AA]= Author Additions accompany this transcript in the last section of this page
Interviewees: Nancy Berman (NB) and friend Nancy Holmes (NH); This part is primarily with Nancy Berman. Click here for Nancy Holmes.
Interviewers: Wendy Moody (WM) and Ellen Sheehan (ES)
Date of Interview: February 14, 2019
ES: This is Ellen Sheehan recording Nancy Holmes and Nancy Berman for an oral history interview on Thursday, February 14, 2019. I’m here with Wendy Moody and we are going to conduct our interview with these neighbors who grew up on the 3300 block of West Queen Lane.
Interview with Nancy Berman:
WM: Thank you both for coming. Nancy Berman, we’ll begin with you, and Nancy Holmes feel free to interject if you’d like. Why don’t we start with when and where you were born.
NB: Absolutely. September 3, 1946. Roxborough Memorial Hospital. My parents were both living in East Falls at the time – James Turner[AA]1and his wife, Eleanor[AA]2. Her maiden name was Quein and they lived in the business and home of my grandfather at the time. And there was also a housekeeper/cook, Lila Vaughn, who was also an integral part of our family.
WM: And where was your grandfather’s business, and what was his business?
NB: It was at the foot of Midvale and Ridge – at the intersection where there is currently a gas station – 4170 Ridge Avenue – and it’s now a gas station!
WM: And what was the business?
NB: Well, we were a multigenerational family of undertakers so some of my first memories are playing underneath caskets in what would have been the living room of what would have been a family home right there on the Ridge, and my kindergarten teacher at Park Congregational – I think on Midvale, it’s still there -- used to thoroughly enjoy all the flowers I would snitch from the baskets and take to her until I was prevented from doing so, once she found out where they came from. [AA]3
WM: What was the name of the business?
NB: It was Turner Funeral Home.
ES: What was the name of the flower business?
NB: Well, they used all sorts of flower companies - the families around here, so I don’t really remember that. I was four or five years old when this was going on. I know that one of them used to be in business right there above the hospital on the Ridge. Nan, do you recall their names? I don’t. I used to know them but I don’t anymore.
WM: Can you tell us a little about your grandfather and his wife, and the housekeeper that you had, and all you can remember about his business?
NB: Ok. My grandfather was very much the patriarch and he was a holdover from the Edwardian period.
WM: His name?
NB: His name was William Mills Turner – and he dressed on the outside and the inside as if you were someone walking the streets in London. And he did it morning, noon, and night because of the family business. So he was an anomaly – he would wear a cutaway and vest, a top hat, corsets and spats. I remember each item of clothing distinctly, and a cane maybe – it would fit, but I don’t remember that part.[AA]4
WM: Do you know how he happened to get into that business?
NB: It could very well be that there was a member of our family before he was running it. But I’m not clear about that part of the history. As someone who loves history – I’ve been doing a lot of online research – I know that large numbers of our family came from Blackburn, England, and the surrounding countryside had a lot of farmers and carpenters and weavers and beer makers, brewers, and it could be that, as it used to be the case, farmers would do carpentry on their farm – that entailed making coffins – and it could just be that that was the segue. That’s historically accurate but I don’t know if it’s individually accurate.
WM: Right. About what year are we talking about that this business existed?
NB: Well, I know that I have the date of my grandfather’s birth in here somewhere and I think he had been in business with someone else at some point, whose name is now lost to me, but maybe someone else could come up with that. But it was in full swing when I was born in 1946 and had been going on for years before that and it carried through all the way with my father and uncle. For a while they had two locations – one in East Falls and one in Roxborough – a much bigger one, two buildings, much grander.
And so my uncle Mills and my dad Jim, or James, and my brother also ran it. And I was invited to be an undertaker but it wasn’t in my nature to do so. So it ended when my brother inherited the family business – my father died – and he sold out to West Laurel Hill. He worked for them for a while with his license and the property was torn down, which is really sad because it was a beautiful old structure at the top of the Ridge and it became a strip mall. So both funeral parlors suffered an ignominious end.
WM: Going back to the one in East Falls, tell us a little about your grandfather’s personality and then, also, can you describe what the funeral parlor looked like?
NB: He was quite the ladies’ man, I am told. He was charming and dapper and he drank too much.
WM: You said his wife had died young so he was…
NB: Caroline, I think, was her name. I’m not completely sure what happened to her but there is some mythology that the doctor had prescribed morphine? And I don’t know the details and I don’t know the accuracy of that, but that was just never talked about. I was too young – it was the kind of topic children were not told about back then.
But he always presented himself beautifully and whatever drinking he did didn’t affect his business life. Lila was there to help raise the boys because she (Caroline) died fairly early into the marriage and left behind two sons, one of whom also died fairly young. And I think around the same time - it could have been typhoid, or something like that, whatever illnesses might have been sweeping through, or the flu – but I could be making that up too. But they did startlingly die right around each other.
WM: So they had two sons. One of them died and the other was your…
NB: Three sons.
WM: One of them was your father?
NB: Three sons. Two survived and one died quite early – Wallace. And James and Mills survived, Mills the elder. And they ran, pretty much, the new funeral home up at Roxborough.
WM: Now can you describe the one in East Falls?
NB: It was, I believe, a converted family home. Please consider my apology because, again, I’m so young. But I remember stairs, I remember a kitchen – perhaps in the back – and my father used to play poker back there with a lot of his buddies from the war. And Lila would come in every day – a holdover from when grandfather was alone with the boys – and she would cook all the meals and clean. And then as you would go upstairs, I recall pictures of me in a crib in the bedrooms upstairs and a deck out back where you could see the river. And you could see elderly gentlemen fishing along the river. And what we used to call – pardon, pigeon-shit bridge– it always needed a paint job. (Laughter).
WM: The first floor was the funeral parlor and you lived upstairs?
NB:Yes. Where the embalming occurred I’m not at all clear but it had to happen somewhere!
WM: So tell us a little about the business. What was the clientele?
NB: Typical Protestant, East Falls citizens – the lower level of the hill all the way up and following the economic strata with it. The thing that was most different back then is that, as I recall, my father complaining mightily about all the stairs he’d have to climb because funerals were done at home back then. They weren’t done nearly so often in the parlor. That became more important with the newer, second location which had two grand parlors but the ones in East Falls, I’m not sure, that they had one. I think it was strictly done out of people’s homes.
NH: And you said the living room was full of the caskets on display.
NB: But maybe they were pushed aside and something was done to accommodate the ceremony there on those rarer occasions when they would be held. A wicker basket, which I remember distinctly, was used to carry the deceased, perhaps to the medical examiner’s office if that needed to happen or perhaps for the embalming to take place and then back up the steps again. And there were candelabra – I still have two candlesticks, floor to ceiling, in our family, which I gave to our daughter – carved of wood for the Catholic ceremonies, which were rare because the clientele were almost always Protestant because that’s what we were. It was a very political and religious divide among the demographics of who would go to which undertaker.
WM: And what was the other undertaker?
NB: Well, the McIlvaines were one of them – I don’t recall the names but there were a number, since driven out of business because funeral parlors have been bought up by corporations pretty much now. But we were a distinct family business and the charming, sad thing was, because there were no credit cards back then, people would pre-purchase and they would become very much a part of our lives. They would drop in the funeral home and add to the fund to pay for their burial. And they would do that for family members as well so there was a lot of camaraderie, a lot of gossip would occur, it was one of a number of ways that the community shared history.
WM: That’s so interesting. And where were most of these people buried?
NB: East and West Laurel Hill would probably be two of the stronger examples. I would hear the names of cemeteries over the dinner table floated as general conversation all the time.
WM: Now you mentioned McIlvaine’s – was there competition between you?
NB: Extreme. (laughter)
WM: Can you talk about that?
NB: Lots of curmudgeonly back-biting going on. It’s not a conversation that most people are privy to because the veneer of the service is such, and the event is so important to the family that’s experiencing the loss, but what would go on behind the curtain would be things like: “I can’t believe he got that one” kind of conversation. (laughter). There would be crossovers, where people would go to competing Protestant undertakers, so there was a lot of competition and racking them up, and keeping count of how many people died that year… it was such a very different atmosphere that I was seeing both sides of that curtain all the time.
NH:Some of the McIlvaines are at Henry and Midvale.[AA]5
WM: Before we move on, is there anything else about that business that you would like to share with us?
NB: I think not. (laughter)
WM: Ok. So do you have brothers and sisters?
NB: I do. I have one of each. A brother and a sister - Lisa and Jim. They since moved far away and have no association with the neighborhood.
WM: You lived here from what age to what age?
NB: I was born here and I stayed in East Falls after we moved to Queen Lane from the funeral home. Grandfather bought a house at 3307 West Queen Lane and he lived on the top floor, my parents and my younger brother and I, with Lila coming in every day, lived there and I was about 13 when we finally moved to Lafayette Hill.
WM: So we’re very interested in what you remember as a child as far as schooling, the stores and recreation. So could you touch on each of those?
NB: That’s the fun part! I distinctly remember Tilden Market as a very important part of my life, even though I wasn’t doing any grocery shopping because it was Nan, who’s going to talk next – Nancy and I and Sally, who also lived on the block…
NH: Sally Hanna .[AA]6
NB:Sally Hanna. We would be wild and free and unsupervised for almost the entire day. The way children are raised now is completely different from how we were raised. I ran from the house and I was thrown from the house. Everybody was happy with the situation. I was allowed to get dirty, scrape my knees, drive my bike anywhere I wanted to go, or roller skate any street that felt good to roller skate.
WM: What were the good roller skating streets?
NB: Penn Street![AA]7
WM: What about Tilden Market – what was your memory there?
NB: It was a bike stop because they had popsicles and ice cream cones in the freezer section and candy bars and all that good stuff.
NH:Also the drug store. Tilden Drug Store. Dave and Shirley.
WM: Is that who owned it?
NH:Dave and Shirley Petnick.
WM: And who owned the Market?
NH: Al Bralow, who lived up here on the corner.[AA]8
WM: And what other stores do you remember?
NB: Well some of the poker-playing crew included the owner of Buchanan Pharmacy and, let’s see, Norman Diehm - his dad did art restoration and he lived around here somewhere and I wish I could remember his father’s name - he also painted pictures. He was an artist – not Norm, but his dad was an artist. Norman dated for a very long time, but never married, Mildred Tregea. She worked at the Reading Railroad. She lived behind the library on a small street on the hill there and I remember her taking the train in every day to get to the Reading Terminal to do her job and she was also a babysitter.
WM: Going back to Buchanan Pharmacy, where was that located and what do you remember about that?
NH: Indian Queen Lane and Bowman
NB: I remember the smell of it.
WM: Which was…
NB: …unlike any other building that you go in, because of all the pharmaceuticals. Do I remember correctly that they also did sodas there or am I wrong about that? And it was a mysterious place because when you have a child’s brain and you’re trying to knit together what you’re seeing through your eyes and process it with a brain that’s not ready to do that, everything was a mystery!
WM: Where did you go to buy clothes?
NB: Well, my mother had a sewing machine so she did a great deal of sewing on her sewing machine. And there was a ragman who would come down the street with a wagon collecting old fabrics and recycling them and turning them into paper. I think Rowell’s Department Store was a huge deal when it finally opened, and Allen’s in Germantown. And it was a big change for her to get those plate credit cards – those little metal plates that you put in a leather sleeve and off she’d go and buy things at Allen’s and Rowell’s. [AA]9
WM: You mentioned the Five & Ten? Can you tell us about that? Where was it?
NB: One of my favorite memories as a very small child was grandfather - with his cigars, and the ashes dribbling down his vest - would take me after kindergarten, either Park Congregational or St. Timothy’s, I don’t recall which, over to the Five & Dime every once in a while, and let me run wild through the aisles. They had wooden floors.
WM: This was at Ridge and Midvale?
NB:Yes, on the corner directly across the street from our home.
WM: Where Le Bus is now?
NB:Yes, Le Bus is in there now. I can still hear the wooden floors creaking and they had large square display counters in the middle of the store just piled high. It was an artless form of selling. It was very much a general store sort of place. You could get everything and anything because there were so few shops.
WM: What did you like getting there?
NB: I don’t even remember, but I was given a small amount of money – we’re talking dimes here - because it was a five and dime, truly, and I was allowed to run around through all those aisles and finally pick something and go home with it.
NH:Crayons. Coloring books. Trinkets.
NB: I’ll go with it – whatever you say.
WM: Did you go to any restaurants?
NB: Oh! I’m remembering those things you used to put your fingers in…
All: Chinese tortures!
NB:Maybe an Etch-a-Sketch thing, but that may be later; I’m not sure.
NH: Are you sure about the corner? I thought it was the opposite corner.
ES: A hardware store was across.
WM: Did you ever go to restaurants?
NB:Yes, but there wasn’t anything around here. I don’t recall any restaurant.
WM: What was the general flavor of the neighborhood? What do you think of when you think of East Falls in the late Forties and early Fifties?
WM: Meaning what?
NB: We were watched but we didn’t know it! It was the glorious way you were allowed to run free, but we were also being observed by everybody and anybody, as kids. They all knew who we were, whether we liked it or not or whether we knew it or not. And there was a lot of over-the-backyard clothesline talk and I remember that and there was a lot of history going on - where it was very much a small town and everybody knew everybody’s business, whether you liked it or not or whether you wanted it or not. Whether it was even true or not. They did!
WM: Did you ever go down to the river and play down there? Or McMichael Park?
NB:McMichael Park was huge for us, not the river.
WM: What did you do in the park?
NB:(laughter) We rode our bicycles over there and Nan and I would pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or maybe rolled Lebanon baloney with cream cheese and an apple or something like that and climb the trees. Or Lila would walk me over there and we would pick the buttercups or make clover chains to wear as wreaths on our head.
NH: We took our picnics up on top of the monument – it was so tall then, now it looks really tiny.
NB: It was the equivalent of Mount Everest.
WM: But not the river so much…
NB: No, you’d have to cross East River Drive to get to the river.
ES: How about McDevitt? (ed. note: the local playground)
NB:There’s one more memory of the park Nan and I also shared. Fourth of Julys we would take our bicycles and put bunting on them and then we’d go over to the park and be part of the big parade. Soldiers would come with their flags – up the Ridge with their flags and their uniforms.
NH: Up Midvale…
NB: Up Midvale, and wind up at the park. And I remember they’d shoot off their guns in salute and stand there for the ceremony.
WM: Were you affiliated with one of the churches at the Fourth of July?
NB:Ummm… they tried with me…we started me out at the Baptist Church but some little boy punched me in the stomach and I cried and I decided that wasn’t the place for me. So I marched myself off to the church of The Oak Road and I joined the choir and became a member there, and joined the youth group and it was where I first dated. It was a lovely place to learn to become a young adult.
ES: And where did you go on a date?
I actually went to McMichael Park once with some young man who was into rockets and he shot up a rocket in the park during the whole Sputnik thing where everyone was going wild about rockets. I dated a young man later who was a Quaker. He went to Germantown Friends. We’d go to each other’s houses or go bowling or to the movies. That was pretty much it.
ES: Do you remember the Alden movie?
NB:Yay! I feel like I’m getting all the heavy hitters here. Yes, I want Nan to be able to talk about this stuff too. But, yes, the Alden Park movie theater was huge. Cowboys and Indians.[AA]10
ES: So you went to Lankenau School(for Girls)? (ed. Note: 3201 West School House Lane)
NB:Yes, we did together.
WM: Was that your grammar school?
NB: I was there all through kindergarten, first grade, all through 11 & ½ grade when we moved to Lafayette Hill and I was done with the commute. I did not like going there by car every day. My brother attended Penn Charter and he was across the street. It was a huge part of my life for many, many years. So I had a huge experience with Lutheran values, Lutheran services, as it was run by Lutheran deaconesses.
ES: Were the sisters there? Did they call them sisters?
NB:They did. German Lutheran. Run by Sister Lydia, [AA]11,founded by Mr. Lankenau, who founded the hospital. [AA]12 Mrs. Ida from Russia used to take us on nature walks in the Wissahickon. And it’s one of the last places - we were members of the last generation where little girls were shown how to pour tea and do a sampler and embroider and all that stuff, along with history and science and math.
ES: How large were the classes?
NB:They were teeny tiny. As I recall, I think 12 was a lot in the lower school grades, and we used to be educated and taught and do classes and events in all these buildings that used to be private homes. The stable – the gym used to be a stable. Gym was a pretty hideous experience. Nasty gym clothes that you never washed out of a point of honor. Clearly wasn’t a structure built to be a gym. So to be asked about sports, ugh, we did field hockey but I loathed it.
WM: Can you tell us a little about life on Queen Lane & describe what it was like?
NB:Back to the eyeballs and the bicycles again!
ES: Do you remember neighbors who lived here?
NB:Sure. Nancy would be good to talk about them more than I. The colorful part to add that is important for me is just that freedom and wildness, and to be able to be very young for a very long time, like running across yards and gathering fireflies in a jar and leaving them by your bedtable. And there they’d be in the morning and releasing them. There was such a calm innocence and protection going on around here. It was amazing considering we were all being trained to hide under our desks for the A Bomb.
WM: Not many cars?
NB: Cars were a huge feature but only because they were so unique. There were very few cars in the earlier years of our youth. And when Nancy’s family got their first family car, and when I got mine, that was a big thing to be talked about. Also, who got the first TV and what was that like.[AA]15
WM: Early fifties?
NB:Yes, watching Howdy Doody on television. Motorola, I think.[AA]16
WM: Did you use public transportation at all? Do you remember the train station or the trolley?
NB:When we got older, we would be allowed to – again, questioning the safety of it all – get on the A bus and go into town. Or we walked to Germantown on our own and go to the Dairy Maid and have ice cream sodas.
WM: Where was that?
NH: Germantown Avenue, just south of Chelten.
WM: People walked so much more then.
NH: I didn’t walk there – I took the 52 trolley.[AA]17
WM: Did you know the Kellys?
WM: Can you tell us about your connection?
NB: It was slight. It was peripheral. We were well aware of them. It harkens back in some ways to the Catholic-Protestant divide going on in the town. But my dad knew Mr. Kelly, and later in life when I worked for the City, I knew of, and traveled, in the same circles as John Kelly, Jr., and I would see him in some places. But Grace went to Ravenhill, and her life was more of a mystery to us. We have a friend, Nancy and I, Tina, who lived on the street and who went to Ravenhill, who may be able to tell you more about her.[AA]18
WM: Had you meet Grace growing up?
NB: No, I met a relative of hers that lived across the street from the school. It’s so vague I shouldn’t even be talking about it because it sounds like I’m trying to do a “me too”. They were around.
ES: That’s Grace’s sister (Peggy Davis)
WM: Any memories that your parents or grandparents had of East Falls that they told you that you might want to share with us?
NB:Tons of them and nothing in particular. Just being on the top floor of our house with Grandfather, listening to murder mysteries at night in his bedroom, and being able to look out of the window across the street here at 3307 and see the lights of the cars on the expressway, which was all new and quite exciting. And City Line Avenue. And just the changes that were getting made all around us, even though they were subtle.
We were also very much a part of it, party lines on the telephones, for instance – that changed over -- IV3-0568 (laughter). There’s so many memories because we lived here and it was just the air we breathed.
WM: Did you use the library?
NB: I did, but not nearly as much as Nan.
WM: Any memories of that?
NB: No not really, oddly enough. I became a deep reader but I’m not so sure my parents were.
WM: Thank you. Feel free to join in with Nancy. Do you want to lead it, Ellen?
NB: You have to ask the same questions - maybe you have things that popped up while talking that you want to feature and share and add
ES: Well we thank very much, Nancy Berman, and we’re going to interview your dear friend Nancy Holmes, who grew up at what address?
NH:When I was born, my grandparents were living at 3314 West Queen Lane, and when I was 2 or 3, in 1949, we moved across the street to 3315.
ES: Why did you move across the street?
NH: The house became available. The Kelly family moved out and they knew that my parents were looking for a house. I think having both generations in 3314 was a factor, I don’t know, but we were right across the street and we were back at 3314 every Sunday for a Sunday dinner, with the roast and the bone-handled carving set. I was the youngest until my brother was born so I got the meat juice-soaked bread that was under the roast.[AA]19
ES: Were these the Holmes grandparents who lived there?
NH:Yes, my father’s parents. And my grandfather, since we’re talking vocations, my grandfather built two houses on Henry Avenue, the same block as the Kellys, the same side of the street. Is that the 3800 block?
NH:39. I’m thinking 3919 and 3923, the two houses that share a driveway. And my grandparents and my parents lived there before I was born.[AA]20
ES: Was he a builder?
NH: No, he was in the baking business, the wholesale baking business.[AA]21 It just seemed like a good investment. And one picture that I have that I found just recently – because Ancestry.com informed me that I have a new cousin – I have a picture of some of this family in the house at 3919 and you can see behind them that Henry Avenue looks like dirt. It was really new – no vegetation.
WM: What year are we talking about?
NH: I’m still trying to pin that down, whether it was in the 19 teens or the 1920s. I’m not sure exactly when it was. Wait! My father and uncle were, I think, about 10 and 7, so that would have been in the teens. 1914-15, somewhere in there. 17. How about 1917, based on this picture. And then finally my grandfather sold those houses, after my father ran over and nearly killed Grace Kelly, but that’s another story.[AA]22
WM: Tell us that story.
NH:That’s about all there is – he was backing down the driveway onto Henry Avenue one day and she went sailing by, as little kids do, on her bike and he nearly hit her. That would have changed history.
ES: Oh yes, indeed. How do you feel about her son buying the house?
NH:Well I think it’s good and it’s certainly his to keep private and set up the foundation; I think that’s nice. I would love to see him open it up to some events that aren’t private events. We neighbors could go take a look. But that’s good, that’s nice. And as far as Grace Kelly, she was born in 1929 so she would have been graduating high school right before we were born. And then she was off to Hollywood and beyond. So it’s not surprising that we didn’t interact with her very much.
My grandfather, this grandfather, used to pile us into his old Desoto car and drive down the little alley that runs behind the Henry Avenue houses and the bushes would whip in the windows. It was like, “We’re going to take a ride in the jungle – yay!” That’s my memory. And we remember when Henry Avenue was extended, first to Walnut Lane – what is that, Roxborough Avenue? And then finally pushed through toward Andorra and all those houses were built.
NB: It was quite controversial. What are they doing?
ES: So you were confined, in a way, to this geographical East Falls. You were surrounded by two rivers –– and there was no road up to Roxborough, even.
NH: To Roxborough, there was the Ridge Avenue.
ES: Ok. So what do you remember about the stores in East Falls?
NH: Not much. I remember the 5&10. I don’t remember that we did much down on the Ridge, so I’m not as familiar with lower East Falls.
ES: How about Conrad?
NH:Conrad sure. And near Mifflin School, where I went to kindergarten through 8th grade, there was a little penny candy store on the corner of Conrad and Penn Street – Bob’s. I remember Bob. And we’d buy all kinds of strip candy with the little colored dots on it, marshmallow this and that[AA]23, whatever. Not very often though.
ES: Do you remember any of your teachers who taught at Mifflin School?
NH:Sure. Miss Murphy was kindergarten. She was later Mrs. Sellers but I was older then. She was blonde; that’s all I remember (laughter). And she had – well, the kids had a Tiny Tears doll that had – not real hair, but hair that had texture; it wasn’t painted on. I remember asking my parents: “Please get me a Tiny Tears doll!” and they did, but it was the one with painted hair, so that didn’t count.
WM: What are your memories of Mifflin? Do you remember assemblies? Tell us a little about that.
NH: Oh sure! Assemblies most I remember in 6th, 7th, 8thgrade in what were called the cycle. We didn’t have a homeroom teacher - we moved around to the different classrooms for art and science and sewing and math – and I remember those teachers. I remember my 1st grade teacher whose name slips my mind at the moment but – it seems to me to be a one syllable name and she was old. My mother had her in school, I think that was the story, not here at Mifflin – I don’t know where she was. Mrs. McAllister in 3rd grade. Mrs. Devita in 2nd grade. I remember learning Adeste Fideles in Latin – that’s never gone away. 4thgrade was Mrs. Fishbein. 5thgrade was Mrs. Smith[AA]24 who lived in the 3400 block of Penn Street – she was a dear. With a story that stuck in my memory. Around that time, she came home and there was a man sitting in her living room – she came home from school. And he had broken in and was just sitting there – she didn’t know what he had in mind but she had the presence of mind to walk over to her stairs and call upstairs as if her husband were there – she was a widow – and say, “John, will you come down here please? There’s a man here who wants to talk to you.” And he disappeared quickly. (laughter)
WM: Great story!
NH: That has always stuck in my memory.
WM: Was Mifflin mostly a neighborhood school?
NH: It was. And of course there was St. Bridget’s. And there were St. Bridget kids and Mifflin kids who lived in the neighborhood and my Mifflin classmates – a number of them came from the projects – Abbottsford project. Abbottsford Homes I think they were called. Including my second boyfriend. My first boyfriend, at age 5, was Freddy Castellano across the street[AA]25at 3305 West Queen Lane. My second was Brian Riffert from Abbottsford.
WM: Did the two schools interact much?
NH: I don’t remember that they did, to the point where the Catholic kids who were sprinkled in the neighborhood and the rest of us had no interaction. And at one point my next door neighbor, Sally Hanna, who lived at 3319 West Queen Lane, got friendly with Walter Higgins – red haired Walter Higgins from the 3400 block of West Queen Lane. And they’d go bike riding around the neighborhood – sort of boyfriend and girlfriend at age 7 or 8 or 10, I don’t remember how old we were - and it was like Huh! I don’t know anybody there except Kathy Hibbs who was my classmate.
WM: Anything else about Mifflin you remember before we move on?
NH: Yeah. You asked about the assemblies – they were great because Mrs. Sypher, [AA]26 who was the cycle English teacher – and music as I remember – would lead the assemblies and we’d do rounds and 2-, 3-, 4-part harmonies – the whole big room! – and that was great fun – I loved to sing. Also, as kids were filing in, classes were filing in for assemblies, there would be records playing. Whatever music. I remember taking lots of records – long playing records -- from home, and they’d be playing at the start and I’d get to stand up in front of everybody and say “That was whoever.…”
WM: Do you remember the McClenahan brothers?
NH: I don’t.
WM: They live near me and they have that same memory – they were the ones in charge of the record player so they were quite proud of that.
NH:Well thank them for me!
WM: How about the library?
WM: East Falls Library.
NH: East Falls Library? I loved it! We went there a lot after school. I remember the little children’s section and feeling finally, when I was an older child, that I was confined there – that I wasn’t allowed to go and browse around the adult books. But I loved it!
WM: Do you remember the librarians?
NH: Just as figures. A woman who was thin and seemed old but probably wasn’t. I don’t remember names.
ES: How about holidays? Did you have any traditions for Thanksgiving or 4th of July?
NH: Thanksgiving was very much family. I’m sure we were at my grandparent’s house for a long time. I was at the baby table.
4thof July – just a little bit more to add to what Nancy Berman said and that was our bikes and bunting when we got a little bit older, we’d start way down on Midvale Avenue where everyone was assembling and we’d march or ride all the way up Midvale Avenue to McMichael Park for the festivities but it was great fun to have all this bunting on and riding and streamers on the handlebars.
ES: What about sports? Were you involved in any sports in school or in the neighborhood?
NH: I don’t remember if Mifflin had any teams or anything. I don’t remember that. Just gym class.
ES: How about when you went to Lankenau for high school?
NH: I did. For four years.
ES: You already knew Nancy because she lived on your street?
NH:Yes, and then she left! The nerve! (laughter)
ES: Did you both graduate from Lankenau?
NH: I did. Nancy had already left by then and was at Plymouth Whitemarsh.
NB: I grew up hearing all about how wonderful public high school was from my parents and from watching Andy Hardy movies, and I’d been in private school my whole life and I decided I wanted to find out what it was like, so I upped and left.
WM: And what was your impression?
NB: I waited too long. By the time senior year was over, I was just beginning to fit in. I was just beginning to have a circle of friends and I was just beginning to date. Boom. Done.
NH: And the school was really big, I remember.
NB: It was huge.
NH: You were saying you had to get from this class at one end, to gym class at the other end.
NB: I went from all girls and classes of 12 to 24, or something like that, to suddenly hundreds and hundreds of kids yelling and screaming and carrying on in the in the halls and in the cafeteria. And football and all of it. It was a lot.
WM: Very different.
ES: So what do you remember about Lankenau? Do you remember any of the teachers there? Any of the Sisters? They were called Sisters?
NH: Yes they were. Sister Lydia was very proper and very loving, although she seemed stern. I liked her.
NB: We had a nickname for her – Twitch. Because she had the most abbreviated smile you could ever imagine – so it went like this – you won’t be able to see it on the recording but… (laughter)
ES: I understand the nickname now.
NH: But I liked her. There were a couple of teachers – Sister Ruth who taught math.[AA]30 No. I don’t remember.
NB: No, she taught religion, didn’t she? Sister Lydia did also. And the rest were lay teachers.
ES: Can you describe the building? It’s no longer there.
NH:Some of it is. The main building - the main house that was torn down was not one we had classes in.
WM: What’s the location?
NH: 3201 School House Lane. It now belongs to…
NH:Yeah right. Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, slash…
WM: Now where is that on School House Lane? Is it near Ravenhill?
ES: It’s near the Tuttleman Library.
ES: When we came out of the library, Stan Gorski said that is the foundation of Lankenau School.
WM: How interesting!
NH: The little gate house is still there that led down the drive to the main house – a big, I don’t want to say gothic, but…Victorian.[AA]33
NB: It was one of the heavy-duty Victorian mansions that were absorbed into the school. So there are quite a few buildings. –Mergner Hall, am I remembering? And then they built the new - now very old, dated I’m sure, upper school which had a chapel in it.
NH: That’s still there. That building is still there. The other buildings are still there except for the old house, the main house.
NB: The one that got torn down was especially lovely. We would gather every day in there for luncheon – and the Sisters prepared the luncheon back in the kitchen. It was usually the worst food you could imagine – Jello mold with fruit in it.
NH:Cottage cheese and apple butter.
NB: The Lankenau special was white bread with stewed tomatoes on it![AA]34 We had the best manners going. Sister Lydia would sit up at the head table….you talk about it, Nancy…
NH:Well, it was a table for 8 or 12, I think, and we’d be “invited” – command performance – to sit at the head table. (laughter)
NB: That was a long week!
ES: Was there a building. - one of those buildings called Redcay?
NH: I don’t remember that. Maybe it’s been renamed.
ES: Maybe it was torn down.
NB: The art building is still there, but it’s been repurposed. My daughter graduated from there – got her Masters degree from that school.
NH: Not Lankenau.
NB: From Textile, that became Jefferson, and whatever it was in between.
NH: Philly U.
NB: That’s when she was there – Philly U.
WM: What are your other memories of East Falls growing up?
NH: – Nancy’s writing me notes – it’s more immediate stuff, because mostly we hung out in the West Queen Lane neighborhood. Nancy and I – we had one property between us – the Edwards property between Nancy’s house at 3307 West Queen Lane and mine at 3315. The house sat vertically – horizontally, I want to say -- on Queen Lane, so the yard was really deep behind that and Nancy’s bedroom and mine were opposite each other. At one point we tried to string tin can telephones across there (NBlaughing) until that didn’t work for very long.
We had a swing set in the backyard – 2 swings and a slide – and we did lots of play. My yard went all the way through to Penn Street so we did a lot of playing back there. And trying to hide in Freddy Edwards’s bushes, and he didn’t like that either.
WM: So when you rode your bikes, you would go all over the neighborhood?
NH:Anywhere and everywhere. Down on Vaux, Penn Street. Not so much Midvale because it was busy. Henry, Tilden…
NB:We’d sled at the reservoir and we’d sled over on Warden Drive at the hill.
WM: Did you skate on Gustine Lake?
NB:Sometimes. I went with my brother.
NH: My dad and his family did, but, did I? I had ice skates, but… also sledding at the golf course, Walnut Lane and Henry. It’s been blocked off; you can’t do it anymore.
WM: Where did you sled at the reservoir?
NB:Just down the hill.
WM: At the end with the road going down?
NB: Not Midvale, Vaux St?
NH: It was right at the corner.
WM: Queen Lane and Henry?
NB: I don’t remember going up that driveway because it was blocked off pretty close to the street. But at that corner the hill was steeper than going down the little hills towards the stone wall on Queen Lane.
So we’d trudge up there and sled down to the driveway. With the traffic now, you couldn’t do it.
NB: And it was very common for us to walk along the wall top over there too. We’d traverse that.
NH: My grandfather used to walk me along there. I’d be on the wall, of course, and he’d be on the sidewalk. I remember when the first of the small brick, at that point, one and a half story houses were built and we walked over there. It wasn’t blocked off at all so we walked all around the building and looked in the basement and checked out the architecture.
ES: How has the community changed? You were part of our walking tour recently, were there many changes that struck you?
NH: Not up here, and not on The Oak Road – that was the tour that we were on – oh, I mostly was remembering: “Oh! The Hanlons used to live here, and Peggy Bishop used to live here!” Everybody had changed except the Mathers – they are still there. But people on Queen Lane have changed too, so I walk around and I’m seeing ghosts. “Jesse Richardson lived here.[AA]35The Albas lived here…’ [AA]36
WM: Did you go to the church on The Oak Road? (Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd)
WM: Can you tell us about that?
NH: I don’t know that I have anything to add to what Nancy Berman said, but I did go every Sunday – the young people met with the deacon, John Mason. He had a little discussion group for the kids who were too cool to be in church all of the time or wanted to talk about lofty topics. That was fun.
WM: Was Reverend Coombs there?
NH: Oh, before that. R. Dunham Taylor.[AA]38
NB:Before they changed the liturgy. And before the mold set in. Oh, the church is in sad shape now.
ES: So you were disappointed?
NB: Yes, it was a very sad experience for me – all the water stains and the flaking plaster. Because of Lyme Disease, I’m hypersensitive to certain things so I walked in and the mold just hits you in the face. There’s something serious going on there.
NH: In the church sanctuary itself or other rooms?
NB: Wherever. Just walking in to the church proper, or in the back, it was alarming for me. I couldn’t be in there if the doors weren’t open and the windows weren’t open. I wouldn’t have lasted.
ES: May I just ask you, how do you feel about coming back to Queen Lane?
NH: I want my house back! (laughter) and all my friends!
ES: That’s a wonderful note to end on.
NH: Well you asked – this is not directly East Falls, but my grandfather at 3314 started a wholesale pie-baking company.
WM: In East Falls?
NH: It was not in East Falls - it was in what’s now called Grays Ferry. 2621 Morris Street, down beyond Penn.
WM: What was his name?
NH: William T. Holmes. He wasn’t from Philadelphia; he was born and grew up in Illinois and worked as a teacher in a one room school in Nebraska [AA]39and then somehow ended up working for a New York pie company.
NH: I think, actually he may have been in New York, but I’m not sure about that. My grandmother was from northern New Jersey so I’m thinking they met up there. And then someone said “How would you like to go to Philadelphia for New York Pie Company and be, I think it was, the bookkeeper. And within a year or so he was the manager of whatever they were doing. And then in 1929, propitious year, he opened his own company - Puritan Pies - and ran that until he died and my uncle[AA]40 died – suddenly within two weeks of each other, in 1956, and my father was left running everything. He sold to Smith’s, Mrs. Smith’s, in 1974, I think. But I remember, it’s not a memory - I remember being told, that during the Depression my grandfather would feed whoever came to the door. I’m not sure it was many people here on Queen Lane, more likely it was people showing up at the bakery, but I don’t know about that. But the bakery did wholesale pies and cakes and jellyrolls to the School District, Linton’s Restaurant, over here on Chelten Avenue and Germantown.[AA]41
NB: You could never go into Nancy’s kitchen and not see pies.
NH: And I remember one time my father came home with some package mixes and he actually went in the kitchen and made these cakes to see how they were compared to his company.[AA]42
WM: How interesting.
NH: They weren’t as good.
ES: What that his main profession then, the pie business?
NH: Yes, I think it’s not something my father would have chosen for himself. He went to Episcopal Academy for just one year and then was pulled into help at the bakery. [AA]43
WM: I just wanted to quickly ask if either of you had a career, and what it was.
NH: Nancy did all kinds of things. Nancy Berman.
NB: It was varied. I did not know who I wanted to be when I grew up. I was supposed to marry a doctor and have children. Ultimately I did that, but before I got to that part I bounced around in so many different jobs. I was a travel agent for about 6 months with Concannon Travel Agency up in Chestnut Hill; I worked at the Kenmore Art Gallery selling art, so I got to learn a great deal more about prints and art and what it takes to run a gallery. Each job was for a very short period of time and then I worked for Herb Denenberg at the University of Pennsylvania before he became Insurance Commissioner and I got to learn about research with him. He left – I didn’t want to go to Harrisburg, so I wound up taking a job with Hillel Levinson. He volunteered himself to the Rizzo for Mayor campaign. I was not a Rizzo supporter but I didn’t want to find a job again. And in a few months, still being quite young and curious, I said “Ok I’ll do that too. So I became one of Rizzo’s three secretaries during the campaign. Hillel became Managing Director. I was his Administrative Assistant for a few years and, bored out of my mind buying ashtrays [AA]44in a city limousine - it was basically what that was like - huge private office on the top of Municipal Services Building - but bored out of my mind so I started cheffing. I got a job at the Frog because I love to cook.
NH: When it was new.
NB:Julia Child was everywhere and everything and I said, “Well I’ll see if I can do that,” so I kept my city job during the day and I worked at the Frog[AA]45 at night. And after six months they asked me if I wanted to do salads and I said yes. And a year later I was a chef. And I did that about 10 years – didn’t know women weren’t supposed to do that, [AA]46had a kid, had to stop working – I wanted to raise her and do well by her – and my husband was getting a PhD. We had no money so I started thrift shopping and I turned that into a career.
NH: Didn’t other restaurants come in the middle there? You were a chef at a number of them and ran La Terrasse [AA]47
WM: And quickly, Nancy Holmes, what was your career path?
NH: Mostly editing. I did a few things. I studied abroad in France and, after college, a college friend called and said we have to live in Paris and I said, “That sounds good,” so I cashed in all my money and quit my job, which was editing at that point for something industrial. And then she couldn’t go, so I went by myself and stayed for five years, and was in Paris for a year, and then Monaco, which was where I met Grace Kelly – didn’t remind her about my father nearly killing her… [AA]49
WM: Well we certainly want to hear about meeting her – can you quickly talk about that?
NH: It was Thanksgiving where the Royal Family set up this beautiful banquet for everybody[AA]50.
WM: A public banquet?
NH: Yes, anyone who wanted could go, and everyone dressed up, and they came and had dinner.[AA]51
ES: What did you say to her? Did you mention East Falls?
NH: I said “Hi, I’m from East Falls” and she said “Oh that’s nice” or something.[AA]52
WM: What was your impression of her?
NH: Gracious. Beautiful, that’s all I have to say.
ES: Let’s end on that note.
WM: Thank you both so much. You were terrific.
AA1– AA/NB: James Harrison Turner, called “Hass” or “Hassie” or “Jim”
AA2– (AA/NB: called “Muffy.”)
AA3– AA/NH: Park Congregational Church was at Midvale Ave. and Vaux St. I went there for nursery school. The building is still there but is no longer a
AA4– AA/NB: My grandfather’s moustache was always waxed, and he smoked cigars.
AA5– AA/NH: Some of the McIlvaines livedat Midvale and Henry.
AA6– AA/NH: Sally lived at 3319 WQL with her parents W. Clark Hanna and Anne Bissell Hanna (called Nancy). Mr Hanna was a lawyer and Philadelphia’s Assistant Prothonotary.
AA7– AA/NH: Penn St. was paved smooth, while Queen Lane had gravel embedded in the asphalt. Ouch, that hurt when we crossed Queen Lane barefoot to play with friends after the street had been resurfaced.
AA8– AA/NH: Correction to the previous few sentences. Dave and Shirley Petnick owned Tilden Market. Al and Ruth Bralow owned Tilden Drug Store and lived at 3300 WQL, across from the Queen Lane reservoir. The Bralows’ son Dennis was in my Mifflin Class of 1960, their daughter April a couple of years behind us.
AA9– AA/NH: C.A. Rowell’s was at the corner of Chelten and Germantown Aves.
George Allen’s, at the corner of Chelten Ave and Greene St, had a tiny book corner just inside the back exit to the parking lot. Every week, I took my $1 allowance there and bought one Nancy Drew mystery. The books cost $1, the sales tax was 3 cents – I have no idea how I came up with the extra 3 cents each week. I read each book in an hour and a half, then had to wait a week for the next book. East Falls Library was much cheaper (i.e., free), and I trudged home every week with stacks of books from there to tide me over to the next allowance. But the Nancy Drews belonged to me. Allen’s also had a fascinating system of paying for purchases – plastic cylinders that whooshedpayments from the floor clerk up pneumatic tubes to the cashier upstairs. Change and receipts whooshed back downstairs to the customer
AA10– AA/NH: After Saturday matinees at the Alden, kids typically rushed out of the movie theater, raced across Midvale Ave (yikes!), and climbed up into the Mifflin rock gardens to tear around and let off steam. The last Alden ticket price I remember is 75 cents, up over the years of my childhood from 25 or 35 cents. And the Alden is where my parents took me to see my first movie, Cinderella; I can still see those singing mice on the screen. Years later, my dad took me there to see South Pacific. In between were lots of movies and the old newsreels and cartoons that preceded each show.
Another neighborhood memory: Redeemer Lutheran Church, at the corner of Midvale Ave and Conrad St, held Friday night dances for kids in the church undercroft. Sometimes I went with girlfriends, but one Friday I had an actual date! That week in English class at Mifflin, we learned the “rules” of dating – boy invites girl, boy brings girl a corsage, boy escorts girl to event, invites girl to dance, gets refreshments, and so on. That night, classmate John Buzilow called and invited me to the next dance, and all went according to the rules that Friday, including the corsage. “A” for John!
AA11– AA/NH: Sister Lydia Fischer, principal – or was she called “Headmistress”?
AA12– AA/NH: John D. Lankenau, Philadelphia benefactor and founder of Lankenau Hospital, whom the Inquirer in 2013 called “perhaps the greatest Lutheran layman in 19-century America.”
AA13 –AA/NB: All three Lankenau Lower School teachers were self-assured, commanding, and intelligent. Two, Miss Benkert and Miss Leidy, were strict, brook-no-nonsense, old-school Victorians. Both wore high-arch, square stacked block high-heeled, lace-up shoes in black or brown, and 20- to 30-year old dresses. Every day's outfit was just like the next. Their wardrobes were a time warp of unenviable and inevitable practicality. Dark background colors of navy, black, and brown, and small indecipherable prints on synthetic fabric cut with purposely and mysteriously vague voluminous bust lines, then gathered close at the waist and narrowly belted, finally falling in either a very proper full-skirted A-line or pleats hemmed just below the knee. Each and every one hearkened back to the 1930's and The Great Depression.
Miss Benkert was a stout, large bosomed, forceful looking woman. She wore silver wire-rimmed spectacles. Her mid-length wavy hair was gray. She was stern. She was smart. Very smart. And would brook no challengers. And who among us would have dared to challenge her authority anyway? Now I realize there were daily flashes of humor darting around deep inside those sharp, intelligent, blue eyes.
Miss Leidy was whippet thin, growing seemingly thinner with every passing year. She had a prominent nose, a mole on her equally prominent chin, her brown eyes circled by dark-rimmed glasses. Every morning she fashioned a scraggly brown knot of hair with silver streaks gathered with ever stricter enthusiasm and secured by long tortoise shell hairpins at the back of her equally scrawny neck. She darted restlessly, energetically, around the room, stopping occasionally to make a point by jabbing the air in our direction with chalk pointedly gripped by the long gnarly, still-elegant fingers of her right hand, while using the back of her left to deftly brush away an errant, distracting strand of hair. We girls knew we would never be so lucky as to escape her vigilant control. We dutifully bowed to her insistent demand to "pay attention, girls." Or else.
The third teacher, Miss Wooley, by contrast, had remained pretty. Her even features always caught in a smile, she had a small nose, merry blue eyes, her pale white skin and pink cheeks topped by a froth of snow-white curly hair. She laughed a lot, and we laughed with her. She was short and plump. Her dresses were equally unflattering and out-of-date, but lighter, happier colors and worn loose. She always seemed slightly mussed, slightly out of breathe.
Miss Benkert taught us 1st and 2nd grade, Miss Wooley taught us 4th grade, and Miss Leidy taught fifth. Who was on third?
Another teacher, Mrs Ida, had a pale white complexion, freckles, and fading red hair turning to white. She wore it long, gathered in a messy bun at the back of her neck. She always seemed preoccupied, distracted. Even haunted. I took it to be from her early tragic years in Russia (and having to flee?). I wish I knew the truth about her past. It seemed to involve her family having been rich, perhaps aristocratic. A chandelier hanging in the foyer cut loose and crashing to the ground. The plot line for a Gothic, romantic novel. She wore long skirts and cardigans, similar to Mrs Gouker. But she seemed, in retrospect, European, more elegant in her carriage, even feminine, than any of the others. She was a 'Mrs' after all. And almost all the others had never been married. Even old maids. But I know of no husband in her life when I knew her, nor did she discuss one. She cut a sad, lonely, lovely figure. She taught French (with a Russian accent), Russian, and embroidery, and took us on those infrequent but wondrous nature walks tramping thru the woods. She was the one to first point out Johnny Jump Ups and other native wild flowers.
AA14– AA/NH: What was it like, growing up on WQL in the 1950s? My memories were, yes, we ran wild all day long, in and out of one another’s houses on both sides of the block, being fed by the mom wherever we happened to land at lunchtime. Girls playing with girls, boys with boys, and sometimes mixed groups. At the end of the day, wherever I was in the neighborhood, I could hear my mother ringing a big (and loud) cowbell to call me home for dinner. I still have that cowbell. My dad typically got home from work about 6 p.m., then the four of us ate dinner in the dining room. Every night. Afterward, Dad would set up a card table in the living room and do paperwork for the bakery all evening, with the television on.
Thanksgiving and Christmas, Dad worked late into the night, making sure the bakery trucks went out to deliver all the holiday orders. On Christmas Eve, Rick and I didn’t see Dad at all. We hung our stockings and put out Santa’s requisite cookies and milk by the fireplace, but little else was done in the way of holiday decorations. Christmas morning, we kids were going crazy because we couldn’t go downstairs until Mom and Dad were up to go with us. Overnight, magic happened in the living room: a tree scraping the ceiling, fully lit and decorated, with tinsel, piles of gifts, and beneath the tree our American Flyer train circling busily, spewing smoke from its stack – all set up after Dad got home from work at maybe 2 a.m. As we got older, Rick and I went along with Dad to Penn Fruit at the corner of Chelten and Wayne Aves to select a tree. After a few years, we tired of that because Dad hauled out everytree on the lot, inspecting them all for the tallest, fullest, most amazing tree. Still later, Rick and I took over the tree search, ingrained with Dad’s selection criteria (and swearing to each other that we would fib about whatever exorbitant amount we had to spend to get the Perfect Tree.
The neighborhood kids had a fine time trick’r’treating on Halloween, collecting as much candy as possible. Mr Hanna always wanted us to do tricks first, but we were never prepared.
Freddy Castellano was my first husband, at about age 5. My marriage consisted of sitting on the couch in his enclosed porch at 3305 WQL and cutting out paper dolls for hours while he was out playing, probably with my younger brother Ricky, Sally’s younger brother Bobby, and Tina Carr’s younger brother Billy. Sometimes Freddy’s mother or grandmother would be making lemon meringue pies for the family, and she would make a small lemon meringue tartlet for me to take home. Good marriage.
Many times, Sally Hanna and I played dolls on her enclosed porch, at 3319 WQL, with a huge wooden dollhouse that had been in her family for generations. It was about 4.5 ft. high and 5 ft. wide, with a peaked roof, glass windows, and front door trim painted like the front of the house, and two big panels that swung open from the middle to reveal six rooms on two floors. It was filled with doll-size furniture, and we passed many happy hours there with our Madame Alexander dolls and later our Barbie dolls, creating family stories and playing out made-up life dramas. My first dog, which we got when I was 8 and he was 3 weeks old, became another of our “dolls.” Sally and I often dressed him up in doll clothes and wheeled him around the neighborhood in a doll carriage. He was too young to know dogs weren’t meant to be dolls.
Nancy B. and I roller-skated up and down the 3300 blocks of WQL and alwaysPenn St., which was smoother under our wheels – until the woman who lived behind Nancy’s house would spot us and quash our fun by turning us in to Nancy’s mother. We loved playing dress-up at Nancy’s house, especially when her petite mom let us play with her shoes that were small enough (women’s sample size 5?) for us to toddle around in. And we had great overnights in her third-floor bedroom with a view of the lights on City Line Ave., talking about the universe, aliens, past lives, life, nothing. Happy.
With our neighborhood friends, we spent many hours in the empty lot down the street next door to the McKenzies (Nancy B’s aunt), building “forts” and “igloos,” and having “battles” and snowball fights, depending on the season. When Sally and I were reading Mary Norton’s The Borrowersseries, we gathered acorn caps at the lot to make miniature teacups for our smallest dolls in imitation of the books’ tiny characters. There’s a new house now squeezed into that lot, but I can still see the scruffy old lot that provided fodder for our imagination.
Our friends often piled into my backyard to play in our sandbox with wood ledges around the edges to sit on and square corners that made it easy to sculpt perfectly squared “buildings.” For hours, too, we swung and climbed on our swing set and acted out cowboys and Indians (I insisted on being Roy Rogers, so I guess my younger brother was relegated to playing Dale Evans), Davy Crockett, Flash Gordon (my favorite), Rapunzel (letting down the swings for her hair, but needing the “prince” to climb up the slide steps to rescue her), and just generally running amok.
What did our mothers do all day while we were at school? At my house some mornings, Tina’s mother Jean Hayes Carr would stop in for coffee and talk with my mom about what Mrs Carr was reading or what new thing she had just learned, or news, or just stuff; she was always interesting. For a few years while I was a teenager, Mom worked as an occasional substitute teacher in the public schools. But mostly she did crossword puzzles, including the New York Times puzzles in ink right up to her death at age 93. And she read, constantly. Times when I blew into the house, she was often sitting reading in her chair in the living room. When I let our little black dog in from the backyard, he would sometimes swipe Mom’s knee with his tongue as he ran past her, as if to say, “Hi, Sweetie. I’m back.”
Sally’s mother was a gardener. Resisting the pretty flowers she planted along the steps up the driveway to their house was impossible for me. I had to pass them four times a day -- on the way to and from school in the morning and afternoon and twice at lunchtime. Mrs Hanna gave me a stern talking to after these transgressions, but reforming was so hard. How did she know I was the culprit? In the summer I loved her because she would set up her kitchen workspace and spend the day pickling all the watermelon rinds gathered for weeks. The windows were open, and the sweet, vinegar aroma wafted everywhere.
On summer evenings, my parents sometimes put folding chairs out in our driveway next to the long row of my mother’s antique roses with their heady perfume. (We kids quickly learned how to maneuver around their thorns as we were getting into and out of cars parked in our driveway.) Mr and Mrs Carr would come over and chat for hours over cocktails; whatever kids were available would run up and down the driveway steps, in and out of our yard, catch lightning bugs in jars, and hide within Freddy Edwards’s big evergreen bushes by the driveway until he angrily flushed us out. And sometimes through the year, late at night, the Carrs would stop in for a chat and a nightcap with my parents after some bank function or other social event. The adults had a good time, but for me it was disruptive because I would be sitting in the living room in my bathrobe with Mom and Dad, watching TV, setting my hair in the big curlers popular at the time, and I would have to beat a hasty retreat to my bedroom.
AA15– AA/NH: The Turners had the first (tiny) TV. A banner year for my family was 1954: Mom won a Philco console TV, radio, and record player at the Main Street Fair on Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill (first and last time she ever won anything); my parents bought their first – and last – new car, a shiny, dark green Buick Century 4-door (my feet actually touched the floor in the back seat, and we still had the car for many years after my brother and I learned to drive); and we got our first dog, a tiny black mongrel only 3 weeks old that someone at the bakery had won in a raffle and didn’t want. In 1969, I remember my family and the Carrs all crowding into the Carrs’ living room to watch the landing on the moon, and at one point I ran out in their driveway to look up and marvel at the moon. The Carrs always had the best new toys and games on Christmas. After opening gifts at our house, my brother and I would pile over to the Carrs’ house to play with all of their new toys. Our whole family was often at the Carrs’ on Sunday evenings to watch College Bowl, a quiz show pitting college and university students. Brandeis kids – they were good! My father, who was in the army in Europe during World War II and never talked about the war, liked to watch the Sunday night war documentaries like Victory at Sea. What else did we watch as a family? Perry Como, I Love Lucy, Andy Williams, variety shows, Ed Sullivan (my first glimpse of the Beatles, whom my 80-year-old cousin loved before I had even heard of them).
AA16-- AA/NH: And the Mickey Mouse Club! Oh, how I envied my Mifflin classmate Anita Mertz, whose parents took her to Disneyland in California when it first opened!
AA17– AA/NH: Maybe I misremember a 52 trolley. Trolley tracks all the way down Midvale Ave? I remember the K bus on Midvale, turning left on Wayne Ave, then right on Chelten. We also took the A bus in town from the WQL corner at Henry Ave, dressed up and wearing white gloves (and maybe even hats, back in the day).
AA18– AA/NH: Tina Carr lived at 3318 WQL with her parents Bill and Jean and her younger siblings Billy and Janet. Mr Carr was a vice president at Provident Tradesmens Bank & Trust, Co., later Provident National Bank, at 17th and Chestnut Sts., and now a Rite Aid in that beautiful building with huge bronze-framed windows, site of my first summer job that wasn’t babysitting. At age 17, kids were first eligible to get official work permits and be employed.
AA19– AA/NH: My grandparents were William T Holmes and Antoinette Westervelt Holmes; my parents were Richard Westervelt Holmes (called Dick) and Helen Laing Holmes. I remember times I sat on Grandfather’s lap and opened his gold pocket watches on long chains to examine the moving parts, front and back. And marching around the pattern in their living room rug (now in my own living room) as my grandmother played marches or hymns or classical music on her piano or her organ.
One factor in our 1949 move across the street may have been that perhaps my grandparents needed more space. They had long had boarders – medical and nursing students -- from Woman’s Medical College & Hospital on Henry Ave. Some became good family friends, like Nancy Stackhouse and Dorothy Schindel (“Doctor Dottie”), who was later Rick and my pediatrician in an office at Green St. and School House Lane (now demolished).
AA20– AA/NH: In 1979, when my brother and I sold the house at 3315 WQL, a couple who looked at it ultimately bought our old house at 3919 Henry Ave. He was the assistant rector at Trinity Lutheran Church at WQL and Germantown Ave. The rector at Trinity then was Dr Edward Horn, whose wife Sophie was our adored history teacher at Lankenau. (This is fewer than six degrees of separation, right?) The Horns invited me to dinner one night, and I thereby got to see a bit of the house my grandparents built and lived in with my parents before my birth.
AA21-- AA/NH: Puritan Pies, at 2621 Morris St in Southwest Philadelphia.
AA22– AA/NH: I exaggerate. He didn’t run over her and nearly kill her. He nearly ran over her. He was a careful driver.
AA23– AA/NH: Bob’s was on Conrad St. at Tilden, next to the little hairdresser that had big metal hoods dangling long lines with small curlers at the ends for attaching to women’s hair to make permanents. Bob’s had fake cigarettes (thin white cylinders with red tips), waxy red lips and white waxy vampire teeth that we would clutch between our teeth, Dixie cup ice cream with flat wooden spoons, Charm lollipops, orange popsicles and creamsicles [Nancy B. liked orange popsicles; I liked creamsicles.])
AA24– (AA/NH: Mrs. Loretto B. Smith -- Loretto with an “O”)
AA25– AA/NH: Castellanos lived on the north side of WQL, “across the street” from Ellen Sheehan’s house.
AA26– AA/NH: Mrs Eleanor Sypher – tall, thin, white-haired, elegant, and stylish.
AA27 – AA/NH: A couple of quick memories of assemblies. Two songs we sang were The Wanderer and The Grandfather Clock. Give me half a minute and I’ll sing them for you! Also, a couple of times, my classmate Andy Gotwols’s parents performed on stage for us, singing duets a lathe stars Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.
In the Mifflin “cycle” (seventh and eighth grades, not sixth), Mrs Sypher taught English, music, and grammar (!!), and led the school assemblies. Mrs Eleanor Dunn taught history. Mr Joseph Radetzky made the sciences fascinating to me. Miss Young, with beautiful strawberry blond hair, taught math and pointed out on Day One that I had left the “e” out of “Mathematics” at the top of the first page of my brand-new notebook.
As for the lower grades, after sweetheart kindergarten teacher Miss Murphy, first grade was a blur. I was too busy learning to read (Dick and Jane books) and to print (endless practice on blue-lined paper so thin it smeared and tore with the first erasure) to think about who was teaching me. Second grade was Mrs DeVita, who taught us to sing Adeste Fidelis. All the verses. In Latin. Third grade was Mrs McAllister, who scolded me for beginning a sentence with, “Well….” (Maybe that morning I was already the 27thkid who did.) Mrs Fishbein, a short woman with short curly dark hair, taught us art in fourth grade. She often brought bunches of wild goldenrod to class for us to draw, even though my classmate Brian Riffert was allergic to goldenrod. He always had to move to the back of the room. What could he see from that distance and with eyes and nose probably running? Fifth grade was Mrs Loretto B Smith, who lived in the middle of the 3400 block of Penn St. Sixth grade was Miss Ruth Heck, who daily walked up WQL past my house to her home on Woodpipe Lane in the Carlton Apartments. (Teachers were real people with a life outside the classroom! Who knew?)
Also among our teachers were Mrs Schwartz the sewing teacher, whose car brakes failed going down Conrad St. one afternoon as the whole school was emptying. She fainted at the wheel, and the car plowed into seven or eight more as it reached Midvale Ave. We also had Mrs Terrell the cooking teacher (I still use her recipe for the cranberry-orange relish she had us make in Home Ec class before Thanksgiving one fall), and young Mr Richard (what was his last name?) the phys ed teacher, and a man who taught shop. All under the auspices of our principal, Dr Israel Galter, who lived on Crittenden St.
AA28– AA/NH: Sister Lydia had wavy white hair (what bits we could see curling out from under her stiffly starched white cap and framing her face), light blue eyes, and a smile that lit up her face. But often in the moment, instead of a full smile, her mouth made a very quick little movement that looked more like a facial tic than an actual smile. Sister Lydia always wore long (midi-length) black dresses, while the other Sisters wore blue, almost Delft blue. The older ones wore starched white, chin-length caps over all but a bit of hair around their faces. But Sister Ruth Harper was younger and wore a shorter blue dress and no cap over her brown hair.
AA29 -- AA/NB: Golly. I hardly ever remember Sister Lydia smiling. I found her to be stern, morose, commanding, wary, possibly lonely, depressed. Heavy lies the crown? That's why I and others called her 'Twitch' -- because her smile was so infrequent, almost involuntary. She seemed so stiff and unapproachable to me. On those rare occasions when Sr. Lydia did smile, it was startling. In that moment I could see she could be warm and welcoming, even handsome. I respected her as a child. I feared her as a child. I gave her a wide berth. But I never backed down.
And I think she demonstrated power, in a subconscious way for women to have power in the world that was all too rare to us growing up. So not smiling all the time turned out to be more okay as I matured. She only seemed cowed when The Men (board members for the school?) showed up on stage for big religious/school events. They outranked her. They told her what to do. I didn't like it. Who were they, anyway?
AA30– (AA/NH: Sister Ruth Harper)
AA31– AA/NH: Among our other teachers in the Upper School were Mrs Loice Gouker (history, and principal after Sister Lydia’s death) – she and her husband, the Reverend Wilbur Gouker, lived in the Houston mansion, cloister, and carriage house on Wissahickon Ave and became my near neighbors decades later when I moved to West Stafford St. Also teaching were Katherine Watson, RN (science), our dear Mrs Clara JC Milligan who taught Latin and delighted us with stories of her travels in Italy, Helen Love (French) who spoke very little French in class, Miss Joan Shih (art), Mrs Piranian (sewing), Mrs Gloria Myers (phys ed), and two teachers close to our age Miss Carol Heffelfinger (math) and Miss Marylou Hawkins (English). Miss Hawkins, especially, blew a tornado of fresh air into our minds and classes!
AA32– Do you mean Gutman Library (#14 on the current campus map)? The Tuttleman Center is on the west side of Henry Ave. The Lankenau school property and all of its buildings were east of Henry Avenue, next to the original Textile/Jefferson property at the corner of Henry Ave. and School House Lane. Most of the original Lankenau buildings still exist.
AA33– AA/NH: The still-existing old gatehouse (now the IT building, #18 on the campus map) was the driveway entrance to the Lankenau main house (now demolished) way down the hill. The big, old Lankenau main house was razed and grassed over. The broad expanse of grass still existing in front of where the main house once stood is where we staged plays, ceremonies, and events outdoors and set up the Maypole that we girls danced and wove long colored ribbons around during May Day celebrations.
AA34– AA/NH: With a slice of processed cheese on top. And if you took a piece of bread at lunch, you had better break it into four pieces and butter and eat the pieces one at a time.
AA35-- AA/NH: (Jesse played defensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots. I sold his parents – and many other families – Girl Scout cookies every year in my trudging around the neighborhood.)
AA36-- AA/NH: When I was attending Mifflin, I walked the Albas’ daughter Joy to kindergarten and back every day for real money, my first paying job that wasn’t allowance!
AA37 – AA/NH: Who else was on the 3300 block? Next door to me at 3315 were Elsie Edwards and her brother Freddie at 3311, and now Elsie’s niece Lynne Edwards and her husband Mike Seidel. At 3307 were the Turners, and at 3305 the Castellanos. On the other side of my house were the Hannas at 3319, the Barnharts at 3321, the doctors Irene Maher and Carmen Thomas at 3323, the empty lot, the McKenzies at 3327, and doctors Lemon and Emily (?) Loeffler at 3329. Across the street were the Bralows at 3300, Mr McAndrews at 3306? 3308?, the Albas at 3310, the Richardsons at 3312, my Holmes grandparents at 3314, Mr and Mrs Steele and her father Mr Yokel at 3316, the Carrs at 3318, Corky Senneker (real name, Harold) with his two aunts at 3320, Mr and Mrs Cutty at 3322, and Mr Karsh at 3324. Mr Karsh was a favorite of Sally’s and mine because he worked for the company that made Curity brand bandages and other healthcare products, and he occasionally brought us Bandaids and samples from his sales case plus paper dolls of “Miss Curity,” the company’s nurse-icon. Later, our friend Joyce Saile lived at 3324 with her parents and brother. In the 3300 block of Penn St was my Mifflin classmate Gail Newman, who moved away in 5thgrade, but whom I recognized immediately across a huge lecture hall at Penn State in the 60s, and again in 2016 at another friend’s wedding. She didn’t change. And in the 3400 block of Penn St lived my Mifflin best friend Georgianna Ziegler, now a lifelong friend.
AA38-- AA/NH: The Reverend Dr. R. Dunham Taylor was the rector all during our childhood and young adulthood. At the church door after each Sunday service, he gave the little kids wiggly “fish” handshakes, which delighted us. Maybe our first “secret handshakes.” All through my childhood and teen years, I sang in the church choirs, directed by Ernest Wells, who also taught at Penn Charter. At the spring festival (I think it was spring) staged in the church’s side yard each year, parishioner Hayward Reid would dress as a cowboy, complete with broad-brimmed hat, and ride his horse to the fair. We kids, grinning, took turns being hoisted up onto the horse’s back. That horse looked ENORMOUS. His back was so wide for young legs, and his hair so bristly against bare legs. Another fond sensory memory: The church at Christmas Eve midnight services, creamy white woodwork (the church has a lotof woodwork!) gleaming in the soft light (only candles), lush red poinsettias massed on every windowsill, and the congregation singing “Silent Night” in two-part harmony that I had learned at Mifflin and in the church’s choirs.
AA39– AA/NH: He was the teacher and later principal in Hay Springs, Nebraska.
AA40– AA/NH: Arthur Holmes
AA41– AA/NH: The bakery sold wholesale pies and cakes and jellyrolls to the Philadelphia schools, Linton’s restaurants in Germantown and elsewhere, Hot Shoppe restaurants (I remember our family going to dinner at one on Hunting Park or Allegheny Ave at the foot of Henry Ave), and many other restaurants and organizations in the region.
AA42– AA/NH: None of my friends’ fathers did any cooking. Dads I knew didn’t go in the kitchen in those days, only moms did.
AA43– AA/NH: Correction: Dad graduated from Episcopal Academy (my uncle Arthur, brother Rick, and cousin Bill Holmes all graduated from Penn Charter, too). After Episcopal Academy, my dad went to Amherst College for just one year and then was pulled out to work at the bakery with my uncle and grandfather.
AA44– [AA/NB: and being driven around]
AA45– [AA/NB: with Steve Poses]
AA46– AA/NB: I didn’t know women weren’t supposed to do that.
AA47– AA/NB: Yes, I worked twice with Neil Stein; with Jay Guben, the Restaurant School founder; and at Frog (Steve Poses), Alexis, Morgan’s (Jay Guben), La Terrasse, Mandana, Ice House Charcuterie (Neil Stein again), and Marabella’s.
AA48– AA/NH: Nan also published three well-received books about her thrifting adventures and her philosophy of reuse and recycling before the idea of recycling entered the public consciousness. She also had a devoted following for her guided thrift shopping van-tours all around the Delaware Valley and into New Jersey. Great fun excursions!
AA49– AA/NH: When I returned from Monaco, I cooked for a short while at Bon Appétit restaurant on 17th St., then worked at the new Springfield Retirement Residence in Chestnut Hill doing admissions interviews, acting as an ombudsman for residents, and starting a monthly newsletter for the residents. Next, I was the picture editor for the national magazine Réalités, senior editor of Learning magazine (also national) for elementary teachers, held various positions in nursing and medical editing for Mosby/Elsevier publishers and for the company that ultimately merged into J.B. Lippincott/Wolters Kluwer publishing, and left Lippincott as an editorial director. Since then, I have been a reading tutor in a public elementary school in Germantown and have continued to seek ways to advance literacy and love of reading among elementary-age kids.
AA50– AA/NH: It was held at the Hotel de Paris in the main square in Monte Carlo next to the famous Casino.
AA51 – AA/NH: This is incorrect. The banquet was invitational. Attendees were largely American business interests, which is why I was included (I was the vice president of a small publishing and film company in Monaco). A friend who was with me remembers this: A large golden brown turkey was wheeled out, and the carver put on a show. He was dressed in a black cape and a rakish hat that made him look more like one of the three musketeers than simple plain folk that had just fled religious persecution. Picture that.
AA52– AA/NH: There wasn’t time for anything else, as she was moving rather quickly around the room, mostly smiling and nodding. The only other time I saw her was at a performance by cellist Mstislav Rostropovich in the inner courtyard of the palace one lovely evening, with a soft breeze blowing, and magenta bougainvillea trailing off walls and balconies. Of course, she was at the Monaco Grand Prix to award the trophy every May. And probably watching the harbor every summer as fireworks teams from dozens of countries vied weekly for the privilege of staging the fireworks display for her November birthday celebrations. But our paths didn’t cross again.
Interviewee: Robert Connolly
Interviewer: Wendy Moody, Winston Moody
Date of Interview: November 1, 2013 and six years of email correspondence
Transcriber: Carolyn Connor, Wendy Moody
Over the course of 7 years, Wendy Moody and Robert Connolly corresponded about his memories of growing up in East Falls (2008 – 2014).
On the following pages are Mr. Connolly’s words, extracted from his emails to Mrs. Moody, and somewhat organized by subject. Following these topical reminiscences is information about Mr. Connolly’s life, the text of the interview when Mr. Connolly finally met Wendy and Winston Moody in 2012, and his narrative on his career as a professional clown.
Mr. Connolly’s first email is printed as received – he typed in caps because of his poor vision. The others have been reduced to a smaller text size.
April 18, 2008
Hi, I am originally from E.F., I was born on CALUMET Street about 5 houses south of the MAIN ALLEY, ABOUIT 3708/10 CALUMET STREET
I'M SURE THE OLD MAIN ALLEY IS STILL THERE, MY NAME IS
ROBERT F. CONNOLLY HERE IS WHERE WE USE TO LIVE
2YRS........CALUMET STREET, UNTIL MY SISTER WAS BORN
ABOUT 7 YEARS AT 3705 STANTON STREET
ABOUIT 7 YEARS AT 3549 SUNNYSIDE AVE
DURATION OF MY GROWING UP YEARS AT 3414 BOWMAN, FIRST HOUSE BELOW 34TH OR ..VAUX STREET................................................................
I DON'T REMEMBER ANYONE BY YOUR NAME, BUT OF COURSE I DIDN'T KNOW EVERYONE EITHER.....LET ME KNOW IF I CAN HELP,YOU ABOUT EAST FALLS, I DO KNOW A KINDA BIT...........ROBERT
April 18, 2008:
How nice of you to email me. I was the librarian at the Falls Library for about 25 years (1980 - 2004), perhaps you remember me from there. Before me, my husband Winston Moody was the head of the library. Where do you live now?
Yes, I'm quite interested in learning what you remember about East Falls. Would you be willing to be interviewed? Do you happen to have any old photos, newspapers, or artifacts of East Falls that we could copy? Once I know where you live now (Cape May?), we can figure out how to share your knowledge.
Thank you for contacting me and for offering to help us. Wendy Moody
April 21, 2008
Thank you for all the information you have given.
I was curious how you were able to get in touch with me. Do you get our local newspaper The Fallser? I write the historical column every month and my email address is in it. I can't think of how else you would know how to contact me - but I'm so glad you did.
I love playing piano, so I was especially interested in your memory of the old sheet music. Your life in East Falls sounds full of wonderful memories.
I'd like to ask you one or two questions in each email I send:
1) What school did you go to? Breck? Mifflin? Can you write all the memories you can think of about the school? Things like what subjects were taught, the names of teachers and classmates, the dates you attended, what you did on the playground, what the building was like. Did you go home for lunch?
2) Tell me a little about your family. Brothers and sisters? Why did your family live in East Falls? What did your father do?
Maybe I'll write a column about you sometime. After I hear from you, I'll send you more questions. Thank you for helping us preserve the history of East Falls.
The Bathey was the public bath house between Ridge Avenue and the Park Drive. I don’t recall the name of the small street – it is now under the overpass.
It was a high walled-in pool. Inside were lockers to change your clothes, no locks of course….then changing into your suit. You walked into a small shower room, required before entering the pool area. Also a foot bath was there. The area in and around the pool was always spotless, No glass allowed in the building at any time. Lots of chlorine was used, also in the footbath.
To us, the pool was large, deep at one end and about 3 feet at the top. The water was usually cool, very crystal clean and smelled of Clorox or disinfectant. For our benefit, I’m sure, we all got one hour, except for working men who got a little extra time. We got time to get dressed and go out a side door. Most of the kids carried extra suits – dry ones – to get in again. We were devils. We were only allowed one session in the morning and one in the afternoon. There were “Boy” days and “Girl” days – every other day. It was great that we had that.
To me, the Bathey was large, more or less square, an open front with rows of benches running east to west. I think they were all around the inside of the entrance and one or two rows in the middle. We had to be in line: “No pushing, no shoving, no horse play as someone can get hurt on the concrete floor.”
No number locker was assigned, we took whatever was open – “locker” meaning a small tiny closet in which you changed your clothes. Once in the pool, you could not leave to go change unless we all did at the same time. The times were 9 to 10am, 10 to 11am, three hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon. The pool was completely empty before the next gang could come in.
The evening hours were saved for the adults and working people. I believe the hours were 6pm to 9pm. I think the door was left open to the pool area to allow the men or ladies to come in as soon as they arrived. No lines for them and they could leave whenever they had their swim. No children in the pool at those times.
A high wall was all around the pool itself. But I had known of kids jumping or climbing over the wall for an after-hour swim. My long-time friend lived on the Ridge and his yard was across from the pool….he was a devil!
There never was a charge or fee paid, it was all free. They had one up in Roxborough, at the Ridge and Walnut Lane – I think that was the Roxy Rec Center.
The Bathey was well used. I don’t know when it closed for good.
What was it like? It snowed most of the time that I can remember….heavy, deep, deep snow. We had a front porch, 4 to 5 feet off the pavement – the snow drifted that high during the night…cars half buried. The whole street was white clear across to the other side. There was even snow on the porch and on the windows. All of the houses were decorated, even parts of ours.
I kinda remember going into our dad’s bedroom, seeing if they were asleep, then sliding down the winding stairs into the dining room. In our PJ’s we peeked into the living room…wow, such a big tree! It stood in the corner near the snow covered window, full of candy canes, silver stuff hanging all over it, and bright and shiny colored balls covered the whole tree. I don’t think we had lights because we were still on gas lights, at least on the second floor. There were many red colored stockings, our name, some with our parents’ names too. Long, fat, full of goodies, little candies, store bought…
We had a big Christmas tree - at least it was big to us, my sister and me. Under the tree were lots of small packages tied with ribbons, name tags glued on or some attached with string. Very few were wrapped. I can’t remember all we got, some toys, small ones, some clothing from aunts and uncles. Plenty of wooden toys, lots of them handmade. Lots of small things, little cars for me, dolls and doll clothes for my sister. Once I got a “Tinker Toy” – what a great gift! And once, too, I got a Learner’s Chemistry Set.
Soon our parents were there, hugs and kisses were plentiful. We really didn’t have that much but we had a great family. Breakfast was as usual, I guess, cocoa and toast. Sometimes Quaker Oats. Guess we were lucky, maybe some kids didn’t have that.
Can’t much remember about the rest of the day, but I did find out later in life that our dad waited where the trees were being sold and after the owners left about 3:30 am, leaving unsold trees, he helped himself to whatever looked good. What time was that? How cold was he? We’ll never know that.
I had spent two years in a heart hospital on Ford road near Woodside Park on Christmas Day. My parents and mom’s five sisters all helped to make our Christmas. Not too much else in those days but we enjoyed what we got and were grateful. At that time, we (my sister and I) were the only two little ones in the family. We never got out much on the streets.
There was: the Democratic Club, the Republican Club, the Old Academy Players, the “Lit”, the Daughters of England (not too sure on this one).
There was a group on Indian Queen Lane, below the Playhouse. They had pool tables and all kinds of games – I never got to know who they were. They were in a big old house at least three stories high and it was on the left side going down Indian Queen Lane. Some kind of Boys Club?
I’m sure there were other “church” groups. My mother belonged to the Daughters of St. George (??). Sorry, I wasn’t into clubs; I just heard about some of them.
LOTS OF MEMORIES!!!! Dutch Hollow; it was an area from the Reading Railroad, Indian Queen Lane and Midvale Ave. The top of it started at the coal yard and Indian Queen, over to the iron fence that circled the train station, then down to Midvale Avenue. The other side was bordered by the yards from the houses that lined Indian Queen Lane all the way down to Arnold Street. I remember running through the fields near the old Breck School down to Dutch Hollow and the caves. I think the name of the street off Indian Queen that led into Dutch Hollow, past the coal yard, was Wylie Street??
My sister and I, used that way to go to the Breck School many times. My sister had a girlfriend (Irene Hodges) that lived on Arnold about four doors from the caves and was in her class. She is still living as far as I know in Warrington Pa with husband Bob Watson. He was from 34th and Allegheny. Irene has Alzheimer’s and Bob has had a few minor strokes; they live with their son.
The area was rugged with a large trough running down the middle ending near Arnold. It was full of trash, people dumping over the years. Mostly wooded with high weeds etc.....There were two caves: an upper one, and a lower one in which we played, we really didn't play in it all the time but used it as a hideout playing cowboys and Indians. Cap guns and bows made from large branches and tied with string. We never went near the upper cave as it was too tightly closed off, but use to slide down into the bottom cave on large pieces of cardboard. The bottom one had a high ceiling, looked like red brick covered over with something white, about 40 ft. wide at the bottom. The bottom was wet and damp and chilly. We never stayed too long.
When we went to school, we would come out at Indian Queen Lane, walk through an area near the Old Playhouse and down through Dobsons Field to school. If the weather was poor, then we used Ridge Avenue to get to school. I remember a tailor shop on the corner of Arnold and Midvale and a Flower Shop on Creswell Street and Midvale. A Doctor Coll lived between Creswell and Arnold. The front of the bottom cave was almost covered over except for a hole near the roof about 5ft wide and a few feet high, our entrance…
I can remember lots in younger years, some in teen years, like going to coffee clutches and having to take my sister! “You can’t go” says mom, “You have to take your sister or stay home!!!!” 15 cents gets you some coffee, a girl to “chat” with and dance music….who needs a sister????
Sometimes unwelcomed guests would arrive that would end the party. We had some very nice times – no rowdiness, no bad words, and no alcohol of any kind was permitted. We sometimes played “Spin the Bottle.” – we’d sit on the floor and hope the bottle stopped at your favorite kisser, then head for the nearest closet to collect your prize….WOW.... We were so bad in those days…14 to 17 years. The girls sometimes made sandwiches and we would walk to the Wissahickon Creek, find a grassy spot, and have a little lunch. We were so bad – sometimes someone brought soda and it would “pop” all over in the heat. But we weren’t bad….none of these boys or girls that I ever knew or traveled with, even through high school days ever got in trouble with anyone. We were so bad in those days….
I can remember one girl, her name was Elaine Remolde. She lived down across from Gustine Lake on “Paste Board Row.” She was so beautiful I was afraid of her – I didn’t think I was handsome or good-looking enough for her. She was chasing me and I didn’t know until she gave up on me! But she was so pretty!!!! Nobody that I knew ever had a steady gal – we just palled around with the same kids all the time. Great years…
Fourth of July:
Both Fourth of July and Memorial Day were important in our family. Not that we had people in the service, but my mom’s family always felt how great our country was. Our family celebrated every national holiday. There were parades, picnics in the park, all kinds of shows around town. Even the movies had war pictures going on.
Parades included all the churches in the neighborhood – Baptist, the Pres, Lutheran and Methodist. Except St. Bridget’s – they wanted to do their own thing, to each his own. The other churches all paraded, each had their own band or drum and bugle corps.
Pop Snyder had the Vets drum and bugle corps down on Ridge Avenue. He paraded with anyone. “Pop” Snyder’s Boy Drum and Bugle Corps – I’m going back 76 years now…We used to practice on Ridge over one of the stores – second floor, close to Joe Welsh’s Taproom. About 30 of us. I can remember one or two guys: Elwood Hummel, Jimmy Parry, me, of course. Sorry, fellas, can’t remember the names of the others. We paraded for anyone.
Parades in the Falls were great events. I don’t know which was the biggest – the Catholic one I think, as they had the most people from church. The Methodist was next. Can’t remember who followed. After the parade, it broke up and I believe we all lunched in McMichael Field. All kinds of games, all kinds of food. It was wonderful – five different religions all getting together to celebrate one great event. Of course there were some speeches, a few prayers, but for one great cause – our country. It was a shame we all couldn’t do it together. Families got to know other families too. Because most of the kids went to the same schools, we all knew each other – our parents didn’t. When it was all over, the food gone, tired kids as well as adults, we picked up our trash, left a clean field as we found it, went home.
Grace Chapel had their picnic on the church grounds, the Methodist up on the golf course (Walnut Lane and Henry Avenue (then)
Some families celebrated out at Woodside Park over on Ford Road with the Crystal Pool. It was one great picnic, with thousands eating, playing, swimming, and, hey, they even had a hall in the back of the hobby horses where amateurs could show off singing and all kinds of musical gigs. Others went to Willow Grove Park, some sat on the river bank fishing or maybe on the Wilson line to Riverview. Either way, any way, we all celebrated. All the churches participated. All had banners and flag bearers and food galore.
There were all kinds of things going on, on the Fourth – parades on Midvale to the Park, parades on Indian Queen Lane. And the largest one was in the Roxy area. The churches in Roxborough went to a park off Henry Avenue and Walnut Lane – large place with tables and all. Roxy had one giant parade. Everyone joined as one off and on Ridge. The parade they had lasted almost two hours.
I think the St. Bridget’s Church had their picnic on – sorry about the name – but what was known as Daggo Louie’s ball field on Henry Avenue across from the agricultural school. You will have to excuse the (Daggo Louies) name, but for years that section was always called that. A giant ball field, big enough for two or three games at one time. Now they keep animals and farm it for food for the animals at the school. Hope this has helped, and to all my Italian friends, my apologies. This is all I can remember – it was a long time ago.
There were family gatherings over in Fairmount Park, good eats, played many games, hot dogs galore, lots of fixings too, family affair. When I got older I played in “Pop” Snyder’s Drum and bugle Corps. Older more, I dated some nice girls and had picnics with them. When I was even older, I played with the drum and bugle corps at Robert J. Lautenbach V.F. W. Post.
On the Fourth of July, my dad had to work at Woodside Park – biggest day in the Park history every year. Thousands flocked there – you had to stand in line for a while just to get a ride. Every ride was jammed. I remember my mom packing his lunch, and supper too – none of the operators left their stations that day, including the cashiers too. They had special rooms put up for the personnel on each ride (bathrooms). So now you know how we spent our Fourth.
Besides the Bathey, we also had Gustine Lake – also a favorite for the poor. We would pack a lunch and spend all day there…. It was free I can’t remember how clean it was, as there were no feet pools and no lifeguards. But on a Sunday, just to sit around it, was beautiful. It was never closed and open all year – even for ice skating in the winter. Little did we know we had a treasure….I don’t know when they closed it.
Memories….how far back? On the big lot or playground across from Stanton Street, there was a large hotel – two or three stories if my mind serves me right – also wide and deep. It had a veranda or porch around it…colors…that was in the early 1920’s – I was six or seven then (1930).
Hurley’s Ice House:
Hurley’s Ice House on Frederick Street at Eveline….They had, I think, the only ice business in the area. They had small trucks that carried large blocks of ice and would go street to street selling pieces of ice for the “ice boxes” where people kept the food. Any size, a 5 cent piece, or a ten center – it all depended how large your box could hold, or how much money you had. We had a “5 cent piece” ice box – filled it almost every other day.
The buildings they had were large wooden sheds where they made and kept giant ice blocks. Us kids would hide nearby, hoping to catch a sliver of chipped ice as the ice man made large blocks into small ones….if it wasn’t trying to catch the ice in the summertime, it was trying to chew the black tar that we found in the cracks of the streets. Wonder why we didn’t die of something….
I thought you might like to know that Mr. Kelly, who was a member of our VFW Post, was a very quiet, soft-spoken person that I can recall. If you can remember Grace Kelly speaking, it was just as soft as hers. I was only at the house a few times, but I can remember Mrs. Kelly being most gracious and every bit of a well-groomed person. They were all from a fine family of ancestors.
Laboratory Hill was the original houses built for the workers of the chemical plant that was nearby (Powers & Weightman). It was off Ridge Avenue, above Calumet. A long concrete walk – all steps – led to these houses up on “Labby Hill.” They also had some houses (about four I think) just off Ridge Avenue on the right side.
I used to see one of the girls who lived in one of the houses….I had to put that in…her name was Peggy Pender, with raving shiny black hair, big blue eyes – a beautiful girl. She went to St. Bridget’s – I went to Breck and Mifflin and we used to meet in the back row of the old movies. She was really that nice. I understand that she is still living off Allegheny across from the catholic school in one of those small houses.
I don’t know what ever happened to all the houses. I think when they built the project housing they tore them down. I think I was married then and had moved to Germantown. Everything now, or has been, rebuilt over again. A lot of nice people on “Labby” Hill…
The only thing that I can remember is that it (the plant?) was on the left hand side of the homes that were built there. I can remember being told not to play around the old building as they had been using mercury and it still may be in the ground.
The library was a big stone building between Calumet and Midvale. We used it very little until we got into the fourth or fifth grades that I can remember. A large big room, high ceilings and shelves all the way around. The front desk was just as you came into the room. A very stern-looking woman looked to see what you were returning, if anything. Another one was always busy putting books away I guess. I remember it being very clean and neat in there. Always smelled clean, too.
It was very bright in there too. We could stay and read or get some books to take home. Don’t remember if I took any home or not. It was always a nice place to visit with a friend and one could hold hands under the big tables (without being seen).
The only one I knew there was the little old guard. I don’t remember his name but he looked like Charlie Chaplin, the movie actor. Friday night was good. Most of us had no money, so we would gather in front of the steps, sit and talk. If we got too noisy the guard would chase us. The old fella had crooked legs - bow-legged - and could not run too fast. (We had a cruel name for him). I still remember how some boys from a different area of East Falls were very cruel to him. (If my mom knew or heard of me doing or saying anything like that, I’m sure my days would have been restricted. My sister and I were supervised many times for small things that we thought we ok, but our parents had different thoughts – from the old school. But they were good to and for us).
The grounds around the library were always spotlessly clean. It seems like there was a doorway entrance on the Midvale side – I never got to know what that was. I was never in the lower part of the building. I know the building was well used. Most all the time, cars were parked outside.
One thing, we were not allowed to sit on the library steps. You know why, people coming in and out.
I didn’t use the library too often, darn it. Just for work in the 7th and 8th grades that we needed to finish for Miss Martin – a real great teacher (I should have listened more to her). I wish now that I had used it more often, but you know young boys – more attention on pretty girls and football.
I remember one time I took out Tom Sawyer and kept it out too long. It cost me 11 cents or so to bring it back. In the early ‘30’s, I think, I’m also remembering Tom Swift: Boy Inventor. He invented all kinds of gadgets, special watches and phones that show who you were talking to, etc. Way too many for me to remember. I think Tom Sawyerand Tom Swift were most popular for my age. I can remember Doc Savage, inventor, scientist, he did it all too. He had 3 or 4 helpers or companions fighting the underworld, Dick Tracy, how many more???
Can’t think of any of the ladies at that round desk as you go in the front door. Not too sure if they had some kind of ladder that went around the room? Late ‘30s, too far back…I do remember the long, long tables. I don’t know if they had a restroom on that floor….
The big mansion across from Library was P.H. Kelly’s home, torn down to make room for Mifflin School. His house had great big windows all around it… kinda spooky as it was vacant for many years that I knew of.....
Falls Theatre: (Midvale and Frederick)
I don't think I even knew the name of the old movie house at Midvale and Frederick, but it was "old." (I thought it was called the Falls Theatre or perhaps The Midvale, but never the Middies. The owner was Sam Golden.
I can picture the movie building. It was curved. There was an alley alongside Frederick Street that led to three exit doors from the movie house. Then it curved around on Midvale Avenue to another alley – same reason – three exit doors. The front was on the far end toward the houses. The cashier’s booth was up 2 or 3 steps, maybe 4. The entrance was to the right, theatre was down on the left.
It was a real narrow room with three rows. Narrow rows on the left and right and the big wide rows in the middle. It had a large middle section with two side sections – about 30/35 seats deep and maybe 20 seats wide. The side seats started 10/12 wide and narrowed down to 3 or 4 at the bottom of the rows. There were rows of seats on the left, then a wide aisle, lots of seats in the middle, then another aisle and the same as what was on the left side. I can’t remember if they had cushion seats or backs. There were 6 exit doors. The front opened after every show to exit the people. The side doors were unlocked during every show, then as the people exited, they locked the side ones so no one could sneak in for free. When the show started they were unlocked by the attendant or usher. Seemed like a large stage and screen… I was 11 or 12 when I went to the old movie.
The Alden Theatre:
The Alden was a new movie house up on Midvale that was pretty modern – all plush seats, plenty of room and well kept. Large screen and stage. I was only in there just a few times; I never went there too often – I don’t know why. It seemed larger than the old movie house. It was bright and beautiful. The aisles were very steep.
I sat in the back row, left-hand side facing the screen. I can remember a little man climbing the ladder to start the film. My mother’s family – all girls, one boy – collecting dishes one night a week. I think they only collected one set as money was tight and only one of the seven girls could go. They chipped in the cash to pay for her ticket. I don’t remember the colors or the design.
We weren’t allowed to go to night movies (school time). I met my first girlfriend (back row) from Labby Hill. Saturday movies were jammed with kids. Some used to sneak in side doors. I think it cost a dime to get in on Saturday. We had to get a “fine toothed comb” when we came home – it was a good place to get the “cooties.” And then mom had to crush them on her finger nails…
I remember Flash Gordon, Tom Mix, Looney Tunes, PPPPPorky PPPPig, and Our Gang.
I thought that “Benny” was a relative who built the Alden.
Harry Prime was raised on Bowman Street, as far as I know. He lived at Bowman and Conrad over the store on the north corner (Clayton’s, then Conrad Caterers, then Epicure). He was another old East Fallser who was catcher on the East Falls ball club (the Falcons) before WWII. The team played over on Dobson’s Field – the one nearest the railroad tracks. He played with all the local guys – Budentz, the two Bounassissi boys (John and Jim), and lots of others I can’t remember. I was about 13-14 years old.
He was a great singer back in the days of Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and all of those big bands. He had a brother Johnny. He is still singing somewhere up near Chalfonte and sings in the Poconos. He’s over 90 and still going strong.
Recreation (Half Ball, Wire Ball, Games):
Half Ballwas played with as many as we could scratch up to play, usually in teams. Seems like “Rosie Andrioli” was always one of the team…
We used a rubber pimple ball or a tennis ball cut in half, or one that we would buy for a nickel. The ball was cut in half and we had a broomstick for a bat. We played on the corner of Sunnyside and Cresson Street alongside of Bouonassisi’s garages. There were about 6 – 8 of them on Cresson attached to the big house.
One team in the outfield, one team batting. The ball was tossed, never thrown, upside down so that the large open cup floated to the batter. One swing only…outfield in position for catching. If a mis-catch, then it was first base. The street was lined off for first, second and third bases. If a hit went way out by the coal yard, it might be a homer. All for a 5 cent ball.
We played Wire Ball with any number of kids, girls invited. Needed was a soft rubber ball or tennis ball. If two played, one would be the fielder, the other the pitcher or thrower. We played at the bottom of Sunnyside Avenue and Cresson. If two played, one was on the dirt side of the railroad tracks, near Cresson Street and the other in the outfield - on Sunnyside, in the street. The thrower would try to hit one of the wires overhead throwing toward the Sunnyside catcher. If he hit the wire and the catcher did not catch the ball coming down, that was a man on first. If he caught the ball, then that was one out. You only got three outs, but as long as you could hit the wire, the man on base advanced - the man being the hit wire. If you missed the wire at any time, that was an out; three outs, next kid took his turn. We spent many evenings playing wire ball, all for a five or ten cent ball.
As we played wire ball at times, there came a time when the outfielder would miss the ball and it would roll down the corner sewer (near Walker’s coal yard). Dilemma… how would we ever get our ball back? “No problem there” says Johnny B (Bounasissi). “Open the lids or covers and I'll get Dominic (Mickey Verdone) to get it.” – Johnny B. being bigger than all of us, took Dominic by the feet and lowered him in, headfirst into the sewer. Dom grabbed the ball, sopping wet, and John pulled him out, on with the game….12 to 14 years old….
Mickey was a little guy. Maybe not more than 5’4” but a happy kid. We were all happy in that time of our lives. No money, a five cent baseball or pimple one, the baseball was called a “Nickle Rocket.” A roll of twine with a false leather cover cost??? Just five cents for weeks of fun. Even if the cover came off.
Games: Penny stage shows in the backyard, pitching pennies or bottle caps. We sure had a great life and we were all good kids, no smoking or swearing allowed. Knuckles down shooting marbles on Walkers Coal Yard grounds near the coal silos. Played “Buck, Buck, Number 1 is Coming” – ever hear of that one? 87 years old, and I still remember it all, even Simon Says.
Not one of us, of all the kids in that area, ever was in trouble, ever. We were too busy having fun. We played hide ‘n seek, all kinds of simple games: hopscotch, marbles and “Pitch” (we’d toss bottle caps up against a wall to see who could come closer to a line). A favorite was Simon Says…or someone would change the words to Monkey Says.
Friday night was special. Fireworks from Woodside Park could be clearly seen. Saturday the girls scrubbed marble steps with cleanser and the boys just talked baseball, football, and autos. Some had skates, some just chalked the slate sidewalks – we never marked anyone’s home with chalk. Sometimes the girls played jacks. Then there were swimming days at the Bathey – girls’ days and boys’ days.
I was not on any team of any kind. A childhood sickness kept me from participating in any body or contact sport – football, baseball, soccer. I couldn’t do any of the kid’s sports in school either. I felt left out many times, hearing and seeing my friends laugh and scream at things. Even during recess time, I had to sit on the step and watch the other kids have fun.
All I did, most, was play wire ball. No running or jumping there. Half ball the same, or Hide ‘n Seek….wasn’t life boring??? I was permitted to play in the high school band and march – walking was good for me. I could play in the orchestra because I would be seated. We had the nicest group of kids, both boys and girls.
I went to Breck School through 7th grade. We, the boys, used to walk to Whittier School one half day each week for woodshop training, I can't remember where the girls went for cooking & sewing. We were taught English, math, history, spelling, grammar – a little I think.
1stGrade: Miss Everhardt
2nd: Miss Cramp
3rd& 4th: I was in the hospital
5th, 6th 7th 8th: Miss Topin (History), Miss Edwards (Math), Miss Della Martin (our fine English – Grammar - and homeroom teacher). Miss Murphy (WOW) taught 5thgrade at Mifflin – a beautiful, blue-eyed beau.
Mrs. Wertz (English). Miss Welch was our gym teacher - she was tall, slender and very athletic. Also very nice.... I’m trying to remember my history teacher…big woman…
Dr. Galter was our Principal, both at Breck & Mifflin.
My sister and I used to walk home from Breck via Dutch Hollow to Stanton Street and return after lunch. We also walked from Mifflin to Sunnyside and back (8th grade only) and last grade there. I was in the second class that graduated from Mifflin in 1938.
I don’t have too many memories of grade school as I spent 2 grades in hospital (also went to school in hospital).
Breck School had two buildings, a large main one with classes 4th and up, and a small building, classes third and down. It had one bathroom in the basement of the main building. It smelled like a sewer, always dark too. There was a large concrete play area, giant oak tree - only one on the grounds. We played all kinds of games that I can recall; I don't know what they were called. I remember running through the fields near the old Breck School.
One of the things that I remember so well about the old school – there was an Italian man who sold penny candies and soft pretzels outside of the iron fence near the front entrance. I believe his name was CARUSO and he lived down on Ridge Ave near Crawford Street. The best deal was a large soft pretzel with plenty of yellow mustard. He never missed as far as I can remember! He was there, rain or shine, except very bad rain storms....
(Later, Mr. Connolly wrote “I had the wrong name for the old Italian gentleman at the front gate. His name was Beneau, or however it is spelled.”
I walked to school, rain or shine, even during snow times. I graduated from Mifflin to Germantown Sr. High, over in Germantown on High Street. I walked there and back every day, winter/summer, except very severe rain or snow from 9th thru12th. How did we walk? I walked from Sunnyside Avenue (3549), over 35th (Conrad) to Warden Drive, up Coulter Street to Penn Charter, through Penn Charter to School House Lane to Wayne Avenue. Wayne to Chelten, over Chelten to Germantown Avenue and then up to the school. A nice walk in the spring time. If the weather was bad – not just a drizzle but raining, we took the 52 trolley at the bottom of the train tracks on Midvale and transferred to the 23 on Germantown Avenue. Maybe walked home in all that….I’m still here.
I was not a good student. My sister Kathryn went to Wm. Penn for girls and graduated.
I’d love to have an old copy of “A Capital Ship Took an Ocean Trip” from the old Breck grammar school days.
Raven Hillwas a girl’s school – very plush. We were told it was well-guarded and never try to go see it. It never minded us – we never knew anyone who went there.
The Whittier grade school was on Clearfield Street and 27th, I believe. It was in the back of the Trolley Barn on Allegheny Avenue. I think that is where the Route 60 Trolley used to be housed. The Barn was below Corpus Christie Church going East and the School was (South) in back of the barn. It was just 2 story I think, maybe 3, and we the boys, had the Wood Shop in the basement. After classes, we had to walk back to school and be dismissed from there – I guess it was done to make sure we were all together at classes. My first project was a wooden take up reel for clothesline.
I remember it as a large flowing waterway. Not too much fish being caught there. There were some carp, catfish, small…not too much of anything else. Upstream had all kinds of mills dumping their junk into it. . As youngsters we weren’t allowed to go there unescorted. Lots of kids drowned in there. There were all kinds of boat races in the summer time. I can remember only one time the river rose and flooded all the stores on Ridge Avenue. The water came all the way up to Midvale as far as the first taproom that was next to McGills. We moved away from that area (Stanton Street) when I was 9 or 10 years old….over the tracks to Sunnyside Avenue.
Soupy Island? What an experience. I was about 7 or 8, maybe 10, and lived with my grandmother up on Seville Street in Manayunk near the Reading Railroad. Every year for a few years she would take me to Soupy Island for a little trip. It was near Red Bank on the Delaware River (South). We would take the train down to the terminal and walk down Market Street to the river. There we would board a large boat with hundreds of other kids and go for a boat ride to “Soupy Island.”
There we would get a bowl of soup and a sandwich at lunch time and we could swim in the Delaware (it was where the boat discharged its waste. The kids had to push the waste aside to swim near the beach (who cared?) – it was a day for poor kids to get away from the big city. It happened every year. Sometimes we went to Red Bank for the amusements, all for free, something to drink and a free sandwich again on the big boat, really big for us kids.
I don't remember if I gave you the news about the two seater, but we lived on Stanton Street (3705) and we had an outhouse in the rear of the back yard. (We only had water in the shed of the house (Kitchen). It had two holes, also the one next to it, 3703, front house and rear house had the one next to ours. We didn't have electric and used Gas Mantels for lights.
3703 was a Father, Son, and Holy Ghost house, with two different yards in the back fenced off so each family had their half of the yard. They shared the same outhouse. 3703 Stanton had 3 rooms in the front part, one over each other, small front porch, the house in the rear had 3 rooms but they had a small shed as we did attached for a kitchen.
Thought you knew?? A two seater is two holes in the outhouse…on the seat.
Our yard ran back to the one on Calumet Street. Our house had a dirt cellar, with a coal bin, a large wooden porch, 3 rooms on the first floor, a winding staircase to the second, 2 bedrooms and the same on the third floor. We heated our kitchen with a "bucket a day" coal burner and a large coal stove in the basement. We use to sieve the ashes to get the unburnt coal pieces.
When it snowed in the winter all the residents would save the ashes and put them in the snow at the bottom of Stanton so the kids would not go all way to Ridge Ave (when they sledded). We could sled from the top of the street, near the church and go all the way to the bottom. Wattttaa ride! But then we hadda walk back up again - but well worth the ride.
Our neighbors were the Parrys, Lynches, Kelly sisters and brothers, and the Ockabees. Then below the main alley below us were a family that raised racing pigeons. Two down were the McManus family (Leo, who was my age, went to St. Bridget’s as most all Stanton families did). Vincent Iccabockie, up the street and young Frankie Collaraso (big Frank now) across the street, first house below the Castle Gardens.
Castle Gardens were a group of wooden houses – an old wooden frame building - on a piece of ground corner of Stanton and Frederick, facing Frederick. They burned down one year (?????). I think there were 4 houses, all wood, all in poor condition. I don't if anyone lost lives there, burnt the places to the ground. I was about 7 or 8 years old when we moved from Stanton to Sunnyside Avenue. I do know that it burned down just before we moved about 1930. There were 2 or 3 families with children living in there when it burned down. I wonder what ever became of them.
On Ridge Avenue:
Ridge below Calumet – Tailor Shop. Across the street was a printing store.
Also, across the street was the Grace Episcopal Church and Sunday School buildings on Calumet between the Ridge and the park.
Corner of Stanton and Ridge: Fiedler’s Pharmacy.
On the corner of Eveline was the Jewish Department Store. They sold everything for the home – I think they are still there. On the other corner was a shoe store, some small stores and the “A & P”, then a drugstore on the corner of Midvale and the Ridge.
On the other side of the Ridge was the fire station and a large hardware store. On top of the hardware store was the Masonic Lodge.
On Midvale Avenue:
From the Ridge (north side of Midvale): A drug store, a luncheonette, bar room, bar room, Smith's Insurance & Car Titles, the old movies.
Across Frederick on Midvale: the Men’s “Lit” (pool room in the basement), the church grounds, the church, two stone houses, the Reading Railroad Bridge, a gas station, the movies, Atlantic Gas (Fred Phillips) gas station, the library.
(South side):Across the street, before the school was built, was a beautiful stone home – really big – owned by, I think, Paul Kelly.
All the way down now below the bridge: a large green lawn with trees and fence on Midvale side. A wide street ran from Midvale up to the station – also a sidewalk. Going down, there was a row of small houses, then a tailor shop at Arnold Street, first or second house next was a Doctor “Coll.” 3 or 4 more houses, then Creswell Street. On the corner a flower shop, a barber shop, one or two houses down was the Baptist Church grounds, then the church, a small alley and a store front, next door was a meat market (Stubblebines), couple houses….some large plate glass windows – one was Hassis Bakery, then I think a hairdresser, then a variety place – all junk stuff. .
Around the corner was a big drug store, corner of Ridge and Indian Queen Lane, across the street was Alberta’s Hair Salon, below that was “Rose’s Bar and on the corner of Ridge and Crawford was a plate glass and auto glass shop business (Bob something).
34thand Tilden: A large drug store, next to it was a meat market.
Ridge Avenue (from Midvale going south):
On the west side - Turner’s Funeral Home and Felix the barber, a long row of porch houses, a bar room, a tap room at Scott’s Lane and luncheonette. The other corner, too, had a luncheonette.
Dobson’s Mills ran from Crawford to the Railroad tracks on Ridge. Long grey buildings – “closed.” A fish and fruit market on the Ridge next to the drug store and A & P.
Sunnysideat the top of the street 3400 block, one side was a tailor store and across was a food store.
3300 Bowman and Vaux– a food market and on the next corner, Indian Queen, was a long time drug store – Buchanan’s (Jim).
Eveline and Frederick: there was a corner store – a bakery – owned by the same family who had the ice business.
And not to be forgotten, “Quinnes” at 35thand Ainslie. They used to give away – buy two, get one free – no matter what you were drinking. They also served excellent dinners in the back room. You couldn’t beat their Friday night fish dinners.
I can remember gasoline $.15 a gallon. You had to pump it up into the upper bowl to a certain line, put the hose in the car tank and release the trigger. The gas would flow down from the bowl into your tank. The American Hall Garage, on 35th Street (Conrad) used to have one of those pumps.
Green Corner: The Green Door was on the corner of Indian Queen Lane at the Reading Railroad tracks. The whole building was painted green and they sold like a big candy store – “everything.” There was also another old candy store, next to the Green Corner (across from American Steel), I can’t think of his name, but he sold many penny candies too...his store ran long and deep and had the cases on the right hand side as you went in. It was run by a kindly old fella with a white mustache and he sold anything you needed for a penny.
I’ll try to remember more old stores. Most of them were closed or moved by the time I returned from Army service on December 28, 1945.
There were trolley cars on Midvale Avenue when I was still going to high school. The number was #52. It ran both ends. When it came to Ridge Avenue, it switched over to a single track. The conductor got out, switched poles on either end, took his control lever and was ready to go back up the hill to Germantown and beyond. The end was where McGills Store and the drug store was 1933/35. There also was a large newspaper stand on that corner. There also used to be a small two pump gas station next to the hardware going into the park. It was an Atlantic Station and owned by Mr. Furman – a little two pumper with a tiny little office.
Above Henry, from Hunting Park up, there was nothing but Bessie Dobson’s estate. Then the reservoir, over to Queen Lane and Midvale nothing has changed much. McMichael’s Field (Park) is still there, then a row of stone homes. Over to School House Lane, the college was not there, just bare ground. Nothing changed except for the college and Abbottsford Homes.
Wissahickon Avenue Area:
About the Atwater Kent buildings, they were on Wissahickon Avenue, one above Abbottsford Road and one below. I believe this is where the radios (you must remember them) were made by Atwater Kent.
I think we had one in our house on Stanton Street – a little 3 “watter” powered by a 6 volt battery. We had two batteries, one being charged by the man at the corner of Calumet and Ridge Avenues. And one we were using – I don’t remember the charging rate – I’m guessing 10 or 15 cents a charge. The Second World War took over the two buildings. I’m sure there were more out buildings too. The Army made gas masks there. I know that because my mother worked as an inspector of masks. The upper building was used by the Signal Corps repair shop. Then after the war the government took them over for offices – Department of Vets, I think.
Bessie Dobson’s place was between Fox and Henry, and Abbottsford and the street between Budd’s Company and Bessie’s grounds (it ran from Wissahickon, crossed Fox, and dead-ended at Henry – can’t think of the name).
My dad was a manager there for 30 years and I had the advantage of “free” tickets for all the rides, including the Crystal Pool. They had three managers there – one for the lower end, one for the middle, and my dad had the upper end where the Airplanes, Dance Hall, Picture Studio, Music Hall, Scary Haunted house, the Hobby Horses, and the Hummer were. You can imagine who the most popular two kids on Sunnyside Avenue in the summer time were, especially when the free tickets came out.
Woodside Park was on Ford Road near Monument Road. It covered many acres. The entrance was off Ford Road to the main walkway. The first thing you saw was a large orange fruit stand, fresh fruit all the time, orangeade, lemonade and other fruit drinks… then going up the walkway – it was very wide at most parts.
Rides: The FERRIS WHEEL – it was BIG…or it seemed so big to us;;;;;;then there was the LOVE BOAT ride, traveling thru a darken tunnel in a flat bottom boat which could hold up to10 people,,,,,,, it was a nice ride, soft music and running water sounds, nice for a couple;;;;;above that was an ELECTRIC CAR ride, two to a car which twisted, turned, rolled and pitched in the dark....scary figures jumping out, flashing up and down, all kinds of lightings going on, weird….
Also on that side was another FUN HOUSE, with air holes all over, when you stepped on a board, a large puff of air would shoot out from the bottom….a girl’s thing….they even had a hole in front of the building, in front of everyone, it happened too!
On the same walkway, there was a few other stands selling all kinds of novelties….all carney items…. Also was a large round building for ball room dancing, it changed later to roller skating. Above this was a large AIRPLANE RIDE - you had to walk up a long flight of steps to get to the platform - 2 to 4 people in a plane and it flew around in circles pretty high in the air….
Then the MERRY-GO-ROUND...a large wheel, beautiful colors and animals to ride on, coaches to sit in, horses that went up and down - also other animals that you could ride on. Some days they had an arm that came out and you could try and get a ring from it. In a great while…a brass ring. It was a bright and shiny wheel, all kinds of colored lights flashing and real merry-go-round music.
My dad was manager of the big merry-go-round for over 30 years. The two merry-go-rounds were the two my father managed, under Park supervision of course. My dad had the upper ride – very large wheel with lots of things to sit on or stand by. I was permitted to use the “Ring Grabber” to put the brass ring out to see if someone could catch it. It was a long arm which dispensed, or dispatched, these brass or iron rings the size of a silver dollar. My job was to fill the arm so the people could catch the rings, no charge for that. Then they would throw them in a large open box as high as the horses and go back for more......A dirty job – no pay, just fun for me.
In back of the merry-go-round was a large hall used for putting on live shows. They had all kinds of shows, from little kids, singing and dancing to big minstrel shows that they put on weekly. They always had amateur shows both for adults and kids too. JACK STECK, an entertainer, was always the ''M.C.'' he also was on radio. Great programs, most of the time, free to the public.
Woodside….on the same side again, near the love boats was a photo shop who did good work. Coming down the other side of the park was the '''HUMMER'', a gentler ride. It was a light low riding 10 car open air roller coaster ride, a long ride with up and down hills and one large hill up and down, for those who needed small ride, no frills…. Next was a PENNY ARCADE…. all kinds of penny games and tricks.
Most expensive was the 4 pictures for a quarter in a little corner booth and one seat, you got 4 quick pics and for fifty cents more, they would color them.....a real money grabbing room.
Down from there…the TORNADO! A very fast twisting and turning ride, racing to the top and slamming to the bottom, screeching at every turn, a body shaking roller coaster ride…all over in less than 4 minutes….a real tooth shaking ride…..not for the light hearted….
Then the giant roller coaster…WILD CAT….A mile high, or so it seemed, ride - roaring down and throwing the bodies all over, it too, ran crazy, turning and twisting, up then down the next second, the best ride in the park, especially the front seat if you weren’t too scared of speed ….Wowzzzzzzzzzz! … On the Wildcat, it climbed slowly up the wooden hill where the tracks are, then raced down to the ground level in only 5 seconds!
Further down, small rides for kids, ducks, swans, all kinds of water rides for the kids. The last thing in the park was the second FUN HOUSE, this time with riding carpets air jets again and spooky rooms.
At the end of the park was a very large LAKE with rowboats. Boating of course - you could row yourself. That’s where they shot off the Friday night FIREWORKS, a really good show! There were, of course, many hot dog, waffle and cream, all kinds of food stands, at a fair price I guess. Across from the park was CRYSTAL POOL (Sylvan Pool)…a large pool with diving boards, sand piles, small pools for little ones, one long sliding board too….really high…. I had a pass for that – lucky me.
Most all of the national organizations came to Woodside. They even had “ORANGE MAN’S DAY'' where, to this day, I swear I saw her - my dearest late wife - riding on one of the HOBBY horses, going up and down. She had this pink and white dress with polka dot orange panties. She was about four years old then, that was my story to her when I found out the family went there on ORANGEMAN’S DAY….
And about the MERRY-GO-ROUND, it has always been a special thing in my life. Woodside had closed, I think, when I was away in the Service – I just don’t remember the exact date and my dad never told me about it either. I guess it was a hard spot in his life because he had so many years there and we (my sister and I) grew up with this. We – my family – spent many happy hours there. Of course it was “free” for us all the time. We knew all the operators of all the rides and concessions. The food we had to pay for, of course, but the music hall, the pool and all the rest came with the job. I even worked there one year (guessing the weights). A Carney operation….in the summertime, two kids never had it so good. You can imagine how many friends we had through the summer months!
I don’t remember if I told you this story:
As you know, my dad was one of the managers of Woodside Park and was always on the lookout for things that were not right so people couldn’t sue the park. I don’t know where this came from, but one day he came home with a large paper bag and asked me if I wanted a treasure from the park. “Sure thing” – I was always looking for some crazy object to play with. I guess I was about 11 or 12 years, old but I opened the bag and in it was a large stuffed head of a tiger, including part of the neck. It was beautiful. He thought that I could hang it on the wall in my bedroom. “Good idea” I said, but I had just had made plans for another little thing to do:
We had a side alley on our house down on Sunnyside Avenue and it had a two foot opening at the top. I think you guessed it already. When the kids were on the sidewalk, I would bang on the side door real loud and then stick the tiger’s head over the top of the alley door and growl real loud. It was so real. If you could see the kids scatter real fast! Life is so short…
We, the family or myself, used to walk to get to Woodside Park, even though there was a trolley stop on the upper lake. There was a lake called Chamioux. I, or we, would walk from Bowman, down the park drive, cross over the river, then go through a dirty, crummy, stinking tunnel under the train tracks. It was used mostly by bums who had no other cover. From there I would walk through the woods, a large wide road all the way to the park, a few miles I guess. Sylvan Pool was there too. My mom and sister very seldom ever went there.
Business people, like Breyer’s Ice Cream and many others, gave away free tickets, a deal with the Park, like “Orangeman’s Day” “St. Pat’s Day” – all of those holidays drawing people into the Park.
I worked there three summers doing “Guess Your Weight/Guess Your Age.” There was a giant weight machine and a stand full of Chinese/Japanese toys in case we were wrong. I rode most of the rides while they were breaking them in for the new season….spent over 1 to 2 hours on the WILDCAT and other rides making sure all was safe to ride in.
I got free dogs, cokes, ice cream all the time – no money as I was there because of my father, over 30 years he was there…every summer. He worked in an iron mill in the winter as a welder. None of our immediate family gave Woodside a second glance….except when they gave us free tickets. I can’t remember any of my mother’s sisters going out there.
On the Fourth of July, my dad had to work – biggest day in the Park history every year. Thousands flocked there – you had to stand in line for a while just to get a ride. Every ride was jammed. I remember my mom packing his lunch, and supper too – none of the operators left their stations that day, including the cashiers too. They had special rooms put up for the personnel on each ride (bathrooms). So now you know how we spent our Fourth.
Hi, my name is Robert Connolly. I am originally from East Falls. I was born on Calumet Street about 5 houses south of the main alley – about 3708/10 Calumet Street. I’m sure that the old main alley is still there.
Here is where we used to live:
2 years – Calumet Street, until my sister was born.
Moved to a three story house on Stanton Street – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Three rooms, one on top of the other, toilet in the back. About 7 ½ years at 3705 Stanton Street. It was just below the main alley. Had a 2 seater out in the yard….and joined a 2 seater which was next door.
About 7 years at 3549 (3547?) Sunnyside Avenue, across the tracks as they say – the last house coming down to the railroad (see section on Friends).
The duration of my growing up years at 3414 Bowman Street, first house below 34thor Vaux Street. This was during the war years. My parents purchased the house for $2500 – a beautiful two story with a porch and a closed in yard.
My mom was 96 when she left us. My dad was only 42 – accident. My mother was Lutheran, my father was Catholic. My sister – you name it. My mother went to 35th and Midvale (i.e. Redeemer Lutheran Church, Midvale and Conrad). My father went nowhere – very bitter.
Six of my mother’s sisters worked, as they had no kids. Two other sisters only had 2 kids each. For as many as there were in my mother’s family, it was small in the number of kids – total of 7 children from the 8 girls. One male had two boys, one died early.
Two other sisters only had 2 kids each, for as many as there were in my mother’s family, it was small in kids – total of 7 children from 8 girls. , one male with 2 boys.
On the fourth they did get together every year, as many as they could, joining other families to celebrate. And as the years rolled by, it became just one to 4 girls would contact me to keep the family name together. Then later only one was left, out of a family of 12 or 13 kids. Many died during birth or flu season. They had only one boy out of 13 kids. We even had small birthday parties.
I had one sister nicknamed “Lindy.” My mother, same name, my father was John. I have a few cousins, 2 still living.
I was baptized at St. John’s in Manayunk. Christened at the same. My sister – I don’t know. I went to church all summer at St. John’s. All winter, the church on Park and Calumet?
My dad used to roll his own cigarettes, or we took turns rolling them, two packs at a time. I didn’t know too much about wildlife, except what my father brought home from gunning – that was our supper.
I had a mixed up life. I was in a hospital bed around 8 or 9 – there for 6 months. Six more in Children’s Heart Hospital, across from Woodside Park – for a total of one year in bed. I never lost a school day – there was a school in the heart hospital. I was never allowed sports, not even “Spin the Bottle” – remember that one? I played in the high school band and played in the school orchestra.
I can remember when I was about 10 years old, I was sent home from school with a note. My Dad took me to the Jefferson Hospital in town. They did a number of tests and my Dad left me there. I remember having a tube in my throat to ""pump me out"" they said and then I was given a person to person blood transfusion. We laid on a table and the person next to me was my Father. I can remember the people talking about the transfusion. I had spent a total of 12 months in two different places after that - 4 of those months in Jefferson and the other 8 out in the Children’s Heart Hospital on Ford Road across from Woodside Park and on the grounds of the Philadelphia Country Club. It was a two story building, girls on the first floor and boys on the second. It cost my Mom and Dad $3.00 a month to keep me there. I could only see one of them for 1 hour a month, on a Sunday. That’s when you bring your $3.00…
Just to give you a little more information, my sister and I came from poor parents. My mom worked a few hours a week for the owner of our house to pay for the rent. My dad did the same – he worked in the garden for the owners and was allowed to hunt for small game on the property – rabbits, squirrels, and kind of bird for eating. Milk money came from some of my mother’s sisters and her father. I went to Manayunk for the summer to help my mother keep food on the table. My uncle went caddying at the Germantown Cricket Club to help his mother (my grandmother) pay for some things. We survived.
I used to “shoot butts” where McIlvaine now has his business (funeral home on Midvale). It was called the “Lit” for the sake of a better name (“The Literary” – the Young Men’s Literary Institute). They played pool and other ball games as far as I know. Shooting butts was picking up old cigarettes that had gone out and smoking them.
Friends in East Falls:
Johnny Bounasissi - We use to sit on John B’s front steps, right under his father’s bedroom window. There were 7 steps leading up to the front door and we all played, sang, whatever… until Mr. Bounasissi had enough and used to dump buckets of water from the window....too much noise… John B. was Johnny Bounasissi , a great guy and he lived just across the street on the corner of Sunnyside and Cresson.
The Bounasissi house was laid out longwise. It was a very large 3 story house. Even though I was in there, I couldn’t tell you how many rooms since they raised 11 or 12 kids in there - four of the boys were in the service. From the front steps, the house ran up the street, if I can recall. A large store room, once used to sell grain and feed, then a living room, dining room, large kitchen.
That was attached to Milliades house next door, then attached to that at right angles was a large cooking room where John’s mother used to do all the cooking. From our house address up to Simon’s house, that is how long the Bounasissi house was. There was a large garden in back of the row of garages that lined Cresson Street. Their property ran from Sunnyside to the Walker’s Coal Yard on Cresson Street.
John was named after his father. I never knew Mrs. B’s first name, only that she attended mass at St. Bridget’s in rain, snow, hail. In the worst kind of weather, you could set your clock by her walking to church every day at 6 am. Never failed.
We lived directly across the street from them at 3547 Sunnyside. When we were about 10 or 11, the big house was burned out – combustion in the front store room where he sold feed, etc. Burned every room.
Three o’clock in the morning my mother took in the three boys – John, Jimmy, and Joe – while the rest of the kids were scattered all over the area. Albert, being only a baby, was taken in by the Milliades family, the family that lived next to John’s house, going up the street. They were left with nothing. Neighbors all got together and donated all they could and beyond just to keep the family together. We had the boys for about a month while someone found room for all of them to be together again.
While the firemen were fighting the house fire until dawn, all the neighbors were supplying the men with hot coffee and sandwiches through the night. Tight-knit neighborhood.
I knew the Eastburns, Lou and Lucy, who had a little store on the corner, Cresson and Ainslie. Lucy was part of the big family “Bounasissi” family. There were so many nice boys and girls – I wish I had better memories from our school room class. Kathryn Hoffmister – big girl, beautiful too. Rose Andriolo, 3500 block of Sunnyside – “one of the boys” so to speak. She made school teacher. MARRIED HER BEST GIRL FRIEND???? GETTING TOO DEEP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Irene Hodge - I just heard from a 77 year friendship pal, school chum from Breck School. Her name is Irene Hodge (now Mrs. Robert Watts, 34th and Allegheny) – guessing they are married about 70 years – she was married at a young age. Irene lived on Arnold Street and she and my sister used to walk to Breck School every day. She might have given you stories, but due to serious Alzheimer’s, I understand she is in her last remaining time.
6/20/2008: Irene, her husband and I will celebrate 68 years of friendship on Sunday. We used to walk to school via Arnold Street and Dutch Hollow 68 years – my sister Kathryn (Sissy), from Arnold Street and I walked to school and back, twice a day, morning classes and the afternoon classes, rain or shine, except very bad weather (we stayed home). 68 years of being friends – Irene is in the last throes of Alzheimer’s.
(After Mr. Connolly was sent the Mifflin School Roster of 1938 (his graduating year) he replied:
How does one say “Million Thanks”? Your letter came today. I wish I knew if anyone was still living or even breathing. One guy Vincent Iaccobacci from Stanton Street, 3600 something, was still living but I don’t know where. Goes to St. Bridget’s Church as of a few months ago (through Jim Mulligan on Indian Queen Lane). I thought Alice Underwoodwas in my class…and Ralph Johnsonis in both classes? But I do remember so many of them, especially Kathryn Hofmeister. And I worked with Dominic Verdone for a lot of years before he became letter carrier. So many of the kids were so very nice. We all had nothing but lots of love and fun.
My mind is slipping somewhat. I do wish I knew more about the other kids and what ever became of them. I knew Frances Powers was gone, as well as Marge Whittaker and Georgina Lalley. I was with Marge Whittaker a few weeks before she passed on. She died during the Second World War. Others I just don’t know about but wish I did. Bud Spanninger lived up by York Road, above Willow Grove. So many years have gone by.
Alice Underwood, who lived on the corner of Dutch Hollow at Indian Queen Lane, who was in my class at Breck and Mifflin....is she still living????
I have much to be thankful for. I am going to make copies of this roster and send one to Dominic Verdone. I don't know how many are still living from our street (Sunnyside), Just two that I know of, DOM, and a girl named Dorothy Whittaker, now (Thompson)...also in the POCONOS for the summer
(Note: On May 19, 2008 Robert Connolly wrote to Wendy Moody:
“I just read my old time neighbor Annie Verdoneleft us. Her two younger brothers, Mickey and Gene, and a sister Susie, were part of the half ball and wire ball players as well as the rest of the kids’ games. So sad.
I know Bea Verdone – she lives on Vaux near where my mom lived on Bowman. Her back yard (Bea’s) bumped into my mom’s yard in the alley. She knows me. And I think that the address you gave me for Michelle is where Dominic lives. His was the last house on Krail below Haywood. Thank you so much. There are only a few of us left from the old S unnyside kids. Many, many thanks. Robert.”
Yes, please call me Wendy.
I couldn't find Dominic Verdone in the phone book so I asked a long-time Fallsers, Kathleen Gillard, to help. Here's what she said:
Good Morning Wendy,
Anne Verdone Flanagan had two brothers, Eugene(Gene) and Dominic(Mickey). Eugene is deceased and his wife's name is Bea. She lives on Vaux Street. Mickey is married to Jean and they live on Krail Street. Their daughter is Michelle, who also lives on Krail Street. I do not have Mickey's address, however, if you want to send something to him, I would suggest you use his name and send it to Michelle's house since they are both on Krail Street and you have her address.
Hope this is helpful.
So, Robert, try sending your note to Dominic's daughter, Michelle Verdone at 3317 Krail St. Philadelphia, PA 19129.
Hi Wendy, Robert here. Remember the story about us playing ball and it goes into the sewer? And John Bounasissi would hold Dominic Verdone by his feet and lower him into the sewer, head first, to retrieve the ball and pull him back up again? Well my long-time friend Mickey (i.e. Dominic) has passed on and, of course, I could not be there. I’m confined to a wheelchair. Another loss to “When kids were really kids.”
John lived on the corner of Sunnyside and Cresson with his other four brothers and four sisters. Dom lived up the street, a few houses. I lived just across from John.
I worked at the Signal Corps over in old Atwater Kent building. I did Signal repair, and entered the Army Signal Corps, August 30, 1942.
Four years after I graduated Mifflin in 1938, I was in the Army Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, N. J. I was inducted in August 1942, went to Sea Girt for Basic Training, one month I think, then walked to Ft. Monmouth in September 1942. I was in tent city from September to December 1942. They shipped out the whole company to Oregon via train. We stayed at Fort Pendleton, an Air force base on top of a mountain. From there I went alone to the 1058th Signal Service group. We set up a signal station for fwd army troops. Just as they secured the area, we put up antennas and other signal equipment. None of our personnel ever got shot up or wounded. Thank God for that.
As soon as the fighting men went north again, we followed them again doing the same thing. I was in Hollandia and Finchhaven, both on the east coast of New Guinea. Then we sent to Moritia, then on to Leyte and into Luzon, the capital of the Philippines. There we again split up, sending repair men all over the countryside trying to repair the damage that the Japs had caused.
I and four other signalmen were sent up north to a little town called “Loag.” It turned out to be a stopping off place for the American soldiers who were captured by the Japs and being returned to hospitals in Luzon, then back to the USA. All of the hospital planes stopped there to refuel and rest for a day, then take off again. I saw many haggered and war-torn men, some barely alive, some not so lucky. It was a heart-breaking service time for a few of us (4).
We finished our duty there, returned to Manila, short rest period, and then shipped home on a Navy ship (APA). We landed in Oakland, California. We were staying in a wooden barrack and served our meals by, get this, German soldiers. We were there a week or so getting deloused, shaved, haircuts, and steamed bathed – all for free! New clothing and a ticket to Philadelphia. I spent Christmas Eve in a stockyard somewhere in Michigan, then on to Philadelphia.
I got off at North Philadelphia station and started to walk home to East Falls on Bowman Street near Vaux. I got as far as Broad and Erie and got the “A” bus to Bowman Street and walked down to where I used to live. The first person I met was John Bounasissi, who I played half ball with. I was home – 3414 Bowman Street after 40 months of being away.
Idamay (Robert’s wife):
My wife had started a book about me…Clowning. Unknown to her and me, she was already into Alzheimer’s. But she started a book and was keeping it until she had 5 or 6 chapters, then asked someone to edit for her. It wasn’t until after her passing that I found 2 or 3 pages of a chapter. I’ll mail you a copy of this writing, as an event that was part of my life.
Idamay had Alzheimer’s, unknown to me, until she was given a test and the results given to me. Our last ten years were the closest and nearest as two people could be. She died here (Cresthaven) with me 35 years and one week…
I don’t remember who I spoke to one day last year about Idamay’s memorial bench. I went to the city office one day and asked if I could buy a bench in memory of Idamay and have it placed on the Washington Mall. They took down all the information I wanted on the plaque and told me it would cost a sum of money to do that.
Her bench is now in the mall. It is the second one from Ocean Street, going south in the mall on the left-hand side – ocean side. I felt that was little enough to do for her after all she had done for me. It’s beautiful. A bronze plaque on a light green background. It will stay there for 15 years and then I can have it, or one of her family can take it if I’m not here or if I designate, someone else can have it. The bench seats six adults and is made of cast iron. It is very heavy, well-constructed to last a lifetime.
Born May 30, 1926
Died July 23, 2006 at 80 years old in Cape May County, NJ.
I left East Falls after the war years, about 1950, but my mother still kept the house for many years after that. She married again, and then moved to Roxborough, near the Roxborough Baptist Church. I moved around a bit - At–o, NJ – near Route 73 and 70 (Marlton), then ending up in Florida for 35 years as a pro clown, not a circus clown.
We had to come north due to Idamay’s having Alzheimer. We are now in Cresthaven Nursing and Rehab. I am as healthy as an 85 year old can be with diabetes 2. I’m on an electric cart, unable to negotiate much on my two legs. I don’t have any old pictures or letters, just wonderful memories of my life in East Falls and most of the kids I went to school with. Most families had little or nothing in those years. We required nothing – we had half ball, wire ball, sledding and hay rides. Our doors were always open – we had nothing to steal.
We sang from sheet music, 10 cents for 4 to 5 pages of songs. Fireworks could be seen from Woodside Park on Friday nights in the back yard, as we held hands.
(April 19, 2008) I forgot to tell you where I live now. It’s in Cape May Court House. I am in the Cape May County Nursing Home, called Cresthaven Nursing and Rehab Center.
My address is: Robert F. Connolly, Room 339NW, 12 Moore road, Cape May court house, NJ 08210. Phone #: 609-465-1562 . E-MAIL firstname.lastname@example.org
Idamay’s niece lives nearby me and sees me as often as she can, being a working mother yet and a new grandmother.
I am not in my room most of the time, too lonesome all the time, but after 8pm and before 9pm I am here – most of the time I try for bedtime a little after 9pm. Bedtime meaning getting into my lounge chair, tv on, or reading good books, which I enjoy doing. I try to be active, but I’m not too successful.
I’m on the computer most of the time, have some cousins still living – Florida, Perkasie, PA, Warminster, and Delaware, so I keep in touch that way. I still have some clown friends who I used to perform with. I still have my clown suit but I gave my shoes away. I could not afford to keep them resoled. The shoemaker up on Ridge Avenue across from the cemetery did them for me. The last time was $125 for full soles. I use sneakers now.
Robert was born on February 1, 1923 and passed away on Saturday, September 27, 2014. Robert was a resident of North Cape May, New Jersey at the time of his passing. He was preceded in death by his wife Idamay.
Obituary of Robert Connolly
Robert F. Connolly, age 91, of North Cape May passed away peacefully Saturday, September 27, 2014 at Victoria Manor. Robert was born February 1, 1923 in Philadelphia, PA; and has been a Cape May area resident since 2003. He is the son of the late John and the late Kathryn (Parry) Connolly. Robert served his country in the US Army during World War II, and later in the US Navy also. He retired from U.S. Post Office, Philadelphia, PA in 1973 where he was a Mail Carrier. Robert was also known as "Buttons the Clown" sharing joy and happiness with children and adults throughout his life. He was preceded in death by his wife Idamay (nee Armour) Connolly in 2006 and his sister Kathryn Bellina. Robert is survived by his loving family and care givers at Victoria Manor. Funeral services will be private and at the convenience of the family. To share condolences, please visit www.evoyfuneralhome.com. - See more at: http://evoyfuneralhome.com/tribute/details/491/Robert_F_Connolly/obituary.html#sthash.wErCge5O.dpuf
Transcript of November 1, 2013 Interview:
In 2012, Robert Connolly and Wendy and Winston Moody finally met at Victoria Manor, a nursing home in North Cape May, NJ. All of the “interview” had already been conducted over the years except the factual cover sheet. In order to record his voice, the exchange for the fact sheet, (which needed to be done hastily) was recorded. The transcript follows:
Interview for Fact Sheet Information:
WM: It’s November 1, 2013. We are at Victoria Manor - Wendy Moody and Winston Moody meeting Robert Connolly for the first time, after 9 years of correspondence. Right? So I want to ask you some questions on the form. What was your address in East Falls, where did you live?
RC: Well I was born on the 3700 block of Calumet.
WM: 3700 block of Calumet. Do you remember the exact number?
RC: 370-something, three houses below the main alley, there was a main alley that ran between Stanton Street and Calumet.
WM: Yes, Skidoo Street.
RC: Across the street from the main alley was an icehouse and I was born on Calumet Street on the 3700 block.
WM: Ok, and what was your birthday, what’s the date of your birth?
RC: The day of my birth? Oh gosh (haha) February 1, 1923.
WM: And your parents’ names?
RC: My father was John Thomas Connolly
WM: John Thomas Connolly, ok.
RC: And my mother was Kathryn, K-a-t-h-r-y-n
WM: And what was her maiden name?
RC: Her maiden name was Parry.
WM: Were they both from East Falls?
RC: No, my mother was born and raised in East Falls. My father was born and partially raised in Bethlehem.
WM: Oh in Bethlehem? How did they meet each other?
RC: I have no idea except, just fate that they walked up and down the park where the bridge was, the East Falls Bridge. They would go up towards Manayunk. There was Gustine Lake. I think they used to go swimming; I’m not sure.
WM: What did your father do for a living?
RC: My father was raised in a Catholic Boys Home at Allegheny and Broad. Boys Catholic home. I can’t remember the name of that now.
RC: Not Girard. Nope, Allegheny Avenue.
WM: What kind of work did he do? How did he make his living?
RC: My father ran away from the home, and from what I can gather he was around 16 and he met my mother somehow, and my grandfather – my mother’s father - got him a job at Dobson’s Mills.
WM: Really? He worked at the mill?
RC: My grandfather was, what they call, the mill master. He was in charge of all the floor work and made things for carpeting and upholstery, for floors, and lots of things. I can’t remember everything.
WM: So your grandfather and your father both worked at Dobson Mills?
WM: What did your father do there?
RC: My father was a mill hand.
WM: A mill hand. Do you know what he did?
RC: Uneducated, I have to say it, poor and uneducated.
WM: Do you remember any stories they told you about the mill?
RC: Only how dirty it was and the hours they worked. The slapping and running up and down and the grease and the grim. I can’t picture it but I remember my dad saying how dirty it was.
WM: And did he ever meet the Dobson brothers?
RC: The Dobson brothers? No, I wouldn’t know.
WM: What church did they belong to in East Falls?
RC: My father was raised Catholic and when he got to be 16 he ran away from the home and then my mother… that was when they got married I guess…
WM: Did they go to St Bridget’s Church? Which was their church? Methodist? Baptist?
RC: My mother was a Lutheran.
WM: She was a Lutheran.
RC: On the corner of Midvale and 35th there’s a Lutheran church. Is it still there?
WM: They’re cleaning it out now. It’s over - they’re going to try to sell it.
RC: Oh, the church?
WM: Yeah, I was there yesterday because they were cleaning it out and I went over and I said, “Can we use this as our museum? We want to have an East Falls History Museum”, and the man said, “How much money do you have?” I said nothing! They’re selling it; it’s so sad. So when you went to church did you go to the Lutheran church?
RC: Uh, in the summertime, I would visit my father’s mother up in Wissahickon, on Cresson Street with the railroad tracks at the bottom. And she took me all summer and my mother had my sister all summer.
WM: You just have one sibling, a sister? What’s your sister’s name?
RC: We had a nickname for her – I remember my dad saying “Oh there goes Lindy. “
RC: Lindy was born the day that Lindbergh flew the ocean. My sister fell off the curb and cut her lip. I can remember my father talking about that.
WM: On that very day. Was Lindy older than you or younger than you?
RC: She was, might have been, a year younger.
WM: What was her real name? Linda?
RC: Kathryn. My father was John Thomas Anthony.
WM: Ok, John Thomas Anthony Connolly. And you went to what school, you went to Mifflin?
RC: He never went to school.
WM: No, but you – where did you go?
RC: I went to Breck School for half a day and the other half we walked out to the Whittier School and we take a class in woodshop down in this grungy old basement that stunk.
WM: Where was the Whittier School?
RC: On Allegheny Avenue, that was 25th and 29th, I’m not quite sure.
WM: So you went to Breck…
RC: I went to Breck – all through Breck. We were the second class out of Breck to leave there. The first class graduated from Mifflin, and we were the second class to graduate there.
WM: So you ended up at Mifflin, you graduated 8th grade at Mifflin?
WM: So you went to Mifflin for two years?
RC: Ah, a year.
WM: One year? Ok.
RC: I knew Dr. Galter? Ever hear of Dr. Galter?
WM: I’ve heard of him, yes.
RC: He was the principal.
WM: Ok, and were on any sports teams, in East Falls. Did you play any sports?
RC: I wasn’t permitted to do sports.
WM: Oh, you told me that. That’s right; your heart…
RC: Yeah. We lived on Calumet Street, and Stanton Street, right in back where I was born on Calumet. Almost identical, the same house.
WM: How long did you live on Calumet before you moved to Stanton?
RC: A couple of years, maybe.
WM: Oh, then what was your address on Stanton Street?
RC: 3700 again, it was the same house as Calumet, a block over on Stanton Street. I think the name was, I can’t remember, two young men owned the house. I can’t remember their names. They had pigeons, they had a pigeon coup. I’m sick of pigeons.
WM: And how about your career Robert, where did you end up working?
RC: How many?
WM: What kind of work did you do? Were you a clown your whole life or did you have another job?
RC: Well, the war broke out in 1942 and I went in, in October…
WM: You went in the Navy?
RC: July, August, of 1943 I went in.
WM: Where did you go, the Army?
RC: Army. I was there for 48 months and I came out of that and there wasn’t much money around or progress. People weren’t doing anything so I joined the Navy. I was at Willow Grove Naval Air Station – I became an airmen, for eight years. Not full time - I was what they called a weekend warrior.
WM: And then did you do any other kind of work?
RC: Other kind of work? I was a ? bookman for a number of years. Ah, I’m trying to think what else…
WM: When did you become a clown?
RC: Ohhhh my gosh! You don’t want to know. Idamay and I, she retired, went through saving bank, and we moved to Florida and I was cattycorner from an undertaker who had retired and he said to me, “Hey Con, why don’t you come up and join the Shriners “and I said, “I’m not sure; I wasn’t a drinker.” I didn’t drink anything but a beer once in a while and a little wine but I said, “I don’t think so.” And he said, “Yeah, come on, you’ll have a hell of a good time.” And anyway I joined the Shriners. They have a number of different outfits they are trying to sell (?) all kinds of groups, so I said to Idamay “What am I going to do?” She said, “Join the clown group, you’re such a clown anyhow.” (haha)
WM: I can tell that already, I can tell. (haha)
RC: Anyway, I went up. I said “Oh, I don’t want to be a clown; I want to be a piper, a bagpiper.” So I went to another meeting and the gentlemen was very polite and said, “We would love to have you, but you’re too old.”
WM: Aww, this was all in Florida?
RC: In Florida, at Fort Myers, Florida. And I said “What’s wrong?” and he said “It takes us too long to teach you to blow the pipes.” It’s better for some young men. It hurt my feelings.
WM: How old were you then, about? In your 30s or 40s?
RC: I don’t remember.
WM: Ok, well you wife’s name was Ida?
RC: Idamay, yeah, it was one word, I-D-A –M-A- Y
RC: Her maiden names was Armour, A-R-M-O-U-R and she was a beauty.
WM: You sent me her picture.
RC: God love her.
WM: And how did you meet Idamay?
RC: You may remember I’m not sure, you could put out an advertisement, “What would you like to see in a woman.” And for two bucks they would match you up with somebody – what color hair, does she like roller skating. I got the form back and there were five names already. They gave you a choice of five. And I picked a couple, which I wasn’t quite happy with, and anyway, I dialed this number and called it and the voice says, “Hello?” “Is this Ida(may) Armour?” and I could almost hear her coming out of the phone, the heat: “Don’t you evercall me Idamay Amour! My name is Idamay, and you call me Idamay!” She told that to the doctor, she told the doctor “Let me tell you - my name is Idamay, she was dead sure. “
WM: Wow, now what year did you marry Idamay?
RC: We got married up at Roxborough, at the Roxborough Baptist. It was her choice.
WM: Ok, and what year was that, 1950? 19…?
WinM: After the Navy I guess.
WM: After the Navy? You think it was in the 40’s or the 50’s when you got married?
RC: I wish I could remember.
WM: That’s ok, it’s ok. Did you date her a long time before you got married, or did you get married right away?
RC: Well she invited me to her home for a cup of coffee.
WM: Where was her home?
RC: On… East Falls… the train station right off of Ridge Avenue…
RC: Wissahickon, and she lived up the street from that, a beautiful house - a double wide, brick, and when I saw it I said, “Oh man you have bucks!”(haha) I said I don’t want to break up this conversation, but we should meet someplace else. It’s not polite to be in someone’s home, things happen. She said, “Don’t you worry about that, it’s just fine.” And then six months later we were married.
WM: Six months wow, did you have children?
RC: No. Idamay was unable to have children. I also came out of the service, the doctors were talking to us and advised us to take medical exams because of the amount of medicines we were taking were affecting our bodies. I had pretty bad fever over in New Guinea and I went to the doctors over in Germantown, on Greene Street and I said I want to get checked out to see if I’m capable of having children. We did all that, and sure enough, he said, “No, I’m sorry.” Any chance of building my body up? And he said, “No it’s too late for that.”
WM: And then you said you had a relative that works in a flower shop, so how is she related?
RC: Joyce is my niece.
WM: She’s Lindy’s, Kathryn’s daughter?
RC: Joyce - her father, her mother and father were alcoholics. And when the kids were growing up, the grandmother took them out of this environment and put them in with Quakers. And Joyce went with this young man, I forget his name now, I should know it. But working in a greenhouse, worked there years after school, running errands all the time and stuff. So she said to me, they offered us to buy the place. And it was such a good deal. We were to buy the business, it’s was such a good deal. It included everything, the grounds, the green houses, the home on there, right in Perkasie. Beautiful, beautiful.
WM: Wow that’s wonderful.
RC: They both worked it, they worked at it, two young people. And now their retired.
WM: So is she your only relative now? Is Kathryn still living? Your sister?
RC: There’s a cousin of mine, Jim Wilfong. He’s down at Jebber(?) Hills. I have a cousin Joan, down here in Cape May City. I got a half a dozen relatives left. They’re all hanging loose.
WM: Is your sister still living?
RC: No, my sister passed away, I think five or six years ago. If I can remember right, I can’t remember the date. I would ask her son, if he was here.
WM: So I have some other questions to ask you.
RC: Shoot away! I’m not going anywhere.
WM: Ok, where did your family shop? For food, for clothes and for housewares, were did you do your shopping? When you were growing up, what were the stores?
RC: Uhh, not Stubbelbine’s.
RC: It’s down on Ridge, barber stores.
WM: Did you go on Conrad Street, up 35thstreet to any of the butcher stores?
RC: Uh, no, we never shopped there.
WM: No, where did your mother get your food?
RC: I don’t know where my mother shopped at.
WM: Where did you get your clothes when you were little?
RC: Uhh, my mother got my clothes in a shopping bag.
WM: Shopping bag.
RC: She would bring it home in shopping bags.
RC: A couple pairs of pants and a couple pairs of socks. My dad would go out, Monday or Tuesday, I forget, on trash day and pick up shoes. He would take the leather off and put leather on our shoes to go back to school.
WM: Wow, and did your family have a car?
WM: No, did you use the trolley or the train when you were growing up?
RC: Public transportation?
WM: Yes, what did you use the trolley or the bus or what?
RC: Whatever. The trolley was available almost all the time. Very few buses at that time. The 52 trolley on Midvale. I remember that. Not much on Henry Avenue.
WM: Your father had a job at Woodside Park, didn’t he?
RC: My father was a manager at Woodside.
WM: Yes, I forgot about that. Ok, he was the manager of the…
WM: Did you ever meet the Kellys?
RC: Kellys? We had nothing… Mr. Kelly was a contractor for the City of Philadelphia. Of course, that would be a different group of people from how we lived.
WM: I understand that, but did you see him?
RC: One time we invited him to come down to the VFW Post. We were having a celebration for someone and he came down.
WM: Where was that, at the Masonic?
RC: On the corner of Frederick and Stanton.
RC: The VFW Post. And we had a little celebration and he joined in, he had __
WM: Did you ever meet his children?
RC: I met Mrs. Kelly a couple times. When we visited her home. She served tea.
WM: Where was that the home on Ridge? On Midvale?
RC: John B Kelly?
RC: The one below Penn Charter.
WM: Ok on Henry. How did you happen to go there for tea?
RC: We were invited. Mr. Kelly invited the whole Post to come up and we had tea and crumpets.
WM: Wow, what was the house like? I mean I’ve seen the outside, but what was the inside like?
RC: Beautiful, beautiful. Nothing elaborate, nothing greatly modern, but a good sturdy inside.
WM: And did you ever meet Grace?
RC: Did I ever meet Grace? No.
RC: They played in the backyard a couple times and she played tennis and would sneak around the corner.
WM: So do you have any special memories of things that happened in East Falls? Like any big events that you remember, anyone famous coming, or a fire or anything at all that stands out?
RC: No everything in East Falls was just East Falls, nothing elaborate like that.
WM: Did you like growing up in East Falls?
RC: Did I know any different?
WM: No, but were you happy there?
RC: Oh well yeah, I played in the Wissahickon. I grew up more or less with my grandmother. We lived in a Father, Son and Holy Ghost house, you know what they are? She my grandmother, her name was (Coran?) she and my Aunt Fay were on the first floor. My Uncle Leo slept on the second floor. My mother and father and me were on the third floor. My grandmother said something about, my mother gave me a couple dollars to move out of my grandmother’s house and get one of our own. So we moved around the corner to the almost identical flip flop home. Three story.
WM: Up Stanton Street. I wish you could remember the number of the house. 370-?
RC: I forget the number, either -05, -03. A lower number. It’s pretty hard.
WM: Ok, that’s ok. During World War II you were away, where were you stationed?
RC: I went to school at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey.
WM: That’s where I grew up, my dad was in Fort Monmouth; I know it very well.
RC: Was he a teacher?
WM: No he was a private first class, he was in the Army.
RC: A PFC! Signal Corps?
WM: Yes that’s exactly what he was, in the Signal Corps. He was a ham radio operator.
WM: Wow, his name was Bernard Sachs.
RC: As you progress, they go faster and faster and faster.
WM: Well when I was… -skip in recording-
RC: After school, come home for lunch then back to school and that was day in and day out…
WM: And the school was for signal training. Unbelievable, that you and my dad did the same thing in the same place. Any memories of the Depression? How about the Depression, you were a little boy.
RC: The Depression?
WM: Yeah, the Depression, do you remember that?
RC: We had nothing, and most kids had nothing.
WM: But you had fun playing, it sounds like you did a lot.
RC: They didn’t have a wagon, we didn’t have a wagon. They had roller skates, so we had roller skates, you shared everything. We would play baseball out in the front up Stanton, batting upward on Stanton, and somebody swung the bat and it hit me across the chest. That was my start of… my heart.
WM: But what did you do for fun? What did you like to do?
RC: Shoot marbles, Across the street from us was a baseball __. Four or five apartments, maybe two story I think.
WM: On what street?
RC: This would be Stanton Street going down, next would be Frederick, with the ice house. I’m trying to think of the last name, I can’t. Uh, oh they served ice all summer long, the young ones did.
WM: Did you know Harry Prime?
RC: I knew Harry Prime.
WM: You did know him, yes about two or three years older.
RC: He played baseball on an East Falls baseball team with Jimmy and Johnny Bounasissi and Boudentz.
RC: Gotwols? Yeah, I met Gotwols over in Australia. I was walking up the steps – I was serving a document where I was doing work, in the Signal Corps, they had me doing work making deliveries. I was walking it up to this building and this guy grabbed me from the back and it was Gotwols.
WM: Which one?
RC: I said “I can’t get away. I have a job to do and I have to do it.”
WM: You know Harry Prime is living in New Jersey, no, no, he’s in Pennsylvania.
WM: That’s right and he comes to East Falls where, remember Conrad Caterers? It was a grocery store there. He comes back to sing, he gives concerts in East Falls. In two weeks he’s coming to sing for us.
WinM: We’ve seen him sing about five times, he still has a great voice.
RC: I’ve heard that. He can’t see.
WinM: That’s true he doesn’t see very well at all.
RC: He’s living in a motel somewhere up in Warrington (?) I guess he never got my letter.
WM: Oh I’ll ask him when I see him, I’m going to see him.
WinM: She seeing him, we are both seeing him so we’ll ask him.
WM: We are going to see him in three weeks.
RC: You’re going to see him? Ask him if he remembers me.
WM: I will, I will. I’ll take his picture.
RC: See if he remembers Sis Connolly, my sister.
WinM: I bet he does, he’s got a good memory.
RC: Jimmy Bounasissi….
WM: He said he wanted to be a baseball player, but he wasn’t big enough. That’s why he became a singer.
RC: He was squat. He wasn’t very tall.
WM: How tall were you when you were a young man?
RC: I think like 5’ 71/2, ,somewhere around there.
WM: What else did you do for fun, besides marbles? Did you go exploring the neighborhood?
RC: Well we had a bicycle and we had two little scooters.
WM: Where would you ride your bikes?
RC: Any place we could steal a few pieces? from…(laughs)
WM: Like what do you mean, where would you go?
RC: Well, some kind of a trash dump.
WM: Did you get in trouble a lot when you were little?
RC: I probably did. I never saw much of my father because he worked all the time, and my mom took care of us. My mother was a cook for the Mifflin School. She would make stews and sell them to the kids. My mother did.
WM: Did you used to go over to… would you ride your bikes to Woodside Park?
RC: Oh Woodside……! (pauses reflectively) Good years, the good years. I would spend every summer, whenever I could get off, when I would be allowed. My father got me a job out there. They had a “guess your weight” - do you remember that out there? They had a great big stand, with all kinds of doodads. You weren’t allowed to touch anybody. Like ladies. You could just take them by the arm. Where you had to guess their weight.
WM: That was your job? Can you touch my arm and tell me what I weigh?
RC: (haha) __?
WM: Thank you, so that’s what you did, you tried to guess peoples weights? Were you good at it?
RC: I made a few bucks. Yeah, the stuff that you gave away was junk anyhow.
WM: Did anybody have a television?
RC: The television came later. It came the year I visited my Uncle Jim over on the Boulevard. He had a big television set with a little picture about that big.…
WM: That’s right, they all had the big cases with the little pictures. Did you listen to radio when you were growing up?
WM: Did you like to listen to the radio?
RC: I enjoyed good music. I don’t like fancy, high falootin’ - bang the drums type. I enjoyed good music. I enjoy that. I used to play the accordion.
RC: My mother bought me a 12 bass. I got kinda proficient at it. I was doing pretty good at it, so I swapped it in for a 24. Just before the war years. I got up to a 48 bass. Then I was doing fairly well. She said you can’t get much more than that. If you want a bigger one, you’ll have to buy it yourself. So I did. I went down to Wulitzer and I bought a 120 bass …
WM: Are you a good singer? Can you sing?
RC: Yes, I enjoy singing. I don’t know how good I was, I was a choirboy for St. Martin’s in the Field up in Chestnut Hill.
RC: Really. Did you ever hear of them?
WM: He rings the bells there.
WinM: I ring tower bells, I do now, still do.
RC: Were you there when the Englishman was there?
WM: No, he does it now, he goes every Sunday.
WinM: Tower bells.
RC: Oh tower bells, They had an Englishman – a choir master. He got drunk. He’d be banging on the piano. He was yelling “It’s wrong! It’s wrong!” So one year, maybe four or five years I was singing, they came around with these pieces of paper and they wanted to take us to Stone Harbor for a week. The church took us to a great big hotel on the corner of Stone Harbor Boulevard right on the bay. That’s when they put us up, the whole choir. Can you imagine that! A whole week! Ah!
WM: Wow - that must have been great fun. How old were you then? Where you a kid?
RC: 15 – 16, something like that.
WM: What did you do on holidays, what did you do on Halloween?
RC: I don’t know if I did anything.
WM: No did you dress up and go trick-or-treating in the neighborhood?
RC: I probably did.
WM: Yeah, do you remember any of the holidays? How about Christmas?
RC: I was not a holiday person.
WM: Ok, let’s take a break.
RC: (emotional) Idamay would disappear, disappear on me on shopping trips. We didn’t know what was wrong with her. We sent her to a psychologist, all kinds of tests, and he said “There’s nothing wrong right now with her. But down the road you’re going to have a problem.” She disappeared on Route 41. She didn’t know where she was going. The cops found her. I talked to somebody – I don’t know who, who said you have to take her someplace where she knows where everything is – where the door is, the bed…. She couldn’t cook anymore. She didn’t know where things were. (cries) We lived on Washington Street, the apartment house, we lived up on the sixth floor. We could see the ocean - it was beautiful. But I had to watch her. And one day I couldn’t find her, she had a stroke…..sent her home and then she had a second stroke. __
WM: Uhh, wow.
RC: How old was she? I’m 90, and she died 6 years ago. 80 I guess, I don’t remember. They put us in a nursing home in different rooms in Cresthaven. Put her in a nursing home, and they put me with her but not in the same room. (crying) Then right around 10:00 they came and got me. Said, “you better come we think we are losing her.” I went and she was still breathing but her breaths were heavy. “I wanna get in bed with her! I wanna be with her.” Then her body died. 2006 I think, 2006, July. So that’s (pause)….life. I’m sorry.
Born May 30, 1926
Died July 23, 2006 at 80 years old in Cape May County, NJ.
Being a Clown:
I guess it all started many years ago. I was always into something or another. But I had just married my best friend and we planned a time to sell the house and move to sunny Florida. We visited many areas all going south on the west coast, ending our quest at Fort Myers. We picked an area, looked at mobile homes, and wrote home to our lady who cleaned for us – We’re moving. We’re selling our home and would she make time for us to really house-clean, even though she kept it spotless herself. Don’t sell the houose to anyone, she wrote back – your house is sold.
Her parents were looking for just a house as ours and it would be close to the grandkids. Even though no price was asked yet, the house was sold. We returned, made settlement, and retired to Ft. Myers.
Not too long after living there, our friend next door, a retired funeral director, asked me to join the Shriners. I was not too sure about this, as they had a reputation as a bunch of drinkers and I wasn’t happy about that. But I joined the Shriners.
I wanted to belong to the pipers – bagpipers – but I was told that I was too old to learn the pipes. No small thing I thought. Then I was invited to join the Araba Clowns – drinking and clowning – what a group that would be. Nevertheless, I joined the clowns.
After being taken into the clowns, I had to give them a speech why it was important for me to be a clown…who was I…where did I come from…and most of all, why be a clown? I gave them all I knew about me – from, where, who and why – and a short note on my married life. They seemed pleased and I became a member of the Araba Shrine Clowns of Ft. Myers, Florida. A man who introduced himself as Uncle Frank offered to take the new clowns in hand and teach them make up and wardrobe. Seven other men had joined at the time I did. I don’t think anyone of us really knew what was in store for us.
We made plans to meet at Uncle Frank’s home over in the Cape – Cape Coral. He supplied all of the make-up. Then we all sat at a round table, piles of old clothes nearby, all white but color-stained from old make-up. He gave us a short story on how to apply the base coat of white – with our fingers. By the time we were finished, no wonder the clothes were all stained – so were we! He sent us home at 11 o’clock that night, full of what was the most hideous colors on men’s faces that I’ve ever seen. “It will come off,” he said “with baby oil or some kind of cooking oil, and wash with red hot water.”
It took me over four months of practice to get a face good enough to appear in public and get the approval of my strictest critic – my patient wife, who, until she no longer could understand who I was in her life.
I made sure that I was the best dressed, the best made-up as our finances could afford, to go out and BE A CLOWN!!!!
I won many awards, two being my favorite: I won one for giving the most free time to the community – Fort Myers Golden Apple Award and the community leaders of where I had worked before retirement. My name was placed in the chapel of the Four Chaplains for service beyond….
I’ll try not to bore you with all the details of becoming a clown and entertaining. It was a lot of hard work, but the most rewarding on my part. I got my name from my dear wife, who at the time was on the sun porch sorting out 5 pounds of buttons – she was a collector. It was she who gave me my clown name “Buttons” and it stayed with me to this time. I did hundreds of parties over the years, combined with other events throughout the area.
I worked for the country (county?), Lee, for a number of seasons doing parties at the recreation center. I also had an agent who supplied clowns for other parties, so I went all over south Florida.
I had a number of compliments – too many I think. But I have one that I think of most – while clowning for the state, I received a letter from an officer of the court of the state of Florida asking me if I would be interested in becoming - of all things – a “Guardian ad litem.” I was not too sure what that was. I asked around and everyone said that I should take it right now – not everyone is asked by the state to join this very special group. When I asked why they had picked me, the answer was that I had so much contact with young children – with all that experience I would be a good candidate. I accepted and had 2 or 3 years of the most intensive court cases that anyone could be involved with.
I had to leave it as I could not afford all the traveling time and gas money that I was using from my household account.
If I didn’t clown, I didn’t make any money, and I couldn’t clown with all the time and travel. All the time spent and all the gas used was at my own expense. I believe later they were paying gas mileage - much later. It’s hard to express the satisfaction I got and the thrill I got in representing and caring for these kids in court.
I continued with my clowning as far south as the Everglade City, as far north as Nova Scotia, all through Canada, south into Mexico, and west to California, Oregon, Washington state. I covered most states except the middle of the states. Ever watch a sunset on the rim of the Grand Canyon – or a sunrise?
I still blow balloons for the kids who come to Cresthaven. Sometime I’ll tell you how I got “free balloons” for the remainder of my life. (note: story of “Free Balloons” is attached).
Note: There are two interviews on separate dates. Click here for the second interview.
Interviewee: Ruth Emmert (RE)
Interviewer: Cherie Snyder (CS)
Interview: March 16, 1983
Transcribed by: Jacob Benson, Student, Philadelphia University, Day of Service, 9/15/2009, and Wendy Moody, EFHS, Summer 2010
CS: Are you willing to reveal your age, Ruth?
RE: Oh, of course. You’re proud of it when you get to my age.
CS: So when were you born?
RE: I was born, um, April 22, 1907, which makes me 75 years of age.
CS: And where were you born?
RE: I was born in Philadelphia, north Philadelphia.
CS: And what were your parents’ names?
RE: Um, Zimmerman.
CS: And your father’s and mother’s names?
RE: My mother – my father’s name was Charles, my mother’s name was Bertha.
CS: Ok, and you’re not from the Falls.
RE: No, I came here as a bride, in 1926, and, uh, the Falls was just beginning to expand to a section they call Queen Lane Manor, which had been woods and streams and the Old Falls section people used to come up here and pick mushrooms and watercress and all kinds of wild things and chestnuts – they had chestnut trees here – and then some builder got in here, and uh, what was his name, McCrudden, came in here and developed the area and made row houses mostly, and sold them and a lot of the Old Falls people did buy and move up here, but mostly it was what they call “crashers” if you were not born here in the Falls, you were a “crasher” and although I’ve lived here since 1926 I’m still a crasher. They do not consider me a native. My children were born here and that’s alright. So, we were married and my husband worked in the vicinity. He worked up at Pencoyd and he saw the ad in the paper for the new houses and he came up and looked at them one night and then asked me to come up.
CS: Were you married at the time?
RE: No, no, no. We were engaged and he thought it would be a nice place to live and so we came up and looked at the sample house on Ainslie Street by mistake. They were the highest priced houses, they were $6950, and we loved them. And then we found out we were in the expensive houses so we went to Osmond Street where the ones were for $5950. Well, of course, we had seen the better ones and we would have nothing else and so we decided to buy there.
CS: What were the differences between the two, when you looked at them?
RE: Well, Osmond Street was two bedrooms and Ainslie street was three bedrooms, and they were just bigger, and of course they made them more attractive too, the higher priced ones, and the back of the Ainslie Street houses in back of the sample, there was a driveway that came down from the hill at a 45 degree angle and I said “How would you get a car in your garage at a 45 degree angle?” and the salesman said, “Oh, when we build the houses across that driveway, we’ll level it off so that they’ll go uphill a little and you’ll just come down a little” but they never did, and we had a 45 degree angle for our driveway all the years we lived on Ainslie Street and when it got icy or snow or anything we had to come out with buckets of hot water and sweep and scrape to get the car in the garage without crashing through and everybody else did too but we managed. And so anyhow we bought and we moved in and the neighbors on both sides of me were from the Methodist Church and so of course that’s when we began to go to the Methodist Church, Falls Methodist Church, on Indian Queen Lane and Krail and we had our children christened there and they went to Sunday School there until they began to disapprove of their own parents, they thought that we were sinners because we spent money on Sunday.
CS: Your children thought you were sinners?
RE: The children thought their parents were sinners, yes we were - we spent money on Sunday. We bought a Sunday newspaper and we might have, not having a car, we took trolley rides on Sunday and we paid the motorist which made him work which was a sin. We danced and that was a sin, and we played cards and that was a sin, and worst of all we drank and so I took my children out of the Methodist Church because that wasn’t a very good family life and I sent them to the nearest one, that was Redeemer Lutheran at Midvale and Conrad and that’s where they went until they stopped going or moved out of the neighborhood. The Ainslie Street house worked out very well for us. We had two children and there were three bedrooms and so we lived there until 1945, I think it was, when we moved into a larger house.
CS: Let me just ask you, what were your neighbors like, on the street? Who else had bought the houses at that time?
RE: Oh well, next door was Mrs. Homewood (?), and I called her Mrs. Homewood until the day she died because I started that way and I didn’t know what else – her first name was Estelle. She was not from the Falls, but her husband was, Albreth Stone Homewood, and his brother was a chauffeur for the, uh, not the Altemus, the, uh, Dobson’s, the Dobson family, up on the hill.
CS: Which Dobson’s; do you remember which ones? Whether it was…
RE: James, James Dobson, and his daughter was Altemus, and that’s how I happened to get up there that time that I went up to see the house and my next door neighbor knew the cook and the servants up there, and so we walked up one day, and nobody was home…
CS: And how old, what year was this, about how old were you at the time?
RE: I have no idea. I have no idea. But it was before anything was done over there. Mrs. Altemus had a white house in the garden and she had built it and it was all white all the furniture in it was white and there were white turtledoves that flew around inside and out and it was built around a huge tree. And then at the other end of the house on, um, I can’t think of the name, there was a street that divided her land from the rest of it down Henry Avenue. During the war she was patriotic and let all the Italians in the Falls make gardens there to grow food.
CS: Why the Italians?
RE: Because they were the big gardeners, they came from everywhere. And they built little shacks on it, on their piece of land and they grew what they wanted to grow there. And she had on a shelf of land there high above the Henry Avenue, she made a little terrace and had furniture there and tables and everything and she entertained there overlooking what she called her “Italian Garden” and that’s what they were, the little shacks and it was charming. And so then we were taken through the house by the servants and that’s how I got to go up there and see it.
CS: And so what do you remember about the house? Anything?
RE: Oh, the huge crystal chandeliers and the woodwork in there was beautiful, it was big and thick and heavy. We didn’t go upstairs, we just went to the huge kitchen, which was old-fashioned and spotlessly clean. You know, I don’t remember really much about it because I was so young.
CS: Did you actually see the place with the turtledoves? The one with the…
RE: Oh, we sat in it. Oh yes we sat in it, that was fascinating. She was a charming woman, she said anything that came into her head. I know one time they had a visiting minister down at St. James the Less, the Episcopal Church. He was young and handsome and so she was there in one of her low cut gowns, and she lit a cigarette and put it in a long holder, it must have been two feet long, and sidled up to him and said “What can you do about my soul?” Knocked him right off his (unintelligible), the poor man. But that’s the way she was, whatever came into her head, she said.
CS: Just to go back again to Ainslie Street, how have things changed since you lived there in terms of the appearance of the street, or the streets that surround it?
RE: Well the trees were new, that’s the thing I remember most, the trees were planted then in 1926, and we each had a little arbor at the end of our walk from our house, the houses were in a long row, but they were in twos and you adjoined your porch with somebody else, front and back, and those trees are now so gigantic you couldn’t get your arms around them but I remember the trees when they planted them there. And all the new people and the tree was wide, otherwise it looks just the same, people have kept their houses up nicely, and it looks just about the same there.
CS: Now you were a young wife, starting off your married life in the Falls, and I’m just curious as to what your day would be like as a young bride.
RE: We got up early then and we made breakfast for our husbands and they went off to work, and then we cleaned up the kitchen, and everybody prided themselves on being a good housekeeper, so you tried, and I was never really that good. But then at a certain point, you took your broom and went out to sweep your porch, and your walk, and your pavement and you swept it and then you swept in into the street but you gathered it all up into little piles so that the street cleaners came along and they could sweep it up easily. You did that every day. And of course when we got out there our neighbors would be out there and we would chat and gossip and it was so wonderful to have that much communication with your neighbors that way.
And then if you had a baby, you did for the baby and then you took the baby out for a walk in the fresh air. You didn’t just put them out on the porch, you put them in the coach and you walked. Over the hills of East Falls, and you got tired, but you brought them back, and they had that. And then you might have somebody in for coffee. That was neighborly, just to come in and have a cup of coffee. I don’t know if they still do that. And you cleaned your house, of course, and you did your wash. You did that in the basement, you had no washing machine. You put your clothes in to soak and then you drained the water out and then you poured more hot water on them and you put your soap in and you scrubbed them on a scrub board up and down. Then you wrung them out by hand. And then later we were able to buy wringers that you clamped onto the stationary tubs and put the sheets and stuff through that and turned the crank to do that. But mostly it was that. And then we took our clothes out and hung them out because of course there were no dryers. And if you couldn’t hang them out on Monday, you hung them up in your basement you strung clothes lines in the basement. Those were the early dryers. And God help you if you didn’t wash on Monday.
(end of transcription by J. Benson; rest by Wendy Moody)
CS: Monday, why Monday?
RE: I don’t know! My brother came here from California one time and he went out my back door and looked up the driveway and there were I don’t know how many houses are on Ainslie Street but there were a lot because they were small but there were all the clothes trees and all the lines and all the clothes flapping in the wind and he said “Egads! Does everybody in Philadelphia do their wash on Mondays?” And I said “As far as I know, yes, they do.”
And that was the system: On Monday you washed, On Tuesday you ironed. Now these were chores in addition to your dusting and your cooking and your shopping at the store. And Wednesday you mended the clothes and generally straightened up. On Thursday you cleaned upstairs thoroughly, and Friday you cleaned downstairs thoroughly and Saturday was the weekend. And you may have marketed for food again and on Sunday you cooked. And that was your week.
Every day had its purpose and you did it. And some of the women were so full of energy and so full of ambition and pep that I can remember Ethel Buckley, whose husband later became president of Philco, and she lived in a little house on the corner there, and at 8 o’clock her wash was hung and flapping on the line and she was dressed and on her way in town to shop. At 8 o’clock! She was down the hill to get the train to go in town to shop! And…
CS: Did you – as a young wife – were there social groups that you belonged to with other young woman?
RE: Yes. Those of us who had children had no other social life because you stayed home with your children then and we couldn’t afford babysitters so we helped each other. And then lots of us didn’t have mothers to come in and help us if we were sick or anything. I remember I had two children then and I was married about 10 years and I formed this club called – it was just the neighborhood mothers and their children and while the children were in school, or if we had babies we brought them along – and it was called the….
CS: I remember something about silly… was it silly?
RE: The Silly Sisters of the Sick!
CS: That was it!
RE: The Silly Sisters of the Sick! And we had categories in that and we met every week – one day – one afternoon after lunch and we served tea and cookies and we weren’t allowed to serve anything else because we didn’t want to get into trying to top each other with the great food. And we did various things - we had the Nutty Knitters and they brought their knitting along and whatever they were knitting, they knitted at that meeting once a week - and then we had the Silly Seamstresses and they brought along sewing. And then we had the Lazy Lopisis who didn’t bring any work. They just came and sat and chatted. And then we did other things too…
CS: Which one did you fit into?
RE: I was president – Lazy Lopis! And we fixed each other’s hair –we used to give permanents and we did all kinds of things together and we enjoyed that afternoon. And if you wanted to you could bring your children and that was the way we spent one afternoon every week. But then we had other purposes too. For instance, one girl had a baby and when she came home from the hospital she had no one to do for her and in those days we rested for at least a week after you got home from the hospital. The hospital – you were in the hospital 2 weeks and then you came home and then you stayed upstairs one week and then you came downstairs.. They felt you would not preserve your life if you didn’t do all that resting after a baby and so we took turns – and we did this if anybody was sick – we would go up and take their children and take care of them for them until their husband got home from work and we would cook meals and take them up to them and we would do their laundry and anything they had to do, we did.
And believe me that was wonderful when you had no mother living near and it wasn’t a burden on any of us because we took turns doing for each other – doing our shopping – whatever had to be done we did. And we often get together now – those of us that are living - and talk about that, and how great it was that we had fun together and we did for each other. I don’t know of anybody that does that anymore. –all the wives are out working. And I understand that streets are now lonely places because if you don’t go to work you’re lonely all day.
CS: Did any of the women on your block work?
RE: No, no. We stayed home and did our housework.
CS: Was that true – did you have to have as certain level of money to be able to stay home with your children or was that just true?
RE: No that was just true. You lived on your husband earned. He earned $25 a week then.
CS: What did he do?
RE: He worked up at Pencoyd.
RE: First he worked in the mill and I don’t know what he did. I never was interested but he was fairly well educated and I understand that all executives there start in the mills and whatever they did up there. So on vacation time in the office – they asked him to come up and work in the office and take the place of other people around there and he loved that. So when they all came back he went back to the mill but he could never take that again and he finally quit up there. But he earned $25 a week which was an alright salary – it wasn’t great and it wasn’t little. He gave me $10 a week for the house - my part of the job - and I was always able to save a bit out of that and out it away and buy extra things – which all of us did - we cheated on it. But by the end of the week sometimes we were really broke and Helen Ogden who lived on Vaux Street used to come over and say: “Ruthie, I only have a quarter left out of my allowance” and I would say “So do I” and so we would go to the store and out of those two quarters we would maybe buy an eggplant – which was cheap in those days –and we would cut it in half and she would bread and fry half of that and then with our other money we managed to get a meal together with a quarter each and they were good meals. And one of our hobbies in those days – this was during the Depression - we used to exchange cheap recipes, and that was another big hobby – “Did you see the one in the paper…?” “ No” and then we’d all cut it out and try it – maybe it was rice and tomatoes and cheese which was a whole meal – a casserole. And we had great times in those days. The Depression was more a challenge and fun than all those sad tales you’d hear now about people being out of work. If you got out of work – we didn’t have unemployment compensation – you made out and when Milton got out of work he had a ….
CS: During the Depression?
RE: Hm hm. He borrowed $400 from his mother gradually, like $25 a week. And by the time he got a job that $400 was all used up. But he did have a savings and loan that he had been putting into since he was a young man so he paid his mother back. We were so completely independence and self sustaining and did our thing.
CS: Tell me about your shopping. Where did you do your grocery shopping and your household shopping?
RE: Oh, well, for little things we used to go over to Kelly’s - that was a delicatessen on the corner of Sunnyside and Vaux. And Vaux Street then when we first moved up here was mud, pure mud. It had not been paved, and it was quite a chore to get over there but they were nice and – their name was Kelly - and they opened that up and you could buy – not fresh meat and not fresh vegetables – but almost anything else. And when people ran out of money at the end of the week they allowed them to charge it. And then they would never pay off completely they would pay off a little bit at a time. I was not allowed to do that – my husband never allowed me to go into debt but everybody else did it. That was the small things. Then there were butcher shops on 35th Street which is now called Conrad and there was Clayton’s, who carried meat, freshly cut….
CS: Is that still there?
RE: No, Claytons is long gone.
CS: Where was that?
That was on the corner of Conrad and Bowman, I think. That was a big store – that was the biggest in the Falls and then there was Sowden’s on Conrad Street between Sunnyside and Ainslie, I think. Or Bowman’s and Ainslie. And that was mostly just a butcher shop.
And the young men who worked there used to come around with a pad and a pencil and take your order every day – you didn’t have to walk there. Every morning they appeared – they’d come in and sit down and you’d try to think what you wanted for dinner or what you needed and they would mark it down and then they would deliver it later in the day.
CS: Now did they do that just for certain customers?
RE: Anybody! No, certain customers who were their customers and they knew who they were. And then there was Stubblebine’s down on Midvale Avenue who carried very good meat and all the wealthy people in East Falls – the ones who still had estates farther up – went down to Stubblebine’s. Mrs. Kelly shopped there.
CS: Did you?
RE: Well they didn’t come around and take your order so, no, I didn’t get down there much. Once in a while. It was easy to get there, but pushing a baby carriage up Midvale Avenue…up the hill, that was too much. No, once in a while.
CS: Yeah, right…
CS: Did the one who came around and took your order also deliver or did you go pick it up?
RE: Delivered, oh delivered. Everything was taken care of. And there was no higher price for that. And you didn’t tip them. It was just a service that was accepted here in the Falls. That was the food shopping; that’s what we did. Post Office was on Midvale Avenue until it closed.
CS: Near St. Bridget’s?
RE: Yeah, the one that’s now Jubilee Hall, part of St. Bridget’s.
CS: What about household items? Mops and brooms or whatever?
RE: You mean like pots and pans, things like that?
RE: There was an elderly spinster down on Conrad Street who had findings for sewing. I don’t remember her name…Miss…There was an old clockmaker, not a clockmaker a clock repairman who sold clocks down on Conrad Street. He was near Sunnyside. He was such a mean man to his wife and so cranky with everybody but he did repair clocks and did sell them and I remember one time I bought an old cuckoo clock in an antique store for a gift for my husband and the bellows was broken and everybody said “No one fixes bellows because they can’t get the material”. And I took it down to him and he made a new bellows. He had the material so he was very valuable to the community.
CS: You don’t remember his name?
CS: Where was his shop located?
RE: Well it was a storefront next to the corner. Next to, let me see, Kelly’s hardware store was on the corner there of Sunnyside and Conrad and then next door – he had a storefront and then he lived behind it and above it, he and his wife. And he was walking across lower Tilden Street one day and he fell into the street and died of a heart attack.
And somebody went home to bear the news to his poor wife, who in the meanwhile had heard of it and came up to see him lying dead in the street, and people came over to sympathize with her and she said “Good! Good! Good! I’m glad he’s dead. She said, ”He was the meanest, rottenest man that ever lived. Thank God he’s dead! Get him out of here!” And she meant it. And he was that way. I can’t remember all the shops - they were occupied, though, with people on Conrad Street in those days and it was a real good shopping center.
CS: So Conrad Street was like a shopping area?
RE: The one you could walk to. All the stores were occupied along there. Some of them now are being stuccoed up and the storefronts removed and they’re making apartments on the first floor.
CS: But that was like a little shopping area on Conrad Street?
RE: Oh, yes, yes. People made good livings there.
CS: Did they have like dry goods stores or clothing stores?
RE: No, that was on Ridge Avenue near Midvale. There was a department store down there – I can’t remember its name either – and he had maybe five or six stores and they each carried something different and you could go there for your children’s clothing or yard goods or anything like that. It was that kind of a store. And we had a bank on the corner of Midvale and Ridge – I don’t know my directions –it was along the river drive there. And then there was Palestine Hall and that had a store. And then there was kind of a 5& 10 on the land side of Ridge Avenue and there was a big brick building and upstairs on the second floor was where Jack Kelly and his new bride went to live when they were first married. They lived in that apartment house. And the first floor, I think, was a 5&10 and then were other little stores along there too and apartments above them. There was a drugstore and there was Gunboat Café on Midvale and there were restaurants on Midvale in 1926 and they were all nice.
CS: Did most people in the Falls do most of their shopping and their purchasing locally or did they go out of the area for some things?
RE: It was six of one and half dozen of the other. Germantown was the bigger shopping center, you know. There was Jones’ over there – Jimmy Jones’ and there was Allen’s and Rowell’s. And for your big things you went there. There were 5&10s and that was a big day shopping. But we used to walk over there when our babies were small. We often walked to Germantown on a nice afternoon and pushed our coaches around Germantown then walked home. It was not unusual. To save carfare mostly, but it was a nice walk for the babies and it was level. (pause)
CS: You were saying…
RE: Up on Queen Lane there was a farm when I lived here in 1926.
CS: Queen Lane near…
RE: I think it was called Newcombe’s or Newton’s and they had cows.
CS: Queen Lane and what cross street? Near Henry or beyond?
RE: Hmmm. No farther up near Fox. Near there. I can’t remember the address.
CS: They had cows?
RE: They had cows and they grew things –and it was a working farm then in those days. The reservoir was there then when we moved up here on Henry Avenue. The hospital came later – much later. Henry Avenue was not cut through.
CS: You mean it wasn’t there?
RE: It was here to maybe Midvale. It wasn’t cut through to Roxborough. You had to go up Ridge Avenue to get to Roxborough.
CS: What about - you mentioned that there were the more well-to-do families in the big houses. Were you familiar with any of them?
RE: No, no, I didn’t know them. We were the middle class people here.
CS: Even though you didn’t know them personally, were there any families that were more well-known or were gossiped about?
RE: No, no. Some of the older real Falls residents – not the crashers like me – might have known them. Some of them worked in those houses as servants but, no, I did not.
Oh, and during the Depression and even before the Depression we used to have a lot of peddlers come around every day so you didn’t have to go out for a lot of things. There was one little old man and he, in season, he came around with watercress. He would go up and chop the ice and cut the watercress and bunch it and come around and he would call and you would hear him inside your house and you would come out and buy the watercress from him.
And then he also ground horseradish and mixed it with vinegar and jarred it and brought it up and he would come around and call “horseradish” and you knew who it was by his call and he was hard of hearing and he was very persistent. And if you didn’t buy from him he would keep right on – he never heard you – if you didn’t want any or didn’t have money. I remember one time my household money had run out - I didn’t have a cent - and he was trying to sell me horseradish and I didn’t want any and I kept saying “I don’t have any money” and he’d say “It’s nice and fresh horseradish – I ground it myself – put it up in the vinegar myself – good horseradish – nice and fresh” and I’d say “I don’t have any money!” until finally I was shouting so loud that the whole street knew that Ruth Emmert did not have any money that day. Then he used to come around with wild mushrooms.
CS: Same guy?
RE: Same guy – wild mushrooms. And there was another man who came around with English teacakes. And I was raised in a German neighborhood and so I pictured teacakes as sweet, and cakes. So one day I ran out and bought some from him and they were still hot – he would bring them around freshly baked and still hot – and I invited some friends of mine who were not East Falls people and not English I said “I brought in these English teacakes. Come on over and we’ll have tea and cakes and feel English.” And so they came over and we were so disappointed. They were like rolls. Not sweet, not delicate in flavor, they were just heavy rolls. No flavor. Well we ate them anyhow; we never bought any more. He used to come around regularly – once a week maybe or twice a week, whatever he wanted to.
And then there were, during the Depression, two young enterprising men who came around with a big truck and they had stuff on their truck to fix shoes. And they would drive the truck down and they would call out “New lifts on your heels! New lifts on your heels!” and just the way they said it kind of lifted your spirits and you’d go out and take your shoes out and for a quarter they would put new lifts on your heels and they did other repairs too.
And then there was another group – not a group, just a couple of young men who came around – they had knife sharpening equipment on their truck and you’d all run out with all your knifes and they would sharpen them for - I forget how much they charged – but it was really great – they came to you. You didn’t have to go out and fight to buy, like you do nowadays.
CS: When did they stop coming? When did it start and when did it stop?
RE: I don’t know. I moved away from there in 1945 and on this street, Queen Lane, there were never any peddlers, ever.
CS: It was when you left Ainslie Street that there were still be peddlers coming around…
RE: Yes, they were still coming around. They were still having what I called the Broom Brigade of neighbors coming out with their brooms. And for all I know they’re still do it. Some of the original people are still living on Ainslie Street.
When we first moved in there, the old Falls people who had not moved up here used to make fun of the people who bought the new houses. And they used to call us the “two bunners” – meaning that once we bought these expensive houses, all we could afford was two buns for breakfast. They had buns for breakfast – and all we could afford was two buns, not any more.
CS: Because you had put all your money in the house?
RE: Right. If you wanted to live there you were the rich – they thought we were. And we were the two bunners. I always liked that name. It was nice.
CS: I’m interested in hearing about the time you moved in- now the time you moved in was during the Prohibition, right?
RE: The twenties.
CS: In the twenties. And I’m just interested in what it was like living in the Prohibition in the Falls with your…
RE: Well, for some in the Falls it was no different. But we drank.
CS: You mean you and your husband?
RE: Yes, and all our friends - our young friends. We were the first to be married in our crowd. I was 18 and my husband was 21. The others had not married yet because during the Depression you really couldn’t afford to get married and have a house but we did. And so all our young crowd were fascinated by this house that was unchaperoned. And so we had parties, and the neighbors were terribly shocked, being Methodist and everything was a sin. And we didn’t think anything of it because it was our house. They were loud parties – we played music on the Victrola, we played the piano, and we danced and we yelled, and we drank bathtub gin and we drank homemade beer and everybody got high on it.
CS: You made your own beer?
RE: Yes, oh yes. In the basement. The parties lasted until the wee hours and we danced. Nothing terrible went on. We were really not as bad as people thought we were. There were no drugs, there was no sex – there was what we called necking, which was just kissing and hugging – nobody ever went any farther than that. But our neighbors thought we were wicked and it was alright – we didn’t care.
Sometimes we would run out of gin and we had a bootlegger. I still remember the number – it was Tennessee 2222. There were no dials – you just picked up the phone and told the operator Tennessee 2222. So we must have called it an awful lot for me to remember that after all these years. And he would come with a pint - we would only order a pint - because that was all the money we had and he would come and deliver it. I think it was $1 a pint. One night we called the bootlegger and told him to hurry we had run out and all the houses looked alike on Ainslie Street and he got in one of my Methodist neighbors homes and said “I’m here with your gin.” I haven’t talked to her about that lately but I must ask her about that. But we used to keep them up at night, which was a shame because they were nice people. But we were the young, wild crowd.
When I think back now, we were innocent, really. We were good living people compared to what some of the young people do nowadays. Oh, and we wore short skirts above the knees and we did the Charleston.
CS: Was that considered shocking or did people accept that?
RE: Well it depended on what crowd you were with. With our crowd it was not shocking. And with our parents, they were used to us. But with these poor Methodists who were brought up to believe that all this was a sin, I guess this was shocking to them.
We were good living people, now that I look back. Wasn’t bad at all, the ‘20s crowd.
CS: Were there places locally to go dancing or did you generally have your parties at home?
RE: Not locally. They used to have block parties in the Falls. And some of them were on Conrad Street, which was called 35th Street then. They would have music there – I don’t remember, it must have been a band then of some kind and they would sell things. They would sell watermelon and things to eat and they always had dances there and the young people danced.
CS: Was that outside?
RE: In the street. In the street they would dance. And my next-door neighbors would never, never go – they would never attend - because they danced and that was a sin.
They really felt strongly about that. Now let me see if there were any other dance places. I don’t think there were public dance places like there are now. I remember our going to dance halls – there were big places for ballroom dancing that were run for profit. And they had a good band there and you would just go. My husband and I went years after we were married. We would even have his mother come up and mind the kids and we would go and dance.
CS: But locally? Were there any in East Falls?
RE: No, I don’t remember any unless there were and I didn’t know about them. These were places on Broad Street – I don’t remember where they were now – but we used to take the trolley car and go and we’d dance all evening. I can’t imagine that being fun but it was evidently because we went.
CS: What about movies?
RE: Oh yes. There was a movie on Midvale Avenue down near Midvale and we would walk there. It was safe to walk down the streets then.
CS: Down near Ridge?
RE: Yes. Yes. It was on the corner where Turners – not Turners –
CS: Is it where the Betsy Ross Flag place is now? It looks like a theatre.
RE: Yes. That was the first one. Then that was closed and they built one farther up. That’s – we called them both the Blood Pit. I don’t know why we did that. And our kids used to go there for matinees. I remember my daughter and her girlfriend, Betty Jane Bennett, used to go down there and they had special seats that they sat in – the seventh row in the seventh seat in. God help anybody that took them. And they went to every matinee – it was a good way to get rid of your kids on Saturday afternoon. And they had serials, you know, that were continued from one Saturday to the next. And the movie place gave out dishes on certain nights. And we went to the movies. We had no television. We had a radio when we were first married, but not a television. We would go down on certain nights to get the dishes and you managed to get a whole set of beautiful dishes or glassware.
CS: Do you remember what they looked like?
RE: One of them was a bluebird pattern I know that I collected. I don’t have any of it left now. They’re all broken. But it was pretty. I don’t remember any of the other patterns but the bluebird one I liked.
CS: Were there any live shows?
RE: No. All movies, all movies. The only live shows at that time would have been in churches and they would not be professionals. Or then when the Moment Musical Club started in the Methodist Church and then moved out of there and formed a little theatre, so to speak, without a home. They used to meet and rehearse in the library meeting room on Midvale Avenue and then they gave their performances sometimes in the Falls at Palestine Hall on the second floor. There was a stage there.
CS: Where is Palestine Hall?
RE: Palestine Hall? Ridge and Midvale. Still there.
CS: Which building is it now? What’s in that building now so I can…
RE: Now on the first floor there’s a Ridge Avenue Market – sell fish and produce.
CS: Oh, ok. It‘s that blue building, that big blue building now.
CS: It’s a big blue building, I think, now.
RE: No, no.
CS: Not that one? Not the fish market?
RE: The Koreans have it and they sell fish. Fresh fish and they sell vegetables.
CS: Yes, I know, ok.
RE: Maybe he painted the first floor blue
CS: I might be wrong.
RE: Palestine Hall was for the Masons. That’s why they called it Palestine Hall. And they rented it out to these various groups. And there’s a Negro Church meets there on Sundays, but I think the Masons still meet there. I don’t know, but it looks to me as though they still do, I don’t know.
CS: But the Moment Musical Club held performances there?
RE: Yes, they would rent the Hall. I think they rehearsed down in the library meeting room. And they also gave plays in the Woman’s Club at Washington Lane. Germantown Woman’s Club? Washington Lane and Germantown Avenue. I went to see plays there when we first moved up here. They started in 1923 and in 1932 they were still meeting in the library, I think, and one of the members, Jim Lawson, was well-acquainted with the Board of Trustees of the Old Academy Building on Indian Queen Lane. And the building was going to be condemned because nobody was taking care of it. Nobody could afford repairs on it and it was going to be condemned and torn down. And one of the trustees asked Jim Lawson if he thought the Moment Musical Club would be interested in moving in and making a theatre of it. So he presented it to them and they said, yes, they would. And they did. They moved in, in 1932 and with their own labor and their own money they converted it into a theatre and are still there.
CS: Did they take over ownership of the building?
RE: No. The building is actually a community building. It doesn’t belong to anybody. The ground that the building stands on was donated by William Smith and his wife, Ann, in 1815 – the land for it. And they said that they wanted it to be a community building on it, for use by the community. And they - one trustee was appointed and then 8 others and they were to have the building built. And they did. They collected money from the Falls people and they collected materials and they had the building built. It was finished in 1817. And it so stated in the charter that they are to go on forever as custodians, so to speak, of the building. Nine of them.
And the Falls Library has the Chadwick Papers down there and they have the records there copied from the original minutes and the original deed and the original charter and everything. They have them down there and anyone can go there and read them at any time. So the players are still occupying the building, and that was from 1932 till now.
CS: But they’re called the Old Academy Players now.
RE: Oh, well, when they moved into the building they changed the name to The Old Academy Players in 1932. But they are under the jurisdiction of the nine trustees. The nine trustees meet there four times a year in the building and they see that the building is kept in good repair. The players make a small donation to them every month and the trustees take care of that money and they use it for repairs on the outside of the building sometime. There are no set rules about it. But the nine trustees are still functioning and meeting in the building, especially the first Monday of January every year, which preserves the charter and they still do it.
Most of the trustees had their trusteeship passed on from relatives or family. Turners, they used to have a funeral parlor down on Midvale avenue – no, on Ridge Avenue near Midvale, was a trustee. He passed it on to his son. Then they moved to Roxborough and then it was passed on to Harrison Turner, so his great-grandfather was a trustee. See, it’s third generation. And, recently now, Harrison passed it on to his son, Jim. Jim is now one of our newest trustees down there. And he’s the treasurer, as his father was before him.
So the Old Academy Players are still functioning there. It’s a very tiny theatre, 128 – 29 seats, which isn’t much money. But they do other things to make money. They chance things off, they give flea markets, and those things really make more money for them – make the money to exist than anything else.
CS: Back when they moved there in 1932, who were some of the people that were active in the Moment Music Club– that were the movers and shakers?
RE: Oh, well, Jim Lawson and his wife, Mary. Jim Lawson is no longer living but his wife is. There was Ted Pflaumer, of the Pflaumer Ice Cream people. I don’t know if they’re still in existence but they had homemade ice cream places all over the city. Ted Pflaumer -his sister, Jule Bensing. Marie Holtenhess – her husband was one of the early secretaries of the trustees. In ’32, they were a small group – there weren’t many of them.
CS: When did you get involved with them?
RE: 1935. Our next door neighbor was a member of the Moment Musical…
CS: Who was that?
RE: That was Gladys Smith. She was one of the very, very early ones and her brother Stanley Smith was one of the originals. They were charter members. Ida Tregay Smith was a charter member. Hmmm, I almost had them all then. But Gladys invited us to join; she was our next-door neighbor. She used to do monologues. I don’t think people do monologues anymore. But she would act out all the parts by herself and she had books of them. She was excruciatingly funny – what a natural, great comedian. She acted in plays down there and was one of the most popular players there until Old Academy Players had a party in the library and she suspected that some of them were drinking and they were all so happy and she said she thought she smelled it. So she went up to Jim Lawson and said “What are you drinking?” and he said “Ginger ale” and she said “Oh, give me a taste.” Then he grabbed it away from her and she knew and went home right away. And then it began to be known that some of them were drinking and Jim Lawson was a Methodist too, but I guess they fell by the wayside. Anyhow, the pressure from the people at the church not to belong to those wicked Academy Players was too much and she resigned but she was a fabulous, fabulous actress. As good as any professional I’ve ever seen. Stan, her brother, kept on being there. He was not influenced by the church people. Then they began to take in people from other neighborhoods and now some of them live…
CS: But how did you get to become a member? Were you just invited or could you sign up? How did you get to be one?
RE: Oh, no. Well when I joined you went down and were interviewed by somebody. Then you came to the meeting and you sat in the front row. And they had great ceremony – they sang to you – some kind of a song they had - I don’t remember what it was – I was so nervous joining this theatre. And they had two memberships – one was Social and the other was Player. And I joined Social and my husband joined Player. And if you would join player, you had to take a test.
CS: What kind of a test?
RE: Read something, I guess, from a play or something and then they ask you questions. And I didn’t have to do anything – I just joined. But they had such a ceremony. And then the whole club ganged up and came around and shook hands and welcomed you to the club. It was really very nice.
And then we became very, very active. In fact every time I went out, my children would say “Are you going to the club, mother?” They knew that we had to go to the club. And when they got older, sometimes I spent most of my life down there. I’d go down every night and be working on a show or going to a meeting or wash dishes. We didn’t have anybody to help then with things. I’ve done everything down there and so has my husband. And we loved it. It was really great. And one day I just got tired of it. I never went back.
CS: Nothing prompted it?
RE: No, suddenly it seemed childish and a waste of my time. No, and I never went back.
CS: When was that?
RE: What’s this? 1983? Maybe 1970, something like that. I just stopped. But I’m getting a little active again now. I’m helping out with some things that I can help with, but it’s all changed. It was a prosperous club then; it’s not now. It was such an honor to receive a part then that the production committee – which was not a production committee then, it was a few directors – they would meet and decide on a play and then they would cast it on paper. And then you would go to the meeting and you would sit there – not me, because I didn’t care, but the other ones tell me they would sit there with their palms sweaty and their heart pounding, you know. And then your name was called out – you had a part. Then you went up and received your book and everybody clapped – you had a part.
And now they call people and say “Would you be interested in a part?” “No, I’m going to school at night – I can’t.” “Could you…?” “No, I never take a part in February because it snows then.” And they have a million excuses – it’s so hard to cast a play now that the contrast is immense between the two eras when it was such an honor to get a part in a play. And then you attended every rehearsal without fail. If you were doing props or prompting or anything, you attended every rehearsal. You knew the play frontward and backward no matter what kind of job you did on it then. It was very dedicated. But now nobody has time anymore. Maybe it’s the change of people going to school at night, people having televisions – there’s much more entertainment at home – I don’t know what it is. But I myself don’t go down there. There’s a small nucleus of people now who keep the club going. How long that will go on, we don’t know.
CS: Would you say there was any time that was the real highpoint of the club? Certain years that were…
RE: I’m not good with years. It was highpoint when we were members. It was highpoint then.
CS: When did you see it decline?
RE: I wasn’t there when it started to decline so it wasn’t my fault.
CS: Was there any period when they stopped doing productions? During the war?
RE: No, they never stopped.
CS: So continuous productions since 1932?
RE: Yes. Oh before that they were continuous. They might not have been regular like they are now but they never stopped producing. They might have had two a year when they were the Moment Musical Club. And one time we had an anniversary of some sort down there – I can’t remember what it was – and I was always a great organizer – I love to organize special things and I found the first show the Moment Musical Club did in the church, and then took out to other churches and did, was still available – the book was still available… it was a musical.
CS: What was it called?
RE: It was called “The Minister’s Wife New Bonnet” and it was a musical. And just for fun – and it was not given for the public to make money or anything – I got the books from French – French had them in New York – and I read it and then I went around and found out the names of the original cast. And as much as I could, I got them. And then I got Stan Smith to direct it, who was one of the original cast. And he directed it and we got costumes for them and they were happy about it and then we were going to give it just one night on our anniversary – and I can’t remember what anniversary it was, darn it, but anyhow, these people came and they rehearsed and we got furniture, we got props, and they did the show and it was good!
Now I’ve been in theatre all my life and I was in, since 1935, I’ve been at Old Academy and I went to see all other little theatre groups plays, and I went to New York and saw all the productions over there, and I saw everything that came to Philadelphia, and you can’t help but become a good judge of what is good acting, what is good theatre, what is good, you know, it’s an education. Even though you can’t do it yourself, you can judge. They were good! The little play was good! The little musical was good! It was highly entertaining. It had marvelous dialogue, good songs, and they were all good. They had good singing voices. They were good actors. So on our anniversary, then we gave this play for our anniversary. And I had a huge cake baked with “Happy Anniversary” and I had – so we gave it. Our members attended and friends and we didn’t charge any admission. It was not a money-making scheme. It was mostly for our members to come and see it and, of course, then we had members coming out. And they came and they loved it! And the cast were kind of unhappy because they wanted their friends to see them in the play so we gave a second night.
END of CD #1
Interviewee: Ruth Emmert (RE)
Interviewer: Cherie Snyder (CS)
Date of Interview: May 9, 1983
Transcriber: Wendy Moody
(begins mid sentence)
CS: I think you did what I said - the most memorable play or the funniest thing that ever happened in a play that was unintentional or whatever…
RE: I can’t remember the name of the play.
CS: Well that’s alright. The story would probably be ok.
RE: Ibsen’s…what was his most famous one? Not The Doll’s House…
CS: That’s what I was going to say.
CS: Ruth, you’ve been involved with Old Academy a long time. Can you tell me a little bit about when it was founded, how it was founded?
I understand, and there are many stories about this but this is the one I heard. There was a church group at the Falls Methodist Church on Indian Queen Lane and Krail Street and this small group in the church was called the Queen Esther Circle. They met and they had fun and they made money for the church and things like that. And so they decided to do a musical play to make money for the church and they chose a play called The Minister’s Wife’s New Bonnet. They gave it at the church and it was a great success and then they were invited to take it to other churches and the theater bug bit them.
And the minister at that time - and this was a very strict Methodist Church - told them that he did not want them using the Church’s name to give plays in other places nor to give plays in the church – it was not in keeping with their beliefs. They hated to give it up so they began to meet at each other’s homes and later they met at the meeting room in the Falls Public Library and had meetings, had rehearsals, and they named themselves the Moment Musical Club because they were primarily a musical group and…
CS: What did “Moment” mean?
RE: I never questioned it. I never thought about it.
CS: What year was this happening?
This was in 1923. And then they kept meeting and they got to doing three act plays or sometimes three one act plays and occasionally a musical. They rented halls to do them. They rehearsed, I think, in the library and then they rented Palestine Hall at Ridge and Midvale or the Women’s Club in Germantown and did the plays there. And they were very successful. They always sold all their tickets and everybody enjoyed them and enjoyed seeing their friends in plays which was not the usual thing here in the Falls.
So then they were still meeting in the library when Jim Lawson, who was born and raised in the Falls, had been approached by the Board of Trustees of the Old Academy building on Indian Queen Lane and asked if the Moment Musical Club would be interested in occupying that building to give their plays and use as a clubhouse because it was unoccupied at the time and it was being vandalized and condemned. I heard it was condemned to be torn down.
So Jim took it back to the Moment Musical Club and they decided yes, they would like to, and they did. They moved in in 1932 and they immediately began to repair the building to make it into a theater on the first floor, to make a curtain – everything was done by their labor – they had no money to speak of. But they did make it into a theater and they have since, up until the present day, kept it in good repair and preserved the historical old building.
They’ve had many famous people who were members. We have one man today who’s appearing in a successful Broadway play – Bob Prosky. He was a Roxborough boy and I understand he’s doing very well. I remember him when he was just a kid and he came down to the Old Academy and he was such a good, good actor – he just had it without any training at all. And I knew that someday he would be successful and he was.
And we had Don Cardwell who learned everything he knew about theater in Old Academy and who decided to make it his career and went to New York and got on the Philco Theater on television.
CS: I didn’t know that.
RE: Because when Philco was first experimenting in making tv films, or filming plays, they came to the Old Academy and asked if we would bring one of their plays, or have them come down to the theater - or whatever or however they did it then - and televise the play. And so they did. Don Cardwell was in the cast of that.
So when he went to New York and couldn’t get a job in the theater he went to Philco and said “Ya know, when you were first starting I played for you for nothing. And now that you’re paying people, I’d like a job. And they gave him a part! He got a part. I don’t remember now what play it was but they did give him a part.
The Moment Musical Club, when it became Old Academy Plays, had a man whose name was Charles Call. I don’t think he was from the area but he was a leader. And in those days they didn’t have a lot of people putting on the plays – there was one director. He was the director and he was it.
CS: He wasn’t paid though?
RE: No. no. Nobody ever was paid. He chose the plays, he cast them, he picked a director or he directed it. They still have at the Old Academy the original minutes in which he wrote an introduction. It’s the most beautiful thing I ever read, and in which he wishes us well in the future. And it’s beautiful – I must get that and make a copy of it.
And then there was Ida Smith, who was an aged hippie. (laughter) – her children refer to her that way.
CS: Why is that?
RE: Well she just…as we know hippies today, she dressed that way.
CS: Kind of bohemian?
RE: Yes. She didn’t live that way but she acted that way. She dressed that way. She used to come down to usher for the shows with evening gowns that had been rolled up and packed in a trunk somewhere, I think, with some moth-eaten fur on them. In her mind she was beautifully dressed. And everybody used to giggle and laugh about her but kindly because everybody loved Ida. She was in all of our plays and she was very good. A tiny, tiny girl. She was married to Stan Smith who was nothing like her at all. He came from a very proper English family. But Ida was one of our colorful people.
CS: Was there any particular kind of part that she tended to get?
RE: She did everything – she did comedy beautifully she did heavy drama. We did Ibsen’s Ghosts and our audiences didn’t like it but our actors loved it because there’s some great acting parts in it. She was in that. She played the mother and that’s a highly dramatic part. And I remember that we took it out to an American Legion place up in Germantown and I was the prompter – of course we were called stooges in those days – I don’t know why.
So I went along with the show and they set up the scenery there and we did the show and it did very, very well until the part came for one of the cast to go on stage fast. And all stage doors open offstage and these doors did that - but he forgot. And he was trying to get that door open the wrong way onto the stage and he pushed and pushed and the scenery - which seemed like three stories high - was beginning to crumble and wave and the audience was hysterical laughing. And this was not a play you laughed at. And the director crawled over under the window so the audience wouldn’t see him, and told him “The other way! The other way!” And then I joined him until finally he changed and he got on. But things like that always happened when we took plays out because we weren’t used to what we did (laughter)
We did another play one time – I think it was Liliom which later became Carousel as a musical – I think that’s the play. It was during the Depression. One of our members was out of work for a long time and he offered to move in and live in the Old Academy and do all the work, direct all the plays, build all the sets – and this was great for us. And he had a pet cat – very black and his name was Inky. And I’m pretty sure the play was Liliom because there was a death scene where the stage is very, very dim and the people come to get Liliom who has died. (pause) No, that wasn’t it (laughter). Anyhow, Liliom has died and they come to get him and take him to wherever he’s going to go and they’re all dressed in black, and very solemn and march with a measured stride onto the stage to come and take him to wherever he’s going to go in the hereafter. And this one night, as the music swelled to have them come on, the first person to enter was Inky. (laughter) with measured stride, black tail high in the air, and led the men from heaven or hell or wherever they were from – led them across the stage to come and get Liliom.
CS: It must have been hard to keep a straight face.
RE: Well the audience was in hysterics. No, the actors are pretty good – they don’t break out easily.
CS: But it was hard though… (laughing)
RE: I imagine, yes. (Pause) – I’m trying to think of people who are well known and went professional. Don Cardwell went to New York and was in theater and tv and movies and had his own theater over there. And then somehow or other he had had it with theater and just gave it all up and came back to Philadelphia.
And somebody met him up at one of the watering spots around here and he said “How was Old Academy doing” and they said “Fine, why don’t you come around?” So he did and he joined and he’s still with us. He’s been a great teacher of theater for us. I don’t know what we’d do without him.
CS: The most famous member you had would be Grace Kelly. What was your earliest memory of Grace?
RE: Well during the Second World War I belonged to a civil defense group and somebody lent us their garage to have meetings. We used to go out and walk around the neighborhood at night and make sure nobody let a crack of light out of their houses so the airplanes couldn’t see to bomb us. Of course we had no money and I organized three one act plays at Old Academy to make money and one was called Don’t Feed the Animals and Gracie was one of the kids in it.
CS: About how old was she then?
RE: About nine, I’d say. And she said that’s when the theater bug bit her and she knew she wanted to be an actress. And then she kept coming around and trying. We were doing The Womenand we needed every female we could get to do that because when we did The Womenwe made the men go up and make the coffee and serve the cookies and wash the dishes and tend to all the things the poor women had had to do before.
So Gracie was given the part of the debutante – a walk on –I think she had a line or so going across the stage and she had a couple of other fill-ins in the play. I was doing costumes, I think, or something backstage - working there - and she was sitting there getting her makeup on and dressing and I said to her “How old are you, Gracie?” And she said 14. And I said “14! You’d never know you were 14 – you look 18, 19, 20. It’s not just your height, it’s your poise and everything you do. I would say you were that much older. Oh I think it’s wonderful that you’re so grown up for 14!” and I went on being so gooshy that I think she was embarrassed and said “I’m not really 14, I’m only 12.” And she really was terrific for 12.
CS: Can you describe how she looked?
RE: Well she looked 18. She had very light brown hair and she wore it in the bob of the day and parted on the side and she had beautiful white teeth and that same sweet lovely smile that she has today, or had. And that same sparkle in her blue, blue eyes. And she was very tall for her age, very slender, dressed beautifully in a casual way. She was just as well-bred and just as much a lady at 12 as she was till the day she died.
CS: How would you describe her personality? Was she quiet like everyone said she was?
RE: She was not really shy – I don’t think that was her personality. She just wasn’t pushy. She would be in a room where we were having a rehearsal and we would be in groups talking and she would just go over and sit down somewhere. But if somebody said something funny she would laugh! She had a great sense of humor. And then if you said “Come over and join us, Gracie” she would come over. But she just never pushed herself.
The only thing she was dedicated to was getting a part, and for that she worked. And she was completely and utterly reliable, which was the greatest thing that anyone could be. If she was given a part, she immediately studied her lines – she always knew them perfectly. She would help everyone else on the show with props. She emptied her mother’s closet of negligees and evening gowns and all the things we couldn’t get anyplace. Not for herself, but for other people in the cast. She would lend us furniture for the set but she didn’t do this in a show off way, in any way – it was just the show had to go on well and she was helping in every phase that she could. She never missed a rehearsal, she was never late for a rehearsal. She was just a joy to work with. And a perfect person as she continued to be all her life. But she was that way when she was 12. So I know she didn’t acquire it from anybody or put on an act or anything. She was just that way.
And then, of course, she was an honorary member because her father and Mr. Hohenadel had donated money and bricks, of course –Mr. Kelly donated bricks - to build an addition on our theater which we needed so much. We asked Mr. Kelly what we could do for him. And he said “Well, give the kid parts. She wants to be an actress.” And he said “That would please me if you could give the kid a part once in a while.” But the Old Academy Players are the reverse of snobbery, and just because Mr. Kelly was one of the wealthiest men in the city, and just because they were famous and came from a famous family, they didn’t feel that they should give her special attention. And so she didn’t get parts. And I remember one time I was ushering for a show and she came down to see it and I spoke with her for a little while, and she said “What do you have to do down here to get parts?”
You know an actor has to suffer. They can’t really do the work that they love unless somebody gives them a part. And I said “The only advice I can give you, Gracie, is to be more visible. Come down to business meetings, come to all the shows, come to club night.” Club night is our first performance for the members only and after that it’s open to the public. I said “Just come down a lot and be visible and the more they see you, the more you’ll be in their minds when they cast and maybe you’ll get a part.”
Well I don’t know whether that worked or not, but I know Gracie came down and came down. And we would auction off a basket of cheer – not auction off - chance off a basket of cheer – and she would be there selling chances. She was working all the time. She certainly deserved all the parts she’d get. And I’m sure when she went to New York that she was the same person and that she deserved anything she got. I know some people said “Of course when your father has plenty of money, he knows everybody on Broadway, naturally you’re going to get ahead” but I’m sure it wasn’t that. Gracie had to have - I don’t think she use any influence. And I spoke to Jack Kelly one time and I said “How’s Gracie doing in New York?” and he said “She’s doing beautifully – she’s modeling, supporting herself, doing great.” And he was very proud of her. And she was – her father wasn’t supporting her. She had a little money –
I think when her grandmother died she left her some money but it wasn’t a whole lot. But mostly Gracie did it all by hard work and reliability. She would never be one to complain.
CS: After she had some bit parts, did she have any good sized parts?
RE: She was in The Father with Raymond Massey. Oh! You mean at Old Academy!
CS: Old Academy
RE: Oh yes, she was in Craig’s Wife – she played the daughter in Craig’s Wife. She did a lot. She did a lot down there.
CS: Was there any one play that you can remember particularly that she did?
RE: I just remember Craig’s Wife so well and I remember The Women, of course. During the run of The WomenGracie got the measles. There she was – she was having her dinner at home and getting ready to come down and be on stage and her mother said “What’s the matter with you? You look flush.” She said “I’m fine; I’m fine.” But her mother took her temperature and looked her over and she had the measles.
CS: Oh no.
RE: And so she said “You can’t go down there tonight.” and Gracie said “I have to! I have to!” You see, even as a child she had that great dedication and was so reliable. And so her mother said “To bed with you, young lady” and her older sister was sent down to do the part. And I think her younger sister did the part too - another time when Peggy couldn’t. Because Peggy often said “That poor cast – they never knew who was going to walk on stage next.”
But that’s the way Gracie was. And of course her mother was a reliable wonderful person too, and her sister Lizanne, who came to us later and was on the stage a lot, was the same way. It didn’t matter how busy they were or what they had to do, they came and they performed. If they said they would do it, they did it.
CS: Would you have guessed that she was going to be famous someday? Did anybody see enough talent to be as famous as she became?
RE: I don’t know. I’ve had that question asked of me so much and I always want to be truthful about it and….no, I didn’t think she would. She had a nasal voice – she talked through her nose in a kind of a whine. Her whole family talked that way. And I thought never would this do in professional theater or the films or anything. But then one time, after she went to New York and she was in the Academy of Dramatic Arts and studying, she came to the Old Academy to see a show. I had an empty seat beside me and she came down and said “Can I sit here with you?” and I said “Sure, crawl in.” So she did.
And I said “How do you like New York, Gracie?” and she said “Fine, very, very much.” And I said “How’s the school?” And she said “I like it very much.”
I said “Are you learning a lot?” And she said “Yes, I’m learning a great deal there.”
And I went on with all these questions that I wanted to know and then when the intermission came and people began to go up the aisle to go to the lobby and have a cigarette, they spied her and said “Oh hi Gracie, how are you?” And she said “Fine, thank you.” How’s New York??” “Fine.” “Do you like it in New York?” “Yes.” “How’s school?” “Fine.” “Are you learning a lot?” “Yes, I feel I’m learning a great deal.” And everybody who came up the aisle asked her the same questions that I had, and to each one she answered with her sweet smile and her enthusiastic voice as though it was the first time she had been asked. I thought then that “She’s got it.” That’s something that you have to have. And did you see the films when she left for her wedding on the ship?
RE: And the reporters were crowding around her by the dozens, all shouting these questions at her. She handled it as though each question was the first time she had heard it and she kept right on that way all her life. I understand that the Raniers don’t like the press. So Gracie would plow in there and take care of the press so they wouldn’t have a bad image. She always took care of everything that way. And that to me is a talent you got to have first before you go into anything else.
And I saw her in High Noon and I was anxious to see if she had really become a great actress all of a sudden. And I noticed wherever it came to a part where she would have to be acting they did it from her back. They turned her completely away from the camera and I thought “She hasn’t got it yet, but she got it!” But not because it was born in her. I don’t think she was naturally talented for acting – I think that it was just learning and hard work.
And stick-to-it-ness. That she did it.
CS: It sounded like something she really wanted.
RE: And of course her beauty which she had. Her inner beauty and her outside beauty was always there. And that helps.
CS: Did you have much contact with her after she became so famous? When did you talk to her again?
RE: No, no I don’t think I ever talked to her but we started exchanging Christmas cards and Gracie was very sentimental about everything and everybody. She never stopped being in touch with anybody. When she packed her trunk, she took her old jeans with her, she took her dog, she took everything with her because she was sentimental about everything.
When I first knew her she sent me a little Christmas card – it just was a little angel with rays of light around her and it said “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year. Grace Kelly.” And I saved all her Christmas cards – I put them in a supermarket bag and mark the year on them somehow or another, I don’t know why, I saved them. So when she became a film star I thought “Whoa! I got all her cards.” So I got out all the supermarket bags and pulled out all her cards and I have a beautiful collection of them and she never stopped sending me cards. Never stopped. And they were mostly beautiful colored pictures of her children or of her whole family. And I thought “What other princess living the life that a princess has to live, would send out for her Christmas cards pictures of her children just the same as always.” She was proud of them. Lovely, lovely, lovely person.
CS: Was she ever back in Falls for any Old Academy affairs after she was married?
RE: No. We used to get calls once in a while that she wanted to come down and “Could we arrange it?” but then she wouldn’t get there. Her brother--in-law used to call and say Gracie wants to come down and see you, but she wouldn’t get there. Of course the kind of life she lives they’re busy constantly and maybe something came up that she couldn’t.
CS: But she did give some money to the Old Academy didn’t she?
RE: Oh yes, oh sure, she never forgot us. Ever. I don’t know how she happened to do it, but she sent us a check for $1000 to be use for security to prevent vandalism. She may have heard that we were being vandalized by the kids in the neighborhood; I don’t know.
CS: What about her sisters, Lizanne and Peggy?
RE: Well, they’re great. The oldest one, Peggy – she was her father’s favorite in the whole family, even moreso than young Kell. And Peggy did some parts for us and she’s a natural comedian - so funny even in any kind of conversation. And she did some parts for us and she was marvelous.
Jack Kelly Sr. said one time that Baba – that was his pet name for her-Baba had more talent in her little finger than anybody else in the family. But she never had any desire to be an actress. She was married young and had two children and she was very much in love with her husband. She was a wonderful cook and housekeeper and everything that her wonderful mother had taught her and she did charitable work and she did stuff over at the hospital where her mother….
CS: Did she live here locally?
RE: Yes. She lived on the corner of Henry Avenue and School House Lane (ed. note: Netherfield and School House Lane). Her father built her a brick house, naturally.
CS: Is it still there?
RE: Yes. Someone else has it, naturally. I think someone from the Textile College bought it. Then Peggy bought a house down in the Art Museum section and did it over. And she said it was brick, naturally. And it was a corner. And she bought it with just looking through it at night (laughter). She said when she brought the architect around to decide what they would do to the house, she said the whole brick wall on the corner on the one street fell down! The whole brick wall! (Laughter). The entire wall.
She lives there, and her mother had a stroke years ago and now – Mrs. Kelly was very interested in the Old Academy Players too. She used to give innumerable benefits to make money for the hospital (Medical College of Pennsylvania) and other people. We would sell them a theater party for x number of dollars and they rented the theater. In other words, we put on the play and they sold the tickets and whatever else they wanted to do. They couldn’t make much money because they only seat – what - 130 people in there – in that little theater, but Mrs. Kelly made money because she would have a Coca Cola box brought in, fill it with ice, and fill it with Coke and sell the Coke….. (gap) dry ice and sell ice cream sandwiches. And then she would have everyone bake cakes and she would raffle the cakes off. And she would also sell the cake and sell the coffee, not give it to the people. And she had everything going down there to make money and she did. And she sold the tickets – maybe we were charging two dollars and maybe other theater parties charged $3. Mrs. Kelly got $5 and more per ticket! (laughter). She always made money.
I’ll never forget her – one time I was coming up the stairs that led into the kitchen and she was there with a tiny, tiny hat – it was a round 2” wide spot of fur – a circle – with a tall, tall thin feather attached to it up in the air. The hat must have been $100. It was that unique and looked gorgeous on her. She had sable furs around her neck and a gorgeous dress. And high heels and she was beautifully made up and bejeweled and she was mopping the floor (laughter) with our filthy big industrial mop and filthy water – the Coca Cola box was leaking. And I said “Oh Mrs. Kelly! I’ll do that for you!” And she said “Not at all!” - and she went right on – she always did that.(laughter)
The other sister Lizanne…
CS: That’s the youngest…
RE: She’s the baby of the family. And The first time I saw her, the parents had brought her down to see a show and she was sitting on a sofa in the green room between her parents and she had flaxen thick braids – her hair parted in the middle – and rosy cheeks and piercing blue eyes and a long, long face because she was mad at the world. She did not like people. If you went over and said “Hello Lizanne, how are you sweetheart?” she would just frown at you and turn her head away. Her mother was gracious and so was everyone else in the family but not Lizanne.
However Lizanne grew up to be one of the nicest in the family. A lovely, lovely girl.
CS: Was she in any plays?
RE: Oh yes! She was in lots of them and she also borrowed her mother’s wardrobe and everybody else’s… and she met her husband – she had dated this man and they were very much in love and then they broke up. And it was two years later - she was in a play - and he came in with one of our members as a date and they met again and he became her husband. Don LeVine. They picked it up again and that was it.
CS: Is there any part play or part that was memorable that Lizanne was in?
RE: I’m awful on the titles of the plays. She was in a lot with her husband and he had someone come down and film the whole play in color with sound. And then all of us were invited to their home to see it and she served dinner at intermission.
CS: Was their home in the Falls then?
RE: No, no they lived in Gladwyn. That was their home then. No, after she was married she lived in Gladwyn, always. But she was a beautiful actress. She was not as good as Peggy.
CS: Better than Grace?
RE: Yeah. You know why I hate to say that? Because one time a couple of members of ours who were not very nice people were interviewed for a magazine article and somebody asked him that question – “Did you see any spark of talent in her when she was a young girl? “ He said “Not a bit.”
And he said it in such a nasty way and I felt terrible about that. And so I hate to answer that question, but truthfully, she was just an average little theater actor. She tried. She meant to get somewhere and she did. And she should have.
CS: Is Lizanne still active with her husband at all at Old Academy?
RE: Well, he was very ill for quite a few years and he couldn’t do anything, and then Mrs. Kelly had a stroke and she moved to Alden Park Manor in an apartment with a woman to take care of her. And Lizanne and Don then sold their house and moved into the same Alden Park Manor – into the same building. And then on the woman’s day off who took care of Mrs. Kelly, Peggy and Lizanne used to take turns staying with their mother for the day. Then Mrs. Kelly became ill at the shore and she couldn’t go back to her apartment, so they gave that up. Lizanne and Don moved to Phoenix temporarily – they’ll be back in the summer to be down at the shore.
CS: I’m just curious - how would you compare the three sisters? What were the differences in their personalities?
RE: Well, Peggy was tall and slender and pretty and immaculately groomed at all times. There was never a hair out of place – and they all did – they all dressed beautifully. Peggy was the comedian - she was always funny. She was completely friendly – you felt as if you knew her all your life once you met her.
Gracie was Gracie.
Lizanne was completely friendly when she grew up.
I don’t know how to separate them – they were three different types – there was never any competition between the three of them, but I don’t know that I could describe them to make them different from each other. I know one thing – of course when they got into the boy crazy stage, they all handled it differently. Peggy went out on real dates and married one of the handsomest men I’ve ever seen – George Davis. Gracie dated boys in the neighborhood – boys that her family knew. Lizanne hung on the corner here where the boys hung out.
CS: What corner is that?
RE: Tilden and Vaux. The drugstore corner. And in those days it was alright – it wasn’t anything wrong to do. They had a great home life at home, for having boys and girls home – they had a tennis court up there, they had a game room.
CS: Have you ever been in the home?
RE: No, but I’ve had it described to me so often I feel as if I have.
CS: And that was up on Henry Avenue and Coulter?
RE: Yes. Across from the park there. I remember that the girls were all envious of Lizanne because Lizanne took a rather large bra size. And Peggy and Gracie never, never did (laughter) and they used to say “How did she get so lucky!” But I don’t remember, other than that, that they were ever – they say now that Gracie was never an athlete - that the rest of the family was - but Peggy told me Grace was a fine athlete. She really was. But the press gets it all wrong.
CS: Yeah, whenever you read anything, or see anything, they play her down as being the odd one in the family in terms of athletic ability.
RE: She was a fine swimmer.
CS: What about Kells? Did you know him?
RE: No. We were always in need of men for parts in plays and I said to Gracie and Peggy one time “Can’t you get your brother down here? We’d love to use him in the next play. He’s so tall and handsome and everything. And Gracie said “You don’t want him! He’s big, handsome and dumb! Stay away from him!” (laughter)
And I don’t think he’s dumb, but he is big and handsome. We never did have him – he never came down, but of course he was always busy rowing and down at the athletic club. All his friends were from the sports world – certainly not from the theater so we never had him down there. I’m sure he came down to see his sisters in plays. I was just talking to him not long ago and he said that his interest had never been…. You’d have to talk to his sisters about that. “They were the ones who were interested in the Old Academy. I never was.” But maybe he did go down to see them in shows.
The Old Academy has its reading room walls covered with pictures of plays we’ve done in the past, and I don’t see one with Gracie in them. Not one up on the wall! The only thing I can think of is maybe somebody swiped them. Because they will do that.
CS: Could be. That’s really interesting. That’s right I don’t remember ever seeing any on the walls.
RE: There are lots of them of her sister Lizanne and her sister’s husband Don, but not of Gracie.
CS: Did you attend, or were you around, when Lizanne was married down at St. Bridget’s?
RE; No, I wasn’t. I don’t remember where I was. But I think l said there were mobs of people there because Gracie was attending the wedding. She was a film star then. There were crowds of people there, and as each car drove up after the people were in the church, the crowds would rush over to see who was in there. And when the bridegroom to be. Don Levine drove up with his brother, who was the best man, the crowds all rushed over and looked in and said “Oh, it’s only the bridegroom!” (laughter) That must have made him feel great. No, I was not around when she was married.
CS: Grace’s home was on Coulter and Henry Avenue. Where was P. H. Kelly’s home?
RE: Oh, where the Mifflin school is now. Vaux and Midvale.
CS: You mean Conrad and Midvale?
RE: Oh right, right.
CS: When was that torn down? Was that there when Grace was growing up over here on Coulter?
RE: Oh yes. Oh yes. Sure. I remember the P. H. Kelly house there. When I would be coming home, I’d take the old 52 trolley at Ridge and Midvale and ride up the hill. The P. H. Kelly girls – all the daughters, used to ride that car too. And they would all get off and then run up the steps of the house. I used to think “You’d think that they’d have their own chauffeur living in a big house like that, and not have to ride the 52 trolley!”
CS: They were the daughters of P. H. Kelly?
CS: And P. H. Kelly was… Grace’s grandfather?
RE: Jack Kelly, Sr.’s brother.
CS: Ah, the brother of Jack Kelly.
RE: And one of the girls had a dancing school in the basement of the home. Now, the basement was ground level because it was built on the top of a flight of steps. And I know lots of girls who went down there – grown women who went down and took lessons in tap and whatever.
CS: And she taught?
RE: She taught – yes, that was her – they all worked! Nobody laid around and read magazines and ate chocolates. The whole Kelly family – they all worked - they all did something.
CS: Any other particular memories of famous people, or memorable people, or eccentric people?
RE: Jack Kelly Sr. wrote a play one time and he sent it down to us to see if we would like to do it. And I was on the production committee at the time and I thought we should do it. I read it and it was…. middlin’, or a little less than middlin’ (laughter) but I said I thought we should do it because he had been so good to us and was so interested in us that I thought we should do it. And I thought that we could pull it off if we put our very, very best players in there.
And the same nasty man who said he never saw any spark of talent in Gracie said he didn’t think Jack Kelly would expect us to pay him for the nice things he had done and he would absolutely not approve of doing the play. And so we had to tell nice Jack Kelly that his play was not good enough and we would not do it.
CS: Did he hold that against you?
RE: Never. Oh no, no. He was a nice man. No he did not. And his son is a nice man too. Same as his father. Very, very nice. I still cringe when I think of that – that was awful. Awful. It wouldn’t have hurt us to do it, and he would have filled the theater every night. Wouldn’t have hurt us financially or any other way, and I’m sure he was hurt that this dumb little theater couldn’t do it for him. But at any rate
CS: Didn’t he have a brother who was a playwright?
RE: Oh yes. George Kelly.
CS: Did the theater ever do any of his plays?
RE: Oh sure. Craig’s Wife is his. Showoff is another one of his. The Showoff was always kind of controversial because Aubrey Piper, who was the showoff in the play, was said to be any of a number people in the Falls (laughter). Leroy Shronk – they said he patterned him exactly after him.
CS: Who was Leroy Shronk?
RE: Leroy Shronk is the descendant of one of the oldest families in the Falls and he became a member of Old Academy. And he was a good natural actor. He was wild and woolly, but the audience loved him. And he lived on Indian Queen Lane, but he was one of the original trustees when the building. – Old Academy- was built. Not him, but he was a descendant of him. Then everybody would say “Oh no, it was not Leroy Shronk, it was somebody who was a cab driver, and had his cab stand down at Ridge and Midvale. He was the one.”
So one time I said to Kelly, “I am so tired of hearing all these different versions and not knowing which is true. When you see your Uncle George, will you ask him? I want it right from the horse’s mouth” and she said “I will, I will, I’ll ask him.” So she went to a party in New York where he was, and she went to him and asked him and he said it wasn’t anyone in particular, it was a composite of different people he had known in the Falls, but they were Falls people. And Aubrey Piper was a composite of all those people. And that was right from the horse’s mouth.
He was nice, and when we celebrated our 50th anniversary as a little theater – the Old Academy Players –
CS: When was that?
RE: I can’t remember.
CS: Probably 1970 sometime?
RE: It might have been. We started in 1923.
CS: Yeah, so it probably would have… so go ahead… when you celebrated…
RE: I was on production at that time, and I wanted them to do a year of George Kelly plays. I had already done my work on it and there were enough of them. And some of them had been one act plays before they became three act plays. And they were all fine. And those people on the production committee said “None of them have held up well enough to do, so we can’t have that.” I said “I’m sure the Kelly kids could get George Kelly to come and see one of the plays or make a speech in our theater” – it would be wonderful, but they wouldn’t do it because they said that none of them have held up well. And since then, they’re revived then and revived them on Broadway and they’ve run a long time, so that I think I was right and they were wrong.
CS: And they haven’t done them again at Old Academy?
RE: No. No. Uh, uh. It’s an odd philosophy there – they have a goldmine of publicity…
CS: Yeah, in the name.
RE: But they won’t listen to me! (laughter)
CS: Well you recently managed to be involved in the new trustees that came on. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
RE: All right. I had to do that. I’m not active in the club – the Old Academy Players - anymore. I’m still a member, and I still go down once in a while, but when I was a member and active, we were always in awe of the trustees. They are nine men who were to go on forever being responsible for the building. – The Old Academy. They are, so to speak, the landlords of whoever is in there. They were to manage it and see that it was kept in good repair. In fact, the first trustees were commissioned to have the building built. They were responsible.
And then the trusteeship was to go on forever, passed on down to somebody else – I think that the qualifications are that you have to have been born and raised in the Falls to be a trustee. And so we were always in awe of the trustees, and if they said we shouldn’t do something, we didn’t do it. And we tried to abide by the rules – there’s no alcoholic beverages allowed in the clubhouse. In other words, it started out as a house of worship and a school and a library, and nothing wrong should go on in that building.
But over time, the trustees have gone by the wayside - they’ve gotten old, they’ve gotten sick, they’ve moved away from the Falls, and they don’t function. I think there were just two left. And one of them never went down, and the other went down and said “How can I have a meeting by myself?” They weren’t even having meetings.
CS: They were supposed to have regular meetings?
RE: They were supposed to meet four times a year, and one of the meetings has to be the first Monday in January in the building. If they fail to meet in the building on that first Monday in January, the building - which is tax-free - the charter will revert to the city and the city will own it. And this is what worried me. And I warned the players – the few meetings I went to – I kept warning them and they didn’t seem concerned about it. Of course they didn’t have the background I had had with the trustees and with the knowledge of the charter and everything.
So I began to talk to Dave Budenz, who was the last one who was going down, and as he said “How can I have a meeting by myself? I’m the only one who goes down. And it’s hard on me – I live way up in Doylestown now.”
And I said “Well then I should think the thing to do is to get anybody who can’t function to resign and appoint a whole new Board of Trustees.” And he said “Who you gonna get? How you gonna get?” He’s very defeatist about it. And I said “Well it could be done.” Finally I offered myself to do it. And I asked the president and the executive committee down at Old Academy if they would give me permission to do it. They said yes, and finally after two years, Dave Budenz called and said they had decided to turn everything over to me and I could go ahead.
And so then I began to call the trustees and get in touch with them and see if they were still interested in functioning. And if they were not, I asked them to send a letter of resignation to date.
I was doing it all under great strain because I knew I was not legal – I shouldn’t be doing it. But I had to do it to save the building. So then when I had the last letter of resignation, then I began to investigate new trustees. And I picked young men – not too young, not too old – of sterling character born and raised in the Falls who were interested in the building and knew about it and they accepted. And one of them is a lawyer – Joseph Furlong – and that’s good for them to have a lawyer to consult when they work.
And so on the first Monday in January of 1983 my whole – I call them mine because I worked so hard to get them – met in the building. And they didn’t even know each other. And they were introduced, and they sat down at the table, and I explained the whole situation – what was expected of them, and I said you can be as active as you like – you can be active and be landlords and watch over the building, and watch over what the players do in there, or you can be inactive and just meet four times a year – come in here and talk about whatever you want, but meet in the building. And this is up to you – whatever you want to do. I asked them to volunteer for the three offices that were supposed to be elected that night and one was president, treasurer, and secretary.
And at first, of course, everybody just smiled and nobody volunteered, but then – oh, I had put a girl on – a female on the board because I felt that we should get up to date. There was nothing about not having women on there in the charter or anything so I asked Adrienne Daily. And so she, after a long silence, finally volunteered to be president because she had been a member of Old Academy years ago and knew how Old Academy Players worked, and she would be a good liaison between the two, so she decided that she would offer and serve a term as president. And so then another young man, Fred Yarnell, spoke up and said I would like to be the secretary – “I’ll take the minutes and I’ll do all the duties of the secretary.” And we already had a treasurer whose father had been treasurer and had passed it on down to him, and he had the bankbook and everything,
CS: And who was that?
RE: That was Jim Turner. His father was Hassie Turner, who was a trustee and was treasurer, whose father was – I think he’s 4th generation – trustee. And he’s a fine young man - they all are. They’re the nicest, nicest group of young men.
So they were having a rehearsal on the first floor the night of the meeting, and I said to them “I want you to meet a few of the Old Academy Players who are here.” I said “I’ll go down and get Pat McCauley – she’s chairman of production - and maybe you’d like to ask her about some of the future plays or something.” And so I went downstairs and asked her to come up when she had a break and she said she would. And then when I came back up, Fred Yarnell said to me “Ruth, we’ve been talking while you’ve been gone, and we’ve decided to be active. Very active.” And that pleased me so much – I knew their interest was captured and the building was safe from then on. So they’re getting along very well and we send them invitations to club night and they come out and see the shows and they’re a nice group. Now the next meeting will be April 4 and I don’t have anything more to do with it.
The first minutes that Fred Yarnell wrote, he brought up for me to read and every other word was Ruth Emmert, Mrs. Emmert (laugh) and I said “You’ll have to take them and do them all over again. Don’t mention my name – I’m illegal, I shouldn’t have done, this but somebody had to do it and I was the only one who did.” So he said he would do it over and he did. So that’s the story of the trustees and I hope they’ll go on forever.
CS: What changes have you seen in Old Academy over the years? I mean, have you seen a golden age and a low period?
RE: Always. Always. If you ever read the minutes (laugh) of the Old Academy Players, you might come across one item where they say “The executive committee met and decided that no one can stand in the back of the theater because it’s too distracting to the audience.” And then in the minutes, maybe ten years later, “It was decided in the executive committee meeting that no one can stand in the back of the theater – it is too distracting to the audience.” And they keep making rules like that and nobody pays any attention to it (laugh)
But, yes, they had a bad fire. I think in 1952 or 54. The cupola was damaged and an awful lot of stuff was damaged – bad fire. But we were insured and whenever we have troubles, when we get broke or when we have big expenses and we have no way of meeting them, or when we had troubles down there – can’t cast a play or something – they seem to be a closer knit club – they all band together and come right back up. And they did after the fire – everybody went down and worked and cleaned up. And the show – they never missed a show. They managed to get a show on after that fire
CS: Have there been continuous shows since they first took over?
RE: Yes. Oh yes.
CS: There’s not been a season without any shows?
RE: Never. Never. Never. Only in the summertime. And sometimes they even put shows on in the summertime. They’ve tried that. They had problems casting, then they have no problems casting where everybody is fighting for parts. I know a couple of years ago, they were broken in debt and my husband was treasurer – Milton Emmert – and he was going over the books and then all of a sudden we thought we had money in the bank and these huge bills came in and wiped us out and we couldn’t even pay the electric and gas bills and things like that, and so we put out an SOS and we called everybody to come down to a special meeting – the fate of Old Academy Players is at stake, and that’s when they rose – you saw the kind of people they were and how much they loved the club and what they could do. Laura Koziak gave a flea market and made money. They did all kinds of things and then they wrote letters to all the life members who don’t live in these parts any more. They all sent checks to us, and in no time at all we were out of the woods and all right.
Yes, there have been highs and lows. Well, every year they give a play that’s maybe not so good, then they do some that are so fine that you wonder how did we do it? They have one going on now that is so fabulous.
CS: And what’s that?
RE: I forget the name of it.
CS: You’re just like me!
RE: It’s two one act plays and it’s all Irish brogue. The Lovers, it’s called, and it’s about a young pair of lovers and the second one is an old pair of lovers. And it’s so beautifully done –so fabulous that it’s hard to believe it’s little theater.
CS: Has the percentage of Falls people in the plays and in the membership changed over the years?
RE: Oh yes. It was all Falls when the Moment Musical started, and then somebody would invite somebody to join and they would come and bring somebody else in, and it gradually spread around Philadelphia, and now we have members all over the city. They drive, you know. We also have life members – if you’re an active member for fifteen years – you automatically – you’re voted in, honored with life membership, and that means you’re a member forever and don’t pay any dues, have no obligation. And we have life members living in California and all over the country but they keep in touch and they’re the ones who send the checks when we get in Dutch.
And then it’s surprising around here how few people know that there’s a little theater here. Never heard of it. And how few of them attend our shows.
We have a nucleus of season ticket customers who have been coming for so many years.