Sunday, November 12, 2000

It was an era when the night-time sound of a canal boat's horn could roll across Wilkes-Barre and fill a young girl's half-sleeping mind ``with unspeakable imaginings, as if coming back from fairy lands forlorn.''

More prosaically, it was ``the day of mud streets and ash sidewalks ... the day when cows and even pigs wandered (about town).''

In 1920, the 72-year-old Edith Brower looked back and reminisced about a time when she and her hometown were young. The 60 pages of her book, ``Little Old Wilkes-Barre As I Knew It,'' offer a portrait of the area's largest community at a time when many of the ancestors of today's residents were arriving and settling in.

A good memoir like Brower's is a window to the past, probably as close as we can get to time travel - a walk through an earlier world.

The trip she takes us on is alternately pleasant and jarring. She tells of her bucolic neighborhood at East Northampton and South Washington streets, recalling the three Perry sisters ``whose home was the cleanest spot ever seen.'' At the same time, she confesses to envying friends whose parents let them watch public hangings at the county prison.

Revelations mount as you turn the pages of her memoir.

``Dame schools,'' so called because they were run by women in their homes, made up much of the educational system.

Present-day Pennsylvania Avenue was a canal, and youngsters looked in awe at the sturdy boatmen who could haul loads of coal to exotic places such as Elmira, N.Y.

Black worshippers who entered ``white'' churches, even by invitation, might be expected to sit in the rear.

Lehigh Street was known as ``Moseytown,'' for resident Moses Wood, whose family also gave a name to nearby ``Woodville.''

Brower's old Wilkes-Barre now seems like a mythic time in which neighbors rather than government took care of most vital functions. Every home contained a leather bucket, for use in forming bucket brigades at fires, and everybody had a role to play should a blaze strike somewhere near.

``It was my aunt's office to gather and organize inside helpers,'' Brower writes, ``instructing them not to carry feather beds downstairs and throw crockery out the windows.''

Edith Brower lived from 1848 to 1931. Besides chronicling her life and times, she was an avid promoter of the arts. She became a friend and confidant of poet Edwin Arlington Robinson, and her letters to him have been published.

In 1984, Wilkes-Barre placed a plaque in her memory on the River Common opposite Union Street.

Her little book is not easy to get hold of. The only copy listed in Luzerne County's computerized library catalogue is in the Reference Department at the Osterhout Free Library. But the experience of reading ``Little Old Wilkes-Barre As I Knew It'' is worth the trouble of getting your hands on it - especially if you long to hear the canal boats' horns and trek the dusty streets of generations past.

Further reading: Edith Brower is not the only local person to set down her memories of long ago. The Luzerne County Genweb offers Bob Howells' memoirs of growing up in the Nanticoke area in the 1930s, Edward Sylvanus Williams' story of a typical day in the life of Warrior Run in the 1920s and Julia Blackman Plumb's remembrances of life along Hanver Township's Middle Road in the early 19th century. The Genweb is accessible through

A 19th-century series of volumes known as ``The Historical Record,'' available at the Luzerne County Historical Society, has many more memoirs of early times scattered throughout its pages.

Queries: Greg Parry of New York is looking for information on his grandfather, John Parry, who was born in Wilkes-Barre in 1892 and later moved to upstate New York, becoming a boxer and stuntman in the 1920s. John Parry's date and place of death are unknown. Contact Greg Parry at 16 Marne Road, Cheektowaga, N.Y. 14215.

Leona Pikel of Florida is researching grandfather Joseph Blascak, an activist among coal miners in Luzerne County in the 1890s. He died, or was killed, Oct. 20, 1893. Contact Mrs. Leona Pikel at 693 93rd Ave. North, Naples, Fla. 34108.

Local History Moment: The Veterans Day Parade has been a popular attraction in Wyoming Valley for many years. But for a time in the 1930s local people could attend two parades on (as it was then known) Armistice Day - one stressing preparedness in the face of Nazi aggression and the other promoting peace. On the morning of Nov. 11, 1937, the patriotic parade's colorful marching units, bands and military hardware moved off through Kingston and Wilkes-Barre. It concluded with a Public Square ceremony in which Judge T. Linus Hoban blasted ``subversive influences.'' Later in the day a ``peace'' parade headed by 17 clergy made its way through downtown streets. One of its floats featured a young man wearing a gas mask, hanging over barbed wire as if dead. Both parades disappeared with the outbreak of World War II. The military parade made a comeback in the 1950s, but the peace parade never returned.

News Notes: Online researchers in many fields are beginning to discover something called the ``invisible Internet.'' This is material buried so deeply inside databases that popular search engines don't know it's there and can't tell their users about it. Companies named BrightPlanet and Invisible Worlds are developing deeper-penetrating search engines, but according to the Associated Press, the first applications are likely to be in science and business.

In the meantime, it's a good idea for genealogists to keep up on the latest trends in computerization. A Web site or other item you don't know about might be just the one to provide some vital information for you.

Genealogists should have a special regard for people who work hard to teach us about the underpublicized elements of our national history. Typical of this group is Steelton, Pa., resident Barbara Barksdale, who makes it her mission to throw light on the role of black people in 19th-century America.

Said the Associated Press recently, ``Dressed in hoop skirts and a crown hat, she spends weekends traveling to national historic parks, paying her own expenses, to answer questions from the curious and lead unofficial tours of landmarks significant to blacks.''

Remember, this column is now accessible through your computer at Then click on ``Generations.''

Have you solved some tough genealogical problems in your research? Do you have some tips you'd like to share with others? Would you like to report a success story? Drop me a line here at the paper. I'll get in touch with you and help you bring the benefits of your experience to others.

Tom Mooney, The Times Leader, 15 N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre, Pa. 18711. Email is