Interview with Arthur Sykes, 1984 March 8 [audio]

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  • His father running the DuPont machine shop and getting injured in an explosion; description of house on Barley Mill Lane and surrounding neighborhood
    Keywords: Barley Mill Lane; DuPont Hall of Records; Explosions; Gunpowder industry; Henry Clay (Del. : Village); Industrial accidents; Long Row; Machinists
    Transcript: Bond: This is Jim Bond on March 5, 1984, at the home of Arthur Sykes to talk about life along the Brandywine in the early 1900's. Mr. Sykes was interviewed in 1980 so we will not go into a lot of detail on the subjects already covered. As I recall, you were born in Chester County around 1914?

    Sykes: Right.

    Bond: When did you move to Wilmington?

    Sykes: About 1917 or '18. Either '17 or '18.

    Bond: Where did you live in Wilmington?

    Sykes: In the house opposite the Hall of Records -- DuPont Hall of Records. Do you know where that was?

    Bond: Yes, I know where that was. On Barley Mill Road?

    Sykes: Barley Mill Lane. A difference now -- the Lane and the Road.

    Bond: And that house isn't there anymore, is it?

    Sykes: Oh, no.

    Bond: How long did you live in that house?

    Sykes: I would say about 24 to 25 years.

    Bond: Did your father work for DuPont?

    Sykes: Yes.

    Bond: Was he a machinist?

    Sykes: Machinist. He had charge of the machine shop.

    Bond: Where was the machine shop, Arthur?

    Sykes: It was -- mainly right near where they're doing the redo -- redoing the stuff.

    Catherine Sykes: The first building there.

    Sykes: Yes, the first building.

    Bond: By the Hall of Records?

    Sykes: Yes. Right.

    Catherine Sykes: That first building as you go in.

    Bond: Where did you work?

    Sykes: At DuPont.

    Bond: When did you start to work at duPont?

    Sykes: When I was 21 -- almost 22. I'm 69 now.

    Bond: So that was long after the powder yards shut down.

    Sykes: Yes.

    Bond: How long did your father work in the powder yards? Or in the machine shop?

    Sykes: I would say -- I'm guessing in this -- I would say he worked for DuPont up in the machine shop for about 28 to 2-

    Catherine Sykes: Actually about four or five years -- no more than that?

    Sykes: How's that?

    Catherine Sykes: In the machine shop.

    Sykes: Oh, no, he worked much longer than that. The people that worked for him were Irish. They came from Ireland.

    Catherine Sykes: How many years, hon?

    Sykes: That's what I'm trying to think. I'm not positive.

    Bond: Were there a lot of Italian workers there at that time?

    Sykes: Italian and Irish. Between the two of them. On the road that ran almost parallel with the Hagley was the Squirrel Run.

    Bond: It's not there any more, just the remains of it.

    Sykes: Samuel Hallock du Pont lived up in Squirrel Run. On top of the hill. I'm puzzled as far as my --

    Catherine Sykes: I thought no more than five or six years.

    Sykes: He worked longer than that, Catherine. But, I'm not positive.

    Catherine Sykes: I know he was in one of the explosions.

    Bond: Oh, was he?

    Sykes: They had two main explosions. I think there was 48 or 44 killed. And the second one was the one my father was in. They only killed about 42 in that one.

    Bond: Was he hurt in that one?

    Sykes: Yes. He was in the hospital. In fact, his sister lived in Philadelphia and she read it in the Evening Bulletin that he had passed away. So, of course, she came running down to Henry Clay and everything was fine. My mother said no, he's fine. She said he got a few fragments, concussion or what not -— glass. And when they had the explosion, you'd find a lot of glass in different parts of the body. Mainly it would be in the knees, ankles and chin. That's the main part. I asked the doctor about that.

    Bond: Did he say why?

    Sykes: No. I didn't ask him why. But fragments of just little glass. Very small ones. I never saved one because my father didn't want to have nothing to do with that explosion. He wasn't in the hospital very long. I would say a couple weeks, that's all. He was just lucky, I would say, more than anything.

    Bond: Did you have running water in your house?

    Sykes: Yes.

    Bond: Electricity?

    Sykes: Yes.

    Catherine Sykes: But an outside toilet.

    Sykes: That's right. Outside toilet.

    Bond: Did you have a one-holer or a two-holer? I grew up in a little town in Missouri.

    Sykes: One-holer. That's right.

    Bond: Did all the houses along there have outside toilets?

    Sykes: Well, most of them had outside. That's right. That stretch of road was called Long Row. You know, you come out of the entrance -- the overhead --

    Bond: The big gate?

    Sykes: As you -- the first house down right along the way is along what they called Long Row. It was delicate as far as that thing. They had houses maybe -- I would say -- eight or nine families in there. Not large families. They were not large houses.

    Bond: Row houses?

    Sykes: One row. Single row, attached.

    Bond: And did all these people work for DuPont?

    Sykes: You got me there. I don't know that. I know some of them did but I don't know how many. Or if all of them worked for DuPont.
  • Childhood entertainment along the Brandywine; caddying at the DuPont Country Club and walking to the movies in Wilmington
    Keywords: Automobiles--Maintenance and repair; Baseball; Basketball; Boys--Conduct of life; Caddying; Children; Marbles (Game); Motion pictures; Outdoor recreation for children; Skating; Street-railroads; Swimming
    Transcript: Bond: You were telling me over the phone and I read about your father playing marbles and you played marbles. Tell me about the way you played.

    Sykes: Well, my father and I, we didn't have much to do. My father had bronchial asthma. We had a garage but no car. Always. And my father could repair a car -- just from hand to mouth. For example, my uncle in Philadelphia was a clock maker and he used to repair his car. He'd bring it down in the day and they'd stay all night for the weekend and he repaired the car.

    Catherine Sykes: What about the marbles?

    Sykes: Yes, the marbles. I can't tell you exactly how many marbles you had. I heard my aunt -- had barrels of them, but I don't know the size of the barrels. We played on the living room floor. We drew a circle with chalk. And then we drew an outside circle. You had to knock that marble out of that inside circle in the other circle. It's hard to do, boy.

    Bond: You had to go from the inside circle to the outside circle, but you couldn't go on out?

    Sykes: That's right. It's a hard thing to do.

    Bond: How big were these circles?

    Sykes: The big circle outside diameter would be -- I would say four to five feet. The inside circle was the smaller circle was about a foot or a foot and a half at the most.

    Bond: Did boys play marbles for keeps then?

    Sykes: Oh, yes. I played marbles, but I couldn't touch my father.

    Bond: Well, you mention your father playing marbles. Did people his age play marbles much? Or did he play just to be playing with you?

    Sykes: Just to satisfy me, yes. We had nothing to do as far as entertainment.

    Bond: Did you ever go swimming?

    Sykes: Oh, yes. We used to swim in the Brandywine. You know there Breck's Mill is? We used to have a rope down from that big tree there. And we attached to it a rubber tire. And we always did that. And, of course, we skated on the Brandywine.

    Bond: Did it freeze every winter?

    Sykes: Yes.

    Bond: Let me get back to swimming a little. Did the boys and girls swim or just the boys?

    Sykes: I would say only the boys that I knew about. I couldn't answer for the girls because I never saw them swim. But we had a great time -- no money -- but we had good entertainment.

    Bond: You say you did a lot of ice skating in the winter. Did the Brandywine freeze over every winter?

    Sykes: Yes -- to a degree. We had just clamp-on skates.

    Bond: Where did you go fishing?

    Sykes: Same place where we ice skated. The footed hill. What they called the footed hill. Before the entrance to the gates. Right here. Had a wall in there. See those walls. The walls mainly were built when the men had worked at the mill didn't have anything to do. That's what they did. Dry walls. Most of them were dry walls.

    Bond: That was just fill-in work?

    Sykes: That's right. Fill-in work.

    Bond: You mentioned that you used to caddy at the Country Club?

    Sykes: Yes, I was 15 when I won the first caddy championship. The best part of it I beat my buddy. We went through school -- Alexis I. du Pont -- from the first right on. And Charlie Compston -- he was born at Walker's Bank. And we still play golf.

    Bond: I notice there that you won a mashie and a mid-iron. The mashie is the five-iron and the mid-iron is the two?

    Sykes: Two-iron. That's why I won that prize. Tommy Fisher was the Pro at the DuPont Country Club.

    Bond: This must have been in the late '20's.

    Sykes: I was 15 years old. I'm 69.

    Bond: Were there any public golf courses then?

    Sykes: Yes. Wilmington Country Club -- No, not Wilmington -- Rock Manor. It was the only one I knew of at that time. May be some others, I don't know.

    Bond: You played golf all your life, then?

    Sykes: Yes. I still got my clubs -- a lot of clubs.

    Bond: You played basketball, too?

    Sykes: Yes. We had basketball. My father when the railroad -- You know the railroad tracks --

    Bond: Which ones?

    Sykes: Where we lived in that yellow house. There was a railroad track came parallel with that.

    Bond: O.K. Let's see. There were some trolley tracks went up Squirrel Run, weren't there?

    Sykes: Yes. And the other --

    Bond: The railroad that ran on north and then another railroad spur went into the mill.

    Sykes: That's right. And we did everything, but no money.

    Catherine Sykes: Is that where your basketball was?

    Sykes: Yes. My father made the pole. When people put in the telephones, he didn't steal it. He just asked and they gave it to him. He put that in the back along the banks there and we played basketball. Entertainment was slow and slim, but what we did we didn't get in fights or anything. We didn't have any fights. I can't understand these people today.

    Bond: Did you ever go downtown to the movies?

    Sykes: Yes.

    Bond: Did you walk downtown or take the streetcar?

    Sykes: Walk in and out. Both ways. Once in awhile if the trolley was coming on, I would take the trolley. But mainly I walked.

    Bond: Why did you walk?

    Sykes: I didn't have too much money. Was it a quarter or 10 cents?

    Catherine Sykes: Ten cents.

    Sykes: Yes, 10 cents for the movies.

    Catherine Sykes: All the kids walked out here.

    Sykes: Most that I knew. And they all played golf. But it was nice entertainment to think you didn't have to bash one another in the head.
  • Parades and circuses; school sports teams; chores of carrying market baskets and chopping wood; his mother baking bread
    Keywords: Baking; Children--Chores; Chores; Circus; Grocery shopping; High school athletes; Housekeeping; Parades; Shortstop (Baseball)
    Transcript: Bond: Do you remember parades when you were young? What kind of parades did they have?

    Sykes: Well, they had some downtown. I can remember a couple times when they had the circus out...

    Catherine Sykes: Out where the ballpark used to be.

    Sykes: Sometimes they had it down at the...

    Catherine Sykes: Elsmere Fair Grounds

    Sykes: Yes, the fair grounds. They'd have a parade before they had the show. We'd follow them and I'd sit on anything that I could sit on.

    Catherine Sykes: There used to be circus grounds at Wawaset Park. Before I was born. And down there in Union Park Gardens.

    Bond: Were there a lot of school activities when you were going to school?

    Sykes: No. I would say no. The main thing was we had a baseball team, active as far as the school was concerned. We had the baseball team, and I can remember we didn't have any football team. We did later on. I think that was because -- I don't really know why they didn't have a football team. But, I wasn't large enough to play football, but I played baseball. In fact, you couldn't play baseball until you were in the first grade in high school. But, the coach, Darrell Long, said, "I'm going to give you a chance to play shortstop." Whether he didn't have a shortstop, I don't know. So, I played shortstop in the eighth grade. And played all through eighth grade and all through high school.

    Bond: Where did you go to high school?

    Sykes: Alexis I. du Pont. I have the original picture of Alexis I. and I got so damn mad at that Howie that was principal of that school. I called him on the -- the man -- we lived down on Riverview Avenue at one time. We had a little picture and it was made by the architect. I wanted to give that to Alexis I. He didn't want it. I said, "The hell with that and I slammed the phone down."

    Catherine Sykes: Arthur, you're talking.

    Sykes: I couldn't -- that's just what I did. You know what I did. And that was the end of that. I gave it to another boy, a friend of mine who went to high school, and I gave it to him. He wanted it. Because he was going to. What school did he go to?

    Catherine Sykes: He went to Alexis I. He's in law school right now.

    Bond: What kind of chores did you have to do around home when you were little?

    Sykes: Oh, boy.

    Catherine Sykes: Go to market.

    Sykes: Go to market. The Toonerville trolley. I had to take my mother in town every Saturday. Two baskets I had to carry. I was little fellow. I had two wicker baskets. I carried one in each hand. I don't know whether the rest of the boys did that, but I had to do it. My father was an Englishman, and he stuck to his word. He said, "That's one of your duties." And I had to do it. I couldn't go play anything.

    Bond: Did she do the week's grocery shopping?

    Sykes: Yes. We'd go down King Street one way and come back up the other side on King Street. Stop in the butcher shop. With straw hats - he wore a hat.

    Catherine Sykes: Had to cut wood for the fireplace, didn't you?

    Sykes: I had to cut all the damn wood. My father had bronchial asthma and couldn't do it. We got privilege from du Ponts to use the wood out of the -- we backed up to the woods. Excess wood. I had to saw it and cut it. Split it and everything. We had a tremendous fireplace. The opening in that fireplace would be that size.

    Bond: About four feet high?

    Sykes: More than that.

    Bond: Did you use the fireplace to heat the house or heat the rooms?

    Sykes: No. We did at one time, but I don't remember that.

    Bond: How did you heat the house?

    Sykes: When they started out, they'd use that means of heating a house. And my father -- he was very handy. He built a wood stove in the kitchen. And he converted that to coal later on. He did it all himself -- no help. And later on we had one of those pot-bellied stoves in the sitting room. He put a flu up to upstairs to the bedrooms.

    Bond: Did you have brothers and sisters?

    Sykes: No, I'm the only one.

    Bond: Did any of the women in the neighborhood work in those days? Pardon me -- I mean work outside the home?

    Catherine Sykes: I know what you mean.

    Sykes: They did everything.

    Catherine Sykes: I mean they didn't work outside the home.

    Sykes: Oh, no. No. They were pretty rugged people.

    Bond: Did your mother bake her own bread?

    Sykes: Yes. In the kitchen she had a big mantel in the back.

    Catherine Sykes: Back of the stove.

    Sykes: Back of the stove. And they'd knead the bread one day and bake it the next day.

    Catherine Sykes: No. She let it rise -- not overnight.

    Sykes: My mother and father had both grandmothers. Both lived with us. My father's mother died first and my mother's mother died last.
  • After school and money making activities; going to Christ Church and family meals; his uncle William Albert Heine, a clockmaker
    Keywords: Christ Church Christiana Hundred (Greenville, Del.); Clock and watch makers; Families--Social life and customs; Heine, William Albert; Henry Clay (Del. : Village)--Social life and customs; Packard automobile; Sledding
    Transcript: Bond: What were some of your after-school activities?

    Sykes: Well, when it snowed, we used to sled on the hill from the top to the bottom. They had rises -- or raises on the hill. Did you know that? One coming down Barley Mill Lane. So, they could use that when they took the powder out. So, they were horse drawn. And they could stop.

    Bond: Oh, just a flat place.

    Sykes: Where they could rest, that's all. And they did that.

    Bond: You said when it snowed, did you shovel people's snow -- get paid for it?

    Sykes: Yeah. We had a big snow -- Westover Hills. A lot of those garages were down garages.

    Bond: In the basement?

    Sykes: Drive in. And we'd come home, take the books and throw them down and take the shovels and we'd head for Westover Hills because they had the money. We got paid well because the husband and wife didn't want to do it. We'd get five dollars. I've had as high as 10 dollars for one. As you realize, there's a lot of snow there. We'd do both sides -- one garage.

    Bond: Did you go out and play games after school when you got home?

    Sykes: Basketball and baseball.

    Bond: Where did you play baseball?

    Sykes: At Alexis I. School. They never bothered us.

    Catherine Sykes: Don't forget to tell him about going muskrat hunting.

    Sykes: Oh, yeah. My mother's mother dealt in raw furs. And the main thing they had three big places where they dealt with them. Chicago, St. Louis and New York. In the wintertime, on my mother's side they bought and sold the furs. And in the summertime they were junk dealers. They had two things to do.

    Catherine Sykes: How about catching the muskrats?

    Sykes: Oh, yeah. I caught muskrats.

    Bond: And then did you sell the skins?

    Sykes: Well, yes. I did. I put them on a board.

    Bond: Is that just a way you made money?

    Sykes: Yes, just a couple bucks. I'll tell you something my father saw. You know where Holly Island is? Right across from Hagley. He saw an otter. Lot of people don't know about that.

    Bond: I didn't know they were around here.

    Sykes: Yeah. He saw one or two but on occasion. I think on account of explosions and lot of noise and that stuff. Scared them out. But, he did see two. We used to take a walk and it was good on Saturdays and Sundays going to church.

    Bond: Where did you go to church?

    Sykes: Christ Church. We went to Sunday School and then church.

    Bond: What did you call the evening meal? Was it supper or dinner?

    Sykes: Supper. Well, I don't know whether that's proper, but my uncle in Philadelphia would come down. He was a clockmaker, married to my father's sister. Very close. And my father had — - there was seven children. And they would once in a while stay overnight. And they'd have a big meal on Sunday. But not so much Saturday. It would be more in the afternoon.

    Bond: What did you call a big meal on Sunday noon?

    Sykes: That was still supper. We had lunch. My mother had the lunch for them and I'd call it almost a supper, but that's what it was.

    Bond: Out in Missouri where I grew up we had supper every evening, but Sunday noon we had dinner.

    Sykes: Well, mainly we did, but we called it supper. And we had the supper about two o'clock.

    Bond: Did people normally say grace before dinner or supper?

    Sykes: Yes. My uncle and my aunt, particularly. My son still does that.

    Bond: Good idea. Were there any activities that the whole family did each week such as going to church and visiting friends?

    Sykes: Well, we couldn't visit anybody any distance because we didn't have a car. We would walk to any place we did. Or any place we wanted to see. My uncle the clockmaker would take us for a ride on Sunday, and that was a big treat. He had an old Packard. He always bought a Packard.

    Catherine Sykes: He serviced all the du Pont's clocks. Up at Perry [Eleuthere?] du Pont's he used to work all night when they had change of time. Daylight time and standard time.

    Sykes: His name was William Albert Heine. A real German. He gave us our grandfather's clock as a wedding present in the hall there. He was a very good man and lived to be 96. He worked until the bitter end. He had a place where he worked down the cellar and he also had on the third floor.

    Bond: What were some of the seasonal events when the community got together? Did you have a Fourth of July celebration?

    Sykes: No. Unless you wanted to set a couple firecrackers off.

    Catherine Sykes: Well, that would be before your time, I think, when they had those celebrations.

    Bond: No big community affair?

    Sykes: No.

    Bond: What was the community holiday? Was it Christmas?

    Sykes: Christmas.

    Bond: Did your family rent or did they own their house?

    Sykes: Rent.

    Bond: Did you have a regular job for extra income when you were a boy such as a paper route?

    Sykes: No. Too much distance between the places. I couldn't do it. No.
  • His mother raising chickens; the neighborhood doctor; his uncle Joe visiting; food purchases and deliveries and other neighborhood details
    Keywords: Breck's Lane; Chickens; Delivery of goods; Diamond Ice and Coal Company; Discipline of children; Henry Clay (Del. : Village)--Social life and customs; Refrigerators; rural physicians; Smoking; University of Oxford
    Transcript: Bond: Did your father have a second job?

    Sykes: No. Just one job.

    Bond: Did he have a garden?

    Sykes: Well, in the back yard he had a little garden, but it didn't amount to much. He knew what to do as far as the ground -- the space -- area.

    Bond: Did you have chickens or rabbits?

    Sykes: No. Had a dog.

    Catherine Sykes: You had chickens. Your mother sold them. Bantam hens.

    Sykes: Oh, yeah, a couple. Bantam hens. Finally sold them. We kept them in the garage.

    Bond: Were they just pets or did you grow them for eating?

    Catherine Sykes: Pets. You know who bought them? Libby Holman. Remember Libby Holman?

    Bond: Sure, I remember Libby Holman.

    Sykes: She rode by the house one day and saw them.

    Bond: Libby Holman Reynolds?

    Sykes: That's right.

    Catherine Sykes: She was visiting one of the Carpenters.

    Sykes: So, she knocked on the door. I don't know whether my mother and father knew her or not. Don't think either one of them did. Of course, I was a kid and when your parents wanted to speak, you walked in the next room or something. So, they made a deal. I don't know how much she got them for. And she sold them. But, they were kept in the garage.

    Bond: Did many people use tobacco then?

    Sykes: Yes, my father smoked cigarettes.

    Bond: Did he chew tobacco?

    Sykes: No.

    Bond: Did many people chew?

    Sykes: Oh, yeah.

    Bond: Did they use snuff?

    Sykes: My father didn't use snuff, but a lot of people used snuff. I know from experience of watching them.

    Bond: Did they have spittoons in houses in those days?

    Sykes: I don't know, but I would say yes because I would say it was a necessity. Because otherwise they would spit on the floors.

    Catherine Sykes: Dirty habit.

    Sykes: I would say they had them.

    Bond: Did people call a doctor very often?

    Sykes: We had a regular doctor. Dr. Dougherty. Good old Irishman. He would always stop when he'd go by the house. He had an old car. He'd say, "Pete, how are you?" And they were talking, he and my mother. I had to leave. So, anyway, I can remember he and my father used to go to the dog show in Madison Square Garden. He would drive.

    Bond: What was your parents' attitude about work? Did they think it was a necessary evil or did they enjoy it?

    Sykes: Oh, no, no. No evil. They just took it. Well, of course, my father -- I wouldn't say he needed the money, but it was handy because he had both grandmothers to take care of.

    Bond: Did your father or mother ever get back to England?

    Sykes: No.

    Bond: Did you ever hear from relatives in England that you know of?

    Sykes: No.

    Catherine Sykes: Yes. Uncle Joe.

    Sykes: Oh, yeah. Uncle Joe. A teacher. He was Joseph Gormley. Boy, he was smart. He graduated from Oxford and he used to come down and he liked to visit my father because they had a lot of likes and dislikes each. He whistled -- always whistled. [Pause while tape is switched]

    Bond: He came from England?

    Sykes: Oh, yeah. He lived in Huddersfield.

    Bond: Where did you buy food? You mentioned going downtown.

    Sykes: King Street. We had the bread man. He drove around from house to house.

    Bond: Did you buy other food from vendors that way? What about milk or ice?

    Sykes: We had a little store at the foot of Breck's Lane.

    Catherine Sykes: And you had a fruit man -- Andy used to come around.

    Sykes: Yeah. The fruit man. That store at the foot of Breck's Lane. That was something. He could hardly see.

    Bond: A general store?

    Sykes: No. Just candy -- nickel and penny and like that. Ice cream. I can't remember. I don't remember milk there.

    Catherine Sykes: You had a milk man.

    Sykes: Oh, yes, we had a milk man. That's right.

    Bond: Where did you store your food?

    Sykes: We had an old-style refrigerator in the house.

    Bond: Where did you get the ice?

    Sykes: Diamond Ice and Coal Company.

    Bond: They came by everyday?

    Sykes: Yes. I think it was twice a week if I remember. You did what you had to do and load it up.

    Bond: Who emptied the bucket?

    Sykes: My grandmother. She was strong, too. She'd clout you, too.

    Bond: Did you get spanked very much?

    Sykes: No. My father would give me a whack when I did something I shouldn't have. And my mother was kind of lenient, but I didn't get whipped too much.

    Bond: Was there anything such as a neighborhood bully?

    Sykes: No. That's one thing I could never understand. Never any bullies. I think that's why we didn't have any fights.

    Bond: Did people lock their houses then?

    Sykes: No. You'd go to bed -- front door, back door -- no. Never locked them.

    Bond: Were there ever policemen in the neighborhood?

    Sykes: No [laughs]. You couldn't find one of those.

    Bond: Was there any crime?

    Sykes: No.

    Bond: Just down in the big city of Wilmington.

    Sykes: That's right. I never heard of any crime.

    Catherine Sykes: Even in Wilmington there wasn't any crime. When I was growing up, I lived in Wilmington.

    Bond: Was there a fire department out there? What did you do if you had a fire in the house?

    Catherine Sykes: Did you have a fire department out there?

    Sykes: No. The closest one was near Wawaset there. The closest one and the earliest one I think was Westover Hills. As far as service. Now on my grandmother's side -- my mother's side there was 13 children and there was 13 redheads. And her first name was Jemima. That's Jos first child in the Bible.

    Bond: Did your folks ever have a horse and buggy?

    Sykes: No.

    Bond: They didn't have a car?

    Sykes: No.
  • Cockfighting in the neighborhood; impressions of du Pont family members; getting haircuts at Mr. Connelly's barbershop
    Keywords: Barbershops; Cockfighting; Du Pont family; Du Pont, Lammot, 1880-1952; Du Pont, S. Hallock (Samuel Hallock), 1901-1974; Laird, W. W. (William Winder), 1910-1989
    Transcript: Bond: Did you have any characters in the neighborhood?

    Sykes: No. I don't know of any if they were around. But no bullies or anything.

    Bond: Did anyone in your neighborhood take boarders?

    Catherine Sykes: Your mother used to board the man that had the cockfights.

    Bond: Tell me about that.

    Catherine Sykes: It was illegal. He had cockfights. Hallock du Pont had them.

    Sykes: Hallock du Pont owns the roosters. When they had the cockfights -- there was always 13 fights. So, one had to come out on the winning side, see. And the man boarded -- he had a wooden leg. Boarded at our house. Just for the time necessary. He had a wooden leg, and I wanted to go to see a cockfight and my father wouldn't let me go. He said it was too gruesome and you're not going to go and that was the end of that.

    Bond: This man that boarded with you that had the cockfights did he own the cocks or did the cocks belong to other people in town?

    Sykes: Different. Bobby Carpenter owned some of them and Hallock du Pont owned some. There was three owners. They come high as far as price is concerned.

    Bond: Where did they have these fights?

    Sykes: Out at Hallock du Pont's place -- out in Squirrel Run.

    Bond: Who went to them, anyway?

    Sykes: Mostly -- it was a gambling thing and so it was great. But I couldn't go.

    Bond: Did your father ever go to the cockfights?

    Sykes: Once he went. Every year I couldn't go. I was so mad; I was only a kid, of course. So, anyway, he went one year and he told me when he come home and I asked him how were the cockfights. He said it's not worth going to see. That was the end of that. When your father said something, that was it. The man that trained those cockfights -- Charles Markland -- wooden leg.

    Bond: Did he live in Wilmington?

    Sykes: No. He came from -- was it Swedesboro? I think it was. And they had trained those birds for three or four weeks.

    Bond: Well, did this man train the birds for du Ponts and Carpenters?

    Sykes: That's right.

    Bond: And then he brought them back over here.

    Sykes: No, they stayed here for the time being until they had the fight. That was the end and he went home. We used to call him Chas. He was a nice person. When my father wasn't around, I said, "Chas, did you make any money?" My father would have killed me. He said, "A little bit." That's all he said.

    Bond: Was there much of the cockfighting going on? I know it was illegal.

    Sykes: Oh, yes. There was a lot of it. It was hard to get enough cocks to have that kind of fight. I think it was 13, Charles told me.

    Bond: Did your father ever make wine?

    Sykes: No. The people who worked for him made wine -- the Irish. And the Italians. Because when he had charge of the machine shop, they said, "Pete, what are we going to do with the wine?"

    Catherine Sykes: Then Prohibition came in.

    Sykes: My father said, "I don't have any wine -- you have to worry about yourself." He said he got two chances -- and my father said -- two chances. And he said -- they always Called him Pete. You either bury it in the ground or throw it and dump it.

    Bond: This was when Prohibition came in?

    Sykes: Oh, yeah. That's what he told them. I don't know what they did.

    Catherine Sykes: My dad made good wine.

    Sykes: I remember my father -- about the wine, though.

    Bond: Was there any union activity on the part of the workers?

    Sykes: No.

    Bond: Do you have any idea why there wasn't any?

    Sykes: No, I don't, really because my father never mentioned. The only thing when I got a little older, he said, "Arthur, unions are going to wreck the United States." And that's the very words he used. And, of course, I think they are. He was dead against unions.

    Bond: I shouldn't interject this, but my feeling is that if there hadn't been a need for unions, there never would have been any unions. But, it got too far to one way and it's coming back. What did the people think of the du Ponts as a family or people?

    Sykes: Well, I think they liked them because for the one main reason they supplied work for them. That's what I think. And, of course, most of them went to our church -- most of the du Ponts.

    Bond: Did you know any of the du Ponts?

    Sykes: Oh, yeah. Lammot du Pont. Chick Laird and two sisters.

    Bond: Those are only names to me, but were they nice people?

    Sykes: Oh, yeah. Fine people.

    Bond: Did you get the feeling that they were better than anyone else, or not?

    Sykes: Well, some of them.

    Catherine Sykes: Some of them. But, now Pierre du Pont was another nice one. My father was a good friend of Pierre's. It seemed like the old timers were more down to earth more than these younger ones. Now, Lammot's two boys used to go to Sunday School. They'd come down the lane, get on the bus - the dog would come with them - and then when they get on the bus, the dog would go back. They were two nice boys. Lammot, Jr., and I forget the other one. One was killed up in New York. They had a summer home up there. And Mrs. Edmond du Pont was another nice person.

    Bond: Where did you get a haircut in those days?

    Sykes: One barbershop. It was Mr. Connelly. Had the barbershop. You know where Hagey's saloon -- the green place -- the saloon -- between Rising Sun Lane and Breck's Lane. O.K. If you continue on down past Hagey's there was some houses in there right in a row. Same as long row, only not as many people. And there was a little old man. And he cut the hair. I don't know how good or how bad it was. I think it was a quarter.
  • Additional household details; his mother's cooking and making ice cream; weddings and newlyweds
    Keywords: Cooking; DuPont Hall of Records; Eyeglasses; Hanover shoes; Hats; Ice cream, ices, etc.; Laundry; Potpies; Stoves, Oil; Washboards; Weddings
    Transcript: Bond: What kind of games did you have at home?

    Sykes: Marbles. The only thing. And basketball outside.

    Bond: Do you remember any kitchen equipment your mother had?

    Sykes: We had everything.

    Catherine Sykes: Oil stove.

    Sykes: We had an oil stove.

    Bond: Was that your cook stove?

    Sykes: Yes.

    Bond: Did you have a different stove for heating?

    Sykes: Yes. One my father built. We didn't have it until he built it. And converted it from the wood to coal. And that was also used for heating upstairs -- run a flu up.

    Catherine Sykes: A washboard.

    Sykes: A washboard, yes.

    Bond: A wringer?

    Catherine Sykes: Well, later on they did. But they used to wash on the board.

    Sykes: We had two outside tubs about that size.

    Bond: Where did your mother wash clothes -- in the kitchen?

    Catherine Sykes: She did then until she got an electric washer.

    Sykes: Eventually.

    Bond: Did you have a wash boiler?

    Sykes: Yes.

    Catherine Sykes: We did, too.

    Bond: Did you have a churn?

    Sykes: No.

    Bond: So, you didn't make your own butter?

    Sykes: No.

    Bond: Did your father take his lunch to work everyday?

    Sykes: Yes, he did. In a little box.

    Bond: Did you take your lunch to school?

    Sykes: Every day.

    Bond: Did anyone go home for lunch in those days?

    Sykes: I don't think so. It was a case of saving a penny.

    Bond: Did you ever have ice cream?

    Sykes: Yes. Down at the foot of Breck's Lane. And we made it - hand churn. It was a quart, too. We had to work. Hand turned. We had to work our backsides off.

    Catherine Sykes: She'd get the icicles off -- I remember them telling me -- off the building across the street -- the Hall of Records -— the icicles. That's how they would get their ice.

    Sykes: My grandmother would help us.

    Catherine Sykes: They made good ice cream.

    Sykes: It was great. There was a lot of ice on the du Pont Hall of Records. Had the spouting.

    Bond: Did people drink a lot of coffee then?

    Sykes: Coffee in our house. My father loved coffee. He didn't carry coffee to work, though.

    Bond: Did your mother bake pies and cakes?

    Sykes: Oh, yes. All that stuff. I can remember that. And we always had plenty as far as quantities. And if I wanted a piece of cake or pie, I could go get it and my mother wouldn't stop me for taking it or anything.

    Bond: Did your grandmother do much housework? You said the two of them lived with you.

    Sykes: Yeah. Both of them did. My mother's mother she did the most. The one from my father from England she wasn't as strong as my other one - the redhead. Boy, she was a strong woman.

    Bond: Was your mother a good cook?-

    Sykes: You bet.

    Bond: Did you have any favorite things she fixed for you?

    Sykes: Yes, I did. She had a potpie with a big crust over the top. Boy, I loved that.

    Bond: What all was inside?

    Sykes: Well, potatoes and carrots and onions and beef. And chicken potpie.

    Bond: Did she make it often?

    Sykes: Oh, yeah.

    Bond: Did you have meat very often?

    Sykes: Oh, yes, we did. Lamb. Lamb was my father's favorite. Yorkshire pudding. I loved that, too.

    Bond: Did the neighbors ever get together for meals?

    Sykes: No. I think that's due to the fact that they were separated as far as the houses. See, when we were opposite the Hall of Records, there was no houses until you go up the hill. And that was about three hundred yards on the right hand side. And there was one single house -- Haley's and Sheldrick's -- that's two houses and there wasn't any other houses on my side until you got up the hill.

    Bond: Were you on the side of the cemetery?

    Sykes: No. The other side.

    Bond: The side of the Columbia Gas Company?

    Sykes: Yes.

    Bond: What kind of shoes did your mother and father wear at home?

    Sykes: Well, my mother and father bought Hanover shoes. And they bought good shoes. No extremes or anything.

    Catherine Sykes: Dad wore high top shoes then. And a derby.

    Sykes: Oh, boy did he. What did I do with the derby?

    Bond: Did most men wear hats then?

    Sykes: Yeah.

    Bond: So many pictures you see of the time, many men had hats on.

    Sykes: Oh, yeah. Derbies.

    Bond: When a young couple got married, did they live with their in-laws or start a new household or...?

    Catherine Sykes: Well, some of them lived with their in-laws and some started new houses.

    Sykes: Very few, though. Of course, the houses were spaced.

    Bond: Did they have big weddings in those days?

    Sykes: No, only the du Ponts.

    Bond: Was most everyone married in the church or at home?

    Sykes: Church.

    Bond: Did many people wear glasses?

    Sykes: My father and my mother did. Granny did. My other grandmother, she wore glasses.

    Catherine Sykes: I think most everybody did in those days.

    Bond: Were children teased if they wore glasses?

    Sykes: No. I heard of that, but we didn't tease them as I can remember.

    Bond: Did you have anyone in the family or in the neighborhood who was a story teller? Spin big long tales about things?

    Sykes: No. Can't remember that.
  • Inheriting his uncle's striking watch; his father getting a cash bonus from one of the du Pont family members
    Keywords: Bonuses (Employee fringe benefits); Industrial relations; Pocket watches; Watch fobs
    Transcript: Bond: Well, I don't want to take too much of your time this afternoon. Just going over the list for some ideas about things. Because you've already given me all sorts of things. Did women wear much jewelry?

    Sykes: No. They didn't have it.

    Bond: Just a wedding ring?

    Sykes: Yes, a wedding ring and that's all. Catherine didn't have too much until my aunt gave it to her.

    Catherine Sykes: I inherited a lot of nice jewelry.

    Bond: Some people like it and others don't.

    Sykes: I had a ring my father gave me when I was 21 -- a ruby.

    Catherine Sykes: A nice striking watch, did you ever hear of a striking watch?

    Bond: I've heard of one, but I've never seen one.

    Catherine Sykes: He's got one, but it's being fixed.

    Sykes: Boy, it's a beauty.

    Bond: How did you get that?

    Sykes: Well, my uncle -- the man that took care of the clocks. He had three striking watches.

    Catherine Sykes: He had two.

    Sykes: He had two. And the other one Cardinal Dougherty in Philadelphia owned the other one. And I got the one.

    Bond: Does it strike the hour?

    Sykes: Quarter, half, and three-quarters.

    Bond: How big?

    Catherine Sykes: A pocket watch.

    Bond: Is it very old?

    Sykes: Oh, yeah.

    Catherine Sykes: It's worth four thousand dollars. They just called us and told us. We had no idea.

    Sykes: You pull the lever on the right hand side and it's a beautiful thing. Eighteen carat gold, too. That's what makes it. We didn't realize the value of it.

    Bond: It's a shame you have to keep it in the safety deposit box now.

    Catherine Sykes: We've got a watch fob in there now.

    Sykes: I had a watch fob. My uncle -- he was a Mason. And he had a beautiful watch fob and I have that. Had it repaired, too. I'm taking one at a time. Of course, we're Masons, both of us. My son and my father. I raised my son. I was Master in 1953, same year my father died.

    Bond: You said you worked for DuPont?

    Sykes: Yes.

    Bond: Did you work for them all your working life?

    Sykes: Yes.

    Catherine Sykes: Did you, too?

    Bond: Oh, no. I worked in West Virginia, Holland, Texas and Germany and here. And I worked for 41 years.

    Catherine Sykes: So did he. Did you know Dr. [Schoenberger?]?

    Bond: No, I did not.

    Catherine Sykes: You remind me of him. He was our doctor, but then he went with DuPont and he's down at Glasgow now. Head of Medical down there.

    Bond: Well, Arthur, I really don't have much else to say here, unless you think of other things you would like to talk about?

    Sykes: No. My father. I don't know whether I should you tell this or not. Well, as long as you don't tell anybody. A man gave my father a bonus. And if I remember, my father saying it was the first bonus handed out. And he gave it out of his pocket - one of the DuPonts.

    Catherine Sykes: He worked down in Williamsburg, then, didn't he -- down at Yorktown?

    Sykes: Yes. And my father said, during the War...

    Bond: World War I?

    Sykes: Yes. He said, "Pete, I'm going to give you for the good job I'm going to give you out of my pocket." I was a little kid. And later on I realized what it was, and it wasn't from the Company at all. It was from out of his pocket.

    Bond: Did he say how much it was?

    Sykes: Yes.

    Bond: Do you mind telling?

    Catherine Sykes: Was that the stock he gave him?

    Sykes: Cash. Cash.

    Catherine Sykes: You don't know how much it was?

    Sykes: No. My father wouldn't tell. And you didn't dare ask him. My father wouldn't tell and my mother wouldn't. It's funny I never knew about it until I got older and my mother told me.