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

JOURNEYS: European Tour 1957

“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.
[TO BE CONTINUED]

– 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.


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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.

A TREEHOUSE GROWS IN SHARPSVILLE

It’s a new year and a good time to review and renew our commitments. One of my missions is to record for you, and possibly for the pages of history, stories about life in the Shenango Valley of Pennsylvania throughout the middle decades of the twentieth century, the 1940s through the 1970s. I will do so as long as the stories keep coming, whether from my own recollections and resources or from others who wish to share their memories of those times.

Another source of remembrances is the publication, “The Way it Was,” a senior shopper flyer that is produced by Eric Bombeck and distributed free of charge in the Mercer County area. The January 2017 issue features a compilation of articles from this blog titled “Dance Hall Days — Angel’s Casino in Sharpsville.” Be sure to check this out, as well as Bombeck’s Facebook page (The Way It Was Mercer County) and his Wednesday broadcasts, 5:00-7:00 p.m. EST on NewsTalk WPIC 790 AM (The Bombeck Show), all focusing on those days gone by.


sharpsville_pixabay_treeMy brother has always been a friend magnet. Wherever he lived, he had the ability to attract a faithful group of guys who eagerly joined with him in a variety of activities, either mischievous or quite proper, or just gathered around him to shoot the breeze. Even now in his retirement at Angel Acres in London, Kentucky, he can be found sitting at his desk in his woodworking shop holding forth with friends of all sorts. And it was the case when he was growing up Sharpsville, Pennsylvania.

Mike’s following in the 1950s consisted of about 10 boys not unlike himself: looking for adventure in a small town at a time when there were few outlets for entertainment other than those which they invented for themselves. In those days, a tall tree grew in the corner of our yard where North Second Street ended at the railroad tracks. Because the tree’s branches spread out just the right way, Mike envisioned the tree as a perfect support for a treehouse. He and his friends began planning and collecting the needed building materials. According to Mike:

Dad had purchased a Heidelberg printing press [for his print shop, The Sharpsville Advertiser, also located on North Second Street] that was shipped in a large wooden container from Germany. The container was the first source of wood. The rest was scrounged from the neighborhood.

The story of how the treehouse turned out was best told in an article published on December 13, 1955, in the local newspaper, then known as The Sharon Herald:

Clipping from The Sharon Herald, December 3, 1955. (Used with permission from The Herald, Sharon, PA.)

Clipping from The Sharon Herald, December 3, 1955. [Used with permission from The Herald, Sharon, PA.]

Youngsters Build Clubhouse in Tree At Sharpsville

The Sharpsville youngsters who built a tree clubhouse in their neighborhood last summer are enjoying it even through the winter months with the help of a small electric heater which keeps it almost too warm for comfort.

They have electric lights and a radio, and now their big ambition is a television set. That and another project — buying matching shirts — are awaiting an upturn in their finances.

The 10 boys, aged eight to 13, who built the house did so on the spur of the moment last July — just to see if they could do it. Now they all enjoy it, and sometimes all ten cram into the house at once.

They hauled pieces of materials from here and there, and perched the six by eight foot house about 10 feet up in a wild cherry tree beside the August Angel home on North Second St. They installed a window, a doorway through the bottom reached by wooden steps, wrapped tar paper around the outside, and put pasteboard and [C]ongoleum on the inside. They found a bit of rug for the floor and benches for easier sitting. The house is said to contain dozens of books, although few adults ever see the interior to make sure.

A lookout perch is some 20 feet up in the tree. The electric current comes from Angel’s home.

Dues are $1 a year, and non-members can spend a day there for a nickel.

Photo used with permission from The (Sharon

 CAPTION: TREED — These Sharpsville boys are atop their tree house which they use the year round. Sitting left to right are David Heidelbach, Steve Kepics, Ford Auchter and Joseph Wasley. At the top are Mike Angel on the “lookout” and Bob Gwilt, standing. Other members not pictured are Darris Allshouse, Jack Marrie, Ronnie Greggs and Dennis McKnight. The white square on the side of the house is a storm window — it’s opened in summertime. [Arrow points to Mike.] [Used with permission from The Herald, Sharon, PA.]

The treehouse that was featured at the beginning and end of the 1986 movie “Stand By Me” had nothing on the one that Mike and his buddies built and equipped with all those modern amenities. Girls were not allowed inside the treehouse. Therefore, as Mike’s older sister, I can’t say how much the boys’ activities inside their clubhouse — away from the watchful eyes of the neighborhood — compared with those of the characters in “Stand by Me”!

More About Mike

After high school graduation, Mike and several of his friends joined the U.S. Marines. Afterward, Mike became a Kentucky State Trooper and earned a degree in Criminal Justice. This was followed by a career as a special agent with the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Explosives (ATF), a federal law enforcement organization, then within the U.S. Treasury Department and presently within the U.S. Department of Justice. Mike was a criminal investigator of bombings, firearms violations and liquor violations (moonshine) in the mountains of WV and KY. He was stationed in Charleston, WV, Cincinnati and Cleveland, OH, St. Paul, MN, and Atlanta, GA. He and his wife, Fredi (Andres), have two children and two grandchildren.

The treehouse was only the beginning of Mike’s creative accomplishments. In spite of a busy work and family life, he found time to study guitar, collect antiques, and build two log homes. Retired since 1994, Mike is the founder and owner of Red Dog & Company, specializing in hand-worked Appalachian-style furniture. Mike has become a master craftsman and he and his son (also an ATF retiree) build finely crafted items which are sold nationwide. (For more information, go to reddogchairs.com or reddogandcompany.com.) And, never one to slow down, he is presently contracted with the U.S Government to conduct background investigations for security clearances. As always, he conducts his businesses, as well as his friendships, with an easy-going congeniality.

Throughout the years, Mike has kept in touch with many of his Sharpsville gang. Sadly, some have now departed but his memories of the exploits they shared in Sharpsville during the 1950s will always be with him. 

— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, with help from
Mike Angel (SHS 1960), London, KY, February 2017.
Permission to use newspaper article and photograph given by The Sharon Herald Co., Sharon, PA.

A STORY ABOUT SNOW

Even the cactus in my daughter's front yard joins the holiday celebration. Litchfield Park, AZ, Dec. 2016.

The cactus in my daughter’s front yard joins the holiday celebration. Litchfield Park, AZ, Dec. 2016.

The winters here in the Sonoran Desert aren’t anything like the icy, snowy, overcast winters I experienced for most of my life in the Northeast U.S. But there are clues to remind us southern Arizonans which season we’re in: the daytime temperatures gradually change from sweltering 100 degrees to a springlike 60-70 degrees, cacti in front yards suddenly sport Santa hats, strings of colorful lights outline an increasing number of houses and, of course, the stores are in full commercial steam as they tout their holiday wares.

Many of us, particularly retirees, have relocated to the Phoenix area to escape the inclement weather of northern winters. The closest we come to snow here is when trucks bring in piles of the clean, white, fluffy stuff from the high country, usually Flagstaff, for snow-deprived Phoenix-area children to play in. But I’ll admit that I miss at least one good Western Pennsylvania-style covering of snow during the holiday season in the desert.

The following story by Judy Caldwell Nelson, formerly from Sharpsville and now living in Washington, can make anyone nostalgic for such a snowfall.


An Evening Snowfall

Behind Stesharpsville_snowingwart’s, the grocery store on the corner of 7th Street and Ridge Avenue was a vacant area with trees and bushes and a small creek running through it.

One winter during a spectacular snowfall, I was out walking in the evening snow bundled in a snowsuit and galoshes. I was probably between eight and ten years old at the time. As I walked up Ridge Avenue, I turned my head to look at the lot behind the store. The bushes and stunted trees, like everything else, were clothed in overcoats of white. I walked into the area.

The rocks in the stream had pillows of snow on them and the creek trickled around them on its way to some unknown destination. The dim streetlight on the corner reflected off the trees. The stream ripples reflected the light. I breathed in the brisk, clean air smell that always accompanies a snowfall. Blue shadows outlined the mounded snow drifts in the open areas between the trees. Each tree branch and twig was outlined in white. And everything sparkled. Huge snowflakes were silently falling all around me, and I felt alone in a place of great beauty.

I didn’t want to leave the moment. I wanted to wrap up my feelings and the beauty and save it forever.

I’ve always wondered at the fact that snowflakes fall so silently. It seems that all those swirling, falling and drifting flakes should somehow cause a small faint tinkling sound – just as stars ought to have a few faint heavenly notes accompanying their nightly appearance in the sky.

Now the vacant lot has been filled in and paved over to create a parking area for store patrons. In the song, “Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell described a “paradise” that was paved over for a parking lot. Those lyrics perfectly described my sadness at the loss of this beautiful bit of nature.

– Judy Caldwell Nelson (SHS 1958), Shoreline, WA, March 2013


For more winter stories, go to:

The Big Snow of 1950

A Christmas Kindness

A Sharpsville Christmas

Sharpsville’s Santas

christmas-snowflake-3


WHEATLAND IV: Once Upon A Time

This is the last in a series of blogs recording memories of Wheatland, Pennsylvania, in the 1940s. 


WHEATLAND IV: Once Upon A Time

More About the Slag Dump

A recent email from Tom Hoovler, a former resident of Wheatland and Farrell, PA, vividly describes his memories of the red-hot steaming slag that was dumped over a hillside by the local steel mill:

Steel Mill Gondola

Steel Mill Slag Ladle.

Ah, what memories. When I was growing up, you could see the light from the dumping of the ladles all over the valley. Up on the hill in Farrell, where I lived, the night sky would light up with a bright orange glow. This was even more intense in the winter when there would be snow on the ground that would reflect the glow from the sky.

And quite often, you would hear a dull thudding sound, when the engineer would lurch the train forward to shake loose the nearly solid slag residue that remained in the ladles. If you were watching from a fairly close distance, as I would sometimes have the opportunity to do, you would see that remaining solid residue come tumbling from the ladle in one big chunk, and it would finally collapse into the pit. Quite often, this didn’t happen until the engineer had made the train lurch several times in order to shake it loose.

My father worked for Dunbar Slag Company on Ohio Street, just on the opposite side of the river from Wheatland. This was located on Sharon Steel property and the molten slag pits were not far from their location. There were times we would go over there at night to see the dumping of the ladles from a close proximity. Very good memories, indeed.

Elementary & High Schools, Revisited

More memories (and a correction) from Tom Hoovler:

Your experience of walking to the Wheatland elementary school seems comparable to the stories my mother has always told, especially about the trains. And your description of the elementary school experience at the time was not all that different from hers, in fact it really wasn’t all that different from mine, with the exception of the walking distance. Fortunately, I never had to walk more than three blocks when I was in elementary school.

There is one thing, however, that you were incorrect about and that relates to the Wheatland high school students being bussed to school. They never actually did that. As my mother would attest, they had to huff if up over the hill all the way to Farrell High School. And walk home. Everyday. Apparently, you weren’t aware of that because you had moved to Sharpsville by then. 

Even in my day, when the Farrell School District starting busing elementary students to schools outside of their own neighborhoods, all high school students still had to walk. I had a one-mile walk to the high school, but at least it was not as steep a grade as the Wheatland students still had.

Professor King 

sharpsville_noteOne of the most colorful figures in my Wheatland recollections was Professor King, my first piano teacher. I can still see him, hovering tall over me, dressed in dark clothing that contrasted sharply with his flowing white hair and leaning on a cane. I had the idea that he wore a black cape, but maybe that was just because he loomed so large in my eyes. We always called him “Professor King.” I don’t recall ever knowing his full name. My father describes in his memoir:

One of my well-worn music lesson books from the 1940s. [Photo by AAE]

One of my well-worn music lesson books from the 1940s. [Photo by AAE]

There was room in the shack [on Second Street] for an upright piano that the nearby Methodist Church gave me when the church was donated a new one. Both Michael and Ann began taking piano lessons from Professor King and did so for many years afterward. The Professor was a retired older man, who was impressively tall, intellectual, and always meticulously dressed. He made house calls to his students, a modern-day version of the traveling musician.

The Professor would walk from one house to another in Wheatland, teaching children, black or white, the basics of playing the piano or violin. My brother and I continued our lessons with him when our family moved to Sharpsville. By this time, we rode the bus to his Wheatland residence. Eventually, he lived in an apartment in Sharpsville, and we walked to our lessons with my mother. I remember that, as she took her turn at her violin lessons, I would lose myself in the stories and black-and-white photos in his stack of Life magazines.

My brother and I continued our piano lessons with various teachers throughout high school (and I did so into my college years) thanks to our parents’ encouragement. Looking back, I now appreciate not only my parents’ resolve but also the Professor’s efforts to provide us with a solid foundation in the study of music.

Bicycles, Roller Skates, and Cherry Trees

Mike Angel & playmate. Wheatland, PA, April 1950.

Mike Angel & playmate. Wheatland, PA, April 1950.

The area in which our family lived in the Wheatland flats was semi-rural, allowing us children plenty of room to play at our various outdoor activities. Dad bought us second-hand bicycles and helped us learn to ride them. The bikes were a bit too large for us at first which made learning to ride them a challenge. But we persisted, and soon enjoyed the feeling of freedom and the excitement of speed as we rode with our friends up and down the cinder-covered dirt road that was Second Street. I think my brother’s blue bicycle was a Schwinn. I know my red and silver bicycle was a Raleigh. It had a wire basket and a curious row of holes along the rim of the rear fender. I either imagined or was told that string or wire used to be threaded through the holes and connected to the axle, forming a protective web that kept little girls’ dresses from being caught in the spokes.

Although our street had no sidewalks, that didn’t stop us from roller skating even if we had to carry our skates to other blocks in the neighborhood to do so. The sidewalk in front of the church on Church Street was our favorite because part of it consisted of dark gray slate slabs. Oh, how smooth that surface was compared to the bumpy ride on concrete walks! Our skates were all-metal with leather straps, typical of kids’ skates in those days. We used a skate key to turn bolts and lengthen the skates as our feet grew and to tighten the clamps that held the skates to our shoes.

In those days, we had no inkling of smartphones or video games, but we had plenty of things to do. On long winter weekends indoors, we had coloring books and comic books (which we traded with friends) to keep us busy. Then there were the summer playground activities that were provided for us by the town. I created quite a few brightly painted plaster of Paris figurines — including small busts of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington — for my parents to display on the family bookshelf.

We also had our own personal playground in the form of the cherry trees in our front yard. Their short height and widely spaced tree limbs were perfectly designed for climbing. The trees encircled a small open area with a table and benches, where our family and friends would sometimes gather for a nighttime bonfire under the stars.

The Traveling Carnival

sharpsville_carnival-colorA high point in our summers in Wheatland was the week or so when colorful tents and rides of a carnival would spring up, as if by magic, in the middle of an empty field across from the church. My brother and I were given a few coins and then sent off, unaccompanied by any adult, to roam about the carnival grounds to our hearts’ content, carefully deciding how our handful of coins would be spent.

I no longer can recall the rides or the food at the carnival, but the freak show stays in my mind, as grotesque to me now as it was then. Hearing the carnival talker shout, “It’s all right here! Sights that will scare you, that will astound you! See the bearded lady, the strongest man in the world, the amazing contortionist!” piqued my curiosity enough to pay the entry fee and enter the tent to see for myself. One of the shows featured the Spider Lady. You peered into a lighted box and saw the head of a lady on the body of a huge black spider. It was obvious even to my young mind that it was an illusion created by mirrors. Another “freak” was a man who claimed he could bite the head off a chicken. This was the most disturbing act, but it too was trickery, which was fortunate for the hapless chicken.

sharpsville_ducks-2Of all the carnival games, I was sure to visit the Duck Pond because I won a prize every time I played. All I had to do was pick up one of the little yellow rubber ducks from the many floating by in a trough of water. The number on the bottom of the duck matched a number on one of the various prizes displayed on the shelves along the back of the tent. I never won the grand prize of a large stuffed toy animal or a curly-haired doll in a fancy gown, but I was happy enough winning trinkets, such as a shiny ring, a plastic comb, or a tin whistle.

Demographics Once Upon a Time

Indeed the flatland in the southern part Wheatland was once a little community, populated by residents of various backgrounds. According to the U.S. Census of 1940, many of them were relatively new to the United States, including Romanians (as was my grandfather), Polish, Hungarians, Slovakians, Austrians, Germans, Lithuanians, Czechs, Scots, Croatians and Italians. There were others who were African-American and white southerners (including a few of my mother’s relatives from the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky) who traveled north to find work.

The men were mostly hard-working clerks or laborers in the local sheet mill, steel mill, Malleable Steel, Tube Company, Westinghouse, tin mill, the coal yard, on the railroad or the “road project.” The women kept the household running and the few who were employed were teachers, waitresses, seamstresses in the “sewing project” or domestics. The projects were possibly home-front WWII efforts.

There were still over three decades yet to go before the tornado destroyed the town. Although I no longer lived in Pennsylvania by then, I can imagine the succession of families quietly living out their lives in the flatland of the Borough of Wheatland, Pennsylvania, before the community was gone forever.

Wheatland Flats III - Once Upon A Time

Sawhill Memorial with this message: “Dedicated to the memory of those who suffered the death and destruction caused by the tornado which crossed this site on May 21, 1985. Wheatland PA.” Location: Corner of Clinton and Main streets, Wheatland, PA. [Date of photo: June 1993]


Residents of the Borough of Wheatland who lost everything, and in some cases their lives, in the tornado are memorialized by a monument on the corner of Main and Clinton streets. The word “SAWHILL” etched in the granite refers to the two plants of Sawhill Tubular Products which were among the buildings that suffered the greatest losses in lives and property. [See the Memorial as of August 2014 on Google Street View here.]

Tom Hoovler, FHS 1976, Buffalo, NY
Ann Angel Eberhardt, SHS 1958, Goodyear, AZ
December 1, 2016


See Also:

WHEATLAND FLATS I: Third Street
WHEATLAND FLATS II: Second Street
WHEATLAND FLATS III: Elementary School & Pony Pictures


WHEATLAND FLATS III: Grade School & Pony Pictures

When I started writing about 1940s Wheatland, I didn’t expect to remember as much as I did. As my dad said about writing his memoir, “Once I started, the memories just kept coming.” This is the third of four installments about the “Flats” of Wheatland, Pennsylvania, describing a thriving little community that existed over thirty-five years before the entire village was destroyed by an exceptionally violent tornado on May 31, 1985.


WHEATLAND FLATS III: Grade School & Pony Pictures

By the turn of the decade to the 1950s, my family was living in a remodeled barn on Second Street, my new baby brother joined the postwar baby boom, the town endured the Big Snow, and we kids were attending Wheatland Public School.

First Grade, Wheatland Public School, c. 1946. [Ann Angel, back row, fourth from left.]

First Grade, Wheatland (PA) Public School, c. 1946. Teacher: Mrs. Juanita Lloyd. [Ann Angel, back row, fifth from left.]

Wheatland Public School – “Uphill Both Ways!”

I wish I could remember the first day of my first grade in 1946, but it’s just too long ago. At that time, there was no opportunity for most pre-schoolers to attend nursery school or kindergarten. I vaguely recall that a Catholic church in Sharon, PA, had a kindergarten, but it charged a tuition that my parents probably could not afford. 

Wheatland’s public school building, located on Mercer Street, was a typical two-story brick schoolhouse topped by a large bell that rang at the start of the school day. First through fourth grades, the only grades I attended in this building, were on the lower floor. Every hour, I could hear the shuffling feet of students changing classes overhead. However, I never saw the upstairs fifth through eighth-grade rooms because my family was living in Sharpsville by then. When Wheatland students finished eighth grade, they were then bussed to Farrell, PA, to attend senior high school.

I performed well enough in Wheatland School, but getting to and from the school was quite a trek for me. Google Maps shows the distance as only six-tenths of a mile one way but that’s not how it felt. The distance between my home and school seemed like miles, particularly during those cold, snowy Western Pennsylvania winters. Initially, I walked alone or with friends, but in two years my brother, Mike, was walking with me to his first and second grades.

The Flats of Wheatland, PA, in the 1940s.

The Flats of Wheatland, PA, in the 1940s.

From Second Street we walked to Church Street and continued north past the little white steepled Methodist Church where my brother and I attended Sunday School, a few houses, and a lumber mill until we got to the railroad tracks. If we were lucky there would be no freight train sitting there immobile and blocking our way. Waiting for a stopped train to move seemed interminable and, if my memory of school kids actually crawling under the cars to get across is only in my imagination, we did consider it in our desperation. After crossing Broadway, the main street in town that led west to Farrell and Sharon, we trudged up the hill another block or so to our school.

I still remember the names of some of my classmates. as well as those of my first through fourth-grade teachers: Mrs. Juanita Lloyd, a well-liked grandmotherly lady, then kindly Miss Patton, Miss Davidson who had the best-decorated room, and finally Miss Garrity. And I remember the sweet smell of the white paste in glass jars that we used to stick strips of paper with sentences on them onto the appropriate pictures. I think these were supplemental workbooks that accompanied our reading books about “Dick and Jane,” characters so well-known to schoolchildren from the 1930s to the 1970s.

On the return trip from school, we often stopped at the Wheatland Post Office on Broadway to pick up our parents’ mail. It was customary for us schoolchildren to crowd around the postmaster’s window, call out our family’s last name, and our mail would be handed to us. I’ve always wondered why our parents trusted little kids to bring home all their mail in one piece, but I guess we did so most of the time. Today’s Wheatland Post Office is located on Council Street, a block away from its former Broadway location.

Almost 50 years later in 1993, I visited Wheatland and searched for my elementary school, only to find that the building was gone. All that remained was a concrete pedestal holding the school’s cast iron bell and a plaque indicating the bell’s original source, the Wheatland Public School. Currently, Buchanan Manor, a home for senior citizens has been built on the site. That big school bell is now on display (as of 2014) in the front yard of the Manor next to a World War I memorial. (See it on Google Street View here.) My school building was gone, but I greatly appreciate that the little town saved the bell.

(It’s probably no coincidence that the retirement home’s name is “Buchanan.” Pennsylvania’s other “Wheatland” is the former home of James Buchanan, the 15th president of the U.S. He purchased the large Federal style house, located outside of Lancaster, PA, in 1848 and lived there off and on until he died in 1868. The estate was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.)

“Howdy, Partner!”

Click on photograph for an enlarged view. Photos courtesy of Mike and Fredi Angel.

“Ma, they’re selling pony pictures! Can we buy one, please, please, please?!” My mother would often tell of our running home and breathlessly bursting in the front door with this exciting news and urgent request. A traveling photographer with a pony was all the country’s rage in the 1940s and Wheatland kids weren’t left out. Movies and comic books featuring cowboys (and cowgirls) and Indians were popular at the time, so sitting on a pony dressed in a cowboy hat, vest and chaps was a child’s dream come true. The resulting black-and-white photos, taken on Church Street and probably costing only a few coins each, are displayed to this day in my brother Mike’s home.

Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ. 
November 2016.

Coming Up: Traveling Carnival, Professor King, Bicycles, Roller Skates and Cherry Trees


See Also:

WHEATLAND FLATS I: Third Street
WHEATLAND FLATS II: Second Street
WHEATLAND FLATS IV: Once Upon A Time

Read more about the 1985 Ohio/Pennsylvania Tornado Outbreak here.


WHEATLAND FLATS II: Second Street

This is the second in a series chronicling my memories of 1940s Wheatland, Pennsylvania, a tiny village in the flatlands that was totally destroyed by a tornado in 1985.

In this installment you can read about my family’s move to a barn, our neighbors and playmates, grocery stores big and small and one on wheels, the first television I ever saw, my dad’s cow, and the dumping of the slag.


Wheatland Flats II: Second Street

Thinking about our family’s 1945 move from 199 Third Street to 32 Second Street in Wheatland, PA, reminds me of The Jeffersons’ theme song, “Movin’ On Up.” We had not only moved to higher land to avoid the periodic flooding from the nearby Shenango River. We were moving upward financially as well, just as many families were able to do following World War II.

A year after my dad returned from the war, he decided he didn’t have much of a future in subsistence farming and accepted a position with Sharon Steel Company as a draftsman. Later, with the printing training and experience he had gained before the war, he secured a position in the composing room for the local newspaper, The Sharon Herald.

The Shack and the Barn

Having sold the Third Street house and now earning a regular income, Dad was able to remodel my grandfather’s barn into a home for our family. During the year this went on, our family stayed in a small three-room house adjacent to the barn. It had been my grandfather’s home since the 1930s. By 1946, Grandpa was tired of Pennsylvania’s cold winters which he felt contributed to his arthritic aches and pains. So, at the age of 62, he rode the Greyhound bus from Sharon across the United States to a small town in California where he contentedly lived out the rest of his life.

We called Grandpa Angel’s house “the shack” since it was roughly built with board-and-batten and tarpaper and didn’t have much in the way of modern conveniences. I remember bathing in a galvanized tub on the table in a very chilly kitchen. In place of an electric refrigerator, my mother would store food on a shelf outside the kitchen window in the winter and used an icebox that contained a huge block of ice in the summer.

I don’t recall the actual move to the remodeled barn, but it must have been a big occasion for my parents. We could now enjoy the marvels of a telephone, a modern refrigerator, a hot water tank, an indoor bathroom and lots of space! The only reminder that it was once a barn was the sliding barn door on one end of the building. It led into a hayloft, still full of sweet-smelling hay.

I visited Wheatland several years after the devastating tornado of 1985, only to find fields of weeds scattered with debris. No landmarks were left to help with orientation, except the street signs. All I could find of my childhood home was its stone foundation.

Click on an image to enlarge.

Neighbors and Playmates

After the move to the remodeled barn, which involved using a horse and wagon to haul our household belongings, my memories begin in earnest. After almost 70 years, I can still name some of the families in the area of this short section of the unpaved cinder-covered Second Street, most of whom provided one or two playmates for my brother and me.

At the very end of the street on our side were two families, the Papadics with a son named Murrell and a mother and her daughter, Beverly, whose last name was Blosz. Our house was the third one from the end of the street and was across the road from Mr. and Mrs. Dobbs. They were a kindly African-American couple in their 60s from whom my grandfather and mother sometimes bought home-made herbal medicine for our aches and pains. In his memoir, my father wrote:

Mr. Dobbs was an herbalist who had a big following of “patients”…. He was well-liked and held in high esteem as a professional throughout the immediate area. Mr. Dobbs was not hesitant to show his knowledge of which greens to pick and prepare for medicinal purposes. Mr. Dobbs was literate, a good conversationalist, and a non-active member of the Masonic Order. …Mrs. Dobbs, a slender, small person, was also liked by all the neighbors. She doted on our children as if a grandmother. …We were welcomed in her home, as she was in ours.

The Billobocky (Bielobockie?) family lived next to the Dobbs and included a little curly-haired girl named Simone. Farther down Second Street, on the corner of Second and Church streets, was the Behr (Bayer?) family. Kathleen Behr, who introduced herself as “Kitsy,” was my very first friend, whom I met when we first arrived in Wheatland. Her house was a mansion in my mind. It was a tall two-story wood frame structure and had not one, but two bathrooms upstairs. At the edge of the road in front of the house was a once-ornate but now weathered stone step. I was told this step was used to step down from horse-drawn carriages in the days before autos.

Other names are a bit fuzzy now, but studying the U.S. Census of 1940, I’m reminded of the Ludus and the Radus, who were among our Romanian friends. And I recall the Roach family, whose little girl Judy was another buddy of mine. They lived a block away on First Street, next to a little mom-and-pop grocery store. 

Grocery Stores Big and Small and One on Wheels

The little corner store in Wheatland Flats must have had a name but I don’t recall it. The steps up to the store’s front door seemed high and steep to a little girl, but the climb was worth it when I had a penny for a piece of candy. In case one’s preference was on the sour side, the store had a barrel of pickles in front of the candy counter. For most of the items you wished to purchase, you told the grocer what you wanted and he retrieved it from the shelves behind the counter. On the left was a meat counter and behind it was the butcher working at a thick wooden table set on a sawdust-covered floor. The store served as our “mini-mart” between the family’s weekly visits to Wheatland’s Golden Dawn Supermarket on Broadway or the A&P in Farrell.

Occasionally, our house was visited by the driver of a brown and yellow Jewel Tea Company truck. This little door-to-door “Home Shopping Service” on wheels sold pots and pans, dishes, cleaning supplies, groceries, and dry goods. And a Hopalong Cassidy coloring book that my mother purchased for me and which I treasured for years.

My First Ever TV Experience

Wheatland Flats: Second Street

Indian Head Television Test Pattern by RCA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


I watched my very first television at the home of another playmate, Emile, who lived on what was probably West First Street. TV programs would only air in the evening and while we anxiously waited for them to begin we would stare at a test pattern featuring an American Indian. I’m not sure what we watched in those early days, but I do know the pictures were black and white and rather snowy. Sometimes the picture would start moving up or down as if a film projector malfunctioned, but there was a “horizontal”  button on the TV set to fix that. There was also a “vertical” button and a dial to lighten or darken the screen. To change a channel, the father in the family would pull on cables that ran from the TV through the floor and to the antenna on the roof. I remember the ghostly figures of nearby residents politely standing outside of the living room windows also watching this amazing combination of radio and a moving picture.

Cows and Sheep

Even after Dad left farming to become a wage-earner, he kept one of his cows. She was a docile orange/red and white spotted cow, whom we simply called “the Guernsey.” Every morning and evening, before and after work, Dad would walk to the end of Second Street and down into the pasture with a milk bucket and stool, followed by several of us kids after school, and a cat or two. Our job was to use small thin tree limbs to switch at any flies pestering the cow. The cow produced enough milk to share not only with the cats, but with neighbors. Mom turned the cream into butter, using a wooden paddle churn that was operated by turning a handle. Although we children enjoyed these gifts from our cow, the best part of all was the pastureland itself, an acreage of thick green grass which we could romp in and explore as we pleased. 

Click on image to enlarge.

For awhile, Dad also pastured a couple of sheep in our large expansive front yard. I’m not sure what he intended to do with the sheep. Maybe he was channeling his Romanian father’s occupation as a sheep farmer before coming to America. In any case, the sheep were useful in keeping the grass and weeds trimmed.

The Slag Dump

Wheatland Flats: Third Street

Hot slag pours from smelter. (Wikipedia Commons)

“They’re pouring the slag!” was the call to run outside and watch one of the most spectacular night-time sights of our childhood. Along the top ridge of a hill about a half-mile from our house, a switcher engine pulled a string of huge pots into place. Then each pot would tilt two by two, pouring parallel rivers of hot molten slag down the slope. The slag was the byproduct of steelmaking by the local steel mill and in those days was discarded as waste. We marveled at the brilliant orange-yellow-red colors of the slag lighting up the sky, as thousands of sparks and huge plumes of smoke rose upward, accompanied by the odor of burning metal. It was as thrilling an event as any fireworks display and it occurred for our viewing pleasure several times a month.

Ann Angel Eberhardt, SHS 1958, Goodyear, AZ. October 2016.


See Also:
WHEATLAND FLATS I: Third Street
WHEATLAND FLATS III: Grade School & Pony Pictures
WHEATLAND FLATS IV: Once Upon A Time


WHEATLAND FLATS I: Third Street

This is the first in a collection of stories about living in the flatlands of Wheatland, Pennsylvania, where a diverse community once thrived but no longer exists. One of the fiercest tornadoes in history wiped away this tiny village in 1985, but it did not erase my memories of the place where I lived as a child in the late 1940s.

In order to write about my knowledge of Wheatland in those post-WWII days, it is necessary to also include the history of my family, as the memories are intertwined. With these stories and those that others have sent me, I hope we can preserve some of Wheatland’s history before the memories are gone forever.

If you, too, lived in the flatland of Wheatland, Pennsylvania, before its destruction, I hope you will please contribute to this account.


WHEATLAND FLATS I: Third Street

To describe my family’s presence in Wheatland in the 1940s, I must begin with my immigrant grandfather, Augustine Anghel. Enticed by flyers advertising jobs in U.S. steel mills and on railroads, he came to America in 1906 with a plan to earn and save money, then return to his home in Romania to continue working on his sheep farm.

Instead, he stayed in the U.S. for the rest of his life (for which I am most grateful!), only returning to Romania to bring my grandmother to the “New World.” They had two children, my father (1908) and my uncle (1910). After my grandparents’ eventual divorce, my grandfather settled in western Pennsylvania, where he found comfort in the community of the many other European immigrants, as well as in the area’s lush green rolling hills so much like his native Transylvania.

In the spring of 1945, after almost a year of Army training and five months before WWII ended, my father, August Angel, was sent to Germany to serve as a member of the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) Detachment.

While August was overseas, my mother, with us two children in tow, ended up on my grandfather’s doorstep needing a place to live. By that time Augustine had purchased land in Wheatland, part of which he farmed. As my father explains in his memoir:

My father had bought an old abandoned subdivision. Lots measuring only 25 feet wide had been laid out for small houses for steel mill factory workers. However, because of the 1929 Depression, the building of factories in Wheatland was no longer feasible and the real estate company declared bankruptcy. My father, a believer in owning land, bought the entire tract [75 acres] that included a good section of Wheatland.

For a while, my mother shared living quarters with my grandfather’s Romanian friends, but she soon tired of that arrangement. She had saved enough money from her wartime allotment and part of my father’s military income to purchase a two-story wood frame house on Third Street. She paid $3,000 for the house, which had running water, electricity, and an outhouse.

Third Street, Wheatland, PA, c. 1946. August Angel with cow.

Third Street, Wheatland, PA, c. 1946. August Angel with cow.

My earliest memories are of the Third Street house and that of my father returning from two years as a soldier, wearing his dark olive green Army uniform and carrying a huge stuffed duffel bag of the same color on his shoulder. My mother, brother and I were in the house anxiously watching for him to appear on the narrow sidewalk that led to our side porch. When we heard a familiar whistle – a certain melodic phrase that I can still hear today – we knew he was home.

Wheatland may have been a very small town (population 1,421 in 1940) but it did have a proper annual Memorial Day parade. On April 5, 1946, a month after my father’s return, The Sharon Herald printed a front-page story about my father’s participation in CIC’s capture of a Nazi leader while in Germany. From then on my dad was considered a local war hero. For several years afterward, he was invited to tell of his wartime activities before various civic organizations and to join the leaders of Wheatland’s Memorial Day parade.

The parade was complete with majorettes and a marching band, which were probably from Farrell High School since Wheatland had no high school. Also included were lines of school children, myself among them, from the Wheatland Elementary School, dressed in our Sunday best and following behind our respective teachers.

The procession ended at the American Legion (#432) Home, where Dad and others gave patriotic speeches on the porch. I recall that the Home was located on the top of a steep hillside and we would join other townspeople gathered below to listen to the speech. The frame building had several floors filled with lots of old furniture that my brother and I loved to explore while our dad called out the numbers at the Legion’s weekly Bingo games.

It seemed to us children as if we were standing for hours as we waited for the speeches and ceremonies to end. Then the best part came! We were rewarded with Dixie Cups of cool, creamy ice cream that we heartily dug into with our tiny wooden spoons.

Photos: Memorial Day Parade, Mercer and Broadway avenues, Wheatland, PA, May 29, 1947
Click on image for larger view.
wheatland_house_front view

Flooded house, 199 Third Street, Wheatland, PA. May 1946.

As delighted as my parents were in owning a home, they were to find out that its location near the Shenango River was a problem. When the river overflowed its banks in the Spring of 1946 and flooded a wide area that included our house. To us kids, living in the middle of a temporary lake was quite an adventure. But to my parents it was time to move to higher ground (and to a smaller house with lower taxes), that is, Second Street. The house was sold to the Splitstones, with whom my family became friends.

In November of 2015, I received this surprising email about the Third Street house:

My name is Tom Hoovler and have I got a story for you!

I was reading through some of the stories on your blog recently and became interested in your brief side notes about your grandfather’s farm on 3rd Street in Wheatland, Pa. Your short but telling descriptions led me to one interesting but tentative conclusion, but I needed to call my mother in order to verify it.

She had always told us that her father had purchased his house at 199 3rd St. from a family named Angel. After discussing it with her, I discovered that, apparently, it was your family. Her name in those days was Agnes Audrene Splitstone and her father’s name was George. On top of it all, she says she knew you from the days that you lived on 2nd street, even though you were a few years younger than her….

Photos: Tom Hoovler and his mother, Agnes Audrene Splitstone, Third Street, Wheatland, PA, 1959
Click on image for larger view.

I live near Buffalo, NY, now. But I lived in that house at 199 3rd St for the first three years of my life. My parents lived in that house with my grandparents for a few years after they got married. We moved to Farrell and I graduated from FHS in ’76. But I have very fond memories about that house and that property. In my growing years, I probably spent more time there than I actually did at the house I called home up over the hill in Farrell.

My grandmother died in 1970 and my grandfather went into a nursing home a couple of years later. That was when the house was sold off, and we lost track of it. Eventually, the house, as well as the entire Wheatland flats were totally destroyed in the massive tornado of 1985. Everything south of Broadway was re-zoned light industrial afterward and it was truly the end of an era.

In later emails, Tom wrote about the Shenango River floods…

[My grandparents’ house flooded] at least twice that I’m aware of, and maybe more. My mom has a photo of herself pregnant with me, sitting on the porch surrounded by water, so that would have been ’58. I only saw one of them and that was when I was four, in ’63. And that was definitely the very last time since the [Sharpsville] dam went into full operation a couple of years later.

…and about Wheatland’s Memorial Day parade:

When I was living down there, and even for a few years afterward, we used to go up and watch the parade on Memorial Day. I can remember my mother and Aunt Louise used to decorate my tricycle with red, white, and blue crepe paper. Then, we’d walk up Church St., past the old church and across all the railroad tracks to get to Broadway, where the parade would be. Great memories.

There was indeed something about living on Third Street, Wheatland, Pennsylvania, that made for happy memories. Maybe it was the post-WWII relief and hope for a better life that we children could sense in our parents. And maybe it was the semi-rural setting that allowed us to play in the surrounding fields and on the unpaved streets of this small town freely and safely, without a care in the world.

To be continued…

Ann Angel Eberhardt, SHS 1958, Goodyear, AZ
Tom Hoovler, FHS 1976, Buffalo, NY


See Also: Wheatland Flats II: Second Street



SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL TRADITIONS

Much has been written on the pros and cons of following traditions. Some see traditions as stifling growth and creativity. But traditions can also be seen as helping us to connect with the past and giving us guidance and comfort as we go forward. Here are some of the traditions that led us Seniors toward graduation in the 1950s. They are the same traditions, with only slight variations, that helped many others before and after our time to get through those final years of high school.


Senior High School Traditions

Ann Angel, dressed for the prom.

Ann Angel, dressed for the prom, 1958.

The Junior-Senior Prom

The Class of 1958 was responsible for planning and setting up the Junior-Senior Prom that was held in 1957. The following year we attended the Spring Fantasy Dance designed by the then Junior Class.

In 1957, the subject was “Calypso,” inspired by the popularity of Jamaican influence at the time in music and film. Remember Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song” or “Day-O”?

After much hard work by most of our class members, the ordinarily mundane gymnasium interior magically became a tropical Caribbean island, complete with two young boys in island garb sitting in an open-sided straw hut. It was a dreamlike time for all — the guys in their rented white-coat tuxedos and the girls in floor-length or quarter-length gowns of several layers of pastel tulle — as we dined and danced to the music of Joe Cann and His Orchestra.

Sharpsville High School Yearbook, "Devil's Log," 1958.

Sharpsville High School Yearbook, “Devil’s Log,” 1958.

Yearbooks

It’s surprising how longstanding some high school traditions can be! Leafing through my mother’s 1935 yearbook, my daughters’ from the 1980s, and my own in 1958, I’m reminded of the French saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” These three generations of yearbooks recorded similar subjects: student photographs, of course, and those of students participating in sports, activities in the arts and many of the same types of clubs.

And there were the handwritten autographs by fellow students in each book expressing the same kind wishes and remembrances: “Don’t forget all of our good times…,” “To a real swell friend and classmate…,” “Remember those trig classes and how we suffered,” “Wishing you the best in your future” and so forth.

 Class Rings

The class ring was a big deal in the 1950s, particularly if you had a sweetheart who would then wear it on a chain around the neck (or wrapped in tape to fit his or her finger) to signal that the two of you were “going steady.” I don’t think I ever actually wore my own ring, but it does show the wear and tear of having been in the possession of my then one-and-only.

Today, a teenager can price-check rings in an assortment of stores, including Walmart, but Jostens Inc. was our sole provider in the 1950s and 1960s. (Jostens started the class ring tradition over 100 years ago!) I don’t recall the exact price of my blue-stone, 1o-karat, gold 1958 SHS ring, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t even close to the 3-digit prices of today’s rings! (Read about a “found” class ring below.)

(Click on above photos to enlarge.)

…And All Those Other Senior Traditions

Then it was October and time for the school homecoming game (alas, the Blue Devils lost to Meadville), followed by the homecoming dance. These activities were reigned over by the Pigskin Queen and her two attendants who were voted for by students from a group of six that had been pre-selected by the football squad.

Along with attending proms, assembling yearbooks, and getting our class rings, the Sharpsville High School Class of 1958 continued to slog through the usual senior-year schoolwork, such as taking exams and writing our theses. Many of us attended a class trip to Washington, DC, others put on fundraising events to pay for these activities, and we all paid our various fees, ordered commencement invitations, acquired caps and gowns and practiced the graduation ceremony.

And on the designated Class Day, we celebrated our achievements by acting as wild and carefree as we knew how, 1950s style. First, we dressed alike in the obligatory class outfit: blue and white striped sailor blouse and hat for girls and white pants or shorts. The boys dressed similarly, except for their striped shirts. Then, (I read this in the 1958 Devil’s Log yearbook but don’t recall it), we presented a Class Day Program for the Juniors that featured “dancing, singing and jokes.” And lastly, we noisily cruised Sharpsville streets in decorated cars for the rest of the day looking for something else to do. As I recall, I don’t think we were very successful in the latter activity. In any case, we tried hard to make it a day to remember and I guess, in that, we were successful.

Despite the passage of time and changes in styles and technology, these high-school traditions live on. We’d love to read about your memories of this special time in our lives, when we were preparing to bravely leave our teen years behind and take on whatever adulthood would bring.


Found Class Ring

In the days of Angel’s Casino, someone in our family found a class ring while cleaning up the dance hall after a record hop. My father, originally intending to find the owner, put it in a box and apparently forgot about it. Recently, the ring was found again among his possessions by my brother, Mike Angel. It features the letter “H” (possibly Hickory High School?] on a red stone and the date 1962. Three-letter initials are engraved on the inside of the band. If you think it belongs to you or someone you know, please let us know in Comments.

“H” Found Ring, 1962.

"H" Found Ring, 1962. Side view.

“H” Found Ring, 1962. Side view.


ROBISON SCHOOL CLASS OF 1960 – Part 2

Welcome to the second part of Irene Caldwell’s story, Robison School Class of 1960. This blog picks up where it left off last month. Here you’ll read about the fifth and sixth grade students, still mostly the same kids of course, but a tiny bit older and taller. Irene also reminds us of those extra-curricular aspects of our education: swimming lessons, restrooms, recess, lunch, winters, safety drills, and the playground.


sharpsville_robison_grade5

Fifth Grade, Emma Robison School, Sharpsville, PA, c. 1952.

Fifth Grade, 1952-1953

"Raggedy Ann and Andy and the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees" by Johnny Gruelle. (1960). Source: www.etsy.com

“Raggedy Ann and Andy and the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees” by Johnny Gruelle. (1960). Source: http://www.etsy.com

Miss Helen Bruner, an older woman with quiet but firm control was our fifth grade teacher. In spite of her small stature and soft voice, she often sent unruly boys to the cloakroom where she would soon follow with her wooden paddle. A good run around the playground would have been a kinder option, but those were different times. I liked Miss Bruner because she was fair, never raised her voice and read to us from Raggedy Ann and Andy.

I learned to write in cursive with pen and ink that year. Dipping our pen points into ink pots, we practiced row upon row of circles which formed tunnels between the lines on cheap yellowish paper and then the letter of the day with our arms held high for the necessary free flowing arm movement. Most of us had black writer’s bumps on the second finger of our right hands and a very few on their left hands.

Mrs. Bruner was often seen wearing a double layer fox stole which fascinated me. Who would want to wear dead animals around their shoulders, each head biting the tail of the animal in front of it? She died in 1968 at age 79.

Patty Coyne, Dorothy Davenport and I were adopted as friends by Carol Crosier in fifth grade. Carol was very pretty and lived in the more affluent part of town, close to Buhl Park. She was the organizer of any outside activity and we followed her lead unquestioningly.

That year’s class photo has me, of tiny stature, standing as usual, in the front row. This time it’s Bobby Gault on my left. Just below Miss Bruner is Kathleen Hanley, another freckled redhead. My last year at Robison was taught by the principal, Ralph Kelly, and his co-teacher Edna Allen. Miss Allen was a good teacher with impeccable carriage.

Duane Carbon sat in front of me that year. Once every week he wore a black and white pinto-patterned flannel shirt. When bored I’d stare at the pattern, first making the black sections stand forward and then the white shapes.

Emma Robison School, Grade 6, c. 1956

Grade 6, Emma Robison School, Sharpsville, PA, c. 1953

Sixth Grade, 1953-1954

In sixth grade we made a lot of maps and finding large enough paper was a challenge. I made my South America map from butcher paper given free by the meat cutter at (Warren) Stewart’s Market. My youngest sister had just been born and was drinking formula made from canned milk with paper labels covered with cows. I cut out those cows and pasted them on my map to indicate the cattle industry of Argentina and Brazil.

Our class photo that year is taken with Mr. Kelly. I’m wearing a neck scarf and a plaid skirt, again in the front row, flanked by ever happy Roy Yeager and ever serious Georgeanne.

My brother had different teachers than I; Miss Grimes, Mrs. Myers and Miss Bartholomew were some of them, but the other names are lost to me. Our music teacher, Mrs. Armstrong, died of cancer during one of those six years and the school planted a small pine near the long front walk in her memory.

Swimming Lessons

Every Friday morning we were bused to St. John’s Church in Sharon for swimming lessons in their indoor pool. The chlorine content of the water was so high that everyone’s eyes were red for the rest of the day. I learned to swim only because if I hadn’t I would have drowned. The instruction we received was minimal. At the end of the course, an evening program was put on for parents to appreciate their water babes’ expertise. Our task was to dive in, swim the length of the pool and climb out at the far end. How I made it, I’ll never know; carried by the angels of St John, maybe.

On those Friday mornings the girls were allowed to wear pants, even jeans, but had to go home and change into a skirt or dress at lunch time. My jeans were lined with warm blue plaid flannel and one cold winter day I rebelled at changing. Upon returning to school, two female classmates jumped me with dire predictions of Mr. Kelly’s paddle. I hate to admit running home to don an acceptable dress.

Restrooms, Recess, Lunch, Winter

Student restrooms were in the basement to which twice daily visits were as strictly regimented as all other activities. Rarely was a student allowed to take a bathroom break on his or her own, but some teachers were more considerate about this than others.

At recess we played closely supervised and organized games, guaranteed to make some students feel inferior as the appointed team captains chose sides for “red rover” or dodge ball. Being small, I was always among the last to be picked.

At lunch time everyone walked home, to eat or not, depending on their circumstances. My siblings and I had only to cross Pierce Avenue and run down a short alley to our house where we hunted in the refrigerator and cupboards for something appealing.

Winter was difficult for girls because to be warm we had to wear two piece snow suits, put on and removed three times each day. The leggings were held up by suspenders and our mandatory skirts had to be stuffed inside like shirts, creating a wrinkled appearance for the whole day. Usually, a girl would rather have frozen legs than deal with those leggings. I can still smell the wet wool mittens, hats and scarves drying on the cloakroom radiator, see the snowsuits hanging on iron hooks and my fellow students rummaging through the pile of rubber boots that had to be pulled on over our bulky unfashionable shoes.

In December, the school put on a Christmas program with each class performing a different song and any exceptionally gifted children doing a talent solo. I remember dinging my little triangle while we all sang “Silver Bells” and Allegra Duncan playing the violin. The students stood on the opposing stairways and the whole program took place in the great central hall where a tall pine had been placed decorated with construction paper chains, stars and snowflakes, all made by the students.

Safety Drills

With milder weather, an occasional fire drill was prearranged and someone timed how quickly the school was evacuated. The first floor students simply walked out the front door. On the upper floors the teachers opened the tall windows which students exited through to the fire escapes.

Sometimes we had atom bomb drills. The town air raid siren would sound and all of us ducked under our desks assuming the “bomb” position, forehead resting in the crook of one arm while the other covered the back of our necks. A few years later we had to exit the building and lay in the grass along Seventh Street, again in the bomb position. WWII wasn’t very far in the past, the Cold War was on everyone’s minds and there was an intense fear of Soviet Russia and “Commies.”

Playground

During the summer holiday a program called “Playground” took place behind Robison. Miss Allen and another woman ran it with none of the normal classroom discipline. No one had to attend and you were free to arrive or walk away at any time during the day. We sat at picnic tables and were assisted in making potholders, lanyards, cork paintings and plaster of Paris figurines which we later painted and proudly bestowed on our parents. There were song fests where the girls and boys shouted stanzas of “Rueben, Rueben” at each other and foot races with no prizes. One of the proudest moments of my life was winning the girls’ foot race, beating an older, stronger and heavier girl. She was as surprised as I was. I loved those summer programs and appreciated seeing Miss Allen as a regular and relaxed woman in jeans and untucked shirts, as well as her frequent smiles.

Occasionally, even Mr. Kelly would drop by. During school days he always wore gray suits, white shirts and ties and, tall and lean, actually looked quite handsome for an older man. It was strange to see him in casual clothes and listen to him talk of everyday matters. One day he explained how the school board, against his superior advice, had allowed Shenango Furnace to dump a few tons of “red dog,” a steel byproduct on the farthest areas of the playground. The once huge and lovely trees that lined that edge soon died and their ugly bare skeletons still remained in reproach of that decision. (Ralph Leland Kelly was born in 1907 and died in 1959.)

Near the picnic tables were a few pieces of play equipment, swing sets, a sliding board, a low merry-go-round and monkey bars. The playground was near a small hill with a creek running along the bottom. This wide hill had no trees and tall grass waved gently in the spring breezes. We called it Goat Hill because it was said that a neighboring family had grazed their animals there. We loved that hill for its height, lack of power lines and trees which made it the perfect place to fly kites. The height achieved by a kite was only limited by the number of balls of string one could tie on. Most of the kites and string had been purchased at Stewart’s Market. Near the top of the hill were two large dugouts of unknown origin, but put to great use in many childhood games.

— Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960), Escondido, CA, March 2013


Such were the memories of Irene’s five years at the Emma Robison Elementary School in the early 1950s. If only all our memories of times past were as pleasant as these! It was a simpler world and possibly a safer one, long gone but not forgotten by those of us who lived it.

See also other stories about Robison School:

Robison School I by Ann Angel Eberhardt
Robison School III by Judy Caldwell Nelson
Robison School Class of 1960 – Part 1 by Irene Caldwell O’Neill