Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tombstone Tuesday - Arthur W Matthews, Dec 6 1915, Age 71

Yesterday I posted the part of my grandfather's story in which he loses his father.  Later this week I will post my great-grandfather Arthur's obituary. Today, I am posting a photo of his headstone.

Just about a year ago we visited my grandfather's hometown of Pittston, PA and the cemetery where my great-grandparents and other relatives are buried.  I shared about that visit here and especially the help I received from the Greater Pittston Historical Society.  I only found the headstone in the very large Pittston Cemetery with their help.

Arthur W Matthews - December 6, 1915, Age 71

Monday, September 29, 2014

Amanuensis Monday - Everything Changes

This is the 9th installment of the autobiography and family history written by my paternal grandfather, Howard Beirly Matthews.  It is December of 1915, my grandfather is 14 years old and everything in his world is about to change.

Arthur William Matthews

Dorothy has said that Grandpa Matthews, my father, must have had a good position for the family lived well and he worked at the mines only the first two hours of the day and that he was a very generous man.  Perhaps he had been too generous; when he died there was very little left but life insurance, the family home and a bunch of debts remaining, perhaps, from his oft expressed boast that when Arthur Matthews needed money he just went to the Bank and got it.  I remember that when I needed a pair of new shoes my father always said go get them and charge them to Arthur Matthews.  My first long-trousered suit was a Hickey Freeman, which cost $15!!!

So a year or so later the house was sold and we moved to Forty Fort, Pa. near Wilkes-Barre to be near Will Ahlers' office and that of my brother Charles at the Maltby mine of the Lehigh Valley Coal Co.  I commuted to Pittston to complete my Sophomore year at its High School.

In those days very few from our area went to college, altho Floyd Hunter's sister graduated from Cornell, and not many even finished High School.  And since my brother Charles, then 21, wanted to plan on getting married, it was decided that I should not return to High School but get a steady job and contribute to the family income.

In the summer of 1917, with World War I creating a great demand for coal and so many jobs vacated by men joining the armed forces, I found it easy to get a job, underground, at the Maltby mine of the Lehigh Valley Coal Co., whose Supt'd. lived just a block away from us.  He hired me as a "mechanic's helper" and told me to be at the mine shaft at 6:30 am, properly clothed and equipped by which he meant overalls, a cap and an acetaline [sic] (gas) lamp, a full lunch pail and, most important, a Union button on my cap indicating that I had joined and paid my first month's dues.  I complied.

Despite the fact that I was raised in a region that had many mines and that my father worked in one, I had never been in a mine.  Access to the Maltby mine was by cage, two cages in parallel shafts, one cage coming up while the other went down, but suspended on heavy steel wire cables, activated by a single stationary steam piston engine which turned two large drums on which one cable was wound while the other was unwound.  During the day these cages were used to hoist loaded 3-ton mine cars and, simultaneously, drop empty cars 600 feet down the shaft.  The same cages were used to lower workers into the mine in the morning and bring them up to the surface at the end of their shifts,--presumably at a lower speed!

I stepped aboard that first morning, packed in among the miners, and the cage dropped into pitch blackness at what seemed to me terrific speed, and then a fast slacking which buckled my knees, and with a bang and a bump we were in the mine.  But to me it didn’t look like a mine as I stepped off the cage into a wide, white-washed tunnel, its roof supported by steel beams, lighted by dangling electric light bulbs.  Down the middle of the tunnel were parallel narrow gauge tracks, one bearing loaded mine cars, the other empties.  To the right, behind the windows, was the Superintendent’s office and to the left were stables housing dozens of mules which were used in the far reaches of the mine to haul loaded cards out of the main tunnels.

Soon I learned that the real mine began just beyond that whitewashed and lighted area, for those loaded cars waiting to be hoisted one at a time up the shaft had been hauled through miles of pitch black tunnels which sloped down to lower and distant levels where loaded cards were assembled by electric locomotives (actuated by overhead electric wires) and then were drawn up the slope to the foot of the shaft by a long steel wire cable activated by a stationery electric motor. The long line of cars, hooked together, were drawn at terrific speed and the tail-end car had a cable attached to it which in turn would serve to pull the empties down the slope.  The noise was deafening and no one walked these slopes.  There was a parallel tunnel for walkers.  Neither was lighted.

The excitement of these new surroundings dispelled in me, a 16 year old, any thought of danger or fear.  and the seriousness of this change in my life did not hit me until mid-September when I realized it meant the end of High School for me and I would not be joining my schoolmates Malcolm Miller and Clinton Myers there.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Amanuensis Monday - Visits to Uncle Joe's

In the 8th installment of my grandfather's story we learn more about his Uncle Joe Hobbs, brother of his mother Ada Merritt Hobbs.

Uncle Joe was a locomotive engineer for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western RR.  By virtue of seniority he had his choice of trains so he chose the line's top passenger train, the Chicago Limited.  He left home around 5 pm every second day, dressed like a banker, and went to the Scranton station, changed his clothes and climbed aboard the enormous steam engine which stood there, all spit and polish, emitting that familiar "panting" sound as it and he awaited the arrival of the west-bound section of his train which had begun the first lap of its journey in Hoboken, NJ.  When it arrived its engine was unhooked and Uncle Joe backed his in its place.  At exactly 6:20 pm, upon signal from the Conductor, Uncle Joe gently gave it the gun and his train began the second lap of its trip--Scranton to Elmira, N.Y., which at 70 miles per hour it reached around 10pm.  There Uncle Joe stepped down and walked to the RR YMCA and slept until about 4 am when a "call-boy" awakened him.  He went to the station where his engine had been serviced, washed and polished awaited the arrival of the east-bound section of his train which Uncle Joe would then pilot to Scranton.  I don't remember the exact time but he was always back home by mid-morning and was free until 5pm the following day.

Several years later, Uncle Joe purchased a home and small farm in Clarks Summit, just north of Scranton.  There, around 7 pm every second day, Fred, Milton and I stood on a small bridge over the tracks to see and wave to Uncle Joe as his train picked up speed after the steep grade out of Scranton.  He never failed to toot the whistle and wave to us.

Our days at Green Ridge were spent swimming or exploring Nay Aug Park or going to Emily's home (Harrison had built a find new house near the Church of the Good Shepherd)  where we were always assured of "eats".  Some of our time was spent planning what we should do if Aunt Ella gave a bad report when Uncle Joe arrived home as, usually, his first question was "have these young bucks been behaving?"  Our preparation usually involved stuffing towels, pot lids, etc in our pants to protect our bottoms.  Sunday always meant attending the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd as the Hobbs retained loyalty to their Anglican upbringing.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Almost Wordless Wednesday - Judd Hall, Wesleyan University

Another of my father's slides ca 1949.  This is Judd Hall at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT.  According to a walking tour brochure that I found online Judd Hall was "one of the first buildings in the country devoted exclusively to undergraduate science instruction." Today it houses the Psychology Department.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Amanuensis Monday - Uncle Joe (Hobbs)

This 7th installment of Howard Matthews' story contains mostly dry factual information about family members but also talks about an old Pennsylvania railroad.

And then there was an annual summer visit to the home of Uncle Joe (my mother's brother) in Scranton.  They had five children:  Joe, Jr., Fred, Milton, Emily and Ada.  Emily, named after my mother's sister, married Harrison Creswell, an Englishman, who ran the Scranton Lace Works and was a star soccer player.  Ada, named after my mother, never married, became an Osteopathic physician with an office in Scranton.  Joe, Jr. became a pharmacist.  Fred, a year older than I, was initially a banker, then became one of the top executives of the original Coca Cola Co., and lived in Virginia.  Milton, a year younger than I, became an electrical engineer and died rather young of cancer.  We have lost track of all except Joseph Creswell, son of Harrison and Emily (now deceased) but still hear from Mrs. Joe Creswell each Christmas season.

Just recently I received a letter from Robert Cresswell, the second son of Emily and Harrison Cresswell, in which he gave the following information about Uncle Joe's family:

     Rita, -     died in infancy (I had not known of this child)
     Ada-       born 1888, retired Osteopathic Dr never married, died 11-12-80
     Emily      born 1886  Cresswell                                            died August 1954
     Joseph     born 1894 Chemical Co Executive                       died 10-19-76
     Fred        born 1900 Coca Cola Executive                           died May 1967
     Milton     born 1902 Electrical Contractor                            died 12-14-60

Robert Cresswel, from whom I received the above, lives in Atlanta, Georgia.  Vicky Cresswell, widow of Robert's brother Joe, lives in California.  They visited us when we lived in Chicago, and we hear from her every Christmas season.  The only other survivor of this group is Milton's wife, Averil, who lives in Arizona.

I must have been quite young, perhaps six or seven, when I was first permitted to make the journey to Scranton all alone.  This involved taking the "Cannonball"*, a fast two-car electric train, which ran from Wilkes-Barre to Scranton via Pittston, and selecting a date on which Uncle Joe could meet me at the Scranton station, and take me, via street car, to his home in the Green Ridge residential section of Scranton.  As the street car passed the Scranton jailhouse, Uncle Joe never failed to remind me that I'd better be good or I would end up there!

*The Laurel Line, which was the principal mode of transportation to Rocky Glen, was an electric powered railroad with frequent daily runs between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre by way of Pittston with stops along the right of way, at little shed-like structures for the passengers as they awaited the train.
The Laurel Line began operation on May 20, 1903, earning the nickname "The Cannonball" because of its fast service between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, a trip which required 43 minutes. This included stops along the way including two stations en route, in Plains and Pittston. The trains received power from an electrically charged third rail adjacent to the tracks. This power source was eliminated when the train entered Wilkes-Barre and Scranton when the power was obtained by overhead trolley wires.
In its heyday, the Laurel Line carried millions of passengers with a peak year in 1921 with 4,229,516 passengers. The largest single day was on Memorial Day in 1924 when 72,242 people were carried to the John Mitchell statue unveiling in Scranton. In contrast, on Memorial Day, 1952, only 3,000 passengers used the line.
The last run of the popular carrier was on New Year's Eve, 1952, as the train made a symbolic journey from Wilkes-Barre to Scranton, tooting its familiar horn while it rolled through the many towns along the right of way.
My family and I were among those who saw its last run that New Year's Eve. We stepped out to my back yard and looking down the ravine behind our home, we watched the venerable old train as it slowly rolled by for the last time, passing into obscurity. ("Remembering the great days of Rocky Glen" www.citizensvoice.com "Rembering the great days of Rocky Glen" Richard Cosgrove, As I Was Saying, Published: June 22, 2010.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Almost Wordless Wednesday - On the Haddam Road

This photo from a scanned slide was taken by my father, Stephen Matthews, in the fall of 1950 or 1949 on the Haddam Road in Connecticut.  The colors are a bit off but still so vivid 64 years later.

Stephen David Matthews (Apr 20, 1936 - Mar 16, 2005) son of Dagmar Alice Viola Anderson and Howard Bierly Matthews.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Amanuensis Monday - Chores and Earning Money

It has been some time since I have posted from my grandfather's story. This is part Six.  My grandfather wrote about his house chores and how he earned spending money.

It was my job each day to shake down the kitchen stove fire, remove the ashes, and refill the coal bucket with anthracite which I brought up from the large coal bin in the basement.  And I went through the same process with the large hot air furnace in the basement which heated the upper floors through ducts leading to registers in the floors of each room.  Each Saturday morning I hauled the ashes to the local dump, using my sled when there was snow and my small wagon in milder weather.  Another chore each Sunday night was to take our laundry to the home of our wash-woman who lived beyond the cemetery at the head of Nafus Street.  To a 10-year-old this seemed a treacherous journey and I am sure I broke speed records going past that burying ground.*  On Tuesday nights I retrieved the laundry, all clean and ironed.  I can still smell the wash-lady's kitchen-hot, steamy, soapy and that odor of freshly hand-ironed things.

I was always encouraged to work to earn money for things I wanted.  This included selling and delivering the Saturday Evening Post and the Ladies Home Journal.  Among my favorite customers were the two sisters who operated the German Kitchen on Broad Street.  They always treated me to a dish of ice cream.  One of the sisters, Anna Dommermuth, became the wife of my brother Roy.

One year I had an out-of-town paper route, delivering only the New York and Philadelphia papers.  These came in on an early Lehigh Vally RR train and I delivered them by 8 a.m. via bicycle to the homes of the well-to-do who lived along the riverfront in West Pittston.  I bought the bicycle with money earned selling "Larkin" soaps, etc.

One summer, when I was 13 or 14 I worked on a truck farm, weeding, cultivating, picking strawberries, and preparing, bunching vegetables for delivery to local markets--10 hours a day, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., six days a week for 15 cents per hour!

But not all was work; school, skating, sledding in the winter, baseball with grownups in the evening, hiking and bicycle trips.  And lazy hours after dark, when the family sat on the front porch, eagerly awaiting my mother's announcement that it was now time to bring out a pitcher of lemonade or, that as soon as Nick Sardoni came along in his wagon, we would have ice cream.  I have never since then tasted as good ice cream.

*My great-grandparents are now buried in this cemetery along with two sons (including Roy, mentioned above) and a daughter-in-law.  You can read a bit about that here.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Shopping Saturday - Shopping in Pittston, PA

This is one of those frustrating photos that provides a certain window into the past, but just doesn't come with enough information give you more answers than questions.

I found this completely unmarked photo in a box of things belonging to my grandfather that my father had in his basement when he died.

All I can say for certain about this photo is that people are shopping.  Even saying it was taken in Pittston is an assumption, although if all of the people on the customers' side of the counter are together, then I don't think they would have traveled to another town's (what appears to be) General Store with the men in filthy work clothes.

The older male in the photo certainly looks like the only photo I have of my great grandfather, Arthur Matthews, and the older of the women certainly could pass for my great grandmother, Ada.  But there isn't enough detail in her face to say how old she is here.  The older male could be Arthur's eldest son William. I have no photos of the older children, so it all hinges on the year the photo was taken and I have no idea.

Sometime this fall I should be going to my step-mother's house to help her sort through my dad's things and I'll find out if there are anymore things of my grandfather's in storage.  Who knows what I will find - answers or more questions?