Freddy Is Still Smiling From A Wall In Fishtown Mural Preserves Memory Of A Youth The Neighborhood Loved

Posted: November 11, 1993

Freddy Adams crammed a lot of living into 16 years.

Started almost from the moment he took his first step. Ended being beaten to death on a North Philadelphia street corner.

In between, he took in everything life was handing out.

Playing baseball and soccer at school. Coaching hockey at the rec center. Giving haircuts in his basement. Playing cards under the sycamore . . .

Freddy Adams' life - the baseball glove, the soccer ball, the hockey stick, the scissors, the cards - and a little bit more are all there on the wall beside the basketball court of his beloved Fishtown Recreation Center, just down the street from the rowhouse that Freddy called home for all but one of his 16 years.

On the wall is a bigger-than-life mural "In Memory of Freddy Adams."

Adams, a junior at Northeast Catholic High School, was severely beaten last March 6, four days before his junior prom, during a fight between youths from a couple of rival playgrounds.

He died from head injuries two days later in Hahnemann University Hospital, shortly after he was removed from life support.

Three teen-age suspects are in jail awaiting trial.

Following his death, the family's small home on Flora Street was "jam- packed for weeks" with hundreds of friends and neighbors.

"Everybody loved Freddy," said his aunt, Sara Colville.

Loved him more than he ever knew.

More than his parents and two sisters ever knew, too.

Thus the mural on the wall beside the basketball court.

It was recently put there at the request of Colville, who "wanted people to always remember Freddy."

"I wanted him to never be forgotten," she said.

The mother of four also wanted the mural "to be a constant reminder of what violence can do."

Colville got the idea for the mural last summer. "I just thought it would be something nice, a way for the people to come together in Fishtown," she said.

Colville contacted Ted Clark, artist, painter, North Catholic alumnus and born-and-bred Fishtowner.

A graduate of the Art Institute of Philadelphia, Clark's come a long way since he charged a quarter apiece to make maps for kids in geography class at St. Michael's.

Clark figures he's done more than 300 works of art over the past 10 years, ''but I've never done anything like this. I've done other murals, but nothing on this level, on these terms."

The 32-year-old bachelor didn't know Freddy Adams, but was aware of what had happened. "I felt flattered to do it," Clark said. "Really flattered."

But before he could lift a brush, Clark "needed to do a lot of research. It helps to get a picture in my mind of the person I'm painting."

He began with Colville.

She gave Clark a class picture of Freddy wearing his high school sweater ("his mom liked that picture the best") taken just two weeks before he died. She told him how he played baseball at North Catholic, and soccer for the Irish American Soccer Club.

She told him how Freddy coached and refereed youth hockey at the Fishtown Recreation Center and gave classmates and kids in the neighborhood three-buck haircuts in his basement.

And Freddy's Aunt Sara also told Clark how her nephew played cards under a young sycamore beside the basketball court "whenever he needed new sneakers or something. He always seemed to win."

After a few months, Clark was ready to paint.

As he painted, an "interesting, helpful thing" occurred.

"A lot of kids came up to me and offered input," Clark said. "Kids are very honest. They'd tell me, 'Get him to smile more. He had the best smile. You don't have him quite right yet.' "

Clark knew he had it right when Adams' mother and grandmother visited the wall and told him, "You got him. That's exactly like him."

After three days, what Clark had - what all of Fishtown had - was a 10- by 40-foot mural of a handsome young man with dark hair, hazel eyes and a smile that seems to stretch from one end of the wall to the other.

Beside the mural is a smaller wall. Clark calls it the "signing wall." It's covered with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of names of young people who signed the wall as their own personal memorial to the slain youth.

On either side of Freddy Adams' picture are painted a lifetime of memories . . . a soccer ball, a baseball glove, a hockey stick, a whistle, North Catholic's logo, a heart royal flush ("hearts because he seemed like he had a lot of heart"), scissors . . .

There's also the peace sign. Beside it is written: "Keep The Peace In The Streets."

Everything is just the way Aunt Sara wanted it.

"They're all the symbols that resembled Freddy and what he did with his life," she said.

A lot of symbols for such a short life.

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