Four Horsemen” outlined against the sky. But, then again, sportswriters are a unique breed. I know, my dad was one.
I don’t know how Crowley ended up in Scranton, but the park named in his honor is an attractive place. It’s small; similar to the neighborhood parks here in Sidney. My wife and I have been visiting Scranton for more than a decade. It’s home to our son and youngest grandson.
We’ve been taking our grandson to the park for several years. The park used to be smaller, with an undeveloped area at the back of it. In recent years, the undeveloped area was improved to include the walking/running track and a basketball court. Based on what I found on the internet, it appears a group called Friends of Crowley Park has been instrumental in making the improvements.
One of the benefits of traveling is that you see how other people live. Sidney enjoys well-maintained streets, sidewalks, parks and other amenities. We may complain about taxes, but without them we’d have to navigate pothole-filled streets and broken sidewalks. I don’t know much about Scranton’s tax base or what that city does with its tax revenue, but you only need to drive on its streets or walk on its sidewalks to realize that Sidney is in much better shape.
However, this isn’t a story about Sidney vs. Scranton. It’s about Jim, Joe and Sam and their connection to a neighborhood in Scranton. Jim is gone and Joe now is pretty busy elsewhere.
This brings me back to Sam. I don’t know if he is a member of Friends of Crowley Park, but on that day he certainly was the park’s friend. I was feeling pretty good about myself, too. But as the saying goes, “Don’t break your arm patting yourself on your back.” After I finished picking up trash and ran around the track a few times, I started to leave. That was when I saw Sam in another part of the park. He was picking up trash.
The writer is a retired Sidney Daily News reporter.