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How We Kids Discovered Some of the Ancient History of Frankford

by  Peter J. Dawson

My parents moved their family from Germantown to the Northwood section of Frankford, to one of the side-by-side twins on Wakeling Street across from Frankford Stadium, in 1956.

By the early 1960s, I and my brothers were among the little “street urchins” playing “kick-the-can,” step ball and Wiffle ball (not to mention a rather brutal hand ball game with the off-color name “a – – es-up”) on Rutland Street between Wakeling and Allengrove Streets with Nicky Macko, Judge Dwyer’s son Kevin Dwyer, Henry Hudson, Francis Harding, Dennis and Daniel Grassi, and others.

One day, I think around 1962, when I was 9, Dennis Grassi invited me to the garage behind their home at Harrison and Large Street, catacorner from Harrison Grocery.

“You gotta see my collection of Indian marbles!” he told me with that endless enthusiasm about the little things that only kids can have (or those of us who never grow up).

“Indian what?” I asked.

“Indian marbles! Indian marbles!” he answered proudly. “Who do you think the people of America learned to play marbles from?”

Dennis opened the door to his garage, where his dangerous giant pet snapper turtle sat in the kid’s wading pool chomping on lettuce, and we went to one of the back corners of his garage where Dennis extracted a shoe box from a trunk. He lifted it out carefully with both hands, laid it on the floor, and opened the top. Inside the box was something which most people today — in fact, something which most paleontologists today — would describe as a “remarkable collection”: Approximately 100 mostly-spherical white stones, ranging from the size of a dime to the size of a silver dollar.

“The Indians made ’em, so that their kids could play marbles!” Dennis explained. “I found almost all of ’em in the dirt down in the back of The Lot — you know, where it slopes-off into that big gulley between the back of the garages and the railroad tracks?”marbles001

The Lot — where the tennis courts are now on Harrison Street between Rutland Street and Castor Avenue — was the place where we had most of our fun as kids. I knew exactly where this “big gulley” in The Lot that Dennis was referring to was located. See Map, below. I wrote about The Lot before, in a prior article. See

I could hardly contain my enthusiasm after hearing Dennis’ story and viewing and touching his collection of “Indian marbles.” “WOW,” I thought, “A real Indian toy! Dug up out of the ground!” For a kid, an impossibly wonderful thing: A type of buried treasure. I knew that if I didn’t do something about this immediately, I would explode and die.

I went down to The Lot that day with an old claw hammer, and started digging and digging and digging with the nail-pulling side of the hammer, and — I couldn’t believe it — I found one! A real “Indian marble”!

The Lot 003 cropI kept an eye out for “Indian marbles” for the rest of my life, after that. I still do. Even as a kid I learned that the best place to look for them is in an area where there is heavy erosion, and that the best time to look for them is in the Fall or Winter or early Spring after a heavy rain, when soil is not being held in place by roots, and the flow of water has bared the tops of the Indian marbles, so that they glisten in the Sun. So, even when I wasn’t digging for them in The Lot, I used to find them in the mud along Frankford Creek just north of the Fishers Lane Bridge on the west bank of the creek. I also found them at excavation sites throughout Frankford, where the excavated dirt, when it was rained upon, immediately exposed its “Indian marbles.”

What exactly are these things which we called “Indian marbles”? It turns out that they are probably gastroliths — gizzard stones swallowed by large sauropod dinosaurs like the brachiosaurus and the diplodocus — remember the “veggie-saurs” in the first Jurassic Park movie, with the long necks and tails, with the fat bellies in between? — to aid in the crushing of food in their digestive tracts.

Thus, my words above, in talking about Dennis Grassi’s “Indian marble” shoe box: “Something which most paleontologists today would describe as a ‘remarkable collection.’ ” Probably, his shoe box of “Indian marbles” should have been on display down on the Parkway, in the Museum of Natural History.

Haddonfield, New Jersey, had its famous Hadrosaurus fossilized skeleton. Frankford had its Jurassic gastroliths.

In the early 1970s, I gave Howard Barnes over at the Historical Society my collection of about a dozen “Indian marbles” and some paleo-Indian tools I had found down by Frankford Creek. I’ll talk more about those tools later, in another article.

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Growing Up with God in Frankford

by Pater Dawson

When my parents moved their growing family from Germantown to Northwood in 1956, when I was 3, we were one of the first Catholic families in the neighborhood. I didn’t quite know what a “Catholic” was until sometime in second grade. I went to Henry R. Edmunds Public School for kindergarten, when I was still 4-going-on-5. Because the age requirements for first grade were different for the Catholic schools in the late 1950s, I stayed in Edmunds Public School for the first grade, too, and could only go to St. Martin of Tours Catholic School on Roosevelt Boulevard beginning in second grade, when I was 6-going-on-7, because of a change in age requirements.

Because of a very bad case of strep throat in second grade, where the disease had even eroded two holes in the wall of my throat which I could actually see, looking in the mirror, I was rushed to Nazareth Hospital, in second grade. I remember the admitting nurse asking me what religion I was. I answered, “I used to be a ‘puvlic,’” referring to public school, “but now I’m a ‘Catholic,’” referring to Catholic school. I sometimes wonder if the hospital records for that year show my religion as “Public.”

Second grade was, and I think for most Catholic dioceses it still is, the traditional time for learning about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in the Catholic Church, and for making one’s first confession to a priest. They taught us the formula-style “laundry-list” confession, to make sure that we did not foul-up our first confession experience …

We knelt down in the darkened confessional, and when the priest opened the door we would say, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession.” And then we confessed our sins — the “laundry list”: “I have lied 3 times. I have been angry 2 times. I am sorry for these and all of my sins.” And then the priest could ask for details or give spiritual advice, if he wanted. And then we would say the prayer called “the Act of Contrition” …

“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you. And I detest all of my sins, because of Your just punishments; but most of all, because they offend You, O god, Who are all good, and worthy of all of my love. I do firmly resolve with the help of Your grace, to sin no more, and to avoid near occasions of sin.”

Those initial, kid-level confessions were back in the days of Latin-speaking priests. The priest would respond with Latin language absolution …

“Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat,” and so on, until he got to the actual words of absolution, “Deinde, ego te absolve a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.” No, we did not understand his Latin until he got to the words of absolution. When we heard them, we knew that the priest felt that we were contrite and accepted our confession. Our lack of comprehension of the Latin was why the Second Vatican Council “de-Latinized” the sacraments.

In any event, after declaring our sins “absolved,” the priest would impose our “punishment” — usually a short prayer, or series of prayers.

Very shortly after making my first confession, I decided to steal something, essentially to find out what theft felt like. So, at age 7, I went into Schwartzy’s Drug Store at Harrison and Large Streets and stole one (1) penny bubble gum.

Because I was very scrupulous as a kid, guilt set in afterwards, and burned and burned and burned. I felt guilty for months about stealing that single penny bubble gum. I avoided going to confession, for fear of confessing theft of a penny bubble gum. I avoided going to Communion because I felt that in stealing a penny bubble gum, I was guilty of a mortal sin, and so ineligible. Finally, I confessed it, and made restitution by sneaking a penny bubble gum back into Schwartzy’s drug store.

I am certain that Schwartzy, who was a Jewish saint, as far as I am concerned, is in Heaven now laughing at the incident. But when I was a kid, it caused me a great deal of angst.

Kids turn “bizarre” into an art form, and I was no exception. My parents back in those days said that I always had something horrible coming out of every opening on my body, and that included my nose. I was always picking, picking, picking my nose, pulling disgusting masses of unearthly stuff from my nostrils, and surreptitiously sticking them to the back or underside of some nearby object. On one occasion, one of the nuns who taught me in St. Martin of Tours School saw me disposing of some horrible wad I had just pulled out of my nose, and yelled, “PETER, WOULD YOU PLEASE STOP PICKING YOUR NOSE!”

As far as I was concerned, this was a command from God’s lawful authority on Earth, and it absolutely had to be obeyed.

As I struggled, mostly unsuccessfully, to remember to bring a handkerchief to school for my nose, I would be forced to pick my nose whenever I forgot a handkerchief, and as far as I was concerned every time I did that I was committing the sin of disobedience.

When I had accumulated six instances of “disobeying” by picking my nose, I went to confession one day. I was still doing “laundry list” confessions then. I went into the dark confessional, and when the priest opened the window to my side to hear my sins, I said something like, “Bless me father, for I have sinned. It has been three weeks since my last confession. I disobeyed my teacher six times …”

For some reason, this confession made a big impression on the priest. He turned on the light so that he could see my face through the screen, and asked me who my teacher was, and suggested that I had just made a very good confession.

The priest would have been astonished to discover that this little kid making his confession to him was talking about six instances of picking his nose.

I joined the altar boys organization in St. Martin’s in fourth grade, in 1961. Fr. Hugh McSherry was the priest in charge of the altar boys. He used to march us up and down the aisles of the Church like soldiers — “RIGHT FACE!” “LEFT FACE!” “ABOUT FACE!” “MARCH!” — and he would test us on our Church Latin once a year. Anyone receiving a grade of 90 to 100 could serve Mass. If you got a grade of 100 in Latin, Fr. McSherry would give you a dollar. To get 100, however, you even had to get every single accent on every word correct, where accents had to be signified, during the test, by a bowing of the head.

So, for instance, in saying, “Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam,” we had to bow our heads five times, once at each point in that sentence where you see caps …

“Ad DEum qui laeTIficat JUvenTUtem MEam.”

I was certain that I had said the Latin responses perfectly, at the time of my first test. But Fr. McSherry decided to give me a hard time …

“Say ‘laetificat’ again.”

“Lae-TI-ficat” [pronounced “lay-TEE-fee-cot”].





And so on, again and again and again.

Finally Fr. McSherry asked, “Are you CERTAIN that it’s pronounced ‘lay-TEE-fee-cot’?”

“Yes,” was my answer.

“DEAD certain?,” he asked.

“Absolutely, positively certain, Father.”

“You’re sure?”


“No doubts?”

“No doubts.”

“Okay,” he said, “Here’s your dollar!”

I always volunteered to do the weekday 6:30 a.m. Masses and the 5:30 a.m. Sunday Mass, for an odd reason: I loved walking alone to Mass, in the pre-rush-hour silence of dawn, with only the birds in the trees as my friends. I think that even as a kid I felt like I was comfortably alone with God, then.

I consider myself a devout Catholic, but I have to confess that as we were taught our Catechism in St. Martin of Tours School, not once — not for one moment in time — have I ever believed that the Adam and Eve story is non-fiction. Even in second grade I thought to myself, “That story can’t possibly be true. It’s more like Cat in the Hat than reality.” Over the years, I have been kicked out of several Catholic and non-Catholic Christian websites as a “heretic” for saying this, openly, and for setting forth various proofs of my position.

Others, both Protestant and Catholic, impacted my religious upbringing.

My paternal grandmother Nana, who lived at home with us, would tell us the story of how she walked up Rutland Street to Oxford and Castor, and then over the footbridge to St. Martin’s Church, to go to Mass there, and how once as she was walking to Mass at St. Martin’s, she heard a sound behind her, near the intersection of Rutland and Kenwyn Streets. Nana said that she turned round, and saw a big white guy with a heavy stick in his hands, raised to strike her, to knock her down and rape or rob her. Nana said that she called out to God in her mind, “HELP ME, GOD!,” and that suddenly something mysterious happened — the big white guy looked up at something behind Nana, much taller than either of them, and he looked terrified, dropped his stick, and ran away. Nana said that she looked behind her to see what frightened him, saw no one, and always wondered if God had answered her prayer by allowing a giant angel to appear behind her.

I got to know Ms. Mabel Blynn, who lived across Rutland Street from us. She used to love listening to Harald Camping’s Family Radio programming, which as a kid I thought was horribly tedious — grounds for a non-sinful suicide. (Years later, I actually came to enjoy listening to Mr. Camping’s call-in program while doing chores at home, because of the challenges his analysis of the Bible posed for my Catholic Christianity.) Occasionally, just to see what her Presbyterian services were like, I went to church with Mabel.

My father’s sister, Marie Dawson, became a Dominican nun before I was born, and in my childhood years she became the Chief Executive Officer of the Dominican nuns in the Western Hemisphere. We teased her, in those days, to the effect that she was “in charge of half of the world.”

In 1970, at my high school graduation, Aunt Marie plopped a copy of the 1970 edition of the New American Bible for Catholics, one of the best translations of the Bible into English ever made.

I very much liked the way that translation read, and its excellent footnotes. So, I read the Bible every day, for years, mostly on our front porch at Wakeling and Rutland Streets.

Now, the reason why I chose that location for reading the Bible — the front porch — was not so devout or praiseworthy. A gorgeous blonde girl used to walk past our house every day at a particular time, and I didn’t want to miss her!

Even when the blonde stopped passing by, however, I maintained the Bible reading habit, and over the years I read the Bible cover to cover, twice.

I was underwhelmed by the Bible, at first. It seemed to me to be the opposite of “divinely inspired.” It did seem full of outright contradictions — lots of them. It appeared to me that anyone could cite the Bible as authority for any point by simply going through it with a concordance and picking verses supporting his side of any given theological controversy, like picking out your dinner in a cafeteria. I thought to myself, “Nearly two thousand years of theologians can’t have missed what I am seeing. There must be something else to the Bible which I am missing.”

And I found it — in things called Bible types and Bible word pictures.

Bible types and Bible word pictures, it turns out, are “the neatest thing since sliced bread.” Their presence in the Bible is astonishing and clearly miraculous. Yet, few Christians, Catholic or Protestant, know that these wonderful structures were imprinted into the Bible text by God the Holy Spirit.

Father Judge High School

On the subject of the Bible, one “camp” in the Father Judge Oblates said that both Testaments of the Bible featured “types” and “word pictures” so that the Old Testament foreshadowed Christ in a most amazing way again and again, while the other “camp” said that that was a lot of nonsensical hocus pocus.

One priest, Fr. Rauch, taught us in his religion class that the Bible featured these things called “types” and “word pictures,” but he had so much material to cover that semester that he could not take the time to detail them much.

Another priest, Fr. John Brennan, taught us in his religion class, “Don’t ever believe that stuff that the Old Testament is really about Christ.”

Despite Fr. Brennan’s denial, I wondered, after two grand tours of the entire Bible, if the Old Testament is somehow miraculously about Christ, in these things Fr. Rauch mentioned — Bible types and Bible word pictures.

So, I continued my study of the Bible, there on the front porch, for years, searching for Fr. Rauch’s Bible types and word pictures — and I found them. The Bible is full of them.

And, low and behold, it turns out that much of the Old Testament really is about Christ, in a miraculous way.

Doors and gates always symbolize Christ in the Old and New Testaments, for instance, so when the Hebrews in Egypt whipped the blood of the sacrificed Passover lamb onto their doorways with a hyssop bush in Exodus 12:22-23 to save themselves from God’s killer angel, that is a picture foreshadowing Christ being scourged, so that His suffering saves us from eternal damnation.

When the patriarch Joseph brings his children Manassas and Ephraim to Joseph’s father Jacob’s knee for Jacob’s blessing, in Genesis 48:12-20, Jacob strangely crosses his arms and places his hands on their skulls to bless them — a picture foreshadowing how blessing would come from the cross on Golgotha, which means “Skull Place.”

There are many of these structures in the Old Testament, miraculously foreshadowing Christ and His ministry hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth.

So, to my delight, I realized that contrary to what Fr. Brennan asserted, but in accord with what Fr. Rauch taught us, the Old Testament is “about Christ.”

I also grew to appreciate Church buildings. All altars in all Catholic churches, for example, are required to have the relics of saints embedded into the stone. This requirement is a memorial of the Church in the days of the Roman Empire, when the Church was outlawed, and Church authorities hunted by Roman authorities. In those days, Mass was said in the underground catacombs, where the stone sarcophagus’s of Christians murdered by the Romans — stones bearing the relics of martyred saints — served as the altars for Mass.

Last Halloween, the Frankford Historical Society hosted a tour of absolutely breathtaking St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, among other places. Rev. Jonathan Clodfelter clued us into some of the amazing architecture in that wonderfully beautiful place of worship, including carvings in the church supposed to portray some of the principals in the congregation in days gone by.

Church history, itself, both ancient and not so ancient, is also utterly fascinating.

I discovered, for instance, that one of the popes is sometimes referred to as Fabian the Manure Shoveler. He had traveled to Rome in the year 236 A.D. to purchase a load of manure for his master’s farm. As he was shoveling the manure into his wagon, a short distance away Christians of the Early Church were gathered to elect the next Bishop of Rome, who even then was regarded as the head of the Church, according to early Christian writers Irenaeus, Tertullian, Eusebius, Optatus, Damasus and Jerome. The Christians were praying for divine assistance in picking the next Bishop of Rome. Lo and behold, right in front of the crowd, a white dove flew from a nearby perch and landed on Fabian’s head! The crowd took it as a sign, and thronged over to Fabian and made him Bishop of Rome! And, Fabian turned out to be one of the better early popes.

Not once, but twice, more recent Church history caused my Irish great grandmother to pick religiously significant names for my grandfather Dawson, as our family slowly worked its way from Europe to Frankford in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In the 1840s, when the Potato Blight began to wipe out potato crops across England and Ireland, Parliament decided to “solve” the problem by making landlords “responsible” for famine relief for all tenants farming potatoes on land owned by them worth less than 4 pounds sterling per quarter acre. That was nearly all of them. Members of Parliament representing the Catholics of Ireland strenuously opposed the measure, as they foresaw the consequences: Every Protestant landlord, in a panic to avoid such enormous liability, began to evict nearly every Catholic tenant potato farmer and his family, even if they were not yet in arrears on their rent, where two-thirds were not in arrears. My great grandmother Annie Fuller Mallon, 16 and pregnant at the time, and her husband were among those evicted by their Protestant landlords, and Protestant Sheriffs backed by Protestant soldiers. Within a month about 4 million Irish Catholics walked the roads of Ireland, herded by Protestant soldiers, while Protestant neighbors watched. Annie and her husband starved. Probably in a roadside ditch, Annie gave birth to my great aunt Barb — blind as a consequence of Annie’s starvation. Annie’s husband either dropped dead of starvation, or was shot storming the docks with sticks and rocks with other Catholic men who formed themselves into “skeleton armies,” in a panicked attempt to feed their families with food still being loaded by Protestant landlords onto ships for export from Ireland, under the watchful eye of the crown’s Protestant troops.

A charity paid the fare on a packet ship for my great grandmother Annie Fuller Mallon and her blind baby, to Canada. From there she thumbed her way south to Philadelphia, where she placed great aunt Barb in the School for the Blind at 20th and Race Streets.

Though, because of her experiences, widow Annie Fuller Mallon was caught up in hatred for Protestant Christians, she married an English Protestant, my great grandfather William Samuel Charles Dawson, who had emigrated to Philadelphia shortly after Annie’s arrival there. As great grandmother Annie began to bear great grandfather William children, Protestant Know-Nothings, an anti-Catholic group known for terrorizing and hanging Catholic immigrants from Ireland, watched her going to daily Mass at Old St. Mary’s Church, and threatened her. Annie and her husband escaped to Maryland, where they had their first child together. They returned to Philadelphia after Lincoln won the presidential elections of 1864. In 1867, still boiling-over with rage at having been driven out of her home by Protestants a second time, Annie called her last child, my grandfather, born in 1867, “John Roberts Henry Dawson.” Why that? Because after Thomas More and John Fisher, John Roberts was the third most famous Catholic martyred by Henry VIII in the Protestant Reformation — in Roberts’ case, for persistently saying Mass in Protestant England.

Unfortunately, Annie’s second husband, great grandfather William Samuel Charles Dawson, died in quarantine in 1869, probably in one of the outbreaks of tropical diseases brought up from the South by African American slaves liberated in the Civil War. Widowed a second time and faced again with extreme poverty, but now with five kids to feed, great grandmother Annie worked as a seamstress and home helper out of a storefront and walk-up still standing at 12th and Locust Streets. At one point she broke her back, and was forced to spend the rest of her life supporting her family bent-over and in a state of disabling pain!

As the children grew, Annie heard about Girard College from a friendly committeeman, a Protestant fellow surnamed “Avery.” Mr. Avery warned Annie that a child named after a Catholic priest martyred by Henry VIII might have troubled getting past the Protestant trustees of Girard College. So, Annie changed my grandfather’s name from the defiantly-Catholic John Roberts Henry Dawson to the much-more-Protestant-sounding name Henry Avery Dawson, making use of the surname of this Heaven-sent Protestant friend. Committeeman Avery signed young Henry Avery Dawson’s Girard College application, and that is how my grandfather got into Girard College.

As I apprehended such things, in our home there in Northwood, I reflected upon how the little boy who thought that his first religion was “puvlic” had had his family’s life, as well as his own, so drastically impacted by religion.

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The Remmey’s of Northwood


Some group or other is always the minority, in any society. And I imagine that when our Catholic family of two parents and three children moved into a home on Wakeling Street in a substantially Protestant section of Northwood in 1956, and when the little ones kept popping out of our mother every few years, the Old Blood families of Frankford surrounding us groaned and thought. “There goes the neighborhood!”

 But the neighbors quickly got used to us. In between running errands for elderly neighbors, we kids played step-ball with pimple balls on the back steps, and kick-the-can on Rutland Street on hot summer nights. With tips earned carrying groceries at the Harrison Quick Shoppe grocery store, at Harrison and Large Streets, we purchased comic books and bubble gum at Schwartzy’s Drug Store on the corner across Large Street. Schwartzy was my introduction to Judaism. He was one of the kindest, gentlest souls I ever met. If anyone goes to Heaven, it will be Schwartzy. And if he doesn’t make it, none of us will.


One of the matriarchs of Northwood, descended from one of the “Old Blood” dynasties of Frankford, the textile-manufacturing Garsed family, was Edyth Holden Remmey, who after her birth in 1905 had lived for years over on Allengrove Street, between Rutland Street and Castor Avenue with her husband and children. Her Garsed ancestors had owned a group of textile mills arranged in a crescent around the west end of Frankford, some of them visible in Smedley’s 1863 Atlas of Philadelphia.

Above, arrows point to the circled locations of the Garsed textile mills on Frankford’s west end in the 1860s.

a drawing of one of the Garsed mills.

It was John Garsed who built the Frankford “Y” building at Arrott and Leiper Streets. Even as the residence was being constructed in 1864, Mrs. Remmey later told me, the Garsed mansion was nicknamed “Garsed’s Folly,” as acquaintances of the Garsed’s saw construction being inhibited by materials shortages and an economy shocked by the changes generated by first the commencement of, and then the termination of, the American Civil War. Lo and behold, John Garsed was forced by economic difficulties to sell his home to his bother Richard Garsed, famed for his patented high-speed steam-powered looms, who in turn was eventually compelled by a post-war economic bust to economize by re-selling it to William Bault, one of the principals of Globe Dye Works.

“Garsed’s Folly,” the Frankford “Y” Building.

Several generations down the line, after Mrs. Remmey, as Edyth Holden, met and married Paul B. Remmey, soon to be a prominent commercial and landscape artist, descended from the dynasty of Remmey ceramic- and brick-makers, with a large factory on the banks of the Delaware in Bridesburg, she memorialized her Garsed family ancestry by naming her daughter Nina Garsed Remmey.

When Edyth Holden, born 1905, was courted by Paul Baker Remmey, born 1903, in the 1920s, Mr. Remmey was an art student, earning recognition and awards for the excellence of his work He was descended from the dynasty of makers of ceramic, brick, and heat resistant materials for handling steam heat, who first came to the American colonies from France in the early 1700s. As the Remmey family integrated their expertise into American industry, they built at least two factories in our area, one on the Delaware, on Hedley Street in Bridesburg; the other on the north side of what is now Aramingo Avenue, but what, back then, was Aramingo Canal, east of Cumberland Street. (Yes, Aramingo Avenue used to be a canal.)

The Remmey brick factory which used to be on the Aramingo Canal east of Cumberland Street

After their marriage, Mr. Remmey became a prominent water color artist, exhibiting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in the 1930s, in the Philadelphia Art Alliance and in the Art Institute in Chicago from the 1930s to the 1940s. His works are exhibited in museums to this day. The American Watercolor Society issues an award in his name every year to budding watercolor artists. Their home on Allengrove Street in Frankford featured a third floor converted into a large, well-lit studio.

The Remmey’s gravesite can be seen today in Cedar Hill Cemetery. The gravestone reads, “Paul B. Remmey, 1903-1957, American Artist” and “His Wife, Edyth Holden Remmey, 1903-1987.”

After Mr. Remmey’s death in 1957, Mrs. Remmey had a special problem: Mr. Remmey had left his wife dozens of valuable paintings, stored in racks in the basement of their Allengrove Street home. Because the basement tended to be much more humid and damaging to paintings in the Summer, every Spring dozens of paintings had to be carefully moved from the basement to the storage racks in the third floor studio, and every Fall the paintings had to be carefully moved again back to the storage racks in the cool dry air in the basement. At first Mrs. Remmey did this herself, a few each day. But beginning around 1962, Mrs. Remmey couldn’t manage the job any more, and she called on “the Dawson boys” — me, at age 9, and my brother Chris at age 11 — to help her. We did this for years — up and down, up and down, up and down we took the paintings, third floor studio to basement, basement to third floor studio, year after year — and that is how we came to know Mrs. Remmey.


Mrs. Remmey had a grandfather clock in her living room which intrigued me very much as a child. She said that it dated from the Revolutionary War, and that the hole in the side was made by a Revolutionary War bullet.


Mrs. Remmey had a special place in her heart for me, I think. To a certain extent, she came to view herself as my “second mother.” Once around 1973, as I filled-in some plaster cracks in the walls and ceilings of the stairway to the basement, she called me over and asked, “Peter, do you have a girl friend?” I answered, “To have a girl friend you really have to have a car, Mrs. Remmey. And I can’t afford a car now because I am paying for college.” “Well,” she answered,. “It is time for you to have a girl friend! And I have found just the girl for you!” “Who?” I asked, very surprised and somewhat cautious. Mrs. Remmey picked up a copy of the Frankford newspaper called The News Gleaner and pointed triumphantly to the pretty girl, just elected “Miss Frankford,” in the picture on the front page and said, “Her!”

She put down the newspaper, found the scrap paper with the girl’s family’s telephone number which had found in the telephone book before calling me over that morning to do the plaster work, and began dialing!

Alarmed I said, “Whoa, whoa, WHOA! Mrs. Remmey, you can’t just call a girl out of the blue and say, ‘Here, date this guy!’ It doesn’t work like that!”


When, about 6 years later, I brought my gorgeous fiancée over to Mrs. Remmey and introduced them, I think that Mrs. Remmey thought that she was too sexy looking. When I stopped by Mrs. Remmey’s a few weeks later, she expressed disgust at the clothing my fiancée had been wearing! However, Mrs. Remmey recovered, and the following October was generous in her wedding present to us — she gave us some cash, and another gift.


Mrs. Remmey had had two children by her prominent artist husband — a son Paul, Jr., who was born in 1930 and passed away in 2009, and a daughter Nina, who I think was born a few years after her brother. I met Nina, long since moved-out and married, a few times, when she visited her mother. She struck me as having a wonderful, generous heart. Her brother Paul, Jr., on the other hand, seemed very troubled. In the 20 years I knew him, from around 1962 to around 1982, I never saw Paul, Jr. smile even once.


Since I was prone to being a “bookish,” nerdy guy, I perused Paul, Jr’s bookshelves, and I asked Paul about the Russian language books in his bookcase. He explained that he had learned Russian and then, as a State Department employee during the Cold War, translated Russian documents for the American intelligence services in the Far East. He told me that he had met a Japanese girl while stationed in the East, but that she had died at a young age.


Though Paul Remmey, Jr. was “nerdily bookish” like myself, his surly manner put me off. Though we kids in the neighborhood nicknamed Paul, Jr. with the seemingly gentle title “Uncle Bunny,” there always seemed to be a high level of tension between Paul and his mother. I was never nosey, but I should have been. Mrs. Remmey seemed only persistently kind toward her son, but he responded only with persistent distancing behavior and anger. He may have felt justified, but my internal response to the anger I saw was the thought that Requirement #1 for getting into Heaven is, “Do not bring hatred with you. Forgive.”

There is a saying along the lines of, “In the little things we can see the big.” When Mrs. Remmey use to call us and ask “the Dawson boys” to cut her grass, Paul would be out there on the back lawn on his folding chair, not getting up, reading, while we cut the grass around him. I used to think, “What is the matter with him? Is his leg broken?” The same thing would happen when we were called over to move the paintings again. Paul, Jr. would be sitting in the living room, reading, while we walked past him, 20, 30, and 40 times, carrying paintings up or down.


One day, around 1975, when I was around 22 years of age, a very strange thing happened. Mrs. Remmey called and said, “Peter, would you please bring a hammer and a screwdriver over?” As I walked up her driveway toward the front door on Allengrove Street, I saw that her car was in the driveway rather than in the garage, and that one corner of the car was raised up on the car jack and a tire removed and laying on the ground. Assuming that Paul, Jr. would never stoop to manual labor, I thought, “Mrs. Remmey tried unsuccessfully to change a flat herself and needs help now?” When she greeted me at the door, I saw that Mrs. Remmey, 70 years old at this juncture, had a big black eye. “Mrs. Remmey,” I exclaimed, “What happened???!!!”

“Something bad happened at dinner last night, Peter. Paul just sat there, in front of his plate, saying nothing, when he suddenly got up and punched me in the eye.”

“Well,” I asked, holding up the hammer and screwdriver, “Did you want me to finish changing your tire?”

Mrs. Remmey answered, “Forget that right now, Peter. You can do that later. Right now I want you to help me with something special. Is that car I see you driving sometimes” — it was my brother’s Chris’ Buick LeSabre — “available for use right now?”

“Sure!” I said.

Mrs. Remmey took the hammer and screwdriver from me and held them up. “I want you to take these and go to Paul’s room and brandish them in front of Paul to force him downstairs into your car and then force him to go into Friend’s Hospital!”

Completely astonished, I said, “Mrs. Remmey, it doesn’t work like that! He either has to go voluntarily, or else a judge has to ‘commit’ him — force him by court order to go and stay there. The problem with going into a mental hospital voluntarily is that he can leave any time he wants. But an involuntary commitment takes time. To get Paul out today, you’d have to file criminal charges against him, for punching you, and they’ll set bail and he’ll end-up at the Detention Center on State Road. If you don’t want to do that, Mrs. Remmey, the best I can do is try to talk Paul into a voluntary commitment.”

She answered, “Well, Peter, I don’t want to file criminal charges against him. There’s a lot of trouble hidden in that. So, please try to persuade Paul to commit himself voluntarily.”

I went and got my brother Chris’ permission to use the LeSabre if I filled his gas tank, and I parked his car in front of Mrs. Remmey’s house, and went in and quietly went upstairs to Paul’s bedroom. He was sitting up on his bed, pretending to read. I said, “Paul, I saw your mother’s eye. Paul she’s 70 years old, and she’s a lady, and she’s your own mother. What you did is really, really bad. If a policeman saw a man your size punch your own aged mother in the face, he’d draw his gun and be sorely tempted to shoot and kill you. Most judges would send you to jail for a long time for punching a lady her age, Paul. What happened? Why did you do it?”

He just sat there, silent.

I continued, “Look, Paul, your mom could have you arrested, cuffed, and jailed today. Who knows? — that might still happen! I think that it would look good to the outside world, and it would be good for you, if you let me drive you over to Friend’s Hospital and you committed yourself there, voluntarily so that they could figure out why all of this happened.

“So, please, get in the shower, get dressed, pack a bag of clothes, and I’ll drive you over.”

Surprisingly, despite the age difference — Paul was 45, and I was 22 — Paul permitted himself to be impacted by my argument, and agreed. I drove him over to Friends Hospital and introduced Paul to staff, and after Paul was shown to his room I explained the circumstances to Friends Hospital Administrators and gave them Mrs. Remmey’s telephone number.

Arriving back at Mrs. Remmey’s house, I advised her to change her locks and call the 15th District Police Station and tell them the circumstances and ask them to keep an eye on the house. I asked her why her son Paul had seemed so angry for so many years. “After his wife died many years ago, Peter, he never seemed to recover from that. He was always sad and prone to anger. I think that he is angry with God.”

I was told shortly thereafter that Paul walked out of Friend’s Hospital the following day, but that he did not return to his mother’s house. At least, not immediately…


Months later, Mrs. Remmey called me over to move her deceased husband’s artworks from her basement to the third floor studio again. She said, “Peter, when you are finished, I want you to be paid in a special way, for your work here today, and for your support over the years. From the unframed canvases, I want you to pick out your favorite three paintings.”

From among the unframed items I picked out two small paintings comprising magazine cover illustration drafts, and a small colorful landscape painting.

Two of the three paintings by famous artist Paul B. Remmey,

given to me by his wife Edyth Holden Remmey some 35 years ago


A few days later. as my family stood in the kitchen talking, the back door was flung open and Paul, Jr. barged in, pushing past my father. He said with a loud, angry voice, “I understand the woman paid you with three paintings! The woman had no right to do that! I demand to see the paintings!”

I felt ashamed that my activity had caused an angry man to push his way into my father’s house. I also sensed danger, in light of his prior willingness to punch his own aged mother. So, to calm Paul, Jr. down I shook his hand warmly and told him that I would retrieve the paintings. When I brought them down from upstairs, Paul pronounced the magazine cover paintings, shown above, to be worthless, but seized the colorful landscape painting and ran out.

That was the last time I saw Paul Remmey, Jr., except for one strange encounter.


In 1978, while I was still in law school, I began to work as a paralegal in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, in the Centre Square Building, behind the giant clothespin across the street from City Hall.

In 1979, when I was coming out of the Centre Square Building at around 5:15 p.m. one day to go home, I saw a yellow Volkswagen Beetle illegally parked on Market Street directly in front of the Centre Square Building. I thought, “Sheesh! What a place to park! And during rush hour! That person’s car will be towed in a few minutes!”

As I looked at the car, to my astonishment Paul Remmey, Jr., after having been curled-up on the back seat asleep or unconscious — I couldn’t tell which — sat up in the car, dirty and unshaven, and peered out the window at me, looking sleepy and confused, and, to put it bluntly, “down and out.”

As I put out my hand to open his car door and talk to him, an angry policeman came along and yelled to Paul, Jr., “Are you out of your mind, parking here! Get that car out here!” and Paul, looking under-nourished, climbed over the seats into the front, started the motor and drove away.

And that was it — the last I saw of poor, angry Paul Remmey, Jr. His mom died several years later, in 1987. My wife and I attended her funeral service. Paul died 22 years later, in 2009, I hope in a state of humility and forgiveness, and friendship with God. And I hope that his sister Nina and her children and grandchildren are thriving.


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Miracle of The Re-Appearing Loaf of Bread

This installment of my articles about life as we knew it in Frankford as I grew up in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s contains some somewhat “racy” material. Names have been left out, “to protect the guilty,” and adult readers may want to refrain from encouraging the kids to read this one.

There were nine of us kids, in our Wakeling Street house across from Frankford Stadium. If we wanted spending money, we had to work.


So, beginning in 1965, when I was 12, I worked after school and on Saturdays at the Harrison Quick Shop, a Unity Frankford grocery store at 1100 Harrison Street on the southeast corner of Harrison and Large Street. The owners, Mr. and Mrs. Matus, were a German-speaking couple from Czechoslovakia.  They taught me to do everything at the store. By the age of 16, I was filling in the Unity Frankford wholesale order sheet,  unloading the truck, “doing the count”  to square the invoice with what was delivered,  stocking shelves, filling customer orders, delivering groceries, cutting lunch meats, cutting steaks and chickens, and manning the cash register.

Mr. Matus’ English was about 80%, with a heavy German accent.  He would sound like this: “Peee-TAIR, get ten dozen ahx from duh vall-kin bahx” — “Peter, get 10 dozen eggs from the walk-in box,” the big walk-in refrigerator. He knew that sometimes he was hard to understand, and he would have fun with that.


The people were generous with their tips.  We delivery boys all shared the big tippers. There was one house the older guys never shared with me, though, until one day one of them said, “Do you think that Pete’s old enough for the Irish lady’s house.” “Yeah,” said the other, “I think he’ll survive.” I was about 14 at the time. I thought, “What are they talking about?”

The Irish lady’s house was a home in the middle of the block of Harrison Street opposite Frankford High School. I carefully lifted the large box of groceries off the bike,  walked up the steps, knocked on the door,  and an Irish lady in her thirties, completely au naturel from the waist up, answered the door.  And, sheesh, was there ever a lot there for a young man to see and be concerned about!

Inside the house there were all of these little kids running around in their underwear or naked as jay birds. The woman’s state of dress left no doubts about how there came to be so many.

I carried the groceries into the kitchen, pretending that there was nothing about the lady to gape at, received the money for the groceries and my tip, and left. There was another residence like that. The girl, a pretty lady about 10 years older than me, was always fully dressed when I delivered groceries, but she knew when I would be passing her home at night, while walking the dog, and she would often stand in window “in the buff.” I was just too naïve to do anything about it, to tell the truth — a good thing, correct?

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The Day the Blob Attacked Frankford

The  gang  of   7  to  12  year  old  urchins   we  used  to  hang  around  with  in  the  early   1960s   in  the  Northwood   section  of  Frankford,  between   Castor  Avenue,  Wakeling  Street,  Oakland  Street,   and  Harrison  Street,   were  definitely  all  “scientists.”   We  formed  a  science  club   which  met  in  the  basement  of  Nicky  Macko’s  house  once   a  week.  Nicky  was  the  President  —  it  was  his  family’s    house,  after  all.    Each  of  us  would  go  to   Frankford  library  at  Frankford  Avenue  and  Overington  Streets  whenever  we  could  and  borrow  as  many  books  as  we  could  on   how  to  do  interesting    science  experiments  at  home.  We’d   study  the  books  with  rapt  attention.     Mostly  we’d  look  for  ways  to   turn  junk  into  science  experiments  —  much  cheaper!

Electronics  was  the  most  fascinating  science.    Those   were  the  glory  days  of  vacuum  tube  technology.   I  was  fascinated   to  discover  that   magnets,  held  close  to  the  vacuum  tubes  filled  with  ionized  gas  emitting  blue  light,    attracted   the  ionized  gas  to   the  magnet.      I  brought   my  AM  radio,  cover  removed,    to  the  next  meeting   of  The  Science  Club,   after  I  discovered  that  the  ionized  cloud  in  vacuum  tubes  was  attracted  to  magnets,  and  plugged  it  in,  and   everyone  “oooooooooooo’d”    and  “aaaaaaaaaaah’d”    as  they  moved  their  magnets  close  to  the  vacuum  tubes  and  saw  the  ion  clouds  in  them  move  toward  the  magnet.

We  discovered   static  electricity.    If   it  was  Fall  or  Winter,  so  that  the  air  was  very  dry,    we  would   recover  the  fluorescent   tube-type  bulb  from  someone’s  trash   (being  careful  not  to  break  it  —  they  explode),  put  on  our  best  shoes,  turn  off  all  of  the  lights  in  the  house,  and  walk  across  the  room,    shoes  sliding  on  the  rug,    while  we   carried  the   fluorescent   bulb  in  our  hands.  Lo  and  behold,  the  bulb   would  flash,    all  of  the  way  across  the  room!

Then  one  of  the  guys  —  I  forget  who  —   discovered  “exothermic  reactions.”   If  you  go  into  a  closet  with  a  roll  of  garden  variety  masking  tape and  close  the  door  behind  you,  after  your  eyes  get  used  to  the  darkness  if  you  pull  a  piece  of  tape  off  the  roll  you  will  see  light  coming  off  the  roll   at  the  point  where  the  tape  separates  from  the  roll  as  you  pull  it  off.

In  you  similarly  take  Wintergreen  Life  Savers  into  a  dark  closet,   and  snap  one  of  them  in  half  with  pliers,   you  will  see   the  Life  Saver  give  off a  tiny  flash  of  light.

The  really  annoying  productions  of  The  Science  Club,  from  our  parents’  perspective,   were   the  ones  requiring  that   strings  or  wires  be  strung   between  houses  or  trees  outside.

We  built   “foxhole  radios,”   a  kind  of  AM  radio  anyone  can  make  out  of  junk.   It  uses   a  piece  of  wood,  thumb  tacks,  insulated  copper  wire,  a  #2  lead

Foxhole Radio

pencil,    a  safety  pin  of  the  type  used  for  a  baby’s  diaper,   a  rusty  razor  blade,   and  the  cardboard   tube   from  the  inside  of  a  roll  of  toilet  paper.    The  only  non-junk  item  needed  was  a  pair   of   headphones.

We  would  construct  the  radio,    hang  a  50  foot  copper   wire  antenna  between  trees  or  homes   (so  that  the  ends  of  the  antenna   did  not  actually  touch   the  trees  or  homes,  but  instead  were   held  by  string   connected  to   trees  or   homes),    run  a  lead  from  the  antenna  to  the  “radio,”  run  a  separate  wire  from  the  “radio”  to  a  pipe  in  the  house,    and  hear  1210   AM    in  the   headphones.    No  battery  was  needed  —   the  antenna  itself  generated  enough  voltage  for  us  to  hear  the  radio  program   in  the  headphones.

We  also  connected  houses  with  the  tin  can  walkie-talkie  sets  —   just  ordinary  tin  cans  in  each  house,    with  taut  strings  running  from   tin  can  to  tin  can,  set  up  so  that  the  strings  touched  nothing   but  the  cans,  and  we   would  shout  massages  to  each  other  through  string.   The  vibrations  of  the  sounds  of  our  voices  were  conveyed  through  the  string  from  one  house  to  another.

And  I  guess  the  most  annoying  thing  of  all   to  our  parents  was  our  discovery  of  the  home  made   telegraph.    We’d  run  telegraph  lines  between  houses,  and  telegraph  Morse  code  to  one  another  at  night,  and  then  run  to  the  telephone  to  confirm  the  meaning  of  the  message.

As  we  entered  our  pre-teen  years,    much  to  our  parents’  dismay  we  became  more  skilled  got  at  collecting  junk   for  science.

Once  I  brought  home  a  TV  from  someone’s  trash.

My  father  sternly   warned,  “Don’t  you  DARE  plug  in  that  TV  —    it’s  dangerous.”

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