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A Vietnam Vet Says He Lived in a Veteran's Stadium Concession Stand for 3 Years

Source - In his new book, The Secret Apartment: Vet Stadium, a surreal memoir, [Tom] Garvey details how from 1979 to 1981 he lived in an empty concession stand inside the Vet which he secretly refurbished into an apartment in his very own “off-the-wall South Philly version of the Phantom of the Opera.” 

“I was like a kid with a Willy Wonka golden ticket,” he said.

From taking hits in the empty Phillies dugout (and not the kind that require a baseball bat) to throwing halftime parties in his apartment and detailing encounters with Philly sports legends like McGraw, Dick Vermeil, and Julius Erving, Garvey’s self-published book reads like a Philly sports fan’s fever dream.

“I always knew this was bizarre but when I put it together and assembled the stories I thought ‘Holy God!’” he said. 

Garvey, 78, of Ambler, never took photos of the apartment and didn’t allow visitors to either, for fear of getting caught. And given that the Vet was demolished in 2004, he can’t prove it actually existed.

But three people separately corroborated Garvey’s story for The Inquirer including Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Famer Bill Bradley; former Electric Factory general manager Michael McNally; and Garvey’s cousin, Terry Nilon, all of whom said they visited Garvey’s secret apartment. ...

The concession stand was literally and figuratively out in left field, in a low-traffic area by gate D on the 200 level. Garvey estimates it was roughly 60-feet long by 30-feet wide with a sloped roof.

He arranged the space so that if someone opened the door, all they would see was a wall of cardboard boxes, but hidden at one end of the boxes was a corridor which opened up into the secret apartment.

Bill Bradley, a longtime friend of Garvey’s who played for the Eagles from 1969 to 1976 and worked in sports management in Philly until 1980, said the apartment was “fantastic.”

I have to admit, this idea does have some appeal. If you told me when I was say, 14 years old that I could live in Fenway or The Boston Garden (forget the old stadium in Foxboro, it would've been like liviing in a lean-to), I'd have taken that over living in Buckingham Palace, the White House or the Playboy Mansion. 

But Veteran's Stadium? That's a whole other matter. From everything I was told as a kid, it was the ninth circle of hell. Never mind that Eagles games of the era were basically "Lord of the Flies," and so out of control they built a lock up and put a judge on duty and held arraignment sessions right in the building. I remember hearing the legend of roving herds of feral cats running around, living off the rats they could catch. Pass. It makes me think Tom Garvey's book will be less like a wacky adventure tale and more like the worst indictment of the way we treated Vietnam Vets since "First Blood." 

But wait! There's more:

OK, I stand corrected. I'm man enough to admit I was wrong. This was a wild adventure for Garvey. He was living rent free. In a comfortable man cave equipped with a phone he didn't have to pay for. He was watching all the Phillies and Eagles games he wanted to. He got to hang out with players, drink with Tug McGraw and meet Dick Vermeil. This isn't so much like the plight of a poor, downtrodden homeless veteran than it is a fantasy. 

When I was in fourth grade my favorite book was "My Side of the Mountain," about a kid who runs away from his family's crowded NYC apartment to go live in the wilderness. He makes a hollow tree into a house, buckskin clothes out of a deer he kills, and raises a baby falcon to be his friend and hunt for him. Garvey's story reminds me of that. Only with beer and Tug McGraw instead of venison and a pet bird. And I can't imagine any guy who wouldn't at least consider stepping out of their own life of struggles and responsibility for three years of carefree, zero pressure squatting in a multipurpose stadium with 81 baseball games, eight football games, playoffs and the occasional summer concert to keep him from getting bored. Thanks for your service, Tom Garvey. And congrats on living your best life from 1979-81.