East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Robert (Bob) Dagney, 3340 Tilden Street, Philadelphia, PA 19129
Interviewers: Ellen Sheehan and Lyda Doyle
Transcriber: Ellen Sheehan
Date of Interview: September 28, 2019
So, Bob, you filled out your forms here and we are going to ask you some things about growing up in East Falls. Your family has been here for some time. Could you tell us where you grew up?
I grew up at 3347 Conrad St. on the corner of Conrad and Bowman Street. That was the Casey family house. The Caseys were my father’s family. The Dagneys came to East Falls in 1915, my grandfather Edward Dagney married Ella (Ellen) Casey.
Your parents have been here since 1915?
Well, my grandparents. My father was born in 1919 and my mother in 1922. My grandfather Edward Dagney married Ella Casey in 1915. The Casey were here before that, they came in 1880. They first came to Swamppoodle around 21st & Lehigh. William Casey married Katherine McCarty from Bowman St. When they got married the Caseys moved up here to Bowman St. The McCarthys were pioneers in East Falls. They came from County Sligo, Ireland in 1844. They lived in the poor house in West Philadelphia.
Blockley Yes, They came in December, 1844, with their 6 children. A baby, a toddler, a four year old, six year old and two older ones. The baby was James and the toddler was Patrick. They were the two who fought in the Civil War in the Calvary. They survived the trip (from Ireland) and then went to the Poorhouse. As far as I can understand you had to work for your room and board and you could keep some of the money. So they saved and after a while they were able to buy the house on Stanton Street, which was called James Street back then. They were one of the twenty founding families of St. Bridget’s.
So what year would that be?
1853, the year St. Bridget’s was founded. Then the two boys went into the Civil War in 1862.
Edward McCarty married the granddaughter of my second great grandfather Michael McCarty. He was the brother of the two Civil War veterans and the brother of Patrick
Tell me about the founding of St. Bridget’s.
It is really hard to find out how it happened. I went down to the archdioceses and the archives in Philadelphia and the only thing I could find out down there was the land was brought for $200.00. I believe, can’t say for sure, but the people who founded the church built the first church. The foundation of the church, I don’t know who else would have done it. They didn’t have money to pay anybody. They were farmers from Ireland so when they came here all they could do was labor. They didn’t have any skills so they had to work low paying jobs. They worked in the factories and mills in East Falls and Manayunk.
Do you know where they worked?
Well my grandmother Ella Gallagher worked at Dobson Mills. Her husband worked at the mills in Manayunk. Now the Caseys, I’m not sure. On the census they just had jobs – laborers, so they just had jobs not sure where. They always lived 10-12 people in a house. There were people there who weren’t even related to them. In the 1860 census, my grandmother, Ella McCarty was now a widow. Her eight kids lived there and there were four kids with different names living there too. I never found out who those kids were.
Some of those houses were three stories?
Yes, three stories with a back yard. They could grow food back there, carrots, etc., so I don’t know any more about the details of St. Bridget’s other than that. In my book I tried to figure out the best I could.
What is the title of your book?
“Salvation.” I traced them from Sligo to Liverpool to New York. They landed there in 1844. There wasn’t anything in the public record until 1850 when they were at Blockley. I know they were at Blockley in 1850. I presume they went to Blockley right away because they were two adults and six kids, where were they going to go? I have a feeling that that is where they went. On the passenger’s list their destination was Philadelphia. Why they went to New York instead of right to Philadelphia, I don’t know. No way to know for sure or how they got to Philadelphia.
My ancestors came by train.
That’s what I presume. I figure the train station was near the docks. I did find a reference in a book by Charles Dickens that he came from New York by train. It took seven hours and the trains had to go onto ferries. To find out where the trains stations were in Philadelphia wasn’t easy. There were only 2 or 3 and they were all downtown.
There was no church or school here so do you know where they went and what they did?
The church they went to was St. Stephen’s. I don’t know why they didn’t go to St. John’s in Manayunk. That was formed in 1853 or so. St. Stephen’s was in Hunting Park/Nicetown area so maybe they could get a trolley over there. They probably walked a lot. They asked the pastor over there about their own parish. I know the pastor over there in 1865 was Fr. Cullen. He was the Civil War pastor.
So where were you born?
3347 Conrad St.
No, Roxborough Memorial Hospital. I think my parents were born at home.
Where did your father work?
He worked there all his life?
Did your mother work?
Well, she took care of us until my brother and I were out of grade school. Then she went to work at a variety of low paying jobs. My mother didn’t graduate from high school so she didn’t have the skills so she worked low paying jobs like the bank. I was thinking about this, she worked at Fidelity Bank with your mother (Lyda). My mother went to mass with your mother before they went to work at St. John’s down town. I remember my mother telling me that.
What year were you born?
1946. I was the quintessential “baby boomer.” My father came home from Germany in July, 1945.
So he was in the war. Did he talk about that?
He didn’t talk about that. He had a heart defect and they made him a 4F. After D Day with all of those casualties they drafted him. Now, they didn’t think he would be drafted so they got married. Then after they got married he got drafted. He wound up in Germany but was only there for four months. My uncle, Ed, his brother, got drafted in 1940. He didn’t like the Army so he went into what was then the “Army Air Force.” They made him a navigator and he flew 35 missions over France in a B17.
And he came home?
He came home and he came home and was involved in a train crash. He survived but the other guys died in the crash. His wife, my Aunt Peg, they were engaged for three years while he was overseas. They communicated for three years while he was over there. He wrote on letter that said “Pray for me” the whole page. He was a navigator but on one of the flights the pilot and copilot were shot and he had to take over the plane and land it in England.
Your father came home in 1945.
Yes, in July. I was conceived in August and born nine months later in May. The quintessential baby boomer.
You went to school at St. Bridget’s? What do you remember about school?
(Sound of generator from neighbor’s porch)
I always had nuns as teachers. The first three years were in the Old School. We had sixty kids in our class. I was always behaved in school. A few paddle marks on my hands that was all. It was a group paddle. I went to Roman Catholic High School. I had a good experience at Roman. I got paddled once – a group paddle.
Did you play sports when you were growing up?
Oh sure, nothing organized. I played at Dobson Field. Before the expressway was built, Dobson’s was a big field. Every kid in the neighborhood played on the Police Athletic League. They had 3 or 4 games going at a time. It was crowded down there. It was a lot of fun, we had a good time. I was a good baseball player. Tom was a good player (Tom Doyle) I loved basketball. There were basketball courts all over the place. There were lots of outdoor courts and then when McDevitt’s was built there were indoor courts.
Did you use the Bathey for swimming?
Yes, I have a distinct memory of walking down to the Bathey. I was 6 or 7 years old. As boys we had a lot of freedom back then. We would walk down by Dobson’s and there use to be a road that led to the Bathey.
I remember walking down Krail and then Crawford to the Bathey.
We used to swim in the river sometimes.
What about Gustine Lake?
No. Gustine was only about 3 feet deep.
Did you ice skate on Gustine?
I tried it once but my ankles were too weak.
What other places in East Falls did you frequent? The library?
Oh, my father was a great reader. I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reichwhen I was 14 years old. My father had a helmet, a luger pistol, and other artifacts from the war. He gave them away.
What about your relative A. J. Chadwick. Did you know him?
He was estranged from us. His sister married Joseph Gallagher who was a strict Methodist and we were Catholics. In those days this was taken seriously and she converted to Catholicism. I knew one of the Chadwicks who became a Navy Seal. So we didn’t have much connection with them.
How did the railroads figure in?
We only lived a block from the railroad tracks. When they built the expressway they dug up all that ground. One day I wanted to go down and play basketball at Dobson’s. I was about 12. You couldn’t go down Indian Queen Lane because they had that big hole so you had to go around. I decided I wasn’t going to do that. I was going to climb on the RR fence and jump down and go that way. I got up there and put my feet between the spikes and one of the spikes when I jumped, it went up my pant leg and I wound up hanging upside down from the fence. It was the only time in my whole life I called out “Help.” So this guy came by and got a big kick out of this kid hanging upside down like that. He lifted me up and got me off the fence. I was carrying my basketball. It fell down and bounced on the RR tracks and fell into the big hole. To top it off it went into a big puddle. I actually went back up on the fence and jumped off a second time, waded in the pool, got my basketball and went off and played ball. Boys will do this kind of stuff. They are different from girls.
What did you do after high school?
I went to LaSalle College. My father wanted me to major in Finance. I didn’t like that so majored in Political Science. It was easier than History. I went there 4 years and graduated in June, 1968. I was a Fort Bragg 6 weeks later. I got drafted. Actually, I volunteered for the draft. I knew I was going to get drafted and you couldn’t so anything while you were waiting to get drafted. I wanted to get it over with so I volunteered and went to Fort Bragg.
Talk about an eye opener. I was a tough guy but that just blew me away. It was brutal. I wrote about it in my book. My experience at Boot Camp. When you got drafted it was for two years. If you enlisted it was three years. I didn’t want three years. I didn’t realize at the time it was for combat in arms. They put me into the Artillery. That was a terrible experience I can tell you that much. It wound up, my brother was hospitalized. He was in bad shape so I got two weeks leave. My mother asked for another week so I got another week and then went back. While I was home, the original battalion I was with went to Vietnam. This was 1968 a very bad time to go.
So I was sent to Germany. It was bad – it was cold. They were shooting off guns. I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. I wound up in Italy. The Army in their wisdom trained me in Artillery and howitzers. Then they send me to Italy and I had to shoot Rockets. They had nuclear rockets in Italy to use against the Soviets. While I was at the Headquarters, the Sargent said, “I see you were in College. Do you know how to type.” “Sure, I know how to type.” I had no idea how to type. It amazed me that they never sent me back. I took all day just to type one letter. You can’t have white out – it has to be perfect. We had carbon paper and I couldn’t keep it straight. I got to the end of the page and you had to measure it so you know where to stop. It was a disaster.
They kept me there and gave me a job driving the Sargent around these missile bases around Italy. I had never driven a “stick.” We didn’t have a car till I was 16. I didn’t know how to drive a stick but I was driving on these narrow Italian roads. The Sargent was scared to death so he said “Get over” and he drove me around. I sat in back looking at the countryside while he drove calling me a stupid so and so. I didn’t do this stuff on purpose, it was just the way it was. You can change your MOS status from Artillery to Clerk. So they made me that.
Because you were a college grad.
Yes, then, I was totally useless. Then they sent me to do more of what I wasn’t trained to do. I was trained to fire Howizters. The Army was so screwed up. The whole organization is a mess. It was so ridiculous. So, anyway, I get a phone call that my brother, Dave, was sick mentally. But he wanted to enlist. My father thought the military would be good for him. Some people thought the military would be good for you and all this kind of stuff but they don’t realize how bad it is. My father was thinking of the Second World Was but they weren’t treated like they treated us. I called my brother Dave and said “No, No” because he had attempted suicide twice. I said, “Dave, boot camp is not a place for somebody who has attempted suicide two times. He wouldn’t listen to me. The sergeant I went to I told him I need to go home. I need to talk to my brother and stop him from going down there. So I get back to the unit and they said “You’re going to Vietnam.” I said “I don’t want to go.” ‘Well you signed up to go.” Just get rid of that request. Just ignore it. Just throw it out. But no, I had to go. What is this bizarre world? They gave me ten days to get to California from Italy.
That’s how you were going to Vietnam?
Yes, later on I came home from Vietnam for an emergency and I went back from McGuire in New Jersey. The first time I went I went out from San Francisco. I took a flight out from Oakland to Fr. Stewart, Washington. I was on the flight going out there to Washington State when they announced we landed on the moon – it was July, 1969. “Can I go to the Moon” everybody was so happy – I didn’t care about the moon. I was worried about where I had to go – I didn’t care about the moon. It was a week of combat training, not jungle training.
It is near Lacey, Washington.
Yes, we were fighting mock battles with troops on their way home from Vietnam. They were just waiting to go home. They were jumping out of trees behind me and I thought “How am I going to get through this,” you know. So I got over there and they put me to work as a clerk. I was worried because I was listed as a clerk and Artillery. I was afraid they would put me in Artillery. We were poorly trained, I can tell you that much. They never put us on a helicopter. If you go over there for artillery they put you on a helicopter. I was scared to death to go on a helicopter, to be honest with you. At least get me used to it because I never had to do it.
There was an Intelligence Unit out there and the worst duty I had was guard duty on the perimeter. There were machine guns out there and everything like that. Nothing happened while I was there. It wasn’t always safe there they had been attached. There were Vietcong there outside the wire. But at the bunker it was pretty scary out there at night. Sometimes you could see the bombing out front, helicopters shooting, or snipers out there shooting, but nothing happened.
I was there for six months and I requested to go home on emergency leave because my brother was bad again. So they gave it to me, so I went home. It was so weird going home. It was 100 degrees over there and back here it was wintertime. Let me know if I am talking too much because I could go on and on.
This is good – it is your memory of wartime.
I have thought about it so many times. I came home for an emergency to do family therapy. It was awful. It was ridiculous. My brother tried suicide three times and they are talking about all this ridiculous stuff. After a couple of times, two or three times, I said I’m not doing this anymore. My father thanked me afterward because he wanted to stop too but he was afraid to.
Then I got the orders to go back to Vietnam. I was home for 30 days when I got the orders to go back. I was at Fort Dix and I was waiting in line to get on the bus to go to Ft. McGuire when I heard my name announced on the loudspeaker “Specialist Dagney, report to the board room right now. “ So I go there and they say, “You’re not going.” I said, “What!” They said you’re not going, you’re staying here.” “I’m staying here?” Yes, we have and order from Senator Schweitzer that you are to go home. My mother had contacted him, my little mom, had called his office and said “Would you please stop him from going over there he needs to be home.” So he put a halt on my orders. I had to go down to the Pentagon to plead my case. Well, of course, my case was not going to work because I had quit the therapy. If I had stayed in the therapy it might have worked but it never occurred to me that I couldn’t go home. “You were in therapy and you quit!” Oh sh.. Nonetheless I was really angry because I want to stay home. I was really comfortable.
At that point I was at war with the Army, I was. That’s a war you can’t win. You can’t win a war with the Army. I came home and then I had to go back to Fort. Dix to leave while I was waiting they put you on what they call a holding company. This holding company – the guys in there were the biggest bunch of crooks, the worst of the worst were in this holding company because they were all trying to get out of going to Vietnam. They were troublemakers. I was there for about a month with these guys and I went AWOL twice when I was down there. Fort Dix was an open base. I could just walk out get on a bus and go home. I got caught once and got punished. They gave me a job cutting up ID cards. When you get discharged you have to give up your cards, you weren’t allowed to keep them. So I was there cutting them up. In fact, I came across Jimmy McFarland’s card, he had just gotten out.
I got friendly with the clerk there and he said your orders are coming down either Friday or Monday. I said can you make it Monday? He said yes, why. I said I’m going home. He said, but if you’re not back here Monday… I said “I’ll be back on Monday. “ So I came back on Sunday night. I was upstairs in bed at 5 o’clock in the morning and I heard him say, “Where’s Dagney? He’s supposed to be on KP this week.” Well I was supposed to be going to Vietnam, what is he talking about KP duty? So I went out. One of the Sergeants said where you are going. I said I’m going for a walk. A walk? What are you doing? I went over to the snack bar for breakfast and to get my orders. He gives me the orders. I go back to the barracks to sign out. The guy there looks at the orders and says, “Your Dagney?” “Yes.” He says, “The Sargent really wants to see you.” “For what?” “To go to KP. You know you were AWOL.”
So I walked in and the Sargent was the nastiest looking person you would ever want to see. “We know you were AWOL. That’s Article 15. And we know you were AWOL this weekend.” “What? I was there.” “What do you mean you were there?” “You didn’t see me – I was there!” He is cursing, so pissed off with me, really angry. “This time you’re going to the Stockade.” “No, I’m not!” “What do you mean you’re not going?” “I’m going to Vietnam.” “So I showed him my orders.” “Get the f… out of here and if I ever see you again I will tear you apart.” He was in a fury. They give you all your records because you’re traveling. I saw where they fined me a month’s pay. I threw it in the trash can – “I’m not paying that.” And I didn’t and they never found out that I didn’t. After it was over it hit me – what did I do? Was I crazy? I must have been nuts. He could have put me in the stockade, beat the s… out of me, but he didn’t. I don’t know why he didn’t. He was so mad at me he just put me out. There the kinds of things. I wasn’t in combat but these kinds of things.
Did you go back to Vietnam?
Yes, I went back to Vietnam for four months, I guess. While I was there we had a Master Sargent. He was awful and he kept threatening to send me to place called Nui Ba Den. It was the most dangerous place in Vietnam on the Cambodian border. They called it Black Virgin Mountain where the Army had artillery on the top, infantry on the bottom and Vietcong in the middle. They could not get rid of them. They bombed and bombed. They did everything they could but they would go into caves. They tried to destroy that place. They wanted to send me there. This one guy I worked with his name was Raul. He told me that’s a warning. You better stop. We just laughed. We didn’t take it seriously. No big deal. You had to get your rifle out to walk around the base on guard duty. So you get your rifle out and there was a whole box of grenades. Years later I thought about that. They make you sign the rifles out but there is a whole box of grenades. Nobody ever counts. I never counted them. Amazing! That’s how screwed up the Army was. It’s amazing how screwed up they were. Finally, I wound up getting an early out. I was supposed to go in June 1970. Because Nixon got us out in May, 1970.
Did you see combat?
No. I didn’t see combat. I was a Perimeter Guard. You could see the Infantry would be out there right in front of us. Once in a while you could see them shooting at somebody. You could feel the mountain shaking. In the pouring rain you couldn’t see a thing – it was just pouring rain. They would shoot up a flare. All that would do was to make the rain lighter. You were supposed to know when the bunker next to you was going to shoot off a flare because it scared the hell out of you. (Imitates flare noise) “Oh what was that?” Why didn’t you tell us you were going to do that? Then we started laughing. I was hysterical like the three stooges!
So you did leave Vietnam then?
Yes, I went out with another guy. We smoked marijuana. Everyone did. You needed a release from the tension. It was rampant over there. (Noise from generator next door.)
I was as calm and composed as I have ever been in my life. I could have sat there as calm as can be. We smoked all the way home. By the time I got there we almost missed our flight back. We got off at Okinawa.
When you came home from Vietnam, were you employed then?
Not for three months. We had money because we were paid but there was nothing to spend it on over there. So we lived off the money we had saved. I went back home and finally got a job at the State Building, trying to get jobs for people collecting unemployment compensation. I quit there and went to Ireland.
What year was this?
The first year I went was 1972. I went over there with Mike Daily from Indian Queen Lane. We were in Dublin in a pub when we got connected with these young people. They told us about a place in Ballykellings. We could go down there and stay for free. It was a farm, a flophouse, an Irish “safe” house was what it was. We didn’t know that. The guy who owned it was McMurphy. He used to talk about IRA. That place was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. It was right near the bay. You walk 50 yards to the bay and the mountains. So I thought this was great – it was really beautiful.
I went back there in the summer of 1973. I wanted to go back. My mother said, “Why are you going back there?” “I don’t know but for some reason I have to go back there. I have to do something there but I don’t know what it is.” Surprising my mother said “OK, you’ve got to do this.”
I went back and stayed there for about four months but I was running out of money. While I was there I met James McCann. James McCann was a drug dealer and gun runner for the Irish Republican Army. He had escaped from the Crumlin Road Jail in Belfast in 1991. So he was a wanted man. He was the IRAs main gun supplier. This was an IRA safe house. Everyone who came to that place they wound up staying there. So there were ten or twelve people there all the time. He found out I was low on money and trying to figure out what to do. So he said do you want to go home? I wasn’t ready to go home. Well, how would you like to make a few thousand bucks? Well he wanted me to go to Belfast. Go through the lines there and deliver the information and then come back.
This sounds worse than Vietnam.
It was. I was in more trouble there than anywhere. I thought about doing it. Actually I went up there in 1992. I went there on a bus. Soldiers got on the bus with arms. Fortunately, I had a romantic relationship with a woman, Madelaine. I told her what was going on. She said, “You’re not going to do it.” She said they are probably using these arms against civilians. Do you want to be a part of that?” I said “No, but what am I going to do?’ She said, “Go home!” I said, “Alright.” But I had to go and tell McCann that I wasn’t going to do it. When I got there he said, “We’re going now.” I said, “No.” “What do you mean?” “I don’t want to.” He was angry. I guess because of what I went through in the Army, I wasn’t afraid of him. I just wasn’t. If he tried to do anything to me there were all kinds of bottles around there, I would just break a bottle on him. He stormed off. “When are you leaving anyway,” he asked. “I’ll leave when I’m ready” – so I stayed another week. So his brother was there and said where are you going. I said, “Dublin.” So his brother said “Well get up, we’re going.”
I guess from growing up, being in the Army, I guess I had a poker face. I got right up and said, “Let’s go.” We got into this little car. It was the most harrowing ride. About 250 miles to Dublin. We are riding on these roads and he’s talking the whole time. At least we didn’t stop on any deserted beach. Anyway, we get to Dublin and he said “Where are you going to stay?” “I don’t know.” “Well I have a cousin here, you can stay with my cousin.” I had to go along with everything he said. I couldn’t say no. I had to do what he said. There was a young guy there about 20 years old. I slept on his couch. The next morning I said I would pay him. He said no. I said “Well I’m going to take off.”” Where are you going? I’ll come with you.” ‘No.” This guy was going to keep an eye on me.
Now, I was in fantastic physical condition. So I said let’s go. I had a back pack and I walked and walked and walked until finally he said “I can’t go anymore.” He sat down on a bench. I found a bed and breakfast. The next morning I didn’t know where to go. Madelaine had said “Why don’t you come to London. You could work on the docks there.” So I really loved Madelaine. When I was in Ballykellings there was a guy there who said you could go to France and pick grapes. So I was trying to figure out where to go.
I was walking in downtown Dublin when a car pulls up and a guy gets out. His name was Paddy. I don’t remember his last name. This guy was a bank robber. He was. He gets out of the car and starts shaking my hand, “Hey, how are you doing?” like we are old buddies. He said “What are you doing now?” In that instant, I made up my mind. “I’m going to France to pick grapes.” If I had said I was going to London, he would put me in that car and made sure I went. So now I had to go to France. It was ridiculous. I couldn’t speak French. What did I get myself into? I found out you had to go down to Rosslare to get the ferry to LaHarve. I thought what am I going to do when I get to LaHarve?
All of a sudden a calming sensation came over me. I see this guy on the ferry wearing an Army jungle fatigue shirtso I said “”Where did you get the shirt?” “I got it in Dublin.” “Oh sure, they sell them there” I said “Where are you going?” “I going to pick grapes.” “Do you speak French?” “A little bit.” “Do you mind if I come along with you?” He said “Sure.” I was so glad because when you get off the boat a LaHarve it is this huge place. We managed to get a train to Paris, a train to Lyon, and we went to the employment house. If you want to pick grapes you go there. So I picked grapes there for several weeks until I had enough money to go home.
I came to New York and found the best way to get home was by limo. It cost $25.00. The limo was better than a plane or train. I knew that from before. He left me off at City Line Avenue. That’s as far as he would take me for the money I gave him. I called my father. The dime I put in the phone (in those days,) it was the last coin I had. Totally broke, my hair was down to my shoulders, I had a long beard and my hands were stained with grape stains, my shoes were falling apart – my father said “Jeez, what happened to my son?” I never told my father what happened there. My mother found out years later.
We are going to stop here – we only do an hour at a time.
East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Godfrey Frederick Ford (“Fred”) (FF)
Interviewers: Wendy Moody (WM) and Ellen Sheehan (ES)
Date of Interview: February 20, 2020
Transcriber: Wendy Moody
WM: It’s February 20, 2020. Ellen Sheehan and Wendy Moody of the East Falls Historical Society are doing an oral history interview with Godfrey Frederick Ford.
Thank you, Fred. Thank you for coming – we’re very excited to hear your memories of East Falls. Just as a preface to the interview, we will say that Fred’s grandfather, who we will refer to as “Daddy,” was the chauffeur and employee of the Kelly family so most of his memories will focus on that era.
So why don’t we begin by you telling us when and where you were born.
FF:Well I was born in Salisbury, Maryland in 1947. I was born in a doctor’s house because my grandfather and my grandmother sent my mother to a boarding house when she became pregnant with me and after I was born, that’s when I came back to Philadelphia. I was three days old. I lived in South Philadelphia with “Daddy” (ed. note: Fred’s grandfather), my grandmother, my mother and myself living in the house. All my years my grandfather was already working for Mr. Kelly when I was born, so naturally my whole youth growing up I was affiliated with Daddy and the family and Mr. and Mrs. Kelly.
WM: Can you tell us, just for the recording, the name of your mother and the name of your grandparents?
FF: My mother was Ethel Ford and she later married, and her name was Ethel Ford Groves, but her maiden name was Ethel Ford.
WM: And your grandparents?
FF: Nellie Ford and Godfrey Ford.
WM: So let’s begin by talking about your grandfather. Do you know what year he was born?
FF: No I don’t.
FF: No I don’t. Oh my Lord, I should know but I don’t remember.
WM: Do you know how he happened to be employed by the Kellys?
FF: I only know through what my mother had explained to me. Daddy worked for Kelly for Brickwork – he was a bricklayer – a stone mason. And my understanding how Mr. Kelly and Daddy met – and this was years ago – I do remember Daddy and my mother explaining to me how he ended up at the house at 3901 Henry Avenue. They were so close. And one day Mr. Kelly went down to the yard in South Philadelphia and said “Where’s Ford?” and none of the workers could tell him where he was. He said “Well not one of you are going to work until you find him.” So my grandfather – I guess he was a bootlegger at the time – he was just trying to make money. He was very, very creative in ways of trying to survive (laughter). I guess that was around the Depression; I don’t remember. But when the people down in the yard found my grandfather – I don’t know what he was doing – but Mr. Kelly says “Ford, you come up to the house. I want you to watch over the kids. You come to the house with me.” And he said “Ok.” And that’s how the two of them came to 3901 Henry Avenue.
WM: Did he live there?
FF: No, he didn’t live there. He lived in South Philadelphia and commuted every day to work.
Yeah, but after my grandfather and grandmother…. for some oddball reason, they didn’t stay together. He moved up to 47th and Brown into an apartment. But basically, he would stay sometimes at the house, but mostly he would just commute back and forth. And as I was growing up, he would come down to the house, but after I got to be a little bit older, he would just stay at 47th and Brown and he would just commute between 3901 Henry Ave to his place.
WM: So his jobs were – he was a chauffeur and he watched the children?
FF: Yes. He watched the children and, from what my mother told me, when they were all kids – Gracie and Kell and Lizanne and my mother - they would play together. Because Daddy would bring mom to the house so they all grew up together. And of course when I came along, they would bring me up to the house.
WM: What was the personality of your grandfather?
FF: (Sigh). Wendy, he was larger than life to me. He really was. The laughter that he had – he would laugh so much, but he was very serious, because he would always tell me, “Son, you’re a Ford and you can make it.” And him and Mr. Kelly used to tell me that all the time. I didn’t know - I was so young. I’d say “Ok, Daddy, ok.” He’d say “You’re a Ford and you can do anything that you want to do.” And he had different sayings – he would say “Just like cornbread is not greasy, life isn’t easy. But you can make it.” (laughter). He always had these sayings.
WM: I can see why Mr. Kelly wanted him in the house.
FF: And he was just larger than life to me. And at the time, being a little boy, I would kind of look at him a little weird sometimes. But it’s just that the love - he loved me so much, just like I loved him. But when you’re young, you just don’t understand it. And he would work so hard. Oh Wendy, he would work so hard.
ES: Would you come with him to his work? Were you there?
FF: Hm hm.
WM: So tell us about your association with the Kellys.
FF: Of course before Mr. Kelly passed away – again, he would give me a dollar for every A on my report card – he was very interested in education. And he said “Fred be sure you stay in school.”
And he and daddy would talk all the time – they were close friends. Though dad worked for him, they got to be such good friends. And God only knows, the two of them went to the grave with secrets. They were just so close. But I remember, when I was in school, Mr. Kelly would always tell me “Be sure you stay in school. Make sure. You can do anything you want to do.”
Maybe it’s because back in those days, I guess life was just hard for everybody. He used to always tell me that.
ES: Did you work at the house alongside your grandfather?
FF: Yeah, I did. On weekends and during the summer.
WM: What did you do?
FF: Oh, cut the lawn. Everything. I cut the lawn. I cleaned the house. I would do everything – anything that needed to be done. Wash the windows
WM: What was Mr. Kelly’s personality like? What do you remember, besides that he inspired you to stay in school?
FF: He was the type of person who was very jovial. Very jovial. He would tell jokes, sing a lot. That voice! Sometimes he would sing, but he had these sayings that I just told you about. But he would read the paper all the time. But he would always tell me, “Fred, don’t get angry; just get even.” I didn’t know what all that meant.
WM: Are you talking now about Daddy or Mr. Kelly?
WM: Oh, I was asking about Mr. Kelly.
FF: Oh Mr. Kelly! I’m sorry. His personality. From what I can remember, he’s a BIG man. From what I can remember he was very, very, very proper, if I want to put it that way, just like Mrs. Kelly was, very proper. But he was jovial. To me, he had a booming voice. And he would talk to me and my grandfather “Ford!” and the two of them would talk.
But from what I can remember, he wasn’t there a lot, because he was always working, always in business. But he was very graceful, as far as I’m concerned. He would, again, like I said, I would look at him as Mr. Kelly, with a lot of respect. But he was down-to-earth as well. He would talk to me.
WM: Can you tell us – maybe go through each member of the family, and give your impression of Mrs. Kelly and each of the children?
FF:Well, Mrs. Kelly, again, I can hear her voice, and Peggy’s voice are the two voices still in my mind. “Ford!” – sometimes they would call him George – I didn’t know if George was short for Godfrey – I didn’t know what that was - but she would say “Ford!” every time that she would call him, and the two of them would just talk. But Mrs. Kelly – I really got to know her better when Mr. Kelly passed away - because the kids were gone and Mr. Kelly had passed away. And I remember her telling me “Freddie, as long as Fordie wants a place to go, I’m going to keep this house. I’m going to keep this home.” They were extremely close as well. But Mrs. Kelly was not as close as Pop Kelly was.
WM: I heard she was very beautiful.
FF: Mrs. Kelly was. She was very attractive, but after she got older, naturally, she aged.
ES: What about her garden?
FF: The garden (sigh). Daddy would force me to work in that garden.
WM: Where was the garden behind the house?
FF: Yeah, as you come up the driveway, you see the three car garage, and off to the left – there was a little small walkway off to the back and – you know the back of the house – the alleyway? It was just on this side of the hedges in the back of the house. And it was a nice size garden…
WM: Flowers and vegetables?
FF: No, just vegetables. It wasn’t flowers. It was just all vegetables. It was corn, it was lettuce, it was onions, it was wax beans and string beans. There was so much that they grew in that garden.
ES: Did Mrs. Kelly actually tend this garden?
FF: She didn’t tend it that I know of. There were a couple of times we went out there together – she would cut heads of lettuce and things of that nature because she would take them with her when she went down to Ocean City. But I think for the most part Daddy would take care of the garden. I hated weeding. I did not like pulling weeds.
ES: Did she have an herb garden?
FF: No it was just all vegetables - you name it, he grew it. What I mostly remember is the corn because of the bugs. The corn and the tomatoes – oh, so many tomatoes! We had all kinds of vegetables.
ES: So you helped with it.
WM: Can you describe the four children?
FF: I knew Peggy – like I said, I was younger than them. I knew Peggy; I knew Lizanne. I didn’t know them that well. I knew Peggy the most because she lived on School House Lane and would come over to the house often. And even Daddy knew her best, I guess. Well he knew all the kids, but in my remembrance, he talked to Peggy mostly because she would come to the house all the time.
ES: And did you go to her house?
FF: Hm, hm - to cut the lawn. We would cut the lawn, but I wouldn’t go there as often because most of the work that I would do was at the house. I remember a couple of time – her property was huge!
I remember cutting it maybe once or twice but that was it because most of the work I did was here at the house.
WM: So at this time the girls were all grown up and you were a child.
ES: Tell us about the pool.
FF: One day, because Peggy was so close, and this is why I wanted to get in touch with Peggy, because she inspired me as well. You know, she would always talk to me. I remember one particular day – it was so hot – and she was saying “Fordie, come over to the house and tell Freddie to bring his swimming trunks.” So I took my swimming trunks with me and I said “Daddy, why?” and he said “Just come with me.” I went over to School House Lane and at that time – I don’t know when it was – but I do remember that they got into - not an argument, but it was like a debate.
WM: She and Daddy.
FF: Peggy and Daddy, yes. And I remember her saying “Fordie, if anybody has anything to say, they have to come to me.” So I guess it was an issue – Daddy must have asked her about Fred swimming in the pool because back in those times, there might have been some issues. She was very stern – she said “Fordie! If anybody has anything to say about Freddie in a pool, they’ll have to deal with me”. And I was young. I didn’t understand the relationships between African-Americans and whites – I didn’t understand all this stuff – but I’ll tell you, throughout the years, that helped mebecause I didn’t know.
I don’t remember if I actually went swimming or not – I don’t remember, but I do remember that conversation. And she was very, very upset – she was very stern about it.
WM: So describe the other children – what you remember…
FF: I remember Kell. I don’t remember him that good, as I remember Peggy. But again, they were all gone – they were working, and going to school or what have you. The only people in the house after Mr. Kelly passed away was Mom Kelly and Daddy.
WM: Did you ever meet Grace?
FF: I met her once. Just like the pictures that you see – when she came to Philadelphia, I remember the motorcade. I remember the police and the park guards and things of that nature. But I met her once or twice.
WM: Is this when she came for a funeral or for a wedding?
FF: No this is when she came – they were married and lived in Monaco so when I met her, she and Prince Ranier came to the house, and that’s when I met her. Daddy introduced me to her and, like I said, as kids growing up, my mother knew her as well, but when I got of age to really know what was going on, she had already been married. I think they got married in 1956.
WM: So what were your impressions of Grace and Ranier?
FF: I remember meeting him once but – I just thought they were stars, you know. They were just huge. I was in awe meeting them, but this was only once or twice that I met them.
WM: Did Daddy have any memories of him?
FF: Oh yes! Well you see all the cards (ed. note: Mr. Ford brought postcards written by Grace to Fordie) – because he basically help raise them – all the kids. There were articles in the paper – I’ll show them to you, but I left them at home. But there were articles in the paper about that Gracie and Daddy were very close. And Dad told me “Fred, you know what – I was talking to Gracie, and I met Ranier and I told her…” He wasn’t too fond of him at first, but then he got to know them and everything was fine. I believe I met him once but I can’t remember, but I saw Gracie twice when she came up to the house. That’s the only memories that I knew of, other than he (Daddy) would talk about them all the time.
WM: Can you remember any stories he told you about the family?
FF: There were so many. There were so many, because he would talk about them all the time. You could tell the love that he had for all the kids, especially for Kell and Gracie and Peggy. Because every time he would talk about them, his face would just light up. But he was closest to Mr. Kelly. As a matter of fact, as I was telling you the other day, when he passed away, we really didn’t know how long Dad was going to last.
You know how you break an arm and it mends, or you break a leg and it mends, but Dad had a broken heart. And they were so close, and he took that so hard, so hard, and it’s just that we really didn’t know how long he was gonna last. They were so close and such good friends. But as far as the kids were concerned, after Mr. Kelly passed, he would take me down to Cherry Street – that’s where Kell was at – and I would speak to him every now and then. And he went out to Ardmore to see Lizanne, and they would just call me Freddie because I was Fordie’s grandson. And everywhere he went, I went, whether I wanted to or not. But I didn’t realize how much he wanted me around him, and after I got older, I wanted to be around him. So every place he went, I went, you know. And even when my mother was coming up with him, everywhere he went she went with him, especially when – because Mr. Kelly was the Fairmount Park Commissioner – and they would go in the Park and they would salute the car, and mom would tell me that was such a big thing. And even when I would go around East Falls with him, he would honk the horn “Hey Fordie, how are you!”
WM: Everyone knew him.
FF: didn’t know that! I said, “Dad, you know these people?” He’d say, “Yeah, son, yeah I know them” and he would keep going. And, again, every time he would introduce me to somebody, he would tell me, “Tell them your full name” “I’m Godfrey Frederick Ford”
WM: Sounds like he was very proud of you. Can you describe the house to us?
FF: Yes, the house. And that’s where my fondest memories are. I was telling you, when the house was sold, and I heard what happened – someone had bought the house and they just didn’t treat the house that well. The house, to me, what very gracious, I’ll put it that way. Because, again, I’d do everything in the house – I would cut the lawn, I would clean the windows, I would vacuum - even downstairs in the cellar. My favorite place was down in the cellar.
WM: We’ve seen that. Can you describe it for the recording?
FF: Oh sure. When you came into the back door, and of course the refrigerator was there, and then you’d make a left, then of course the kitchen, and you kept going – the phone closet was off to the right and the powder room was off to the left – and they had a grandfather clock off to the side. Right beyond that grandfather clock, you just kept straight and there were steps going down to the basement. The wooden walls, and the wooden steps – and I had to sweep those steps down, and we would wipe the bannisters and things of that nature. And I just loved that cellar.
WM: A lot of brickwork down there.
FF: Yeah. There was a lot of brickwork, a lot of wood. And the bar. They had the swinging doors and sometimes I’d go back and forth through them doors and Daddy would say “Son, stop doing that!” because I’d love to see them swing (laughter). And he had the wine room.
But I would clean the counter – we would clean the whole house because that’s what Daddy wanted me to do and I did whatever he told me to do. I loved going down there, but my favorite place in the house was the sun room. Now when you come up the steps and go down the hall and then you make a left turn into the living room and the piano was there – she had a grand piano.
WM: Did she! Who played the piano?
FF: I guess the kids were playing. I never heard anyone play.
WM: But go ahead – you were heading to the sun room...
FF: I was heading to the sunroom. But on top of the piano was Gracie’s and Prince Ranier’s picture.
I would shine the pictures off and go past the piano, and I would go into the sun room and Mrs. Kelly had – they traveled so much – they had these elephants there; they had all kinds of vases there – things that she had collected. I remember sitting there talking to her, and she was more or less down-to-earth as well because I was surprised how much she loved Daddy – she would tell me about it – and we would just talk all the time. She basically had an interest – it wasn’t just being nice; she really wanted to know what was going on in my life and how I was doing in school. So after I got to know her and talk to her, it was just so funny – Gussie, her dog, her poodle - I think it was a snob – she went everywhere with her dog.
ES: What kind of dog?
FF: A poodle
WM: A miniature or…
FF: It was a regular poodle and its name was Gussie. And we would just talk, and Gussie would just sit next to her and everywhere she went, he went.
WM: Now upstairs - I know Kell’s room was in the back, in the middle.
FF: No. When you went up to the second floor, Mr. Kelly’s room was off to – no, no – Mrs. Kelly’s room was off to the right – so you walked to the second floor, her room was off to the right and his room was off to the left.
WM: Were the children on that floor too?
FF: The children were in the attic upstairs.
WM: All of them?
FF: All of them that I know of.
WM: Do you know which were in which rooms? Because there’s been some debate about which room Grace was in. Do you remember?
FF: No I don’t. I don’t remember. I know that it was Mrs. Kelly’s and Mr. Kelly’s (second floor), and then you’d go in the hall up the steps to the attic – the bedrooms were up there. But I don’t know which ones they were. I don’t remember that. But again, I used to clean the house and Dad used to say, “Son, you got to do the windows.” “Ok.” “It’s time to vacuum” “Ok.” “It’s time to wipe the bannister down.” “Ok.” And then he would cut lawns on other people’s properties. Out at the tennis court in the back, he had a little shed – sorry for jumping around – but he had a little shed in the back where he had a riding machine and I thought that was the coolest thing because I used to ride the machine around to wherever lawn he had to cut.
WM: Do you remember any of the neighbors whose lawns you cut?
FF: No, I don’t, because Daddy dealt with them – he would just tell me: “Son, cut this lawn here” and he would deal with them. But I do remember distinctly about Mr. Connie Mack.
FF: Mr. Connie Mack lived – and he said “Hi Fordie!” – and he would sit out in his chair under his tree – now this was during the summer when I was out of school, I would be up here – I stayed up here during the summer.
WM: I thought he lived in Mt. Airy – there’s a plaque there… where was he in East Falls?
ES: He lived in East Falls on Netherfield. He used to go to church at St. Bridget.
FF: So Daddy would say “You want to meet Mr. Connie Mack? I said “Who’s he?” And I said “Yeah Daddy” and we talked a little bit, and after I met him, every day that I’d be cutting lawns, Mr. Connie Mack would sit in his chair under his tree out on his front lawn, and I’d say “Hi Mr. Connie Mack!” and he’d say “Hi Fordie!” Like I say, everybody knew him.
WM: Which house on Netherfied?
ES: I’m not sure which house (Ed. Note: We learned later that Earle McGillicuddy, Connie’s son, lived at 3938 Netherfield Road), but he would go to the 10 o’clock masses at St. Bridget. He had a car - his chauffeur would wait for him – it had double bats on the sides, and the kids would stand there to get his autograph.
WM: So do you remember a dollhouse? There were stories of a big dollhouse that had a real stove in it – somewhere in the backyard?
FF: I don’t remember it. Maybe it was gone, but I’m pretty sure it was there because Mr. Kelly – they bought everything for these kids. And of course we benefited from it too. I heard something about a dollhouse but I don’t remember it – it was gone because, again, my time up at the house was, I guess, well I was up here all the time, but Mr. Kelly passed away in 1960, 1959 or 60.
WM: How old was he?
ES: How old was he when he passed? I don’t know.
FF: I don’t know either.
WM: So your mother played with the Kelly kids? Do you remember anything that she told you?
FF: No, I really don’t. She would just say she went over and played with them. Daddy told me he would bring her up and they would play together and she would stay up at the house, sleep or whatever, but I don’t remember that much. I’m sorry. I just don’t.
But I do remember he would just tell me stories and his face would just light up about the kids. And they would all come to him “Fordie” He said “Yeah, Freddie, son, I would give advice, just like I’m giving you advice.” “Ok, ok.” But it went in one ear and out the other.”
ES: Did you run into any of the children later on? Like Kell, meeting up with him later on?
FF: Well, I know that - remember I was telling you, Ellen, that Daddy always told me “Son, stay in touch with the family.” Because he loved them so much. “Stay in touch with them.” “Ok Dad, I will.” And when I was overseas during Vietnam – first, I told Daddy that when I became 17 that I was going to enlist in the Air Force because Vietnam - they were drafting so many – and I said I didn’t want to be drafted. He didn’t like that idea but he understood.
WM: That’s how you became a pilot?
FF: Yes, well when I enlisted in the Air Force I was 17 so my mother had to sign me in. I said “Mom, I’m out of high school now. If I turn 18, I’m going to be drafted.”
But growing up I would always make these model airplanes – Daddy would buy me model airplanes and my mother would, and I just wanted to fly; ever since I can remember I wanted to fly. So when I went into the Air Force I was the jet engine mechanic on the B52 bombers.
And I would write Mrs. Kelly, write Ma Kelly, or write Daddy, and a couple of times I believe I wrote Peggy because I was closest to her, but I can’t remember. I have letters but I don’t know where they’re at now. But I do remember I used to always think about what Mr. Kelly would tell me and what daddy would tell me: “You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it” and that stuck with me.
And this is why I wanted to talk to J.B. (Kelly) because I really believe they helped shape my life. And so when I became a jet engine mechanic, and I went overseas and I used to run up the aircraft. This colonel took a liking to me, and he said “Freddie, you can fly as well. You could learn to fly.” So I was in California at the time, at March Air Force Base where they have all the people with the disease now.
FF: So on the weekend I started studying and learning how to fly. I got my pilots license out in California and I told them about it and they were so proud of me.
WM: So Ellen was asking if you kept up with Kell …
FF: Yeah, I’m getting to it. – I know I get to talking badly….When I got out of the service, the weirdest thing is that I was discharged from the Air Force on the 25 February 1969. Daddy passed 25 February 1969. And I came home for the funeral and I was talking to Mrs. Kelly and we were all upset. Naturally.
WM: Do you know how old he was?
FF: No I don’t. So Mrs. Kelly gave me her car because they would buy cars with Daddy. Then I went back to California and finished flight school. So I came back to Philadelphia, I would fly out of Wings Field out in Ambler and I started trying to be an air traffic controller because they were hiring at the time. So I said “Well, I’ll go both routes – I’ll be a pilot or… “
And I was lucky to be hired as an air traffic controller in 1974. So now I’m getting to it… in 1981 we were all fired – remember the air traffic controllers?
WM & ES: Yes.
FF: And I was always taught – even in the military – you don’t turn your back on, you know, so we were all fired together – the President (Reagan) fired 11,400 of us. So I was desperate at the time because you’re overqualified to get any other kind of job so I reached out and I went to – and I thought the controllers – they’re gonna hire me back, but things got pretty bad, so I remember going to Cherry Street to Kell and, as I told you, he had a few choice words for me but he was right…
WM: Are you sharing them??
FF: Not all of them, but basically he was upset with me. “Freddie, you landed a dream job and you’re going to go on strike with the union?” And I tried to explain, but he didn’t want to hear it; he didn’t want to hear it. And I remember getting in touch with Peggy, but I can’t remember – yes, I do remember – I went down to talk to Peggy and this was in 1981 and she’s the one who told me to go to talk to Kell.
WM: You wanted to talk to them to see if you could get a job?
FF: Yes. Yes. But it didn’t work out. But, hindsight, that was the best thing that could have happened. Because Daddy always told me “You can make it; you can make it.” So I started doing odd jobs and started doing things, because we all thought we were going to go back - the President can’t fire the whole work force! But it didn’t work out that way.
WM: Did you ever go back?
FF: Not as a controller, no. But what happened was, down at the Navy Yard they were hiring for apprentices, and President Reagan had said - and President Ford - that they wanted the controllers back, but he said “Oh no, we’re not going to let them back” so President Reagan said “Well if they can get sponsored by someone within the government, then they’re allowed to come back.”
There was lady down in H.R. down at the Navy Yard – she felt sorry for me after I told her the story – because they knew it was politics. So she said, “Listen Freddie, I’ll sponsor you.” And it took about three years for them, I guess, to clear me – they wanted to know if I was a troublemaker – you know how that was; it was all politics. And I was cleared for the Department of Navy. And this is when I took the letter they had sent me and went up to the Navy depot up in the northeast and showed them that and I was hired.
But in the meantime, I had talked to Peggy about it, and she was pleased that I was hired. And I kind of lost contact because I was so busy trying to…and, like I said, a lot of years passed. Then I heard that Liz had passed, and then when Kell died of the heart attack – he was running down here on Kelly drive – I came up to McIlvaine (ed. Note: McIlvaine Funeral Home) and that’s when I saw them and we talked briefly, and that was it.
So after that, like I said, life goes on. I was married in 1974, and my son was born in 1978. I had moved to Baltimore, Maryland to get a promotion, but after I got down to Maryland, I thought I’d rather be in Philadelphia.
WM: So you had no contact since then, since the funeral.
FF: No, not really.
WM: Now you approached us, and we really appreciate this – you’ve kind of told us, but can you tell us why this was so important for you to share this story.
FF: It was important to me, Wendy, because, again, hindsight. God has been good to me and my family, but it was an inspiration from Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, and Peggy as well, and my grandfather. So after all these years, I became supervisor at work and I had people under me, and then my son was asking me “Well dad, I know mom’s side of the house, but what about your side?” And I said, “Well Jason, you have a great-grandfather named Godfrey Ford” and I started sharing with him. And then he said, “Well you tell me this, but have you ever talked to them?” I said “No. but one day I’m gonna get in touch with them.”
I would read the papers about what was going on with the house and I would laugh and say, I knew them, I knew them. And he (Jason) would say “Well why don’t you ever get in touch with them?” “Jason, I don’t know – they may not remember me.”
So when I retired in 2017 – I’ve been retired for two years, three years, and I thought about it. You know, you have time now to reminisce and think about things. And I said “I’d love to get in touch with J.B. because Mr. Kelly’s gone, Mom Kelly’s gone.” But last time I had talked to Mrs. Kelly, she had sold the house – she was in an apartment – was that on School House Lane?
ES: Alden Park.
FF: Yes. So I went to see her one day – I don’t remember when. But we had talked about Daddy and how close they were and how she missed him – we all missed him. But I said one day I’ll get in touch with him (JB). So I was sitting at home – this is how God works, I’m sitting at home and I told my wife ”Nancy I’m going to go up to the house and see who’s there.” When I heard it was back in the Kelly family – so I’m going to up there and see if anybody’s there – I would love to see the house again. So she said “Freddie I think it’s a museum now.” I said “I don’t know.” So I jumped in the car last week and I came up and the rest is history.
WM: How did you know to contact Ellen?
FF: I went online – Google will tell you anything. So I googled John B. Kelly and Fordie, then I googled Fordie and family and then, lo and behold, something pops up.
WM: The Historical Society?
FF: Yes. Your name (Ellen) came up, so I said “I’ll look this person up, but I’ll still try to get in touch with JB.” And I would google his name and nothing would come up – naturally, you don’t put your phone number… so I said “How am I gonna get in touch with him to tell him how I really feel – felt – about what their parents did for me?” And that’s when your name came up.
And I’m telling you, I was shocked when I saw you. I walked up to the house and I thought “Who lives here?” and I started not to come because – this is not a Society, this is somebody’s house. I’m looking for a building…that’s when I saw you.
WM: We’re so glad you did. Did you ever go to Ocean City? (ed. note: to the Kelly house)
FF: Yes I did.
WM: Can you tell us a little about that?
FF: It was right on the beach.
WM: What was the house like? Did they rent it or own it? Do you know the address?
FF: They owned it. I don’t know the address. All I know is that it was just Ocean City. I went down twice. Of course Mrs. Kelly, she stayed down there mostly. I do know - was it Peggy or Lizanne - one had the second floor - the other had the first floor. I think Mrs. Kelly had the first floor and and I’m not sure if it was Lizanne or Peggy – it must have been Lizanne - somebody had the second floor. But I was in the house once or twice but that’s it. I don’t remember. All I remember is Ocean City, Ocean City - everybody wanted to go to Ocean City. But Mrs. Kelly, she would stay there most of the time. Her and Gussie - off they would go.
WM: Do you remember any impressions of East Falls when you were a kid?
FF: I remember some because daddy bought me a bicycle. And during the summer and on the weekend, I would come up and take the bicycle and ride up Henry Avenue and he would tell me “Son, don’t go too far now.” I would make a right turn at the next light – what’s the next light up here?
WM: School House Lane.
FF: Oh that is School House Lane. So I would make a right, because Peggy lived down there and I would just ride the bicycle all around. In fact, back then, I would catch the A bus and get off at the corner here – is the a bus still running? And like I said, Daddy would say “Fred, after you finish your work you can take your bicycle out.” “Ok Dad.” Am I talking too much?
ES: No, but we usually talk for about an hour.
FF: Oh I’m sorry.
ES: No, it isn’t an hour yet.
FF: And I would ride the bicycle around and it was just a joy to ride around, because I wasn’t in my row home in South Philly, so you just felt free – I would ride the bicycle all over but, most of the time, I just rode it in the tennis court and up and down the back alley.
ES: Do you remember the tennis court in winter?
FF: Yeah, Daddy used to freeze over the tennis court when the kids were growing up so they could ice skate. But after the kids left, he really didn’t do that very much. But the tennis court – I remember the apple trees – the tennis court was full of apples! There were apple trees in the back of the tennis court and I would have to clean those apples up – the worms – there were just so many apples! I would have to clean up the apples. But behind the tennis court – I see there’s a house there now – but behind the tennis court, I used to cut the grass back there and there were trees…
WM: So it was behind the garden – the tennis court?
FF: No. The garage was off to the right – no, to the left; I’m sorry. The tennis court was right behind the garage and they were almost kind of even. But behind the tennis court, there wasn’t too much of a lawn but there were still trees back there. And I used to have to rake up those apples - they were right on this side of the hedge because I used to help Daddy cut the hedges back there. Then off to the right – behind the tennis court - that’s where you had the steps to go down – are those steps still there?
You had the steeps to go down. I remember that.
WM: Did Daddy ever tell you about any famous visitors that came to the house?
FF: No, he never did. There’s one thing – because I think they were kind of a private family – very nice, but private. But Daddy knew so many people.
ES: Tell the story of Mr. Kelly reading the paper.
FF: Yeah, every morning – he had this long, blue - in the breakfast room - you know how you go into the back door - the refrigerator was there? You make a right – the dining room was there, but you have this breakfast room and all the windows – there were jalousie windows – I had to clean them – and there was a long blue breakfast room table – and he would come down and he would have his breakfast – I think Daddy would make him breakfast - but he had this little easel – I call it an easel - where you could fold your paper and set it there and he would read it. He had to have his paper every morning and that’s when sometimes he would talk to me: “Freddie, how you doing?” “I’m doing fine sir.” It was just small talk. Then I would go out in the back. But I remember I was very fond of cars – very fond of cars.
ES: What did you know about Mr. Kelly’s love of cars?
FF: Well he liked heavy cars. He used to buy Daddy – I remember Daddy was so upset because Daddy had a 1958 Buick – a Roadmaster – an all-black car, and I would shine up his car, but Mrs. Kelly had a 1958 Cadillac and Mr. Kelly had a 1960 Cadillac, and I don’t know how Dad acquired it – I don’t know if it was willed to him, or he bought it, but he ended up having that car. And I remember cleaning the cars – I would clean Mrs. Kelly’s car, Mr. Kelly’s car, Daddy’s car, because I was young and I wanted my license so bad.
When I became 16 I got my permit, but I used to drive the car up and down the driveway. I said, “Daddy, can I drive?” and he’d say “No, son, you might go out there on Henry Avenue” so I would go down the driveway, back it up in front of the house, where I would turn – and I remember that. But again, Mrs. Kelly would buy Daddy cars, but they weren’t heavy cars like Mr. Kelly would buy. So he (Daddy) had a 1962 Chevy Nova. Then Mrs. Kelly bought him a Dodge Dart, but it wasn’t like the cars he was used to having. So I would clean those cars. Those are the things I remember. So Mom Kelly would talk to me, and I would talk to her, and I got very comfortable talking to her. And, like I said, we got a little closer after Daddy passed. But I remember her telling us, “As long as Fordie wants, I’ll keep the house here.” And then when he passed away, I knew it wouldn’t be long. I don’t know when she sold the house.
FF: Yeah, because he passed in 1969.
ES: Around then. I know it was sold in ‘74 but I don’t know if that was the first time.
FF: Like I said, I remember going downstairs into the cellar and he had the heater room and the laundry room. I would help Daddy with his shirts and things – the ringer, the washer with the ring – and then he had an iron that he would put his shirts on – it was actually a machine.
WM: A mangle? So were there other people helping in the house, maids or anything, or did Daddy do everything?
FF: Daddy basically did everything, but there were times there were some maids there. I don’t know who they were. Because when Mr. Kelly would have functions at the house, he had people there cooking. Daddy was the chauffeur but he would also – he was in charge! (Laughter) Nobody made a move unless…
When they had functions at the house, I wasn’t there because I was in school. But I do remember every Christmas Eve – every Christmas Eve - he would be in his chauffeur outfit and would come down to the house and one thing I remember – I couldn’t stand it – he would bite my ears. He’d say “Come here son” and I’d say “Daddy, no” and he would say “Come here” and he would just bite this ear and bite this ear. Mrs. Kelly – like I said, when I would come up, she’d just hug me, but I didn’t appreciate it then like I do now. But there was just so much love then. They loved him, and his face would light up every time he’d talk about them. And Pop Kelly – they were the closest, and who knows what they got into but they were so close. And I’d say “Daddy what are you guys doing?” and he’d say “None of your business!” (laughter)
WM: Thank you very much Fred. This will go in our archives and we appreciate you talking to us.
FF: Things happen for a reason, and Ellen, I’m so glad you embraced me the other day. I was on Cloud Nine when I left your house - I was so happy!
WM: We were happy too.
East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Catherine McBeth (CM)
Interviewer: Kathy Woods (KW)
Date of Interview: May 8, 2013
Place: 3409 Penn Street, East Falls
NOTE: When asked her date of birth she said that she does not give out that Information.
KW: You're a three generation Fallser, is that right, Mrs. McBeth?
CM: My grandmother and mother. My grandmother was born in Northern Ireland. Her sister was supposed to come over, and when it was time for her sister to get on the boat, she wouldn't go so my grandmother took her place. My grandmother was fifteen. She had one brother over here who Iived in Arizona, although she came to Philadelphia. I don't know why.
KW: Did she know anyone here?
CM: She really didn't talk much about Ireland. She loved this country so much, she never went back. She had a brother who retired and went back to Ireland. She just said "I just want to stay here."
KW: Do you know what she did when she got here?
CM: She married her husband. But he had appendicitis, and in those days, it was fatal. He died before the fifth child was born. She had four children, and she was having her fifth child and he died. There she was with five children and no assistance in those days. There wasn't anything. So her brother, I never met him, I don't even remember his name, he came here for a year and set her up in a store and stayed for a year to help her get going. And she supported her children.
KW: Did she live in East Falls?
CM: Oh yes, she lived on Sunnyside and the store was right there, and she would give credit. She was very good.
KW: What kind of store?
CM: It was like a store-do you remember like John Young, he lived on Vaux Street. It was like a grocery store. During the depression, she gave credit to everybody. She was a very nice person.
KW: Where was the store?
CM: I don't know. I wasn't living then. I only know what my mother told me. She lived on Sunnyside. I guess it was across the street. I'm not sure. It was the 3400 block of Sunnyside, near the corner of Vaux and Sunnyside.
KW: How long did she have the store? Did you remember it?
CM: No. She raised her children on it.
KW: Tell me about you mother (and her family and education).
CM: Aunt Rose was the oldest, Aunt Helen was second, and my mother was third, and her sister and her brother. She never talked about working in the store. Aunt Rose was old enough to help; she was the oldest. My mother was fifteen when she came, and she got married when she was sixteen. She may have been sixteen or seventeen. I'm not sure when, to tell you the truth. Everybody lived in East Falls and everybody went to St. Bridget's. They all graduated.
KW: And you went to St. Bridget's? That was your parish?
CM: Yes. I graduated from St. Bridget's and went to Hallahan. I went to St. Joseph's for about three courses, but 1 didn't finish. I got married.
KW: How did you meet your husband?
CM: I think we met at a dance.
KW: In East Falls?
CM: No, at Holy Child. Groups went - that's what everybody did. That's where you went.
KW: Was you husband from the neighborhood?
CM: No, he was from over in that direction.
KW: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
CM: Two brothers, no sisters. I was the oldest one. (Brothers?) One was in insurance. They didn't stay in East Falls.
KW: Were they involved in any sports?
CM: I guess ... not like today...not as organized.
KW: What did you like doing growing up?
KW: I hear you used to be able to do a lot of shopping in East Falls. Is that right?
CM: Right—that's true. I was talking to my cousin the other day. She lives in Cape May She should have this interview. She knows more than I do. She's like a year older than me. (We talked about having her interviewed if she comes to visit). She said how about the store on Ridge Avenue?
(CM asks that the tape be stopped when she said what they called the store, which was apparently an ethnic name for Jews). Nobody meant it to be mean. It's just the way it was...he was probably the only one here. It was a goods store, a department store—if you wanted knee socks you'd walk down and get them. It was a long walk from up here. We would walk down there to Ridge Avenue. Clothes, anything.
KW: Your grandmother grew up on Sunnyside. Where did you live?
CM: I lived on Bowman Street first—those houses were just first built. Then to Tilden Street. When I go married, I moved to Center Square in the suburbs. I was the first one in that whole development out there. I remember the first store that opened out there—what's it called? I remember I went to the opening of it. lt was like a big affair. They would have different developments, different items. I liked it. Things were very nice. When my husband died, I moved back to East Falls.
My husband worked for (unintelligible). In fact, he set up the computers when it was just starting.
KW: You raised your kids in the suburbs?
CM: Kevin was in first grade when she moved back to East Falls.
KW: How many children do you have?
CM: I have two-- And my daughter lives in Chicago. She's corning next Monday here on business. She went to school out there—School of Journalism. She met a boy from (unintelligible Italy?). They got married.
KW: What does Kevin do?
CM: He's in sales. He lives in Meadowbrook. He wants to come back. Every time they come for dinner, they look at the houses.
KW: When did you move to this house?
CM: About 25 years ago, I really didn't intend to take it. I always liked this street. A friend of mine lived down the street-- Annie Costello. Her husband rowed with the Kellys. My friend knew the person who lived here and said she was going into a nursing home. She said it was going to be for sale and I should look at it. She said it was in perfect condition, no children, and 1 said okay, I'll look at it. And it was - it was like perfect— like a brand new house. My cousin who is like a sister, said that if I didn't take that house, I was crazy. I've been here for twenty-five years.
KW: What do you like about living in East Falls?
CM: I like everything about East Falls. I grew up here. It's convenient, it's convenient to town. It hasn't changed that much. I'm so used to it here. I like it here.
KW: Were there things you used to do when you were growing up here?
CM: Margaret and I were just talking about that. You know where Netherfield Road is? We used to go to Nosy Brown's house. Did you ever hear of Mosey Brown? He lived there, and he had big apple trees, fruit trees, and everything. We used to go play there, and he'd chase us away. On Netherfield, there were no houses there then. (The little house on Netherfield—"that was Mosey Brown's house").
And across the street—right across the street—was Kelly's place, and we used to go up and play. What is his name, his chauffeur - Ford was the chauffeur—and he would let us play. They had swings. We used to go up there and play. Where else did we play?
Mifflin School wasn't here. What was the name of that house—it was a big house. Mifflin was the name of the man. And I remember where the project is now, the Dobson's (Abbottsford). A mansion was there, and they had picnics. We could go up and have picnics. On the Fourth of July, St. Bridget's would have their parade at Calumet at the school and then march up there to have a picnic.
KW: What was St. Bridget's like?
CM: St Bridget's was big; it was huge. In my second grade, it was so big that they moved us into the convent. There were seventy-some children in my grade. It was very crowded. It was a very big school but very nice. I credit everything 1 have today with St. Bridget's. I remember Sister Alpheus (sp?) and Sister Helen Marie who was the eighth grade teacher. I liked them all. We were lucky to go to a school like that.
KW: Did you have to pay tuition?
KW: How did you get around?
CM: We walked to school. I remember with snow four feet high, walking. Nobody took buses or anything.
KW: Did you ever go out of the neighborhood (shopping, food shopping, etc.)?
CM: We took the train downtown to shop. I remember when the Penn Fruit came. That was the first huge store-- Chelten and Wayne. My father never drove but my oldest bother would drive to Penn Fruit. My father took the trolley or buses, and you didn't think a thing about lt.
I worked in town for years, and I took the train. I was a paralegal. I worked at (Dwayne, White ?). 1 worked for Astin (sp?) Group that was on Henry Avenue. They moved to the suburbs. I was there 22 years. They had companies in Belgium and Canada and Brazil. They were international. I was assistant to the president. They moved to South Carolina. I could have gone, but he died. They consolidated with (?) Down South. That's when I got a job as a paralegal. I did trusts and estates.
KW: Did a lot of women your age work?
CM: Yes. Now they complain about it.
KW: You were talking about some of the places you went to play.
CM: We went swimming at the Kelly's and at the Bathey. We had certain days and times we could use. We went for an hour. I had a best friend, Jane, who lived a block away and my cousin. There were about four or five of us girls. Jane and Jean both died. I stay in touch with some.
KW: Your children's education?
CM: They went to St. Bridget's. My daughter got a mayor's scholarship. Nancy went to St. Joe's after Hallahan. She went to graduate school in Chicago for journalism (Northwestern). She's in business now. She won't come back. She can't leave Chicago. I could live in Chicago—that's another place I could live. It's very nice there.
KW: Social events, activities, clubs?
CM: I belong to the library. I go to a book club up in Roxborough because a friend of mine. I enjoy it. (current book?) I just got it. It's about a bicycle lady. I don't know what it's about. They tell us what to read.
When I left my last job, 1 was a temp and worked part time. Then I applied at Philly U and worked up there for ten years—science and health department. I'm retired now. I'm a member of the Village (i.e. East Falls Village)
KW: How involved with Village?
CM: I volunteer, and I used services. Remember when we had the bad storm? The skylight in the bathroom blew off, still half in there, the glass broke. I was up all night. In the morning, I called the Village and Tom (Sauerman) came and fixed it. He was here in ten minutes. It was in the paper. He asked for my Windex and cleaned. I used it for that, and for my bushes.
KW: Husband? Maiden Name? How long married?
CM: My maiden name was Walten. I was married, what, eight years?
KW: Can you tell me more about the shopping districts in East Falls?
CM: At Vaux Street there was a store, and it sold ribbons and clothes—just small things. If you were going to a birthday party, you went down there and got a birthday present. It wasn't a big place. It was a small place, and she lived on Winona Street. She taught us how to knit in the summer time.
We went grocery shopping at Bowman and Conrad --on 35th Street. There were one or two markets—a meat market, I guess it was. And then there was the English bakery—did you hear about that? It was wonderful. It had great desserts; it was delicious.
KW: Breweries, other services?
CM: Hohenadel's—that's the only one. The doctor I went to was in Roxborough and there was one on Allegheny Avenue that was my father's.
We went to the Alden Theater—that was nice. They shut it down. When we were younger, we went every Saturday. It cost 10 cents. They also had a contest where you could get up and sing. My cousin tap danced. I wanted a pair of shoes with taps on them because she had them. There were afternoon children's shows.
We played on Netherfield a lot. My cousin mentioned the- I read an article in the Fallser—she mentioned the Dobson Estate—where the project is. Did I tell you before? A big mansion, beautiful, and St. Bridget's had the Fourth of July picnic there. Dobson Manor was over where the project is now. It was all grounds. What else was up there? There was another big estate across the street. I've seen a lot of changes. The project was built for the Second World War. In fact, when I was in Hallahan, I worked part time at the Signal Corps, and my boss, Mr. Connor was very nice. I couldn't type at all! The projects was filled for the government worker. It's not like it is now.
KW: Other changes, projects—memories?
CM: I don't remember. There were no projects. I guess nothing was there, and then they built the projects.
KW: Across the river?
CM: Oh, yes—what was that called? We would go. We walked—can you imagine? We'd walk across the bridge. They had a merry-go-round. What was it called—Woods something (note: Woodside Park).
I remember the expressway but 1 didn't pay much attention.
Parking on this street is terrible—two cars to every house. When I first moved here, one lady had two cars down the street. Grace Kelly's godmother lived here. There was a lady who thought she was the mayor of the street. When I first moved here, there were two big pine trees out front. She knocked on my door and said I guess you're going to remove them. I liked her—she was nice--she was just tough. She'd tell you to take care of your house—she was the boss.
A lady across the street from me—she must have been there when the houses were built. She moved to a resort. She got a house and let her grandson use it. And she called me. She would come up every three or four years, and she would come over and check with me to see how the street was doing. She's in a nursing home or retirement home now, but she still checks on the street. The people today don't. When I moved here, I was one of the youngest. They said it was all older people. They said it was like an elephant's graveyard. On this street, this was where we used to go on Halloween. We would trick and trick on this street. It was easy to get in. Halloween was a big event. Are you familiar with (?).
Our library has been here a long time. The Village is wonderful. I tell friends about that and they can't believe it.
(Her cousin is going to visit this summer and could tell me more). Everything we could do. You could ride bikes where you want to go. You didn't have to worry about cars. Where did we go? To Mosey Brown's a lot. To Netherfield—we climbed the trees and get apples. Where the park is—it isn't like it is now. No houses. But East Falls hasn't changed that much though when you think about it. Next door, Ariene, she's in a retirement village, but she raised her son here. She stayed friendly.
KW: You lived on Bowman?
CM: Near Henry, and 3300 block of Bowman and Tilden. The houses are still there. They were very nice—they were bigger than this. They were three bedrooms, but in a way this is bigger downstairs. They were nice.
I'm not a dog or cat person.
KW: When you and Arthur started to date, did you go on any dates in East Falls since he wasn't a Fallser?
CM: No, we went in Center City, got all dressed up. We got married at St. Bridget. He was from Norway. Just his mother came. His father was the Norwegian counsel and he had just retired, and he said he wasn't coming back.
KW: Any other stories?
CM: I used to go to my grandmother's for affairs. She was a wonderful cook. She stayed on Sunnyside. We always wanted to go in town (to movies).
CM: We'd go to for the summer to Avalon. That was nothing in those days. My mother hated the shore. She'd come up during the week all the time, but the kids stayed there I didn't really care for the shore myself. My cousin and my best friend liked it. I’d rather go other places. I've traveled to Spain and all around the United States.