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Lois Wilcox Curran

East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview

Interviewee: Curran, Lois Wilcox (EJ)

Interviewers: Ellen Sheehan (ES) and Katy Hineline (KH)

Date of interview: February 17, 2022

Place: Cathedral Village, Andorra, Philadelphia

Transcriber: Katy Hineline

ES: Good morning.  We are seated here with Lois Curran on February 17, 2022. Ellen Sheehan and Katy Hineline will be taking an oral history of Lois.  And our first question is: where and when were you born and where were your parents born and how did they happen to come to East Falls and do you know what year that was?

LC:  I was born at 3606 Indian Queen Lane (Nov. 7, 1932).  My mother was born in Strawberry Mansion and moved to East Falls when she was a little girl, which would have made it about the turn of the century, the 20th century. She was born in 1999 (sic).   My father was born in New Jersey in one of the little farming areas.  Clayton, I think, was the name of it in 1997 or ‘98 (sic) and they moved, his family moved, from downtown Philadelphia on Girard Avenue, one of the mansions on Girard Avenue, to East Falls and lived on Sunnyside Avenue.  And the only way I think that they had any chance of meeting each other would have been through some event at the Methodist Church on Indian Queen Lane.  The only thing I ever heard about that was that they used to have skating, ice skating parties on the Wissahickon and my mother told me that she saw this tall slim man who skated beautifully and she thought she may have fallen in love with him long before she knew who he was (chuckle). And he remained like that actually throughout his whole life, slender, not skinny, but on the slender side.  So that includes Clayton, New Jersey and my mother in Strawberry Mansion.  They all (her family) moved up from Strawberry Mansion and that was the Smith family.  Does that answer that question for you?

ES:  Tell us about your family.  What did your parents do and did your father work locally?

LC:  Actually, my mother and father at some point in their lives, they were married in 1918, right at the end of the war when my father came back.  He was in the First World War in the Navy.  And, all the people from East Falls that he knew through the Methodist Church had a bond when they left for overseas and each of them promised that they would whistle a song or sing a song whenever they were near a group of people.  And the song was “The Country…something”…. (hums a song melody). It’s called “Country something.”  And so, he was on a ship in a port I think it was….not Naples, it was France… I’ll think of that one. Anyway, he was on his ship and he was working and doing his thing and on the pier he heard the country song and he jumped up and yelled over, “I’m here!!”  And the guy on the pier called him and said,   Charlie! It’s Warrington!” Isn’t that funny?  I don’t know why I remembered that but he always told that story. So, they did exactly what they said they would do, they would whistle a tune and if any of the others heard them then they could respond. Anyway, that was before 1918.   Because my mother and father were married in 1918.  So, it would have been March of 1918 that I think that they got married.

KH:  I’m not sure you said their names.

LC:  My mother’s name was Myrtle Smith, with no middle name, and then my father was Charles Mathis Wilcox and his family was…his father was one of those…  Riders, the Christian riders, the ministers who went around to the small towns and preached.  They lived then in Conshohocken, in Spring Mill, a little town called Cedar Heights which was the ultimate tiny town and very poor and he, his father, got the money to build a small church for them so that they could all come on Sunday and he then became the minister of that church until he left Cedar Heights and that was the end of his life so.

KH: So that was your grandfather

LC: That was my father’s father. And he was prone to bursts of anger.  That’s what I remember as a child. You know that he would…he was unpredictable.  I didn’t have that word in my vocabulary at that point but I knew to stay away. And my grandmother on the other side was probably the sweetest woman you would ever want to meet and was basically a Quaker.  They lived up in this little town called Cedar Heights which is just up the hill from Spring Mill.  You all know where Spring Mill is now and of course North Lane was the street that went up the hill that went to this little bitty town called Cedar Heights. It was a cut off from “Conchee’ (i.e. Conshohocken), is the way they pronounced it. And so they did the major shopping and so forth in Conshee.  Ok, so that’s my father and that was all I think prior to the turn of the century. No, it would have been in the early part of the 20th Century.

ES: Where did he work?  Did he work locally? 

LC: He worked initially for the railroad.  He was always a sportsman and he played ball for the Reading Railroad. He played softball for the Reading Railroad but before that he was a member of the…oh, what do they call the… forerunners to the Eagles who were, you know, they didn’t have an organization and they didn’t have rules there was no such thing as rules and my dad said it was THE toughest thing that you ever heard of.  They didn’t have uniforms and they were losing people fast. (chuckle)   But he was a part of that. I think they were called something like The Busy something, the Busy Bees or anyway, whatever.  I’ll get the name for you because they did then become the Eagles and at that point of course he was loaded with kids and not into going as he had been. He also worked for General Electric.  As I was growing up I didn’t know all of the railroad stuff, that was before me, but then when I came along he was working for General Electric over at 69th and Elmwood so he drove from East Falls to 69th and Elmwood every day and he retired from there some time in the 1960’s and then they moved to Ocean City.

ES: And what about East Falls.  Why did they settle there?

LC:  Well I think their parents were there.  I think that the Smith clan who came over on the boat from England which included, I think, they had nine children, seven of them came among them was my grandfather and Joe Smith was his brother and Joe Smith was the chorister for the Wanamaker Choir and he was part of the Christmas…musical, always musical, the whole family.

And then where your (referring to Ellen Sheehan) friend Carol lived on Indian Queen Lane that is where my grandfather’s sister lived.  Their name was McFarland {corrected later to Mackenzie}.  Everyone called him Uncle Mack so that was just two steps away. So, my parents were there I don’t know why they came. The church became the center of their existence.  My dad was the coach for the General Electric basketball team and that was at 69th and Elmwood and he drove that all the time.

ES: Brothers and sisters?

LC:  My brother was the first born and he was almost 13 years older than I and my sister was second and she was 8 years older than I. 

ES: And their names were?

LC: He was Cliff Wilcox and he came out of the Second World War as a captain in the marines and he was also a pilot and then he went and he was a pilot for United Airlines for the rest of his life.  And then he married, not one of the hostesses but the people who took the reservations. That was the second marriage.  The first marriage was very complex in that he married my parents’ best friend and then there was a falling out. (ES: She was an East Falls girl?)  She was an East Falls girl.  Her name was Doris Gotwols.  They had two children and then they divorced ultimately, should have happened much sooner, but….it happened when it was.   She took the kids and she raised them and he went on in his life as a pilot and eventually met (good old what’s her name, (chuckle), I never will forget…my sister-in-law) and they led a very happy life and they lived ultimately in western Virginia.

And my sister, Betty, but actually her name is Myrtle Elizabeth but nobody called her Myrtle, everyone called her Betty and she married Bill Burns who was from a little town called Easton in Georgia. And he was the top rank before you go into a lieutenant…Chief Petty Officer or something with the U.S. Navy.  He met her through one of the people in East Falls that most people found not reputable (ES: I won’t mention any names) I think his name was Joe Burke. Nobody really knew him because he was such an oddball except my sister who had a caregiving nature and when she saw people that were not in the crowd she did everything possible to make a bridge – that was her personality.  My mother got very ill, was very ill after I was born  She was hospitalized and at that time  they would keep you in a home afterward until you were fully recovered and so my sister then stepped up as my mother and  became my ersatz mother in many, many ways.  So, she took the mother bonding and then when my mother came back it was a little more difficult for me to let go of my sister.  And my sister, of course, was a young girl at that point she was eight, nine years old and she had her friends from all over as well.

So, I was an afterthought, if a thought at all, (chuckle) And we had a lot of fun teasing about that when I was a little girl.

ES: Where did you go to school?

LC:  I went to Mifflin.  I was not the first class. I think my sister, Betty, was in the first class in Mifflin. The first graduating class and then I was in kindergarten. They went to the Breck School before that which was right behind us.  And mother went to Breck.  My mother was a well-known pianist and soloist as well as her father and she was always…she was very tiny in stature and everybody always talked about the fact that she would sit down at the piano and her legs were swinging back and forth and then she is going blubblubblug all over the piano.  Everybody is absolutely shocked but she did and she was musical all of her life.  Everything she did was related to music.

ES: What do you remember about Mifflin?  Do you remember any teachers?

LC: I remember all my first four grades.  Dr. Gaulder was there, Walter Gaulder.  And Edwards, I don’t know what her first name was but she taught math when we moved into the departmentalization.   Mr. Rudetsky was in science…did you ever hear his name? Evelyn Eberhart was third grade. Abigail Mc Cosgrave was first grade and this woman in kindergarten I liked her, but she was tall and gangly …it may come to me…

ES:  Sure, sure. Did you make any friends there?

LC:  Many.

ES:  Were there any activities that took place there?

LC:  We had…I had a lot of friends in class.  And an interesting story is that when we graduated from college and went back to our fiftieth…not college, high school and went back to our fiftieth reunion the group that we hung out with and played with when we were little all got together and now email is available and we started a round robin with that group and we followed them all until they passed away. I’m the only one left from that group.

ES: Congratulations.

LC:  I guess.

ES: Can you describe the house where you lived and what the address was…well you already gave us that 3606…What was the street like?  Any activities on the street?  How about your neighbors? (chuckle)

LC:  Well, my neighbor, the Kelleys, were the kids that I played with every day and that was Teresa and Doris and Marie and Ellen.  And Ellen was the last baby and she was the youngest of the crowd. (Ellen Kelley Sheehan is the person conducting this interview.) And, we were not a gang but we did play together as a group. And we had a next door neighbor…they had a next door neighbor named Bobby Gilderman and he played with us.  Across the street was Dr. Quinman and his two sons Norman and Gerry and they all played with us.  So we had a United Nations both ethnically and religiously because we were Jews and Protestants and Catholics.  And Sandra Maddley, do you remember Sandra Maddley?  She was from the apartments in the back.

ES: How about the Smith Mansion?  Do you remember… (Smith Mansion was at Indian Queen Lane and Haywood)

LC: Oh yes, I was there a lot.  Nobody knew it as the Smith Mansion.  We read about it later that that’s what it was. My mother’s good friend lived there with her husband and her four children, and then their children, then their children’s children.  It was huge.  The rooms were huge and the living room – you stepped down into the dining room and the living room. You entered into the kitchen.  And when you stepped down into the dining room it was level all the way out to huge bay windows. There were double windows in the middle and then one big window on each side with seats, I mean like benches.  You could open them up and fill them up.  People sat there and watched everything from East Falls down to the river. All the way to the river.  It was facing the river. In the living room was the double doors to the basement and that’s where the rumor has it, and I believe it’s true, where the underground railroad went from the basement of that house all the way down through Laurel Hill Cemetery to the river where they got onto boats. And she told me….the Ousey family lived there – o-u-s-e-y …and she told me that they believed that that was part of the railroad.

ES:  Do you remember that door, there was a door that led down and there were tunnels?

CL:  That’s right

ES: You were adventuresome, did you ever go down the tunnel?

LC:  Only to the start of it, it got a little scary when the tunnels went up and they were all black, there was no light. So, I never went beyond that but I had no doubt that it would, that you could.

ES:  There are others who say that they remember the tunnels.

LC: Also, there are the tunnels under the railroad.

ES:  The railroad?

LC: Uh Huh.  The Reading Railroad ran up you know in East Falls and in front of the station there were a couple of hills of grass and in those hills were the tunnels that Hohenadel used to store their beer. (ES murmurs assent)  But they were black, they weren’t lit and so the dare to the kids would be “Why don’t you go in it and come out?”  But most kids were too scared to do it.

ES: It went to the end of Arnold Street and up the hill and there was a cave that circulated around.

LC: Right.  You could see the barrels stored. But I was scared, but I said, “Damn it, if you don’t face this (chuckle) you are never going to grow up!”

ES:  Where did you play?

LC:  Played mostly on the Smith Mansion areas.  You know they had a lot of grassy….

ES:  We called that something, what did we call it….Plush Hill!

LC: Yes, it was Plush Hill; that was their address.

ES: Well, the reason was that the Dobson Mills bought that for their workers and they made Plush Carpets.  Really, they thought it was plush because it was ritzy but actually it got the name from the Dobson Mills making plush carpets.

LC: I did not know that; that’s interesting. Yes, we used to play right there and the other side, you know behind the big houses across from us was …. it had a name, too.   It had another name because all the kids who walked to school walked through the coal yards and ….Dutch Hollow!

ES:  Dutch Hollow, yeah you’re right.

LC:  That’s what it was called, Dutch Hollow.  So, if you walked past Dutch Hollow all the way up to the railroad station all these tunnels were in the hills under the railroad station but you had no sense of being under the railroad when you went through it. I mean it was just like a big U. But no one knows that when you go in the mouth because it is black.

KH:  That’s the little housing development in there?

LC: No, that’s Wiehle Street. There were about five or six houses. That’s before you get to the railroad station. But it is not Arnold Street, that was Wiehle Street and I know there were at least five houses, straight houses, row houses, small.

ES:  Do you remember the gardens? Was it during the war you had Victory Gardens?

LC:  We had one in our backyard.  Yeah, my dad plowed over the top part of the backyard and we planted vegetables all over the place.  And he lost a pair of glasses.  That’s the side story. He was always waiting to see if a carrot came up with his glasses.

ES:  Wiehle Street had all these little victory gardens.

LC:  They did have that, that’s right, they took one whole area and made themselves really useful with it.

ES: So, what about High School, after you graduated from Mifflin, you went on to High School?

LC:  I went to Roxborough High School. When I went to high school you could only go to Roxborough High School or Central or Girl’s High and I didn’t want to go that far. I wanted to stay, you know, so that I could do more things with my time.

     We had to take the R bus so we would run down to the bottom of the hill every day with my mother standing at the door with a half a bacon sandwich and an orange juice, “OK, get this down! You need something before you go!” And then I’d run down the hill and the R bus would be coming around the corner….just made it.  Whereas my brother who was 13 years older went to Germantown High.  That was one of the choices that he had that we didn’t have.  You couldn’t go to Germantown OR Roxborough, you had to go to Germantown if you were in his age range. But that wasn’t even an option for me.

ES: So, what did you study after High School?  What was your interest? What did you study? What was your work? What did you do?

LC:  I think I started working as a file clerk for North American Insurance Company. And I hated it. And then I had an opportunity to work at the Franklin Institute as a Research Associate to Aeronautical Engineering and so we were working on projects that were aeronautical and several of the men who worked there, the engineers, were designers of even some of the airplanes that were still in use.  I had one really nice engineer, Sam Berkowitz, that was his name, and he designed Buffalo something, which was a two engine plane and it’s in history.

ES: So, you and Clifford had a connection with the planes.

LC: We did.

KH: What year would it have been, approximately?

LC: Approximately ‘50, 1950.  So, then I stayed with research and I moved from that to another research project only this one was more social sciences and I managed a research project for a psychologist who was studying 65 inner city kids.  This was before you had to have every parent sign everything.  Sixty-five inner city kids through their schooling to determine what factors ultimately caused delinquency, mental health issues, and excelling.

ES:  Did they determine that?

LC: They wrote a book about it and I was…I’m published in that book. I forget the name of it. Our job was to go to the schools and get the statistical part. We didn’t have much to do with the children. But, we had to do who did what, where, when and observing and how the teachers could observe and  and proving that you can tell in kindergarten how that direction is going to go that chances of it are much, much greater than you would expect.

ES: I think you liked that job.

LC: I loved it.  I did.  And then of course we finished it and then it was published and then I stayed with them for a while and then I had babies.  I think that’s where that happened.  I think Chris was ’57 so that was that 7 year period when I was working on really very interesting things, or interesting to me and I liked it a lot and then I got involved with psychology because I was observing families for the Family Institute.  So, I would be outside the class and I would come back and a psychologist would sit with me and say, “Now what did you see?” And I would tell them how I saw the interaction going or where I saw the dynamics of the group and so forth. I was naturally pretty good at that and so they assigned me to that task with them.  You know, I wasn’t allowed to do that on my own; I didn’t want to do it on my own. But with them, I would then observe what I observed and it was often not only what they observed but a lot of things they didn’t observe.  So that was very interesting.  I loved it. That was in the ‘70’s when the accent in Philadelphia medicine was on Minuchin (note: Salvador Minuchin, Family Therapist 1921 – 2017) and Jay Haley (Family Therapist, 1923 – 2007) and the beginning of family practice in Psych and Social Work.  And so that was a very interesting time in Philadelphia.  And those guys, Jay…they are all published   Jay Haley was from California.  Virginia Satir (Psychotherapist, 1916 – 1988) is considered the mother of family practice and she was from California. And then we had a group in the Philadelphia Psychiatric Center which is over on Ford Road and that’s where we were practicing family….family…it’s called family something in Psych.

ES: And so that’s where you worked?

LC: That’s where I worked. I worked there for quite a few years until Chris was born. Or nearly until she was born.

ES:  So how else did you occupy your time? Any special activities you enjoyed?

LC:  I was still working with the church more than anything else until I got into a situation where I wasn’t working alone I was working with other people and once that happened then my interests moved into the people from work or the people I met through them. A whole new set of friends and…Not that I dropped all the others. I always saw them because I went to special events at the church and I was always welcomed and I enjoyed that a lot.

KH: Where are you living at this point?

LC:  I didn’t have children yet … I was living in Levittown.

KH:  So, you were married at this point?

LC:  Oh yes.  I married the first time in ’52. And we were married for 20 years.  I divorced him and then I moved into Ardmore in an apartment with my two children and then I moved back to 3606 Indian Queen Lane because my parents were retired now and they wanted to go to the shore and I said, “Why don’t you go to the shore and I’ll handle the house. I’ll just keep it going until you are ready to sell it.” And that’s what we did.

ES: Do you remember anything about the business community in East Falls?  Midvale Business Association, any of that?

LC: No, none of that.  I don’t think it was organized.  We went to a place to take money. What was that called?

ES: An exchange or something?

LC: Building and Loan

ES: My father was a trustee of the Building and Loan.

LC: That I remember we did but I don’t know of any other. I think everything else was either sports with my dad or the music with my mom wherever the music was.

ES: But do you remember the businesses? Do you remember the florist or the hardware?

LC: The florist, Mr. Kelley was the florist and had the most beautiful garden in the whole neighborhood.  The (name?) were the hardware store. They lived next to the Kelleys.  Let me see what other…oh Bernie and Jeanette ran the drug store. And her brother Leonard….and I got my first working there because I was a soda jerk for them for week-ends.

KH: What was their last name?

LC: Nadal   n-a-d-a-l

ES: So, it was all our neighbors who you would go to for what you needed. Your flowers, your hardware, your drugs…

LC: Yeah.  Oh, the butcher – don’t forget the butcher, Mr Stubblebine.

ES:  Mrs. Stubblebine was Leroy Shronk’s sister.

LC: That’s correct.

ES: The Shronks were founders of East Falls.

LC: Leroy Shronk.  They went to our church. They were members of the Methodist Church. Leroy Shronk couldn’t stand kids. He hated kids, he was awful!

ES: Do you remember how we would go on Halloween as a big group, there’s be 12 of us. It would be like “Who wants to ring his bell?”

We’d be scared to death. He would open the door and say, “Here’s a dime, split it between you!”

LC: Leroy Shronk took a liking to me when I was a little kid.  He said, and there’s a whole story with that. I asked my mother why Leroy always spent so much time with me. And she said, “Well, he says it’s because he likes your lively eyes.”  But I could walk on his front pavement and other kids couldn’t.

ES: He had a watering can.  He would come out to the edge of his steps and if he saw a cat or a dog he would sprinkle hot water on them.

LC: He was really mean spirited in that part of his life.  And then at Halloween…..I think it was Halloween …he started writing to me. And he called me “heaven sent.”  And I was thinking, if that happened today everybody would be freaked out.  And he would say, “I will meet you tonight at midnight on such and such a gravestone in West Laurel Hill.”  And I would write back to him and I would say, “Scrooge! Stop it!”

ES: (Laughter). You told him off!

LC: Well, he continued for quite a long time.  And then I wondered. You know I used to go for piano lessons and would take the train in.  And almost always when I was on the train Leroy was on the train  And then I thought later as I got older that just perhaps, just perhaps, my mother was asking him to keep an eye on me when I was alone in town.

KH: Interesting.

LC: Now I think that’s possible.

ES: Your mother was friendly with him.

LC: The whole family was friendly with him.  The wife was part of all my mother’s groups.  You know they all knew each other.

ES: Which wife?

LC: Not the first one. The first one was Annie, the second one.

ES:  Connie

LC:  Connie Shronk.

ES:  She was lovely

LC:  And she was lovely.  And I used to say to my mother, “How could someone that lovey live with someone who was so cruel?”  We never got the answer.

ES:  How about shopping?  Where did you shop to buy your groceries, your clothes, your food?

LC: The Acme down at the bottom of the hill.  I always said my mother got more exercise than any exercise program by carrying home big bags of food up the hill, all the way up the hill every day!

ES: Every day you go shopping. You got whatever you…

LC:  Because you couldn’t carry fourteen bags

ES:  What about the Grill?

LC: We went there for our penny candy and we went there for lunch meat sometimes.  If you ran out of bread, you ran out of milk…It’s much better what it is now, Fiorinos.  It was just a little tiny grocery store with meats and absolutely the minimum to get you through.

KH: What was it called?

ES: Grill. The family name was Grills and they just called it Grills.  Now what was her name…David Grill and Ruth.  They were sister and brother. I was there every day.

LC: I was, too. Got all our penny candy there. Who would go anywhere else? And he always said to me this little saying and I would go home to my mother and say: ”What does that mean?”  He would say, “Hi, here you are, Smitty on a hook, five cents extra.”

ES: Smitty because your name…..

LC: My mother’s name was Smith and we were part of the Smith clan and even though we were Wilcox, we were Smiths.

ES: It doesn’t make any sense.

LC: It never made any sense to me.  I think my mother said some things you should just disregard

ES: What other businesses? Where did you get your clothes? Housewares?

LC: Well we used to go to Germantown for all of that.  We used to go to Nance Cosgrove. Well, Cosgrove was specialty because it was very expensive.  But we went there and we went to Allen’s and we went to something starting with an “R.”

ES:  Rowells.

LC:  Rowells – that was a fancy place.

ES: Heimlichs in East Falls?

LC: Oh yes, absolutely.

ES: Ridge and Calumet.

LC: Most people didn’t realize early on that people gathered in sections of East Falls by their ethnicity, by their religion, so that from Calumet up was almost all Italian and all the hills were filled with Italians.

ES: Oh yeah, Irish couldn’t live on Calumet.

LC:  Neither could Protestants. Because it was really Catholic through and through.

ES: Italian Catholics, Italian…nobody else could live there.

LC:  That’s right.  It was like a little conclave but it was considered East Falls.  And then when people…like I remember when a black family, when I was a kid, tried to move into some of the houses on Ridge Avenue, the ones…remember where the tavern used to be?

ES: Yeah

LC: Next to them there were about five houses.  Well some black couple tried to move in and the Italian men at night came through and absolutely destroyed the house. And nobody ever…well I didn’t know of anybody ever getting arrested but everybody took note.  And knew… and then the Methodist Church sponsored a Chinese family, the Wongs who went into one of those houses and I think, you know because…

ES: They were sponsored.

LC: They were sponsored and Vernon and Ronald went to school with us and Geraldine. They were the three kids so we all knew them very well at Mifflin. 

ES: No problems then?

LC: No problem that I ever saw.  I mean, I just went there and played with them or they came up to my house, whatever.  But why would I have any trouble with it because I lived with a mixed variety of people from Ireland and England and Israel.

ES: Yeah, the Cursons, the Kaplans, the doctors.

ES: They were all Jewish; we were Catholics.  We were in the minority. It was mostly Protestants.  There was the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church, and the Presbyterian Church was there.

LC:  And the Presbyterian. Most of the Presbyterians didn’t live down in that part, they lived up in what my mother called “The Manor.”

ES: The Manor, Yes, The Manor was built for the elite.

LC:  There were the big houses.

ES: But everybody got along on Indian Queen Lane. From what I knew.

LC:  Oh yeah, me, too.

ES: So we talked about where you went to church, your pastors, activities, the services you were very involved.

LC: Oh yes, I was very involved.

ES: Your parents were very involved.

LC: Yes, that’s why I was very involved.

ES: Tell us about the music, I remember….

LC: We were known for our music. The music was outstanding and again that was Uncle Joe Smith who was a chorister for everybody…or wait, I said the name was McFarland, it was McKenzie.

ES: Oh, right.  McFarland was down the street.

LC: Yeah and Mr. McKenzie – he took some of the music.  He, Donald, became the chorister after his uncle at the East Falls Methodist Church.  He took some of the music that they had brought over from England without having any written music.  It was all taught at the children’s knees and so everybody knew these complicated wonderful things because you knew it since you were at your mother’s knee, you know. And nobody ever wrote it.  Donald decided for future generations it would be helpful to have several of those written and so, he took it to the board, sat and wrote the music so it could be accompanied by anyone who had never heard it before if they read music.

ES: Do you remember the Saturday morning weddings at the Methodist Church?  Every Saturday morning we would be hanging on the mailbox across the street to see the bride and groom.  And I remember Clifford getting married in his uniform.

LC: He was in his whites, yes. He was very handsome.

ES: Yes, he was gorgeous, he was gorgeous.

LC: And that was part of the cause for the marriage.  She was very pretty, too.

ES: It was a beautiful wedding.

KH: So, this was probably just after he got out of the Navy?

LC: Out of the Marines.  He went into the Navy and he flew for the Navy and then they had a special thing during the Second World War that allowed Navy pilots to switch and become Marine pilots if they wanted to.  He decided he want to, so then he moved to the Marines. 

ES:  Any holiday traditions stand out? Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas

LC: I think probably Thanksgiving and Christmas and also Memorial Day because the church as a group went to a place called Carson Simpson’s Farm. Which was just in the Willow Grove area. And everyone hopped…one of the men had a grocery truck with assigned seats and all the kids got in their assigned seats, and on the floor, and they would drive them up in that and in buses and trains and anything they could get to go to this picnic that was outstanding. The women cooked all the good stuff.  There was a stream on the farm so the kids could all go play in the stream. There was a house on it. At that time the minister was Howard Bear and he was a big bear of a sweet man. He was very skilled in whittling and so he would sit there on the porch and he would whittle something.

ES: That was Memorial Day but I remember the 4th of July. Parade started at the church. 

LC: The 4th of July is another good remembrance.  I don’t know whether you remember this, Ellen, but we would practice band in our cellar. 

ES: OH, no, I do not remember that.

LC: And the next door neighbors were not very… father called them the vinegar bottles.  They were tall and thin.

ES:  My father always said that they were the most beautiful young women.  I hope you are as tall and as beautiful as the Fisher girls and I was like “What?!” The Fisher girls.  We used to play on their lawn and they would chase us.

LC: Anyway, we had the practice for the band. Of course, the bugles and the drums and the fifes.  Anyway, I only did that one year.  I said, “No, you guys can’t come back again next year. You have to go find somebody who doesn’t have a living room.”

ES: Do you know where that drum is today? The East Falls Historical Society has that drum.

LC: No kidding.  That is interesting. I certainly do remember it and we all got dressed with our bows and our red, white and blue.

ES: Decorate your bike?

LC: I didn’t do the bike but all the others did. I walked it and that’s where we…But the picnic took place at Bessie Altemus’s home which was right there at Abbotsford.

ES: Now what do you remember about that?

LC: I remember a porch that went on and on forever and I remember Bessie. She looked like a picture from a book. White hair.  She was wearing a black silk turtlenecky kind of thing, not sporty like we wear, with lace around here (gestures around neck) and lace through the bodice.  She just looked like a picture. She was lovely and she loved the kids and we all ran and had lemonade.  Leroy Shronk called my sister “Lemonade Laura.”  He made up names for everybody. But anyway, Bessie Altemus was a very impressive looking woman and very kind and lovely. But she had an arrangement with our church somehow that we could use her whole estate.  We didn’t go in the house but then it became the Abbottsford Homes.

ES:  All those grounds.

LC: And I remember your sister, Doris, (Doris Kelley).  At some point they were taken over by the Muslims.

ES: Who was taken over?

LC: Abbottsford Homes.  They were decrepit and they were a sea of nothing but trouble for the police, constantly. And Doris told me that she was working on some project that involved them and it was very interesting to see that the Muslims had many rules and nobody was allowed to break them or they were out of there. And because of that it was becoming a decent place for Muslims to live. That was some time in the 60’s I think that she told me, because I could not believe it. You have got to be kidding me.  And then I thought later, Hey that’s really wonderful. It went from a slum to making it possible for young people to live in some kind of decency and structure.  So, ultimately I think the Muslims may have done a good thing there. If indeed that’s true.

ES: Well, Doris had all the answers.

LC: Doris had all the news.

ES: I she said it, it had to be true.  Tell us about your children? Where did they go to school? Were they in East Falls? Were they around the neighborhood? 

LC: Well, the pregnancy was in East Falls.  We were waiting for the house up in Wissahickon Hills in Roxborough and when she was small, not a year I think, we moved into the house in Wissahickon Hills. Christin went to Leverington.  Bruce never made it to Leverington.  He was in pre-school and then we moved to Phoenixville.  So, once we went to Phoenixville we only went back to East Falls for some special reason.

ES: What do you remember about people who were famous like the Kellys? Do you remember the Kellys?  Grace and her family?

LC: Oh definitely.  Well, I remember stories of Grace.  Well, first of all, that goes back to the Old Academy. The Old Academy was, according to my mother, designed on a platform of steps going on there…they all were sitting around there (Lois’ house?) and they designed the Old Academy Players. The first play was a musicale.  So they started it from the beginning at our house.  Of course I wouldn’t know that I was still a baby practically. Anyway, the first show was that and it was put on by the Methodist Church.

ES:  At your parent’s house?

LC: No, no, no The Old Academy was ready to go and that was done by all the singing clubs of the Methodist Church. Everybody knew they were singers and good singers.  And oh, Christmas Eve don’t forget, that was a rite of passage for kids in the Methodist Church because once you reached the age when you were invited to join the carolers, you were grown up and everybody sought it.  Once you were on it, it was the Priors and the Gotwols boys (who were Torch and Earl and Webby). Webby became a minister and moved to Bethlehem and he had two kids and I baby sat for his kids. They then were like the male part of it and they had these strongest beautiful voices and then the whole choir went at midnight on Christmas Eve and sang to members of the church outside their homes and to central places all over East Falls, not up into the manor area but all… (note from ES: Ruthanne was married to Webby Gotwols.  Her parents were Al & Edna.  Earl was married to Ande.  Edna spelled backwards by her own choice! The boys were oldest to youngest – Webby, Torchy and Earl.  Their parents were George & Emma.)  

ES:  That was the highlight …every year at Christmas Eve, It might be at three am. (both voices talking at the same time)

LC: And if people wanted to they could request.  It was a tradition of some significance

ES: The East Falls Historical Society also has an oral history from Ruth Gotwols who married Webby. (sic – the EFHS interview is actually with Edie Gotwols)

LC:  Correct!  Ruth was the mother of two or three children. Andrew, I think, was the first one.  Yeah, she could tell you a lot because she replaced my mother as the soloist, the soprano soloist.

ES:  Well, they stayed overnight at my house, Ruth Gotwols and Shirley Shronk. They were related I think, I don’t know, sister’s-in-law or something.

LC: Shirley Shronk…Malcolm Shronk

ES: Yes, Malcom was her husband.

LC: And Shirley was related to Malcom. Leroy and Connie were related to Shirley. When I said my father talked about meeting Buffy Warrington on the slip in France – that was Shirley Shronk’s father.  All the young men had names for somebody and he was called Buffy Warrington.

ES: Yea, that was her maiden name.

LC:  That was her maiden name.

ES:  So, the Kellys. Grace.

LC:  Grace, OK,  At the bottom of Indian Queen Lane we were probably the closest to the rowing clubs and so we knew about them and then we went to the races and we certainly knew…I remember when Jack Kelly was racing somewhere and of course he was the son of Jack Kelly. The Jack Kelly that is known and has the statue of him rowing – that’s the father. The mother’s name was Kathleen…

ES: Margaret!

LC:  Margaret, right and then she had a Kathleen…did she have a Kathleen?  No, that’s someone mixed up.  That was a while ago.  Anyway, Margaret, my mother knew her from some organization before she came to East Falls.  And so…

ES: She was from Strawberry Mansion.

LC:  That’s where my mother was born and only her very early years were there. I don’t know how much interaction she had there. The Kellys, let’s see, we knew the rowing and we were there for the parades and at the Old Academy one of the playwrights was George Kelly.  We knew George Kelly because of the Musicale and the organization in the beginning.  And then Grace had, I think, her first part at The Old Academy so we knew who she was.  Liz Ann was closer to my age so I was a little more aware of Liz Ann.  Grace had gone to Hollywood and so forth and really that’s all I really knew about them because I wasn’t interacting with them and that was the way it was.

ES:  What about did you know the Rendells, Ed Rendell, Arlen Specter,

LC:  I didn’t, but I know people who were friends with them and with their children.  I met Rendell a couple of times, socially, and Arlen Specter.  I would not be remembered by them.  It was a big deal and we went to those places so I didn’t know them very well.  And I was gone by then.

ES:  OK. Any East Falls events standout in your mind?  What made living in East Falls Special?  When you think back on your life there…anything.

LC:  It became special in retrospect.  It was not special to me as I was growing up. I found it confining.  I found it…but I was more of an adventuresome kind of kid and I was also a tomboy so I faced the world upside down for the first nine years. I acknowledged that there were lots of good people and of course my very best friend and she is still my best friend, Donna, and we are still in touch.  She turned 90 this year and I turn 90 this year.

ES: Does she live in the apartments?

LC:  She lives in the Dobson Apartments.

ES: There were various apartments. There were three buildings.  There was one that was out at the edge of Indian Queen Lane with a big wall around it. Then there was another one that sat sort of in the driveway.  That’s where Donna lived.

LC: The second time.  The first time she lived in the other.  The second time she lived in the second.

KH:  What was Donna’s last name?

LC: It was Donaldson. Now it is Carle. Her birthday is November 8 and mine is November 7 a year apart so we never forget each other’s birthdays.  We always call and are trying to get together. I haven’t been very mobile in terms of going someplace to see someone.  You know no car makes it very difficult.  So, when we have a trip over to Longwood Gardens and we do that sometimes, then she comes up from her home and meets me there and we have lunch together.

ES: Donna was very sweet.

LC: She still is.  She has always been the same way. So we still know each other and we still know each other well. We have been through a few thousand things together.

ES: Any final words about East Falls: the neighborhood, the people, their businesses? I think we covered a lot.

LC: To me when I was growing up East Falls tended to be more like an English village.

ES:  You know it was called The Village. The nuns at Ravenhill always said ”I’m going down to the village,” and they meant Ridge and Midvale.

LC: Yeah, that’s interesting. The Major, the drug store was called The Major on that corner and that of course disappeared while I was gone. I never did see that. Looking back at it at my age, I think it was a pretty good childhood. It certainly met my needs and the only things that didn’t meet were the strictness of the rules which was probably from the Methodist Church.

ES: That and everybody knew you. And your mother would tell what someone else’s mother….were up to (talking at the same time)…everybody was watching.

LC: When my mother learned that I had gone into the caves we had lots of discussions so I don’t think I ever went back in.  But I proved the point I could.

ES There were bats in there apparently.

LC: Well, they say that but I didn’t see any. You could not see anything.

ES: There may have been some.

LC: So, I think I have covered everything.

ES: Thank you so much.

LC: Thank you for prompting me on the two big things from the Methodist Church which was that big picnic that was notable and then the other one was the Christmas Eve was always special.