Interviewee: Edith Gotwols (with her daughter Carol Dougherty - CD)
Interviewer: Dave McClenahan
Date: June 24, 2009
So, my name is Dave McClenahan and I’m here talking to Edi Gotwols and her daughter Carol Dougherty. Okay so, Edi, what’s Edi is Edi your name or is it Edith?
Edith? Okay. And your….
Maiden name or original name is…
(Laughs) Oh okay real good stuff. Let’s see, you we were talking about your parents’ names before - who your parents were?
Sara and Joseph
Sara and Joseph. Do you remember Sara’s last name?
Patterson, right her maiden name. And Joseph was?
And they were from…where were they born do you know?
My mother was born in North Ireland. I don’t know about my father - he died when I was a year old.
CD: They say he lived in Belfast.
And your mother where she lived?
Okay…and let’s see now, so they came to this…were they married here or they must have been married over there…
No they were married here.
Okay so you say he died when you were one year old - that must have affected your life. What happened when he died? Did you move somewhere else after?
My mom put my brother Ernie and my sister and I in the Presbyterian Orphanage and I was the youngest child there so my Aunt in New York took me to Woodside, Long Island.
So that’s why you were near Coney Island right? And so Woodside was partway out the Island?
Do you remember how long you were there?
I was there for 5 years and then mother wanted me closer so I came to live with the Johnson’s in East Falls. They were also Presbyterians and I lived there till I married I guess.
CD: And that’s how you got to go to Falls Breck (School).
And the Johnsons lived on Bowman Street?
No, Vaux Street.
What block was that do you remember?
3514 was their number.
Wow, so that was around till Ainslie.
Right Ainslie and Sunnyside.
Between the two, right? So let’s see how long did you live with the Johnsons?
Well I started school in 3rd grade and let’s see I lived with the Johnsons till…
CD: You married Dad.
Yeah right till I married Howard. Howard Conway.
So you originally went to school up in Long Island?
I would have gone to school there, yes, okay, because I started here in 3rdgrade.
And that was at Breck School?
Do you remember any teachers’ names at Breck?
I remember all the ones - Ms. Kaid, Mrs. Wertz, Mrs. Toppen, Ms. Edwards taught math.
So did you like Breck School?
Oh yeah it was okay, it was close to home
So coming out of Breck School, where’d you go to high school?
I went to Germantown High School. But in my teens - did you want this? - I joined the Old Academy.
Well let’s finish high school, because I got a couple questions about how you went to high school.
The Trolley. The 52 Trolley.
Did you switch to the other trolley on 23?
I remember the 52 Trolley going up Midvale.
I remember that too, and the 23 - I used to take that too.
So, did you play sports or anything, or acting in high school?
No I didn’t do any acting there. I was acting in Old Academy.
Okay so tell me about Old Academy.
In my teens I joined Old Academy and, as I enjoyed to be part of the theater, a friend in East Falls had a small part in a show in Olney called the Berkley Players. She had to drop out and her name was Ruth Emmert. She lived in East Falls. And she asked me to do the part. It was there I met Howard Conway, a tall handsome man that lived in East Lansdale. The director asked him to bring me during the show. He had a wonderful voice - didn’t know about his singing till later.
We fell in love and married in 1941. Lived in a small apartment in West Philadelphia, Carol was born on February 24, 1942. War broke out and Howard was inducted November 11, 1942. Carol and I went to live with the Conways in East Lansdale.
Howard was stationed in Camp Shelby Mississippi. He was in a talent contest and won a $25 bond. Paper article said “Soldier wins bond for 1 year old daughter.” When he came home we moved to East Falls. Our friend Ruth told us about a house for sale at Bowman and Osmond Street. I was expecting Allen when we moved there. Howard got a job at Teleflex for a few years when a young man asked him to go into business with him. The shop was called Conway and Slavin.
Howard left there after he was diagnosed with chronic leukemia in 1955. He was out of work for a while when a new hospital called Eastern Psychiatric Institute opened near East Falls and Howard got a job there in research, making tools for the doctors. They all loved him and it was close to home. After a year he was getting too weak and had to leave and had many transfusions in the hospital. On September 18, 1957 got a call from Abington Hospital that he was not good. Called Joan, my sister-in-law, to go with me he was unconscious. They sent us for coffee when we got back he was gone. Losing Howard was hard - we loved him so much.
All the doctors from research were pallbearers they asked me to work in research which was good and close to home so I could have lunch with Aan; Carol was in high school. We missed Howard so much. He played the piano and sang every evening. He was a wonderful husband and father.
Three and a half years later I married Dr. Lester Kant. He was part-owner of a lovely apartment called Sherry Lake Apartments. The good thing was bringing mother to live with us. She wasn’t well and died in 1968. Les bought a cottage in the Poconos in 1967. In ‘72, I was divorced and moved to the Poconos; Les signed the house over to me. Had a fire in the bathroom and it was well-insured, they totaled the house and I got a brand new home. I worked at a department store in Wyoming Valley, stayed a year, then worked in a new store in Mount Pocono.
Stayed a few years then got a new job at Brookmont in Effort, it was more money and I was a practical nurse. Frank Willy worked there also so we took turns driving. In 1981 received a note from Earl Gotwols asking if I would have dinner with him as he came near the area. He sold industrial tools to big companies. Our first date was April 13 1981, when we saw each other it was like old times as we dated in our teens. We were married…we married December 13, 1981 in a Methodist Church in Shamokin by his brother Webb that was the minister and his 65th birthday. Millie and Mike stood for us and friend Connie sang “I’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Ave Maria.” Carol and Debbie and Diane were there.
The years with Earl were happy, he was a caring husband. He wrote me many notes and always signed “and I love you more.” We traveled a lot went to England, Scotland, Ireland, visited Ruth and Bill in California. Many times visited Pat and Allen in Colorado, Earl loved to go there. July 14, Earl was in pain, I took him to the hospital. He had leukemia; he was moved to Hospice and died the 24 of July 2002. On the 27th, Pat and Allen came. On the 28th, 18 people came and supplied lunch for all paid by Anne and Ben Bowers.
Missed Earl so much but in 2004 moved in Masonic Village in Lafayette Hill. My apartment was new and lovely, not too far from Carol to visit. Dinner was included in monthly rent, meals good, people friendly it’s better than being alone in the Poconos with a house to worry about. Only wish Earl was here to share it, he would be happy I’m here.
And the good thing is it brought you back to us in East Falls.
What? I didn’t hear that.
I said the good thing is it brought you back to us in East Falls, too, coming here. Because we missed you when you were in the Poconos.
Oh okay well thank you.
Let’s go back…When you met Howard, through Ruth Emmert, she asked you if you wanted to be in that play? He was in that play. How did you get to Old Academy then, was he in Old Academy?
I joined Old Academy as a teenager so I was pretty young. I lived with the Johnson’s.
CD: Well you walked right, you walked to Old Academy?
I guess did Howard bring you into Old Academy or Ruth or just the fact you knew it was there?
I knew about Old Academy.
Okay so your first acting was the one you did with Howard over in…
Yeah at Olney…the Berkley Players in Olney, right.
Then you just thought this is fun and you wanted to do some acting locally. Do you remember the first play you were in, in the Old Academy?
Oh no, I don’t think so.
CD: Well I know who could tell you: Bob Freed. They just interviewed him.
Oh that’s right yeah.
Yeah he gave me a paper of all the shows I was in, maybe it would be in that.
Okay, we have a paper that was written by Bob Freed concerning Edith and her acting at the Old Academy so I am going to ask her to read that now.
[Reading from paper]: “In 1940 a beautiful black haired, blue eyed, young girl named Edith Havalent joined Old Academy. Edith’s first acting assignment was to play the part of Nancy Lee Faulkner, the widow of a suicidal or murdered multi-millionaire in her first production on the night of January 16. From that time on she was one of our best and busiest leading ladies. She also became the wife of Howard Conway and the mother of 2 beautiful children. Howard was to die at far too young an age.
Off stage, Edi was always a very willing backstage worker and a member of numerous committees. On stage, she gave memorable performances in among other things, Death Takes a Holiday, The Silver Whistle, Outward Bound, The Corn Is Green, A Hat Full of Rain, Kind Sir, Any Wednesday. Her last performance to date with us was as Leona Savage in the Time of the Cuckoo. The part originated on the stage by Shirley Booth and played in the screen adaptation, Summertime, by Katherine Hepburn.
Edi then moved to the Pocono area with her husband Earl Gotwols. Through all the years however, her support and interest in Old Academy has been unflagging. She has made enumerable trips back to see our productions and has maintained an avid interest in the welfare of Old Academy. Edi, with her personal warmth and sincerity, has managed the feat of being universally liked and admired by all those who had the privilege of working with her.
Edi lost her beloved husband Earl within the last year but tonight she is here with her lovely daughter Carol and tonight the Old Academy wishes to bestow on you, Edi, the highest honor of distinguished membership.”
So now that we heard that beautiful statement about a beautiful lady obviously it was when you became a distinguished member of the Old Academy which was…about how many years ago?
CD: When was that? It’s on here…May 2003.
Okay, so that was a big night. Are there many distinguished members do you know? I don’t know…
Yes there’s quite a few now I think.
I also noticed he said the plays to date, maybe you’re gonna have a comeback? I guess we should talk about your acting career with Grace Kelly since that’s another beautiful lady from the Old Academy. So you did a few plays with Grace Kelly do you know how many?
Do you remember what any of them were?
So do you remember stuff about Grace Kelly or information about her?
I remember a few little things about her. She was a bit on the quiet side. She was lovely and I think I told you this one little thing about her - she was sitting next to the prompter, who was my friend Ruth Emmert, and she looked down and said, “Grace, you have runners in your stockings!” and she says, “My mother makes me wear them.”
She was pretty young then right? She was a teenager…
Yeah, cause she was younger than me.
There was another person at the Old Academy, Bob Prosky. Robert Prosky?
Yes, I remember Bob he was in a show or two with me. He had gone professional.
After he did the Old Academy things, yeah. But he always remembered Old Academy right?
Yes he did.
CD: And who took him home?
I used to take him home - he lived in Manayunk.
Oh he lived in Manayunk and you used to get to drive him home after the Old Academy, huh. And he passed away just this year.
But did you see him? Carol, I know you saw him.
CD: I did, yeah. Oh we saw his one man show at Old Academy. Now that was like…
A couple years, 5 years ago, 10?
CD: Well, I know it was after ‘03, so maybe ‘05? Somewhere around there.
I don’t remember that he did that.
CD: Yeah, mom and I went with Ruth Riddiough and then they had a reception upstairs afterwards.
What kind of things did he do in the one man show?
CD: He just told us how he got started in the Old Academy and how he went on to become an actor in the shows he was in.
Yeah I have a picture of him.
We’ll get that at the end. Let’s see now…Old Academy…you’ve been telling us that you acted with Grace’s sister, which sister?
Lizanne, the youngest.
And that wasn’t with Grace at the same time, was that?
No, Grace was already in New York or something.
Oh she had already moved to the professional?
And Lizanne’s husband?
He acted there at the Old Academy. Did Peggy act?
Peggy, they all did.
Wow, a real theatrical family. Did Howard ever act at the Old Academy; your Howard?
Oh yes, yes. One time a lot of the members from Old Academy came to our home. Marie Hess was one of our finest directors and she wanted Howard to join Old Academy. So they all came and talked him into joining Old Academy. So he did because Marie Hess was directing Portrait in Black and it was about two lawyers and she wanted Howard for that part and that’s what made him join. It was Marie Hess that did it.
Did you ever get to act with Howard?
No, no I didn’t. Someone had to mind the kids.
CD: They had cabarets back then and my dad used to sing in the cabarets.
He had a wonderful voice.
He sang professionally didn’t he? Or semi?
CD: Well he was a paid singer.
Yes, he was paid. He sang in a synagogue because it was a reformed synagogue and they take Gentile singers and he was their soloist and when he died, the rabbi came and said do you mind if I get up and speak? And we said no we’d love it. He got up and it was so beautiful we wish we would have recorded it.
What kind of voice did Howard have because I know it was very good but was it tender or baritone?
Did he ever sing at the church, Presbyterian Church?
Yes, he did.
CD: He sang all over. He also sang at an Alpha Baptist Church and there was some other one.
He was a soloist there.
CD: Just all over. I brought one album to show you later but I have three albums of my father’s. He was also a model for Models Guild of Philadelphia and they used to do shows for Gimbel’s and he was in that too.
EG: He was tall and he made a good model.
Let’s see…You talked about Carol’s brother and I guess we ought to just mention again his name, Carol’s brother?
Currently lives in?
Does Alan have children?
One son. One son from a previous marriage.
Now you came to East Falls Presbyterian with the Johnson’s. Do you remember anything there? Like first of all where was that church at the time?
That church was a long walk for us. On Ridge Avenue, and it faced the Schuylkill and we had wonderful picnics there, wonderful.
We’re coming up on the 4thof July so they had 4th of July picnics down there, right along the river?
Yes, I mentioned that. They had those ground beef sandwiches and lemonade.
Did you ever act in any plays at the church?
CD: You said you did.
EG: I think I did, yes. I did I have some pictures.
That’s right, you did save a picture on that stage. That was probably at the old church.
Yes it was.
So by the time you moved out of the area that was before the old, the new church was built?
CD: Because Alan was the first to be christened in the new church.
Oh that’s right yeah. So that was around 1945 or so?
CD: Yeah because he was born in August of ‘44 and December was when that opened.
EG: There was some other one christened the same day as Alan in the new church.
Oh I’ll have to look that up and that was with the new Baptismal font. There was something else that we talked about and I forget it.
I taught Sunday school. I wanted to tell you that I used to be in Matilda Brim’s class and then one day all these young people came over and said they wanted me to be their teacher and two of those go to our church, Betty Caruso and Jane Heck. So I taught them Sunday School and I used to have them at my home for meetings and I took them roller skating at CheVu so they were thrilled with their new teacher.
What age were they? They must have been teenagers when you were teaching them.
Yeah, definitely right.
Do you remember how long you taught?
No I don’t remember that how long I guess... I don’t know what I did after that.
What ministers do you remember that were there?
I don’t remember their names.
CD: He christened me. I don’t know how long he was there because growing up I only remember Reverend Harvey as a child.
Mister Myskins never moved to the new church, he left between the two churches.
Oh I remembered him. Myskins and Harvey.
Your son was the first one to be baptized in the new church and my parents were the last ones to be married in the old church.
Yeah my mom and dad used to say they had to close it after that. Now let’s talk about your husband, Earl Gotwols. And he came from East Falls originally, and his brother was…who was his brother?
Webster became a minister.
Web Gotwols. How about his other brother?
And his other brother was Harold but we always called him Torch he had reddish hair.
And they basically went to the Methodist Church. Is that correct?
Yes that’s right.
So what did Earl do for a living I think you mentioned it earlier but…he was involved with?
EG: Garret, yeah he sold industrial tools.
Okay, but besides selling tools he had a passion for writing; is that correct?
Writing, yes. He wrote beautiful poetry and had a book published and he also wrote a little one called “Cartoonettes” that he wrote. He was really very talented.
He wrote a poem that I don’t know who put it to music…
CD: Barbara Hedges-Gaydle.
EG: Oh that’s right.
CD: Now I’ve been trying to find out how to get that published as a hymn and who comes up to me on Sunday but Brenda and says she heard from Barb and wanted to know if I had a copy of that she put the setting to. She set it to Sibelius’ Finlandia and I said “yes” so Brenda said ask Barb if she knows how to go about that.
Was that one of the poems in the book?
And I remember he brought some books to church once and he was signing them right?
Right. He sold them I have one and I have several little “Cartoonette” books, you know, you remember those, Dave?
Not really, not at the moment. So I’m looking at a book called “My Cartoonettes” by Earl F. Gotwols, 1996. “With thanks to Edi, my wife and friend.” There’s a little short one would you read that for us?
Sure, I also want to tell you there was a poet in the Poconos and he’s the one that pushed Earl into writing these and getting a book published.
Oh really, do you remember his name?
Yes, I did. This is Snow: [reading]: “There’s nothing like a snowstorm whether that be good or bad to help one discover muscles that he never knew he had.”
CD: They’re all short little quips and they’re so cute. I forget…ugh Mr. Rigmanti.
EG: Rigman-Gene. G-E-N-E. Gene Rigmanti was a poet and Earl spent a lot of time with him and he pushed Earl to get his work done.
Did he teach Earl about poetry or did Earl already know?
I think Earl already knew, yes. But Gene was a great teacher for him and a pusher you know…
lnterviewee: Louise Halstead, lifelong resident of East Falls
Interviewer: Cherie Snyder
Date of Interview: 3/21/1981
Transcribed by: Haley Gregersen, Philadelphia University, Day of Service, September 15th 2009
CS: Okay, I think we're all set. What I wanted to do today was get a chance to talk to you just a little bit about your family background and about yourself and about your experiences when you worked in Dobson Mills. Why don't we start off and you can just tell me a little bit about your family and when you were born, where you were born, tell me a little bit about your family.
LH: Well my family were all born on the last of the Mohicans. Yea, (chuckies) they never did any much to, you know, stand out but they never did any harm, my people.
CS: What were your parent's names?
LH: Names? My mother's name was Hannah, she was Hannah Davis. She came from up the state.
CS: Where up state did she come?
LH: Scranton. And for a while they Iived in Lackalona County so that must have been near Scranton.
CS: Why did they come to Philadelphia?
LH: I don't know. I guess maybe somebody told them it was good, ya know? Mom came, she brought a whole gang with her, ten children.
CS: She had ten children by herself?
LH: So she had ten, and she settled in a place they called it "Dutch Hollow." It's down here, still, I guess people still call it "Dutch Hollow." That's where Mom grew her family. And they weren't at all pleased with the surroundings.
CS: Why not?
LH: But then they had paid them money to get here and had to stay. (Chuckles) And they got work at Dobson's. Dobson's had a mill here, they had. They made everything. They made carpet, they made cloth, and they made something else. But anyhow they made so many different things, and they were the only big industry. If you had to work at Dobson's, that's where you worked.
CS: Did you mother work there and your father?
LH: Yea, that's where I worked for years and years, and I went to work when I was 13.
CS: How did you get the job?
LH: Well the man next door to us was a boss. He was a boss weaver and he got me a job. He got me a job burling. You know what burling is?
CS: No, I don't.
LH: It's taking the knots out of the yarn. You know the piece, after it comes from the weaver you go over it to see that it's all right. You take out the little knots, you know, and cut the selvage. So that's what I did. The cloth - it was cloth, and I worked in that for years.
CS: That was the same job you did for years?
LH: Yea. And then of course other things turned up and we got out of the mill. But still Dobson's Mill was very, very good to East Falls. You know we had spinning and all things like that. We started, we just started from thin air, and made carpet. Made carpet out of thin air. That's how it was all, you know, we had nothing to start but you just finish up with a roll of carpet. So that wasn't bad.
CS: Can you tell me what the working conditions were like?
LH: Well, we had a -you couldn't talk to your boss like you can now. Because there was always somebody waiting for your job, so you had to be careful. But still conditions weren't too bad. But you just had enough to live. You know, you never get rich, (laughs) no you never get rich from what you made at Dobson. But if kept you going, and Mom had ten, she had, the family was ten. So she had her hands full.
CS: How many brothers and sisters before you?
LH: I have five brothers and six sisters, there seven daughters and five sons in the family. And I was of course one of the daughters - I was one of the younger ones. The others were older, and I had one young sister, she was two years younger than me. We got along all right, we got, we weren't a poor family, we weren't rich; we weren't poor. We seemed to have a way of getting what we needed and were able to pay for it. That's all I know.
CS: Did your brothers and sisters also work at the mills?
LH: Well by the time I got on the job, see, I was next to youngest of the thirteen. By the time I got on the job they were either married or had other things to do, see. And then we took over, my sister and I, then we took over. And we handed our money over, we never kept any money, you know, like they do today. You pay your board and that's it and we handed our money over.
CS: To who?
LH: We had to.
CS: To your parents you mean?
LH: And the first place we lived, that I know about, was Dobson's Road. Do you know Dobson's Road?
CS: Tell me a little bit more about it.
LH: Well, it’s between Allegheny and the railroad. Allegheny Avenue, you know, and the railroad, that little street up there was Dobson's Street. And we lived on Dobson's Street.
CS: What were the, can you....
LH: We had a pump in the middle of the street. That's where we got out water. That's where the water came from, that pump. Everybody on that street got their water, for drinking water and water for the house, out of that pump. That was a good pump.
CS: Good water?
LH: Oh yea, it was good water. Yea, and back of our house was the railroad. I guess it was the Reading.
CS:-Can you describe what the house looked like?
LH: Our house? Oh it was a very ordinary house; it had a parlor, and a kitchen- that was the first floor, and the others were bedrooms. I think we had a three-story house, and you had your bedrooms upstairs, see. But down on the first floor, you just had your kitchen, yea, you had a kitchen, didn't have any dining room much but we had like a living room in there. And it was comfortable.
CS: And how did you get that house?
LH: Well I guess Mother rented it from Dobson, the man that owned the mills. He had property, you know, and I guess she rented it from him; I don't know. I was too young when I was down there, to bother.
CS: Do you know about how many houses there were on that street that the mill owned?
LH: Oh there was a street there, with quite a number of houses, you know, like two rows, one on each side. Oh I think, I guess it's there yet, the street. It's back of Allegheny Avenue there, between Allegheny and the railroad. We got along alright I guess, I don't know. I don't think there was too much over at any time. (chuckles) I don't think we had too much over at any time, but the money was all handed to mother. And she'd pay the bills.
CS: Can you, if you would describe a typical day at work. What time did it start, from when you got up in the morning, tell me what a day was like when you went to work?
LH: Well you'd get up, you had to get to work by half past six. Your day started at 6:30 at work, and then it finished at 6 o'clock at night. You know, but we had lunchtime in-between, but that was all I know about the work. It was just, you were just there, doing your bit and not thinking too much about it. It just had to be done and you did lt. But we got along pretty good I guess.
CS: Now how long of a lunch hour did you have?
LH: About half of an hour. But then see some of us had to go a good way to get home to lunch.
CS: You went home for lunch?
LH: Yea, you'd go to lunch and then you'd come back and go to work. We'd come back at a quarter to 1, and then we'd work till 6 at night. See, you stopped at 12 o'clock for your lunch, and at quarter to 1 you came back to work. So you had half of an hour.
CS: And most people went home for lunch?
LH: And then you had your lunch, and you came back and you were there till 6 o'clock. Then you could go home at 6, and then you had until the next morning for yourself! (laughs) and at that charge you didn't know whether you had the morning or the night (laughs) It didn't make any difference. Oh dear.
CS: How many days of the week did you work?
CS: You had Saturday and Sunday off?
LH: We didn't, we weren't- one time we worked till 12 o'clock on Saturday but that wasn't for all the time. We didn't do that all the time. We worked 5 days a week, see. It was Monday till Friday. It was five days, and then that would be you'd go to work at a quarter of 7 in the morning and you'd go to your lunch hour at 12 and quarter of 1 you came back to work, and then you worked till 6 o'clock, and then you went home for the night. And that's all I know about the work.
CS: How much did you get paid? How much were you paid a week?
LH: Paid? Three dollars a week.
CS: Three dollars a week, was that good or bad?
LH: (laughs) That was something wasn't it? Well that was three dollars a week. Some I guess have more, but I had three. I didn't have a pretentious job; I used to sew numbers on the cloth. You know the weavers would put their numbers down in chalk, well I wouldn't go very far by the time it was - you wouldn't have any number on it. So they had put the number on with, store like, store chord, you know, like the wrapped bundled up in stores. Well that was the kind of thread we'd used and we'd put the numbers on. Like if your room was 123, we'd put 123 on it, you know, and if you had 5 blankets, you'd put 5. Little space in-between, that was all. It was simple business, but it must have been good because Dobson's became millionaires. (laughs) Yea, they did.
CS: Did you ever know the Dobson's? Did you ever meet the Dobson's?
LH: Oh, you'd meet them all the time, there's a bunch of them. John and James were the people that owned the factories, but then there were different parts of the families, you know, had better jobs. Like they'd have so many under them, you know, and they didn't do any work themselves, they just guided other people in the work. I guess it wasn't too bad, but of course, Dobson, we didn't call it "East Falls".
But Dobson was the big business; it was a mine. You know where the mills are don't you, on Scott's Lane? Well it had carpet, they made carpet, and they made plush, they had plush mills, and they made something else - it was some kind of material. But they were the only ones who had an industry here, Dobson was a big cause.
CS: Can you tell me what he looked like?
LH: Just like an ordinary little Englishman. They were English, and they looked English. Oh, all we cared about was getting our money off him, and it was very little you got. You'd made, work, from 6 in the morning till 6 at night, for 6 dollars a week, sometimes 3, 3 dollars a week wasn't much money, but things were cheaper. Things were much cheaper, but 3 dollars was your salary. Wasn't much was it?
CS: No that's not much.
LH: No, well that was for the week, 3 dollars.
CS: What was pay day like?
LH: Pay day was on Friday. We got paid on Friday, didn't make much about it only put our money away until we got home. Hand it over to Mom.
CS: Did somebody come around to give you your money? Or how did you get your pay that day?
LH: Well, you went, you went and picked your... they had a boss you know, and then he had the money; you'd go to him. He took care of his gang you know, like maybe he'd have twenty under him and he was responsible for them, money wise. And that's all 1 know about that. But 1 do know we worked from 6 o'clock, we worked really from 6 till 6. That was a long day wasn't it? And we worked till 1 o'clock on Saturday, for a long time. Then we had, we had time off after 1 o'clock on Saturday and we didn't go in again till Monday morning, see. So we had nice little weekend.
CS: When did you stop working on Saturdays and only work 5 days, what year was that? Remember?
LH: Well I don't know, I worked up till the time that they did have the 5 days.
CS: They did or did not?
LH: Well, you worked and you handed your money over to your mother, and she took on from there. Anything you wanted you got from Mom.
CS: Was that how it was in other families?
LH: That's how it was in our house. I don't know about other people's homes. But that's it. And she tried to do good.
CS: Can you tell me a little about your mother?
LH: My mother? Well she was a little lady, little plump. And very good natured, she had to be, she had twelve children you know - she had to be good natured. She had twelve, and she took the money and run the house. That's all there was too it, we handed our money over to Mom and she took care. Got our clothes, and everything.
CS: Did she work in the mills? Did she work at Dobson?
LH: No, no my mother didn't work at Dobson's. She came from up the state, up from where 1 told you, Lacawanna County, up in there, Scranton and up in there, that's where she lived. And they came down here to a place called "Dutch Hollow". Mom brought ten of them down. (laughs) And then they got work here and there, you know, and I guess it was hard for a start.
CS: What about your father? Where did he come from?
LH: My father, was an engineer. And when he came down, up in the state where we lived, you know, up was an engineer - had a job as an engineer. Well when we came down here, it was flooded with engineers so he had to take whatever he got. And guess what he wound up with?
LH: He was a lamplighter, yea.
CS: What does a lamplighter do?
LH: Well they fill the little (?), they had oil lights, you know, and you fill them in the morning and you leave them there till night. At night you turn them on and put the light on till the next morning. That how they did lt. And we used to have, if we had a thunderstorm and Pop was out in it, we might as well as been out ourselves. We were all concerned, you know, about the storm and all that nonsense. I think the family was closer than it is today, you know I think we were more concerned about their family. You know, like your brothers and sisters, you all had something in common. Actually you would, your same mother (chuckles).
CS: How many years was your father a lamplighter?
LH: Well he was, my father was an engineer but he, when he lived up in Scranton. But when he came down here it was overrun with engineers so he had to take what he could get, and he finally wound up being a lamplighter. He put the oil in lamps in the morning and then at night he'd light it up with, that was the light for the night, you know. That's how, that was his job.
CS: How many years did he do that?
LH: Oh.... He did that for a long time. Towards the end, you know, he, he got tired too, and I guess he stopped. Pop was eleven years older than Mother. And of course, he felt, I guess he felt, he had eleven years too. But we didn't know much about that, my sister and 1 knew very little about that, we just went to school, tried to pick up. I was fortunate, I went to school till the twelfth grade. They had twelve grades then, and I went till the twelfth grade and I got through. And I couldn't go, I couldn't go downtown to high school like the rest of the kids and I had to finish there. I finished my education, when I finished grammar school, what they call grammar school. I didn't go to high school, and, because I couldn't ride in the cars. I had what they called 'motion sickness', you ever hear told of it? Well I used to get so sick, as soon as you'd be in a car a little while, you'd get so sick you'd want to vomit all over the place. Well that kept me back an awful lot, I had - I couldn't go everywhere to work, you know, on account of that.
CS: So you went to school through the grammar school?
LH: I went to school till I was thirteen, and after that I didn't have any schooling; I worked. And the first job I had was a burler, and that was taking out knots at the clothing mills, making it smooth. And when it would come from the weavers sometimes, you know, it would have knots and things in it. Well the burler pulled it over the table and took all those knots and things out and made it like a smooth piece of cloth. Then it was ready.
CS: Go back to talking about your school, what school did you go to?
LH: Well it was called "Forest", The Forest School and it was down there in, right off the Ridge. Just Dobson's Mills were here, and then we had a road, and then our school was here. And we had two schools, we had a little school and a big school. The little school ran to the 5th grade, and then you went to the big school and you go to the 12th grade, and from there, if you were lucky, you'd go downtown and finish your education down there.
CS: What school was downtown?
LH: I don't know. I didn't go. I used to get sick in the cars.
CS: What was it like in school?
LH: Oh, like any other school. You went, you did your work and that was it.
CS: What time did school start in the morning?
LH: Well we went to school at half past 8 in the morning, and then got out about half past 11 for lunch, and we went back at 1 o'clock, and we were there till half past 3. We spent a lot of time at school, and if we didn't learn anything, it was up to us. 1 don't think learned very much.
CS: You don't think you did, huh? You don't think you learned very much?
LH: No. (laughs) It was there for me to learn but I didn't pick it up right.
CS: Can you remember a favorite teacher?
LH- Yea, we all had favorite teachers, but they were, they didn't put up with much foolishness, as they do today. They give you a couple of raps on your fingers and that would be it. And they had a stick, a 'pointer' they'd call it, and it was about this long and they'd go around with that, you know, pointing to the blackboards, we had a great deal of our stuff at school. When I went, we learned off our blackboards - it was written there for us and then we learned from there. Oh we got along all right for the condition we were in I guess. (Laughs) I went to school till I was 13, then I didn't see much of school. I got a job.
CS: Where you glad to leave school?
LH: And I worked from there and never stopped working.
CS: When did you quit work? When did you leave the Mills?
LH: Well, when they closed the Mills, and then we stopped, I guess, must have been in the 50s when Dobson finally closed up.
CS: Why did it close up?
LH: Well, they made enough, I guess, to be comfortable and it took money to run those factories. You know where they are don't you? Where the Dobson Mills were - well at one time they were buzzing from morning to night with a lot of people working.
East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Herb Henze (HH)
Interviewer: Sallie Maser (SM)
Interview date: September 16, 2009
Transcriber: Ileana Ionascu
HH: Good morning! It's September the 16th, 2009 at about 11:45. What a wonderful Wednesday and I am recording for Sallie Maser at the request of the East Falls Historical Society - my impressions of East Falls and my experiences at that time.
SM: Good morning! This is Sallie Maser from East Falls Historical Society and I am interviewing Herbert Henze from East Falls. Herbert, why don't you start by telling us a little bit about the beginning of your arriving in East Falls and what preceded you coming here?
HH:Good morning Sallie! My arrival and my family's arrival in East Falls was approximately 1951. After the death of my father, my mother wanted to carry out his wishes and be closer to his business and she purchased a lot on Netherfield Road. Memories of WWII probably precede this - I was only a small child, I was born in 1937, WWII started in 1941, I was only four years old. Memories are kind of dim now, but some of the things that we recall were the food and gas rationing. We got coupons you could use at the butcher shop of at different shops, meat was rationed, sugar was rationed, fats were rationed.
SM: In PDF, I have to add, if it's helpful, that if you knew a good butcher he would sometime slip you an extra piece of good cut of meat.
HH: Well, they did not ration the exact grade of meat, but sort of rationed the meat itself.
SM: That's right.
HH: As a result you had to be quite sparing, you had to save things, you really didn't throw much away. WWII took place after about ten years after the Great Depression and by then anybody who was still alive and viable financially of course had to save. So my parents were products of the Great Depression and then they were products of WWII. Rationing... we had little tokens, little fiber... red fiber tokens, with some kind of numbers written on them and sometimes you went to a place and you had to pay out with tokens as well as cash and sometimes you had some things that looked like green stamps. You had a book of them. My mom was not big on sugar so she would trade off with this wonderful Irish lady, who took a lot of sugar in her tea, I suppose, and she took our sugar stamps and she didn't eat much meat and she gave us some meat stamps.
SM: I was not aware you were allowed to swap stamps with one another.
HH: Weil, it may be or may not be legal, but, since it's 60 years ago, I am sure that whatever statute of limitations existed is long gone. (laughing)
SM: I think that probably right too.
HH: At any rate you had to save; one thing you had to save was your tin cans.
SM: Oh, yes, I remember that.
HH: And you had to save your cans and with your can opener you would cut the top out of the clean can - actually you had to clean the can first - and you stuck the top on the bottom inside the tin can and then you stepped on the tin can to keep the pieces together and this was separately tied with a string and put out with trash for recycling. So we were vigorously recycling. Also for some reason, when you had bacon, and inside the bacon you got the fat, you had to put the fat in a can or some container, usually one of the cans you didn't smash up, and you put them out and they collected the fat. Then, what they did with this fat, I was told they made soap out of it, but that's what you had to do. Of course we didn't have the amount of trash we have today, you didn't have a ton of cardboard, which by the way you had to save, you wrapped the cardboard up with string and you put it out. But we didn't have that much in those years.
SM: Never said we didn't! So there you were getting used to it, complying with rationing, (unclear)
HM: ….. the things with the war?
I'm going to our previous home which was Lawndale - Lawndale section of the city, which was off Oxford Ave, and so we were there, in my case, for the first twelve or thirteen years of my life. Other WWII things - having to go in to work with my father sometimes and then having - the men were talking about was happening, and they talked about D-Day, which was coming. Well, what was D-Day? Well, as you know, as a eight year old kid, by this time, I hardly knew what it meant, D-Day, and nobody seemed to know since it was a great secret and Eisenhower kept that under his hat pretty well.
SM: Under his helmet, right.
HH:Under his helmet, yes indeed. And at any rate, then we learned that D-Day was invasion on Normandy beaches on the continent of Europe and the subsequent assault on the German positions throughout France, we were the Western front, or our guys were the Western front, and the assault finally led into the German homeland and their surrender, I believe, in April 1945. There was a very big day, the D-Day, and everybody was celebrating that and was relieved and then, of course, there was several more months of attacks, the war in Japan, against the Japanese. We were down to the shore, because we could somehow still get to the shore, Ocean City, New Jersey. My father loved the shore, and the biggest celebration I have seen or known in my life was the J-Day which was in August 1945 and everybody just went crazy. People sat on their cars, they drove around, they had the lights on, everybody was talking, shouting, hugging, kissing.
Interviewee: Herb Henze
Interviewer: Sallie Maser
HH:…..with recollections of (fuzzy) and its place in the East Falls community. As I said before, my father bought the building at Hunting Park Avenue in 1943. I had to be, at that time, 7 years old. (pause) I recently said he had his machine shop and tool shop on the second floor, secondary machine was on the second floor, along with the (fuzzy) and other things. On the third floor, the folks would make some assemblies - in this case drag assemblies, ready for final assembly. Then there were other workers, about 8-12 people on the belt depending on how complex the item was. All the workers then would put their wheels together. When they finished at the end of the line, there was a quality control person to make sure everything was right. And his final mark was to insert a special screw in the side that marked that the work was done and it was checked. If it didn't have a screw it wasn't right.
As I said before, we did compression molding in the factory using phenolic material, basically only in black, carbon particle coloring or the natural brown so there was a rather awful looking red and awful looking green. Didn't take well to dyes so you couldn't get golds or pinks or blues or all the other magical colors that people like. However, the finished part was rigid and did not melt under heat and load.
Today we use injection molding which consists of putting a molten plastic into a closed mold under great pressure possibly 10,000 pounds per square inch. At that point molten plastic is flowing like water into the mold - cold water pipes into the dye will chill the dye into the cavity and in about a minute or so it's at the point where it cooled and formed a solid. The machine opens and ejects the part. That's no more plastic; it’s plastic when heating. We made the molds in the tool shop which is on the second floor, and that was fully equipped with tools and machines. We didn't have the CNC equipment for sure in those days. We didn't even have an accurate readout, so much had to be done by the skill of the toolmaker. We also make special machines for grinding spindles or most excitingly for forming the spools which is done by spinning. The skilled operator will place a raw spool which had been assembled from two flanges and a hub and then with great skill he would smooth this flange and basically work it into shape. This is the same process used for making cymbals, those Turkish cymbals that you see. They are all spun and it's a very logical thing with the right temper and right working tools.
It was also used for pots and pans and many of them were spun. It's an exciting technology that's relevant. Most particularly things like tubas and trumpets were spun out of tubing and flat stock. For many years plastic side plates were trimmed with rings made out of what was called German silver. German silver was a name we called it before World War II during the 30s. During WWII they switched the name to nickel silver as the rings were made out of nickel silver. Actually nickel silver had a little bit of silver in it, I was told, like 5%. And when they changed the name they took the silver out and now its nickel silver.
Anyway, this is wonderful material because once the chrome wore off, which it did, this material was underneath the (fuzzy) and you can buff it up and it was a very rich looking material. Because it had nickel in it instead of zinc it was a little bit more expensive and harder to work with in the building which was the polishing and plating workshop. Here we had multiple buffing stands and they would take the various brass parts for example and buff them until they had a very bright shiny finish. Then they were sent into the plating room where they would be put on racks and dipped into the various solutions to make that chrome and nickel plating. What you had to do was first clean the parts very thoroughly, wipe any smut, grease and finger marks off of them. Then you had to rinse them in soap, then you had to rinse—dip it in acid to neutralize the soap. Dip that again to dilute and remove the acid, put it into a nickel tank and the nickel tank would put a very thick coating of nickel on the part. Nickel required—this chrome and nickel required agitation and essentially you would put a charge, a negative charge on this and take the nickel out of solution and out of nickel anodes. It's kind of a reverse pattern; the acid removed nickel from the anodes and deposited it on the parts. Then after some period of time, some minutes depending on the process, you pull the part out and have to go through a couple of rinses to get the nickel solution remains off it and then you would put this in a chromic acid bath once again you would do the (fuzzy) and anodes would then transfer the chrome out of the solution points and into the part so the chrome finish would have a distinctive, brilliant and maybe slightly honey colored depends on what type of process you’re using but a much more durable coating than nickel and unlikely to corrode so when nickel was the base coat against the bare metal, and the chrome was kind of like the topping coat, like a clear coat for the nickel. After that you would rinse it a couple times and put it in hot water and then finally let it dry off. And put an air fan to blow the hot water off. Then the girls would come in and pick the parts up in special careful containers and that would go to assembly.
So we did everything there, we started with rods, sheet metal, we stamped it into parts, we processed the parts by cutting them or machining them, and then we polished-coated the parts for assembly. Along the way, we would make the plastic in house. I think it was really tightly integrated - what a marvelous, marvelous operation. For a kid, it was very, very exciting. I could play around with this and that I could come in on Saturdays. I had to sweep the floor once in a while, (laughs). It was always something. And it was a tremendous experience. The fondest moments were going in with father on Saturdays especially when it was cold weather then we would come back and mother would make hot lentil soup and some German spaetzle to go with that. I really enjoyed that. It was good - it wasn't wonderful at the time but it was wonderful in retrospect.
I mentioned that when the war was going on, conversation among the men was about the progress of the war. D-Day was a really big thing. They all talked about D-Day and when it finally happened Allied Forces went into Normandy and started pushing across France to get to Germany. And it was a really good thing, given some major upsets like the Battle of the Bulge. It was a relentless war fought against the German army and the Nazi leadership and eventually Germany was forced to surrender. It was very traumatic, or should I say dramatic. While I was too young to understand (I was only about 7 and a half or something like that) but nevertheless it was something that absorbed everyone. It was astonishing how many men and women who were involved in the effort. It seemed like everybody had somebody in the war.
My cousin was 18 and once he was out of high school he was called out up. It was very traumatic for his mother. Fortunately the war was just about ending but since he was in the service with the others for quite a while. After the war, industry shifted into civilian production and consumer production. My father switched from war production and had his fishing reels designed and build and started in the market. People after the war wanted to go fishing again; the soldiers were coming back, and fishing was a great sport, particularly in Florida, California, and the Jersey coast. As a result, father had products to meet their needs. He kept expanding his line and going on sales calls around the country and even to Mexico. One time he came back from Acapulco and told us these enchanting stories about divers jumping off the cliffs. That was quite a thing in the late 40s.
SM: What was quite the thing?
HH: He made 16 mm movies of the divers jumping off these cliffs. One of his trips to California, he was on a fishing boat - the gasoline fumes blew up the boat and set it on fire.
SM: Oh boy.
HH: My father had a lifetime fear of fire and explosions right after that. He came back with his hair burnt off; he said he was bent out of shape.
SM: That is so sad.
The great tragedy was the death of my father in February 1949 when at the age 51, he had succumbed to a sudden heart attack and died. His death put the company in turmoil. After the funeral, my mother's brother took over the reins of the company and ran the company until my mother remarried. She and her new husband wanted to take charge. Mother then ran the company as president for many years, I think the next 20-30 years (pause) assisted by her husband and assisted by her brother-in-law Henry Henze and other brother-in-law William Henze and for a while the former general manager of the company. During these times we endured stress from organizing attempts by various unions and NLRB elections. Not everyone in this country wanted a union. Workers realized that so many jobs even then in the 40s and the 50s were sending jobs down south. In 1959, I graduated from Lehigh University. I was about 22-23 when I joined the company full time and put in a lot of hours. We came out with many new products. They also had an extension on the factory building.
SM: Where was the company located?
HH: Well the company was still located in the same building except frankly we changed our entrance from one corner to the other. But we added then about 40,000 square feet. We put in a new office.
SM: What was the company called?
HH: Officially Penn Fishing Tackle Manufacturing Company, but popularly called “Penn Reels.”
Interview Date: December 16th, 2009
Interviewee: Herbert Henze (HH)
Interviewer: Sallie Maser (SM)
Transcriber: D. R. Widder, Sept 2011
Tape Description: Side A Tape 3 Herbert Henze – Memories of East Falls, Industry, Growing up, Factories Relationship with East Falls
HH: Take two. We talked about a pension plan to guarantee the retirement security of our people. And at first we had a single contract plan for each employee. This was a little insurance company; well, an insurance company plan, where each employee had his own, or her own contract with the insurance company.
The company paid the premiums, and at the end of a set period of time or at the normal retirement age the employee would get a pension. Typically at the time $50 to $100 a month.
Well that may seem trivial today, but understand that a good worker was happy to get $80 or $100 dollars a week. This was a skilled worker.
So a hundred dollars a month was not totally out of the question.
Because of the cumbersome arrangement of putting each individual employee on an individual policy together with the high premiums associated with the life insurance agent who wrote the policy, we thought we could do much better with a-
SM: Develop your own…
HH:Develop a plan with the assistance the actuaries, consultants and a trustee. And so in October of 1961, we established a defined benefit pension plan, as the really great companies had, and we engaged, Lukens, Savage and Washburn as actuaries.
SM: A defined… what was that called again?
HH: A defined benefit pension plan. And so we engaged actuaries. Actuaries who we retained, by the way, until well after the company was sold in 2002. We had investment counsel. We used Girard Trust Bank, which became Mellon Bank, and we got one the best people there, a Milton Neal; he was the executive in charge of pension trusts.
We gradually put money into it, and by the time my family sold the company we were well overfunded in the pension plan. “Overfunded” means that you have more money on hand than would be required to pay past service benefits if the plan stopped at that moment.
SM: So in other words, you were not only manufacturing it but you were helping with your employees lives or making, you know, insuring their lives, really.
HH: We were. We tried not to be paternalistic because that gets to be a little bit heavy handed.
HH: But we tried to provide them with a fair pay for a fair day’s work. And they gave us a fair day’s work. Oh you always have a few slackers and you always have a -
SM: Oh yeah for heaven sake that's life. Trying to provide fair pay for a fair, for a fair day's work. And you were known for that. That's a good policy.
HH: Well, I think we were known for that. And the work by and large was not that strenuous. Nobody died on the job. Nobody got seriously hurt on the job. (laughing)
SM: But, ah, it was probably a very good place to work. And they responded.
HH: At the time there was a lot of union activity in Philadelphia. Philadelphia was a hot bed of union activity. Activity was so strong that many of the rag traders or textile workers were terminated from their jobs because the companies moved south or moved overseas or whatnot. Well our people didn't move overseas, or at least our jobs didn’t. We did not send our jobs overseas.
SM: Not at that time. Well you didn't maybe at all.
HH: Well much later we did because there was no choice. But at that time - 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s we didn't do that.
SM: A lot of union activity here is just getting started in America.
HH: Well of course it really started in the 30s, as far as Philadelphia industry was concerned.
SM: Well alright.
HH: And then it continued-
SM: And having started in the 30s…. excuse me, go ahead
HH: And then it continued in the war years. Of course the government restricted during the war years because of production needs for the military. But then the 50s and 60s it started up again. And-
SM: Ok, ok.
HH: We had a number of these supervised elections. Probably four or five and in every case.
SM: Labor Relations Board
HH: In every case the employees voted to stay “not union.” And it was quite an interesting thing because the unions really wanted to have these 300 organized workers. But we managed to stave off the union and provide benefits for our people which were in excess union benefits.
HH: And also maintain the flexibility that we needed.
HH: Since we were paying union type wages we wouldn't have been economically so distressed if a union came in, but what we would have lost at that time was the ability to shift workers. If a department got slow in those years you could not move people from a slow department to an active department. You had to lay them off.
SM: Is this what actually happened?
HH: Oh yeah it actually happened. You had to lay them off and hire other workers for the busy department. They didn't allow flexibility. If a person was a mechanic or set up man you couldn't ask him to go, let’s say, become an operator. That was beneath him; he wouldn't do that. We couldn't ask him since there was no work at all in that department to clean the place up and paint the walls or put in light bulbs or-
SM: Alright. In other words, ah, not trying to cut your verbiage down which I find fascinating, is that you didn't need the so called practical aspects of the union. You needed the flexibility of being able to move the workers or people to where you needed them at the particular time.
HH:That was very important that we be able to move workers around. That we be able to cross-train people in other jobs. And we have the flexibility to account for momentary surges or declines in production-
SM: Alright. Alright. So that's that aspect needed - flexibility, cross training, etc.
HH: I would have to say quite frankly that Philadelphia a very hostile union environment. Ah, and there was a great deal of agitation between the management-
SM: Does that have to do with Hoffa? Or is that later, or is that, or does any part of this story have to do with someone like Hoffa.
HH: Oh, of course obviously we never got the attention of Jimmy Hoffa. He was in the stratosphere of the labor union. He didn't know that we existed. But it was part of the problem that the unions became so rigid and so demanding that the manufacturers or the employers decided to go to another area, particularly let’s say, the Carolinas where they had so called Right to Work laws, which meant an employee could not be forced, even thought maybe there was a union in the place.
SM: That was not nationwide? That was specific to an area, a state?
HH: The Right to Work laws were specific to each individual state.
HH: And they were typically in the South, where the powers to be - the political leaders - made sure there was no right to work provision in their state. Because they frankly wanted to poach employers, jobs from states that had mandatory or compulsory union management.
SM: Alright, well, okay, specific to each state. Do you want to stop the tape for a minute?
HH:Stop the tape.
HH: So as we tried to have good relations with our employees. And our customers, but that is another chapter. We also tried to have good relations with our community. The community being first of all the area right around the plant. We tried to keep it up. Keep in clean. And the neighbors responded. We essentially had good relations with our neighbors. When we put our addition on the plant, for example, it was never graphitized.
HH: It was never vandalized, although you know you get the occasional break in.
HH: But essentially we felt generally safe going there even at night. And the employees looked out for it. Some of the employees lived across the street. As wage earners they were not about to foul their own nest. And made sure that there work place was safe and secure and stayed there. We had good relations with our neighbors. Which was at one time Nice Ball Bearing Company, which was diagonally across the street. We also had good relations with Tastykake. Under first Paul Kaiser and then later Nelson Harns and his team. And these were very community minded people. In fact -
SM: Neighbors were generally community minded.
HH: Indeed. Bud Company was up the street. Had 8, or 10, or 15 thousand workers <inaudible>
HH: Let’s see, directly across the street we had Pep Boys. They moved into that giant building and they were good neighbors.
We also cooperated with the St. Joseph Orphanage, which was developed into a school - it was at one time an orphanage - but then it developed into a school, a vocational training school and in later years they gave the boys and girls training in various —I’ll call them mechanical or commercial - arts, and they turned out a nice bunch of kids who were willing to work.
We also had good relations with the City administrators. By and large they were appreciative of the fact that we had 2-3 hundred people providing, obviously, wage tax and other benefits and other benefits to the city's coffers. And essentially we got cooperation if we needed any help with any issues. When we added on to the building we got excellent cooperation from the inspectors and the licensing and the approval department. And all these things went very well. We had a good harmonious relationship.
To be quite frank though, in the years that Frank Rizzo was mayor, ah the situation was not so good. Frank Rizzo first of all, increased taxes badly - very much. I recall one particular tax - well he said he raised it 2%. Well it went from a 2% to an unearned income tax, to a 5 % unearned income tax. That was quite a large 2% increase.
And Frank Rizzo essentially exacerbated the relationship between the different groups in the city, between, let's be totally frank, between black and white. Let's be totally frank, between haves and have-nots. Let's be totally frank, between employers and employees. And it was a scary time to be in Philadelphia.
Coupled with that, the 60s were also bad years because of the hostility between the younger people and the federal government. Mostly over the war in Vietnam. Because they were upset with the war at the Vietnam, they took it out on all authority. And I would have to tell you there were times when it was pretty scary. This was -
SM: Ok, hang on, ok, STOP THE TAPE.
HH: No, I'm not going to stop right now. This reached a cap when Martin Luther King was shot. I believe it was 1968. And the city was frankly - as was the rest of the country - was stunned by the enormity of what this had done - this had been - this assassination. And it put a great chill on relations between - between the races. Between - people, between young and old.
And perhaps then it shocked the country in realizing we couldn't go on like this. I have to tell you, with the student unrest, the labor unrest, with the resentment against Lyndon Johnson, these were tumultuous times-
HH:Together with the Ohio State shootings.
SM: And yet you were still able to maintain your business.
HH: We were able to maintain our business because frankly at a time like this, what do people do? Well they hunker down, they do their job, and they keep their head low. And they realize there is enough stress and hatred going around so they don't add to it.
SM: But business was able to be maintained, right?
HH:Business was able to be maintained.
SM: And more than that. Was able to be maintained and, if not improved. What’s the word I am looking for?
HH: At least a continuing of satisfactory courses.
HH: We did have a lot of business with foreign countries.
SM: There you go.
HH: Our business with England was started in the late 40s —frankly the late 30s and into the 40s and 50s. After the war, our English customers did not have currency. So they could only buy from us according to the licensing requirements for permission of the British authorities. So to import anything into Britain you had to have a license.
SM: Alright, well so England was one example. Moving on to other examples.
HH:Other examples were Scandinavian countries, which were great fishing countries.
SM: (Sings Scan-da-navian)
HH: I'm talking particularly Sweden, Norway, Denmark. That is what it is of course. Not much in Finland. But there isn't a lot of fishing in Finland. We didn't get lt.
In Germany, there was almost nothing. In France, we had a lot of fishing in France. They fish both for tuna in the Mediterranean and the Sea of Biscay off the coast. Spain was very good, also Mediterranean, and also Atlantic. South Africa was a great country. Their fishing was mostly - because they don't have so many harbors - mostly off the rocks.
And so our reels were particularly well suited to their local kind of fishing. And these guys would cast off the rocks. They're anglers, they were called Spring Boks, after the famous jumping impala.
SM: Yeah right, thank you.
HH: So when you hear the word Spring Bark that means a South African.
SM: France, Spain, Mediterranean, and something else…
HH:Other countries were Australia, New Zealand…
SM: You know, maybe you might want to mention, I don't know, a great friend in Australia that spent much time here, and-
HH: We had a wonderful friend. His name was Peter Goadby. He was an author, a really good fisherman. And was a conservationist. And he was certainly a great friend of Penn. We probably met him in the 70s; yeah, about the 70s. He came over and he needed special reels for fishing.
And we developed those reels for him. In fact I recall one wonderful day, he came in and he decided that a particular reel, a big game reel was a little slow in picking up the retrieve. So we said what did he want? And we thought about lt. And the engineer and I figured out what we can do. And so it wasn't a great, a major change. So, the engineer came up with an idea; we cut some special gears for him. When Peter came in later the next day, it was finished! And he was frankly stunned that we would do something this fast and this quickly.
SM: And while we are doing this take, that would be a hallmark of the company. The ability to respond not only quickly but, what's the word I am looking for? To respond -
HH:Expeditiously. Yeah, when we wanted to, we could get on something and go after it very fast. The problem with all American business, at least in those years, was the incredible inertia.
SM: WHAT? In what sense? From whom? Where? What? What do you mean?
HH: Inertia. All throughout the culture.
SM: Our culture?
HH: The American culture. And you saw that in the automobile business. It would take them five years to come out with a new model car.
SM: They pay for it now, boy
HH: No question about it. They paid for it, and they lost their market share. Um, and we were not different then. A person would come in. They would work from 8 to 4:30, and go home. That was it. If you wanted to, maybe you would have some expensive overtime. But essentially, they worked at one speed, which was slow. And the vendors were slow. So if you wanted tooling done, the minimum tooling would be four month, three months. You just couldn't get it done any faster. Toward the end, we did have an excellent tooling department. They were a little quicker but it took a long time. And so the whole country lost their flexibility.
HH: But nevertheless, because we were concentrated, because we produced many things in house, when we wanted to, when we really had to, we could come up with something pretty fast and pretty good.
SM: Ok, press stop.
HH: So, we enjoyed being a manufacturer. We enjoyed being part of, to a degree, being part of the city. Because we were a small company, we were never really in the big leagues. The owners of Penn and <Inaudibte>. We were never in the big leagues.
SM: What do you consider the big leagues?
HH: Oh, well, obviously people like the Rohm & Haas. We were never there. We were essentially tradesmen running a plant. We subscribed to the old theory, you live near where you work.
SM: Good. Good.
HH: We didn't live upstairs above the store for heaven stakes, but we essentially lived about 3 or 4 miles away. In the case of my mother and myself. We lived in East Falls.
SM: Living where you work.
HH: Yeah. I think that was a noble idea for much of Philadelphia because the management was near the employees. Now, I realize many people might say, this is blatant materialism, paternalism. And, we don't like that the boss is hanging around and keeping an eye on us. Of course we didn't do that -
SM: But you don't mean it that way.
HH:That we were close and if there were any emergencies we could get in there. And many, many times I would come in the winter time. Or when my uncle was superintendent he would come in the wintertime and we would check out the boiler.
SM: To avoid any mishaps.
HH: To avoid mishaps in the morning. Curiously, there was one particular employee that was a unique Philadelphia institution, and this was the fireman or the boilerman or the engineer and these were men who kept the great mill buildings in Philadelphia working.
SM: The great what buildings?
HH: The mill buildings, the factory buildings.
SM: Oh, oh, oh.
HH: And these guys would-
SM: Fireman what and who?
HH: They would fire up the boiler, make sure there was always pressure in the boiler, when necessary they would clean it out, and take the clinkers and the coals out. And these guys were the custodians. And you rarely saw them but they were always there hanging around their boiler room. And they kept the place warm and in those years in the fabric trade where you needed high pressure steam for the irons and such. They would provide 125 pound psi. So they had to be licensed.
HH: And they came with the building. When the building was sold, the new owner would take on the old boiler guys. So they were almost like serfs who were attached to the real estate. And people laugh and chuckle that this is quaint. But frankly they were what kept the big buildings functioning.
SM: Before 'modrin' times
HH:Before modern times. They had a little guild. Our guy was named Joe Martin, and he had a buddy at the next factory, and they would trade off. So the buddy couldn't make it, Joe go in and do his boiler work, or this guy would come in and do Joe's boilers work. And they basically kept these places functioning.
East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Elizabeth Jeffords (EJ)
Interviewers: Ellen Sheehan (ES) and Wendy Moody (WM)
Date of interview: February 25, 2015
Place: Epicure Café, Conrad Street, East Falls
WM: It’s February 25, 2015 - Ellen Sheehan and Wendy Moody from the East Falls Historical Society are interviewing Elizabeth Jeffords, the great-great granddaughter of John Dobson.
So welcome, Elizabeth – thank you very much for coming today. We are interested in your life and in any memories or stories that have been passed down through the family.
So first why don’t you tell us when and where you were born and a little bit about your youth.
EJ: I was born in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, New York. I was from my father’s second marriage – you might someday get to interview people from his first marriage.
WM: What are your parent’s names?
EJ: My father’s name is Walter Morrison Jeffords II. And his father, Walter Morrison Jeffords Sr. is buried at St. James the Less, as well as my mother and father and they’re right in the Dobson lots.
WM: I’ve seen those beautiful plots.
EJ: And if someone could take a good picture of Sarah Dobson’s plot, there is not one on “Find a Grave.” People say “We’re looking for the Find-a-Grave picture for Ancestry.com and nobody took it.” I went to look at it a couple of days ago – someone is going to have to have very good light because it’s a white stone and it’s been worn away – right next to John Dobson’s.
WM: I think I might have a picture of it already but it might not be good enough.
EJ: If you could forward that to me I can send it to some cousins who are desperate.
WM: And your date of birth?
EJ: My date of birth…now I was never there – I was there at the time but I was so young that I just have to trust what other people said and they told me I was born on August 2 back in 1950.
WM: And your mother’s name?
EJ: My mother’s name was Kathleen McLaughlin – I’m sorry, Kathleen Hazel McLaughlin so it would be easier to find her. Kathleen Hazel McLaughlin, but I think she was buried as Mrs. Walter Jeffords. But I don’t think my sister ever actually put a stone for it.
ES: And where was your mother born?
EJ: My mother was born in Brooklyn, New York – in Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York.
EJ: No, I don’t know which hospital but Park Slope is the neighborhood of Brooklyn. It’s on the side that comes down from Prospect Park.
WM: And what church did they go to?
EJ: Well, now we were – my father was an Episcopalian and the only church I’ve ever seen him possibly being a member of was St. James the Less. So he didn’t attend services there and I’ve never seen him go to church except for weddings or funerals.
ES: So you were brought up in a church?
EJ: I was brought up as a Catholic because I was baptized at the age of ten and my sister at the age of eight because my Irish grandfather was scared of going to his death without having all of his children baptized.
WM: And speaking of your sister, what siblings do you have?
EJ: Direct siblings – full siblings, I have Sarah Dobson Fiske Jeffords – that’s named after my grandmother and I have a George Vincent McLaughlin Jeffords who is named after my grandfather – my mother’s father.
WM: I wonder if I interrupted you about the church, so you…
EJ: We went to an Episcopalian school – St. Bernard’s School in New York City as did my brother George and my sister Sally, or Sarah, went to Chapin School in New York City. So they were basically Protestant schools, but then my sister and I had to go – because we were unbaptized – to the Helpers of the Holy Souls in Purgatory after school for catechism (Laughter)
Needed to get the kid baptized immediately!
EJ: The Helpers of the Holy Souls in Purgatory convent and Mother Mary of Providence was, I guess, the founder.
WM: How were you feeling about that?
EJ: It was excellent as I got further along because I was learning Protestant Latin in grade school and I was learning Catholic Latin in the Helpers of the Holy Souls – that’s when it was still a Latin church, not an English church.
ES: What year would have that been?
EJ: That would have been in the 1960’s, before 1965. I was baptized at the age of ten so they were preparing me for baptism I guess in 1960 - then they had almost immediate - in the next year or so - I was communed and then confirmed.
ES: What is the address of that school, do you know?
EJ: The school? St. Bernard’s is at 4 East 98th Street in Manhattan but that might be the wrong number because it’s been many years since I was there.
WM: And going back, what is your full name and address?
EJ: My full name is – and that depends on how people look at it. As far as the U.S. Government looks at it, it is John Dobson Jeffords. If you go by most records that are used nowadays – it is Elizabeth John Dobson Jeffords.
ES: So you were named after your great great grandfather.
EJ: There’s many people – you’ll find that the Schofield’s have many John Dobsons – even today.
WM: And your address now?
EJ: My address is Denver, Colorado.
ES: Oh, I thought you were living in India.
EJ: I live in India as well, and that is Bangladore, India.
WM: And do you have an email address so we can send you the transcript?
EJ: I wouldn’t put it on the tape (break in recording)…India… All children need to go to school and I pay for their education?
ES: All 50 of these children?
EJ: More than 50. You can thank John Dobson.
WM: We will. But let’s go back to John Dobson – that’s a good segue. I wonder if you could share with us any memories that your family has shared with you going all the way back to John Dobson – his personality or his coming here to begin the mill…
EJ: Now this is where you’re going to get conflict between me and my cousins – not my cousins, my siblings.
WM: We’re interested in your interpretations.
EJ: Ok, I’ve done the research into him. I grew up in a family that believed they were descended from the early people who settled the United States. That would be the Jeffords. You’ll find them going very far back and you’ll find that that tree is the Montgomerys, Jeffords, things like that. So that is what gave an entrée into society in Philadelphia and in New York and in the United States as well. John Dobson’s father was a tavern owner and a farmer in Leesfield, Yorkshire.
WM: Do you know what dale that is?
EJ: It’s in West Yorkshire. Do you know where Oldham is? On one side of the moors there’s some kind of tv show that’s very famous that people watch all the time and this is on the other side closer to Manchester and Oldham. The Schofield-Minor(?) family is very heavy in that area. The largest amount of Schofields in the world are in that area.
WM: So John’s father was a tavern owner?
EJ: He owned a beer tavern that he sublet from a man who leased it in Stamford (?) and John’s father, this was William – his father not his brother William – leased lands from Stamford to approximately where the tavern was. You’ll find in one period of time that part of the family is identified in the censuses in the tavern and the other part is identified across the street with the person who preceded Mike Ousey’s great grandmother and Andrew’s – William married Ann Andrews - then part of the family – brothers and sisters probably moved into more spacious house across the street.
WM: How many children did William have?
EJ: I don’t have good numbers…
WM: There were James and John…
EJ: There were James and John and I think there were three sisters. But that’s on Ancestry.com. You can pull all that up on Ancestry.com. I use Ancestry.com and found over 15,000 family members on my tree.
WM: Tell us what you have heard about your great great grandfather John.
EJ: This is exactly what we were getting into – is that the family stressed for history Jeffords which they knew very little about. They just hinted at it. For immediate history it was John but they didn’t talk about it very much. We had in Hunting Hill, which is now Ridley Creek State Park…
ES: How old were you when you moved to Hunting Hill?
EJ: In Hunting Hill – my parents moved – my grandmother – well John died in 1912 and she was then shared between her aunt, who was the younger sister of her mother. Elizabeth Dobson married Samuel Riddle who owned Man-O-War the horse. And Samuel Riddle was the son of Samuel Riddle Sr. who had come over from Belfast to open textile mills in Delaware County, in what is now called Glen Riddle. At that time it was called Rockdale or Rochdale. It’s very interesting that that’s where the Schofield’s came from so you can start to see the web of textiles.
Elizabeth’s first husband was, I believe, a cotton salesperson who’s buried right next to her over there because Sam Riddle is buried in the Middletown Presbyterian graveyard near Glen Riddle, Pennsylvania. He died about six or seven years after Elizabeth Dobson married Riddle.
(break in recording)
EJ: ….and it was bought with public funds.
ES: They owned the (?)
EJ: What happened was that people trusted an institution. Institution managers changed over time. The managers who were there at the time had no relation to the history of St. James the Less. There were better, more economically feasible, churches in Philadelphia than that church. And the parishioners and the population who lived around it, were not involved with the church – if they were involved with church at all, they were involved with other churches.
WM: Were any of your relatives married there?
EJ: Loads of them. I have about 120…I gave you the list, didn’t I? About 120 relatives buried in that church.
ES: Buried there – oh my gosh.
EJ:You can put this bundle of addresses together, I suspect that many of those people buried over there were textile workers who came over from Yorkshire. It’s interesting that the majority of the textile workers didn’t come from John Dobson’s town because his father was not from there. They came from Batley, where John Dobson’s mother was and they were textile workers in Batley, which is further northwest of Lees.
ES: My neighbor, Lynn Seider – her grandfather came over as a plush expert
EJ: Uh huh. And plush - and what’s the other one – where they take the old cloth and make new cloth. They grind it up – that’s what Batley was known for.
WM: I had read that James (Dobson) was in charge of the carpet and John was in charge of the velvet and the blankets.
EJ: And what was William in charge of? I have the feeling that may be somebody’s story. The way the structure is – William was older, Charlie and William started in the textile mills when they were very young. James was just a child at that time – just 2 or 3 years old.
WM: Now this was in England?
EJ: In England.
WM: Because I know they came to Mill Creek, didn’t they, before they came to East Falls?
EJ: I’m not sure where Mill Creek is.
WM: Mill Creek. The research I have was that the owner – that was the Schofield’s father? –
EJ: He was in Manayunk
WM: Yeah. The owner became his father-in-law.
EJ: Ok. And that’s where you should - if you’re going to do the real thing – in the old days, we were not very productive in factory workers. The Schofields frequently managed the Dobson Mills, particularly after William died.
ES: Have you been up to see the Schofield building that’s still there?
EJ: No I haven’t. I’ve seen it from the outside, but I thought Bob and I were going to go today and just cause trouble... Obviously Bob has a serious problem today and couldn’t show up
ES: If you walk along the towpath next to the canal the building is there.
EJ:Ok, that would be easy to find.
ES: And I’m not sure if it says Schofield or Sevill?
EJ: Sevill is the son who took over from his father and basically took care of his mother until she was buried over there at Laurel Hill. Both Joseph and Malley Schofield are in Laurel Hill. You can take pictures of that. That brings the Schofields back to East Falls.
ES: Do you know where they’re buried?
EJ: I think I have the numbers, but they’re very close to the Jeffords – about a few feet from the Jeffords. And even better is that my half-brother’s mother’s family is buried with a perfect view of the mills – looking straight across Ridge Road.
WM: Did they tell you anything Abbottsford, the mansion – any memories of that?
EJ: Is Abbottsford the one where John lived or …?
WM: John. Bella Vista was James.
EJ: We did have a picture of my grandmother in a carriage at the front door of that.
ES: Oh really?
EJ: Well I suspect what happened is that my mother was not very fond of my father’s family – it’s the same situation – her family came over and were working class and became very successful in New York but she was Irish – she grew up as an Irish girl trying to make a place for herself in a Protestant world. And the best thing was to minimize anything that compared to her family. She destroyed her family. After my father died, she destroyed most things having to do with the history of my father’s family. And then she masqueraded as Mrs. Walter Jeffords, my grandmother, in many cases. You’ll see in many pieces of interviews, and things like that, that she’s taking credit for what my grandmother Mrs. Sarah Dobson Fiske Jeffords did.
So this is the culture – you have to realize first of all that the Dobsons were manual laborers – and very successful manual laborers – who went up – who married, in my grandmother’s case, into a successful long-term American family that can trace themselves back to the 1600’s. That then washes off some of the manual labor stuff.
One time my grandmother said to me, because my grandparents never met one another – my mother wouldn’t allow that to happen - they did meet at the wedding and things like that – but that was about it. But my grandmother said, one time “You know, I really like your grandfather” and I thought she was talking about her husband, and I said “Yeah, he was a nice guy” and things like that and they had a great life together – but she said “No, I really like your mother’s father.” She thought he was a very nice person because again he was the same sort of person that her grandfather had been.
He was from a farming family in Northern Ireland and his father had come over to be a ferry captain and my mother’s father went on to become chief bank (?) of New York, then the police commissioner of New York, then the head of Brooklyn Trust which he merged with Manufacturers Hanover Trust. He was also the Vice-Chairman with Bob Moses of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority – building everything from the Throgs Neck Bridge, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and he was part of the permanent government of New York City. They never were elected – they controlled the city from the late 1920’s when Jimmy Walker was in there all the way through the arrival of John Lindsay after Robert Wagner in the 1960’s. But they were not elected…. (break) my working class cousins – they’re all over Delaware County. Even in New “Joisey”.
WM: So he started as a laborer and became a successful mill owner with his brother – there are a lot of stories – so he’s the generation that saw the big transition of the socio-economic transition…
EJ: I think his mother saw it first. Elizabeth….the Industrial Revolution had started and it was not a disgrace to have a piece of farmland and then to put all of your kids into the factory because the kids were given a regular paycheck and the person with the farmland might be given a little something for the eggs but if he had any crops or something, the crops could fail. So factory work became a form of stability for the farmers.
John’s father, or grandfather, had been employed by the Howards of Howard Castle. So they probably had gotten a good farm worker or something like that - the next thing you find of his father is that he has gotten my great-grandmother pregnant in Batley. They get the baby, get married, and three months later bring the baby in for baptism. The child is baptized – obviously everybody knows what’s going on. In the early 1820s that was not considered appropriate. It’s not like modern Philadelphia, ok?
EJ: And so what you find is them shifting back up to Castle Howard - John, being born in North Yorkshire and baptized up there near Castle Howard. Then a few years later you find them coming back down to Elizabeth Snowden’s area, which is Batley again, which is West Yorkshire. Maybe because they needed to have money, which you would get working in textile mills, possibly his name’s been damaged there as well from having illegitimate children – or one child that was produced before marriage. We then find there were no more baptisms in the Batley area and the next set of baptisms were when they had gotten down to Lees/Leesfield in West Yorkshire.
Now there is one man (?) – I forgot his name – that also had property next to Castle Howard who had a park named after him in Batley and it’s roughly from the same time. So it’s a possibility he was a good worker and he managed to move, because I can’t find him in a census as a partner in Batley, but he never worked in the mills – I never found him in any census working in the mills….his wife’s family – Snowden mills – they then moved down to Leesfield to the other mills – Upper Mill and things like that - and he then gets land from Lord Stafford and puts the kids into the mills. And the land that he has is next to some of the best mills
WM: Do you think they designed Dobson Mills on these English mills?
EJ: 100% - they are the classic mills that were being built in England. Everything here is English. I tried to give the textile collection from the Manchester Library to that useless university you have here, and they said they wouldn’t take it so I didn’t purchase it. It had allthe patents, except for the offering (?) patents, obviously someone had gotten that, but you don’t have a facility with the capability of taking care of the area – and it’s right in the area. I spoke with the head librarian, and spoke with people there who were in charge of it, and they said it was too large – it’s 120 feet of shelf space. You would probably have had the only book collection of patents from up to 1920.
WM: How interesting. Moving forward, because we have limited time…
EJ: And many of the things they did, they patented in England before they patented in America. Which then means they were aware here that someone could come over here and take the machine and use it over there and compete with them.
ES: They were very savvy.
EJ: They were very good businessmen. The first person you have to look at is William Dobson, who nobody talks about. He was the oldest brother. He was earning between $500,000 and a million dollars a year as the shop foreman by today’s standards.
WM: That’s so interesting.
EJ: Do you think they were paying him that money because he was just a useless machine worker? He was the brains. I guarantee you he was in there before John but he was illiterate.
(break in recording)
EJ: ….I had to go back and forth – it’s only 90 miles. My oldest brother went to school at Episcopal and then went to Lawrenceville, as almost all my family did - on both sides went to Lawrenceville.
ES: This is George, your brother?
EJ: No, Roger. George went to school in New York – this is my oldest half-brother – my only half-brother. And so my father had Walter in Episcopal at the time…
ES: You mean Episcopal here?
EJ: Right here. His mother lived in Paoli. Do you know where Paoli is?
EJ: Just checking. I remember growing up and saying it to people who weren’t from Philadelphia and they’d say “Where? Paoli”?
EJ: Ok. So they didn’t like Episcopal. For social reasons, even though we had Quakers in the family, they didn’t want to go to Westtown.
ES: So where did you go?
EJ: I went to school in New York City – St. Bernard’s, as did my sister. The education in the schools in New York was significantly better than the ones in Philadelphia, because obviously we could go to the best of the schools if we wanted to. They did not feel that the Philadelphia schools were the same level as Chapin – you know, Richard Nixon’s daughters went to Chapin.
And all sorts – Rockefellers and everything like that. And the same thing with St. Bernard’s – you just go through the list of people – even relatives of Nadar, in India, are going to St. Bernard’s today. So those are schools you go to – you go with school with members of families who have already made it, and there’s a good chance, if you’re having a hard time finding a job,
Somebody will say “Oh, I know that person – we’ll give them a job!”
ES:(laughter) So, how long were you there in elementary school or high school?
EJ: St. Bernard’s was an elementary school. First I went to St. David’s, which is a Catholic school which was established for what they considered upper crust Catholic society – my grandfather got us into there. (Name?) - the head of the supreme court in New York was a friend of my grandfather’s – and so they put us in there even though my brother was the only baptized one. My brother was there for two years; I was there for one year and my grandfather – my Irish grandfather – said “The only thing this school is going to teach you to do well – is going to give you - is good handwriting. It’s a useless school.” John F. Kennedy, the one who died in the plane crash, ended up going there – they did it to please his father - he should have gone to an Episcopal school.
And so we got shifted because my father was Episcopalian and knew lots of high church Episcopalians in New York City – particularly people who would be on Wall Street and things like that. So we got shifted to them and that’s where I stayed the last seven years of my schooling. And my brother the last two years of his schooling.
ES: So you finished up what would be high school…
EJ: I finished grade school, which would have been to 8th grade and then my brother went to St. Mark’s, which was in Southborough, Massachusetts – that’s a very good boarding school, and I went to Gunnery School in Washington, Connecticut, which was sort of a mediocre but, as opposed to an Episcopalian, was a Baptist or Congregationalist school, so it gave me a lot broader perspective of the world than I would have gotten if I went to …
ES: What was the name of it?
EJ: Yes. That’s why it sort of follows me – people think I had a military career – “I graduated from Gunnery School – “Oh, which guns did you learn to use??” It’s named after Mr. Frederick Gunnery.
WM: And after that?
EJ: University of California, Berkeley, and I eventually graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
WM: Did you have a career?
EJ: I was an architect.
WM: Can you tell us a little about that – what you designed or where…
EJ: Nothing really.
EJ: Domestic. Stores. I was employed for two years by a company called Smith and Yauch.
ES: Can you spell Yauch?
EJ: You don’t know anything about the Beasty Boys?
EJ: Noel Yauch’s son was Adam Yauch of the Beasty Boys.
ES: Who knew?
EJ: Adam Yauch was the one who died of cancer two or three years ago.
ES: So when you were in New York you were employed as an architect.
EJ: In Brooklyn. Right down the street from the branch of Manufacturers Hanover Trust that my grandfather, George McLaughlin, had run. And I would go there and they would take me up to his office and, even then, I guess he worked till the early ‘60’s, there were still employees there who remembered him. All they wanted to do was talk about him. He was a wonderful man.
ES: And you don’t remember him?
EJ: I remember him. He was great. I was only allowed to be in Saratoga for a short period of time because my parents wanted to have that room – so my parents would come and take the room I had in Saratoga during the summer and I would go farther to the Adirondacks to stay with my mother’s grandfather on Louise Lake.
WM: And were they horseracing in Saratoga?
EJ: My parents were horseracing and my grandfather was meeting with all the people he knew from the firm. They would sit at the lake and talk about everything you could imagine about the history of New York City.
ES: Now you were close to your grandmother, I think.
EJ: I was close to her and I was also close to my mother’s father.
ES: And did they have to raise you when you were there in the summer?
EJ: Well, when I would stay with my grandmother it would be vacations, it would be summers…
ES: Was it a happy time?
EJ: It was an excellent time. There is a person who is probably a relation of ours – Annie (?) McHale – who was brought over from Ireland who, when she was twelve years old, to be my father’s babysitter. And there are lots of McHales who worked in the factory and even married into the Dobson family. So I suspect she’s probably one of those McHales. But she was brought over as a young girl and she spent the rest of her life working for my grandmother. She raised my father; she raised my half-brother whose mother – this I won’t talk about – she spent a lot of time with my grandmother until he got sent away to Lawrenceville, then she raised me.
ES: Is she buried at…
EJ: I don’t know where she’s buried. Her family was in Philadelphia – and also in Camden – because she brought a lot of her cousins over. But we didn’t know anything about her. She was just like another servant.
WM: What was this grandmother’s name?
ES: We’re talking about your grandmother…
EJ: I think she’s buried at St. James the Less. She’s Mrs. Walter Jeffords. Senior.
ES: When we came here – when was that, February or March?
EJ: There was too much snow and ice
ES: You trooped through the snow and ice to find your grandmother’s grave. And you weren’t here for her burial.
EJ: Yes, I was here for her burial.
ES: Oh were you?
EJ: I wasn’t here for my mother’s.
ES: I see.
EJ: I didn’t come for my mother’s – I came for my father’s. None of us were allowed to go to my grandfather’s because in those days – this was in the 1960’s, they thought it was inappropriate to bring children to funerals because you didn’t want little children to know they could die.
WM: So this grandmother was the child of John?
EJ: She was the granddaughter of John. Her mother was Mary Dobson and Mary Dobson died of complications of childbirth.
WM: So Mary and John had one child; right?
EJ: Mary and Samuel Louis Fiske had one child.
WM: Your great-great grandfather John Dobson…
EJ: Had two children – Elizabeth Dobson Riddle and Mary Dobson Fiske. Elizabeth Dobson Riddle and Mary Dobson Fiske are both buried over there – I’m not sure which last names they have on their tombstones but they’re all squeezed in very close to Sarah Schofield Dobson and John Dobson. And Elizabeth Dobson’s first husband is buried there – Mr. Young – I forget what his first name is.
ES: So she was married to Young and she was married to Riddle.
WM: Did your grandmother ever tell you anything that they had told her about the mill?
EJ: She talked about growing up here and she also had a document showing that she had graduated from a women’s college up here. And I don’t remember the name, but I think it was something like Germantown Women’s College, but then I find out there’s a college right next to Abbottsford that was a medical college.
WM: That’s right; Woman’s Medical College.
EJ: But she got a degree in botany, not a degree in medicine. So her document said she had a degree in botany. That might have meant that she couldn’t do medicine. You figured it was right across the street from where she was living…
ES: But it wasn’t there then. It was there in 1929.
EJ: Ok. Then she couldn’t have gone there.
ES: No, but it was down in center city. So they started down there and then they built this new building.
EJ:Is there a Germantown Women’s College?
WM: Haven’t heard of that.
EJ:Because I think I remember something about Germantown and obviously we had mills up in Germantown as well.
ES: Germantown is a very old community. And it was more prestigious, so to speak, so they could have had a university for women.
EJ:I would check to see if there were a women’s university there – that’s a good search.
ES: And that was Mary that had this degree?
EJ: No, it was Sarah Dobson Fiske, my grandmother.
ES: She was a very educated woman.
EJ: She was very educated and she had very large greenhouses. And she was a botanist – a really serious botanist. And every year at the Flower Show there would be hundreds if not thousands of flowers that she brought in from her greenhouses. She was very good friends with the DuPonts at Longwood Gardens and they would swap gardeners back and forth.
ES: Did you have an interest in botany growing up?
EJ: Yes. I spent a great deal of time in the gardens and things like that. That’s what I did in the summers. We had large vegetable gardens as well – maybe an acre and a half or two acres of vegetable gardens. And orchards.
ES: What a fascinating life. I think there were many, many greenhouses in the area.
EJ: Oh it was something that was an acceptable pastime for women.
WM: There were some greenhouses over by Ravenhill
ES: Oh, many, many. And also behind the Kelly House with Mosey Brown.
EJ: The thing is, my grandmother said you can grow anything you want in Pennsylvania – we looked at the Burpee Catalog: “Can we grow this?” She’d say you could grow anything in Pennsylvania as long as it said temperate climate.
Recorder turned off for a break, resuming mid-sentence. (Track 2 on CD)
ES: They were so nice – they were so happy to see you – they took pictures
EJ: I will not say anything wrong about Dobson Mills because they were very, very nice people and they were very cordial to us.
ES: Were you happy to see that it still has the name Dobson Mills?
EJ:I was very happy to see the name Dobson Mills is there. And if we can afford to put the “D” back on top of the smokestack, you go down there and tell them I will help donate to replace the D in Dobson.
ES: That would be cool.
EJ:You have to realize that the place had stood vacant for a long time and it had been under other people’s possession for a long time vacant, and they had an economic necessity to deal with that piece of land and I suspect – I hadn’t seen the mill – but I suspect that it was not in good shape for a coop. So that’s why they had to tear it all down. As an architect, I suspect that…
I would rather the brewery was there….we were over there tasting some fine brew…so time changes, and in my case, I go lots of places and see vacant lots where my family lived or things that are far different than what would have been there years ago…
WM: I don’t know if you’ve been to the main library’s map collection but they have detailed fire atlas maps of the mill – very detailed – where all the buildings were and what they were used for.
EJ: It would be good to see. Didn’t the mapping company do it for insurance purposes? Both the Jeffords in Port Richmond and the Dobsons here – they have them and I’m sure the Schofields…
ES: The scope of it is amazing, isn’t it? When you look at the blueprint of the factory…
EJ: Well it wasn’t built all in one fell swoop – it was built as they added more things that they could do and I think, as you probably read, that (unclear)…What they did, as opposed to where they came from is they built adjustable looms – so their looms – they could weave virtually any type of yarn and produce virtually any type of textile – carpets, blankets…
ES: They were adaptable.
EJ: They were adaptable.
WM: Was that new to America?
EJ: It was a new concept period. If you look at the mills – and this is what proprietary capitalism is really based upon - the difference why (?) became up and Massachusetts just stayed where it was, was they didn’t have proprietary looms in Massachusetts – they didn’t have adjustable looms in Massachusetts and they attempted to sell the same product (?) year after year after year. If John Dobson or Jim Dobson went down to the port and saw someone get off the boat with a new sort of product (?), he could come back
ES: And duplicate it.
EJ: Can we do this? I think we can sell this. I think it will be in operation within 3 to 6 months.
ES: Do you have any photographs or information about the original mill down at Wissahickon Creek? One that burned down, apparently.
EJ: There were lots of mills on the Wissahickon Creek.
ES: It was a Dobson mill.
EJ: I have no knowledge of it at all.
ES: We have a picture of it.
EJ:If you’ve got that, I’d love to see it. I’d love to see it.
WM: Were there other innovations that the Dobsons brought to the mills besides the adjustable loom?
EJ: …..go to Ancestry.com – there were lots of things…there were lots of fights…who had the right to them and things like that…and then there were fights about the dyers – in England, a dyer was considered an independent person so all his dye books with all his mixtures of what he was doing to make the color belonged to the dyer. When they came to America, they became an employee and at that point the dye book belonged to the company, not to the dyer.
ES: My neighbor, Seider, was brought over as a dyer.
EJ: If you couldn’t get the color right, you might as well forget about some of the cloth, right?
And if you wanted to have it as close as possible to what you saw when they did the first part of your house, when they did an extension, it’s good to have that dyer with his dye book to remember what sort of color he put together.
ES: Tell me, is it true that the Dobson Mills had the contract for the Civil War blankets?
EJ: The Schofields, the Jeffords, and the Dobsons – and I suspect at that point the mills would subcontract to other mills that would subcontract to other mills. If you had a big order and you couldn’t do it yourself, you found the other mills that could do it for you. It wasn’t locked into a bunch of investors like in Massachusetts – we had hundreds of mills, hundreds of spinners, hundreds of dyers – obviously they were fighting over one guy’s book. And, as needed, the people either made the stuff in their place and brought the yarn over to Jim Dobson because he wouldn’t do it or the Schofields or any of the others. There’s also other Schofields as I’m sure you’re aware of. The Walter Elmer Schofields – his father - that’s the oldest- had textile mills too, and they came from the same town as the Schofields and the Dobsons.
WM: Have you heard anything about strikes at the mill? I had read something that when the workers would strike, the management would bring in workers from England that they said had “new skills” for a new product, and that’s how they got around it…did you know anything about that?
EJ: I don’t know anything about the internal workings but all three of us arrived in America in the 1860’s so we watched things – ‘50’s and ‘60s. Strikes - you can never really write a history of the strike because there’s so much interaction between the individuals. At the end, you just have this ball of wax and you pull out one little piece that is going to be the story, but if you have a strike with 1000 employees, you’ll have 1000 stories. If you bring in the army or police you have even more stories. And then you have the stories of what caused the strike, to start off. They’re very human conglomerations (?). So I would have to particularly research a particular strike to get the story – I wouldn’t know - but one thing which I will say is that there were strikes. And there were interrelationships between the owners and the factory workers, but one thing you have to remember is that many of those factory workers were relatives of the owners.
If I’ve got 120 dead bodies in St. James the Less, I don’t think they came over here to make candy downtown.
ES: What do you know about the personalities of James and John Dobson?
EJ: I know virtually nothing about James because he wasn’t my line of the family. I knew his great-great granddaughter very well. And she was a friend of the family. And I met her brother who was the inventor – James Dobson Altemus – maybe two times when I was a kid but I didn’t know much about him. I learned more about him over the last year by researching him. But again he was the one who was the step-father to one of Thomas Carnegie’s children. Remember you said some of the stuff was donated by the Carnegie Foundation so that could have been at the same time.
ES: What do you know about John Dobson’s personality?
EJ: There are a lot of stories. My grandmother was absolutely addicted to (?) Other people say he was a person who was only interested in textile mills and his horse and carriage. His horse and carriage was his pastime – his life was the mills.
ES: What about the Dobson’s house in East Falls?
ES: Where they lived in East Falls. Did they start out on Indian Queen Lane in a house there?
EJ: I don’t know. Quite honestly I didn’t even know Indian Queen Lane existed until I came here last year. What you probably could do is go through these properties I’ve given you – some of them actually cover properties a little bit further away from you and some cover the ones here. The easiest way to find it is to do a title search – I know there was some property that you think belonged to James Dobson or John Dobson or something like that…
ES: The Hohenadel house…
EJ: And have you done a title search?
ES: No, but people who have say there is no record of it. People who lived there - across the street - remember that Mrs. Dobson lived there. I don’t know…that she had a harp or something.
EJ: She might have been a friend. When she was getting older or when she was a child?
ES: No, I thought it was before they moved to Abbottsford.
EJ: Let me tell you - and you know this better than I do – if there is a name that can sell (?) a piece of property, that name will be attached to the property. So I would say, where I would first look – it’s on the censuses – and you can get the censuses all the way back to 1850. And I probably have them – I’d have to look at them but you can get the rough area where they were. I suspect that they came down here because there was a lot of additional factory land in Manayunk and also, possibly, because there the water was better for running the mills. Because originally they were water mills. After you switched to steel it was a different story. So the thing I would look at is – the Schofields were Roxborough-oriented people and Joseph Schofield, who is buried down here, in 1857, there could have been some movement from Manayunk down to East Falls for economic reasons.
ES: What about the railroads? They came in in the 1850’s – 1856, 57….
EJ: Why did he build a house at the crossroads of two railroad lines – one line is here and his factory is over the hill from that. That line goes back to his house and the other line goes down next to the factory.
WM: I read that he owned a lot of property around the railroad. I also read that when Allegheny Avenue was being cut through John was very upset that it was going to be disturbing to his property. Apparently he sued and they awarded him some damages, but, beyond that, he built a wall around it to protect his property. Do you know anything about that?
EJ: I don’t know about that but I think you will see that even though St. James the Less started before they became successful, he very rapidly – and this you can find through title searches - these houses and other properties between his house and St. James the Less - because I found last year some evidence that showed that we gave land to St. James the Less. And we also built the house that the gentleman who’s the head of the school lives in. So there was a great relationship between the Dobsons and St. James the Less. And I think one aspect of that is that it did help bring them a little bit closer to the people who were members of the Episcopal Church down town where all the famous people are buried – I’ve got family buried there too. So you have to realize he was a person who hadn’t been here for generations.
ES: What do you know about fires and things like that that happened at the mill?
EJ: Factory fires – you either… because you needed some money or an accident happened but I wouldn’t know what the basis of them were.
ES: There were periodic fires…
EJ: The funny thing about it - this is where we were backward compared to England. England switched to steel-structured mills when the Dobsons were still building the mills out of wood. So I’m not sure if we didn’t have the steel manufacturing capacity to switch to fireproof mills or it was just cheaper to build them, have them burn down, and build them back within a year.
WM: Do you know anything about the Dobsons’ connection with Falls Presbyterian where some of their furniture was donated?
EJ: I know nothing about that because of the fact that my father was a high church Anglican and you could see they were very much over there. Generally speaking, Presbyterians and Methodists, and the Schofields – many of them were Methodists – generally come from high church Anglicans who have married into another family or had a problem with the Episcopalian
Church. Generally speaking, the Methodists are workers and in Great Britain at that time they were known as non-conformists. The Presbyterians were absolutely considered non-conformists at that time. In Northern Ireland – where many of my family was - that’s why they came to America because they were Presbyterians and they were not treated well by the Church of Ireland…franchise of the Church of England…so I think you will find here that we cover the full spectrum from the high leftover church from when the king was here all the way down to Quakers – not very much in the way of Baptists – that’s interesting - and not a lot of Congregationalists, which are technically Baptists in New England.
Factory workers – it used to be very unusual for them not to do that - if they married a Catholic, which some of them did, then they would frequently become Catholics – the Kilduff’s are Catholic – that’s William’s family – the oldest brother’s family. And Dobson Kilduff is buried over there where nobody knew where it was but now they do because I have it on Ancestry.com. She was William’s daughter so she was a generation ahead of my grandmother but William married Mike Ousey’s great-grandmother after his first wife had died, and I think he was in his 60’s so he kind of skipped a generation when he finally produced a child with his new young wife, who then died in childbirth. And because she died in childbirth and the baby died in childbirth, Anne Dobson Kilduff was raised by the Jeffries, which were James Dobson’s family. Nobody realized that there was anybody from the William Dobson line alive.
And from that line – do you remember that person who had all the parishioners poisoned in Guyana – well, one of his (William’s) descendants was the person who revealed that in the San Francisco Chronicle – the writer Marshall Kilduff – he was a Dobson.
ES: Now, Elizabeth, you said you were coming here to research your burial ground?
EJ: Yeah, I’ve been attempting to get St. James the Less to show me where they’re going to put my body if I decide to give it to them. Hopefully sometime within the next year or so I’ll get something to look at – there is obviously nothing for me to look at this time.
ES: Are there other descendants? Do your sisters have children?
EJ: Oh yes, my brother and sister, we all have children – I don’t know if my brother George or my sister Sally have grandchildren. I have four grandchildren and my half-brother has two grandchildren.
ES: So you were married to…
EJ: I wasn’t married.
ES: You said you have four grandchildren
EJ: You didn’t take biology?
EJ: You don’t have to get married to have children
ES: No, true, true, but I’m just asking.
EJ: My daughter is adopted.
ES: Is that right!
EJ: She’s a daughter of a friend of mine and she is here in America and can’t speak either. So she was having a problem… don’t record this (recorder turned off). I can’t imagine anybody being able to do all the things I’m capable of doing and to have done them all over the world.
ES: And you’ve done a lot of charity work…
EJ: I’ve always done…. and most charity work I do is out of my pocket. I don’t believe that if you get a tax deduction for something that it’s charity. That’s the saddest fraud that we have. And that’s why charity is so disrespected in this country. And because people are only doing it to the level of the taxable basis.
ES: What instilled this in you, Elizabeth? Someone in your past created this giving spirit that you have.
EJ: Well if you see in my family tree, I go back thirty generations. We’re all a reflection of the past that came before us.
ES: Who was it that influenced you?
EJ: It’s not one single person – it’s the actual milieu that made it possible for all these people to come together to be me. Once you start – and this is the wonder of Ancestry.com – is if you go into it well and you’re lucky to hit a few gold mines of family lines, you can actually see why you do what you do and how that evolved over time.
ES: So you feel that your ancestors – you’re following in their footsteps.
EJ: I have no choice because of the simple fact that I was raised by my family and I carry their DNA.
WM: What are some of the charities, beyond educating the Indian children that you’ve been involved in?
ES: Are you interested in education and children or?
EJ: (break)…it’s not the world it’s the people. If you can educate the people and get them a good safety net – good education, good medical care, good food, good roof over their heads…
ES: And that’s what you had. You had a good education.
EJ: I know that and I know that’s what made it possible for me to do everything I wanted to do.
ES: You have a great sense of gratitude, don’t you?
EJ: No. I just realize that it is what is necessary, and when we see families in the world that are deprived of one, if not all of those things, and so we can’t sit around and knock them down because of the fact that they didn’t have the opportunities that we had.
WM: Is there anything you’d like to add before we conclude about your genealogy or about yourself?
EJ: No, but I’ll put an advertisement in for Ancestry.com
ES: What is that again??
ES: Yes, mention it again! Now you’ve got it on tape! (laughter)
EJ: Because, really, the last two years that I’ve used it, that’s all I’ve used. It’s amazing what you can find out. I never knew that my great great grandfather had the Rising Sun bar (?) in Leesfield.
ES: All those connections in England are amazing. Have you been in England since we last met here?
EJ: Yes, I’ve been there twice. Well, I’ve been to England once and I also went to Ireland and Scotland – that was for about six weeks – and I just came back a couple of weeks ago from Northern Ireland again.
ES: And now you’re going to different parts of the United States?
EJ: No, I’m going down to see friends in Baltimore.
WM: Are there any of the graves in Yorkshire that you’ve seen?
EJ: This is the thing – it’s really funny. The paperwork in Ireland is a disaster, but you can find the people. My third cousin is still farming the same land that we left in 1850.
ES: You found them recently?
ES: Really, that must have been…
EJ:Yes - and DNA’ed it and everything. I use Ancestry.com DNA for autosomal DNA – that is the broad spectrum DNA which is not precise but it gives you a very good chance of finding out a good portion of your tree. Then, I’m lucky that I have both mitochondrial and Y DNA, so I have done autosomal again to check the Ancestry.com and then also the Y and the mitochondrial through Family Tree DNA – FTDNA. With that, you can then start cooking up the tree.
Sadly, Jeffords doesn’t do very good, but Bob Schofield who was going to come with me today – I got him to do his Y DNA and he’s hooked up the Schofields in Satterley (?) – and then in Ireland, I got a call from a person who matched my DNA on Ancestry.com and “What do you know about the McLaughlins?” – she’s a third cousin of mine. And we have now put the entire tree together – the movement of the family through Scotland, down into Liverpool, into England, to Foehl (?), into Canada, and here in just 150 years. Not every little piece, but we see this spread from just a small little farm in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. So this is available for lots of people.
WM: I just wondered, going back to England, did you ever find the graves in England?
EJ: No. I haven’t found the graves yet. I have the graveyards. Sadly, the English, in many cases, are worse than the Indians in taking care of their graveyards.
I went to see William Dobson’s – that’s my great great great grandfather’s grave, and I walked into the graveyard and William wasn’t there, but two of his sisters. And as soon as I walked in, I stepped on a wet stone and fell and got a black eye. So I was a little bit disabled for a little bit and I spent two weeks in that particular area and found the graveyards where other Schofields and Dobsons are, but they are virtually inaccessible because of the lack of care.
WM: And where in Yorkshire was this?
EJ: Lees and Leesfield. And it’s now in Lancashire – it’s in greater metropolitan Manchester, so it’s the only portion of Yorkshire that was put into greater Manchester is Lees and the Saddleworth area because it’s on the wrong side of the moors.
WM: Well thank you so much Elizabeth.
ES: We’ve taken up so much of your time!
WM: You’ve given us a lot of insights…
EJ: You’re lucky - I could have sat here for ten hours and told you stories forever. Please edit out everything that isn’t useful.
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW FOR THE EAST FALLS HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Interviewee: Robert P. Levy
Interviewer: Ellen Sheehan
Date of Interview: May 10, 2013
This is Ellen Sheehan interviewing Robert Levy, May 10, 2013 at his office 711 Montgomery Ave. in Narberth.
I just want to ask you about your family.
My mother was from Chicago and she moved here when she married my father in the 1920’s, because I was born in 1931 and that was in March.
What was her name?
Paley, Blanche Paley
She lived in the house for quite a while?
Yes, she did. It was funny. My grandmother Paley lived across the street. She was Goldie. We gave them her house when she passed away. We gave the house to Textile. I don’t remember the year. She moved to Chestnut Hill after her husband died. She lived at the bottom of Crefeld St.
Textile used it as?
They named it the Paley whatever it was. They called me up one day, someone from Textile and said “it needs a new roof.” I said “That’s not part of the agreement.” I wasn’t about to put a new roof on it. They said “Well, it was your house and if you don’t do it we might change the name. I said, “Go ahead and do it. Everybody who’s involved is dead and I don’t give a s… what you call it.” So he got very upset. I called Roger Hillis. Do you know who he is?
No, I don’t.
Roger Hillis was the overseer at Penn Charter for many years. I don’t think he still is because he’s older than I am, but he’s a great guy who lives out in Blue Bell somewhere. Roger was president of PNC bank. He was a big banker in town. Probably rated as one of the best bankers in the country. He was very big at Penn Charter. I called Roger and told him what happened. Roger called the president of Textile and told them what he knew. The guy got fired! I didn’t want to do that but he was really upset. I said “I’m not going to put a new roof on and Roger said, “Of course not!” So then when my mother passed away I was going to give the house to Textile, but I’m still mad at them, you see, so I gave the house to Penn Charter. Then Penn Charter sold the house to Textile for a very reasonable price.
I don’t care what they did with it. Actually, I had offered it to Penn Charter for years because I thought it would be a good lower school for them, but they really didn’t want it. Now they tell me they wish they had taken it because it would have been great.
You were born in that house?
I was born in the Rittenhouse Plaza. My parents lived downtown. I lived there for a few years. Maybe I was 4 or 5. Then we moved to Chestnut Hill to my grandparent’s house. Then we moved here when I went to Penn Charter. I went to P.C. in first grade so I was probably about six when we moved there.
What year would that have been – ’37?
I was born in 1931 and graduated in ‘48. I went to school in ‘36.
I graduated from P.C. in ‘48. I played tennis there and I wasn’t doing much but I did some things.
Did you play any sports?
I wasn’t very good at football so I didn’t play football.
What was your association with the sports center there at PC? Didn’t you and Jack Kelly help to fund the sports center there?
We built the gym building the one that’s there now. They have a building there now called the Dooney building. I worked as a coach with him. I really didn’t spend a lot of time after I graduated because I went to Penn. I played tennis for Penn; I was in a fraternity there ZBT. I was active in that and I was on the radio station WXPN. I am still on and I used to do play by play for all their sports.
What was your degree?
I don’t know - AB in fine arts. After I graduated – Penn is a big place. I have been a trustee there for a long, long time and I enjoy it but P.C. was closer and I was closer to it. Jack Montgomery was there. Jack Montgomery was a great guy, and Jack Montgomery I remember a friend of mine, Klenk, it think it was Billy who died before Gene. He was treasurer of Philadelphia.
I remember Klenk.
Billy was his brother. He went to PC but he passed away young. I remember going to PC for somebody’s funeral and Montgomery was standing there and he knew everyone’s name, “How’s your wife, kids, etc.” He had a phenomenal memory. They have a reputation of getting 99% of the kids into the college of their first choice – which they do! There is no question it is a great school. Of course, if you’re not going to get into Harvard, he’s not going to let you apply to Harvard. He controlled it. If you want to go to Penn, but I wanted to play tennis. My father went to Penn and the tennis coach was a friend of mine, Wally. He’s dead now. He wanted me to come to Penn. In those days you couldn’t play as a freshman, but he said you will play as a sophomore. So I did for three years on varsity and I enjoyed it. I joined the radio station so I was pretty active at Penn.
Tell me about your mother?
She went to Friends Central. I know that she told me that. She moved here because her father was in the cigar business. La Palina Cigars. It was a big cigar company in those days. My grandfather moved to Philly and started La Palina Cigars. In those days cigars were big and this was one of the biggest cigar companies in the country. My mother moved here with him and met my father. She went to Friends Central and he went to Penn and they got married.
Tell me about your father?
He went to Southern High. His name was Leon. He went to Southern High because every time we drove by there he would say “that’s where I went to school.” Now South Philly was the place to be in those days. He and his brother, Ike, they came from South Philly. Then he went to Penn. I don’t know if it was as hard to get into then as it is today. Then he went in to radio business. He started as a dentist. He went to dental school at Penn and one of the buildings is named after him.
The Leon Levy Building?
Yes, it is the research building. He was a dentist and Barbara Stanwyck was one of his patients. Through Ike, his brother, who was friendly with Manny Saks - he’s been dead for years and years, they really got friendly with the Hollywood crew. Frank Sinatra stayed at our house.
Did you know him? What was he like?
He was a good guy. We were very good friends. I remember we had a girl in Debbie’s place (his secretary) in those days and she loved Sinatra. He was appearing at Atlantic City. I said to her “Do you want to go?” She said, “Yes!” So I called and got her a front row table and we went to the show. He came across the stage and sang right to her. She was really blown away. I forget her name. All those people came to our house, Bing Crosby, Sinatra, everybody stayed at our house.
What was his business exactly?
He was a dentist but he wasn’t making any money so he opened a radio station. And that’s now WCAU He started WCAU which eventually became a TV station. We started the radio.
So he played their music?
Yes, but that’s not how he knew them. He knew Manny Saks and Manny Saks knew everybody.
Was he an agent?
I guess he was and all the Hollywood people knew him. They were at the house all the time. Sinatra stayed there a lot. Grace Kelly was at the house all the time. Sinatra was always there.
He was supposed to marry Ava Gardner there.
Yes, and I’ll tell you what happened. My parents went to London for something and the last thing they said to me was, “Now, don’t get into any trouble. “I had this friend of mine Ronny Phillips, he’s dead now but he was a great guy. We decided - the reporters were all hanging around and they didn’t want to get married there because of all the reporters around so they moved the wedding to Manny Saks’ house on Warden Dr. not Warden Drive but one of those streets off Walnut Lane in Germantown. So you go over Walnut Lane and turn right and go around the circle there, I forget the name of the street. So Manny was very close and he knew everybody and when the wedding was taking place. So Ronny and I - we said let’s get these reporters off the wedding. I dressed the butler in a tuxedo and I put the maid back there in the back of the limo in a wig and Ronny drove the limo. We went down to the bottom of School Lane and somebody yelled “there they are.” They chased after us and we went into the house. All the reporters got out and they were getting married about a mile and a half away. They were furious; they were livid.
So you didn’t attend the wedding?
No. But it was fun.
Did you meet Ava Gardner?
What was she like?
I don’t remember. I was a young kid. I was only eighteen, or nineteen.
What about Grace Kelly?
Grace Kelly grew up down the street from us. We were very close. My father was very, very close to the Kelly family. As a matter of fact, my father started a business with Jack Kelly. I was just reading (shuffles some papers)
So you knew Grace Kelly. Was Grace your age?
No, she was a couple of years older. The guys ahead of me at PC used to date her, so I would hear about her. Her sister, Lizanne, was my age and we were very close. We were friends until she died a few years ago. She was a great lady and her husband, Don, was a great friend. I was very close to both of them. When Mr. Kelly started Atlantic City Race Track, my father was his partner. They were very close. Jack Kelly, Sr. died and my father took over.
What do you remember about Mr. Kelly?
I remember him very well. Jack and I were very close to the same age. He was a little older then I was but we were friends until he died.
Did he spend time at your house?
Oh, yes, we spent time at each other houses. In the summer the family would go to Ocean City, so Grace would stay at our house if her parents were in Ocean city. I remember one night, I had a friend over and she came in with a date. We didn’t like the guy she was with. He was sort of a jerk. I don’t remember his name but we were sitting in the room where she came into and we wouldn’t let them alone. We just stayed there. She was nice.
What was Grace like?
Well, she was a kid. She wasn’t a movie star. She went to Steven’s School and my sister went to Steven’s School. But she was older and in those days you dated girls who were younger, you didn’t date girls who were older. It wasn’t even thought about. So she was very pretty.
How did you meet your wife?
I met my wife in Florida in Boca Rotan at a New Year’s Eve party with her family. I got invited to.
What was her name?
Feldman. She was from New York.
Your daughter married a Feldman.
No relation. She lived in Forrest Hills.
What was her first name?
Does she have a nickname?
Cissie. We are married 57 years. I was 24. In ‘55 we got married. We lived at the Presidential Apartments on City Line for three years and then we moved to our present home in Bryn Mawr and we have been there ever since.
How many children do you have?
We have five children and 13 grandchildren so it’s very nice. We see them a lot. Wendy lives in California with her husband. She doesn’t have children. Bobby and Kit live here and the other two live in Lexington, Kentucky. Angela has five kids and is married to a millionaire. They own a horse farm there. Their daughter just applied for admission to Penn. I told them make sure you mention the Farm, but I’m sure she will get in.
I want to ask you about another house your family owned in East Falls, back in Fairmount Park behind the Goldie Paley house.
Oh, the big house. That was Goldie Paley’s house originally. Now wait a minute, that was Ike’s house, my father’s brother and he stayed there until he died. They sold it. I don’t think my grandmother ever lived there. She built the house on the corner of the property near the Henry Ave. Bridge.
Were you ever in that house?
Oh, yes. It was a big house.
A student at Philadelphia. University, who is now with the Vineland HS, told me it was Art Deco style inside.
I don’t remember it. It was a big house and I spent time at my grandmother’s house at the pool. Buddy Herr lived on the other side of us. He owned the Blum Store.
Do you remember Sallie Maser?
Oh sure, that’s his daughter. We have the same birthday, March 30. We are not the same age but we have the same birthday.
She was going to come today but couldn’t make it.
How is she?
She’s wonderful. She lives now at Cathedral Village.
Is she married?
Her husband, Marvin died some10 years ago. She sold the house on Timber Lane and moved to Cathedral Village, a retirement village in Andorra.
I know where it is. There is one out here, Beaumont.
Sally wants to meet you.
Sally’s my friend. I haven’t talked to her in years. Absolutely!
She used to call over the fence,” Bobby, can I swim in your pool?”
Yes, she could. She was a great girl. Sally Herr was very nice. Buddy Herr was great and I used to bet football games. That’s how long ago I remember. Every week we would get together and I would take $5.00 of his action. We would have fun. Her father was a great guy. His wife, Sarabelle, was nice too. Everyone in the neighborhood was nice. Rendell was down on Warden Drive.
Did you know him?
Yes, and who else? John Fuller was a friend of mine from Vaux Street. He died several years ago. His wife, Liz, is still a friend of mine. Did she remarry?
No, I know her as an actress at old Academy. They have a daughter, Sarah.
She is a nice person.
Did you attend church in East Falls?
I was never Bar Mitzvah or anything like that. My parents sent me to Hebrew School, but I didn’t want to learn Hebrew
Tell me about your employment?
After I got out of school, I worked a little bit for WCAU. My father brought a company called Delaware River Terminal and Warehouse. It was on Allegheny Avenue up by the river. He thought the real estate was a good buy and they were in the lumber business and they would store lumber. The lumber would be taken off of lumber ships and we would store it. The dealers who owned it would come and take the lumber. It was a pretty good business; we made some money, but the trouble was it was worse than it is today. The labor unions were strong and the labor costs were getting out of sight. So I just said we can’t do this anymore and make money. Leon Hess, did you ever hear of him?
Hess Oil. Well Leon Hess was a good friend of mine and he was married to Dave Valance’s daughter. Dave was a good friend of my father’s. Valance was the guy who prosecuted the Lindbergh case. Leon Hess came over and looked at the property one day. He said, “I don’t have any money. The most I have is $100,000.00 dollars. He passed away and was worth a couple hundred million. He said, “I think you should go into the storage business. He put a little bit in, maybe $50, 00.00 or $100,000.00. We got a client; we owned almost 40 acres and the lumber business didn’t have a future because the labor costs were too high so we found a tenant who was in the oil business. The two guys were Miller and Kaye; I don’t remember their first names. The name of the company I don’t remember. They built oil tanks and they paid us. We had two gigantic and two or three little tanks at one corner of the property. Other people saw this and decided we should go into the chemical storage business. At the other end of the property we built storage tanks for chemicals. Our first tenant was Bethlehem Steel. We worked hard to get Bethlehem Steel. We got them and from there it just blossomed.
Bethlehem Steel was a good tenant so everybody knew if we had Bethlehem Steel it was the place to be. We grew very big. We sold half of it to Tate and Lyle of London, England, back in the ‘80’s and we kept the other half. We grew even faster with them and we became the largest privately owned storage facility on the East coast. We did very well and sold it to GATX, General American Transportation. They called me up and said, “I hear your place was for sale.” I didn’t know anything about it, but we ended up in a bidding war and got a pretty good price for it. We sold it to GATX and the English company Tate and Lyle was having some trouble with the sugar business. They were the largest supplier of sugar in the world. They were having problems with the sugar business; it wasn’t very good so they wanted to sell because they needed the cash. Ever since then I have had a couple of things. So we did well.
So you have your business here at this office?
No, I just pay bills here and Roxy (his secretary) comes in 2 days a week. She has been with me for thirty-five years. She takes care of things like the horses. But I only have three or four now.
Race horses. Philadelphia Park or New York. I had one race in New York the other day. Came in third, and I have two races at Philadelphia Park. I own pieces of them. Nobody owns them outright. We had one who won the Belmont a few years ago with a horse named “Bet Twice.” He was second in the Derby, second in the Preakness and won the Belmont. Which was great! In those days that particular year they had a bonus for the most points in the three races. We won that, we had to win the Belmont to win that and we did. So we got a million dollars extra. (Shuffles Paper) You still lose money! We had a horse called “House Buster” He was a very good horse. He won fifteen of 22 races and was a champion sprinter in the country in ’89 and ’90.
Where do you stable these horses?
At the race track. A man named Jimmy Croll trained them. He’s dead now. His daughter and wife are still friends of mine. They lived in Monmouth Beach in the summer, but they can’t get back there; their house was wrecked in Sandy. So they’re living in Florida. Lovely people. Nancy’s very pretty and nice. I was very close to the Kelly family because of all that.
What stands out in your mind about East Falls?
I never was active in East Falls. We moved to Bryn Mawr after we were married. There is nothing that stands out. I wasn’t that active in East Falls, because we moved to Bryn Mawr.
Your father died first?
He takes a call from his wife. Pause.
That’s my wife. She knew you were coming.
My father sold WCAU for an astronomical amount of money. Eight million dollars and that was a lot of money in those days. So he was fine.
You had sisters and brothers?
I had one sister, Lynne, and she passed away three years ago. She lived in New York. She was married to Chuck Barris. He was emcee of “The Gong Show” and other game shows. Chuck and I are still good friends.
Do you remember the Dobson’s of East Falls?
No. I have no knowledge of them.
I gave the house to Penn Charter. I wasn’t giving it to Textile because they weren’t very nice. They lost out. They got it eventually. I thought it was perfect for them.
Have you ever visited the house?
Oh yes, I went there one day. I was driving by and thought I’d just stop in. They knew who I was. I think it was the Admission office. The woman took me through. They spent a fortune on it because it needed it. It was gorgeous and they did a first class job. I was very happy and told her so.
Do you know the president there, Dr. Spinelli?
No. I’ve never given them money, just the house. I’ve given money to Penn and Penn Charter.
Tell me about your grandson, Alex.
Well, Alex is a great kid, but I have 13 grandchildren.
Well, I only know Alex and Peter and Carolyn. I taught Alex and Carolyn.
He works for Omar Blake, a City Planner. That’s what he wanted to do. He works very hard. Omar use to be a developer at Penn and he developed all of West Philly.
Well I am going to end our talk now. Do you know anything about the Roxboro House next door?
The big yellow house?
Well it’s white now.
Well it was yellow.
Did you know any of the Wisters, Mosey Bown?
No I knew a musician named Rosenblume, with the Philadelphia Orchestra who lived there.
Now it is the Arlen Spector Library.
Good. Arlen was a good friend of mine. He lived right there on Timber Lane. Arlen and I were close. Rendell and I are still close. I kid him all the time because I supported him. Now that I am on the board of Penn National I wasn’t allowed to support any candidate. I could give him money directly; no, we weren’t allow to do that either. We couldn’t do anything politically. Being on the board of the gaming commission, we couldn’t do anything politically. Saved me a lot of money. It was a great thing. Rendell put the law through when he was mayor. Who do you think was the first person he calls for money? I asked him, “Who put the law through? “Oh, shit, I forgot, I said “you put it through, so don’t you call me.” He laughed. We are very close. He’s a good guy. I love Eddie. There were a lot of people on that street I knew. John Fuller on Vaux and somebody across from me on Vaux. Ravenhill Academy was right down the street.
I guess you dated girls from there?
I didn’t date many Catholic girls, but I did. I remember one. Another guy and I stole a Ravenhill bus for a night.
Did you get in trouble?
No, they didn’t know we took it!
It was great. It was a good school. It was all girls. I knew a lot of girl who went there. It’s not still there is it?
It is still there in all its beauty. It is now part of Philadelphia University.
Penn Charter is still there. Penn Charter is doing great.
I don’t know if it’s doing great, but they’re always asking for money. Their endowment is better than anything they have ever had.
I coached football there. When I graduated college, I was bored. I was working at the station but I didn’t have enough to do. Bill Talerico was the coach at Penn Charter. He put me with the freshmen. I coached the JV. He left and Ray Dooney came over and Ray Dooney offered me the varsity and I said “sure.” I’d rather be the assistant on the varsity than coach the JV.
But that wasn’t a full time job was it?
No. I would go over about 3:00 PM
Did you get paid for that?
No In those days they gave the assistance coach $1,000.00. Not much, but I enjoyed it.
You’re very active, with your interests, work, horse…
It’s what keeps me alive. I have friends that don’t do anything and they die.
Do you come to the office every day?
Debbie’s here every day and she’s good. That helps. I might come 3 or 4 days a week. I might come every day but only for a few hours. I’m not here 9 to 5 or anything like that. I work about 30 hours. Debbie takes care of everything.
Interviewee: Robert P. Levy (second interview)
Interviewer: Sallie Herr Maser
Date: May 27, 2013
Bob: My parents had an apartment in New York and they would go there 2-3 times a year. My father was on the board of CBS. I stayed there when they weren’t there. We had good times in New York and there were great restaurants. Do you remember the Blum Store? It was an upper class store.
Sallie: On Chestnut St., a great store. Equivalent to Nan Duskin. My grandparents owned the store. Their name was Kessler. The people who owned the store before them called the store Blum and they just kept the name. They lived in Klapper, Pennsylvania. They were my mother’s parents.
Sallie: I smoked but gave it up in 86 when Marvin got sick. I smoked in college.
Bob: Doctors always ask me, “Do you smoke or drink.” No, all the people I knew who did, are dead.
Tell me about William. S. Paley. Do you remember him?
Sure, he was my uncle. I was with him the day he died. He was sick with kidney problems. He had a dialysis machine in his home. How many people have their own dialysis machine? I had to leave because he had to have a treatment. I was a young adult about 30 years ago.
What was he like?
He was tough. I did a lot of broadcasting. He wouldn’t let me work for him. I did play by play at Penn, WXPN - a big station and after that when I left school, Jim McKay and I did play by play for ABC. He would never let me work for CBS.
Was that because you were with another station?
It was because I was a nephew. He didn’t believe any family members should work there.
I have a story to tell about your mother. She called up my mother one day and said, “Sarabelle, My upstairs maid just quit. But I didn’t let it bother me. I just pitched right in and drew my own bath.”
Well maids were quitting all the time. She had a lot of help. She had a cook, a chauffeur and a kitchen maid to start with. She had a downstairs butler, a downstairs maid and a few others running around there. I don’t know how she put up with them.
Did you live there then?
Bob: Yes, they had their own section. She built them their own section to live in. My sister was living in New York. She was married to Chuck Barris, emcee of “The Newlywed Game” and “The Gong Show.” She was married to him for 14 years. She was going out with a guy, Roy Negal. Roy Negal was a Sig Ep at Penn. My parents loved him. He was related to the Borden’s from Philadelphia. Chuck was a Borden.
What did your parents think when she married Chuck Barris?
My parents liked Roy Negal better but they liked Chuck.
(Sallie tells about a Penn party where a fella ripped apart a telephone book).
Bob: We had a lot of fun at Penn parties. One time we took a guy’s car apart and put it back together in his room. We had a lot of fun.
Bob: What was your connection to Penn parties, Sallie?
Sallie: I wasn’t allowed to date until I was sixteen. I went down and met a lot of guys.
Bob: Sallie was a good looking girl.
Sallie: I had a little white dress with a white mink collar. I remember that.
Bob: I was thinking about all those gentile girls from Springside. Springside, Germantown Friends and Stevens. Grace Kelly went to Stevens where my sister went. She’s a lot younger than Grace. After I graduated, I went to Penn and played tennis for four years at Penn. Afterwards, we went into the lumber business on the Delaware River. I was working there and coaching a few hours after school at Penn Charter. I enjoyed that. I got attached to Penn Charter. They I became a trustee to Weidner.
Where is Weidner?
Weidner is in Chester. It was called PMC. Pennsylvania Military College, but it wasn’t a military college. It was where I met Mr. Dixon.
Fitz Eugene Dixon?
Yes, He and I shared a plane. He, Ed Piszek and myself. Ed Piszek owned Mrs. Paul’s. We shared a plane and used to go to Florida together. He used to say I was the only Jewish friend he had. On day he said, “Ellen,” that’s his daughter, “is getting married.” Now she had been married before. She got married on a Saturday and divorced on a Tuesday. Literally 3- or 4 days. So I said I wished her luck. He said she’s marring a Jewish boy – it was tough for him to get it out. He didn’t have any money. But they are very happy and have been married for 30 some years now. I think it’s wonderful.
Discussion about an art piece at Mr. Levy’s office.
Bob: We would find things to do. I loved East Falls.
It’s been discovered, you know.
I know. I was talking to someone the other day that is moving to Netherfield Rd. It’s a great block. When we moved to Bryn Mawr, we got a one block road too. Five houses on either side, so there is not traffic. Netherfield is like that.
Tell me about Cissie.
My wife spends most of her time with the dogs, we have four. She spends a lot of her time at Moore College of Art. She’s on the board there. She paints. She has a big show coming up in August. It’s in Saratoga Springs, a seven hour drive. I’m going up there because my horse is being inducted into the hall of fame there. It’s a big thing. Not many horses get inducted into the hall of fame.
What is your horse’s name?
“House Buster” on August 10, a big, big event. I am excited about it. Everybody in the family will be there and Jim Murphy’s driving up from Florida, people are coming from California. The TRA, (Thoroughbred Racing Assoc.) has a board meeting that morning. They moved the meeting to early morning so that everyone can go to the ceremony.
Tell me about the Sinatra wedding.
My parents went to London and said “Don’t get into any trouble. The wedding was to be at Ike’s house across the street. The reporters somehow thought it was to be at our house, which is a reasonable thing. So the reporters were hanging around. Ronnie Phillips was spending the weekend with me and he and I decided to put the butler and maid in the back of the car. I was driving and he ran alongside saying “there they are” so the reporters would follow. We went to our house and they were all looking in the windows. Well, the wedding was moved to Manny Saks. You remember Manny Saks?
Of course, I do.
He lived off Lincoln Drive. So they moved the wedding to Manny Saks’ house and nobody knew where that was. We kept the reporters busy all day and in the meantime the wedding was over and gone. Sinatra was at our house all the time. He performed at the 500 Club because the owner was Skinny D’Amato, Sinatra’s friend. The only place he would perform in Atlantic City was the 500 Club and you couldn’t get near it. When he was In Philadelphia, we had a guest room and he stayed there. He wasn’t as famous when he was singing as he was when he became an actor. Ave Gardner stayed there too.
So they got married that day. Did they stay married?
For a few years. Nobody in Hollywood stays married for long.
How about the pool they built next door to me.
You mean at Ike’s? That was a nice pool. We had a lot of fun at that place.
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