Small Town Memories

Recording memories of the SHARPSVILLE, PA, AREA from the 1940s to the 1970s, one story at a time.

Tag: candy

WHEATLAND FLATS II: Second Street

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

This is the second in a series chronicling my memories of 1940s Wheatland, Pennsylvania, a tiny village in the Shenango River flatlands of western Pennsylvania, 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 sheep, 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 Ludu’s and the Radu’s, 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


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ANGEL’S CASINO: Here Came the Bride

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

After two weeks of visiting family in Kentucky and North Carolina, I’m back at the keyboard with another Sharpsville story. This post is the third of 4 installments covering my memories of Angel’s Casino, the dance hall that my family owned and operated in Sharpsville, PA, during the 1950s and 1960s.


Angel’s Casino became so frequent a venue for wedding receptions that all that revelry was wearing us out. To possibly discourage some prospective renters, Dad eventually raised the hall rental cost to $500 a day. The renter was responsible for decorations, food, refreshments, and music.

But, oh those celebrations! Much of Sharpsville’s population consisted of people of Eastern European descent, and they knew how to throw a party. According to my dad:

Wedding celebrations and dances were strictly Saturday affairs at Angel’s and booked months in advance. The hall was rented for 24 hours, 6 am Saturday to 6 am Sunday for Polish, Italian, or Greek wedding festivities, each with its own germane flavor. An “American” wedding paled in comparison to the joyous celebrations of these ethnic counterparts.

By late afternoon of the wedding day, we children would watch eagerly for the bride, bridesmaids, groom, and others of the wedding party to arrive at the reception. When the bride stepped out of a fancy car wearing a billowing white gown and veil and holding her bouquet of flowers, we gasped in awe.

Angel's Casino: Here Came the BrideSometimes the neighborhood kids would put on their good Sunday clothes and attend the wedding, invited or not, to pick up a little tulle bag of almonds coated in pastel-colored candy or have a bit of the wedding cake. Mike recalls, “I smoked my first cigar that was for the taking at the wedding reception tables. I also ate a lot of the candy-covered almonds.”

We loved to watch the attendees as they danced the polka, waltz, or jitterbug to a live band that usually included an accordion and a saxophone. I don’t recall whether full-sized dinners were served, but there were plenty of desserts, and alcoholic drinks flowed freely for the adults.

When the wedding was traditionally Italian, the bride and the bride’s father would dance first, followed by the bride and groom. As the newlyweds twirled about the dance floor, a hat or bag was passed among the onlookers who were expected to fill it with money. And then the intoxicating music of the Tarantella was played as guests dance-stepped together in a circle, some waving handkerchiefs above their heads. After many glasses of wine, guests would repeatedly cheer phrases in their native tongue, wishing the newlyweds good luck and happiness, accompanied by enthusiastic applause and much laughter.

Meanwhile, several young guys would often stand on the landing at the side entrance and engage each other in the Italian hand game of Morra. Players would extend their arms to display a certain number of fingers while simultaneously shouting in Italian the total number of fingers they estimated would be presented by both players. If no one guessed the correct sum or the players guessed the same number, the game continued until there was a clear winner, based on a point system. On many a Saturday night I tried unsuccessfully to fall asleep to the sounds of their exuberant bets backed up by lively dance music just below my bedroom window. According to my brother Mike:

I always referred to it as “Motto”; at least that’s what it sounded like. All the young men and boys in Sharpsville and Shenango Valley knew how to play. I was good at it! A lot of money was won and lost betting on the game.

The bride and groom usually left at midnight, but guests continued their merrymaking for several hours. By that time, I was desperately wanting to sleep and counting the hours until they finally went home.

Years later, “The Deer Hunter”, a 1978 movie about the Vietnam War, opened with scenes from a wedding reception located in western Pennsylvania. The Russian-American traditions the film portrayed reminded me of those wedding receptions at Angel’s Casino.

On the day following a large event such as this, our family and friends met at the hall to bring things back down to earth. We removed the decorations from the walls and ceiling and scrubbed down the kitchen, bar, and restrooms. Then we sprinkled the floor with saved-up dampened coffee grounds to keep the dust down as we began sweeping. To clean such a wide expanse of dance floor, we would form a sort of brigade, each holding a hog-bristle push-broom and sweeping in unison, side by side, from one end of the hall to the other. But the beer must have soaked permanently into the walls and floor, as no amount of cleaning would rid the place entirely of its odor.

Cleanup after these raucous events was such a chore for us I promised myself that my future wedding reception would be restrained, polite, and non-alcoholic. And it occurred just as I had planned, but I’ll have to admit that it wasn’t nearly as much fun.

— Ann Angel Eberhardt (SHS 1958), Goodyear, Arizona, April 2013.
Excerpts from Michael Angel (SHS 1960), London, Kentucky,
and “Trivia & Me,” (1996) by August D. Angel.


See Also:
ANGEL’S CASINO: The Early Years
ANGEL’S CASINO: The Record Hops
ANGEL’S CASINO: A Place to Party
ITALIANS IN SHARPSVILLE


RITZ THEATER II

by Ann Angel Eberhardt

By Irene Caldwell O’Neill
March 2013

sharpsville_popcornA small and hardly noticeable building on the corner of First and Main in downtown Sharpsville called The Ritz Theater was one of the most, if not the most important place in town to the children who lived there. Our only theater was small and old, seating around 500 patrons with a red painted concrete floor and worn dirty carpet strips down the aisles. The seats were covered with uncomfortable cracked vinyl and dusty brown curtains hung aside the screen; no-nonsense décor right out of the thirties.

In 1947, Mother took my brother Jack and me to our very first movie, The Wizard of Oz, at the Ritz. We’d never seen a television set, let alone a movie and thought the happenings before our eyes totally real. Scared out of my wits, I sobbed and screamed, begging Mom to save poor Dorothy from the wicked witch, and finally hid my face in her lap until Dorothy was rescued and on her way safely home to Kansas.

Good & Plenty Licorice Candy

By 1950 we Caldwell siblings walked the nine blocks to the Ritz almost every Saturday afternoon to see the matinee. The tickets were a dime and if we had extra money, it went into the tall brown metal candy machine in the tiny lobby. I remember five choices, Good & Plenty, Snowcaps, Jujyfruits, Raisinets and Goober’s Peanuts were standards. Occasionally a choice wasn’t stocked or the box got jammed on its way through the mechanical maze which necessitated going back outside to the ticket man who would refund our nickel but left the malfunctioning machine toimage_goobers-and-raisinets upset the next customer. This ticket seller was also the projectionist, locking up his booth just before show time to run inside and start up his large double reeled device. Sometimes, and always it seemed, at an important place in the story, the film would break causing a delay of several minutes while it was patched together. Boos echoed loudly around the theater until our movie resumed.

Usually, the main subjects were oaters or cowboy genre and Jack and I would argue over who was better, Roy Rogers, his favorite, or Gene Autry, mine. Near the end there was always a posse chase scene during which the children bounced noisily and rhythmically up and down on the already rickety seats, keeping pace with the horses until the sole usher came down the aisle and shined his flashlight as a warning signal. That flashlight was the law and after two or three infractions, a rowdy audience member could be walked out. We would tear our eyes from the screen to watch the higher drama of a misbehaving boy pulled from his seat and escorted to the door.

Tarzan was another huge favorite and through the years we watched his hair and that of Jane’s change from brunette to blonde and back to brunette. “Boy’s”, however, was always blonde. Poorly disguised trapeze bars were replaced by realistic looking vines and the animal fight scenes became less jerky, but to me, the only Tarzan will forever be Johnny Weissmuller with Maureen O’Sullivan as his lovely Jane.

sharpsville_image_movietoneThen, as now, the main feature was preceded by a few short subjects including previews of coming attractions, hopefully, a Looney Tunes cartoon with Bugs Bunny or The Roadrunner, but sometimes a very unpopular big band feature with a large orchestra and leader such as Benny Goodman or Gene Krupa. Often an old MovieTone News newsreel narrated by Lowell Thomas educated us on post-WWII events… I don’t remember discussing these wartime events with anyone, but they certainly left a mark on young impressionable minds. Could this be why so many from my generation grew up to resist the Vietnam War and the draft so bitterly?

During the dark winter months, Dad would walk downtown to see us safely home. He came early and waited at the next door bar, nursing a single beer and playing penny poker until we came to get him. If the game was “hot” we had to wait. There was never any place for us to sit, so we stood nervously fidgeting around his chair watching a game we didn’t understand while inhaling thick alcohol-laced cigarette fumes. Sometimes one of the other, undoubtedly more affluent, players took pity on our plight and bought us a Coke or bag of chips to ease our wait. Once a Salvation Army “Sally” in full dark blue uniform and bonnet entered the bar and passed around her tambourine. I was utterly amazed to see the men toss in coins (not my dad) and asked Mother about her when we got home. Charity was new to me and I’d never seen money given freely except into church collection plates.

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

 


See Also:
Ritz Theater I by Ann Angel Eberhardt
Ritz Theater III by Judy Caldwell Nelson
Sharpsville and the Ritz Re-Discovered
by Gail Nitch Hanes