By Seaver Rice

Article Below Repritned from the Southbridge Evening News, December 29, 1974:

YMCA Photo courtesy of Jacob Edwards Library / Southbridge Historical Society

The demolition of the old YMCA building at the corner of Main and Elm Streets in Southbridge brings back a flood of memories to the citizens of this community.

Constructed in 1893, it was at the time one of the most modern YMCA's in New England. For over 80 years, it was a center where, as youth, many of our townsmen have spent many happy hours in their formative years.

In latter years it has deviated somewhat from its original intention of a combined religious and physical project to stress more of the physical side of the picture.

It seems to me after a lifetime's observation that people are more interested in the human connections of an edifice than they are of dry statistics.

One of the humorous events that occurred at the old Y 62 years ago, and one remembered most vividly in the history of our town, was the day in 1912 when a man was scheduled to be the main attraction at a Firemen's Muster and leap 100 feet from the top of the Y into a net below. This man was Alex Mominee, better known as Jerry.

I first learned of this episode and have pieced together details of it later when I cam to Southbridge several years after the event to work at the American Optical Company. I was employed as a clerk in the newly-constructed building then known as the Lens Cement building or as 2-L on the company's records.

I had been there a few weeks when my duties took me through the Lens Edging Department, a process of shaping lenses on a grinding wheel to fit into optical frames.

In those days thousands of lenses were edged on automatic edging machines. Dave Patterson, a recently-arrived Scotsman with a decided Scottish burr in his voice was in charge of this department.

Fontaine also a legend

There was a young man by the name of Chick Fontaine, who was employed there and was the departmental comic and a practical joker.

He, too, is a Southbridge legend and I remember him at a baseball game one day when he shouted some ungrammatical remark at one of the players, and an erudite individual seated close by with a decided Harvard accent chided Chick for his language and said, "Where's your grammar?"

Chick misinterpreted the remark and replied, "My grandma is dead, where's yours?"

Well, to get back to the main theme of my story, as I was passing through the Edging Department my gaze was directed to a man 30 feet up on a ladder, painting one side of the wall, who was decidedly absorbed in his work. Chick trailed behind me and as we passed the ladder he yelled "jump Jerry jump" and then took off on a run.

The next thing I knew, a paint brush sailed by my head, followed by a paint buck and a perfect stream of epithets in the French language belched forth from the man on the ladder. He wasn't just made. He was hopping mad and he actually shook with rage.

I observed Octave DeGrenier among the men who were doubled up with laughter over this event and asked him what this demonstration was all about. He then explained to me that Jerry was the man who attempted to leap off the YMCA roof a few years before with humiliating results.

The leap for life

Jerry had been a great showman in his day, had traveled with Sig Santelli's circus and did a tight-wire balancing act and doubled as a circus clown. He also had performed in vaudeville in a contortion act in which he squeezed himself into a small-sized box. The word got around that there wasn't anything that Jerry couldn't do in show "biz" and the local fire department had hired him for $20 to be the main attraction at the Firemen's Muster. He was to make the leap for life from the top of the Y.

There was a huge crowd in attendance at the muster on that Saturday and the square in front of the building was jammed with people, including visiting firemen.

He disappeared

"Will he make it?" was the thought in everyone's mind. He stood silhouetted against the rays of the western sun. He looked again, shook his head and disappeared.

A few moments later his head protruded from a window of the floor below. He stepped out onto the ledge. The crowd was expectant. The men holding the life net were ready. The musicians in the band were posed with their instruments ready to break into the Star-Spangled Banner when Jerry and his flag flew into the net.

He stood there and looked down again, his face contorted with fear. He stepped back into the room and was hidden from view and in a few moments he appeared on the second floor at a window, which he pulled up to step out onto the ledge.

The people massed below were frantic with nervous expectation. He must jump now.

His wife, who was among the spectators, was sick with the frightening thought of Jerry's failure and disgrace. After all, wasn't he the great Jerry Mominee who had thrilled thousands in his circus acts? Hadn't she loved him and been his loyal helpmate through the years? Hadn't she sent him $10 that time when he was stranded in Buffalo? Jerry had wired her in these words, "If you love me, send me ten. If you don't, send me five." Jerry had gotten the ten. She had always come through in the clutch.

Could stand it no longer

"Please God," she implored, "Don't let him fail me now." Jerry still stood there on the window ledge. It was only 40 feet now to the net. She could stand it no longer. Her shrill voice rang out, "Jump, Jerry, jump."

The crowd took up the chant, "jump, Jerry, jump!" A man's arm suddenly reached out of the window and grasped Jerry around the waist and hauled him to safety.

A few seconds later a body came flying through the air and landed in the net. It was Joe Proulx, "The Hamburger King" from Wesson's Diner, who had gotten into the act and saved the day for the Southbridge Fire Department.

Jerry never lived down the debacle at the Firemen's Muster and until his dying day it was the signal for tormenters, upon catching sight of him, to shout out in derision, "Jump, Jerry, jump."

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