Small Town Memories

Recording memories of the SHARPSVILLE, PA, area in little stories from the 1940s to the 1970s

Category: Sharpsville, PA, Area 1940s – 1970s

WALL-TO-WALL SANTAS IN SHARPSVILLE

Sharpsville’s unique Santa program is a favorite among our small town stories and for good reason. This annual event held by the Sharpsville Service Club since 1947 projects the sentiments of the season: kindness, generosity, and hope. It’s encouraging to know that, after approximately 70 years, this simple homegrown tradition continues. According to Ralph Mehler, who is the treasurer of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society and has been a Santa helper, “participation–both in terms of number of Santas as well as homes and kids visited–has been pretty steady over the last 15 or so years.”

The following account of the Santas’ pre-Christmas-Day visits comes from a PowerPoint presentation, “Sharpsville – Then & Now” by Gail Nitch Hanes. She researched, wrote and distributed CDs of the presentation as a gift to the Sharpsville High School Class of 1964 at their 50th reunion. (Gail was the Reunion Committee Chairperson for the SHS Class of 1964 for ten years, from 2004 to 2014).


A BELOVED MEMORY FROM OUR PAST…

Source: "Sharpsville -- Then & Now" PowerPoint presentation

Sharpsville Service Club sign announcing the Santa project. Located at the entrance to Sharpsville, PA. c. 2014.

Who of us could ever forget how very special Christmas was during our youngest years growing up in Sharpsville? Our hometown was, and still is, the ONLY town around here where Santa Claus visits each child right before Christmas. He even knows their names and ages. He arrives with his pack full of popcorn balls and sometimes even an ”early” present, with a reminder –”don’t forget to go to bed early on Christmas Eve so I can deliver the rest of your presents.” How awestruck we were to think that Santa made a special visit to us. Little did we know then just how Santa came to make those visits.

It all began in 1943 when George Mahaney Jr., a Sharpsville attorney, asked his friend Sid Owen to ”play Santa” for his children. Well, Sid was such a big hit with Mahaney’s children that he was asked by neighbors to drop in to visit their homes as well that night. The following year, both he and George dressed in the red suits and visited even more homes. By 1947-48 there were so many homes and children to visit, Mr. Mahaney recruited members of the Sharpsville Service Club to assume ”Santa duty,” which began our town’ s most beloved tradition. This year [2014] marks 71 consecutive years that Service Club members dress in their red and white suits and, with the help of their special ”elves,” scatter throughout the Borough on December 23rd bringing smiles and the Christmas spirit to the children and their families. And they are all volunteers!

Of course, all this does not just happen; it requires extensive organizational work behind the scenes well before the holiday season. Routes must be designated and mapped out with house numbers; a timetable must be established, and most importantly, Santas must be confirmed, with ”elves” assigned to help each one. The afternoon/early evening of the big day, the men gather inside ”Santa’s headquarters” to begin the transformation from citizen to Santa: sitting in the make-up chair while white cream is smudged into their eyebrows and blush is rolled onto their pink cheeks; putting on their ”Santa hair and beard” and, last but not least, donning the famous red and white suit with the big black belt and special black boots — black liners with fur around the top. [They have to keep their feet warm for all the walking they’ll be doing].

When everyone is suited up and the room is wall-to-wall Santas, it gets a little loud when they begin to belt out their ”Ho! Ho! Ho!” They swap stories of past Christmases and the children they’ve met, especially those little ones who ask Santa the tough questions. They have to be ready to answer unique and oftentimes surprising questions from the children without missing a beat; after all, Santa knows everything. They also must be prepared to run the full gamut of emotions depending on family circumstances — from the happiest to the very saddest and neediest.

Wall-to-Wall Santas! Photo courtesy of Sharpsville Area Historical Society (SAHS) Newsletter, November 2017, page 3. This is one of 8 unpublished photos from the 1953 American Magazine article in SAHS’s collection.

As children, most of us were unaware of how the entire process worked. We were told that Santa might make a ”special visit” to make sure we’re being good and to remind us to go to bed early on Christmas Eve so he could deliver all our presents while we were asleep. What we didn’t know was that in order for ”Santa” to know which homes to visit, porch lights were turned on — to light his way. Then there would be a lot of whispering among the adults [about what we had no clue] in anticipation of Santa’s arrival. Meanwhile, at some homes, a note would be taped to the front door with the names and ages of the children in the family, along with any early presents Santa was to give. Santa’s helper would quietly retrieve the note and put the gifts in Santa’s pack. Then, the sound of sleigh bells would fill the air as Santa approached with his hearty ”Ho! Ho! Ho!” What treasured times those were!
 
And the tradition continues every Christmas season from one generation to the next. Even families who don’t live in Sharpsville gather at a relative’s home so their children can experience that magical moment when Santa calls them by name and they sit on his lap one more time right before Christmas. Even as adults, we still look forward to Santa’s annual visit too. Now it’s extra special because we share it with not only our children but our grandchildren and perhaps even great-grandchildren.

Sharpsville is transformed into a truly magical place every Christmas, thanks to this extraordinary group of people whose dedication to the tradition of Santa visiting every home will continue far into the future.

Thank you, Sharpsville Service Club members and helpers! [Donations to their cause are always welcome.]

— Gail Nitch Hanes, Southington, OH – Sharpsville High School 1964


Read More Holiday Stories Here:

A CHRISTMAS KINDNESS

A SHARPSVILLE CHRISTMAS

SHARPSVILLE’S SANTAS

A STORY ABOUT SNOW

Uniquely Sharpsville; Sharpsville’s Santas.”
Sharpsville Area Historical Society Newsletter,
November 2017, pages 3 & 5.

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PIERCE’S IRON BANKING BUILDING

PIERCE’S IRON BANKING BUILDING

James Pierce’s Iron Banking Building as it currently exists in c. 2013. Sharpsville, PA.

There was a lot of trust in the hearts of small-town citizens in the 1950s. In fact, I don’t remember if we even thought much about it. Trust was something that was taken for granted when doors were left unlocked overnight or we children ran about the neighborhood unsupervised. In those days, there were no such things as identity theft, car alarms or security cameras.

“King Edward Mild Tobaccos” Cigar Box, a handy container for many things.

An example of this was my father’s instinctive trust, not only in us kids but in small-town society in general, when he sent us to the bank each week to deposit cash and checks from his printing business. I can still picture my brother or myself, about 9 and 11 years old, carrying that yellow King Edward cigar box weighed down with rolls of coins and checks as we walked along the dirt path that ran between our Second Street house and the Erie Railroad tracks. When we reached North Walnut Street we would leave the path to turn left, cross the tracks, then take a right on East Shenango Street.

After another block or two, we reached a row of buildings that included the three-story First National Bank on the corner of North Mercer and East Shenango streets, less than a half-mile from our home. There, barely able to reach the teller’s window, we would slide the contents of the box under the teller’s cage, the teller would tally the items in a little bank book, date-stamp and initial the entries and return the book to us.

There was a bit of irony in those regular deposits that were earned by my father’s business. In earlier years, Dad was turned down by a bank’s employee when he asked for a loan to start up his printing business. Now that Dad’s business was doing well, each deposit must have been very satisfying to him.

James Pierce’s Legacy

The Iron Banking Company building, built in 1871 by General James Pierce.
Corner of Mercer and Shenango Streets, Sharpsville, PA.
[Click on image for enlargement.]

As children, we weren’t aware that the bank building we visited, like the Pierce Mansion we passed along the way (before its demolition in 1952), was already four decades old and part of the James Pierce legacy.

The structure was constructed in 1871 by “General” James Pierce (1810-1874), president and principal owner of Sharpsville’s first bank, the Iron Banking Company. It was built to resemble the Italianate style of architecture popular nationwide in the mid- to late-1800s, with its rectangular shape and its row of seven tall front windows that were rounded on top. The Geddes & Pierce Foundry supplied the cast iron front of the building.

James Pierce’s presidency was followed by that of his son Frank (1852-1931). The Iron Banking Company was later converted to the First National Bank of Sharpsville in c. 1905. In 1964 it became a branch of the McDowell National Bank in Sharon. Later, the building housed other banking institutions, including a PNC branch until 2013. As of 2015, the first floor was occupied by Meadville Area ONE Federal Credit Union. The two brick buildings on North Mercer Avenue are now part of the Sharpsville Borough Historic District.

Christmas Club

There was another reason we kids regularly visited Sharpsville’s First National Bank back in the 1950s. Hoping that we would develop a savings habit, Dad made sure we belonged to the Christmas Club, a program that banking institutions had developed to promote their services as well as holiday spending. He belonged to such a club when he was a young lad in Cleveland, Ohio, memories of which he recorded in his memoir, “Trivia & Me.” The setting was in the 1920s, a bit earlier than the Great Depression, the period Wikipedia indicates as the time the Club became widespread. Dad’s descriptions of the Christmas Club generally match those that I remember experiencing in the 1950s. He writes:

It was the era when banks sponsored Christmas Clubs. People — especially youth — were encouraged to deposit small amounts of money each week for 50 weeks. Banks solicited five cents or 10, 25 or 50 cents to do the double job of teaching people to save money and promoting Christmas sales for merchants. The banks would issue a passbook in which a teller would record the weekly deposits and then initial the entry. Two weeks before Christmas, one could withdraw the savings in cash (without interest) for a shopping spree. For several years I managed to join the 10 cents club and was awarded the joy of a cash harvest of $5 at Christmas time.

Even though the interest rate was low or nonexistent and fees were charged for withdrawals, I had a feeling of accomplishment when I received that check in early December. And the Christmas Club may have contributed to the way we siblings handled our finances since then, leaning more toward careful than spendthrift. The Club exists to this day, although primarily run by credit unions.

Pierce Opera House

 

For 40 years after Pierce’s bank building was constructed the 3,000-square-foot third floor served as Sharpsville’s cultural center, having been home to the Pierce Opera House. There is limited information about the shows performed in those early days, but it is known that the organization offered a variety of musical events and featured speakers. Once motion pictures became popular, they were shown as well.

In addition, the two upper floors were used for high school graduations during the late 1800s until c. 1920, an occasional basketball game in the early 1900s and as a meeting place for the Order of the Eastern Star and the Masons. The building also housed the original offices of the town’s early newspaper, “The Sharpsville Advertiser,” started by Walter Pierce, James Pierce’s son. After the 1920s this floor remained unused for some time.

In the early 2000s Michael G. Wilson and his family began restoring the opera house which had been left neglected behind a concealing wall for some eight or nine decades. Wilson, owner of the building since 1999, had been a longtime Borough Manager of Sharpsville who retired January 2017. The Wilson family found — and preserved — much of the opera stage’s original trappings and equipment once the wall was removed. For photos of old-time ticket booth posters and graffiti, go to Sharpsville Area Historical Society’s “Opera House Pictures.”

Wanting to see the restoration continue in good hands, Mr. Wilson sold the building to Dr. Francisco Cano of Greenville, PA, himself professionally trained in operatic voice. Cano’s love of opera and the arts was a driving force behind the ongoing phases of restoration designed to house theatrical, musical, and opera performances once again. The first performance of the Pierce Opera House’s revival was in 2009.

The Valley Lyric Opera, which now resides in the Pierce Opera House, provides an excellent level and variety of programs. Past performances include the operas Aida, La Traviata, La Boheme, Rigoletto; musicals [performed by the Area Community Theatre of Sharpsville — ACTS] South Pacific, Man of La Mancha, as well as ballets, musical tributes to Neil Simon and Andrew Lloyd Weber and a host of other outstanding offerings.

Pierce Opera House has once again taken its rightful place as Sharpsville’s center for the arts. Visit them online for future developments and upcoming performances: www.valleylyricopera.org

Sources

Angel, August D. Trivia & me: an octogenarian mirrors his twentieth century. London, KY: August David Angel, 2007. Print.

“Bravo! Sharpsville steps into act with opera performances in July.” 22 March 2009. http://www.vindy.com/news/2009/mar/22/bravo-sharpsville-steps-into-act-with-opera/ [accessed 31-Oct-2017]. Internet resource.

“Christmas Club.” Wikipedia website.  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_club [accessed 31-Oct-2017]. Internet resource.

Hanes, Gail Nitch, Sharpsville: Our Home Town — Then and Now.” 2012. Pp. 13-18 and 57-59. Powerpoint on PDF. Internet resource.

Pierce Opera House website. www.valleylyricopera.org [accessed 23-Oct-2017]. Internet resource.

“Walking Tour.” Sharpsville Area Historical Society. walkingtour.pdf [accessed 23-Oct-2017].Internet resource.

See Also

Sharpsville Area Historical Society’s Newsletter, March 2017 issue, page 2, for more about the Opera House Block.


PIERCE MANSION

During my earliest years in Sharpsville, 1950-1952, I would sometimes walk past a curious 5-acre lot adjacent to East Shenango Street. Standing in the middle of the lot, surrounded by large trees, was a long-abandoned but still elegant building that dated back to the mid-19th century. We kids knew it as the Pierce Mansion, but that’s about all we knew. After many years, it seems about time to learn more about the mansion and the man who built it.

The story of the Pierce Mansion is best detailed in General James Pierce’s biography that is part of a PowerPoint presentation, “Sharpsville: Our Home Town — Then and Now.” This extensive history of Sharpsville was researched and assembled by Gail Nitch Hanes. She began the project in late 2012 and completed it in time to present CDs of it as gifts to her fellow classmates at her 50th reunion of the Sharpsville High School Class of 1964. The following are excerpts from that presentation.


sharpsville_james_pierce

General James Pierce, born in New Hampshire in 1810, died in 1871.

PIERCE MANSION

General James Pierce was a truly remarkable man whose life ended abruptly but one whose accomplishments and contributions to Sharpsville were almost endless. He touched every life in some way and left a legacy befitting a man of his integrity, innovation, imagination, and, above all, unwavering ambition.

One need only to look around town to see evidence even today of General Pierce’s phenomenal success. Originally, there was his magnificent mansion which he built on five wooded acres on the north side of Shenango Street between North Mercer Avenue and Walnut Street. Many of us still remember it.

Much generic information about the Pierce mansion is readily available from several sources, but perhaps the most interesting is from first-hand knowledge of Mrs. Anna Garnack Zielke, [aunt of SHS ’64 grad, Mike Garnack] who, at age 16, began working at the mansion for sisters Ellen Pierce and Cecelia Pomplitz, the only remaining family.

sharpsville_mansion

Pierce Mansion, built in 1874 by General James Pierce in Sharpsville, PA. Demolished in 1952.

Anna worked for the sisters for 10 years until she left to be married. In a nostalgic article about Mrs. Zielke [run in The Sharon Herald on November 21, 2004], she recounted how the mansion rose three stories high with ornate decorative wrought iron along the roof edges, a tower located at the top center front of the house, and tall pillars along the edges of the roof — all characteristic of that era. The mansion consisted of 30 rooms, each having brick walls, heavy oak woodwork, and 13-18-foot high frescoed ceilings.

Mrs. Zielke recounted, “That house was beautiful inside. You could see your face in the woodwork.” The floors on the first level were of polished marble and ran from the front door to the kitchen. In every room of the house, there was a marble mantle of a different color. Oriental rugs were placed throughout the mansion. There was a library where the sisters enjoyed reading. The third floor was a large ballroom, which had been closed off, where the family had once entertained visitors. One room on the second floor was a laboratory where younger James, a chemist who lived in Charleston, West Virginia, worked when he visited Sharpsville.

Mrs. Zielke fondly remembered the Pierces as being very kind and simple people despite their wealth. They used large sums of their money to help the community, including setting up a special fund for people who could not afford food or for those in jail.

The mansion is long gone now, as are all the Pierces. However, stories will always be told of the family and the magnificent structure that was a Sharpsville landmark for many generations. [One very sad note: the General died without ever having lived in his mansion; Chloe moved in alone when it was completed in 1874.]

After Chloe died and the last Pierce left Sharpsville, the General’s mansion lay vacant and progressively deteriorating. Suggestions were made to convert it into a hospital or some other public building because, according to standards at that time, it was too large to continue as a single residence. None of these plans were carried out, and, sadly, the mansion was demolished in 1952 to make way for Sharpsville Gardens public housing which was part of the urban renewal project.

The remarkable life of General Pierce came to an abrupt end at age 64 on December 2, 1874. While Chloe was in Baltimore buying furniture for their almost completed new mansion, the General was walking through the house and somehow accidentally fell down the steep cellar stairs. He was moved to Mount Hickory where a week later he succumbed to complications and shock resulting from those.

He left behind his beloved Chloe, who died on August 16, 1886. at age 70, and five sons — Jonas J., twins Walter and Wallace, Frank, and James B., all of whom followed in their father’s footsteps, maintaining his various enterprises, and growing into prominent businessmen.

When General Pierce came to this area, there was but a handful of homes. His genius stimulated the coal, iron, railroad, and banking industries; his philanthropic endeavors built schools and churches, and funded social and civic organizations; his community concern and awareness created an atmosphere that promoted a way of life in which all Sharpsville residents thrived.

Because of the Pierce family, Sharpsville rapidly became one of the chief centers of the iron and coal industry in the country, especially this part of Pennsylvania. General Pierce left a remarkable legacy to the people of Sharpsville and the Shenango Valley. His “footprints” and those of his sons are obvious in every corner of our town and many areas far beyond its borders.

[An interesting fact: General Pierce is the great-great-grandfather of Barbara Bush [maiden name Pierce], wife of President George H. W. Bush. Jonas Pierce, the General’s eldest son, is her great-grandfather. Barbara visited Sharpsville in 1982 for the 100th anniversary of the building of the Universalist Church.]

– Gail Nitch Hanes, Sharpsville High School Class of 1964.

“Pierce Estate, Sharpsville, PA.” Postcard depicting Pierce Mansion.


Read more about General Pierce’s life, the family’s other Sharpsville residences (including one that now houses the Sharpsville Area Historical Society), brief biographies of the Pierce children and grandchildren, Barbara Pierce Bush’s genealogy, and Riverside Cemetery, the final resting place for many members of the Pierce family. All this on pages 11-21 of “Sharpsville: Our Home Town — Then and Now” by Gail Nitch Hanes. 

Also by Gail Nitch Hanes: Sharpsville and the Ritz Re-Discovered.

See “Pebly and 13th Street Schools” for Pat Angel’s memories of visiting his friend in Sharpsville Gardens, the housing development that replaced Pierce Mansion.

If you have memories of the Pierce Mansion, please share them with us. After all, those of us who grew up in the 1950s may be the last who can tell those stories.

–Ann Angel Eberhardt (Sharpsville High School Class of 1958), October 2017.

SEE ALSO: Pierce’s Iron Banking Building


REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE (Part II)

Here’s a question for those of you who attended drive-in movies in the 1950s through 1970s: Remember speakers that you would hook on your car windows? And if you were lucky you got one that worked? And the all-important concession stand that not only provided sweet or salty/greasy treats for movie-goers but was the movie owner’s profit-maker? Time marches on, to paraphrase the narrator of those old “March of Time” newsreels, but memories can evoke a wistful affection for the past.


RCA speaker used by drive-in theater-goers in the 1950s & 60s. Casing is made of aluminum. [Source: eBay]

Reynolds Drive-In: Speakers

Since the early days of the drive-in cinema, there was the soundtrack issue: How can viewers be enabled, enclosed in their cars, to hear the movie’s soundtrack?

In the 1930s, when talking pictures became commercially viable, drive-ins attempted various ways to handle the sound issue, such as speakers on the movie screen’s tower or in front of each row of cars. Finally, in 1941 RCA introduced in-car speakers complete with volume controls.

By the 1950s, outdoor theaters were providing movie-goers with individual speakers. In those days, rows of parking spaces were lined with posts that held aluminum-encased speaker boxes. You parked your car so the speaker was lined up with the front side of the car, removed the speaker from the post and hooked it onto the car’s lowered window. However, there were two concerns: whether your speaker worked well enough to hear the movie through the static and whether you would remember to replace the speaker, attached to its post by a wire, when you drove off at the end of the night! Broadcasting the soundtrack on AM or FM radio, introduced in the 1980s, was not only more economical but much less damage-prone!

Reynolds Drive-In: The Concession Stand

Source: Pinterest.com

Concession stands were the real money-makers for drive-ins. Reynolds had the usual concession stand which also housed the projection booth. In the 1950s, attendees were charged 50 cents a carload, if I remember correctly, but much more was spent on popcorn, french fries, hamburgers, and sodas.

The food was heavily promoted by goofy but effective cartoon ads at “intermission,” the half-hour between the double-features. The theater always showed two movies, along with several short subjects and a cartoon. The first movie was more family-oriented than the second one with its gun-toting bad men and sexy ladies. That’s why you’d see kids in pajamas in the playground that was located at the base of the huge screen. They were ready for “bed” in the car’s back seat by the end of the first feature film, leaving mom and dad free to enjoy the “grown-up” movie.

(I recall benches placed along the fence separating the playground from the parking lot. They were used by the “walk-ins’ who lived nearby and stopped by for an evening of entertainment without the need of a car.)

To add to the enjoyment of the evening, drawings for prizes were held and live rock-and-roll or polka bands performed on the roof of the concession stand before the movie and during intermission. Richard Seaman, originally from Sharon, PA (SHS 1952), sent in the following comment to Part I of this series:

In 1950-52 I played in a Polka Band – The Starlighters — that was hired to play music before the movie started. We would set up on the roof of the projection-refreshment stand and play Polkas and Waltzes. John Murcko – Accordion, Richard Seaman – Tenor Sax, John Bross – Drums, Jim Muder – Guitar. We may have had other musicians sit in with us but I can’t recall exactly who they were.

Reynolds Drive-In: The Last Picture Show

The date of Reynolds first closing is not known. Then in 1988, at the beginning of renewed interest in drive-ins that lasted into the early 2000s, Reynolds re-opened with updated features such as sound via radio and first-run films. Again, information on how long Reynolds’ second phase lasted could not be found.

A Sharon Herald article titled “The Final Feature,” dated August 3, 2014, mentioned a Herald Facebook comment in which David Pennington wrote that his family had once owned and operated Reynolds. David Pennington explained that his father and uncles ran the theater, with his grandfather running the projection booth and his grandmother running the ticket booth.

Beginning in 1998 the Reynolds Drive-In Theatre was run by the Loomis Family with Justin Loomis as the owner in the theater’s last years.

Sometime between 1998 and 2011, the theater again closed down, this time due to the need to convert to a digital projector required to show the latest movies. Loomis explained the difficulties in trying to reopen the theater on Facebook in July 2013:

Here is the latest scoop on being able to get back open, the total for the new system, screen, and renovations to the housing booth are in the six figures. the new system will not show on our current screen and it requires a building that is climate controlled year round. …The odds of being able to come back for the drive-in are very highly stacked against us.

Reynolds Drive-In Theatre’s last showing, August 8 & 9, 2014. Source: Reynolds Drive-In Facebook page.

In the 2014 Herald article, which tells of the theater’s brief reopening for a final double-feature weekend, Loomis explained the reason for closing:

When [the movie industry] switched over to digital, it really screwed us over on movie selections…It’s not exactly a cash cow, more of a fun type of business….It’s a great place, people like coming. It’s a feasibility thing: It’s not exactly working for us…..It’d be great for a family business where it’s their main focus.

But the drive-in was not Loomis’s main focus: Instead, his family had another business, Loomis Auctioneer Services. It was the latter company that auctioned off the theater via the Internet in 2014. After some 70 years, the Reynolds Drive-In went dark for good after a “Farewell Weekend,” on August 8 & 9, 2014, when two first-run movies, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” were shown. By this time, adult tickets cost $5.00 and a carload (no limit) was charged $20.00.

Digital conversion and other innovations, such as LCD projectors, micro-radio transmitters, huge inflatable screens or the use of Jumbotrons, have kept some of today’s approximately 300 drive-in theaters appealing to movie-goers. However, the main attraction of drive-ins began long ago, peaked in the 1950s and 1960s, and still resonates with today’s open-air movie-goers: that magical feeling of watching a movie in the fresh air of the great outdoors, under the moon and stars.

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (Sharpsville High School 1958), Phoenix, AZ. September 2017.


See Also:

Reynolds Drive-In Theatre (Part I)

Sources:

“Drive-In Theater.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drive-in_theater

Finnerty, Meagen. “The Final Feature.” SharonHerald.com, Sharon, PA. August 3, 2014. http://www.sharonherald.com/news/local_news/the-final-feature/article_6ac4d278-f529-521d-bc04-28dd6591a0f2.html

“Reynolds Drive In.” Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/reynoldsdrivein/


REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE AS OF 2012
YouTube video by Stffthats Gone



 

REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE (Part I)

Now showing! Memories of the drive-in theater, featuring Reynolds, a local hot spot during the 1950s and 60s for family, friends, and dates. Part I gives a brief history of Reynolds, the name’s origin, and the reason why it’s in this blog’s spotlight.

Reynolds Drive-in Theatre in its heyday, Transfer, PA, c. 1950s. Photo submitted to cinematreasures.org by Chris1982.

REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE

The year that the Reynolds Drive-In died was 2014. This drive-in theater on Route 18 in Transfer, Pennsylvania, lived for over six decades, experienced a brief comeback, now is no more.

Open air cinemas had existed in crude forms, showing silent movies, as early as 1915-1916 in Mexico and 1921 in Texas. The drive-in theater as we know it opened in 1933 in Camden, New Jersey, by chemical company magnate Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. after he did much experimentation to get it right. His ideas took hold and drive-ins grew in popularity in the 1930s.

By the 1950s and 1960s, the number of drive-ins peaked at around 4,000 and were mostly found in the United States, Canada and Australia. In the Sharpsville, PA, area alone there were the Hickory Drive-in (Sharon), Larkfield and Guthrie (Grove City), Penn (New Castle), Lakeside (Conneaut Lake), Moonlight (Brookville) and Reynolds (Transfer). Just across the border in Ohio were the Howland (Niles) and four more in the Youngstown area (Northside, Ski Hi, Southside, and Westside). A few are still in operation. Pennsylvania was known to have the greatest number of drive-in theaters in the U.S., mostly due to two advantages: cheap land and lots of it.

During the 1970s the number of drive-ins was declining for a variety of reasons. The societal and technical developments that adversely affected drive-ins are well-explained on the “History” page of www.driveinmovie.com: Daylight Savings Time, video rentals, urban sprawl, and finally the push to convert from 35mm film to expensive digital projectors in the early 2000s. Drive-in theaters made a brief comeback recently, as owners found creative ways to fund their existence, such as combining them with flea markets or serving higher-quality food at the concession stand, but it’s been a struggle.

Reynolds Drive-In Theatre: History & Memories

The story of Reynolds closely follows the course of drive-in theater history. The exact date that the Reynolds Drive-In originally opened is apparently unknown, with various websites estimating 1945, 1947, and as late as 1955.

However, the theater was already in existence for several years by 1953 as evidenced by an ad that appeared in the Record-Argus, a Greenville newspaper, featuring this message from Carl T. McKnight, Reynolds Owner and Manager:

A MESSAGE TO THE PUBLIC From REYNOLDS Drive-in Theatre

A few years ago we at REYNOLDS THEATRE decided we would like to keep our theatre alive during the winter months by having our marquee greet you with a friendly thought as you pass by. … We really appreciate hearing from you and would be happy to use any quotations or bit of philosophy you would care to send us, providing they are of a length we can use in our limited amount of space. …. LET US HEAR FROM YOU – CARL T. MCKNIGHT Owner and Manager

1967 AMC Ambassador with a front bench seat offering room and seat belts for three adults. Source: Wikimedia.

Reynolds Drive-In Theatre was the place to be during its summers-only seasons in the 1950s and 60s, whether it was a date night (remember when drive-ins were called “passion pits”?) or family night.

Spread across approximately 10 acres, Reynolds had the capacity for 550 cars, an average size for a drive-in then, and one large sheet metal screen tower that rested on a thick base of 75% stone masonry. There was a rise in the ground where you parked that tilted your car towards the screen. Because it was unpaved, the ground was sometimes dotted with puddles of water after a rain. At such a time, where the car was parked could be an important consideration! The spaciousness of cars in those days, along with their large windshields, made it easier see the movie from the both front and back seats. And those upholstered bench seats were much more comfortable than the hard seats of an indoor theater.

“Reynolds”: Whence the Name?

The name “Reynolds” has an intriguing history that dates back to the Civil War.

During World War II, “Reynolds” designated a Military Personnel Replacement Depot that existed in Pymatuning Township, Mercer County. What was once 26 farms on nearly 3,300-acres of rich land where potatoes grew, became in the span of only six months in 1942 the location of the largest military installation of its kind in the U.S. First known as Camp Shenango for the nearby village of Shenango, this self-sufficient “town” consisted of barracks, gymnasiums, chapels, libraries, theaters, a 100-bed hospital, fire stations, warehouses, mess halls, a rifle range, post exchanges, guest facilities, and much more.

http://www.greenvillereynolds.com/uploads/misc/IMG_1620.png

“Welcome to Reynolds Industrial Park.” 1949-present. Source: http://www.greenvillereynolds.com

All this was to temporarily accommodate officers and enlisted men before they were sent to war in Europe. In 1943, the War Department changed the name to U.S. Army Camp Reynolds in honor of General John F. Reynolds, who died in the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War.

Camp Reynolds also served as a holding place for German prisoners-of-war from April 1944 until January 1946. Camp Reynolds as a military personnel replacement depot was closed in 1945.

From 1949 to the present day, 1,200 acres of the area have been the location of three parks (industrial, warehouse and business), owned and operated by the non-profit Greenville-Reynolds Development Corporation.

Reynolds Drive-In: A Family Connection

”The Ten Commandments” 1956 Cecil B. DeMille epic from Paramount Pictures. Source: Wikipedia.

I have special memories of this drive-in. My father, a printer and a friend of Carl T. McKnight, then owner of the drive-in, used to print programs for Reynolds in the 1950s. The programs, handed out to each car at the ticket booth, advertised upcoming movies and probably other information that I don’t recall. Usually, my brother or I (when we learned to drive) would deliver the programs, along with a few friends. We could stay for the movie without charge and sometimes we did.

My dad hardly ever attended movies, indoors or out, but I do remember the time he took the family to see Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic film depicting the life of Moses, “The Ten Commandments,” some time after its release in October 1956. That this one interested him was a mystery to us kids. It couldn’t have been the subject matter as he wasn’t a church-goer. In order to get the actors’ names and movie titles right, Dad subscribed to film industry magazines, such as BOXOFFICE Magazine. Maybe he had read about the movie’s reputation as the most expensive and the most financially successful film ever made at the time, its Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and 6 other categories, and its spectacular special effects. After all, Moses turns the river Nile to blood and parts the Red Sea right before your eyes!

(Continued in Part II)

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (Sharpsville High School 1958), Phoenix, AZ. August 2017.

See Also:

REYNOLDS DRIVE-IN THEATRE (Part II) – Speakers, Concession Stands
& Reynolds’ Final Days

Irwin, Dan. “Movie Memories Part 3: Technology takes movie theater projectionists from distinction to extinction.” New Castle News, July 3, 2013. http://www.ncnewsonline.com/news/local_news/movie-memories-part-technology-takes-movie-theater-projectionists-from-distinction/article_b7f0ac78-d930-54b2-ba80-a99761928056.html

Sources:

“Camp Reynolds.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_Reynolds

“Drive-In Theater.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drive-in_theater

“Message to the Public from Reynolds Drive-in Theatre.” The Record-Argus, Greenville, PA. November 23, 1953, p. 4.  Newspapers.com.
https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/12091556/

“Reynolds Drive-In.” Cinema Treasures, LLC.
http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/10365



SHARPSVILLE AND THE RITZ RE-DISCOVERED

Good news! A guest writer has kindly agreed to share her story of reconstructing the history of Sharpsville’s landmarks, including the Ritz Theater. Having been the Reunion Committee Chairperson for the SHS Class of 1964 for ten years (2004-2014), Gail Nitch Hanes painstakingly assembled a PowerPoint presentation as a 50th reunion gift to her class. Now her gift and the tale of its creation are available here for the enjoyment of all of us who wish to keep Sharpsville’s history alive.

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This wonderful photo comes to us from the Mahaney Family collection. …A throng of Sharpsvillites had come out on August 26, 1950, for the Northwest Firemen’s Association parade. In the background is Walder’s Tavern, famous for its steak sandwiches (now the Marigold II), and the much-missed Ritz Theatre. As a second-run movie house then, it was showing the World War II comedy, “When Willie Comes Marching Home,” and the Joel McCrea-Veronica Lake western, “Ramrod.” [Photo courtesy of Gail Nitch Hanes, Ralph Mehler, and the Sharpsville Area Historical Society.]

Sharpsville and the Ritz Re-Discovered

Have you ever thought about doing something special which would require research? In the process, have you discovered far more information than you ever imagined? And was your curiosity piqued enough to explore every avenue which opened yet another door?

Well, that’s precisely what happened to me in 2012 when I was trying to determine that “something special” which would serve as the perfect gift for the classmates of Sharpsville High School Class of 1964 at our 50th reunion scheduled for September 2014.

The original plan was to create a brief pictorial “Then and Now” PowerPoint presentation of our hometown- Sharpsville, but the project took on an entirely new scope when my need-to-know kicked in and it became apparent that there is far more to our little town than most of us ever really considered. Why not include the history of Sharpsville along with the photos? Now the fun began!

With the generous assistance of classmates, their families and friends, and especially Ralph Mehler of the Sharpsville Area Historical Society, I was able to collect photos of “Then” Sharpsville as it was when our class was growing up through the late 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s…the businesses/buildings along the main arteries in town- Shenango Street, Walnut Street, Main Street, Mercer Avenue- and more. Using these photos, I set upon a three-day “Now” photo shoot of those same locations, taking most shots from the same angles.

When I arrived at one particular empty lot on Main Street, it became painfully obvious that a very important old photo was missing from all the rest…that of our beloved Ritz Theater. In my historical research of various sources, I found articles written by Ann Angel Eberhardt and other Sharpsville-ites as well as bits and pieces of speeches made by Pete Joyce referencing the Ritz. The history of the theater was as complete as it could possibly get. However, a photo did not seem to exist, although classmates “picked” the memories and photo albums of older relatives and friends. Alas,…my PowerPoint would be completed without that one very important piece…one held so near and dear by all of us. All I had to show was the now empty lot on which the theater once stood.

It wasn’t until late last year one of our classmates sent me a copy of a photo [which was eventually printed in the March 2017 issue of Sharpsville Historical Society Newsletter, having been part of the Mahaney family collection]. It was of a Northwest Firemen’s Association parade down Main Street on August 26, 1950.  In the background stands the Ritz Theater- EUREKA!!  Finally,…we had that elusive photo.  Of course, I immediately relayed the photo to our classmates to a fantastic response by all.

I must admit that the “Sharpsville: Then and Now” project renewed my deep interest in the history of our little town and just how important it was to the overall history of our county, state, country, and even the world [e.g. the pig iron industry via Shenango Furnaces…John Jackson’s oiler, and much more]. It has given gave me a new appreciation of just how much of an impact even a small town like ours can have, and the immense pride in having grown up in the middle of it all.

And to think it all started with one man’s dream. Thank you, General James Pierce!

– Gail Nitch Hanes, Southington, OH – Sharpsville High School 1964


Click on the following link to view the PowerPoint presentation of
“Sharpsville, Our Home Town – Then and Now”: SHPVL – THEN & NOW

SEE ALSO:
Ritz Theater I by Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958)
Ritz Theater II by Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960)
Ritz Theater III by Judy Caldwell Nelson (SHS 1958)



SNAPPING THE WHIP AT BUHL PARK

As some of us face another hot, humid Pennsylvania summer or a long season of 100+ degree heat here in the Arizona desert, let’s imagine instead chilly temperatures, snow and ice skating. 

For years, the Sharon-Sharpsville area community enjoyed boating, fishing, swimming, and ice skating on Lake Julia, at Buhl Farm Park, named after Julia Forker Buhl, the wife of the park’s founder and donor, Frank H. Buhl.

Then, in 1969, a skating rink was built to the east across the road from the Buhl Park Casino, the columned two-story building that overlooks the lake. When the rink came in, skating was no longer allowed on Lake Julia. This new rink was gone by 1985.

Happily, ice skating returned to Lake Julia on February 22, 2015, and it’s again a highly popular place for people of all ages and skating skills, often along with their dogs.

Eric Bombeck kindly contributes the following remembrance which originally appeared in his senior shopper newsletter, The Way It Was. Check it out on Facebook: “The Way It Was/ Senior Shopper – Mercer County,” the companion page to the newspaper.

Enjoy the read and stay cool!


Snapping the Whip at Buhl Park:
The Shenango Valley Ice Rink

by Eric Bombeck

Ice Rink at Buhl Park, Hermitage, PA, under construction, c. 1969.

The average snowfall for the month of March in the valley is about four inches. When I was a kid in the 70s, it was my favorite “winter” month to play outside because it was snowy, at least at the beginning, but still warm. We moved to Ninth Street in Sharpsville from Wheatland in 1965 when I was four. Our house (my dad still lives there) is less than 50 yards from Buhl Park. The park was a winter wonderland, one I didn’t truly appreciate until I moved away.

In the late 60s, before they built the Shenango Valley Ice Rink in 1969, you could still skate on Buhl Park’s Lake Julia. I had double runner ice skates that went over top my of my shoes that I’m pretty sure were from the thirties, maybe even older. You couldn’t really skate in them, you had to run and then slide. It was a lot of work. Skating on the lake was the last vestige of the old days when people boated and even swam there.

Ice Skating on Lake Julia, Buhl Farm Park, Hermitage, PA. (n.d.)

Then, the new ice rink was built. (The current bathroom and maintenance shed at shelter number four is the back end of what was then the skate shack.) I remember that it always smelled the same in there, like leather and metal and hot chocolate. I can’t explain it except to say I have never experienced that smell since. I don’t remember what it cost to get in, maybe a buck and a half or two, and fifty cents to rent skates. That Christmas, after the rink opened, a pair of brand new skates appeared under the tree. I was now a citizen.

The rink was a valley melting pot, which is code for… there were girls from all over town there! The skate house had long rows of wooden benches, a place to rent skates, and machines where you could get a snack. The hot chocolate machine was very popular. There were skate guards there who wore red jackets and patrolled the ice. Dennis Racketa was one, until the place closed around 1980. He says the guards weren’t paid a dime to work at the rink; their only payment was skating free. Each night before the rink opened, the Zamboni machine would clean the ice and then the guards cleaned out the corners with shovels.

Once the doors opened, the guard’s job was to keep us kids from getting too rowdy and that included preventing us from snapping the whip. Two people held onto a long scarf and the guy in the front would whip the guy or gal in the back around really fast. I remember more than once seeing some unsuspecting skater, looking like a deer in the headlights as the guy or gal was being whipped right at them; a collision imminent. If you ran afoul of the skate guards, you could be sentenced to a “time out” off the ice, in the skate shack. Dennis says exceptionally severe winters (remember the blizzard of ’78?) and the opening of the roller rink in town doomed the rink at the park, a mere decade old.

When skating got old, you could go sled-riding down “Pork Chop Hill,” located at the top of the kite field on the top of Hazen Road. Franny Perfett and I did it all the time. I remember putting plastic sandwich bags over the first pair of socks and then putting socks over those. I’m pretty sure once snow got inside the “baggies,” it just kept the moisture in, making it worse. When the conditions were right, you could sled down the road and one time I ended up at the road in front of the park’s Casino, the longest ride ever!

The memories are endless…Kevin Frankovich and I hitting golf balls across the frozen lake, climbing trees in the park and throwing snowballs at cars (dumb because there was nowhere to run.) Dennis Racketa reports his skate guard jacket from the rink at the park still hangs in the back of his truck to this very day. It all seems like so long ago…then again maybe not.

— Eric Bombeck (Sharpsville H.S. 1979), South Pymatuning, PA. June 2017.

YouTube: Buhl Park Ice Skating 2015
Scott Brown


See Also:

BUHL CLUB FOR GIRLS
BUHL PARK I: A 1950s Playground
BUHL PARK  II: Clubs and Library

Read More Wintertime Stories Here:

THE BIG SNOW OF 1950
A CHRISTMAS KINDNESS
A SHARPSVILLE CHRISTMAS
SHARPSVILLE’S SANTAS

A STORY ABOUT SNOW
WALL-TO-WALL SANTAS IN SHARPSVILLE

Uniquely Sharpsville; Sharpsville’s Santas.”
Sharpsville Area Historical Society Newsletter,
November 2017, pages 3 & 5.


JOURNEYS: European Tour 1957 (Part II)

In the previous month’s blog, my mother and I had just set out on our big journey. It was late October 1957 and we were on our way to visit several European countries thanks to the trip’s sponsors, WPIC and The Sharon Herald. And thanks to my dad, who believed that such a trip would open our world view beyond that of our hometown of Sharpsville, Pennsylvania.


Passport stamps showing countries visited, 1957.

Before leaving LaGuardia Airport for Europe, we found ourselves on an unplanned bus tour of New York City. A strike in Paris delayed our flight and there was time to kill. So, our group and others from Ohio and Michigan were packed on five buses and shown the big city for two hours. We small-towners marveled at such sights as the United Nations Building, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Radio City Music Hall, and at Rockefeller Center, the ice skaters on one of the most famous rinks in the world.

Later that afternoon, we were aboard an Air France plane and settled in for over 11 hours of flight. I wrote in my diary that we were served a fine meal of chicken, salmon and champagne, but the continuous roar of the plane and the cramped seating (what’s new?!) made for an uncomfortable night.

After a short layover at Orly Airport near Paris, we boarded another plane and flying over the mist-covered English Channel, finally arrived in London, our first destination:

I was bug-eyed as we passed through the streets of London, England. Everyone rode on bicycles, motorbikes or small black, gray or tan English cars. Saw double-decker buses and felt a bit nervous at the way they drove on the right side of the streets. And the steering wheels were on the right too!

It was at the hotel in London that I met my first of several friends on this trip, the elevator boy, Tommy W. After I had dinner and spent a few hours on homework (there was no way of escaping high school completely!), we met for a walk around the city.

Along the way, we saw “St. Somebody’s Park,” Westminster Abbey, guards at Buckingham Palace, and the Thames River. As Big Ben struck 5:00, we watched sidewalk chalk artists paint beautiful pictures and write poetry on the sidewalks. We stopped to watch a “news picture,” consisting of short subjects, news reports, and cartoons. We had fun comparing our language and his trying to make me understand him which I found difficult at times.

On another evening, after a day of sightseeing, I met with Tommy again and rode the underground with him to his hometown Southampton, “a cute little town which, like all the rest, was quiet and neat. To escape a light shower, we “stopped at a shop for fish and chips” then “walked up the dimly lit streets with their orange-yellow fog lamps and neatly arranged houses.” When the rain became heavier, we took shelter in one of those iconic red phone booths. I can still see in my mind that foggy, drizzly evening and the wet cobblestone streets and remember the time as sweet and dreamlike.

I was the youngest in a group of mostly middle-aged and retired couples who took an interest in my activities as if they were my guardians. When I was seen with the elevator boy, I was asked to write something about my time to add to the daily letters and photos that were sent back to the Herald by Mr. and Mrs. S. but I was too shy to report my personal interactions to the world!

The rest of our European trip took us sightseeing in Holland, where we visited a cheese factory and a tulip exchange and saw people wearing wooden shoes. And Lucerne, Switzerland, where Mom and I rode an aerial cablecar to the top of Mt. Pilatus. That’s where I met another friend, the son of a banker, took me out to an elegant piano bar, the first I’d ever been to. The Swiss guy, the elevator boy, and another boy in Paris (who was cute but, alas, too short for me and knew hardly a word of English) were destined to be my pen pals, a popular pastime for kids in the 1950s. We exchanged letters (the French boy’s letters were barely decipherable) for several years until each of us moved on.

Next, we traveled all day on a first-class train ride to Rome, Italy. One of the highlights in Rome was Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Pieta in the Vatican Museum, not yet enclosed in the panel of bulletproof glass installed after a person attacked it with a hammer in 1972. Another special moment were blessings received from Pope Pius XII himself when he came to an open window of his summer residence to greet his admiring audience.

[Click on image to enlarge.]

Friendly soldiers at the Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy, November 1957.

I didn’t really mind the attentions I got, not only from my fellow tourists but the brash young guys whom we walked passed, particularly in Italy. (That was before I was enlightened by the women’s movement that came about less than a decade later.) As my diary describes it:

Every boy and man who passed would stop, then turn around for another look when he passed us. Or they would whistle or say something in Italian, smile or say something in English like “Americano! How you, How you?! And there were a million of them, especially soldiers and sailors….It’s really fun!

The last stage of our journey involved a return to Paris for several days. I remember walking along the Champs Elysees Avenue, admiring the beautiful clothing and jewelry in shop windows (and without a thought of the terrorist attacks that prevail in current times),”The women walking the streets were dressed elegantly leading their poodles!” That, and sidewalk cafes, the palm trees, and the can-can dancing we saw at Club Lido made me feel as if I were in a 1950s movie.

Receiving a welcome from the burgomaster of Amsterdam, Holland.
October 1957.

As package tours became more affordable and available, they grew in number. To this day they remain similar to our 1957 trip, but there were a few signs that were specific to the 1950s, besides those already mentioned. The Europeans are rather blase about American visitors now, but in 1957 we Americans were heartily welcomed by not only those on the street but by an official in each of the cities. Maybe they were still remembering the Yankees’ part in fighting the Axis in WWII a little over ten years earlier.

In fact, repairs of war damage repairs were still on-going: The Cologne Cathedral’s had been completed only a year before.We were often presented with little gifts. I still have a little bottle of cologne and its tin container from Cologne, Germany, and the tiny silver-plated Rolex spoon from Lucerne, Switzerland. And, as I recall, the food served on those early planes was elegantly presented and delicious!

I certainly had been on a journey, introspectively as well in fact. Having been introduced to new points of view, I returned home a little less absorbed with everyday teen activities and looking more seriously at my future, just as my dad had hoped for. After all, there was so much more out there to explore and enjoy and I wanted to find a way to do that. I feel fortunate that I did manage to “find a way” and have explored and enjoyed a variety of new places throughout the 60 years since that first visit overseas.

See also: JOURNEYS: European Tour 1957, Part I

– Ann Angel Eberhardt, SHS 1958, Goodyear, Arizona, May 2017. 

JOURNEYS: European Tour 1957 (Part I)

“It’s so difficult, isn’t it? To see what’s going on when you’re in the absolute middle of something? It’s only with hindsight we can see things for what they are.” ( S.J. Watson, “Before I Go to Sleep”). And so it is with many of my memories. Whether good or bad, they are made clearer with the passage of time, only then revealing their significance to my life and my place in history.


sharpsville_european_tour_departure-photo

Sixty happy tourists left Youngstown airport October 26 [1957] on a 15-day trip to Europe sponsored by The Herald and WPIC. (Ann Angel & mother, far right.] Photograph used with permission pending from The Herald, Sharon, PA.

JOURNEYS:
European Tour 1957

For a 17-year-old small-town girl in 1957, my first trip overseas was a journey of a lifetime, although only years later did I fully appreciate its impact. My chance to travel was due to a combination of my father’s foresight and the improvements in commercial airline travel since World War II.

By the late 1950s, aircraft manufacturers had introduced a new generation of large, four-engine airliners. These planes soon dominated U.S. and international air travel and helped lower fares. Lower fares meant increased numbers of passengers and unprecedented profits for the airlines. The new levels of speed, comfort and efficiency brought about tours that combined transportation and accommodations in one package, allowing ordinary people to afford travel abroad.

In my case, such an opportunity was in the form of a group tour of Europe sponsored by WPIC-AM radio and The Sharon Herald newspaper.

I have experienced many kinds of journeys in the 60 years since that first one, including packaged tours, cruises, cross-country car trips and travel-by-the-seat-of-one’s-pants. But the trip I experienced in 1957 was the most life-changing. I began as a rather insular kid with the usual teenage concerns and ended with a far wider perspective on the world I lived in. Just as my dad, who financed the trip, had hoped I would.

It all began when Dad, a faithful reader of The Sharon Herald, happened to see an ad promoting a two-week visit that included sites in six European countries: England, Holland, Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy. Dad had been overseas during WWII and surely must have felt that his wife and daughter would benefit from the same eye-opening experiences that he had.

U.S. Passport & Letter from President Eisenhower, 1957.

A large group of average American citizens planning a visit to European countries was a novelty in those days. So much so that U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent each passport recipient a signed letter from the White House, reminding us of our duties as representatives of the United States. His words resonate to this day.

…. Year after year, increasing numbers of our citizens travel to foreign countries. In most of these lands there exist a reservoir of good will for the United States and a knowledge of what we stand for. In some areas, our country and its aspirations are less well understood. To all the varied peoples of these many countries, you, the bearer of an American passport, represent the United States of America….

You represent us all in bringing assurance to the people you meet that the United States is a friendly nation and one dedicated to the search for world peace and to the promotion of the well-being and security of the community of nations.

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera made by Eastman Kodak, 1949-1961.

With our passports, certificates of smallpox vaccinations, suitcases and my Brownie Hawkeye camera in hand, and arrangements made for Grandma to cook for the family left at home, we were ready to travel.

Monday, October 26, 1957, was the departure date and our first destination was the Vienna airport near Youngstown, Ohio, about 12 miles from Sharpsville. (This was possibly today’s Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna Township, Ohio). There, we met up with other groups who were also on the tour, each group color-coded.

There was much excitement in the air, according to my diary:

A guy from WPIC insisted on interviewing us along with others who were going. I was tongue-tied….so all I did was say “yeah” to his questions. After our baggage was weighed and checked we boarded the plane and got our pictures taken everywhere we turned. Mike [my younger brother] looked pretty sad when the plane started but everyone was waving.

This was a time, long before TSA security measures, when family and friends could stand on the tarmac not far from the plane to see the travelers off.

The initial article in the Herald’s coverage of our tour was accompanied by a photo of us boarding a red and white Capital Airlines plane. According to Wikipedia, we were about to travel in a British-made four-engine Vickers Viscount, the first passenger turboprop airliner and the first to be used in the U.S. (Capital Airlines merged with United Air Lines in 1960.)

Even as I attempted to appear as a nonchalant teen about it all, I wrote in my diary that I was “thrilled to death” at liftoff. It was my first ride in an airliner and we were finally on our way. The next stop on this grand adventure would be LaGuardia Airport, New York City.

For the rest of the story, go to JOURNEYS: European Tour 1957, Part II.

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, April 2017


PAPERBOYS AND PINSETTERS

While writing about my brother, Mike, and his treehouse, I was reminded of two typical 1950s jobs he had while in high school: paperboys and pinsetters. Traditionally for boys only, those jobs put a little extra change in their pockets and taught them the fundamentals of the working world, whether they liked them or not.


sharpsville_sharon-herald-logo-3

Logo used pending permission from The Herald, Sharon, PA.

PAPERBOYS: “Read all about it!”

In the later half of the 1950s, my brother Mike delivered “The Sharon Herald” daily newspaper door to door in Sharpsville, PA. Our dad described Mike’s work in his memoir, Trivia & Me as follows:

Mike was an industrious and outgoing teenager. Shortly after we moved to Sharpsville [c. 1950], he helped a friend with a 50 to 75-customer Sharon Herald newspaper route, learned all the addresses, and took it over when his friend gave it up for a bigger route. At first, the papers were too heavy to carry in a shoulder bag, so Mike pulled them in a wagon. The Thursday edition was the heaviest because it was often printed on 24 to 36 pages or 48 to 56 pages for special sale editions on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Washington’s Birthday, and the Fourth of July. [The Herald was then an afternoon publication.]

At first, each paper was delivered from the sidewalk to the porch on foot, a time-consuming effort involving much running back and forth. In time, Mike became adept enough to fold the paper into itself and throw it accurately to the porch door.

In the summertime, I often accompanied him on the route. When the weather was pleasant and doors were open we would listen to “Amos ‘n’ Andy” [a weekly situation comedy] and other radio programs uninterrupted as we moved from one house to the other. In wintertime, during the cold and snow, we were only interested in getting the papers delivered as quickly as we could.

sharpsville_pixabay_newsboySaturday was customer pay-up day. Unless a person has ever tried to collect monies for service, he would not believe the number of excuses some customers offered to avoid or delay paying the paperboy his dues. However, Mike was such a good businessman that he encountered only a few non-payers, mostly [those] customers who had moved out-of-town.

Dad was likely very proud of Mike’s newspaper job, remembering his own experience as a young boy in the early 1900s when he peddled papers on a street corner in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. The newspaper, “The Plain Dealer,” which still exists to this day, sold for 3 cents each, of which 1 penny was his. Hopefully, his son Mike brought home a bit more than that!

PINSETTERS: Beware the Flying Pins!

Cartoon Bowling Strike, Designed by Vexels.com

Cartoon Bowling Strike, Designed by Vexels.com

Pinsetting required even more exertion and dexterity than newspaper delivery. Several evenings a week, Mike could be found at the Thornton Hall, working as the pinboy at the receiving end of a bowling lane. When the bowling ball hit the pins, he cleared the fallen pins, and rolled the bowling ball back to the player. At the end of turn player’s turn, he would return all ten pins to their proper places, ready for the next player.

Mike has this incisive memory of his pinboy job:”We were paid 13 cents per line for pin setting. The experience taught me that there must be an easier way to make money.”

One of the pinsetter’s main concerns was to avoid getting smashed by the oncoming bowling ball or flying pins. This was what I remember most from the days that I too reset pins, not as a teenager but as an Allegheny College student taking a women’s physical education course in bowling. The school rented lanes at a local Meadville, PA, bowling alley, and we students were pressed into service as pingirls. In order to set up all the pins for the next player, we used a treadle that we pushed with our foot, causing 10 pins to raise up. We would then set the bowling pins down on the pins, release the treadle, and the pins were in position for the next player. When that bowling ball came roaring toward us, we were sure to jump up and perch on a platform on either side of the lane, out of the way of the collision below.

The introduction of the mechanical bowling pinsetters and their prevalence in bowling alleys by the 1960s did away with the job of pinsetting. In this case, automation was a godsend. Not only did automatic pinsetters allow for faster games, but more importantly, they eliminated the dangers inherent in pinsetting by teenage boys and sometimes girls!


“The Sharon Herald” has been known as “The Herald” since 1970, having dropped “Sharon” from its nameplate to reflect wider distribution in the Shenango Valley, Mercer County, and several adjacent towns. The newspaper, still going strong in print and now online, has been a morning paper since 2002 and is published every day except Christmas Day.

Thornton Hall still stands on the corner of Thornton Street and Hall Avenue, just across the border between Sharpsville and Sharon, PA. According to its Facebook page, Thornton Hall still has a bowling alley. (The drug store and roller-skating rink in the same building that we 1950s-60s teenagers would frequent appear to no longer exist.) Although the alley still hands out paper score sheets on which players do their own scoring, I doubt that it still has human pinsetters. And I’m pretty sure that, if bowling classes were still offered at Allegheny College, pinsetting duty would no longer be required.

Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), March 2017, with help from Mike Angel (SHS 1960).
Excerpt from “Trivia & Me,” page 118, an autobiography written by August Angel.