East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Jean Rowland (JR)
Interviewer: Wendy Moody (WM) with Jean’s niece, Lois Childs (LC)
Date of Interview: March 7, 2009
Transcriber: Wendy Moody
WM: March 7, 2009. We’re in the home of Wendy and Winston Moody, 3310 West Coulter Street. We’re interviewing Jean Rowland today, who has lived in East Falls her whole life. Hi Jean.
WM: (filling out form) Jean, where do you live in East Falls?
JR: Indian Queen Lane.
WM: What number?
WM: And where did you live growing up?
JR: I lived in Scotland.
WM: Where did you live in East Falls?
JR: Laboratory Hill. Bowman, Calumet. Let’s see where else…
WM: We can go back to that later. And your date of birth?
JR: March 10, 1915
WM: And your place of birth?
JR: Dunbarton, Scotland.
WM: And your mother’s name?
WM: Maiden name?
WM: And father?
JR: James McGee.
WM: What country were they born?
JR: In Ireland.
WM: What church did you belong to here in East Falls?
JR: St Bridget’s.
WM: And you attended school there as well?
WM: Did you go to school after St. Bridget?
WM: Where was that?
JR: Germantown, St. Francis Elizabeth of Assisi.
WM: Do you know where that is in Germantown?
JR: Greene Street, I think.
WM: We’re also here with Fred and Lois Childs, who might help us with some information. Did you belong to any associations here in East Falls, any clubs?
JR: Actually we didn’t really have any that I know of, I guess.
WM: You came to East Falls at what age, Jean?
WM: And how did you happen to come here?
JR: Well my father came first, of course.
WM: And why did he come?
JR: To make a million dollars! That’s how we used to talk over in those days. We thought in America you made a lot of money, there was money on the ground.
WM: What was his occupation?
JR: He did everything.
WM: What did he do when he came here? What kind of work did he look for?
JR: Well he worked in the mills, Dobson’s Mills.
WM: Did he! What did he do there?
JR: Well, whatever they had to do, I guess. He worked in Dobson’s Mills. He had a house for us when we got here.
WM: Where was that? On Ridge?
JR: On Ridge and the corner of, what is it there, Crawford Street? Well that’s where it was, Ridge and Crawford, was the house that he had for us. Furnished and all.
WM: How long after he came did he send for your family?
JR: About a year, year and a half.
WM: And are there other children besides you?
JR: There were six of us.
WM: Really, and where were you in the birth order?
JR: I was the oldest girl.
WM: Do you remember coming here at age 10?
JR: Yes, I hated the boat ride and everything else that went with it. I wasn’t too fond of coming anyway. When I left Scotland, we went to Ireland, of course, to stay with my grandmother because we had to stay somewhere while my father was getting a job and making money and sending for us.
WM: And what was your impression of East Falls when you first got here?
JR: Well, we didn’t like it too much. We were just sitting in the house. There was an ice cream parlor across the street and they got us an ice cream but we didn’t like the taste of it. We just didn’t like it.
WM: Did your father tell you any stories about the mill? Do you remember any stories he might have mentioned?
JR: Well, I don’t quite remember anything about the mills. I know he went there. He worked there, you know.
WM: Did he seem to like it?
JR: He never complained. He had all kinds of jobs. That’s how we got to Laboratory. We lived there too, you know.
WM: Was that Powers & Weightman that had Laboratory Hill?
JR: Yeah, I think.
WM: Did he work for them as well?
JR: He worked for them. We couldn’t have gotten in there if he didn’t. We lived in the Laboratory.
WM: What was that like?
JR: It was a mess.
WM: How so?
JR: It wasn’t very nice, I didn’t think, but it was where he was supposed to put us, I guess. He had to have worked there for us to go there, in the first place, you know.
WM: So, once again, he worked at Dobson Mills but then, did he switch to Powers & Weightman or stay with Dobson Mills?
JR: I don’t know about Powers & Weightman.
WM: Before we go into specifics, do you have any special memories of growing up here? When you think of your youth here, what stands out for you?
JR: Well, just the people who lived around there. They had little stores and things, you know.
WM: What was St. Bridget like when you went there?
JR: The school you mean? It was nice.
WM: Was that on Stanton Street then?
JR: Yes, it was Stanton Street. The church was on Stanton Street.
WM: You remember the old church?
JR: Yes, I do.
WM: And the school building, what was that like?
JR: That was nice. We had nuns, of course, teaching us.
WM: What subjects were you taught?
WM: Anything special? Art? Music?
JR: Oh well, they had all that but I didn’t go in for that. Music I did. I played the violin. I learned that there.
WM: Did you go home for lunch?
JR: Yes, we did. We didn’t take our lunch or eat it there.
WM: Did they have recess? What did you do?
JR: Yes. You just, with your own little friends, same class or whatever.
WM: Who were your friends?
JR: Oh gosh, Helen Burke, Mary Burke, Veronica McCoy. You know, you forget.
WM: Do you remember any games you played on the playground?
JR: No, I don’t think we bothered that much with that.
WM: Did you play jump rope? Hopscotch?
JR: Oh yeah, we did all that.
WM: Did you ever put on any school plays? Were you ever in a production?
JR: We had a few plays but I can’t remember them now.
WM: And when did you get your report cards? Just once a year?
JR: No, once a month
WM: How did you do on your report cards?
WM: Did you have a favorite subject?
JR: When I first went there – came here and went to St. Bridget’s, of course, they used to – the nun would have me come up and talk in front of the class just because of my brough that I had at that time. I did it a few times and then I got fed up with it and I told her they made a fool out of you, you know what I mean. The kids would laugh of course, and, you know, so then I stopped that. I wouldn’t do it.
WM: Did you play with children from other schools? What other schools were here back then?
JR: Mifflin. They were like away from us. You know, we weren’t that close that we played with them, or we didn’t live real close or, you know.
WM: Do you remember Breck School or Forest School?
JR: I remember Breck. I remember it, of course.
WM: Did you ever see it?
WM: What did that look like?
JR: It was nice. All the schools were nice. Mifflin, where it is now, that was a Kelly house.
WM: Yes, that’s right. Yes, P.H. Kelly.
JR: Yeah. And, of course, they knocked it down, of course, and built the Mifflin School.
WM: Do you remember when that happened?
JR: Yeah, I think I remember it.
WM: Did you go to the library growing up?
JR: Yes. Well, all I know is that we went in and we got the books or whatever we had to have or look for.
WM: Do you remember any of the staff there?
WM: That’s ok. Did you get books for school or just ones to enjoy after school?
WM: Did they have a security guard?
JR: No, I don’t think so.
WM: Where did your family shop when you were growing up? Where would you go for clothes?
JR: In town, to Franklin Cedars.
WM: Germantown or downtown?
WM: Where was Frank & Cedars?
JR: Market Street. We went to all of them - Wanamakers, Gimbels.
WM: How did you get downtown?
WM: Right from East Falls?
JR: Yes. We could get the train there or we could get on the trolley on Ridge Avenue there and go down.
WM: All the way into town. What was the trolley number? 23?
JR: Would it be 61?
WM: Where would you go for a hardware store?
JR: Midvale Avenue. Ridge & Midvale.
WM: Did you ever go into Germantown for shopping?
JR: Yes, we went to Germantown. We used to take the kids there.
WM: And where did you buy your food?
JR: Well, Acme or one of the markets.
WM: Was there an Acme in East Falls?
JR: Yes, there was one at Bowman & Conrad. Right on the corner. As a matter of fact my brother worked there.
WM: When you first came here, what were the roads like? Were they paved?
JR: Yes. Well they had those big blocks, you know.
WM: Which ones had the blocks?
JR: Well, most of them, really, until later and then they all got the blacktop.
WM: Do you remember how old you were when that happened, by any chance?
JR: I forget.
WM: Were there any special people you remember who contributed to life in East Falls, like the Kelly’s or the Dobson’s, or any other prominent people?
JR: Just the people who lived there on the Ridge. Across from the mill there was a lady, well it was Helen Burke’s grandmother. She used to cook for the men that worked there. They’d eat their lunch there. She’d make soup or something, and her name was Iglo.
WM: How would you spell that?
JR: I-G_L-O, I guess.
WM: She helped the workmen there?
JR: She got paid for it, of course, you know. They went there and ate their lunch. But we used to help her once in a while, cutting up the vegetables when she was making soup.
WM: How old were you when you were doing that?
JR: 12 or 13.
WM: Did you ever meet any of the Kelly family?
JR: Yes, we met them at church or different places.
WM: Do you remember any specifically that you met?
JR: John B. Kelly. We’d meet him at mass, of course, and his wife and daughters.
WM: When you were growing up, what did you do for fun?
JR: We went down to the park. Along the river there. They had the Bathey.
WM: I’ve heard about the Bathey. Tell me a little about that.
JR: Well, it was covered. It was a covered Bathey.
WM: There was a pool inside?
JR: Yes. There was a man who opened it in the morning for you to go in. We would have to - they only had 10 places to change, you know - so you wanted to get one of those to change into your bathing suit - so we would be there 6 o’clock in the morning, outside the Bathey.
WM: You’d get there early...
JR: To make sure we got a locker. Because we’d be embarrassed, I guess.
They had a lady who taught us how to swim.
WM: Do you remember her name?
JR: No, gosh.
WM: Were there certain days just for girls?
JR: Yes and certain ones for boys. And then, of course, they built the new one, you know. But that was nice, that Bathey there.
WM: Where exactly was it located?
JR: Right in back of there where the other one is now.
WM: On Ferry Road?
JR: Ferry and Ridge.
WM: Did you have to pay to go in?
WM: Was it run by the city?
WM: What else did you do for fun? Did you go to the river?
JR: We played around. We carried on, I guess.
WM: Go fishing?
WM: Ice skating?
JR: Ice skating, we went in Gustine Lake. We went swimming there too.
WM: Did you swim in the river?
JR: I swan in the river, yes.
WM: Did you! In The Schuylkill River? Here in East Falls?
JR: No, not in East Falls, up by the Canoe Club. Up there. We went there and swam out to the rock out there.
WM: What was that like?
JR: Well it was just – you thought you were real smart, you know. (laughs)
WM: Was the water clean?
JR: Well it wasn’t bad.
WM: Was there much of a current?
JR: Yeah, There was plenty of current. We really shouldn’t have been there. WM: Did your mother and father know?
JR: No, they didn’t know.
WM: Was anyone ever hurt or injured?
JR: No, they had a guard who said, no, you can’t go in but we would get in anyway. We used Gustine Lake. Of course, that was easy.
WM: Can you describe that?
JR: A little bit. It’s right in the park. It was really big. They had a real deep part and a lower part. I’d have the kids with me and you’d have to watch them.
WM: Was that a man-made lake?
WM: Would you go skating there as well?
JR: Yes in the winter months.
WM: Did you do sledding?
JR: We did that on Bowman.
WM: Let’s talk a little about - how did you meet your husband?
JR: How did I meet him I met? I met him on Midvale Avenue.
WM: How so?
JR: A friend of mine, a girlfriend, she’s the one who know him.
WM: What was his name?
JR: Frank Rowland.
WM: Was he your age?
JR: He was 7 years older than me.
WM: And what year were you married?
JR: I’m trying to think….
WM: How old were you when you got married?
WM: Any children?
WM: He was 39?
WM: What attracted you to Frank?
JR: I really don’t know
WM: Did he grow up in East Falls?
JR: He was from Connecticut originally.
WM: How long did you know him before you got married?
JR: Oh I knew him a long time. He lived with the Welsh’s who had a bar there. We would see them, different ones.
WM: What was the name of the bar?
WM: Where would you go on dates growing up?
JR: Well, you didn’t have anything money-wise, you know, so you went for walks.
WM: And where would be a place you would walk to?
JR: Up to the Wissahickon. Back the creek.
WM: Did you ever go to the movies?
JR: Oh, well, sure. We went to the Roxy, and we had a movie of our own on Midvale Avenue.
WM: Where was the Roxy?
JR: On the Ridge up there.
WM: The one in East Falls…Apparently there were two, I understand…
JR: Well one is still there at Frederick and Midvale.
WM: The rounded building. What was that one called?
JR: East Falls, I guess
WM: And the one further up?
JR: What was his name? Lois, you must remember that…
LC: The Alden Theatre.
JR: Yes, that’s it.
WM: Which one did you go to?
WM: Do you remember any movies that played here?
JR: No, I don’t.
WM: Was there a place you’d go afterwards for ice cream or something?
JR: There was a drugstore on the corner.
WM: What was the name of the drugstore?
JR: I don’t remember that.
WM: And where else would people go when they were courting?
JR: As I say, they’d go for walks; the park.
WM: Were you married at St. Bridget Church?
WM: When you were first married, where did you live?
JR: At my sister’s house on Henry Avenue.
WM: What did Frank do for as living?
JR: He worked in different places.
WM: Did he have a store?
JR: We got a store afterwards.
WM: Do you remember what he did before the store?
JR: He worked in the mills and different places.
WM: Did you work as well?
JR: Did I work before the store? Yes, I always worked. I worked for an insurance company for 18 ½ yrs.
WM: What company was that?
JR: Home Life Insurance of America.
WM: And where was that located?
JR: In town, but we had offices all different places.
WM: What did you do for them?
JR: I ran the entire office.
WM: Office manager…
JR: Yes. They had about 20 -30 men there. You had to take care of them for their work.
WM: Did you enjoy that?
WM: And how did you happen to get a store? Tell me how the store came about?
JR: I’ll tell you how that came about. Lois’ mom bought it for her husband but he didn’t like it and then Frank said, “Well I’ll take it.” So…
WM: Where was the store located?
JR: Indian queen Lane and Conrad.
WM: Right on the corner?
WM: Do you remember what the store was before it was you store?
JR: It was a little grocery store, but Frank put meat and everything in it.
WM: What was the name of your store?
LC: It was Rowland’s Market.
WM: How many years was Rowland’s Market there? When did you think you started the store?
JR: Oh gosh.
WM: You were married at age 32 and at about what age did you have the store?
JR: I don’t know, but we had it a long time.
LC: It was the early 1950’s. 1953?
WM: When it opened?
LC: When they took it over.
WM: So it was a store before?
JR: It was a grocery store but they didn’t sell fresh meats. We carried everything.
WM: Tell me about the meats. Did you sell live chickens? Was the meat packaged?
JR: No, we had to order the big steak or beef or chops.
WM: Where did you order it from?
JR: What was the name of that big beef company?
WM: Did you sell chickens as well?
JR: No, there were certain things I wouldn’t tolerate, you know.
WM: Did they deliver them to you, as far as you remember? Was the supplier downtown that you got it from? The meat, the chickens?
JR: No, the chickens were from the country.
WM: What were some of the special items that people would buy?
JR: Well, milk, eggs, lunch meats, fresh meats, ice cream.
WM: Was the ice cream the way it is now, in cartons?
WM: Did you advertise?
JR: No I don’t think so. You could see the store.
WM: Did people come to the store from other neighborhoods or was it mostly local?
JR: Well, different ones. Depending. Our own relatives…
WM: Did you know most of your customers?
WM: Did they call up and place their orders?
JR: Some of them did that. Some of them came.
WM: What were the shopping habits like? Did they shop for the week? Come in every day?
JR: It would be, half and half, you know.
WM: Did you ever have things like coupons?
JR: Yes, we had coupons.
WM: Were they in the local paper?
JR: Some of them were.
WM: What was the name of the local paper?
JR: I’m trying to think of the name of it.
WM: Not the Weekly Forecast? The Suburban Press? Germantown Courier?
JR: Yes, we got that.
WM: Did you have any competitors?
JR: No not really.
WM: Can you think of other stores that were on your street? I’m thinking about Conrad. Can you take us down one side of the street and up another and tell us what stores were there?
JR: Well, there was Clayton’s Market.
WM: What did they sell?
JR: Same as us.
WM: What year are we talking about?
JR: I don’t remember. And then there was one that sold just meats. Stubblebines, yeah, and there was another. And there was a hardware, a bakery.
WM: Do you remember the names of any of them? Who owned them?
JR: I don’t remember them.
WM: Any clothing stores?
JR: No, we didn’t have any clothing stores along there, anyway.
WM: Can you think of any other stores on the street? Doctor’s offices?
JR: They were all on Indian Queen Lane, I think, the doctors. Well, of course, Dr. Kent was on…He was there forever.
WM: What kind of doctor was he?
JR: He was an osteopath, but he was good.
WM: Did he make house calls?
WM: Was there a business community? An organization that everyone belonged to?
JR: Well, I guess there – they probably had something. I’m trying to think.
WM: You don’t remember belonging to…?
WM: Did you have a local government? Now they have the East Falls Community Council – did they have any local government or civic organization?
JR: Not that I know of. Got the Fallser.
WM: Thinking back, were you here during prohibition?
JR: When there was no booze? Well they had, what do you call them?
You could go to some house and pick it up there.
LC: Like a speakeasy?
JR: No, not really. It was like, they would just…
WM: You just knew which houses to go to, to buy liquor.
JR: Yeah, right. You knew the ones that sold it. You just went. They would even give it to the children who were going for their parents.
WM: What kind of liquor was it? Do you remember?
JR: Just plain old liquor.
WM: Do you remember when prohibition was over? Was there a celebration?
JR: Oh, I guess.
WM: Did you sell liquor in the grocery store?
WM: Where would you buy it after it was legal?
JR: Well, down on the Ridge there they had places where you could pick it up.
WM: What about the Depression in the 1930’s. Were you here then?
WM: What do you remember about those years?
JR: Laughs. Well you know I often say now it was really bad, but we didn’t seem to mind it as much, you know?
WM: Why do you think that was?
JR: I don’t know. I guess we thought, well, you know, you just have to tolerate it.
WM: Do you remember any sacrifices you had to make? Anything that you did without that you wished you had?
JR: Not really. There was a gang of us to begin with, you know. There were 10 of us so we couldn’t have everything, you know, just so or stuff that if we could get it we wouldn’t have the money to get it with.
WM: Did you have any toys?
JR: I didn’t have any toys, but the others did. We always managed to get them something. My brother worked in the Acme and he bought them ice skates for Christmas.
WM: Did you have a doll?
JR: I guess we did.
WM: Do you remember eating any differently during the Depression years?
JR: You had to eat what you liked - whatever was around that was. You ate the same really except you weren’t supposed to.
WM: Moving a little forward, what about World War II? What impact did that have on East Falls and your life? Do you remember anything from those war years?
JR: Just for the ones that were going; you felt bad.
WM: Did they do anything special to send off the soldiers?
JR: They would have a little gathering. They weren’t so crazy about having anything, I don’t think, for the war, but you know.
WM: Did you do anything here on the homefront for the soldiers? Do you remember knitting?
JR: I don’t remember. We probably did.
WM: What about holidays? Can you tell us a little bit about some of your traditions or those of the neighborhood or your family? Like what about Christmas - what would happen at your house at Christmas?
JR: Everything. We would have toys or whatever we could get for them. We always had a tree.
WM: Where did you get the tree? Was it a live tree?
JR: Yeah, in the neighborhood.
WM: Would you chop down your own tree?
JR: No, they were selling them. You could buy them then for 50 cents. Now you have to pay $50, right!
WM: Did you go to church on Christmas Eve?
JR: Oh yeah, we always made mass. We never missed mass,
WM: Was that late at night?
JR: Well, in the morning and then, well, now they have them later, 4 o’clock, 8…
WM: Did you have a special dinner on Christmas? Did your family ever go anywhere at Christmas?
JR: Not really. There were enough of us without even bothering.
WM: You had other relatives…
JR: We were all together, you know.
WM: What about Easter?
JR: We would have to get our outfits, of course, in town, like I said, you know. Wanamaker’s, and all those different places. Lit Brothers, Strawbridge.
WM: Did you have Easter baskets?
JR: Yeah, candy and hard boiled eggs. We had everything.
WM: Did you go somewhere to parade in your outfits?
JR: Down the park. (Laughs)
WM: Where exactly in the park would you go?
JR: Right down where we lived in East Falls.
WM: Along the river?
WM: And what about 4th of July?
JR: Well, they had in the park – the school would have something – they would give you coupons you could use to buy stuff. You just give them the coupons.
WM: What kinds of things could you buy?
JR: Something to eat, something to drink.
WM: Was that in McMichael Park?
WM: Would the whole neighborhood go to McMichael Park?
JR: Well, they could but it would be like, say, St. Bridget’s having theirs, but then someone else would come and take a part of it.
WM: They’d have a picnic up there?
WM: Was there a parade?
JR: Yes, they used to have a parade. The younger ones would be going….
WM: Were you ever in the parade?
JR: I guess I was. I don’t remember that. (laughs)
WM: Did they have Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts?
WM: Were you in Scouting?
WM: What do you remember about different seasons of the year? Did you rake leaves in the fall? Any special traditions with the seasons?
JR: Well, not that I – I guess maybe we did.
WM: Your summers were spent at the Bathey and the river? Did you go to the shore?
JR: We went to the shore for maybe a couple of days. My mother used to take us.
WM: Do you remember where at the shore you would go?
JR: Atlantic City, I guess it was, or Wildwood.
LC: You would go to Woodside Park too.
WM: Can you describe that?
JR: Well that was quite a walk from East Falls Bridge. It was nice. They had everything. They had all kinds of amusements. They had a swimming pool there that we used to swim in. You had to pay, of course, to go there.
WM: I understand the merry-go-round is now in the new Please Touch Museum. Do you remember the merry-go-round?
JR: Yes, uh huh.
WM: Are there any special events – you’ve lived here a long time – anything that you remember happening in East Falls that was special to you, or a big event for the neighborhood?
JR: Not that I – I guess there’s a lot of things I could say.
WM: Were you involved at all in any sports?
JR: Well, I can’t think.
LC: Frank played football?
JR: Oh yeah. He was a quarterback in the East Falls Wildcats. That was a football team that we had here. I think they’re all dead now. I must have a picture somewhere - the East Falls Wildcats- and he was the quarterback in that picture there, you know.
WM: I have a special interest in nature. And I just wonder if you remember in all your years here anything about wildlife or flowers or nature.
JR: I’m trying to think.
WM: Did you ever go up to the reservoir?
JR: Oh, yes.
WM: What would make you go there?
JR: Just to be newsy, I guess, or fresh or something.
WM: What did you do there?
JR: We just looked at the water. You might see some people there with bikes or a car. They didn’t appreciate your being there.
WM: You could see the skyline of downtown Philadelphia from there?
WM: What do you remember about the transportation here? Tell me about the trolley and when that stopped.
JR: They still have trolleys don’t they? In Germantown? Didn’t they just put one there; trolley tracks? In Germantown.
WM: And you remember the tracks that went down Midvale?
WM: And where did that trolley go to?
JR: Just down Midvale. That’s where they went. Then into Germantown
That’s what I used to take to go to my job with the insurance company, on Germantown Avenue.
WM: Can you comment on what you like about East Falls?
JR: Well, the only thing that I didn’t like was when I first came here, of course. You know, which was natural I guess, like everything else it grows on you, you know.
WM: Do you think it’s a unique place? Anything special about it that you like?
JR: Well, it’s nice, I think. I don’t think it’s as nice now as it was then. I don’t like what’s going on in the town. You know, different things, different people, they carry guns, drugs.
WM: Did you feel very safe her growing up?
JR: Yes, yes.
WM: Was there a local policemen, do you remember?
JR: Oh we used to – I did know their names, now I forget them, see.
WM: Were they on horses?
JR: No. The one that I remember - he’d be at Ridge and Midvale - in the middle – and he’d be directing traffic more or less. But he was nice. We used to go to Jersey, to a place – we used to summer away. He was a park guard that was there…
WM: Was it Caruso?
JR: No, was it Charlie Phee? Lois?
LC: I don’t know.
JR: I think that was his name. But anyway, he would direct them - they’d go down into the park and they’d go down into Jersey that way. And he would just tell them to pick us up – the different ones - so we didn’t have to worry.
WM: I guess you were here when cars became popular. You saw the transition of people beginning to buy cars?
JR: Yeah, that never had any.
WM: Do you remember the people that had the first cars?
JR: No, I don’t.
WM: Do you remember when your family got a car?
JR: Well, my brother had one as soon as possible - not a new one, of course.
WM: Are there any other comments you would like to tell us? Anything to tell future generations about East Falls that you remember?
JR: I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.
WM: Ok, Jean. Well thank you very, very much for all your information.
JR: You’re welcome. You didn’t get much!
WM: We appreciate learning about your life here in East Falls and thank you for your time.
The East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: SHIRLEY SHRONK (SS)
Interviewer Ellen Sheehan (ES)
Date: July 17, 2013
Place: Conducted at 3304 W. Queen Lane with Shirley and her daughter, Judy.
ES: Shirley and Judy thank you so much for coming today. The East Falls Historical Society is happy to have you here today and appreciates your time. Where were you born in East Falls?
SS: 3530 Sunnyside Avenue.
ES: What do you remember about the area at the time you lived there?
SS: I always called it “United Nations.” There were a number of various nations represented within five houses. The people next door to us were the Mulligans. Straight from Ireland; then my mother and dad, both first born here in the U.S.; Next to them were the Whittakers, from England and the people next door to them were the Stevensons, who came from Scotland. The family next door to them were the Verdones, from Italy.
ES: When were you born and what was you maiden name, Shirley?
SS: I was born in 1926. My maiden name was Warrington.
ES: Tell me about your parents. Where were they from?
SS: I am not sure where my mother was born. My father was born in New York. The Warrington side of the family came over apparently docking in Philadelphia. My grandfather lived on Indian Queen Lane, so we were residents of the Falls for a good number of years. I was born in the front bedroom of 3530 Sunnyside Ave. It was a Monday, wash day. In those days Monday was wash day, Tuesday you ironed and that type of thing. My bed was the wash basket.
ES: Where did you go to school?
SS: I went to the Breck School in the little old stone building for kindergarten and went through 2nd grade. For third grade we went to the brick building,
ES: The stone was the Forrest School and the brick was the Breck School?
SS: Yes, there were big old trees in the play yard and the roots were exposed. There were nice little seats where we would go to sit for recess and a stone bench where we could sit and chat with a friend. There was no water in the stone building. If you wanted to use the bathroom, you had to go to the brick building.
ES: Did you complete 8th grade there?
SS: No, in 5th grade we moved to the Thomas Mifflin School. I was about 11 years old in 1937 when Mifflin was opened. For the 6th grade we moved to Roxborough,
ES: Do you remember opening day at Mifflin? Any teachers?
We walked from Breck to the new school. For teachers, I forget my 5thgrade teacher’s name, but can still picture her. She was a beautiful blond woman. The school was so lovely. I remember the contest beforehand to select the school colors. We finally settled on gray and maroon. Does that still hold?
ES: Probably, I have a school flag with those colors. Where did your parents shop?
SS: There was an A & P up on Conrad St., which was then 35th St. A butcher stop, Bill Hutchinson was one of the butcher’s there, he was a member of our church. We brought our meats there. My father had a vegetable garden up on Mosey Brown’s property. It was such fun going there. I was the helper. The only way I helped was to stay out of the way. There are so many memories there. There was a big tree with a low branch where we could relax and stay out of the weather. Mother would pack our lunch and we would make a picnic of the day’s work.
Judy: You told me about some of your lunches.
SS: When I would carry my lunches to school, I would have a mustard sandwich, a pickle sandwich, a butter sandwich. I often carried my lunch. My Aunt Lizzie lived on Indian Queen Lane, across the street from the Methodist Church. I would sometimes go have lunch there. The house there was the family homestead. When my grandfather arrived from England he spent his first night in this country in that house. It is the house where he died. The Warrington side was very large. Of course, I grew up knowing the Shronk family.
ES: When did you meet your husband?
I met John Malcolm Shronk after we moved to Roxborough. A friend of mine from junior high had moved to Glenside and she invited me to visit her for a weekend. She set up a blind date for that weekend. I was 13 at the time. I knew Malcolm’s Aunt Ruth and Uncle George Stubblebine, and his uncle Leroy Shronk from church, but had never met his immediate family.
Judy: His side of the family, my grandfather, had moved away to Glenside. That was John Shronk. My grandfather, John Malcolm, Sr. was the son of John Manual, who had the dry goods. John M. Senior lived on Penn St. with his family for five years before moving to Glenside. Uncle Leroy stayed in the family home on Indian Queen Lane. This is why my mother met him later-even though they lived across the street from each other.
ES: So the Shronk house on Indian Queen Lane (3584) was kept in the family even when they moved?
SS: Leroy Shronk lived there.
ES: When your grandfather moved, Leroy stayed, he was an adult.
Judy: Pop-pop was the youngest, he was the baby.
Judy: That (3584) was John Manual’s house. He had 4 or 5 children. One was Aunt Ruth, who married Stubblebine, one was Leroy who kept the house as his own to adulthood, my grandfather was John Malcolm, who moved to the suburbs and there was an Uncle Norman, he moved away. There were three boys and one girl and a couple who had died. The house started as John Manual’s who had the dry goods store. It was down on Ridge Ave. It was near the bridge, where there is a gas station now (Calumet St.)
ES: What did he sell in the Dry Goods Store?
SS: Fabrics, no clothes. That was most popular because these were depression days and everyone made their own clothes.
ES: You met your husband when you were 13?
SS: On a blind date. He was 7 years older than I. It was Leroy who brought us together years later. We had the polite thing following the blind date. The families realized they knew each other. There was a tie there, it wasn’t very strong but it was a tie. His mother and dad knew my parents and brother.
ES: What were the Shronks like?
SS: My in-laws were great. My mother in law was a saint. Her name was Marion. She was from Germantown. They moved out to Hatboro and that is where my husband was born. The family had a hard life. Her father died as a young man. Her brother became the man of the house and gave orders. It was difficult for the mother for a number of years.
ES: Did they continue the business?
Judy: That would have been my grandfather. All of the children went on and did different things. John Malcolm, Jr. was a piano turner. He was taught by a man from Manayunk or Roxborough. Dad was a very popular piano tuner in East Falls.
ES: How did you reconnect after the blind date?
SS: Christmas is coming and Uncle Leroy would chat with me at church and said it would be nice if you send Malcolm a Christmas card. Malcolm was stationed in Cape May, he was in the Navy. It was a month or two before the war. He responded and this is what happens.
ES: When were you married?
SS: We were married on February 16, 1946 at the Methodist church. The Falls Methodist United Church. Our first child, Judy, was baptized there.
ES: What do you remember about the church?
SS: The singing. My very first friend was June Drumhiller. We were glued to each other. We would sit in the second row. When Pastor Carter had completed his sermon, he put forth the invitation. I stood up and said to June “Are you going up?” So we both went up and accepted Christ the same day.
The first person to welcome me into the church was Aunt Ruth Stubblebine. Of course, I didn’t call her Aunt Ruth. I was only 11 years old when I accepted Christ. The families were connected.
We lived in Roxborough at first and then moved to Glenside. Judy is my oldest and then Ruth is my youngest.
ES: What do you remember about Indian Queen Lane and Uncle Leroy.
We would come to 3584 Indian Queen Lane and Leroy had such tales to tell. He never particularly liked children until Judy came along. He would get down on the floor and play with her. He was a different person when he was around Judy. He had purchased the house next door to him (3586) and wanted us to move there to be closer to him, so he did have a heart for children.
ES: What do you remember about holidays in East Falls?
I remember particularly the 4th of July. During the years of the war there were four men of the church each came up with an idea. The first year they were dressed as drum majorettes. The baton was a dowel stick with a ball on the end and the wives made them hats with pompoms. East year was a different theme. They would stop the parade at the Warrington house and the men would file out and take the lead of the parade and march to the grounds. We went to the Philadelphia Textile grounds and the mansion off the reservoir, the Dobson estate. I was just talking to my very first best friend the other day about tasting the ham sandwiches and the lemonade after a long march in the parade. The memories were about food and the games, for all ages. We celebrated our freedoms as well as the friendship.
ES: What do you remember about the war?
SS: We were not married but we were engaged in 1944. He served in Cape May for a number of years and his brother, Uncle Leroy served there, too.
ES: I have a picture of Leroy in his navy uniform.
Judy: That was WWI. Uncle Leroy served in WWI.
SS: It was sad, of course, as far as personal life was concerned, my dad had his vegetable garden. When Penn Charter extended onto Mosey Brown’s property, my dad had a plot of ground on the other side of the reservoir, across Henry Ave. from where we were than living on Barclay St. We lived in Roxborough for a couple of years with my grandfather and then moved back to the Falls, on Barclay Street.
ES: Do you know the address?
SS: 3434. I was around 14 and went to Roxborough High School. My dad kept his vegetable plot and sold vegetables to people. We would carry water from Barclay Street to the opposite side of the reservoir to water the plants. Can you imagine how much water was left in the bucket by the time we got there?
ES: Did other people have gardens there or just your father?
SS: Other people did, I’m sure, but who they were I don’t know. Everyone got along in the neighborhood. It was just so nice. The Italian woman down the street taught me to embroider. The Bonnassisi family lived on the corner, the children were all so nice, so friendly. The night that their house burned down, there was panic, pure panic. Mr. Bonnasissi, the father, ran up the street yelling, “Help me save my children.” One of them came to live with us for a while, while the house was being rebuilt.
ES: Which house would that have been?
SS: The corner of Sunnyside and Cresson. Being a child I don’t know what caused the fire.
ES: Were you living on Barclay St. when you got married?
SS: Yes, I was married from there.
ES: What do you remember about prohibition, if anything?
SS: Well, that would have been back when we lived on Sunnyside Ave. I had been sick with the whooping cough. I spent a lot of time in bed sitting by the window. There was a bar near the coal yard. I loved to sit at the window on Saturday night and listen to the music. One of the songs that stays in my mind is “When I grow too old to Dream.” That’s all I remember, the bar, the lights and listening to the music.
ES: What did you do when you were sick? Was there a doctor?
SS: In those days you didn’t go to a doctor. We didn’t have antibiotics. The remedy for an ear infection was to have cigar smoke blown in your ear. I guess it got better on its own.
ES: What do you remember about buildings that were here in East Falls? The library, for instance?
SS: The library was the center of activities. My mother was active in the Mother’s Club group and the meetings were at the library. The mother’s met and the children were upstairs in another room where we were given milk and delicious cookies. I enjoyed the library. We did our research at the library. We went to the card file to find just what book we were looking for and where to find it.
ES: What did you do for fun? Did you sled?
SS: When you mentioned the library, I was thinking there was a hill on the other side of the library and we would sled up there down the big hill. “The Nuts.” It was a mental institution. I had asked about it when we met before. We did a lot of sledding on the front stoop. The 3500 block of Sunnyside was cobblestones. There were very few cars, so we would start up by Conrad and come right down. If you were lucky you could turn the corner at Cresson St. and wind up on the curb by the railroad. My brother would belly flop and our dog, Lobo, would jump on his back – a sight to behold. The dog would pull the sled up the hill and ready for another ride.
ES: Did you ice skate?
SS: When I was older, I would go to Gustine Lake. Before that the yard in our backyard was slanted. My father made skates out of roller skates. He took the wheels off and the blades were runners from an old sled. As snow melted and froze I would “skate” there in the yard.
ES: What about swimming?
SS: Swimming was down at the Bathey. It was generally so crowded, you couldn’t do much swimming. There was a deep end and I wasn’t much of a swimmer. You could only stay for one hour and it was a long walk down and back home again. All that walking, you felt like swimming again when we got home.
Judy: As a young girl in the summer, did you play hopscotch and jump rope and that kind of thing?
SS: Yes, we played “jacks” and with dolls and loved sewing new outfits for them. Paper dolls were popular and fun to design clothing for them.
I loved to watch the boys play marbles in the back alley. They had a string for a circle or maybe draw a circle with a string. They would play half ball. There were games on the front street in the summertime. Anyone who wanted could join in – “Red Rover, Kick the Can”-various games, always something going on.
Judy: Was half ball a precursor to Whiffle ball?
SS: It was a half ball, 3” in diameter, it was cut in half after it split. You didn’t cut a good ball.
ES: Is there anything you would like to add to our interview? You have given us so much information.
SS: I like to collect kitchen antiques. So many of them bring back memories. The man who made snow cones had a large block of ice in the wagon, and bottles of syrup. He would scrap the ice and go around the neighborhood selling the snow cones. There was an ice crème wagon. The ice man came through with a horse and wagon, down the cobblestone streets. The huckster would come with his truck. He was there once a week. A man came with a monkey on a leash and an organ grinder. He would play music and the monkey would have a cup to collect pennies as the man played tunes. Another man would sharpen knives. It was a different life. We all got along so well together. It was a joy.
ES: Thank you so much Shirley and Judy for a wonderful interview.
Judy: Uncle Leroy’s brother, John Malcolm, Senior, as a young boy, about 10 or so was playing with a friend. It was the Hohenadel boy. His mother didn’t like this boy very much and had always told my grandfather not to play with him. Of course, my grandfather was playing with him one time and the Hohenadel boy had a gun that was loaded. The gun went off and hit my grandfather in the head, on his forehead above his nose. He somehow got home and said, “Don’t tell my mother who I was with.” He went to the hospital.
They could never remove the bullet without doing brain damage in those days, which was back in 1905. He never had any scar, but you could watch his pulse beating at this hole, which was there his whole life. In spite of this injury, he lived a long life to be 85, but he could never get life insurance. He saved his money.
ES: What happened to the Hohenadel boy? Did they press charges?
SS: No, it was an accident.
The Shronk family is one of the oldest in East Falls. Godfrey Schronk was an early resident of East Falls. He had a fishing business near the Falls Bridge in the 1700’s. His son, Robert Roberts Schronk, was a reporter during the 1800’s and a source of information for A. J. Chadwick’s papers in the 1930’s.
East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Lee L. Snyder, Ph.D. (LS)
Interviewer: Kenneth A. Hinde (KH)
Date of Interview: February 2010
KH: When and where were you born?
LS: I was born in a little town in northeast PA called Drums, named after a family named Drum that lived in that area and I was born in 1921.
KH: What about your parents, what were their backgrounds, as far as nationality?
LS: Well, they were both natural born citizens. My father came from a family of Welsh miners. His father was named John Owens which is kind of curious since my name is not Owens but that’s a long other story and he was married to a Jenny Singleton which is probably English but my grandfather Owens was a miner and all of his sons except one who had a crippled foot were miners at one time or the other. It was a very large family of ultimately I guess 10 – 8 boys and 2 girls – curiously the second girl, my Aunt Ethel, is a year younger than I am!
KH: So you still have your Aunt Ethel?
LS: Yes and my mother’s family, I wish I knew more about. Her father’s name was John Wilson Mace which I think is probably an English name and her mother, on the other hand, was of German origin. She herself was born here but her parents I think came from Germany. Their name was Wirsing which appears to have been shortened from Wirsinger. And my parents probably met in the equivalent of junior high school. I never inquired about this but I think that was the case. They both had what was then sort of the common public education in that area. They went through 8th grade. My father subsequently had some training – I guess 2 years – in a business school and was proficient as a bookkeeper and so on and later used those skills in various ways, preparing taxes for people and that sort of thing. My mother would have liked to have gone to college but her family simply couldn’t afford it. If she had, she probably would have been a teacher and those skills, sort of leading and directing groups, came up in volunteer activities later on.
KH: Do you have any siblings?
LS: I have a sister who survives. She’s 2 years younger than I, almost exactly 2 years. I had two other sisters who died in infancy though younger than my sister Betty. Apparently, they died because of the incompatibility of blood factors. At the time they didn’t know how to deal with it but apparently, that’s now dealt with transfusions or injections or something. Apparently, it’s a fairly common thing and after the first but more commonly after the second pregnancy, women with this factor have to have that dealt with or their children won’t survive. They are what I think they call ‘blue babies.’ And both of these girls, I think, died within a matter of days after birth.
KH: Does your sister, Betty, still live up in northeastern PA?
LS: Yes, she lives in a little town outside of Hazelton. She was a registered nurse. She trained here in Philadelphia at the nursing school at the Women’s Medical College when that still existed here in East Falls. And for a time she and her husband who she knew in junior high school, after they married they lived for a time in Germantown for I guess about 2 or 3 years while she worked as a nurse and he was working for the Western Electric Company, generally installing central office telephone equipment, the type of things that have now been replaced by electronic circuits and so on.
KH: I’m also interested in knowing, when you were a youngster in school - elementary, secondary school - what were your academic strengths and what were your academic weaknesses?
LS: It’s interesting, I generally did pretty well in most subjects. I especially liked in the early grades things like geography. I was pretty good at math right from the beginning and all through high school I was pretty good in math. It’s always been a little disappointing to me that I didn’t have any math in college. I often wish I had taken calculus because I think it would have been useful because it’s related to statistics and so on which I never really learned.
KH: Well, along those lines, when you were growing up did you think like most kids do: I want to be such and such when I grow up?
LS: Well, things that interested me were, I can remember particularly when I was about in 7th or 8th grade, I got interested in bridges. I remember in my 7th grade classroom they had a set of ‘The Book of Knowledge’ which is kind of an old set of encyclopedic reference work. I got to reading that once during a recess or something and I was reading about the building of the first cantilevered bridges in Scotland.
KH: One of those iron bridges?
LS: Yes, the ones they built out from both sides. And that fascinated me and so I thought, well, I would like to build bridges. And if had got a scholarship to an engineering school instead of to a liberal arts college, I might have very well been an engineer because I was interested in that sort of thing and I was to that point pretty good at math and physics and that sort of thing. I was also interested in architecture which is not unrelated to engineering. I used to make model houses and so on, a sort of a modern kind of house. Instead of stairs, my house had a ramp from the first to the second floor and one of the things I also got interested in during that same time was I read at that time about the raising of the ‘USS something or other’ which was a submarine which had sunk but was eventually raised and brought up to the surface and the whole thing was very interesting because it meant getting under the submarine on the sea bed with putting cables underneath it and then attaching those cables to tanks which they filled with air and eventually the whole thing was raised up and I was fascinated by that. That sort of technical thing kind of interested me.
KH: That’s interesting to me because I know about your career in English, English literature. When you went to college – well, first of all – where did you go to college and did you major in English?
LS: Well no, I went to Muhlenberg College in Allentown which was a different college then than it is now.
KH: So, you ‘came south’ at that point (from northeastern PA)?
LS: Yes, as a matter of fact I had scholarships to two liberal arts colleges- Muhlenberg was one, Franklin & Marshall was the other. And I’ve often speculated, well, suppose I’d gone to Franklin & Marshall instead of Muhlenberg? I would have known a whole different set of people in a different place. At that time, F & M was probably the more prestigious college and probably maybe a little better even in terms of its faculty. But Muhlenberg has come to be a much stronger college now than it was then. Until sometime about in the late 50s, I think it became co-ed. Until then it was a men’s college which it was when I was there and the total enrollment was about 500. Now it’s co-ed, has been for 60 years and is at least three times as big as it was then.
KH: That’s where you did your undergraduate work?
LS: Yes, and I was not majoring in English, I was majoring in Classics – Greek and Latin –and I was planning to go on to graduate work in Classics. As a matter of fact, I had received a fellowship to study Classics at the University of Chicago but then World War II came and I was drafted. And after the War, by then I had changed my goal but since I had already once been admitted to the University of Chicago, they said well, we have already admitted you once and your admission is still good. And that was fortunate for me because at the time there were so many veterans trying to get back into colleges and universities. But since they’d taken me once, they took me back.
KH: So, that’s where you got your graduate degree after the War?
KH: A Master’s Degree in English?
LS: Yes, a Master’s Degree in English. By that time I had switched my interest. When I was in college, I was studying Greek and Latin. I had also had by then five years of German. I had had two years of German in high school, three years of German in college. I had had two years of French and two years of Italian and by then I guess I had probably eight years of Latin and four years of Greek. Well, in my senior year I took an elective course in the English department called ‘A History of the English Language.’ Well, I was fascinated there because as I got to studying the English vocabulary, I realized that so much of it comes from so many different languages and I thought, boy, this is what really turns me on.
So, I really got interested in that and at the University of Chicago they didn’t really have many people who were who in English philology. Philology is sort of a name for the study of language. It’s not equivalent to linguistics and it’s an older term. It’s really a 19th century/early 20th century term focusing on the study of language for the sake of interpreting and understanding the literature in a language. So, they really didn’t have many people at Chicago in that area. They did have one man who was an expert in Middle English but he was retiring. I essentially filled in some of the many gaps in my English literature background and then I came back east. I first applied to Johns Hopkins because they had a strong language department and they would have accepted me but not that year. I would have had to wait a year and I didn’t want to do that. I applied to Yale also and they had already filled their class for the coming year. And I was somewhat at loose ends until I was talking to a former professor at Muhlenberg whom I had known as an undergraduate and he said, well, I know some people at Penn. I’ll talk to them and see if they have any openings and, as a matter of fact, I was accepted eventually at Penn.
KH: So, that’s what brought you to Philadelphia?
LS: That’s what brought me to Philadelphia.
KH: Actually, every question I had you have answered already!
LS: Yes, I came here in the fall of 1947.
KH: So, you’ve been in Philadelphia since 1947?
LS: Yes, 1947.
KH: And you and Helen were married in 1956?
LS: Yes, 1956. Helen came here in 1950. Her move was job-related. She had been working in a family counseling agency in Cleveland and she came to Philadelphia to Family Services of Philadelphia which was then a major agency in the field, a pioneer in many respects.
KH: And I know that when you came to Philadelphia, you had lived in Center City.
LS: Well, my first year in Philadelphia I lived in a rented room at 47th & Spruce. And then, one of my graduate school classmates had got a job at Bucknell and was leaving Philadelphia so I took over his apartment which was at 42nd between Locust and Walnut near what was then the Episcopal Seminary. What is that nowadays?
KH: You know, I’m not sure. Is that the…, you said 46th?
KH: Would it be around 42nd between Walnut or Spruce area?
LS: Yes. Walnut and Locust.
KH: OK - that I’m not sure of. But then when you and Helen married, I know you lived in Mt. Airy?
LS: Well, yes.
KH: Or was it Germantown?
LS: After a couple of years in West Philadelphia, I moved downtown. I first had an apartment at 22nd& Walnut and then I had an apartment on 21st Street.
KH: Above the Friday Saturday Sunday restaurant?
LS: Yes, that was a lovely apartment. And while I was living there I met Helen and after we married, we lived for two years in an apartment across the street, 267 South 21st. Then we moved to Mt. Airy.
KH: Right. Obviously, and my next question is, what year did you begin working at the Philadelphia Textile Institute which eventually brought you to East Falls?
LS: 1957. And as a matter of fact, we were still living downtown at that time and I used to drive out to what was then the Philadelphia Textile Institute.
KH: Right. So, as you said, you moved here in 1965.
LS: Yes, but we had lived, I think, for seven years, in Mt. Airy. I think we lived downtown two years. We looked all over the place, including some of the suburbs for a place to rent essentially but eventually because of someone that Helen worked with in the same agency, had a neighbor who was vacating a house in Mt. Airy, we learned of this house in Mt. Airy, just off of Lincoln Drive on West Durham and we lived there for seven years.
KH: Before moving here?
LS: Before moving here, yes.
KH: Now I was also interested to know when you were hired by what was then the Philadelphia Textile Institute, what was your first position – were you an instructor or professor?
LS: I was an instructor in English.
KH: So you started in the English department.
LS: Yes. Well, there wasn’t really an English department. That’s one of the curious things. It was kind of a mish-mash. Of course, then the emphasis was still very much on textiles instruction and mostly on textile production. Design had not yet come to be as strong as it would later was. And there was nothing except textiles or chemistry as related to textiles. It was not until about 1959 or 1960 that they first introduced a textile-related business curriculum called ‘textile management and marketing.’ And then a few years after that came straight business administration and then later on everything else and textiles is much less prominent than the overall curriculum as it was then.
KH: So you were there for about what, 30 years?
LS: Yes, about 34 years – 1957 to 1991
KH: So, obviously, you kind of advanced through the ranks?
LS: Well, yes, after a few years I recognized that in some ways I was acting as though I were head of a department but there wasn’t any English department. I was hiring people and recommending people for hiring and so on. So I talked to the president and said well maybe it would be a good idea if I had the title as chairman of the department and so I was sort of chairman of the English department. And then, about that same time the Institute had hired a professor from the University of Pennsylvania to sort of do an overall evaluation of the College’s situation and among the things that he recommended was that the faculty be organized into five departments: department of textiles, department of business, department of mathematics and science, department of humanities, and department of social sciences. One of the problems with that was that all of the people teaching in the social sciences were part-timers, so it didn’t seem very logical to have a department with only part-timers. So, the recommendation was to attach it to one of the other departments, either humanities or business. And then they first said, well, let’s attach it to humanities where I was suggested as the appropriate chairman because I had already been acting as chairman with English and history, hiring people and so on. I said, “Oh, my God, I don’t know anything about psychology or sociology.” Well, they said then we’ll attach it to the school of business and I knew the chairman of the school of business and thought well, I think I know at least as much about those things as he does. So, I said OK, we’ll take it and I think it was an appropriate move because it makes more sense to join all of those with, what shall we say, general education courses into a single department.
KH: So, at that point you were chairman of…?
LS: I was chairman of the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences. In those days, chairmanship was essentially a matter of presidential appointment. I was chairman and had been for I guess almost 15 years when the people in my department began to say, well, we faculty ought to have some say into who is the chairman and we ought to have an elected chairmanship. Well, since that was a pretty strong impulse on their part, I sort of went along with that and so I ran as a candidate for chairman and was elected and served for one year. Subsequently, other people were elected chair. Nowadays, that department is the School of Liberal Arts. That’s gone through several name changes. The first was called the School of General Studies. That name was rejected because like the School of Liberal Arts at Penn, it deals with non-credit courses. Then they had still another name – I’ve forgotten it – but know it’s the School of Liberal Arts. Now, the deanship of that school is a matter of presidential appointment and is not subject to election of specific term.
KH: So, the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences became the School of Liberal Arts.
KH: So, there never really was a title of ‘Department of English?’
LS: No, it was always the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences.
KH: What you taught, you taught English literature?
LS: Well, I taught freshman composition, introductory literature and occasional elective courses, some of them might be literary related. For example, twice I had a course in American Autobiography and that was something I enjoyed. And we dealt with writers such as Benjamin Franklin, Frederic Douglass, Mary McCarthy. Who is the man who wrote ‘Soul on Ice?’
KH: Oh, Eldridge Cleaver.
LS: And occasionally I had others, I taught speech occasionally and some other elective courses but mainly composition and the required literature course.
KH: I would imagine as is the case with most in jobs such as yours, that you probably got more enjoyment teaching than you did the administrative part?
LS: Well, I tell you, when I was chairman, I got a good deal of satisfaction out of working with other chairs, deans and so on in curriculum development and I was also interested all along in faculty governance. I helped organize the first chapter of the American Association of University Professors on campus. I had a role that turned out to be reasonably significant in moving the College in the direction of using TIAA-CREF as the pension fund. Before that, the College was self-insured and had its own pension plan. And, of course, if you lived long enough and worked there all your life, the benefits were pretty good but there was no vesting in it. If you went somewhere else, you had no pension from the College. If you died before you retired, your survivors had nothing. So, it was a real mess and the main problem was that it was underfunded. And I was asked to serve on a committee on the whole pension matter and I raised the question have you ever considered TIAA-CREF? Well, many people had never even heard of it, so I wrote to the TIAA-CREF office in New York and I called and I had people come down to talk to our committee and so on, and eventually we moved in that direction.
KH: Now, do you today, you’ve been retired since 1991, are you still involved in some way?
LS: Well, I try to check the University e-mail periodically. Currently, I’m having trouble with that and I keep calling the help desk and pointing out the problem. I get to the appropriate website and click on what I should click on and nothing happens. I’m going to have to call them again. They initially told me well, you didn’t update your password. I don’t know what the problem is. I used to go more often to visit colleagues on campus but now my visiting is pretty much limited to going to the first meeting of the faculty of the School of Liberal Arts every year.
KH: Where was your office on the campus?
LS: Well, the whole matter of my office was a long-standing problem. When I first went there, I shared an office with a man who taught jacquard weaving and it was a little office about a quarter of the size of this room. There was room for two desks in there and some bookcases and he was an interesting guy. He was very expert in his field but he had sort of a basic personality problem. He was very suspicious apparently of many people and apparently it was because he frequently thought people were trying to get the better of him. And this was not only with colleagues but students and on occasion, he would with students, particularly, lose his temper and would rant and carry on. I remember this happened once when I was in the office and he was in the classroom which was just beyond the wall. I could hear what was going on. There was this furor over there and he was carrying on. He left the classroom and came back and sat down at his desk and the man was pale and trembling. I think he scared himself with his temper.
KH: How long did you have to share this office with him?
LS: I shared for several years then after the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences was organized, they put all 14 of us faculty members in that department in a room which was about twice the size of this room. We just had desks in there. Not separate rooms, not even cubicles. After a couple of years, they gave us these 60 inch high partitions to give us a little separation but, of course, it was not very good – you couldn’t have a conference really, so we kept agitating for decent offices. And the administration said, well there’s just no room, we don’t have any room for offices for you. I even explored whether it would have been technically possible to build some offices on the top of Hayward Hall. Just a light structure on top of that very heavy structure. Well, of course, that never came to be. Eventually, we got word that since the director of buildings and grounds who was then living on the second floor of the White House which was then the administration building was moving out and that there would be some rooms available on the second floor of the administration building. We could have them if we all agreed not to come in through the main lobby but to enter by way of the fire escape!
KH: A sort of ‘tradesmen’s’ entrance?
LS: Yes! Of course, everybody objected to that and eventually they relented. For several years we had offices on the second floor of the administration building. They were mostly shared offices. I, as chairman, had my own office. It was a fairly nice, generous space in what had been part of the living room of the president when he lived on the second floor of the administration building. And while I was in that office, you see, when we had all been in this big room we had lots of togetherness. But when we moved to these rooms on the second floor of the administration building, we began to lose touch with one another. So, I started the practice of every Friday afternoon of having wine and cheese hour in my office. And that continued for many years. It was a voluntary thing and gradually involved faculty members from other departments and also, the dean and the president would sometimes come and join in. It’s something that kind of became a social function. That partially solved the problem of offices. After the College bought the Raven Hill Academy, our department moved to the Raven Hill Mansion and had offices there.
KH: So, I imagine that you walked to the office?
LS: Well, more often I drove because I had books and things to carry.
KH: Well, I guess the last part of the questions – I wanted to focus a little bit on East Falls – and I know you’re not born and raised in East Falls but you’ve lived here close to 50 years now. So, I thought I’d ask you about your thoughts on East Falls. What changes have you seen during the 45 years you lived here and any special people, colorful characters that you’ve come to know in East Falls?
LS: You see, I knew East Falls since 1957 since I came here then and actually before we moved here, we had looked at houses in East Falls and in Germantown. There were a couple of interesting houses on Vaux Street that we liked. We actually looked at a house on Warden Drive that we did not buy. That was an interesting one. It was, I think 3425 Warden but actually it’s the house next to Rendell’s. And at the time it belonged to Henri Marceau who was director of the Museum of Art and he was still living in the house. All his furniture and possessions were there and the walls contained pictures and autographed paintings done by artist friends of his. So, that was kind of an interesting experience to visit that house. Mr. Marceau was not there at the time but the realtor showed us around. And the realtor at that time was a resident of Warden Drive, a man named Harry Robinhold. There was a firm called Pritchard & Robinhold who had much of the real estate in East Falls and Germantown for years and years. And Robinhold showed us a whole bunch of houses, including one interesting one on a little street in Germantown. I always remember it because it was a big house which had two living rooms on the first floor. Off the center hall, there were two enormous living rooms. And he eventually sold us this house. There was a problem in the sale in that the house was a part of an estate and somehow the lawyer working for the estate had to go to Orphan’s Court to get something changed so that they could lower the price to what we were able to offer. But anyhow, it had been vacant for at least a couple of years, I think, before we bought it.
KH: Now, have you seen any major changes in East Falls in the past 45 years?
KH: Was the movie theater still there?
LS: Yes, the movie theater, I think it was called the Alden, was on Midvale Avenue and there were a couple more gasoline/service stations on Midvale than there are now. Well, Gulf is not a gas station but that was a service station and down from it was an ARCO station and down, just before you get to the railroad bridge, where there’s a repair shop there was another gasoline station. The one at Midvale and Warden Drive was a Texaco, I don’t remember now, Texaco, ARCO, I think Esso. The Alden, I think, was the theater and what else was on there I don’t know.
There must have stores, I think. I’m reminded that - what was the East Falls post office - was in a building now belonging to St. Bridget Church. That little house just below the parking lot. It was a dinky little place – you had to sort of squeeze your way in almost. I can’t remember much more about Midvale Avenue. Oh, this was not after I moved here but this goes back to when I first came to Philadelphia years earlier, probably in my teens I had occasion to come to Philadelphia for some reason and I remember that near the intersection of Ridge and Midvale was one of these inns going back to the 19th century, you know where the people came out from town to have their catfish and waffles. It was one of these inns that reminded me of the houses in New Orleans, you know, with the kind of balcony with a lot of iron fret work and all of that sort of thing. Wendy Moody had an article in ‘The Fallser’ some issues back about those. The thing that I notice in recent years is that I have more of a sense of this block feeling more like a special community.
KH: Warden Drive, you mean?
LS: Yes, Warden Drive. You know, there’s a block party almost every year. And, in the last, I would say, two years or so, many more young families have moved in, so there’s lots more children here than there were for many years.
KH: So, it’s still a unique neighborhood as far as…?
LS: Yes, I think so. Of course, there have always been certain groups which have thought of themselves as East Falls groups. Even from the time when we first moved here, they called it the Warden Drive Book Club, sort of a woman’s book club that met monthly at members’ houses to discuss books they had read. They shared books. Books would be passed from one member to another. I remember Helen would take the books she got – I don’t know who brought her the books – but Helen’s job was to deliver the book to Joan Specter who was still living on Warden Drive.
KH: It wasn’t real long ago that they moved from there, maybe just in the last 10 years or so?
KH: Well, that was the last question I had. Do you have anything else you want to add? You’ve actually led me through the questions!
LS: There are certain other groups, now, for over a year I was asked to join a group that I think calls themselves ‘The Shakespeareans’ and they meet four times a year to originally, I think, read a Shakespeare play. What’s happened, more recently, is that we tend to look at some DVD or a film version of a Shakespeare play and then discuss it. We’re supposed to this Saturday see Romeo & Juliet. Now, actually there’s been a couple of diversions from that to instead of a Shakespeare play, we’re going to discuss Ibsen’s ‘The Doll House’ and that’s another group which is pretty much an East Falls group. Although at least one couple lives in Germantown.
There is, has been formed a kind of exploratory group to organize what they want to call the ‘East Falls Village’ which is a group endeavoring to work together to enable people to live in their own homes and it’s sort of modeled after one famous group in Boston’s Beacon Hill where people got together to decide how they could help one another doing errands, taking people to the doctor’s and that sort of thing and enable them to continue to live in their community and be sort of self-sustained. And Charlie Day, from down the street, is sort of the head of that group.
KH: Lee, thank you very much for participating in this East Falls oral history project!
East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Joan Specter
Interviewer: Herb Henze
Date: April 29, 2013
Transcriber: Wendy Moody
HH: Its April 29 (2013) and we’re here at Joan Specter’s marvelous house in East Falls and were going to have a talk - she’s gracious enough to give her remembrances of East Falls, and her life and politics with her beloved late husband, Arlen.
JS: Well, I moved into East Falls with my husband and one child in 1960. I moved onto Warden Drive, 3417 Warden Drive. In those days, and still is, one of the steepest hills on Warden Drive.
And so the summer was wonderful, the winter was a hazard trying to get up and down the driveway. But beyond that, we loved the house, we loved the grounds, and we had a thoroughly wonderful time in East Falls.
HH: Joan, before you came to East Falls; when did you come to Philadelphia?
JS: Well, I went up to law school with Arlen – he was studying law and I was finishing college at Yale so we lived in New Haven. Then he graduated from law school in 1965. And we then, of course, came back to Philadelphia.
We first rented an apartment on Pine Street - 2100 Pine, and then we found out there was a house we could actually rent next to the Colonial Dames of America. So we rented that house for a year and that was delightful because at that time Shanin was born and I could take Shanin to the park and wheel him over to Rittenhouse Square and talk to a lot of nice women. But that house was much too small, and so we decided to look for another house, and a friend who had grown up on Midvale Avenue suggested that I look in East Falls.
And I had never heard of East Falls but that’s ok, I thought why not. So I looked in East Falls and I found this wonderful house on Warden Drive – 3417 Warden Drive. It was a wonderful house but it was a very, very steep driveway. And in the winter it was a major hazard to get the car up and down – as you know, they didn’t particularly love to have people parking on the street – so everyone wanted us to park on the hill except they hadn’t lived in the house and didn’t know how hard it was to get up the hill and what a hazard to get down the hill, but we managed. But my experience on Warden Drive for thirty years was really terrific - we had good neighbors. Actually, one of our neighbors on one side is still on Warden Drive and people were just really delightful and helpful.
When the children got bigger we began to look for another house and we really didn’t want to move from East Falls. We really wanted to stay right in East Falls. And a friend of mine told me that there was a house for sale – that had not gone onto the market - on Timber Lane. And I thought “Oh wow, that’s just great” because I always walked down Timber Lane and I always loved the street but I never really thought I could ever live on the street.
I went down, and I’ll tell you that the woman who sold me the house was a delightful woman and not afraid to be very forthright. So Arlen and I walked down and we introduced ourselves and we said we were interested in buying her house. And she replied “You can’t afford it.” And I said, along with Arlen, “Well how much do you want?” and she told us and both of us mentally said to ourselves, she’s right – we can’t.
But we pursued it and we figured out that we could afford it and we put our house up for sale and managed to afford the house and move into Timber Lane which has really been a delightful place to live because the community on Timber Lane is very warm and very hospitable and very open to new people who move into the street. So we’ve had quite a glorious time here and it’s quite sad in many, many ways to be leaving.
I’m think that East Falls – I have found - I know there are problems in East Falls but I found it a lovely community to walk around - to nod your head at neighbors that you don’t know and they would nod their head back. I’ve always felt safe in East Falls although I do know there are problems but there are problems in every community – there’s no community you could live in where there aren’t any problems.
Who can live in such a wonderful place 15 minutes from town? And three different roads that can take you into town. So if one road is busy you can take another road. If both roads are busy you have a third road. So the opportunity to get into town and move around is so splendid living in East Falls. People ask me “You’re leaving East Falls. How did you like living there?” I say it was terrific; I’m sorry to leave because it’s very convenient and very hospitable and it’s been a great experience for our family.
HH: That’s marvelous. If I can just have a personal comment - I was in Washington visiting a Congressman, John Fox. It was marvelous. These political people work very, very hard. At the end of the day, quarter to five or something like that, and Congressman Fox said “What are you doing next? I said “Oh, I’m going over to Citizens for Arlen Specter. They’re having a get-together at one of the office buildings and I said I’m going to go there.” He said I’ll go with you. So we got in the taxi and went over there. John Fox met you - I still remember he met you at the entrance to the conference and he said “How are you doing?” And you said, as I recall, “We’re dying – give us a speech.” So John Fox obliged by giving a speech.
I’d like to personally mention I heard this house was for sale and I thought you’d want to know. I guess you did want to know because that’s where you moved. I don’t know what you paid for it, that wasn’t my business and I certainly wasn’t the real estate agent but I feel I was maybe in some small way the cause of either your bliss or your discomfort. But I know you did afford it and you did a beautiful job and kept the house up. You were a great neighbor. I’m sorry to see you going. You’re leaving at a beautiful time - the foliage is out, the trees are blossoming, the crabapples are glorious, the magnolias are okay if the rain doesn’t knock them down. It’s been great having you as a neighbor. And certainly having a senator and a judge on the street as neighbors gave us real good security.
JS: That’s for sure.
HH: You mentioned that you both went to law school. Did you graduate from law school?
JS: No I didn’t. Actually I finished college. I started at Temple University. My mother was very determined that if I got married that I should finish college. I was able to matriculate at Southern Connecticut University and so I was able to finish college while Arlen was in law school which was really great. And then I came back to the city and actually taught school in the Philadelphia Public School System.
HH: You taught school for a while and it seemed to me, if my memory is correct, you had a wonderful catering business. You made a wonderful pie.
JS: I had a company that manufactured pies for restaurants. It took me a while to develop the product. And I had a bakery in Overbrook and I sold wholesale to restaurants. I had the business for about five years and then I was elected to City Council and that was very, very difficult – you just can’t do both jobs - and I decided that I preferred to stay with City Council and so I sold the business.
HH: So you gave up apple walnut pie...
JS: I gave up apple walnut pie and double chocolate mousse pie. I’ll tell you a funny story. My youngest son Steve really loved the double chocolate mousse pie. But he was away at college, and so when he heard I was selling the business, he said “Mom, please take two of the double chocolate mousse pies and put them in the freezer downstairs in the basement” because I had an extra freezer in the basement. And I said absolutely I will keep them for you. So I did.
But what I didn’t realize was that we had an electrical outage in the house about a year later – he hadn’t come home yet - and the pies all melted! (laughs) And so when he went to the freezer to find his pies they were all over the freezer – he was very, very upset. There was nothing I could really do; there were his pies in a puddle. It was a great disappointment.
We really enjoyed our time in East Falls. It’s been a great place, a very friendly place, a very beautiful place and has become more beautiful with people planting trees and gardens. I would say if anything, East Falls has definitely gotten better – definitely gotten better in terms of how the whole area looks now with the trees and the foliage.
HH: You probably know there’s an organization called Tree Tenders.
JS: Yes I do.
HH: As a matter of fact some of us were out last Saturday and put trees in. The trees are furnished by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and the Water Department, and the diggers and the planters are volunteers. We put in fifteen trees.
JS: I saw you put a lot in trees in front of the library.
HH: That’s another group. The library has been beautified by the Friends of the Library. Tree Tenders are something else. We put them here and there. Basically street trees. We’re trying to green up the neighborhood. The big problems are that sometimes the trees aren’t taken care of, people drive cars into them, the trees go into the wires, the utility companies butcher them up pretty badly.
HH: Joan, you were in City Council…
JS: I was in City Council for 4 terms. For 16 years.
HH: 16 years and you survived.
JS: I survived. I kept my head down. (laughs)
HH: That’s an old soldier’s trick if you want to get shot you just stick your head up out of the trenches.
JS: Right, right.
HH: Who were the Council Presidents?
That was interesting. John was Council President and what’s her name – gosh, I just can’t recall her name. She was Council President for a long time and then John became Council President.
JS: John Street became Council President. I served under three Council Presidents. The first one was indicted – George Schwartz was his name. George Schwartz.
HH: I remember George Schwartz.
JS: George was indicted along with some other people on some sort of corruption scandal. George was indicted and then it was an African-American gentleman who then became head of City Council. I can see him but I can’t remember his name.
HH: Wilson Goode?
JS: No, not Wilson. Bill Coleman.
HH: Oh, Bill Coleman.
JS: Bill Coleman became head of City Council. Then Bill left and retired and Anna Verna took his job.
HH: Joe Coleman
JS: Joe Coleman. Excuse me, Joe Coleman, Joe Coleman. Joe was a sweetheart. He was a really great guy. It was very difficult being a minority member of Council. The majority never wanted you to have anything or get anything or get any extra money. But Joe would always slip me extra money for my constituents. I’d say “We really need this playground in x neighborhood.” And Joe would say “Ok, how much is it? I’ll put it in the budget for you.” So he was really great. He was very good to me. When you’re At-Large, it’s a battle to meet all your constituents and go to the various districts. It’s a big job. You want to try to be helpful to people in your district because that’s your job. That’s your job.
HH: Was Thatcher Longstreth on Council then?
JS: Thatcher and I came to Council at exactly the same time. Thatcher was very well-liked. He enjoyed being in City Council and did a very good job. A very good job.
HH: Coincidentally, Mrs. Coleman, Joe’s widow, attends our church so I see her.
JS: Oh really? Please send her my regards.
HH: Jesse Coleman. She’s elderly…
JS: She’s got to be, she’s got to be quite old – she’s got to be in her late 80s.
HH: She’s a bit frail. I see her daughter Rachel.
JS: Oh how nice.
HH: So after 4 term, 16 years, you retired from City Council. That’s a long run.
JS: It was a long run. It was a very long run. There was lots of competition in the Republican Party for that spot. So it was difficult to maintain your constituency, which was Republican for me and to maintain love of the ward leaders because they made the determination of who ran (?) the Republican Party at that time. So it was a battle staying in – it was quite something. But I managed and I think 16 years is a good record.
HH: A wonderful record. Speaking personally as a Republican I find that’s an endangered species today, if not borderline extinct. Our party has been captured and radicalized by people a little more radical than us, the old time Republicans.
JS: Right, right. Well I agree. The Republican Party is almost nonexistent in Philadelphia today and has been very difficult to get people to run for office. Brian O’Neill is still in office. It’s difficult. It’s a failing party in our city, not a failing party in our country but a failing party in our city. We just haven’t been able to wield the party very much. Not at all.
HH: It’s the kind of problem that faces old time organizations. The change in base and failure to attract replacements.
JS: That’s exactly the problem that Arlen always had. When he ran for the Senate in Pennsylvania, it was a very fine line he had to walk in terms of he had to have Democratic votes to win. He just could not win on Republican votes. He had to appeal to the Democratic Party. So it’s a very fine line you have to run in terms of how you present yourself. And so Arlen always faced that. Any Republican who’s running statewide has that problem because we really are a Democratic state. And so they have to run that fine line. And I did too as a Councilwoman. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with that.
HH: In a way it’s very distressing because I feel we need a two party system. The old expression that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When one organization has a total lock then it becomes susceptible to corruption or indifference or hardening of the arteries or whatever word you want to use.
JS: Well that’s true but it’s very much what happens in many states where the base is very Republican or very Democratic so there’s always that party that’s struggling to maintain some visibility.
HH: I understand that you traveled quite a bit with Arlen, including trips to such bizarre places as Damascus – not bizarre, it’s the oldest civilized city in the world. You spent time in Damascus and Libya, I guess Lebanon – all of these on the forefront of today’s excitement and agitation that one reads.
JS: Well Arlen’s interest was that area. Arlen’s area of interest was in the Middle East and I think we’ve been in Syria ten times. We knew the President of Syria Hafez al-Assad very well.
HH: That was the father, correct?
JS: That was the father. He would send a car for us at the airport and pick us up. His son we know very well, Bashar. I even know his wife. So we did know them. We knew King Hussein in Jordan. So I could go down the list but that was because we always – we spent a lot of time there, much more so than in Europe because that’s where Arlen was interested in. We met Saddam Hussein, although he would not meet women.
HH: He would not meet women?
JS: No. Saddam Hussein would not meet a woman. So the only way that Arlen got to meet him was to leave me home (laughs). I stayed in the hotel.
HH: Where you were safer at home…
JS: Yes, so I stayed in the hotel and actually the American Ambassador to Iraq at the time that we were there was a woman. And that was a problem – a real big problem. The State Department was very annoyed with the fact that he didn’t want to meet us to with her because he wouldn’t meet with women. That was an interesting little note there.
HH: That was certainly Saddam Hussein’s loss.
JS: Right. The other thing we saw was the exodus of Jews from that part of the world.
HH: The exit of Jewish people.
JS: The exit of Jewish people because we always tried to find where the Jewish community was to talk to them and how were they doing – were there problems for them? And in Iraq we found a small synagogue – there were two men left. This is in the capital. Everyone had left. Everyone had left.
HH: Two men left.
JS: Two men. And we found that a lot in the Middle East. We found that a lot. We found that in towns and big areas there was very little representation, although there had been over the years. So that was very interesting to us to see, frankly, the persecution of Jews in that part of the world. But we always tried to meet with people and see how they were doing. And we found it interesting. We found it very interesting. Often there were lone people who had this little synagogue – a few people would come on the Sabbath and that was about it.
HH: Baghdad? At one time Iraq was the most progressive of all the Arabian countries. Persian culture and universities. Damascus – one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Jewish and Christian…
JS: Damascus certainly had more Jews certainly than Iraq. Iraq really had nothing. Damascus, and Syria, did have Jewish communities. Aleppo, especially, had a large strong Jewish community. It hurts me to see the destruction there because we spent a lot of time there and I know it very well. They have a wonderful old fortress, a wonderful wall – I’m sure that that’s gone now. Everything’s obliterated. This is in Aleppo, which is of course the northern city of Syria. It’s the second largest city in Syria. So that’s been totally destroyed. It’s hard to see – they had wonderful old ruins – I don’t know what’s happened with them. It’s tragic; it’s absolutely tragic. And all the people who have died. And worse than that, the people who will be homeless – who will not have a home to go back to.
HH: Wouldn’t your experience in Damascus would be a great source of wisdom in Washington if anyone cared to listen?
JS: No, not really. There were people wiser than I and they had very good ambassadors that spent their time in Syria and Damascus. The ambassador now in the United States – I shouldn’t say the ambassador - (indecipherable) who’s leading the charge around the world now is very experienced, very experienced. He’s been to all those countries many times so we have a very good chief of staff there.
HH: And then you met the “Prize Nut” Gaddafi?
JS: We did meet Gaddafi and that was sort of an interesting situation. I had always wanted to go to his country and I heard that – we went to the capital and we were told by the American Embassy – which he didn’t approve having an American Embassy – the American Embassy was allowed to have only one floor of a hotel. One floor of a hotel, and it was a pretty new hotel. But that’s where they had their meetings and everything.
Anyway, we were told that Gaddafi was in the desert right now near his home so if we wanted to meet with him, he was not in the capital, that we would have to fly there. So we said ok we would fly there. So we flew there – we landed on a very rickety landing strip – and Gaddafi had a car waiting for us. And we went through the desert and we saw two tents in the middle of nowhere– I mean absolutely nowhere. We were led to one tent – that was the waiting tent…
HH: The waiting tent…
JS: The waiting tent, because he was seeing people so we were to sit there and wait. And one other person who was in the tent with us – and I don’t recall his name – was a congressman from California. And he was Jewish which I thought was interesting only because he said he had come to visit Gaddafi on many occasions and had a very good relationship with him. Well I thought that was kind of interesting because I knew that Gaddafi was not a person who particularly cared for Jews.
Anyway, we finally got in to see Gaddafi and we came into a tent – there was no house – just a tent. We walked into the tent and there were white plastic chairs. That’s all that was in the tent – the white plastic chairs.
HH: Like molded porch chairs.
JS: Yes, like molded porch chairs. And he was sitting in one, and there were a few chairs for guests. And if you looked out into the desert, right in front of the tent, this was unbelievable – was a water fountain spraying water! (laughs) He had a water fountain in the middle of the desert in front of the tent?? Is that crazy??
HH: That raises the question, where do you get the water?
JS: Well, he could have recycled the water and brought the water in and then recycle it so it kept revolving around. I did not have the nerve to ask him where he got the water! (laughs).
And beyond that, it was quite clear that he did not particularly care for the fact that I was there because women were of a lower status than men. I was there but I decided the best thing for me to do was to do nothing and keep quiet. Anyway, he and Arlen had a kind of interesting conversation – I’ve got to watch my time here – it was really quite a remarkable moment when we met with him in the tent. And then we left the tent – we got into a car, went back to the airstrip and flew out. And that was it.
We wanted to see him – we had heard a lot about him from the embassy and, for us, he just – I don’t know how Arlen would have described him – probably not like my description – he just seemed like a crackpot. I mean he was not a very interesting questioner or speaker. He didn’t add anything to the meeting at all. He was not forthcoming. So that was the way it was.
HH: Joan, I know you’re packing and you’re very busy but do you have any more time?
JS: What time do you have?
HH: I have five after four.
JS: That’s fine. I have an event later. I’m fine.
HH: Ok, we’ll go on then. You certainly have had marvelous experiences. I guess you’ve had a rich and full life. You’re leaving East Falls and going, I guess, to a smaller place.
HH: Going to a new place, you must be filled with reminiscences.
JS: Well I think that’s true. I love our house here. We loved living in East Falls. We spent most of our married life here in East Falls. It is a great community. Our children graduated from Penn Charter. We have a granddaughter now at Penn Charter.
My son Steve, who is quite brilliant, he has a Ph.D. and M.D. said recently – we were talking about our granddaughter being at Penn Charter – and Steve said “You know, mom” he said “Penn Charter was the hardest school I ever went to.” So that says something from a person who has an incredible amount of education and he said he it was a very difficult school. Very difficult.
HH: What does Steve do?
JS: Steve, right now, does two things: he’s a psychiatrist and he has private patients. His area of expertise is eating disorders.
HH: Eating disorders.
JS: Uh huh. And he’s also head of the department at UCLA for people who have alcohol abuse problems. And he spends 20 hours a week there.
HH: In California or here?
HH: And Shanin?
JS: Shanin has 60 or 70 lawyers work for him. Actually Shanin right now is in Texas on a case. He prefers not to be in Texas trying a case I can tell you that. But he’s doing well. He’s doing well.
HH: Do you have other children?
JS: No, just two sons and four granddaughters.
HH: The granddaughters take the place of the daughters you didn’t have.
JS: Right. Right.
HH: I guess in a way it’s delightful for me to come here on behalf of the East Falls Community Council (i.e. East Falls Historical Society) and take your statement, in legal terms.
I personally remember one Sunday morning many years ago, or some years ago, there was a meeting down at one of your neighbor’s houses and Arlen Specter spoke in a big tent, essentially about providing more diversity and tolerance among Republicans. I didn’t see it coming but he sorta announced he was interested in running for President under this big tent. I felt honored to be there. But one of the things that amazed me was that Ed Rendell and a few other people showed up and that made the whole thing ecumenical…I think Ed was Mayor at the time.
JS: Well Ed was a good friend, a very good friend. Arlen gave Ed one of his first jobs. We were just returning to Philadelphia and Ed came to see Arlen for a job. Ed worked for Arlen.
HH: In the District Attorney’s Office.
JS: In the District Attorney’s Office when he was a young man. So they go back a long time. And Arlen made his wife a judge.
HH: Oh yes, Midge.
JS: Midge - she’s a very lovely, very bright woman.
HH: She served on the Circuit Court of Appeals.
JS: Yes, very impressive. Very impressive. So we go back a long time and we care about each other and our children. Ed has been very helpful to Arlen on the Philadelphia University proposal to have the Arlen Specter Center. That was very helpful to us. So we’ve made good friends in East Falls, very good friends.
HH: For all those years. You’ve been wonderful, valued assets - cultural assets, political assets, social assets here and in the city. As one of your neighbors I’d like to thank you for what you’ve done and what you have been, for all the good work you have done, and for keeping up your property so beautifully. It’s been nice having you.
JS: Oh thank you, thank you Herb. I really appreciate the opportunity to speak a little bit about the best neighborhood in Philadelphia.
HH: Well, wonderful. Great. Thank you so much.