URSA MINOR Biography of Edward J. McCallum Jr. Forward by


URSA MINOR Biography of Edward J. McCallum Jr. Forward by
Biography of Edward J. McCallum Jr.
Forward by
Joseph W. Szarmach Jr.
His Grandson
Without question, a “cultural war” has broken out in
the United States with the country sharply divided
between conservative and liberal viewpoints, red
and blue states. Many of these viewpoints were
shaped by life experience, television, and even
ignorance. For me, it was shaped by my
Grandfather, Edward J. McCallum Jr.
My Grandfather, or “Grindad” as we called him, was
a living example for all who knew him, and as an
Irish American who went through the great
depression at a time when “Irish Need Not Apply,”
he was a shining example of what self reliance and
hard work could do. Rather than blame others who
were “prejudiced” against him and using it as an
excuse for failure, he pulled himself up by his bootstraps and got to work.
Over his lifetime, he undoubtedly issued thousands of paychecks to his employees.
Through him, I have come to learn that (excuses aside) personal responsibility,
capitalism, entrepreneurialism, and hard work are what separate prosperity from
poverty – and in turn our Country from the rest of the countries on the planet.
But beyond his businesses, he was a charming Irishman who touched everyone he
met. Usually every meeting, whether a stranger he met in line at the store, a
friend, or family, was an opportunity for him to learn from you -- and most likely an
opportunity for you to learn from him. To this day I meet people who met my
Grandfather who say “your Grandfather was an incredible person.”
As his Grandchild, I felt extremely privileged in so many ways and miss him dearly.
Ursa Minor is his autobiography. I hope you enjoy it.
The Biography of Edward J. McCallum Jr.
By David F. Turner
“Will the bailiff escort Edward McCallum Jr. to the bench.” A kindly man, in his 50’s, with gray
hair took my hand and walked me towards the judge. I wasn’t frightened, but I did sense that
something very important was going to happen. The courtroom was deserted except for the
judge, the bailiff, the court reporter, my mother, my father and myself. Sitting on the witness
stand, I could barely see over the rail that lined it. At five years old, I really didn’t understand
how profound the effect would be of that afternoon in a Brooklyn Circuit Court.
The courtroom struck me as a very serious place, though friendly and safe. The judge was
flushed with the heat of that July day. Jowled, he appeared wise and knowing, high above the
witness stand as he sat behind a great mahogany bench. He quietly surveyed the room,
allowing the bailiff to return to his station and the court recorder to ready herself before he
“Edward, do you know why we are here?”
“No, sir”, I replied. The judge drew a deep breath and went on.
“Your mother and father are here to help settle a matter they feel is very important but can’t
resolve themselves: which church you will attend and in which religious faith you’ll be raised.
Do you understand son?”
I nodded, yes.
Taking a linen handkerchief from the left sleeve of his judicial robe, he patted the perspiration
from his forehead before he went on.
“I understand you have attended Catholic Mass with your father and up until recently were
allowed to attend Bible Study at your mother’s Protestant Church as well. Edward, would you
please tell me in a voice everyone in the court can hear, how you feel about attending both
I cleared my throat and spoke: “I like going to both churches. My dad’s church is a big beautiful
place. I pray there and light candles and feel like it’s a magical place. I feel small sometimes
when I’m there, smaller than I really am. The statues and altar make me feel like the people in
my father’s church must be very wealthy to build something so grand. In my mother’s church I
hear stories about God and Jesus and learn what I can do to be close to Jesus and to live the
way God wants me to live. It’s not so pretty as my Dad’s, but I don’t feel small there. I learn
things there. Both are good, but I don’t want to go back to my mother’s church if it makes my
father so angry.
The judge interrupted:
“Why do you think it made your father angry?”
“Because he came and pulled me out of Bible class last time I went. He was very mad and when
I said I did not want to leave, he grabbed me by my hair and pulled me out of Bible class and
even though I was walking as fast as I could, I couldn’t keep up with him. He led me all the way
through the church basement, up the stairs and onto the sidewalk by my hair. I could tell he
was very angry. After we began down the street in front of the church, I realized people were
watching. I felt silly, so I tried to pull away and slipped and struck my face on a fire hydrant. A
nice lady walking by got very angry at my father and I cried because I cut my lip and it was
bleeding. He was still angry, but he was trying to explain to the lady he hadn’t hurt me on
purpose. I just cried because I was hurt and felt silly and ashamed. He excused himself and
took me home then, leading me by the hand. That lady called out after us, “You better not hurt
that boy or I’ll call the authorities.” When we got home my mom and dad were very angry at
one another. My dad said that when they got married they agreed to raise all the children
Catholic, and that was an agreement that couldn’t be broken. He said it was an agreement that
she made and he expected her to live up to it and that it was an agreement on which their
marriage was based. I could tell my mom was mad but she stayed very quiet. She said that she
didn’t want to stop me from going to the Catholic Church she just felt I could go to both
churches and learn from both. My dad stayed mad. Finally, I think my mother lost her
patience. She said that she had a right to teach her child what she felt was important too, and
if she had to, she’d go to court
because she felt it was that important. I didn’t know what court was. “I didn’t know what
court was. “I guess that’s why we’re here, isn’t it.” I just smiled and looked up at both my
parents nervously. My mother sat very straight with her hands folded at a table on the
opposite side of the courtroom, her blue eyes looking straight ahead at the judge. She
somehow seemed stronger and more determined than my dad. Looking once again down at
me the judge smiled and said, “Yes, Edward, that’s why we’re here.” I just smiled and looked
up at both my parents. My father was in his dark blue suit, fidgeting with a pencil nervously.
My mother sat very straight, with her hands folded, at a table on the opposite side of the
courtroom, her blue eyes looking straight ahead at the judge. The judge then asked my father
and my mother both to speak. My father told him about the agreement he and my mother
made prior to their marriage; an agreement mandated by the church, which was required when
two Christians who are not both Catholics were being wed. It was an agreement that
committed body and soul to the Catholic Church. The more my father spoke, the clearer it
became he was hurt and frustrated. He didn’t really seem to understand the basis for their
arguments, but he just felt deep down that he was right. As my mother spoke, it seemed she
grew taller and stronger than her 5’4”, 110-pound frame. She spoke of rights and the right to
self-determine the fact that she didn’t oppose my exposure to Catholicism and that she didn’t
believe that any agreement made by two adults before birth could determine the faith or
religious destiny of a child. Agreements like that could not bind a child or young adult as he
grew and it was unfair and unreasonable to exclude a child from exposure to other religious
viewpoints. I had never heard her speak so eloquently. The judge retired to his chambers,
getting up, we all stood with him and I watched him leave the courtroom by a large door
opposite the witness stand. The kindly bailiff led me back to sit next to my mother at the table.
She smiled down at me and squeezed my hand. I looked across the aisle at my father who
looked and smiled kindly at me but didn’t look up at my mother. After a few minutes, the judge
came back and we all stood again. He sat down and we sat. I remember thinking how much
fun it must be to have everyone stand every time you entered a room. He struck his gavel,
though I didn’t know why, there wasn’t anyone making noise in the courtroom and there were
only the five of us, and the judge himself. He spoke: “after careful consideration in reviewing
the case of McCallum vs. McCallum it is the court’s considered opinion that Edward Joseph
McCallum, Jr. cannot be limited in terms of the religion he chooses to practice or the sources of
religious materials he chooses to review. Furthermore, no agreement made between parents
regarding religion can prejudice the child’s own religious freedom. Therefore this court finds in
favor of the plaintiff, Elizabeth Delano McCallum.” With that, he struck his gavel once. In the
same instant, the bailiff once again asked the court to please rise and with the smallest,
quickest smile, the judge looked at me and left the courtroom. My mother and father walked
towards each other slowly, almost unaware of my being there. For a moment, they faced each
other nervously in the center aisle of the courtroom. My father fidgeting, my mother was still
erect and determined. Another moment elapsed in silence. Finally, my father stepped forward
and swung the small gate that separated the court area from the gallery. He held it open for
my mother who quietly walked through with me in tow. She quietly thanked my father without
looking back.
As an adult looking back on my parent’s upbringing and on their family’s histories, it is clear to
me one might have predicted such a confrontation. My father, Edward McCallum, Sr., came to
the United States in the 1890’s. He left an oppressed, poverty stricken, Ireland where,
politically and financially, his father, an Irish Catholic, and his father’s father had been strong
Catholics in the face of British and Protestant domination. America, at the turn of the century
represented a place of hope, a place where religious freedom might be found. At first, a great
many parts of the United States had proven no friendlier than the Ireland they left behind.
However, progress was being made and it might have been true that at just that point that we
met in that Brooklyn Courtroom, my father and his countrymen who had fled to the United
States may have finally felt they may have reached that point of choice, the point where they
could provide their children as Catholics, and as Irish Americans, the best of both worlds. At
such a time, to have that opportunity snatched from his hands must have been almost
unbearable for my father. Considering his background certainly helped to explain the strength
of his opposition.
My mother’s family, the Delano’s, had a history as deeply steeped in religious repression as the
McCollum’s. Ironically, they were French Protestants who had suffered in Catholic dominated
France. Perhaps it was this common sense of religious oppression that drew them together. In
retrospect, it is also striking, that my maternal grandfather, Eugene Delano married an IrishCatholic woman, and was himself disowned by his family for that choice. He had
disenfranchised my mother during this period because of her choice to marry my father, an
Irish Catholic. Both families had overcome adversity and found their way to America. They had
both come to practice their religious beliefs and express themselves freely. It should have been
no surprise that people of such determination and deep religious conviction would choose to
stand firm on these hard earned rights.
It was a quiet drive home and though I’m sure they discussed it, no more was ever said in front
of me regarding the judge’s decision. I continued to attend the Catholic Church on occasion but
I was also free to attend my mother’s church and Bible study as well. As time went one, I came
to love my Mother’s church more and more. The word of Christ as told in the New Testament,
the wisdom and truth found within the Bible, the spirit of self reliance I found so prized in my
mother’s church became my life’s reference point, my northern star.
II Young Wayfarer
I was born in 1909 in the Bay Ridge Section of Brooklyn. At that time, the entire section
consisted of brownstone townhouses. Each was three or four stories high with gently curving
entrance ways neatly built, row upon row; each very much like the next. Half dozen steps to
the entranceways; each narrowing as you approach the arched entranceway, the stone tinged
with a rosy hue, they would prove in time to be works of art. It remains a section of Brooklyn,
which typifies the beauty of the era.
My first recollection of a home was one we later occupied in the Fort Hamilton section of
Brooklyn. At that time, there were still a few very small farms in the area. A great many streets
had been cut through, but no houses were built and you could walk for a mile and not even see
a house. It was all open pastured land. I used to enjoy wandering through these vast
undeveloped tracts of land. Tracts green and treed, they extended for miles, small ponds, areas
of marsh and quick running brooks crisscrossed that part of Brooklyn when I was a boy. It was
there I created my first fortresses, fought imaginary British soldiers and learned the joy and
freedom that comes with wide-open spaces.
It was as potent a ground for discovery as a national park might be for an adult. It was there I
began to learn about the simple creatures of the northeast. There I began gathering samples
for my first rock collection; created my first children’s zoo gathered leaves in the fall for
projects at school. I remember my first day of kindergarten. The school was large, imposing.
The red brick large entrance made it seem all that much more frightening and foreign. I wasn’t
quite sure why my mother brought me, but as she bid me farewell and pointed me toward the
classroom where the kindergarten was about to meet, I knew I wasn’t going to be staying. As
she turned her back and began to leave, I ducked in to an alcove out of view and waited for the
class to begin. When I was fairly certain no one would notice, I snuck quietly out of the school’s
side entrance; jumped the fence, and was on my way home. When my mother returned home,
I was there waiting for her. I had already decided that school wasn’t for me. She brought me
back, by the ear, to kindergarten that same morning. I remember a flush of embarrassment as
my mother led me down the sidewalk in front of the school and up the steps, down the very
hall in which I hid, into the class and then to the teacher’s desk. Trying to pull away, I simply
amused my classmates more. I was beginning to regret leaving because now I had been
introduced to my classmates “by the ear.” I was embarrassed. Though, as a result, I enjoyed
immense notoriety. Perhaps, because of this introduction, my classmates began looking
towards me for the unusual, and from that point on, I tried to oblige.
Early on, I discovered, through school, that I had some promise as a storyteller. The
schoolteacher in an effort to keep the kindergarten entertained suggested that we select a
couple of old articles (one of which was a boot) and take turns creating some tale about each.
Finally, I had the opportunity to get up and take my turn telling a story about the boot. Later,
she asked me if I would go around and tell the same story to all the classes up to and including
the fifth grade. Of course, I was very pleased to get out of the classroom. I really enjoyed
embellishing and elaborating on the yarn as I retold it. I became the yarn teller of the family. It
started there. I became a salesman at that point, or at least a storyteller.
I recall that first school was red brick and sturdy, built like hundreds of public schools in the
northeast in the late 1800’s with high ceilings and long windows. I recall how our kindergarten
teacher had to use a very long pole with a hook attached at one end to open and close the
windows. The coatroom in the back of the classroom was a magical place; a place to rush to as
we entered class and as we prepared to go home; a place where we were beyond the watchful
gaze of our teacher and where we often played pranks or teased one another before we had to
exit to the classroom. The sturdy wooden desks with cast iron legs seemed to easily bear the
force of the childish pranks we often played. The inkwells were filled and clumsy fountain pens
were still commonly used. Space below the desktop seemed immense when one flipped it up
to slip a notebook and our single text inside. It was always difficult to resist the temptation to
drop the desktop as the teacher wrote on the blackboard because this always caused her to
spin around and look frustrated uncertainty as to who the culprit had been. I recall the
hardwood floors creaked so that if you weren’t very, very careful, it was impossible to quietly
step from place to place in the classroom without the teacher becoming aware. It was a great
challenge to tiptoe down the aisle the distance of several desks and tie the shoelaces together
of an unsuspecting classmate or perhaps to pull the pigtails of a young girlfriend.
My father, in these early years, worked in the printing business. He worked in Manhattan for a
very large company. I remember him coming home stained with indigo blue ink; his work apron
splattered, almost covered; his nails dirty; his wiry arms smudged with indelible ink. I
remember the hideous smell of the ink used during those days. I often wondered how my
father could tolerate working in a closed environment with the fumes. On hot summer days
when the air was stagnant, he would sometimes complain to my mother about how
lightheaded he’d become at work or of feeling nauseous. Although he had acquired some skill
as a printer, I don’t think he was ever truly happy working for a large corporation, which
allowed him little independence or individuality. Two of his brothers had purchased a taxi. As
time went on they bought a second and a third. My father first began driving part time as a
means of helping make ends meet. As our family continued to grow, but the income from the
printing business failed to keep pace, the prospect of increased income; the luxury of
determining his own hours; being his own boss quickly stimulated him to leave the printing
business and go into partnership with his brothers driving on a full time basis. They had one of
the earliest fleets in America. Cars were just coming into vogue at that time. Cars n those days
weren’t very comfortable or reliable. The driver sat outside and only the back (passenger)
compartment was enclosed.
When I was seven, we then moved to Manhattan. That was where the taxi business was and
my paternal grandparents lived at 28th Street and 1st Avenue. My father and uncles ran the taxi
company for nearly ten years. No one ever really put his heart into it. My grandmother was
the treasurer and managed the money. With four wayward sons, nobody paid enough
attention to the work, though somehow the income sustained our family. One of my fondest
childhood memories is of the day I rode with my father in his taxi and meeting General Black
Pershing. General Pershing was a wiry, almost slender, man who walked with a rigid gait and
when left to reflection seemed stern and preoccupied. I recall seeing him walk briskly from the
hotel to the cab snapping his stride. His skin dark; his hair neatly groomed; his small handlebar
mustache underscored his high, Indian-like cheekbones. Not until my father closed the door
behind him and he took a moment to peer forward in the driver’s compartment did he notice
me. At first I was frightened. The great warrior appeared angry, as if he had come ready to do
battle. However, briefly, he lightened and smiled at me as I quickly slipped below the seat
realizing he was aware of my presence. I wasn’t introduced to him but he rode in our cab that
day from the Waldorf to the Battery. He was the biggest war hero of the time, the man who led
the Allied Forces in World War I. It was an event that I’ll never forget.
The garage where the taxis were stored was two blocks over from the apartment we rented. It
was decaying old stone building with large wooden doors hung several inches from the ground,
uneven, the left drooping and overlapping with the right. The dirt floor was washboard packed,
and coated with oil. If you had the misfortune of slipping and falling, the floor proved to be
every bit as hard as concrete. There was a small portion of the garage walled off with counter
top and a telephone, with phone numbers scrawled on the beams of the walls and the counter
top, itself. There was a small file and chair, weathered and torn from use. A pot-bellied stove
sat squarely in the center of the garage and though never successful in warming the garage
except in the mildest of weather, it served to take the chill out of the air enough to keep the
cars from becoming so cold that they would fail to start. A half dozen taxis my father and
uncles owned were scattered around the garage; the two or three that ran were closest to the
door, the others in various stages of disrepair against the back wall near the large window with
many missing panes that local hoodlums had broken for excitement.
I went to the second and third grade in Manhattan in a school, which took up a square block
and was four stories high. I remember being there when the armistice ending World War I was
reported. The cold day early in November was gray and winter had come early. I was only nine
at the time but the War had been going on for as long as I could remember. I came to
understand, although not as an adult might, how all encompassing this had been. It literally
spanned history, as I knew it my entire life. They shortened the school day sending us home
early; the church bells rang; horns honked; steam whistles blew, both those at Grand Central
Station and the factories along the East River. People greeted each other in the street with
great fanfare. The children who were unexpectedly free to wander the street at midday
celebrated their unexpected freedom adding to the bedlam. It was a glorious day.
In New York, right across the street from where we lived, at that time was Gracie Mansion and
Schultz’s Park. Schultz was one of the early German immigrants. They changed the name
during World War I because we were fighting Germany, (and, of course, Schultz was a German
name) and they changed it back again after the War. The park, at the time was a magical place;
beautiful sculptured gardens; a gazebo and vendors dressed in their clean straw hats and red
and white striped bests selling roasted nuts and cotton candy. The mansion seemed to hold the
promise of better days and at the same time was a reminder of the past. We roller skated
through the park chasing one another, skillfully swinging around the ninety degree turns in the
sidewalk by latching onto one of the gas lamps as we sped dangerously by gentle ladies in their
finery and what “would be” flappers in their vanguard fashions, as they walked through the
parks with their husbands or boyfriends.
We swam in the East River (the only wet place). At that time it was a thoroughfare for a great
deal of local shipping. It was a means of safe passage for the smaller inland boats and barges
through which they could quietly slip from Long Island Sound to the upper Hudson. Though
protected, it was gray, often choppy and ran swiftly, down the East coast of Manhattan towards
the sea. On calmer days, when the tide began to change and the water temporarily calmed, it
often reeked of stagnant sewage and waste from the factories in the Bronx. Nevertheless, for
city boys, it was our swimming hole, complete with piers, warehouses, barnacles, pigeon dung,
and city rats. It was our Jones Beach. The “neighborhood” (82 nd Street) was wholesome and
tight knit with a great many Irish, many of who spoke with a brogue difficult for me to
understand. There were German and Italian neighborhoods nearby. Both seemed like different
worlds. Though I hadn’t volunteered, it became quickly apparent that as an Irish boy I was a
member of the Irish gang, which called 82nd Street home. I did my best to avoid confrontations,
however, when one came there was little time for discussion, you fell in with your
neighborhood friends or you stood between two groups that were equally hostile. Given such a
state of affairs I became for a short time a rather significant member of the 82 nd Street
“toughs”. By this time, near 96th a fireboat station was built and a spot created which had a
ten-foot square patch of sand, which qualified as a beach and made the area the preferred
“swimming hole.” I’d often swim from jetty to jetty or cling to the fireboat itself. One day
while I was swimming, I had paddled all the way to the fireboat’s bow, which extended
dangerously beyond the pier into the swift flowing current of the East River. Since I had been
swimming on the leeward side, the force of the current only hit me as I rounded the bow.
Before I realized why I was having so much difficulty making it to the port side of the boat I was
fifty feet downstream and being driven towards Hellgate. Everybody there was worried to
death about it. I wasn’t, I knew there was nothing to panic about; you could stay afloat easily
enough but you couldn’t control where you wee going because the currents were so strong. I
was only eight at the time. I swam with the current fairly close to shore where I hoped I could
get a hold of some rocks or find spot where I could get up. As I traveled downstream, the
handful of people who had first noticed me from Schultz’s Park grew in number as they ran
south along the river. As I floated downstream I remember thinking what an odd lot had came
together to see me drown. Though I didn’t believe for a minute I was in danger, I felt they must
have simply come to watch since none made a move to save me. These people, I realized
would be repulsed by each other’s company as soon as I was safe. Flappers, policemen, men
from the fireboat, dockhands, ladies and their gentleman friends who had been walking in the
park, vendors, cabbies, ruffians, painted ladies, storeowners, housewives and children. It
seemed like there must have been two-dozen children in the large crowd as I rounded the point
at 56th Street. Finally I became tired of watching them watching me and I noticed a collapsed
pier extending out from Manhattan side of the river. The current, swelling nearby formed an
eddy. I rode the current in towards the shore scraping my legs and my arms on the rock
foundation of the pier, hidden just inches below the surface of the river. I crawled my way over
sharp barnacles and splintered wood to the embankment along the shore. I was too short to
get up the embankment so they had to send policemen over with a ladder to help me. He was
a large strapping man with reddish hair and freckles extended a ladder down the side of the
embankment and climbed down clumsily, his large belly sticking over his belt. Finally he
steadied himself on the slippery rock and one hand still grasping the ladder, he reached down
and grabbed me by the upper arm and lifting me with one hand, he placed me clumsily on the
ladder, my back hand almost slipping through the rungs of the ladder to the point where I felt
as though I was going to fall though and land on my head on the rocks below. With a tossing
motion, he lifted me and caught me on his shoulder. I remember thinking that being saved was
worse than drowning. He carried me up the ladder quickly. Over the crest of the embankment
he handed me to one of the firemen from the fireboat. I was mobbed by a number of middle
aged women in the crowd who tried to wipe me off, clean me up, dress my bruises and ask me
dozen of questions about where I came from, who my parents were. I heard some of the
firemen and policemen exchange curses as they picked up the ladder and headed back toward
the boat.
Schultz’s Park attracted youngsters from all the ethnic neighborhoods close by (Irish, Italian,
Hungarian, German). It was often here than the gang fights would begin when two boys from a
given neighborhood playing peacefully, most often, would be surprised by a half dozen boys of
a different nationality, who feeling their oats and over confident in their superior numbers
would mainly ridicule and intimidate the few, often extorting money, taking personal
belongings or threatening them with violence. Of course, those threats would only work as
long as their numbers were superior and only until those intimidated boys could work their way
back to their own neighborhoods, tell their tale, and enlist the support of their own gangs.
Then the back alleys that split the city streets, canyons between five story brownstones, narrow
alleyways behind the six-foot high closed picket fences that protected the muddy back and
tenements became the demilitarized zones. Crossing that line on the wrong day could begin a
battle that might last half a summer. Fists were most often the weapons but a serious offense,
created situations, in which stones, sticks or anything that might be handy in a trash bin close
by would be used. In the lighter moments we fancied ourselves warriors, garbage lids serving
as shields, sticks or pieces of tubing served as our swords. At the worst, the younger children
had the sense to run when they were clearly out-manned or out-armed and seldom was anyone
hurt although often frightened within an inch of their lives. It was much different with the
older boys, though fortunately I left Manhattan before I had to learn those lessons firsthand.
I had a large number of first cousins back in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. We visited them
periodically and right near their home was an airstrip. The airstrip was really nothing more
than a large cow pasture with an area of grass worn thin, rippled, weather beaten; a place for
the landings and departures of the most primitive of aircrafts. At irregular intervals there were
small kerosene lamps or tin containers of kerosene, which might be lit on foggy days or after
nightfall. Their flames would burn orange-yellow their edges tinged with thick, black smoke
would rise in thin whispers. On a still spring night, they could smell as bad as the factories
along the East River. At one end of the airstrip there was a small shack. There the mailmen
from the local post office would often await the arrival of the pilots who would be the first of
the airmail carriers, warming themselves near a small coal burning Franklin stove. The shack
was loosely boarded with a flimsy door and one window facing the airstrip. The dingy yellowed
cloth curtain hung diagonally across the window. The stench of urine lingered in the corners of
the shack.
There the very early planes would land. I remember the first plane I ever saw was a twinengine bi-plane. The wings were covered with canvas. These pilots came and went causing a
great deal of excitement. We would travel out to the airstrip to admire them. My cousins knew
them by their first names. I never did ride with them, but my cousins rode with them often and
I envied their opportunity to know these daring men well. These men were pioneers. The
airstrip itself was just a long dirt path. Pilots often complained to one another about the cows
that would wander across it, or pigs or horses belligerently standing astride the landing strip. I t
wasn’t uncommon to see a pilot buzz the airstrip once or twice to drive the livestock off before
he could land and at night livestock always posed an invisible danger to both the plane and the
Coney Island in 1917 was heaven on earth. It was magic place. Large Ferris wheels, the
boardwalk, the arcade, the games, the ring toss, then vendors, the crowded beaches, the roller
coasters, the carousel. The carousel was my favorite. I could pretend to be Stonewall Jackson,
or Wild Bill Hitchcock riding the finely built horses carved from rich hardwoods. As I stretched
my legs in the stirrups around and around, I had the sense that I was closing in on the rider in
front of me. Perhaps that is where my fascination with electricity and mechanics began; the
ability to create great magic from metal and wires seemed wonderful. The possibility of
affecting that kind of magic was captivating. I would often fantasize as I rode the carousel
about having the magical power to make the wooden horses truly come to life like Pegasus,
leaving the fairgrounds and flying high above the boardwalk, over ocean, across Manhattan and
how grand it would be to be able to effect that kind of magic.
In 1918, New York City became a terrible somber place. I remember then sense of waiting to
die; a great sense of uncertainly pervaded everything and plagued everyone. I didn’t
understand at the time that death literally touched everyone and though panic had not set in, a
great sense of hopelessness and helplessness had. The city, itself, which had seemed so gay
and later, during the war, so proud and vibrant in victory now that the character of an infirmed
elder waiting to pass on, passive and distressed. No one seemed to understand why or how
America was suffering so. At dusk one evening in late November, I recall walking home from
the garage in the center of the street. The sky was steel blue, cold and crystal clear. I walked in
the street rather than walking too close to any of the dozen pauper’s caskets I was forced to
pass on my short walk home. The weather, on that day, was mercifully cold, retarding the
spread of that peculiar stench of decaying flesh, which hung as a constant reminder of the fate,
which threatened us all. The black dark pleated crepes were draped across every other building
on the block, the pine caskets rested unevenly on the curbs in a position that undoubtedly left
the deceased with his feet in the street and torso on the sidewalk. Often the wood used was so
green that the pine tar dripped like blood from the caskets, which were made in such great
numbers that seasoned wood could not be found. The winter of 1919 was a long frightening
As soon as spring broke, the opportunity presented itself to leave the city to visit relatives. I
remember the ride to the countryside of New Jersey on that bright date in late April. It was
balmy, this year spring had come early and it seemed as it life itself was being renewed in the
New Jersey countryside. The influenza hadn’t appeared to touch the farmlands of New Jersey
in anywhere near the same proportions that it had victimized New York City. The cows were
fat; the woodland was green; the children happy; flowers were in bloom and we had driven an
astonishing distance of nearly twenty miles since passing our last casket. It was very, very hard
to believe and understand that only forty miles from our home one’s life style could be so
different and apparently so much safer. It was my first exposure to the real country and I was
fascinated. The hills, the deep forest, the tall pines, the pastures without curbs, the stone walls
which had been created in colonial times all fascinated me. I was very excited about the visit
and the opportunity to explore this wilderness. The trip home was stressful although I didn’t
understand why at the time. Our brief time away from New York City was the first period of
relaxed enjoyment we had known in months. We had not been aware of alternatives till that
day. I was the only child still awake when I overheard my parents discussing the wisdom of
returning to the city. They wondered whether or not they had the right to expose their children
once again to the influenza. My mother and father agreed they hadn’t felt at peace the way
they had during the country visit in more than the year that it had been since the influenza had
broken out in the city. As late afternoon settled on that long drive, I dozed off like my brothers
and sisters. Sometime thereafter, we were all jolted awake as my father jammed on the
brakes. We awoke to find both mother and father bolting out of the car to inspect a large
farmhouse and its outbuildings. They were both very excited; why wasn’t totally clear until I
spotted the sign hung from the post along the roadside. The farm and the land were for lease
with an option to buy. My parents (who later I would find were prone to the impulsive
purchases of farms) had already made up their minds. Before sunset that evening, we had
leased the farmhouse, 80 acres, adopted 200 chickens, a horse, a half dozen pigs and several
cows. My father signed the lease on the spot. All that was left was to return that evening to
the city, hire a truck and river and move the next morning to begin our new lives as a farming
That next day the drive, though only forty miles, took many hours. The truck we had hired was
old and often required stops to allow the engine to cool. Its owner was a big strapping man
who seemed to sweat a great deal and very easily. He was unshaven but not dirty and his arms
were as big as most men’s legs. He wore a white sleeveless T-shirt and a cap, even though the
day was still quite cool. He chewed on a cigar, which was more often than not, unlit. It was
well after dusk when we arrived at the farm and the driver was clearly anxious to get home. He
lifted large pieces of furniture on his back and carried them into the house. Time and time
again he would drop a piece of furniture just inside the doorway and reposition it and start out
for another. The large overstuffed sofa was the last piece he carried into the front room. He
set it down and collapsed onto it. As darkness fell over the room, my mother lit a kerosene
lantern so the business of the day could be concluded. The driver collected his money and with
one hand on the door shook my father’s hand and bid the family goodbye. He smiled for the
first time that day and I noticed that he had not teeth and wondered how he managed to hold
on to the now absent cigar he had so firmly held in his mouth. There was a great deal of work
in tidying the house and the excitement of settling in. Collapsing after several hours of
additional work, the children, my mother and father all had clearly spent their energy. In the
wee hours of our first night on the farm, I awoke choking and gagging on smoke. I yelled to my
father and mother for help. During the excitement, my father ran to the children’s room and
forced all of us out onto the roof of the small front porch. He was able to make his way
downstairs to find not a fire but a smoldering couch and the truck driver’s lit cigar.
As the oldest son, I had to learn a great deal about farm life and learn quickly. Early on this
created tension between my parents and proved anxiety provoking for me. Not having grown
up in a farm community, my early experiences with animal husbandry and sexuality were
shockingly graphic and proved to be rude awakenings, much to my mother’s chagrin and my
father’s quiet amusement. I recall the day that my father asked me to take five dollars and our
cow to a neighbor’s farm to be come acquainted with our neighbor’s bull. After paying the
neighbor and putting the cow in with the bull, I waited as my father instructed, for what I
wasn’t sure, but as inaction gave way to action, I was mortified. I stayed, as much as out of
concern for the safety of our livestock as anything else. I was too frightened and small to
interfere. I certainly saw more than I bargained for that day. When I got back home, it was
after dark and my whole family was sitting at the table eating. I was still stunned from my
experience. My father asked, “Edward, how did the cow take it”? My mother kicked him in the
shins under the table. That was the last of the conversation.
The one room schoolhouse we went to while on the farm, much to my surprise didn’t have
steam heat like the New York City school or the one in Brooklyn. It was not bigger than twenty
feet square, painted red, and sat nestled in a grove of maples and oaks. The blackboard and a
very rough table served as my teacher’s only props. The small student body of fifteen sat on
benches. Small tables, an American flag at the right corner of the room and a globe were its
only resources beyond the textbooks and the map of the United States on the wall. As winter
settled in, the schoolteacher had to build a fire anew each day. So each morning we were
asked to help her start a fire by going out and gathering wood around the schoolhouse and in
the woods nearby. I went home and told my Dad that I had to go out and get wood so we could
get the fire started in the big pot-bellied stove in the back of the classroom. He said, “You don’t
have to do that. After all we pay the Board of Education our taxes so you don’t have to do it.”
So the next day I promptly told the teacher that I wasn’t going out to get the wood. She said,
“Edward, you don’t have to go, you can sit in your seat.” Because I was one of the worst
students, she had me in the front of that particular row of the third grade and there I sat while
all the other kids went out and got wood. Finally they got a blazing fire going in the pot-bellied
stove and all students brought their chairs and benches to the back of the classroom to sit there
nice and cozy around the pot-bellied stove. I think it was still around forty degrees up in the
front of the class where I sat. A few days later when more wood was needed I didn’t flaunt my
rights. I went out and helped gather without complaint.
A few of the boys in my school had trapping lines and it sounded like such fun, I coaxed my
father to buy a few traps and I set out a trap line for muskrats and skunks myself. I had a good
trap line and I went to check it every morning before school. I had over a dozen traps in all;
they stretched in a wide arc in the forest nearby my home following the streambed through a
glen as it meandered throughout a marshy bog and re-gathered itself near a small duck pond. I
placed my traps carefully in the briars, aloud stonewalls, at the base of large trees, anywhere a
rabbit or a deer run was evidenced in the undergrowth. Placement, as I would come to find
through trial and error, was key to the success of trapping. Creatures weren’t likely to change
their habits to come find my traps. I had to anticipate where they, in the course of their daily
circle of activities, were most likely to wander. Checking the traps regularly proved essential. If
I didn’t check it every day and an animal got caught it would eat its foot off, if you left him there
too long rather than drown or suffer too much. They would actually eat the foot off and leave
you the foot. So I would go every morning, winter mornings through snow and ice, and follow
my trap line. It ran under haystacks and logs, anyplace where the skunks and other animals
were likely to frequent. I caught muskrats more than anything else. I’d carry them home and
then go onto school. The skunks somehow or other always seemed to get caught by their hind
leg. They’d be inside their burrow or under a log or in a haystack and when you pulled them
out, they’d strike at you with their stinging stinking venom. You often had to face a healthy
back end first for a few seconds before you could club them on the head to kill them. One of
these mornings this one skunk really nailed me (almost blinding me). If you’re the one sprayed,
you smell it for a while, but then you don’t smell it at all anymore. So after I got my nice big
skunk home, I went off to school. I ran the last quarter mile to school knowing once again I was
going to be seriously disciplined for being so late. Bursting in the classroom I expected a
reaction but I was anticipating punishment as opposed to repulsion. As the teacher turned to
admonish me, her look of anger turned to one of nausea. She backed herself against the far
wall, turning her head against it towards the window, she said, “Edward, what have you been
doing?” Before I could answer, my classmates parted like the Red Sea, each, the group to my
left and right, leaving his desk and scurrying towards the front of the classroom in the teacher’s
safety, many holding their noses, others moaning loudly, a few gagging and gasping. Then it hit
me that there wasn’t likely to be any punishment today, nor any school. For a brief period
anyway, I held the cards necessary to control the situation. I toyed with the teacher’s interest
offering to explain the whole situation in detail as I walked towards her promising that I would
get right to work and stay late if necessary to compensate for what I had missed. It was difficult
to suppress my smile knowing full well I had just given myself the day off. It became very clear
that the teacher simply wanted me out – there would be consequences but not today. If she
had any hope of teaching anyone in that classroom anything, I needed to leave immediately.
She needed to open the windows, air out the classroom and teach for the next hour or so on
the school grounds. This happened about six times, but I didn’t get discouraged. I kept my trap
line going. Eventually with the money I made on my trap line, I bought my first pair of long
trousers. I remember the trousers well. They were gray with buttons up the front and buttons
across the belt. They had no pockets but ankle cuff-lets that buttoned giving the appearance of
pantaloons and much more dignified than the knickers that most young boys were forced to
wear. Up to that time, I had only had knickers (knee length trousers) myself. I was very proud
of my long trousers, my hard work and my skinning.
By this time (the first winter on the farm), I failed the third grade. I remember the feeling of
failure and embarrassment. Having my sister, who was a year younger than I catch up with
me in school; the discomfort of having to face my parents, my siblings and return to school, to
repeat the material from the preceding year. I didn’t prize what was taught in school; the view
of it being failure was difficult to accept. Being “held back” was precisely what it felt like. I was
angry. I had no doubt that I had failed to learn what I was required to know by the standards of
the school, however, I felt much more like I was being punished than helped and, as a result,
never repented nor chose to commit an honest effort to learning what it was the school
teacher though I should know. My sister was a diligent student, sometime unwillingly, but
invariable she did her homework and mine and because of this I was able to pass the third
grade the second time around and as long as I “kept pace” with her I enjoyed the only period in
my life of “academic success”. After that, she did my homework as well as hers and I managed
to keep up with my class.
During that first winter, my mother decided we needed more chickens. So she ordered 500
baby chicks from Sears Roebuck. When they arrived, it was too early in the spring to put them
outside. So she decided should set up a room inside upstairs for them. There were only 500
little tiny chicks, but later on it seemed like there were 2000. We raised the chickens till they
were old enough and the weather got mild enough to put them outside. That proved to be a
total disaster. After they were put outside, they considered the house their home. They came
in through the doors; they came in through the windows and they flew up to the second floor.
They’d lay eggs in the bureaus, the closets and anywhere else that was flat enough to support
their offerings. I have never since seen such a mess as our house was then. It turned out that it
was their coop first and our home second. They we so used to it we never could keep the
chickens out.
We all had to slaughter chickens from time to time. My dad was away a lot and I was promoted
to chief chicken killer. Now, killing a chicken is very unpleasant. To watch them hop around
without their head is a very strange. They would run around for a full five minutes without a
head. They’d jump sideways and all around, still walking and still moving. It’s repulsive to
watch it, blood splashing all over the place. So my mother used to say to me, “Edward, you kill
the chicken and I’ll hold him,” and I’d say: “No Ma, I’ll hold it, you kill it.” She was such a bad
shot she’d close her eyes and would always miss the chicken. One time, in particular,
everybody was sick including my father; I’ll never forget it. My mother and I were the only ones
who weren’t terribly sick. Everyone else was in bed, so I went out and got the rooster and, with
my mother, I took it down in to the cellar. My mother laid his head on the chopping block and I
shut my eyes and swung the axe and without looking back, we both ran upstairs. (We didn’t
want blood all over us and we didn’t want to see the chicken hop around with his head cut off).
After five minutes had passed (by that time they were generally dead), we went back
downstairs and looked all over but couldn’t find the chicken; no head; no chicken; no nothing.
We hunted and hunted, we called, we looked under the pile of wood; we looked everywhere,
the chicken was gone. My mother said, “Well Edward, you’ll have to go out and get another
chicken.” I said, “Nope, I’m not going to get another. That was enough. We killed one and I’m
not going to kill another one.” About a day later, we heard a rooster crowing down in the
cellar. We had missed him altogether.
One day the following fall, evening settled in while I was in town buying grain and groceries. It
was three miles to home, a long ride by carriage and coming back I could hardly see the road.
The night was particularly foggy. The road ran narrow and uneven. The border on my right was
an eerie marsh, which was hung in shaped of deep green and earthen brown by trees that
suffered from a lack of sunlight and held the stench of stagnant water. On my left there was a
dense pine forest, which permitted no light beneath the boughs, which hung unevenly several
feet above the ground. Two more ominous alternatives were hard for a young a boy to
imagine. Black forest, eerie swamp you wouldn’t ever dare watch the one too long, for as soon
as you began to examine one, you would begin to reconsider the other as the most likely source
of demons. Often the wobbly wheels of the carriage would slip off the clay crest of the country
road towards one of the ruts on the other side. The jar would often cause the horse to stop
having incorrectly interpreted it as a pull on his reins. I’d quietly curse the horse for being so
dense, so willing to pause in the face of such imagined dangers. Finally I pulled up in front of
the house and my mother said to me, “Edward, do you hear noises?” It was getting dark and
the days were getting shorter. She said, “Well, I hear voices and they are all around us.” I
listened a while and I said, “Yeah, I think I hear voices too.” She said, “Edward, you know what I
think, that there’s somebody out there or the woods are haunted by ghosts.” She said,
“Edward, just take the groceries, don’t un-harness the horse. Just get him in the barn and close
the door. Don’t even put him in the stall just rush back. I think the voices are getting closer and
closer.” As I listened, I began to think I heard them too. So I rushed the horse into the barn and
ran into the house and locked all the doors and listened. We still heard the mumbling but we
never discovered what it was.
The same fall, my dad said, “ You know we only have one horse and we need two horses to pull
a hay rake, so to save the cost of hiring someone to hay the fields I’ll hook the hay rake to the
taxi.” When he was ready to begin he said, “Edward, you sit on the spare tire and watch the
tines to make sure they don’t get caught up. I’ll drive the taxi, and Sis, you sit in the back seat
and look out the back window and tell me how things are going.” I was sitting about five feet
off the ground and from there you had to kick the tines every so often to keep the hay from
binding. We went merrily around in the back pasture and were doing pretty well. It was quite
wet in some areas, but we were managing, when all of a sudden, the shaft fell off and tuck in
the ground. Meanwhile my father, who couldn’t tell this had happened, was still driving on. I
catapulted over the back and into the tines where were still rolling. They were rolling the hay
and I for several seconds before my sister got around to telling my father that I was in danger.
When he stopped to allow me to get to safety, he couldn’t get the taxi started again and we
had to pay $20.00 to get a team of horse to pull the taxi out. The whole hay field could have
been cut for half the amount.
The second summer on the farm, my cousins, Fran, Jack and Eli McGee all came to visit. One
day we roamed away from our place, through the neighboring farms and we finally happened
across a great patch of watermelons. The patch covered thirty acres; watermelons extended as
far as one could see. Large sloppy leaves covered many as we walked. Turning the leaves and
vines aside we discovered dozens hidden from view like large eggs hidden under protective
hens. First we tore at the vines, sometimes separating entire section from their root system.
Then we jug among the melons discovering that the melons changed dramatically in character
as they grew. We paused to argue to as to whether all of these watermelons were
watermelons at all. We performed a number of quick autopsies and concluded that, in fact,
watermelons they were. It was a very hot day. I don’t know what we were thinking. There
were so many watermelons perhaps we figured a few wouldn’t be missed. We sampled a few,
but they weren’t ripe. So we broke up a few more and sampled them. After we found about
three apiece, which were ripe, we gathered them up in our arms along with a chain, which for
some reason, we decided to take as well. As we walked toward home, the larger melons grew
heavier and heavier. We ate some and then dropped some more and we finally got home but
we left a trail all the way. The next day the farmer discovered that his watermelon patch had
been wrecked and he followed the watermelon seeds, the rinds and the broken watermelons
right to our farm and, on the front porch of our farmhouse, he found his chain. My father and
mother weren’t home at the time. I was there and so were my three cousins. He had a
lieutenant in the Civil War; and older man I’ll never forget. He was a tall slender man, wiry with
a mustache. He reminded me of General Pershing, though he really didn’t look like him. I
wondered if this was the look of the true soldier, the hardened face of a man who had seen
combat and death. His horse was jet black and there was froth on his hindquarters and around
his bit. It was clear that he driven him hard. He had a big long whip, which stood up in a little
holder. He flipped that whip at us as he spoke and we stood there frozen and frightened. He
said, “You should be horse whipped for all you did.” He wanted to know when our parents
would be there. Well, their parents weren’t there and weren’t going to be. My mother and
dad came home after he had gone and later they had to pay $45.00 for the damage we had
done. Today that would be like $450.00. We must have wrecked that entire patch because
back then a good ripe watermelon wasn’t worth more than fifty cents.
That second summer on the farm, we found a watering hole to swim in. It was a man-made
lake only about three hundred feet across and six to seven hundred feet long. A stream that
ran through the valley nearby was dammed. The small lake that was created only ran twelve or
thirteen feet at the center. Along the embankment by the weeping willows we’d often swing
low across the water and, depending upon the strength of the branch or how much it gave,
either catapult in a somersault into the lake or slowly sink in as we skimmed along the surface.
It was part of a retreat community, called a Fellowship Farm. No one wore clothes when we
went swimming. We varied in age from my age (ten or eleven) down to my younger sister who
was five or six. My brothers and sisters and I all swam together. With all the kids from the
other local farms, there must have been thirty or forty of us there at the same time and not a
stitch of clothing among us. Nobody thought too much about it; you were swimming. When
my cousins came, however, being city slickers, there were shocked. I recall how odd everyone
thought it was that city boys who were hesitant to swim but, nonetheless, the gang stripped
down and dove in. In a very few minutes it seemed that the city boys who were so modest and
slow to undress were the peculiar ones.
The next fall, in my class I met a fellow named Johnny Mango. He was a Hungarian boy whose
father owned a farm close by. I remember I could tell he was nearby with my eyes closed,
because he never washed his feet and I could smell his feet from my seat. Every once in a while
I would see a little bug run down his neck and back up into his hair. He had lice. Once in a
while you could see white eggs there too. He was a nice kid, however, and we had a lot of fun
together. He stole one of my traps and took animals out of a number of them. Once, when he
was raiding one of my traps, I caught him in the act. I came upon him at the far side of the
marsh. I heard a noise behind the thicket. As I approached it, I thought perhaps I had
inadvertently trapped something large; the way the bushes were rustling, for a moment, I
thought a deer or perhaps a dog which I often saw running wild through the woods. As I
rounded the bend, I saw Johnny prying a trap apart releasing the dead carcass of a muskrat. He
was startled when he saw me. He started to mumble something and stopped, realizing that
there was very little to explain. I asked him how long he had been tampering with my traps
because it was not the first time that I found them snapped and empty. He appeared to be
sorry at first, quickly. However he lapsed into defensiveness and belligerence and he began to
deny and argue as if I was insulting his integrity. Word led to word and after his trying to leave
with the muskrat, blow led to blow. It was wintertime (trapping was the best in the winter).
We were fist fighting out on the ice of the little pond. After a brief exchange of punches,
Johnny, who was a smaller heavier boy, decided that it was to his advantage to make it a
wrestling match. He lowered his head and ran straight at me. I stepped aside. He tumbled to
his knees and his elbows. Quickly he stood up and threw himself at me again. This time he
connected his shoulder into my midsection – knocking the wind out of me as we tumbled to the
ground. Rolling further, I ended up on top. Just then a car stopped nearby and a gentleman
with a along woolen overcoat, half closed, with a white cotton scarf, stepped out of his car and
yelled down to us on the pond to stop fighting. After wading nearly 500 feet in the snow, he
separated us and asked us what the problem was. When I told him what Johnny had done, he
drove away and decided to let us fight it out. Those years on the farm had been difficult, the
drive into the city was long one and it became more and more impractical for my father to
continue on in the taxi business. The chickens had proved more trouble than they were worth.
The cash that we received for the eggs and the small money we received for our crops and the
chickens, themselves was not enough to make ends meet. So, my father decided to move back
to town. During those six years, we left the farm only to go to school. The town at that time
was a strange and foreign place. As odd as the farm had seemed to me when we arrived there
six years before from Manhattan, I’d spent my formative years in the country. Moving to a
town, even a small town, seemed odd. My family and a few friends in the immediate area of
the farm were all the people I knew and, except for those I met in school or on our rare trips to
local towns, I’d learned to find satisfaction and pleasure in the country; in the Bible and in the
company of my family. Being surrounded by so many people; so much activity, proved to be a
bit of a shock to my system. Nonetheless we moved to Picataway, a small town in central New
Jersey. It was a farming community not much more than a crossroads at the time. (Local
school and local churches, general store, a gas station, barber shop a post office, and a small
movie house.) By the time I arrived there, I’d grown into an awkward adolescent and, though
confused and somewhat uncomfortable with myself, I had the good fortune of being one of the
larger children in my class, both by virtue of an early growth spurt and by the dubious
distinction of being nearly sixteen in the eighth grade.
One of my classmates had joined the local Boy Scouts and was a second-class scout, at the time,
encouraged me to attend a scouting meeting. I recall it was a night in early October. He and I
hurried down South Main Street toward the church in whose basement the meeting was to be
held. It was a cool, crisp autumn evening. The meeting proved to be a great deal of fun. The
scouts were beginning a project for their annual Halloween costume party. I made a great
many good friends in scouting. One quiet young boy named Anderson I had a particular
fondness for. Eventually I became one of the scout troop leaders. I loved to travel, hike, and
camp. On one such outing, Anderson asked me to walk with him down to the beach. I really
wanted to go but I realized that, as a scout leader, it was my responsibility to help the younger
scouts secure the tents and, though I could have done them perhaps just as well after the walk,
for some reason I didn’t go. A few minutes later storm clouds gathered and the storm’s first
bolt of lightening struck, killing Anderson. He was buried in a little in a little cemetery back in
Piscataway. The preacher who presided over the service was from the same church in which
we held our troop meetings. I played Taps as the whole troop stood silently at attention. After
grade school, I went to trade school. Fortunately trade school proved more rewarding and
certainly more interesting than any other type of school I had ever attended. I studied the basic
core requirements and delighted in the few technical periods of the day in which I would study
the basics of electricity, wiring and mechanics. Impatient and perhaps a bit dissatisfied with the
academic requirements, I decided to quit and go to work as an electrician for E. R. Squibb and
Company, the pharmaceutical house. One day, one of my buddies in the scouts came to work
to visit me. In those days (1926), E.R. Squibb was making formaldehyde from sulfur drugs to
fight venereal diseases and in the process they used alcohol to purify the sulfur and we then
reused the alcohol. It wasn’t denatured and we had a still to purify it. It was during prohibition
and a moon-faced Irish fellow named Chris Eialis asked about it. I said that it was alcohol. He
said it looked very hot, and I said it came out around 140 degrees. He asked: “Is this drinking
alcohol?” and I said “Yes” ( I didn’t know the difference). So he said “Well, I think I’ll have
some.” The alcohol flowed through a hose and out like water would flow from a garden hose.
He said, “Boy, this will be good.” He took the hose, put it in his mouth; took a few swallows and
collapsed. He couldn’t breathe; he couldn’t catch his breath; he was suffocating from the
alcohol and the end of the hose was continuing to pour alcohol on him. He gagged his arms
were flailing. The hot flowing alcohol was darkening his pale green shirt across his chest and
down his left arm pooling next to his shoulder and chin. For a moment, I thought I would have
to call my superiors for an ambulance as he began to lose color. Finally, coughing furiously, he
began to re-catch his breath. I thought that would cure him, though years later, I went to visit
as a grown man and I was to find alcohol had only lost that battle but would eventually win the
Of course my sisters were a lot brighter than I was in school, so they went on to high school. I
decided that I would seek my fortune, as one of the Squibb chemists had suggested, in a good
area that was growing and had a great future. He said he had studied regional growth patterns
for twenty years and, if he were young, he would head to North Carolina. So we (my best
friend Eddie Patrick and I) packed our bags and baggage and without much ado, bid my mother
and father farewell. I kissed my mom goodbye and waved goodbye to my dad. We packed our
football, baseball and hunting equipments, shotguns and our favorite dog, in our sevenpassenger Hut-mobile and headed for North Carolina.
Southern Sojourn
The Hutmobile was a good solid car. It was a large, black sedan with an enclosed cab and
spacious backseat, cadaverous by today’s standards. With an additional storage rack and a
trunk area extending beyond the rear of the cab, in much the same way rumble seats often
were engineered in the models of the day, we could have packed all our belongings. The huge
rubber wheels were twenty-two inches in diameter with wooden rims. The Hutmobile’s solid
rubber tires precluded a flat. We decided to travel through York, Pennsylvania so we could stop
and see some friends we had met through scouting. We intended to visit for a few hours and
ended up visiting for three days. That second evening, we went on a long ride in the country
with two very pretty Dutch Mennonite girls. We lost our dog during the tour that evening.
Where the dog went and why we didn’t notice he was gone would be the devil to explain. The
girls were so beautiful it’s simplest to say we were completely absorbed by their charms. We
simply forgot the little Collie mongrel and left him. We searched for him the next morning, but
never did find him. We felt bad, but the open road beckoned, and we headed south once
again. The roads were dirt in Virginia and the Carolinas. Even the main roads were washboard
roads. They didn’t prepare them fully, just scraped them. They’d get little ripples in them and
your tires would go over them like an old-fashioned washboard. That ripple would get your car
bounding and chattering and then, of course, it made the ripples deeper with every car that
went over. There were clouds of dust coming each way every time a car passed. You could see
the cars coming for miles. Everything that moved was covered with a dusting of the red soil.
When it got wet, it got very slippery because there was a great deal of clay in the earth there.
The trip to the Shenandoah Valley was something that would leave an imprint on me that
would remain with me for the rest of my life. From Winchester; through the Fancy Gap; the
climb through the valley and the foothills and finally across the Blue Ridge Mountains was
inspiring. Retracing the steps Jackson took in his Valley campaign, traveling through or near
Winchester, Strassberg, New Market, Harrisonburg, Stanton, Roanoke and Lexington were
profound experiences. The summer still hung heavy as did the air in the Shenandoah. The
fields were awaiting the coming harvest; the coming moon would be the harvest moon and the
valley was alive with preparation. The ascent into the Blue Ridge Mountains brought us to
Fancy Gap; before us lay North Carolina. Mt. Airy lay several miles to the southeast beyond
which one could see for a hundred miles; North Carolina as far as the eye could see. Four days
later, we arrived in Winston-Salem.
It was late September of 1927. We had brought our tent and camping equipment and we
found an open lot, which looked suitable for camping. We asked a barbeque stand attendant
nearby if we could camp there. He said, “yes”, so we put our tent up (there were another
couple of tents nearby). Our rent was twenty-five cents a week. Shortly thereafter, we each
found jobs in construction, at twenty-five cents per hour, twelve hours a day. We found that
out of our fifteen dollars a week, it cost only three dollars for food between the two of us. We
cooked all our own meals over the campfire. By November, the chill of the night air was
becoming unbearable and we both realized we’d need find a more substantial place spend the
winter. Close by, on a hillside, there was a mansion, which appeared deserted. I inquired and
was told the railroad had bought it. It was an old plantation and the railroad was going to build
a new line through the property and tear it down. I decided that I’d go to the railroad and ask
the man if we could use the house rather than stay in the tent for the winter. I was told we
could. We said to ourselves, “Boy this is grand,” only three months out and we had a mansion
of our own. It was a beautiful home, although long since fallen into disrepair. As one entered
through the large portico and crossed the large veranda, which extended almost entirely
around the building, one entered the large foyer perhaps twenty feet wide and forty feet long
running the entire center of the building. A large oaken stairway descended from the right of
the foyer; a landing extending across the back of the building and another few steps angling
back towards the front of the building ascending to the second floor. On the landing, an oaken
window seat and three huge stained glass windows, which allowed the filtered light to pour a
spectrum of colors into the foyer. Four rooms were on each floor, two on each side of the
foyer, north and south, each with its own fireplace. The mansion must have been a showplace
in its day. The kitchen and an outdoor stairway, which the servants (slaves, once) might ascend
to their quarters above the kitchen and return, completed the twelve rooms. We bought cots,
which seemed like quite a luxury rather than sleeping on the floor and we took the biggest
room in the house with a fireplace and a winding staircase as our own. There was a well
outside so we didn’t have to go far for water and two of the other campers a man and wife
asked if they could move in with us. I struck a bargain with them; if she’d wash our clothes and
iron and if he’d gather our firewood, then we’d let them have one of the rooms in the house.
Now we had a live-in maid and manservant. Wood was plentiful because the house was
coming down and, if we didn’t want to send our friends outside for wood, we just took boards
from the stairway or a door frame. We stayed there the entire winter and we felt as if we were
landed gentry.
I enjoyed going to Protestant Church in the area. I also went to several Moravian Churches
(one of the main Protestant faiths in that part of Carolina). There was also a Baptist Church in
the center of town. I went there one Sunday morning and they had a gospel preacher. They
announced that they were having a weeklong revival, beginning the following Sunday. I
attended several of the evening tent meetings and late in the week the preacher said:
“Whoever wanted to seek their salvation and testify that they loved Christ should stand up and
come forward.” I walked up to the front of the Church. It was quite an emotional experience
for me. They asked you if you were really seeking your salvation and if you truly wanted to be
baptized and be born again. I said I did. They took you to the podium and you were given a
time to meet with the Deacons the following night. Once again, you had to tell them how you
felt, and what you knew about Christ; how you felt about salvation and how important it was to
you. They then reached a collective decision as to your readiness. Fortunately, they accepted
me to be baptized as a member of the church. The time had finally come and as the preacher
stood by my side, he asked me before the whole congregation to declare my faith. I was about
waist deep in water. I testified that I believed in Christ; that I would try to be a good Christian
and follow the teachings of the Lord. He then asked me, “Do you understand that your
salvation is something between you and the Lord, and that you have to be serious, you have to
mean it; you have to follow it.” And I said that I did. Finally he asked, “Do you love Jesus and
seek salvation through Him and through God’s love and will you make them your partners
throughout your life?” I responded that I would. Then, in the name of the Father, Son and the
Holy Ghost, I was baptized, as was Christ in the River Jordan.
I felt as if my feet didn’t touch the ground again for weeks. I had an inward feeling of
contentment, happiness and warmth that I can’t explain. The depth of my sense of intimacy
with God and Christ and my inner feelings of warmth were extraordinary. That experience has
stayed with me all my life. I may have lost my sense of direction at times, but my salvation that
night proclaimed has always served as the cornerstone of my life’s structure. I felt, from that
moment forward, that with God’s help, I’d strive to live up to the ideals of Christianity. I felt
like the Pilgrim in Pilgrim’s Progress, stepping from stone and always looking to Christ as a
partner and a friend. That night, and since, I came to believe if you try, with God’s help, you
can succeed no matter how difficult that climb may be or tough the battle. When God is with
you, you can overcome.
Now Eddie and I were “men of means” and accordingly decided to move into a boarding house.
Of course, there was a girl involved; the owner’s daughter, who had become my girlfriend. Her
name was Opal Orange. Her family had just recently come down from the mountains and
moved to town and her father worked in the tobacco factory and rented out rooms. We would
sit around in the evening with a guitar around the open fireplace that burned soft coal and talk
and sing country songs; all the southern songs sung during the Civil War. We had many a fine
night together.
It was there that I first began to appreciate the impact of the War, between the States, as the
Southerners preferred to call it, had had in the South. An entire culture had been eradicated; a
great people with a sense of purpose equal to that of the North had been overpowered and
forced to submit to a government they had years before chosen to abandon. A sense of having
been violated; a sense of loss remained clear among the mountain people who had made their
way into Winston-Salem to work in the factories. Though the war had been over nearly fiftyfive years, there were still a great number of older men and women who had been directly
involved or who had lost brothers and sisters or parents. There were a great many families who
had lost financial fortunes as well as their status; their homes; their lands; their influence. We,
ourselves, had spent the winter in one of the many abandoned architectural treasures that
could no longer be maintained by the defeated south. It’s not to paint a picture of an angry
embittered people, however, the sense of loss and embitterment was real though subtle. For
many of the families that I knew well, including Opal’s parents, it was a sense of cultural
impoverishment that was linked to the war. They were simpler people, kind but primitive. In
many ways they were just like the primitive mountain people who rallied to the side of South
during the war. It was finally that similarity that would make it difficult for Opal and me to
remain friends.
Everybody in the family chewed tobacco including the Mother, much to my disappointment,
though Opal was cute, she chewed tobacco, too. It wasn’t the same tobacco the men chewed,
it was a milder snuff she’d put under her lip, but when I kissed her she tasted like tobacco juice
to me. I told her how our love would end if she didn’t stop “chewing”. One day, coming home
from work, as I came around the back of the house and as she was trying to get rid of her
tobacco chew (so I wouldn’t know she had been chewing), she spit and hit me full in the face;
wad, juice and all. This ended my love affair with my young girlfriend, Opal Orange.
I was working in concrete construction during this time. There were four of us who routinely
worked together for months carrying big pans called sections. These were laid in position and
concrete would be poured over them and pull them out to mix it all up. There had always been
four of us, Eddie and me and two Negro laborers. One day the two Negroes that were helping
us went somewhere to get a drink of water and were gone so long Eddie and I decided to carry
one by ourselves. We discovered it was no heavier lifting it without them. We had been
carrying all the weight for all those months. On a construction job, there’s a lot of framework
and nails scattered about and, one afternoon in early summer, I jumped off a scaffold and
landed on a nail that went completely through my foot, boot and all. I was laid up for a week
and bathed it in Epsom salts. I received a great deal of sympathy from Opal and her mother. I
decided to take the opportunity to look around for another job.
I found one at the Eveready Electric Company. I remember answering the ad in the local paper,
finding the small shop in the South side of town. I entered the red brick building. It was on the
outskirts of Moravian Salem and I found a gentleman there. I inquired as to whether the
company was hiring apprentices. He responded they were and asked regarding my
qualifications. I assured him I was experienced, though it would be my first electrical job and it
was the first time I would have the opportunity to apply the trade I’d partially learned in trade
school. The first fellow I worked for brought me back the second night and said he didn’t want
me as a helper. He said I was too ignorant to do what I was trying to do. This was rather
disappointing because I was really trying hard, but in my ignorance, I was doing everything
wrong. The next day the boss switched me to serve as an apprentice to another journeyman.
Fortunately, this fellow was kindly in a typical Southern manner. He wanted to be waited on
hand and foot. He was a good mechanic and he and I hit it off right away. He had more
patience than the other fellow and I was able to remain his assistant. His name was Eli Morgan;
a very fine gentleman; kindly; and patient. He stood about five foot nine inches with graying,
receding hair; leathered tanned face. He sometimes spoke with such a heavy Southern drawl I
could scarcely understand a word he said. A wiry man; he had the peculiar talent of being able
to hit a fly at a distance of fifteen feet with his chewing tobacco spittle. He wheeled it like a
bullwhip. He was the fellow who really gave me my start in the electrical business.
There was a new building going up in town; a big building. I was fortunate enough to get a job
working on its construction crew. It was going to be twenty-three stories and it was to be the
highest building in the state of North Carolina. I was the first apprentice hired and was never
laid off. The building took over a year to complete. I finally left when a fellow worker who was
older, married and who had two or three kids was about to be laid off before me. I sacrificed
my seniority I didn’t want to see him deprived of a means of supporting his family while I was
certain I could find another position. (The building was the main office of the R.J. Reynolds
Tobacco Company.) Today R.J. Reynolds owns the Reynolds Aluminum Company, Piedmont
Airlines, and Winston, Salem and Camel Cigarette Companies. I really enjoyed it. I had three
men working under me. I did all leveling and they used a transom to level the pipes, to make
sure they were all under the floor and level when the concrete was poured. Each office had
outlets that came up through the floor (no partitions were put in until later but all the outlets
had to be in the right place). I leveled it all up and took care of the electrical wiring and wired
the elevators as well. As I would find out later, the Reynolds’ headquarters had become the
prototype for a building that was going to be constructed shortly thereafter in New York City
(though at the time I had now way of appreciating its implications). R.J. Reynolds’ headquarters
in Winston Salem subsequently became known as the Empire State Building of the South. In
form, architectural design and, to a great extent the technology utilized in the construction, it
served as a prototype for the Empire State Building. The precise and very ornate art deco
lobby, entranceway and elevators, to this day, give the building a palatial appearance.
One hot summer morning on my way to work, I went to the Post Office to pick up my general
delivery mail and lo and behold, there were my mother, father and five younger brothers and
sisters with two of their friends just sitting on the Post Office steps. They had twenty cents left
between them. They had no idea where I lived (because I got my mail at the Post Office –
general delivery). I had just happened to come to the Post Office that day and there they were.
All they took from their flat when they left New Jersey was a Singer sewing machine, a desk
drawer with my father’s shaving outfit plus all the clothes they could dump in the back of their
dilapidated car. I couldn’t believe my eyes. They had no bed; no place to go; no money and
there they were. Before sundown, I had to find an apartment; get several second- hand
mattresses and enough house-wares together so I could settle them. I rented a flat and, from
that day forward, I became the father; as well as the big brother; as well as the provider.
Nobody had a job and I was the only one earning any money at all. After several weeks, my
Dad finally got a job at Sears Roebuck selling on a commission basis. My sister got a job with
the telephone company; the rest of my brothers and sister were enrolled in school. I asked my
mother how she could be in her right mind and come here out of the blue. She simply said she
wanted to come down and see me. Unbelievable, but there they were. Shortly thereafter, we
found a house and were all living together. My sisters and brothers went on to school and
everything finally settled down. No one ever went back to New Jersey for the furniture; no one
ever did anything about informing debtors; nothing. Finally, the authorities learned their
whereabouts and we got a sheriff’s notice that they were selling the furniture for the back rent.
I had been the man of the house (more or less), before I left New Jersey and now I was the chief
provider. The $100.00 I had saved disappeared in three weeks.
In the spring of ’29 my uncle wrote my mother from Connecticut, (my uncle, Will Delano). He
said, “Dear Lizzy: I would like you to come up and live with me. My wife has left me and taken
my only child and it’s very lonely here. I have a house with plenty of room on Quail Street, in
Stratford.” Shortly after receiving the letter, my mother said to me “Edward, seeing that your
construction job is finishing up, would you go up?” I said, “Well, I will if you want me too.”
“He’s asked the whole family to move up,” she said, “You go up and see what you think.” With
that, she handed me $1.00 (of my own money) for the trip.
I put a pack on my back and I started hitchhiking north. I traveled through the Shenandoah
Valley through the little town of Lovington. It was May and they had a little town fair going.
The evening was alive with lights, the carousel and the midway sparkled and crowds gathered
in their Sunday best outside the big top in anticipation of the evening’s performance. Midway
between Lynchburg and Charlottesville, Lovington was nestled in the shadow of the Blue Ridge
Mountains. The evening seemed to be cradled in the coming of spring. The scent of apple
blossoms hung heavy in the air. Every townsperson was courteous and kind and, although I
was only passing through, I was made to feel at home. I met the townsfolk; spent a nickel on
food and enjoyed the fair. I visited the homes of a couple of the young belles and sat on the
porch for a while with each. I slept in the haystack nearby and started out again the next
morning. The next day I rode with a fellow who had a revolver; a Colt 45. It was one of those
with a very long barrel; the old fashioned kind. He said he was a revenuer looking for stills. He
took me about 100 miles up through the valley and he told me quite a few tall tales about how
he found the stills. That gun fascinated me though I didn’t like it sitting beside me on the seat.
That night, I put up in a Salvation Army Post in a little town in the northern end of the valley;
Martinsburg. It was a dark, depressed mill town by the standards of the upper valley. Damp
and cool, the night furthered the contrast. The heavy mist lingered over the streets like a veil. I
had a clear sense that I was passing into another culture and another season as I traveled north.
I went through Washington and then traveling got much more difficult. It took me an entire
day to travel two hundred and fifty miles from Washington to New York. Twenty-five hours
without sleep, I watched the struggle through another cold, gray, damp, spring day. Cold,
hungry and without any money, I arrived early in the morning of the fourteenth of May, 1929,
at my aunt’s house in New Rochelle. My aunt Rose fed me; put me up in the evening; loaned
me a dollar and told me how to get to Connecticut. It took me another entire day to get the
short distance from New Rochelle to Stratford. Nobody would give me a ride. It was only sixty
or seventy miles. I traveled on Route 1 hitchhiking until I got to Bridgeport. At this point, I had
maybe fifty cents left and I had learned rather than try and hitchhike through cities that, once
you get to the outskirts, just get on a trolley to the opposite end of town and then look for a
ride. So I got on a trolley car and asked to be let off in Stratford. I rode and rode and rode; past
factories, miles and miles of tenements backed by literally dozens of smoke stacks. I felt like a
stranger in a strange land. I wondered what would draw and keep so many people in this
dismal place. I went across a gray river; through a small expanse of open land; finally past an
amusement park. Shortly after, we reached the end of the line. I asked the conductor if we
had finally reached Stratford. He shook his head and smiled as he told me we passed Stratford
over an hour ago. This was New Haven. So I rode all the way back. I finally arrived in Stratford
at sunset and began walking up Nichols Avenue towards my Uncle Will’s home. May 15th it
was, 1929.
The evening chill was settling in. My mother had told me that my Uncle wrote in the letter that
the key would be under the mat. As I walked, I said to myself, “I don’t think I like this place too
much. It’s cold and strange and nobody seems friendly.” “I’m getting into another world
altogether.” I arrived at the house. It was a simple cape, white and in need of repair. A small
barn stood nearby. Both the house and the barn gave the appearance of being ill cared for;
forlorn and depressed. I had met my uncle only once before. I barely recognized him when we
finally met. He had sharp, blue eyes and a big dimple in his chin. (I was struck by the severity of
the northern spring as I entered the house there was a fire in the kitchen stove.) The peach
blossoms had come and gone in Carolina and the apple trees had blossomed in the Shenandoah
and it had been spring down there for two months, and here’s a coal fire going in the stove. My
uncle walked in and sat down. He finally looked up and said, “You know I’ve had a real hard
time, Edward. I married an Irish Catholic girl. We were married for almost five years. When I
met her, she was working as a maid at an estate. I married her in New Jersey and I moved up
here because I wanted to get out of that area and I rented this little house. I don’t own it but I
have an option on it. That’s my new Chevrolet out there. About six months ago, I told my wife I
would like to have a choice as to having the baby raised Protestant or Catholic.” She insisted
that the baby be baptized Catholic. (They apparently had gotten into a big argument over it.)
His wife went down to see her parish priest, and he apparently told her if there’s that much of a
problem, of course (and given you were married in Civil court) the best thing you can do is to
leave and take the baby.” She brought all this up in the arguments and one day he came home
and she was gone and he never saw her again. He said, “I have been looking for six months. I
sent detectives out to where we used to live. I’ve looked everywhere and I do love my son,”
and with tears running down his cheeks, he said, “I don’t think I’ll ever see him again.” I was
kept awake into the wee hours that night by his quiet sobbing. The next day I met some of his
co-workers at the Post Office. The postmen, after he left the room, took me aside and said,
“You know your uncle is in pretty bad shape. He comes to work some mornings with tears
streaming down his cheeks. He walks to work, just because he can’t sleep. He says it will be
better when you all get up here to be with him.”
That first full day, my uncle took me on a ride up Nichols Avenue and I found the little towns of
Nichols and Huntington delightful. North of Quail Street, houses were few and far between;
two miles beyond, we passed at least two farms in Stratford proper; farms where the
northernmost of Uncle Will’s route took him. He casually pointed them out as we passed; the
Russell place on the right; the Perry farm on the left. We traveled up into the small village of
Nichols and further north into Huntington. Both were hamlets, really, and each had a
distinctive New England quality. We were struck by the contrast of lifestyles; the rural
residences of Huntington and Nichols relative to the squalor of the heavily industrialized areas
of Bridgeport, barely six miles away. It was as I saw Nichols and Huntington that I came to
believe perhaps a life could be made in this cold gray State of Connecticut. It was, in many
ways, reminiscent of some other small towns, which ringed the hills around Winston-Salem and
I began to feel more hopeful about what appeared to be the inevitability of moving the entire
family north. Later that evening, he took me down to Stratford Center. During the following
few days, I would often walk to the center and pass the high school. The kids were a little
younger than I. The girls in the senior class, (who were nearly my age) all seemed so remote
and distant. Perhaps I appeared to be a country bumpkin. I often went by the Post Office to
check on my uncle and spent a great deal of my time walking; seeing the town. On my fourth
evening, as was customary, we had dinner together and we talked more about his wife and
about his son. As he fought back tears, he said, “Tomorrow morning, please take my car, and
bring Lizzie and all the kids up here to Stratford and move right in. I need to be with people.
I brought my whole family North to Quail Street, to Stratford. We left everything behind, once
again; this time to come north to live with my uncle. We left a lot of dear friends behind. Tears
were shed as we left. However, it was a new adventure and as always, a youth’s hope; a new
horizon with it’s new challenges laid before us and though uncomfortable at times, I anticipated
the newness of it all with great excitement and anticipation.
Pilgrim’s Progress
For the second time in less than two years, we were a family in a strange town; with no assets;
no friends and not one of us with a job. Fortunately, the economy was booming. The past
several years had been a period of unprecedented economic growth and opportunity in the
United States. I had succeeded in North Carolina as the only member of the family steadily
employed. I had had a wonderful job; a young man’s wish-come true. I would simply refer to
my work record; (the work on the R.J. Reynolds building and at Eveready Electric). I was
confident that the combination of the experience I had had and my letters of recommendation
would be enough to secure a position. I was hired as Chief Electrician, shortly after beginning
my search, at the Pleasure Beach Amusement Park. There, every day came several thousand
people, most of them young and at least half of them girls. I would fix the roller coaster, the
whip the tunnel of love, the merry-go-round and all the lesser rides on the midway. I felt no
pain in having so many pretty girls roaming close by and while I’d call it more pleasure than
work, I had a wonderful time working there that summer. I recall one incident with particular
fondness. I had been ordered by the owner of the amusement park to replace a number of
light bulbs at the east end of the pavilion. Not carefully having analyzed what was in fact
housed in that end pavilion, I put off the task until after lunch and well into the busiest part of
the day. After carefully preparing the equipment that I needed; setting the scaffolding and
carrying the box of bulbs when I began working my way across the first of several long narrow
windows, clearly placed more for ventilation than lighting. Much to my surprise, initially,
perhaps shock and later, embarrassed fascination, I was working above the women’s public
shower. And though my conscience would only allow me to linger a moment or two between
bulbs, I found myself at the corner of the building all too soon. Of course, with the end of
summer came the end of the season at Pleasure Beach and after securing the rides and
equipment for the long northeastern winter, I was once again in search of work. The work at
Pleasure Beach was seasonal. I was not overly concerned with the loss of my position because
there was a great deal of construction going on in the Bridgeport area. I went on a number of
interviews and finally settled on an offer made to me by Stanley Works (now Carpenter Steel)
to work on a large steel plant that was being built in Bridgeport harbor. My father had found
work (once again at Sears) and my sister was actively looking. The area was alive with
prosperity. Member of my family and many of my co-workers enjoyed such a great sense of
prosperity that they chose to invest their savings in stocks that they could buy for ten cents on
the dollar. I recall, during the breaks on the construction site or at home around the dining
room table, my co-workers and family members discussing investments in major corporations
with such pride that I had to admit to being a little envious. Although I didn’t quite understand
how men and women, who made as little or less than I, could afford the luxury of what seemed
to be gambling. The frenzy of buying stocks continued throughout the summer and early Fall.
Those who claimed to be on the verge of making a financial killing, or so they said until nearly
The stock market crash on October 29, Black Tuesday, wasn’t catastrophic (not in the most
immediate sense). News from the business section of the major papers, to a young man
working as an electrician in a steel mill, was uninteresting and up to that point at least,
completely irrelevant. I knew some banks had failed. I knew that people were concerned
about the money they had invested. Perhaps I even had some vague sense of how many were
losing large portions, if not all, of what they had invested. However the international
ramifications of what was happening were not clear. For weeks after the crash, through the
late fall early and mid winter, work at the Stanley Works continued. I was as busy as I cared to
be. Life in Stratford and life for my family continued to improve. I continued to gain confidence
in my ability as an electrician and to learn more and more about engineering and about
operating and maintaining heavy equipment. I had an opportunity to observe a great deal and
pick up some sense of contracting design and construction.
Still the principal breadwinner, I was the only member of the family with a car. I would often
wait for my father at the bus stop at Bruce and Barnum. One cold night in March on my way
home from the Stanley Works, as I stopped to pick up my dad, he came out of the bus depot
inviting four teenage girls along for the ride. Among the four was Edna Perry. This was one of
the relatively rare opportunities that busy winter I had to meet young ladies near my age.
Despite this, I was tired and anxious to get home. Of the four, Edna was the only name I could
recall after being introduced. She was a pretty, slender dark haired girl, dressed well with
inviting eyes; charming smile. I often took an opportunity to turn and speak to my father about
trivial issues that didn’t require a response so that I might glance at her; hoping that she would
show some indication of equal interest. On an occasion or two, I felt I had caught her unaware,
watching me. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to pursue the matter and I recall on the
long ride home being a little frustrated and angry that my
father put me in a position to drive two miles past Quail Street.
It was a long bumpy ride on a cold dark night after a hard day’s
work. It was months later, in late May, that I happened to
bump into Edna again at a basketball game at Stratford high
school. Edna had attended the game with another young man.
Somewhere in the middle of the third quarter, after a brief
introduction and a casual hello, I found myself engaged in a
long conversation with Edna and unconcerned with the course
of the game. Afterward; when the young man who had
accompanied her found us still engrossed in conversation by
the refreshment stand, Edna simply turned to him and matterof-factly told him that wouldn’t mind if she seen home by me. I
remember being a bit dumbfounded that this girl would be so
brassy as to switch escorts in the midst of a date. None-the-less I found myself taking the long
drive up Nichols Ave. once again.
As time went by that first full spring, my uncle decided with the six kids plus his sister, his
brother-in-law and our friends (with whom we soon were acquainted), that the house was a
little too overwhelming for him. Though he was still quite depressed about losing his wife and
his child, he decided he wanted to move into a rooming house nearby. We protested, but his
mind was made up. His depression worsened and a few months later he died. He was still a
young man at the time of his death. He had worn himself down emotionally and physically. He
was in the hospital where, finally, it was flu, which worsened into pneumonia that killed him.
The same day the notice of his was printed in the paper, his wife appeared with his son and
claimed all of his possessions as her inheritance. She was a hard, angry looking woman who
showed no shame as she appeared at the doorstep. She had light brown hair tightly pulled in a
bun with a pale clear complexion and gold wire rimmed glasses. She seemed stiff and sickly,
though somehow hardened and powerful. A young boy freckled with a wisp of reddish hair,
stood quietly, almost somber, at her side. He appeared almost as a tiny elderly man. Uncle
Will’s widow remained only long enough to gather up a few valuables in the house; going about
her work with the quiet detached cool of a thief; (which was precisely how we viewed her), she
concluded her business. My mother didn’t contest her claim though she felt uncomfortable
with it all, given that my uncle had virtually died of a broken heart.
In the summer of 1930, with the depression worsening month by month, we found ourselves
several months behind in the rent on our pleasant little house on Quail Street. Because of this,
we were forced to make the first of several moves. We moved first to Wood Avenue, (Wood
and Norman) in Bridgeport. We lived there a little less than a year in a tenement house. It was
in the summer of 1930 that the depression began to have it’s impact on me, personally, at the
same time my romance with Edna Perry began to blossom. It was ironic that things could be
going so badly and so well at the same time. By June, I’d lost my position at the Stanley Works.
The entire construction project ground to a halt. By mid-June, everyone in the family was out
of work. We were unable to meet our rent or pay our bills. I was fortunate enough to be
offered an opportunity to return to my position at Pleasure Beach that summer, although
temporary, and relative to the Stanley Works, not a particularly high paying job but at a time,
when jobs weren’t to be found it was a real blessing. I recall the week after Labor Day securing
the equipment at the Amusement Park I had the sense that I was preparing the equipment for a
long rest in deed. It was hard to describe; it was as if I was anticipating a winter season that
would last ten years. It was a somber, sobering thought.
Our tenement was part of a six family block; well maintained; painted a pale canary yellow with
a wrap-around porch on the first floor with a small hedge lined front yard. The neighborhood
was safe and its working class occupants were clean and pleasant enough. Our neighbors were
friendly and did their best to make us feel welcome and supported. Our flat was on the third
floor. It was near the center of town and we could walk most anywhere. My brothers and
sister could walk to school and I to work, if I could find it. As fall gave way to winter, we
realized that the exposure of being on the third floor and the northwest side of the building was
going to make the winter of 1930 and 1931 long, cold and unpleasant. January of 1931 was one
of the coldest on record. We had no money for heating oil or coal. It was not uncommon to
spend the entire night awake and shivering. The extreme cold made sleep, at times, impossible
for my parents, my sisters and my two younger brothers. They would end up bundling
together. I slept alone, I should say, lay alone and often would nap a little more than an hour
an evening. Exhausted, I would drop-off at four or five waking a few minutes later.
After nearly six months of consistent effort, I came to the realization that there were no jobs to
be found. I was willing to work doing manual labor; apply or attempt to apply my skills as an
electrician or the modest skills I had amassed in engineering or construction. I was willing to do
anything for the opportunity to earn a daily wage, as were my brothers, my sisters, my father
and almost everyone in the neighborhood. By the spring of 1931 I realized that the willingness
to work, my continual effort and willingness to do anything; anytime, didn’t distinguish me from
tens of thousands of other young men and young women who were unemployed and who had
no prospects; no savings and were soon about to run out of hope.
In March of 1931 I surveyed my assets (the clothes on my back), and my skills (I was a pretty fair
electrician) and my prospects for employment; none. I came to the conclusion that if I was
going to succeed; if I was going to work at anything at all, that I would have to begin my own
business and the only trade I had truly mastered was working as an electrician. It took $50.00
to get a license and, after paying and passing the examination, I became a Master Electrician. I
had no money; no shop; and though there was virtually no work, I persevered. I worked out of
the basement of our tenement building. We had almost frozen on Wood Avenue that past
winter (1930-1931). I swore to myself that we were not going to starve and freeze another
winter. (Next winter I’d only be willing to starve). So after careful research, the following
summer we moved into a tenement house with a doctor’s office below us, and another next
door. It was located at State and LaFayette Streets. It was not as well kept as our tenement on
Wood Avenue, but it had heat of sorts I should say; heat radiated from both of the doctor’s
offices and that radiating heat made all the difference in the long cold winters that proved to be
much more severe than those in North Carolina.
There seemed to be no jobs anywhere. I took whatever jobs I could get. If our customers
didn’t have money, I sometimes got food. The food often came from grocery stores for which I
put in fluorescent lights and refrigeration. With shoemakers, in exchange for services, I’d have
our shoes fixed. Whatever money I got, I got maybe 24 cents or 50 cents a week, but
eventually saved myself enough to buy a little fifteen-dollar Model A Ford convertible. It was
my first car; first in terms of being really mine. It was beat-up, black, with a tattered
convertible top and no side panels. It meant as much to me at twenty-one as my long trousers
had at ten. I took great pride in that car. It symbolized my professional mobility, my personal
freedom and was the cornerstone of the limited social life that I enjoyed; as well it served my
brothers and sisters when we traveled together in large groups with our friends at outings. To
this day I have such fond memories of driving with the top down; wind blowing through my
hair; feeling the warm sun shining on my head and shoulders. It’s a memory that lingers and
still brings me great joy.
We had a great many good friends and we would often go ice skating, tobogganing and hiking
near Lake Zoar and throughout the forests surrounding the frozen lake. Fun was had with real
live things and not with things that were artificial or costly. There were maybe ten or twelve of
us. We ranged in age from sixteen to twenty-two and went everywhere together. The policy
was no booze and no carousing (with three pretty sisters, two who were pretty well grown by
then); there were always plenty of boys visiting. Our group was a lot of fun and being the
oldest, I was often in a position of leadership but luckily there wasn’t much policing necessary
and I was most often free to enjoy Edna’s company at our outings. Knowing full well that the
group in which we traveled was composed of well-mannered young men and women there
were seldom problems. I had to set limits on my relationship with Edna because work
consumed the vast majority of my time and energy. I made it very clear to her, through those
early years, that I wasn’t willing to compromise beyond a certain point in terms of seeing her
socially, not to the detriment of developing my business. I specified Wednesday and Saturday
nights and Sunday at Church, if she chose, but beyond that I would not see her. I would not
travel out to Stratford several times a week; exhaust my resources; my money and my energy
when I felt the priority had to be in stabilizing and expanding the electrical business.
My little business was growing and, finally, it grew to a point that I needed a shop. Anything
bigger than the basement of our tenement would have been a step in the right direction.
Finally, in 1932, after struggling, we managed to save the funds to rent a small storefront shop
on Main and Gilbert. The storefront was on the Southeast corner of the intersection. It was
the first floor of a red brick two-story building and had a glass storefront; a small display area
which we really had no use for and the commercial space, itself, which we used for storage or
equipment and tools. We setup a modest workspace toward the rear of the shop with a
workbench and placed a desk close to the front door with a phone and a small file cabinet. We
were in business. I recall the rent was $15.00 a month and, in tribute to the company, which
gave me my start in North Carolina, the first sign I put up read Eveready Electric. Shortly
thereafter, we got our first big job doing the electric work in one of the large public schools
being built by the city of Bridgeport. We were on our way.
As well as any other work I found, I would often work on the properties owned by my landlord.
He would have me do electrical work in his dry cleaning shop (he had a large one with maybe
tow or three dozen employees), in exchange for rent on our family’s apartment. During the
early years on Main and Gilbert, I worked primarily by myself, occasionally my sisters would
come down or my mother and stay in the shop while I went out on a job. Sometimes I’d have
to close the shop to do a job. I had a telephone, of course; though the services were often shut
off for lack of payment. Jobs were scarce, but we managed to hang on.
Finally we got several breaks, a big job in the city sub-contracting on what was to become the
Black Rock Library and a contract with Howard Johnson’s. At that time, one of the most
popular services we provided was the installation of diesel generators. Diesel fuel at that time
was sold for 4 cents a gallon wholesale and we were successful in convincing the Howard
Johnson’s chain that they should buy diesel generators for experimental use in their Fairfield
location (on Route 1). It supplied the lights and the waste heat from it, which would normally
be used by the radiator, was also used for washing dishes and heating the building. So, either
they got all their electricity free or all their hot water. I was very hopeful that this cost savings
would prove an incentive for other restaurants to engage our services but for some reason, the
concept never generated the enthusiasm I had hoped.
Eveready also did work for Shell Oil, which was beginning operations in New England at that
time. They were putting in a bulk plant and bringing in the oil by barge. We were contracted to
put in the bulk terminal and all their pumps and all explosion proof wiring. My father had lost
his job, so he was helping me look for work. The jobs kept coming, just enough of them to keep
us from starving or losing our flat. In 1932, 1933, and 1934 I worked when I could and I looked
for work when I had none. I saw Edna on Wednesday and Saturday nights and, though we had
many arguments about the arrangement, it never changed. As the spring of 1935 dawned I
realized I had progressed to the point where perhaps I could expand the business even further
with a little bit of capital. Edna had been working at City Trust Bank for several years and I felt
perhaps with my work history and her limited connections I had a chance of being granted a
small business loan. Edna arranged the appointment personally so it was very clear to the bank
officers, who she knew fairly well that it was “a family affair”, I was hopeful.
I recall sitting before the banker in a beautiful big room. I felt like a mouse in the lion’s den
with me in my working clothes. After I told him of my five years of experience and showed him
my bank statements, he said, “Well, son the best you can do is to go out of business and work
for somebody else.” That was the advice the City Trust Bank offered me. Well, I took that as a
personal blow. Maybe he was right; but I was bull headed and strong willed and refused to
believe that I wasn’t capable of success. I thanked him, but as I left I vowed never to go back to
that bank again. It was back to Main and Gilbert. It was back to another year of hard work, of
seeing Edna on Wednesdays and Saturday nights and, to her credit, with increasing frequency
on Sunday mornings. Edna continued to work at City Trust. I came to believe more and more,
as time went on, that with a bit of capital my business could be expanded further to meet a
burgeoning demand.
The fall, spring, and early summer of 1936 were a particularly difficult time for Edna and me.
She had been patient; she’d been supportive; she’d been - understanding through five years.
On one warm summer night in early June, on the porch of the Perry farm, Edna and I sat
discussing our future. The sun had almost completely set. A few orange rays peeked from
behind the house reflecting throughout the eastern sky, were half-dozen hues of red and violet.
Our conversation
Was a familiar one; one that we had had a couple of dozen times over the last several years;
one that we seemed to be having more and more often during the preceding several months.
The scenario was almost always the same. After a fine meal or a pleasant day together, Edna
would often become quiet. She would withdraw and, after a period of silence, ask me what it
was that I wanted from life or what it was I saw in our future. After a particularly substantial
dinner, she asked such a question. I knew once again that I was in for a long Saturday night. By
this time, I had come to appreciate how consistent a partner she had been. I’d had time to
contemplate her strengths; appreciate her willingness to stand by me through years of
difficulty. On some level, I guess, I had made a prior decision that the next time such a question
was raised I’d answer. I was still resistant and slow to respond. However, on this night there
was going to be no winning the argument. Somewhere between sunset and midnight we
became engaged. Shortly thereafter, we set the date and began making plans for a September
14th wedding.
The 14th was a glorious day. Preparations had been long and arduous but everyone contributed
and the day finally had come. It was a bright sunny day with just a hint of coolness that was so
common in New England in early September. The morning dawned with a bit of a chill but by
the 10:30 am start of the wedding, the sun rose; the dew had burned off the fields and there
was hardly a cloud in the sky. Edna looked beautiful in her wedding dress and my family and
friends had gathered from as far away as New Jersey to celebrate that fateful day. Some of the
guests claimed that Eddie Snyder (my brother-in-law and best man) physically held me up as
Edna came down the aisle. Perhaps he did. I was certainly nervous and overwhelmed by the
profundity of the step I was about to take, although he proved far less supportive at the
conclusion of the service. To repay a prank in kind he put a short circuiting device on our car so
when I turned on the ignition as we attempted to leave the church, a roman candle like device
was ignited. It howled and the sparks flew out from under our hood and then it made a loud
Mr. Perry had given us the choice of helping to pay for the wedding reception or cash. We
chose the wedding reception and had a wonderful time. It lasted all day and half the night at
the Perry Farm on Nichols Avenue. All my relatives from New York, New Jersey, and
Westchester came. At 10:30 pm, Edna interrupted a conversation I was having with my cousin
Jack McGee; pulled me aside and reminded me that I had not seen her for the two hours
preceding, (nearly a quarter of our married life). It was made very clear that she wanted to
leave early enough to enjoy a little time alone before we were too tired to leave at all. I, at
least implied, that I would make preparations to leave. Relative led to relative and I made
“relatively” little progress towards that end. A half hour or so later, Edna was prompting me
again. My new wife told me if I didn’t decide to leave on the honeymoon then and there, she
was going by herself. We finally managed to leave the reception about 11:30 pm. The car I was
counting on for the trip had broken down a few days earlier so we took the panel truck I used
for work on our honeymoon. We threw a mattress in the back and we were on our way to
Our cash was limited, so in that way the panel truck was helpful. We brought along some
camping equipment and cooked beside the road. That first night out, we got as far as Stamford
and stayed in a little roadside cabin. The roadside cabins were simple, almost primitive, a small
house with an office attached and an arch of single bedroom cabins immediately to the North
side of Route 1, cabins set in a small grove of elms each cabin painted white with green shutters
and window boxes; a neatly painted outhouse complete with a quarter moon was placed
between each of the cabin pairs. The next day we managed to get to Maryland. During the mid
1930’s four-wheel brakes were just becoming popular. Our little panel truck had two-wheel
brakes. We were traveling on one of the main roads, which was one lane each way and this big
Pontiac, brand new, sped by me. All of a sudden, the driver jammed on his brakes and stopped
short right in front of me because somebody waved to him from a nearby house. I wasn’t too
far behind him and with his four-wheel brakes he could stop on a dime. I couldn’t. I had no
choice but to swing out around him and coming toward me, in the other lane, was a State
Trooper on a motorcycle. He had to drive off the road and into a ditch to avoid being hit. The
fellow driving the Pontiac was the local doctor. The policeman knew him and we, of course,
were total strangers. The trooper said we were driving recklessly and that we would have to
appear before the local judge. Since it was Sunday we had to go to the judge’s home for our
hearing. I went before the judge and told him what had happened. Edna, who was quite angry,
interrupted and in an unpleasant manner told the judge what the doctor had done and what
the judge should do. By the time Edna had finished, the judge had decided to fine us $11.00.
That was more than a quarter of all we had for the entire trip. My wife, of course, objected and
began to make a few choice remarks. She was nearly arrested for contempt of court. The
judge threatened to put her in jail if she kept talking. We finally were dismissed and less than
twenty miles down the road (minus our eleven dollars), we had to stop for gas. Edna went to
the ladies room there and, after driving another twenty miles, she discovered she had taken off
her wedding and engagement ring and left them both behind. She broke into tears and cried
all the way back to the station. When we got back they were gone. She lost them both. She
cried for the next fifty miles. Judging by the first twenty-four hours, married life was not going
to be easy.
When we got as far as North Carolina, we stopped in Winston-Salem and visited some of my old
friends. My closed friend in the area, Jabronze Wheeler, had recently married. Seeing Jabronze
again was wonderful. The town of Winston-Salem had changed considerable during the
preceding seven years. The depression seemed to still be taking a terrible toil on the town and
surrounding area. In the intervening years many of the finest homes on the east side of town
had been torn down or had fallen into such disrepair that they were eventually condemned and
used by the unemployed or underemployed as shelters or as sources of fire wood. The
Wheelers had fared better than most coming from a family who had long lived in the area and
who had owned land as well as their own home long before the depression. Jabronze and his
new wife had no choice but to live with his mother. It was not uncommon for Southern families
to share their homes, several generations occupying a single farmhouse. This was particularly
true with families who were still actively farming, as were the Wheelers.
While we were in Winston-Salem, Edna had the opportunity to meet Marian Southern who had
been my girl before I left North Carolina. Marian had written me a great deal in Connecticut. In
part, because I was seeing Edna, I didn’t answer her letters. We both saw Marian Southern at
her cousin’s house, which was next to hers. We all sat together and talked about old times and
what we had done. I think Marian was very uncomfortable and upset. Marian had three
cousins (all girls) that I knew quite well, and they were very hospitable but Marian was visibly
upset. Edna didn’t help matters much with her air of superiority. Marian was very much a lady;
however it was a tense encounter and in retrospect, I guess I shouldn’t have brought Edna to
visit Marian. As we were about to leave, Jabronze, with my covert support, decided he and his
wife would come with us. Now, our honeymoon was complete. We were to have four in the
panel truck. It had been pleasant visiting. Jabronze’s wife and mother were excellent cooks.
His mother made a big basket of ribs and chicken to take along with us and we had plenty of
food. We made good time out of Winston-Salem and we had good company. My new wife was
none too pleased with two additional people coming along on our honeymoon. She had had no
hand in inviting them but there they were. By this time, we had very little money, Jabronze and
wife included. To stretch our meager funds, each night we would light a small fire; cook bacon,
ham, fried potatoes and the next morning, over the embers, we would whip up something easy
for breakfast. When we were passing through Southern Georgia on the road built up from the
great swamps there, our good old faithful panel truck started to backfire. A little while later, it
was just barely limping along and we had to pull off the road. There we were in the steaming
heat of the great Georgian Savannah; a wilderness of hundreds of square miles of saltwater
marsh; stranded. Just when it appeared we were going to be forced to spend the night, a
logging truck happened to go by. It was one of those big logging trucks, which carry the uncut
logs from the great pine wood forests of the southeast. Forlorn and battered by the heavy
loads it carried, the tattered red cab, complete with dented doors and an illegible scrawl
painted along its side, appeared as an answer to our prayers. The driver stopped and offered to
take us to the nearest gas station. As we were towed, we tried and tried to the panel truck
started. All it would do was backfire and pop. Shortly after we pulled into the gas station the
fellow there said to me, “Well, I reckon you got a condenser that’s gone,” and, in ten minutes
he put on a new condenser and we were on our way. To this day every time I see one of those
lumber trucks in the Carolinas or Georgia I think of that driver who towed us. He towed us over
forty miles through barren, mosquito-ridden swamp. Lord knows how we would have gotten
out of there without him. Once again we were on our way and, finally, we arrived at our
destination: St. Augustine. We really enjoyed the ocean. We went out to Fort Marian and
through the Indian burial grounds. We went to see the sugar refinery but didn’t have enough
money to get in so we just looked from a distance. We stayed just a couple of days. On the
way back to Connecticut, we dropped Jabronze Wheeler and his dear wife off in WinstonSalem, and before leaving bid all my old friends, (except Marian Southern) goodbye.
Homeward Bound
Driving back North we had a great many decisions to make; whether to move out on our own
and, if so where. What could we afford? Edna felt that we could get a small two-bedroom
place in Bridgeport. I argued that we might as well stay in the tenement with my family until
business was more stable and we were on a better financial footing. We argued for quite a
while and it became clear that, if nothing else, Edna felt strongly that we needed a place we
could call our own. For my part, I wanted to find as modest a place as possible and invest as
little as necessary in the day-to-day cost of living and, in that way free as much capital for
reinvestment in the business as I could.
When we got back to Bridgeport, we rented half an apartment from a schoolteacher on
Layfayette Street. It was a steam-heated apartment in an apartment house. She gave us just
the kitchen and one bedroom because that was all we could afford. I continued doing electrical
work while Edna continued to work at City Trust Bank. Time went by and about a year and a
half later we decided that living with that schoolteacher (she was an old maid) wasn’t in our
best interests any longer. Shortly before we left there was an incident, which hastened our
departure. We had not a refrigerator or even an icebox back in those days. We just bought our
milk, a quart at a time, and kept it on the windowsill. We were fooling around one day in the
kitchen and knocked the milk off the windowsill. It fell (from the second floor) and just missed
the apartment’s manager. He had never been too friendly and now wasn’t friendly at all
because he was convinced we threw the bottle at him. We found a new place to live on Park
and Birchwood Avenues. It was the summer of 1937 and our modest apartment on Park
Avenue was not much but it was a damned site better than the one and one-half rooms we had
left behind. It wasn’t long after moving to Park and Birchwood that I got a call from another
bank that had rejected an earlier loan application. They asked me if I wanted to buy a building.
I said I didn’t think so. The banker persevered, “We have one for sale and all we need is
$300.00 down” I told him I didn’t have $300.00. He said, “It’s part of an estate. You were in
here for a loan some while back; well, we’ll loan you $300.00 and the rent is $50.00 a month
rent.” (At that time I was only paying $25.00 at Main and Gilbert). He said, “This is a bigger
place. Take a look at it. It’s at 805 Housatonic Avenue in Bridgeport.” It was the Handy Coal
Company. I went to look and all it was, was a coal shed with a railroad siding coming in, a little
office and the rest an open yard. After thinking it over I finally decided to buy it.
At this time, all there was a wooden frame building with dirt floors. They had the coal yard
inside and the wood shed inside, but the coal itself was gone; just the tracks came in. It had a
little office and an outhouse. I decided to expand the business a little; into a gasoline pump and
tank business; meaning we installed them for gas stations. In the meantime, Eveready was
running along from hand0to-mouth, payroll-to-payroll but we were managing. We had several
other important contracts, one with E & F Construction: one with the City of Bridgeport; (in the
schools), and another with Hoffman Fuel who were now converting coal fired furnaces to oil.
We were also doing gas station work. New gas stations were being built at a rapid rate as cars
were becoming more plentiful. We were also doing construction contract work for the
American Oil Company stations (Amoco). We put in their Amoco signs. We designed a special
rig for a crane: the tripod type that would lift poles onto their bases. We put the signs in place
and then we wired them. In 1938 we decided to move and take a larger apartment. Edna was
pregnant and we knew that we would need more space when baby made three. We moved to
Park and Norman. It was a three-family house and a big Irish man named Pat Crow was the
landlord. We lived on the third floor. We froze in the winter and we roasted in the summer. I
remember how peculiar the landlord was. He always wore long underwear summer and
winter. It was very hot in the summer, up on the third floor right next to the roof and in the
winter, we had us very little heat. It didn’t bother us too much (it was a relatively mild winter)
but what did bother us was there was no lawn. There were people on the second floor and the
owner of the building lived on the first floor. In turn, we were sort of the orphans up in the
Kathleen, our first child was born there. She preferred, like
lots of kids do, not to wear any clothes. At this point she
was still a toddler, perhaps a year and one-half when one
day she and Edna were playing in the front yard when
Edna took a moment to speak to the neighbor who lived
on the second floor. When she turned around and looked
for Kathleen, who was playing nearby, she found Kathleen
was long gone though she had been thoughtful enough to
leave all her clothes behind. Although Edna told the story
with a great deal of anxiety, she found Kathleen, just a few
doors up the street.
In the spring of 1939 Mr. Perry gave us (Edna actually) a lot
at 1245 Nichols Avenue, (part of the Perry Farm). It made
for a great deal of excitement; a great sense of
anticipation; the idea of owning our own home. I hired an architect to find out what it would
cost to build a small cape. I put it out for bid and we discovered it could be built for $4000.00,
so build it we did. During late 1939 in the summer to the fall of 1940 we constructed the house
as it stands today. The house itself only cost
$1150.00. One coat of paint and the kitchen cabinets
cost another $1600.00. The rest went to the heating,
plumbing and electrical systems. We installed our
own heating system. With my experience in
construction and as an electrician we were able to
complete the plumbing and wiring for little more than
the cost of supplies. Corky was born shortly
thereafter. Corky was a cute little girl, rather slim, not
as roly-poly as Kathleen. I remember she wouldn’t crawl. She actually sat and propelled herself
by extending her legs forward and using her two feet to pull herself forward. She bounced like
a cork on the water when she tried this, and that’s how she earned her nickname, Corky.
Kathleen, on the other hand, was quite a little lady. She was possessive; possessive of her
father and her father’s attention. I remember one exchange between Kathleen and Edna when
Kathleen was little more than two. She was in my arms and Edna came up behind me in the
kitchen. She stood next to Kathleen and me. Kathleen, who was hardly able to talk, was sitting
in my lap with one arm around my neck. As Edna touched me on the shoulder Kathleen spoke
in a very loud, distinct, directive voice, “Mother, kitchen.” None had any right to touch her
Daddy. She tended through most of her early years to be possessive as if I belonged to her
alone and none of the other children. I was her man and no one was going to interfere, no
even her mother.
The war in Europe was escalating. There was a curtailment on fuel and on new motors; a
curtailment on just about everything; all diverted toward the war effort. I was out on a service
call at Thurland’s Bristols Restaurant in Milford. I’ll never forget the day it was December
seventh. We had had this generator unit running there for some time. I was out there on a
Sunday because it had broken down late the night before. Our service, after installation,
included maintenance and while I was there, working the news came of Pearl Harbor. It was so
stunning to think that the Japanese had bombed and destroyed our Navy installation at Pearl
Harbor and all our airplanes. We were totally unprepared for the attack. It was so
unbelievable; everybody was speechless in the restaurant. It just stunned us. What had
happened to our Navy and the men who had died? The news came in hour after hour. All day
it was all that was on the radio. The FDR made his famous “Day that will live in infamy” radio
speech and Congress declared war on Japan. The Japanese boasted in response that they
would be dictating the peace in Washington after they captured the West Coast.
The war had a profound effect on the electrical business. At first there was a great frenzy of
activity. There seemed to be a glut of supplies (as if everyone had dug down into their
basements through their inventories to pull out every damaged and used motor and generator
that could be found). During that period there was a great deal of work repairing and
reconditioning equipment. It seemed as if the boom in demand for servicing and repairing of
the motors was going to transition very readily into the generalized support of the war effort
itself. It became clear, however that after a very few months, it was going to be a long and
difficult transition for most and that those in the electrical business who didn’t affiliate
themselves with to the government were not going to survive. After a brief period of selling
and rebuilding motors, we couldn’t get any more. The government was appropriating all
motors and supplies for the war effort. Shortly thereafter, we applied for and received a Navy
contract to build ten generators for the Marine Corps. It wasn’t a big contract, but they came in
and saw our premises: saw the few machines we had and they gave us the job. We called on a
chap I knew, who knew electrical engineering and we laid out the jigs and fixtures. (They were
interchangeable. Any one motor could be placed into any base). The concept was relatively
new: the electrical engineer was a clever, creative man, an Englishman named Walter
Meckleberg. He and I became fast friends. He was a “Brit” away from home during wartime
and, as such, perhaps we became closer than would be typical if we both were active with our
family lives.
We did very well on the Marine contract and we began securing
other government work. About that time, I went to
Massachusetts with a business associate who was interested in
buying some motors. We went to Massachusetts because no
new equipment could be bought without a priority (a
government endorsement). He needed me because I had a
priority (because I had a government contract at that time).
Even after my priority expired, people still came to me for
motors. Well, I sold all I had very quickly. The only motors still
available were those, which powered machinery, so I bought a
couple of machines up in Massachusetts specifically to resell. I
bought them for the price of the motor (a price I knew I could
make a profit on). In a sense, the machines were really free. I paid $150.00 for each and I
advertised them for sale in New York. There were turret lathes and I advertised them in the
New York Times without a price. So, up comes a Jewish businessman, out of New York, with a
velvet collar; quite knowledgeable about machinery; with a typical New York Jewish accent. I
was going to ask $350.00 each for my $150.00 machines including the motor and the turret
lathe. When we got to the bargaining he said, “Now look, I can’t pay much. I’m a dealer and I
have to get a bargain. I’ll give you cash.” He pulled out a pocket full of money, more than I had
ever seen before in my life. He said, “Now give me your best price.” I said, “I’d rather have
your best price because I have had six calls on these machines and I intend to move them
today.” “Well, don’t look for anybody else. I’ll buy if the price is right,” he said. I was afraid to
ask for $350.00 because I knew he had to haul them back to New York and he would expect to
make a profit as well. He said, “I’ll make you one offer. You either take it or leave it. I’ll leave
the money here in cash if you’ll take it. I’ll give you $2500.00 for each machine.” That was the
first time I saw any more than $500.00 in my life. I was stunned and I thought to myself:
Where have I been? What have I been doing? And, why was I selling just motors and trying to
do electric work? I decided from that moment on I was in the electrical and machinery
The war ultimately helped the business though it created hardship, too. The draft came and my
brother Dennis, who was working for me at the time, was drafted. They classified me 1B and it
seemed I’d be among the next called up, but I imagine because I was reconditioning machine
tools that were important to the war effort, I wasn’t taken. Everything (all work and products)
went for the government contracts or sub-contracts and we handled a number of them and
thus continued to work. I had mixed emotions about not serving in the armed forces. The
prospect of war wasn’t particularly attractive to me though I felt a duty to be involved. The
desire to more actively champion the cause of the Allies was not my only motivation. To be
frank, I was somewhat self-conscious. With both my younger brothers in the service before the
war’s end and most of the able-bodied men in the area either enlisting or being drafted I often
wrestled with forcing the issue. Some would argue that the service knew where I was and had
decided I could do the war effort more good by supporting the industrial needs of the war
effort. I understood the argument but the issue never seemed quite resolved in my mind or
In 1941 I hired my first secretary, Stella Green. Shortly afterwards, our neighbors across the
street from the shop complained that on winters nights they could see me making love to my
secretary. They could look right in our windows and didn’t feel comfortable with what they
were seeing. Well, I tried to investigate the matter. Who, on company time particularly, was
making love to my secretary? I found out some three months later when my brother
announced his engagement to my secretary.
After Stella left, I put an ad in the paper and received several calls regarding the position. One
of the applicants sounded like she took shorthand very well and was a fast typist. She was also
willing to work for the salary that I offered, which wasn’t particularly competitive. I met her at
the corner of Fairfield Avenue and Water Street. She had walked over from Stratford Avenue
and I took her up to the shop where she took a shorthand test and a typing test. Her name was
Elsie Turner. I was struck after the brief interview by the sparkle in her eye and the confidence
reflected in her responses to my questions. She seemed unusually mature and articulate,
almost too confident. I recall thinking that if she was as capable as she suggested she was she
would be a valuable asset to the company. She was twenty-one, and a little on the chubby side.
She said she had recently married but her husband had left for overseas. She proved to be a
pleasant, capable gal and willing to work the long hours the job required. She started and, with
her ability to organize and keep things rolling, we did very well. She began to meet the other
machinery dealers and she developed a good rapport with all of them. She seemed to be the
biggest asset Eveready had. We began to advertise through direct mail and in national
magazines and we grew and grew each year. As difficult as the war years were, nationally, and,
as restrictive as they proved to many in the electrical business, the war years were, ironically,
some of the best years of our lives.
In the mid-forties, we began our traditional Easter egg hunts. Every Easter, the whole family
including my brothers and sisters, would go to the church service at the Stratford Baptist
Church (then on Broadbridge Avenue).
Of course I was Santa Claus on Christmas. I remember one Christmas in particular, after getting
the presents from the basement of the church all the kids were quietly awaiting their presents
when Kathleen identified me. I was amazed; I had a good wig on; whiskers; full costume; only
my eyes showed. Kathleen came up to the front of the room standing next to Edna who was
quietly observing me from a distance and said in a loud voice, “Mommy, that isn’t Santa Claus,
that’s Daddy” I had no idea how she recognized me; she didn’t see me put the outfit on and had
no means of knowing I was going to be there. I was later to find out when Edna took her aside
and asked her, “What makes you think, it’s Daddy?” Kathleen responded, “I can see the dirt
under his nails.” I was amazed.
Despite the difficulty they were good years. Everyone knew everybody in church. All the
McCallum children were known, and, in turn knew all the children in the Sunday school classes.
There were perhaps three-dozen families in the church at that time; it was as if we were all
member of one extended family.
Bub was born in 1944. He was a chubby little guy with a round face and, like all mothers Edna
loved him as her pride and joy. He was very alert and bright and seemed very interested in a
great many things. He had a difficult time because his two older sisters often were rough on
him and made it a point of seeing to it that he always realized that he was the smallest and the
least entitled. In those days, we had few opportunities to travel as a family. For several years,
the best we could do was to rent a third-rate cottage in Florida. It was inexpensive running, $5
or $10 a night for an efficiency in which we would cook all our meals. On one trip to Florida we
rented a room in someone’s house; all five of us sleeping in a single bedroom in the residence
of a total stranger. Of course, we were at the beach most of the day, so it wasn’t too bad. It
was on one of those trips to Florida that Bub got his nickname. Corky, who was four or five at
the time couldn’t say brother; the best she could do was something that sounded a great deal
like Bub, and it stuck. When the three were young I enjoyed traveling with them across the
fields to see Grandad Perry and/or his cows. There were a great many cats around the farm.
Dairy farms were particularly attractive to stray cats, the grain bins being equally attractive for
field mice. There was a well right across Nichols Avenue from the Perry house and we used to
draw water from it by hand on hot summer days. Further east there was a big swamp that was
use as an ice pond in the winters. I recall the children watching with fascination the ice cutting
there. Close by was Russell’s farm. Mr. Russell still had two or three-dozen cows, at that time.
The entire area was still quite rural; there were no nearby schools. Every Easter I’d bring home
either chickens or ducks, occasionally rabbits. Perhaps to the chagrin of the children; perhaps
to my secret relief, the rabbits always ran away and the ducks and the chicks either disappeared
or passed away by the end of each following summer.
Halloween became the children’s favorite holiday. Through the mid and late forties, the
Halloween parties became more and more elaborate. By the late forties we had developed an
outstanding family tradition of Halloween parties often involving competitions for best
costumes; rides; contests and elaborate pranks that the adults would play on the children and
often on each other. Several stories worth retelling come to mind. A good friend of mine, at
that time, was a gentleman by the name of Harry Buck. He was the comptroller for the Shick
Razor Company. He only had one hand (his right hand had been caught in a industrial press
when he was eighteen). We had happened to meet in night school several years before. Harry
was successful and went on to engineering school while, once again, formal schooling proved
too much for me. On this particular Halloween I decided we were going to “dismember” Harry
Buck. We had made careful preparations. We got a kid glove, filled it with sand and placed it in
the icebox hours before, we peeled grapes and cooked some spaghetti and put both in the
refrigerator as well. We set up a screen with lighting behind it and had Harry lay down in
preparation for our mock surgery. Harry would lie behind the screen on a table with a handful
of tools and saws and I, to the horror of the children who watched, hacked out a rather
gruesome surgical procedure. I pretended to pause at first as he made all sorts of sounds;
reflecting his horror and pain. As he moaned and groaned I passed his eyes – (peeled grapes)
around to all the kids. Then I pretended to saw off his good hand I had a piece of wood under
one that I was pretending to saw so that the effect and the noise were real. Harry continued to
moan. Then I passed the kid glove full of sand up to the children to examine in the darkened
room. Harry’s kids, who were in the audience, really started to have some difficulty at that
point. After pretending to open Harry up stem to stern and passing around the cold spaghetti
and a piece of cold liver for his heart, his kids were so upset that we had to turn back on the
lights and show them that Harry was, in fact, in one piece. That particular prank obviously had
gone too far. Every child in the place was in tears and though it seems amusing, looking back, it
had the effect of ending everyone’s Halloween on a somber note.
The first Halloween hayride when we took the truck through Nichols and finally St. Michael’s
Cemetery was the result of a momentous instant of insight. We developed the famed airplane
ride as another prank. We’d select one child at a time and give them “The Airplane Ride” and
allow them to remain in the room to enjoy the horror of the next participant. We’d blindfold
the selected child before he came in the room (we used an ironing board). We began by
turning the child around about fifteen times until he didn’t know quite where he was an then
we pulled the ironing board out of the closet with the legs folded up and set it on the floor.
We’d have the child step on the ironing board and tell him it was an airplane. He steps on the
board and we’d tell him we were going to take it to the ceiling and when he reached that point
he would have to jump. So we shook the board like it was being raised but actually we were
lowering our bodies down lower and lower. It felt a great deal like the board was actually going
up though we only had it about an inch off the floor. Then we would rock it more violently, the
child holding on to our shoulders, who was experiencing a sense of ascending as our heads and
shoulders were being lowered. After we had gotten into a squatting position, one of the adults
would bring a book down on the child’s head and say, “Oh, you’ve hit the ceiling jump. Jump.
Jump.” At that moment, we would rock the ironing board more violently. He, she would leap
for his/her life and try to hold on to our necks and our heads because he/she thought he/she
was going traveling to the floor. We’d tilt over the board so it was impossible for he/she to stay
on it and they’d make a desperate leap for life itself and hit the ground and inch below him/her.
It was a remarkable sensation and after each had earned his/her wings he/she got to stay in the
room and observe the next child. Watching the other children go through it, after they had
been through it themselves was always a great joy. Halloween, by that time though, wasn’t
only an opportune holiday to victimize defenseless children. I had invested quite a bit of effort
engaging my adult acquaintances in the spirit of the holiday. I recall one Halloween I had
somehow come to possess an enormous bell. I believe it was a fire alarm bell and I had
acquired the spotlight off the top of a destroyer and I happened to have several electric eyes.
At that time Francis Perry (Edna’s brother) delivered milk to our house each morning. I rigged
up an electric eye in the front of the house and at four o’clock in the morning as he delivered
the milk, the bell rang; the siren blew and the light lit up. It was so intense he almost fell over
backwards off the edge of the porch. It was a tremendous bell, siren and light. The following
Halloween, I put an electric transformer (from an oil burner) on the front door button so
everyone who pressed the button would get quite a jolt. It wasn’t lethal but it was certainly
enough electricity to give you a good wallop. Another Halloween, I anticipated how few adults
could resist the temptation to pocket a silver dollar if they were fortunate enough to find it
lying unattended. I positioned a silver dollar so that anyone who happened to observe it on the
front porch had to be standing on a certain piece of wood to pick it up. When they reached
over and grasped the silver dollar they completed a circuit, which I had wired between the
dollar and the metal framing of the wooden platform. Half dozen adults tried to pick it up.
Each got a jolt they weren’t likely to forget.
I would say at least half the growth of Eveready during these years was due to Elsie’s efforts.
We learned together; she was bright and had good judgment and worked as if she owned the
company herself. During those early days (1942-1948), it was only the two of us (Elsie and me)
in the office. Of course, I was on the road two-thirds of the time buying machines and hauling
them. In those very early days, my dad would also go out occasionally and help haul them. In
1943, during one of these trips up to Winchendon, Massachusetts, I saw a group of machines
and later decided to send my father up to purchase them and bring them down to Connecticut.
I gave my father $2500.00 to go up and buy them. My mother went with him; all but one of the
kids (Eugene) having left home by this time.
One day he called me (often being on the road for a week for a two day trip). I said, “You’ve
been gone for days. Where are those machines I gave you the money to buy?” He said, “Come
up to Winchendon. I want to show you something.” He said, “We made a buy. Come on up.”
The buy was a farm. The farmhouse itself was a building that somewhere split the difference
between handsome and homely. Perhaps if it had just a bit more attention paid to its floor
design and building it could have been a showplace. It was set five or six miles from the small
town center of Winchendon. The land, which surrounded was flat and recently lumbered. The
chicken coops were in reasonably good repair. The large wooden framed home needed repair
and repainting. The immensity of such a task and the complexity of it compounded by the fact
that the house and the large barn were constructed as a single unit; a single story rear annex
connecting the house proper with the large three level barn (as was common in New England in
the late 1800’s). It made infinite sense for attending to the chores and retrieving firewood in
the long, cold New England winters, which were often marked by extraordinarily heavy snows
in that part of north central Massachusetts.
I said to myself, “How did I ever let him do that?” My mother said to me, “Well, Edward, we
know we need a farm because if Eugene farms here, he may not have to go in the service and
protecting Eugene is more important than buying those machines.” In defense of my mother’s
position, he was just at the age where he might have been considered for the draft.
It was very difficult to believe that my parents, who had made a half hearted effort in New
Jersey for six years and who never showed any real inclination to invest the energy necessary to
make farming a profitable venture, would choose to buy another farm. But buy it they did and
they weren’t simply interested in owning it they intended to work it.
They bought cows, a thousand chickens and, before I knew it, I was in the chicken business
again. They moved up there and there they stayed. I paid the mortgage. The only problem
with their plan was they had never asked my brother, Eugene, what he wanted. Three months
after we bought the farm, Eugene enlisted in the Air Force.
Total Eclipse
In sharp contrast to the beginning of the war, its end was perhaps a bit anticlimactic. We,
clearly, were winning. In the summer of ’44, the Allies had begun reversing the course of the
war. I can’t really recall where I was, either on VE Day or VJ Day. Nor were the implications of
the atomic blast clear. We were aware that some super bomb had been created; one that
ended the war and saved tens of thousands of American lives which would have been lost in an
invasion of Japan.
Almost immediately, there was the excitement of the arrival home of troops. Day after day,
word was received that a relative, friend or neighbor was due home. The first to arrive were
the many troops, who were being transported across the Atlantic from Germany en route to
Japan, when word was announced that Japan had surrendered. Elsie’s husband came home;
them my brother Dennis; then Eugene. Welcome home banners lined neighborhoods, as had
the back crepe of the great influenza epidemic. These, however, where banner of joy. Many of
the men had changed. Most had hardened and matured. Some had cracked. Others were just
not quite the same.
Dennis and Eugene were quickly reabsorbed into Eveready as were a number of other returning
veterans. Everyone in business anticipated a boom in the massive retooling that would be
required to begin to provide the producers of a peacetime economy. The anticipated demand
for products, many of which hadn’t been manufactured in quantity in nearly six years, was
tremendous. So prepare for the boom we did with more advertising, overhauling all the
equipment in stock and an intensification of our direct sales effort. We were ready and waiting.
The anticipated post-war “boom” turned quickly into the post war recession and then a
depression. Certainly, in the machine tool business, it reached depression proportions, though
where the market was going was not immediately obvious. So we persevered.
The post war depression worsened with each passing month. By the middle of 1947, Eveready
was in deep, deep financial trouble. By May, I had laid off everyone but my brothers and Elsie.
In July, I was forced to lay off Eugene. Worse still, in early September, I had no choice but to lay
off Dennis, who by that time was struggling with family and home. I recall the day before
Thanksgiving, when I decided I’d have to cut back Elsie to part-time. She and her husband had
just bought their first home. The guilt and feeling of failure was tremendous. Shortly after the
New Year of 1948 had dawned, it became obvious that for Eveready to make it, if it could make
it, I’d have to temporarily lay off Elsie as well.
I remember those weeks working alone vividly. I recall feeling as if I had accomplished nothing
for 15 years of effort. I was worse off than I had been at the height of the great depression. My
overhead was thirty times what it had been on Main and Gilbert. The only thing that sustained
me during those black hours was my faith. In my darkest moments, I took refuge in the thought
that God was always with me and that I never had or would walk alone. I had already flirted
with and thought that I was facing the loss of all I could possibly have stripped from me by
financial misfortune. A view would shortly prove overly optimistic.
Just as I was able to bring Elsie back to work, disaster struck. During those bleak months, one of
the very few sales I made was to a dentist who bought and sold machinery as an aside to his
practice. I recall the transaction vividly. The gentleman decided to pay cash for the machine -$20,000.00. I had never seen that much cash in my life; it was perhaps double or even triple
the money I had ever seen before. It made me quite nervous. After completing the
transaction’s paper work, I put the money into my dilapidated, leather briefcase and headed for
home. I recall the long drive; stopping at a diner for a bite to eat and feeling so anxious about
the security of the money that I sat on my briefcase throughout the entire meal. It was a
neighborhood diner in a working class town. How strange I must have looked to the waitress;
the grizzled man behind the counter and the few working class patrons having pie and coffee at
the counter. I sat in the booth nervously; ate quickly and struggled to pay the waitress at the
register with one hand accessing the change and bills from my billfold clumsily rather than
putting the briefcase down even for an instant. The drive home seemed like an eternity. I
returned to Stratford but it was too late to deposit the funds in the bank. So, I slipped the
briefcase between he mattress and the box spring. I spent an uneasy, uncomfortable night
conscious of the fact that I was sleeping on a fortune and felt great relief the next day when I
was able to deposit the funds.
The IRS conducted an audit of the dentist’s records and found he had not reported the income
from his machinery business. In the course of their investigation, they found out that he
bought a machine from me. In their attempt to verify how much he had paid for it, they came
to me. When they found that I didn’t have adequate records, they started investigating me as
well. As I was to find out, I had made a number of mistakes in how I recorded my income. I
hadn’t brought forward profit or losses from previous years and it made it appear like all the
money I had made was made in one year, and that taxes hadn’t been paid.
All I knew, at that time, about the Internal Revenue Service was that they took a deduction out
of your check each week. I didn’t keep track of our inventory. I didn’t carry the inventory over
from one year to the next. I just started out the new year as if it were unrelated to the last. I
remember the gentleman’s first visit. He entered the office; stood stiffly at the outer door;
wearing a dark gray suit and horn-rimmed glasses. He asked Elsie if I were available. He
introduced himself as Mr. Greenberg. He was a small, slender, nervous man in his mid-forties,
graying and balding slightly. He spoke quickly and as if he were angry, though attempting to
disguise that anger as business like concern. He inquired as to my knowledge of and
relationship with the dentist and explained to me that they were investigating his tax returns. I
acknowledged that I had met the dentist on three occasions and had sold the single boring mill
to him three months before. With that, Mr. Greenberg asked if he might see my books. I asked
him to have a seat in the mail room and pulled from my files the few relevant papers that I had.
As I lay a half-dozen loose sheets of papers before him, I offered him a cup of coffee.
Incredulously he looked at me and said, “What’s this?” Misunderstanding on my part, I replied,
“Coffee, would you like tea? He responded, “No, no: what are these papers?” I said, “My
records.” He looked down at the sheets of paper that I had placed before him, took off his
glasses and took the three little fingers of his left hand and rubbed the bridge of his nose and
his brow. After a few seconds, he pinched the bridge of his nose a couple of times; put his
glasses back on; looked up at me and asked once again for all my records. When I began to
explain to him that, in fact those were all my records, he interrupted and said, “Thank you, Mr.
McCallum. May I have a few minutes to take some notes, if you will excuse me.” I returned to
my work making a few calls; answering correspondence; actually forgetting Mr. Greenberg was
in the other room. I once again became totally immersed in the business of the day. Mr.
Greenberg came out, perhaps 20 minutes later; thanked me; shook my hand and said in a
rather dictorial fashion that, with my permission he would contact me again if necessary. I
agreed and he left on what I thought were amiable terms. The following week, Mr. Greenberg
came back a second time, and at this point, he asked to see additional records. Although it
wasn’t really clear as to how they related to the dentist, I felt that if I could help the
government in clearing up any confusion, I certainly would be happy to. They were, I imagined,
at least indirectly relevant, because he was particularly interested in inventories from the
preceding years; purchase dates of equipment, including the equipment that I had sold to the
dentist and other background material. Most of what he wanted, I unfortunately didn’t have or
wasn’t able to produce very quickly. He once again became impatient; curt and once again I let
him work undisturbed and continued on with my daily business. As he left the office after the
second visit he assertively said he would be seeing me soon. It was then that I first thought that
this nervous, curt, rigid, little man might have somewhere along the line begun investigating
me. I was not terribly concerned though, not having had anything to hide, I thought the little
man’s vindictiveness would come to no end. So, two weeks later, when the obnoxious little
man arrived for his third visit; an unpleasant interruption in the midst of a busy workday, I was
not of a temper to submissively grant him free and unlimited access to my records. I asked Mr.
Greenberg to leave and suggested that he make an appointment. He became quite insistent
and I became much more direct and forceful in my refusal to grant him access to the records he
sought. By this time, I had become clearly angry. I let him know that his Gestapo tactics were
not going to work. Perhaps, because of the relationship between Judiasm and Nazi Germany,
although the insinuation wasn’t intentional, Mr. Greenberg reacted strongly. Tipping his hand,
he demanded to know what I had done with the money the doctor had given me. I had spent it
(Sooner or later that is typically what I do with all my money.) I told him that. He demanded to
go over all the files and books. With that the argument ensued I said to him “Listen, you are
not Hitler. This is not the Spanish Inquistion. Your Gestapo types were the cause of the Spanish
Inquistion and here you are trying to do this to me.” He said, “I’ve got the right” (to examine
your books). I said, “You have no right. I’ve got the constitution on my side. You can’t set one
foot in here without my permission.” And, I threw him out. I found out, shortly, that I was in
the wrong. Without taking me to court, the IRS took all of our money out of the bank; had our
safe deposit box opened and took everything. The IRS works on the basis of Napoleonic Law
which, in essence, means you’re guilty until you’re proven innocent. After all was done, they
claimed I owed the government $28,000.00.
At that point, I knew I was in real danger. I knew I needed legal council. I hired an Irish fellow
named Coyle. He was call Judge Coyle.
Coyle was a man in his sixties; short; heavy; with light hair. He had an arrogance that I initially
mistook for confidence. He assured me that he knew the system and he knew the town and
that he had the legal capability and the political degree of “connectedness” required to move
whatever forces needed to be moved; to see to it that I was treated fairly and he assured me
that he meant that the suit would be resolved in my favor with little or no personal financial
cost. Since I was convinced of my innocence, it didn’t occur tome that his representation might
not be sincere. To find a judge who so clearly felt that I was in the right blinded me to the
seriousness of the offense. As it turned out he was really a thief. He had some relatively
insignificant appointment as a judge in a local court in Bridgeport. As it would turn out, he
didn’t know anything about Internal Revenue Law. He wanted a $5,000.00 retainer, which I
gave him. It was one third of all the money I had. (I had just sold an industrial lathe for
$15,000.) This money represented all the funds at my disposal since the confiscation of all my
liquid assets by the IRS the preceding month.
Six months went by; during which time I was supposed to prove my innocence. I would call
Judge Coyle faithfully, every two weeks, asking him how he was progressing; asking him if he
needed additional information; asking him if I could help. During the first two or three months,
he simply indicated that he had everything under control and there wasn’t going to be a
problem; that he was making the necessary arrangements and contacts. After a number of
these conversations, where I realized that Coyle wasn’t offering any specific nor was his speech
yielding any substantial information, I became nervous. Over the last couple of months, every
time I called, I pressed him further asking him what he was doing and what remained to be
done. Our relationship began to deteriorate and, though I had never pushed him so far as to
jeopardize our client-attorney relationship, I began to have this sinking feeling that perhaps he
was not as interested in the case, as knowledgeable or as sincere about defending me as he had
portrayed himself. Despite this, I thought it was too late to make a change. I had invested
$5,000. in his representing me and by time I became discouraged, there were only a few weeks
remaining before the trail. One day, he said to me, “I know a fellow in Washington. We can
straighten this whole thing out but it will cost another $15,000.00 so I gave the fellow all I could
($10,000.00). This fellow in Washington didn’t do anything at all but pocket the $10,000.00 and
divide it with Coyle.
The morning of the trial, I recall vividly. I was anticipating the best. I got up early; ate a hearty
breakfast; spent a few minutes talking to Edna; making it a point to spend a few minutes talking
with Kathleen, Corky and Bub. After breakfast, I shaved, showered, and dressed with the intent
of making as positive an impression as I could. Nervously trying to fight off this feeling, that
was gaining in intensity, that I might not have been fairly served by Coyle, I selected my dark
blue pin stripped suit with the wide lapels, in the hopes that whatever contributions that I could
make by presenting myself well would somehow contribute to my defense. The drive to
downtown Bridgeport was a long one. It was a rainy April; morning, still cold; gray. I recall
thinking on the drive to the courthouse how spring would already have come and gone in the
North Carolina of my youth; how in the Shenandoah, the apple blossoms would be blooming,
and how that little town of Lovington was probably abuzz with anticipation of its annual town
fair. After parking the car, Edna and I climbed the gray courthouse steps and entered through
the large iron doors. It struck me as ironic that I had lived in this town for 20 years and never
really paid much attention to this building, although passing it almost daily. In the lobby, we
were met by my brother Dennis, my secretary Elsie and we discussed the business of the day;
made small talk and all waited nervously for Judge Coyle to arrive. Finally, in the rear of the
building, Judge Coyle emerged from the stairwell; flushed and breathing heavily; the stairs
clearly not giving agreed with him. When he was close enough to speak, he motioned to me;
asked me to speak with him in private. At that point, that he told me that he wasn’t licensed to
practice in Federal Court and he couldn’t even go into the courtroom and speak on my behalf.
He reassured me that he had resolved many of the outstanding charges; prepared an adequate
defense and that he was simply asking a licensed, federal attorney to represent me on that day
as a formality. I was stunned, although, to his credit, Judge Coyle made it all seem so plausible;
so unimportant. We stood together talking and, as Coyle spoke, I saw Edna, Elsie and Dennis at
the far end of the hall; waiting, talking among themselves. I noticed the fine stonework on the
ceilings of the courthouse. My mind began to wonder. Perhaps I knew even then that Coyle
was not to be listened to. From the drone of his speech, I heard his distinct words, “You’ll have
to pay an extra lawyer because I can’t speak in the court.” This was a modest sum and, at that
point, I was too concerned about the court case to argue about a few dollars, even though the
principle of the thing bothered me. As we waited, Coyle told me to plead nolo contendere and
promised me I’d get off with a $500.00 fine. He had me meet this fellow in the library of the
courtroom. He motioned towards the door to our left, opened it and asked me to wait inside. I
entered into what I was to find out was the court library. It was a moderate sized room with a
wall full of tall windows and the remaining three book shelved floor to ceiling. Thousands of
books journals and reference books lining the wall. The center of the room was taken up
entirely by a single, long, oaken conference table. I wondered how such a table could be
created. Though it must not have been it appeared to be a single piece of oak, five feet wide
and twenty feet long. As I stood marveling at the table lost in thought about where and how
such a table might have been constructed, a door opened, Coyle with a handsome finely
dressed, younger man entered the room. The two men were a stark contrast. Coyle,
disheveled, obese, his eyes bloodshot and the younger man, neat, erect and trim. Coyle
introduced the younger man. He said this is your counsel for the procedure, Christopher Dodd.
Coyle explained to me that he had been a lawyer at the recently completed Neurenberg War
Crime Trial in Germany (several years later he was to become a senator from the state of
Connecticut). Coyle seemed impressed with this young man’s ability as if somehow that would
have a bearing on the “pre-resolved” case. He nodded at me knowingly. Then Dodd spoke he
said, “Mac, Coyle here is telling you that he guarantees you’ll be off with a $500.00 fine. I’ve
just been called on this case at the last minute. I’m getting $500.00 for my presence at the
hearings and I can’t guarantee you anything.
After meeting with Coyle and Dodd I returned to the large marbled lobby, spoke briefly to Edna,
Dennis, Elsie and Jim Smith who I had just hired as a consulting accountant. We waited what
seemed like hours, but only 15 or 20 minutes for the proceeding to begin. Finally the large
doors to the courtroom itself were opened and we were summoned. Leaving Edna, Dennis and
Elsie in the gallery, I proceeded up the aisle through the small swinging gate towards Dodd and
judgment. As I swung the door open, which separated the gallery from the trial area my fingers
lingered on the hardwood for a moment reflecting back on the day that I had spent in court
nearly 35 years ago. I took my place next to Mr. Dodd, answered a few questions briefly and
prepared to plead nolo contendere as Coyle had suggested. I was surprised to see several of
the deacons and members of the Congregation of the First Baptist Church of Stratford in the
gallery. Unbeknownst to me, they had gathered over a hundred signatures from the members
of the congregation and neighbors attesting that I worked hard; that I had a nice family, and
that I was of good moral character. The judge, looking at the petition said, “I know you have
already paid a high price and suffered through great difficulties, do you want a jury trial?” I
looked at Coyle who shook his head no. “No,” I answered, “thank you.” The Judge went on,
“You realize you are charged with an offense which is serious and should you want to change
your plea, this is your last opportunity.” Coyle turned to me and whispered to me: “No, we
don’t want to change our plea, don’t worry; it’s all set.” So I pleaded nolo contendere and the
next thing I knew I was sentenced to six months in Federal Penitentiary in Danbury. I was
The judge brought down his gavel and we all stood and he left the courtroom. Coyle was
already halfway through the gallery on his way to the rear of the courtroom before I realized
that the procedure was over. Dodd said he was sorry and that he wished that he had been
called earlier or been told more about the case. Perhaps he could have done more. All this
seemed to be unreal; Dodd’s words; Coyle’s disappearing. I vaguely remember shaking Dodd’s
hand and walking through the gallery gate; being met by Edna, Elsie and Dennis and the
Deacons from the church. I was allowed thirty days to complete my business and to report
back to the courthouse. The 30 days, which followed were the longest 30 days of my life.
Reporting to the courthouse for transportation to Danbury was one of the hardest things I have
ever done. I was so distressed I somehow managed to arrive 2 ½ hours late. The prison was
only 35 miles from the courthouse but, while being transported by a driver in a state vehicle,
the ride seemed like an eternity. I was driven from the center of Bridgeport, down Fairfield
Avenue, past Tunxis Hill; up the Black Rock Turnpike; onto Route 58 through Fairfield, Easton,
Redding. Though the morning had been cold, the sun was now shining brightly; the azaleas
were in bloom; the trees budding; the grass flushed with the first green of spring. The ride gave
me an opportunity to think about a great many things; about how lovely the New England
countryside was this time of year; about the six months in prison I was facing. It allowed me to
wonder whether there would be a business to come back to at all. My thoughts were scattered
as we passed through a small town I was later to find out was Bethel. We stopped at the towns
only traffic light and I saw the young childred on their way to school, playing happily this first
fine spring morning. In anticipation of the coming summer, they skipped and ran towards the
large red brick grade school. By the Danbury Green, and north on Route 37 towards the
penitentiary itself. I recall, after leaving Danbury, thinking how little time I had left before my
freedom was lost. In retrospect, I guess it is true that from the moment of sentencing I had
become the prisoner. We passed a few scattered farmhouses and rounded a large bend. The
road veered to the right, a farmhouse and a barn appeared to stand in our path. As we passed
the farm’s roadside stand I noticed an elderly woman in a calico dress sitting impassively within
it. My first impulse was to wave and then I realized that her expressionless face was likely the
result of her recognizing the car in which I was traveling and her understanding of the fact that I
was to spend the next few months as one of her uninvited neighbors. As we drove by, I noticed
her eyes neither anticipated nor followed the car. The entrance to the penitentiary was lined
by two stonewalls. Fieldstone and concrete were the large stone pillars guarding the entrance.
Ironically I had traveled to Danbury several years before to attend the dedication of the
penitentiary. I had been invited as one of the local government contractors. Never having
anticipated returning, I hadn’t committed to memory a great deal about the facility. In my
current state, it was as if I was viewing it for the first time. The drive was long and a great deal
of land had been cleared along the hillside on the right. A large open field extended for over a
quarter of a mile. Up the hillside the sedan drove and it was then that I realized that the
penitentiary itself was not visible from the roadside, that large swale in the green Connecticut
hills. Finally, small turret-like corners of the building were visible. As the sedan cleared the
crest of the hill, the three story concrete structure became visible. As I now remembered, it
had a peculiar, rather modern art deco influence. As we drove the final 500 yards, it brought to
mind the R. J. Reynolds building, its art deco construction and a time, many years ago, that was
spent in North Carolina. The penitentiary was painted light brown, with the art deco symbols in
relief painted a deep chocolate. Although I wasn’t thinking in terms of it being anything but a
prison, at the time, I know realize it could have been much worse. The process of being
admitted; catalogued; inspected; issued clothing and shown to my “room” took most of the
afternoon. For the first two weeks, you’re confined to a cell, which was pretty depressing.
During those two weeks, I lived for mail from home. Fortunately, a great deal arrived.
Something came daily from either Edna, the children, Elsie or Dennis, concerned friends or
church members. On good days, there might be a half-dozen pieces of mail. But I was very
grateful that on each day something arrived. On the two Sundays I was confined, I reread the
entire weeks mail; prayed; looked forward with some anxiety to gaining access to the prison
yard and the prison’s resources. Once the two weeks in solitary had been complete, I was
oriented to the prison complex and given the option to volunteer for a work detail. This I did
gladly as it took my mind off my imprisonment and filled my days and tired me enough to pass
my nights. I worked first as a laborer on the construction projects, which were still being
completed as part of the prison expansion. I had had considerable experience performing
similar work and was quickly recognized by the prison personnel as someone who might serve
in a limited supervisory role. After that, I was made foreman on a gang that did construction
work. I was outside working everyday from about 8:00 a.m. on. We had a movie once a week,
library in the evening and classes. They had a rabbi and a couple of clergymen, they didn’t have
a protestant minister, so I worked with the priest for a while on a number of projects. I got to
know the rabbi quite well also. I went to the library and read a number of books, most
influential among the: Pilgrim’s Progress.
The reading of Pilgrim’s Progress had an incredible effect on me. I experienced a spiritual
reawakening after reading it. I identified closely with its characters: closely with their struggle.
I read it several times over those four months. It, as much as anything, sustained me. When I
wasn’t reading or working I had the opportunity to play on the prison baseball team, most often
as the pitcher.
The business was without me for the first time. I didn’t really know whether or not it could
survive. There were a great many things that I had left half done, never really anticipating a
prison term. There were a great many contacts that were mine alone and a great deal of the
business was done on their basis. There were no written policies or procedures on which Elsie,
Dennis or anyone else could carry on. I had not entirely prepared my business associates for
the worst; hoping for the best, I didn’t want to badly disrupt the business. Now the business
faced my absence without a great deal of preparatory transitional work having been done. On
the one hand, I worried most that the business would fail; one other occasions, I hoped that my
absence would not be unnoticed.
My brother Dennis, oversaw the manual labor force which took care of rigging. Elsie advised
me about the business by writing me once or twice a week. In those letters, Elsie would update
as to the nature of the sales inquiries; the movements of our laborers; the costs of doing
business and the steps she was taking to try and maintain things as well as she could. To her
credit, she did it well. While the business did not flourish, it clearly was surviving. During that
time, Elsie learned a great deal more about the business and I learned a great deal more about
Elsie. In many ways, next to the letters from Edna and my children, letters from Elsie were the
most meaningful. After my family’s contact I looked most forward to news of my life’s work.
Any my business “partnership” with Elsie, were topics, which helped sustain me.
Edna and the three kids would come up by car to see me every Saturday. While these trips
were the highlight of my week, I think, at times, they were very difficult for Edna and the
children. They would arrive after a very long trip, patiently wait for me in the visitors area and
be permitted only to stay an hour. I think Edna and the children were all frightened by the
prison; by the inmates; frightened by what they imagined or feared the inmates had done.
Kathleen was only ten at the time; Corky perhaps eight, Bub four and didn’t entirely understand
what had led to my imprisonment. I worried about it, their reactions; their feelings at seeing
their father in his prison uniform. I worried about it having some lasting impact on them. But,
each week, they came and, each week, we had our visits together and opportunity to talk. Each
week, there was a tearful goodbye; a hug and a kiss; each Sunday evening several hours of
sadness. Fortunately each Monday morning, there was a full day of work.
There were about forty other inmates who were in for tax evasion. Everyone seemed to smoke
cigars. You were allowed $10.00 a month to buy yourself candy, fruit and whatever else you’d
consume on a day-to-day basis. Many of the inmates would smoke up $10.00 worth of cigars in
twelve days. Recognizing this and having no real needs of my own, I saw it as a opportunity. As
was true in business and generally in life an entrepreneur recognizes and capitalizes on an
opportunity. There was a social structure within the prison as predictable and as sophisticated
as that beyond the prison walls. Cigars were the currency of exchange and the majority of
inmates consumed them readily. My access to them was a significant factor in the definition of
my prison identity.
While at Danbury, I met a number of interesting characters. One was a pilot who had been
smuggling Chinamen into the country from Mexico. He got $2,000.00 a head if he got them in.
He was serving three to five years. He was a big man, nearly 6’2”, large framed, dark blond
hair. His face was heavily lined and weathered; I presumed from the hours he spent as a young
man in the open cockpits of the day. He was bright and appeared well educated and articulate.
He had a calm, confident manner, which suggested he was still in control of his own destiny,
and that the imprisonment was simply a temporary complicating factor. We talked casually
from time to time. I think in an odd way, we respected each other though I didn’t entirely
approve of his offense. He had the distant somewhat secretive manner, of a man who had
been in the military. Despite this, we would often make small talk. Once during a visit he
sketched a large drawing of Bub, a drawing I’ve kept to this day. I think, in another context
perhaps, we might have been friends.
One day the pilot said tome, “I hear you are from these parts.” You know, we’re thinking of
escaping. Tell me how the roads run, and where are the railroad tracks?” I knew better than to
map out the area in my own handwriting, so I just marked it in sand of the prison yard with the
toe of my shoe.
This particular day, there was another young fellow standing at his side. This other fellow I’ll
never forget him or how he ate. He was a Swede. He would eat three loaves of white bread
before his meal. I never saw a man eat like that. He must have been starved one time. Blond,
anxious, he was a striking contrast to the pilot. He would only speak directly to the pilot. I
wondered if he wasn’t, or hadn’t been, at some point, mentally ill. On the few occasions the
three of us were together, he would speak to the pilot, when addressing questions to me,
referring to me indirectly. He never made eye contact, nor was he ever able to participate in
interaction. The Swede’s behavior was most peculiar at times. When the three of us were
together, he would interject something directed at me, by speaking to the pilot and before an
answer was issued or any clarification made, he would begin pacing in or circling the area in
which we spoke.
One Saturday in August, the pilot sought me out in the prison courtyard, and told me that they
were going to make a break; an escape, that evening during the dinner hour. The remainder of
the day I nervously anticipated the break. Why? I’m not quite sure. I hadn’t really contributed
to it beyond providing some basic information but the anticipation of knowing it was going to
occur was stressful. Perhaps I was a little concerned with the pilot’s safety. I recall I was sitting
in the mess hall eating when the sirens went off. The inmates started to rush towards the
windows to look out on the courtyard but the guards brandishing Billy clubs, who were in the
dining room, quickly insisted they return to their seats. Reinforcements arrived in the dining
room and the guards quickly restored order. It must have been peculiar. I was perhaps the
only inmate in the mess hall who didn’t so much as stand up much less move toward a window.
I was later to find out the pilot and the Swede had done exactly as they intended; tying sheets
together and escaping through a second story window.
The guard and wardens knew I was friendly with these fellows. They called me in for
questioning. “What do you know about the escape?” I said, “I don’t know anything.” They
said, “Aren’t you going to tell us anything?” I said, “There’s nothing to tell.” They said to me,
“We can take your two months reduction in sentence away that you’re earning for good
behavior.” I said, “You can do whatever you want.” There were four of them interrogating me.
When they mentioned the cigars and asked why I was giving cigars away; I said, “If you fellows
haven’t anything better to do than this, you should be fired; the whole gang of you. That, of
course, didn’t set too well with them. They asked a few more questions, I continued to refuse
to answer. After a couple of hours, they sent me back to my cell. One of the two escapees; the
Swede got caught and transferred to a maximum-security prison. The pilot who was smart,
streetwise and tough was never found.
Although it had only been four months the day I was released from prison, I had almost as
much anxiety about going back to Stratford as I did on the day of my commitment. Concerns
about how I would be perceived; how I would be received by my friends; by members of my
church congregation and how my business associates would react to me were all pressing
The Phoenix Rises
It was a blinding fall day, the trees were ablaze with colors; red, oranges, browns, greens, and
yellows. On that second Tuesday in October I was met early in the morning by Edna, Kathleen,
Corky and Bub. I recall hearing the security door shut behind me as I excited the security area
of the prison and walked towards the lobby. Though God had been my constant companion
and in his company I had been spared the agony of loss one might have expected, it was a great
joy to be once again free, able to come and go as I pleased. The experience of being free was
never quite the same; neither as secure nor as easily taken for granted after those four months
of incarceration.
In contrast to the drive to the prison, the drive home passed in a heartbeat. Being able to freely
talk to and touch Edna; to play with the children; the anticipation of seeing my mother and
father; friends and having a home cooked meal, made the miles fly by. Shortly after I arrived
home; changed; walked around the yard; surveyed my lot in life, Kathleen and Corky came
home and everything appeared right with the world. Many of my concerns were being laid
quickly to rest. Neighbors stopped by to welcome me home. Friends or acquaintances that
drove by would stop or honk and wave. My return to Eveready the following morning was
joyous. The business had survived well enough to allow its continuation but not so well that my
absence wasn’t felt. Dennis and Elsie and the laborers in the yard had a cake and a brief
celebration welcoming me back. There was a great deal of information to be shared; a great
many records to review; a great many contacts to be made. I also had to spend quite a bit of
time, during those first few weeks, familiarizing myself with the new bookkeeping and
accounting system, which had been put in place in my absence. The bookkeeping and
accounting system was organized and being maintained by accountants (Joseph Smith & Co.)
and tax consultants. I was very certain of one thing, I was not going to make the same mistake
twice. Finally Sunday arrived and it was time to go to church and face the church members.
Though many had supported me through petitions as character witnesses during my trial
proceedings I wasn’t entirely sure how an ex-con would be received. It was a crisp, fall
morning. We had spent the weekend breaking out our winter suits and storing our summer
clothes. We drove to the small church on Broadridge Avenue; arrived late as usual and parked.
I took a deep breath as we entered the church. I was relieved to find fellowship, which had
attracted me to the Stratford Baptist Church still very much alive. I was welcomed by church
members and elders alike. I thanked the congregation for all they tried to do and all they had
done. I went on to offer my services to them. Although I didn’t know how, at the time I might
help, I certainly wanted to make myself available. Perhaps it was this offer; perhaps it was
simply my experience in construction and heavy rigging, which led to subsequent events.
However several months later it was decided that a new church was going to be required and
that I was going to be the builder.
The church members have saved about $10,000.00 and then we bought an empty lot on
Paradise Green in Stratford. Then the congregation asked me if I would gather a few estimates,
(since I knew a bit about the construction business.) They were thinking originally of building a
new church. It quickly became apparent the costs involved were going to be prohibitive.
During that process, I found out that, in addition to other government surplus, there were
surplus government chapels for sale. I found one in Goldsboro, North Carolina on an air force
base. The congregation asked me to go down to North Carolina and take a look at it. By the
time I got there, the grass had grown deep all around it. I parked my car along side the
macadam road and waded through the waist high grass toward the church. The grass was thick
and wet with dew. By the time I reached the steps my pants and shirtsleeves were wet and
stained. I climbed the stairs to inspect the chapel. Though
it had not been used in quite some time, it was structurally
sound and in good repair. I came back to Stratford and
made a report to the congregation. We, as a group,
decided we would purchase and transport the chapel from
North Carolina to Stratford. After making the decision, a
number of members of the congregation expressed their
mystification as to how such a thing could be done.
Somewhere in the midst of my knowledgeable, if not
articulate, explanation about how such a process would
occur, I found myself in charge of it.
Later, I sent my brother-in-law, Ed Snyder down to North
Carolina with a rigging crew, and they took the building
down in sections about 16 foot wide and 18 foot high.
They sliced it like a loaf of bread in giant, 16 by 18 foot
The Stratford Baptist Church on the
Green as seen today.
“slices”. They put the sections in three freight cars and
brought them up to Stratford. We had the foundation
ready before they brought them up and we re-assembled them. We only cracked one window
throughout the entire process. The flooring and the wainscoting are original. Shortly after we
re-assembled the church, we searched throughout New England and found a church
comparable in size that was colonial and we changed the tower and the columns on the front to
make it more appropriate architecturally. To this day, if you stand in back of the church and
look down the left side, you’ll see a little wave in it; but you have to look real close. I guess I’m
a little proud of the job we were able to do.
Now Britian, Connecticut was a city committed heavily to industry and the war housing
administration built a two hundred unit apartment complex to house workers there during the
war. As a result of the efforts I had made researching the availability of government surplus,
both in terms of looking for the chapel and in terms of some of the machine tool work I was
doing at Eveready, I was, apparently, placed on every government mailing list that existed. Day
after day, I received government junk mail offering to auction or sell my items ranging from K
rations to PT Boats. Most often, after recognizing what I had received, I would simply toss it in
the circular file. Periodically, there was a relevant release to the machine tool trade or
industrial equipment and I’d review it and, occasionally pursue it. Over the latter part of 1949, I
seemed to get more and more frequent releases from the government relating to the
privatization of war administration housing. Although I hadn’t really reflected about it, during
the war, a great increase in the population of industrialized areas had taken place; an increase
that was somewhat artificial as the government wooed people from less industrialized areas to
the city, in an effort to keep the war machinery going 24 hours a day. Now that the war was
over and the factories were back to a single shift operation, a great many of the people, who
had originally come to support the war effort and because of the great many opportunities, had
little incentive to stay. For that reason a great many of the housing developments that were
built by the government to house these wartime employees lay vacant. It was through
privatization that the government hoped to recoup some of the costs and see to it that these
housing developments were in fact used in the public interest.
In the fall of 1949, I received word that a complex in New Britain was up for sale. It was close
by and I often traveled through or near New Britain on business, so I decided to take a look.
Two weeks later on one of my machine tool business trips I drove by the housing complex on
Ellis and East Streets. I spent some time inspecting it. There were four apartment red brick
buildings, each set individually. I looked at the quality of construction; the amount of land that
had been allotted and the surrounding areas. I recall driving back toward Stratford and thinking
that the venture into real estate might prove quite profitable. Besides, there had been quite a
bit of publicity about this particular project because it was the first that the War Administration
Housing Authority, itself, was offering for sale. They only want 10% down and a $25,000.00
goodwill deposit.
I had never owned a piece of real estate other than the house I lived in and Eveready so I wasn’t
much of a real estate expert. I figured it backwards, assuming the rents were going to be
$45.00 a month, (which was about $20.00 lower than it should have been). I felt if these places
would bring in enough to pay the mortgage; cover the operating expenses, pay me back the
$100,000.00 down payment during the first five years; pay the interest on the mortgage and
give me 10 percent profit; I would put in a bid. I was also somewhat impressed by the fact that
it had won an award as the best architecturally laid out and landscaped complex the War
Housing Administration had built the year it was built (1942). I put in a bid and, out of 200
bidders, I proved to be the high bidder. Being high bidder really put the fear of God into me. I
didn’t mind bidding, but I didn’t really know what I was doing and I never expected to win.
Then I was faced with raising an additional $75,000.00 within thirty days or I would lose the
goodwill deposit of $25,000.00. I had no idea where I was going to raise it. I didn’t have that
kind of credit. At the bid opening there were several major papers: The New York Times (their
financial department), The Wall Street Journal and a television crew. They all questioned me as
to what I was going to do. I didn’t know what I was doing; I just said it was a family investment
and when they spoke, using their jargon from Wall Street, I got lost altogether and just
repeated myself. That same day, at the bidding site, a little Jewish man waved his hand over his
shoulder indicating he wanted me to come over and talk to him. When we were apart from
everyone else, he said, “You know Abe (nodding toward his friend), and I came from
Philadelphia. I’ll tell you what I told Abe, we should have raised our bid; we didn’t, we’re sorry.
I’ll give you $50,000.00 above your costs right now if you turn the property over to me.” Well I
began to breath a little easier because I was really stunned by the fact that I owed $75,000.00
that I didn’t have and I had to have it in thirty days. So the fellow over his shoulder waved and
said, “I’ll tell you what; my name is Abe Ginsburg; I own property in New York and Philadelphia.
I’ll tell you how we can make $350,000.00 each and I’ll go in fifty/fifty with you on this deal. He
went on, “Subdivide and sell it off in individual units.” I had no idea if or how such a thing could
be done so I said, “Well, we will have to discuss it later. I’ll bring my accountant along (as if I
had an accountant at my beck and call all the time).” Several days later, I went to Philadelphia
and he laid the whole thing out for me. It sounded pretty good. After looking into the
mortgaging requirements, I found it was likely to be much more difficult to finance the units
individually and I decided to drop the idea and try and raise the rest of the money myself. I
took ninety-day loans and borrowed some from my cousins. I had to re-mortgage our house on
Nichols Avenue and the rest I borrowed from two banks on short-term business loans.
It was out of the New Britain investment that McCallum Enterprises was born. I was in a
position, by chance and as a result of my impulsive adventurous nature, wherein I had to raise a
great deal more money that I had any right to expect to be able to raise on the basis of my
assets. Despite the ninety-day loans, the short-term business loan and the re-mortgaging of my
house, I didn’t have enough to meet the debt I had incurred. Forming a corporation: McCallum
Enterprises and selling stock to a select few friends and relatives seemed the most responsible
and least painful way of resolving the problem. Eveready would remain separate; a machine
tool business distinct from the real estate holdings. I, as principle stockholder, would be the
president of McCallum Enterprises; the few relatives, friends, and employees of Eveready were
the minority stockholders. We were now in the real estate business.
A great deal of energy and effort had to be expended coming to an understanding of how we
might maintain and run such a large apartment complex. I spent a great deal of the next
several years traveling between Bridgeport and New Britain overseeing the machine tool
business and trying my best, in person, through my sister Elizabeth and later Edna and finally
through hired help, to keep both businesses up and running profitably. New Britain was a
moneymaker. We were very fortunate that quite independent of any insight and good
judgment, it began and remained a profitable venture. I’m sure that if a less profitable
property, the initial investment vehicle, McCallum Enterprises, our ignorance and lack of
experience, would have made the difference in what would have been our inability to maintain
a marginal property.
As things began to settle within McCallum Enterprises, the most private of McCallum
Enterprises was also under way. Joyce arrived in 1953. Joyce was roly-poly, pretty little girl
with black hair and big brown eyes. It was when Joyce was an infant that I was given the task of
taking care of a baby for the first time. Up until that point I had only accepted my responsibility
of fathering and fatherhood as it pertained to children over the age of three or infants when
they were dry and clean. After Joyce was born, I was promoted to chief diaper changer. I recall
my first few experiences vividly and thinking that perhaps Edna hadn’t had it so good after all.
After the personal experience of changing Joyce between bites of breakfast; bites of lunch;
bites of dinner; I came to realize that it took a particularly strong constitution and a great deal
of patience to care for an infant. It was, at least in part, based on these experiences, that I
came, relatively late, to have a much greater appreciation for the job that Edna had been doing.
Joyce was born into a very active household by that time we had ducks, chickens, a pony, and
the assorted odd cats or dogs. One of the chickens, a hen named Martha, used to accompany
us everywhere we went. Later, when we purchased our first boat, Martha would often
accompany us, and a select group of ducks and ducklings out on to the boat for the day trips.
We had the ducklings and the chicks at such a young ages that they would imprint (attach
themselves) to one of the children or Edna or me. Once this had occurred, the duck or the
chick would follow the given person everywhere he or she went as if they were their parent.
Each child developed a particular fondness for a given duck or chick and it became very difficult
to separate child from pet. One duck particularly, Wilber, was everyone’s dear friend. On the
day that a neighborhood dog killed him, there was a great deal of pain and a great many tears.
The period of mourning went on for quite some time.
Little Joyce was brave and adventurous. One of the most vivid memories that I have of her as a
toddler is of her swimming along side the Shamrock I (our boat) at the age of two out in Long
Island Sound. Of course she had on a life preserver but, nonetheless, there she was paddling
away, smiling. We were in water thirty, forty or fifty feet deep. Occasionally a family would go
by, on another boat, with horrified looks that such a tot was out swimming about.
About that time, we received a pony from a family named Singer who lived down the street.
When we purchased it, it seemed as if it were a gentle pony. The children, particularly Kathleen
and Corky had been begging for a pony for quite some time and finally it seemed like there
would be no denying them. One day, shortly after we brought the pony home, Edna called me
at work very upset. She said that the pony was attacking everyone and cornered a number of
the children on the front porch. I tried to encourage her to approach the pony and assert
herself. She clearly was not satisfied with that solution. Nothing else would do but for me to
return home. Apparently, before I arrived on the scene, two older neighborhood boys, seeing
my wife and children and the pony, stopped the car and began to offer their assistance. They
quickly found themselves back into their car and were kept at bay by the little pony until they
finally drove away. When I arrived, Edna was in tears; standing on the front porch in a blue
print dress; flushed and pale; she was too concerned to go in the house and too frightened to
come off the front porch. After I parked the car, I walked up to the little pony; patted him and I
led him into the barn. I walked into the house feeling quite like the hero.
The summers in the mid 1950’s were a time of great contentment. All the children were still
young and the business was doing fairly well. The 1950’s were a period of great prosperity.
Many of the summer days, the family and many of our relatives and friends would spend
aboard the Shamrock I. It was a single engine 23 foot Criss Craft Cabin Cruiser that allowed us
to enjoy many a pleasant day trip. I loved the ocean; had ever since I was a young child and
traveled to Cooney Island. As a teenager, my affection for it grew as I traveled to the Jersey
shore with the scouts. First, we docked the Shamrock I in Kelly’s Boat Yard in Devon right
beyond the Washington Street Bridge; later a Murphy’s Boat Yard in Shelton. On many a fine
Saturday or Sunday we would take the little run about up to the Thimble Islands off the coast of
Guilford or across the sound to Port Jeff. We made many an adventurous trip. As the number
of people, family and friends and friends of the children grew in number we realized that the
Shamrock I was too small of a boat for our purpose.
Consequently, we bought the Shamrock II in a government sale in the fall of 1957. It was a
bargain (a bargain is something that you can’t resist buying once you get it you don’t know
what to do with it). The Shamrock II was a 45-foot Wheeler Playmate. It was a sturdier, better
built, wooden boat that the Shamrock I. It was built during the war and was confiscated by the
government. They had confiscated it from a private owner and now had it for sale. I bid on it
(it was down in Maryland at Camp Meade) and mine was the highest bid. Ed Sullivan and his
wife, Joe Sullivan and I went down after Christmas to get it ready for the journey north. That
45-footer was a lot of a boat. It was very costly to run. The government could maintain it but
on the journey north I quickly realized I wasn’t the government. It had three forward bunks, a
two-man mater’s cabin in the back and a center cabin in the front. So it would sleep ten.
We almost lost her on our maiden voyage while crossing the Chesapeake Bay. The December
night was bitter cold with a howling wind. We had to have heat so we started a coal fire in a
little pot belly stove that was on board. I sent Joe Sullivan back to got it lit. On that day it had
gotten bitter in the late afternoon and the seas had risen. When Joe went back to light the
stove he put the coal in first and put the paper and wood on top. He tried without success to
light this nonsensical arrangement three times. I finally went back there (I was piloting) and
said, “Joe, there is something wrong with this fire. Three times you’ve tried and you haven’t
got it lit yet and we’re freezing to death. Put the coal on last and the wood and the paper on
the bottom.” (How things change in one generation not even knowing how to start a coal fire).
Finally we got the fire going.
We had a nice little fire going and we were getting along well and up came a storm. We didn’t
hear the warning that the storm was brewing and the sea got very rough. I was piloting and, by
then, the fire drew such a heavy draft it got the whole stove red-hot. There were five-foot
waves, and though we had the stove wired to the floor I thought it would tip over. So I said,
“Put out the fire.” So Joe reached over, while the boat is a rocking and a rolling, and got a pail
of salt water; opened the door of the potbelly stove and poured it in. Smoke and steam and
coal gas filled the air. We almost died. We were vomiting we couldn’t see a thing; time passed
and damned if that fire didn’t re-ignite and the stove became red-hot again. We had to go
through the whole thing over again, though this time we opened the doors and windows first.
We finally got the fire out by putting three big pails of salt water on it. By this time, I was so
sick I lost my sense of direction. It was so rough that the larger ships were going back to port
instead of going to sea. Now, Ed took over because he had stayed out in the back deck and
wasn’t sick. At that point, we didn’t even know where shore was. We had a compass but the
compass was rolling and rocking so much you couldn’t read it. We had extra batteries loose on
deck. There were swishing back and forth across the floor. You had to jump every time one
came by and it was terrible. The waves were breaking over the bow with water coming in the
front window. By this time Joe Sullivan was lying down. He was through. He couldn’t stand at
all. I wasn’t much better but I had to return to the watch. I couldn’t see shore. The wind blew
so fiercely and the storm grew so violent, I don’t know how Ed Sullivan, who was piloting at the
last brought us in. Over the four years we owned the Shamrock II, we enjoyed many a trip. We
went to Newport on several occasions; once to the International Cup Races; we went to New
York; Port Jefferson and along the northern coast of Long Island.
It was the second year that we owned the Shamrock II, in the summer of 1959, that McCallum
Enterprises took its next big step. In fact, it was after one of our long weekends away on the
Shamrock II that I returned to Eveready on a Tuesday morning in late July; opened my mail and
found a government advertisement; a call for bids for a housing complex in Glens Falls, New
York. As was true of most of my business adventures and all of my business misadventures, my
interest in the Glens Falls project began as curiosity. It was July, and a fine July. The grass was
emerald green and I thought that a drive through the Berkshires and the Adirondacks, perhaps
to Lake George would be a business trip, which even if it didn’t lead to business, would be
enjoyable and worthwhile on such a lovely summer day. As part of that process, if I happened
to find an apartment complex, which was worthy of investment, I would be that much further
ahead. The following week, I traveled to Glens Falls, New York. I hadn’t ever been to the town
of Glens Falls before (located approximately sixty miles north of Albany) and I must admit to
being charmed. The four-hour drive took
six hours on backcountry roads. As I
drove among the beautiful hill sides along
the Hudson and Mohawk, I found myself
thinking how cool and green and lush this
part of the north woods was in contrast
to the shoreline of Connecticut. I
traveled up Route 9 to the Southern
Glens Falls, to the red-bricked industrial
area, passed the town center; and finally
I arrived at the town green. I asked
directions from a passer by. The
apartment complex I was looking for was
just a half-mile from downtown on the
northwest corner of the city. Before I traveled to see the complex, I checked in at the local
Queensbury Hotel a hotel that was soon to become one of my favorites. It was stately in
appearance, simply decorated and had excellent service. After checking in, I took a few
moments to walk the down town area and to stretch my legs after the long drive. While not
consciously, I was also assessing the town itself. The townspeople its tempo and flavor the
“mood” of the town. I was impressed by what I found. The people were friendly, the town
seemed as if it had optimism, which, on some level was a selling point. I couldn’t decide
whether the town itself reminded me of Norman Rockwell’s artwork or of my winters in North
Carolina as a young man. There was a town quality to Glens Falls, which I had not encountered
in quite some time. I spent that late afternoon walking the grounds of the apartment complex;
a dozen large red brick buildings each with eight apartments. Its grounds were clean and the
buildings generally in good repair. I walked the neighborhood. The complex was next to a
grade school. The stores were within easy driving distance and a young adult in good health
could easily transport his groceries, by hand if necessary. I observed the tenants in the complex
and, by and large, they struck me as clean, hard working people and the neighborhood was safe
and secure.
Driving home, of the following afternoon, I had come to a decision as I crossed the Connecticut
border. A bid of some type would be made. Though Glens Falls wasn’t the second complex
McCallum Enterprises had pursued, it was the second on which we were the successful high
bidder. We had put in a sealed bid of $280,000.00 and, for that price we bought the property in
Glens Falls. The property became known as Sagamore. It was a much different process; much
less stressful to purchase Sagamore as opposed to Sunvale Manor in New Britain. The New
Britain property had continued to do well; returning a profit. We had built equity in the
intervening ten years and the purchase of Glens Falls, for those reasons, really wasn’t terribly
intimidating or a great risk.
American Solstice
In 1960, I took a trip to Europe. The group going to Europe included my daughters, Kathleen,
20 and Joyce, (who was only seven at the time) my son Edward, 12, and Kathleen’s husband
Don McCloud. Corky was off in school at the University of Miami and chose not to go. Edna
didn’t like traveling, so she went to Old Lyme and stayed in an Inn there. So we, (the kids and I)
voted on where to go. One of the locations that Bub decided on (and talked his sisters into
voting for) was Russia. It didn’t interest me. We first went Ireland and spent a week there and
we had a wonderful time. We saw the land of my Irish forefathers: Donegal, Northern Ireland,
Belfast and Londonderry. Of course, we all kissed the Blarney stone. From Ireland, we went to
London and then to Paris. There I remained with Joyce and went to see a Woody Woodpecker
movie complete with French dialogue, while the older children all went to see the Folies
Bergere. Of course that experience was an eye opener for Bub. From France we went to
Sweden for a few days and on to Finland. From Finland, we went to Russia; to what used to be
called Petrograd and was then Leningrad, and finally to Moscow.
I had read world history and the history of Russia. I knew the history of Lenin and his dreaded
secret police; how sealed carloads of Communists from Germany were trying to infiltrate Russia
and trigger the revolution while World War I was going on. Lenin succeeded in getting their
navy to join the revolutionary forces and wrecked their ability to fight against the Germans who
were almost entering the city of Moscow and Leningrad. So, when this girl (our guide), was
telling me how bad Hitler was, I said to her, “Hitler and Stalin were allied and that’s how
Germany succeeded in invading Poland.” “Oh, she said, “You’re an outright liar; there never
was any such event. I am a graduate of Moscow University and I have studied the history of
World War II. As a matter of fact, my father died in a defense of Leningrad.” I said, “You are
mistaken;” “Oh,” she said, “No; your lying.” I recognized, then and there, that these people
were so brainwashed there wasn’t a chance of discussing anything with them.
The hotel management would call at three o’clock in the morning to see if I was there. When
I’d answer they’d say they wanted to know if they had the right room for some other name.
They did this every night to make sure you were in the room and not wandering around. It was
amazing; every other corner had a policeman or a soldier with a machine gun on it and you
were only allowed to go down certain streets. The more we talked about world history the
more I realized that these people were never told about it and didn’t know the truth. You
would see blonde young ladies digging in ditches twelve feet under ground (they had to bury
their pipes way down deep because the frost is so great and in groups of two or three dozen,
women would be doing heavy labor or in the fields using hand scythes to cut wheat.
In Moscow, we discovered log cabins were all over the city, like you would see out West, and it
appeared as if nothing new had been built since World War I. The railroad trains were a day
and half late getting into cities; a day and half late traveling one thousand miles and the steam
engines and locomotives were made at the turn of the century, an amazing state of affairs. The
next guide we got was a plain, simple girl who we were able to sneak away from several times.
We went to collective farms on our own. We also were able to get away and talk to the
workers on a construction site. They were supposed to be building new apartment houses.
What a sloppy bunch. The women did all the hard work, carrying the cement blocks and all the
heavy work. The tradesman just laid the blocks. I discovered while I was there, that the war
had wiped out about three fourths of all Russian males. So, men ran the red light district and
the ladies paid for companionship. I must say, though I had four kids with me, I got solicited
two or three times a day.
The Hotel Ukraine (in Moscow, which was a brand new hotel), had elevators which didn’t work
and virtually no hot water. It would come on sporadically maybe for an hour a day. At noontime they closed down the candy/news stand and they’d go out for lunch for an hour and a half.
The elevator operators, without notice, would leave at midday. Everything was run by the
government so nobody gave a damn about anything. The bathtub faucet fell off in my hand
and the tile was falling off the wall. You’d think it was apprentices who built the whole place
for a school project.
The experience of seeing Russia was terrific; to see those people being enslaved by soldiers
carrying machine guns. The Russian women, working bare headed in the wheat fields by the
hundreds, outside of Moscow. The only enterprise that seemed to prosper there were the
“private farms” those two acres of land behind each farmer’s collective single room house.
There, he could raise his own garden products and sixty to eighty percent of all food he had to
eat came from his own little backyard garden. When he had extra, he would be free to sell it at
the only open market in all of Russia. The life style there was very regressive and the world
didn’t realize how bad it was. We couldn’t even bring a Bible into the country. We could find
only one Protestant church (it was Baptist) in all our travels; it had a broken down wooden
steeple and was apparently in very poor repair.
Before I went to Russia, I had heard that it was bad. I had heard the people were suffering, but
I was like the average person: I thought there was nothing we could do about it. I had seen the
countries in Eastern Europe go down the drain. By 1960, Russia had gobbled them up. I saw
what they did to Manchuria, taking their equipment out and then enslaving the four hundred
thousand Japanese soldiers they had captured. I saw what they did to the German soldiers
captured alive around Leningrad. So, I knew their basic philosophy and seeing the hardship
really stimulated me to become active in opposing Communism.
I came back and I began to read more about Communism. I read J. Edgar Hoover’s book,
Masters of Deceit. I read quite a few other books on Russian history since the Revolution. I
also read books on the countries that had been
subjugated by Russia. I found that, locally,
there were groups of refugees from the
Ukraine, Russia, and Czechoslovakia who were
active in picketing the United Nations and
circulating anti-communist literature. I met
Fidel Castro’s sister who was a very active anticommunist. Christopher Dodd, the lawyer who
had defended me, now Senator Dodd, who
actively opposed Communism. Senator Dodd
and our friend, now working in the Reagan
One of his many floats with an antiWhite House, Tony Dolin, were active on our
communist message.
committee. We sponsored picnics, for many
years, which were both picnics and really rallies with important guest speakers. From these
early experiences, I decided to start the Citizens Anti-Communist Committee of Connecticut
(C.A.C.C.) to help distribute anti communist literature. I brought films documenting the
takeover of some of the Eastern European countries. Many Eastern European refugees joined.
We also tried to show how the activity of some Americans who were sympathetic to Castro and
Russia were actually helping the Communists.
The business continued to grow. Industrial machines were in increasing demand. The domestic
economy was strong and the war in Southeast Asia was intensifying and real estate
opportunities continued to present themselves. In early 1962, nearly three years after the
purchase of Glens Falls complex, we had another opportunity to purchase a complex. However,
this time it was not so simple a process.
It was a complex in Virginia Beach. We bid
$180,000.00 and much to my surprise at the bid
opening, which was attended by only three or four
people, they said the bids weren’t high enough.
Therefore, they opened it up to an auction right
there and then. I had never heard of this happening
before. There were two kids from Washington who
had borrowed the $10,000.00 for the deposit
required and, obviously, didn’t have a nickel in the world. There were driving the bidding up.
Well, they forced the bidding up to about $250,000.00. Then they called a 15- minute
adjournment. During that time they approached us and said they’d stop bidding for $5,000.00.
We agreed, so they stopped bidding and we bought the place for $250,000.00.
When we bought Ocean Lake, as it would become known, it was under about a foot of sand.
There had been a storm at sea and it left sand covering the entire property. The complex had
gone broke four or five times previously. Therefore, the government would no longer make
loans on it. We had to find a source for the $25,000.00 in cash within ninety days. Once again,
I had to act quickly and didn’t really know where to begin. I found a loan broker (a loan broker
is a fellow who goes around and arranges loans for other people and receives a commission).
He finally found our loan source (the Jefferson Insurance Company of North Carolina) and we
were in business.
My old and dear friend Walter Mickleberg, died later that same year (1963). Though he had
always been in poor health, his death was still a surprise and difficult to accept. We had stayed
good friends since World War II and occasionally worked together (bought and sold machines).
I didn’t know it, when I went to the funeral, but I was about in inherit the son. He (Walter Jr.)
suggested that we go into a partnership, separate from their family company, Mickelberg
Machinery. Young Walter (who was about 40 at the time) was an honest man who understood
the business. It seemed he just liked the idea of having a father figure, or someone else actively
interested in the business, to discuss matters with. My reaction to the whole idea was, if he
wanted it, I would do it, bit it was something I didn’t really have too much enthusiasm for,
because I could do well enough on my own. However, if he liked it and wanted it, and since I
knew he was honest, we would work at the agreement together.
Late in 1963, the Industrial Machine Company was formed in Connecticut. I was the president
and Walter Jr. was the vice president. We were in business, though it never amounted to
anything more than he and I would, on occasion, buy certain machines together and share the
profit when they were sold.
Early in the next year (1964) another unexpected loss occurred; we lost a good portion of our
Housatonic Avenue facility to eminent domain. The Thruway (Route 25) went through behind
us at Eveready. As a result, we lost our back access street and back lot. Because of this, we
went out to look for land. It was decided after looking at two or three parcels, that we would
buy seventeen acres on River Road in Shelton. We put a deposit down and bought it and paid
the rest over a period of two years. Within those two years, we sold three of the entire
seventeen acres for more than we paid for the whole parcel originally. We started, shortly
thereafter, on the project of securing, transporting, and reassembling the three warehouses
that stand there today. They were purchased from the Southern Railway in North Carolina;
they had been their passenger car repair shops.
We bought the Shamrock III in 1965 because it was only a 30-footer; it was lighter and less
expensive to run and maintain. It was an easier boat to handle. I bought it right in town, from
the Stratford Marina. A private owner had it there and wanted to sell. He had bought it new
and had only had it for about four years when he decided to sell it.
We had many fine adventures on the Shamrock III. We traveled up the Hudson on it; up
through the canal system; all the way up to Lake Champlain and the Canadian border. That was
quite a trip; magnificent. On that trip, we stopped at Bannerman’s Island. We did the traveling
mostly on weekends and returned to Bridgeport to work during the week. If we had a few
extra days, we would take the extra time and travel a little further. We went up to the
Canadian border on the Richelieu River and then turned about and headed home. The
Shamrock III gave us some of our most pleasant and wonderful memories.
I remember one night aboard her we got stranded in the middle of Long Island Sound on a
return trip from Port Jefferson. A beautiful dark blue sailing ship (60 ft. or more) appeared out
of the misty fog of middle ground. When it first approached, you couldn’t see the hull of the
ship. All you could see were the sails. It was eerie. It was like seeing the Flying Dutchman
come out of the night. The crew was British and in the midst an attempt to circumnavigate the
globe. They towed us for several miles. We were able to get the engine started just a mile or
so off Stratford Point. They then turned about and disappeared as mysteriously as they
The C.A.C.C. continued to flourish; we would stage picket protests and display our floats in
parades in Bridgeport, Washington, New York, and at Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut. We
spoke at the three or four-dozen colleges that had students among our active members. As we
became more active, we attracted speakers from all walks of life; from doctors to lawyers to
field workers who had escaped from Cuba.
In fact, the C.A.C.C. was involved in the raising of monies and support for those Cubans who
were interested in invading Cuba; many of whom, eventually were active in the Bay of Pigs
invasion. Some of the Cuban nationals we supported didn’t come back. Of course, we didn’t
know exactly when or where the invasion was going to take place but we did know that it was
planned and did help raise money for the support of some of its volunteers.
The C.A.C.C. continued to attract members. As it grew, so did the strength of the opposition it
drew. On a trip to Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1965, we found how violent “peace”
demonstrations could be. Jack Duran and I took the C.A.C.C. float to DC. We went by the White
House; down Pennsylvania Avenue and while there, on one of the little side streets, one of the
peace movement people attacked us with a two by four. He swung it and caught me in the arm
by surprise. I felt temporally paralyzed from the blow. He then started smashing the truck,
wrecking part of the float. Later on the same day, towards evening, we stopped for a toll right
outside of Washington and one of these “peace-nicks” pulled up and got out of his car and
started ripping the whole float apart.
Those years in the mid sixties were a terribly turbulent time. The Vietnam War was ripping the
country apart; left against right; young against old. Racial strife and discontent were rampant.
The anger of Black America was frightening and violence in the streets seemed to be the
solution of choice to any and all social problems.
As difficult as the times were, there were a great many things to be thankful for. By this time, I
was a grandfather a half dozen times over; the business was doing well and we were
comfortable and prosperous. Between the children and the grandchildren our menagerie
continued to grow, if not always in number, certainly in tonnage. By that time we had several
horses; my favorite horse named Lady. She was a good riding horse. She belonged to Kathleen
although I enjoyed riding her often as well. Kathleen and I were among the few who could ride
her. She was very fast and fairly high strung. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, she was the
horse that I personally favored. The favorite for almost everyone else was a Tennessee Walker
named Duke. He was a calm and gentle horse; even the inexperienced riders had the secure
feeling of being in control while accompanying Kathleen or me on a ride. Our most infamous
pet was a young filly named Doorflinger. Doorflinger was a big boned horse, got her name as
she kicked the barn door off its hinges one day in a fit of temper. She was a bit of a Houdini.
She could exit from the stall when she chose to. She had perfected a method of backing up and
sitting on the cross bar then standing abruptly. The bar would kick out and free her to leave the
stall. She got so good at this that she virtually came and went as she pleased. Corky had
Honey, a gentle mare, which she loved very much. We also had a mean spirited Palomino who
would dislodge her riders by using low branches. We never could break that horse of its
dangerous habits. Subsequently, one of our neighbors died and left us two burros.
Unfortunately, one was a male and one female. Shortly, there were a half dozen; neighing and
hawing, they were a great deal of fun, but very noisy. By this time, the North End of Stratford
had become quite suburban. We were surrounded by what were really city kids. My children
and grandchildren, with horses and a built in pool, attracted a great many of their peers on a
hot summer day. It wasn’t uncommon after school, to have twenty or thirty kids come by to
ride or to swim. And, although there were a great deal of uncertainty about a great many
things in the country at that time, it was a period of relative peace at home and happiness
among the McCallum clan.
In May of 1968, I was asked to speak at the University of Bridgeport. The speech and debate,
which followed went very late into the night and the group cheering my opposition got very
violent and loud. The University student body who were invited called me an: arch
conservative a rightist and extremist, everything but a fascist.
Eveready was severely damaged in a two-alarm fire the next night. The arsonists managed it
very cleverly as I found out from a second attempt which failed. They place a large piece of
cardboard partially under the overhead door; soaked it with gasoline and lit it. We lost the
offices; their contents and our records; everything. We didn’t have to wait for the insurance
company to make up their minds and fund our restoration. We went right ahead and rebuilt it
ourselves. I felt very grateful and proud of the dozens of friends, relatives and members of the
C.A.C.C. who arrived the next morning to help. With three days, we were back in the office
with all the telephones working and back in business.
We were ruffled, but not discouraged. However, the firebombing of Eveready only proved to
be the beginning. Later that month, we were very disappointed to learn that special interest
groups, which opposed us politically accused us of being neo-fascists and they had succeeded in
blocking the inclusion of our float in the Bridgeport Memorial Day Parade. Later, that summer
of 1968 I was assaulted again. I was picketing in Middletown at the ski area. There was a young
man in a fast little car; with a beard and long hair, who stopped and got out of the car when he
saw the picket sign. I thought he wanted to discuss something. He walked up to me and hit me
so hard that he knocked me senseless without warning; not a word.
That fall, a storage facility we leased on Nichols Avenue (where Route 8 now intersects Nichols
Avenue) also burned down under suspicious circumstances. At that point, Edna was quite
positive that something could happen to Joyce on the way to or from school. She got several
nasty calls and she got to the point where she felt she couldn’t let Joyce go anywhere without
her. I felt attacks on me personally or my business property, were one thing, but the mounting
threat to my wife and children forced me to moderate my direct involvement. I decided to
keep up an active role in direct mail and donate money to the C.A.C.C. organization. I
continued to sponsor the floats but, to the extent of my continual presence, I lessened my
direct involvement.
Constellation Revealed
The late 1970’s and early 1980’s were a period of tremendous uncertainly. The illness and
death of my wife, daughter-in-law and life long friend and business associate, Elsie Turner, all
were terrible losses. Other family members faced devastating illnesses and accidents, but
nonetheless ones, which required tremendous courage and perseverance to overcome.
Throughout the late seventies, the machinery business once again slipped into a major
depression. Depressions in the business were at that point, something I accepted; perhaps, at
times, could even foresee. However, the great industrial depressions of the late ‘70’s and early
‘80’s continued to evolve into something broader and more severe than I had ever seen in a
single sector of the economy. It wasn’t until 1981 that I began to entertain the notion that
perhaps the industrial age in the United States was over.
The concept was staggering. At 72, I may have outlived an era in history, which had served as
the bedrock of my career. The idea was very difficult to accept. It remained only a hypothesis,
however, I could not reject it. It idea appeared substantiated as I continued the struggle with
Eveready. The real estate holdings were a tremendous support but electricity and industrial
machines, which were driven by electricity, had been my life. Since that day on the Coney
Island carousel I had been fascinated by the magic of electricity, I was born and raised in the era
when electricity itself came of age. Electricity powered the greatest industrial society in history
and now that society appeared to be entering a post-industrial era.
Had I simply lived too long? I was in my seventies and had worked nearly sixty years. All of my
peers were retired; my wife and many friends gone. Was the inability to adapt to change the
real basis for retirement for those of us who were not physically impaired by aging? I didn’t
know, but I had the sense of needing to go on; of not being done, and on I went; where I was
going I wasn’t quite sure.
In early fall of 1981, on the return portion of a trip to inspect industrial machines, my grandsons
Donny and Edward and I stopped at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He started
talking about alternative energy mechanisms and I mentioned that the Federal Government
had recently passed laws forcing the utility companies to buy the power that was generated by
private enterprise. It happened that I had seen an old powerhouse close by in Stockbridge. We
talked a bit more and decided to go down and take a look at it. It appeared as if people were
working on it, at the time. Donny and Edward had to remind me repeatedly for over a month
to find out who owned it. I finally called the Stockbridge Police and found out. We went to
Stockbridge, a number of times, meeting with the woman who was overseeing the project. She
was in her sixties. We attempted, unsuccessfully, to enter into a cooperative effort with her.
Shortly afterward the Hull-Dye Printworks on the Housatonic in Derby went out of business. On
one of the trips back from Stockbridge, I mentioned Holyoke to Donny and said, “Why don’t you
(Donny and Edward) see if we can do something there?”
At that time, we didn’t know anything about licensing or all of the legal work involved; all we
knew was that old powerhouse was not generating. Donny was the prime mover of the
concept through its early development. We started to investigate the matter and found out
that Connecticut Light and Power (CL&P) had a preliminary permit to build over the Shelton
side. They were licensed, we were told, to use ninety percent of the water, but during the
springtime, there was so much water that they couldn’t use that we decided to try to get the
right to generate power from the smaller site on Derby side.
We consulted two consultants and they told us it would cost about $15,000.00 to fill out the
applications and they made it look like it had to be two inches thick. Donny, who had done a lot
of work on his own up to this point, go a little nervous and began to shy away from the idea
because he didn’t want to spend $15,000.00 when we might not get the license. We continued
discussing it, but in a much discouraged manner. Northeast Utilities (N.U.) had in a mild, but
very successful manner, also discouraged us. N.U. told us we couldn’t put it in, it wouldn’t
make a profit and they said they were going to fill in the canal. Our hopes and plans for a little
hydro project were after considerable effort and time (particularly Donny’s) dashed.
Over the months, I had gotten gradually more involved. As Donny encouraged me to become
active, I became more knowledgeable and interested. Time passed and one day in March,
young Joe Sullivan called me and said, “You know Uncle Ed, I have a county edition of the
Bridgeport Post here that reports Northeast Utilities has dropped there licensing on the
Housatonic River.” I was shocked. Were they so confident that they thought they could
control, unchallenged, the resources of our state? On some levels, it was almost an insult; to
discourage us so and then to toss the entire site away. That got my Irish up; it was time to dig
We filed a preliminary permit, immediately, to investigate the feasibility of the Housatonic River
Plant. This permit gave us a seniority of sorts, which all other things being equal, would give us
the right to site. Of course, we found out quickly all other things were not equal. Having
determined the project would be feasible, we also found that a competitor could put a license
over the top of ours (a final draft of a license) so we started working on our final draft right
away, and within a three month period, we had our final draft to Washington. So we were the
first to have filed the final draft. This was all after Northeast Utilities and CL&P had dropped
their claims. All licensing of this type, including the one Donny, Edward and I had been working
on, are awarded on a competitive basis. The Federal Government advertises for one hundred
and twenty days and anybody else who wants to put in a competing license, or complaint or
intent to compete had that privilege. So, they advertised in the local papers in the area,
indicating that Eveready Machinery had applied for a preliminary permit. Then, they also
advertised when someone made a final application and each time anybody can file a competing
To give you an idea of how oppositional CL&P
was when we went to them with the preliminary
permit to ask them if they would help us to
determine how many kilowatts we could produce
and refer us to an engineer, they said they had
already spent two years and $350,000.00
studying it and if we wanted their study, we
would have to buy it. Of course, we didn’t have
that kind of money. As we negotiated with
Northeast Utilities, they began to suggest that
they might sponsor somebody to compete with
us for the site. Their attitude was: we don’t know whether we are going to work with you or if
we’ll find somebody else we prefer and work with them. They gave us very little information. I
think we were the first outfit that ever seriously challenged them. They had been used to
running the show themselves for over half a century. Any private entrepreneurs, they
encountered in the past, they simply failed to acknowledge and the (the entrepreneurs)
disappeared. They were about to find out we didn’t discourage so easily.
At one of the earliest meetings at their headquarters in Berlin, Connecticut, they repeated that
they wanted $350,000.000 for the survey. We all sat at one big, long, mahogany table with
twelve of their men. I said to them, “Why would we want to spend $350,000.00 getting your
engineering information when I discovered, on the back of the envelope, that a 12 ½ megawatt
generator would be much too big and impractical to put in the Derby-Shelton site.” Then I said,
“Which one of you gentlemen was so foolish as to waste so much time and money on this
unnecessary study?” Of course, I was the opposition. Feeling invulnerable, they proved both
unfair and careless. We found they had limited our access to information compared to the
information they were giving the partner, which they eventually took in with them to compete
against us. We brought all this up before the Department of Public Utility Commission (DPUC),
which is their (N.U.) governing agency. According to law, we have a right to petition the DPUC
for a hearing when we are unfairly treated. We filed nineteen counts against Northeast Utilities
and Connecticut Light and Power for unfair practices and delaying tactics.
We wrote this petition ourselves, without lawyers or consultants, and the Connecticut
Department of Public Utilities Commission said they would hear our case. Northeast Utilities
brought in a bank of attorneys. Their vice president in charge of counsel and several other
attorneys from their corporate headquarters were there and they stated that Eveready
Machinery and McCallum Enterprises were not a utility companies so, therefore, they had no
right to petition the Utility Commission for a hearing. They were trying to get us on a
technicality. When that failed, they said that since we didn’t have a power plant going, we
weren’t a private utility either and, therefore, we were totally ineligible to petition them for a
hearing. The DPUC overruled both the objections and we were on our way. Then N.U. charged
that we had filed the petition incorrectly. We had filed it against Northeast Utilities, which is a
Massachusetts Corporation, and they said the local Connecticut Department of Public Utility
Commission did not have any jurisdiction over it and therefore our petition request for a
hearing should be denied. The judge overruled that motion, after long debate, as well. N.U.
went on: they said that Connecticut Light and Power did not own the premises and therefore
the petition was unwarranted against Connecticut Light and Power because the site of the
Derby and Shelton Dam was owned by the Shelton Canal Company who had no bearing upon
Northeast Utilities or Connecticut Light and Power. The judge, (there were normally three
judges sitting on the commission, but that day there was only one available) requested that
Northeast Utilities; not make decisions for the court. He pointed out that it was his prerogative
alone. Northeast could bring up their objections at a later date but not to carry on further
because this was only a preliminary hearing. That request didn’t even slow down the chief
attorney for Northeast Utilities; he just kept going on and on and on. I could see the judge
getting a little annoyed with him. So, finally, the judge called the hearing to a close. He
brought down his gavel and, tow days later, we got a notice that we had won all nineteen
counts and they would be accepted subject to the hearing.
That really set Northeast Utilities back a notch or two. We had been sending information to
some forty-two newspapers around the State and in Massachusetts each time we had a
problem with them, informing the public how they wouldn’t negotiate in good faith and these,
of course, were published. The Bridgeport Post had an editorial about N.U., asking why they
wouldn’t consider a private entrepreneur, especially since they had already abandoned the site.
There were editorials and articles in the Hartford Courant, one of the oldest and most
respected papers in America. The controversy generated interest from all over the State and
we were invited to co-host a two-hour radio talk show on WELI. The show turned out to be a
two-hour listener litany of what was wrong with Northeast Utilities. Propaganda proved to be
one of our greatest weapons. The power of the press, where N.U. and CL&P already had a bad
public image (secondary to their high rates) proved considerable. This all added to the heat felt
by the folks at Northeast Utilities. We criticized them, implicitly, by reminding them that they
had had the last three or four years to put in a hydro electric plant and they didn’t; that they
hadn’t allowed or encouraged any private party to put one in. The public wanted to know why.
They wanted to know why the State of Connecticut didn’t have more hydroelectric sites. Finally
the Governor (O’Neill) gave them a deadline by which time he wanted an answer.
By this time, Northeast Utilities had sponsored two groups to oppose us. The Hydro
Development Group and their own the Shelton Canal Company. The nineteen counts hung over
their heads, and I let them swing lower and lower like a guillotine. So, presumably because of
this constant pressure, Northeast Utilities had their puppet outfit, (the Hydro Development
Group) call us and ask if we would pay them a certain sum if they dropped their competing
application on the Housatonic; we would be expected, the, in turn, to drop competing
application on the Connecticut River. That was a cue for us to go back to Northeast Utilities and
ask them for a rate. We were not going to deal. We believed, at that point, we’d win anyhow
and we didn’t need to pay them. We knew we could sell the power bank and transfer the
energy to concerns in some other part of the country. Somewhere between setting a firm rate
with Northeast Utilities and the coming of Halley’s Comet I’d found renewed purpose.
The mid 1980’s were and continued to be a period of great discovery and renewed challenge.
In ’83, ’84 and ’85, I worked with ever increasing levels of intensity toward resolving what
would become known as the Shelton Canal Project. Hurdle by hurdle; lawyer by lawyer; million
by million; I found myself more and more invested, perhaps obsessed by the concept of
generating electricity. In collaboration with my grandsons, Donny and Edward, we researched
and scoured the Northeast for suitable sites and equipment. Despite a modest degree of
success, we soon found that the Shelton project was the most viable alternative and a mistress,
which would demand our complete fidelity and constant attention. Donny, Edward and I
worked long and hard hours filing the appropriate permits and licenses and trying to satisfy
each of various complex requirements. To succeed in such a project, it meant many hours in
the cold, drafty warehouse adjoining Eveready in his own modest machine shop designing and
crafting small turbines. The experience gained there would prove invaluable in time. It became
absolutely clear as the budget unfolded, that in order to succeed with the Hydro project, nearly
everything that Eveready and McCallum Enterprises had acquired would have to be used as
collateral. Millions of dollars, fourteen to be precise, would be required to succeed in the
project, which was proving to be my grandest adventure.
Negotiations with family; my son, daughters and grandchildren, as to what to include as
collateral, the complexes which I’d so recently divested myself of. Eventually all members of
the family reached an agreement. Somewhere between 1983 and 1986, I found myself a postindustrial age entrepreneur. The product was still electricity but now, rather than installing and
servicing the machinery of the industry it had once driven, I had become a producer, producing
the product itself for the consuming public. The Shelton Canal project became an obsession. I
often jokingly referred to my condition as water on the brain. Kidding aside, I found myself
wandering up to the bluffs over the Housatonic on every sunny afternoon I had free. I would
stand on the embankment and gaze down on the dam and on the old blockhouse and canals
envisioning the day when a fully functioning power station would be in place there.
Impatiently, I awaited resolution of the details I had complete confidence I could work out with
In the spring of 1986, in the course of conversation with friends, somehow I agreed to run as an
Independent for the United States Senate. I was sincere insofar as representing my views to
the public went. However, I had little interest in campaigning and, as such, spoke infrequently.
How and why I consented to run is still a bit of a mystery. However, lukewarm I may have been
at the beginning of the campaign, I shortly cooled even further to the idea. Though intent upon
honoring my commitment to run, I found my attention constantly wandering towards the
hydroelectric project and the Shelton Canal. Ironically, I opposed Christopher Dodd, Jr. and the
Republican Roger W. Eddy of Newington. It was Christopher Dodd’s father, Christopher Dodd,
Sr. who defended me in 1947 as a young, recently discharged, Nuremburg armed services
barrister. To call the defeat decisive would be an understatement. However, I enjoyed the
limited opportunity to express myself to the people of Connecticut and saw it as a challenge
and as a life experience.
McCallum Enterprises and for all practical purposes, Eveready has become McCallum
Hydroelectric. The process of realizing the Shelton Canal project goes on. Before this goes to
press, the small hydroelectric site in Derby, which is currently operational, will be on line and
generating power. The larger project is slated for completion by December this year (1988).
Eveready is in the process of being sold. The properties in North Stonington and Shelton are for
sale. The topography of my personal and familial business holdings is changing radically. At a
point when most adults are retiring, trying to secure a stable life style and reflecting on what
they have accomplished in life, I am facing my greatest challenge and looking forward to the
future. I trust that the reader of my story will tolerate a rather ambiguous ending for, at this
point, I’ve not completely written my story.
By Joseph W. Szarmach Jr.
His Grandson
In late 1988, the main hydro-electric
generating plant on the Shelton side of
the dam was still under construction.
During the initial design and
specifications, test borings were
gathered to determine the content of
the soil and rock surrounding the
proposed hydroelectric plant.
Unfortunately, the sample borings were
too few and far between. Neither
Granddad nor the contractor knew for sure the extent of the work involved in clearing the area
adjacent to the dam for the proposed building. There was considerably more rock in the area
surrounding the proposed main building than anyone had imagined.
With all of his life’s assets on the line, construction costs spiraled out of control while
construction deadlines were extended and the rock was painstakingly removed. Perhaps
Northeast Utilities and Connecticut Light and Power were right; the hydroelectric plant could
not cover its costs.
Granddad had worked hard all of his life on his various businesses. They were his life’s work and
a great source of pride and joy. The new hydroelectric business was the culmination of his life’s
work – and with the exception of his family, stood to be his finest work. He was now in jeopardy
of losing it all.
To make matters worse, he had gifted the majority of his life’s assets to his children, Elizabeth
(Corky), Kathleen and Edward. He taught his children a great sense of responsibility and the
need to “take care of the goose that lays the golden egg” (a phrase I’d hear him say a thousand
times in his lifetime). His children worked at their respective businesses, took their
responsibilities seriously (some more than others), and in time became dependent on them for
their income; the very bread on their table. With a sense of responsibility and indebtedness to
their father, the children agreed to mortgage “their” respective properties to help build the
hydroelectric business.
To say that the looming financial difficulties strained the relationship between Granddad and
his children is an understatement. In a strange way, at times I wonder if he enjoyed taunting his
children by telling them they were about to lose their inheritance – punishment for his children
living a relatively easy life thanks to his hard work.
But the reality was, he knew he had to do whatever it took to preserve his life’s work and his
legacy to his children and grandchildren. As he did so many times in his life, he put his faith in
God and Jesus Christ and with the great sense of self reliance he learned from his faith, he set
out to succeed.
The building on 805 Housatonic Avenue in Bridgeport which had served as his main office for 50
years was sold. Granddad was a “buy and keep” type of a person. The fact that he would sell his
office was an indication as to the depth of his financial situation. The sale of his beloved
“Eveready” I’m sure was very tough. The River Road warehouse was also listed for sale, but due
to environmental contamination, the property did not sell.
One of my Grandfather’s greatest skills was the gift of gab. Those who were lucky enough to
cross paths with him were more likely than not to remember their meeting. To this day I still
come across people (businessmen and women) who say “Oh, you’re Ed McCallum’s grandson! I
met your grandfather once and I remember etc...” They would always conclude “he was a
special and unique man.” A member of the Stratford Baptist Church told me that as a girl, she
thought it was the greatest thing that “the mayor” went to her church. She just assumed he
was the mayor because when he walked in (15 minutes late of course), heads would turn as he
walked down the aisle shaking hands and winking as he went. He had a tremendous presence
and was infectiously charming; undoubtedly a result of his Irish charm and the strength he drew
from his faith. With his charm, his trademark smile and wink, he could probably sell cow
manure to a dairy farmer.
And sell he did. To keep the hydroelectric project, as well as the collateral assets, he had to
convince his banker to extend an additional line of credit despite not having any additional
assets for collateral. Fortunately, this meeting would go better than his first meeting with a
banker (Edna’s boss) some 50 years prior. The story goes something like this: he got on an
elevator with the banker, and by the time they reached their floor, the banker agreed to give
him a “bridge loan” of $2 million interest free. This was an incredible feat, especially
considering you can’t get a $500 credit card without a double digit interest rate.
The interest free loan was certainly a godsend, but was by no means a cure-all. With the
additional financing secured, the construction of the main hydroelectric plant was finished and
went online generating electricity in February 1989. But even with the interest free loan, paying
the debt with the projected income would be difficult at best.
Someone once said that Granddad could “step in dog excrement and find gold with his Irish
luck.” Though the hydroelectric plant was designed to output 5 Megawatts of power (about
enough to provide electricity for 2000 homes), the plant actually generated nearly 6 Megawatts
of power much of the time. Extra electricity meant extra income. As he had done with his
apartment complexes 30 years prior, he buckled down and put nearly every penny back toward
paying the debt. The unanticipated income helped tremendously. Slowly but surely over the
next decade, the debt declined and the hydroelectric business, as well as the other family
businesses used as collateral, were all out from under the constant threat of foreclosure.
The long and difficult ride created tremendous strain on family relationships. At one time in his
life, his wife and children, and later in the 1970’s and early 80’s, his 13 grandchildren were his
number one after-work activity. His wife, my Grandmother, died in 1985 due to complications
from emphysema. By the 1990’s, most of his grandchildren had either moved away or had
become busy in their own adult lives. Throughout 90’s however, he remained close to two
grandchildren: Edward & Donnie. Though he fired and re-hired them every other week, they
were his constant companions.
After the sale of his beloved Housatonic Avenue office, he rented a small office at 2874 Main
Street in Stratford where he managed his hydroelectric business. He even continued to buy and
sell machine tools – his mainstay in his earlier years – though it had become more of a hobby
rather than a genuine money generating business. Donny and Edward worked as plant
He continued to be active and his heath remained good throughout the early 1990’s despite his
age of 80 plus. He continued to travel everywhere by car. Though he was no longer welcomed
at his apartment complexes (one of his favorite destinations), he found new destinations for his
long drives, and continued to visit old ones; miscellaneous hydroelectric facilities, the
Shenandoah Mountains, the Smokey Mountains, the Adirondacks, Florida. It was not unusual
for him to put several hundred thousand miles on his automobiles – his preferred mode of
He continued to be an active Christian. He attended services at the Stratford Baptist Church and
became active in the Gideon Society. For those unfamiliar, the Gideon Society are the folks who
place bibles in hotel room night-stands. Granddad’s mission in these years was to spread the
word of God and Jesus Christ with the help of his friends in the Gideon Society. Years later, I
would find a plastic shopping bag full of small copies of the New Testament in his closets and
desk. He must have been handing the small bibles out somewhere in public, just like he had
done with his anti-communist literature decades earlier. He also volunteered to serve as a
mentor and counselor to prison inmates as well.
In 1994, he was admitted to Bridgeport Hospital with a bout of diverticulitis. After treatment,
the doctors decided to release him the next day. That evening, the nurse on duty failed to place
the railing in the up position on his hospital bed. Sometime in the middle of the night, without
the railing firmly in place, he fell out of his bed breaking his hip. Despite this nearly tragic event,
he survived subsequent surgery to pin the hip fracture, and he continued to travel and manage
his hydroelectric business. The accident slowed him down however, both mentally and
By the mid 1990s, the hydro business was on a better financial footing, though not yet out of
the woods. For the first time, Granddad decided to buy a new car. Previously, he had always
bought a used Cadillac and would not part with the car until it had several hundred thousand
miles on it, or it was ready for the junk yard. Some would say his cars were ready for the junk
yard the day they were purchased. He bought a brand-new white Ford Mustang convertible.
Needless to say, he looked stylish flying down the road at 85 years old in a new convertible
Mustang. He was the envy of every 21 year old kid.
Granddad had always been a cavalier driver (one could argue reckless). In retrospect, perhaps it
was not a good idea for him to have a sports car while he was physically and mental slowed,
though ever so slightly, due to his recent surgery. While on one of his jaunts, he pulled into
traffic without looking, unaware of the pickup truck bearing down on his car. The pickup hit the
Mustang in the driver’s side door and Granddad was seriously injured. He was airlifted to
Hartford Hospital in critical condition. He had received a traumatic brain injury and his brain
was swelling which threatened his very life. To alleviate the pressure, the doctors opened a
hole in his skull and he was heavily medicated. Day after day, week after week, he continued to
improve and eventually, he was released to rehabilitation hospital, though he never really
regained full consciousness or alertness. He remained heavily medicated.
The family was completely distraught. Not only because of the accident, but also because he
was the sole manager of the hydroelectric business – a business co-owned by his children. Prior
to the accident, his children were content sitting in the back seat while he steered them on a
wild, unsettling financial journey. After all, he was “Dad” and the one who gave his children
everything, so they had no right to complain. He also served as an impartial middleman,
managing the business to the benefit of no one family.
On occasion, over the years Granddad would send out a letter to his children and grandchildren
asking for volunteers to help run the business. He would chastise everyone for not taking an
interest. What we all realized was that he didn’t want or need help. He could never share the
reigns. He was content to run the business himself, despite his letters to the contrary. Without
him at the helm after the accident, it was an uneasy time.
With Granddad in the hospital and completely incapacitated, Corky, Kathleen and Bub (Edward
III) met at the family attorney’s in New Haven to map out a course of action. Greg Pepe was the
company attorney and Granddad’s good friend. Greg was fresh out of law school at the time
when Granddad was battling Northeast Utilities over the licensing of the hydro-electric project.
Granddad took Greg under his wing and tried to give him enough work to keep him in business
as an independent attorney. When Greg subsequently went to work for a large firm, Granddad
was instrumental in convincing Greg to go back to being on his own. Greg subsequently cofounded the law firm of Neubert, Pepe and Monteith PC, with Granddad still feeding him a
steady stream of work as his law firm grew.
With the help of Greg, everyone was convinced they could take the reins without the fear
Granddad had so readily instilled in everyone over the years. Now his children collectively held
the steering wheel firmly in their hands, content on “taking care of the goose that lays the
golden egg.” From that moment, the stress and uncertainty began to dissipate.
The first order of business was to find a highly qualified person to run the hydroelectric
business. After much consideration, it was decided to hire a man named Ray Cunningham. Ray
had been in the hydroelectric business and agreed to take the helm as general manager.
Finally after months in rehab the doctors in conjunction with his healthcare advocate -- family
friend, and son of Elsie Turner (his executive assistant) Dr. David Turner -- decided to take
Granddad off the various medications he had been on since the accident. Miraculously, it was
like turning on a light switch. To the shear amazement and delight of everyone, he awoke from
his near coma and his consciousness came right back. A week earlier, he could not recognize
family or friends standing 5 feet in front of him. Off the medication however, he was alert and
responsive – nearly 80% his old self. It was nothing short of a miracle.
After weeks of additional rehab, Granddad went home. Within weeks he was driving again and
wanting to run the hydroelectric business. By then however, Ray had settled in and was running
the day to day operations and the family felt more secure by having Ray in place. The fear of
having no one at the helm, as well as the uncertainty it created still lingered in everyone’s mind.
Ray continued on as the manager at the family’s insistence and for a time, Ray and Granddad
tried to worked side by side. Finally, not willing to share the reins, Granddad quit in a fit of
anger and moved his office furniture to his home. For a time he worked with a new secretary
out of his home, without much on which to work. He continued to drive and travel the country.
Before his accident, his children and grandchildren were angry and distraught with the wild
roller financial coaster ride he had taken them on. Now he had reason to be angry at them as
well. Family relationships were at their worst.
I’m sure Granddad was certain it was pure, unadulterated greed that caused his children to take
the reins. At the time however, the hydroelectric business was still buried in a mountain of debt
and in reality there was no money to speak of. In addition, Granddad had not been responsive
to the requirements of the federal license under which the hydroelectric project operated. This
resulted in increased scrutiny from federal regulatory agencies. Despite attempts to convince
him it was about “peace of mind” as well as the family’s desire to “take care of the goose that
lays the golden egg,” he was not convinced. The family felt incredibly guilty at the time, and
probably always will. But the reality was the hydroelectric business with all of its associated
responsibilities including the federal regulations, a huge dam, generator sets & associated
switch gear, and millions in debt, created a need for managerial continuity. His children
understood the seriousness of the business.
While working out of his house, he developed a bad case of the “shingles” – which is an adult
form of the chicken pox. It was very painful. He was also diagnosed with prostate cancer, but at
that age, cancer tends to spread slowly. In retrospect, his body’s inability to fight the chicken
pox virus may have been masking the severity of cancer. The cancer was spreading in his bones
Soon, he was not comfortable without pain medication. He needed more and more medication
to block the pain in his lower back. It was the fall of 1998 and he was 88 years old. As we had
learned after his car accident, the pain medication was like a light switch, and once again the
switch was turned off – though not quite as much. He had his good and bad days, but according
to his wishes, he stayed at home with visiting nurses at his side. Without his senses, his motility
suffered and his physical fitness soon followed.
By the summer of 1999, the pain medications were adjusted, and he regained some of his old
self, though he was unable to walk on his own. Donny and Edward took him on the drives
through the country he so loved. In July, it was decided he was well enough to have a family
reunion on his 89th birthday at his home, the site of many joyous summer celebrations in the
past. He was surrounded by dozens and dozens of friends and family.
He continued to have good and bad days. Family and friends visited him at home, and he
enjoyed the warm summer days in a wheel chair in the apple orchard in the back yard. If he was
not well enough for the wheel chair, he would spend time on the sun porch in his portable
hospital-type bed.
This summer also saw the last of the Perry Farm on Nichols Avenue. Granddad purchased the
remnants of the farm decades earlier from Edna’s father, Nelson Perry. The homestead became
the source of a lot of fun, some of which are chronicled in this book. The homestead offered
horses, donkeys, hay rides, Halloween fun, and was a general overall magnet for all of the
neighborhood children. The last remaining 8 acres were given to Edward III (his son who lived in
Key West Florida) in the early 1990s, and with no need for land 1000 miles away, Edward III sold
the land to a developer. The new street was named after our Great Grandfather, Nelson Perry
(Perry Lane). From his bed on the sun porch, Granddad saw the construction equipment roll up
his driveway. Though I can’t say he saw the entire destruction of the family legacy, he knew it
was happening but was powerless to do anything about it. That opportunity slipped away 8
years earlier when the land was given to his son.
On the evening of Thursday, October 21, 1999, his daughter Kathleen visited to share some
pumpkin pie for desert. It was the fall, and Granddad always enjoyed all things that came along
with it. He ate his pumpkin pie with the help of his daughter and nurse. It would be the last
time a family member would share time with him.
At 9 AM on Friday morning October 22, 1999 after a nursing shift change, Edward J. McCallum
Jr. passed away in his bedroom on the first floor of his 2245 Nichols Avenue home with a nurse
at his side. He was 89.
He was buried on Thursday October 28,
1999 alongside his wife Edna in the
Perry family plot in Winsted
Connecticut. As if he used his charm
and uncanny ability to pull strings, on
the day he was laid to rest the sky couldn’t have been bluer and the trees could not have been
more colorful. It was the perfect fall day, a fitting end to a wondrous life. In his death, he had
managed to bring the entire family and his friends together for another family reunion,
something he loved to do in life.
The years after his death became a very difficult time for his family. His Grandson’s (and
constant companions) Donny and Edward became like a ship without a rudder, wandering
aimlessly with no purpose. The death of Granddad has left a huge hole in everyone’s life.
Perhaps also due to the sense of entitlement we had growing up which had now turned into
cold harsh reality, some chose to “self medicate” or indulge in excesses. For many of his
descendents, this will be a lifelong battle that not everyone would win.
On Friday, February 9, 2001, Edward J. McCallum IV, his grandson and name sake, died of an
overdose at the age of 33. Edward IV was a wonderful person, sharing his Grandfather’s charm,
handsome looks, and piercing blue eyes. For many of the same reasons, his death has also left a
huge void in everyone’s life.
Five years later, the tragedy was repeated when Donald Szarmach was found dead in the Hull
Dye industrial building – the building that housed the Derby hydroelectric generators – on
August 5th 2006. Donald, or Donny as we called him, had a life-long addition to alcohol and
drugs. Without our Grandfather to give him direction and a purpose, Donald also suffered. He
had somehow gotten a hold of methadone and had taken a prescription tranquilizer which had
turned out to be a deadly combination.
Granddad profoundly changed those who knew him and is sorely missed. But his love is like the
wind. You can’t see it or touch it, but you can feel it. His tremendous spirit, faith and love are
always with us.
As appeared in the Connecticut Post:
McCALLUM Edward J. McCallum, Jr. passed away peacefully Friday, October 22, 1999 in
his home on Nichols Avenue in Stratford. Mr. McCallum was born in Brooklyn, New York
and spent his early childhood on Manhattan’s East Side before moving to a farm in
Metuchen, New Jersey at the age of ten. In 1926, on a journey throughout the south, he
found both his salvation in Jesus Christ and his lifelong vocation when during a stay in
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, he was baptized and served as an apprentice electrician
during the construction of RJ Reynolds Corporate Tower, the tallest building in the south
at the time and a prototype for New York's Empire State Building, In 1927 he settled in
Stratford, Conn. bringing his parents and five siblings to reside off Nichols Ave. During
that year he founded his first of a number of successful businesses; The Eveready
Electric Company. Shortly thereafter he met and subsequently married his wife of 50
years, Edna Perry McCallum, who predeceased him in 1985. Mr. McCallum successfully
managed his business during the difficult years of the Great Depression, expanding it to
include the repair and resale of industrial machinery. As a consequence, during the war
years to follow, he played an important role in reconditioning machinery for the war
effort. During the post-war years he expanded his business interests to include the
purchase and management of a number of large apartment complexes in Connecticut,
New York and Virginia. In 1949, through the expertise he acquired in the purchase and
movement of heavy machinery, he assumed the responsibility for the disassembly,
movement via rail and reconstruction of the Stratford Baptist Church on Paradise Green
in Stratford from its former site on a military base in North Carolina. Throughout the
1950as Ed McCallum served as an "honorary uncle" to many children in the north
Stratford area sponsoring annual picnics on the 4th of July, Halloween Parties, hayrides,
cruises on Long Island Sound, trips to Broadway plays and the Barnum Bailey Circus in
Madison Square Garden. Over the decades of the 1950's, 60's, 70's and 80's through the
kindness of his heart and his generosity, hundreds of children were treated to these
outings. After traveling with his children to Russia in 1962 Mr. McCallum returned a
staunch anti-Communist and founded and served as president of the citizens AntiCommunist Committee of Connecticut. With his own resources he funded the
construction of dozens of floats, which participated in local and regional parades. He
held anti-Communist rallies inviting such dignitaries to speak as Juanita Castro (Fidel
Castro's sister). His convictions and strong patriotic feelings withstood death threats
directed at him and his family and the fire bombing of his place of business. In the late
1970as he began another career establishing a hydroelectric company on the
Housatonic River. He oversaw the planning, construction and operation of the Derby
Dam Hydroelectric Project which began producing electricity in 1986. Later that same
year, topping off a life of political activity and support of Christian causes, Ed McCallum
was asked to run for U.S. Senator by the Independent Party. He accepted with
enthusiasm knowing that his chances for winning were slim because he welcomed the
opportunity to champion the conservative and Christian causes in which he believed so
strongly. A lifelong history buff, he was among the few people who could claim a
thorough knowledge of American Revolutionary and Civil War history and of having an
opportunity to meet personally with veterans from both the Union and Confederate
armies at one of their final reunions in 1930as at Gettysburg. Mr. McCallum was first
and foremost a follower of Jesus Christ. He was also a devoted family man. Beyond that
he was a consummate entrepreneur who on the back of an envelope and with limited
education could, and often did, outthink the best of corporate minds. He is survived by
his four children, Kathleen Szarmach, Elizabeth Greene, Edward McCallum, III and Joyce
Moyher; two brothers; a sister; 15 grandchildren; 13 great-grandchildren; and the
hundreds of residents of Stratford and surrounding areas who were touched by his life.
Visiting hours for Mr. McCallum will be at the Spear, Dennis & D'Arcy Funeral Home,
2611 Main Street, Stratford on Wednesday, October 27, 1999 from 4-8 p.m. The final
viewing will coincide with the beginning of a Memorial Service at the Stratford Baptist
Church at 7:30 on the same evening. A light menu will be served and a social hour to
remember Ed McCallum will follow in the church basement immediately after the
memorial service. The next morning, Thursday, October 28, 1999 a funeral service will
be held at the Stratford Baptist Church at 10 a.m. followed by a procession which will
then travel to Winsted, Connecticut for burial at Forest View Cemetery. The procession
will then proceed to the Olde Newtown Tavern, Newtown for a final gathering and
luncheon. Family, friends and members of the church are cordially invited to attend.
Donations in memory of Mr. McCallum may be made to either the Connecticut Hospice,
680 Bridgeport Ave., Shelton, CT 06484 or to the Stratford Baptist Church, 155
Huntington Rd., Stratford, CT 06614.

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