Inez Ierardi Fletcher
East Falls Historic Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Inez Ierardi Fletcher (IF) with her daughter Judith Fletcher (JF) and husband Bill Fletcher (BF)
Interviewer: Wendy Moody (WM) and Marie Filipponi (MF)
Interview: December 29, 2022
Transcribed by: Wendy Moody, EFHS
WM: Good morning. It’s December 29, 2022. Wendy Moody and Marie Filipponi are in the home of Inez Fletcher, interviewing you for the East Falls Historical Society. Thank you Inez for doing this. Let’s begin by asking you about your growing up. Can you tell us when and where you were born?
IIF: I was born in Philadelphia on Calumet Street in East Falls on January 8, 1931.
WM: Were you born right at home?
IIF: Yes, we all were. There were four of us.
WM: Where were you in the birth order?
IIF: I’m the baby.
WM: Was there a midwife?
IIF: Yes. A neighbor did it.
WM: Really! Do you happen to know her name?
IIF: No, I don’t remember. She was an old woman, I remember that. Apparently she had delivered all of us.
WM: Tell me about your parents – where were they born?
IIF: Italy. My mother was born near Naples, my father was born in Calabria. They didn’t come over together – they met here.
WM: How did they happen to come to East Falls?
IIF: Well, they were living in Germantown and for some reason my father wanted to make a move – probably he had seen East Falls, so they came and they bought a house up the street from where I was born. And he decided to open a grocery store, which he did, and he was good at it. He had a good business, so he moved us in behind the grocery store.
WM: What was your first address on Calumet? Do you remember the house number?
IIF: 3699 Calumet.
WM: And what was the store address?
IIF: Well that was part of it.
WM: I thought you said you moved from a different house?
IIF: I wasn’t born in the one house that they first lived in. I was born in that house over the store.
WM: And where on Calumet is that store?
IIF: Well the store doesn’t exist anymore, but it would be pretty much the middle of the block.
WM: Would it be by Skidoo Street, up by the bridge?
IIF: No, no, nowhere near it. They were closer to the Ridge, actually.
JF (daughter): I remember seeing the storefront which still existed when I was, you know, preschool, so it was maybe halfway – you’re going up that incline, so maybe halfway up that incline – well before Skidoo Street.
WM: Was it near the entrance to that housing project?
IIF: No that was much further up the street.
JF: Was it near the Main Alley?
IIF: Yes, there was an alley they called the Main Alley and you could cut through and it would take you to Stanton Street, so you didn’t have to go down the hill and up the next hill., but yes…
JF: So if that helps orient you…
WM: What was the name of the store?
IIF: Just Joe’s Grocery.
WM: Joe’s Grocery. (laughter from all) About what year did they begin that store; do you have any idea?
IIF: Well I think they had it when I was born.
WM: So that was 1931…
IIF: But when they started it, I’m not certain, but it was there when I was born.
WM: And do you know what year they closed it?
IIF: Let’s see, he got sick in the ‘30s – I was little, let’s see…
JF: Had you started school yet?
IIF: It might have been – I’m guessing – 1935.
WM: So that wasn’t your dad’s career your whole life – just when you were a tiny child.
IIF: No, no. They were there during the Depression – that’s right –because my older brother told me that he and my older sister would carry baskets out to the people who couldn’t afford to buy food.
WM: Oh how nice.
IIF: My father would make baskets up, and that’s what he would do, so it had to be during the Depression.
WM: Were these for people on Calumet Street?
WM: So nice. So do you remember the store? Can you describe it?
IIF: Oh yes.
WM: Can you describe what you’d see when you walked in?
IIF: Well it had the old wooden floors. The meat counters were back here, and then the cases, the shelves were lined with everything. They carried pretty much everything.
WM: Do you know where they got their meat from?
IIF: I think he got it down in Philadelphia. It was an Italian name so don’t ask me what it was! (laughs)
JF: Was it Christian Street?
IIF: Yes, yes. But people would come from Germantown to buy it.
IIF: They heard about his store.
WM: I was going to ask you if it was just neighbors who used it.
IIF: No, everybody. He was a good butcher – somehow he learned it. It was good.
WM: Did he have a specialty? Something he sold that people particularly liked?
IIF: I don’t think so. I don’t know though. My problem was I was too young when it was going on. So he got sick at some point and he had to give the store up and someone else took it over.
WM: Do you know who bought it?
IIF: A man by the name of Caruso.
WM: Oh I’ve heard of Caruso’s. So that became Caruso’s Market!
IIF: Lou Caruso. (note from JF: My older brother told me that Lou’s father (I think his name was Mike – they lived on Allegheny) sold the store to my father, and then my father sold it to Lou).
WM: Yes; how interesting.
IIF: So he took it over and he still had it after we were married.
JF: I guess it wasn’t active anymore in the ‘60s, right? Because I remember seeing the storefront, because you guys – grandma and grandpop – lived across the street from it and you could see the storefront and that was in the ‘60s, but I don’t know if it was an active market at that time.
IIF: I think it was still open because it was still open when we married.
WM: Tell me the address again?
JF: So the house number that you – the house that I remember – Grandma and Grandpop – what was that house number?
WM: And the one across the street?
IIF: 3699. He moved us over when he gave up the store – he decided to buy this empty house across the street – 3694 – and it was 3 floors. He said “I’ll make apartments out of it and rent them out.”
WM: He was always finding ways to do something.
IIF: So he moved us over to the 3rd floor. It was a tight squeeze because there were four of us. It had 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, and the living room was very small, but we managed. So he decided to get the other two floors done and the 1st floor was the biggest. So eventually he moved us down to the first floor and then he rented the next two floors. So we were living there when he and I got married. We were still there; they eventually moved though. They decided they wanted another little house, so they moved down to Midvale right near St. Bridget, across from McIlvaine’s Funeral Home.(note from JF: The first floor had been a candy store owned an old lady named “Ollie,” so it already had candy cases in it. My father decided to keep the candy store. My older sister, Marie, decided to quit school, and my father said she could quit only if she worked in the candy store, but it wasn’t that successful).
WM: Near the florist?
IIF: Right next door.
WM: And the barber?
IIF: There was the florist, the barber, and their house. They loved it – it was a nice little house. So they stayed there until they died.
WM: Wow. Tell us more about the store. Did people ever buy things on credit?
IIF: Oh they would all come in with books – little books – and he would write down what they owed him. Of course during the Depression, he got nothing.
WM: He sounds like such a good person.
IIF: No one ever came back and said “Here’s what I owed.” Nothing!
WM: Did anything ever happen in the store? Was there ever a robbery?
IIF: At one time, and this is what he told me, he was in the store by himself, and there was a Mafia member who came in and he had a gun on my father. And he wanted him to make the money and split it with them – the way the Mafia works. And my father said “No way!” And they got into an argument and my father got the gun from the guy, chased him out of the store, and ran down the street after him. That was the end of the Mafia!
JF: And that’s a believable story because my grandfather had been in active service in three wars – so he had been in head-to-head combat with bayonets and whatever.
WM: So he was not intimidated.
JF: Not intimidated.
IIF: He had been a bayonet instructor.
BF: He had a bayonet wound in his neck.
JF: He was no stranger to violence.
IIF: He was in two wars in Italy, came here and enlisted in WWI. So he wasn’t afraid of anything.
WM: No, no; he sounds remarkable. Do you know if the store advertised? Was there a local paper?
IIF: No, not that I know of. People knew there was a store on the street. The only other store was down along the Ridge and that was an A & P, I think.
BF: I do recall one thing about that – it was called the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company.
IIF: Right, right, right.
BF: It wasn’t the A & P as we know it, but it was a store very much like her father’s.
WM: Do you know exactly where that A & P was?
IIF: The grocery store? Right near the Major Drug Store on the corner of Ridge and Midvale.
MF: Was it where the restaurant is now?
WM: The Chinese restaurant?
BF: It was a little closer to the next street.
IIF: Across from the hardware store on Ridge and Midvale.
WM: OK, that was the Masonic – the Palestine Hall?
WM: Right across from that? Maybe where the Chinese restaurant is? Next to Majors?
BF: It was a larger store.
IIF: It was pretty big but not everyone wanted to shop down there. And this was convenient. So he did well.
WM: Did he sell ice cream?
IIF: No – that’s another story…
WM: Good! (laughter)
IIF: The store closed.
JF: The store didn’t close; he sold the store.
IIF: Yes, we had moved across the street. He decided he would open a candy and ice cream store. And it did ok, but not great. It didn’t go over as well as he hoped because it was the start of the war, and you couldn’t get sugar cones and candy during the war. Also, my sister Marie, the sister who ran the candy store decided to get a job in a war factory, which was in the Falls.
MF: Where was the ice cream store?
IIF: In what was the livingroom.
MF: Oh, it was in your house! (laughter)
WM: He always had an idea!
IIF: He always had an idea….we were never poor during the Depression; there was always food. My mother had said that.
WM: Did she work in the store too?
IIF: Yes she did.
MF: Did she make the ice cream?
WM: And how about the children – did you all help out in the store?
IIF: My brother did. But my father was always in business – I think that was his last thing. But as I said, he was sick most of the time. And always going down to the Naval Hospital.
WM: Were they active in any East Falls organizations?
IIF: He was involved in one. I think it was an Italian men’s club.
WM: Oh yes, the Bene Club? Beneficial Club?
IIF: It was down where McIlvaine’s sits now, and they would hold their meetings there. (note: the Bene Club was not the Italian Club, which was on the corner of Bowman and Cresson Streets, where Franklin’s is now. The Bene Club was The East Falls Beneficial Association and was originally heavily Irish. Eventually as a generation or so passed the rules became lax and both clubs were open to anyone from East Falls. The “Bene Club” entrance was on Cresson Street, between Bowman and Indian Queen Lane (now apartments),
WM: There was a Young Men’s Literary Association. Was it that?
IIF: Is that what it was?
WM: That’s what that building was, I believe.
IIF: That’s where one of my sisters had her wedding reception.
MF: Well there was an Italian Club at Cresson and Bowman.
IIF: He went to the one at McIlvaine’s.
JF: What about the garden? Didn’t he have a garden? I thought you told me…
IIF: Oh! Up at the top of the hill. If you took a left, there was a whole area of open land. And so the old Italian men would go up there and farm. They’d each take a piece of land. So they all had farms, and all summer long, that’s what he would do.
WM: Now was this garden across from the library? What do you mean by up the hill?
IIF: No, it wasn’t that far. Just as you crossed the bridge, you made a left.
JF: Now when you say the bridge, do you mean…?
JF: Is that what you mean, mom?
IIF: Yes. And then you’d take a left up there and it was all open.
JF: When you say up the hill, you mean Calumet?
IIF: Yes, you crossed the bridge and made an immediate left. There were no houses back there and so they all had farms.
WM: Do you remember what he grew?
IIF: Everything that he could. He was good at it. They’d learned in Italy; he was a farmer in Italy. So that’s what he did as a pastime in the summer.
BF: When was the herd of cows up there? He used to talk about a herd of cows.
JF: When was that, mom? When did they have a herd of cows?
IIF: Now that was long before me. There was an old man who lived next door, Mr. Lash. During the summer, he and his wife would come out and sit on the steps and the kids would gather around him – I loved to hear him and he told us – he said ‘That was all farms, all farms, cows.That’s all there was”. When I was a kid, Merck and Dohme was there.
WM: Powers and Weightman became Merck.
IIF: And in the summers it was terrible – smelled like rotten eggs – all summer. And I wonder what damage that did to any of us?
WM: Good question.
IIF: Maybe that’s how I ended up with thyroid cancer.
WM: Do you remember any other of Mr. Lash’s stories?
IIF: That was pretty much what he’d talk about. What it was like. And from the time I was a kid, Merck& Dohme was there. And the people who lived back there – just picture – we had a stone wall separating us, but there were houses that backed right up to it and they were all the employees that worked at Merck & Dohme.
WM: Was that called Laboratory Hill?
IIF: Yes, it was called Labby Hill. And down at the bottom of it was the stable. They had horses and people could go in and ride horses.
WM: Did they have their own school at Labby Hill?
IIF: Not that I know of.
WM: Inez, I wanted to ask you a little about your life in East Falls. What school did you go to?
IIF: Mifflin. My sisters and my brother didn’t make it – no. They started in Catholic school but my mom pulled them all out.
WM: Why was that?
IIF: My brother was the oldest – he was born with one arm. When he started school, my mom took them to Catholic school and they said they couldn’t teach him. She was broken-hearted.
WM: St Bridget?
IIF: Yes, St. Bridget. I’m sure that wouldn’t have been the case later – just back then…
WM: So because of that she sent all the children to Mifflin?
IIF: She started the two girls but then took them out – she decided against it.
JF: ….the Catholic school?
IIF: Yes. So they wound up at the old Breck School.
WM: Oh wow. Do you have memories of Breck?
IIF: I never knew where it was until I read that report – they used to walk me there in kindergarten but I didn’t know where I was. I was only in there a short time – we would go up and watch them build Mifflin. But that was a great school. That (Mifflin) was a great school. Great teachers. I was happy there. I loved it.
WM: That’s great. So you started at Breck. Can you describe Breck at all? Any memories of Breck?
IIF: I can only remember the kindergarten room – it was an old school. My brother graduated 8th grade from it.
WM: Do you remember your teacher’s name or anything you did there?
IIF: I remember what my teacher looked like, but I don’t remember her name – not any more (laughter). Like I said, I was in there a short time.
WM: I thought I heard there was a parade of children the day they opened Mifflin, going from Breck over to Mifflin School. Did that happen?
IIF: If it did, I was too little.
WM: So tell us all about Mifflin – what stands out about Mifflin?
IIF: The teachers. I would imagine women were married; there may have been a few, but they were devoted teachers. It was nice to be there because they did things with us.
WM: What kinds of things?
IIF: Oh we had little plays and stuff like that. There was always something…
WM: They had that beautiful auditorium.
IIF: It was gorgeous; it was gorgeous. The whole school was. And the rock garden! They would take us out there for walks – oh, that was beautiful!
WM: Who maintained the garden?
IIF: There was a man – I think his name was Jim. I know he took care of the school – I wonder if he took care of the garden as well? But it was gorgeous.
WM: Tell us a little about the garden. What did it look like back then?
IIF: Well it was all rocks and flowers and wild flowers – it was nice. We had victory gardens out there during the War. We would go out – it was just a nice area. The school was very pretty and we had nice kids. I was glad I was there.
WM: That’s great. Do you remember any of your teachers’ names?
IIF: Oh yeah. Miss Toplin, Miss Martin, Miss Edwards, Miss Wurtz…
WM: You did well! Did they have assembly programs when you all came together? What were those like?
IIF: Oh a lot.
WM: And what did they do?
IIF: Well usually the principal, who was the best.
WM: And who was he?
IIF: His name was Israel Galter – he was just as sweet as he could be. And his wife taught music. We had another music teacher, Miss Lenechi. And I remember at Christmas time they would get the 8th graders to sing and walk through the halls – I really enjoyed it. I just enjoyed it.
JF: And my mom had a singing career.
JF: She had a singing career starting from childhood. She was on many radio programs, so they must have known about that.
IIF: They knew about it. My sisters made it a point – they would take me out of the classroom so that this other teacher could have me in her classroom so I could sing. They would do that often.
WM: We’ll go back to that career – I want to hear more about that. But let’s continue with Mifflin a moment. So did they have a library?
IIF: Oh yeah.
WM: What were some of the special things that were in the school when it opened? Was there a cafeteria?
IIF: We had a cafeteria and it always smelled like tomato soup! (laughter)
WM: They all do!
IIF: Always smelled so good. Yeah, we had a cafeteria.
WM: Did you go home for lunch or eat there?
IIF: You had to go home for lunch, except for the kids who came in with notes. Other than that, we couldn’t stay.
MF: Why did they have a cafeteria if everybody went home?
IIF: Because there were kids who had to stay – their parents worked or something.
WM: So you’d walk back to Calumet and walk back to school?
IIF: We went home for lunch – I think we had an hour and then we’d walk back to school.
WM: Was there a library at Mifflin?
IIF: I’m trying to remember. At first I said yes, but then I thought about it – I don’t remember a library.
WM: Did they have a home ec room or a wood shop?
IIF: Yes. No, wait – no, I think I’m getting that confused with junior high. No they didn’t.
WM: Did they have any special events for you at Mifflin?
IIF: No, just the usual. There were always plays, Christmas plays. I can’t think of anything special.
JF: Did anything special happen the day that WWII ended? Were you still at Mifflin? No, maybe not…
IIF: I left.
BF: The day it began you were at Mifflin.
IIF: The war had started in ’41.
JF: Did they do anything special around that?
IIF: Well there were things we did in school that they would talk about – Victory Gardens, as I said, and I don’t remember anything else.
WM: Did you use the library across the street?
IIF: Oh I loved that one!
WM: Tell us about the library.
IIF: It was kind of neat – the tables and chairs. I went in there most every other day after school.
WM: Do you remember the librarian?
IIF: I remember the librarian – I can’t think of her name. She was a tall thin woman with red hair and I used to bug her! (laughter), because I would go over and say to her “I can read that!” she said “I know you can.” And I’d go back and somebody else would come in– they were just getting in and I’d go over and say “I can read that!”
WM: Was there a Children’s Librarian and an Adult Librarian? Were there 2?
IIF: Yes, but this one in particular – I really liked her. I was a pain in the neck.
WM: Do you remember the guard at the library?
IIF: I don’t.
WM: Ok; I’ve heard stories about the old guard… So did you spend a lot of time in there? Did you take out books?
IIF: Yes, I’d go around and read some of the books. I loved the “twin books” – Eskimo Twins (note: a series by Lucy Fitch Perkins), and there was a whole group of them. I liked those books so I would sit and read some of them.
WM: That’s not the Bobbsey Twins….
IIF: No. There were other “twin” books – I can’t remember the titles.
WM: What else would you do for recreation? What would happen when you got out of school?
IIF: Well, if we didn’t have homework we would go outside and play, especially when it snowed. Sledding on that street was fantastic!
WM: On Calumet?
IIF: Oh yes!!
JF: They had to keep them from dying at the end! (laughter)
IIF: There were only two cars on the street at that time – I can’t remember any others.
WM: Do you remember who owned the cars?
IIF: The man on our second floor and the man across the street.
WM: That was very prestigious back then to have a car?
IIF: Yeah. Oh, and Marian Matthieson – two doors up – she always had a car too. That was it, so we were fine. So we would go to the top of the hill – the very top and go to the very bottom.
WM: Did they put ashes on the street to make it less slippery?
IIF: Well when the trashmen came through, they did.
WM: So you would get your sled and go all the way to the bottom – right onto Ridge?
IIF: No, we stopped right at the bottom. There was a garage on the right hand side and there was a little driveway we went in.
WM: Is that where the stable was?
IIF: The stable was around the corner and up a bit.
WM: What else did you do after school?
IIF: We just went outside and played.
WM: Did you play hopscotch?
IIF: We played hopscotch, we played jacks – jacks was big then.
MF: Jump rope?
IIF: Oh yeah. And in order to play jacks, you had to find a marble step. There were only a couple of marble steps in the neighborhood. So the girl across the street – Mary Sharkey, she had a marble step so we went over to play there.
JF: Mary married into the Sharkeys, right? And Mary was like an older sister to my mom. She was very close to the Sharkeys.
WM: Why did you need marble steps, I’m curious.
IIF: Well you had to! Otherwise it was too rough and your knuckles would get all scraped up. Or we just sat outside and talked.
WM: Did you ever go up to McMichael Park?
IIF: Only when the church had a picnic.
WM: Oh tell us about that.
IIF: We would follow the parade and go up to McMichael Park.
WM: 4th of July?
IIF: Yes, 4th of July, and then we would cross the street and play on Jack Kelly’s lawn. He had swings, and he never stopped us.
WM: I heard they had a big huge dollhouse outside, do you remember that?
IIF: I don’t remember ever seeing it. But they were good about it – of course they were part of St. Bridget as well.
WM: Do you remember seeing them at church?
IIF: I used to see Jack all the time. He would come down the street, and my father knew him.
WM: Jack, the father?
IIF: No, the son. He would hang at the Major Drug Store (i.e. Ridge and Midvale) with all the guys.
IIF: That’s where the whole gang hung out. And I don’t know if anybody ever told you, but we had a 5 &10 in the Falls.
JF: I was going to mention that – I remember the 5 & 10.
IIF: It was directly across the street from Major Drug.
WM: Where Le Bus is?
IIF: It was William’s 5 &10.
WM: And what was that like?
IIF: It was a typical 5 &10 – not as big as the ones in the city but a good size. And I got my first job there when I was 16. I worked there for one summer.
JF: What did you do there, mom? Did you ring the cash register?
IIF: Oh yeah! I used to take the kids down there and let them buy something.
JF: They sold little tiny toys.
WM: Did you ever go down to the Bathey?
IIF: Oh I loved it! There was Girls Day and Boys Day and you couldn’t go on Boys Day. We went during the summer every chance we had. You could go for an hour and then they’d let you stay if you dried off your bathing suit and it was somewhat dry and you waited the hour in the little fitting room and then you could go back in again.
JF: Why, what was the thinking?
IIF: Well I don’t know, but there were women who were lifeguards and they would look you over and be sure you had no sores and you were clean. They were extremely careful. You had to wit that hour before you could back in/
WM: Did all ages of girls swim together? Was there a younger group?
IIF: Yes, there were older and younger.
WM: At different times?
IIF: I’m trying to remember that.
JF: Would you go with your sisters, because they were quite a bit older?
IIF: My one sister – Gilda – her name was Gilda but we called herJilda. She was 4 years older than me.
WM: Did you have to pay to get in? Was it free?
IIF: Oh yeah! We didn’t pay anything – it was great.
WM: Did they have refreshments?
IIF: No, nothing like that. No food. They were extremely careful. Now there’s a restaurant in its place. I couldn’t believe that – how could they possibly put a restaurant there?
WM: Well they expanded it in the back. I’ve interviewed local East Falls men who said they used to jump the fence and break into the Bathey at night.
IIF: I heard that.
WM: So what about the river? Did you ever go down to the river?
IIF: We used to walk around the river and sit down. And Gustine Lake.
WM: Did you skate there or swim there?
IIF: Gustine Lake? I was not allowed to swim in it – I could go to the Bathey but not Gustine Lake.
WM: Why was your mother worried about that?
IIF: No lifeguard. There was nobody there and she was worried.
WM: Did you ice skate there?
IIF: Yes, everybody ice skated there. I tried – my sisters could ice skate but I couldn’t. You know, I wish my brother was alive because he took pictures of everything – Gustine Lake and all the skaters.
WM: Tell us a little bit about your experience at St. Bridget. You started going to church there as a child?
IIF: Yes. The priests…
WM: Do you remember their names?
IIF: Father Donahue was my favorite.
WM: Why was that?
IIF: Well he was sort of a character. He knew I sang, and I would be walking down the Ridge to go to the 5&10 and he would be coming down from the church and, from that distance, he would yell “Hey singer!” (laughter) and I would turn around…he was kind of a character. And he’d always come and talk to me – a very nice man. And then there was another one – I had to go for catechism and there was a priest there – I can’t remember his name – I keep thinking it was McCarthy – it was something like that, and he taught the high school kids. He was funny, because this other boy and myself were the two Italian kids in the class and we would be talking and giggling and he would talk to us in Italian – actually swearing at us, but funny. He spoke Italian beautifully. He was a character though, I liked him. Very pleasant. Most of the priests were nice.
WM: Did you have friends that went to St. Bridget or did you hang out with the Mifflin kids?
IIF: All my girlfriends were from St. Bridget. I used to wonder why my mom didn’t send me there, but I was happy where I was.
WM: I had heard there were certain streets that Italian people lived on and certain ones that Irish lived on. Is that true?
IIF: Italian – Calumet Street had one section that was all Italians.
WM: How about Stanton?
IIF: Stanton too.
WM: And where were the Irish people?
IIF: It seemed like we were one area and a few scattered Italian people up the street. Down at the bottom it was mostly Irish. But we were the heaviest section of them. They all sort of moved in together.
WM: Did everyone get along?
IIF: Everyone got along very well. I had friends there and they were nice people.
WM: Do you remember when the housing development was being built? (note: Schuylkill Falls Housing Development)
IIF: That was built around the time Bill and I were married.
JF: Well I remember the projects going up in the ‘60s – in the early ‘60s, and we would sit and watch the cranes. So I was born in 1961 and I want to say those projects were going up in 1964-65?
WM: That’s where Merck was?
IIF: That’s where Merck was. The people who lived there had some problems; I don’t know though what they might have been.
WM: Did you have any connection with them – was there any impact?
IIF: I don’t think so. Not that I know of. Now they have some beautiful houses there – it looks good. But at that time – something about the elevator and little kids getting killed – there are all kinds of stories, but we were already out of there.
JF: Well your mother was there.
IIF: My mother was there but she had no problems.
JF: No, she did, mom. Remember?
BF: She was at her new home.
IIF: She was living on Midvale when she had problems.
WM: What happened then?
JF: She was alone at that point – my grandfather had passed away- it was in the 1970s, and someone managed to break into her home, push her down her steps – push her down the basement steps. She was in her 70s or 80s, and he locked her down there, robbed the home. It was fortunate that the barber next door and his wife paid attention to her – they were close to her. They noticed they hadn’t heard from her. They heard her yelling, but she had been down there for hours and hours.
IIF: The problem was – they didn’t want her – they wanted the barber and had hit the wrong house.
JF: They hit the wrong house. She didn’t have much money – the barber had money.
WM: What an awful thing to happen. What was her house number on Midvale?
JF: Do you remember grandma’s house number?
IIF: No, I don’t. She lived right next to the barber.
JF: But she stayed – she wouldn’t move.
IIF: She went to the hospital for a couple of weeks but then she was ok.
WM: Tell us a little about your singing career. How did you discover you could sing?
IIF: Well my earliest memory – I think we were at a church picnic – I’m not certain, and my older sister was very ambitious…
JF: No, her oldest sister is Marie.
IIF: She was talking to someone – a friend – and I guess she was telling her I could sing. Now, I didn’t know I could sing. The most singing I ever did was to sit outside my father’s store – sit on the big bread box, kick my feet and sing. And I kept singing and I’d make up my own words, so I guess she thought I could sing. Anyway, so the girl said “Stand her on a table and let’s let her sing” so my sister said “Sing” and – I don’t know what I sang. “Oh,” she said “She’s pretty good.” (laughter) I must have been four years old.
WM: And where did you end up singing? Did you sing on the radio?
IIF: Everywhere. Everywhere. I started out in Woodside Park.
WM: Oh I’d love to ask you about that too.
IIF: We used to walk- she and I – we’d would take that through the woods – we didn’t always have carfare.
WM: Did you have a favorite ride at Woodside?
JF: If you got on a ride, which were your favorites?
IIF: The whip was my favorite.
WM: Where did you sing there? Was there a bandstand?
IIF: Yes. Oh it was huge! It was huge! The stage was outside. You could seat an awful lot of people. Anyway, the first time I stood on the stage I sang, and she thought, “Ok, that went well.”
WM: Were you still a child then?
IIF: I was still a child.
WM: Did you have a favorite song to sing?
IIF: Oh my. There was one I remember. It was called “Fall in Love” (laughter)
BF: Actually, it was called “Fall in Love, Says My Heart.” Harriet Hilliard had the hit record of that.
WM: She was Ozzy Nelson’s wife.
IIF: That was it. Well anyway, then she got it in her head at some point that we would try Uncle WIP (on WIP Radio). He would do his show in Gimbel’s Restaurant. He was on station WIP. So she took me there and I sang there.
WM: Did that become a career for you?
IIF: Pretty much. After that we tried Horn & Hardart Children’s Hour – I got on. That was a weekly thing.
JF: You didn’t you that say you met Frank Sinatra.
IIF: That was later. But I sang with Eddie Fisher. (laughter)
WM: So you met Eddie Fisher? He grew up in Philly, didn’t he?
IIF: I sang with him during the war.
WM: And where did you do that?
IIF: Horn & Hardart Children’s Hour at 1622 Chestnut Street.
WM: Do you remember what you sang with him?
IIF: Yea, the White Cliffs of Dover – during the war.
WM: A Vera Lynn song.
IIF: Yes, we sang that and, let’s see, sometimes some stars would come like Roy Rogers – he came in with his horse Trigger (laughter) and, golly, I can’t remember some of the others.
WM: Did you have any impressions of any of these stars? Did anyone stand out?
IIF: Well he did because of his horse! (laughter)
WM: Tell us, very briefly, after Mifflin, where did you go to high school?
WM: Any special memories there?
IIF: Yea I had a good time.
WM: And then what happened? How did you two meet?
IIF: Oh, I got a job at the Insurance Company of North America (INA) – 16th and Arch. I was there a while before you came to the company.
JF: So you worked there right out of high school?
IIF: Yes, right after high school.
JF: But they didn’t meet. You graduated high school in 1948? When did you graduate?
JF: In January, which I find odd. But you met him in 1954?
JF: 1953, but you married in July of ‘54. So you were there a long time before you met him?
IIF: I was.
WM: Where did you two live when you got married?
BF: She lived at 3694 Calumet and I lived in Olney…
JF: But when you were married, you moved to Olney.
BF: 5337 North Front Street – 3rd floor.
WM: Just a few more memories about East Falls. Anything special you remember about holidays?
IIF: Halloween was fun, because we didn’t buy costumes, we took whatever was in the house. And what we’d usually do is to go up to the better end of Calumet Street because you could get more there… (laughter)
WM: Coulter Street?
WM: Do you remember what you dressed as?
IIF: Oh my God, I remember getting my father’s long underwear – anything I could find – an old dress of somebody’s…
WM: Did you have much of a connection with that part of East Falls – the upper part? Did you ever play there?
IIF: I had friends from Mifflin and I remember one girl invited me and another girl to her house and she lived in one of those studio houses on Midvale by the library. And, oh, that was a honey! It was beautiful – it was so rustic and it had a balcony that went across and great tapestries. Oh, it was beautiful! And then I joined the newspaper club when I was in Mifflin and this one girl said “Well how about meeting at my house.” She lived on Warden Drive.
WM: Do you remember her name?
IIF: Now wait, I have to think – Betty Bracher. So I went to the door and I knocked and a black maid opened the door. I thought “My God, this is like Hollywood.” (laughter) So I went into her house, and the house was beautiful, and we didn’t get to work on the newspaper too much – the boys were chasing some of the girls all over the house. Jesse Richardson was in my class. That name probably wouldn’t mean anything to you, but he was on the Eagles team. And he was the worst kid.
BF: He was a big name when I came to Philadelphia.
JF: Wasn’t one of your classmates a minister of one of the historic churches in Philadelphia?
BF: The church down on 2nd – Old City.
WM: Christ Church?
BF: Christ Church.
JF: What was your classmate’s name who was Minister at Christ Church?
IIF: Oh yes, Jimmy Trimble.
JF: He was from Mifflin or Roxborough High?
IIF: He didn’t go to Roxborough – we started in kindergarten.
JF: So he was from East Falls.
IIF: So Bill and I took a trip down there to see him and he took us through Christ Church.
BF: We were always touring the downtown area, and she discovered his name on Christ Church.
BF: He came down and gave us a conducted tour all the way through – very nice.
IIF: Very nice man.
WM: Any memories of Christmas? Where would you get your Christmas tree?
IIF: Christmas wasn’t a lot of gifts in my house. My father would always make sure we had a stocking. My mother wasn’t into it too much.
WM: Did you go to church at Christmas?
IIF: Oh yeah. That part of it was important. It was a religious thing. It was a celebration – the food, the company coming to the house – that was Christmas.
JF: Did you have a tree?
IIF: We had a tree. My father would wait till the end of the night – go down to the Ridge and buy a tree for a quarter.
JF: The end of Christmas Eve? When did he buy that tree?
IIF: Christmas Eve – that’s when the tree would go up. He would get it for a quarter.
WM: Do you remember any other stores in East Falls in the business district? Do you remember Stubblebines? It was a meat market.
IIF: There was a store down on the Ridge – it was owned by a Jewish man – I never knew the proper name.
WM: What kind of store?
IIF: He sold everything – he sold clothing; he sold shoes – it was almost like a small department store.
WM: Were there other stores that you remember?
IIF: Well, as I said, there was the grocery store, the hardware on the corner…
WM: Did you ever go anywhere for candy?
IIF: Oh yes! There was a Pop’s on Stanton Street – the best candy store in the area. He had a good selection.
WM: Was he across from the old St. Bridget or further down?
IIF: Further down. He was at the corner of Stanton and Eveline. And he had this L-shaped thing and it was all penny candy. So when you could find a penny in the cobblestones (laughter) and that’s how you got ‘em. You could walk the street and you’d always find a penny in the cobblestones. And we’d just go over and get candy.
WM: Do you remember that street called Skidoo Street?
IIF: Oh, Skidoo? Yeah. We laugh about it every time we go past it.
WM: Did you ever use it?
IIF: Just to go down – there’s nothing there. And how it got its name I don’t know.
WM: I heard it was because kids were leaving the school, they’d say “23 Skidoo” and they’d go down that street. I don’t know if that’s true.
BF: There was a cleaner.
IIF: There was a cleaner right as you got to the end of Skidoo – a cleaners, a tailor.
WM: Just going back to the Kellys, did you meet Grace Kelly at church?
IIF: Never saw her.
JF: She was a lot older than you. Did your sisters maybe ever see her?
IIF: The only time I actually saw her was, she came back to the Falls and everybody stood down by the hardware store and she was there. And on the stand with her was one of my old school friends, Mary Elizabeth Newman – that was her good friend. I didn’t know it at the time. She spoke to the crowd – that was the only time I ever saw her.
WM: You said you were on the newspaper at Mifflin, do you remember the name of the newspaper?
WM: Do you remember what the newspaper for the neighborhood was back then?
IIF: I can’t say I ever saw it.
WM: Were there still the hucksters who went around?
IIF: Oh we had a man – there were hucksters who came, but we had a man who only came in summer – I don’t know if he went to any other streets besides ours. They called him Tuesday John because he only came on Tuesday.
WM: What did he sell?
IIF: He was an old Jewish man – I don’t know how he walked – he came with two huge sacks and he’d take a bus to get there and he would sit down on the steps – the ladies would seat him down and he’d open up these bags. He had everything in there. Clothing for kids everything – you name it – towels – I don’t know how he carried it. This was a man who looked to be 100 and up the hill!
WM: And where did he lay it all out – near your store?
IIF: Just anybody’s steps.
WM: He would go from house to house?
IIF: Yeah. Just sit there and the women would all go around him. And mom would buy me sun suits and things from him. If people didn’t have the money – “Pay me next week!” But they called him Tuesday John. That’s when he came.
WM: Great story.
JF: Wasn’t there somebody with ice who came?
IIF: We used to get the waffle man, the scissors man, the ice cream man.
WM: To sharpen the scissors?
WM: And the waffle man?
IIF: Oh the waffle man! He would sell you a waffle for 2 cents. Just confectioner sugar on it. Or an ice cream sandwich with waffle for 10 cents.
WM: Would they come up Calumet?
IIF: Oh yeah. And they would stop and make the waffles right there. The ice cream man – there was a lot of ice cream. Well anyway, we used to have singers who would come down the street.
WM: At Christmas? What kind of singers?
IIF: Groups of men that would sing and stroll the street. And people would give them change.
WM: This was all year round or at Christmas?
IIF: No, sometimes in the summer they would wander.
WM: Were they neighborhood men?
IIF: No. they were just looking for whatever…
WM: So any memories of the war as it affected East Falls?
IIF: Yes. I remember they hung – about two doors up from me – a huge flag from one side of the street to the other. I think some of the other streets may have done this too and it would list the men who were in the service. I think just for our street but it may have been more than that. And I guess maybe once a month somebody – one of the political groups – would come down and talk about how things were going with the war.
WM: Did you have blackout curtains?
IIF: We just had to turn out our lights.
WM: Did you have ration books?
WM: Did that affect your father in the store – oh no, that was earlier…
IIF: By that time, we were shopping at the big store and you had to have it for coffee, sugar…
BF: The only things that weren’t rationed were chicken and milk and cream. But butter, cheese, all kinds of meat except chicken were rationed.. Fish was rationed. And you had ration books – originally it started with just sugar that was rationed the first year – I think sugar was rationed before the war started; I’m not sure about that though, but boy, when it hit, it hit. Gasoline was rationed, tires were rationed, shoes…
WM: Bill mentioned that your parents took in soldiers?
JF: Well they hosted….soldiers came and ate dinner at your house from the USO?
IIF: We had barracks not too far away from us. One thing I remember is that it was getting close to New Years Eve and my father said to my older sister “How would you like to have a big open house and we invite the men from the barracks?” Well, he had been a soldier. So she got a couple of her friends and they went over to the barracks and they invited everyone to the open house. All night long the soldiers were pouring in and out of the house. It was wonderful.
JJF: So your mom cooked; grandma cooked?
IIF: Yes, and they had beer out.
JF: Did other neighbors come over and help?
IIF: My sister and her friends.
WM: Where were the barracks?
IIF: They were located – I get the feeling… sigh… they were somewhere …
BF: In the park.
IIF: Not far from the Falls. I can’t give an exact location.
WM: So, just to end, do you have any other special memories when you think of East Falls and your life there?
IIF: I liked it. I kind of wish we could have moved back there when we got married. As kids, we played a lot and the boys and the girls mixed and we would play- especially on summer nights. And the sledding was fantastic (laughter)
WM: Can’t do better than Calumet for sledding! When I interview the boys, they said they would play on the railroad tracks, break into the old factories and the brewery. Were the girls doing things like that?
IIF: No, we weren’t involved in any of that. We were busy playing games. But I’ll tell you, we did have something on Friday nights in the summer that I just remembered – we had fireworks! They came from Woodside Park and we’d all line up in the middle of the street – boys and girls – and we’d all watch on 10 o’clock on Friday nights.
JF: Every Friday night?
IIF: Every Friday night in the summer. Oh it was great. It was always something to look forward to.
WM: You could see them pretty well from across the river?
IIF: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. They came out of Woodside. It was a fun place to live – I liked it. And the people were nice. It was a good place to grow up. If I had my druthers, I would have moved back to the city but my husband didn’t want to.
WM: Thank you so much. You’ve been so amazing with your memories and we really appreciate it. We’ll take a look at your pictures.
WM: So I see a picture of you in front of the Anchorage. Where was that?
IIF: Just along the river; along East River Drive.
WM: Right in East Falls?
BF: It was down next to Gustine Lake.
WM: And this is you singing there?
JF: And is that the Mayor?
IIF: That’s the Mayor, Bernard Samuel (Mayor from 1944-52). I won second prize.
WM: So that was a restaurant? Can you describe it?
JF: Was it a nightclub?
IIF: When we were kids, we would walk past it on a summer night and they were all outside in black sequined evening gowns. It was just like something in the movies. The people who went there were pretty classy.
WM: Did they have a band? And a restaurant?
IIF: Yes, yes.
WM: A nightclub?
IIF: Yes. At the time I sang there, it was pretty much just a restaurant.
WM: How old are you here?
IIF: Just 16. They had some people entertaining, and they made a contest out of it.
WM: Tell us about your graduation at Mifflin.
IIF: Well we all had to wear dresses – I’m sure we all had new dresses.
WM: Did they have to be white?
IIF: No. I remember we had a big ceremony in the auditorium, then we had some sort of a big party afterwards there at the school.
WM: Was there a speaker?
IIF: No, Dr. Galter – I have to tell you about that Principal.
WM: I’d love to hear –I’ve heard other people mention him.
IIF: He was just the nicest person.
WM: Did he know all the students?
IIF: Yes, and he knew my mother because of my brother. And I can remember I had an incident. One morning I decided I was going to go to church – it was a Holy Day and I said to mom “You’ll have to sign a note; I don’t want to miss Mass.” I guess I was about 10. And I went to Mass. I went into class late and the teacher was furious. This particular teacher – her name was Miss Zigler, and she was furious. And she said “I’m taking you down to the Principal.” I had never been to the Principal. So she took me down and she’s screaming at the Principal and he said “Calm down” and he told her to leave the room. And he looked at me and he started to laugh. He said “Don’t try to go to Mass in the morning (laughter). Wait, wait, go at night, but don’t upset her like that.” I mean he was so nice – he laughed. So he sent me back to class and she said “Put your head down on the desk.” I’m there crying. And the next thing I hear is her announcing that we were going to have a Christmas play and that I was going to be Santa Claus (laughter).
JF: She must have felt bad.
IIF: But Santa Claus sings with this other kid under a table where the kids couldn’t see us, because she said I had the only loud voice. Loud mouth is what she meant.
WM: Were there many Catholic kids at Mifflin, or were most of them at St. Bridget?
IIF: No, not that many. I can remember Gloria – no, the majority of them were not.
WM: And one last question I forgot to ask you, can you name some of your neighbors on Calumet when you were growing up?
IIF: The names? Well we had Mr. Lash on the left of us. We had old Mr. Elmer on the right of us. We had the Garritanos. We had the Candaloris – all Italian names, the Charros.
JF: Was Sharkey later? Did the Sharkeys always live across from you?
IIF: The Sharkeys? Yes. Their maiden name was Arnon.
BF: Caruso, who ran the store.
IIF: Wait a minute – there was one family two doors up who were Czechoslovakian. And I was friendly with the girl Arlene. There was an Italian family across the street but I can’t remember their last name.
BF: I know someone you haven’t named – the old lady who lived in the house with no electricity.
IIF: Mary Jane? She had been a maid for the Biddles. It was an old house that sat across the street. And I guess they set her up when she retired in this house but it had no electricity.
WM: What was her last name?
IIF: All I knew was Mary Jane. And she lived by gaslight. And there was no bathroom in the house – there was an outhouse. That’s the way she lived.
WM: Were there other outhouses when you were young?
IIF: There may have been. We always had a bathroom. Always, but I think there were some outhouses.
BF: There was an outside one.
IIF: Yeah, there was one outside our house. There was, but we didn’t use it.
WM: Did you interact with people from other churches?
IIF: No. Oh! Betty Mathieson was from the Baptist Church down on Midvale. Not all my friends were Catholic but the ones on my street were. But the ones from school weren’t all Catholic.
WM: Were there any Jewish children?
IIF: Jewish people? Well, as a matter of fact, one came in from Brooklyn – this was during the war – her name was Rhoda Jacobs and apparently her father was going to work a government job at the Signal Corps where my brother worked. At first she didn’t seem to be very friendly, but after a while I got to know her more and she had one heck of a sense of humor.
WM: Was she on Calumet?
IIF: No. she lived in the Abbottsford Homes where the Dobson house was. And they tore Bessie Dobson’s house down and built that. And she and I became close friends.
WM: Bessie Dobson’s house?
IIF: Bessie Dobson’s house. I was in there.
WM: You saw that before it was taken down?
IIF: Two doors up lived a woman named Marian Mathisen. She was President of the Women’s Republican Club and so Bessie Dobson would drive down – her chauffeur would bring her down (to Calumet) in her black limousine – dressed all in black, she’d get out and go in the house and would have meetings.So of course. Betty, the daughter, was my sister Marie’s friend, and she knew Bessie quite well.
WM: She was very tall, wasn’t she?
IIF: Yes, she was a big woman. My sister and I, and, I think, Betty, decided we were going to walk up to Bessie’s house because Betty had to give Bessie a message anyway, so we did. We went inside and, oh Lord, it was big. There was a big parrot sitting right there in the cage when you walked in. A lot of the stuff was covered over, as I recall.
JF: Why was it covered? Were they living there?
IIF: Well, she lived alone. She was very nice. A very nice woman. When they closed her house, she moved down to the Bellevue. My sister and I were in there once – again for some sort of an audition and she was sitting there and she said she missed her home so much – it was very sad.
WM: Can you describe her home at all? Outside or inside?
IIF: It was like something you saw in a movie. That’s all I can remember. It was huge. It had this big stairway – I didn’t get to go up.
JF: Was the stairway curved?
IIF: Yes. It was gigantic. You just stood there and, you know…
WM: Do you remember other old buildings that aren’t there anymore?
IIF: Besides hers?
WM: Do you remember the one that was on Indian Queen where Provost Smith from the University of Pennsylvania lived (note: Plush Hill) near where the Breck School was?
IIF: I don’t.
WM: Do you remember the Falls Tavern?
IIF: Oh yeah. That’s where my other sister had her brunch when they married. That was a neat place. I was only in it once but it was attractive – that’s all I can remember. In fact, I have her wedding picture somewhere of her luncheon in the tavern.
WM: Wouldn’t that be nice to see a picture of the interior.
JF: If we can snap a picture, I can send it to you. We were at my aunt’s house yesterday – we went through her suitcase and I believe we saw it.
WM: Two other quick questions. Who was your doctor growing up? Were there doctors in East Falls?
IIF: Yes, There was a Dr. Fiedler and a doctor – his name was something like Sharp. My husband and I went to him.
WM: Was Dr. Fiedler – there was a father and a son?
IIF: Yes. He had his drug store – Mitchell Fiedler.
WM: Which was the doctor – the father?
IIF: No the son.
WM: Is he the one who was your doctor?
IIF: Yeah. He’d come to the house. Mr. Fiedler had a pharmacy on the bottom of Stanton Street.
WM: So that was the father who had the pharmacy and his son was the doctor?
IIF: Yes. There was another one who my mother used to have come to her house – I can’t think of his name.
WM: Was there a dentist?
IIF: Yes, what the heck was his name…
WM: Where was the dentist?
IIF: Right down on – he was right off of Ridge Avenue – across from the 5&10 but up on the opposite side.
WM: Near Indian Queen?
IIF: No, not far from where my mother moved.
JF: So, close to Midvale.
IIF: Yeah. He was on Midvale right near the pizza place – that was the dentist.
WM: Were there any restaurants?
IIF: The pizza place. Maggio’s was a tavern and a pizza place. No real restaurants – not then.
BF: There were saloons that served meals, like up from Majors was one – the Jetters used to like to go to – these were the people who lived in the second-floor apartment.
IIF: A saloon.
BF: A bar.
IIF: Most of them were bars.
BF: But they served meals.
IIF: There was a furniture store – Goodmans – further down. Not too many stores…