The Kowalski Story: An Oral History and My Memories of the Great Depression
Dedication to My Father, Sylvester Kowalski
A giver, and not a taker; he lived by the Golden Rule;
and unselfishly facilitated a better future life for his children.
This is a narrative of a particular Kowalski family; one that started with the 1882 emigration of first John Kowalski and, then in 1884, his wife-to-be Marya from Prussian occupied Poland to Nanticoke, Pennsylvania. This is also the narrative of my consciousness from my birth in 1929 until 1942 when the Kowalski family emigrated from Scranton, Pennsylvania to Philadelphia.
John Kowalski was born about 1860 in the province of Posen (Poznan), Poland. His wife, Marya (Chenkie) was born in the same province about 1867. At that time, and until 1918, there was no Poland. Poland was partitioned since the late 1700’s by Russia, Austria and Prussia. Posen (Poznan) was in the Prussian area.
John and Marya married about 1889 in Nanticoke, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. According to the 1910 census, they lived at 24 Slope Street in Nanticoke. They had three children: Elizabeth, the oldest, born in 1893; Sylvester, my father, born in 1902; and, Edward, the youngest, born about 1912. Elizabeth likely married Stanley Janczak in 1910, and they had three children: Regina – born in 1911; Leopold – born in 1914; and Rose – born in 1917. Sylvester married Sophia Sysko in 1928, and had five children: Sylvester – born in 1929; Vincent – born in 1930; John – born in 1932; Ronald – born in 1936; and, Joseph – born in 1941.
Regina Janczak married Carl Heinrich in 1943. Rose married John Forconi somewhere between 1940 an1942 with the most probable date 1940. Leo married Modesta Goltz in 1946.
The Janczak family, from the time of my earliest consciousness, lived on Cedar Avenue near Brooks Street in Scranton which was quite close to where we initially lived on East Locust Street.
Sylvester Kowalski married Rita Rizzo in 1952; Vincent married Dolores Kersavage in 1963; John married Sally Leahey in 1955; Ronald married Jeanette Kennelly in 1956; and Joseph married Joyce Dare in 1961.
Most of what I would consider facts about the Kowalski’s is what I absorbed over the years from my father, who was an excellent conversationalist. A little comes from my memory. Most of what is in this story about the Sysko/Kosciuk family is what I and Brother Ronald learned from our cousin, Theresa Bohenek. She is an encyclopedia of knowledge in regards to my mother’s side of the family. Brother Ronald’s research and talking to the Janczak family provides insight on this important part of the family. But, a great deal of what is in this story is what the environment hammered into my consciousness. A number of blows made up this environment. The death of my paternal grandmother was, even though I was quite young, very difficult for me. I bonded to her, and there was nothing to take her place after her death. Her death was extremely difficult for my father, and he needed a number of years to make peace with her death. After my grandmother’s death, my father was my guardian angel. The period of my father’s involvement with the United Anthracite Miner’s of Pennsylvania (UAMP) was stressful. The meetings of my father’s local took place in our home. I overheard the violent and dangerous nature of the various strike actions. Later, after UAMP was disbanded, my father had neither employment nor income; he was black-balled from working in the coal industry. I was well aware of all this. When he was able to join the WPA (the Works Project Administration which was an early New Deal program), I was aware of its importance. Some money would be available for food. I can still remember his obtaining rubber boots with felt liners so that he could work outside in the extremely cold winters of that period. In 1937, when he was able to get a job as a miner in Taylor, Pennsylvania, the only thing that could be said was that he had private rather than governmental employment, but we were still in poverty. He was twice in mine cave-ins, and, in the second one, was covered with rock and coal for two hours. Only later, after his employment with Manor Farms as a mechanic, was a reasonable stability reached. During this entire period, the country, and especially, Scranton, was in a vicious depression. We, who were born during this period and which is called The Fourth Turning (see The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy by William Strauss and Neil Howe) were called the Silent Generation. The authors suggest that a Fourth Turning is analogous to winter. Fourth Turning’s are periods of revolution, and in the 1930s, the country had a far-reaching revolution: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. We had destitution, homelessness, hunger, and little hope. We had Wall Street thieves stealing from everyone – from the rich to the poor. We had large corporations who controlled the country. FDR and the New Deal was indeed a revolution.
As today, the 1920s economy was dependent on increasing supply of debt. As Carroll Quigley states in his Tragedy and Hope:
“The stock market crash [the 1929 stock market crash] reduced the volume of foreign lending from the United States to Europe, and these two events together tore away the façade which until then had concealed the fundamental maladjustments between production and consumption, between debts and ability to pay, between creditors and willingness to receive goods, between the theories of 1914 and the practices of 1928. Not only were these maladjustments revealed but they began to be readjusted with a severity of degree and speed made all the worse by the fact that the adjustments had been so long delayed. Production began to fall to the level of consumption, creating idle men, idle factories, idle money, and idle resources. Debtors were called to account and found deficient. Creditors who had refused repayment now sought it, but in vain. All values of real wealth shrank drastically. It was this shrinkage of values which carried the economic crisis into the stage of financial and banking crisis and beyond these to the stage of political crisis.”
Another insight of the Great Depression is found in The Great Depression: An International Disaster of Perverse Economic Policies by Thomas E. Hall and I. David Freeman, and gives a sense of that era.
“The Great Depression in the United States occurred from 1929 to 1941. The worst of it was during the first three and a half years when virtually every single indicator of economic prosperity reflected the disaster. The falling levels of economic output resulted in widespread human misery, the extent of which is measured by the rising level of unemployment, increased poverty, and high rates of default on debt by both firms and households. The Depression was so severe that the human perspective and drama of events cannot truly be shown through these numbers. It led to huge changes in our social fabric. Large migrations of people occurred from the dust bowl areas of mid-America to more prosperous places like California, and from the rural south to the industrial north. There were food riots, violent labor strikes, and widespread discontent that made many fearful that the socialist or communist political parties might enjoy great gains in popularity or even rise to power. Some might say that such a revolution indeed happened – through Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal.”
Poverty exploded. With no jobs available, many became hoboes and roamed across the country. The homeless population exploded. Hunger and malnourishment was very prevalent. We must keep in mind that in the early 1930s, the country had no safety nets: no food stamps; no unemployment compensation; no welfare to speak of; and, no retirement pay. The elderly were a sorry lot. In Scranton, many had serious occupational diseases from working in the coal mines, and therefore, unable to work. Their children were also living a meager existence, and the elderly were continuously shuttled to live with different family members. The Socialists and Communists found many individuals who were susceptible to their message. A fear arose that the country would go “red.” Workers were being ruthlessly exploited, and, in defense, joined labor unions and fought the enterprise owners. Frequently, these labor activities were quite bloody. The 1932 election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his subsequent New Deal was a major revolution. He saved the country from revolution and civil strife, and he also saved capitalism from its own aberrant behavior. Roosevelt had weekly radio – “fireside chats” – with the people, and, through that medium, gave them hope, and he succeeded. While the latter 1930s were not prosperous, the people had reasonable lives. I lived in this environment until I was thirteen years of age.
In 1942, when we permanently left Scranton, I knew that I was being reborn, that the darkness was being left behind, and that all of us Kowalski’s would enter a better life. And, so it was!
But first, we had to live through the Great Depression.
John and Marya lived in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania where all of the children were born, and where John died about 1915. Marya later married Stawni, and, relocated to Scranton, Pennsylvania about 1917 (date of move unknown, but this date is reasonable) where Sylvester, Sr. completed two years of high school education. After marriage, Stanley and Elizabeth lived in Butler Township, probably the Butler Township located in Luzerne County. This was the southwestern part of the anthracite coal region, and Stanley likely was a coal miner.
From what our father told me, John had at least several brothers back in Poland. One of brothers was in the Kaiser’s army. Another was a classical musician. Also, it is quite likely that John had a brother who was a farmer in Kansas. I made a search of the 1910 census for Kowalski’s in Kansas, and I found about eight. Only one was a farmer and he was born in German Poland. John Kowalski came from Poznan (Posen) in German Poland. This Kowalski’s first name was Ambrose and he was born about 1866. His wife, Agnes, was born in Texas about 1891 of parents born in German Poland. They had a son named John who at the time of the census was 1 1/2 years old. If this indeed was John Kowalski’s brother, our great-grandfather’s likely first name was John.
John was the owner of a saloon in Nanticoke. In the early 1910s, John sold the saloon and took the family west by train to visit relatives in Kansas. Probably to visit his brother who was a farmer and quite likely others, since they were gone for at least three years. My father told me that his uncle wanted him to stay and live with him on the farm. Shortly after they returned to Nanticoke, John died leaving Marya a widow with three children.
The best information that we have regarding Marya’s Polish background is through her sister’s Constance’s birth certificate. In 1995, as part of a trip to Nova Scotia, I was able to visit Constance’s daughter, Connie MacKinnon of Truro, Nova Scotia who shared with me the information on her mother’s birth certificate. From this document we know the following: Constance’s father’s name was Joseph Dywelski and her mother was Antoinette Kolodziejczak. She was born January 1, 1889 in the city of Rogozno, the District of Obernicki, in the Province of Poznan, of the Republic of Poland. Marya Kowalska’s maiden name was Chenkie (possibly Henke). This suggests that Marya and Constance might be half-sisters. My father, Sylvester Kowalski, related that his mother’s sister, Constance, was secretary to Eugene Debs during World War I. Debs was an American Socialist leader, pacifist, labor organizer and Socialist candidate for US president five times. During World War I, Debs was sentenced to ten years in jail for his pacifist beliefs.
Sylvester married Sophie Sysko in March of 1928. In 1929, the year that I was born, my parents lived in Brooklyn, and my father worked for a Westinghouse lamp plant located in Brooklyn. Since I have a Brooklyn birth certificate, this is where I was born. Shortly after birth, I developed rickets, and, for health reasons, was sent to live in Scranton with my paternal grandmother while my parents remained in Brooklyn. To the best of my knowledge, my mother came to live with my paternal grandmother late in her pregnancy with Vincent. While I was young, I can remember some scenes of when Vincent was an infant. We lived on Locust Street between Prospect and Webster Avenues. Everything was placid until my grandmother passed away about 1932 when I was three years old. My father immediately returned to Scranton. He asked a co-worker to advise his boss that he would return as soon as possible after his mother’s funeral. Whatever happened, when my father returned to Brooklyn, he was told he no longer had a job. He returned to Scranton and again became an anthracite coal miner. When he and Mom married in 1928, his occupation was listed as “Miner”; therefore, again becoming a miner was perfectly natural. Our placid life ended.
After my father resumed coal mining, he became president of his United Mine Worker’s local. My father, humanitarian that he was, entered the fight against John L. Lewis, the president of the United Mine Workers (UMW), and the mine owners because of labor exploitation and John L. Lewis not respecting the union’s negotiating committee’s remedy when he signed a new contract between the UMW and the mine owners. In 1933, John Maloney, a forceful and idealistic insurgent, was thrown out of the UMW, and shortly thereafter formed the United Anthracite Miners of Pennsylvania (UAMP). The movement grew, and my father changed his local’s allegiance from the UMW to the new UAMP. The result was that the entire anthracite coal region experienced violent and widespread strikes. Slowly, a number of mine owner’ signed contracts with the UAMP. My father’s local was one of them. In October of 1935, Judge W.A. Valentine ruled that the UAMP was not entitled to the union dues amassed as dues coupons. This effectively bankrupted the UAMP, and led to its demise. As Monroe Douglas Keith states in his dissertation A Decade of Turmoil: John L. Lewis and the Anthracite Miners 1929-1936:
“Lewis’ UMW, with the heavy-handed support of the federal government, and local police and court system, had finally destroyed the UAMP, and in private, Lewis and Gorman were jubilant in victory.”
“The question which remains is not whether the cards were stacked against Maloney and his mine workers. They clearly were and under the conditions which were imposed on the new union, it was destined to fail. More important, however, is whether the UAMP’s failure was good or bad, and whether it had any impact in its brief life. In retrospect, the first question is fairly easy to deal with. Maloney was an idealist and in many respects a true radical, a man who was captivated by a strong sense of right and wrong. He was convinced that the UMW was corrupt, inefficient and lacking in the ideas needed to better the conditions of the anthracite workers. In this regard, he cannot be faulted.”
Even after the UAMP was destroyed, the viciousness did not stop.
“Maloney, his son Thomas. Jr., and Hanover Township School Director Michael Gallagher were all killed when packages sent to Maloney and Gallagher exploded on Good Friday, 1936.”
My father, as previously mentioned, was “black-balled” from working as a miner, and, because the Great Depression was raging and jobs in Scranton were non-existent, the family sunk into deep poverty: A sobering experience.
We had some pleasant activities from that period after the demise of UAMP. My father bought a 1928 Dodge sedan for $16. It was previously owned by his barber who purchased it for his two sons to drive. It was inoperable, and thus the low price. Pop found that the timing chain was broken, and replaced it. Pop didn’t have enough money to pay for the license fee, and he operated the Dodge illegally, and, always, on the un-policed dirt roads. There was ritual, and both Vince and I participated. I would go to the Richfield gas station at Locust street and Prospect avenue, and purchased enough gas which would fill two one-gallon jugs. Pop would drive toward East Mountain and get on the back roads which were in the general area of the Laurel Line intercity rail train. We would enter Minooka on the road adjacent to St. Stanislaus cemetery and after skirting all of the cemeteries and more dirt roads, we would get to Grandma Kosciuk’s home in Greenwood. Pop always turned the engine off when driving downhill in order to conserve gasoline. On those back roads, we saw stark Appalachia poverty. On those back roads were a few coal mines, and the few area residents lived in poorly constructed and poorly maintained sun-bleached wood houses. The children were all without shoes.
Another pleasant activity was to take a Sunday trolley excursion to Greenwood, and spend a pleasant Sunday with the Sysko/Kosciuk family. Grandma Kosciuk always fed us well. A third pleasant diversion was a sleep-over at Ciotka Janczak’s home. Along with treating us well, Ciotka’s house had central heat. What a luxury!
In 1937, Pop was able to work in the Moffat Coal Company coal mine in Taylor, Pennsylvania on the condition that he would not participate in any union activities. Later, in either late 1938 or early in 1939, Pop was able to get a job as the mechanic for Manor Farms, a milk bottler and milk retailer. From this point, the family’s economic situation became more stable, and the Kowalski family went from poverty to just being poor, as where most people in the Scranton area.
When Pop worked in the Taylor coal mine, we lived on Loomis Avenue in the town of Taylor. The Scranton-Taylor boundary was a few streets away. From here, Pop was able to walk to the coal mine. We continued our schooling and other activities at St. Stanislaus. Vince and I walked the two miles from Loomis Avenue to St. Stanislaus each day. The route that we used was about ¾ miles shorter that walking all the way on city streets. Our short-cut was through the mine and colliery property. And, we learned a little about coal mining. The route was next to the mine access, and we would see the low coal cars being pushed into the mine by the small, low electric locomotive. Further, we passed the “breaker” where the coal was crushed and sorted, the coal loaded onto rail cars, and the separated rock carried to the top of a huge culm pile by conveyors. This was the era of coal-fired steam engines. After the colliery, we crossed a number of railroad tracks, and walked along the tracks until we reached Luzerne Street. From this point, we walked on city streets to school. When we had to go to Stanislaus at night, we used the same route, and for illumination we used lit candles placed inside of discarded tin cans. We frequently saw the Waszko’s who also attended St. Stanislaus. The eldest was in my grade, and she had the same job of looking out for her siblings as I did. Her father had a truck, and one of his ways to earn a little money was to illegally mine coal at what were called boot-leg mines. The Waszko’s were very poor.
Vince and I spent most of our spare time exploring the wooded areas of Taylor when we lived there, and, later when we moved to Brooks Street, towards East Mountain in Scranton. These areas had a lot of huckleberry bushes, which we picked, and, in Taylor, bootleg coal mines. With Pop, Vince and I did go into one of these mines with our miner’s hats and carbide lamps, and mined coal for home. Separately, Vince and I would screen the tailings from these mines again for home fuel. When we lived in Scranton, without telling anyone, Vince and I would go “skinny-dipping” on the first warm day in May in a mountain stream.
Starting in the fifth grade, I attended Loomis Elementary School which was located roughly half way between where we lived and where Theresa now lives. My teacher was Miss Bahler – one of the few teacher’s names that I do remember. She had tremendous influence on me in getting me to take school seriously. Our fifth grade was very much Appalachia. One of my classmates was Cock-Eye. True to his nickname, he was cross-eyed. His family had a cow, and his job was each day to take their cow from the barn to the adjacent field and tether it. The cow would munch on the grass all day, and Cock-Eye would bring it into the barn after school. Another classmate was from a Russian family who lived across the street from us. He was a terror, and acted like his older brother who frequently was AWOL from the army. This was our education environment, and Miss Baihler wisely placed Francis Kowalski and I (we were not related) into desks in the unoccupied part of the room, and gave us special assignments. The rest of the class was unruly, and demanded a lot of Miss Baihler’s attention. This was the beginning of my interest in reading and education.
Early in the sixth grade, about October or November of 1939, we moved back to Scranton about a block away from St. Stanislaus. Until our relocation to Philadelphia, we did not experience the comfort of central heating, a hot water system, or electric refrigeration. Refrigeration was an ice-box. Also, when we lived on Loomis Avenue, out toilet was an outhouse. Since, Pop was on call, his company, provided him with a telephone – the first one for us. A little later, Pop received from Manor Farms, Blue Cross hospitalization. We were now living like millionaires. The major Kowalski entertainment was the radio programs: Amos ‘n’ Andy; Buck Rogers; Fibber McGee and Molly; Flash Gordon; Green Hornet; Jack Armstrong – The All American Boy; Lone Ranger; The Jack Benny Show; and, The Shadow. The branch library was only two blocks from Brooks Street, and Vince and I voraciously read their books – on average, three books per week. Before we left Scranton, we graduated from the children’s section to the adult. When we had the 11 cents admission, we would go to the Saturday double-feature matinee.
In Scranton, I attended Public School #8 located on Cedar Avenue nearer to central Scranton. Scranton’s elementary and junior high schools were first class with first-rate teachers, and my educational aspirations flourished.
During these years, I was fortunate to have several anchors which immensely helped a youngster get through this period. These were: our church, the Janczak family, and the Sysko/Kosciuk family.
The first was the Polish National Catholic Church, and, in particular, St. Stanislaus in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It is here in St. Stanislaus that the Polish National Catholic Church was founded in 1897 by The Reverend Franciszek Hodur, a young priest born and educated in Poland. In the Biographical Note of Hodur: A Compilation of Selected Translations by Theodore L. Zawistowski we find:
“As in many Roman Catholic parishes throughout the United States, a protest movement developed at Sacred Heart [a Scranton parish that Father Hodur was a vicar in 1895 but was subsequently transferred to Nanticoke, Pennsylvania] in 1896, leading to the building of a new church, St. Stanislaus. Father Hodur accepted the invitation of the dissident parish to become its first pastor in 1897. The date of his arrival, March 14, has become the traditional date marking the beginning of the Polish National Catholic Church.”
My education through the fourth grade was in St. Stanislaus parish school. Until we left Scranton, Vince and I were continually active in the church: school; altar-boys; summer camp at the church property in Minooka, Pennsylvania; summer camp at the Spójnia camp located next to Waymart, Pennsylvania; May Day parade from St. Stanislaus to the above mentioned church property in Minooka; and, on and on. Mr. Wysocki, the executive-director of the Polish National Union, first arranged for my tonsillectomy, and, then later, for my first pair of glasses. Joseph Nieminski became a good friend while we lived on Brook Street. He also participated in the above mentioned church activities. Later, he entered the PNCC seminary, and after ordination was assigned first to the Buffalo parish, and then later, to the Toronto parish. Nieminski was consecrated as bishop in 1968, and became the Bishop of the Canadian Diocese. While always grateful, the full significance of St. Stanislaus became much clearer much later. Bishop Hodur passionately worked to bring the Kingdom of God to St. Stanislaus and to the Polish National Catholic church.
When Father Hodur was assigned as pastor of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Parish in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania in 1894, our paternal grandparent’s lived in Nanticoke, and undoubtedly knew him. Our father always stated that his mother was a charter member of the PNCC. I have several English-translation of Bishop Hodur’s writing. He was extremely bright, and received an education in some of the best schools in Poland. He was an outstanding scholar in the excellent Jagellonian Univeristy, the oldest and best in Poland. From a theological standpoint, he compares favorably with Hans Kung, the renowned Catholic theologian. Both saw Christianity in the same way, and both looked at Martin Luther as a great Christian thinker. I value my nearness to Bishop Hodur, and my meeting Hans Kung when he spoke at Temple University.
Vince and I, as altar boys, were intimately aware of Bishop Hodur. We heard many of his Friday evening sermons at Vespers, and, since they were in Polish, they were difficult for us to completely understand. Later, when Bishop Hodur was unable to leave the Rectory, Vince and I would participate with Auxiliary Bishop John Misiaszek in a mini-procession from Church to the Rectory and Bishop Hodur with his communion. A lot of wonderful memories remain with me.
Equally important were the two extended families that we, the Kowalski’s, were part of: the Janczak family; and, the Sysko/Kosciuk family.
My mother, Sophie, was the oldest of the four Sysko children. Their parents were Joseph Sysko – born in 1885 in Russia, and Bronislawa Lewandoska – born in 1889 in Bialystok, part of Russian occupied Poland. They lived on Greenwood Avenue across the street from their Roman Catholic Polish-speaking parish. Indicative of our maternal grandmother’s internal strength and and determination, she, at the age of sixteen, secretly left Poland for America when her father wanted her to marry a Russian soldier. Sophie, my mother, was born in 1907; Anna in 1910; Joseph in 1912; and Jean in 1913. Sophie attended the Moosic Borough public school and completed five grades. Cousin Theresa was George Bohenek and Jean Sysko’s eldest child.
Joseph Sysko, our grandfather was a coal miner and died at an early age as did the typical coal miner of that period. Our grandmother’s second husband, Joseph Kosciuk, was also a coal miner. He was alive when we were young children, but, he also died at a young age. The Kosciuk family consisted of seven children; John, born 1916; Bertha, 1919; Florence; Edmund, 1924; Eleanor, 1927; Christine, 1931; and Henry, 1934.
Our grandmother was a kind, gentle woman who had a very strong Catholic faith, and was a survivor. She was born March 22, 1889 in Bialystok, Poland. Her entire life in Poland was under the extremely harsh Russian occupation rule. Bialystok is in the extreme eastern end of the 1918-1939 Poland, and near the border with the Soviet Union. It is just across the border from Minsk, Belarus.
As a young lady, she participated in the annual pilgrimage to Our Lady of Chestochowa. The pilgrimage was and still is a walking pilgrimage. The pilgrims walked together, prayed together, and sang as they walked. This pilgrimage is still traditional today and typically one would start in the capital Warsaw and walk to Chestochowa, which is slightly west of Krakow. In our grandmother’s case, she had to walk first from Bialystok to Warsaw and then to Chestochowa.
When the church bells tolled for the evening Angelus, Grandma, regardless of whatever she was doing, knelt and prayed the Angelus.
Her grandchildren loved her. We were frequently at her house on Sundays. She always had a feast of fried chicken, her own fresh sausage and plenty of fixins’. Dessert was her homemade pie, apple or strawberry-rhubarb all from her own yard. When Mom was young, Grandma raised, at times, a cow or a pig. When we were young she would have chickens and ducks besides having an ample vegetable garden.
One interesting facet was that she insisted listening each Sunday to Father Coughlin on the radio. Father Coughlin was an extreme reactionary who was rabidly against Roosevelt. So much so, that he joined forces with the two most powerful Protestant reactionary clerics and tried to prevent Roosevelt from being reelected in 1936. I also had the opportunity to help her with English so that she could take her citizenship test. Grandma Kosciuk was a wonderful person.
The Janczak family was the third leg of our support system, and provided the young Kowalski’s with much love and support. Ciotka, our father’s sister Elizabeth, and her three children, Regina, Rose, and Leo, provided us with sleep-overs, treats, such as, ice cream, and, at times, the only Christmas presents that we received. My father and Elizabeth were very close. She lived on Cedar Avenue near Brooks Street. A number of factories were located across Cedar Avenue from Elizabeth. There was a button factory, a silk mill, and a casket manufacturer. Regina and Rose, at times, worked in the first two factories. Later, when my father began working for the Manor Farms, he was able to arrange for Leo to be his assistant, and both traveled to the three Manor Farms business locations: Fleetville, the location of the dairy, and which was the main office; and, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre were distribution locations for dairy products. During the summer, Vince and I were able, at times, to accompany our father and Leo to the Wilkes-Barre location.
Elizabeth Janczak was a wonderful person, but had a taciturn personality. She kept her thoughts to herself. As a result, about the only thing that I knew of the Janczak history was
that, at one time, she lived in Glen Lyon which is a community in Luzerne County. From this, one can assume that since the three Janczak children were born in Butler Township and since Elizabeth spoke of Glen Lyon, a reasonable conclusion is that the three Janczak children were born in the Luzerne County Butler Township. Likewise, little is known other than the fact that Elizabeth married Stanley Janczak.
In 1941, Pop went to Philadelphia to work for the Baldwin Locomotive Works. War for the United States was imminent (December 7, 1941-Pearl Harbor) and the defense industry was mobilizing. Pop was hired by Baldwin to work on their army tank contract. The Kowalski family moved to Philadelphia in 1942.
Life for those living and working in the anthracite coal region was harsh and brutal. The immigration from the anthracite coal regions was similar to the migration of Okies to California and the rural south to the industrial north. We from the anthracite coal regions were referred to maliciously as coal-crackers. In reality, we were no different than the 19th century European immigrants who were seeking a better life in the New World. The coal-crackers migrated to: Schenectady, New York where General Electric had large industrial facilities; North Jersey which had considerable industrial activity; a few to Connecticut; and, a large number to Philadelphia. This was a huge social revolution. Many who came to Philadelphia, such as our family, moved to Bartram Village, a federally constructed residential project which is located at 54th Street and Elmwood Avenue. We were a Philadelphian sub-culture. Those living in Bartram Village were all seeking a better life, and they were good people. We were very friendly with Frank and Bessie Kersavage. When in high school, I worked after school at the Whitman chocolate factory with Betty and Peggy Kersavage. Later, brother Vince married Dolores Kersavage. Sally Leahy was from Lilly, Pennsylvania, and came to live in Bartram Village with her older sister. Sally married brother John. Mike Bobelick and his family came from the Tower City area of Pennsylvania, and we both started Tilden Junior High School on the same day. Others can add to this list. All were seeking to escape the 1930s exploitation.
A final thought. When we entered our spanking new Bartram Village apartment having central gas heat, a Servel gas refrigerator, a gas range, and a domestic hot water system magically the Great Depression stench left me, and I could “smell” the potential for a better life. And, better it was. The twenty five years post-World War II period was the most prosperous for ordinary Americans of any period in the country’s history. Ordinary people went from the depressing 1930s to a new era of hope and accomplishment. And, so did the Kowalskis.
Sylvester J. Kowalski, March 4, 2013