The sheeny man in his sheeny wagon used to be a staple in Polish communities of Michigan.
He would trek down the alleyways with his cart, pulled by a horse if he had the money, or pulled by himself if he did not.
The sheeny man would be glad to collect rags, scraps and odds and ends. Other accounts have him sharpening knives, scissors and tools.
I only know the sheeny man from my mom’s stern admonishments that our car would look like a sheeny wagon if my brother and I kept taping paper on the back windows to block out the sun.
“The sheeny man is going to get you,” was a threat often used, much like the threat of the boogie man is thrown about today.
One account of the sheeny man can be found at wowthathadtohurt.blogspot.com/2007/11/here-comes-sheeny-man.html
The blogger shares her story of how she would sneak things to the sheeny man when he regularly visited her grandmother’s house.
Sheeny men could be of any race, creed or age, although they tended to be older guys with tattered clothing.
I never heard of the word as a racial slur until it was pointed out by a few readers in my school bus commentary (www.tucsoncitizen.com/daily/breakingnews/116722.php).
Upon further investigation, I found the word was, in fact, once a derogatory word used for Jews, although that was not the usage I intended.
The word sheeny is of unknown origin and had its heyday as a vulgar term around the turn of the 19th century.
It has since fallen from popularity as a slur, but is still remembered by those who recall the rag men in alleys of Hamtramck and Detroit.
More on the sheeny man: listsearches.rootsweb.com/th/read/MI-POLISH/2007-05/1178062727