Displaying items by tag: Bridgeport

Thursday, 20 February 2020 20:48

Bridgeport funeral records

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Recently, the Historical Society of Montgomery County received a very interesting donation: 6 ledgers from O’Brien Funeral Home in Bridgeport. The ledgers show a little of the evolution of funeral rites.

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The earliest ledger begins in 1899. We see the cost of the hearse, the burial permit, and the cost of the service. Occasionally, we also see the cause the death, as in this entry.

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As we move into the 20th century, the funeral business becomes more regulated, and the ledgers become forms filled in for each deceased person. They list place of birth, parents’ names, and cause of death, among other things (though not all the fields are always filled in). For our genealogy interested patrons, these records could be very valuable.

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The other half of the form shows the costs of the funeral. You can see that there were many more options, including pall bearers, tent rentals, “aeroplane service,” and telegram charges.

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This listing includes “advertising.” That might include placing a funeral notice, or it might mean the invitations that were common for funerals in the past.

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I researched funeral customsin our library to find out more. Edward Hocker (as “Norris”) wrote two articles on funerals in Montgomery County. In the past, funerals were famous for their feasting and heavy drinking. Needless to say, they were also well attended. He reports on a Pottstown woman who had, by 1909, attended 3,094 funerals. She was 80 years old and had kept a record of each funeral.

He also wrote of the funeral hostlers, usually teenage boys who watched the horses of those attending the service. They were never paid or tipped for their work but were well-fed, and I guess it beat farm chores.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 12 December 2019 19:28

The World's Largest Borough

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Lately, I’ve been working on the oversize items in our collection. The lonely oversize shelves at the back of the closed stacks contain a variety of unwieldy items – framed deeds, panoramic photographs, diplomas, and posters. There are also some oversize publications, like the one I found a couple of weeks ago.

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“Norristown, Pennsylvania – Largest Borough in the World” is a curious document. On the one hand, it seems to be a reflection of “boosterism,” a phenomenon of late 19th and early 20th century America. In towns and cities across the country chambers of commerce and other civic groups promoted their community with the sort of “rah-rah” enthusiasm usually restricted to the high school football field.

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We have several such publications, each touting Norristown’s location, people, and institutions. This one seems particularly aimed at business leaders. It has lots of pictures of Norristown’s businesses, as well as the mansions their owners lived in. There are special sections on Ursinus College and Bridgeport, as well as a detour to Jersey Shore (I suppose to show off possible summer homes).

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There are lots of great pictures that show what Norristown looked like just over a century ago.

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The real mystery behind this item is who produced it? On an inside page we see what looks like a periodical title, “Buyers and traveler's report” along with a date, 1910. But I can’t find any record of a magazine by that name. The Norristown Chamber of Commerce is prominently featured, so my guess is that they are the creators and publishers of the item.

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As for the title, is Norristown the world’s largest borough? I’ve seen this claim in several places, sometimes modified to “the world’s largest independent borough.” A listing of boroughs by population isn’t readily available, and the term means different things in different countries and even within the US (an Alaskan borough is analogous to a county).  We can say that Norristown is a grand borough indeed.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 16 August 2018 19:53

The Diamond State Fibre Company

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I found this interesting little booklet in an old box labeled “Business and Industry.” It’s an employee magazine for the Diamond State Fibre Co., a paper fiber manufacturer in Bridgeport.

But hang on, both of you reading this are thinking, Delaware is the Diamond State! Yes, it is. The company was based in Elsemere, Delaware.

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The magazine is unnamed. The back cover advertises a contest with a $5 prize to name it. The inside is filled with information on the Christmas savings fund, humor, children’s pages, and employee updates. There are pictures of some of the equipment at the plant and this one of “The Big Five.”

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The company's 12 team bowling league gets a few pages of coverage.

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There is only a little bit on what the company actually made. One article explains that the company’s Condensite Celeron was used as insulation for wireless communication. The company installed its own wireless set at the Bridgeport plant. It explains “Our receiving range should be from one quarter to one third the distance around the world.”

This was 1922, and commercial radio was in its infancy. The first station had been licensed only two years earlier in Pittsburgh. The novelty of the radio is clear in the article which says, “A number of powerful radiophone experimental stations are equipped to transmit music by radio and some stations do so on a regular weekly schedule, so that hundreds of receiving stations within their radius can tune their instrument to that wave and listen in to the music.

In 1929, the company merged with the Continental Fibre Company, becoming the Continental-Diamond Fibre Company. I was unable to find when it shut down, but the Bridgeport plant was in business into the 1950’s.

Published in Found in Collection

Cleaning my desk, I found an interesting pamphlet promoting an idea for a world celebration of Thanksgiving. The concept was thought up by Theodore Heysham, who was a prominent Baptist minister in the Norristown area.

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He was born in Plymouth Township, near Cold Point, but his family moved to Norristown while he was still very young. He attended the Sandy Street and Oak Street schools until his health forced him to spend a few years in the country as an adolescent. At the age of 22 he joined the Lower Providence Baptist Church, and there he discerned a calling to become a minister. He attended Bucknell for two years, then went to the University of Pennsylvania in his junior year. That same year (1894) he represented Penn at the first intercollege debate with Cornell, a debate won by Penn.


He later attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland (the school’s most famous student is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) and studied philosophy at Penn. Eventually he became minister at the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport. According to his obituary in the Times-Herald, during his time at this church, Heysham organized a citizens’ committee to stop the “Shirt-Waist Gang” of Bridgeport (I couldn’t find anything on this gang, but when I do, I’ll be sure to post it to the blog).


Heysham was troubled by poor health throughout his life and he left Bridgeport for Southern California for his health. When he recovered, he briefly took a position at a large Baptist church in Minneapolis, but his health soon forced him west again. This time he went to San Francisco, and he was there for the 1906 earthquake. He went back to the east coast and made many speeches describing his experiences to raise money for the relief of the city. Eventually, he returned to Bridgeport and once again led the congregation at the First Baptist Church.


It was during his second ministry there, that Heysham organized the Norristown centennial celebration. The only picture I could find of Heysham is from that event. I presume he didn’t dress like that all the time.

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In 1914, he accepted a position at the church where he had first heard the call to preach the Gospel, Lower Providence Baptist Church. He remained there until he retired from active ministry in 1923. He continued writing, however, promoting the unity of all Christians.

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I imagine that’s when he began his movement for a world-wide day of thanksgiving. The pamphlet on my desk lists many ministers and political leaders, included Governor Sproul of Pennsylvania. Heysham passed away from a sudden attack of pneumonia in 1935.

Published in Found in Collection