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

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Did You Have Your Corn Flakes with Circumcision This Morning?

Ronald Tipton and I spent that summer bike riding on weekends and still trading comic books, but Ronald had taken an after-school job as a Paperboy that kept him busy (left). He was still living in the apartment building at 120 Washington Avenue (right). His home had never been a get-together place for us. I think I was in that apartment once, if at all.
I am not exactly certain when Ron began this job, but I would think it was sometime near the end of 1951. He says in his writings he was ten.

 When I was ten years old my Mom told me "You're going to
get a job."  I was ten years old and about as dumb as a bag of doorknobs. "A job? What job?… “.  I would earn about $5.00 a week, which I almost always squandered on candy and comic books.  I was a paperboy until I entered ninth grade, four years (I think, my friend Larry will correct me if I'm wrong because he took over my paperboy job).
Excerpts from “You’re Going to Go to Work”           by Ronald W. Tipton in “Retired in Delaware”, February 3, 2016

I know exactly when he stopped doing the paper route. It was right after Christmas of 1955. Four years earlier was December 1951 and Ronald turned ten in November of that year. He would still have been ten years old when he started Sixth Grade in September 1952 so anytime in that period he might have been forced into this job. I’m thinking it possibly started in the summer after finishing Fifth Grade. There is a photo he used with his post of his manager collecting his collection and his mother overseeing it. Both women are wearing summer dresses. To be fair, the photo did not need come at the beginning of his labors.
Ronald, Stuart Meisel and I continued go to the Saturday movie matinees together quite often, but my quality time with Ronald was now limited. As a result, Stuart and I were spending more and more time together. Some of it was writing The Daily Star, but most of it was playing. We played both at his home and mine, but more commonly at his, especially on weekends when my dad was home. I was always looking for escapes from my father. The further away from each other we were, the better I liked it.
My father did insist on supper at 5:00 when he was home and that we all eat together. Dinnertime was more flexible during the week because it was just mom and I. Mom had finally learned to cook once living in her own home out at the Swamp House, my grandmother having been the chief chef when we all lived together. Mom kept up her cooking after we settled in at 417, although sometimes we wandered down the street to her parents and ate. Our weekday meals tended to be minimal when just she and me, sandwiches, soup, hot dogs and fish sticks. On Saturday she would put together a full course meal for my dad, but we still ate most Sunday dinners at my grandparents, except during racing season. When we attended Sunday afternoon stock car races my dad would stop for dinner at a restaurant on the way home. As a trucker he knew a great many diners, dives and greasy spoons along the byways and a good many waitresses too. He flirted with every one of them to my embarrassment. Dad was a constant and indefatigable flirter. He was still flirting with the female attendants at the nursing home in his mid-nineties.
Anyway, on Saturdays I always had to leave Stuart’s place by 4:45 PM to be home at suppertime or face punishment. One Saturday I lost track of the time and it was almost 5:00 before I realized it. I hurried home. I didn’t have far to go and I ran all the way, but still arrived a few minutes late. Dad and mom were all ready seated at the kitchen table eating. (We never ate in the dining room at 417 Washington.)
Dad glared at me and I mumbled a hasty apology about Stuart and I losing track of time.
“You spend a lotta time with that Jew-boy,” my dad said. “Maybe you went and got it cut off, too.”
Why were people always saying things to me I didn’t understand?
I had no idea what dad meant by that and I didn’t dare ask. I ate my meal in silence as I always did when dad was home. Cut what off, I wondered. It would be several years more before I understood his odd reference. Even when I knew, it made little sense beyond an unnecessary snide slur.
Circumcised I was. My father knew I was. Chester County Hospital circumcised all baby boys born during that era. (Pictured right: Chester County Hospital Operating Room, 1950s.) Circumcised had been done on my father, too, as a matter of fact. By the mid-twentieth century seeing a circumcised male was no longer a religious indication. The United States began progressively circumcising male babies as a routine course of action by 1900 and every year thereafter more and more got the procedure.

They circumcised 70% of the males born in the early 1940s. The operation peaked at circumcising 91% in the 1970s and then the percentage began to decrease. (Picture left is a circumcision: ouch!)
Scientists finally accepted germ theory in the late 1800s and in 1900 there was so much talk about germs it grew into hysteria. People started seeing the human body as a big claptrap of germs and especially the penis with all its nasty fluids. Doctors viewed circumcision as a preemptive strike against disease. They actually believed circumcision would prevent such things as syphilis and other venereal
(And to think, there are people who put all their faith in science despite its long history of mistakes and stupidity. Here were two beauties. First scientists refused to believe in such a thing as germs. Then when they decided these existed, they concluded removal of the foreskin would prevent a whole shopping list of diseases. It almost makes me glad my teachers destroyed my scientific ambitions.)
Doctors also believed circumcision cured and prevented masturbation. Masturbation was viewed as both immoral and some kind of addiction. John Harvey Kellogg even advocated circumcision as a punishment for masturbators. Dr. Kellogg had a lot of interesting viewpoints on developing a healthy moral body such as a vegetarian diet, lots of exercise and regular enemas. He is perhaps best known for the invention, with his brother Will, of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. (Pictured left: Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and Will Keith Kellogg. Pictured right, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg’s masturbation cures.)
I will say to Dr. Kellogg and all the other physicians of that time, if circumcision reduced masturbation, then heaven help me, what would it have been like with a foreskin? But “playing with your self” was obviously something I didn’t know at this time. I wouldn’t have that knowledge until a few years in the future.

I knew Stuart was Jewish. I didn’t know that much about his religion. The only things I knew about Jews came from Sunday school. I didn’t think much about it, because I seldom paid much attention to anything but the clock at Sunday school. Stuart didn’t go to any Sunday school. He went to services Saturday mornings in Coatesville. His family went to Coatesville because there was no Synagogue in Downingtown. The Meisels were the only Jewish Family in the borough. They weren’t overly observant of their religions rules. One of Stuart’s favorite dishes is pork chops, for instance.
Stuart went to see Santa Claus at the Log Cabin every year with the rest of we grade scholars. His parents even celebrated Christmas to a minor extent, “so Stuart didn’t feel left out”. I would kid him about this. “You get eight days of gifts for Hanukkah and then more for Christmas? What a racket?”
I wasn’t prejudice against Jews, but I was pretty ignorant. Stuart’s father worked at a pharmacy in Coatesville (picture of Maxwell Meisel in his Pharmacy on left). They took me on a visit to it. It had a soda fountain and I was treated to an ice cream sundae. Stuart wanted me to see Beth Israel Synagogue (pictured right), so we walked to it and entered the vestibule. He handed me this odd little black pancake called a Yakama and told me I had to put it on my head before going any further. I panicked inside. I was a Methodist; at least that was what everybody was telling me. Would I be committing a sin if I put this hat on? Would I be renouncing Christ? I refused to do it, so I never got a tour of a synagogue. Stuart wasn’t angry, but I have felt ashamed of that reaction my whole life. I was such a dummy.

Stuart and I played a lot of catch during the times we were together. We both liked baseball. We were pretty much restricted to throwing a ball back and forth if at my house; the backyard was small. It also had that farm machinery building running the length of one side and the next-door neighbor’s garage on the other. There were a lot of windows vulnerable to breakage. (Pictured left: Stuart in my backyard at 417.)

      But Stuart lived on a large property. His yard stretched well back from Lancaster Avenue. (The front of Stuart’s house is pictured on the right, the West side porches on the left and the East side porches just below.) The yard was shortest to the east of his house, ending just before the entry drive and Dr. Neff’s parking lot. Directly behind the main house was a large garage that used to be a carriage house. The yard on the west side was wide. It went about the length of a football field, but it was hard to tell where it ended because it melded with Jerry Miller’s yard. There was the millrun bordering the far back and just beyond that a couple lakes. His property ran along the millrun and lake to the east back into woods.

Description from “Borough of Downingtown v. Friends of Kardon Park LLC”, August 3, 2012:

The land to be developed is composed of the following five parcels. Parcel UPI No. 11–4–23 consists of 7.6 acres partly located in both the Borough and the Township. The Borough acquired this parcel by purchase from Kathryn Meisel in 1962. This parcel is wooded and contains two man-made ponds known as Second and Third Lakes, which are part of the original millrace system that was fed by the Brandywine River. The proposed plan would retain this parcel as parkland.

(Left is one of the lakes behind Stuart’s house.)

The aforementioned parcel was an ideal place for boys like us to play all kinds of games. We often played war in the woods. In the center of the woods was a kind of large pit. I don’t know its source or its original purpose. It was perhaps fifteen-twenty feet in diameter with sides as high as four feet. There were places you could easily climb in and out of this depression and we would use it as a fort or a prison or whatever else our imagination dreamed up..
Along the front of the house was a cast iron “grape and leaf” fence, and a real 18th Century milestone, with “30 miles to P” chiseled on it. (P referred to Philadelphia.)  A race (small creek) ran along the back of the yard.  There were huge trees, several stories tall.  I believe that they were over 100 years old.  Further back were the Woods, and in the Woods was a depression that we named Devil’s Nest.  (Recently, I renewed contact with Bill Brookover.  It is interesting that the first thing we both mentioned about those days is Devil’s Nest.)  Devil’s Nest became the center of our boyhood experience until the city took (by eminent domain) and built a road through it.  When I heard about it, it was one of the sadder days of my boyhood.
From My Story, by Stuart G. Meisel, 2012, p.21.

On the corner of the lot, next to the millrace and just ahead of the woods, was a small stone house. Its unsafe condition prevented us from ever entering it. They called it the “Slave House”. Stuart’s home had once been a stop on the Underground Railroad. Abolitionists brought escaped slaves from the south and boarded them in this house before moving them on to Canada. There was a tunnel beneath his grounds that went over to another exit/entry beneath Dr. Neff’s office, which had also once been a carriage house. Developers destroyed all this history. The Meisels offered the property to the Borough for a dollar after Stuart’s father died, but were turned down. Stuart and his mother wished it to be preserved, but they had to sell. A builder bought the lot, tore down the house and structures and constructed an out-of-place condominium. (Pictured right is what replaced the Meisel home.)

The Meisel family was the last owner of the house, at 335 East Lancaster Avenue, before it was razed so the Downingtown East Apartments (now known as the Downingtown Commons) could be built across from the Downingtown Library. The house, which had a granite exterior, had many fireplaces, and a stone milemarker (from the early Philadelphia-Lancaster Turnpike days) was in the front yard.

According to Stuart Meisel, who now lives in Fort Lauderdale, FL, his father, Maxwell Meisel, owned a pharmacy in Coatesville, and the family moved from Coatesville to Downingtown in about 1945. Their property, which stretched north to beyond where Pennsylvania Avenue now is located, totaled about 12 acres. Part of that land was sold to the borough in the early 1960s, so Pennsylvania Avenue could be extended eastward, to Uwchlan Avenue. As kids, Stuart Meisel and his best friends, Larry Meredith and Ron Tipton, were “desperately unhappy” because the sale of that tract of land destroyed the “Devil’s Nest,” located in the woods behind the house, where they played as youngsters.

And the property was sold to the developer of the apartment complex shortly after Maxwell Meisel died in 1961. “My mother and I tried desperately to have the house declared an official historical site, but no luck.” Meredith claims that there was a small building behind the Meisel residence, where slaves, who escaped from the South via the Underground Railroad, often were billeted overnight. And he recalls that there was a tunnel that ran beneath the slave house and continued eastward to the house at 341 E. Lancaster Ave.
                                        --  Downingtown Area Historical Society Hist-o-gram January 9, 2014

The last quotes say, “Meredith claims that there was a small building behind the Meisel residence, where slaves, who escaped from the South via the Underground Railroad, often were billeted overnight.” I received that information from various people at the time I was growing up and spending much time at The Meisels. I also remember how much we wanted to go into the “Slave House” and down into the tunnel, but were constantly warned away because the structure and the tunnel were unsafe. I’m certain other sources could be sited despite the use of my name and the word. “Claims”
Here is another reference made by the Downingtown Area Historical Society that appeared earlier than the statement made about my claims, so obviously other sources existed. This was published in the Hist-o-gram of April 11, 2013, Vol. 4, No. 15 beneath the headline, “It Was Once Part of the Underground Railroad”:
Mary Ann Cardelli is the truly perceptive scholar who was the first person to correctly identify the house in last week’s “Where and What Is This?” photo, as being located at 341 E. Lancaster Ave. in Downingtown. Currently, it’s the office of Anthony Mascherino, CPA. And for many decades, it served as the home and office of Dr. Martin Neff and Dr. Richard Smith.
Built in 1729, by Thomas Moore, who established a water-powered grist mill in 1716, on the site where the McDonald’s restaurant is now located in the borough, according to Jane Davidson’s History of Downingtown.

The building was part of the Thomas sisters’ boarding school, operated from 1837 to 1877 by the daughters of Zebulon Thomas. The school was headquartered across the street, at 330 E. Lancaster Ave., where the Downingtown Library is now located.

Zebulon Thomas, who lived at 341 E. Lancaster Ave., was an agent for the Underground Railroad in the Downingtown area. He created a space on the third floor of 341 E. Lancaster Ave., to hide escaped slaves from bounty hunters.

In the 1940s, the building was occupied by The Tea House restaurant, which was acclaimed for its chicken a la king (chicken, waffles and syrup). In addition to a waffle iron from the restaurant in the Historical Society’s archives, our archival collection also includes a Tea House menu, noting that a full-course chicken a la king dinner was priced at $1.75.

One of the things I noticed while playing at Stuart’s was the uneven ground in places. I was given the explanation on that occasion that the cause was tunnels of the Underground Railroad.  Chester County was a major part of the Drinking Gourd Trail.

 The Underground Railroad was established in the early 1800’s and included many secret passageways beginning in the South that lead slaves across the Mason-Dixon Line to safety in the North. Slaves were seeking to escape bondage from what were known as slave states – found south of this line, in which ska very was considered legal by the United States Constitution.

In 1853, Harriet Tubman, one of the most popular anti-slavery activists and also once
a slave herself began her moral deeds with the Underground Railroad. Once Harriet Tubman reached her freedom, she went back and freed her family and as many as three hundred others.
It is estimated that the Underground Railroad helped 100,000 slaves, escape from the South between 1810 and 1850 thanks to Harriet And many Northerners were determined to free as many slaves as possible. This group collectively became referred to as abolitionists.

Among those Northerners were the Quakers who were one of the very first groups to aid slaves in their escape. The abolitionists sometimes used their own homes to hide the runaways. These Northern citizens, including residents in Kennett area and throughout southern Chester County, took the law in their own hands. It was a very dangerous proposition for both slaves and abolitionists. If caught in the North, they would get fined for hundreds of dollars which was a lot of money back then because they broke the law. Some of the slaves were then captured and taken back to return to work. The slaves were property. If a Northerner was caught helping to free a slave in the South, the punishment was more severe. The citizen would be taken to court and then imprisoned, if he or she made it to court. The citizen would be beaten or burned by the slave owner for stealing his property. There are plenty of rumors on how these safe houses were identified. Some historians believe the information by word of mouth is exaggerated but still holds some truth.
The significance of the Drinking Gourd is the slaves who ran from the south would follow the Big Dipper to reach the North to safety. Once a slave reached a safe house, a network of supporters would donate clothes and money for food. The slaves were secretly passed from one family to another. They were hidden in barns, attics and basements.

“ From, “The Downingtown Times”,“Chester County’s Underground Railroad Remembered”, by Jacqueline Kennedy, March 24, 2016.

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