East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Robert McClenahan (RM)
Interviewer: Lyda Doyle (LD)
Date of Interview: June 9, 2014
Transcriber: Wendy Moody
This is an oral history interview for the East Falls Historical Society on June 9, 2014 with Bob McClenahan at 3805 Vaux Street and the interview is being done by Lyda Doyle.
LD: So, Bob, when and where were you born?
RM: April 14, 1944 Where? Officially, Germantown Hospital, but we were living here in East Falls.
LD: So you’ve lived in East Falls all your life?
LD: And what was your occupation?
RM: I was an electrical engineer for Leeds and Northrup Company.
LD: And where was that located?
RM: When I was working for them they were located in North Wales, Pa. They were originally founded, and for many years, they were over on Stenton Avenue near Germantown Avenue, just a few blocks from Wayne Junction Station. An old established company making industrial instruments but they had moved, just before I started to work with them up to North Wales.
LD: So I guess I’m sort of jumping the gun on this – maybe we should have started out with your earlier years. Your first memories of East Falls…
RM: Well I’ve only lived in two homes: 3434 Midvale Avenue and that was from 1944, and then in 1954 we moved up here to Vaux Street and I’ve been here ever since.
LD: So you were 10 when you moved here then. Did you play outside at the other house? Or did you have friends?
RM: Yeah, I played around in a lot of places. I played a lot just in the driveway behind the house – the driveway that goes all the way down along the row of houses there. Actually I even remember some of the friends that I played with. It seems to me the back driveway was a good place to play in those days.
LD: How about Mifflin schoolyard?
RM: Oh yeah, I played in Mifflin schoolyard. Played in what we used to call the church lot – where our former manse (we’ve now sold it, but where it was). The house is still there. That was a vacant lot until that house was built. We played there all the time.
LD: What sort of games did you play? Do you remember?
RM: I really don’t.
LD: I remember playing Red Light/Green Light and Red Rover Come Over…
RM: I’ve heard all those things but I just don’t remember playing them myself. I probably did but I just don’t know.
The other place that I played is where we’re sitting right now, believe it or not. This house (3805 Vaux Street) and the two just like it here (3310 and 3314 W. Coulter), that was a big open – not open, it was actually a wooded lot, and there were paths running through it. We used to run around through there all the time too.
LD: Did you play Cowboys and Indians?
RM: Oh sure! Sure, all that kind of stuff. And of course we played in McMichael Park. I kind of remember occasionally going down to what they call today McDevitt Playground – I guess in those days it was Dobson’s Field. But I don’t really remember anything about what I did down there.
LD: It had a lot more property before the expressway cut it in half.
RM: Right, sure. We also played down at the school (Mifflin) in their school yard and in that rock garden that they have down there now – that was a little better kept than it is these days – we used to run though there all the time. We had a grand old time.
LD: Did you ride bikes?
RM: Yeah, we rode bikes. We used to ride up on Coulter Street and around these streets all the time on bikes and occasionally roller skates – the old roller skates with metal wheels and the key that tightened it down.
RM: Sledding? Yes. Well I guess there were basically two places you went sledding here. One was the Walnut Lane Golf Course and the other was down here at “The Nuts” as they call it– I forget what the real name of it was. I think at that time it was called Roseneath Farm or something like that.
LD: That was before Ravenhill bought it.
RM: Yes, I think it was something like a private sanitarium at the time which is why it got that rather politically incorrect name of “The Nuts.” But I don’t think most people who used the term knew why they were calling it that because they were calling it that because that’s what everyone called it.
LD: This is a single home. What your other home a single home also?
RM: It was a row house, 3434, about halfway down Midvale Avenue between Vaux and Conrad on the opposite side from where we are.
LD: Do you have any special memories growing up in East Falls?
RM: Well I don’t know “special”… I went to school… I guess most of the activities were centered around church (Falls Presbyterian).
LD: Did the church celebrate all the holidays? Religious and/or secular?
RM: Yeah. We had a Fourth of July picnic every year. Things like that.
LD: How about Christmas or Easter?
RM: Oh yeah, they celebrated all those.
LD: Were there activities for kids connected to them?
RM: Yeah, they used to have at Christmas time – I forget what they call it – it was like a Christmas party type thing and Santa Claus would come.
Santa Claus was Clarence Brehm (a member of the Church) –which we found out later. And he came in his Santa Claus outfit, of course. He would start way in the back of the church and you’d hear him start to sing. He would get closer and closer and closer until he was at the back door of the stage. And then he would go through the thing of calling people up – “What do you want for Christmas?” and everything. He was very good at it.
The parents would always have to be there and they would say “I want a train” or something and he’d say “That’s interesting” and he’d look at the parents and expect the parents to indicate or gesture either yes or no. If they said yes, he’d say “I think maybe we could arrange that.” If they said no, he had a way of gracefully bowing out saying “Well, I don’t know if we have any of those left” or something like that.
And then he would get out his little hand puppet – he called him Pumpernickel – and Pumpernickel had no teeth! (laughs) He wasn’t really a ventriloquist but he could sort of play with Pumpernickel and have him sing a song. It was a good time.
LD: Were there any Easter Egg hunts or anything like that?
RM: Off and on they did. I don’t specifically remember Easter Egg hunts but I’m sure we did. We still have them today over there.
LD: When did the Strawberry Festival start?
RM: It originally started before I can remember. I don’t remember much about it back in the old days. And then it kind of stopped. And then it got rejuvenated essentially by the choir. They said “Let’s have a Strawberry Festival” which basically then became like a choir concert – a secular concert by the choir. And then they would serve strawberries afterwards. And then that grew into what it is today which is the same thing but it’s become very popular and we now do it every year. It’s coming up in about 5 days, actually. I think they did some other kind of Strawberry Festival before that when we were kids but I really don’t remember much about it.
LD: Do you remember a Christmas Train coming through around Christmas time with Santa Claus?
RM: Yes, yes, I do remember that. I don’t know where it came from – I mean it came on the Norristown Line but where it started I don’t know. But, yeah, it came through and it went all the way downtown, stopping at the stations and then downtown. I guess that was the same Santa Claus who would ride up Market Street to Gimbels.
LD: Gimbels or Wanamakers.
RM: I think it was Gimbels. And then they had a firetruck down there with its big ladder up to one of the upper story windows and the Santa Claus would come along and climb up the ladder and wave to everyone and go through the window and become the Santa Claus for the season in Gimbels.
LD: So did your parents take you down to the East Falls train station to see Santa Claus?
RM: I remember it happening – I don’t have any visual memories of actually seeing it but I’m sure I did, yeah, for all those years I’m sure we must have gone down there a few times to watch him come through. And I think when we did it was originally a steam engine, too.
LD: So, where did you go to school?
RM: Mifflin, from kindergarten to the first half of 8th grade. I didn’t actually graduate from Mifflin. My parents decided for high school they were going to send me to Friends Central on City Line.
At Mifflin I was in that split session arrangement where they had one class that graduated in June and the other class graduated in either January or February.
Well I was in the January or February and, of course, Friends Central operated on the normal September to June schedule. So there was a missing semester in there, and they decided after some conferences, the best thing for me to do would be to leave Mifflin after the first half of the 8th grade and start in the 8th grade at Friends Central. So in fact I backed up one semester. They said their standards were high enough that they thought I would benefit from that anyway. So for that reason I never really graduated from Mifflin.
LD: Do you remember any teachers or any special events at Mifflin?
RM: We were just going over that the other day. I can remember a whole bunch of teachers’ names. I can’t remember exactly where they were. Miss Murphy – Dorothy Murphy – she was the kindergarten teacher. And then I don’t remember who all the different grades were but there was a Mrs. Ream, there was a Mrs. Ruth Harnett, Gertrude Eldridge, Bessie Greenberg, Caroline DeVitis, Ruth Heck, and Mrs. McAllister – I can’t think of her first name. Then of course when you get up to the 7th/8th grade, then you had a cycle situation with Josef Radetsky, Eleanor Dunn, Eleanor Sypher, Miss Young and Constance Lyons.
LD: And then did you have Shop also?
RM: Oh and shop also. With Floyd Simon with the Brown Bomber.
LD: What was the Brown Bomber?
RM: The paddle!
LD: Oh I forgot – the paddle! He probably made that himself, right?
RM: Yeah, it became called the Brown Bomber because it was shaped like the fuselage of a B-29 bomber (laughs). And he would hold it by the tail! Yeah, just about everybody tasted the bomber from time to time. He was sort of the school disciplinarian also.
LD: Oh ok. Kind of enjoyed his job…
RM: He did, but he knew how to control it. He often – not to me – I talked to my dad later and he said he had talked to him a few times and Simon said he would never use the bomber if he was mad because he knew that he might hurt somebody. But if you were screwing around in Shop, he’d say “Up to the green door.” And there was a song called something about the “Green Door” and on his desk he had a green blotter pad, like most desks do, well he called that the green door. So if you were going to get the bomber, you had to stand up with your hands on the blotter pad – wham! And if the class really got unruly, he’d say “All right, that’s it! Everybody line up!” And he just – wham – one paddle for everybody in the class (boys only, of course) (laughs)
LD: Do you remember anything you made in Shop?
RM: No, I don’t think so. I sort of remember some sort of a tray. It had handles, and holes in either end to set cups or glasses. I can’t imagine where I would have made that if it weren’t in Shop. I know it was something we made somewhere.
LD: How about Shoeshine kits? Birdhouses?
RM: I really don’t remember that. Probably made all those things but I just don’t remember. Once in a while we – it was more the girls, but the guys would have to do it too – the cooking class with Lena Terrell.
I was surprised at how many of those teachers I could remember. Some of them had unique ways of discipline! (laughs) Mrs. Sypherand Mrs. Dunn – well, a lot of them – if you were really bad you had to stand outside in the hall as the classes went by so everyone knew you had been bad.
They had one particular thing they did – if you were caught chewing gum, you had to stand outside and put the piece of gum on your nose and stand there in the hall as everyone went by. And Mrs. Sypher, occasionally, if there was enough gum, she had a way of putting it on your nose and then stretching it back to your ears! And you would stand there that way.
And one of the teachers, Mrs. Ream, if you were bad, you had to sit under her desk! It was one that didn’t have a modesty panel on the side that faced the class – it was open – so you would have to sit there – she would be right behind you – her legs would be right down here, and you had to sit there looking out from under the desk at all your classmates (laughs) These little things probably wouldn’t be allowed today but somehow we got through it, and we’re better for it.
LD: Do you remember assemblies or programs?
RM: Oh yeah. I just thought of two more – as soon as you said that – two more names: Viola Pastoret and Jenny Fishbein. They were two more. Yeah, we had assembly.
LD: Was it every day?
RM: At least once a week. Yeah, at least. And I know there was – I don’t know how they classify it but up to the 6th grade was one level, and then the 7th and 8th grade – and the assemblies were different. Mrs. Fishbein, Jenny Fishbein, was in charge of the one for the lower grades. I remember that. And Mrs. Sypher took care of the ones for the upper classes.
LD: Do you remember singing in assemblies?
RM: Yeah, particularly I remember that with Mrs. Sypher because she was also the music teacher. So, oh yeah, I remember her up there – she had a very expressive way of leading. When you went in there was always music playing. And one of the jobs you hoped you’d be able to get was to run the music. The music was played from a little room beside the stage and while everyone else was in assembly, you’d be up there sitting with the record machine.
You felt real important! And then someone else, when it was over, before the assembly started – when the music ended, it was always somebody’s job to get up, walk up on to the stage and say “You have been listening to….” and then give the name of the piece that was played and then come down. Again, you felt important if you got those jobs.
LD: So were you baptized here at the Presbyterian Church?
RM: That is a question that’s not quite clear. You know the church originally started on Ridge Avenue and then they built this building here. There was a gap of I think a couple of years. They had to sell the old church basically to get enough money to finish the new one. Well, they had all sorts of problems with building this church because the Depression, Second World War, and the contractors went bankrupt and all kinds of stuff.
LD: I didn’t even know that piece of it.
RM: Yeah, it went on for years. So there was a gap. So they had to move…well you know the church started in the Old Academy, as did almost every church in East Falls, except one. Then when they had to leave the old church, they actually went back to what was called at the time the Young Men’s Association. I think East Falls Young Men’s Association. It’s the building that is now next to the Old Academy. They own it. The Old Academy owns it. Now they call it the Carfax Building. But it was originally – it was sort of like a youth social club type of thing. There’s a gymnasium. The church moved back in there in the interim and we think I came along in that interim!
LD: In the nick of time to be baptized there.
RM: Yeah, the record says baptized in this building but we know that the church had an opening dedication in December of 1944 and my baptism date is earlier than that. So while the record says here, we think it was probably in fact in the Carfax building.
LD: I want to go back – I thought of a question – what was the one church that didn’t start at the Old Academy.
RM:I was afraid you’d ask. I think it’s the Good Shepherd. The Methodists did, I know. St. Bridget’s did. We did. I’m pretty sure the Baptists did.
LD: I believe the Good Shepherd would probably be the newest of all the churches.
RM :I think it was, yeah.
LD: So where did you and the family shop for food, clothes and things like that?
RM:Well I guess if we went to a supermarket type thing it would probably be over at Greene and Chelten. There was a market over there called Penn Fruit at the time – there still is (a different name), a very small one compared to today’s markets. But I think that’s where they went for a market but they also went to the local stores here. There was a little delicatessen right across from – well, today it’s the East Falls Post Office – called Helen’s Delicatessen. They shopped there. There’s that Tilden Market over on Tilden Street.
For clothing and other items, we shopped either in Germantown at Allen’s Department store at Greene and Chelten or Rowell’s at Germantown and Chelten or in the big stores in center city.
LD: Did you ever go to the Conrad Market? That was at Bowman and Conrad?
RM: I guess occasionally but I don’t remember going there as much.
LD: How about pharmacies?
Well, pharmacies, that was easy. That was Jimmy Buchanan. James Buchanan, which is at Indian Queen Lane and Vaux Street. Right at the end. A little tiny little hole-in-the-wall but that’s where we went. He and his wife Helen lived right above the store.
LD: I remember their son Bill. What were the streets like and public transportation? I know we talked a little bit about the Christmas train.
RM: Well the public transportation here was the 52 trolley. The closest thing to it today is the K bus. It was one of those double-ended trolleys. It came from – I don’t know where it actually started over in the Oak Lane area or someplace, but then came all the way through Germantown and then finally down Midvale and dead ended in front of what today is Johnny Manana’s. It came down the center of Midvale, and then the tracks turned over and went right in along the curb and then just dead ended. And he (the driver) would get out and he would pull the trolley thing down in the back and put it up in the front.
LD: The poles that contacted the overhead.
RM: Yeah, the poles. And then he’d go again.
LD: Was the 5 & 10 there?
RM: That was what it was, the 5 & 10. I say today it is Johnny Manana’s but the 5 & 10 was there. Caddy-corner to that was the Falls Hardware run by the Kersons. I can’t remember the guy’s name but the woman’s name was Ruth. The two of them and another guy – his name was Max – I don’t remember what his last name was, but they were the ones who waited on you all the time.
LD: I kind of remember wooden floors and a wooden counter, and wooden little cubby holes with all the different things that they sold …
RM: That sounds familiar. I can picture all three of them. Mr. Kerson was kind of a fairly heavy-set, round red-faced type of guy. Max was little, short, hustling around, very knowledgeable though – anything you needed – he would say “Is this what you need?”
LD: Did Mrs. Kerson have a Bette Davis hairdo – a bob they called it – kinda short with waves.
RM: I don’t remember that.
LD: Major Drug was there then too?
RM: Yeah, it was. I never quite sure. There was also an American Store down there which was another place we shopped. I had in my mind that it was on the corner but it couldn’t have been because Major Drug was there, so I suspect it was around the corner near the hardware store.
LD: Were all the streets paved back then in East Falls? Was there cobblestone or brick?
RM: Well, there was a lot of cobblestone – well, Belgian block they call it. If I remember correctly Midvale would be paved along the side and then where the tracks were was Belgian block. This street out here, Vaux Street, had what they called country paving – paved in the center but the shoulders were unpaved. They call that country paved.
LD: I kind of think Crawford Street, as you walked down to the Bathey, was Belgian block.
RM: Now that you say that, you may be right. Coulter Street was brick and still is.
LD: I think Heywood Street was yellow brick and Coulter’s red.
RM: Yes, that’s right.
LD: And Stanton was Belgian block as you came down from Skidoo Street.
RM: I don’t remember the details. Transportation was basically the 52 trolley. The “A” bus to get into town and the train. The 61 trackless trolley ran on Ridge Avenue but I don’t think I ever rode it, the 61 the whole time I lived here, until a couple of years ago when I took the 61 bus into town for something.
LD: Are there any special people you remember who contributed to the life in East Falls or who stand out in your mind.
RM: I’ll have to think about that.
LD: That’s ok. Did your dad work in East Falls?
RM: He did not. He worked in a number of places. I think he started working at the Stetson Hat Factory somewhere in Philadelphia; I don’t know where. Then he worked for a refrigeration contractor – installing refrigerators in houses and small stores and they were out in Upper Darby, west Philadelphia somewhere. During the Depression he worked as a gardener of some sort in West Laurel Hill Cemetery. And then he worked, seemed like everyone in our family worked at Leeds and Northrup for a couple of years.
And then when the wartime came along, he managed to get a job with the War Department as an inspector. He went around to all the suppliers of armaments and equipment to inspect their facilities and inspect the products and that sort of thing.
So he went off to the war during that and then he met somebody who was also working there who was associated with Merck, Sharp and Dohme Pharmaceuticals Company and, through him, he got a job with them. And that’s where he really worked his whole career, was with Merck. Well, it was Sharp and Dohme, then it became Merck, Sharp and Dohme and then it became Merck.
LD: That’s who he retired from.
RM: That started down in center city and moved up to North Wales. There were a number of other members of the family who worked. I guess anybody who worked in East Falls worked at Dobson Mills. That was about it for employment in East Falls.
LD: So vacations? Did you go to the movies around here? What did you do on weekends?
RM: Well, yeah, we went to movies. We went down to the Alden and over to the Orpheum. We went to the shore for vacations, pretty much until a number of years later when we started to travel.
LD: Did you do any fishing?
RM: Fishing? Well, when I was much younger, I used to go down with some friends to the Schuylkill and with a little tiny hook, we’d put little pieces of bread on it and try to catch a little fish about three inches long. A sunfish or whatever they are. Then when we started to go to the shore, we
started to fish down there. We weren’t very good at it. It sorta seems later that we went fishing because we knew dad liked to fish. According to Dave, anyway, it turned out later that dad went fishing because he thought we liked to fish.
LD: Are there any special events in East Falls that stand out in your mind?
RM: Well I guess the 4th of July was the big event. Everyone had their parades and picnics. Ours was – well, what I remember was up at Penn Charter although in the old days I’m told the picnic was held between what’s now Kelly Drive and the river, behind the old Church on Ridge Avenue.
LD: You mean the Falls Presbyterian one.
RM: Yes, the Falls Presbyterian one.
LD: Do you remember parades?
RM: Well we had a parade before the picnic. There were a couple of times when East Falls put together a big parade for the Bicentennial or certain Memorial Days they would do it.
LD: The whole community.
RM: A whole community type of thing. The 4th of July was always – each church had their own parade. Our parade started right here. First of all, somebody – I guess it was Ray Stark, who was a Sunday school teacher, got a truck with a sound system on it and he’d put a record on it and he would play marches as we marched up from church over to Coulter Street over to Penn Charter.
The Methodist Church, who had their picnic also in Penn Charter in the opposite end of the property, they would parade all the way from their church. And of course they had a band – they had the drum and bugle corps. So after a while, we got to the point where instead of getting the sound track, we simply waited for them and they would go up with their band as they passed we would fall in behind them and go up together and then split there. And then eventually we combined the whole picnic and the parade, and we would all go down to the Methodist Church to gather there.
LD: So everyone pretty much walked. Were there kids on bicycles?
RM: Yeah, the kids on bicycles. And the older people, we had cars and we drove them
LD: And the kids decorated their bikes?
RM: Absolutely. Crepe paper streamers in the spokes of their wheels, yeah! And they decorated themselves too – hats. For a while, we started having each of the Sunday school classes make up a little float or something. Some of them got fairly imaginative. Then that kind of all tapered off. Attendance started to go down, but we had some pretty good parades. The Bicentennial parade was the big one. We were all involved in that.
LD: Did people wear colonial costumes?
RM: For the Bicentennial parade, yes we did. Dave and I both had George Washington costumes that mom had made for us. They were originally made for the bicentennial celebration in the church – the service and dinner – we wore the costumes. And then when we had the community parade, we just put them on again.
LD: Oh that’s interesting.
RM: They were blue with lace trims with yellow strips – gold trim. We had white wigs.
LD: Do you have a sense of East Falls as a unique place – lifestyle, homes, community?
RM: Well, yeah. When we grew up in East Falls, it was a community – I don’t want to use the term closed community, but it was a community. You were in East Falls. All your friends were in East Falls, all your activities were in East Falls. When you got married you likely as not found your mate in East Falls.
It’s much different today, of course – it’s a much more transient nature. But that’s the thing I remember – everything was in East Falls and particularly, a lot of stuff was centered around the churches.
I can remember, it used to be that if you were trying to describe a person to somebody else, or asking about a person, you started out by asking which church they went to. If you were saying: “Do you remember Mrs. So and So? She was a Methodist” (laughs). That immediately identified them and the circle of people around them.
LD: You were born way after the Depression, Prohibition, and even World War II, but do you remember anything about the Korean War or Vietnam? How it affected anyone from East Falls?
RM: Vietnam, yes. Korean War, no. I was still about 10 years old so that didn’t have much effect on me. With Vietnam, obviously, the main thing I remember was trying not to have to go. But several people that did go, and we had one death in the church – somebody who died over there, Ricky (Richard) Whitehouse.
LD: I forgot that he was in your church.
RM: Yeah, he was killed in Vietnam. Yeah, it was a real struggle not to have to go over there. Basically, between going to college and then going to work at Leeds & Northrup, they were able to qualify – they did a lot of work, not as much for Vietnam, but they had the reputation – so they were able to obtain deferments for their employees.
LD: So they were still doing work for the defense industry, somewhat.
RM: Somewhat. They had done a whole lot during the Second World War – I have pictures of the award ceremony that they had. And the Army brass would come and give awards for the company’s contributions to the war effort and war production. In Vietnam, mostly, they were able to justify that by the fact that they were making the instruments that allowed heavy industry to work, and the heavy industry was making the war materials. So, they would say, in the chain of events, our product was important for defense so we were able to get deferments (4E’s).
LD: Do you remember presidential elections, or assassinations? How they affected life in East Falls.
RM: Well, sure, it affected life. I mean, sure, I remember them. I don’t remember them necessarily affecting Falls in any particular way.
LD: Do you remember any radio or television shows? Or movies growing up?
RM: Oh yeah, of course all the kids shows. Buster Brown. Willie the Worm, Howdy Doody after that. And then we had to go to dinner. If dinner was late, and we were very good, then we were allowed to watch a little of Frontier Playhouse (cowboy movies).
LD: So what changes do you think we’ve seen over the years in East Falls?
RM: Well, it’s not the same concept of the neighborhood that it was. There’s much more coming and going today. It used to be that you had to be very careful in East Falls about talking to anybody because so many people knew everybody else. In fact, if you talked about somebody probably the person you were talking to was somehow related to them. (laughs) So you had to be very careful.
Now, that’s not true anymore. It was always surprising while you traced the family webs that everybody seemed to be interconnected in some way, shape or form. I guess some of our family were considered newbies in East Falls. I remember hearing that you weren’t considered a “Fallser” unless you were at least second or third generation in the Falls. Much of our family came from Kensington/Frankford area when they first came to America.
LD: So do you have anything else you’d like to add that we didn’t cover?
RM: Let’s see, what else did I do? I never played in any of the East Falls sports associations but I did play – the church had a team in the Roxborough Church League.
LD: A team of what?
RM: Softball. I was not very good, but I ended up being President of the League for 25 years.
LD: Oh boy! You definitely contributed to it then!
RM: We (the Falls) had actually two teams – the league was mostly in Roxborough and Manayunk, but we had two teams in East Falls that played in it – ours and the Falls Methodist. And, in fact, we were bitter rivals. Oh yeah! There were some rough-tough games between those two teams. Of course you should know something about our East Falls team because Bill Furman was our star pitcher.
LD: I knew he played…
RM: He was a very good pitcher. Buckleys were Methodist. Once again, right away we associate a name with a church! They were Methodists. The Hornes and Dave Webster – they were all associated with the Methodists.
LD: I know Dave Budenz’s dad played but I’m not sure if Dave played.
RM: If he did it was before I got involved.
LD: Dave was my age.
RM: Oh the young Dave? I don’t ever remember him being involved with that league. I started playing for them in late high school and early college. Most of the guys in the church were part of the softball team so I did. Mostly for a while I’d get in when we were way ahead or way behind. But then eventually, the guy who managed them, Ralph Hamilton needed some help and I started to pitch in and help him a little bit.
Eventually, I ended up taking over the team and then I got involved in the league and I guess I opened up my big mouth too many times about things and ended up being elected president. After 25 years, I finally had to say – because they wouldn’t stop re-electing me – so I finally decided to leave one day – “That’s it! I’m out!” which is pretty good for somebody who was a lousy ballplayer.
LD: Everybody has their talents.
RM: I could deal with organizations – I wasn’t a manager in the sense that I was a coach – I couldn’t tell somebody how to play ball better. They could tell me better than I could tell them. I guess that was my biggest sports accomplishment.
Well, and then we used to play volleyball in the church – you wouldn’t believe it if you looked in our Fellowship Room because the ceiling wasn’t much higher than this living room (an exaggeration). We had a very unique style of volleyball – it was totally illegal. But we would do it and we got good at it. You carried the ball more than you were allowed to by official rules – you couldn’t bump the ball like you were supposed to in volleyball because you’d hit the ceiling every time. So you had to use your palm – well that’s illegal but pretty tough stuff handling the ball that way. So every Tuesday night – we played volley ball in the church and that went on for years and years. I was pretty good at that actually!
LD: Well, it’s great exercise.
RM: Yeah. Almost all of the men in the church played from time to time. Jim Linton, Bill Harrison, Ralph Hamilton, all of them. Ralph Hamilton was a very good friend of ours – golfing buddies. As I said, he got me started in softball and he was very good at volleyball – a little short guy but he was very good at volleyball. And one night we were playing volleyball and he had a heart attack on the volleyball court. He died later that night. They took him to the hospital and, technically, he was still alive but he died in the hospital or on the way. That was quite a shock because he was a very good friend.
LD: That must have been difficult. Now you mentioned golf; did you play golf?
RM: Yeah, it was always a group from the church – anywhere from 4 (foursomes) to-8 – we’d go out almost every Saturday in good weather.
LD: Where did you play?
RM: It kind of rotated around. They’d play in Center Square, Skippack, Montgomeryville, Valley Forge – a variety of places – Upper Dublin somewhere.
LD: Did you every play at Walnut Lane?
RM: Once in a while they would play at Walnut Lane, yeah. And my dad was part of that group. So after a while, they got a little bit older, and I guess they needed someone to fill in and they allowed me to go along with them. I never got as good as some of them were. Then gradually that sort of died off and then it sort of became just Dave and myself and Ralph Hamilton. We would meet somewhere – not every week – we wouldn’t do it on Saturdays. Saturdays were too crowded. What we would do was meet on a Friday night and try to get in – we’d never get in 18 – we’d get in about 15 or 16 before it got dark. Yeah, we played quite a lot of golf.
LD: Did you ever play Green Briar or as that a private club across the river?
RM: Don’t recall that. No, I never played there.
LD: There was an East Falls Golf Association for quite a number of years.
RM: Yes, I don’t know anything about it. I was not involved in it.
LD: I just recall seeing trophies in store windows. So do you have anything else you’d like to add?
RM: Well I don’t know… We like to walk around East Falls and try to remember what was there way back. Sometimes it’s successful and sometimes not. We were walking along Ridge Avenue down there trying to figure out where everything was. The funeral parlor – Turner’s Funeral Parlor…
LD: And where was that on Ridge?
RM: Right along the row where the post office is now – between the post office and the gas station. Another thing that was there was the barbershop that we went to.
LD: How about the dentist.
RM: We were just discussing that the other day. The dentist I remember was on Midvale Avenue right near St. Bridget’s. I remember it in a house that was sort of adjacent to what is now the convent. It stands by itself. There were actually two or three…
LD: Wasn’t the post office there?
RM: The post office was one of them. And I thought I remembered the dentist being in one of them. Dave says no, it was below closer to Ridge Avenue. But it was in there somewhere – his name was Dr. Duryea; I remember that.
LD: Do you remember the Falls Tavern? That was down there near Turner’s and where the gas station is.
RM: I sort of remember that, yeah. Helen’s Store was right across the street from that. Felix Herrera’s barbershop was there and that’s where we went to the barber’s until he closed that shop and moved up with his brother Freddie on Conrad Street. Then we started going there.
LD: Well ok. Do you feel there is anything else?
RM: We could probably come up with all the neighbors where we were on Midvale Avenue. I couldn’t remember the houses but I came up with about six names.
LD: And what were those six?
RM: Right on the corner, closest to Vaux Street, was the Guano’s, and then coming down were the Schwartz – the young fellow named Ford Schwartz was a buddy of Dave’s – his father was a policeman, and then there was another friend of his named John Paige who lived down there, and then the Studells, and Pauline and Morris Gable, and Ray Stark and then us.
And then below that was the Grimes – Florence and Bob Grimes. And either one or two doors below that were the Yosts – Howard and Mary Yost. There were a couple of school teachers who lived down on the lower end of that row. I think their name was Rementer but I’m not really sure about that.
And I think there was a Miss McAllister who I know was a teacher in the school who lived in that row somewhere. I only have a rough idea in the row – the only ones we know are the Ray Stark and Grimes who lived next to us and Gables who lived the next one up. She was kind of big sister to my mom, and took care of us from time to time and that sort of thing. The Studells had a daughter – a son and a daughter – and the daughter, Joyce, was a little bit older than us and babysat for us all the time.
I don’t remember anybody across the street, believe it or not – I can’t imagine why, but I can remember all those names in the same row but right across the street I can’t remember anybody. Not a soul! Except of course the church manse was there – it was down originally where the church was. Before they moved the church, the manse went into disrepair so they had to tear it down. They bought a new one down on Midvale Avenue about four doors below the present church and that was the manse until the 1950s when they built this one across the street.
Other than that, I didn’t know anyone on that block. East Falls was a good place – it had a family feeling. It’s still there to some extent but less and less as time goes on. Even in our own church, where it used to be that if you weren’t at least a third generation in the church, you were a newbie. Now, I don’t think now there are any second generation – well, maybe you, me –there are a couple of us but it’s becoming less and less. That’s the difference between today and the way it was when I was growing up.
LD: Thank you very much.
RM: You’re welcome.