Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Elizabeth Hartman

Elizabeth Hartman, From a publicity still, 1966. Photographer unknown. Public Domain.

The recent passing of renowned actor Sidney Poitier on January 6 of this year reminded many of us from Youngstown of Elizabeth Hartman who played opposite him in A Patch of Blue. In 1966, she received a Best Actress Nomination in the Academy Awards for her role, the youngest actress to do so. I remember how proud all of us were. We’d point to her on the screen or in a news story and say, “She’s from Youngstown!” And she was a slender, freckled redhead with all-American good looks that turned all our heads.

She was born Mary Elizabeth Hartman on December 23, 1943 to Claire (Mullaly) and Bill C. Hartman, a local building contractor. Even while in Boardman High School, she already was gaining notice for her acting, playing Laura in The Glass Menagerie as well as having roles in productions of A Clearing in the Woods and Our Town at the Youngstown Playhouse. She won a statewide award for her role in The Glass Menagerie.

After graduation in 1961, she attended Carnegie Mellon University, known for its theatre program. During summers, she acted with the Kenley Players and at the Cleveland Playhouse, where she had roles in The Mad Woman of Chaillot and Bus Stop. During her time in Pittsburgh, she met her husband Gill Dennis, a future director and screenwriter. They married in 1968.

In 1964, she moved to New York, auditioning for plays, and winning the leading role in Everybody Out, the Castle is Sinking. The play was not a success, but she received recognition and screen tests with MGM and Warner Brothers. That fall, she was offered the role in A Patch of Blue. Sadly, her father died at this time. In addition to her Academy nomination in 1966, she won a Golden Globe award as well as an achievement award from the National Association of Theater Owners.

She played in several major films between 1966 and 1973: The Group, You’re A Big Boy Now, The Beguiled, and the blockbuster Walking Tall in 1973, portraying Pauline Mullins, the wife of Sheriff Bufford Pusser. In 1975, she starred in the Tom Rickman play, Balaam, and played various TV roles over the next years. She began in a touring role of Morning’s at Seven in 1981, but left due to declining mental health. Her last on-screen performance was in a horror spoof, Full Moon High, playing Miss Montgomery. She also did acclaimed voiceovers for Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH in 1982. It was her last role.

Elizabeth Hartman had always struggled with depression. In 1978, she spent a year at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut. She separated from her husband in 1979 and they divorced in 1984. She moved back to Pittsburgh, continuing to receive treatment for her depression from the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, while working at a local museum. On the morning of June 10, 1987, she called her psychiatrist saying she was very despondent. Later that day, she fell from her fifth floor apartment window to her death. No note was found. She lies at rest back in Youngstown, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.

She was a brilliant actor, who could “become” a variety of roles. Her brother-in-law, Robert H. Shoop, Jr said of her, ″She had an unbelievable talent. She was able to portray so many people on the stage and yet, she wasn’t like any of them.″ In her New York Times obituary, Elizabeth Hartman is quoted from a 1969 interview, saying, ”That initial success beat me down. It spiraled me into a position where I didn’t belong. I was not ready for that. I suddenly found myself failing.” She rose meteorically, and then the roles slowed down as fickle Hollywood turned to others.

Given her early, meteoric rise, one wonders whether she ever had a chance to figure out who she was beyond her roles. Her struggle throughout her life suggests a physiological condition that the talk therapies of the day could not greatly help. The most effective anti-depressant medications only came online after her death.

One can never answer the questions of “what if?” All we can do is remember Elizabeth Hartman’s artistic excellence and honor her memory. We also can take pride in the local institutions, from high school theatre programs to the Youngstown Playhouse and the Kenley Players, that gave her the opportunity to develop her craft. Seeing those images of her with Sidney Poitier once again reminded me, “she was from Youngstown” but also that we lost her too soon.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Great County Seat Horse Race

Vintage European style engraving featuring horse racing with jockeys by Charles Simon Pascal Soullier (1861). Original from the British Library. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel. Licensed under CC0 1.0

One of the most fascinating stories in Joseph Green Butler’s History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley is that of a horse race that occurred some time before 1810 on Federal Street. At stake? Whether Warren or Youngstown would be the county seat. You must remember that at this time, Warren had been designated the county seat ahead of the little village further down the Mahoning River.

The good people of Warren had a horse by the name of Dave that they thought could outrun anything. They even added a $500 wager, they were so sure of themselves.

The early founders of Youngstown were horse people. Judge George Tod, Judge William Rayen, James Hillman (who met John Young on his first surveying trip), and John Woodbridge. Judge Tod agreed to their bet and covered the $500 wager. He selected a bay mare owned by James Hillman and trained and curried the horse to perfection.

The race would begin at Judge Rayen’s home, located near Spring Common and run through the village on Federal Street ending at Crab Creek, a distance of about a mile. Everyone took off work that day. People from Youngstown lined up on the south side of the street. Those who came down from Warren were on the north side. A spectator observed that people “bet what money they had, bet watches, penknives, coats, hats, vests, and shoes.”

His account continues:

“Alexander Walker rode Fly, and under his tutelage the Youngstown horse forged ahead in passing Henry Wick’s store. At Hugh Bryson’s store Dave came alongside, but the spurt was unavailing as Walker plied his whip and gave a few Indian warwhoops and Fly shot ahead once more. Dave’s chance vanished then and there, for Fly reached Crab Creek six lengths ahead. In fact Fly had entered so thoroughly into the spirit of the affair by this time that she refused to stop at all and was brought up only at Daniel Sheehy’s cabin, a mile beyond the goal.”

Youngstown won the race and the $1000 purse. Youngstown bettors filled their pockets with winnings. But the county seat remained in Warren. It turns out that you can’t bet county seats and Youngstown wouldn’t even be the first county seat when Mahoning County was formed. Canfield held that honor from 1846 until 1876, when, after an Ohio Supreme Court decision, the county seat moved to Youngstown. It turn out that it takes more than a horse race to claim a county seat. But what a great story!

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Passbooks

Mahoning Bank Passbook. Photo by Robert C. Trube

Remember passbooks? Like me, you may even have some old ones around your house like this one I found. This was how we saved money growing up in Youngstown.

It started for me when I set up my own lawn cutting business and started setting aside money to buy my own stereo. Each week, I would walk down to the Dollar Savings and Trust on Mahoning Avenue, a few blocks from my house (I don’t have that passbook anymore). I’d set aside some money for things like baseball cards and maybe save $10 a week.

The Dollar Savings and Trust on Mahoning Avenue was in a long, narrow building. When you walked in, there was an enclosed office in front, teller’s windows on the left, and on the right, a standing desk with chairs on either side. At the desk, you would fill out a deposit (or withdrawal) slip with your account, date, and amount, using one of those pens on a chain that seemed to work about half the time. Toward the back was a manager’s office and the safe with safe deposit boxes. I went in there a few times with my dad.

After you filled out the slip, you stepped across the aisle to an open teller window. After a while, you got to know the tellers, some who had been there for years. You gave them your money and deposit slip and your passbook. They would write or stamp the date, the kind of transaction, the amount, and your new account balance. Once a month, they also wrote in the accumulated interest in your account. And they would initial each transaction.

What a cool idea! They added money to your account (at that time 4 percent interest!) just for taking care of your money. They even paid you interest on your interest! Someone told me early on that one of the keys to getting rich was working for your money and then letting it work for you. They also said that you wanted others to pay you interest rather than you paying interest to them.

It turns out that banks did not always give customers a passbook. At one time, they just kept their own, handwritten account ledgers. Passbooks gave customers a certain amount of control and access to their own accounts. They also served as identification, much like a passport, which is of similar size.

And now they are largely a thing of the past in most places. Computerization and online banking have eliminated paper records, like passbooks. Now, most funds are deposited, withdrawn, or transferred electronically, and we only go to the bank if we need cash, or maybe a loan (even much of applying for a loan may be done online). Even then, we often use ATMs or drive throughs. I deposit checks with my smartphone. I can’t remember the last time I went into a bank and every time I went there, I dealt with different people than were there on my last visit. Now, I keep track of my accounts through the app on my phone or from my computer. It’s convenient, to be sure, but…

I do miss the personal relationships of the past. You knew the tellers names and they got to know yours. They knew your dad and other family members. It was fun to look at your passbook and see the steadily increasing balance of your account toward your goal of something you wanted to buy, or eventually, saving for college. Savings and scholarships meant I graduated without owing anything.

Passbooks were part of how we learned to save. The habit of going to the bank each week to save a bit of what I earned became a lifelong habit. Compound interest was the first lesson I learned about having money work for me. I felt like the tellers were cheering us on.

I wonder how children learn how to do this today. Looking around, I do see that banks have youth accounts. Often the banks are not as close by, certainly not in walking distance. Things can be done online. I wonder if parents need to be more involved than in the past. I could go to the bank myself, even at age ten, and that felt empowering. It meant I was growing up. In Youngstown.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — New Year’s Grit

One of the more interesting books I’ve read in recent years is Angela Duckworth’s Grit. The book explores how grit is a combination of purposeful passion and perseverance. As I read the book, I thought about how much I learned about grit by growing up in Youngstown. I think about how many of those winter snowstorms we dug out of–and then went to school. We hardly ever had snow days. We watched our parents go to work, often to hard, physical, and sometimes dangerous jobs. We had parents who struggled through the Depression. And many of us had to reinvent ourselves when the big employers pulled out of the city. Some of the city’s sports heroes are football players like Frank Sinkwich or boxers like Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini. If you were knocked down, you got up. Or you knocked the other guy down first. Grit.

We’ve faced a hard couple of years. Youngstowners don’t sugarcoat things. We buried people we love. We got sick and recovered. We saw businesses struggle. But if we are reading this, we survived (and hopefully will, to the end of this thing). That’s no small thing. As I think of the year ahead, this seems to be a time for Youngstown-strong grit–even as we have lived with grit through the pandemic.

I saw a story yesterday on WKBN’s website about the Westside Bowl and the couple who have turned it into a popular entertainment venue. It exemplifies Youngstown grit. The old Gran Lanes was our favorite spot on the West side for bowling. Then it sat vacant for years. A West side couple, Nathan and Jami Offerdahl had a dream, then spent three years between 2015 and 2018 working out a business plan. They opened with a small downstairs venue for 200, then took out half the lanes, created a larger upstairs venue, kept half the alleys, and served good pizza and booze. When COVID hit, they came up with a “pay it forward” pizza promotion that allowed them to pay the bills.

Grit is disciplined passion. It is just plain hard work from planning a business to renovating a venue. It perseveres during down times. It keeps finding a new way to do things. And grit sticks to its values. The Offerdahls created an intimate, artsy venue that bands love and refuse to tear out additional lanes to make the upstairs venue larger. (From the Gallery pictures, it really looks like a great concert venue.)

Rather than resolutions, which I don’t think Youngstowners are big on, I wonder if this is a good year to get on our Youngstown grit. That doesn’t mean being mean and nasty or hard-hearted. I think the ICU personnel caring for our sickest are among the grittiest people we will encounter. They are tired but they keep showing up, shift after shift. Grit can mean caring for an aging loved one–Youngstowners take care of family.

Maybe this is the year you decide to pursue a passion you’ve long thought about, like the Offerdahls. Surviving a pandemic can have a wonderfully focusing effect. It could be giving yourself to volunteer work that makes some part of the world a little better place. Maybe it is pursuing a business or creative venture. And think how good it will be to persevere in developing a skill or launching a new venture when you’ve had all that practice in persevering with social distancing, quarantines, masks, and the like!

Gritty people know how to celebrate. Their celebrations aren’t empty celebrations just to have fun. From weddings to wakes, we knew how to celebrate, enjoying the fruits of work, the efforts of raising kids, and the preciousness of life and family. No wonder we insist on good food and plenty of it at our gatherings!

I’ve written so much in this series about the gritty people who built Youngstown from the early settlers to the laborers, the civic and cultural leaders, and the builders of industries, and even some of the great buildings of the city. Whether we still live in the Valley or make our homes elsewhere, this is a time for grit and resilience.

I look forward to sharing more stories of Youngstown and the character and grit that shaped our city. I wish you a Happy and “Gritty” New Year!

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Christmas Fifty Years Ago

“The familiar Christmas music beamed from our downtown tower expresses the wish that the spirit of the season may be shared by everyone.” Home Savings and Loan ad in Youngstown Vindicator, December 27, 1971.

In December of 1971, I was a senior at Chaney High School. I probably had worked my tail off on Christmas eve at the layaway at McKelvey’s, taking breaks to sample the spread of baked goods all the women in customer service and the cashiers had brought in. That night, I’m sure our family all piled into the car for candlelight services at our church followed by a drive around town to see the lights. Christmas Day was a rest before the big work day on the 26th as customers brought in returns and we tried to sell more than we gave credits or refunds for.

I looked at the Youngstown Vindicator for Christmas Eve of 1971. No paper was published on Christmas Day that year. Christmas eve weather that year was cloudy, breezy, with temperatures dropping to the low 30’s with snow flurries. Not too bad for Santa to make his deliveries.

Many churches were having special services Christmas eve and morning. St. John’s Byzantine Rite Catholic Church was featured in a photograph with notices about their midnight mass at 9:45 am Christmas Day mass. One other that caught my eye was Boardman United Methodist’s “Service of a Thousand Candles” at 8 and 11 pm. There was also an article about the tradition of Slovak and other Catholic parishes distributing oblatke to homes, unleavened wafers with holy scenes, blessed by the priest and eaten, often with honey, by families on Christmas eve. Fr. George Franko from Holy Name Church on the West Side was featured in the article. Local fire stations were accepting donations of good used toys up to ten days after Christmas for the Salvation Army.

In national news, the big stories were a Christmas cease fired by American and South Vietnamese troops over Christmas day, even while bombing went on. President Nixon ordered the release of former Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa after five years of prison to join his ailing wife. On July 30, 1975, he disappeared from a suburban Detroit restaurant. His body has never been found. Locally, not all was “peace on earth, good will toward men.” Gary Bryner, President of UAW Local 1112 vigorously denied charges of shoddy work and sabotage at the Lordstown Assembly Plant.

Lindley Vickers was still writing columns for the Vindicator, in this case about nature observations at Little Beaver Creek. Youngstown State had just won its sixth straight basketball game under coach Dom Roselli, defeating Illinois Wesleyan 85-76. Boardman handed a previously undefeated Columbus South team an 80-60 loss. Disney had re-released Lady and the Tramp for the holidays. Straw Dogs with Dustin Hoffman, “$” with Goldie Hawn, Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, and Sean Connery as James Bond in Diamonds are Forever were also showing.

Throughout the paper on that day were large ads from many of the businesses in Youngstown sharing holiday greetings. In addition to the iconic Home Savings ad, there was a full page ad from McKelvey’s with holiday greetings in every language represented in the Valley and beautiful ads from Strouss,’ Hartzell, Rose, and Sons, Lustig’s, Butler Wick, Ohio Bell and A&P. All those names are gone. A number of restaurants also had holiday ads while the more enterprising already advertised New Year’s events. The Zanzibar had $20 couples packages!

Peanuts that day featured Snoopy and Woodstock knocking back mugs and celebrating Christmas atop Snoopy’s dog house with the two disheveled and Snoopy commiserating in the last frame, “Bleah!! Every time we have an office party, I drink too much root beer!” Then there is Dennis the Menace praying, “…an’ please tell Santa I got all the clothes I need.”

That’s a snapshot of Christmas in Youngstown fifty years ago. So many memories. For most of us, our family celebrations and our religious traditions, if we had them, are what we remember the most–the three “F’s”–faith, family, and food. Many of the events are in the past or forgotten, a number of the places of business are no more, but the memories we carry last, at least as long as memory does.

So I will close with wishes of Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you who follow these articles. I appreciate you all so much and wish you all the blessings of the season.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Your Favorites of 2021

Can you believe it? We’ve spent another year together remembering what was so great about growing up in Youngstown, Ohio. I’m amazed that we have been doing this since 2014. Because next Saturday is Christmas, I thought I would count down your top ten favorite posts (by number of views) this week–kind of like WHOT’s New Year’s countdown of the top 100 hits of the previous year, only a lot shorter! So without further ado, here they are:

10. Center Street Crossing. An old railroad man suggested this post to me about the crossing just west of the Center Street Bridge where eleven tracks from five different railroads crossed, the busiest manually operated crossing in the country.

9. South High School. South High School had a long and illustrious history, from its grand architecture to its sports teams to its distinguished graduates.

8. Caroline Bonnell. Caroline was one of four Youngstown women to survive the sinking of the Titanic, part of the Wick-Bonnell party from which George Dennick Wick perished. I share her recollections and recount her life of service.

7. Village of Poland. Posts about the towns and townships around Youngstown have always been popular. I recount in brief the history of this village through which Ida Tarbell and William McKinley passed, among others.

6. Gypsy Lane. I discovered that this road, which defines Youngstown’s northern boundary gets its name from a real settlement of gypsies on the North Side. I include some background on gypsies, and heard many corroborating stories from readers about gypsies in Youngstown.

5. Favorite Things. After a crazy week, I came up with a list of my favorite things about Youngstown. See if the things on my list are on yours!

4. Slumgullion. That’s what we called the macaroni, ground beef, onions, and tomato sauce stew, topped with some cheese. But as you all let me know, there are a number of other names, and they are all right!

3. Seven Years of Food Posts. My “Slumgullion” post inspired me to go back and compile all my food posts from the seven years of this series. One thing for sure, Youngstown people love to eat and talk about food.

2. Front Porch City. I reflect on how Youngstown was once a “front porch city” where summer evenings on front porch and visiting with neighbors were one of the things contributing to healthy neighborhoods.

1. Pat Bilon. Did you know that when the actor who played E.T. phoned home, he called Youngstown? Bilon had an interesting life before he ever starred as E.T., one that sadly ended too soon. Many of you knew him from his radio show, high school or college, or your encounters with him as a bouncer at the Wedgewood or his work at his church. No wonder this was your favorite post of the year.

It’s fun just to look back at these “snapshots” of our life in Youngstown. One of the favorite parts of my weeks is posting these articles and then hearing from you. I learn so much from your comments! And if you have ideas for an article, just leave a comment or message me. My best wishes to you all for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Years!

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown – Rev. James W. Van Kirk

Rev. James W. Van Kirk, Image from screen capture of The Youngstown Vindicator, June 14, 1946 via Google News Archive

He traveled around the world four times in the cause of world peace. He designed the World Peace Flag that was adopted by the League of Nations in 1920. He wrote a Declaration of Interdependence that he read both to President Woodrow Wilson and to the League of Nations on July 4, 1920, the day his flag was raised at the Peace Palace in Geneva, Switzerland. He did all this while serving as a minister in Youngstown, Ohio.

He was born February 27, 1858 in Feed Springs, Ohio and grew up in southeast Ohio. Watching his uncle march off to the Civil War had a profound impact on his life. He fell from a rail fence, and despite seven operations, his right leg had to be amputated. He wore a wooden leg the rest of his life, and in the words of his obituary article, “stamped his way around the world four times on a wooden leg.”

He started working as a plasterer in Canton. Wanting more education, at age 27 he enrolled at Mt. Union College, attended a business college in Canton, and then Boston College and finally Harvard. He returned to Ohio to serve a church in Twinsburg for $500 a year, before coming to Youngstown as the pastor of Grace Methodist Church. He helped erect a new building for the church, helping with much of the lathing and plastering and achieving the goal of dedicating a debt-free church, due in part to his efforts.

He then requested a leave to travel around the world the first time to speak on world peace, talking to school and civic groups wherever he landed. He called himself “Moving Van.” It was during his second trip in 1909 that he drafted his Declaration of Interdependence. He contended that in a world that had shrunk to a neighborhood, we must foster brotherhood to survive. For a third trip, in 1911, he designed a World Peace Flag. The flag has a blue background, the seven colors of the spectrum arranged in a rectangle at the left, with white lines merging into a white bar on a brown circle representing the earth. The stars scattered on the blue field represent members of a World Federation, an effort preceding that of the League of Nations

World Peace Flag

It was this flag that was raised at the Peace Palace of the League of Nations on July 4, 1920 as Van Kirk read his Declaration of Interdependence. The League, a vision of Woodrow Wilson, was formed that year as an intergovernmental organization similar to the United Nations, with the intent of preserving peace between nations after the “war to end all wars.” It must have been the moment of a lifetime for this minister from Youngstown to see the realization of the dream that had already driven him around the world three times.

Sadly, the dream did not last. He was on his last tour in the late 1930’s and barely escaped China when the Japanese invaded. He left behind six trunks of flags and buttons which fell into the hands of the Japanese. They were not interested in world peace at that time. His flag was flown for the last time in 1938 on Central Square. That same year, he published a memoir titled A Life: Stranger Than Fiction. He was honored by a citywide gathering at Trinity Methodist Church.

The following years would not be years of world peace but rather world war. In 1942 on his 84th birthday, he ate milk and crackers for his meal in sympathy with the hungry and starving around the world. He lived to see the end of the war and a new flag, that of the United Nations, in 1945. He died on June 14, 1946 at 5:20 am at South Side Hospital.

It is common these days to hear the phrase “think globally and act locally.” That was James W. Van Kirk–except that he also acted globally. What also strikes me was that for him to act globally as he did, he must have enjoyed local support. One does not do these things alone. It’s obvious that many in the Youngstown community were behind him.

I don’t know if he was at all conscious of Rev. Van Kirk, but in the wake of the Vietnam War in 1975, Jack Cessna, a runner, organized the The Peace Race of Youngstown bringing runners from around the world for a day of “friendship, competition, and understanding.” While Youngstown has not always been a peaceful place, it’s interesting that the efforts of a pastor with a wooden leg and a runner have promoted long term and wide-reaching efforts to promote world peace. I wonder what it would mean to focus on those aspects of our history more?

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Music of Christmas

Some of the Christmas albums from my youth

As I write, I’m listening to the “Instrumental Christmas” station on Amazon. Christmas music is one of my favorite aspects of the season–listening to it, singing it, you name it. I remember our house being filled with Christmas music, mostly from the radio. When I was young and my parents controlled the radio, this would likely be on WFMJ or WKBN. We not only heard Christmas music from Thanksgiving until Christmas, but on the twelve days of Christmas to Epiphany (there are some church traditions that think Christmas Day is when you start singing Christmas carols.)

We still have some of those old LP’s of Christmas music, I think all of them are from the 1960’s. Listening to them take me back. Ray Conniff, Percy Faith, Perry Como (we used to call him Perry Coma because his voice was so smooth and soothing!). Then there were compilations like the one in the upper left of my photo. I read the names and I remember the voices–Ed Ames, Harry Belafonte, Lana Cantrell, Vic Damone. Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride from the Boston Pops is one you still here and we have several recordings of the Boston Pops around the house. The ultimate compilation was the Time-Life Treasury of Christmas. I think this one went with my sister–all 44 songs!

I always thought of O Holy Night as one of the most challenging of Christmas songs on the sing, particularly because of all those high notes. It is kind of the national anthem of Christmas songs. In our youth, Mario Lanza, the opera singer performed one of the most often played versions. All the tenors like Placido Domingo and Lucianno Pavarotti have taken it on as well as many male and female artists. But I think Lanza is still classic as I remember my dad playing this on our dining room hi-fi set or his old Bakelite radio. But it’s OK if someone else is your favorite!

Mario Lanza

Then there were the songs that became Christmas hits in our youth: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sung by Burl Ives a part of the Rankin-Bass TV special that debuted in 1964. A few years later came Frosty the Snow Man with the title song sung by Jimmy Durante. The one we still listen to came from A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the timeless jazz music of Vince Guaraldi. “Linus and Lucy,” “Skating,” and “Christmas Time is Here” are songs I still love, especially the latter with the children’s choir. The Little Drummer Boy was immortalized by the Harry Simeone Chorale. Here is a live performance on The Ed Sullivan Show from 1959. For all I know, I probably watched that when it was first aired.

There were live performances, from school Christmas programs to the Nutcracker performances at Powers Auditorium that I took my future wife to see. For several years in college, I sang in our church choir. A special thrill was singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and watch the whole congregation, honoring an old tradition, stand as we sang. It was equally thrilling when we would go to sing to elderly shut-ins or those in nursing facilities and to see the smiles or even the tears as we sang enthusiastically, if not always well, the favorites of Christmas. But the high point, at least in my church tradition was singing Silent Night during Candlelight services on Christmas eve. With dimmed lights we began singing Silent Night as we passed the candle flame from one person to the next until the sanctuary was aglow with the pinpoints of candlelight throughout the congregation. When we finished singing, and extinguished the candles, we were ready for Christmas to come!

What was the music and musical traditions of Christmas that you remember from growing up in Youngstown? I’d love to hear your memories!

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — George L. Fordyce

George Lincoln Fordyce, Photo from The Youngstown Vindicator, June 25, 1931 via Google News Archive

Most of us remember big downtown stores like McKelvey’s and Strouss-Hirshberg’s. There were a number of other stores along Federal Street in the first part of the twentieth century that are now fading memories. Among these were stores in several locations along West Federal Street operated by George Lincoln Fordyce.

Fordyce was born in Scipio, New York, in Cayuga County on September 29, 1860 to John and Louisa Horton. His first job was trapping rabbits. By age 10, he was working at a general store in Scipio. Eventually he moved to Auburn, working at another store and the Cayuga County National Bank.

He moved to Youngstown in 1883 and opened a women’s wear store in the Arms Building at West Federal and Phelps, a building he eventually owned, which became known as the George L. Fordyce Block. He continued to expand his dry goods business, selling women and men’s clothing, linens and fabric by the yard for those making their own clothing. This was about the same as G. M. McKelvey’s got started.

In 1907 he acquired the Osborne store at West Federal and Hazel Streets, moving the stock to his location under the name The Fordyce-Osborne Company. After a huge inventory reduction sale in early 1912 liquidating much of the remaining Osborne inventory, the store operated as the George L. Fordyce Company until his death.

Ad from The Mahoning Dispatch, January 12, 1912 via the Library of Congress

Having reached the ranks of business leaders in downtown Youngstown, he exercised leadership in a number of other Youngstown civic affairs. He served as a director of Dollar Savings and Trust, First National Bank, and Ohio Leather Company. In 1912 and 1913, he was president of the YMCA, the first president of the local Boy Scouts Council and president of the Youngstown Hospital Association for twenty-three years. In this last role, he oversaw the development of both the Northside and Southside hospitals. He also was a member of the building committee for the Reuben McMillan Library.

Fordyce’s continued to be a favorite place to shop because of events like that recounted by Howard Aley in A Heritage to Share: The Bicentennial History of Mahoning County and Youngstown, Ohio, from 1921:

“Santa Claus Came to Fordyce’s”

 Evidence that the characters in the Santa Claus scene have undergone change over the years is found in the fact that on December 12th, a number of Santa’s surrogates arrived via the Erie Railroad to prepare the way for the later arrival of the jolly old gentleman himself. Chris Claus, brother of Santa, and “Toofy”, his companion, whose job it was to look after Santa Claus’s mail during the rush hours, came in via railroad because ‘they ran out of snow about 200 miles north of here and were compelled to forsake the reindeer and dog teams.’ Some 200 children met the pair at the railroad station and escorted them to the George L. Fordyce Store where Santa maintained local headquarters until Christmas. There were so many adults in the crowd, pushing and shoving to get their children’s letters into the hands of Santa Claus that the reception committee was lost in the crowd and the ropes that were intended to hold back the crowd proved utterly ineffective. In regard to the effect of the Santa Claus traditon upon children, Superintendent of Schools O. L. Reid said it should be encouraged. ‘Whatever tends to develop or prolong imagination is well worth while’, he told members of the Sunday School Institute at Central Christian Church” (p. 241).

In researching Fordyce, I discovered he was as well known for his love of birds as for his business leadership. When he was fourteen, his doctor told him that a key to maintaining his health was fresh air, and ornithology gave him a pursuit that allowed him plenty of opportunity for fresh air. He was walking the trails of Mill Creek Park long before Lindley Vickers. He was an expert on identifying every species of local birds and led the annual bird censuses for Mahoning County and was a member of the American Ornithologist Union. In 1944, his portrait was hung in Deane Collection of Ornithologists in the Library of Congress, a mark of his status among fellow ornithologists.

He was also a devoted but not competitive golfer. However, in 1929, his daughter Louise was among the top six golfers in the country.

His health declined in his later years, which may have been a factor in the sale of his stock by C. A. Lockhart, the “Father of the Bargain Sale” in 1929. Shortly after, the store closed at its West Federal and Phelps location to re-open at 15 West Federal, where it was operating at the time of his death. Here is an ad from the store on the day after his death, noting that they would close early on the Saturday before the Fourth of July for the funeral service of their founder:

He died 12:05 am on June 25, 1931 at his home at 40 Lincoln Avenue. Dr. William Hudnut of First Presbyterian Church conducted his funeral service and he was buried among many other Youngstown leaders at Oak Hill Cemetery.

I’ve not been able to find any information about how long the business lasted after his passing, but my sense is that it was not long. Some of the institutions, like the YMCA and the library continue to be a vital part of Youngstown. Others, including the business he led for 48 years are memories. He fostered not only commerce but beauty in his love of nature and, particularly, bird-watching. He was among the early Youngstown leaders who recognized that healthy business and civic institutions and natural beauty made Youngstown a great place.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Judge George Tod

Judge George Tod, by Unknown author – (1909) Twentieth Century History of Sandusky County, Ohio and Representative Citizens, Chicago: Richmond-Arnold Pub. Co., p. 177, Public Domain, via Wikimedia.

Last week, I wrote about Tod Homestead Cemetery. The cemetery was the result of a bequest of George Tod, a Youngstown industrialist and son of David Tod, who served as a governor of Ohio. The George Tod I’m writing about this week was David’s father and George’s grandfather. He was one of Youngstown’s earliest settlers and gave Brier Hill its name. As a judge on the Supreme Court of Ohio, he escaped impeachment by a single vote, fought in the War of 1812 with the rank of Lt. Colonel, returning to Youngstown as a Common Pleas Judge. He lived out his days on Brier Hill Farm, from which part of the land was eventually allocated for the cemetery.

George Tod was born Dec. 11, 1773, in Suffield, Connecticut to David and Rachel Kent Tod. He graduated from Yale in 1795 and studied law at the Litchfield Law School, the first law school in the United States. He was admitted to the bar in 1797 and married Sarah “Sallie” Isaacs. In 1800, he visited the newly surveyed Western Reserve and brought his family to Youngstown in 1801, settling northwest of the Youngstown settlement, establishing a farm that he called Brier Hill farm for the Briers on its hillsides. David Tod was born there in 1805.

George Tod had already been admitted to the bar and appointed a prosecuting attorney for Trumbull County, of which Youngstown was a part at that time. While serving in this office, he was elected clerk of Youngstown township in 1802. In 1804 he was elected to the Senate of the newly formed state of Ohio, representing Trumbull County until 1806. On May 13, 1806 Governor Edward Tiffin appointed him to the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio. He was then elected to a seven year term in 1807.

His near impeachment came when he and Justice Huntington ruled that a section of a state law defining the duties of justices of the peace and constables in criminal and civil cases to be unconstitutional. Some of the legislature was so angered that they brought impeachment charges against Tod on Dec. 24, 1808. Huntington escaped charges because he had by then been elected governor. Todd argued:

“That if this article of impeachment can be sustained, the tenure of the judicial office, will hereafter depend on the will of the house of representatives and the senate, to be declared on impeachment, ungoverned by any established principles, and resting in their sovereign will, governed by their arbitrary discretion.”

In other words, he was fighting for the power of the constitution over the legislature, and for the principal of judicial review at the state level.

The legislature got its revenge by passing the Sweeping Measures reducing the term of justices to four years. Tod stepped down, getting himself elected to the Senate from Trumbull County. Among other things, he helped lead efforts to repeal the Sweeping Measures. Although by this time he was fighting in the War of 1812, the General Assembly repealed this law in 1812.

He was a genuine war hero. He had been elected Captain of the Second Regiment of the Fourth Division of Trumbull County in 1804. These regiments were incorporated into the Army at the onset of the War of 1812, part of the 19th Regiment of Infantry, commanded by Col. John Miller. He was commissioned as a Major in 1812 and promoted to Lt. Colonel in 1814, recognizing his service. He was commended for his courage during the siege of Ft. Meigs, near Toledo from April 19 to May 9, 1813 and in the Battle of Sackett’s Harbor on May 19 of the same year. Subsequently he was awarded the command of Ft. Malden after the British evacuated it.

After the war, he returned to Youngstown, serving as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas for the Third Circuit which encompassed  Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Huron, Medina, Portage, Richland, Wayne and Trumbull counties. He served two seven-year terms between 1816 and 1830. A fellow judge, Rufus P. Spaulding, gave this description of traveling from Warren to Cleveland with Tod:

“We made the journey on horse-back, and were nearly two days in accomplishing it. I recollect the judge, instead of an overcoat, wore an Indian blanket drawn over his head by means of a hole cut in the center. We came to attend court, and put up at the house of Mr. Merwin, where we met quite a number of lawyers from adjacent counties. At this time the village of Warren, where I lived, was considered altogether ahead of Cleveland in importance, indeed there was very little of Cleveland at that day…The presiding judge was the Hon. George Tod, a well read lawyer and a most courteous gentlemen, the father of our late patriotic governor, David Tod. His kindness of heart was proverbial, and sometimes lawyers would presume on it.”

After his second term, he returned to his legal practice in Youngstown and a term as Prosecuting Attorney for Trumbull County from 1833 to 1835. He died at Brier Hill Farm on April 11, 1841 and was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery.

Brier Hill Farm remained just a farm until after George Tod’s death. It was his son David who realized the value of the block coal beneath the surface that fired the iron, and later, the steel industry, making “Brier Hill” synonymous with blast furnaces rather than crops and livestock. All of this was an unenvisioned future to Judge George Tod. He fought for Ohio and country on the battlefield and courtroom, establishing the rule of law and the precedence of the state’s constitution in the Western Reserve and the newly minted state of Ohio. He was one of Youngstown’s founders, whose contribution in law, land, and children would leave its imprint on Youngstown’s future.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!