Godfrey “Fred” Ford
East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Godfrey Frederick Ford (“Fred”) (FF)
Interviewers: Wendy Moody (WM) and Ellen Sheehan (ES)
Date of Interview: February 20, 2020
Transcriber: Wendy Moody
WM: It’s February 20, 2020. Ellen Sheehan and Wendy Moody of the East Falls Historical Society are doing an oral history interview with Godfrey Frederick Ford.
Thank you, Fred. Thank you for coming – we’re very excited to hear your memories of East Falls. Just as a preface to the interview, we will say that Fred’s grandfather, who we will refer to as “Daddy,” was the chauffeur and employee of the Kelly family so most of his memories will focus on that era.
So why don’t we begin by you telling us when and where you were born.
FF: Well I was born in Salisbury, Maryland in 1947. I was born in a doctor’s house because my grandfather and my grandmother sent my mother to a boarding house when she became pregnant with me and after I was born, that’s when I came back to Philadelphia. I was three days old. I lived in South Philadelphia with “Daddy” (ed. note: Fred’s grandfather), my grandmother, my mother and myself living in the house. All my years my grandfather was already working for Mr. Kelly when I was born, so naturally my whole youth growing up I was affiliated with Daddy and the family and Mr. and Mrs. Kelly.
WM: Can you tell us, just for the recording, the name of your mother and the name of your grandparents?
FF: My mother was Ethel Ford and she later married, and her name was Ethel Ford Groves, but her maiden name was Ethel Ford.
WM: And your grandparents?
FF: Nellie Ford and Godfrey Ford.
WM: So let’s begin by talking about your grandfather. Do you know what year he was born?
FF: No I don’t.
FF: No I don’t. Oh my Lord, I should know but I don’t remember.
WM: Do you know how he happened to be employed by the Kellys?
FF: I only know through what my mother had explained to me. Daddy worked for Kelly for Brickwork – he was a bricklayer – a stone mason. And my understanding how Mr. Kelly and Daddy met – and this was years ago – I do remember Daddy and my mother explaining to me how he ended up at the house at 3901 Henry Avenue. They were so close. And one day Mr. Kelly went down to the yard in South Philadelphia and said “Where’s Ford?” and none of the workers could tell him where he was. He said “Well not one of you are going to work until you find him.” So my grandfather – I guess he was a bootlegger at the time – he was just trying to make money. He was very, very creative in ways of trying to survive (laughter). I guess that was around the Depression; I don’t remember. But when the people down in the yard found my grandfather – I don’t know what he was doing – but Mr. Kelly says “Ford, you come up to the house. I want you to watch over the kids. You come to the house with me.” And he said “Ok.” And that’s how the two of them came to 3901 Henry Avenue.
WM: Did he live there?
FF: No, he didn’t live there. He lived in South Philadelphia and commuted every day to work.
Yeah, but after my grandfather and grandmother…. for some oddball reason, they didn’t stay together. He moved up to 47th and Brown into an apartment. But basically, he would stay sometimes at the house, but mostly he would just commute back and forth. And as I was growing up, he would come down to the house, but after I got to be a little bit older, he would just stay at 47th and Brown and he would just commute between 3901 Henry Ave to his place.
WM: So his jobs were – he was a chauffeur and he watched the children?
FF: Yes. He watched the children and, from what my mother told me, when they were all kids – Gracie and Kell and Lizanne and my mother – they would play together. Because Daddy would bring mom to the house so they all grew up together. And of course when I came along, they would bring me up to the house.
WM: What was the personality of your grandfather?
FF: (Sigh). Wendy, he was larger than life to me. He really was. The laughter that he had – he would laugh so much, but he was very serious, because he would always tell me, “Son, you’re a Ford and you can make it.” And him and Mr. Kelly used to tell me that all the time. I didn’t know – I was so young. I’d say “Ok, Daddy, ok.” He’d say “You’re a Ford and you can do anything that you want to do.” And he had different sayings – he would say “Just like cornbread is not greasy, life isn’t easy. But you can make it.” (laughter). He always had these sayings.
WM: I can see why Mr. Kelly wanted him in the house.
FF: And he was just larger than life to me. And at the time, being a little boy, I would kind of look at him a little weird sometimes. But it’s just that the love – he loved me so much, just like I loved him. But when you’re young, you just don’t understand it. And he would work so hard. Oh Wendy, he would work so hard.
ES: Would you come with him to his work? Were you there?
FF: Hm hm.
WM: So tell us about your association with the Kellys.
FF: Of course before Mr. Kelly passed away – again, he would give me a dollar for every A on my report card – he was very interested in education. And he said “Fred be sure you stay in school.”
And he and daddy would talk all the time – they were close friends. Though dad worked for him, they got to be such good friends. And God only knows, the two of them went to the grave with secrets. They were just so close. But I remember, when I was in school, Mr. Kelly would always tell me “Be sure you stay in school. Make sure. You can do anything you want to do.”
Maybe it’s because back in those days, I guess life was just hard for everybody. He used to always tell me that.
ES: Did you work at the house alongside your grandfather?
FF: Yeah, I did. On weekends and during the summer.
WM: What did you do?
FF: Oh, cut the lawn. Everything. I cut the lawn. I cleaned the house. I would do everything – anything that needed to be done. Wash the windows
WM: What was Mr. Kelly’s personality like? What do you remember, besides that he inspired you to stay in school?
FF: He was the type of person who was very jovial. Very jovial. He would tell jokes, sing a lot. That voice! Sometimes he would sing, but he had these sayings that I just told you about. But he would read the paper all the time. But he would always tell me, “Fred, don’t get angry; just get even.” I didn’t know what all that meant.
WM: Are you talking now about Daddy or Mr. Kelly?
WM: Oh, I was asking about Mr. Kelly.
FF: Oh Mr. Kelly! I’m sorry. His personality. From what I can remember, he’s a BIG man. From what I can remember he was very, very, very proper, if I want to put it that way, just like Mrs. Kelly was, very proper. But he was jovial. To me, he had a booming voice. And he would talk to me and my grandfather “Ford!” and the two of them would talk.
But from what I can remember, he wasn’t there a lot, because he was always working, always in business. But he was very graceful, as far as I’m concerned. He would, again, like I said, I would look at him as Mr. Kelly, with a lot of respect. But he was down-to-earth as well. He would talk to me.
WM: Can you tell us – maybe go through each member of the family, and give your impression of Mrs. Kelly and each of the children?
FF: Well, Mrs. Kelly, again, I can hear her voice, and Peggy’s voice are the two voices still in my mind. “Ford!” – sometimes they would call him George – I didn’t know if George was short for Godfrey – I didn’t know what that was – but she would say “Ford!” every time that she would call him, and the two of them would just talk. But Mrs. Kelly – I really got to know her better when Mr. Kelly passed away – because the kids were gone and Mr. Kelly had passed away. And I remember her telling me “Freddie, as long as Fordie wants a place to go, I’m going to keep this house. I’m going to keep this home.” They were extremely close as well. But Mrs. Kelly was not as close as Pop Kelly was.
WM: I heard she was very beautiful.
FF: Mrs. Kelly was. She was very attractive, but after she got older, naturally, she aged.
ES: What about her garden?
FF: The garden (sigh). Daddy would force me to work in that garden.
WM: Where was the garden behind the house?
FF: Yeah, as you come up the driveway, you see the three car garage, and off to the left – there was a little small walkway off to the back and – you know the back of the house – the alleyway? It was just on this side of the hedges in the back of the house. And it was a nice size garden…
WM: Flowers and vegetables?
FF: No, just vegetables. It wasn’t flowers. It was just all vegetables. It was corn, it was lettuce, it was onions, it was wax beans and string beans. There was so much that they grew in that garden.
ES: Did Mrs. Kelly actually tend this garden?
FF: She didn’t tend it that I know of. There were a couple of times we went out there together – she would cut heads of lettuce and things of that nature because she would take them with her when she went down to Ocean City. But I think for the most part Daddy would take care of the garden. I hated weeding. I did not like pulling weeds.
ES: Did she have an herb garden?
FF: No it was just all vegetables – you name it, he grew it. What I mostly remember is the corn because of the bugs. The corn and the tomatoes – oh, so many tomatoes! We had all kinds of vegetables.
ES: So you helped with it.
WM: Can you describe the four children?
FF: I knew Peggy – like I said, I was younger than them. I knew Peggy; I knew Lizanne. I didn’t know them that well. I knew Peggy the most because she lived on School House Lane and would come over to the house often. And even Daddy knew her best, I guess. Well he knew all the kids, but in my remembrance, he talked to Peggy mostly because she would come to the house all the time.
ES: And did you go to her house?
FF: Hm, hm – to cut the lawn. We would cut the lawn, but I wouldn’t go there as often because most of the work that I would do was at the house. I remember a couple of time – her property was huge!
I remember cutting it maybe once or twice but that was it because most of the work I did was here at the house.
WM: So at this time the girls were all grown up and you were a child.
ES: Tell us about the pool.
FF: One day, because Peggy was so close, and this is why I wanted to get in touch with Peggy, because she inspired me as well. You know, she would always talk to me. I remember one particular day – it was so hot – and she was saying “Fordie, come over to the house and tell Freddie to bring his swimming trunks.” So I took my swimming trunks with me and I said “Daddy, why?” and he said “Just come with me.” I went over to School House Lane and at that time – I don’t know when it was – but I do remember that they got into – not an argument, but it was like a debate.
WM: She and Daddy.
FF: Peggy and Daddy, yes. And I remember her saying “Fordie, if anybody has anything to say, they have to come to me.” So I guess it was an issue – Daddy must have asked her about Fred swimming in the pool because back in those times, there might have been some issues. She was very stern – she said “Fordie! If anybody has anything to say about Freddie in a pool, they’ll have to deal with me”. And I was young. I didn’t understand the relationships between African-Americans and whites – I didn’t understand all this stuff – but I’ll tell you, throughout the years, that helped me because I didn’t know.
I don’t remember if I actually went swimming or not – I don’t remember, but I do remember that conversation. And she was very, very upset – she was very stern about it.
WM: So describe the other children – what you remember…
FF: I remember Kell. I don’t remember him that good, as I remember Peggy. But again, they were all gone – they were working, and going to school or what have you. The only people in the house after Mr. Kelly passed away was Mom Kelly and Daddy.
WM: Did you ever meet Grace?
FF: I met her once. Just like the pictures that you see – when she came to Philadelphia, I remember the motorcade. I remember the police and the park guards and things of that nature. But I met her once or twice.
WM: Is this when she came for a funeral or for a wedding?
FF: No this is when she came – they were married and lived in Monaco so when I met her, she and Prince Ranier came to the house, and that’s when I met her. Daddy introduced me to her and, like I said, as kids growing up, my mother knew her as well, but when I got of age to really know what was going on, she had already been married. I think they got married in 1956.
WM: So what were your impressions of Grace and Ranier?
FF: I remember meeting him once but – I just thought they were stars, you know. They were just huge. I was in awe meeting them, but this was only once or twice that I met them.
WM: Did Daddy have any memories of him?
FF: Oh yes! Well you see all the cards (ed. note: Mr. Ford brought postcards written by Grace to Fordie) – because he basically help raise them – all the kids. There were articles in the paper – I’ll show them to you, but I left them at home. But there were articles in the paper about that Gracie and Daddy were very close. And Dad told me “Fred, you know what – I was talking to Gracie, and I met Ranier and I told her…” He wasn’t too fond of him at first, but then he got to know them and everything was fine. I believe I met him once but I can’t remember, but I saw Gracie twice when she came up to the house. That’s the only memories that I knew of, other than he (Daddy) would talk about them all the time.
WM: Can you remember any stories he told you about the family?
FF: There were so many. There were so many, because he would talk about them all the time. You could tell the love that he had for all the kids, especially for Kell and Gracie and Peggy. Because every time he would talk about them, his face would just light up. But he was closest to Mr. Kelly. As a matter of fact, as I was telling you the other day, when he passed away, we really didn’t know how long Dad was going to last.
You know how you break an arm and it mends, or you break a leg and it mends, but Dad had a broken heart. And they were so close, and he took that so hard, so hard, and it’s just that we really didn’t know how long he was gonna last. They were so close and such good friends. But as far as the kids were concerned, after Mr. Kelly passed, he would take me down to Cherry Street – that’s where Kell was at – and I would speak to him every now and then. And he went out to Ardmore to see Lizanne, and they would just call me Freddie because I was Fordie’s grandson. And everywhere he went, I went, whether I wanted to or not. But I didn’t realize how much he wanted me around him, and after I got older, I wanted to be around him. So every place he went, I went, you know. And even when my mother was coming up with him, everywhere he went she went with him, especially when – because Mr. Kelly was the Fairmount Park Commissioner – and they would go in the Park and they would salute the car, and mom would tell me that was such a big thing. And even when I would go around East Falls with him, he would honk the horn “Hey Fordie, how are you!”
WM: Everyone knew him.
FF: didn’t know that! I said, “Dad, you know these people?” He’d say, “Yeah, son, yeah I know them” and he would keep going. And, again, every time he would introduce me to somebody, he would tell me, “Tell them your full name” “I’m Godfrey Frederick Ford”
WM: Sounds like he was very proud of you. Can you describe the house to us?
FF: Yes, the house. And that’s where my fondest memories are. I was telling you, when the house was sold, and I heard what happened – someone had bought the house and they just didn’t treat the house that well. The house, to me, what very gracious, I’ll put it that way. Because, again, I’d do everything in the house – I would cut the lawn, I would clean the windows, I would vacuum – even downstairs in the cellar. My favorite place was down in the cellar.
WM: We’ve seen that. Can you describe it for the recording?
FF: Oh sure. When you came into the back door, and of course the refrigerator was there, and then you’d make a left, then of course the kitchen, and you kept going – the phone closet was off to the right and the powder room was off to the left – and they had a grandfather clock off to the side. Right beyond that grandfather clock, you just kept straight and there were steps going down to the basement. The wooden walls, and the wooden steps – and I had to sweep those steps down, and we would wipe the bannisters and things of that nature. And I just loved that cellar.
WM: A lot of brickwork down there.
FF: Yeah. There was a lot of brickwork, a lot of wood. And the bar. They had the swinging doors and sometimes I’d go back and forth through them doors and Daddy would say “Son, stop doing that!” because I’d love to see them swing (laughter). And he had the wine room.
But I would clean the counter – we would clean the whole house because that’s what Daddy wanted me to do and I did whatever he told me to do. I loved going down there, but my favorite place in the house was the sun room. Now when you come up the steps and go down the hall and then you make a left turn into the living room and the piano was there – she had a grand piano.
WM: Did she! Who played the piano?
FF: I guess the kids were playing. I never heard anyone play.
WM: But go ahead – you were heading to the sun room…
FF: I was heading to the sunroom. But on top of the piano was Gracie’s and Prince Ranier’s picture.
I would shine the pictures off and go past the piano, and I would go into the sun room and Mrs. Kelly had – they traveled so much – they had these elephants there; they had all kinds of vases there – things that she had collected. I remember sitting there talking to her, and she was more or less down-to-earth as well because I was surprised how much she loved Daddy – she would tell me about it – and we would just talk all the time. She basically had an interest – it wasn’t just being nice; she really wanted to know what was going on in my life and how I was doing in school. So after I got to know her and talk to her, it was just so funny – Gussie, her dog, her poodle – I think it was a snob – she went everywhere with her dog.
ES: What kind of dog?
FF: A poodle
WM: A miniature or…
FF: It was a regular poodle and its name was Gussie. And we would just talk, and Gussie would just sit next to her and everywhere she went, he went.
WM: Now upstairs – I know Kell’s room was in the back, in the middle.
FF: No. When you went up to the second floor, Mr. Kelly’s room was off to – no, no – Mrs. Kelly’s room was off to the right – so you walked to the second floor, her room was off to the right and his room was off to the left.
WM: Were the children on that floor too?
FF: The children were in the attic upstairs.
WM: All of them?
FF: All of them that I know of.
WM: Do you know which were in which rooms? Because there’s been some debate about which room Grace was in. Do you remember?
FF: No I don’t. I don’t remember. I know that it was Mrs. Kelly’s and Mr. Kelly’s (second floor), and then you’d go in the hall up the steps to the attic – the bedrooms were up there. But I don’t know which ones they were. I don’t remember that. But again, I used to clean the house and Dad used to say, “Son, you got to do the windows.” “Ok.” “It’s time to vacuum” “Ok.” “It’s time to wipe the bannister down.” “Ok.” And then he would cut lawns on other people’s properties. Out at the tennis court in the back, he had a little shed – sorry for jumping around – but he had a little shed in the back where he had a riding machine and I thought that was the coolest thing because I used to ride the machine around to wherever lawn he had to cut.
WM: Do you remember any of the neighbors whose lawns you cut?
FF: No, I don’t, because Daddy dealt with them – he would just tell me: “Son, cut this lawn here” and he would deal with them. But I do remember distinctly about Mr. Connie Mack.
FF: Mr. Connie Mack lived – and he said “Hi Fordie!” – and he would sit out in his chair under his tree – now this was during the summer when I was out of school, I would be up here – I stayed up here during the summer.
WM: I thought he lived in Mt. Airy – there’s a plaque there… where was he in East Falls?
ES: He lived in East Falls on Netherfield. He used to go to church at St. Bridget.
FF: So Daddy would say “You want to meet Mr. Connie Mack? I said “Who’s he?” And I said “Yeah Daddy” and we talked a little bit, and after I met him, every day that I’d be cutting lawns, Mr. Connie Mack would sit in his chair under his tree out on his front lawn, and I’d say “Hi Mr. Connie Mack!” and he’d say “Hi Fordie!” Like I say, everybody knew him.
WM: Which house on Netherfied?
ES: I’m not sure which house (Ed. Note: We learned later that Earle McGillicuddy, Connie’s son, lived at 3938 Netherfield Road), but he would go to the 10 o’clock masses at St. Bridget. He had a car – his chauffeur would wait for him – it had double bats on the sides, and the kids would stand there to get his autograph.
WM: So do you remember a dollhouse? There were stories of a big dollhouse that had a real stove in it – somewhere in the backyard?
FF: I don’t remember it. Maybe it was gone, but I’m pretty sure it was there because Mr. Kelly – they bought everything for these kids. And of course we benefited from it too. I heard something about a dollhouse but I don’t remember it – it was gone because, again, my time up at the house was, I guess, well I was up here all the time, but Mr. Kelly passed away in 1960, 1959 or 60.
WM: How old was he?
ES: How old was he when he passed? I don’t know.
FF: I don’t know either.
WM: So your mother played with the Kelly kids? Do you remember anything that she told you?
FF: No, I really don’t. She would just say she went over and played with them. Daddy told me he would bring her up and they would play together and she would stay up at the house, sleep or whatever, but I don’t remember that much. I’m sorry. I just don’t.
But I do remember he would just tell me stories and his face would just light up about the kids. And they would all come to him “Fordie” He said “Yeah, Freddie, son, I would give advice, just like I’m giving you advice.” “Ok, ok.” But it went in one ear and out the other.”
ES: Did you run into any of the children later on? Like Kell, meeting up with him later on?
FF: Well, I know that – remember I was telling you, Ellen, that Daddy always told me “Son, stay in touch with the family.” Because he loved them so much. “Stay in touch with them.” “Ok Dad, I will.” And when I was overseas during Vietnam – first, I told Daddy that when I became 17 that I was going to enlist in the Air Force because Vietnam – they were drafting so many – and I said I didn’t want to be drafted. He didn’t like that idea but he understood.
WM: That’s how you became a pilot?
FF: Yes, well when I enlisted in the Air Force I was 17 so my mother had to sign me in. I said “Mom, I’m out of high school now. If I turn 18, I’m going to be drafted.”
But growing up I would always make these model airplanes – Daddy would buy me model airplanes and my mother would, and I just wanted to fly; ever since I can remember I wanted to fly. So when I went into the Air Force I was the jet engine mechanic on the B52 bombers.
And I would write Mrs. Kelly, write Ma Kelly, or write Daddy, and a couple of times I believe I wrote Peggy because I was closest to her, but I can’t remember. I have letters but I don’t know where they’re at now. But I do remember I used to always think about what Mr. Kelly would tell me and what daddy would tell me: “You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it” and that stuck with me.
And this is why I wanted to talk to J.B. (Kelly) because I really believe they helped shape my life. And so when I became a jet engine mechanic, and I went overseas and I used to run up the aircraft. This colonel took a liking to me, and he said “Freddie, you can fly as well. You could learn to fly.” So I was in California at the time, at March Air Force Base where they have all the people with the disease now.
FF: So on the weekend I started studying and learning how to fly. I got my pilots license out in California and I told them about it and they were so proud of me.
WM: So Ellen was asking if you kept up with Kell …
FF: Yeah,I’m getting to it. – I know I get to talking badly….When I got out of the service, the weirdest thing is that I was discharged from the Air Force on the 25 February 1969. Daddy passed 25 February 1969. And I came home for the funeral and I was talking to Mrs. Kelly and we were all upset. Naturally.
WM: Do you know how old he was?
FF: No I don’t. So Mrs. Kelly gave me her car because they would buy cars with Daddy. Then I went back to California and finished flight school. So I came back to Philadelphia, I would fly out of Wings Field out in Ambler and I started trying to be an air traffic controller because they were hiring at the time. So I said “Well, I’ll go both routes – I’ll be a pilot or… “
And I was lucky to be hired as an air traffic controller in 1974. So now I’m getting to it… in 1981 we were all fired – remember the air traffic controllers?
WM & ES: Yes.
FF: And I was always taught – even in the military – you don’t turn your back on, you know, so we were all fired together – the President (Reagan) fired 11,400 of us. So I was desperate at the time because you’re overqualified to get any other kind of job so I reached out and I went to – and I thought the controllers – they’re gonna hire me back, but things got pretty bad, so I remember going to Cherry Street to Kell and, as I told you, he had a few choice words for me but he was right…
WM: Are you sharing them??
FF: Not all of them, but basically he was upset with me. “Freddie, you landed a dream job and you’re going to go on strike with the union?” And I tried to explain, but he didn’t want to hear it; he didn’t want to hear it. And I remember getting in touch with Peggy, but I can’t remember – yes, I do remember – I went down to talk to Peggy and this was in 1981 and she’s the one who told me to go to talk to Kell.
WM: You wanted to talk to them to see if you could get a job?
FF: Yes. Yes. But it didn’t work out. But, hindsight, that was the best thing that could have happened. Because Daddy always told me “You can make it; you can make it.” So I started doing odd jobs and started doing things, because we all thought we were going to go back – the President can’t fire the whole work force! But it didn’t work out that way.
WM: Did you ever go back?
FF: Not as a controller, no. But what happened was, down at the Navy Yard they were hiring for apprentices, and President Reagan had said – and President Ford – that they wanted the controllers back, but he said “Oh no, we’re not going to let them back” so President Reagan said “Well if they can get sponsored by someone within the government, then they’re allowed to come back.”
There was lady down in H.R. down at the Navy Yard – she felt sorry for me after I told her the story – because they knew it was politics. So she said, “Listen Freddie, I’ll sponsor you.” And it took about three years for them, I guess, to clear me – they wanted to know if I was a troublemaker – you know how that was; it was all politics. And I was cleared for the Department of Navy. And this is when I took the letter they had sent me and went up to the Navy depot up in the northeast and showed them that and I was hired.
But in the meantime, I had talked to Peggy about it, and she was pleased that I was hired. And I kind of lost contact because I was so busy trying to…and, like I said, a lot of years passed. Then I heard that Liz had passed, and then when Kell died of the heart attack – he was running down here on Kelly drive – I came up to McIlvaine (ed. Note: McIlvaine Funeral Home) and that’s when I saw them and we talked briefly, and that was it.
So after that, like I said, life goes on. I was married in 1974, and my son was born in 1978. I had moved to Baltimore, Maryland to get a promotion, but after I got down to Maryland, I thought I’d rather be in Philadelphia.
WM: So you had no contact since then, since the funeral.
FF: No, not really.
WM: Now you approached us, and we really appreciate this – you’ve kind of told us, but can you tell us why this was so important for you to share this story.
FF: It was important to me, Wendy, because, again, hindsight. God has been good to me and my family, but it was an inspiration from Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, and Peggy as well, and my grandfather. So after all these years, I became supervisor at work and I had people under me, and then my son was asking me “Well dad, I know mom’s side of the house, but what about your side?” And I said, “Well Jason, you have a great-grandfather named Godfrey Ford” and I started sharing with him. And then he said, “Well you tell me this, but have you ever talked to them?” I said “No. but one day I’m gonna get in touch with them.”
I would read the papers about what was going on with the house and I would laugh and say, I knew them, I knew them. And he (Jason) would say “Well why don’t you ever get in touch with them?” “Jason, I don’t know – they may not remember me.”
So when I retired in 2017 – I’ve been retired for two years, three years, and I thought about it. You know, you have time now to reminisce and think about things. And I said “I’d love to get in touch with J.B. because Mr. Kelly’s gone, Mom Kelly’s gone.” But last time I had talked to Mrs. Kelly, she had sold the house – she was in an apartment – was that on School House Lane?
ES: Alden Park.
FF: Yes. So I went to see her one day – I don’t remember when. But we had talked about Daddy and how close they were and how she missed him – we all missed him. But I said one day I’ll get in touch with him (JB). So I was sitting at home – this is how God works, I’m sitting at home and I told my wife ”Nancy I’m going to go up to the house and see who’s there.” When I heard it was back in the Kelly family – so I’m going to up there and see if anybody’s there – I would love to see the house again. So she said “Freddie I think it’s a museum now.” I said “I don’t know.” So I jumped in the car last week and I came up and the rest is history.
WM: How did you know to contact Ellen?
FF: I went online – Google will tell you anything. So I googled John B. Kelly and Fordie, then I googled Fordie and family and then, lo and behold, something pops up.
WM: The Historical Society?
FF: Yes. Your name (Ellen) came up, so I said “I’ll look this person up, but I’ll still try to get in touch with JB.” And I would google his name and nothing would come up – naturally, you don’t put your phone number… so I said “How am I gonna get in touch with him to tell him how I really feel – felt – about what their parents did for me?” And that’s when your name came up.
And I’m telling you, I was shocked when I saw you. I walked up to the house and I thought “Who lives here?” and I started not to come because – this is not a Society, this is somebody’s house. I’m looking for a building…that’s when I saw you.
WM: We’re so glad you did. Did you ever go to Ocean City? (ed. note: to the Kelly house)
FF: Yes I did.
WM: Can you tell us a little about that?
FF: It was right on the beach.
WM: What was the house like? Did they rent it or own it? Do you know the address?
FF: They owned it. I don’t know the address. All I know is that it was just Ocean City. I went down twice. Of course Mrs. Kelly, she stayed down there mostly. I do know – was it Peggy or Lizanne – one had the second floor – the other had the first floor. I think Mrs. Kelly had the first floor and and I’m not sure if it was Lizanne or Peggy – it must have been Lizanne – somebody had the second floor. But I was in the house once or twice but that’s it. I don’t remember. All I remember is Ocean City, Ocean City – everybody wanted to go to Ocean City. But Mrs. Kelly, she would stay there most of the time. Her and Gussie – off they would go.
WM: Do you remember any impressions of East Falls when you were a kid?
FF: I remember some because daddy bought me a bicycle. And during the summer and on the weekend, I would come up and take the bicycle and ride up Henry Avenue and he would tell me “Son, don’t go too far now.” I would make a right turn at the next light – what’s the next light up here?
WM: School House Lane.
FF: Oh that is School House Lane. So I would make a right, because Peggy lived down there and I would just ride the bicycle all around. In fact, back then, I would catch the A bus and get off at the corner here – is the a bus still running? And like I said, Daddy would say “Fred, after you finish your work you can take your bicycle out.” “Ok Dad.” Am I talking too much?
ES: No, but we usually talk for about an hour.
FF: Oh I’m sorry.
ES: No, it isn’t an hour yet.
FF: And I would ride the bicycle around and it was just a joy to ride around, because I wasn’t in my row home in South Philly, so you just felt free – I would ride the bicycle all over but, most of the time, I just rode it in the tennis court and up and down the back alley.
ES: Do you remember the tennis court in winter?
FF: Yeah, Daddy used to freeze over the tennis court when the kids were growing up so they could ice skate. But after the kids left, he really didn’t do that very much. But the tennis court – I remember the apple trees – the tennis court was full of apples! There were apple trees in the back of the tennis court and I would have to clean those apples up – the worms – there were just so many apples! I would have to clean up the apples. But behind the tennis court – I see there’s a house there now – but behind the tennis court, I used to cut the grass back there and there were trees…
WM: So it was behind the garden – the tennis court?
FF: No. The garage was off to the right – no, to the left; I’m sorry. The tennis court was right behind the garage and they were almost kind of even. But behind the tennis court, there wasn’t too much of a lawn but there were still trees back there. And I used to have to rake up those apples – they were right on this side of the hedge because I used to help Daddy cut the hedges back there. Then off to the right – behind the tennis court – that’s where you had the steps to go down – are those steps still there?
You had the steeps to go down. I remember that.
WM: Did Daddy ever tell you about any famous visitors that came to the house?
FF: No, he never did. There’s one thing – because I think they were kind of a private family – very nice, but private. But Daddy knew so many people.
ES: Tell the story of Mr. Kelly reading the paper.
FF: Yeah, every morning – he had this long, blue – in the breakfast room – you know how you go into the back door – the refrigerator was there? You make a right – the dining room was there, but you have this breakfast room and all the windows – there were jalousie windows – I had to clean them – and there was a long blue breakfast room table – and he would come down and he would have his breakfast – I think Daddy would make him breakfast – but he had this little easel – I call it an easel – where you could fold your paper and set it there and he would read it. He had to have his paper every morning and that’s when sometimes he would talk to me: “Freddie, how you doing?” “I’m doing fine sir.” It was just small talk. Then I would go out in the back. But I remember I was very fond of cars – very fond of cars.
ES: What did you know about Mr. Kelly’s love of cars?
FF: Well he liked heavy cars. He used to buy Daddy – I remember Daddy was so upset because Daddy had a 1958 Buick – a Roadmaster – an all-black car, and I would shine up his car, but Mrs. Kelly had a 1958 Cadillac and Mr. Kelly had a 1960 Cadillac, and I don’t know how Dad acquired it – I don’t know if it was willed to him, or he bought it, but he ended up having that car. And I remember cleaning the cars – I would clean Mrs. Kelly’s car, Mr. Kelly’s car, Daddy’s car, because I was young and I wanted my license so bad.
When I became 16 I got my permit, but I used to drive the car up and down the driveway. I said, “Daddy, can I drive?” and he’d say “No, son, you might go out there on Henry Avenue” so I would go down the driveway, back it up in front of the house, where I would turn – and I remember that. But again, Mrs. Kelly would buy Daddy cars, but they weren’t heavy cars like Mr. Kelly would buy. So he (Daddy) had a 1962 Chevy Nova. Then Mrs. Kelly bought him a Dodge Dart, but it wasn’t like the cars he was used to having. So I would clean those cars. Those are the things I remember. So Mom Kelly would talk to me, and I would talk to her, and I got very comfortable talking to her. And, like I said, we got a little closer after Daddy passed. But I remember her telling us, “As long as Fordie wants, I’ll keep the house here.” And then when he passed away, I knew it wouldn’t be long. I don’t know when she sold the house.
FF: Yeah, because he passed in 1969.
ES: Around then. I know it was sold in ‘74 but I don’t know if that was the first time.
FF: Like I said, I remember going downstairs into the cellar and he had the heater room and the laundry room. I would help Daddy with his shirts and things – the ringer, the washer with the ring – and then he had an iron that he would put his shirts on – it was actually a machine.
WM: A mangle? So were there other people helping in the house, maids or anything, or did Daddy do everything?
FF: Daddy basically did everything, but there were times there were some maids there. I don’t know who they were. Because when Mr. Kelly would have functions at the house, he had people there cooking. Daddy was the chauffeur but he would also – he was in charge! (Laughter) Nobody made a move unless…
When they had functions at the house, I wasn’t there because I was in school. But I do remember every Christmas Eve – every Christmas Eve – he would be in his chauffeur outfit and would come down to the house and one thing I remember – I couldn’t stand it – he would bite my ears. He’d say “Come here son” and I’d say “Daddy, no” and he would say “Come here” and he would just bite this ear and bite this ear. Mrs. Kelly – like I said, when I would come up, she’d just hug me, but I didn’t appreciate it then like I do now. But there was just so much love then. They loved him, and his face would light up every time he’d talk about them. And Pop Kelly – they were the closest, and who knows what they got into but they were so close. And I’d say “Daddy what are you guys doing?” and he’d say “None of your business!” (laughter)
WM: Thank you very much Fred. This will go in our archives and we appreciate you talking to us.
FF: Things happen for a reason, and Ellen, I’m so glad you embraced me the other day. I was on Cloud Nine when I left your house – I was so happy!
WM: We were happy too.