Interview with Mary Sweeney Gibson, 1980 May 13 [audio]

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  • Introduction and family history; mother's brothers and first husband killed in powder yard explosion; walking to St. Joseph's school and meeting du Ponts
    Transcript: Interviewer - All right, Mrs. Gibson, we are interested in learning what life was like in the small villages which were located near the Du Pont Powder Mills on the Brandywine. Our primary interest concerns the late 19th century. In order to do this, we are asking people who have lived in these areas to help us complete this questionnaire. Today is May 13th, and your name Mrs.?

    Gibson - My name is Mary F. Gibson now, but when I lived out there, it was Mary Sweeney.

    Interviewer - And - Sweeney?

    Gibson - Sweeney.

    Interviewer - And you live at 626 Springer in Wilmington and your maiden name was Sweeney, we have that. And your age, may I ask you your age?

    Gibson - I'm 83.

    Interviewer - Eighty-three, that's remarkable. And your telephone number is what - 658...

    Gibson - 4934.

    Interviewer - 493, okay.

    Gibson - 4934

    Interviewer - All right, 4934. Now you started to tell us that you lived at the Upper Banks, and you mentioned the address, but I didn't catch it when you were telling me. Whereabouts was the exact address that you lived in the Upper Banks?

    Gibson - Well, it was just No. 13, there was only thirteen houses there and we lived next door to Shields Lumber Company, Dan Shields has it, still has, well he's dead T guess.

    Interviewer - Did the house have a name - it just had a number - some of them had names?

    Gibson - No name.

    Interviewer - What was your father's name?

    Gibson - My Father's name was Dennis Sweeney .

    Interviewer - And where was he born, was he born in this area?

    Gibson - No, Ireland .

    Interviewer - He came from Ireland . And about was - about when was he born? Remember his birthdate?

    Gibson - We all said he was forty-five (laughs).

    Interviewer - And what did he do at the yards?

    Gibson - Well I don't know, he just worked around in the powder mills. But he wasn't - he got out of there before the big explosion, of course . I can remember we used to peel willows.

    Interviewer - Yes.

    Gibson - And I know my Mother - we lived at the bottom of a hill and we used to walk up and you'd take the kitchen chairs and of course I was a kid, eight then, and I had to take a chair too. But we'd peel the willows.

    Interviewer - And you'd take the chair out of your own home and take it up there?

    Gibson - Oh yeah.

    Interviewer - Is this something you did, like after dinner or in the morning?

    Gibson - No, no. The older women, they went up and - I don't know whether they got paid or not, but they did the work.

    Interviewer - But the children didn't get paid, you weren't paid?

    Gibson - Oh no.

    Interviewer - You just sort of went along and helped your Mother or helped the other women?

    Gibson - We were a little pests.

    Interviewer - Little pests (laughs). How about your Mother, what was your Mother's name?

    Gibson - My Mother's name, by her first husband, the first name was Hirlehey before she was married. Then she married John Hurrian, he came from Ireland.

    Interviewer - Did she come from Ireland?

    Gibson - Yeah, my Mother came from Ireland. I don't know whether they were -they got married, John Hurrian and her got married here. They were married less than two years when he got killed.

    Interviewer - He wasn't killed in an explosion?

    Gibson - Yeah, my Mother ...

    Interviewer - At Hagley?

    Gibson - Yeah, the big explosion. There was thirteen killed that day and Mother's husband and her two brothers, the three of them were killed at one time.

    Interviewer - Then in other words, your Mother and John Hurrian had brothers and sister that also worked at Hagley?

    Gibson - No ... (A little disturbance as the microphone is adjusted.)

    Interviewer - So you had other relatives that worked - you had a couple of aunts and uncles ...

    Gibson - Yeah, my Mother's two brothers, they were killed.

    Interviewer - That was terrible, all in the same explosion?

    Gibson - Because Du Pont wanted to bury the thirteen men in one grave. There was nothing left of them, my Mother's first husband, there was only a leg. Du Pont's wanted to bury them all in one grave and my Mother wouldn't have it. So she bought her own lot out there, she has a lot in St. Joseph's cemetery and she has those three names, her two brothers and her husband.

    Interviewer - Were the two brothers married too?

    Gibson - No.

    Interviewer - They were not married?

    Gibson - No, they were all under thirty years old.

    Interviewer - They all came from Ireland, all three of them?

    Gibson - Yes, they all came from Ireland.

    Interviewer - Now, did you have - how about brothers and sisters, did you have brothers and sisters?

    Gibson - Yeah, by my own Father and Mother.

    Interviewer - Yeah.

    Gibson - My Mother only had one child by her first husband. I had two brothers and one sister. I had two brothers, they're dead too. I'm the only one left.

    Interviewer - Oh, were you the youngest?

    Gibson - Oldest.

    Interviewer - You were the oldest. Hey, how about your grandfathers, do you remember - they lived in Ireland, did you ...

    Gibson - I never knew them .

    Interviewer - You never knew them. Whereabouts in Ireland was your Father from?

    Gibson - Oh gosh, I know that by heart. McCroo, County Cork, Ireland (laughs).

    Interviewer - I think we told you about it often.

    Gibson - Oh, I heard that so much. I guess the first thing I went to school, I knew that.

    Interviewer - Why did they come over from Ireland here?

    Gibson - Oh, there was nothing to do over there, they were poor.

    Interviewer - About what time did he come over from Ireland, your Father, your Mother? Probably in the seventies, wasn't it, l870? Sometime in there?

    Gibson - Yeah, I guess so. We never talked much about it. They had it pretty tough, England was pretty tough on their house and they had to lay there.

    Interviewer - You mentioned St. Joseph's, did you go there?

    Gibson - Oh yeah, I went to school there.

    Interviewer - You went to school at St. Joseph's?

    Gibson - I went up past the Lyon House, past the old clubhouse, past the first offices they had, past the sand hole, and past the [Barn House?] store, gosh we were only kids, not six.

    Interviewer - Did you all together -yeah I was going to say, did all the children walk together that went to school?

    Gibson - No, there wasn't that many down where we lived, the Upper Banks. Some of them went to Montchanin School and we all - was about ten of us I guess ­ and we parted at [Barney House?] Store. Some of them went to Montchanin School and then we went to St. Joseph's.

    Interviewer - But you started from the store there, you met at the store?

    Gibson - Yes.

    Interviewer - Well you had to walk that in the wintertime too?

    Gibson - Oh - and the Du Pont people had these coachmen sit outside, you know, and drive the horses and once in a while, oh one day it was snowing so hard and we were cold, we were having a good time, and he stopped the horse and he said, "Mrs. du Pont wants you children to get in the cab and she'll take you home." We didn't want to, we wanted to walk ourselves. Of course we wouldn't get in and when I got home, oh I was soaking wet and cold and I was telling my Mother about, you know, getting offered the ride. And she said, "Why didn't you take it?" "Oh, we'd rather walk."

    Interviewer - And which du Pont was this?

    Gibson - Oh there was so many of them lived up around there.

    Interviewer - But you don't remember which one stopped and asked you?

    Gibson - Oh no. Several times they stopped. Lots of people in farm wagons would give us a ride. I guess it was two miles I had to walk.

    Interviewer - Were the du Ponts friendly with you when you were children?

    Gibson - They'd greet us and talk to us. The only one I remember was T. Coleman, I liked him. He was very friendly.

    Interviewer - What was he like?

    Gibson - Just like yourself. He'd say "Hello" to you and "How are you - are you tired" and things like that.

    Interviewer - Did he know your names?

    Gibson - Oh they knew everybody's name, but they were friendly enough.
  • Distribution of household chores; first experience with a telephone; playing with neighboring children; near-drowning incident in the Brandywine
    Transcript: Interviewer - Well now this area where you lived in the Upper Banks, about how many houses were right there then?

    Gibson - Five, six -oh I guess about eighteen. I guess Old Man Herr, he lived right across the street, he was the man that brought the mail in to Wilmington here from out there, Old Man Herr. The horses ran away and he got killed. He lived across - oh I could name - I could see it in my mind, that's the reason I called there one time and I asked them if they ever had - and they said "I've been twice a year", they had the tour up there, but she didn't know whether they would go that far or not.

    Interviewer - Yeah, the Upper Banks is right down below where the Library is now and you'd have to walk all the way up to St. Joseph's to that school, yes, that's about two miles I guess. One of the other things we want to find out about, the home and the family. Your weekly routine - one of the things we want to know is some of the more important chores you remember, such as cleaning, cooking, shopping, taking care of the children, gardening, caring for the livestock or repairing and maintaining household furnishings in the house. Did your Mother do the washing on Monday and...

    Gibson - Yes, Monday. There was no washing machines and they had to go in town to do their shopping. Now three or four of the women would go in, I think there was a meat market, Molly's, they used to go in there, and three or four of the women - and they would have to walk from there down to Rising Sun to get the trolley car to go in. And they had long steps to get the trolley car.

    Interviewer - Well how often did she go in to Wilmington shopping, just once a week, your Mother?

    Gibson - Yeah, they wouldn't go very often, about once a week.

    Interviewer - Would they take turns going, different people or each one shop for themselves?

    Gibson - Well three or four of them would go in and say to the other, "I'm going in town and do you want to go?" And then three or four around would go.

    Interviewer - Did your Mother take you with her shopping?

    Gibson - No.

    Interviewer - You were pests [laughs]?

    Gibson - Yeah, I was a pest. But I used to - my Uncle Pat, that was my Mother's brother, he's in market and powder, he was at the old office and that was my first time I knew what a telephone was. He used to take me up with him at night and the old - I guess the old office is the first office - is it still there?

    Interviewer - Yeah, right, it is. That's right, it's still there.

    Gibson - Well I used to go up and he'd let me sit there for about an hour and he'd bring me back home, but he used to let me talk to my aunt on the telephone. And I never forgot that, I used to say, "Aunt Mary is in a box. I can't see her, but she talks to me."

    Interviewer - How old were you then?

    Gibson - I guess about eight.

    Interviewer - Could you hear clearly on the phone?

    Gibson - Oh yes, I listened to her.

    Interviewer - And where did she live in the ...

    Gibson - She lives here at 9th and Du Pont.

    Interviewer - Did you do any of the cooking at home?

    Gibson - No.

    Interviewer - Did your Mother do all the cooking?

    Gibson - Nobody could do it like her. I couldn't do nothin. My Mother was such a perfectionist. I used to ­ she wouldn't let me hang up clothes, I didn't know how to hang her clothes. She hung every sheet, pillow case all together, all nice. I'd get out of the way, I'd do it you know, she'd come out and take them down, do it all over. Same way with the cooking.

    Interviewer - Would she cook mostly Irish recipes she brought from Ireland?

    Gibson - Oh no, they did ...

    Interviewer - Did she make Irish soda bread?

    Gibson - Yeah, well they all made that. Yes, she was - the men were all meat and potatoes.

    Interviewer - Did you grow your vegetables in the yard - in the garden?

    Gibson - Yeah, yeah.

    Interviewer - Who took care of the garden?

    Gibson - My Father did.

    Interviewer - They didn't let you do that either?

    Gibson - Oh no - oh no - the kids couldn't do nothin'.

    Interviewer - That's why you look so good at this age (laughs). Did you have -oh, let's see. Did you have any chores that you did around the house for your Mother as a child?

    Gibson - Oh - we had a porch that went all the way around the house, and I had to keep that clean, no papers, nothing around. And I never made beds, I didn't know how. I said to my Mother, "Wonder I knew anything at all." Now my sister, she wouldn't do it, she hated housework.

    Interviewer - What about your brothers, did they have -did they help your Father with the gardening?

    Gibson - No. The older people, they knew how to do it and didn't want to bother with the kids.

    Interviewer - Well your Father, for instance, he must have worked a pretty long day, you know, did he have the time when he came home from work?

    Gibson - Oh, they were always working, they didn't have any pleasures at night.

    Interviewer - But I was thinking, though, did he have time to do the gardening when he came home, and things like that?

    Gibson - Oh yes, we had chickens, he didn't like to kill our own chickens. My Mother could grab and kill a chicken - nothing, but my Father (doorbell rings), that's my meal. [Brief interruption with meals coming]

    Interviewer - Okay, now where were we? Oh, we were talking about, you know, your brothers and sisters, what they did around the house.

    Gibson - No, the kids around there, they went to school, and they come home and played, but most things, the girls washed the dishes, because the women, they always had to do their own work in the community.

    Interviewer - What sort of activities did your family do together, like in the evening -did you sit on the porch or did you play games or tell stories, or did the brothers go fishing with your Father? How about any musical instruments or singing?

    Gibson - Not particularly. The boys went out and played - the women went visiting at night after they had their dinner and dishes washed, used to go around and talk to each other - houses.

    Interviewer - Just at that area, Upper Banks, right in that neighborhood?

    Gibson - Yes.

    Interviewer - Were you allowed out at night?

    Gibson - Oh no.

    Interviewer - No, you had to stay in?

    Gibson - I was allowed outside, was 25 years old.

    Interviewer - What kind of games did you play as children ­ Hide and Go Seek?

    Gibson - Yeah, just those.

    Interviewer - Tag?

    Gibson - Because it was just a little community, there was thirteen houses, we went into each others house.

    Interviewer - So you really were with these thirteen houses and nobody else?

    Gibson - Because the other places were too far away, like Chicken Alley and Free Park, they were too far for us to go by ourself.

    Interviewer - Did you know the people there though?

    Gibson - Oh, we knew who they were.

    Interviewer - But you didn't really play ...

    Gibson - And there was one field and we had to cross that when we were going down into Free Park, but then there was always a bull in that field.

    Interviewer - There was always a what?

    Gibson - A bull.

    Interviewer - Oh.

    Gibson - And the bull chased us a couple times so we cut that out. But we had a good time, I mean we enjoyed ourselves. Went to school, come home.

    Interviewer - How about swimming in the Brandywine, did you do that in the summer, or fish down there?

    Gibson - Well, that was - no - those people did down there, but we didn't go down there much because we weren't allowed. Some kids fell in there.

    Interviewer - So they felt it was dangerous?

    Gibson - Oh yeah.

    Interviewer - Well how about things like - oh, you know, picking strawberries or going out getting berries, did you do much of that?

    Gibson - No.

    Interviewer - No?

    Gibson - No, there wasn't much around there, not at the Upper Banks. As I said, there was just the community of the thirteen houses there, and most of them went to visit each other in the daytime and around and in the evening.

    Interviewer - How about Sundays, did your family go to other places like Chicken Alley or Free Park to visit?

    Gibson - Yes, we used to go down Rising Sun there, my Mother knew a lot of people there and the kids used to go, was a couple, two or three older women a little bit off in the head. There was Peggy Dadd, we never knew what her name was, but you know, she'd chase us, give us candy or something.

    Interviewer - Were you scared of her?

    Gibson - No.

    Interviewer - She was nice?

    Gibson - No, she was nice. But we used to like the funny things she did. But there was one there along the Brandywine, and we couldn't go there unless our Mothers were with us, because there was just a stone wall, and we kids, we used to climb up on there and fall in. There was one woman, she had - her name was McGinley, she had a little boy I guess about four and the woman next to her had one little child about the same age. So they were out playing on this wall. So she told them not to get up on the wall. After a while she heard a scream. She looked out, there were the two of them in the middle of the Brandywine - just hands up screaming. Now she couldn't swim, but she ran out, all her clothes on and she climbed over the wall and she grabbed the two children. She couldn't move with the two of them, she said she couldn't save her own and leave the other little partner, so she stood there holding and one of the du Pont's chauffeur come along, he saw her, he went out and got them.

    Interviewer - Oh, so they were saved?

    Gibson - Yeah. But a lot of danger, because there was nothing there.

    Interviewer - Were many people - did many people die in the Brandywine, as kids, not your group, but ...others?

    Gibson - No. No, we were watched pretty - we were afraid to go because we'd never get out to play again if we went.
  • Hiding her mother's coal bucket; morning routines; mother's illness and death of infant siblings
    Transcript: Interviewer - How would they punish you, if they punished you?

    Gibson - Just stay in the house.

    Interviewer - Were you spanked?

    Gibson - No, I don't think my Father or his family, my Mother did.

    Interviewer - But that was the punishment, making you stay in the house?

    Gibson - Was nothing else. But of course they tell about me. I would never sass my Mother. If my Uncle Pat would want to take me in town, he'd have to go in town, and he'd say, "Dress Mary, I'm going to take her in town." Mama said, "No, she'll be a little pest. She'll want this and that, you stay there, she can't go." Now I would get mad at my Mother. I would not talk back to her or say a word. I'd just keep quiet. I'd wait a chance to get even with my Mother. Now my Father brought a coal bucket, a very - I don't know how much he paid for it, but he used to fill that coal bucket up before he went to work, so my Mother wouldn't have to go out in the shed and bring in the coal. So everybody admired the coal bucket, he bought it somewhere in town. So I thought I would wear my new dress to school. She said, "You know you can't wear it, you can't wear your new dress to school." So I went upstairs, I got dressed. Now my Mother didn't see me going out. I think she was out feeding chickens or something, so I hollered goodbye to her and I went and I took the empty coal bucket, wasn't filled. And I took it and carried it up past the sand hole, that was a burying ground, and I left it up along the road. Carried it all the way up there and left it up by the sand hole. So Hunter had an order for my Mother, he was to bring it down. He brought the coal bucket, he saw it along the road. And he said to my Mother, "What's your coal bucket doing out there at the sand hole?" She said, "It's not up there." He said, "Here it is, I brought it down." So my Mother kinda thought I did it. Everybody knew the coal bucket, everybody liked it, everybody would stop in to see it. So anyhow, he left it there and my Mother said to me when I came from school, she said, "Where's my coal bucket?" I said, "I don't know where your coal bucket is." She said, "Did you take it to school?" I said, "I don't think so." She said, "You know you did." So I got punished for that I know. But I never talked back, I don't think I ever did all my life, I would just get even.

    Interviewer - (Hearty laughing).

    Gibson - One time I locked up Uncle Pat. I wanted to go in town with him and he said "You can't go today, I have some business to attend to." So I thought, Oh well. So he went upstairs to get dressed. Now he came downstairs, he was dressed, he came downstairs and he went outside and my Mother was making the beds and she heard the window open and she heard him talking. She said, "Who are you talking to, Pat?" He said, "I was locked out, I can't get in the house." I saw him go out in the yard, locked all the windows and doors. That's the way I got even.

    Interviewer - And you got even that way.

    Gibson - I never got mad at nobody, I can't fight yet.

    Interviewer - Did the other children, you know, were they like that, was everybody like that?

    Gibson - Oh my sister, when her Father got killed, she was a bad one. Well see everybody was so sorry for my Mother, the three of them being killed, they worried about my Mother and they were very good to my sister. My Mother didn't remarry, I guess, until she was I guess about seven years.

    Interviewer - Well then your Mother just, after her first husband was killed, just stayed on at the house at the Upper Banks.

    Gibson - Yes.

    Interviewer - Well how did she live, did she...

    Gibson - Boarders.

    Interviewer - She had boarders?

    Gibson - She had boarders. She had one ...

    Interviewer - Would you like some water?

    Gibson - You know I never had whooping cough until I was, when my second child was born. I guess I was 34, and then they didn't have anything for whooping cough. You'd die of it.

    Interviewer - What about when you were a child, you know, things like measles and whooping cough, it would just go through like an epidemic, you know, the children got them?

    Gibson - A lot of babies died.

    Interviewer - What would they die from?

    Gibson - They had spasms, nothing -the doctor couldn't do anything for them. They had the doctor, but he couldn't -my Mother had one baby, the last baby, she was here in town, and she was sick, getting hot, had a fever, so she called the doctor and he came out right away. He lived at Centerville and he came down and she was dead at four o'clock.

    Interviewer - And this was the baby?

    Gibson - Yeah. She was just fifteen months. And the grown-ups died. They died of pneumonia. I've seen older men come home from work with a high fever be dead by midnight.

    Interviewer - I guess they really didn't have medicines.

    Gibson - No, nothing.

    Interviewer - Did they have aspirin?

    Gibson - No.

    Interviewer - Nothing like that. What would you take for pain, did they have anything?

    Gibson - Nothing, I guess they didn't take anything.

    Interviewer - What about hot toddys?

    Gibson - Huh?

    Interviewer - I remember the Irish used to take hot toddys, hot whiskey and sugar and water.

    Gibson - Oh yeah. That was the main thing.

    Interviewer - Well let's talk a little bit more about what you did at the house on a daily routine. How about getting up in the morning, did you have an alarm clock or anything like that?

    Gibson - Stayed in bed -Papa called us. We got up and got washed, and we didn't have no bathrooms either.

    Interviewer - Where did you get washed?

    Gibson - We had a bench out on the side porch.

    Interviewer - In the wintertime?

    Gibson - Yeah.

    Interviewer - Boy, that must have been cold!

    Gibson - No stoves - we had - my Father was great for buying gifts for my Mother, her presents on her birthday, and he bought her this stove, was a dining room stove. It was chrome and you would pick up all your clothes and go down in the dining room and get dressed.

    Interviewer - Next to that stove?

    Gibson - Right next to the stove.

    Interviewer - Who did you sleep with, did you sleep alone -with your sister? How many bedrooms did you have in the house?

    Gibson - Oh I guess we only had three.

    Interviewer - And a kitchen and a living room and another floor?

    Gibson - We had a kitchen and a living room downstairs. And we had these winding stairs, not straight. I guess we had three rooms upstairs. My Mother's babies all died young. She had five die.

    Interviewer - She had five young babies that died?

    Gibson - She had twins.

    Interviewer - And what did they die from?

    Gibson - Just as I say, they woke up with a fever and old Dr. Chandler, he was the doctor, he always came to everybody, but there was nothing - of course my Mother went to Diver's Hill for one of her babies. So we had to get - Dr. Chandler said my Mother would have to have a nurse, so they sent one from the Delaware Hospital - gosh she was cranky. I used to feel sorry for my Father. He would have to get up at twelve o'clock at night and give her lunch.

    Interviewer - Get the nurse her lunch?

    Gibson - Yeah. And before morning he had to get her an apple, pare the apple, get out of bed. So she told the doctor she couldn't stay but three or four days for she had another case. I remember the doctor saying to my Father, "Going to send you another nurse." "Thank God," he said, "We didn't have enough people to wait on her."

    Interviewer - Was it hard getting nurses then?

    Gibson - Oh yeah, it was unheard of.

    Interviewer - Well, how long was your Mother sick at that time?

    Gibson - She was sick two weeks, we thought she was going to die.

    Interviewer - Then she got all right?

    Gibson - Yeah. And the doctor tells the second nurse, she was real nice, to make two - oh what do you call it - other cases - one for yourself and one for me. He said, "Did you remember having any case like this, so close to death?" That's just the way it is.

    Interviewer - Really? And what saved her, do you think?

    Gibson - Well, hot toddy - that's all she used to get. He ordered it. It wasn't very much, it seemed like, if I can remember, it was about a teaspoonful and a couple drops of water, very little, but she had to have it every hour or so.

    Interviewer - And you drank it hot?

    Gibson - And the nurse would give it to her.
  • Nuns visit to her sick mother; attending St. Joseph's school; her father's work and political views
    Transcript: Gibson - Cause I know the Sisters at school said one day, "Mary, you wait for me after school. I'm going down to see your Mother." I said, "There won't be any use going down, you can't see her." And she said, "Why, is she worse?" "Well, you can't see her, the nurse won't let you." She said, "Well, Sister Simone and myself are going down and we're going to raise the roof of the house if we can't get in." I had never heard that expression when I was small, you know. I never waited for the Sisters after school, I came home and told the nurse. I said, "Miss Alberta, two Sisters are coming down to see Mom, and you better let them in." And she said, "Why do you tell me that for, that I've got to let them in?" "Well you're not letting anybody in to see Mom, and they're going to take the roof off of the house." She says, "Well, it would be nice to have a new roof on the house." And I worried myself and after a while I saw the Sisters come down the hill, I was gonna fight, you know.

    Interviewer - Were you afraid of the nuns when you went to school like we were?

    Gibson - No.

    Interviewer - You had only nuns?

    Gibson - But they were strict. We had to cross a lot across from St. Joseph's, wide open lot, so the boys would have a fight in there, so of course three or four of us girls went over to watch the fight. We were late for school. We heard the bells, by the time we got over or we were late. So Sister asked us who was watching the fight - there was four or five of us told, and we were in a line, put your hands out and we'd get five straps, and good hard ones, with a ruler. And she told us in front of the real people, "Now you remember this when you grow up and get married and you have your babies," and we were only eight years old then, "And you have your babies, I don't want any of you running to fires or fights, with your babies in your arms, stay in the house and mind your babies." [laughter] And I often thought of it afterwards, when I'd sit in the room.

    Interviewer - Was a lot of your social activity around Brandywine out at St. Joseph's Church?

    Gibson - Well, not so much. See of course there was no cars, and people had to walk such long distances.

    Interviewer - Well is that how your family did it on Sunday morning going to Mass, you'd all walk up there together?

    Gibson - Well, the small ones, I remember when my brothers were small, I'd mostly go. My Father would take us one Sunday and Mother would stay home and mind the children. We liked Pop to mind us. We had a good time with Pop. He'd shine our shoes.

    Interviewer - He wasn't as strict?

    Gibson - No, Mom was, "Don't get that dress dirty." Pop didn't care.

    Interviewer - Well then they were just nuns at St. Joseph's?

    Gibson - Yeah. Well, they only had three rooms.

    Interviewer - Oh. And what grades -how did they put you?

    Gibson - Well in the first room on the first floor, one room, and we'd sit on the radiator. There was three grades in there -was two grades on the first floor. And I always remember that. There was a boy by the name of Haley, and the Sister said, this Paul Haley, and she said, "Mary Sweeney, now you're going in another grade, one grade, you're too bright for the other kids." So we were in a grade by ourself. And right after we left St. Joseph's, I didn't see that fellow for thirty-five years. I was working with Pontiac and this man came in, he wanted to see Mr. Diver, so I called him and he talked to Mr. Diver and he bought a new car. So it was right in the room where I was and he said, he looked at Mr. Diver, "Do you mind if I talk to your telephone operator?" He says, "All you can do is talk to her, don't you touch her or try to take her away." He said, "I just want to talk to her." I thought how does he know me. So he came over to me and asked me how I was, and I didn't know him. He asked me a couple of questions and he said, "Do you know me?" I said, "No." "You've never seen me before?" I said, "I don't think so." So he said, "Well, I know you. I'll tell you a couple of things and maybe you'll remember me. Do you remember St. Joseph's School?" And I said, "Yes." Still I didn't know him. He said, "Do you remember the two smartest kids in St. Joseph's School?" And I still didn't know him.

    Interviewer - Did you remember him then?

    Gibson - After he told me who he was. He said, "You haven't changed a bit." I said, "Paul you don't mean to tell me I looked this old when I was eight years old?" He said, "No." People often see me now and say my features haven't changed, always had a fat face.

    Interviewer - You've got that Irish sense of humor, too. How many grades did they have at St. Joseph's? Oh, just the three grades. Well then where did you go to school after that?

    Gibson - Well I came in town. We moved in town, I went to St. Thomas's down here.

    Interviewer - Oh, how old were you when you moved into town?

    Gibson - I guess nine.

    Interviewer - In high school? Oh, nine. How come you moved into Wilmington then?

    Gibson - Well, everybody was leaving the powder mill, you know, starting in town, everybody was moving from DuPonts.

    Interviewer - Oh, so that's why your family came in. But did your Father still continue to work for DuPont?

    Gibson - No.

    Interviewer - He went to work someplace else?

    Gibson - Yes, he went to work for the Water Department down at 11th and King. My Father was a stubborn Irishman. I remember one time when my Mother couldn't handle him. My Mother could make him ­ one word from my Mother and he didn't do it. I know one time somebody running for president and du Ponts were all Republicans. My Father was a Democrat and he didn't care who knew it. So I think it was Bryan was running, he was Democrat, so Pop tells a couple of the Irishmen, Old Man Casey, Old Man Toomey, come in there's going to be a parade ... [End of Tape 1, Side A] [Begin Tape 1, Side B] Gibson - [Repeated the above and then continued]... in Wilmington for Bryan. They said Dennis, don't you go, you'll get fired, you know the du Ponts don't like the Democrats. Pop said, "I don't care what the du Ponts like, I'm going in." And nobody would go with him. My Mother was mad at him, he said he didn't care, it was a free world, he was going in. So he went in, he got a couple beers in him, come home. So Mom started scolding him, he was home early. He'd come home by himself. He always called my Mother Madam. He said, "Don't start scolding me, I'm not ready, I'm going to bed, I'm tired." And she said, "You'll get fired and what are you going to do then, you'll have no job?" "I'll get a job." So he went to bed and in a couple days it was pay day, they got paid once a month, thirty dollars a month is what they made. Then everybody was talking, coming out of the mill and Mom says to Pop, "What's the matter up there, everybody is chewing the rag, all talking together?" He said, "You know, I'm the only one got a raise." And the men, they couldn't understand it. Papa was the only one got a raise at the mill at that time.

    Interviewer - Isn't that funny.

    Gibson - Papa worked on the Rockford Tower and he has his initials on there, I saw it.

    Interviewer - He has what? His initials in the Tower.

    Gibson - Yeah, Pop.

    Interviewer - What did he do?

    Gibson - He built it.

    Interviewer - He built the tower?

    Gibson - Yeah, the tower.

    Interviewer - Oh, is that after he left Hagley?

    Gibson - Yeah. After he came in town.
  • Irish-American community; Christmas traditions and gifts; mother's shopping habits and ice delivery
    Transcript: Interviewer - What about your parents from Ireland? Were they ever naturalized, or did they become citizens?

    Gibson - Well once they came here, yeah.

    Interviewer - They did?

    Gibson - Yeah. Oh my Father couldn't wait - they had to wait a year or something I think. I had his papers upstairs.

    Interviewer - Were most of the people that lived in your neighborhood, were they Irish?

    Gibson - Mostly - Hackendorns, Crogans, mostly all - that's why I said, people changed like today. They're not as friendly, anyone is. Now my Mother had little kettles, tin kettles with a lid on them and if anybody was sick, Mama would say, "Don't take your dress off after school." I had to take soup to Mrs. Crogan. I had to take soup to Mrs. Hackendorn, anybody was sick, she had these and you always knew when anybody was sick.

    Interviewer - Did they do the same for her?

    Gibson - Yeah.

    Interviewer - Everybody did.

    Gibson - Oh, they were all ...

    Interviewer - In other words you kinda kept care of each other. If somebody was sick, the rest of the people sort of saw that the children and the father had food to eat.

    Gibson - And the children were looked after.

    Interviewer - Did you laugh a lot?

    Gibson - Oh yeah, we had darn good times.

    Interviewer - Where did you keep your clothes, did you have closets in the house at the time?

    Gibson - Oh yeah, we had closets. The only thing I used to hate was this winding stairs. And we used to play on them with our toys. And I don't know who it was left some toy and my Mother fell down and broke her ankle. And I don't think - I'm always careful of stair steps ever since. My Father - gonna break out necks if we left any toys on there.

    Interviewer - Well, out at Hagley just up the hill from the black gates, they restored the Gibbons House, the young Gibbons House, with that stairway and I know what you mean, going up and down that stairway.

    Gibson - Yeah, you had to be careful. They were really winding.

    Interviewer - If you got hurt, did they take you to the hospital or the doctor came to you?

    Gibson - Oh, I don't know, somebody bothered with you.

    Interviewer - Now what time did you go to bed?

    Gibson - Oh we went - well, my Father took care of us going to bed. My Mother dressed us, gave us a bath and put our nightgowns on us. My Father sat in a chair, sang to us or sang some Irish songs or told us tales or something, we'd sit there. I think we were always in bed by quarter of nine. And Christmas, I wanted a sled, oh I wanted - so my Mother told us she didn't have enough money to get the sled. We knew, we understood it why we couldn't get any. So we had this shed outside that we kept our coal and different things in it. So we went to bed, I guess it was around seven o'clock, they wanted to trim the tree, so my brothers and I went to bed, they went in their room and I went in mine. They went to sleep, but I didn't, I wanted to see what I was gonna get. I laid on my belly right at the top and I could see downstairs. I could see my Mother and Father coming out of the shed bringing the things and putting them underneath the tree, never said a word. I saw the sled. I saw Pop carrying it in and I yelled. Oh, was my Mother mad, she come upstairs - "Get in bed there, and don't get out of that bed again." So I didn't care, I got the sled.

    Interviewer - Did you believe in Santa Claus?

    Gibson - Well, after I went to school, kids told me. But this girl told me, she said, "Don't let your Mother know cause you won't get anything." After you tell your Mother you don't believe in it. I never did tell Mom.

    Interviewer - But you had the tree?

    Gibson - Oh yeah, we had a beautiful - oh my those trees. My Father had a whole church underneath that tree. It's a wonder they weren't -those trees weren't bent down. They were all candles - lit.

    Interviewer - Oh, lit candles on it .

    Gibson - Some - I think Uncle Pat built the church. Oh it was a hard thing, had all candles inside the church, under the tree.

    Interviewer - Did you watch it very carefully?

    Gibson - Oh yeah.

    Interviewer - What did you give your parents, your Mother and Dad, a Christmas present when you were little?

    Gibson - No, didn't have any money.

    Interviewer - No, but I thought you might have made something, you know, knitted something or something like that.

    Gibson - No, they didn't do that in the school. All you had to be was good, and you had to be good.

    Interviewer - That's all they expected of you. What did your brothers get, the Christmas that you got the sled, what did your brothers get, for instance?

    Gibson - I know one - they got trains. One of them got an express wagon. Imagine, he took his apart - oh my Mother was mad. She looked in there sometime during Christmas Day and he turned around and had taken all the wheels off.

    Interviewer - And could he get it back together then?

    Gibson - No, Uncle Pat had to put it back. Uncle Pat was our savior.

    Interviewer - Did you have stockings, Christmas stockings that you filled? That you hung on the chimney?

    Gibson - No, I don't think - yeah, we had - if we were bad during the year, we got coal in them.

    Interviewer - Oh, when you were bad, did they really do that?

    Gibson - Yeah.

    Interviewer - They really did?

    Gibson - And then you would know, later on in the day what you were gonna get, but you got coal.

    Interviewer - Oh, they held you in suspense until later on in the day and then brought out the presents. But how about things in the - did you have things like oranges, was that a special treat at Christmas?

    Gibson - No, we had plenty of oranges, we always had plenty ­ that was one thing, we got plenty to eat - oranges, and what's those other things?

    Interviewer - Bananas?

    Gibson - Yeah.

    Interviewer - Apples?

    Gibson - Lots of small things.

    Interviewer - Tangerines?

    Gibson - Yeah, tangerines. We used to love them. [Tape goes blank for a short time.]

    Interviewer - And she had to go all the way into Wilmington to shop for that. How did they carry it home, did she have a big shopping bag or something that she brought it home in?

    Gibson - Big baskets.

    Interviewer - Oh, baskets.

    Gibson - I know my Mother, my Mother died of a stroke when she was sixty years old, and she was ailing for about a year before, and I remember the doctor saying to her one day, "No more carrying baskets." After she came in town, she always went to market. He said, "Don't carry anything, take it easy." She wouldn't.

    Interviewer - Well when she went in to Wilmington to the market, was that down on Kings Street, the old farmers' market on King Street?

    Gibson - Yeah. But she had regular people - the meat man's name was Myer and she wouldn't buy meat any place else. He used to deliver out to...

    Interviewer - Out to Hagley, or around that area of town - up Rising Sun?

    Gibson - Oh yeah. A lot of people dealt with him. I think he was a Dutchman, a nice old fellow. Always had something for the kids.

    Interviewer - What would he give you?

    Gibson - Oh, an apple, an orange, banana or something.

    Interviewer - Well, then did you - how did your Mother keep this meat - did she have an ice box?

    Gibson - No, she didn't have any ice box. She used to buy a great big piece of ice. I think it was a 25-cent piece of ice and she wrapped that up - I forget, I think it was cheesecloth or paper. And everything was put in near that.

    Interviewer - And it would last for how long - a week?

    Gibson - I don't know, but she never -of course she killed her own chickens. My Mother never had anything go bad on her cause she always...

    Interviewer - Oh, well she had it fresh right there at the house then. Well that ice, did somebody come around and deliver that in, you know, in a truck - did they come around selling ice?

    Gibson - Yeah, I can't remember who used to - there was a colored man used to - I think it was him delivered. And my brother, he was about four and he used to talk to the kids, the colored man and my brother said, "How come that the inside of your hand is white and the outside is black?" We used to ask those colored people, not like they are today, you'd say anything to them. The only colored man was that man and the coal man.

    Interviewer - And they came from Wilmington, is that it?

    Gibson - No Wilmington - came from Greenville.

    Interviewer - Oh, okay.

    Gibson - The coal man did.

    Interviewer - Is that what you burned all the time - coal?

    Gibson - Yeah.

    Interviewer - You didn't have a fireplace?

    Gibson - U-huh.

    Interviewer - Did anybody have fireplaces - it was all coal stoves?

    Gibson - Lots of du Ponts, I guess, maybe they had.

    Interviewer - Did you ever go to the du Pont homes?

    Gibson - No, you wouldn't be allowed. Of course when I moved in town, my two aunts, Aunt Kay especially, she had never married, she lived out and she went to the University Club. Danford Bush had that house, and they used to always go in the back way. She'd tell us if we'd like to come up if they had a big party, she'd say - she would tell my Mother, "Bring Mary up, don't bring her up until about half past eight, you come too, and the party will be over."

    We had another house, another woman lived at - St. Francis Hospital, nurses home, and we went there. Boy, I used to have a good time there. She had more devil - her name was Margaret, and she was a great friend of my Mother's. Boy, she was always calling up. The name was Hellis, I think that lived there, and they were nice people, the woman especially. She used to come out in the kitchen, talk to us, give us all kinds of stuff to take home.

    Interviewer - And who was she - she was ...

    Gibson - She was one of the big shots, her name was Hellis.

    Interviewer - But she wasn't a du Pont?

    Gibson - She married into du Pont.

    Interviewer - Oh, I see, u-huh, u-huh.

    Gibson - They were all nice people.
  • Sixtieth birthday party; childhood holiday traditions; Frances Casey's employment at DuPont Co.; powder mill explosions
    Transcript: Interviewer - How about some of the, you know, the big events like - we talked about Christmas - what about your birthdays, how would you celebrate your birthday?

    Gibson - Nothing.

    Interviewer - Nothing - your Mother didn't make you a cake or anything?

    Gibson - No.

    Interviewer - It wasn't a big day like it is now?

    Gibson - Oh no. I never had a - until I was sixty years old. My son threw me a party when I was sixty years old and I didn't know anything about it. He said to me, "How about you coming out Wednesday night and minding the kids for me while I go to the movies." I was working. I said, "All right, I'll mind them, but don't stay too late, because I have to go to work in the morning." He said, "How about it?" I said, "Go early to the movies." He said, "I was gonna pick you up at work, but I think I'll have to go home and eat." I said, "All right - the children come after me about half past six, so you won't be too late at the movies." So, I saw my sister getting all dressed up, I said, "Where are you going?" She said, "I'm going in to see Nell for a while." And I saw them meeting the woman next door going out, I said, "Everybody's going out tonight." And I didn't get dressed at all, only what I had on at work. Seven o'clock came, he wasn't even after me and I was real mad. So I said, "I had hoped you would come after me early." So finally he said, "I have to stop at a gas station." I said, "Why didn't you get gas, you'll never get to the movies." So we went in a gas station, he didn't get any gas. I saw him use the telephone, he comes out, and we're ready to go. So he lives at Sedwick Park, so I got out of the car and I opened the door - every damn neighbor in the place was out there.

    Interviewer - And they kept it a secret from you.

    Gibson - I didn't know.

    Interviewer - Oh that was wonderful that was nice.

    Gibson - And the woman next door said, "I had a hard time keeping my old man in the house all dressed up. I wouldn't let him go outside, I thought you would see him."

    Interviewer - Well, when you were young then, with your birthday, did they say "Happy Birthday" or anything?

    Gibson - Well, no.

    Interviewer - You never even paid any attention to that?

    Gibson - U-huh.

    Interviewer - Any like Easter - you celebrated Easter?

    Gibson - Oh yeah, new dress.

    Interviewer - Easter baskets?

    Gibson - Yeah, not much, but just at Easter, we didn't bother. Of course you have to realize it was just a small community.

    Interviewer - Make sense, it was wonderful.

    Gibson - Like I said, thirteen houses and they, you know, about the same aged people.

    Interviewer - Do you remember any of the houses there being built or anything being torn down or any ...

    Gibson - Not a thing, nothing happened.

    Interviewer - Any renovations at all like painting and things? How about people, did they move in and move out or were they all just...

    Gibson - Well everybody was Doughertys. Old man Dougherty and Young Man Dougherty, they were all Doughertys, and Toomeys and Caseys. Now Old Man Casey, there was three of them, him and his brother and another one, all lived in different houses. Now I played with the Crogans and the Hackendorns - they had girls.

    Interviewer - Did you fight at all - oh she said you didn't but did people argue back and forth?

    Gibson - Oh yeah.

    Interviewer - Well, for instance, did you have dolls, did you play with dolls with your girlfriends?

    Gibson - Well, we didn't have lots of dolls like they do, got big doll, maybe one Christmas, then the next year we'd get a couple dresses, but people didn't have any money.

    Interviewer - Right. Well, how about things like your little dresses that you wore to school, did your Mother make those for you?

    Gibson - She didn't sew very much, she used to sew, but some of the neighbors would sew.

    Interviewer - It was kinda one of those things - the neighbors would make - sew for her and she'd do something for them.

    Gibson - Oh yeah, that's the way.

    Interviewer - Yeah, well that was a nice community.

    Gibson - It was.

    Interviewer - Well I bet, for instance, Fourth of July must have been a big holiday?

    Gibson - Oh yes.

    Interviewer - What did you do then?

    Gibson - We used to have by the cemetery there was an old man, Jeremiah Casey and his wife, Abbie. And they had open house and they had a great big model in their house. He had open house, everybody went to Casey's. We had a good time - all day.

    Interviewer - They have lots of food?

    Gibson - Yeah, they always had lots of food, but the neighbors, when they would come, would bring different things they made.

    Interviewer - So everybody would bring something?

    Gibson - U-huh, and no fights or nothing.

    Interviewer - Well this Mr. Casey, for instance, what did he do with the Hagley Yard, was he a boss or a supervisor?

    Gibson - Oh he was a character. He had, I guess, seven children, and he wanted them all to have a good education. He says, "I don't want them to be the brightest kids, but I want them to be a step above a common." But Old Man Casey, talk about children, you know, a step above a common. And he did. Now Frances and Margaret, they had good jobs, they were bright kids, they studied hard.

    Interviewer - Did they go to St. Joseph's School too?

    Gibson - Yeah. I think they went - I think it was Goldey's, was no Beacoms then.

    Interviewer - Just called Goldey's.

    Gibson - One of them took up languages and she had a good job at DuPonts. And one time, this man, I don't know where he was from, but he came to see her boss in the DuPont Company. And he couldn't talk any ­ I think he was Spanish, he couldn't talk any English. So they didn't know what to do with him, so they said to Frances, "Frances you took Spanish in school, see if you can talk to him." She said, "What am I gonna do with him?" "Take him out to the Hotel for dinner. We have to do something with him. Nobody can talk to him." So she said all right. So she asked him if she could take him to dinner. She had a very good time with him, she took him all around and her boss said to come in, but he never did - he was out of town - so anyhow when the boss came in the next day, the man called him and he had nothing but praise for Frances. Boy she got a good job.

    Interviewer - Did you learn languages in school, did you take any other languages?

    Gibson - No, I went to...

    Interviewer - At the Brandywine they didn't teach...

    Gibson - Oh no, no.

    Interviewer - Only at St. Joe's - they didn't teach...

    Gibson - Reading, writing and arithmetic, that's all they had there.

    Interviewer - Three things? Well then when you moved in town, you said you went to...

    Gibson - St. Thomas's.

    Interviewer - St. Thomas's.

    Gibson - Well then I took up shorthand, typewriting, bookkeeping, took an advanced course two years over in St. Anne's. They had extra courses there.

    Interviewer - Do you remember the Brandywine Manufacturer's Sunday School? That was up by the old office, I think, the first office. It was right up the hill, up the black gates, the hill up from the...

    Gibson - No, not that far. The old office was right across from the Sand Hole. Course we were never allowed.

    Interviewer - Were you ever allowed in the Powder Mills at all?

    Gibson - No.

    Interviewer - Did you know what went on in the mills - how did you know, if you weren't allowed in?

    Gibson - We always could pick it up from the neighbors who discussed it.

    Interviewer - Were you ever afraid if explosions ...

    Gibson - No. Well, the big ones - that was a terrible one they say.

    Interviewer - But you weren't alive then?

    Gibson - We were always afraid of the explosions. Did you ever see an explosion?

    Interviewer - No. But you have seen them?

    Gibson - Yeah, oh yeah. This ball of smoke would come up in the air, this terrible bang and then nothing but smoke would go up in the air, up in the sky.

    Interviewer - What did people do when that happened - did they all run to the scene, or did they go in the opposite direction?

    Gibson - Well...

    Interviewer - If it happened if you were at school at St. Joe's, what would happen?

    Gibson - The explosion would be like in one mill. Now they sent me a letter - I wrote to them and asked them. my sister wouldn't bother. I think my sister was really mad - DuPont's should have sent her to school.

    Interviewer - They didn't?

    Gibson - No, there should have been something for my Mother. I remember then my Mother - my Mother wanted a little bit of money for her two brothers because her mother was living over in Ireland. Five dollars is what she wanted them to give her - they didn't give her nothing.

    Interviewer - Did they come over to console her?

    Gibson - I don't think so. But in this letter it said they didn't know why one of them didn't get out in time. But I don't think anybody could have get out, it was in the powder mill. And one powder mill was right down the street from us, but that wasn't the one that went off.

    Interviewer - Were you in a danger area if there was an explosion at that powder mill near you, would your homes have been affected?

    Gibson - Yeah, I guess it would. There was different mills.

    Interviewer - Do you remember much about Samuel Frizzell's grocery store?

    Gibson - Who?

    Interviewer - Samuel Frizzell.

    Gibson - Oh yes, Sam Frizzell.

    Interviewer - Tell us something about that.

    Gibson - Sam Frizzell was out-down along the Brandywine, farther down. Now Hunter was the one up near us. Oh yes, little Sam Frizzell.

    Interviewer - And there was Tim McCarthy's Blazing Rag Tavern, do you remember that? Or Tom Toy's, the William Penn Tavern.

    Gibson - Toy's, I remember Tom Toy. They were down there by - you came down, before you went over the bridge.

    Interviewer - Did you ever go in them - or you were too young?

    Gibson - I was too young.

    Interviewer - How about this - do you remember the Tancopanican Band led by Alfred I. du Pont?

    Gibson - I know I have a picture. Alfred I. du Pont used to take men on a trip down the Delaware. I have that picture.

    Interviewer - Mrs. Gibson, if you have any pictures, would you be willing to let the Hagley make a print of them and give them back to you, because that's one of the things they want us to ask people if they have any pictures.

    Gibson - Well I have a good picture of us taken - I have it in here.

    Interviewer - You know what we could do now - unplug the microphone - do you know what we could do now - stop.