10/20/49 - Letter from Mabel Ansley Murphy, Mt. Vernon, N.Y. BY-WAYS - 10/20/49 - Letter from Mabel Ansley Murphy, Mt. Vernon, N.Y. - October 10, 1949

Dear Mrs. Taylor:

Do pardon this tardy acceptance of the opportunity you so graciously gave me to recall some precious memories. It did not prove easy to reconstruct my mood when the Ansley family first moved to Saltsburg - until then but a name. I loved Apollo and my friends, companions for eight years. I left it in tears and the ride on the train failed to comfort me. Not until Father persuaded me to look at the river, far below the high bridge over which our train was puffing, did tears cease blinding my eyes. The bridge crossed, the train slowed over a wide street running down a steep hill. It stopped at the station, a small, sturdy building, later to serve for a time as the Town hall. A group met us - "relatives," Mother whispered and added, "Now don't be bashful!" Everyone was so kind that shyness disappeared. As the train moved on, a little girl about my own age urged, "Come and meet Father. He couldn't speak to any one until the train went on - and here's Mother!" "Mother" smiled and stooping, whispered, "To you and your little sister I'm Aunt Mary Carson and we're going to be good friends." She sealed that promise with a kiss and from that minute she was a true friend. Grandpa and Grandma Portser took us to their house near the top of the hill. There we stayed for three days until our future home was found. The two-story house of unfinished grey stone had a history - or was it only a legend? Anyway, whether or not it had been an inn during the canal days, it had hospitable rooms and big windows over a foot deep - a good place to sit and read. In a modern house, between us and the road bed of the old canal, lived Mr. John Robinson and his family. On the other side of our house Mr. and Mrs. Reed and their talkative parrot had their home. This parrot was the first my sister and I had ever seen or heard talk. It called Mrs. Reed "Rach," her given name being Rachel. Later, when dear Mrs. Reed passed into the Other Room, the bereft parrot plaintively questioned "Where's 'Rach'? Where's Rach?" This for days. The home of Dr. McFarland and his family adjoined Reeds and next door to this home was the Anderson Hotel. Good neighors all. ***

A travelling troupe playing "Uncle Tom's Cabin" stopped at this hotel. My sister and her "intimate" friends, Lona McCrea and Alice Moore were permitted to play in the afternoon with "Little Eva!," a never-to-be-forgotten experience. In the evening I saw the play - my first - and held my breath while Eliza crossed the Ohio River by leaping from cake to cake of broken ice. When she set foot on Freedom's shore, with the rest of the audience I clapped until my hands could clap no more. *** In time the canal bed was filled in and between it and the Kiskiminetas three homes were built, and lawns and shrubbery beautified the last square on Salt Street. In the house nearest the river lived Mr. and Mrs. James Rodgers, known to their friends as Jamie and Janet. He owned the foundry in the rear of their home and she spent her life in home-making; loving her church and her neighbors as herself; passing on magazine and books to every one yearning for a larger horizon in a town, at that time without a public library. Godey's Ladies Book went to my sister, five years younger than I. Because I was so much older, Mrs. Rodgers made me acquainted with such classics as she deemed fitting for my age. We loved her dearly and tenderly cherish her memory. One year after Mr. Rodgers went on to Life Eternal, Janet followed him, and shortly after the flooded river swept away their home, one of the happiest I remember. The bridge, too, was wrecked. Today the modern steel structure which crosses the river stops abruptly, even as did its predecessor, at the high rampart which grudgingly makes room for a road at its base. During our early years in Saltsburg, a turn to the right brought one to the Falls, which an enthusiastic young man once described as "Tumbling swiftly down the bewailing precipice" One summer in those early days there was a Community picnic in the beautiful grove on the top of this bluff. Those who had a horse and vehicle to detour them around the cliff made an uneventful arrival at the grove. But all who had to walk had to climb the rocky hill on one side of the ravine. Beside the Falls an incredibly steep footpath was faintly visible. Children not yet in their teens climbed with abandon, savoring the tang of danger. But reckless and timid alike reached the top of the hill with torn raiment and many scratches and bruises.

Long before this time Saltsburg had won my heart. Space does not permit the story of two years in the public school and four in the Academy before going to Teachers' College in Indiana. Many friends were left behind but the closest, Mary Jenkins, left on the same train to attend the same school. We had modeled ourselves - in so far as we could - on young women elder than we were - who had accomplished the poise and dignity we admired. Miss Della Leech was our favorite example for emulating. There were others but none knew that we were taking them for models.

"There are voices of the past,
Links of a broken chain;
Wings that can bear me back to times
That can never come again.
Yet God forbid that I should lose
The echoes that remain. (Proctor)

P.S. I am sure we are all very grateful to Mrs. Murphy, who, despite her protracted and vitiating illness, has taken the pains to type this story of her early life in Saltsburg. It reveals how good relatives and neighbors helped to mold her lovely character. She deplored the fact that her dear brother, Howard, is left out of this story - but that is because in this era he was not yet born. Thank you most heartily, Mrs. Murphy.


Next - 11/3/49 - Authors who Visit Cleveland - Dr. Peale, Dr. Overstreet, and Dr. deKruif
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