This is a transcription of a conversation I had with my Great Great Uncle, Ray Hummer shortly before his 90th birthday. He wanted to share some of the stories of his life growing up around New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I’m hoping to add some more from his time in World War 2 in a chat to come. For now, enjoy!
Transcription of Raymond Hummer taken on Dec. 31, 2011.
Transcribed by Erica A. Bauwens on Nov. 4, 2012.
This information came from a background search that was made on my grandmother.
John Arthur I (GET LAST NAME) came from Scotland, and he received a grant of land on the Western border of Virginia, now part of Pennsylvania. 500 acres, 48 warrant 13 2nd Mo, Penn Archives (CONFIRM NUMBER)
Son, John Arthur II has no record, only in 1790 Census and served in Capt. [Charles] Taggart’s company of Rangers on the frontier.
John Arthur III served in the Seventh Virginia regiment of foot under Capt. Charles Fleming, and married Eve Manke and had son John Arthur V on Feb. 20, 1793. And he (John Arthur III) died in Dec. of 1815. John Arthur V married Anne and had 9 children.
The first was Nancy B. May 7, 1819 . She married John Seigh. They had a daughter, Julianne (SPELLING?). And Julianne married James J. Wilkes (SPELLING ??) who was born Feb. 21, 1854 (CONFIRM DATE) and died June 14, (GET DATE OF DEATH).
They had one son, my (R.H.) grandfather, Edwin Cooper Wilkes, born Feb. 17, 1865. He married Maude Mary Washington in September of 1885. They had six daughters: May, Cora, Pearl (mother of R.H.), Florence, Grace and Esther. They had no boys. And I always thought my grandmother was a Harris. She lists her name as Washington, but her mother must have been a Stuart because on my grandmother’s side her mother was a nice of Colonel Jeb Stuart, who goes back to the Stuarts of Scotland.
But getting back to my grandfather (Edwin Cooper Wilkes): he was an individual that was of his own air. I don’t have any idea and I’m hoping you might find out what his educational background was. I know he worked all his life around steel mills throughout New York and Johnstown Pennsylvania. My sister has a newspaper on the flood from that area in the 1880’s. [May 31, 1889] Evidentially he rescued a lot of people. He was a civil engineer- whether he just picked it up or had actual training I’m not sure. But he actually invented the oil burner. And he was offered something like $250,00 and royalties for the rest of his life by Standard Oil. But he had no business sense and he turned it down, because he thought he could make money on his own.
What I’m telling you is not in any order, just bits and pieces.
Evidentially, in the steel mill, he burnt his leg so badly that gangrene set ins. And of course we were talking about the early 1900’s, so they wanted to just cut it off. But he sat at night with a candle and would sterilize his own blade at night and cut away his own flesh.
He told the story of during the great flu epidemic hit: he got this flu and he went home and mixed this concoction and took it and drank it and went back to work and he thought he felt something. So he went and sat down behind the boilers for a minute, but then after a few minutes he came around. So whatever it was that he took it worked.
Another incident was when he was living up in New York around Albany in a steel mill. In the wintertime, in those days they had a big copper pot to boil clothes, but evidentially one of the girls, Grace, poured the hot water all over and scalded her face. And they got word to him and he walked across the frozen river and fell through across the times to get home. Came home and had the local doctor graft some skin off of him for her.
And yet, in later years, he liked to be the center of attention. If we’d have a gathering at home and his wife Maude seemed to be getting all the attention he would get indigestion. And he would whine and whine, so they’d give him rhubarb with soda or something.
While I’m on that subject; this was probably about 1935, maybe ’36. My oldest brother was out of the house, he was a professional musician and he played piano with a lot of big bands in the area. But he was on the road traveling and they had a bus and wuld play one night stands all over the place. Richard was my father’s pride and joy. His full name was Edwin Richard, like grandpa. And we got word that he would be playing at this supper club, a really fancy place. So we had to go down to see him perform. My sister was the driver, my father didn’t drive. We had a 1932 Hupmobile, similar to the green car they drive in Boardwalk Empire. It had little glass bud vases on the side to put artificial flowers in. So it was my sister, my mother and father, my grandmother and grandfather and Don and me. And it was 100 miles from Richmond to Orange, and in those days, we’re talking that there were no major highways. So you didn’t do a drive in an hour and a half. It took three to four hours to do that drive, and you prayed that you didn’t get a flat tire or the car didn’t boil over on you. So of course, us being hicks, we stop by a diner on the way to this restaurant because we couldn’t afford a meal there. We thought we’d just get dessert. So we get there and my brother got this table right by the band stand and the waiter came by and said ‘May I suggest something light?’ and we said ‘sure!’ We didn’t know what we were ordering, but he brought out sherbet.
But this night club had these two beautiful girls that were taking mens’ coats, and my brother and I were just old enough to start appreciating women. So while we’re having our dessert and admiring our big brother who was the center of attention, grandpop didn’t like that. And he started to have indigestion. So he stands up, starts unbuttoning his shirt and his long underwear and all that. The maitre de comes up and asks ‘Is the older gentleman alright? Is there something wrong?’ And my grandmother used to baby him. So my mother says to my brother Don, ‘Why don’t you take him out to get some fresh air?’ So we did.
Now when Grandpop had to break wind he didn’t care where he was, who was around, anything else. So here is Don and I walking him past the hat check girls and just as we get to them he goes. You can imagine a 14 and 17-year-old boy, how this went over. He was a character like you wouldn’t believe.
My father was the manager was the manager of the silt mill and he never got a vacation. So every year my mother’s sister had a cottage in Washington New Jersey by Hackettstown, and on Memorial Day weekend we would drive our grandparents up there in the summer and on Labor Day weekend we would come get them. The cottage had no electricity, no running water and a well. And they lived with us the rest of the year. In those days when we went from Orange, Virginia to North Jersey we had no bridges, we had ferries. And when you went on a holiday weekend it was packed. It would take at least 15 hours to get there, because you had to figure out that if you missed the ferry you would have to wait 3 or 4 loads to get on them. That was how we always spent those holidays.
We didn’t have the Turnpike back them. US 1 wasn’t much better than a standard lane. It was paved but, it was one lane on each direction, curves with hills and no pull-offs. And if you got behind a truck their top speed was maybe 50. And when they got on a slope it was like you weren’t moving, and there was no way to pass them.
In the cottage he made a well out of beautiful brownstones. And he installed the pump himself, and the pump slipped and cut his finger so it was hanging off by the skin. SO he went into the house, grabbed a butcher knife and finished the job. But this was the man that would get indigestion and think he was dying.
I used to spend the summers up there. And radio was the thing in those days, since we had no TV. But we had no electricity, and as a teenager I had nothing to do. I don’t know what he did, but he had a foil of copper wire, and a battery and earphones and nails, and he made me a crystal set so I could pick up New York’s WNEW and listen to Martin Block. He used to have Block’s Block Party and I would listen with the headphones on the radio that he built.
Washington, New Jersey was where a college was. It was up on a hill, then there was all fields and the Musconetcong River, and there was a private little amusement park called Butler Park. They had a penny arcade and a very old merry go round from the 1880s, with a skating rink, Bingo, rented rowboats and a few of those things. And my grandpop got an old automobile, took it off its spokes and built a barge, and used the spokes as paddles. And he built a big paddleboat and would charge people a nickel and drive 10 or 20 people down the river. Then the river split and there was a little bit of an island there, and they built a bridge with an old tree with a swimming hole and a tire swing for the kids. We were just one step beyond the one piece bathing suit, and suits were mostly made of wool. Grandpop had a great big straw hat. One Sunday we went down to swim and he comes down where we all were. He was in his bathing suit, smiling and laughing, but then we look and found out that moths had eaten out the whole crotch. No wonder he was smiling!
That cottage had a honey bucket [emergency toilet] and you’d be trying to sleep out in the porch in the summer trying to cool down and at 7 o’clock in the morning Grandpop would decide to empty that honey bucket. So you’re trying to sleep and he’d come walking by and you would smell him go by and wake up the hard way.
I think when we lived in Orange we had two fox terrier, Shorty and Elmer and we had one cat. One winter when radio was the thing they had the Luxe Radio Theater on Monday nights. And they would take a movie and condense it and do the whole movie on radio and narrate it. It was a big deal. In our house the sofa had a big grate next to it for the furnace to spread the heat. If you were 30 feet away you froze. Of course the dogs knew this and would sleep on the vent. And while they were sleeping they would get too hot, start to cook, so in their sleep they would lift one leg up and put it down, then lift the other leg up and put it down. And any time the cat was outside he would come to the front door and cry. The dogs would hear it and start yapping, and when you let the cat in the dog would pin it to the floor and the poor cat would run off. My grandfather, whenever he had to clear his throat he would go to the front door and go out there to spit. The dogs knew this, so if they heard him clearing his throat they were there. So he’d open the door, the dogs would go charging up the street barking and waking up all the neighbors. So back to the Luxe Radio Theater. Grandmom and my mom would be sitting on the sofa and the radio would be on the table, and my father would sit by the radio. The floor lamp had a metal ash tray with a rocker on one side. My grandfather would sit on the rocker and listen to Lux Radio Theater and the dogs would be on the furnace. And it never failed, about 10 minutes before the climax of the show grandpop- who had been asleep the whole time- would wake up. And he would pick up that ash tray and it would go “clank clank clank,” then he’d pick up his pen knife and go “clank, clank, clank” and we’d all be sitting around shushing him and he’d be yelling “What say, Maude? What say? What say?” Next thing he’d clear his throat and that was it. Both dogs would be up barking and he’d be staggering across the room to go to the door. You couldn’t hear a damn thing. I don’t think they ever heard the final five minutes of any of that show. It’s a good memory but it was frustrating at the time.
We had a big pantry house off the kitchen. And outside the pantry was the entrance to the cellar. And right in that corner the drain pipe from the toilet was there and came right down the middle. Of course there was never caulk or any of that, and the basement was just a cellar with dirt floor. Those two dogs and the cat, when the mice would come up through the pipe, would work as a team. They’d go out through the kitchen. Shorty would go by the pipe, that was his post. The other dog and the cat would head in and go after the mouse. You never heard such a racket: pots and pans everything. I never saw a mouse make it. The dog and cat would chase him out and Shorty would kill him.
Grandpop lived to 75. We lived in the suburbs of Wilkes Barre, PA, and the main drag Wyoming Ave. had a street car with double tracks. Evidentially one day he tried to drive straight down between the street cars. It didn’t hurt him but there wasn’t much left of the car. Then I was with him once, we used to drive to Wilkes Barre to New Jersey and we had to go through the Delaware Water Gap. You knew you would have at least one flat tire, when you went through a slope you would hear the steam of a tire. This one time we went over and it was raining and we were going along pretty good and all of the sudden I start to feel this… bump, bump, bump…. We were driving down a railroad track! Right down the middle, and hitting the ties.
Growing up I never knew a time when a grandparent wasn’t living with us. I was born in Rahway, NJ and we moved to Pennsylvania probably around 1923. But my father’s mother had a stroke and his father was already dead, but she was in that bed in the house. And she had a nurse that I remember dressed all in white. Then when we moved to Pennsylvania when I was about 4 that’s when we had her put in a nursing home, when I was about 6 or 7.
That was in 1928, my sixth Christmas. The best Christmas a kid could have. You named it I got it. Electric train; Army truck; a Buddy L truck. They used to make these big soldiers out of paper mache and the rifle was a wire rifle. My father had a good job, he got my mother a wristwatch that was diamonds and emeralds. Then, in 1929 I got a 10 cent coloring book, because the market crashed and my dad lost his job and lost all his money. When the bank closed if you had money in that bank it was gone. And he had no insurance. No welfare, no unemployment, nothing. You were on your own. And being in Wilkes Barre where the coal mines were, you could see that it was really rough. I was a kid, it didn’t affect me, but I could remember it. We would have these men knocking at your door all day long asking to sweep your walk for a piece of bread, or anything. Just to get something to eat. We lived off of Campbell’s Tomato Soup and elbow macaroni. That was our spaghetti dinner. And my mother used to take yellow corn meal and make her own bread and my father would buy a whole bucket of salt mackerel for a buck and half. Basically that’s all I remember eating. We didn’t starve, we ate, but it wasn’t an exciting thing. And until World War II started, living in the 30’s and 40’s was like it was right now. It was the war that helped us, mainly because if you weren’t in the armed forces you were in a factory building planes or guns or something. And we had great prosperity after. For so long we had to make due with nothing: no washing machines, no refrigerators, no cars, no nothing, and when the war ended it was a boom.
Ray Hummer joined military at age 20. Navy Day 1945 I was stationed at the embassy in London. And the Marine anniversary is the day before Navy Day. We had the Arty Schaw orchestra, all professional musicians. We got the ballroom at the Grosvenor House Hotel. And we had a dance. We started the day off with a softball game with the Air Force in Hyde Park. And they had a flatbed full of beer. Then we went to a dance and the officers had a liquor ration. We lived on British rations, you couldn’t buy anything, but the officers turned over their liquor rations for the party. And the clerks- which I was one of- we ran off tickets on the mimeograph machine. So we were supposed to have two drinks per person and for your date, but these guys just kept rolling them out. By the end of the night you couldn’t put your drink down: the tables were covered in bottles and glasses. I don’t remember that night: my girlfriend she was from London at the time. I remember leaving they party, getting on the Subway… the next thing I remember is waking up heaving in her kitchen sink. Between the time I got on that Subway and I was sick in her house in the sink I don’t know.