Home | Mission & Goals | Meeting Schedule | Search | Contact Us | Submit A Story | Links

Everyday Life in the 1920 & 30

John Geiselman
From his book "Reflections"

As a young boy, when I came to the Geiselman home, one of the old customs was going to the village of Gettysburg on Saturday. I remember going first in the 1922 Model-T Ford Coach, then in the Buick Roadster, and later in the 1927 Hudson Super Six. My foster father was proud of all his cars. It didn't matter what the weather was like we went to town when Saturday night rolled around. We always found a good place to park on the square.

The first "hot dog with everything" I bought was down Chambersburg Street at Ernie's. My father had given me only a nickel to spend and the hot dog was ten cents. I grabbed the hot dog and handed the clerk the nickel and ran up the street to get another nickel from Father. I went back as quickly as my legs could carry me to pay the man.

I remember Nick Meligakas who owned the Plaza Restaurant on the Square. Adjoining the restaurant was an ice cream bar and candy kitchen called "Sweetland". Nick had a man that came once a week and made the best candy in Gettysburg. He also had book shelves where he displayed books to be sold. He only carried the best books. Mr. Meligakas wrote several books about Gettysburg that were also available in the store. There was an amplifier on the outside of the establishment where you could hear the popular records of the day. Many were the people that came to town and frequented the square and the Plaza Restaurant.

I usually bought a small bag of potato chips to eat in the car. When we headed home Father would stop at the Abner Mills Store on Baltimore Street and buy me an "Eskimo Pie". Ice cream in any form in those days was always a treat.

One Saturday night in 1933 my father parked on the crest of Baltimore Street hill. It was a very warm summer night and I was sitting in the car with all the windows down. Some boys I knew drove up the hill in their 1929 Model-A Ford Roadster with a rumble seat. One of the boys was in the rumble seat strumming on his guitar. They went up and around the square and came back by us again. We realized they came from the annual White Church picnic. These were the delights of my boyhood days.

Another time we were coming home in a terrible thunder-storm in our 1931 Chevy Coach and it drowned out. Father had to get under the hood and dry off the spark plugs and distributor. By the time we got home that evening the creek was over the bank. I had to go down and bring our two horses out of the pasture on account of the rising water. I waded the water to get to the horses and brought them up to the barn. What a night!

Nearly every Christmas we would go into town to the special Christmas program at the Presbyterian Church on Baltimore Street. One night I stayed home from the program and I sat on the couch with my bull dog Penny. When my parents arrived home Penny was not going to let them in until they spoke to her. This dog would have taken hold of any stranger who tried to hurt me. She was truly my best friend and protector.

In May of 1924, Mother, Father, Donald, and I went to the Don Fissel farm along Rock Creek. Father and Donald had plowed a field to plant it in corn. It was a beautiful spring day and Mother brought along a picnic lunch. She also brought along a fishing line with a cork bob. As fast as Mother baited up the hook and threw it in, the fish started to nibble and the cork would bob. Mother told me to pull the fishing line and when I did out came two big sunfish. This kept up for quite a while. We had so many I stopped counting them. Black clouds were forming in the west and it was obvious we were in for a thunderstorm. As the storm approached, Mother said, "Reel up the line, we have to go for cover!" We had quite a string of fish when we left for home. Because of the storm "Boss" and Donald returned later and finished the planting.

On the morning of January 24, 1924, exactly one year from the time I came to the Geiselman's, there was quite a lot of snow covering the ground. We didn't have much to do so Donald decided to build an automobile. The first thing he did was hitch the horse to the spring wagon and went to the J. Carna Smith Store. He got some wooden boxes from the box shed in back of the house. He brought them home and stacked them on the summer house porch to take apart later.

That day a total eclipse of the sun was visible where we lived. During the eclipse Donald was busy sawing out the box boards on a plank bottom chair. As he sawed, he cut a piece of the chair. He quit working until the eclipse was over and there was normal light once again.

Father and Mother returned after taking the milk to Barlow in the stick wagon. Mother remarked that the people who tenanted the Walker homestead had stopped by the store. They had a piece of smoked glass to look at the eclipse. They said that was the proper way to look at the eclipse without looking directly at the sun for that could damage your eyes.

After the snow melted, and the weather got warm, Donald took some of his box boards up above the big wagon shed. There he had a little workshop to build things. He completed the body of the car there. Donald was a genius at building things.

It was also above the wagon shed that Donald had his skinner board to hang hides on such as skunk, opossum, and muskrat. After they were skinned he put them on the boards to salt and dry. Although I was only seven years old, Donald taught me how to do this.

In the winter of 1927, Father, Mother, and I attended a sale back of Flohr's Church. We bought a big 150 capacity incubator in which to hatch chicks. The incubator was kept in the middle room of the house. This room didn't have much light. People for miles around would come to see the chicks hatch out.

The Winebrenner's and the Weaver's ofttimes came over to see the peeps come out of the eggs. Only the strong ones would be able to break through the shell and survive. This was very fascinating to me as a young boy. Every other day Mother would turn the eggs in the incubator and moisten them with a damp cloth. We had very good hatches from our own eggs. That spring Mother had quite a number of young chicks to care for.

In the middle of May 1927 Mother became ill and had to go to the Warner Hospital for a major operation. It was to remove a large tumor. She was very sick at the time and they didn't expect her to recover. There was a special nurse with her day and night. One day Mother said she heard the doctors and nurses talking about Lindbergh flying a non-stop flight from New York City to Paris, France. This was the first solo flight across the ocean ever completed by man. The airplane was called the "Spirit of St. Louis" because the people of that city gave him financial help.

There was a Mrs. Biesecker who was her roommate while she was in the hospital. Mrs. Biesecker's operation was for her appendix. She was doing very well and almost ready to go home when she passed away. This was an awful shock to Mother.

Donald was not with us at this time so Father hired Stewart "Shorty" Witherow to help with the work. Shorty was a farm boy and knew how to do things well. I remember Father telling Shorty to start plowing in the twenty acre field near the woods. The one end of that field ran up to the field of the Charles Schwartz home-stead. I had found a siren called a "Wild Cat". Shorty said, "Give me that thing." He mounted it on the Fordson tractor fan belt and had a string to the end of it on the front of the tractor. While he was plowing he would pull the string and it would make a terrible sound. Mr. Schwartz was plowing in the adjoining field with the mules. When Shorty would get near the fence row he would pull the string on the siren. Mr. Schwartz's mules would prick up their ears and go for all they were worth. Mr. Schwartz had a hard time plowing his field.

One evening when Father returned from the hospital Mr. Schwartz was there to see him. He told him there was something wrong with the tractor. He said Shorty was plowing in the adjoining field and there was this awful noise, and because of it he couldn't control his mules. Father asked Shorty that night about the tractor and Shorty assured Father that the tractor was fine. The next day the same thing happened. Mr. Schwartz returned that night to make sure Shorty was not driving the tractor without oil. The next day Shorty went out again but the siren soon burned out. Needless to say it was a blessing for Mr. Schwartz!

It rained a lot when Mother was in the hospital. The sun would be shining in the morning and without any warning it would start to rain. We would let the chicks out of the chicken house, early in the morning, then when it started to rain we would have to get them in. It seemed every day we did that. Shorty was getting tired of getting them in. He said to me, "I know, let's tie a string to each chicken's leg then when it rains, we'll just pull the strings and bring them in. That would save us a lot of work." Even as young as I was... I knew it wasn't such a great idea. It was fun being with Shorty for you never knew just what he would think of.

While Mother was in the hospital she hired a lady to do the cooking for us. She was a very good cook and she liked to make noodle soup. That was her specialty - noodles for dinner, warmed up for supper, and fried for breakfast. One day Shorty said, "Let's give her a vacation for a while. I am getting tired of noodles every day. I can do the cooking for a while." Believe me, we were all very happy when Mother came home!

The summer of 1927 was right good after the rain stopped. Father and Donald planted corn in June. The corn working and harvest of hay, wheat, and oats, seemed to come very close together that year. The week of the fourth of July we hauled in the sheaves of wheat. Charles Null and one of his sons would come up to help. Charlie and Father pitched the sheaves off the hay carriage wagon into the mow where Charlie's son and I would put them in layers. It was always a hot, sticky job, for they didn't have smooth wheat at that time, only wheat with beards.

It was a warm March evening in 1929. The winter snow was still lingering but melting. Father, Mother, and I were invited to a card party in York, Pennsylvania at the home of Annie Brown, who was my father's sister. Our neighbors the Claude Derrs were invited also. We had two cars at that time, a Hudson and a 22 Model-T Ford, which were kept in a wagon shed attached to the barn. The whole family was seated in the Model-T ready to go when the engine stalled. At that moment, a huge amount of snow started sliding off the barn roof. With the car half way out there was nothing we could do but stay put and let the snow come. It smashed the top in and flattened one of the rear tires. The brace on the top saved us from getting hurt but Mother and I were sitting with snow over our laps. Father had to shovel us out. Then we drove up to Claude Derr's and told him what happened. Claude said, "We will take our Model-T which has curtains to keep us warm."

I remember that trip to York and the card party. They played progressive 500. There were prizes to the highest scorers and our folks brought home nearly all of them. I remember the trip home through the fog. Claude Derr drove with his head out of the curtain to see the road. What a night - one to remember!

The year of 1927 Father had a big Super-Six Hudson Sedan. In the fall of the year, the Oddfellows would hold their annual organizational supper in Harney, Maryland. My grandparents, parents, and I would all go in the Hudson. I always enjoyed going. I remember those trips as though they were today. I can picture the tall locust trees, along the road, near the Maryland line. After supper I would play with the boys that were there. I remember one night Harry Yingling and I decided to have the same chair at the same time. I held on and he also held on. It wasn't long until I was holding a chair rung in my hand. That was enough trouble for one night!!

During the late 20's John W. Smith and Dr. Bittinger would come over from Martinsburg, West Virginia to go deer hunting. They would hunt on Jack's Mountain near Fairfield. Often Donald Heagy joined Father and the others. They would get up early in the morning to milk the cows. One morning there was quite a stir in the kitchen with laughter and hollering. Dr. Bittinger set the table for breakfast. In those days there weren't any electric lights only a kerosene lamp. As he put things on the table he thought he was putting a dish of jam out to spread on bread, but found it was molasses with a small mouse in it. That's what all the laughing was about. Mother and Mrs. John Smith were wakened and wondered what was going on. When they found out, they started laughing!!

Father had a 28 Model Buick. The three men would ride in the front seat and Donald would ride in the trunk of the car and keep the trunk lid open a little for air. John Smith and Dr. Bittinger came over for quite a number of years to hunt. John Smith shot his first buck during the 1927 hunting season. On that particular day Father didn't hunt with them. When he and Mother returned from being away they were surprised to see a six-point buck, hanging from the mulberry tree, in our yard. It was still there when I returned from school that afternoon. There was a lot of excitement as John shared his story of how he got the buck.


Early in the spring of 1930 I was attending Homer's school when word came that "Mike" Burton Witherow lost his hand in a hay baler. This was a stationary type of baler. They were baling hay out of the barn, on the Allen Maring Farm, then tenanted by Todd Jacobs. Mr. Witherow was around 30 years of age at the time. It was a terrible tragedy!

I graduated from eighth grade that year. School left out around the 20th of April. I remember helping Father plant corn. I helped get fertilizer out of the 167 pound bags. I couldn't lift them so I just set a bucket down and poured some out. I walked in back of the two horse planter. I then picked up the marker at each end of the field so Father didn't need to reach down and change it.

While we were planting corn one day in May, Mother's brother Clarence came running out to the field all excited. We stopped to talk to him. He told us his wife Anna was taken to the hospital very suddenly. We were very concerned and found out later she had an emergency appendectomy.

One day Father took the two horses and hitched them to the spring harrow to work the twenty acre field back of the woods. As I was following him on foot I found a nice Indian tomahawk head. Slowly, but surely, I was getting quite a collection of Indian artifacts just from the local fields and streams. Most frequently I found them near the springs in our area. These would all end up as a part of the museum.

During the early thirties there were lean years for all of us. Early in the spring we planted sweet corn to pull and sell in the summer months. We generally planted an acre or more for selling. When the corn was ready, we all got up very early when the dew was still on the corn to pull it. We placed the bushel baskets in the back seat of the Model-T Ford Coach and started to town. Father would drive around the various streets and Mother would sell it. It sold for nine and ten cents a dozen at first and later it sold for twelve cents a dozen. We were glad for the money. We didn't have to have a license to sell on the street as you do today. If we had other vegetables in season, we would take some from our truck patch - such as cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, lima beans, and sometimes, raspberries. Mrs. Dillie Winebrenner always bought a lot from us. In later years Mrs. Leroy (Gertrude) Winebrenner bought a lot of lima beans.

It was the middle of July 1930 and Father and I were mowing the meadow with the two horse mower, near the Charlie Schwartz farm. I was walking along keeping the grass from clogging in the mower because it was very fine. Father always called it "fuzz grass". As I was cleaning out the cogs I heard the Mt. Joy Church bell toll. It was the custom in those days, to toll the bell when a person died. Father started counting the tolls. When it finished ringing it had tolled eighty times. Father said he was sure our neighbor Grannie Cashman, as we called her, must have died. When we returned home we found he was right.

One hot day, in the summer of 1930, I was loading oats sheaves on a hay carriage wagon in the school house field. A neighbor, C. R. Fissel came over to our wagon and said, "George, I have some candy samplers for you and John - some new candy I got in." Mr. Fissel was a huckster and carried items like candy, cigars, and soda. He was a jolly man of great humor. Father always enjoyed his company. Mother and Mrs. Clara Fissel, who was a Cashman, grew up together and were school mates.

Father and Mother enjoyed traveling at times with the Fissels. They would drive down to the Shennandoah Valley of Virginia. They had many good times together and enjoyed each others company. After the Fissels moved from their farm to Gettysburg they would invite us to their home. We always took our eight-quart ice cream freezer and some milk. They would have cream and ice to make the ice cream. We churned it until it was hard, then pulled out the flyer. I always licked them off. We spent many an enjoyable summer evening this way.

Mr. Fissel had a music instrument called a Harpline, which when wound up played records. One of the tunes I remember went something like this - "Where they grow wheat - that is hard to beat - way out west in Kansas."

During the mid-thirties Mr. and Mrs. Fissel were in their prime. He owned a driving horse and a fine buggy. He also had a sleigh for the snowy winter months. Mr. Fissel would put on his gloves, which had long cuffs, that came part way up his fore-arms. He would hold the driving lines between his fingers and off they would go in the buggy or sleigh. He also had a Model-T Ford which was his pride and joy. He drove this car like a professional. He started it out on gas, then turned it on coal-oil after it got hot. What I liked about it was the "cut out" he had put on it. When one of them would leave the Fissel homestead for Gettysburg we could hear his "cut out" bark - as he was coming up the road.

Their son Maurice and I went to school together. When snow was on the ground, he would come to my home and bring his double- decker sled that had two sets of runners. Then we boys and girls would pile on and down the hill we'd go towards the run. Maurice later became a local Constable.

At the death of C. R. Fissel, Edwin Benner and I dug his grave under a linden tree in the Mt. Joy Church Cemetery. It was early in the year of 1942. We found the water was coming into the grave site. We had to get a pump and pump out the site. The vault man put up a tent and just as it was in place, a snow flurry came, with very high winds. Edwin and I had to hold the tent down to keep it from blowing away. During this time Rev. Schmidt was having the service in the church. He said later, "Before I shut my eyes for the prayer the sun was shining brightly, but when I finished and opened my eyes it was pitch dark." He hadn't been at the church too long and he said to Father, "I hope this isn't an omen as to what is to come." I have to admit, it was quite a different day!

Mother's brother, Clarence, wanted Mother to take care of his youngest daughter, Peggy Ann for several days. She was born June 9, 1929 and she wasn't very old at the time we had her. Peggy would not take her bottle. Mother figured maybe it was because she missed her mother. We had quite a time the first night with her.

The next morning Mother drove the Model-T Ford down to the store to see Mother Smith. She took Peggy Ann and I along. Mother Smith was an expert at feeding babies - she knew what to do. She put some sugar on the nipple and gave her the bottle of milk. After she tasted the nipple she was content. She quit crying and drank all her milk. Mother was relieved and baby was happy once again.

Read other chapters in this book

Read other personal memory historical articles

Have your own memories of life on the farm?  
If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net