Parcel post was one year old. The Pennsylvania Railroad ran six crack trains daily, right through the middle of town, headed for St. Louis or New York, not counting a dozen locals to Pittsburgh or Columbus. You stood under the shed of the station, enviously peering into the Pullman diners as supercilious patrons dipped into their soup and stared at you out there in the dark. Some day, you promised yourself, you’d sit in a diner too and stare too.
A nickel bought a shoe shine, a hamburger with onions, a box of Uneeda Biscuit, and a pound of soup beans. A pair of steel-rimmed spectacles from Doc Bougher cost a five dollar bill. Coal was 10 cents a bushel, dug out under the town itself by the High Shaft Coal Company. The best ice cream you’d ever taste, no matter if you lived to be a hundred, cost 25 cents a quart.
The people in 1914 took their politics, religion and their patriotism seriously. The Elks, K. of P.’s, the Masons, and the K. of C.’s were Very Big socially. So was the G.A.R. and Women’s Relief Corps, although their ranks grew thinner and thinner on Decoration Day.
331 South Seventh Street, Steubenville, OH, several blocks over from where this piece’s author George A. Mosel grew up, typifies the look of the neighborhood he describes.
Thousands, young & old, thought nothing of toiling up Market Street hill to Union Cemetery on foot to hear some windbag froth at the mouth over the bravery of the boys at Gettysburg or San Juan Hill.
Automobiles were still pretty risky things to some people. They hadn’t learned to trust them much. Babies were conceived at home and not on a vacation trip to Niagara Falls or in a Tourist Cottage on the Lincoln Highway. Old folks died home-style. The shades were pulled down in the front parlor and services were held there and not in an antiseptic Funeral Home ten squares away.
The phonograph was coming of age. The little square boxes with the cornucopia horn and revolving disks were going out and “His Master’s Voice” was coming in. At Erwin & Robinson’s, you could squander your hard-earned money on “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” which had come out back in 1911, or on “It’s a Long Long Way to Tipperary”(1912); “Peg ‘o My Heart”(1913). If you wanted to be strictly up-to-date you’d go for the very latest songs, “The Missouri Waltz” or “When You Wore a Tulilp.” The really ‘hot’ record was “The St. Louis Blues.” Harry Lauder’s “Roamin’ in the Gloamin’” was a prime favorite on records.
Home was more than a place where they had to take you in, no matter what you did. Families did things together. They played games, sang songs; they went to church en masse; they fought and argues with one another and they entertained their friends under the family roof tree instead of the country club.
Not much spectacular ever happened on North Fifth. The people just wouldn’t allow it. No big fires, or robberies, juicy divorce cases or scandals that I can recall.
That is not to say life was one soft bed of roses. There were many a heartache back of those austere front doors. Babies died too young and old folks turned into vegetables. A favorite diagnosis of sudden death was “acute indigestion,” known now as a coronary thrombosis. The people were beset by the fears and desperations of a long lingering illness, unemployment, and a poverty-stricken old age, without the modern blessings of Social Security, Relief Checks and free nursing for the aged. Many lived low on the hog.
But they put on a brave face to the world. They “made do,” bearing the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with the quiet courage of their forefathers.
from Through a Rear-View Mirror, by an ex-child of the city of Steubenville, Ohio. George A. Mosel, publ. by Hamilton I. Newell, Inc., Amherst, MA, 1963