It’s Homecoming weekend at The Catholic University of America, and it got me thinking about a previous homecoming, back when I was a student. I was a freshman in the prehistoric days of 1967, when fraternities and the Greek system were not as strong as they once had been. I and many of my friends were not much interested in joining a frat, but we did want to join in some of the traditional Homecoming activities, like building a float for the parade in the stadium. A small group of us managed to finagle permission to participate as Independents, so then we needed to build a float.
We decided that if we could get a big barrel, we could mount wheels on it, decorate it, and use that in the parade. So a couple of us went to the Heckman’s pickle factory, which nestled right against the railroad tracks at 811 Monroe Street (behind what is now the Byte Back house on 9th St.).
Jacob Heckman immigrated from Russia and started the Heckman Products Corporation in 1919. At first located on Rhode Island Avenue, Heckman’s moved to Brookland in 1941, and was the only pickle factory in DC. They supplied Giant, Safeway, and all the other local food stores with good, fresh pickles: Tiny-Tot Sweet Gherkins, Kosher Kukumbers, Cheese and Cracker pickles, Cocktail Onions and dozens of other types.
Inside the factory, the pungent aroma of vinegar and pickling spices could almost knock you over, but the ladies working the line weren’t bothered by it. Heckman’s didn’t manufacture the pickles in big vats as was the norm, instead preparing them in the small jars that would go on store shelves. At its peak Heckman’s was producing 100,000 bushels of pickles a year. It was a Brookland institution. After watching the production line for a while, we bought a barrel ($5, if I remember right), hosed it out in the back, then rolled it back to the dorm.
WMATA bought the property where the factory stood and in 1973 Heckman's was forced to move as Metro needed to alter the track bed and shrink the lot in order to make way for the Brookland Metro stop. Heckman’s moved to Prince George’s County, and their ads continued to appear until the early 1980s when they seemed to disappear. But fortunately, Heckman’s is not entirely gone. Members of the Heckman family opened Heckman’s Delicatessen in Bethesda earlier this year. From all reports it’s one of the best Kosher delis in the area. I may have to go there for some pickles one of these days.