Small Town Memories

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

ROBISON SCHOOL CLASS OF 1960 – Part 1

Like many children in small towns of yesteryear, the same Sharpsville kids attended school together for 12 years – from the first grade until graduation from high school. How well we came to know each other during that time! Which is probably why our earliest classmates have stayed in our memories longer and more clearly than many of our more recent acquaintances. And they seemed to never age in our minds, remaining the same little kids we knew then! 

The following is the first half of a description of Robison Elementary School written by Irene Caldwell O’Neill, a member of the class of 1960. The second half, covering fifth and sixth grades as well as extra-curricular activities, will be published next month.

Irene, who wanted to record her memories of 1950s-1960s Sharpsville, started writing about them several years ago with dreams of a future publication. You can read more about Irene and this blog’s beginnings here

This narrative wouldn’t be complete without the actual names of the people involved. However, if you feel that your name should be kept private, please let us know and we’ll remove them from this blog.

And, as always, your comments (and corrections!) are welcome. 


Emma Robison School

Today Robison Elementary exists only in old photographs and the memories of former students. I’m looking at one such photo [see vintage postcard on eBay] and it looks exactly as I remember it, imposingly large, dark and beautiful.

All Robison School class photos were taken on its front steps with the big double entry doors in the background. Those doors were opened by the janitor about a half hour before school started and the inner doors twenty-five minutes later when he or a teacher stood just outside and rang a wooden-handled bell. Between those two sets of doors, an entryway that could hold only a fourth of the student body comfortably was filled beyond capacity on frigid winter mornings with children compressed like sardines and hardly able to breathe, but glad to be out of the biting cold weather.

"Fun with Dick and Jane'' from rarebookschool.org.

“Fun with Dick and Jane” from rarebookschool.org.

First Grade, 1948-1949

My older sister, Judy, delivered me at age 5 to Mrs. Mae Bloss, my first grade teacher at Robison. Her room and all the lower grades were on the first floor, opening off a large and lofty wood paneled central hallway. On either side of this hall, wide banistered oak stairways led to the upper floors and higher grades. Our first grade room had a ceiling at least fifteen feet high and way up on the front wall, one on each side of the teacher’s desk hung impressive framed prints of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. I stared at those same stern faces in every classroom at Robison School and it was years before I knew who those men were.

Every school day began the same: We clasped our hands, bowed our heads on the hinged and scarred desktops and recited the Lord’s Prayer, then we stood with right hands on hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance (minus the “Under God” phrase) to a flag with forty-eight stars. In first grade I learned to read the Dick, Jane, Sally and Spot books, to print my name and simple sentences as well as addition and subtraction.

Mrs. Bloss and her two daughters attended our First Methodist Church. She always smelled strongly of perfume and wore much makeup and flowery dresses. Most of the time she was nice.

Second Grade, 1949-1950

My second grade experience was happier with Mrs. Martha Kennedy, an older and very kind widow, as our teacher. She gave us love and the class multiplication tables and told us to eat our carrots.

Every day after school, a relative arrived in a gleaming vintage automobile to pick up Mrs. Kennedy. One of my favorite memories is of her hatted, gloved, and finely shod form being helped into that lovely old sedan. She and I exchanged Christmas cards for several years after I moved on to higher grades. She died in 1971 at age 81.

sharpsville_robison_grade3

Third Grade, Emma Robison School, Sharpsville, PA, c. 1950.

Third Grade, 1950-1951

Third grade was taught by Mrs. Florence McKean, a quiet middle-aged woman who received respect simply because she was a good teacher who rarely lost her temper and never administered corporal punishment. Mr. Joe McKean ran a small automobile garage at the corner of Tenth Street and Ridge Avenue. Their home sat directly across the street from the garage. Mrs. McKean’s gravestone states 1909-1975.

That year my best friend was Babsy Brooks, a dimpled cherub with a personality to match. In our class photo, she is sitting beside me in the front row and Jimmy Bains slouching on the other side. Behind him is Mike Angel and on Mike’s left is Georgeanne Achenbach, looking solemnly beautiful. At the far right of the second row, red-haired and freckled Roy Yeager looking quite happy in his plaid shirt. There’s Maryann Karsonovich in the back row, already almost as tall as Mrs. McKean. Her father, Walter was Sharpsville’s chief of police.

Fourth Grade, Emma Robison School, Sharpsville, PA, c. 1951.

Fourth Grade, Emma Robison School, Sharpsville, PA, c. 1951.

Fourth Grade, 1951-1952

My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Betty Imbrie and she ruled with much different and far sterner methods than Mrs. McKean.

Mrs. Imbrie’s daughter was a sweet girl, the same age as my sister Judy and for a year the mother and daughter rented rooms from our neighbor, Helen Bolton. She had a carpenter divide her house into a duplex and rented half her house to a long string of Sharpsville teachers.

I remember reciting the names of all the U. S. presidents, from George Washington to then president, Harry Truman, learning Pennsylvania history, and doing long division and fractions on the blackboards, but mostly I remember being nervous and afraid.

In that class photo, I’m standing directly in front of Mrs. Imbrie. Nancy Hay is beside me and Carla Deal behind her. At the extreme right of the fourth row is my dear friend Dorothy Davenport, and next to her is Carol Crosier, looking lovely. Next to her is Virginia Berkos, already an accomplished tap dancer.

Mrs. Betty Riddle Imbrie died in Dec. of 2001 in Phoenix, Arizona, at the age of 83. A memorial service was held at our First Methodist Church in Sharpsville. (To be continued.)

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


Check in next month for more about the Robison School’s Class of 1960.

See also other stories about Robison School:

Robison School I by Ann Angel Eberhardt
Robison School III by Judy Caldwell Nelson


CANTEEN

A hearty welcome to all of you newcomers to the “Small Town Memories” community. I hope the stories on this site inspire you to share your own memories of living in the Sharpsville area in or around the 1950s through 1970s, whether in a short comment or a longer narrative. Corrections to existing stories are also welcome. Just use the Comment box at the end of any blog or attach your writing to an email to bissella9@hotmail.com.

A comment from Toni E. Nackino, a descendent of the original owner of Isaly’s, asked for certain information about that small dairy store on Sharpsville’s Main Street. If you have the answer, please let us know. You can respond in the Comment box at the end of the “Isaly’s” blog. Here’s her question:

I was looking for information on when the store burned down. Which I always thought was so odd, since the fire station was next door! lol…
…I would love to have someone respond to my query about the Isaly store in Sharpsville burning down. Thank you


THE CANTEEN

On the far side of Sharpsville, PA, children attended an elementary school in a large red-brick building with the name of Deeter. On one side of Deeter was a narrow two-story wood frame structure that we called the Canteen. In the early 1950s the Canteen was one of the few places that we Sharpsville teens could gather for fun and games with others our own age.

sharpsville_image_canteen

Theater poster. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollywood_Canteen_(film)]

Although “canteen” is a word that can be used to denote a container for water while hiking, the focus here is on “canteen” as a gathering place. Borrowed from the French cantine and the Italian cantina meaning “wine cellar,” a canteen in the mid-18th century was a type of shop in a barracks or garrison town, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. By late in the next century, the word had evolved to mean “refreshment room at a military base, school, etc.”

Teenage canteens of the 1950s were likely holdovers from the previous wars, when canteens were places that provided soldiers a recreational break from their duties. The Hollywood Canteen in the 1944 movie of the same name, also provided a venue to cavort with famous movie stars of the day. Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960) wrote that she “somehow came to believe the canteen in Sharpsville may have been used by soldiers from nearby Camp Reynolds during World War II.”

"Life on the Home Front." [http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/pages/exhibits/ww2/life/youth.htm]

“Life on the Home Front: Keeping Them Straight and Narrow: Youth Strategies.” [http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/pages/exhibits/ww2/life/youth.htm]

Canteens for young people in the community, as well as for soldiers, evidently existed during the war years when restless teens had little to do outside of school and faced an uncertain future. According to a 1944 guide for setting up a youth center, prepared by the Associated Youth-Serving Organizations, Inc, “Youth likes to feel that it has a place similar to that of the soldier or sailor and with the same type of activities” and therefore encouraged such amenities as a game room, juke box, snack bar, and dancing in a co-ed atmosphere.

By the 1950s, however, teen troubles were viewed somewhat differently. Juvenile delinquency was in the news and communities were seeking ways to assure that their young people weren’t among those who fell into such antisocial behavior as vandalism or violence.

Thus, like many communities across the country, Sharpsville’s Canteen, later know as the Youth Center, came into being. I don’t recall who the sponsors were, or whether a fee was charged, or whether it resembled a soldier’s canteen. And I don’t think that any famous movie stars were ever present! I do remember that 1950s rock-and-roll records were played and that we mostly sat on chairs along the walls, boys in one group and girls across the dance floor in another group, too shy in those early awkward years to do much mingling. Irene Caldwell O’Neill remembered these details:

Here on Friday nights, parents volunteered to chaperone seventh and eighth graders as they danced to music from a jukebox (upstairs) or played ping-pong or table-top shuffleboard (downstairs). The girls tended to congregate upstairs and usually jitter-bugged together to Fats Domino or Chuck Berry and the Comets songs or sat at the little tables drinking cokes and eating chips. The boys massed downstairs around the shuffleboard table or played ping-pong. Never once do I remember a boy dancing at the canteen. In spite of this gender separation, it was here that courtship rituals began that would last until graduation. We were all very carefully checking each other out.

Teen canteens exist to this day, such as the aptly named CanTeen, a current program in Cicero, New York. It is interesting to note that CanTeen’s focus is “to keep youth safe and entertained during their out of school time.” During the past seven decades, the purpose of canteens seems to have evolved from keeping youth busy in the 1940s, to keeping them out of trouble in the 50s, to keeping them safe in today’s even more worrisome times. But all such organized social programs have tried to create an environment that would mold young people into responsible and upstanding adults. Not an easy job and not 100 percent effective, but it has been worth the try.

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


THE DAY THE CANADIANS CAME TO TOWN

There must be something deep in the primordial souls of girls in their early teens to be drawn like a magnet to certain individuals of similar age, whether a rock star or movie idol or perhaps just someone who looks and acts very cool.

This story, originally described in detail in my 1955 diary, tells of such an encounter by several of us Sharpsville girlfriends with a group of Canadian boys, how it affected us at the time, and how – and maybe why – those feelings are still remembered over sixty years later. (Actual names of the Sharpsville individuals mentioned in this story have been replaced by initials unless permissions have been granted to use full names.)


Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay.com

November 11, 1955. We still called it Armistice Day, although this national holiday was renamed Veterans’ Day just the year before. On that day, Sharpsville, like many other towns and cities across the country, commemorated the World War I peace agreement with an Armistice Day Parade down Main Street.

My girlfriend JC and I, were just happy for a day away from school. Shivering in the brisk cold air of a Friday afternoon, we joined other onlookers next to a judge’s stand set up in front of the Gordon Ward Appliances store.

The usual flag-waving and baton-twirling groups, veterans’ clubs, and civic organizations stepped smartly past us, including the Sharpsville High School band and a marching unit from George Junior Republic, a nearby boys-only institution. Then one particular group grabbed our attention. To us, there was nothing “usual” about this regiment of approximately 40 young guys in uniforms nor their name and origin. As their banner told us, they were cadets affiliated with Governor General’s Horse Guards in Toronto, Ontario. I learned much later that the Horse Guards had a long history of active service in the defense of Canada. Since WWII, the organization volunteers its service on United Nations missions augmenting Canada’s Regular Army. The boys in this parade weren’t riding horses, but their red and blue uniforms and soldierly bearing were quite enough to impress us.

When the last of the parade passed by, JC and I headed for the football stadium to watch a special marching exhibition by the cadets scheduled for later in the evening. On the way, we kept our eye on those Canadian boys who were milling about, their brightly-colored uniforms standing out on the wintry gray streets and sidewalks — and who were also watching us. We soon came upon two other school friends, JW and JG, who shared our interest in these visitors from another planet. JW, the more brazen of the four of us, summoned enough nerve to call out to several of the cadets complimenting them on their marching. This was all that was needed for several of the boys to cross the street and join us. Then the fun really began.

sharpsville_canadian2

Ann Angel & Larry, a Horse Guard cadet, Sharpsville, PA, November 1955.

For the next several hours, we walked around town, talking and laughing and joking and teasing, until we ended up at JG’s house, tired but too engrossed in each other to give up yet. One of the boys had a camera that was passed to JG’s mother to record our get-together in black-and-white photos, which served forever after as confirmations of this momentous occasion.

But all good times have an ending, and, like Cinderella’s, ours ended at midnight when the boys courteously walked us to our respective homes. My house was located next door to a dance hall that my Dad owned. There, a reception was being held for the parade participants, complete with food and dancing. Larry, the guy I found myself paired with by that time, and I stopped in and he introduced me to even more of his cadet buddies. When one of the boys asked me to dance, I felt as if I were in a Disney movie.

When Larry and I finally arrived at my door he asked for my pink chiffon scarf “‘cause in Canada that’s what the girls give to the boys.” He gave me his address and said “so long” instead of goodbye because “saying goodbye would mean forever” and he planned to return in a few months. What lines! But I soaked them up like a brand new sponge.

In my next diary entry, dated Monday, November 13, 1955, I gushed, “All us kids do now is talk about those Canadians. And no wonder! They beat Sharpsville boys by a mile.” Of course, the cadets had the advantages of being exotic “foreigners,” looking smart, and, above all, they had paid flattering attention to us. We never tired of going over each detail of that night — as we met at Sandy’s over pizza or at Crick’s Drug Store over phosphate sodas and a shared bag of Wise potato chips. In the process of reliving the fun we had together and the hopes of capturing it again in the future, we became close friends, probably the best overall outcome of the whole experience.

But seeing those young guys ever again was not to be. As fervently as they had promised in their letters, even telegrams, that they would return and as much as we hoped it would be true, time stretched into months, then a year, without so much as a glimpse of them again. The number of letters and photographs we exchanged dwindled along with our initial excitement until the memories moved into the background of our minds. When I finally realized this was the case, I asked my diary, “Now what will we do?” In hindsight, I can answer that. We can –and did– live out the rest of our lives in even more compelling ways and in far different places than we young and innocent girls could ever imagine.

EPILOGUE

In 1992, I traveled through Pennsylvania with my daughter and husband, stopping at the places I had lived long ago: Wheatland, Sharpsville, and Cleveland. In Sharpsville, I had a delightful reunion with two friends from my school days, one of whom was featured in this story. My friend and I reminisced about the Canadian Boys Event of 1955 and the range of emotions we felt at the time. Not only did those and many more shared memories reignite that long-ago friendship but they also indicated to us how much we have — and haven’t — changed in the sixty years since that time.

–Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Phoenix, AZ, March 2016


METALLIC MEMORIES

There once was a time when the word “metal” called to mind a chemical element, such as iron, aluminum, or tin, and not the loud, fast-paced music of distorted electric guitars. Here are two stories about the chemical kind of metal that played a part in my memories of 1950s Sharpsville, Pennsylvania. We welcome your additions or corrections.


The Tin Shop

The Tin Man in the "Wizard of Oz." Source: Pixabay.

The Tin Man in the “Wizard of Oz.” Source: Pixabay.

One of my favorite movies is The Wizard of Oz, starring those memorable characters that Dorothy met as she tried to find her way home to Kansas from the Land of Oz. One of those, the Tin Man, would remind me of a tin shop that was located in the alley behind my childhood home in Sharpsville. It’s strange how the mind can connect two entirely different subjects by the presence of one thing in common. In this case, tin.

Between our house on Second Street and the Casino, there was Y-shaped cinder alley where we kids sometimes played baseball. One leg of the alley led to Main Street and the other to North Third Street. The tin shop I remember was a black wooden two-story building among several similar outbuildings, dark and mysterious as to their use, although I recall that one of them had a large sliding door and was used as a garage.

Peering through the shop’s grimy windows we could see cobwebs strung about the machinery and dusty piles of tin things. My brother Mike remembers that “all kinds of items were made there that were outdated such as candle molds. I guess that’s why they went out of business. I only remember one time I saw people working the shop. The rest of the time the place was locked up.”

Angel family dog in back yard with alley buildings in background, May 1954.

Angel family dog in backyard of Second Strreet home; alley buildings in background, May 1954.

(Mike has a much keener mind than I do about our past. He also recalls another tin shop “down from Crick’s Drug Store, I think that was on Pierce Avenue. That shop was well known for making the long spouted oil cans used to reach oil fittings on locomotives.” )

The existence of the tin shop in the alley was further confirmed by Donna DeJulia: “I lived directly across the street from the tin shop on 27 North Third Street. Mom said that tin shop used to be a livery stable at one time….”

Donna submitted a photo of the tin shop to the familyoldphotos website and wrote that the tin shop was owned by a Mr. Clark. “His son was in the Breed motorcycle club [which] taught my older brother to throw knives.” It was eventually torn down by the owner of Cattron Communications, a company that, in the 1970s, had its home office in what was once the Angel family home and printshop on Second Street.

Google Maps Street View shows that the space is now cleared of most of the old buildings and houses and completely paved over. The place looks tidy now but lacks the character it had in the old days. Maybe the tin shop still sticks in my imagination so many years later because it was a silent relic of an even more distant past. Or maybe because the Tin Man would have been at home in that place during its heyday.

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ
– Mike Angel (SHS 1960), London, KY
Donna DeJulia (SHS 1960)


Collecting Scrap Metal

Source: Pinterest.com

Source: Pinterest.com

Scrap yards or junkyards of old now have the more respectable name of “recycling centers,” but they achieve the same useful purpose of providing a place to properly dispose of unwanted metal material, such as cars, household appliances, and other products, large and small. Some of us kids would go about town collecting smaller metal items with the goal of turning our finds into the local scrap yard for some spending money.

It was like a treasure hunt as we searched for metal items in fields, along roads, or in neighbors’ trashbins. With Dad’s help, we would then load up the family’s 1949 Ford pick-up truck with our collection, mostly cans, tubing, wires, and an assortment of unidentified pieces of metal. We’d pull into the yard and onto a scale that weighed the truck and its contents. After the truck was emptied it was driven onto the scale again to determine the weight of the metal. Then the best part came when the employee would pay us in cash for our delivery. According to my brother Mike,

Magnet souvenir from J.r. Goldberg Scrap Yard., Sharon, PA, c. 1950s.

Magnet souvenir from J.r. Goldberg Scrap Yard., Sharon, PA, c. 1950s.

[S]crap metal collecting was one of my ways of making extra money. Every time I found a piece of metal I would add it to my stash until the pile was big enough to take to the scrap yard, usually J. B. Goldberg Co. in Sharon. Usually, Dad would drive me there. Incidentally, in front of me as I’m typing this e-mail is a magnet the company gave out as advertising items. The engraving on the magnet depicts, “J.B. Goldberg Co. Sharon, PA -Diamond 7-7390 – Scrap Iron & Metal.” I’ve had the magnet about 60 years now.

Irene Caldwell O’Neill also recalls that “Jack [my brother] and I used to save every piece of scrap metal we could find and take it in our wagon to the scrap yard where it was weighed and we collected our cash.”

The junkyards, then and now, use the scrap metal to re-make metal – a process which is more cost-effective than producing new metals. In the 1950s we kids didn’t think about this aspect of junkyards or that they benefited the environment in the long run. We just enjoyed the treasure hunt and the little bit of money we earned for our efforts.

– Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ
– Mike Angel (SHS 1960), London, KY

– Irene Caldwell O’Neill (SHS 1960), Escondido, CA – April 2012


TOM THUMB WEDDING & THE PHC

In 1946, when my brother, Michael, and I joined other children for several Saturdays at the imposing Protected Home Circle Building to practice walking down an aisle as pretend wedding participants, I don’t think we really understood what it was all about. On the day of the Tom Thumb Wedding, however, I’m sure I felt quite elegant when my mother tied matching ribbons in my hair and dressed me in a homemade pink chiffon gown adorned with flower appliques. My brother was decked out in a little tuxedo, also sewn by my mother, and probably wishing he were back home climbing trees in his front yard instead of participating in this curious ceremony.

The Protected Home Circle (PHC), which sponsored the mock wedding, was a fraternal life insurance company founded in Sharon, Pennsylvania, in 1886. The company not only provided insurance benefits to families, but also sponsored social, patriotic, and religious activities for young people as a deterrent against juvenile deliquency. I recall my brother and I, at a very young age, attending ballroom dancing classes and watching a puppet show during a Halloween costume party in that massive four-story white brick PHC Building.

But the Tom Thumb wedding was the big show. This elaborate event consisted of 52 little boys and girls none older than 12 years except the teenaged “cleric” and his two attendants. Looking at the photograph of this wedding party, taken 70 years ago, I can imagine once again the long trek down the aisle between chairs of proud parents and other relatives, in step with Richard Wagner’s “Wedding Chorus.”

In the lead would be the numerous bridesmaids in long dresses of a variety of pastel colors and styles escorted by groomsmen in black attire. Six of the bridesmaids, including a pair of twins, carried bouquets of flowers which must have ranked them higher than the rest of the bridesmaids.

Next were the tiniest of the tots. First the flower girl wearing a wide-brimmed hat and carrying her little basket of petals that she scattered on the bride’s path. She would have been accompanied by the ringbearer, distinguished by his white suit and short pants, and carrying the white satin pillow with the rings.

Then the main event: the lovely bride on her “father’s” arm, the long train of her gown held by a page, another wee boy dressed similar to the ring-bearer as they walked slowly towards the officiant and groom waiting on the “altar.”

Tom Thumb Wedding sponsored by The Protected Home Circle, Fall 1946.

Tom Thumb Wedding sponsored by The Protected Home Circle, Sharon, PA, Fall 1946. Michael Angel is in top row, directly between bride and groom; Ann Angel is third from right, top row.

The bride did not hold a bouquet, at least not in the formal photograph taken afterwards. Instead, it appears that she is holding a prayer book. The photograph doesn’t give much indication that we were enjoying the occasion, so maybe Mike and I were not the only ones who were just cluelessly playing our roles as we had been trained. After “vows” were exchanged and the photograph taken, we filed out in the proper recessional order and then headed with our parents for the reception in a banquet hall.

Reception following Tom Thumb Wedding., sponsored by The Protected Home Circle, Sharon, PA. Fall 1946. Ann & Michael Angel seated at table, 4th and 5th from left. Mother, Susie Angel in upper left corner.

Reception following Tom Thumb Wedding, sponsored by The Protected Home Circle, Sharon, PA, Fall 1946. Ann & Michael Angel seated at table, 4th and 5th from left.

Marriage of Livinia Warren and General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton), February 10, 1863, at Grace Episcopal Church, Manhattan, New York, NY.

Marriage of Livinia Warren and General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton), February 10, 1863, at Grace Episcopal Church, Manhattan, New York, NY.

Tom Thumb weddings were originally inspired by one of showman P.T. Barnum’s many publicity events in the late 1800s. Barnum promoted popular museum attractions that included performances by the little person Charles Stratton, an actor whom Barnum renamed “Gen. Tom Thumb” after the English fairy tale character who was no larger than his father’s thumb. Barnum arranged and funded an actual wedding of Charles Stratton to equally minute Lavinia Warren in the winter of 1863. Their sensational wedding was a welcomed diversion for the country during the dark days of the Civil War. Soon after, re-enactments of this diminutive wedding, featuring children, became popular as youth activities or fundraisers across the country and, after rising and falling in acceptance for over 150 years, continue to be held to this day.

The Protected Home Circle Building has its own story. According to John Zavinski’s article,”Fraternal Group Rose From Ashes of ’36 Sharon Fire,” in the April 2011 issue of Life & Times, an original yellow-brick castle-like building of the same height was destroyed by fire on April 21, 1936, after just 33 years of existence. Exactly a year later, on the same East State Street location on the Shenango River, a cornerstone was dedicated for the construction of today’s art deco building.

As of early 2000s, after a change to mutual life insurance and a short-lived merger, the PHC company is no longer in operation. Today the building, now known as River Walk Place, is owned and occupied by Gilbert’s Risk Solutions, a venerable local firm that also sells insurance.

The Protected Home Circle (PHC) Building, Sharon, PA. June 1993. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Michael’s little black tuxedo also had a second life. Almost ten years after the Tom Thumb wedding, it was worn by my younger brother, Patrick, in Sharpsville’s annual Halloween parade and afterwards in a costume contest that was held at Angel’s Casino. He was awarded the prize for wearing the Best Costume on Boy Under Six.

 – Ann Angel Eberhardt, SHS 1958, Phoenix, AZ


For more information, see:

Benjamin, Melanie. “America’s Royal Wedding: General and Mrs. Tom Thumb.” THE BLOG on Huffpost Style. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/melanie-benjamin/royal-wedding_b_850540.html (accessed 01-30-2016). Internet resource.

Benjamin, Melanie. The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel. New York: Delacorte Press, 2011. Print.

Weeks, Linton. “The Wondrous World Of Tom Thumb Weddings.” http://www.npr.org/sections/theprotojournalist/2014/11/15/363787614/the-wondrous-world-of-tom-thumb-weddings. Internet resource.

Zavinski, John. “Fraternal group rose from ashes of ’36 Sharon fire.” Life & Times, April 2011, page 22. http://www.zavinski.com/columnnowthen/pages/1104-nowthen.pdf (accessed 01-30-2016). Internet resource.


2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,400 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

A CHRISTMAS KINDNESS

A CHRISTMAS KINDNESS

Here’s an extra story this month to honor the season
and wish you contented, peaceful, and charitable holidays. 

christmas-tree-pixabayWhat’s Christmas without a fir tree festooned with garlands and shiny ornaments? This was the approach my brother Mike and I decided to use as we gathered enough courage to ask Dad for that essential icon of the season. After all, it was Christmas Eve and we didn’t yet have a Christmas tree.

We knew Dad appreciated the traditions of Christmas, but only simple non-commercial ones: Handmade decorations on a tree brought in from the woods and Mom’s Christmas dinner. And he always happily greeted the annual visit of a Sharpsville Service Club Santa Claus. But we weren’t sure where a store-bought Christmas tree would fit into his thinking.

Dad owned and operated a printshop that occupied the first floor of our home on North Second Street in Sharpsville, PA. He loved that shop, took pride in the good business he had established, and worked hard at it day and night. So when we came to him with our request for a tree, he was, as usual, busy feeding paper into the noisy printing press, printing a last-minute order and trying to meet a deadline that allowed no time to tend to the details of Christmas. As the press continued its rhythmic clatter, he reached into his pocket and handed us two dollar bills, challenging in his tough-love way, “Okay, then. Go get yourselves a tree.”

We must have known the very place we could buy a tree and perhaps even proposed it to Dad. There was a shop on West Ridge Avenue, across from the then Sharpsville Junior-Senior High School, that had several Christmas trees on display outside its front door. I don’t recall what sort of business it was, possibly one that sold televisions. Snow must have been on the ground, as my brother brought his Flexible Flyer sled with us, as we trudged up the steep and icy Second Street hill to the store.

sharpsvillle_sledding-pixabayWe selected the perfect tree, then asked a young salesman if we could purchase it with our two dollars. He hesitated, then told us to wait a moment while he went inside the store. He returned, saying “Sure, you can buy one!” We suspected that he had received permission from his boss to sell the tree to us two little kids at a very reduced price.

We hauled our precious tree home on the sled, carried it up the steps to our home, and set it up in the living room. The family spent Christmas Eve decorating it with our collection of mostly homemade (of course) decorations and enjoyed Mom’s delicious home-cooked Christmas dinner the next day.

It’s been 60-plus years since we experienced that good-hearted gesture by the staff person and the storekeeper. I’ve always wished I could thank the two of them for enabling us to have a tree, but for more than that. It was a simple act of kindness that defined for us the essence of Christmas, the sort of Christmas spirit that Dad was trying to teach us.

–Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS), Goodyear, AZ, 2014

For more holiday stories, go to:
A Sharpsville Christmas
Sharpsville’s Santas


SHARPSVILLE’S SANTAS

‘Tis the special season, when houses and stores are decorated in lots of red and green, when yuletide music is in the air, and when I think of Christmas visits by a Sharpsville Santa Claus to our home in the 1950s. 

Luminarias at Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ. 2014. Photo by Adrian Major.

Luminarias at Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ. 2014. Photo by Adrian Major.

Now that I live in southern Arizona, where the weather is warm and sunny at Christmas, it takes the appearance of those decorations and music to remind me that it’s even December. Here, instead of hosting Santa visits, one of our family traditions is an evening at Las Noches de las Luminarias, presented annually by the Desert Botanical Garden. We stroll pathways lined with luminaria bags and towering cacti adorned with twinkle lights while serenaded by a wide variety of musical groups — from handbell ringers to jazz to mariachis — along the way. 

On this blog site last year Judy McCracken (SHS 1960) wrote of her fond memories of visits by Sharpsville Santas in a narrative titled “A Sharpsville Christmas.” The following is another recollection of that beloved tradition.


'"Welcome" sign at entrance to Sharpsville on Sharon-Sharpsville Road. Photo taken during a 1993 visit.

‘”Welcome” sign at entrance to Sharpsville on Sharon-Sharpsville Road. Photo taken in 1993.

How can memories of Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, not include Santa Claus visits to our homes on or around Christmas Eve! Is there any other town in the United States that has supported such a delightful program with such regularity for so many years as Sharpsville has for 66 years?!

This annual tradition began in late 1948 at a Sharpsville Service Club meeting when George F. Mahaney Jr., a local lawyer, told his fellow members about a Christmas custom in his own neighborhood. For several years on Christmas Eve, he and a friend donned Santa Claus costumes and paid calls to families with children. He suggested that this project be expanded to cover the entire borough of Sharpsville. The idea was adopted and implemented that very year when approximately 10 volunteer Santas hit the streets the night before Christmas.

Since then the project grew to involve 40 Santas by 2001. Not only have some members been Santas for over 20 years, succeeding generations of the same families have also been Santas to succeeding generations of children.

It works like this: Before the eventful night, dozens of volunteers spent hundreds of hours recruiting participants, providing supplies, planning routes, coordinating activities, making popcorn balls, and alerting residents to turn on their porch light if they wish to welcome a Santa into their home.

Early in the evening on a day or two before Christmas, the Santas-to-be met at a designated location, such as the borough’s fire station in the 1950s or at a base of operations provided by the Sharpsville Veterans of Foreign Wars in the 2000s. There they suited up, studied their routes and instructions, and threw their sacks of popcorn balls over their shoulders as they piled into their “sleighs” for a night on the town, sometimes accompanied by Mrs. Santa. According to the Indiana (PA) Gazette on February 4, 2001,

A door-to-door Santa visits Pat Angel at his home on Second Street, Christmas 1955.

A door-to-door Santa shares a popcorn ball with Pat Angel at his home on Second Street, Christmas 1955.

Helpers drive the cars and keep one house ahead of Santa to tell parents of the impending visit and learn names and Christmas wishes of the children. If parents want Santa to deliver a gift to their child, they leave it on the porch.

I warmly recall those stops at our house on Second Street during the 1950s, announced by the jingle of bells and a resounding “ho-ho-ho”. I was a teenager who felt too “grown up” to join the fun, but I took great pleasure in observing Santa’s cheerful interaction with my two younger brothers.

Even though the Service Club members knew they needed to be “ready for anything” when they entered a home as a Santa, they have described the experience as rewarding and uplifting when they saw the excitement and wonder on the faces of the children.

The visits must have indeed inspired happiness in the hearts of young and old alike and the hope that this simple but meaningful community tradition would be around for future generations to enjoy.


Besides recording my own memories of the Santa visits, I used information from the following sources. You are welcome to send in corrections, additions, or your own recollections.

“Jolly volunteers head out every Christmas Eve; Sharpsville kids guaranteed visit from Santa”, Feb 4, 2001 – Indiana (PA) Gazette, February 4, 2001.

“Santa really visits every home in Sharpsville”, Observer-Reporter (Washington, PA), December 2, 1981.

“Sharpsville: It takes more than eight tiny reindeer”. The Herald (Sharon, PA), Dec 26, 2000.

“What’s it like to be Santa?” by Joe Zentis, staff writer. The Herald (Sharon, PA), December 26, 2000.

“Where Faith Defies Reality.” In a December 2004 Herald essay, Mary Claire Mahaney shared memories of her uncle, George F. Mahaney, who inspired the idea of Sharpsville’s Santas and worked as one when she was a little girl.

Sharpsville Service Club Facebook page [no longer in operation].


See Also:

A Christmas Kindness
A Sharpsville Christmas


–Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, AZ, 2016

AMUSEMENT PARKS

A mention of Conneaut Lake Park in last month’s blog by Irene Caldwell O’Neill reminded me of a couple of lively and colorful amusement parks we used to visit in the 1950s and 60s — when we had willing friends, access to a car and some money to spend.

If descriptions of these amusement parks stir up some memories of your own, please consider sharing them with us.


Conneaut Lake Park, Conneaut, Pennsylvania

Surprisingly Conneaut Lake Park is still in operation after over 120 years since it began. Like its signature Blue Streak wooden roller coaster, the park has had ups and downs throughout its history, from fires to closures to bankruptcy. It is currently overseen by a not-for-profit corporation.

Originally a boat landing, the land was purchased by the Conneaut Lake Exposition Company which created “Exposition Park” in 1892. It operated as a permanent fairground showing Western Pennsylvania’s finest livestock and latest machinery and industrial products. Beginning in 1901, new owners — the Pittsburgh & Shenango Valley Railroad — turned it into a popular resort that included several hotels and was accessed by boat, train or a trolley.

“Conneaut Lake Park,” renamed in 1920 after Pennsylvania’s largest glacier lake, featured the rides and amusements we knew in the 1950s: the Tumble Bug, Tilt-a-Whirl, Wild Mouse, Jack Rabbit, and the Blue Streak (2,900 feet long, 51 mph speed) which was added in 1938. (Source: Wikipedia.org). Most of these rides are still in operation, including the 77-foot high Blue Streak, known as the 17th oldest existing wooden rollercoaster in the United States. That the park hadn’t changed much through the years added to its charm and attraction. About 30 miles from Sharpsville, it was a favorite destination for a Saturday night double date.

In the 1950s we didn’t think much about the park’s early days when women in Gibson-girl hairstyles and flowing ankle-length dresses and men in blazers and straw hats arrived on trolleys to enjoy a day at the park. We were seeking the same pleasures, however, daring each other to try the fastest, highest or jerkiest rides or enjoying a bright red sticky candy apple or similarly sticky cotton candy and strolling the park to see and be seen.

For me, the rides were more fun to watch than actually ride, the penny arcade and the fun house being more my speed. The fun house had two fascinating mirror features: a room full of mirrors that would cause a great amount of disorientation, as well as a tall wavy mirror at the entrance that would distort your reflected body into various shapes depending on where you stood. Out in front, too, was a huge figure of a laughing lady, whose recorded laugh was loud and monotonous but definitely attention-getting.

One quaint machine in the penny arcade was called the “peep show,” albeit quite innocent in nature. Once you inserted a penny and looked into a small opening, you would see to a set of picture cards on a rotating axis. When you turned a handle the cards flipped by fast enough to suggest that the pictures were in motion. I recall scenes such as a woman dancing or a man lifting weights. Since the figures were in early 1900s attire, they were obviously a leftover from the park’s earliest days, just as the penny arcade itself was a precursor to the video arcade of more recent times.

Idora Park, Youngstown, Ohio

sharpsville_IdoraEntrance1910s

Entrance to Idora Park, Youngstown, Ohio, c. 1910. [Source: Wikipedia.org]

In our day, we didn’t have just one amusement park close by, we had two. Across the Pennsylvania-Ohio border was Idora Park, located a little over 20 miles southwest of Sharpsville.

“Youngstown’s Million Dollar Playground” was built by the Youngstown Park & Falls Street Railway Company. Like Conneaut Lake Park, it was one of many amusement parks that were built at the end of trolley lines to “generate weekend revenue,” according to Wikipedia.org. Soon after opening, it became known as “Idora Park” as the result of a naming contest.

Idora Park Dance Hall, 1920. Source: Wikipedia.org

Idora Park Dance Hall, 1920. Source: Wikipedia.org

I still remember Idora Park Ballroom, a large red building with an expansive hardwood floor on which people danced to the music of big-name bands and, later, attended rock and roll acts such as the Eagles and The Monkees. When we weren’t hanging out at the ballroom, we crashed into each other with bumper cars, took a dizzying ride on the merry-go-round (which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975) or tried out the roller coasters.

This park had two wooden roller coasters. The Wild Cat was built in 1929 as a 3,000-foot state-of-the-art, three-minute ride and “was still ranked among the top ten roller coasters in the world in 1984.” Also recognized at the time as one of the best coasters in the country was the Jack Rabbit, 70 feet in height and 2,200 feet long, built in 1910. I’ve never forgotten how scared I was when the one of the rides would always end by racing down a track and splashing into a pool of water. We would leave the ride not only in an unsteady state, but dripping wet.

The park survived until the 1980s when several changes brought about its final demise: the end of the Youngstown Sheet and Tube, the city’s biggest employer, and a devastating fire in 1984. Under the mismanagement of subsequent owners, the park suffered additional fires and continuing deterioration until the remaining structures were razed by the city. Only the carousel remains to this day, purchased and restored by a couple in New York City and now on display in the Brooklyn Bridge Park.

For more about Idora Park’s early days and great vintage photos, see “The History of Idora Park (1899-1984)” by Rick Shale at Mahoning Valley Historical Society’s site.

Today, the pungeant odor of hot dogs slathered with mustard, catsup, pickle relish and onions or the cheerful music of a calliope still bring back memories of the simple enjoyment of a visit to Idora or Conneaut Lake Park.

— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958)

JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL

A whole new world awaited us once we completed sixth grade at Robison or Deeter Elementary School. Here are Irene Caldwell O’Neil’s memories of the next step in our education in 1950s-1960s Sharpsville, Pennsylvania.

[A vintage postcard depicting Sharpsville High School in the 1940s can been seen here.]


Going to seventh grade meant leaving Robison and walking seven blocks along Ridge Avenue to the high school where one side of the building was reserved for junior high students. We had our own entrance and were fairly well isolated from the upper grade students and teachers. It was an intense culture shock and difficult transition for me.

We were assigned a home room and from there traveled to several different classrooms for various classes, each with a different teacher. Classes included English, history, math, science, gym, and home economics for the girls, but shop or mechanical drawing for the boys.

Class of 1960, room 307 (of 5 home rooms).

Class of 1960, room 307 (of 5 home rooms). Irene Caldwell is second from left in the middle row. Source: 1958 “Devil’s Log,” Sharpsville High School Yearbook

Pants were still forbidden attire for female students and our skirts fell halfway to our ankles. Full skirts were more fashionable than straight and crinoline slips starched with sugar water made them stand out enough to please a southern belle. It was difficult to squeeze those skirts into the one-armed desk-chairs packed closely together in all the rooms, but vanity prevailed. Sweater sets, cinch belts, silk scarves around our necks or pony tails, white sox and black flat shoes were standard attire.

Tycora Yarns magazine ad, 1957. Source: Etsy.com

Tycora Yarns magazine ad, 1957. Source: Etsy.com

I remember buying those flats at Books Shoe Store in downtown Sharon and my first Tycora sweater set at the Sharon Store. Later t-strap flats and white bucks became must haves and I pleaded with Mother to add the difference in price to my baby-sitting money so I could be “in.” The requisite poodle skirt was my birthday present during eighth grade.

P.E. [physical education], or gym class as we called it, was the most difficult adjustment for me. I was dreadfully self-conscious and undressing in front of the other girls was humiliating. A mandatory one-piece gym uniform had to be ordered and worn, over great complaints by my mother at the price. It was an ugly yellow color, made of harsh cotton that always looked wrinkled even after ironing, and could only have flattered a figure like Marilyn Monroe’s.

sharpsville_image_gymsuit

Typical one-piece gymsuit of the 1950s-1960s.

Gym consisted mostly of silly exercises that ended with us all lying on the floor and stretching our legs. Occasionally we were allowed to play half-court basketball and that was the only time I enjoyed P.E. We were all supposed to shower after our workouts, but a certain ever-confident girl was the only one I remember doing so. Supposedly, points were deducted from your grade for not showering. Getting A’s was always very important to me except in gym. I hated it so much that I deliberately “forgot” my uniform enough to be failed for a whole semester and didn’t mind one bit. I could sit in the bleachers and get my homework done for the subjects I did like.

Home Economics, designed to make us into perfect housewives someday was second to P.E. in my least favorite subjects. I recall a whole class period being given to the proper peeling and sectioning of an orange! We learned to set a table perfectly and to this day I wouldn’t dare put a knife and spoon together on the left side of a dinner plate or place the water glass above a fork.

There were a few sewing machines that had to be shared, but three to four times as many students as machines made it difficult to get sewing assignments done on time unless you were lucky enough to have a machine at home. We did not and I wasn’t pushy enough to get the use of a classroom machine to ever finish a project on time. My grades in Home Economics varied, good in cooking, table setting and test taking but poor in sewing, except for a ditzy looking apron everyone was required to make and wear every day in class. Most of the students bought our fabric in downtown Sharon at less than a dollar a yard.

One project that I received the best grade in class on was a scrapbook of our dream home. My future home was a romantic Victorian, as large and with as many rooms as the former Buhl home in Sharon. I was a little unrealistic, but now wonder what the other students’ books looked like. Modern ranch houses with shiny appliances like the one Vice President Nixon showed to visiting Nikita Khrushchev?

Our graduation from Junior High was held in the school auditorium and seemed a very uneventful occasion. I believe our little blue covered diplomas were handed out when we returned to our home rooms.

The big event however, was being bused to Conneaut Lake Amusement Park for an all-day celebration that was indeed tons of fun. I got the worst sunburn of my life that day from several hours of swimming and walking through the park in a sleeveless blouse.

 

Greetings From Conneaut Lake Park, PA

Greetings From Conneaut Lake Park, PA

My classmates and I finally made it through those two years of anxiety, clumsiness, and self-consciousness as Junior High students. Maybe our tribulations were just part of growing up, and dealing with them helped build our character. If that was the case then our Junior High experiences benefited us after all.

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