Interview with Ralph Beech Brown, 1981 April 28 [audio]
- Early Life; Father's work on the B& O Railroad; Running away to join the circusKeywords: Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; Carnivals; Carpentry; Cecil County, Md.; Circuses; Elephants; Newark, Del; Norfolk, Va.; Salisbury, Md.; Shellpot Park; Tents; Virginia; WorkTranscript: Tremaine: What is your name?
Brown: My name is Ralph Beech Brown.
Tremaine: And your address?
Brown: 1906 Newport Gap Pike.
Tremaine: And do you mind giving me your age?
Brown: I'll be 81 on the 7th of June.
Tremaine: Seventh of June, my goodness. Where were you born?
Brown: I was born in Cecil County, Maryland.
Tremaine: And where have you lived, you know, not the address particularly, but the locations.
Brown: I was born on a farm between ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ________ and Upland, and my Father was a carpenter on the B. & O. Railroad. We lived on the farm for some years, then we moved to Newark and had a house right behind St. John's Church. It was much easier to get the train, see.
Tremaine: Oh yes.
Brown: When we lived in the country, my Grandfather used to have to hitch a horse and carriage and take us in. But here....a construction crew, and they had a cab car, I imagine, beside the boom car. In those days there was very little steel, all chestnut 12 x 12 joists to go across little creeks, you know.
Brown – And he would later on, on a Monday morning, his jurisdiction was from Philadelphia to Baltimore and he would leave home on a Monday morning and you wouldn't see him until Saturday afternoon.
Tremaine: Oh my, he just slept right on...
Brown: They had a cabin and living car right -- and they put it on a side track, see.
Tremaine: Just sleep there.
Brown: I'm going to give you a little price tag of some things he -- when he got down to the Baltimore area, he would get a passenger train into Baltimore, just had one come right through. So he used to go down on White Street where all the produce boats come in -– oyster boats and banana boats. He could buy a whole stock of bananas for twenty-five cents.
Tremaine: The whole thing?
Brown: The whole stock!
Tremaine: Oh my.
Brown: And oysters, a half bushel seventy-five cents.
Tremaine: (Laughs) Can't do that now.
Brown: He knew all the trainsmen, ride the baggage car.
Tremaine: Where did you move after you left Newark?
Brown: We moved right in town.
Tremaine: In town.
Brown: We moved in Chick Black's house, 1917 Lincoln. That's after he built the new home at Delaware Avenue and Lincoln, where Dr. Statt is now.
Tremaine: And from there you came out here?
Brown: From there we moved to 18th -- 2334 W. 18th Street, 18th and Riverview. We stayed there until after I left home. I was a wild kid. I wanted to see what the world had for me.
Tremaine: Well sure.
Brown: So I ran away with the circus.
Tremaine: Oh - what did you do in the circus?
Brown: I helped the tents and rides up.
Tremaine: What circus was it?
Brown: I did some advertising for -- a small circus, I was there a week, I didn't like it. It was like Cole Brothers. I was just there one week, I didn't get a chance to get acquainted with anybody.
Tremaine: Then you came home again?
Brown: I came back, I was great for music, when I was a kid I used to follow the calliope from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Circus, out to Front and Union. That's where...
Tremaine: Oh, they used to come up Front and Union?
Brown: Featured show, then they went over on the east side. One year they couldn't get that lot, so they went to Shellpot Park, and that's where and elephant mired down and they had to shoot it.
Tremaine: The elephant mired down?
Brown: Yes, cause it rained so much, and when they tried to get the wagons off the lot, and the elephant broke a leg and they had to shoot it.
Tremaine: Oh my.
Brown: I remember I decided I wanted to go to the carnival, more activity, I could communicate with people better. The circus, it was all one big (can't understand the next few words). But anyway, I joined the carnival, the James E. Strait Shows and they played down on South Market Street. And we went to Salisbury, Maryland. And I was what they called a jump man on a concession. I was there the help -- concession money in my pocket to get the other people to play. With the help - what the real thing was. I told them off pretty well and I left.
We moved to Salisbury and there was a nice old lady, I mean they had their horse and wagon there, and they'd come down on their way -- there'd be a great big bell on a stand, you know, and they had a control wheel on what's called a spin the wheel, it was like a ladder, you turn it around, and under the table they had a stick, right by the foot, and if they wanted to let you have it -- if there was a big crowd, might let you win one to get the rest of them to come in. But that old man, I felt so sorry for him, and the lady -- come on, we can't win here, come on -- he said, "No, I'll play, I think we'll win one of these.” So the old man had spent at least seventy dollars and didn't win nothing.
Tremaine: Oh my.
Brown: So this fellow kept on saying, "I'll tell you what, Dad, I'll give you five numbers." But he still wouldn't let him win. And it aggravated me so bad. The fellow said, "Well, Mom, we better go home, I'll have to get some more money. I'll come back tomorrow." he said. So when that man left, I give him some pretty rough language. I said, "Count me out right now."
Brown: And so I came back home, I left that concession, I went with a ride. Well we went from Salisbury to Cape Charles, Virginia, that was the day that I think Joe Lewis won a big fight. And in those days all the wagons were put on flat cars, transported by trains. They had barges to take the wagons on the track, by track on the barges.
We went to Norfolk, Virginia, and I stayed at the Lee Hotel. I had an old buddy with me, so I said, "Pee Wee, did you get the job?" So I met a fellow who was in charge of all the horseless steamers from Norfolk to New York, he had charge of all the card playing and Black Jack and all kinds of stuff. He said, "What are you doing here?” And I said, "I'm out of my territory.” These guys said, "What are you doing?" I said, "I'm with this carnival." "You're with a carnival?" "Yeah." "Do you like it?” I says, "I love it, I'll let you know later." He was a nice chap, a nice wife.
The next morning, I said to Pee Wee, "Let's go down.” So we didn't know anything about it, the night before the girl show had all the tents up, the girl show had a party, and they set fire to the big tent, and so the Sheriff and the police were all there, and so he comes up and said, "Brownie you better leave because the Sheriff's going to plaster, there it was up the show people: put a plaster on everything here.” Put an attachment -- they called it plaster.
So he said if you're gonna stay, you better go down now and get another fellow to pick up the concession or catch us up on those sheets so the guys that have the concession won't lose them.
Brown: I said, "Not me.” We went back to the hotel and when we checked in there was no deposit, see, because they knew the show was in town, glad to have the people, so I looked in my pocket -- I had $2.15, I think, maybe a little less, a little more. I said, "Pee Wee, I never did this before, I'm going home, back to Delaware." I said, "You put a couple dirty shirts under your arm, go down the path to the creek and tell them that your partner will be down in a few minutes. You down and walk up the alley, I'll tie two sheets together, bring our suitcases down." And we did. We took them out to the street and took a streetcar up the Pennsylvania Avenue it was called, Philadelphia Avenue. And we got up there and got something to eat.
Tremaine: Didn't have any money left.
Brown: No, we just had a little bit of change after we had breakfast. We sitting there on the corner, after a while a strawberry truck come up loaded with cases of strawberries. It pulled into a gas station across the street -- "What are the chances of getting a ride?” "Where are you going?" I said, "To Delaware, Wilmington, Delaware." He said, "You can ride on top of the strawberry crates." So we got on top of the strawberry crates and it was so hot and so rough. We stopped a couple of times to get food and all – when we got here we were sunburned to pieces. And that's the last tour of any big traveling circus I took.
But my daughter -- you have a thing around these church carnivals -- those nice big aluminum rides?
Tremaine: I don't usually go anymore.
Brown: Well they just play for churches, that kind.
Tremaine: Oh, yes.
Brown: And the fire companies operated all the concessions. He would find the concessions, put them up and then operate them and we would get a flat rate off the concessions and a percentage off the rides. Well we played Holy Rosary, Claymont, and played St. John Beloved down at Milltown Road and played Elsmere Fire Company and Cranston Heights, just a nice local carnival.
You had no wrestle with outside because all people he knew -- he was from Chesapeake City himself -- he has a nice big motor court there yet. And he was in the Marines -- sergeant -- and he come out, he don't want to work, if he sees a dirty shirt -- out. And he had a nice truck, nice beds, just like a house. But every Monday, course put on work clothes, put the rides up, but every Monday at four o’ clock better have them up and take a bath.
He acquired -- people were begging him to come up -- he couldn't, didn't have enough time. And he kept all his accounts for five years, then he got so big that it didn't pay him to get more fairs, see, so he booked with big shows that played State fairs -- where they had 150 rides.
In my parents’ time, he and Walker became a partner with his Grandmother. He's in partnership and he has a 40' house trailer that had a big double bedroom in the back, and when you walk in, before you walk in, he has an aluminum -- goes out and up and has chairs to sit out there, an awning, you know. And when you walk in, it goes up to the room right in front of the door, you go up two steps, wrought iron rail fence, double beds in one room there, and to the left is the kitchen. All aluminized kitchen, carpet all through the whole trailer and then a sink and the stove. He has a combination bottled gas or electric.
Tremaine: Use either one.
Brown: Yes, and then on the left hand side of that was a real sized bath and shower. And back there was a reception room. And all the way back end there was another room with two more beds in it.
Tremaine: Oh, they're lovely.
Brown: He had equipment like mine -- he had a T.V. with a telescope aerial, you wind it up and take it up and wind it down, close the top. He just got married last -- a year ago last -- I forget -- and he just got back from Chicago last Sunday.
- Father's work at Bancroft's Mills; Brown's family; Brown's family's farmsKeywords: Baking; Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; Cecil County, Md.; Farms; Grandparents; Joseph Bancroft and Sons Co.; Maryland beaten biscuits; Peoples Railway Company (Wilmington, Del.); Siblings; Street-railroadsTranscript: Tremaine: Oh my, well they certainly have nice ones now. I think I better finish this part. What was your Father's name?
Brown: My Father's name was Edward P Brown, Edward Perry Brown.
Tremaine: And where was he born?
Brown: He was born in Cecil County.
Tremaine: And what was his occupation?
Brown: He was a bridge carpenter. When he come off the railroad, he went to work for Bancroft. And in that day you went to work at six o'clock in the morning and you got done at six at night. And on payday, John Bancroft, personally, would come around with a sack on his shoulder and pay them off. And he would ask every man who worked there if he could spare some money and he'd give him a percent, and enlarge the operation. He retired from Bancroft's, but the new company that took it over tried to beat him out of his pension fund.
Tremaine: Oh my.
Brown: He went and saw Mr. Bancroft, used to live on the Park Drive, back off the highway, a big home. "Mr. Bancroft, these people that bought you folks out, don't want to give me a pension." He said, "Come with me, Mr. Brown, I know you got it."
Tremaine: And did he get the pension?
Brown: Yes. And then he was getting up in years, he retired there when we still lived in the Highlands. He was a fellow like me...and he wasn't satisfied when he retired, so Mr. Turner, had Turner Brother's Laundry, their backyard -- here on 17th Street -- their backyard come right up to our backyard, I used to hang over the fence at night time and talk, you know. In those days people were people.
Brown: Believe me -- and so he said, "Mr. Brown, I see you're getting a little busy. How about a job with my husband?” (He is talking fast and can't understand the next sentence.) "I'll come down and talk to you.” Second Jefferson, I think, or Washington. He took the job and he stayed there until he retired from there. And then he went to live with my oldest sister, who died -- was buried yesterday.
Brown: At Marshalton. Then he got so, he stayed around then for a while and lived on First Street. Had an apartment over top of Holt's Restaurant, it wasn't Holt's then, somebody else had it. He stayed with us a while, get married. He was getting pretty old, I said, "Pop, I'm going to take you out." "I'm going up there and get a streetcar.” That's when the old People's Line used to run up there you know. He got so, he wouldn't make the car, he walked out there and one day the County policeman -- he knew everybody, and he says, "Mr. Brown, I'll tell you..."you know when you go out Old Capitol Trail to Marshalton?
Brown: Go down to the bottom of the hill, want to go Stanton, go past that Methodist church to go to Stanton, he caught him right this side of the railroad, my sister lived right the other side of that railroad tracks at the state highway. That's where they park the trucks all along there. So he caught him just before a train was coming down B. & O. Railroad. He said, "Mr. Brown, you oughten to be here." He took him to my sister's, he was walking. After that he got so bad that he was taken over to Farnhurst.
Tremaine: Yes, that's a shame.
Brown: But he would pace.
Tremaine: What was his father's name?
Tremaine: And where was he born?
Brown: He was born in Cecil County.
Tremaine: In Cecil County too, and was he a farmer too?
Brown: He had a little farm, had a little money, had this farm to keep himself busy -- just not doing anything, see, past time you would say. And he had a garden and everything. He had two cows and a horse and he'd just make a compost.
Tremaine: That's what you need. What was his wife's name? Your Grandmother's name on your Father's side?
Brown: My Grandmother's name was Ellen, E-L-L-E-N.
Tremaine: And did she work at all?
Tremaine: No. And where was she born?
Brown: Cecil County.
Tremaine: Cecil County. Now what about your Mother? What was her maiden name?
Brown: Her maiden name was Mary Scott.
Tremaine: Mary Scott. And where was she born?
Brown: She was born in Cecil County.
Tremaine: And did she work at all?
Brown: She was a school teacher. She taught school at a little church called Bethel, right the other side of Chesapeake City, a cemetery, there was a little school called Bethel School, right close to the highway that goes down to Middletown, right through there?
Tremaine: I'm not too...
Brown: You go over a bridge and down toward Middletown, and right between that and Chesapeake City Canal. And then I had -- have three aunts -- my Grandfather Scott, Grandmother's Scott, their aunts had nine children. Three -- let's see, My Uncle Harvey, Uncle Frank, two boys and seven girls. Out of the seven girls, five of them school teachers.
Tremaine: How wonderful, isn't that wonderful.
Brown: My Aunt Edith, she married a man that had a farm just outside Newark. Newark town limits comes right to his farm, then he had from there on back to the State line, both sides of the Pennsylvania and B. & O.Railroad, that was on his property. He had a marvelous farm.
Tremaine: Oh yes.
Brown: And he used to drive a horse and wagon, and every Saturday was down on King Street Market -– sell chickens and eggs, you know. He passed away before my Aunt Edith, then she worked for DuPonts.
Tremaine: Where did she work then?
Brown: She passed away too. Oh they're both dead, they've been dead about fifteen years now.
Tremaine: Well what was your Mother's Father's name?
Brown: My Mother's Father's name was Howard Scott.
Tremaine: Howard Scott -- and where was he born?
Brown: He was born in that area.
Tremaine: And his wife too?
Brown: Yes. And he was the most patient man. Because my Grandmother, she was a good woman, but she was a hustler. She'd go out in the garden, pick weeds you know -- "Howard, come on, Howard, now let's get going." In those days they had -- oh, they owned two flour mills. They owned one on 896 out of Newark, you know where you go down at the golf course?
Brown: Go down a hill - after that block next to it was a grist mill on the right hand side. Then he owned one out of Elkton going towards the Pennsylvania state line, and that's where he lived. It's about three mile out of Elkton. And he had a farm there, and everybody hired my Uncle Will. And so he had hired help for the season wheat and rye and buckwheat and oats.
The reason I say people were people, every year in the summertime my Uncle Davy Devon's (sp), this little creek comes right between my Uncle Davy Devon's farm and my Grandfather Scott's, a little creek. My Uncle would bring his colored men -- not all colored, some real old colored people -- and his wife who works for my Aunt, help her, cause they had no children. Anyway, they sit down at the same table we did, because they were colored people.
Tremaine: Yes, m-huh.
Brown: He'd bring his hired help to my Grandfather's and they had an old steam tractor, had a big wheel on it with a belt. Every man who had a farm would bring his help -- help each other. My Grandmother had a 16' table, four feet wide to feed. And no gas, no electric. Had a cook stove, had a water tank on the end of it, about this big it would hold maybe fifty gallons of water. A couple of days before time to bring the men in, she'd be baking raisin bread, biscuits, Maryland biscuits, the kind you beat hard you know, cake. You had your own fire house, killed their own pigs, calves, chickens, had a smoke house to cure the hams, you know. They had a nice farm.
Tremaine: Yes, oh it must have been.
Brown: Same thing in the fall, come time to cut the wood, the saw mill up the back, cut up whole trees, then go to the next place. My Grandfather and Uncles stayed together. They dug a hole about six feet in the ground and about as big as this room. They'd go up on the creek, cut their own ice, put two layers of straw and a layer of ice, two layers of straw and a layer of ice. And they had a gable roof, come down you know, and they were still using their own ice the 5th of July.
Tremaine: Did the roof come right down to the ground?
Brown: Right down to the ground.
Tremaine: Touching the ground?
Brown: Right, covered -- no air...
Tremaine: No air could get in at all?
Brown: And one little door about this big.
Tremaine: About three foot?
Brown: You had a ladder to go down.
Tremaine: To go down in. Now how long would the ice keep?
Brown: Until July.
Tremaine: 'Til July: oh.
Brown: And good homemade ice cream, boy.
- Working at Hagley YardKeywords: Clothes; Explosions; Hagley Yard; Machine Shop; Reading Railroad; Safety; Shipping; Shoes; Smokeless powderTranscript: Tremaine: Well now when did you start to work for DuPont?
Brown: I started to work in 1916.
Tremaine: Where abouts?
Brown: Up the Hagley Yards. I worked in the box shop where they made the boxes for these metal cans they put the powder in. At that time it was all smokeless powder, color yellow. It was smokeless, but dangerous. If you had a cigarette, when you got to the gate, "All Cigarettes, boys, have to put them in there." Matches either. Sometimes we would get a piece of scrap, about an inch and a half, some of it, the size and diameter would vary according to the situation. So if it was an inch and a half we'd take a drill and drill a hole, make a ring.
Brown: And everything went fine until one fellow had the ring on, and another guy touched it with a cigarette and burnt his fingers. Then that was out!
Tremaine: Oh my -- yes.
Brown: The box shop had the machines. The tops and bottoms came already beside the cans. Now we put the sides, the cans and the sides.
Tremaine: Do you know where the tops and bottoms came from?
Brown: No I do not. I don't know whether they came from a carpenter shop or not.
Tremaine: But you just...
Brown: Ours was called the Box Shop.
Tremaine: The Box Shop.
Brown: This building and over here is the metal shop, that's where they made the cans to put in it.
Tremaine: To put in the box, yes. Well now...
Brown: And they were shipped out by box cars. As I say, come right in alongside of the building.
Tremaine: M-huh, and then they went right out on the box car.
Brown: On the Reading Railroad. It came down Rockland Road, across the Kennett Pike and on down Barley Mill Road you know, down that way and they came around.
Tremaine: Bend around there, u-huh. Did it have a spur into the...
Brown: Yes. And that took care of Bancroft's.
Tremaine: Yes, because they shipped out. Do you remember the old machine shop that was called the Old Machine Shop?
Brown: No. But the Powder Mills, I've seen pictures, they had a slanting roof, corrugated roof, slanted roof.
Brown: When that explosion come, it took the roof off, but it didn't damage the walls.
Tremaine: No, just blew the roof out.
Brown: Yes, pushed the roof out.
Tremaine: Well you told me before you were there when one of the explosions happened. I'd like to put that on the tape. What were you doing?
Brown: I was working, I just: I had worked from eleven to seven: see we had two shifts, three to eleven, eleven to seven, and seven to three. I was working eleven to seven.
Tremaine: That's the nighttime shift?
Brown: Night shift. I got off seven o'clock, half-past seven by the time we took our clothes off, washed off and started home. I was up by the water tower.
Tremaine: By Rockford Tower.
Brown: Baseball diamond there.
Tremaine: What did it feel like?
Brown: It was just like a very bad thunderstorm, I heard a boom.
Tremaine: Did you notice any stillness afterwards: some people have said that it was very quiet, very still right afterwards.
Brown: We didn't take into consideration - we were scared.
Tremaine: Oh yes - did you go back to the yard then?
Brown: I went back there a week after that.
Tremaine: Oh, you didn't go back right after the explosion to see what had happened?
Brown: A lot of them couldn't get back right away. Because that was during the war, you know, sabotage could be...
Tremaine: Yes, about what year was that?
Brown: I think, I come out of Wilmington High on one summer and I worked up there just one summer.
Tremaine: Now what summer was that?
Brown: It must have been July or August, the next year I went down to Hollings & Hollings Shipyard.
Tremaine: Well now this would have been around 1916 then?
Brown: I don't know just exactly, but I know I didn't work only one summer, I could find a more safer place on a ship.
Tremaine: Yes, I think it was safer on a ship. Well now you mentioned changing clothes. Did you have to wear special clothes when you worked there?
Brown: We were working faster to get them out (can't understand the next sentence). I had control of the pedal to put the nails down. Then there was one man on one side that had top of the box and another man had the bottom.
Tremaine: And then you pushed the lever with your foot, and that pushed all the nails in?
Brown: All nails.
Tremaine: All at once?
Brown: Yes. And the boxes were sent on a conveyor belt across the metal shop and then they put the lids on, after they put the cans in.
Tremaine: They put the lids on then? Well now, to get back to the clothes, did you have to wear special clothes or did you just change your clothes because you were so dirty?
Tremaine: You just changed -- they didn't make you wear any special clothes?
Brown: Put fresh...
Tremaine: What about shoes, did you have to wear any special shoes?
Brown: Not where we worked, no. When I was in the grinding mill, I did.
Tremaine: Oh, when you were in the grinding mills.
Brown: Had shoes with wooden nails in them. Because the metal nails, had to snap off a piece of metal, sparks fly, you're a dead pigeon.
Tremaine: Yes, when did you work in the grinding mills?
Brown: Beg pardon.
Tremaine: When did you work there, in the mills?
Brown: I didn't work in the mill.
Tremaine: Oh, you mean the men up there, oh yes.
Brown: Called the can room. And Mr. Al Goudnau was the Superintendent. Jim Bakey used to live down at Delaware Avenue and Union, those houses along there. I know some of the old people. In those days I could go downtown, let the girls with the hoopskirts get on. And this pool room, right back of the cigar store, we used to hang around just to -- well we all worked up there in the shipyard -- I was just telling some of the --I saw them a week ago -- look back there, we are the only two left. "Brownie, you're right,” he says.
I can walk up Market, walk to the market down at Front Street and maybe won't see a soul that I know. I just won't go down there much more because it's -- the black and white -- Chester. I have -- anything against anybody. What's in here and what's up here, that's what counts.
Tremaine: That's right, that's right.
Brown: Talk to the Man Upstairs too. But there's good and bad in everybody.
Tremaine – That’ s right, good and bad – that’ s right. Brown – Good and bad in everybody.(Talks at length about meeting someone in front of Ursaline and giving advice about hard work and taking advantage of what the school has to offer. It is difficult to understand word-for-word what he is saying as his speech is breathy, fast and hard to hear.)
On the tape counter, from 560 through 731, the end of Side 1, he is talking about a friend who had a home near Chesapeake City and what it looks like and the work he did on the place. It has nothing to do with the history of Hagley.
Continues with talk about miscellaneous things. Talks about a house that he did some work on, painting, putting in concrete curbs in the driveway, doing electrical work (up to No. 27 on tape counter).
- Working as an electrician at the DuPont Theatre; Slaughtering animals on the family farm; Getting to and from work; Retiring from workKeywords: Animals; DuPont Theatre; Electricians; Farms; Fruit; Lunch; Orchards; The Playhouse on Rodney Square; WorkTranscript: Tremaine: Well now you say you were an electrician down at the Playhouse.
Brown: Playhouse -- that right, I had charge of all fellows that came in on the lights.
Tremaine: Oh, you turned the lights -- worked the lights, is that it?
Brown: I had charge of installing...
Tremaine: Oh, installing the lights.
Brown: I had forty men working for me at the Playhouse.
Tremaine: Oh -- when did they put those lights in?
Brown: The backstage.
Tremaine: Yes, did you help put them in originally?
Brown: I managed the electric department and they had a property department, takes care of all the wardrobe and then they had a carpenter shop, takes care of all the big scenery and installation. I was just electric and sound.
Tremaine: And sound.
Brown: I had the first sound, put the first sound myself when they were in the Playhouse.
Tremaine: Oh, when was that?
Brown: At least twenty years ago.
Tremaine: Twenty years would make it 1960 -- around 1960. They didn't have sound before that?
Brown: No -- no sound at all. They did have a record player.
Tremaine: A record player.
Brown: The carpenter then was Mr.__________, he is dead now, but his wife lives on Broom Street, between 10th & 11th on Broom. Also has a home in Rehoboth. He played a record player. When he died, I took over that department. I took his tape recorder down -- (something about a closet). I got 16 microphones, I'd only used about four of them.
I met a lot of nice people, I met some that weren't so nice.
Tremaine: Oh yes.
Brown: I mean stars too. One of the nicest men that I ever met is Jimmy Cagney. I met Jimmy Cagney -- oh, one of the big stars. His first name –
Tremaine: Jimmy Stewart?
Brown: Stewart, Jimmy Stewart. Jimmy come there, he was just as nice an nonchalant. Come back before the show starts, half hour, come back and sit on the trunk and start talking, kidding, you know. A wonderful person to know.
Tremaine: That must have been an interesting...
Brown: And then we had a notorious woman, she'd curse a good bit, I don't know what's her name. It was a new set, it opened there. So backstage had what they called a riser, stage was up higher than the stage.
Tremaine: Yes, to make it a little bit higher.
Brown: Raised it, one the one set, both sides. This was the first time they ever had it up from the shop, first time they had them there. So the carpenter he said, "I'm gonna have tough time.” They did a good job, this man a mechanic. He come up there with: oh big producers -- When I'm by myself I can pick them up right away.
Tremaine: Yes, well I get that way too, can't think of names.
Brown: (Miscellaneous comments and a lot of noise and static on tape.) "I'm gonna break my neck," he said, "Break my neck.” While she was there, everybody got so that when she come in, all the back-stage boys, "Here comes trouble."
Tremaine: Yes, I can imagine.
Brown: You couldn't please that...
Tremaine: There's some people like that.
Brown: Half the time she was intoxicated, most of the time. But she was a good actress.
Brown: Of a certain type show.
Tremaine: Yes, yes. Has to be allowed.
Brown: ...race, but Irish were better. But an awful lot of nice people.
Tremaine: When you were talking about the farm and you said they slaughtered...
Brown: Their own calves.
Tremaine: Their own calves.
Brown: And pigs.
Tremaine: Can you describe how they, you know, step by step, how they did that?
Brown: My Grandfather -- was say right across the street, and then he had an orchard, about a hundred different kind of fruit trees -- black raspberries and red raspberries along the fence. Then they had the barnyard to the right. The barnyard and partitions, then the rest of the horse stalls on the first level, then further up it was all hay and straw for the horses and cattle. In the daytime, had two big grazing fields out back of the farm towards the Big Elk Creek. He'd let the cows out, you didn't have to carry water cause they would go right down to the creek.
Tremaine: The stream.
Brown: About half past three or quarter of four you'd see them all come back by themselves, didn't have to send a dog after them. One or two started moseying up, all along the old-time fence, heads up and some of them go in, some of them mooing, mooing. Put them in the stalls. The first time I ever tried to milk a cow, had a little stool with three legs on it, I got down on it, hitched my legs around his foot, take my thumb and press the udder. Come here, I'd been milking and I wanted to get to the last drop, and I did (laughs), right in my eye.
Tremaine: Right in your eye. (laughs)
Brown: My Uncle Will, he was the first automobile (can't understand the next few words). And he was a comic. He had one Model T Ford, that's back when I had one, 1916. You didn't have to have a license then.
Tremaine: Did you use yours to go to work?
Tremaine: Did you use your Model T to go to work?
Brown: No, because it was too close.
Tremaine: Oh, you just walked.
Brown: We got 19th & Riverview, past the __________ and down the hill, in front of Clarkson's store, 18th and Riverview.
Tremaine: What store was that?
Brown: Clarkson. C-L-A-R-K-S-O-N, Clarkson.
Tremaine: And you walked?
Brown: Yeah, we walked down, we came back the same way in the evening.
Tremaine: Did you take your lunch with you?
Brown: Oh yeah.
Tremaine: What would you carry for lunch?
Brown: Oh baked ham sandwich and a meatloaf sandwich and homemade ginger -- or cinnamon buns and homemade doughnuts. My Mother could make cinnamon buns that thick.
Tremaine: Oh my.
Brown: Two of those and you've had enough.
Tremaine: That's about all I could eat.
Brown: As I told you, my Dad would bring oysters home and sometimes he'd bring fish, bring herring. They have a thousand and one bones in them, you know, and mackeral too, he loved mackeral. Every Sunday morning you'd go to church with fish smell on you (laughs). My Mother used to have them cleaned, then she'd put them in salt water overnight, you know, to take that odor out. He had to have his mackeral every morning, Sunday morning.
Tremaine: Well, he got it fresh too at Baltimore, which makes a big difference.
Brown: My Father, we had a big, round heater, when you walked in the front door, there's a big, square grate comes up through that by the door.
Tremaine: U-huh, and the heat would come...
Brown: That heated the whole house. And then we had no concrete floor in the cellar, just good hard ground.
Tremaine: Just hard dirt, u-huh.
Brown: He'd take the oysters down there, by the coal bin, he'd put them alongside the coal bin, go down there with a shucker, by himself. We didn't like oysters, only fried, he'd go down there (makes a slurping sound).
Tremaine: And just eat them as fast as he'd (laughs).
Brown: Yeah -- not for me, I don't like -- slimy. When I was working, we used to work eighteen, twenty hours a day. When you come in to that rehearsal, I've had twenty men worked around clock, in this last year until I retired.
Tremaine: Oh, you retired last year?
Brown: By request. They had some new -- Mr. Dorfinger is a swell guy. He and I got along just like two brothers. If there was something you didn't understand about what's going on backstage, I'd go look, because it's got to be here, or else this won't work right. "Okay, Brownie.” And the safety men used to come down, down, "Hi, Brownie, how's things going.” Use this pedal as long as you're temporary. I'll see that you have a clear alley. And you could depend on them cause some of the fellows still there come and thank me because -- strict --
Tremaine: You have to be.
Brown: Twenty-nine years I never give du Ponts an accident.
Tremaine: That's good.
Brown: That helped.
Tremaine: That's right, you worked for the DuPont Company there, didn't you, yes, I keep forgetting the Playhouse is...
Brown: The Playhouse is a foundation.
Tremaine: Oh, it's a foundation.
Brown: From the old people, but Du Pont operated it.
Tremaine: What do you mean "from the old people?”
Brown: All of the old actresses back in the early 1900's, they didn't stay at the Hotel, they were guests of the du Pont family, they'd be the guests of the du Pont family.
Tremaine: Oh, instead of staying there at the Hotel.
Brown: The Du Pont Company operates the board.
- Belonging to a union; Working in the entertainment business; Unemployment; TravelKeywords: Compensation; DuPont; DuPont Theatre; Entertainment; Pensions; Playhouse on Rodney Square; Unemployment benefits; UnionsTranscript: Tremaine: Yes, but it doesn't belong to the Company, then? Oh, I didn't realize that. But then you still get the DuPont benefits?
Tremaine: You don't?
Brown: Because we're union.
Tremaine: Oh, yes.
Brown: When we go into that theater in September, first show, we have to sign a card, you're not eligible for any DuPont employee benefits, Blue Cross, pension.
Tremaine: Oh my.
Brown: And we can't go out to the DuPont Country Club, their pool, play golf, nothing. No sick benefits, and no pension.
Tremaine: And everyone had to join the Union?
Brown: Everyone had to sign the card.
Tremaine: Did you have to join the union because of groups coming in from, said that you had to belong?
Brown: Our union was organized in 1910 and all those folks come in here, all the troops, are all union.
Tremaine: Yes, I know, that's why I wondered whether you had to because of the troops coming in.
Brown: Oh yes, yes.
Tremaine: Because, I think, it would have been more to everyone's advantage not to belong, rather to be a DuPont employee.
Brown: But we have to hire outside people, up take 'em in, put them out. Because our Local's not that big.
Tremaine: Oh, yes.
Brown: We have twenty-one members in our Local, ________ has a thousand-some members. Washington, two thousand-some members.
Tremaine: Well, the musicians, I think, hire more too.
Brown: Well the musicians are in the United, all of them.
Tremaine: Is there anything...
Brown: On the stage men, the troop of the Show are union too.
Tremaine: Oh, they are too.
Brown: Stage carpenter, stage electrician.
Tremaine: Yes, oh yes, they would have to be, yes.
Brown: But the veteran, they triple them. And they get the most fabulous salaries -- the carpenter, trucks with them, get a thousand dollars a week, and it's an entrance pay.
Tremaine: Entrance -- oh my.
Brown: That all the back pay and bus.
Tremaine: Well before I wear you out here, is there anything else about when you worked that summer at the – in the yards.
Brown: The Playhouse -- or up in the...
Tremaine: Up in the yards, in the Hagley Yards.
Brown: In the fall I went back, and as I say, I was talking to my Father and Mother, I said I would rather go there in the shipyards where I could take a course in ship building...I stayed there until they started laying off after the war, and I Went down to Pusey and Jones and Mr. George Owens, he lived on 18th Street, his father and my Father and he were very good friends, next door neighbors. And so he gave me a job in the stock room down at Pusey & Jones. When they started laying them off, I come back and went out to Dravo. When that's over I come back and then I drove a cab for a little while, but I didn't make out, and then I opened up an entertainment agency...
Tremaine: Here in town?
Brown: And George -- myself and George Madden were the only two with franchises, entertainment agency in the State of Delaware. I just threw a checkbook away. I've had it since, when my wife took sick, I worked -- I used to live on the East side, then I moved up to 1703 Broom, had a nice apartment there on the first floor, had the maintenance there besides working the Playhouse, because I didn't have to go to the Playhouse until after supper, and if I had to fix a lighting fixture, plumbing fixture, well I got the first-floor apartment...I retired the entertainment business, or no -- my wife took sick and I just go so I said to my son, "I can't take it any longer. "She was sickly, had to go to the hospital, had to bring her back twice. I thought she had pneumonia and didn't think she was going to make it, but they still -- a daybreak. Well I never look around for substitutes, I'm satisfied, I have my own cozy little home flat.
Tremaine: Yes, you have a nice place here.
Brown: It's not a fancy home, but it's clean and cozy.
Tremaine: Right, and you're close to the bus lines, to the stores.
Brown: And nice people downstairs, except the owner, he's pretty rough.
Tremaine: Yes, you've got it very nice.
Brown: I've known him for eight years, I don't think he's spoken to me seventy-five times in all those years, (he whispers something), but the office personnel (don't understand the next few words).
Tremaine: Oh, that makes it nice.
Brown: They give the gifts every Easter, Christmastime gifts, and birthday gift. Whenever I need any typing...
Tremaine: They do it for you?
Brown: That girl in the office down there does the typing for me.
Tremaine: And it's nice to have someone there during the day time.
Brown: My sister lives in Elsmere, my younger sister lives in Elsmere.
Tremaine: U-huh, well that's not far away.
Brown: Oh, I can jump in the car and turn the music on and then have to turn it off and then I'll be there.
Tremaine: Oh, you have a car, too, down here. I have to have you sign this so that we may -- I'll bring it over to you, since you're still wired up. You want to read that first. Let me take this off cause there's just one there. It looks like I've got it...
Brown: Have you got the tape off now?
Tremaine: No, it's still going.
Brown: Is it.
Tremaine: Yes, because it goes until I get in the car, because sometimes people think of something as we're leaving, so they tell me, "Don't turn it off until you get in the car.” Even when I unplug it, it will still be going.
Brown: Well, I've got a statement here to make, that implies I'm trying to say -- compensation people.
Tremaine: Oh (laughs) and you taped that. You taped it?
Brown: He taped it. I tell you, in the summertime, we didn't work, there was nothing in the Playhouse, so we are entitled to unemployment compensation. So when I got laid off by request, when I got laid off, not with Mr. Dorfinger, but by -- I can't understand it, he had a certain rate of executives over him his last two or three years.
Tremaine: Oh my.
Brown: I'm a business agent for our Local, and I said, "Mr. Dorfinger, I think we would have more cooperation...and a better organization if we would have a meeting once a month because we haven't, being local. Here you go upstairs to disgruntled members of the DuPont Company who I think must be disgruntled chemists because they were given a project and couldn't complete it. If we had closer relations, it would be good for all of us.”
Tremaine: (Noise on tape). I can take that off. Let me just get this -- that's it, and I'll take this too. There it goes.
(Static noise on tape and jumbled voices. Mr. Brown's voice sounds far away.)
Brown: He is talking about unemployment compensation, but as the voice is away from the microphone, I cannot make out what he is saying. Apparently he was not given Brown - As he waxes stronger about the subject, his voice becomes audible. Who gave you authority to evaluate how I live, where I live, what I live and what I do. I have a car, pay life insurance, I pay car insurance, I don't owe anybody. He said this is just a copy, you have a chance to appeal it. I said, "I'm not going to appeal it for myself, but I'm going to appeal it for every man like me.” "You, I don't give a damn. I'm going to appeal it for my kid.” He said I'd have to go to Dover. (Voice drops and noise on tape make it difficult to understand.)
"Mr. Curtin, do you know what you can do with this? In all my 29 years, when there wasn't anything in the Playhouse, I picked up odd jobs, carpentry, electric, I filed Social Security and State and County taxes. I’ ve got the books, I'll show you." Way back to '69. All our job books. I got from my accountant -- he was a top accountant with General Motors. I used to – - I filed myself, I didn't put down transportation for gas and oil. In the first place, I didn't get involved because I didn't understand it (again it is garbled). He was a good friend of my brother-in-law's. He was in Chesapeake City on the same side.
Tremaine: Oh, where they lived, u-huh.
Brown: I believe he was an accountant for John Woods – he knew every angle, every angle. (A few more comments that are hard to understand.) I walked out, tore up, didn't know what else to do with it. I went right off the Playhouse. So right after that, at that deal with Curtin, I went to Hollywood, Florida, to the convention -- we had a convention every two years. I took a plane, flew down there, was there for seven days and paid my expenses. The hotel was $75 a day, I paid that, I paid -- if I bought magazines, whatever I did, I paid -- they gave me X number of dollars besides(something about being given X number of dollars).
(Sounds like traffic noise in the background – again hard to understand what is being said: something to do with reporting on the money when he came back from the convention.) I told my son, "If I was younger, I would have stayed there." (He talks a good bit about how good it was at the convention, but can't make out exact details.)
Continued to talk about going to conventions and staying at hotels. More traffic sounds drown out voice. Talks about when he came back and presented his accounting his expenses -- never got any money back.
Tremaine: I imagine they hadn't, no.
Brown: He continues to talk about pensions and taking a trip to Canada, but the noise on the tape and his speech make it difficult to understand. Sounds like they have the door open and the traffic is creating more background noise.
Tremaine: I want you to sign this - read it and sign there.
Brown: I told my son, I said I don't know what to say to the boss, DuPonts are writing a past history book...
Tremaine: No, don't expect any book, but we're trying to...
Brown: Down on the side here?
Tremaine: Down here where it says...
Brown: There you are, mam.
Tremaine: This is a big, bulky thing.
Brown: Will that be alright?
Tremaine: U-huh. I'll put this over here.
Brown: Did you unplug your...
Tremaine: Oh, I'm all unplugged, yes.
Brown: Well, it's been a pleasure talking to you.
Tremaine: Oh, I certainly enjoyed it, you've certainly been around and done a lot of things.
Brown: ...be shut up here right now. It's a funny thing, everybody when they get to a certain age, especially when you retire and not being active, you can step back and I can think. Things back thirty years -- something important tomorrow...
Tremaine: It goes.
Brown: It goes.
Tremaine: I wonder why that happens? I don't know. (Noise as the equipment is being put away.) This is a Sony.
(Miscellaneous comments mixed in with the noise of putting things in the car -- music can be heard -- more comments about carrying the things and usual good-by comments -- going down some steps -- traffic sounds.)
Brown: You'll have to come out and see The Workers' World when it opens.
Tremaine: Tell what I'd wish you'd do -- when it's time for it, drop me a letter.
Brown: Alright -- Labor Day is when they hope to open it.
Tremaine: Oh, it's nice out here isn't it? (lots of traffic noise.) Thank you very much, Mr. Brown, and I'll let you know when it opens. (More noise as she gets in car and puts equipment inside.)