Dugan’s Man! by
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(149 Stories)

Prompted By Door-to-Door Sales

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As mentioned, I grew up in a rural town in Connecticut called Bethany.  Bethany was only about five miles (actually five and six-tenths, as I recall the directions my parents would explicitly give out) from the New Haven line, but truly was “the sticks” at that time.  It had only two general stores/gas stations.  So any real shopping required driving.

Compounding this issue, when my parents moved to Bethany just before I was born, they had only one car — not atypical for post-WW II families.  My father was a doctor and professor at Yale Medical School. so he obviously had to get “in town” every day.  As I recall, one or two days a week he carpooled into New Haven with other Yale doctors who lived in Bethany, but otherwise my mother was car-less.  So door-to-door-sales were pretty important to meeting our shopping needs.

There was, of course, the Fuller Brush man, and a knife sharpener and even a fairly decent food truck that came a couple of times a week and had a freezer unit with meats and frozen foods.  None of these interested me much; I vastly preferred to go shopping in stores.  But there were two door-to-door merchants whom I looked forward to.  The first was, of course, the Good Humor man, who came every Sunday and from whose truck we stocked up for the week.  And he always seemed to find a mushed up treat of some sort at the back of his freezer to give to our huge dog Lum, who would devour it in a couple of gulps.

I assume a lot of us remember the Good Humor man.  But does anyone else remember the Dugan’s man?

Dugan’s was a door-to-door bakery that came by once or twice a week. I believe it operated only in the NY-NJ-CT area.  Unlike the Good Humor man, the Dugan’s man got out of his blue and white truck (see featured image) and came inside with his huge basket, always announcing himself in a deep voice: “It’s the Dugan’s Man!” I recall our Dugan’s man was tall — of course, everyone looked tall to me then — with blond curly hair and looked and sounded a lot like Durward Kirby, the announcer on the Garry Moore Show.  In fact, I once got up the nerve to mention this to him and he broke into a big grin and said, “Yeah, a lot of people say that.”

In any event, even though there was an excellent bakery “in town,” who could complain about a bakery that brought its stuff right to your home?  I mean, this was like the candy store actually coming to you.  And, like most kids, I just craved sweets generally, so I couldn’t even tell you if Dugan’s products were particularly good. But I can still vividly remember my favorites from Dugan’s: french crullers ( a six-pack); yellow cupcakes with thick, rich frosting on top that you could remove easily and save for last (eight to a box: two with vanilla frosting, two with strawberry, and four with chocolate); and apple spice cupcakes with vanilla frosting.  My mother, to her credit, limited our weekly quota of this stuff, but I still remember scarfing it all down joyously with a glass or two of Hawaiian Punch. It’s amazing that I didn’t just walk around with a constant sugar high. In any event, I now realize that I knew about (and craved) food porn even before I knew about porn porn.

Of course, like moist families, we eventually got two cars and so, even as Bethany stayed pretty rural over the years, it became a whole lot easier to go to the shopping than have it come to you.  And I am sure that that was a pattern that repeated itself throughout middle-class America as we were growing up and contributed to the — metaphorical — death of the door-to-door salesmen (with apologies to Arthur Miller).

In fact, in looking for an image for this story, I came across this obituary from 1964 of the then-president of Dugan’s:

As noted, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at age 52.  Of course, one can never know what might motivate someone to commit suicide, especially a stranger.  But I do wonder if it had anything to do with the demise of his door-to-door business.

RIP, Dugan’s Man.

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin


Characterizations: well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Thanks for all the great memories, John. We ran after the Good Humor truck in the summer, but never stocked our freezer with his goodies, just bought something off the truck, as I believe he drove by every night.

    And we still had a milk man who delivered twice a week through that chute in the side of the house; retrieving the empties that would be placed there.

    But what a wonderful thing to have baked goods delivered fresh to your house, and you remember them so vividly…yes food porn for your young self. Sounds like heaven. How sad that Mr. Dugan shot himself. I wonder if he ever knew how much joy he brought to his customers.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Betsy, and glad you enjoyed reading it. Though undoubtedly not as much as I did eating the stuff at the time.

      While, of course, the suicide was sad, I doubt whether Mr. Hartman had much to do with baking. Based on the obituary noting his various other businesses, it sounded like he was more of a “money man.” Plus, I am not sure if you could see on the side of the truck, but it said that Dugan’s was founded in 1878. Quite likely, it had passed out of the family eighty years later.

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        You’re right, John. I didn’t expand the photo, and my eyesight isn’t good enough these days (nor did I think it through) to realize this wasn’t the ORIGINAL Dugan’s man.

        Also, as you point out, once your family got a second car, though your area retained its rural nature, shopping changed dramatically I’m sure.

  2. Marian says:

    YES, YES, John, the Dugan’s man was a part of my childhood (see my story). Thank you so much for filling in a lot of details. How sad, I had no idea that the president died by suicide. You are right about the numbers of cupcakes (I think I wrote a half dozen) and the flavors. And indeed, the icing on them was really thick, so thick that my brother and I peeled it off, ate the cupcake first, and then the icing. I guess we never got the other goodies because I don’t remember them. Our Dugan’s man had dark hair and also was tall (from my perspective). We had the Good Humor truck in the summer months, and I remember getting the “Chocolate Cake” bar for a dime.

  3. Suzy says:

    As I just wrote to Marian, I’m amazed that I never heard of Dugan’s, growing up in New Jersey. Guess they didn’t come to my neighborhood, not as posh as you folks in Bethany! Also, the Good Humor man didn’t come to our house, we only saw the Good Humor truck at places like parks or lakes, where kids lined up to get a single treat. The idea of having Good Humor in your freezer at home is mind-boggling! Glad to hear that you had the Fuller Brush man too, even if his products didn’t interest you. I’m sure that would be even more true of the Avon Lady! Thanks for this great story, I think I need to eat a cupcake now!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Suzy. I think that Dugan’s was mainly a CT and Long Island thing. And thanks for putting the words “Bethany” and “posh” in the same sentence for the first time ever.
      I also remember having “discussions” with my parents as to whether the big freezer in our basement was primarily intended to be filled with Good Humor treats or, as they seemed to think, meats and frozen vegetables. In my defense, there were always a lot of people over on weekends in the summer to play tennis, and my parents’ tennis friends enjoyed the Good Humors as much as we kids did. They also enjoyed their gin and tonics.

  4. Wonderful story, John. We also had a Good Humor Man, although we didn’t stock up our giant chest freezer in the garage with treats. Instead, a butcher from the local market would drive his truck into our backyard and load up the freezer with meat of every description. Of course I thought nothing of it as a kid, but .now I’m kind of amazed because I’m so aware of how much meat costs. Not that I eat that much of it these days anyway.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Barb. As I mentioned in one of my comments, my parents had sort of a theological disagreement with my brother and me as to whether our freezer was primarily intended for meats and frozen vegetables or Good Humor treats.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Of course I remember the Good Humor man, John. His arrival was the highlight of the week and my brothers and I begged for money to buy his treats. Later, my younger brother drove one of the trucks and said it was the best job of his life. Wish we had a Dugan’s man when I was growing up. Maybe my mother wouldn’t have bought us those awful hostess cupcakes and Twinkies.

  6. John, I don’t remember the Dugan’s Man, maybe the Bronx wasn’t part of Dugan territory. Sorry about the suicide, indeed one never knows why one is driven to that.

    But we all remember the Good Humor man and our favorite flavors – mine was, and still is, Toasted Almond!

  7. rogerhaight says:

    John, I also grew up in a backwater town of Old Tappan in Bergen County, northern NJ. And even though I was very young (still at home not yet in kindergarten) I do remember the Dugan Man (that’s what I remember that he called himself). My mom didn’t drive, and I do remember him coming to the front door with his huge, wide basket on his arm with the broad basket handle, calling out what I guess was their claim to fame, the happy, energetic “It’s the Dugan Man”. Of course, I also remember him being very tall and he was thin and had dark hair and a big smile when he called out on his way to the door, with a spring in his step. This would have been the very early 1960’s , so they were still around then. My mom rarely bought too much, since we were a family with six children, but every so often she would get something small and I remember we would share it at lunch time at home— at that time my three older siblings were in school, and my two younger twin brothers were still babies, so only my mom and I would share whatever small treat she had bought. I remember being on a cloud when she splurged. Back then, someone coming to the front door was exciting. Today everyone looks up when the doorbell rings and wonders “who the heck could that be”.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Than ks, I’m glad someone else also had the experience of the Dugan’s Man and his blue and white van coming to his house. It was truly a happy experience. And I doubt whether the same guy had the Northern NJ and Southern CT route, but interesting that both of our Dugan’s Men were so similar in appearance — though why wouldn’t they all be happy?

      Thanks for sharing. Do you remember what your favorite Dugan’s treats were?

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