Monday, February 23, 2015

Amanuensis Monday - A New Life

In the last installment of my grandfather's autobiography, he had decided that he wanted to continue his education after leaving public school to work and assist his family financially.  He had interviewed for a spot at a prestigious prep school, Wyoming Seminary, but was told that there were no jobs available to help him pay his tuition, room and board.

I returned home and a week later was visited at home by Dean Fleck, bearing this message from Dr. Sprague: "Come on down with your $90 and we will see you through". Of the fortuitous happenings in my life, this was #2. #1 was Malachi Glennon telling me to get out of the mines.

So, having left Pittston High School at the end of my Sophomore year, 5 years later, at the age of 21, I was admitted to Wyoming Seminary as a member of the Junior class. I had difficulty only with 3rd year Latin. I was just too rusty to pick it up, so after a two week trial Dean Fleck suggested that I switch to first year Greek. I did so and thereafter had no trouble with any of my courses. My age was no embarrassment as there were others of my age at Wyoming--wonderful fellows, many virtually plucked out of the coal mines, given jobs firing the steam boilers, working in the laundry, cleaning classrooms. Several like Andy Salata and Joe Donchess became first class football players at Wyoming and later in college. In those days Wyoming seldom lost a football game. I was given a job waiting on table, 3 meals a day, in the school dining room. Pocket money and money for books I earned at odd jobs such as tending Mrs. Butler's furnace in Forty-Fort, a 2-mile hike before breakfast, and vacuuming her house carpets on Saturday morning.

In the Spring of my Junior year as I was leaving daily chapel, Dr. Sprague, from his position behind the pulpit, pointed at me and said, "Thompson, I mean Matthews, did I tell you that you can have the bellringer job next year; well you have it". In my two years at Wyoming, Doc Sprague never got my name right; it was always "Thompson, I mean Matthews."  [The bellringer job] was great news. It covered tuition, room and board' "room" was a two-room suite on the top floor of the men's dorm, right under the belfry tower. The bell rope came down into a closet located in the living room. The job was to ring the bell to announce everything from 6:30 get out of bed to 10:00 pm time to get to bed, and lights out, also the beginning and end of each class, daily chapel, meals and study hall. In addition, I was to climb to the top of the Chapel Tower each Saturday to wind and oil the clock mechanism housed there. But it also meant eating at table in the dining hall and free time to devote to extra-curricular activities such as dramatics, a vocal quartette and the editing of the school yearbook "The Wyoming".

All students were required to take a once-a-week course in public speaking. Preparation consisted of reading a short article in a magazine and then using it as a topic for a speech.  No notes were permitted. Once you were called upon, you were on your feet and on your own. Some of the speeches on the outlawry of war (remember--World War I had just ended) interested me that I joined a group of fellow students who spoke on that subject in churches up and down the Valley.

Boarders who made their honor roll were permitted to study in their dormitory rooms; those who did not were required to study until 9:30 pm in a faculty supervised room in Nesbitt Hall. In my Senior year my extra-curricular activities, especially Editorship of the yearbook, resulted in my landing in Study Hall. This soon proved to be wasteful as I was imprisoned for two hours there and could have accomplished the same amount of study in one hour in my dorm room. When I complained to Dean Fleck about this and pointed out that I needed that extra hour for other things that could not be accomplished in Study Hall, he agreed and released me on the condition that I get back on the Honor Roll by the next exam period, I did.

Math under Adams, English under Miss Fisk and Trebilcox, History under Wolfe, Dramatics under Miss Scurman and Worth Howard were all enjoyable and contributed much to opening up a new world for me. Then came the question of college. Three members of the faculty were graduates of Wesleyan [in Connectucut]. Two plugged for Wesleyan. Another, a Dartmouth graduate plugged for his alma mater. But Professor Pedro Gillot, my teacher in second year Greek, just assumed that I would go to Wesleyan. He had me on my feet every day parsing, declining, conjugating and admonishing me: "Matthews, I don't want you do disgrace me when you continue Greek at Wesleyan under my old teacher, Professor Heidel". (I did take 4 more years of Greek at Wesleyan and Heidel never asked me to parse anything; all he required was a good translation. At the end of my Senior year he offered me an Assistantship which would have led to an MA degree and I have often wondered how different my life might have been had I accepted, but I was already deep in debt and would have been more so had I accepted, so I declined with thanks).

In the next installment my grandfather shares more about life at Wyoming and preparations for Wesleyan which included, of course, earning money for his tuition and other expenses.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sunday's Obituary - Mrs. Arthur Matthews

Matthews Obsequies

The funeral of Mrs. Arthur Matthews will be held tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 o'clock, from the home of her daughter, Mrs. Floyd Hunter, of 301 Philadelphia avenue, West Pittston. Services will be held at the home and will be in charge of Rev. A.D. Decker. Interment will be made in the Pittston cemetery.

This week in my Amanuensis Monday posts of my grandfather's auto biography we came to the death of his mother, Ada Merritt Hobbs Matthews.  During the week I have posted her headstone (Tombstone Tuesday) and photos of her (Friday's Faces from the Past) and now we come to her obituary from The Scranton Republican which I found on has been an amazing source of information for me about my grandfather's family and even some of his cousins because they have the local paper from Pittston, PA and others from the area.  Aside from the usual obituaries and marriage announcements, I discovered that my great-uncle Fred Matthews lost a home and business to a fire in 1910 when he was married with two children, that my grandfather's family were victims of a burglary in 1908 when my grandfather was only 7, I found advertisements for my great-grandfather's shoe factory, the "Want Ads" they placed when they were looking for house help and even my grandfather's letter to Santa in 1909 when he was 8 years old! 

Even with a common last name like Matthews, I was able to find all this in part by limiting searches to just their local papers.  Additionally, I soon realized that most articles referenced their street name as in "Arthur Matthews of Nafus street.".  Having this unusual name in my searches was also a help, and once I started using it I found a host of things I wouldn't have found otherwise.

By the way, I am not being paid or compensated in any way for this post, I am just a grateful fan.

Obituary from The Scranton Republican, 3 Sep 1919, Wed, Page 4;, accessed 12 Feb 2015.

Sentimental Sunday - George Washinton Smith b. February 22, 1898

I interrupt this week's posts about Ada Hobbs Matthews to bring you some photos of my maternal grandfather, George Washington Smith.  He was born on George Washington's birthday in 1898 to George Robert Smith, an American who had married and settled in Canada.

Yesterday at the end of our weekly grocery shopping, my mother surprised me with a bag of photos and family documents, mostly from the Smith family.  There were some real gems in there which I look forward to sharing with you in the weeks to come.

George W Smith Aged 2 years and a half - Aug 1900
George W Smith - WWI

Janet I and George W Smith ca 1941
Janet I  and George W Smith Oct 22, 1966
Christmas 1969 - Feeding my grandfather mince pie.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday's Faces From the Past - Ada Merritt Hobbs Matthews

First, a shout out to the cousin who found me through my blog earlier this week.  I got your email but it had no return address and I could not reply.  Please email me again or check your facebook, I sent a message there, too.

This week's installment of my grandfather's autobiography included the death of his mother when she was 64 and he was 18.  He was the youngest of her six children, born 22 years after her first child, Lillian.

The three photos above were the only I had ever seen of her until recently (the woman on the right is her sister Elizabeth Hobbs Snell).  My grandfather had written that he had a photograph of her as a child in London but I did not remember ever seeing it and had no idea if it still existed.  Then in December, with my birthday card, my stepmother sent me some photos she found while cleaning out a desk.  Among them were these:


Well, you'll just have to imagine my excitement, but I can tell you I was practically shouting out loud.  I couldn't believe I was finally holding not only the photo I had been hoping still existed somewhere but another of her as a young woman.

I am so amazed and grateful to have all these images of my great-grandmother.  While I am fortunate to have at least one image of each of my great-grandparents I don't have anything like this range in ages for most of them, this is such a gift.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tombstone Tuesday - Ada Merritt Hobbs Matthews

Yesterday's installment of my grandfather's autobiography included the death of his mother, Ada Merritt Hobbs Matthews.

She died in Carbondale, Pennsylvania in 1919 and was buried with her husband Arthur William Matthews at the Pittston Cemetery.

AGE 64

As I related shortly after my visit, I was able to find their plot with the help of Ron Faraday, President of the Greater Pittston Historical Society.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Amanuensis Monday - An Ouside Job, Losing Mother and Higher Education?

Pittston Methodist Church, Pittston, PA - 2013
This is the 11th installment of the autobiography of my paternal grandfather, Howard B Matthews.  This part starts from the time he decided a job with the mine company but outside the mine itself would be safer.  At 18, already without a father, he loses his mother as well and has to start living with siblings.  Then he decides that there may be a better life for him if he can find a way to get back to school, but not just any school.

Because World War I was in process, it was easy to find jobs.  So I became shipper at the Exeter mine of the L.V. Coal Co. located just south of West Pittston. As the 3-ton cars of coal came up from the mine, they were hoisted to the top of a 5-story building called a Breaker.  There the contents were dumped into revolving crushers which reduced the larger mined pieces to the various smaller sizes which were needed in the commercial markets. Then the coal went through large tanks of water which removed, by a flotation process, the chucks of rock or slate. Finally, the now almost pure coal was run across a series of punched hole plates which sorted the coal into various sizes, - egg, chestnut, pea, buckwheat, etc. Each size was then loaded into 40 or 60 ton railroad hopper cars, for shipment via railroad to customers.

As Shipper, I sat in a glass enclosed office at a desk in front of which, within my reach, was the arm of a balance scale (similar to the small one on bathroom scales, with a sliding weight to move the balance). Outside, 6 feet below, was the scale platform crossed by railroad tracks which ran from above the Breaker to the RR classification yard beyond the scale. The loaded railroad cars moved by gravity and it was my job to read the name and number of the car (like C&O 13400) and its empty weight (printed on the car) and then weigh it as it passed slowly over the platform scale. Sometimes I missed, if the car happened to be going too fast, and this enraged the railroad conductor because he then had to have that car snaked out of those already in the yard and rerun over the scale.

During pauses in the line of cars coming from the Breaker, I phoned the sales office of the LV Coal Co in Wilkes-Barre and told them what I had already, -- so many cars of Pea, so many Chestnut, etc. soon they would phone back to give me instructions as to whom and where each car was to be shipped. Then to guarantee correct information I had to spell back to them the names and destinations, numerically. For example, Joe Jones, Port Jervis, NY would be J the 10th (letter of the alphabet), O the 15th, E the 5th and so forth.  With practice this became easy and I could spout it back to them fast. Following this I would record the complete information in the log book, with a carbon to Wilkes-Barre, and prepare a Way-Bill for each car and hand them to the RR Conductor.

I don't remember exactly how long I held that job but when the position of Supply Clerk became vacated by an older man who left for war, I was offered the promotion and accepted it. Thus I became the youngest Supply Clerk in the whole Lehigh Valley Coal Co. This involved ordering, receiving and disbursing all kinds of materials needed by the miners and other workers and it included dynamite, blasting powder, and percussion caps.

Meanwhile, my brother-in-law Will Ahlers and my brother Charles left the Lehigh Valley Coal Co to accept similar positions with the Racket Brook Coal Co in Carbondale at the northern end of the anthracite region. Soon thereafter my mother passed away and I was left alone at age 18 and wen to live with brother Fred and later my sister Lillian's family, both in West Pittston. Then I too was offered and accepted a position at Racket Brook and moved to Carbondale to live with the Ahlers. Following the annual coal miners' strike (John L. Lewis called a strike every Labor Day) during which I was told I could either go on leave without pay or become a night watchman with pay, I accepted the latter, was handed a 45 revolver and was told to do night guard duty, 7 pm to 7 am. But I soon tired of this, resigned and took a position as a cost accountant with The Cross Engineering Co in Carbondale.

During this time, I continued to be active in the Methodist Church, especially among the young people in the Epworth League and had frequent contact with the pastor's family, especially his son, Charles Olmstead, who was then a Sophomore at Wyoming Seminary, a preparatory school in Kingston, Pa. founded in 1844. This opened my eyes to the desirability and possibility of more formal education although my  total assets at that time were $90 invested in Southern Pacific stock and a cut-down Ford with no windshield or mudguards.  Nevertheless, I went down to Wyoming in the summer of 1922 and was interviewed by President Levi Sprague. When I disclosed my assets Dr. Sprague said that the $90 would not be sufficient for the tuition, room and board bills and that all jobs available to students had already been spoken for for the coming year.

What happens next?  Come back next week to find out more.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday's Faces From the Past - Martha Ann Louden Linton

Martha Ann Louden Linton was the sister of my 3rd Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Louden Nimmo.  I shared her photo here two weeks ago when I didn't even know her name.

She was identified by one of her direct descendants who stumbled on my blog shortly after another cousin put us in touch with one another.  Tuesday I discovered that this same image is in the collection of the McCord Museum in Montreal.  They have acquired over 600,000 photographs taken by the Notman Studio.  You can see them here.

Even though the relatives I have found in this archive are distant cousins, I still feel as if I have stumbled on treasure with all the Quebec and Montreal history and did I mention the dresses??  Like Gone with the Wind. Gorgeous!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Amanuensis Monday - Life in the Mines

This is the 10th installment of my grandfather, Howard B Matthews', story.  In the last installment, his father, Arthur William Matthews, passed away at the age of 71, when my grandfather was only 14.  The following year, after the family moved out of Pittston, it was decided that my grandfather should leave school and contribute to the income of the family so that his brother Charles could be married.

After his father's death, my grandfather's family had to sell everything and move out of Pittston. 

The mechanic to whom I was assigned was named Jerry, an Englishman.  His shop, equipped with benches and tools, was located in a whitewashed and well lighted area near the foot of the shaft.  It was his job to maintain and sometimes replace the steam operated pumps which controlled the level of constantly dripping water in the mine, and various other machinery throughout the mine.  He took me on his rounds of many areas and levels of the mine, packing valves, tightening pipe joints, replacing clutch facings, etc., warning me to watch out for bare overhead wires, teaching me not to panic if my light blew out.  When later he trusted me to make a miles long trip alone, getting there, making a minor repair, getting back, -- a walk of several miles without meeting a soul, it was for me a major victory.  But Jerry could be tough; he chewed tobacco, began and ended every sentence with a curse and vowed that he would kill me if I ever missed the cutting tool that he was holding and I was supposed to hit with a sledge hammer. I never missed.  It took me years to get over thinking sentences without cuss words in them.

Soon it became apparent that what the Super really hired me for was to be the keeper of the Yardage Books.  In these were kept a record of the length and thickness of the rock a miner had to blast down and load in order to get the number of loaded cars he and his helpers produced and he was paid additionally for the aforesaid hindering rock.  He was an independent contractor and could hire as many helpers as he wished.  The payment for rock made up for any slowing down in his coal production.

In every two-week pay period I had to accompany the Assistant Superintendent, Malachi Glennon, on a tour of the entire mine, right up to the “face” of each of the scores of chambers (tunnels) where the actual  mining, the blasting and loading of coal was going on.  As we came to each area we were met by its foreman who accompanied us over his “workings”.  His primary responsibility was to push for loaded cars to meet the daily goals set by the Super but he of course knew of the problems encountered by his miners and he guided us in the allowances I entered in the yardage book.

These journeys were very interesting and I was either too young or too dumb to recognize the dangers although they did expose me to many of the dangers associated with underground mining.  Certainly, as I recognized later, I was safer just being with Malachi Glennon, a wonderful man then in his 50’s, huge but not fat, red-faced, redolent of last night’s liquor, but a kindly family man, father of a young man who was a stationary engineer at the head of one of the slopes I have described.

Malachi and I together were involved in two of the kind accidents typical of mining,  - a gas explosion and a fall-of-rock, otherwise known as a roof cave in.

Mines are ventilated by a forced air system which brings fresh air from outside, through the long tunnels and then by a series of doors and temporary movable ducts, called brattice-work, right up to where the miners are working at the face of the chambers.  The force of a sudden release of a pocket of gas, ignited either by blasting powder or any source of sparks or flame, reverses the flow of air, blasts open the control doors and scatters particles of coal and rocks. It was the air reversal and flying specks hitting us in the face that told Malachi what was happening. He immediately threw me to the ground and covered me with his own body.  We lay there while the burning gas, rolling along about 2 feet below the ceiling, burned itself out without harm to us.  Had there been enough gas to fill the entire tunnel we would have been burned to a crisp.

Again in the roof cave-in, because of his many years of experience, Malachi understood the implications of the sounds he heard, - the cracking of roof rock and the groaning of support timbers.  He pushed me ahead and we ran as tons of rock and timbers crashed behind.

It was some time after these events that Malachi asked me what I intended to do with my life and what were my ambitions.  I replied that I would like a job like his.  Malachi stared at me a while and then said: “Howard, get the hell out of here before you get kilt”. Probably after saving me twice he didn’t want to stretch our luck. Because of his concern and the knowledge that my working underground was worrying my mother sick, I decided to give it up despite the fact that inside jobs paid much better than outside jobs.  Besides, it was hurting my social life for, scrub as I did every day, it was difficult to get that coal dust out of my pores.  When I perspired it oozed out of my pores.  I remember one Sunday when I walked Miss Celeste Bonti home after Epworth League and her mother met us at the door and said, “Howard Matthews, don’t let me catch you kissing my daughter”.  (Actually, I had a find social life, unhindered by my job.)  I have wondered since why the family permitted me, at age 16, to go into the mines in the first place.  Around Pittston it might have been considered a natural thing to do, but we were living in Forty Fort, a rather affluent suburb.

In the next installment, my grandfather sees what can come from a good education and is determined not only to go back to school, but a very good school.

Transcription of above article: Mrs. Arthur Matthews and family, including Mr. & Mrs. William Ahlers, who have lived for many years on Nafus Street, have moved to Forty Fort, which will be more convenient for Mr. Ahlers, who is Chief Clerk for the Lackawanna division of the Lehigh Valley Coal Co. at the Wilkesbarre [sic] office, and also for Chas. Matthews, who is employed as colliery clerk at the Maltby colliery, of the Lehigh Valley.  The Matthews property, on Nafus street, consisting of the homestead and a single dwelling on the rear of the lot, has been sold to the Gaughan family, of Port Griffith, who have already moved to their new home.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Friday's Faces From the Past - Ministers

Last week I posted an uncaptioned photo of a woman from an album that we believe originally belonged to my 3rd great grandmother, Elizabeth Louden Nimmo.

This week I am posting the photos of two ministers that were also uncaptioned.  There were photos of three other ministers in her album but they were all captioned.  They include the minister who married her daughter Elizabeth, my 2nd great grandmother, and a Father Chiniquy who's very unusual story can actually be found on Wikipedia.

Here are the unidentified photos: