Sam, Harry and the Begats
By William B. deMeza
originally published 1982, Stowe, OH
There was a storybook touch to Patrick Harrigan's arrival in the United States in 1845 with his bride of a few weeks. Born in County Kerry, Ireland, Patrick was a carter. He was Catholic. Ellen Harvey, the girl he loved, was gentry. She was the daughter of a bishop of the Church of England. Their disparate backgrounds make it easy to imagine parental objections to any suggestion of their marriage and why Patrick and Ellen were unattached when they sailed together for New York. They were married at sea by the ship's master.
Patrick and Ellen were a part of one of history's great emigrations. The year they left home a blight wiped out the potato, Ireland's major food. There was famine. By the time it ended a few years later, a million Irish had died of disease or starvation and another 1.6 million had emigrated, most of them to the United States.
The Harrigans settled in Albany, N. Y. Their union solemnized by a priest, they became the parents of seven boys and two girls. Patrick and Ellen named their youngest Joseph (1858-1926). He was the smallest of the Harrigan boys, but he stood more than six feet tall when he married Emily Crowder (1862-1933).
She was an Albany girl, the daughter of John Crowder, a onetime yoeman in a British Guards regiment, and Elzena Van de Water, of Dutch ancestry. The young couple moved to New York City. Joseph worked as a drayman for W. and J. Sloan, the furniture house.
They settled on the West Side and began a peripatetic life style: They moved a lot, but never very far from the last place. And with each move, things got a little bit better. Lay out a map of New York City and you can cover most of the addresses with a five-cent piece. Among them was 66 Greenwich Avenue (over a liquor store); Sixth Avenue, just off Waverly Place; Charles Street and 343 West 15th Street. At the Charles Street and West 15th Street locations, the Harrigans took in borders and provided home-cooked meals for walk-ins.
There were four children, all born in Manhattan: Joseph and Eleanor, both of whom died in childhood; Emily ("Gram", 1888-1980) and Richard ("Uncle Dick", 1891-1957).
Emily helped with boarding house chores after school. She waited tables and carried pitchers of warm water and clean towels to guest's rooms.
At about the century's turn, the Harrigans left New York and moved to Plainfield, N.J., 25 miles away. It had to be a calculated move, one that Joseph believed would improve his family's lot, but an incident involving the Sloan family may have helped it along.
Some of the Sloans returned from a trip to Europe and Joseph was dispatched dockside to take care of the baggage. But first would Joseph kindly pocket and carry past the customs agent a few things the Sloans had picked up abroad?
We're not sure of the outcome, but we do know that it wasn't long before the Harrigans were settled in Plainfield's East End, a neighborhood of struggling first- and second-generation Americans, a lot of them Irish.
Dominating the scene was the sooty, window-rattling, four-track main line of the Jersey Central Railroad. The line's freight station was two blocks away. Running a course through the area was Richmond Street, a drab avenue of trolley cars, small groceries, meat markets, barbers, shoe repair shops and other establishments dealing in the basics.
Joseph, Emily and the two children lived first at 221 Richmond in a walk-up rented for $12.50 a month. (Eighty years later, young Emily remembered the bed bugs most of all).
There were new friends for Dick and young Emily. Dick was to remain close to the Hochberger brothers, Sam and Morton, until he died. Alice Sweeney became a lifelong "best friend" of Emily's.
It wasn't long before Joe Harrigan moved again, this time a block and a half away. At 434 East Fourth Street he built a store with an upstairs apartment for the family. He sold coal, horse and poultry feed and a few live chickens. Upstairs, the front room looked out on the railroad. Trains thundered by 150 feet away.
Dick completed high school. Emily had all the formal education she was to get by the time she reached 14 when her father decided it was time for her to help in the business. Cheerful, she was quick with figures and an asset.
There was a vacant lot next door on Fourth Street and Joe Harrigan bought it and built three small houses there as an investment. Then he traded everything—the office, the upstairs apartment and the three small houses—for a coal yard, around the corner and up the street a couple of blocks at 929 South Avenue.
The new location had an office with a family apartment upstairs. There was a scale big enough to accommodate a horse pulling a wagon loaded with coal. Out back, in the big yard, there were stables, storage bins and a 220-foot-long railroad trestle where coal hoppers and feed cars could be unloaded. Joe Harrigan never moved again.
He put a help wanted ad in the newspaper in those days and it may tell as much about the nature of the man as anything:
WANTED—Two men to work in coal yard; steady work; and I want work, not company. Harrigan. Tel. 193.
It wasn't long before Joe built five more houses fronting on the coal yard along South Avenue (young Emily and her husband, Sam Adams, lived in one of them for a while) and three Dutch Colonials on Dixie Lane in one of Plainfield's most fashionable residential areas.
By the twenties, the Harrigans were prosperous and successful. With the walkups of Manhattan's West Side and Plainfield's Richmond Street behind them, Joe and Emily lived well and enjoyed life.
Their tastes were simple. Saturday night belonged to Joe. After a week in the coal yard he bathed, dressed his best and went "down town" to meet with a circle of friends who would stand for hours watching the parade of shoppers while they gossiped and talked politics.
Emily enjoyed entertaining and her Sunday dinners were a time for it. Now and then her guests were members of the Plainfield Players. Some of them—Pat O'Brien, Percy Kilbride, Busby Berkeley and a local actor, Carroll Ashburn - - went on to Broadway and even to stardom in Hollywood.
(When she was 90 and living with her daughter in Stow, young Emily still was mildly bitter because Berkeley, the troupe's manager, had skipped town, 60 years earlier, owing the Harrigans for a load of coal used to heat the theater).
Joseph Harrigan died at 68 in 1926. The business passed to Dick. Eroded by The Great Depression, a growing use of oil for household heating, but most of all missing Joe Harrigan, the business foundered. It was sold in 1936, three years after Joe's wife, Emily, died at 71.
Dick Harrigan was a warm, amiable and generous man. Politics called him early. He responded joyfully.
He served in World War I, enlisting as a private and coming out a lieutenant. He saw action in the Argonne and remained in Germany for a while after the war with the Army of Occupation. He played guard on the Army's championship Division football team.
In 1921, in recognition of his handling of a Plainfield mayorality campaign for Charles Loizeaux, he was appointed to a vacancy on the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders (county commissioners). He held the elective post until 1939 and then became a member of the State Board of Tax Appeals. He was a lover of dogs and judged dog shows all over the state. English bulldogs were his speciality.
Sam Adams had an alert, inquisitive mind. He was forever inventing things like sneezing powder and exploding cigars. He may have been the best in the world at what he did. He certainly was one of the wealthiest. One of his first inventions was his name. He was Soren Sorensen when he was born in Denmark in 1879. But as a young man in the United States he changed his name to Samuel S. (for Sorenson) Adams; he thought it would make things easier.
Sam was five years old when his parents brought him from Denmark to Perth Amboy, N.J. The family was not well to do and Sam probably didn't receive much education.
All his life he was a contrast. He was a successful pool room hustler and a card shark and he cherished chamber music. When he was a millionaire - - or close to it - - he would walk the length of a railroad train collecting newspapers discarded by commuters, using them as wrapping paper in his factory. He created the largest business of its kind in the world, but his wife, who dropped out of school when she was 14, had to show him the ABC's and two-plus-two's of keeping the accounts.
Sam may have met his bride, Emily Harrigan, because he and her father were in businesses that were remotely related: Joe Harrigan owned a coal yard and Sam Adams was a salesman for a company that made coal tar derivatives. Discovering that some of the chemicals used in his products irritated the nasal passages, Sam turned the stuff into sneezing powder. He tried it out at the pool halls and shooting traps where he spent most of his spare time. When it produced satisfactory results he named it Cachoo, bottled it and, in 1906, began to sell it.
A New York City newspaper reported that Cachoo was a $150,000 bonanza for Sam Adams. Maybe. But there was no doubt that it spring boarded him out of the coal tar derivative business and into the nonsense business. Worldwide. He was on his way to becoming mankind's principal purveyor of packaged pranks. He started a business on a card table set up in a small bedroom. He called it S.S. Adams Company.
Sam was an adapter as well as an inventor and his catalog was a mix of his own creations and those of others. It eventually included scores of items ranging from a fake ink blot and a boutonniere that squirted water to card tricks, disappearing handkerchiefs, a corkscrew with a left-handed thread, a fly trapped in an ice cube, soap that left hands black, gooey mess and peanut cans that shot frightening, three-foot-long "snakes" into the air when the top was unscrewed.
Sam was 36 and Emily Harrigan (Gram) 27 when they were married in Plainfield, II.J., in 1915; Emily's parents never warmed up to him.
S.S. Adams was headquartered in the Babcock Building, .Plainfield's prestigious "high-rise" address of the day, but by the end of World War I, it had outgrown the available space. Shopping around for a new location, Sam was led by an eager Chamber of Commerce to two vacant floors in downtown Abury Park, N.J., an oceanfront resort that never shut down during the vacation season but lived close to the vest the remaining eight or nine months of the year.
Sam struck a favorable deal (anyone who promised year round employment for even a handful of people was very warmly received in Asbury Park) and he and Emily and their two children packed up and left for "the shore."
Their first child, Emily Louise (Emmy Lou) had been born 1916. Joseph Harrigan, called Bud, came along one year later. Both were born in Plainfield as was another son, Richard, who died an infant. Sam and Emily's last child, Gertrude Frances (known as Tudie for one of her mother's closest friends) was born in 1921 in Spring Lake, N.J.
Sam's success probably dates to the day he began monkeying with a small, windup metal ratchet that gave off a loud buzz when the spring was released. He would hide it in the palm of his hand and ask to examine a friend's pocket watch. He always got a reaction when the ratchet buzzed while he pretended to overwind the time-piece. The trick led to Sam's greatest triumph and one of the singular innovations in the history of the joke business (the success of Sam's simulated dog defecation notwithstanding).
Sam named it the Joy Buzzer. Wound and palmed, the device was activated by a hand-. The noisy vibration never failed to startle a victim delight onlookers. The first Joy Buzzer was unwieldy and too large to be practical. Potential wasn't reached until it was reduced to about he size of a 25-cent piece in 1928. Wearing a money belt fashioned by Emily and crammed with $2,500, Sam had gone to Germany that year to acquire some new tricks (one of them, the disappearing ball-in-a-vase, was still a standby in the S.S. Adams arsenal in the 1980s).
While he was in Germany, he found a designer who miniaturized the Joy Buzzer in return for royalties. In the early 1930's, at about the time the Nazis liquidated all Jewish bussinesses, the man wrote to request a substantial payment in return for full rights to the Joy Buzzer. Jew. He wa a Jew. Sam never heard from him again.
High-priced for the times, the Joy Buzzer sold for 50 cents. It was the premier moneymaker in the S.S. Adams line for decades. (When its patent protection expired, the device was :riven into obscurity by a cheap Japanese imitation and high production costs. Plastics technology may revive it).
With a resiliency attributed largely to the success of the Joy Buzzer, S.S. Adams not only survived The Great Depression but was able to move, in 1934 from Asbury Park to a three-story, block-long idle pajama factory in Neptune that he acquired for $25,000. He always said that he did well when others fared poorly, her. the economy was at low ebb, people more than ever seemed to need the release that only a fake spider or a leaky drinking glass can provide.
In 1936, the marriage of Sam and Emily Adams fell apart after 21 years. Emily packed up on St. Valentine's Day, and taking 14-year-old Tudie with her, drove up to Plainfield to move in with her brother, Dick. The older children were established by then: Emmy Lou had married and Bud was working in his father's factory.
Emily was 48 when she returned to Plainfield. A strong, dogmatic, independent woman with a keen sense humor and considerable charm, she had a belief in her own ability to do just about anything. Ten months after she and Sam separated, Emily went into business for herself. She bought a dress shop and established it in a stately old home she and Dick bought at 737 Watchung Avenue, renting out the two top floors. (In the 1980s, the house was cited as a classic example of Plainfield's onetime Victorian elegance).
When she was forced to close the shop in 1942 because the shortages imposed by World War II, Emily did "her bit" the supply room of an aircraft factory.. Six months later, when she suggested an overhaul in some of the facility's procedures, an understanding was reached. Emily left. The W'atchung Avenue house suddenly became too small with the arrival of Emmy Lou, a broken marriage in her wake, and her three children. A larger home was purchased at 778 Belvedere Avenue. Beginning in 1944, Emily operated the dress shop at downtown locations in Plainfield and briefly branched out to Somerville, N.J.
Following Dick's illness and death in 1957, Emily retired. She then moved to a small house in Point Pleasant Borough, N.J. She was back on the ocean she always had loved; the 10 years she spent there were very likely the happiest of her life.
In 1972, she moved to Stow, Ohio, to be with Tudie and her husband, Bill deMeza. She was a few weeks short of her 92nd birthday when she died on January 8, 1980. She was buried in Hillside Cemetery in Plainfield next to her parents and her brother, Dick. She was an amusing, fluent and interesting personality almost to the moment of her death.
Sam Adams died in 1963 when he was 83. Both Time and Newsweek magazines noted his passing. In considerable disarray, the business went to Bud.
Bud had worked for his father since his days in highschool. He knew every corner of the factory and every facet of the business, some of it better than Sam. Moreover, he was gifted with his father's keen mind and workbench brilliance. Without Bud's special abilities, the business might have passed on when Sam did.
But it regained its feet rapidly. Bud attracted fresh capital, introduced manufacturing efficiencies and new marketing techniques and expanded the factory. S.S. Adams held on to the title "world's biggest."
Emmy Lou worked briefly for her father in the 1950s before her remarriage. Her first marriage in 1935 to Loren C. Lewis, an attorney, ended in divorce. There were four children: Loren, Jr. (Larry); Linda, Kaaren and Brent, who died in fancy. Emmy Lou and Edward Battersby were married in the early 1960s, living in Eatontown, N..J.
Four children were born to Bud and his first wife, Edna Reichwein: Joseph, Jr., 1939; Susan and William, twins, 1942, and Patricia, 1947. A son, Christian, was born in 1961 to Bud and his second wife, Elisabeth Peplinski. They reside in Brielle, N.J.
Years after his death, Mary Bailey talked of her husband's gentle goodness. He never lost his temper, she said, he never swore. She could think of only once when he came close. One of their boys - - Perc or Arch - -fell from a tree and broke an arm. "All he could say was 'domm'," Mary Bailey said. "He was not able to say the word."
James Edmund Bailey (1860-1923) was born in Rugby, England, where, family legend says, he made a name for himself in cycle racing. He was a member of a touring choral group when he came the United States in the 1880s and he stayed on. He came to Plainfield, N.J. , found Mary Agnes Mullen (1862-1946) and married her.
She was one of four children of James Mullen (1827-1889) Ellen Keating (1843-1920), both born in Ireland, probably in Count Limerick. Mary was called Molly and Jim Bailey was devoted to her. There are saints walking the earth; she was one and he must have sensed it right away.
Another object of Jim's ardor was music. He had a fine, strong voice and he sang in the choir at St. Joseph's Church in North Plainfield. Agnes (Nana) - - Jim and Mary's daughter - - said that as a girl she could "get away with anything" as long as she played the piano for her father.
Jim Bailey was a postman and at least for a time he made his rounds by horse and wagon. One of his stops, out in the east end of Plainfield, was at Joe Harrigan's coal and fee business. He was a familiar caller to Emily Harrigan (Gram), Joe's young daughter. She would save morsels for Jim Bailey's horse. The day the animal was a runaway, Emily's hand, outstretched and holding a bite to eat, brought it to a screeching halt. About four decades later, Jim Bailey's grandson, Bill DeMeza, married Emily Harrigan's daughter, Tud Adams.
Mary Bailey's circle of friends were drawn mainly from the church. They were Catholic, and mostly Irish, with names like Kenney, Mattis, Harper, McAvoy, Kirwin, Cannon and Hamilton. They partied together, played cards together and sometimes, as sort of an annual outing, went to Broadway plays together. (When they went to New York to see Tobacco Road, no one thought to forewarn them about the long-running play's well-publicized Appalachian earthiness. The women had rosaries in hand before the first act was complete and they left theater in a body at the intermission).
They were members of the Altar Society, the Sodality of Mary, the Ladies Aid and the Sewing Circle. They were arrangers of rummage sales, organizers of files, stagers of benefit card parties and gatherers of used dresses, worn overcoats and discarded shoes. The dimes and quarters they collected went into a burse for the needy and Mary Bailey was its principal dispenser.
Mary's deep spirituality showed most of all in her charity. She was absorbed by an affection for the poor and the ailing. It never seemed too early in the morning, too late at night, too cold, too rainy or too far away for Mary Bailey to be out in the streets, walking miles to arrange for a bag or a bit of coal to be sent to a family in want. At Harrigan's coal yard, it was almost a sure bet that on the worst Saturday afternoon of the winter - - after work when most of the men had been sent home and the horses rubbed and stabled - - Mary Bailey would come trudging through the to buy a half-ton of coal and plead for it to be delivered across town before nightfall. Joe Harrigan grumbled, but he never said no. There are aging men in North Plainfield who still talk about "all that Mrs. Bailey did for us" when they were boys.
Jim and Mary Bailey had three children. In a throwback to their father's heritage, the two boys given good, solid English names—Percival and George Archbald, called Arch. The girl was named Agnes (her mother's middle name) Ellen (for her aunt).
Perc Bailey was the star pitcher on the North Plainfield High School football team and fought in France with a Marine Corps machine gun battalion during World War I. He married Anna Duffy and they settled in Flushing, N.Y., where they had three children: William, Betty and Jean. Perc worked for Swift, the meat packing firm.
As a young man, Arch (1890-1954) had red hair, a genetic affinity that may have emerged next in his grand niece, Christine Ann deMeza, born in 1952. He married Mathilda Plotter (1892-1972). They lived in Rochester, N.Y., where Arch was a salesman. Their sons, Karl (Rochester) 1917, and George (La Jolla, California) 1919, were born in Plainfield.
Agnes (1888-1979) who as a girl could "get away with anything" as long as she played the piano, kept on playing both the piano and the organ. She was an accomplished performer at both keyboards and in demand as a director of church choirs. She played at her home parish, St. Joseph's in North Plainfield and at other Catholic churches. It must have called for some adjustment on the part of her parents, both deeply rooted in Catholicism, that she played the organ and directed choirs in Protestant churches too; those were days lacking in ecumenical enlightenment.
Agnes continued to play professionally following her marriage to Harry deMeza in 1908. In the late 1920s, she was organist and choir director at one of Plainfield's major churches, the Park Avenue Baptist. The brass tray and bookends given to her by a grateful choir there are still are in the family today. Listeners to early radio might have heard Agnes perform. She played from studios in Newark, N.J. - - perhaps those of WOR. A trolley took her and brought her home, a round trip of nearly 40 miles.
Your name is deMeza, you meet people and right away they ask if you're Italian ("you really don't look it, you know"), Spanish ("let's see, deMeza—that means 'of the table,' right?"), or maybe French. Those who might have told us something about the name - - or just helped us guess - - didn't know, didn't care or weren't talking. And now it's too late to ask. We let then get away. They're at rest beneath the gentle slopes of Hillside Cemetery in Plainfield, N.J. But think about this: At about the end of the 15th Century, a Sephardic Jew named deMeza - - or maybe a family of Sephardic Jews named deMeza - - fled Portugal and went to The Netherlands. It was an act of self-preservation.
Portugal began the expulsion of Jews in 1496 and followed it by persecution and killing. All this took place during a high-water period in Portuguese history - - da Gama was discovering a route to India, Cabral was discovering Brazil and Magellan was sailing around the world - -and it deprived the nation of many of its intellectuals and some of its wealthiest families.
There are people living in London, England, today who are named deMeza. They write it that way and they write it "Demeza" and "DeMeza", as well. They are related, they are Jews and they say they descend from a refugee from the Portuguese Inquisition who fled to The Netherlands.
One of the London deMezas, given name Jonas, was a barrister and solicitor with chambers in Bishopsgate, across from the Liverpool Street railway station, until his death in the 1950s. When you sat and chatted with him, as a Plainfield deMeza did in 1949 you were struck by the fact that Jonas deMeza looked very much like people of the same name living in New Jersey. It was an astonishing likeness; he might have been a twin. If you were there, you came away convinced of a common rootstock.
Others named deMeza (or "Demeza" or "DeMeza") turn up from tine to time: In Ontario, in California, in Colombia and in Virginia, for example. They don't know much about the name either.
Then there was Christian DeMeza (capital D, capital M), a Danish general. He was born in 1792 and died in 1865. During the two decades before his death he was involved mostly in fighting the Prussians and Austrians over Schleswig-Holstein. When he ordered a withdrawal at Dannevirke in 1864, he lost his job.
Looking back, the only deMeza we can be sure of is George, the father of Harry, the grandfather of Gloria, Ann Louise and Bill and the great-grandfather of Bill, Jr., Timothy, Tina, Jonathan and Andrew. (George wrote his name with a capital D—DeMeza—as did every member of the family until the 1940s, when his grandson, Bill, opted for a lower cased. He believed deMeza to be the historically correct style and his mother, Agnes, followed suit a few years later).
George DeMeza was born in 1853, probably in Manchester, England (a possible link to the London deMezas), came to New Jersey, married, fathered five children and died in 1887 when he was 53. When Plainfield's Hillside Cemetery opened, George's widow and his children purchased a plot and in 1906 moved George's body there from its first grave, probably in North Plainfield, where it had lay for nearly 20 years. We don't know in what manner George made his living, but there are grounds for the belief that he was a scrap dealer.
George married Charlotte Lyness (1845-1935), born in Paterson, N.J. The certificate of her death lists her mother as Rebecca Jamison and her father as "unknown-Scotch." Their five children were Charlotte, called Lottie (1869-1926), George (1870-1898), William (1874-1946), Harry (1881-19660 and Thomas (1884-1947).
Young George may come as close to folk hero as any deMeza. At 17 he was the oldest of the family's boys when his father died, and responsibility was thrust upon him. A newspaper account of his career mentions that he helped his mother rear his three younger brothers.
George went into law and he was 25 when he was elected city judge. He was the youngest person ever to sit on the bench in Plainfield; his younger brother, William, later held the office longer than anyone.
George had been judge only three years when he died, unmarried, the day before Thanksgiving in 1898. He had been stricken with pneumonia just four days before. No Plainfielder of that day was better liked or held in greater respect. George was eulogized from the pulpit and by the city's newspaper, The Courier-News, which devoted a lead story to his passing and a column of type to his funeral. Thousands came for an affectionate and respectful last look as George's body lay in the First Presbyterian Church on Front Street. It was the largest funeral in the city's history.
The emergence of William began with the death of his Brother. He was 24, he had followed George into law and he stepped in to take over the practice George left behind. As partner in the law firm of DeMeza and Moscowitz, he was one of Plainfield's most prominent attorneys for nearly half a century. But William DeMeza is perhaps best remembered for the record of 30 years he sat on the municipal court bench. He was elected 10 consecutive terms and his defeat, in 1946 when he was 72 years old, was attributed to the fact that "everyone who voted for him all those years is up in Hillside" (cemetery.)
William married Florence White (1884-1959). Their daughter, Margaret, (Mrs. Clarence Reid, Mountainside, N.J.) as born in 1908.
Thomas DeMeza was sales representative for a New York city silk manufacturer. He married Lauretta Lamond (1892-1963) and they had two children, Thomas (Phoenix, Arizona) born in 1925 and Ruth (Mrs. Ulrich Weil, Orange, Connecticut), 1927.
George and William were the family achievers. Thomas lived a quiet, measured life, always looking twice before deciding it was best not to leap.
Harry G. DeMeza was something else (the "G" was for Garfield; he was born during the brief administration of Presifent James A. Garfield and there may be a connection). Not only did Harry hear a different drummer, he stepped, full swing, to the tantara of a brass band. Sometimes the cadence was ragged and the music off pitch and lacking in harmony. No matter. It was the spirit that counted, and for Harry DeMeza it always was con brio.
Harry was an attractive personality. There weren't many he couldn't charm, and it is very likely that he had a wider circle of friends and acquaintances than anyone who lived in Plainfield in his time. He was witty. He was engaging and a lot of fun. He acquired a lifelong affection for good clothes, good company and good liquor.
When he was in his twenties, Harry sold hats, spats, ties and BVDs at James R. Blair's men's clothing store on Second Street. Then he and Harry N. Blimm went into partnership and opened a haberdashery on Front Street, in the center of Plainfield's business district. Harry DeMeza had taste, an instinctive good sense about color, pattern, texture and the fit of a Hickey-Freeman topcoat. Harry Blimm was equally good at keeping the books.
DeMeza and Blimm easily was the best men's store around. And the most expensive. It catered to the leading business people of the city and the doctors, lawyers, bankers and professionals. Plainfielders even recited a verse about the place:
DeMeza and Blimm:
If you haven't any money
Don't come in.
The lines sound suspiciously like something of Harry DeMeza's making.
Harry was 26 and Agnes (Nana) 20 when they were married in 1908 by Father Miller in St. Joseph's Church in North Plainfield. Their first child, Gloria, arrived in 1912. Ann Louise was born in 1914 and Billy in 1920.
A year or two before Bill's birth, Harry moved his growing family into a four-bedroom house at 159 Westervelt Avenue. It was just up the street from the home of Agnes' s mother and father at 79 Summit Avenue, and a mile from Harry' store. He walked or rode a bicycle to and from work; he never sat behind the steering wheel of an automobile in his life.
DeMeza and Blimm did well, and for three years beginning in 1929 Agnes and the children were able to spend July and August on a lake in New Hampshire. Harry came up for his two and for an occasional long weekend.
Partridge Lake was small, with a wild and natural beauty and with almost a sense of privacy about it. It was a wonderful place for children to spend the summer and Agnes endured it only because of that. She disliked every day spent in the rough camp with its two rooms (one down, one up), its crude kitchen, its lack of conveniences (no electricity, no telephone, no plumbing) and the eight-mile drive over back roads to Littleton, the nearest town.
Gloria went off swimming one day and returned with three young men in tow. Two were onlookers. The third was identified as Alan Poole, a college student preparing to follow his mother and father in the practice of osteopathic medicine. The Pooles were from Fall River, Massachusetts, and they spent their summers on a farm they owned on the Dalton road, north of Littleton. Alan and his two companions had driven over to the lake for a swim.
There was a brief courtship, conducted largely through the facilities of the United States Mail, before Gloria and Alan were married in Littleton in August, 1931. A few days later they got in their automobile and drove to Kirksville, Missouri, where they lived while Alan completed college.
The Great Depression finally caught up with DeMeza and Blimm in 1932; The Great Depression along with the death a few years earlier of Harry Blimm, the firm's sure-fingered businessman and bookkeeper. The store went under and it took the Westervelt Avenue house with it. One day Agnes took 12-year-old Bill down to the State Trust Company so he could hand over to her the few dollars he had accumulated through 10- and 25-cent weekly "bank day" deposits at school. The bankruptcy took just about everything.
There was an effort to make a go of things. A pleasant roadside farmhouse in nearby Martinsville, N.J., was rented, a cook hired and the family moved in to open a country dining place called The White Horse Inn. (A white horse was stabled in the barn).
During the warm months, people would drive 10 or 15 niles to Martinsville from Plainfield, Bound Brook, Westfield or Somerville for the Inn's featured Sunday dinner of broiled chicken, fresh vegetables and ice cream made that morning from peaches grown on the farm. Harry helped with the greeting, while Agnes kept on the move between kitchen and dining room, Ann Louise waited on table and Bill sold baskets of peaches at a roadside stand.
If summer had lasted, the Inn might have, too. But business tailed off in September and by Thanksgiving it was all over. And after 25 years, the marriage of Harry and Agnes was all over, too. Harry moved to a furnished room back in Plainfield where he had begun 30 years earlier, selling men's furnishing for someone else, first Coulter Brothers and then John Franks, where he remained until he retired.
In May, 1950, at Chesapeake City, Maryland, Harry married his former sister-in-law, Florence, widowed four years earlier by William's death. Their children were delighted.
Harry and Florence moved to Clearwater, Florida. She died there in 1959. She was 75.
Harry was 83 when he died on November 23, 1964, 66 years to the day after the death of his brother, George. He was buried in the DeMeza plot at Hillside Cemetery with Florence, his sister and brothers and his mother and father. (When she died 15 years later. Agnes deMeza was buried nearby in a location she had chosen).
Following the Martinsville episode, Agnes was left with a single option. She moved what was left of her family in with her mother, Mary Bailey, now living alone in the small house at 79 Summit Avenue in North Plainfield. She then found work in the linen room at Bonnie Burn, a tuberculosis sanitarium in Scotch Plains, where she was to remain for many years. In 1937, when Bill was graduated from North Plainfield High School, his mother moved her family to a refinished garrett on the fourth floor of a decaying apartment house at 415 West Seventh Street.
Agnes was nearing her seventies when she stumbled over a bird's nest on the ground. Her good fortune came in the form of employment at the Plainfield Book Store, a large establishment, well-stocked and well-run by a flotilla of women. It was no surprise that Agnes fit in: She had been a customer of the place for a long while and she knew books; she had consumed them at a rate of nearly one a day for years. Her assignments included the shop's lending library and it is unlikely that anyone ever handled it as well. She mentally cataloged the literary likes and dislikes of a good many of her customers. If, say, Walter Hetfield's wife arrived to announce that Walter was in the hospital and she had been dispatched to get him something to read, the chances were good that Agnes knew that Walter hated detective stories, but loved Westerns, secretly cherishing those just a bit racy. She selected for Walter accordingly, unerringly passing over something he might have read previously.
There came a day in the book shop when a young woman, about to be married, entered to discreetly inquire about a certain book. Yes, Agnes said, she was sure it was in stock, probably out in the back room on a bottom shelf, and she set off to search the stacks, only to be interrupted in a few minutes by a summons from the front of the store. "I'm back here," she responded, "on my knees looking for 'Sexual Happiness'."
She quietly rose, put on her coat, crept out the back door and went home for the rest of the day.
She was a productive member of the book shop staff until she was in her eighties when she began to live, in turn, with Ann Louise and Gloria. She was 90 when she died on June 24, 1978, in Fall River.
After high school, Ann Louise became a medical secretary. Her beauty and her professional skill brought her close to many of Plainfield's physicians, and in 1938, she married one of them. Hayward F. Day (1906-1971), a few years out of his residency, was on his way to becoming one of the area's best pediatricians.
Ann and Hayward lived first at the Day family home at 92 Duer Street in North Plainfield and then at 144 Rockview Avenue until Hayward 's death in 1971. Their son, Hayward Jr., called Chip, was born in 1940. He was a football star at North Plainfield High, was graduated from Washington and Lee, his father's school, served in the Marines and then became a Plainfield attorney. Chip married Lucille (June) Schomp (1938-) in 1971 and they settled in Pottersville, New Jersey, with their four children .
In 1972, Ann Louise was married to Jack Welles (1911), a widower and sales executive with Spring Mills, Inc. They made their home in Edison, New Jersey, adjacent to Plainfield Country Club.
Bill entered North Plainfield High School in 1933 and emerged in 1937 having done nothing to distinguish himself (unless you count his leading roles in school plays and the command performances to which he was summoned by Martin Kane, chief of police, and Eunice Curtis, school principal).
If he was not at the very foot of his graduating class of 224, it probably was because school authorities decided it was too close to call. And it must have been only in response to the prayers of his grandmother that he avoided about the worst shame and dishonor she could imagine for him, that of having his name "on the blotter." He came a lot closer to it than she ever knew.
That summer, when he had just turned 17, Bill sold shirts and ties at James R. Blair's, where his father had been employed three decades earlier. Then he drifted off to New York and a clerical job paying $15 a week (half days on Saturday) at the New York Life Insurance Company. There was not much in sight at the end of the rainbow.
The job might have gone on forever had not Gloria appeared in Plainfield one day in 1938 with an inviation for Bill to come to New England to live with the Pooles while he looked around to see if there wasn't something better to do. Whatever Bill was to make of himself was shaped by this simple act of love.
Alan had begun his osteopathic practice in Bristol, Rhode Island, but had moved it to Fall River, where his parents had followed the profession for many years. Gloria and Alan lived at 568 Maple Street with Peter (1937), their adopted two-year-old son. (Peter was graduated from Somerset High School in Somerset, Massachusetts, and married Carol Rudd in Ogden, Utah, where Peter became a heavy equipment operator).
Alan arranged a start for Bill in Warren, Rhode Island, where Roy Sawin, one of his patients, owned The Gazette, a lackluster, semi-weekly newspaper staffed by one editor, one reporter and three printers. Alan had done for flinty Roy Sawin what a small legion of other medical men had failed to do: He had cured the staggering headaches that had bedevilled the man for years. In return, he exacted a small obligement: A job for his unemployed 18-year-old, never-set-foot-in-a-newspaper-office-in-his-life brother-in-law, up from New Jersey.
There was no pay, no typewriter for Bill to call his own, not even a place for him to sit at The Gazette. But there was room for a lot of watching and listening, the opportunity to write a few stories and to see what a newspaper office was all about, small and unimportant as it might be. Not even a 16-mile, round-trip daily hitchhike detracted. Bill loved every minute of it.
A few months later, Alan engineered something better for Bill who went to work at $3 a week at The Spectator, a weekly newspaper in Somerset, 20 minutes away by bus. He was presented with a typewriter, a bench to set it on out in the back room next to a hand-fed job press and as much work as he cared to take on. Suddenly, at 19, he not only had his own byline, he had a handful of them. He was Pop Gunn when he wrote the hunting and fishing column, The Alley Gat when he handled bowling and something else when he recounted the activities of the area's farmers. The name William B. DeMeza III was reserved for straight reporting or when he covered the town's selectmen.
There was an opportunity to sit behind a Model 5 high-board Linotype to see what it was like, to read proof, to learn about job printing and type and even, on one glorious occasion, to scoop the opposition, the big city, six-day-a-week Fall River Herald-News.It was a marvelous apprenticeship.
In 1940, Bill returned to Plainfield, moving back with his mother and finding a job at S35 a week with The Courier-News, first as assistant sports editor and then as night police and fire reporter.
Enter Gertrude Adams.
There was a fire one night at the Scott printing press plant. Bill was sent to cover it and when things were under control he walked across the street where a crowd had gathered to view the excitement. Among the onlookers was Bill's mother, Agnes, who was standing with an old friend, Emily Adams, Emily's 19-year-old daughter, Tudie, and Dick Harrigan, Emily's brother and confirmed follower of fire apparatus. (Harry DeMeza was, too; both men had chased Plainfield's horse-drawn hose companies as boys and neither of them ever got over it).
Bill and Tud entered into courtship almost immediately. He went into the Army early in 1942, and they married a year later, when it appeared that Bill had been permanently assigned to duty as an infantry instructor in South Carolina. But within a few weeks he was on his way to North Africa with thousands of other infantry replacements, shipped over to fill out the ranks of rifle companies thinned during the Tunisian campaign and now being readied for the assault on Sicily. When there was a call one day for temporary help on the Casablanca edition of the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes, Bill was pulled from the ranks and sent to fill the job. Temporary soon became permanent; Bill went on to round out the war on Stars and Stripes editions in Oran, Tunis, Palermo, Naples and Rome, filling assignments that ranged from feature writer to managing editor.
Tud had lived in Plainfield since the breakup of her parents' marriage in 1936, when she and her mother had moved in with Dick in the old Harrigan home at 929 South Avenue, alongside the coal yard. In many ways, Dick Harrigan was more of a father to Tud than her father had been. He bestowed love and discipline (in unequal measure), brought her presents when no occasion called for one, taught her how to dance, how to eat a boiled lobster in a restaurant and introduced her to the pleasures of a cocktail before dinner. It was Dick who took her to her first college football games at Princeton and at Rutgers. He took his teenaged niece dining and dancing at some of the state's best supper clubs, favoring those whose band would strike up "Harrigan—That's Me!" when he made his entrance. Every teenage girl should have had Dick Harrigan as her uncle.
When she was graduated from Plainfield High School in 1939, Tud climbed aboard a Jersey Central Railroad coach with the rest of the crowd and commuted five and one-half days a week to a job in New York City. She worked at the Home Insurance Company in Maiden Lane, at the corporate headquarters of Whalen's Drug Stores, at United Paste and Glue (if you look sharp up Renwick Street when you leave the Holland Tunnel on the New York side you can see the company's sign on a building), and at the investment counseling firm of Van Gleef , Jordan and Wood, on Wall Street.
When the war got under way she worked at an Army material depot in Belle Mead, N.J. (riding back and forth to the job with her brother-in-law, Dr. Hayward Bay, who was assigned to the facility's infirmary) and then answered a call for women to build Grumman fighter aircraft in a factory near Linden.
With Bill overseas, Tud then enlisted in the Women's Army Corps. Following basic training at Fort Ogelthorpe, Georgia, she was assigned to Wright-Patterson Field in Dayton, Ohio, as an aircraft mechanic on the strength of her factory experience and the mechanical aptitude she inherited from her father. She was the facility's first female aircraft mechanic, and if it was a recruiting ploy, Tud never treated it as such. She tuned and repaired aircraft, performed 100-hour checks on the engines of C-47s and other planes and then went aloft for the shakedown flight. Assigned in 1944 to more traditional functions, she was sent to England, France and then to Germany as secretary to an Air Force general at SHAEF headquarters in Frankfurt. Another general, named Eisenhower, had his office just down the hall.
Back on the continent, Bill and Tud found ways to get together. She talked herself aboard a general's plane and arrived in Naples one day. After nearly two years of separation, she had two days with. Bill. They spent them in Sorrento. Later, Bill persuaded Stars and Stripes to send him to Germany to report on postwar conditions there. For a month he lived with Tud on the grounds of a Nazi training school in Oberursel.
Bill was 25 when the war ended, and, after discussing the idea by letter with Tud, seized the opportunity to remain in Italy with two other members of Stars and Stripes to launch a daily, English-language newspaper to be called The Rome Daily American. Aside from homesickness and a desire to see his family, there was not much to go home to. And if the newspaper project failed, he reasoned, all that would be lost would be a few months, maybe a year. At 25 that seemed small sacrifice for the excitement promised by the adventure.
He certainly hadn't much else to lose. Just about his every cent was in the $224.75 mustering out pay the Army gave him and he invested that right away in the business. That was his only monetary investment in the paper. Five years later, he sold his share of the business for $15,000.
Shopping around for a place to publish, the three partners somehow talked their way into Rome's best printing plant, a former Fascist-operated facility now the headquarters of L'Unita, the largest Communist Party daily in Italy. Things seemed to go smoothly. Bill put together a dummy issue of the paper and the Italian printers set it in type and locked up the forms, stopping just short of the press. But someone in the Communist hierarchy became nervous about the unorthodox arrangement. Two days before The Daily American's scheduled first edition, the plant's manager stopped Bill in the hall to say that the Americans no longer were welcome and would have to leave. After a delay of several weeks while new quarters were found, the newspaper finally appeared on March 17, 1946, the third anniversary of Bill and Tud's wedding. Tud arrived in Rome two days later, having gone back to the States from Germany, received her discharge from the Army, a change of clothing, a passport, a plane to Paris (as far as one could fly in those days) and a train the rest of the way.
U.S. wire services, newspapers, magazines and columnists took note of the birth of The Daily American. Time magazine's story described Bill as "lanky, Groucho-mustached". Columnist Billy Rose called the American "a little toughy of a tabloid." When Bill returned to the States on a visit, the New York Post ran a full-page story about him. There was even comment from the Pope. When Agnes visited Rome in 1949, Bill arranged for the family to be received in private audience by Pius XII. When Bill was identified as the managing editor of The Rome Daily American, the Pope responded, "Ah, I read your newspaper every morning."
The Daily American was Europe's first independently owned newspaper and from time to time, in response to Italian doubts that the paper was truly on its own and not just a mouthpiece of the U.S. Government, Bill would tangle with the United States Embassy. At its peak, the paper circulated about 25,000 copies a day to more than 200 cities and towns in Italy and to the principal cities of a dozen or so other countries. Circulation in Saudi Arabia reached a peak of 1,500 a day. John H. Secondari, whose book, "Coins in the Fountain" became "Three Coins In The Fountain" when it was made into a film, worked for Bill. And so did "the richest girl in the world," Doris Duke, who was paid $35 a week and later investe $20,000 in the enterprise.
Tud and Bill rented the second floor of a villa on Monte Mario, a hill that overlooked Rome and gave a view of the top half of the cupola of St. Peter's from a bedroom window. Bill, Jr., was born in a small Army infirmary on April 16, 1947, his father's 27th birthday. Tim arrived in December, 1949, at the Anglo-American Hospital on the Via Nomentana, a few doors down the street from Benito Mussolini's villa. Both boys were labelled "two times a Roman"—they were born within sight of St. Peter's and baptized in the basilica.
Having begun married life with luxuries she never again would experience - - a live-in cook-housekeeper, a laundress and a babysitter - - Tud turned her leisure into productive enterprise. She found a partner and began a business she called At Your Service. Operating from a few feet of counter space in the Pan-American World Airways ticket office, At Your Service would do almost anything for almost anyone for a price.
The business catered to foreign businessmen, the tourists who were beginning to reappear in the city and those in need of a secretary, an interpreter, a tailor, a guide, a maid, a chauffeur, a companion, a babysitter or just wanted to shop in Rome, knowing that they were getting the best for their money. Tud arranged a shopping tour for Mischa Auer, the movie actor, and provided a traveling secretary for Ludwig Bemelmans, the author, on his way to Capri to write another book. For a visiting English industrialist, she might look in her file and come up with a Hungarian speaking stenographer who could type letters in French and Spanish. Tud provided a good deal of the bilingual help hired by MGM when it filmed "Quo Vadis" in Rome. She knew the best places to buy a silk blouse, a lace tablecloth, shoes, silver or ceramics. Anyone she took shopping was assured of quality at a fair price. Tud was assured of their fee plus a commission from the shop owner.
In 1947, Tud, Bill and Bill, Jr., flew to Plainfield to spend a two-month vacation living with Tud's mother and her Uncle Dick at 778 Belvedere Avenue. When the plane returning them to Rome developed engine trouble over the North Atlantic, it returned to Gander, Newfoundland, where Tud miscarried the baby girl she had carried for six months. Baptized Molly, in memory of her great-grand-mother, Mary Bailey, the infant lived briefly and was buried at Gander. The deMezas resumed their trip back to Italy a week later.
In 1950, when he had lived outside the United States for seven years and he and Tud had been in Rome for more than four, Bill sold his interest in The Daily American and Tud disposed of hers in At Your Service. Bill's buyer was the owner of a chain of small U.S. dailies. He was shopping for another and he wanted Bill to run it for him. Meantime, there would be an apprenticeship of sorts in Bogalusa, Louisiana, where one of the chain's papers was published. Things didn't work out as advertised. Within a year Bill was employed by the United States Information Agency in Washington, D.C. He was with the agency's Press Service until 1956. While there he created the editorial format of the government's Russian-language magazine, Amerika.
The family lived at 709 Grandin Avenue in Rockville, Maryland. Tina was born in 1952 and Jonathan in 1954 both at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. Bill, Jr., began school at Lone Oak elementary and was in one of the first groups of children in the United States to be innoculated with Salk anti-polio vaccine. The children got their first dog and Bill, Jr., named it John. There were some memorable family vacations during the Rockville years, one at Porter Lake, Strong, Maine, and another at Province Lake, near South Effingham, New Hampshire,
In 1956 Bill returned to newspaper work as the first managing editor of a pacesetting newspaper. The tabloid, The Middletown (N..Y,.) Daily Record, was the first daily newspaper in the United States to be turned out entirely by the cold-type, offset process.
The family lived at Bullville, a country crossroad eight miles from Middletown. Bill, Jr., Tim and Tina went by bus to school at Pine Bush. Jonathan fell down a dry well the day before his third birthday; Bullville volunteer firemen pulled him out.
There was disagreement at the Daily Record and Bill lost his job. He delivered milk for a few months (he was the world's worst milkman) and then handled an election campaign for the Orange County Democrats (he was among the world's best campaign managers). In 1958, he was hired by the Catholic Church to revitalize a losing newspaper publishing operation in Kingston, Ontario. He did.
Andrew was born in Kingston in February, 1963, in Hotel Dieu, a hospital operated by the Sisters of Providence. The family lived first at 72 Wolfe Street and then at 280 Johnson Street. Tim went to Cathedral School, Tina to St. Mary's and Bill, Jr., attended Regiopolis College, a Jesuit highschool. Tud returned to business. She launched The Kingston Shopper, a tabloid shopping news for which she sold all the ads, wrote a weekly column and showed a nice profit.
In 1963 the family returned to the States, moving to Toledo, Ohio, where Bill became managing editor of The Toledo Monitor, a weekly business publication. Bill, Jr., remained in Canada for a few months to complete his junior year at Regiopolis while the rest of the family settled at 3601 Mapleway Drive. Bill, Jr., was graduated from St. Francis de Sales High School in 1964; Tim, Tina and Jonathan attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help elementary school.
A year later, when he was 44, Bill went to Akron and a job in the public relations department of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. He had been there a little more than a year when he was awarded the P.W. Litchfield Medal for his role in preventing an estimated $15 million in flood damage to Winona, Minnesota, A deep sea diver was enlisted to enter manholes and use Good-year's inflatable rubberized bags to seal off the city's storm sewers from the flooding Mississippi River. The company's highest award for meritorius service, the medal had been presented only 31 times previously.
Memorable Members of the Household
John, a yellow hound, Rockville.
Tony, a blue parakeet, Rockville.
Hu Shi, a Siamese cat, Bullville and Kingston.
Scema (Shay-ma) a dog, Bullville and Kingston.
Conway Tweety, a canary, Kingston.
Charlie Brown, a robin, Toledo.
The Beast, man's best friend, Stow.
Kat, a cat, Stow.
In 1966, Bill was named manager of public relations of the subsidiary Goodyear Aerospace Corporation, returning to Goodyear Tire in 1967 as manager of the News Bureau. In 1970 he was appointed director of public information for the world's largest tire and rubber company.
Bill, Jr., attended Kent State University for a year of seasoning and then enrolled at Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland. He graduated in 1969 worked as an engineer in California and as a respiratory therapist in California and Ohio before earning a degree in law in 1980 at Toledo University, where he was editor of the Law Review. He was admitted to the bar in Ohio, West Virginia and Florida and became a member of the law firm of Holland and Knight in Bradenton, Florida, in 1981.
Bill, Jr., married the former Connie Carter in 1974. Her children by a previous marriage are Michele, 1965; Kristi, 1967, and Julie, 1972.
Tim, Tina, Jonathan and Andrew graduated from Stow High School. Andrew was the only one of the five children to remain in the same school system from first grade through high school.
Tim went into the Army during the Vietnam conflict in 1970. He suffered a knee injury during basic training and his one-year tour in Vietnam was in a finance office. After his discharge, he became a partner in the roofing firm of deMeza and Herring. In 1980, he married Tracy Clause, a student geologist at Kent State University, and they settled in Brimfield Township, Ohio.
Tina studied a year at Miami (Ohio) University before moving to California in 1970. She was a typist when she began her employment with Bechtel Corporation, the international construction and engineering firm. She rose through the ranks to become a cost engineer. Her first field assignment was a multi-million-dollar light rail transit project in Portland, Oregon, in 1981. Tina earned a degree in management at Colder State University in 1981. She sang with the San Francisco Bach Choir.
Jonathan became interested in photography during high school and he contributed many photos to the year book. After school he was employed at the Pongracz photo studio in Akron. Then he went to Rapid City, South Dakota, where he worked as an apprentice printer before returning briefly to Stow and employment as a photo finisher with Fotomat. He then moved to Moscow, Idaho, where he was employed by the city. During one assignment, he participated in the cleanup following the eruption of Mount St. Helens.
Andrew captured the coveted Bubalacci Award when he was six years old. In 1975, when he was 12, he won the first in a long series of blue ribbons for the excellence of his vegetable gardening at the Stow Youth Garden. From elementary grades through high school he was active in singing and, like his sister, Tina, was a member of the high school's a cappella choir during his junior and senior years. As a senior, he played with the school's Metro League champion tennis team. Paired in doubles, he and Keith Dimoff were nearly unbeatable, running up an 11-1 record in league competition. Following his graduation from Stow High in 1981, Andrew enrolled at Kent State University.
When she was 59, Tud got a college diploma. No member of her family - - or Bill's - - had ever done that (excluding those in later generations, such as Bill, Jr., Tina and Chip Day). She had begun a few self-fulfilling studies at Kent State University more than five years earlier, and when her credits began to mount, she was determined to work for a degree. On May 23, 1981, KSU awarded her a degree in general studies. She carried a grade point average of 3.7 and was on the Dean's List. Her studies in geology, sociology, English, psychology, anthropology, Italian, ceramics, enameling, theater arts and black women's literature were a reflection of her broad interests.
Earlier, on January 8, 1980, the day Emily Adams died in Stow, Tud and Bill were in New Mexico, acquiring property on the slope of Florida Peak, 15 miles southeast of Derning, New Mexico. It was to be the site of their retirement hone. Bill retired from Goodyear on March 1, 1981, six weeks short of his 61st birthday, to prepare for the adventure.
William B. deMeza