Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Louise Abrucesse, Tony Lombardo, and Margaret Olivia, June 9, 1982

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Childhood memories and traditions

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Partial Transcript: Uh, my name is Margaret Olivia.

Segment Synopsis: Olivia introduces herself and talks about her childhood memories with her father riding the open trolleys in Fairmount Park. She says that they lived on Mountain Street, near 11th and Morris, where a neighbor took all the kids to Smith's Playground in Fairmount Park, which had a giant sliding board. She shares that she used to babysit, that "we made our own fun," and that they used to pick up fabrics thrown out by the merchants on Passyunk Avenue to make Halloween costumes.

Keywords: 10th Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Babysitting; Fairmount Park (Philadelphia, Pa.); Finisher; Halloween parties; Horticultural Hall; Mountain Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Open trolleys; Passyunk Ave (Philadelphia, Pa.); Smith's Playground (Philadelphia, Pa.); South Philadelphia

Subjects: Childhood; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Recreation; Transportation

GPS: Fairmount Park, Philadelphia (Pa.)
Map Coordinates: 39.988261, -75.197028
00:03:36 - Dating in the 1930s

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Partial Transcript: W, when was, uh,--I want to go right at this and get a little personal. When was your, uh--do you remember your first date?

Segment Synopsis: Abrucesse and Olivia talk about their first dates at movies and vaudeville shows at The Earle Theatre, and how they lied to their parents saying they were at church to go on dates. All three name the stars and big bands they saw in the 1930s. Abrucesse shares how she stood up for a serviceman who was refused admission to the movies during World War II.

Keywords: 'White lies'; 11th and Market Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Cinema; Curfews; Dating; Entertainment; Frank Sinatra; High schools; Jimmy Lunsford; Marriage; Martha Ray; Movies; Parental authority; Servicemen; The Earle Theater; Vaudeville

Subjects: Couples.; Dates (Social engagements); Dating (Social customs); Interpersonal relations; Manners and customs; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Recreation

GPS: Earle Theatre
1046 Market Street
Philadelphia (Pa.)

Map Coordinates: 39.951685, -75.158111
00:08:02 - Tony Lombardo's courtship

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Partial Transcript: Anthony, right?

Segment Synopsis: Lombardo talks about his first date, riding a double decker bus on Broad Street, and his courtship with his future wife, who he dated for twelve years before they married. He has now been married for 45 years. He shares that he, like many children back then, never went to high school because he had to help out his parents.

Keywords: Broad Street Station (Philadelphia, Pa.); Double decker buses; Marriage

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Couples.; Dates (Social engagements); Dating (Social customs); Education; Employment; Families.; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles.; Manners and customs

00:09:56 - Lombardo's childhood and first job

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, the most enjoyable things we--I, I remember now...

Segment Synopsis: Lombardo recalls how his father walked from their apartment at 8th and Christian to his work in a coal yard at 29th and Dauphin, and how on Friday nights his father brought home nickel pies that he bought on Ridge Avenue, so the kids had to be good to get the pie. He then shares about his first job. He was a busboy ("dummy" boy) at the Bellevue Stratford.

Keywords: 'Dummy boys'; 29th and Dauphin Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); 8th and Christian Street (Philadelphia, Pa); 8th and Christian Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Bellevue-Stratford Hotel; Busboys; Careers; Clothing factory; Coal yards; Jobs; Pies; Restaurants; Ridge Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Work

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Employment; Families.

GPS: 100 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia. The Bellevue Stratford Hotel.
Map Coordinates: 39.949937, -75.164742
00:12:47 - Abrucesse's first job

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Partial Transcript: How about your first job? What did you do?

Segment Synopsis: Abrucesse talks about how at age 14 she got her first summer job with her sister at a factory that made Christmas ornaments for 8-9 dollars a week. She went to business school at Wanamaker's Institute and worked as a bookkeeper for a real estate business, 6 days a week for $12.

Keywords: 23rd and Walnut Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Business schools; Careers; Christmas decorations; Factory work; First jobs; John Wanamaker Commercial Institute; Work

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Education; Employment

00:15:24 - Olivia's first job, at the Victor Talking Machine Company

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Partial Transcript: If you hear about my first job--I still don't believe I did this job really.

Segment Synopsis: Olivia shares the story of how she got her first job with the Victor Company in Camden, New Jersey at the age of 15 and she had to go to continuation school one day a week. Working at Victor for 6 years, she learned how to solder electronics for automobile radios. They share stories about taking the ferry from Philadelphia to Camden.

Keywords: Automobiles; Camden (N.J.); Camden, New Jersey; Careers; Continuation schools; Ferries; Ferry boats; First jobs; Jobs; Philadelphia Naval Yard (Navy yard); Radios; Soldering; Victor RCA; Victor Talking Machine Company; Victrolas; Work

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Education; Employment

GPS: RCA Victor Company in Camden (N.J.)
Map Coordinates: 39.947692, -75.127120
00:18:25 - Childhood memories

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Partial Transcript: Did the ferry have a name?

Segment Synopsis: Interviewees talk about what they did as kids: taking the "Lizzie" on Delaware River to Red Bank, looking for scrap metal in the dumps, picking coal from the railroad tracks, getting ice for the family ice boxes, walking the newly opened Benjamin Franklin Bridge in 1926, their first visit to Atlantic City, sports, working at the Italian Market on 9th Street, the importance dolls, and other childhood stories.

Keywords: 12th and Washington Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Benjamin Franklin Bridge; Carriages; Coal; Delaware River; Dolls; Entertainment; Ice factory; Market Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Old wives tales; Riverboats; Scavenging; Scrap metal; South Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); The Lizzie Boat; Trains; Washington Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Employment; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Recreation; Transportation

GPS: Benjamin Franklin Bridge (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Map Coordinates: 39.952876, -75.132296
00:23:07 - Work at Victor, Lit Brothers, and Dolfingers

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Partial Transcript: Y, you mentioned your father worked at 29th and Dauphin. Um, did your, uh, did your parents--you know, where did they work?

Segment Synopsis: Olivia says her father worked at the Victor Company making cabinets for Victrolas after he emigrated from Messina, Sicily. Her mother arrived at the age of 27 from Sicily and didn't like it here. Abrucesse recalls that her father, who was from Casino, near Rome, worked at Lit Brothers starting fires in the stoves. He later worked for Dolfinger's Milk Company. Olivia shares that everybody helped each other.

Keywords: 29th Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Camden (N.J.); Camden, New Jersey; Dolfinger's Milk Company; Finishers; Lit Brothers Department Store; Marriage; Messina (Italy); Messina (Sicily); Messina, Sicily; Paisans; Radio Corporation of America (RCA); Victor Company; Victrolas; Work conditions; Working conditions

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Families.; Immigrants

GPS: Messina (Italy)
Map Coordinates: 38.1938, 15.5540
00:26:11 - The influenza epidemic of 1918 and outhouses

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Partial Transcript: One of the questions we have been asking people is about, um, just family healthcare.

Segment Synopsis: Abrucesse, Olivia, and Lombardo remember how family doctors came to their homes, charging fifty cents for a visit. Lombardo talks about his family's experience with the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, when all of his family members took ill and he helped take care of them in their 2nd floor apartment at 10th and Carpenter Street. He remembers the doctors' fears his younger brother would die, and how his aunt cut her head on a nail while crying in the outhouse.

Keywords: 10th Street and Carpenter Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); 9th Street and Catherine Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); 9th Street and Federal Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Doctor DeFao; Doctors; House doctors; Influenza Epidemic of 1918; Outhouses; Toilet paper; Toilets

Subjects: Diseases.; Families.; Health.; Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919; Physicians; Plumbing.; Refuse and refuse disposal.; Sanitation.; Sewerage.; Waste disposal sites

00:29:56 - Lombardo's recollections of his father and his parent's courtship in Italy

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Partial Transcript: You know, my father was a, a, a great reader of books, you know, Italian books, Italian stories.

Segment Synopsis: Lombardo relives memories of his father reading and then telling stories to his family and friends as they sat and ate chestnuts around a coal stove. Lombardo tells story of how his father, orphaned in Italy, was raised by his uncle to be a priest. On Saint Anthony's Day, he met Lombardo's mother, who put her "evil eye" on him so that they would get married. They ran away to a neighboring town to marry, leading to his father's arrest. They immigrated to the U.S. in 1903.

Keywords: Coal stoves; Elopement; Family; Fathers; Italian; Italian stories; St. Anthony's Day; Traditions; Trinity row houses

Subjects: Couples.; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Marriage; Recreation

00:33:10 - More on the Influenza Epidemic of 1918

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Partial Transcript: I, I just want to go back to the, um, the influenza for a second, what you remember.

Segment Synopsis: Lombardo, Olivia, and Abrucesse talk about the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 and how it affected their communities. Abrucesse remembers how a neighbor boy died from influenza and his parents buried him in a macaroni box. They recall how they were not allowed to attend mass inside the church and could only congregate outside to prevent spread of disease. Lombardo tells how his neighbor hired a horse and wagon to carry his daughter to the cemetery in Yeadon where he dug his daughter's grave.

Keywords: 11th and Carpenter Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Churches--Philadelphia; Congregating; Death; Influenza Epidemic of 1918; Macaroni boxes; Quarantine; Undertakers; Yeadon Cemetery

Subjects: Diseases.; Families.; Health.; Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919; Sanitation.

00:36:26 - Boarding fellow immigrants / Jewish salesmen / Nickel insurance policies

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Partial Transcript: Like I said, even those days, things were so hard.

Segment Synopsis: Abrucesse's explains that a 'paisan' is a fellow Italian immigrant who came from the same hometown. She reminisces about how communities would help each other when times were hard with boarding and housing. Arbutuses talks about Jewish hucksters who sold lines, furniture, clothing, and Metropolitan insurance nickel policies door-to-door; and remembers her mother shopping on Dock Street. They then speak briefly about voting and their ward leaders.

Keywords: "Reddy" Jackson; 9th Street and Carpenter Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Boarding houses; Boardinghouses; Dock Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Homeownership; Housing; Jewish; Jews--Philadelphia; Metropolitan Insurance; Politicians; Salesmen; Street hucksters; Voting; Ward leaders

Subjects: Communities.; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Neighborhoods; Philadelphia (Pa.); Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Politicians; Politics and government; Shopping.

00:42:14 - On immigrants helping one another out / Childbirth

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, now I was going to say something...

Segment Synopsis: Abrucesse and Olivia talk about how they would help each other, provide gifts of food including pasta and sauce following childbirth, and attend each other's weddings. She notes that paisans typically lived in the same area of the city as one another. Lombardo looks back on an experience with a rat in his house. They all recall home births and the role of midwives, and how they heard neighbor women screaming during labor.

Keywords: Gift baskets; Outhouses; Paisans; Rats; Support; Weddings

Subjects: Childbirth; Communities.; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Medical care; Midwifery; Midwives; Neighborhoods; Philadelphia (Pa.); Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:48:06 - Lombardo's work history and labor organizing at Bromley Mills

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Partial Transcript: Right. You were talking about earlier--about t--uh, working in the cigar factory.

Segment Synopsis: Lombardo recalls at age 16 how he worked at 44 Cigars at 14th and Washington Avenue piling machines, eventually meeting his wife at this factory, before working at Bayuk Cigars. Not liking to work around women all the time, he worked in Bromley rug mill for about 12 years, 10 hours a day, 6 hours on Saturdays. Upon reading about labor organizing, he talked to other workers at Bromley's about unionizing. He got to "the boss's ear," who told him to "keep it low." Lombardo says he was the guy "that shoved the union in there" and got them overtime and time and a half on Saturdays.

Keywords: 12th and Washington (Philadelphia, Pa.); 1932; 44 Cigars; Bayuk Cigars; Bill Bowman; Bottles Union; Bromley Mills (Adams Ave., Philadelphia, Pa.); Franklin Roosevelt; Great Depression; Harry Shields; Oilers; Sweatshops; Work conditions; Working conditions

Subjects: Child labor.; Depressions--1929; Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions; Women--Employment.

00:53:04 - Lombardo's labor organizing at Weinberg Novelty

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Partial Transcript: Were you, um, were you an actual organizer any--were you an official in the union?

Segment Synopsis: Lombardo says that when he quit Bromley, he became a spray painter at Weinberg Brothers novelty shop at 913 Arch Street, where he became shop steward. One week he got fired 4 times, but kept getting hired back when he threatened to bring in the union. He worked with Local 832, part of the Bottler's Union which belonged to the Pepsi Cola union.

Keywords: 913 Arch Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Bottlers Union Local 832; Weinberg Brothers

Subjects: Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions

00:55:40 - Life during the Great Depression

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about the, um, Depression. I mean, what was it like then?

Segment Synopsis: During the Depression, many people lost their money from the banks since the banks all closed. The interviewees recall how times were hard during the Depression and people had to start from scratch after losing their savings. Olivia reflects how she didn't go to school anymore because she had to work to support the family during the summer and her brother had to work at Frank's Water Ice when he was 16 years old. Lombardo recalls eating pork and beans every day for two weeks while his mother was sick. His father had to work at Bethlehem Steel during the Depression, commuting there by train every day.

Keywords: Bethlehem (Pa.); Bethlehem Steel; Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; Factory work; Frank's Water Ice; Great Depression; Philadelphia Naval Yard (Navy yard); Prohibition; Soup houses; South Philadelphia; Trolleys; Work Progress Administration (W.P.A.); Work Progress Administration (WPA)

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Depressions--1929; Economics.; Education; Employment; Families.; United States--Economic conditions

GPS: Bethlehem (Pa.). Location of Bethlehem Steel.
Map Coordinates: 40.6259, - 75.3705
01:01:44 - Entertainment in the 1930s

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned earlier some of the entertainers that you saw.

Segment Synopsis: Abrucesse and Olivia reflect on how they went to The Earle Theatre, The Alhambra Theatre, and other movie houses. They would pay for two movies for a nickel and they'd bring their lunch to stay there all day. They talk about how they went dancing at different places including the Wagners, Broadwood Hotel, and The Verde Hall in the 30s and 40s. Other sources of entertainment included performances from bands and artists like Glenn Miller, Paul Whitman, Harry James, and Tommy Dorsi.

Keywords: 1930s; 19th Street and Market Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); 8th and Christian Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Ballrooms; Bands; Christian Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Dancing; Glenn Miller; Harry Janes; Italian movies; Jimmy Lunceford; Louis Prima; Movie houses; Paul Whiteman; Slapstick; The Alhambra Theatre (Philadelphia, Pa.); The Broadwood Hotel (Philadelphia, Pa.); The Cash Box; The Earle Theatre (Philadelphia, Pa.); The Valencia; Tommy Dorsi; Vaudeville; Verdi Hall (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Subjects: Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Recreation

01:05:44 - Sneaking out to go dancing

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Partial Transcript: By twelve o'clock I had to be in the house.

Segment Synopsis: Olivia recalls how her mom would lie to her father about where her sisters were when they were out dancing. Lombardo talks about how the neighborhood girls would take off their shoes to run home after sneaking out to go dancing. Abrucesse recollects that her father would threaten them with a beating if they would leave the house to go to a ball.

Keywords: 'White lies'; 3rd Street and Spruce Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Ballrooms; Dance box; Dancing; Parental authority; Sneak out; Washington Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Subjects: Families.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Recreation

01:11:50 - Homemade wine and recreation

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Partial Transcript: You, uh, you mentioned your father used to, used to read to the family.

Segment Synopsis: Lombardo's father would read them the Italian paper and listen to the Victrola, dancing and singing. Abrucesse recalls having all the neighborhood paisans over and they would play the piano, drink wine, and have dinner together. Lombardo's father made wine by the gallon for the neighbors and his friends during Prohibition. A gallon of homemade wine cost 9 dollars.

Keywords: Alcohol; Bootleggers; Bootlegging; Family; Homemade wine; Italian newspapers; Pianos; Radios; Records; Stetson Hat Company; Victrolas; Wine

Subjects: Alcoholic beverage law violations; Crime.; Distillation; Distilling, illicit; Families.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Prohibition; Recreation

01:15:25 - Public bathhouses and housework

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Partial Transcript: Someone else we, we were talking to had, uh, mentioned they used to go to, uh--parents and his father and his uncles they used to go to the public baths...

Segment Synopsis: Olivia and Abrucesse recall how they bathed at public bathhouses at least once a week, usually on Saturdays. They remember how the bathhouses were very clean and they had plenty of hot water. After going to the bathhouse, all the children learned how to do house duties and each sibling was responsible for their own housework. Abrucesse remembers using the their bathtub at home to clean and scrub laundry.

Keywords: 9th Street and Wharton Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Bath tubs; Bathhouses; Housework; Laundry work; Public bathrooms

Subjects: Baths.; Chores.; Housekeeping.; Hygiene.; Plumbing.; Public baths.; Sanitation.

01:18:09 - Stetson Hat Company

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Partial Transcript: --Stetson Hat Company.

Segment Synopsis: Lombardo reflects on how he would get gold pieces instead of paper money from the Stetson Hat Company. Olivia's oldest sister was paid in silver dollars by a man who ran a shoe store. Lombardo recalls how he admired Stetson for keeping his word. Stetson Hat Company had relations in Italy during the time of WWII. Mussolini didn't let Stetson bring his machines to Italy so Stetson refused to move part of the company overseas since he made his hats with machinery. Olivia remembers how craftsmen worked in the factory to create popular fashion items including shoes, straw hats, and dresses.

Keywords: 23rd and Market Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Benito Mussolini; Craftsman; Fashion; Gold pieces; Imports; Industrialization; Italy; Parisian tailors; Silver dollars; Stetson Hat Company; World War II

Subjects: Employment; World War, 1939-1945

01:21:19 - Party for servicemen on Market Street

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Partial Transcript: Back in the nineteen, uh--when did we get into the war?

Segment Synopsis: Olivia reflects on her time in the Y.W.C.A. during World War II. Olivia and the Y.W.C.A. had a party for the servicemen between their trips when they had nothing to do and no place to go. Olivia remembers how Mrs. Huggins and the rest of the Y.W.C.A. arranged a party on Market Street for all the servicemen. They went down the streets with posters and invited every man in uniform to come to their party. They had music, food, dancing, and mingling. It was the beginning of the U.S.O.

Keywords: Army; Dancing; Market Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Philadelphia Naval Yard (Navy yard); United Service Organizations (USO); World War II; Young Women's Christian Association of Philadelphia (YWCA)

Subjects: Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; World War, 1939-1945; World War, 1939-1945--Veterans.