Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Shenango Valley Trolley/Time Line

A young man and woman with a baby in her arms stand on West State street in 1910. They are waiting for a trolley to take them to dinner across town at the young man's parents house. His father will likely bring up stories about his boyhood, when folks walked or rode in wagons to travel across town. Progress has made them soft. The baby will live to see men on the moon. 

Inter-urban rail traffic experienced a heyday in this time frame, peaking sometime in the early 1920s. The early formation of what was to become the Penn-Ohio (or earlier the Mahoning and Shenango Railway and Light Co.) was very much like businesses grow today.  A company that is decent in size dominates the best ground, and smaller groups that see the potential start their own shorter lines, only to be absorbed by the decent sized company until a large company unfolds. There are two exceptional books that get down and dirty into this process, so we will leave that to more focused historians than I. I would just like to share a few stories of interest about the line. I will mention these two detailed works at the end.  

For our purposes I propose that we imagine ourselves in a private trolley car taking a joyride. When our trolley stops we will be transported together to a specific time at that stop, only to move on and play with time again at the next stop. We will start in Masury and see where our tour takes us from there. I chose Masury because that is where one of the major “car barns” that housed cars that were not being used was located, near the Sewage treatment plant. We can find a lot to park in nearby. Another reason is that Idlewild Park was there, set up by the trolley system when it closed Deweyville Park. More on Deweyville later. Idlewild (also called Rose) operated successfully until the flood of 1913 and never quite made it back. From Masury we zip over the PA line on South Irvine. These cars were amazingly quick if they needed to be and quieter than you would imagine, maybe just bells to warn you off of the track. We pass stately homes on Irvine and approach the Y&S junction. Here at Irvine and State you can chose to go toward Sharon or transfer to the Y-town and Sharon Line up the hill to Ohio. If we arrive at this point after 1899 we could have taken a day trip to Idora Park by making that transfer. Great distances could be traveled by using just inter-urban streetcars back then if you knew the routes, and streetcar companies loved setting up amusement parks to draw more riders.  Maybe we will go to Idora another day, we will take the right down E. State St., and carefully cross the Erie RR tracks. 

Let’s view this section of our tour in the mid-1920s, a time of prosperity and calm. We roll by the Erie RR Passenger station on our left at Main, then get a breathtaking view of the new Columbia Theater nuzzled next to the Morgan Grand Opera House. As we cross the metal bridge, the Protected Home Circle Temple dominates on our right and in the blink of an eye McDowell Bank. The 1913 flood that ended Idlewild made this area rise stronger than ever, and the trolleys were a part of that resurgence. Never mind the flash in the pan motor car craze that drove motormen on the line crazy with their foolishness; it will pass.  

As we approach Railroad Street our car grinds to a halt. It is February 19, 1910, and what we see ahead is a pile of wreckage that nearly obscures the first two floors of the Shenango House Hotel. Apparently a missed or misunderstood signal allowed one of our trolley cars to be struck and crushed by a backing Erie RR Freight train. An often seen photograph of this incident shows a mob of people around the site, some heroes among them. Everyone was pulled from the wreckage. Some drama ensued,and pressure being put on the investigators led to a memorable Sharon Herald headline on February 22nd. “”PUBLIC BE DAMNED” SAYS TROLLEY MAN”.

If it is true that “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”, then Invention is a colicky spoiled child who demands more invention before she is old enough to be a Mother herself. As the 19th passed into the 20th century, no Mother has been more prolific with invention. Whether we take a left or a right at State and Sharpsville, she has been insanely busy in both directions. Industries and rail yards sprung up quickly, consuming both raw materials and labor. We should understand that the driving force behind the development of the trolley system in the Valley was not park visiting or making life easier for the women of the area, it was to move this huge labor force where they needed to be when they needed to be there. All of the niceties were to entice people to the lines between shift changes. It was necessity, and Mother delivered. 

At East State and Sharpsville Avenue, the right rail would take us past the steel mills in South Sharon and eventually on to West Middlesex. Going straight up the East Hill, the oppulent homes may cause one to believe that a large amount of money defies gravity and flows uphill, and the trolley coming back down was a teeth clenching, closed eyes experience, a very slow but unpredictable roller coaster. For our purposes here we will take the left rail.   

The very first thing we will pass on our left is the main power generating station for our electric railway. It sat near the spot taken up by the library and its parking lot. We speed onward in the late 1920s and enter the strip that would drive Sharon's success for many years to come. The Savage Arms Plant manufactured gun barrels and Lewis machine guns during WWI, but in 1922 the plant was given over to the Westinghouse Electric Company in exchange for forgiveness on a debt.  This accelerated the industrial growth that was already brisk on Sharpsville Ave. On the left hand of our track, a nearly uninterrupted line of factories with massive rail yards in the rear in support. To the right we see bars and clubs and small shops, with employee housing climbing up the hill behind. We see grime and smoke, and farmers' sons from all around saw a livable steady wage. The growth continued all around.  

Our lungs and eyes feel a bit of relief as we reach the S bend up Thornton and left on to Hall St. Before we get to 18th St. in Sharpsville we have to cross the Thornton Hollow Bridge, just as we do today. The trestle was built in 1904 to facilitate the streetcar system's expansion into Sharpsville. Near the bridge the company built the short lived Deweyville Park, also known as Thornton Hollow Park. Not familiar with the viaduct? The creation of the State Highway System in 1911 provided maintenance on all state highways except bridges. Tired of maintaining the bridge on its own dollar, Mercer County decided to use ground excavated from Westinghouse's latest expansion to fill in that part of the hollow. The bridge was not removed, simply buried. We are still using that old bridge in a way.  As we glide into Sharpsville, the Great Depression has taken over. We pass by a power station on Ridge Ave. around 11th St., zig-zag a block over to Main to a streetcar barn at Walnut. A left on Mercer takes us to the end of the line. It is October 12th, 1939. Truly the end of the line. Our imaginary private trolley car rusts away to nothing as we watch. We decide to wander over to a nearby sandwich shop and discuss what we have seen. 

How could the company that ran over 30 streetcars over the system daily die out so suddenly?  Easy answer, the company morphed into Shenango Valley Transit, a local bus line with connections to the up and coming Greyhound systems. And there was also the advent of the personal automobile, which hurt all types of public transit. In time the track was paved over in a move toward smooth roads.  Would there still be much of a demand for this type of fixed route transportation in the valley in 2017?  We all shake our heads no, probably not. Well, all but myself. It never occurred to me that our trolley car would vanish. It would be quite convenient to ride the rail back to Masury where our cars are parked. Guess we get a walking tour as well.

The two books that I mentioned earlier are “The Penn Ohio Rail System Story” by Robert Korach and “Ghost Rails Volume XI-Shenango Valley Steel” by Wayne Cole.  Information on the Thornton Hollow bridge was found online courtesy of the Sharpsville Historical Society.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Kindle Stuff and Mopping Up.

Some blogger I turned out to be. Last post in January, I should be ashamed of myself. I blame it all on Amazon.

My family decided to present me with a most inspired gift this past Christmas, one that I did not realize at the time would become such a mesmerizing and time jealous device. A person like me with a portable library at their disposal at all hours on all days is like the proverbial kid in a candy store. I have gotten fat off of this candy, and have driven myself to near diabetic shock with the sheer volume of literature available at the touch of a button. I found myself downloading my next book while partway through the one I was reading. The Kindle has transformed the distribution of what I consider "me" time very dramatically. It has become a convenient enabler and companion in my natural escapist tendencies. Why get all worked up over things you can't control like oil spills and mosques at ground zero when you can just as easily lose yourself in post revolution France. The worries and frustrations of those pages were the spills and mosques of another time, only they had the guillotine and mad Emperors/Kings to concern themselves with. History has judged these epochs for the most part, and the modern reader can experience these things safely, able to walk away to get a glass of iced tea, never having to hear the blade fall or the dull thud at the bottom of the basket.

I immersed myself in these escapes in a reverie that has lasted for over eight months after which time I wandered around the nearly forgotten landscape of the internet. My foray into escapism had made me nearly blind to current events. Coupled with my banishment of television, radio, newspapers and pop culture in general in my life I discovered that I had missed a lot. Naturally when something on as grand a scale as the Gulf disaster occurred I was aware of what was going on, I just lack the kind of depth to discuss it in an intelligent manner. If you are not absorbing news or discussing it with others much of the common internet appeal vanishes, for me at least. I still like to look at the kitten pictures on lolcats though...

Many months ago a man whom I respect a great deal on forum informed me that I could not just reject the pop culture and hide under a rock with my ideas. I was close my friend, very very close. I may get there yet.

What I did miss about the net was a large cross section of truly decent people that I have been blessed to have come into contact with online. I have been unable to understand properly how folks never seen leave an impression on your life. You all know who you are.

In the Kindle Stuff section of this post I would like to offer what I think are the five best books I have downloaded on my Kindle. These tiles may or may not enter my top five of pre-Kindle times (hereafter referred to as PK times), but they were all damned good.

1. THE COUNT of MONTE CRISTO- Alexandere Dumas.
To those who have read it, have you found any book much better? The precursor to every
bad ass revenge movie. It has it all, and was consumed breathlessly.

2. WAR and PEACE- Leo Tolstoy
OK, it was long. Very very long. Tolstoy proved to be as adept at character development
and transmitting emotion as Dostoevsky. The ending left me a bit hanging though. Did I
mention it was long?

3. COD- Mark Kurlansky
I have a great deal of respect for a non-fiction author who has the skills to make a very mundane subject educational and entertaining. After having read The Big Oyster, Salt and
The Last Fish Tale Kurlansky is in my opinion the master of a possibly non existent genre.

4. CAPE COD- Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau either puts you to sleep or whispers in your ear like a warm spring wind. Cape Cod is great,Walden is possibly my all time favorite, Thoreau to me almost reads lyrically. I had the honor of meeting Kurt Vonnegut many years ago, but Thoreau would still get my vote as the author I would most like to have a beer with. Sorry Kurt.

Mix together and old time medical scam artist, a somewhat receptive post patent medicine
populace and the testicles of a goat and what do you get? A true story of absence of human compassion on the one hand, and a generally uneducated, gullible, science can
solve everything victims on the other. Amazing read.

As for mopping up, after much research and many attempts at contacting the family of Edgar and Evelyn it has become apparent that this errand was an abysmal failure. So as a last attempt at matching this photo with a family member I have decided to post their entire names hoping that a google search might stir up a contact. The children are Edgar Kibbe and Evelyn Kibbe Rice both born in Jamestown N.Y. The Rices seemed to have migrated to Cleveland. According to obits I was able to obtain on the Rices, I feel reasonably sure that I found a son who just does not care enough to answer. Several letters to Kibbes and other related surnames in the Jamestown area have also met with no response. Very sad indeed. Perhaps next time we go to Salamanca NY I will stop at the Jamestown Library and Historical Society and try to drum up some new leads. I could not see paying what they wanted for hourly research to give away a picture that I already have a meager investment in. I am sentimental but cheap.

An odd note. Many months ago, as a favor to my son and his cousin Michael I pasted a few paragraphs on the Transylvanian Saxons that I had written for a family history book years ago. A cut and paste pre made blog entry, how easy is that. This particular post has outpaced the second most visited post on my blog by three times. Obviously more of us out there than I had thought.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to throw out a google fishing line for a project that I am working on. Anyone willing to share information, stories and/or pictures of the Displaced Persons Camp in Ansfelden Austria at the close of WWII please feel free to email me directly. This camp was also known as Lager/Haid or DP Camp 121.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading,


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Edgar and Evelyn Update

As promised, I just wanted to drop a quick post letting anyone interested know where the "Edgar and Evelyn" errand stands.

First of all, the photograph itself was taken sometime around 1915. Edgar was born around 1910 and Evelyn around 1914. The photograph was taken in Jamestown, New York and the family according to the 1920 and 1930 census lived in Stockton, NY. Stockton is about 18 miles northwest of Jamestown.

Both were married, so I am hoping that the each had children and grandchildren to locate. Edgar passed away in 1970, Evelyn in 1997. I am presently working on collecting obituaries for them hoping to get the names of surviving children. Sometimes libraries will only give this information out for an hourly research fee, but they are free to look up if you are physically at the library. Perhaps an antiquing road trip to that area may be in order...

Just a final note on this kind of search. I am not worried at all about finding a person that this photograph should belong to, but my greatest worry is finding this person and them not caring at all that the photograph exists. That would make it doubly sad.

I will post again soon.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Edgar, Evelyn and a New Errand

I love antique shops. I very rarely ever buy much of anything but I do love them.

For me an antique shop is more like a free museum of things that have just seemed to outlast their original purpose. I enjoy burrowing around inside, seeking out these items of another time and if I am particularly lucky on a given excursion I may find something that I have no idea at at what it is or what it was used for. I make a mental note of the item, perhaps a manufacturer name and once in a while snap a picture with my cell phone. The photographing thing is very quickly becoming taboo at these shops. Sometimes they do not want you to go home and google the same item and find out that their low discounted price might still be somewhat inflated.

Another phenomenon that happens in these shops is that there comes a day when astounded to find that you are aged enough to have actually used or owned some of these items when they were still serving their original purpose. Once in a while you round a corner and are faced with an item that touches off a memory long stored away of a favorite toy or a kitchen utensil that you can still picture a long passed Grandmother using in her kitchen. These never fail to make me smile, and are another of the main reasons I keep rummaging through them.

By now maybe you are asking yourself about the children, you know the ones at the upper right of this rambling post. Cute aren't they? In case you don't recognize them they are Edgar and Evelyn. He is five and she is eight months.

As I have pointed out in a series of blog posts in the past, these kinds of pictures sadden me. I know that the fine folks who have the little antique booths in the co-ops buy up estates that have gone to auction to acquire inventory to sell, but there is, to me at least, a big difference between selling a tea cup and some one's picture. These are photographs of some one's babies, some one's Grandfather, children that were dear to many people. I always think that the right person presented with that particular picture may be really touched and treasure it dearly. So, ignoring my distaste for these types of items being for sale, I bought this picture today.

A group of earlier posts in this blog told the story of a marriage license that I found in an antique store in Bolivar Ohio that I was able to reunite with a very nice man who was the wedded couple's grandson. The gentleman had reached his early eighties and was able to rescue not only the license but other family ephemera from the estate as well. This was a very satisfying experience for me.

My new errand is to put this particular picture of Edgar and Evelyn into the hands of someone who will dearly love to have it. Not sell it mind you, just give it. I have their names, ages and the seal of the photographer that took the portrait. Just like with the marriage license errand I will post any progress, or lack thereof as I go along if anyone is interested.

As you can tell, it has been quite a while since the last Errand post. If any of this is indecipherable or reads as gibberish you have my apology. I have just been busy chasing ideas and digging treasure... I will try to clean up the place a bit, update the books section and try to find something else compelling to tell a story about soon.

If any are interested about the marriage license adventure here are links to the posts:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Eulogy for a Decent Man

“No man is an island, entire of itself;

every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.”

-John Donne

I first came upon this verse several years ago and was moved by the message that it relays. Naively, I had originally thought that the entire passage was the work of Ernest Hemmingway. Later I learned that Hemingway borrowed a portion of this passage as the title to a book he had written. I have never been much into poetry, but that does not mean that the meaning of this passage was lost on me.

I have been diminished this past week. I received a message from an old friend informing me that a most decent human being had passed away. This news was not the type of thing to be acknowledged and filed away with a touch of sadness, this loss made me sink inside. This world has too few truly generous, kind human beings to let this news speed by like so many other bits of news that we process each day.

Sometimes you have to stop.

Bob Hromika and I crossed paths several years ago when I joined a community of metal detecting enthusiasts. I knew nothing at all about the hobby, and Bob took me under his wing. Bob had incredibly big wings, he took everyone under his wing. As we corresponded in the weeks and months that followed I learned to respect Bob, or Boobie as he was commonly known, as one of those rare people who was just plain friendly to the core. He was always quick with encouragement and advice, a good joke or an invitation to join him on a hunt. He lived his life to a high standard, and I am very happy that I was privileged enough to have known him.

My condolences go out to his loving wife, and to his children and grandchildren.

The tolling of this particular bell has indeed tolled for me.

Godspeed Boobie.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

My wife and I had the pleasure of visiting our oldest child at the University of Pittsburgh a couple of weekends ago. We had not seen her since her Easter break, and between two jobs, a full class load and being responsible for planning several events for a major campus student organization, her schedule had not allowed for an afternoon visit in quite some time. She just smiles, rubs some dirt in the wounds and moves forward to face the next challenge. We are very proud of her and what she has accomplished. Our children all do us proud.

On this particular visit we had lunch at my favorite place in Oakland and then set off for the Phipps Conservatory. I was kind of on the fence about whether this was a good way to spend the day, I really had no idea what to expect. I was stunned by the overpowering beauty and sheer magnitude of what has been put together there. I was delighted with the visit, and would encourage anyone who is in the area to pay the Conservatory a visit. I doubt it will disappoint you.

The Phipps Conservatory is a two acre Victorian greenhouse that was a gift to the City of Pittsburgh by philanthropist Henry Phipps Jr. Phipps was a partner of Andrew Carnegie in the days of Carnegie Steel. Like Carnegie, Phipps believed that along with wealth came a moral responsibility to use some of that wealth to benefit the public at large. He built the conservatory at Oakland in 1893 at the edge of Schenley Park. Since then literally thousands of botanical specimens, both common and rare, have been added to the Botanical Garden's collection. The Conservatory houses a Palm Court, an Orchid Room, a Butterfly Room, a Tropical Fruit and Spice Room, a Desert Room and several more interior displays. Outside there is a Japanese Courtyard Garden, A Kid's Discovery Garden and an Aquatic Garden.

We were also fortunate enough to have gone when they had fine glass work by Dale Chihuly and Hans Godo Frabel both on display as we caught them in the process of moving the Chihuly display out and the Frabel display in. All very nice.

In all I took over 100 photographs, some of which I offer here as a slide show. This is the first slide show I have created in this manner so please forgive me if it goes horribly wrong...

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Tale of Two Well(e)s

Before there was the internet, before there was satellite and cable TV, even before there were TV broadcasts at all the American family gathered in the living rooms of the country to be informed and entertained by a magical box that was the rage of the nation. Americans marveled at the radio, and most were not quite sure how the radio set really worked. Some who were more informed may very well have pondered the oddness of sitting in a room knowing that the ether around them was saturated with the strange waves that brought the radio to life. Regardless of the level of wonder one possessed one thing was for sure. Everyone loved the radio, with the possible exception of newspaper men.

Back in 1938 one of the most eagerly awaited radio shows of the week was the Chase and Sanborn Hour that aired at eight o’clock on Sunday evenings. This program featured, as many of the shows at that time did, interludes of band and dance music to entertain the listeners. What the Chase and Sanborn Hour had that the others did not was the duo of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. The show was extremely popular and was far and away the champion of all Sunday evening broadcasts. One would think that a ventriloquist act would lose some of its magic over the radio, but it was popular.

On the evening of October 30th, 1938 countless families gathered around their radios at eight, like they had every Sunday night, to hear Mr. Bergen and his wooden friend. At about twelve minutes after the hour, Nelson Eddy came on the air for a musical performance. Today we may grab the remote and fly through the channels looking for something more interesting to enjoy while the interlude was on the air. The radio listeners of the day dial surfed, and a good many of them at that. Most ended up on CBS expecting to hear the Mercury Theater on the Air show. What they heard caught many of them about as off guard as people can be.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Carl Phillips again, at the Wilmuth Farm, Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. Well, I hardly know where to begin, to paint for you a word picture of the strange scene before my eyes, like something out of a modern Arabian Nights.

Well then, the listeners thought, what could be so important in New Jersey that would force the regularly scheduled program aside for a live news flash. Maybe we better leave the dial alone and find out what is up.

I just got here, I haven’t had a chance to look around yet. I guess that’s it. Yes, I guess that is the… thing, directly in front of me, half buried in a vast pit. Must have struck with terrific force.

Military airplane crash or possibly, worse yet, a secret weapon from Nazi Germany?

The ground is covered with splinters of a tree it must have struck on its way down. What can I see of the object itself doesn’t look very much like a meteor, at least not the meteors I’ve seen. It looks more like a huge cylinder.

What the unwitting audience had fallen for was a carefully and brilliantly organized hijacking of the radios of the country that night. The coup was the brainchild of Mercury Theater producer Orson Welles. His show had been consistently haunted with poor ratings because of Chase and Sanborn’s dominance. Tonight however, he would hold the dial surfers in his spell for the next hour and beyond.

The dramatization was of the science fiction novel “War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. The story was followed very loosely, with the dialog, geography and technology updated to fit a 1938 audience (the original was first published in 1897). By the time that the fictional Martians started emerging from their cylinders and wielding their lethal heat ray an amazing amount of the listeners began to take it as an actual news story. Panic ensued across the country. A mass hysteria about the Martians advancing on New York threw the entire city into gridlock. The aliens were shooting down planes, vaporizing people and emitting a black poisonous gas that was instantly lethal. What was the use of going back to the other network to fact check these claims? It was far easier to panic and run.

Eventually, at one point in the show, CBS broadcast supervisor Davidson Taylor had received so many reports of the mayhem that he stormed into the studio and halted the play, much to the displeasure of Welles and partner John Houseman. They were to make an announcement immediately that the program was not live news, merely a dramatization of a classic book. The players were led to believe that there were thousands dead in the panic when in actuality nothing but a few bruised bodies, and more than a few bruised egos had been collected throughout the night.

This is Orson Welles ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that the “War of the Worlds” has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be, the Mercury Theater’s own version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying BOO!

Then it was over. People went home feeling very foolish indeed for having been so gullible. The public was outraged over the incident, but as is common with many pranks and practical jokes they regained their sense of humor and laughed at themselves. Orson Welles was tagged a irresponsible broadcaster, then an inexperienced young entertainer and finally a genius. He of course went on to create one of the greatest films of all time, “Citizen Kane”. Undoubtedly that night in New York was what launched the young man's occasionally brilliant career.

One would think that you could never pull this prank off again, but it has been attempted a few times. On Halloween 1968, WKBW radio in Buffalo, New York reworked the skit for their own use and put it on the air. A full twenty one days before the broadcast the station ran an announcement about the coming program every hour on the hour to avoid any panic. Still the Buffalo police fielded nearly four thousand phone calls resulting from panic over the show, and the Canadian National Guard sent troops to the Queenston, Peace and Rainbow Bridges to make sure the aliens did not cross.

Unfortunately another broadcast in another part of the world ended tragically. In February of 1944 a Ecuadorian radio station in Quito attempted the broadcast the play with no advanced warning. The play was being preformed in the El Comercio building that also housed the capital’s newspaper. That night the result was the same in one respect, thousands of citizens frightened out of their wits running around the city. Quickly the radio station announced that the show was a hoax, at which time the citizenry went directly to the El Comerico building and began to riot. By the time it was over the building was burnt to the ground and twenty radio station employees were killed.

Could we be fooled by this same hoax today? I think that we are far too advanced and informed to accept a story of this caliber without fact checking the information we would be receiving and immediately identifying it as a joke. We are the most sophisticated, technologically advanced people who have ever lived. We have the internet to call upon for these questions.

Those folks listening breathlessly to the horrors being witnessed in Grover’s Mills were the most sophisticated and technologically advanced people who had ever lived back in 1938. The radio was their internet, but very few took the time to turn that dial…

Italicized script denotes actual transcript of the 1938 Mercury Theater broadcast.