East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Catherine McBeth (CM)
Interviewer: Kathy Woods (KW)
Date of Interview: May 8, 2013
Place: 3409 Penn Street, East Falls
NOTE: When asked her date of birth she said that she does not give out that Information.
KW: You’re a three generation Fallser, is that right, Mrs. McBeth?
CM: My grandmother and mother. My grandmother was born in Northern Ireland. Her sister was supposed to come over, and when it was time for her sister to get on the boat, she wouldn’t go so my grandmother took her place. My grandmother was fifteen. She had one brother over here who Iived in Arizona, although she came to Philadelphia. I don’t know why.
KW: Did she know anyone here?
CM: She really didn’t talk much about Ireland. She loved this country so much, she never went back. She had a brother who retired and went back to Ireland. She just said “I just want to stay here.”
KW: Do you know what she did when she got here?
CM: She married her husband. But he had appendicitis, and in those days, it was fatal. He died before the fifth child was born. She had four children, and she was having her fifth child and he died. There she was with five children and no assistance in those days. There wasn’t anything. So her brother, I never met him, I don’t even remember his name, he came here for a year and set her up in a store and stayed for a year to help her get going. And she supported her children.
KW: Did she live in East Falls?
CM: Oh yes, she lived on Sunnyside and the store was right there, and she would give credit. She was very good.
KW: What kind of store?
CM: It was like a store-do you remember like John Young, he lived on Vaux Street. It was like a grocery store. During the depression, she gave credit to everybody. She was a very nice person.
KW: Where was the store?
CM: I don’t know. I wasn’t living then. I only know what my mother told me. She lived on Sunnyside. I guess it was across the street. I’m not sure. It was the 3400 block of Sunnyside, near the corner of Vaux and Sunnyside.
KW: How long did she have the store? Did you remember it?
CM: No. She raised her children on it.
KW: Tell me about you mother (and her family and education).
CM: Aunt Rose was the oldest, Aunt Helen was second, and my mother was third, and her sister and her brother. She never talked about working in the store. Aunt Rose was old enough to help; she was the oldest. My mother was fifteen when she came, and she got married when she was sixteen. She may have been sixteen or seventeen. I’m not sure when, to tell you the truth. Everybody lived in East Falls and everybody went to St. Bridget’s. They all graduated.
KW: And you went to St. Bridget’s? That was your parish?
CM: Yes. I graduated from St. Bridget’s and went to Hallahan. I went to St. Joseph’s for about three courses, but 1 didn’t finish. I got married.
KW: How did you meet your husband?
CM: I think we met at a dance.
KW: In East Falls?
CM: No, at Holy Child. Groups went – that’s what everybody did. That’s where you went.
KW: Was you husband from the neighborhood?
CM: No, he was from over in that direction.
KW: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
CM: Two brothers, no sisters. I was the oldest one. (Brothers?) One was in insurance. They didn’t stay in East Falls.
KW: Were they involved in any sports?
CM: I guess … not like today…not as organized.
KW: What did you like doing growing up?
KW: I hear you used to be able to do a lot of shopping in East Falls. Is that right?
CM: Right—that’s true. I was talking to my cousin the other day. She lives in Cape May She should have this interview. She knows more than I do. She’s like a year older than me. (We talked about having her interviewed if she comes to visit). She said how about the store on Ridge Avenue?
(CM asks that the tape be stopped when she said what they called the store, which was apparently an ethnic name for Jews). Nobody meant it to be mean. It’s just the way it was…he was probably the only one here. It was a goods store, a department store—if you wanted knee socks you’d walk down and get them. It was a long walk from up here. We would walk down there to Ridge Avenue. Clothes, anything.
KW: Your grandmother grew up on Sunnyside. Where did you live?
CM: I lived on Bowman Street first—those houses were just first built. Then to Tilden Street. When I go married, I moved to Center Square in the suburbs. I was the first one in that whole development out there. I remember the first store that opened out there—what’s it called? I remember I went to the opening of it. lt was like a big affair. They would have different developments, different items. I liked it. Things were very nice. When my husband died, I moved back to East Falls.
My husband worked for (unintelligible). In fact, he set up the computers when it was just starting.
KW: You raised your kids in the suburbs?
CM: Kevin was in first grade when she moved back to East Falls.
KW: How many children do you have?
CM: I have two– And my daughter lives in Chicago. She’s corning next Monday here on business. She went to school out there—School of Journalism. She met a boy from (unintelligible Italy?). They got married.
KW: What does Kevin do?
CM: He’s in sales. He lives in Meadowbrook. He wants to come back. Every time they come for dinner, they look at the houses.
KW: When did you move to this house?
CM: About 25 years ago, I really didn’t intend to take it. I always liked this street. A friend of mine lived down the street– Annie Costello. Her husband rowed with the Kellys. My friend knew the person who lived here and said she was going into a nursing home. She said it was going to be for sale and I should look at it. She said it was in perfect condition, no children, and 1 said okay, I’ll look at it. And it was – it was like perfect— like a brand new house. My cousin who is like a sister, said that if I didn’t take that house, I was crazy. I’ve been here for twenty-five years.
KW: What do you like about living in East Falls?
CM: I like everything about East Falls. I grew up here. It’s convenient, it’s convenient to town. It hasn’t changed that much. I’m so used to it here. I like it here.
KW: Were there things you used to do when you were growing up here?
CM: Margaret and I were just talking about that. You know where Netherfield Road is? We used to go to Nosy Brown’s house. Did you ever hear of Mosey Brown? He lived there, and he had big apple trees, fruit trees, and everything. We used to go play there, and he’d chase us away. On Netherfield, there were no houses there then. (The little house on Netherfield—”that was Mosey Brown’s house”).
And across the street—right across the street—was Kelly’s place, and we used to go up and play. What is his name, his chauffeur – Ford was the chauffeur—and he would let us play. They had swings. We used to go up there and play. Where else did we play?
Mifflin School wasn’t here. What was the name of that house—it was a big house. Mifflin was the name of the man. And I remember where the project is now, the Dobson’s (Abbottsford). A mansion was there, and they had picnics. We could go up and have picnics. On the Fourth of July, St. Bridget’s would have their parade at Calumet at the school and then march up there to have a picnic.
KW: What was St. Bridget’s like?
CM: St Bridget’s was big; it was huge. In my second grade, it was so big that they moved us into the convent. There were seventy-some children in my grade. It was very crowded. It was a very big school but very nice. I credit everything 1 have today with St. Bridget’s. I remember Sister Alpheus (sp?) and Sister Helen Marie who was the eighth grade teacher. I liked them all. We were lucky to go to a school like that.
KW: Did you have to pay tuition?
KW: How did you get around?
CM: We walked to school. I remember with snow four feet high, walking. Nobody took buses or anything.
KW: Did you ever go out of the neighborhood (shopping, food shopping, etc.)?
CM: We took the train downtown to shop. I remember when the Penn Fruit came. That was the first huge store– Chelten and Wayne. My father never drove but my oldest bother would drive to Penn Fruit. My father took the trolley or buses, and you didn’t think a thing about lt.
I worked in town for years, and I took the train. I was a paralegal. I worked at (Dwayne, White ?). 1 worked for Astin (sp?) Group that was on Henry Avenue. They moved to the suburbs. I was there 22 years. They had companies in Belgium and Canada and Brazil. They were international. I was assistant to the president. They moved to South Carolina. I could have gone, but he died. They consolidated with (?) Down South. That’s when I got a job as a paralegal. I did trusts and estates.
KW: Did a lot of women your age work?
CM:Yes. Now they complain about it.
KW: You were talking about some of the places you went to play.
CM: We went swimming at the Kelly’s and at the Bathey. We had certain days and times we could use. We went for an hour. I had a best friend, Jane, who lived a block away and my cousin. There were about four or five of us girls. Jane and Jean both died. I stay in touch with some.
KW: Your children’s education?
CM: They went to St. Bridget’s. My daughter got a mayor’s scholarship. Nancy went to St. Joe’s after Hallahan. She went to graduate school in Chicago for journalism (Northwestern). She’s in business now. She won’t come back. She can’t leave Chicago. I could live in Chicago—that’s another place I could live. It’s very nice there.
KW: Social events, activities, clubs?
CM: I belong to the library. I go to a book club up in Roxborough because a friend of mine. I enjoy it. (current book?) I just got it. It’s about a bicycle lady. I don’t know what it’s about. They tell us what to read.
When I left my last job, 1 was a temp and worked part time. Then I applied at Philly U and worked up there for ten years—science and health department. I’m retired now. I’m a member of the Village (i.e. East Falls Village)
KW: How involved with Village?
CM: I volunteer, and I used services. Remember when we had the bad storm? The skylight in the bathroom blew off, still half in there, the glass broke. I was up all night. In the morning, I called the Village and Tom (Sauerman) came and fixed it. He was here in ten minutes. It was in the paper. He asked for my Windex and cleaned. I used it for that, and for my bushes.
KW: Husband? Maiden Name? How long married?
CM: My maiden name was Walten. I was married, what, eight years?
KW: Can you tell me more about the shopping districts in East Falls?
CM: At Vaux Street there was a store, and it sold ribbons and clothes—just small things. If you were going to a birthday party, you went down there and got a birthday present. It wasn’t a big place. It was a small place, and she lived on Winona Street. She taught us how to knit in the summer time.
We went grocery shopping at Bowman and Conrad –on 35th Street. There were one or two markets—a meat market, I guess it was. And then there was the English bakery—did you hear about that? It was wonderful. It had great desserts; it was delicious.
KW: Breweries, other services?
CM: Hohenadel’s—that’s the only one. The doctor I went to was in Roxborough and there was one on Allegheny Avenue that was my father’s.
We went to the Alden Theater—that was nice. They shut it down. When we were younger, we went every Saturday. It cost 10 cents. They also had a contest where you could get up and sing. My cousin tap danced. I wanted a pair of shoes with taps on them because she had them. There were afternoon children’s shows.
We played on Netherfield a lot. My cousin mentioned the- I read an article in the Fallser—she mentioned the Dobson Estate—where the project is. Did I tell you before? A big mansion, beautiful, and St. Bridget’s had the Fourth of July picnic there. Dobson Manor was over where the project is now. It was all grounds. What else was up there? There was another big estate across the street. I’ve seen a lot of changes. The project was built for the Second World War. In fact, when I was in Hallahan, I worked part time at the Signal Corps, and my boss, Mr. Connor was very nice. I couldn’t type at all! The projects was filled for the government worker. It’s not like it is now.
KW: Other changes, projects—memories?
CM: I don’t remember. There were no projects. I guess nothing was there, and then they built the projects.
KW: Across the river?
CM: Oh, yes—what was that called? We would go. We walked—can you imagine? We’d walk across the bridge. They had a merry-go-round. What was it called—Woods something (note: Woodside Park).
I remember the expressway but 1 didn’t pay much attention.
Parking on this street is terrible—two cars to every house. When I first moved here, one lady had two cars down the street. Grace Kelly’s godmother lived here. There was a lady who thought she was the mayor of the street. When I first moved here, there were two big pine trees out front. She knocked on my door and said I guess you’re going to remove them. I liked her—she was nice–she was just tough. She’d tell you to take care of your house—she was the boss.
A lady across the street from me—she must have been there when the houses were built. She moved to a resort. She got a house and let her grandson use it. And she called me. She would come up every three or four years, and she would come over and check with me to see how the street was doing. She’s in a nursing home or retirement home now, but she still checks on the street. The people today don’t. When I moved here, I was one of the youngest. They said it was all older people. They said it was like an elephant’s graveyard. On this street, this was where we used to go on Halloween. We would trick and trick on this street. It was easy to get in. Halloween was a big event. Are you familiar with (?).
Our library has been here a long time. The Village is wonderful. I tell friends about that and they can’t believe it.
(Her cousin is going to visit this summer and could tell me more). Everything we could do. You could ride bikes where you want to go. You didn’t have to worry about cars. Where did we go? To Mosey Brown’s a lot. To Netherfield—we climbed the trees and get apples. Where the park is—it isn’t like it is now. No houses. But East Falls hasn’t changed that much though when you think about it. Next door, Ariene, she’s in a retirement village, but she raised her son here. She stayed friendly.
KW: You lived on Bowman?
CM: Near Henry, and 3300 block of Bowman and Tilden. The houses are still there. They were very nice—they were bigger than this. They were three bedrooms, but in a way this is bigger downstairs. They were nice.
I’m not a dog or cat person.
KW: When you and Arthur started to date, did you go on any dates in East Falls since he wasn’t a Fallser?
CM: No, we went in Center City, got all dressed up. We got married at St. Bridget. He was from Norway. Just his mother came. His father was the Norwegian counsel and he had just retired, and he said he wasn’t coming back.
KW: Any other stories?
CM: I used to go to my grandmother’s for affairs. She was a wonderful cook. She stayed on Sunnyside. We always wanted to go in town (to movies).
CM: We’d go to for the summer to Avalon. That was nothing in those days. My mother hated the shore. She’d come up during the week all the time, but the kids stayed there I didn’t really care for the shore myself. My cousin and my best friend liked it. I’d rather go other places. I’ve traveled to Spain and all around the United States.