East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Daniel Furman (DF)
Interviewer: Lyda Doyle (LD)
Date of Interview: May 25, 2011
Transcriber: Carolyn Connor
LD: Can you tell me where you were born?
DF: I was born in Philadelphia, the 31st of October 1935, that’s Halloween (laughter).
LD: Were you born in the hospital or at home?
DF: I think in the hospital. My memory isn’t clear on that one, but I think it was in the hospital. My father was David Furman and my mother was Sarah Ethel Harry Furman. They were both born in Philadelphia also, so I guess we have some long ties in Philadelphia.
LD: Were they living on Calumet St when you were born?
DF: Yes, at the lower portion near Ridge Ave. We lived there with the whole family, my brothers and sisters.
LD: And that was 3714 Calumet, correct?
DF: Yes, that’s correct
LD: What church did you belong to?
DF: We went to the Falls Presbyterian Church. Still a member of it, although I live on the west coast now, in the state of Washington. I stay in contact with the church. Originally when the church was located on Ridge Ave, near Gustine Lakeand then when they built a new church had to be around 1943 up on Vaux St we moved up to that church.
LD: So you originally attended the old church building?
DF: The old church, up on Ridge Ave, near GustineLake.
LD: Gustine Lake seemed to be an active social focus of the community, is that true?
DF: Yes, in the summer time it got quite crowed. In the wintertime it would freeze over and people would go ice-skating there. Yes, it was handy and was much larger than the city pools, then the one they call theBathey. I forget the name of the street where it was located. Their days there they alternated between the girls and the boys, Monday, Wednesday, Friday were for girls and Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday were boys days. Yeah, between the two we were able to get a swim in.
LD: Now, the Bathey would have been closed on Sundays, so other than swimming in Gustine, what else did you do on Sundays? You went to church?
DF: We went to church. My father was very strict and we weren’t supposed to listen to the radio on Sundays. We would take walks, we would walk from East Falls to Hass’s Bakery over near Pulaski Ave and we would have some ice cream and buy some rolls and we would eat the rolls walking home. Or we would take a walk in Fairmount Park.
LD: Did you ever go up the Wissahickon?
DF: No, not so much. My mother though, maybe I shouldn’t be telling stories, would tell my brother Bill and I to go up to the third floor and turn the radio on so we could listen to the baseball games and keep it on low. So we did that.
LD: Now did you also attend games and Connie Mack stadium?
DF: Yes, my oldest brother Dave took us there, and my dad took us there, I guess the first game I went to, my dad took me, he died in 1950 at a very young age. So my oldest brother Dave would take me. We would walk there and walk home and there was a Steak place where we would get a milkshake and a steak sandwich.
LD: And if I remember they had black and white photographs of the ball players on the wall in that steak shop?
DF: I think so, but I’m not positive.
LD: They were autographed. And Connie Mack was 20th and Lehigh?
DF: It was on Lehigh Ave, I don’t remember the exact address, its not there anymore. I understand it’s a development. It’s sorry to see that field go.
LD: What school did you go to?
DF: I started out in Mifflin public school, I went there through 6th grade and then I went to William Penn Charter School from 7th to 12th and graduated from there. And then I went to Westchester State University and graduated from there in 1957.
LD: Did you play sports in school?
DF: Yes at Penn Charter it was mandatory you play two sports a year. I started out in football but I was kind of small for that, so I switched into soccer, did well at that, and wrestling.
LD: When did you get involved with rowing?
DF: My dad was friends with Mr. McIlvaine and I don’t know what transpired but it was about 1948 and Mr. McIlvaine would pick me up at Midvale on East River Drive and would drive me down to the Vesper Boat Club and they taught me how to be a coxswain. And I did that probably for about 6 years.
LD: And you were a coxswain in some championship races with championship crews, right?
DF: Yes, in 1950 we won the national championship in lightweight fours with coxswain and the policy at Vesper was that if you won the US national championship they would send you to Canada for the Canadian National Championships. Unfortunately in Canada their lightweight fours were without a coxswain, which meant I wasn’t going to go, and then John B Kelly senior was sitting down by the dock one evening and I asked Mr. Kelly if I could go with the crew if I paid my own way. And he said you can go along and gave me $10 in spending money in addition. So they had a big limousine and we rode up to Canada in that.
LD: In a limousine?
DF: Yes it was in a limousine, there were about 8 of us in there. And so we rode up and I got to watch the matches, so it was a great experience.
LD: Do you remember any of the rowers in the boats?
DF: There was, John Coffman, Dick Mahon, and two others and I can picture them but I forget their names.
LD: Was Costello or Kelly in any of them?
DF: I think Costello was one, I’m not sure. And then there was a young kid, a big, tall skinny guy. But yeah that was a good experience and the I think in ’52 or ’53 we won a senior 8 championship and Jack Kelly Jr. was the stroke in that boat and we went up to Canada and raced and won the Canadian National Championship up there. So that was another good experience for me.
LD: Now did you work?
DF: Yes, my father had a couple of gas stations. One was the Atlantic Station across from the Mifflin School and then there was another little one down by East River Drive on Midvale Ave and both my brother Bill and I worked in the gas stations. I guess I started when I was about 7 years old and my job was to sweep out the cars before they were washed and to wash on the insides. But everyone smokes in those days and that was a horrible job getting that nicotine off the windows. I had to climb in the trunk with a dustpan and brushed and sweep out the trunks of the cars also.
LD: Now where did you shop, do you remember where your mom got groceries?
DF: It was the ACME on Ridge Ave and my brother Bill and I, as a matter of fact, I guess that was another job. People who couldn’t carry their groceries, we had a wagon and would deliver groceries to the houses and people would tip us some money, that was some money for another baseball. I guess another job too, we didn’t do it very often but when we needed a baseball, the 52 trolley line ended there at Ridge Ave and Midvale and it was the poles. My brother Bill would be at one end putting the pole up and I would be at the other end of the trolley pulling the pole down and the trolley driver would give us 1 or 2 cents, if we were lucky they gave us a nickel and when we made enough money we would go buy our baseballs.
LD: Did you have your own baseball gloves and bats?
DF: Yes, it seemed like everybody would bring their own stuff, some of the baseballs were repaired with electrical tape so instead of seeing a white baseball coming at you, you’d see this black baseball. Which would eventually get covered in dirt.
LD: Where would you play the games?
DF: In yard. We played on Ridge Ave between Calumet Street and well the firehouse. The old firehouse engine, I think it was 35 and we would visit quite often with the firemen down there and I can still picture the wooden peg board that they plugged in when various engine companies around the city, they would keep track of where they were on this peg board. We visited with the firemen quite often.
LD: What were the roads like? Were they paved in those days?
DF: Not too many, we lived on Calumet, which was a very hilly street and it was cobblestone. When it got wet it was really slippery and I can remember there was an old guy that came around with a horse drawn wagon trying to come down the hill. He was buying newspapers, so we had saved up newspapers and sometimes we had 5 or 600 pounds of newspaper down in the basement and he would stop by there and see his horse struggling to hold the cart back when they were going down these slippery cobblestones. But it was great in the wintertime when it would snow on that hill coming down. We had a coal stove for heating the house and heating water and the ashes, everyone took their ashes and out them at the bottom of the hill so we could stop and not go out on Ridge Ave.
LD: Ok, that was a pretty good trick.
DF: Yeah, and the house on Calumet, we had a telephone but it was a party line so when you tried to call someone but maybe somebody would use it so you would have to keep checking to see when someone hung up. But you would have to keep checking and you could hear someone pick up to see if the line was open.
LD: So it’s a shared line.
DF: I guess during WWII I remember being up on the third floor and they had the air raid alerts and the sirens would go off and everyone had to out their lights out and pull your shades down and I remember that air raid warden who wore a tine hat that I don’t think would stop anything. I guess it looked like one of those old WWI…
LD: Like a doughboy hat?
DF: Yeah, yes and he patrolled the streets and he would chase people off. You had to stay in your house, he would check for lights and he would knock on your door if he could see light coming out. That was neat. Every once in a while, I don’t know what the occasion was but they held a big flag across the street and they had stars on it for how many service men were from that street in the military. They had a big ceremony to unfurl this thing and had confetti would come down. They really pulled the community together for that, during WWII, a lot of spirit, it was amazing. And we did a scrap metal drive, Wesley Foster had a shop down on the bottom of Calumet Street and Ridge Ave and he was a plumber and he kind of honchoed this scrap metal drive. All the kids got their wagons and knocked on doors and we ended up with a pile of metal on Ridge Ave that was probably 30-40 feet high and it was huge thing, two stories high and big around. I was everything; benches in there and old wagons, anything imaginable, old cans and stuff.
LD: And that went to the war effort?
DF: Yes, and with the cans we had to take the labels off. You had already taken the top off to get the food out then the bottom off and flatten the can to put them out by the trash and people collect the stuff. That was how we saved the metal, was from cans.
LD: Now there were celebrations at the end of the war, right?
DF: Yeah at the end of the war though I was away at a YMCA camp, at Camp Carson near Indian TownGap so I don’t know what celebrations went on in town. But we had a big parade, we all marched around the camp and hollered and did silly things.
LD: Do you remember rations? Food Stamps?
DF: Oh Yes, I still have my ration book, with sugar and butter I believe. My dad having the gas stations, gasoline was rationed and they had A, B, C and D stamps and depending upon the D stamps, they were for a black stamp on the car. They were for ministers and I think doctors and things like that. A was a common citizen and they got so many gallons and B was maybe a commercial or business. That was really kind of a pain in the neck because whoever as monitoring this for the government would come around and they would read the meters on the gas station. And if you had sold 2000 gallons of gas you better have 2000 stamps collected. I still have some of those stamps at home and some ration books that were saved, so that’s kind of neat.
LD: Also I heard that there were parties when Kelly won the Henley Regatta?
DF: No he won the Diamond Sculls, that’s what you’re talking about. I don’t remember that a whole lot.
LD; Might have been too young then?
DF: Yeah, I was too young to be into parties and stuff. But also in WWII I remember buying war bond stamps and bought stamps and you fill in the book. When you had $18 worth you earned a $25 war bond. Somehow Mifflin got involved in this thing and when it was determined that all the students had bought enough savings bonds to amount to the price of a jeep, they brought a jeep to the school and went down the steps into the school yard and Mifflin and they drove it around and went back up the steps again. The school was glad we didn’t have enough for a tank. (both laughing)
LD: When did you meet your wife?
DF: Suzanne and I knew each other, we grew up together. Our parents knew each other and socialize together; we went to the same church. She was in my sister’s class at Mifflin so we knew each other all along.
LD: There were church picnics on holidays?
DF: Oh yeah, they were a fun event. Well the one on Ridge Ave, the old one. I can’t remember where they started the parade from, I think it was up on Frederick Street and we would walk over Frederick Street and down Indian Queen Lane. We would all be holding a rope and over Ridge Ave and down East River Drive and back to the church and from the new church we did the same thing over Dobson.. And now I understand the church is holding them at Penn Charter School, there 4th of July picnics. But when I was a youngster, I guess starting at 4 or 5 years old, I was dressed as Uncle Sam and I led the parade for East Falls and I had an Uncle Sam outfit, I looked like a flag. The trousers were red and white strips and I had blue jacket with all kind of stars on the lapels and I had a big Lincoln hat that was all red white and blue.
LD: So you led the whole parade or the Presbyterian Church part?
DF: Well that was our parade, we were the only ones in it. Yeah and there was a band, I think it was one of the Baptists churches had a band and they would play when the church had a parade, they provided a band But I can’t remember who the band belonged to.
LD: I remember, I think the Methodist church had one.
DF: Maybe it was the Methodist Church. I remember the Alden Movie Theatre. That’s no longer there, a guy names Bennie was the owner of it and it was 5 cents to go to a movie and we were all upset when it went to 8 cents. We would go in there and watch those cowboy movies and a couple of neighbor boys, and my brother Bill and I, the four of us would come out there and if we saw Tom Nicks or Hopalong Cassidy, everyone wanted to be Hopalong Cassidy, and we would run along home. The streets had the gaslights lampposts and the man would come by with a pole and a hook and would turn them on each night. We would go out at night to play hide and seek so we would climb up the pole to turn the light out so we could play hide and seek, but then we would turn it back on again.
LD: Before you went in for the night?
DF: Before we went in. But yeah that was nice. You could run around the streets at night at any time and not worry about somebody grabbing somebody. Seemed like the people left their homes unlocked and they were in and out of the houses, it was just terrific.
LD: I was just a great family neighborhood. Now did you start wrestling at Penn Charter?
DF: Yes, there was a fellow student named Dick Fisher who had started Penn Charter a year or two earlier and he had polio. We were in gym class or messing around after school, he was on the wrestling team, despite his polio. His legs weren’t much use but once he got ahold of you, he could hold ya. So he started showing me some holds and I started wrestling. Dick Fisher, by the way, ended up to be CEO of Morgan Stanley. He did quite well for himself.
LD: and you went on the wrestle in college and the Army right?
DF: Yes, I wrestled in college and the army. When I was in Alaska they had a wrestling team. They had a northern and a southern conference. I was in the southern conference and I coached that team and wrestled on it.
LD: And that was the Army?
LD: Also you did some tours of duty in Vietnam?
DF: Yes in 1964, I was an advisor to South Koreans, and in the 1970 I was with a US unit.
LD: I thought you told me a funny story once about sunscreen?
DF: I went to the Vietnamese language school for about 3 months before I went over there in 1964. We were out, it was a larger team, there were 5 of us, a major and I was a captain and there was a recon sergeant, medic and a communications sergeant. And we were advising a Vietnamese captain district chief; it would be kind of like a county here. He had a colonel friend, a Vietnamese colonel friend who was the assistant division commander of the 5th Arvent (?) Division, who liked to come out to visit this captain. I think because he liked to get away from his 13 children and also we had a good party when they came out there. We played drinking games and stuff. Well this colonel’s pronunciation wasn’t very good and he was sitting next to our medic, around this big round table. He said to the medic, do you have something to keep me from getting “sunborn” and the medic said, “I don’t have anything right now but give me a couple of weeks and maybe I can get you something.” And I thought, “The Vietnamese shouldn’t have a problem with the sun but maybe he has a kid with a sun problem.” So we were living in the basement in a barn across the street and I had a brand new bottle of Sandsky Sun lotion. So when I went back that night I sent it over with a set of instructions for if they go out in the sun put it on or if they go in the water and come out, put some more on. So the next morning our interpreter went over there and come back and he was laughing his butt off. He said, “What the hell does Sandsky have to do with keeping a woman from getting pregnant?” and here the colonel should have been saying, “do you have something to keep me from getting a son born.“ (both laughing)
LD: You thought he meant a sunburn, “sun born.” I thought that was pretty funny.
DF: I wrote that in uniform for reader digest and it never got published. But back in those days it was probably a little too risqué for them.
LD: So you made a career of the army, did you ever think you would make the army your career?
DF: Never thought of it. Even when I got drafted in 1958, I had no intention of staying in, but my best friend that went through air force ROTC, was he stationed and Shaw Air Force Base and I was taking basic training at Fort Jacks in South Carolina. He would come over and visit me, then take me back to Shaw Air force base. Well I was a private E1 Furman and he was a second Lieutenant and he took me to the officers club. I saw how he was living and how I was living so then I applied for Officer Candidate School.
LD: So you have four children now right? And how many grandchildren?
DF: 7 grandchildren, 1 granddaughter and 6 grandsons. They are all out in the state of Washington. It’s unfortunate that we are out there, although they love it and I like it, I do miss the East Coast and Ocean City, NJ.
LD: It’s nice here, getting to visit for a week.
DF: Yes, it’s nice I have family here that I can get back to. When I was in college I worked in Ocean City as a bell hop at the Belleview Hotel at 8th and Ocean. That was a fun time too. But getting back to East Falls. I remember the Schuylkill River before the wall was there. It was fence posts and metal polls as a guardrail over the thing and it would come up and flood East River Drive and I remember it almost came up to our gas station. We had to put pitch over the intake where they out the gas in the ground. We sealed it up so the water wouldn’t contaminate the gasoline. I used to hitch hick on East River Drive and that’s how I got to the boathouse. I don’t know whether people are still doing that or not but I felt completely safe in those days of accepting a ride.
LD: Yeah I’m not sure if they would today. Now I remember them having a ceremony, maybe Memorial Day down at the river where they would put a wreath out and have a gun salute.
DF: I never saw one of those, no. There was a horse stable in Ridge Ave, where that development is. I don’t know whether they call that a project or whatever it was but there was a horse stable there going up the Laboratory Hill and that was kinda neat. The horses come down and I remember one day a car hit a horse and broke its leg and nobody knew what to do. I don’t know who I was with, maybe one of my sisters. We left before they knew what to do with the horse.
LD: Is there any special events that stand out in your mind?
DF: I don’t remember if it was before the war or when it was, but they had airplanes fly over and drop bombs, but they were cardboard or paper only about 8 or 10 inches long and I don’t remember if it was a savings bond promotion a couple floated down on Calumet street. I didn’t get to them, someone else got to them before I did. I guess they dropped them all over the city. So maybe someone else knows what it was all about.
LD: Do you remember a milkman and a bread man coming around?
DF: Oh yeah, that’s another job I kinda had. Saturdays the milkman, he was getting kind older so I would get on his truck with him and I would ride with him. He would tell me to go out these things up and I would be running up the steps and everything. Paddy Nalen, something like that. But yeah, we would deliver milk around East Falls. He would give me a dollar or something like that.
LD: To help him out?
LD: So you had radio, but not television when you were growing up?
DF: That’s correct.
LD: Do you remember when you got your first television?
DF: We never did get a television by the time I moved out. (both laugh) I used to go down to my oldest brothers house, down on Ridge Ave, it was an old Philco, it was a round picture and watch television down there. Actually the first television I saw was over in Germantown, I was on the Germantown YMCA swimming team and we came out of there one night and one of the stores corner had a television set in the window. That was the first time I saw a television.
LD: Did they have it turned on and playing?
DF: Well you couldn’t hear it through the glass but you could see the picture. As a matter of fact our neighbors had one and it wasn’t a color set but my brother Bill said: “Oh the neighbors have a color television set”, and I said “ no, they didn’t,” because I had seen what they had and the piece of plastic they had over the screen and the top it was light blue and the middle of it was another color and the bottom of it was brown. So it made him think of sky and he thought it was the color combination. (both laughing)
LD: Now Christmas time, you always had a Christmas tree right?
DF: Yes and I remember carrying it up from Ridge and Midvale, my dad would buy it and leave it there and my brother Bill and I would carry it home. And because we had a coal and wood stove we would go around after Christmas and collect trees and cut them up and use the truck of it for our wood stove.
LD: Was the kitchen stove a wood stove? No? That was always gas?
DF: No, when I was very young. I think it was my first remembrance we had an addition put on the house over the kitchen, we had a bedroom and bathroom put in and I think before that we had an outhouse in the back yard. I’m not positive but it had to be because that was the bathroom. But I don’t remember ever using it.
LD: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
DF: No, I’ll tell you, East Falls is a great place to live. I loved every minute I was here and I wouldn’t mind moving back. Things have changed, some for the better, some for the worse and life goes on.
LD: Well thank you very much.
DF: Thank you.