The Saga of Cholly Lehrer, Who Loved Atlantic City
Charles John ‘Cholly’ Lehrer
CHARLES JOHN ‘CHOLLY’ LEHRER was born June 26, 1903 in Atlantic City, NJ, and died there December 30, 1968. Burial: January 03, 1969, Pleasantville, NJ. In 1930 he married ANTOINETTE ‘ANN’ MATACIA in Charlottesville, VA. The daughter of AGOSTINO MATACIA and ROSALIA DEMMA, Ann was born February 09, 1909 in Charlottesville, VA, and died April 1970 in Atlantic City, NJ. Children of Charles John and Antoinette Matacia Lehrer: CHARLES-DAVID JOSEPH ‘CHICK’ LEHRER b. October 9, 1940 and ERNEST VINCENT ‘ERNIE’ LEHRER, b. January 6, 1945.
In 1909 when Charles ‘Cholly’ Lehrer was 5 years old his father, Joseph, died; and from that time on, Cholly was brought up by his strict Irish-Catholic mother, Mamie, with the help of her two brothers, Charles and James. The US Census for 1910 indicates that the four of them were already living together. In addition there is an entry for what appears to be Cholly’s brother James, who was 2 years old. James’ age is given in parentheses: perhaps he had recently died.
As the 1920 US Census for Atlantic City shows, Cholly was still living with his mother, Mamie, and her two brothers Charles and James Bloomer. Cholly (Charles, Jr.) is 16 in this entry.
Due to of the loss of Joseph Lehrer’s substantial income as an architect, Cholly went to work when he was but a kid of 9 (having completed his studies only through 3rd grade at this point). He was employed in the shooting galleries on Atlantic City’s Steeplechase Pier. Two views of the pier follow:
Because of his work schedule, regular grammar school was out of the question for Cholly, so he went to Vocational Grammar School, graduating in 1919 when he was 16. A year later he graduated from Vocational School in Atlantic City as an electrician. Although Cholly was an electrician by trade, he was also an excellent carpenter and painter.
La Forza del Destino
During the year 1930, Cholly Lehrer became the foreman in charge of the crew completing the electrical wiring of the new sound-equipped Paramount Theater in Charlottesville VA. And it was there in that Southern town, when Cholly took a room in Tony Matacia’s boarding house, that he fell in love with Tony’s sister, Antoinette ‘Ann’ Matacia, who lived just across the street. It was not long before Ann’s Sicilian father, Agostino ‘Gus’ Matacia, came after Cholly with a pistol, with all intents to severely wound him. And it was only through the physical intervention of Gus’ sons Laurence and Ernest Matacia that Cholly was saved from a long hospital stay. Such was the violence that Gus was wont to wrack upon his unwary victims. Laurence Matacia has reported that he and his brother Ernest pinned their father down on the stairway leading to the second floor in the Matacia homestead on Jefferson Street, and removed the pistol from Gus’ clenched fist amidst much screaming and shouting, not to mention evocations of the standard Sicilian curses.
But Agostino Matacia was only half of Cholly’s problem, for, at that very time, Cholly was already set to follow the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both of whom had married Irish women: Cholly’s Irish fiancee was Jeanne Dougherty who lived back in Atlantic City unaware of what had happened to Cholly in Charlottesville.
Though Cholly broke up with Jeanne Dougherty and married Antoinette Matacia, Cholly and Jeanne remained friends, and as fate would have it, Antoinette Matacia named her first-born, Charles ‘Chick’ Lehrer, after Jeanne’s brother who was Charles ‘Chick’ Dougherty. But there is a further twist to this story, for when Cholly died in 1969, he was still wearing the engagement ring that Jeanne Dougherty had given him years earlier!
The Paramount Theater in Charlottesville was to play yet another role in the history of Cholly’s family: for it was here in 1951 that Cholly’s son Chick, who was to become a professional musician, brought his grandmother, Rosina Demma Matacia, to see Mario Lanza in The Great Caruso. Chick well remembers his grandmother’s elation at hearing Lanza and Co. perform in many of the great scenes of Italian opera. Equally important to Rosina was the fact that Mario Lanza spoke in Sicilian during the course of the film: “Ciudi, Ciudi: Mario Lanza, he speak-a like-a me…beddi ggozzi!”
Two views of Charlottesville’s Paramount Theater follow:
During the Great Depression, Cholly and Ann lived in the hotel above McGurk’s Tavern in Atlantic City which was located on the corner of New Jersey Avenue and the main drag, Atlantic Avenue.
These are the entries from the 1940 US Census for Atlantic City: the location is still the hotel above McGurk’s Tavern but with a different address applied. At the time, Antoinette was pregnant with Chick and unemployed, while Cholly was working in his capacity as an electrician for an electrical contracting firm (unnamed).
During World War II, Cholly took charge of the electrical work at the radar station in Cape May NJ, and by war’s end, he became the superintendent of the newly-formed Garden State Construction Company in Atlantic City NJ which had just acquired a major contract from the Atlantic City Electric Company to build the Southern New Jersey electrical grid.
After the grid was completed, Cholly was put in charge of preparing the estimates for Garden State Construction Company. As long as the owner of the company, Mr. Christiansen, was alive, kickbacks were regularly sent to ‘Hap’ Farley, the political boss of Atlantic City, and all was well. But upon the death of Mr. Christiansen, the Garden State Construction Company was at the mercy of Farley and his cronies: the Atlantic City Police Force, Firemen, and Mafia.
Due to his 3-pack-per-day cigarette nicotine addiction, Cholly contracted emphysema at age 55, and within 10 years his life would be over. In fact, Cholly succumbed ‘Atlantic City-style’: driving home from work on December 30, 1969, he had just stopped for a red light when he suddenly suffered a heart attack due to lack of oxygen. (Cholly was far too tough of a guy to carry an oxygen tank in public). As a result, he drifted through the red light and rolled smack dab into the main gate of Atlantic City’s Bader Field Airport. The paramedics, who came to his rescue, stripped Cholly of every valuable on his body: watch, contents of his wallet, etc…very Atlantic City.
DOCUMENTS FROM CHOLLY’S WORKING YEARS BEFORE WW II
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