Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Nice Quiet Country Christmas Morning

We all know Christmas can get hectic. So what better than a nice quiet walk in the country to escape all the voice of our more urban environment?

Thus this December 25, 2011 about 8:00 you found me ambling along the Brandywine enjoying the silence of the forest.

Yeah, right, anyone who believes it is quiet in the woods must have grown up and lived all their life in the city.

In the city you might have honking car horns; in nature you have geese.

(I suggest you scroll down and turn off my music player before viewing the video.)

The Great Blue Christmas Heron Takes Flight

There are Great Blue Herons living in our vicinity. Very large birds that are quite graceful in flight. There is one standing on the downed branches in this photo to the left, although a bit hard to see.

Below is a video shot early this Christmas morning 2011 of one taking flight.

Merry Christmas to All: Second Greatest Event

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas 2011.

I suggest you scroll down and turn off my music player.

Now if Christmas is the Second Greatest event, what must be the first?

No, not my birthday, although that's in the Top Ten somewhere.

I'll give a hint. We wouldn't have had the first, if we hadn't had the second, so the second came before the first.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lonely Months: A film

I would suggest scrolling down and turning off my music player before viewing the video.

All photographs were taken by the author on December 11, 2011 in Brandywine Creek State Park.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Streets that Bind -- Washington Avenue

From the time I was born until I married there were seven addresses in five townships; from my marriage to the present, eleven in eight places. These 18 addresses may be even more remarkable considering I've been in this house for the last 30 years and here is where I think of as home.

But if one asked about my boyhood home, I think of  Washington Avenue. I moved there three times, twice to the same address. I lived on that street for 13 of my first 15 years.

It wasn't the longest street in the world, although it seemed so when, as a child, I walked it. It ran probably less than a half-mile end to end. It ran one block east of my own block, but I seldom had reason to go that way. It ran two long blocks to the west of mine and at the end of these, just before the creek, were my church and the movie theater. A half block off Brandywine Avenue also called Creek Road, at 120 Washington, was an apartment building where my life-long best friend lived when I first met him.  (I've told the story of our meeting in "The Kid Met Him in the Funny Pages".)

On the left is 120 Washington as it looks today (actually not much different from then) and my not quite yet best friend sitting in the window of his apartment there.

Gee, he was kind of cute back in those days.

I knew someone else that lived in those apartments during those early years, a blond girl. Her name was Mary Jane and I had a crush on her through most of my elementary grades right into junior high school, although I never acted on my feeling for her and asked her out. I was friends with her and she came to my birthday parties.

We were eight years old in this photo and you won't find any other pictures of me getting quite so chummy with a girl that early on in my life. Now it is true I kissed a girl named Michele around this same time period (and got in a bit of trouble because of it) but I never had any true feelings for Michele as I secretly did for Mary Jane.

I suppose I should explain how I came to be a Washington Avenuer.

The first time we moved there I was six months old and it was to be my third home. My first had been in Modena and my second at Whitford. I've never really known why we moved to 424 Washington in town that Christmas season. We moved there with my maternal grandparents, who were the actual renters of the house (they never owned it). My parents had moved in with them at Whitford earlier in the year from Modena, my father's boyhood hometown. (Photo left: my mom holding me before the porch of 424.)

I know why my parents moved from the Modena apartment (bedbug infestation combined with financial need) to Whitford; but why the move shortly after to town I don't know. The "big house", as they called it, in Whitford appears to be large enough to accommodate two families, in fact, was probably larger than 424 Washington Avenue.

The Whitford house was where my mother grew up, so it had been my grandparents long time abode and was near to my grandfather's own family roots.

They didn't own that place either. It was actually part of the George Thomas III estate. The Thomas family was one of the original settlers of the area and one of its most prominent families. I do not know if George Thomas choose to end the renting of this property or if the move was somehow related to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Perhaps the beginning of the war in which my father would serve for several years prompted changes. (Photo right: my mom as a child at Whitford.)

We all lived in that house throughout the war years. I made two close friends on the block, Iva  and Bill. Iva was to remain a friend for always, but Bill moved away about the time I moved to 424 the second time and eventually we lost contact.

Why a second time? Why did we even move away from 424 a first time? Easy to explain, the war ended.

My dad had been in the South Pacific most of those first years at that 424 address. He got his discharge a couple years after the war ended and returned home in 1947. He got his first job as a long distance truck driver that fall, driving milk tankers for a man named Hines. A friend of his had told dad the company was hiring, but not to tell Old Man Hines he knew mechanics or he would never get outside the garage. Dad got the driver job instead at $100 a month and the house in the swamp.

There was this old home, half brick and half stucco, with scaffolding along one side, owned by the trucking company. It sat back from the highway, surrounded on two sides by a marsh, with a cornfield up the hill behind and a cow pasture to the East. Hines let dad live rent free because he was a returning vet, and thus we packed up our meager belongings and moved from 424 Washington for the next two years. (Photo right: me at the house in the swamp, 1948)

That house in the swamp was to have a great impact on my life and personality, but that is a different story. This one is about Washington Avenue.

So how did I get back there for the next five and half years of my boyhood?

Easy, my dad changed jobs for more money. In late 1949 he began driving for Atkinson Trucking; goodbye Hines, goodbye house in the swamp.

My folks moved back in with my grandparents at 424 Washington.  At some point a bit later, a house up the street became available for rent and my parents moved there. 417 Washington was a double house next to a Quonset hut of a garage, a business selling farm equipment. (And yes, during evenings or Sundays when this store was closed and empty, I did sneak next door to play on the tractors in the lot.)

That is a picture of 417 Washington taken several years after I lived there as a child.

I think Washington Avenue sticks with me so much in my memories because I lived there in those growing years. All the adventures of my boyhood are centered on that street, both good and bad. My best friend, Ronald Tipton, lived on that street when I met him. Our grade school was across the street from my home. 424 also means more to me than 417, probably because on weekends, when my dad came home from his trucking runs that kept him away from Monday through Friday, my parents sent me down the street to stay with my grandparents so they had alone time. (Photo right: 424 Washington.)

Eventually I will tell more tales of life on Washington Avenue.

Monday, December 5, 2011


On Sunday morning I went to bellevue State Park to take my regular walk. As I got out of my car and started across the parking lot something flew across the sky ahead into a grove of trees to my right.

It looked fairly large, but I only caught it out of the corner of my eye, so I thought it might be a hawk. We have had Peregrine Falcons land in our backyard a couple times this year and you sometimes see hawks standing atop the lamp post alongside I-95.

I turned on my camera as I walked off the lot onto the road starting my walk. As I rounded the first trees I saw a large bird perched on a branch and still thought it was a hawk, but as my route brought me nearer I realized it was much to large for a hawk.

I stopped at the wood edge and thought, "That's got to be an eagle."

I stood there filming and the bird either didn't notice me or wasn't concerned about me if it did. A car went past, which you can hear in the background of the video, and I stepped a little further off the road. At this point the eagle flew up to a high limb on another tree.

I didn't want to bother it, so I went on my walk. I walked, round trip, about three and a half miles. As I retuned along this stretch back to my car I didn't see the eagle anymore. I assumed it had flown off to where ever these eagles go while I was on my little jaunt.  I got in my car, but as I left I saw the eagle was still in these trees. It had just moved a bit further back into the trees and was sitting happily on another branch.

I am not sure what kind of eagle it was. I know Bald Eagles lived in this area. This one did not have the white head associated with that breed, but it could have been a young one. They don't develop those distinctive white heads until more mature, around five years old or so. What ever it was it was majestic. When it flew it was like watching a cargo plane take off, large and slow, although it was probably faster than it appeared. I repeated the portion where it flew in slow motion so you can see the motion of the wings and their span.

Last fall the family and I went out to dinner one night and an eagle flew out of the woods directly in front of my car. This was on I-95 not far from home, which is this same region. The bird came so low and sudden I feared I was going to hit it, but it pulled up enough to just clear the car roof. My kids kidded how it would look if I had killed the national symbol.

I wondered if this was that same eagle.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

With the Speed of Now Impossible to Play

I'm feeling my age this week. Angry Assassin Arthritis did a hit job on my right foot. The problem with Mr. Arthritis is he doesn't come by once to stick a knife in. He hangs about and keeps twisting the blade. I haven't had an attack for a while. This one was very vicious, I guess to make up for Arthritis long neglect. It began on Tuesday evening in my arch and it was scream-out-loud painful by bedtime.

At 11:30 I hobbled, with grimace and groan, out to the kitchen to pop some pills, in this case Ibuprofen, not the pill of my choice, but the ones available. The fix of my choice would have been Tylenol Arthritis, but you can't get it. It was the only stuff that really worked for me. The Ibuprofen eased the pain some, long enough for me to get to sleep, but it was back full-bore in the morning and I have been popping pills all week, alternating between the Ibuprofen and Aspirin with one hit of Motrin thrown in by the mercy of a co-worker. (Yeah, I have been working this week at my on-my-feet-all-day job.)(

The two days I was off I managed my walks, too, because you can't give in to the Assassin  or next thing you know you give up the walking; you find this excuse or that.

The pain almost went away on Friday and in fact, it left my arch entirely by Friday evening, only to sneak into my big toe and ramp up again. So I took my two Ibuprofens a half hour ago and the pain has lightened and I expect to take my morning amble, but man I am feeling all of my years physically right now.

But last week I was feeling age in a different way. Now I am going to start off sounding like an Old Foggy rambling on about the "Good ol' days of yesteryear," except my yesteryear is more like yesterday.

I've got about 200 CDs stacked up on racks next to my desk. I used to listen to my music all the time as I wrote. For some reason I got out of that habit earlier this year, but last week I decided I wanted to hear my music again. I plopped on my earphones, selected a CD and placed it in my CD player. Silence and the message on the player said, "No Disc".

No disc?  This silvery round thing with the hole in the center looked a lot like a disc to me. I understand sometimes a smudge upon the surface can wreak havoc. I pull the disc out and examine it. There does seem to be a something maybe perhaps there. I wipe it across my sweater and plop it back in the machine.

"No disc."

Okay, I'll try a different singer and a different song. I put this new choice in and close the lid. Whirl, whirl, and the number 01 shows in the window and then, "No disc".  Hmmm. I pull out this disc that apparently doesn't exist and look it over. Ah, yes, definitely something stuck along one edge.  I take it to the kitchen sink and wash it, dry it and return it to the player all pristine and clean, and assumable presentable.

"No disc."

I go to a higher authority, my wife. "Hon," I ask, "have you been having trouble with the CD player?"

She has her own cache of CDs, especially Bon Jovi and The Who, which she does exercising to. She uses the player much more lately than I have.

"Yes," she says.

Tat settles it. She wants her exercise beat and I really do wish to listen to my music. I grab my hat and head out to purchase a new CD Player. Yes, the current one has some years on it now and obviously it has worn itself to a frazzle and cannot perform its duties up to snuff anymore.

First stop, fully expecting it to be my only stop, is Target. I'm looking for cheap, truth be told. I go straight to the electronics department, you known that place one dominated by TV sets, but now a vast warehouse of cell phones. I go up and down aisles, over and over as if some stock clerk might have hurried out to restock, but no CD Players anywhere. There are iPod Docks and MP3 gizmos and for some reason a lot of alarm clocks, but no CD Players.

Now it is down the highway to a Best Buy.

I figure the most logical place to start is the section selling CDs. Wouldn't you put CD players near what they play? I wander about. They have a bunch of karaoke machines (why for heaven's sake!) but I do not see a CD player. Finally I do see a sales clerk, so I ask.

"Sure," she says and leads me off.

We wind our way across the store. "They keep moving things around," she says.  "I think they are over this way."

We have moved over to the far flung sections of the store, over to the desert where once computer software ranged. This is the land of the endangered species and sure enough at the end of an aisle are CD Players.

I thank the clerk and wander into the aisle expecting an array of various CD players to pick from. Ha, there are no CD players down the aisle. No, what there is is only on those shelves on the very end of the displays. I have my choice of ... of... one!

One, and there aren't many of that one left either. I buy the one, an Insignia. It's compact. It has a CD player. It has an AM/FM Radio receiver. It has...well, that is what it has. There is no tape player as my old player had.

Let that be a warning, I think. The tape cassette is gone, gone the way of the 8-Track or the record (vinyl) of the wax cylinder. Soon the CD will also be gone and so will the means to play them.

It is speeding up. Their use to be some manufactures slogan (they are probably gone now too) that said, "Tomorrows Technology Today!" I think the new slogan must be, "Today's Technology Yesterday!"

When I was a little boy my parents had these records. They where about ten inches in diameter with a little hole in the center. They were called 78 RPM records. When I got a little older I got my own record player for Christmas. It played these things about six inches in diameter with a large hole in the middle called 45 RPM Records. Next came the 33 1/3s, which were about twelve inches across and back to a small hole in the middle. I built a large collection of these various records over the years. When I got married we bought this nice Fisher Hi-Fi Stereo

That Fisher lasted a long time, but we had lightening strike one night and it blew out that stereo. I bought a new record player and noticed something. It no longer had a 78 RPM speed. Those old records could not be played.

Then we came to a time we could't find nettles. Then we couldn't even find record players.  I am not talking some long ago, I'm talking less than 20 years here. Cassettes were ruling. (8-tracks kind of come and went quickly.) Now the tape players have disappeared and the CD players are becoming rare.

I am not against progress and new technology, but I have a lot invested in my music collection. I have about 2,000 33 1/3 Album representing a broad spectrum of American music as well as hundreds of 45s and 78s. I had dozens of tape cassettes and as mentioned, 200 CDs. I don't ask time to stop, I simply ask they keep the old technologies around my lifetime so I can still enjoy the media I have.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Roger in the Hospital (really Ronald)

When we graduated from high school, my best friend, Ronald decided to join the Armed Forces, but discovered he had a double hernia. Before he could be accepted he had to have this repaired and went into Chester County Hospital for the operation.  There were complications, incisions coming open and he caught a contagious infection that placed him in the isolation ward for a period of time.  He was a very sick puppy. The contagious ward was in the basement of the hospital and to visit him you spoke through a window too the outside.  It was very surreal to be kneeling on the ground talking to my friend through this wire barrier over the windows. He complained to me there were two babies in the contagious ward and they took turns crying.  I wrote this piece at that time. (The photo is a more recent of my friend on another hospital visit, not from those dear dead days so many decades ago.)  [This story also appears in my All the Monsters in My Mind blog of short fiction as part of the book, Wilmillar and Other Towns.]


Larry Eugene Meredith

I am behooved to tell the sad tale of my good friend, Roger Walters. I must say it sent a pang of deep regret to see him lying on a hospital bed (of course also a great deal of jubilation that it was he and not me). His face was pale, not at all its normal wallpaper paste white (it was encouraging to see some color in his complexion.) Then, a-sudden, he stared from his bloodshot optics to the ceiling in fright, something that sent terror through me as well, for he was lying on his stomach at the time.
A look of unparalleled fear contoured his face. He stopped in mid-breath, froze in this position. And then the sheet was pulled over his head and face.
He was hiding from the spider on the ceiling. Oh, the sufferings my friend has suffered since he went to the hospital for a routine operation.
He went into the operating room that day back in June with the fear of having a sponge left in his lower regions. He was assured doctors are careful and keep a specific count of the equipment they insert. His confidence was indeed shaken when a dreaded discovery was made after surgery. They took out one more sponge than they had put in.
This was indeed strange for Roger had one other operation in his whole life. He had his tonsils removed when a boy by Doctor Hiram Hickle, better known as Old Doc Butterfingers.
One afternoon the floor nurse walked in while Roger was hanging the doctor (in effigy). She was rather angry about this. Roger was not supposed to be out of bed that soon. She told him to ring her if he wanted to hang any more doctors. The nurses would be delighted to help. In fact, they would even supply the doctor.
Roger’s new doctor was extremely gentle. He claimed to have magic fingers. This made Roger quite happy, but he still didn’t want his back rubbed daily.
Roger was in and out of the hospital three times since the initial Herniatum neresursum gapduplicisum (which is Latin for double hernia operation, I think, but what do I know, I flunked Latin – curse you, Miss Horner), a total of thirty-two days, four rooms and two floors. He was becoming quite annoyed at receiving recall notices in the mail, especially when one came with an infectious infection.
He spent more than a week in the contagious ward, stuck between two babies who worked separate shifts. Such crying...and have you ever seen a grown man cry? It’s terribly embarrassing. For gosh sake’s, Roger, pull yourself together.
The nurses in the hospital are against him for no good reason other than he attempted to push the head nurse out the window. The other patients are mad at him because he didn’t succeed. That was when he was on a higher floor. The contagious ward was in the basement (closer to the morgue for convenience). It’d be kind of silly and fruitless to push someone out a basement window. What are they going to do, fall up? Besides those windows had wire cages around them so no germs could escape.
They discovered he was allergic to penicillin, but this wasn’t what needled him. His main complaint was they kept giving him blood tests.
“ Blood tests?" He said. “They took so much blood one time that I lost ten pounds.” If you saw Roger in those days and he lost ten pounds; then you wouldn’t see Roger.
They let him play the radio, but drew the line when he wanted to practice his Sousaphone.
He almost got drowned right after his third operation. During the procedure there was a call claiming a bomb was hidden in the hospital. When they noticed that Roger was ticking they threw him in a tank of water. Roger probably would have drowned if his surgeon hadn’t asked if anybody had seen his wristwatch.
After his fourth operation, he was told to go home. And that is the end of the hospital, that is.

- 30 -

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What Happened to Easy?

A company named Philips has a slogan, "Sense and Simplicity". Well, good for them, I hope they do what they say, but it seems every other business has dropped simple from their vocabulary. I recall once hearing that technology would make life easier. So, why does my most mundane tasks get more complicated?

Like what, you ask?

I'm going to tell you, but first let me ask you a question. How many people does it take to change a light bulb in an automobile?

Three, with at least one having an engineering degree.

Okay, I exaggerate a little; perhaps. That is my car there on the left, a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt.  The driver-side headlight burnt out recently. Okay, no biggie, bulbs don't last forever and the car is over 6 years old and has nearly 90,000 miles, much of it drove in dark, rain and other conditions demanding headlight use, like the infernal and eternal road construction zones (don't get me started on that boondoggle or we'll be here all night - with half our road in darkness).

Anyway, what does it take to change a headlight, right? I had a headlight blow out before, of course, that was many-years ago; er...decades ago actually. The headlight bulb looked like this one on the right.

There was a thin rim of chrome around its outer edge. You loosened a screw on the bottom of this rim to loosen it. Then you just popped that headlight out of a socket and pushed the new one in, retightened the screw and let there be light!

Took five minutes and you were good to go.

Okay, here is your modern headlight bulb on the left. Sure doesn't look like that old one, does it? Doesn't look anything like that thing on the front of my driver-side fender either. No, it goes inside that thing.

Nothing to it, you just have to dissemble one-quarter of your car to do it. You don't need your screwdriver, though. No, you need a socket wrench, some kind of prying tool and probably, as I did, a pair of pliers. You can see technology is making life simpler all ready, can't you?

Here we go, first lift the hood, duh! Get your socket wrench, with the proper size socket (in metric units) and loosen two nuts holding the headlight assembly. Find the plug holding the fascia to the front above the grill and pull it out. Fascia? What the heck is a fascia? Well, it's that thin molding they stick over a lot of your vehicle. So we have identified the fascia, where is this plug. It said plug, right. My fascia had two plugs, a little one up front and a larger one toward the engine. I had to pop both of these to loosen my fascia. (You got a loose fascia, sounds like some kind of medical condition to me.)

It said you grip the plug, well plugs, with your finger tips and pull them out like you'd pull a toothpick out of an olive. Yeah, if you have the grip of Superman and your olives aren't painted concrete. This is where the prying tool came into play. I had to loosen those babies up before they would pop. The little plug gave the most resistance.

Be certain by this point you have unplugged the assembly wires from the electrical harness. You don't want to mess up your electrical system during the next steps.

Now with the fascia loosened, pull it back a bit, which actually you can't really do. You just got to let it flap a bit and let it go at that. Grab ahold of the headlight assembly and gently pull out slightly toward the radiator and it will come off the two clamps holding it underneath. Be careful not to break anything or it will get real costly. That last warning was a great tension reducer, yes sir.

Okay I got it clear and out. It was big and awkward to hold. It has more than one lightbulb in it you know. Oh yes, you may have to go through this routine a few more times in the life of the car. There is your hazard light and turn signal to consider.

I carried this thing into the kitchen to replace the bulb. It probably does get simple at this point - you'd think. You got the assembly and you're new bulb and it goes in a socket. Trouble is, you have to get to the socket, which is buried in there somewhere. First there is a plastic locking collar around the bulb. You press down and turn counter clock wise, but you better have eaten your spinach before hand. There is a lot of grunting on this step, plus a lot of fear you'll break the dang collar or bulb. Oh man, don't break the bulb 'cause it says it could explode. Anyway, this is where I got my trusty pliers. Yeah, carefully trying to turn this sucker. It's been soldered in there by time, but I did succeed and got this out. Now I had to wrestle the old bulb up from its hole.  Once this was out, there is a socket to unplug.

Now you take your new bulb, which at first doesn't seem to want to settle down all the way in the socket (and remember whatever you do you don't want to break this gas filled little bulb). Next refasten the socket to the back of the bulb and replace the locking collar. Un huh, the locking collar doesn't want to go back in either. Women push babies out easier than this thing pushes back in place. And you got to turn it clockwise when and if you ever get it down far enough. Once that thing turned under it's holding ridges I felt I had conquered Everest.

I carried the reassembled assembly back outside to my car with some trepidation. I had to push this baby back in making certain the bottom lined up with the clamps I can't see. Well, I did it. It was in my fender and the bolt holes in the fender lined up with the bolt holes in the assembly and I got the bolts back it and then the plugs back in the fascia.

All done, so I get in the car, turn on the engine and the headlight on the driver's side does not come on. My car has those automatic headlights. My passenger side came on, but not my new bulb. I turned the lever from auto to on and now both headlights on both side worked. Odd, maybe the auto required a special bulb that I didn't buy? I don't care. I am not tearing that thing apart again. It won't kill me to manually switch on my lights, as long as I remember to manually switch them off when I park.

However, the next day when I went out, both my headlights were coming on automatically and all was well.

And you see how simple it all was.

Monday, October 17, 2011


I sit here this morning about to enter a new street, and not so far away, and yet very distant another long ago friend has come to the dead end of a one way avenue.

His name is Gary Kinzey, and although he died the other day (October 15) and his life became a "was", I like to think his name remains an "is".

It is in my thoughts, it is in my faded memories and it is in various records somewhere. His name and he will always be part of me until I also travel that last avenue.

This is the only photo I have of him as a boy, in the time I knew him as a friend. Film was costly then, to buy and to get developed. For that reason I didn't take as many pictures as I may have wished. It was taken in front of another friend's home, Stuart Meisel, looking toward Lancaster Avenue. The date I have on this is 1952, when Gary would have been 11.

There is a story about the bike. It will seem an odd one to the children of today with their tricked up little X-games stunt bikes, but that bike was too small. Things were larger then; cars were larger, bikes were larger. The bike may not look that small, but for it's day it was. Notice how the seat is pulled high up on the shaft. The diameter of the wheels on his bike were 24 inches; the rest of us had bikes with 26 inch wheels. Two inches may not seem much, but in those days when it came to wheels, size mattered.

And yes, Gary was sensitive about his smaller bike.

We often feel different in life over insignificant and unimportant things.

When I say he died "not so far away" it is because he lived on a street not so far from me and died at home. But I only knew he lived there and only saw him at a high school reunion a couple years ago. My friendship with him was from that now distant time of childhood, when we were sometimes close friends and sometimes not.  So now after nearly sixty years much of those days has blurred and faded.

I know I met Gary when we were very young, somehow, somewhere. He lived in apartments a couple blocks east of me and then, I believe, in a small house near where the Farmers' Market stood just outside of town. He seems to have flickered in and out of my boyhood because he moved and I moved and sometimes we were near and sometimes not.

He played the saxophone and I the trumpet.

What we had the biggest in common was trains, electric trains. We both indulged in building elaborate (at least it seems so) layouts. We had different emphasis, however. I was into building realistic landscapes, with papier-mâché mountains full of tunnels, with elevated tracks over felt-green meadows and little towns with rows of stores and bedroom communities. He was much more taken with the electrical mechanics of it all, building a master control of dials and switches where he controlled his world, of light displays and working gizmos here and there.

My room was full of comic books; his had stacks of Popular Electronics.

I thought him an electronics genius. In Junior High he came to class with a fountain pen in his pocket; except, it wasn't a fountain pen at all. It was a radio he had built inside a pen's shell.

His nickname was Sparky.

One of my last memories of Gary was also in Junior High. We were walking side-by-side between classes and for whatever reason, he began to punch me on the upper arm. Every so many steps down the corridor, wham, a punch to my arm. He ignored my pleas to stop and finally I turned and popped him back, at which point Mr. Caskey grabbed me by the shoulder and hauled me to the principal's office. One of the few times I ever got in trouble in school.

Strange the things we recall.

After school, like many other old friends and acquaintances, Gary and I went our separate lives. None the less, we once were friends and 70 is far too young to die.

(Left - Gary in 2002 at Downingtown High School class picnic at Dave Fidler's. Photo taken by Ronald Tipton.)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

...To the Dark of the Dungeon

As I entered the waiting room and looked around I saw the sign on a mantle.

"I guess my wife's out of luck," I said to another man sitting nearby.

"Uh?" he said and I jerked my thumb to the old notice.

My wife is Irish; well, part Irish anyway. She had an Irish maiden name. Her other main parts are German and Native American (one-quarter Creek).

T'is, me Lads, the irony that Mauch Chunk should end up named Jim Thorpe. It is also an example of how this country can and does change usually in the right ways. You see, Jim Thorpe had a part-Irish, part-Sac and Fox father, one Hiram Thorpe. Jim's mother, Charlotte Vieux had a French dad and Potawatomi mom. Hiram and Charlotte named their son Wa-Tho-Huk ("path lighted by great flash of lightning") and raised him as a Sac and Fox. He was also Roman Catholic, which was probably another strike against him in some places in those times.

Jim Thorpe was born in 1888. Eleven years earlier there was an incident in Mauch Chuck that shows he probably wouldn't have been welcome there in 1877, even possibly the decade-plus later when he was born in Oklahoma. He probably would have been shunned or worse for being  (1.) Irish, (2.) an "Injun" and (3.) a papist.

To illustrate some of the mind-set of those times I will take us back to those mansions on top of the hill, specifically the home of Asa Packer.  I mentioned therein that the Packers, rich as they were, but people of hard-working humble beginnings, existed in wealth a long while without the prerequisite servants, until Sarah Packer reached a point when doing it all herself was difficult. They hired a Butler and a Maid, who each had separate quarters in the house. The Packers, faithful to their Protestant morals wanted to be sure there was no hanky-panky between this single man and single woman. Thus they hired an Irish Catholic Butler and a German Lutheran Maid, knowing one would never have anything to do with the other. (This is another story with ties to The Little Woman, with her Irish father and German mother, and being raised a Lutheran.)

If that is an amusing story, there are many darker tales to tell of the prejudices of those times, especially against the Irish.

The Irish lot on their native sod was not a particularly happy one in the 19th Century. They were viewed as less than vermin by England, to which they were subject much against their will. Many lived in abject poverty; in fact, it was rare if an Irish family was able to serve one piece of meat a year in their meals. Beginning in the 1840s many Irish began to immigrate to the United States and this flow continued well into the 1880s. The English took a "good riddance to rubbish" attitude and encouraged this.

The United States also encouraged this influx of Irish, at least the industrialist of the day did. They saw these people as an underclass, a supply of cheap labor and a desperate people they could exploit. They were not welcome in every place of business, as the sign at the beginning of this post shows, but they were welcomed into the black holes of Pennsylvania and West Virginia where coal could be harvested.

Mauch Chunk was a coal town.

Working as a coal miner was far from paradise, not only might you be digging down toward Hell, your life was the Devil's own as well, barely a notch about slavery. You worked a long day on a dangerous job for very little pay. Worse yet, you owed everything to the company. You lived in homes provided by the company, so leaving your job was forfeiting the roof over your head. You had to buy your own work tools and supplies from the company, which you could get at the company store, where you also bought the other necessities of your life. You got credit on your purchases, so to speak, but then your bill was deducted from your wages on payday. It wasn't unusual for a miner to find he owed more than his pay and so go home with nothing in this pocket.

During the time of this miserable situation grew a secret organization known as The Molly Maguires. How secret were they? So much so historians really know very little about them. Were they the terrorist one owner painted them to be in their day, killing brutally and often? Were they a discredited and maligned group of fighters for labor reformation? Truth is they were probably somewhere in between, but they had enough influence that owners of the coal industry saw them as a threat to the status quo and of course blamed every dirty deed that came down the pike on them.

One such industrialist was Franklin B. Gowen (pictured left). Like Asa Packer, Gowen was a wealthy, powerful man in Pennsylvania. He was the president of the Philadelphia Coal and Iron Company and the director of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. He was also a former Attorney General.

To say he was anti-union is an understatement and he did everything in his power to destroy any progress by labor that might effect his business. He made this statement about the words of the Declaration of Independence, "All men are created equal":

“Men were not created equal, the distinction between mind and matter, between the men who labored with their heads and those who labored with their hands. There [are] two great classes of people in this world, men of genius, or intellectual men, and those who [are] not so, the men of labor."

 Anyway, to make a long and fascinating story short, Gowen came to blame the Molly Maguires for all things Union and hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to bring the group down. Eventually several men were arrested and charged with murder on the word of one detective, James McParlan, who went undercover and acted as an informant. He began accusing Molly Maguires after a murder where he had a hand in and may have been responsible for.

Four men were brought to trial at the Old Jail of Carbon County in the town of Mauch Chunk upon the lone testimony of McParlan. This was not a criminal trial, but a private one in which the county simply supplies the facilities. The Judges were men connected to Gowen and there is the possibilities he rigged the jury. In 1877 four men, accused of being  Molly Maguires and murderers were hung inside the Old Jail on gallows brought in for the occasion. They were John Donahue, Edward Kelly, Michael Doyle and Alexander Campbell.

Campbell left an impression behind. Declaring his innocence, he rubbed his hand on the floor and pressed his handprint into the wall of his cell. This was 137 years ago, but the handprint is still there for all to see (I saw it myself). Attempts were made to remove the print, but all failed. Here is the history of the handprint as described at Paranormal@101:

Over the years, county sheriffs have tried to remove the handprint to no avail.
In 1930, Sheriff Biegler had the wall torn down and replaced. The next day, the handprint reappeared.
Around thirty years later, Sheriff Charles Neast covered the handprint with latex paint, but it reappeared. His son, Tom, in the 1960s, loved to tell friends about the ghostly phenomenon. Word spread and people visited the Carbon County Jail to see the print.
Attempts to wash the image away failed.
In recent years, James Starrs, George Washington University forensic scientist, and Jeff Kercheval, Hagerstown MD police chemist, analyzed the handprint using high tech equipment. They found no logical scientific explanation for the handprint’s existence. They finally measured the exact location of the image in the event it there were attempts to remove it and it reappeared, they would know if the phenomenon returned to the same location or a different one.
The jail’s last sheriff, Bill Juracka, said he wouldn’t try to remove the handprint.

Now a days you can tour the Old Jail in Jim Thorpe. It is fascinating and a bit spooky. You enter and get your tickets and then go to the waiting room to await your guide. This area was actually the home of the Warden and his family, so in a sense the Warden was in jail with his prisoners.  In fact, when you go upstairs you are brought through the Warden's family bathroom and into a side wing of the jail where women offenders were housed.  
From there you wend your way back down into the main cell block where the men were. Here you see the infamous gallows that hung the Molly Maguires and Cell #17, where Campbell's handprint can be viewed upon the wall. (Sorry, they would not allow photographs of the handprint. Now, to tell the truth, it would have been very easy to sneak a picture, especially with my Flip, but I chose not to do that. The photograph seen above is from Weird Pennsylvania.)

To say the interior of the jail is bleak is an understatement. It would not be a place I would ever wish to find myself. That in itself should encourage one to behave. More depressing were the dungeons in the basement. Visiting these isolation cells certainly gave more meaning to the old coal miner's song:

It's dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew 
Where the danger is double and pleasures are few
Where the rain never falls the sun never shines
It's a dark as a dungeon way down in the mine.
I don't want to tell some of the stories I heard there because if possible I think you should go and enjoy the tour. One of the amazing things to me is this jail was in service until 1995. I will leave you with a few more photos of the place, including our charming young guide holding up the narrow window through which a prisoner once escapes.

Although this prisoner was only sentenced to about a third of a year, he determined to break out. His method was probably worse than his punishment. First he starved himself until he felt he had lost enough weight to squeeze through the window frame the guide is holding up. meanwhile he stole the soap from the shower room until he had a supply hidden away. On the day of his escapade, he striped naked and lathered up his whole body. With help from his cell mates he pushed this window frame out on its pivot. He tossed his clothes down in a pillow case and flung tied together sheets out to climb down upon. Believe it or not, he got through that window and probably would have been far away, except he attempted his escape at 12 noon. Some women eating lunch on their porch were surprised seeing a foamed up naked man shimmying down the jail wall and...well, he was soon caught.

A word about Franklin Gowen, the head of the Philadelphia and Reading railroad. Said Mr. Gowen was found dead in a Washington DC hotel room on December 19, 1889, a small caliber pistol by him and powder burns on his face. His hotel room was locked and his death at age 53 was ruled a suicide. Stories and speculation arose that he had been murdered, and it was claimed this was done by a Molly Maguire who actually looked like Gowen. It was said this assassin had stalked him for years, had even purchased the pistol using Gowen's name and had hid in the hotel room, did the deed and escaped out the window.

People questioned his taking his own life because he was still relatively young, had wealth, reputation and a family. They saw no reason to think he would do such a thing, so it had to be murder and who better to blame than the Molly Maguires. However, I lean toward it being suicide. Gowen was no longer the head of the railroad. In fact, he was seeing a number of bonds he was involved with declining in value at this time and it might have been more a financial concern that led to his self-elimination.

All photos inside and out of the Old Jail by the author except:

The portrait of Franklin Gowen
The Jim Thorpe Wheaties Box
The Campbell Handprint in Cell 17 is from Weird Pennsylvania.

Friday, September 30, 2011

From the Top of the Hill...

There are mansions top the hill. This one sits the further up, perhaps not so deservingly so. It was the home of Harry Packer; Judge Harry Eldred Packer more exactly. Harry Packer was the youngest son, the unexpected son, the baby, the only child born when the family was secure in wealth so he was raised without knowing any deprivation or the modest means his older siblings had known.

The obituaries of his day speak highly of him at his death, a man who accomplished so much as a young man, Associate Judge of Carbon County and President of the Lehigh Railroad, as well as Board Member of Lehigh University. All positions he had stepped into after the death of his father as he had stepped into that mansion on the hill his father had built for him. They talk of his long and painful illness, his death from the internal hemorrhage brought about by its complications.

A month before his death, The New York Times reported on his illness, how he was confined to that mansion on the hill and attended by, of all names, Dr. Pepper. Dr. William Pepper, Provost of the University of Pennsylvania assured everyone of the ultimate recovery of the young judge. But at 2:00 AM on the morning of February 2, 1884 Judge Harry Packer packed it in. It was mentioned in the Times that the judge suffered from an affection of the liver. What Harry Parker suffered from were the indulgences and indiscretions he chose to adapt as the spoiled baby of the wealthiest family of Pennsylvania. What he died of, at the age of 34, was cirrhosis of the liver. Harry Packer would have been better off if he had drank Dr.Pepper rather than being examined by him.

The Harry Packer mansion stands today as a bed and breakfast where they hold murder-mystery audience participation plays.

Just a bit down the road from it is the mansion of his father, Asa Packer (pictured left), a rags-to-riches industrialist, who started out building canal boats and ended up a millionaire. Along the way he developed boatyards, construction companies and mining industries, as well as the Lehigh Valley Railroad and Lehigh University.

The Asa Packer Mansion sits high atop his beloved town of Mauch Chunk, now known as Jim Thorpe, PA. He could sit out on the front porch and gaze over much of what he had created, the railroad, the homes of his workers, the town and also the church he faithfully attended, St. Marks Episcopal.

Asa had not come to Mauch Chunk as an Episcopalian. He was a Methodist when he came. He took his family to a church in town and they sat down in a pew to await the service. He was embarrassed when he and his family were told to move because he had sat in a rented pew. He swore he would never go back to such a place of hypocrisy, and he didn't.

The Little Woman and I climbed the multitude of steps and stairs to take the tour of the Asa Packer Mansion. Believe me, their are a lot of steps from the streets of town to the front porch of the mansion. The town is in The Poconos and it snakes through the mountains like a low-lying river. You do a lot of steep walking, as I suppose one should expect when in a burg once known as "The Switzerland of America".

We paused for rest now and agin. I have grown use to scaling mounts from my morning walks through the Piedmonts, but inclines are difficult for the Little Woman, especially since she throw her one knee out of whack trying to keep up with our military trained daughter on a country hike a few months back.

This is the view as you approach the midpoint up the yard of the mansion. The tall pointy building in the center is St. Marks. Some of the brick buildings directly below are part of the Carbon County Courthouse.

The beginning point of the enjoyable tour back into the 19th Century life of the prominent begins on the porch, relaxing in a chair awaiting the guide.

You are led around to the left side and enter the building through Asa's office.

The mansion is not a restoration, but a preservation. What you see is how it was, at least at the time it was willed to Mauch Chunk in 1912 by his daughter Mary Hannah.

The Packers, Asa and his wife, a farmer's daughter named Sarah Minerva Blakslee, had seven children, most of whom died young. Daughters Catherine, Malvina and Gerdrude all died before the age of two. We already saw that Harry Packer, the last born died at age 34. The oldest son, Robert died at 40 or 41. Lucy, the first born was the only child to produce any grandchildren before she also died at age 40 or 41. Mary, who was the third child lived to be 73, the only offspring to live into the 20th Century.

All her siblings having died by 1884 left Mary as the heir to the Mansion and property of Asa. But Mary had a slight problem because of the thinking of the times, which simply put, did not allow a single woman to own property. Miss Packer was not about to let such a silly detail take this mansion away from her. She had a simple solution, she got married to a long time friend, a conductor on her father's railroad named Cummings. This marriage was preceded by one of our nations earliest prenuptial agreements. After a couple years, Cummings went his way with a tidy sum of cash in his pocket and Mary Hannah Packer Cummings sat in her home atop the hill.

Since she produced no children from this arrangement, upon her death her will deeded the Mansion and all its furnishings to the Borough as a memorial to her father's accomplishments. The town accepted the Mansion, but didn't know what to do with it (we all know how ahead-thinking politicians are) and so it sat there gathering dust for forty-two years. In 1954, just before the third wife of Jim Thorpe made her appearance that changed the name of the town, the Bear Mountain Lions Club asked to sponsor the Mansion as a community project and they opened its doors to the public on Memorial Day, 1956. [Gee, the Bear Mountain Lions, all they need is the wolf and they would be Cub Scout ranks. Of course, by 1956 when the Mansion opened as a museum, they were known as the Jim Thorpe Lions Club.]

Although it is a mansion, the rooms had a more homey feel to them than other museums of the rich we've been through. There certainly were many things in the furnishings or the imported wall papers, the chandeliers or the other accouterments that speak of wealth, yes, things people of that era put in their homes as status symbols. Still, for a time the Packers did not employee the staff of servants one would expect those of their financial level to retain. For a long time Sarah Minerva Blakslee Packer did all the cooking herself. She was a farmer's daughter and these type of things were in her blood. When first married the Packers attempted to eek out a living from the soil, but after four years they found themselves as poor as ever and he set out to find employment on coal barges. They were in their fifties when they built the mansion at a cost of $14,000. (Yes, 14 and only three zeros.)

I have not found any unkind word or scandal attached to Asa Packer or his wife. Perhaps his humble beginning reflected throughout his life even after he gained his fortune. At his death his estate was valued at $54,500,000, and remember he died in 1879. Certainly in today's money he would be a billionaire.

Although Asa Packer was a decent man and philanthropist (and Lehigh University charged no tuition the first 26 years of its existence), there were other rich and powerful men in the Carbon County coal towns not so generous to others and those who worked for many of these wealthy barons lived a life far below the top of the hill where the Packer's dwelt.

That is another part of the town of Jim Thorpe we will soon visit.

All photos by the author except:

The two mansion rooms (you are not allowed to photograph inside the house).
The oval photo of Mary Hannah Packer Cummings (from the Asa Packer Mansion Association).
The painting of Asa Packer by DeWitt Clinton Boutelle, 1873.