A Certain Party I Love

updates Mondays and Thursdays

About that train accident

Why did Elly decide to take a bus home from Pittsburgh to Cleveland instead of a train? No clue. Maybe the bus was actually faster, or maybe it left Pittsburgh a bit later, giving her a precious hour or two more with her fiancé. Leon believed that by making that decision, Elly missed being on a train that derailed and tumbled over a 40-foot embankment into the Ohio River.

A little bit of research revealed that the train in question was not one Elly would have been on, as it was going the opposite direction — Cleveland to Pittsburgh — and was about an hour away from Pittsburgh when it ran off the rails. Interestingly, though, it turns out that the wreck, which killed five people and injured 114, may have been not an accident. According to an article in a local newspaper, the crowded 13-car express train hit a loose rail at 65 mph and flew off the tracks. A preliminary investigation showed that all 48 spikes had been removed from the rail. The FBI was called in after railroad officials suggested the train had been deliberately targeted by someone who knew how to loosen the rail without breaking the electrical circuit that would trigger an alarm.

I haven’t been able to find anything else indicating whether or not the authorities ever figured out who was responsible.

A narrow escape

Leon resumed his daily letters to Elly the same day they returned from their Pittsburgh assignation. (Reading between the lines of his previous letter, “assignation” seems like the only appropriate word. I don’t think their time together was G-rated, do you?) It seems as though Elly decided to take a bus back to Pittsburgh instead of catching the train — a smart choice, at least based on the letter Leon wrote her a day later.

My dearest —

how glad I was to get your bus-station “epilogue” this morning. It’s tone was so brave I felt very, very proud of my Ellybunch. I hope you managed to sustain that mood at least until you reached Rudy’s comforting and understanding warmth.

Dearest, I am enclosing a clipping which almost froze me with horror. Of course I have no way of making sure that this is the train you would have been on, but the wreck occured at 9:03 p.m. (which is after you would have left) on Pennsy line and the train was going from Pitt to Cleve!

It appears, therefore, that it was actually a master-stroke of luck that you decided on, and I agreed to, the bus arrangement. I get weak all over just thinking you might have been on that train and it seems almost certain that that’s the one you would have been on.

So now I am practically delirious with joy — the memory of our precious day — together with our good fortune. Now, if you tell me your cold’s all gone and you love me I shall take to pirouetting and tossing imaginary flowers symbolic of the Spring in my heart. I should have put a “SIC!” after the word Spring. I know from our papers that you have biting cold up thar, too, but even Wash is really frost-gripped. Ironically enough, it’s blue overhead and the sun is radiant as on any balmy June day.

Folded into the same envelope was this clipping from the March 17, 1941 issue of DC’s afternoon newspaper, the Evening Star:

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The caption reads “BADEN, PA—PASSENGER TRAIN AFTER PLUNGE—Wrecked cars of the Pennsylvania Railroad train which plunged over an embankment near here last night, killing 4 people and injuring 107.”

The most gloriously happy experience of my existence thus far

No sooner did Leon get back to DC from his day in Pittsburgh with Elly than he sat down to write her a letter:

Elly sweetheart —

My heart is still so full that I find it difficult to begin “talking” calmly about such things as the blizzard-piercing train ride and my fears for you — (walking back through the swirling snow to that dangerous crossing at the foot of the depot, how ‘brave” you would be after I left, and whether your bus would be on time and make the return journey in good time and without incident) and more than anything I was worried about your cough. Let me know what you are doing or did I hope — for it and how soon you are all well again.

And before I forget, let me thank you again for being the most wonderful and considerate girlfriend any guy ever had. I refer, of course, to the swell gifts which are doubly welcome to me — (1) I can surely use them (2) they are expressions of your love.

I arrived on schedule — blizzard or no — 8:20, and proceeded immediately to the house. After perfunctory greetings to Mrs. Crow, I picked up your letter and one from Mom. They were both very sweet and I don’t hafta tell you whose I paid extra-special attention to. It was real cute-like and so are you but much more so.

A very special thank-you and schnuggle to Rudy whose thoughtfulness literally and figuratively saved the day for us. It was really great to be chawin’ Rudy’s cooking and had I knowed she could make pork chops and egg salad I sure woulda gone for her ‘stead of her blue-eyed kid sister. And the cookies were the best I ever et — send me the ressipee, eh, Ru? Give up? or should I “needle” yuh somore.

It looks like a hectic week for your boychik. Mrs. Crow expects me — though she hasn’t demanded (yet) — to get out by Wed of this week. So I’ll be dashing around looking for a boarding house. This whole business may be a blessing in a very good disguise, as I may actually improve my status financially and as to eating (home-cooking and on schedule). I have to make laundry arrangements again and dissolve a host of problems which always arise when a change of locale is effected.

Sweetest sweetheart — I hope you came through at least as well as I did. I really feel very good (much to my amazement) and don’t see how I could possibly feel otherwise — fatigued or not — by just thinking of our bliss-packed day. I almost felt that a train line between “heaven” and earth was bearing me back on the trip home. There were as many forever precious moments passed away in each other’s arms that they fight with one another for my memory’s undivided attention — each claiming it is the super-ultra of ecstatic moments and — strangely enough each is absolutely right.

I must make this brief now — it is already longer than either you or I thought it would be so don’t complain — as I hope to investigate several of those rooming places before I go in to work. I have just returned — after sleeping from about 9:30 to 1 — from a very hearty steak dinner (french fries, peas, tea, cake, pineapple juice forshheiss) and am once again clean-shaven and fresh clothed.

Ooh my dearest, most precious, wonderful Ellybunchdoll! — how shall I ever thank you enough for the most gloriously happy experience of my existence thus far. I say “thus far” advisedly — as I long for the day when each night (I’ll be working days, I hope) will be similar if not equally thrilling. And nothing can equal my love for you my very own.

Usual greetings to our mutual friends with toasted ones for Ru and Mr. Wm Garfinkle. (With an inward memory which finds us repeating our Great Kiss) — I love you

Leon

Hmm. What was that gloriously happy experience? Could it be…?

The end of compromise with tyranny

On March 15, 1941, President Roosevelt gave a speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner  — the first time he did so — to announce the Lend-Lease Act. Signed on March 11, the act let the US provide aircraft, land vehicles, ships, and food to Great Britain, Free France, the USSR, and other Allied countries to support their war effort.

Up to this point, the US had claimed that it was staying out of Europe’s war. The passage of the Lend-Lease Act made it clear that the US was giving up its pretense of neutrality — and FDR’s speech hammered it home:

This decision is the end of any attempts at appeasement in our land; the end of urging us to get along with dictators; the end of compromise with tyranny and the forces of oppression.

And the urgency is now.

It was only two days later that Leon and Elly caught their trains to Pittsburgh from Washington and Cleveland. They must have had no doubt that the country was one step closer to active war. I wonder how that colored their decisions about how to spend their precious 13 hours together.

I bet you’ll wear…

This letter was badly water-damaged with no envelope to date it by, but from context, it’s pretty clear Leon wrote it just hours before catching his train to meet Elly for their romantic rendezvous in Pittsburgh on March 17, 1941:

4 HRS BEFORE LEAVING FOR THE DEEPO

Sweetest —

I’m much too excited now — just about 3 hours till I leave for the depot to right (you see!) write a respectable letter.

Moreover, I intend to grab some shut-eye as I know I won’t sleep too well on the train and since it’s 9 hrs there — 13 with you — and 9 hrs back with no intermissions, every li’l bit of solid shut-eye is gonna help. Garsh I feel silly using the future tense — by the time you read this it’ll all be a never-to-be-forgotten memory wasn’t it?

I don’t dare let myself visualize and anticipate any more or I’ll be too weak and worn to kiss you more’n 2 or 3 million times. Everything is in the quandary (no, dear, that is not where you send smelly clothes) stage around here. But I have already informed Mrs. Crow I intend to move by the end of the month. Why should I go further when you heard all this yesterday?

Still no news from Lee other than the 2 specials I spoke of. Am impatiently waiting for Ma - Fred - Rae’s record unless you brought it to me yesterday. Just for the record (figuratively speaking — no relation to record mentioned 2 stories up) I bet you’ll wear (1) the rhinestone (2) pink slip (foundation - no brassiere) (3) pants (4) stockings (5) the shoes Momsy donated even though they make your dogs bark (6) the swing curl (here I feel safer as you already divulged this much) (7) your watch (8) your ring (9) your locket (10) nail polish (11) all the candles (12) black hat and veil (13) fur collar coat (14) blue gloves and handbag and (15) me out!

Sorry, sweets, but I must get that shut-eye. I’ll try to be wonderful enough to you in Pitt to hold you for a week or so. Then we can start figuring our next date, huh?

I shall dream of you, your blue eyes, your lips, my arms about you holding you close — (dramatic pause) — close (ecstatic pause) — goddam! who wants to sleep?!!

Before you read these oft-spoken-hitherto words I shall have demonstrated how much I mean them: I love you my own Ellybunch AND GEE, WASN’T IT PERFECT?

A query to Rudy: Who ya neckin’ with — mainly?

A hiya to Mr. Garfinkle: HIYA Mr. Garfinkle

Leon

Bad news, good news

One day after telling Elly that he might be losing his roommate, Leon found out he was already gone:

THUR NOON

Elly sweetest dearheart

Your volume arrived this morning and how I gorged myself in the sumptuous literary feast! Bravo! But my joy was destined to be short-lived. Another “special” from Lee came right after I had finished your extra-special and — you guessed it — he got the job and will not return.

Save for the time spent in consuming breakfast, I have been packing his stuff, writing him a long farewell, etc and I must even make this briefer than I ordinarily would as I have to dash downtown to the bank for his dough — which he needs rather urgently — and to a school he attended for calculating machine learn-how-ers from whom he’s sposed to get some dough back. And there’s a hell of a lot of other wind-up business to take care of too. Hope I do the job well enough to justify the confidence he expresses in his letter.

So now how do I feel? Overjoyed at the proximity of our date and the prospect of crushing you to me again? Downcast at the “loss” of my roomie, the necessity for re-adjustment, the plague of moving? Happy for Lee, for Rosie, etc? Sorry for selfish but can’t-be-helped reasons? My goodness what paradoxical emotions rend my manly bosom.

With just a few days to go before their planned meeting in Pittsburgh, Leon tucked an enclosure into the envelope of this letter:

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Losing a roommate, one way or another

By mid-March 1941, the two Leons had settled into a routine of living and working together — but things were about to change. Lee Friedman was visiting his girlfriend Rose in Akron and interviewing for jobs there. Meanwhile, a death in their landlady’s family was threatening Leon’s living situation. After telling Elly on March 12 how happy he was to get her last letter, Leon added,

Sort of expected another note from Lee, too, bearing good news of another sort, but didn’t catch any yet. Mebbe the p.m. mail will bring it. The guys are all pulling for him but — naturally — we’ll all hate like hell to lose him from our midst.

There is still a sort of pall over the household due to the bereavement and yours has a hard time refraining from whistling, humming, playing the radio, etc., Things are still very much unsettled — what Mrs. Crow intends to do about the house, roomers, etc., so it appears I’ll either have to acquire a new roomate — and I doubt that I can get one as swell as Lee — or move, possibly joining one group of the boys.

In the meantime, though, they were planning to meet in Pittsburgh later that week, and Leon wanted to nail down the details of their rendezvous.

Lest I forget I want to make absolutely sure that I’ve got our plans thus far straight: are you taking an Pennsy train? As far as I know, this is the only line running the excursion to Pitt on that date, but I want to be certain that you won’t be on a B&O or New York Central. I’ll be waiting for you at the Pennsy station! if you come in on that line — and I’m fairly sure you will — I’ll be the guy that lets out a war-whoop and damn near crushes you to pieces. If not — and I hope you let me know by Special Delivery if this is the case — I’ll either come to your station or wait for you at the Pennsy station according to your instructions. If I don’t get a “special” I’ll take that to mean we’re both on Pennsy trains and all I’ll have to do is wait. Clear, darling? Can’t think of much else these days. By the time you get this it won’t be, but right now it’s still a little too early for me to be as jittery as I will from about Friday on. It’s almost as if Lee and I were on different “shifts”. He’ll come back from his just as I leave for mine. And would I be willing to work over-time without demanding time-and-a-half, union man or no!

…Tomorrow’s reply, incidentally, will be the last for this week, since you won’t get it till Sat. morn. And on Sun we shall discuss the three P’s (people, plans, and politics) to our hearts’ content. During intermissions.

And speaking of sex…

We know Leon and Elly saw each other in Cleveland for the 1940 holidays, when they got engaged. We also know from letters that are coming up soon in the chronology that Elly did take that one-day excursion to meet Leon in Pittsburgh, which I accidentally referred to as DC) on March 16, 1941. So there are two ways to interpret what Leon wrote to her just a few days earlier, on March 12:

Elly sweetheart — your oh-so-welcome letter started this otherwise windy and grey day allegro giocoso. Great news! From now on I wish you’d think of doing your laundry, washing your hair, and taking the “schvitsbud” a little sooner when “due”. As soon as I read the glad tidings, I unpacked my bag and notified the Foreign Legion I wasn’t coming after all.

Happy announcement that nothing will interfere with their plans for the coming weekend? Or happy announcement that they didn’t need to step up the wedding planning? Either way, it’s obvious what he’s referring to. (And “allegro giocoso” is a musical term instructing the musician to play “merrily.”)

I wonder why Elly did laundry, washed her hair, and went to a sauna, but didn’t think about wearing a white skirt? Maybe that particular solution to the problem only works after Memorial Day.

Let’s talk about sex

Sex manuals have been around since the Greeks and Romans. A writer and publisher named Richard Carlile published the first modern, accurate sex manual in 1825. But I always assumed that actual sex education classes  were an artifact of the 1960s or 1970s, a reaction to previous generations’ attitude of “don’t talk about it, don’t do it, and if you do, don’t get caught.” So I was surprised by what I read between the lines of Leon’s Feb. 26, 1941 letter — namely, that Elly was in some kind of sex education class or discussion group. I’m not sure whether it was part of her classes at Case Western or something she was doing through the Communist Youth Organization, but either way, it sounds like it was much more progressive than anything I’d thought had existed at the time.

Your youth course sounds extremely interesting. I should like very much to take such a course myself as I think fellows — generally, of course — are much more ignorant of the mechanisms of the sex organs (and sex relationships generally) than girls and I know there is plenty my darling will have to explain to me. Some dopes make babies by the hit-and-miss method but not us, huh? Still they turn out some pretty fair jobs - - - . It really is scandalous — the general ignorance of this supremely important question, let alone even knowledge of prevention and cures of venereal disease. No wonder the disseminators of pornographic literature have such rife pickings. “L” once said — “the bourgeois system offers the youth only red-light districts as a solution for their sex problems” (free quotation) True, of course, however he speaks here of the male “solution”. What happens to destitute females I need not comment on. He points out, too, that if immorality and looseness becomes prevalent in slum districts, etc. it is done not only to the brutal system which forces this method of livelihood and social relationship, but also to the fact that the working class is affected by contagion (the moral bankruptcy of the ruling class whose attitude toward marriage is merely the offensive gratification of the ruler’s desire or the selling for “position” of the female.) One sees how lightly the question of marriage is treated in the usual Hollywood plot, etc. not to mention the day-in day-out newspaper reports of this or that socialite’s third wife marrying her fifth husband. Tommy Manville* is merely one of the boys who has out-swapped most of his “classmates” — his integrity remains intact!

Okay, I’ll quit, sweets. But someday you and I will give this question a thorough raking no? Put that on our list, too, if there’s any room left.

*Tommy Manville was a Kardashian of his day — a Manhattan socialite who inherited an asbestos fortune and promptly set about spending it on one wife after another. In fact, his string of marriages earned him celebrity status, and eventually a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records. At the time Leon wrote this letter, Manville was 47 years old and married to wife #5. By his death in 1967 at age 73, he had been married 13 times to 11 women — he married two of them twice — and had spent more than $1 million on divorce settlements.

I can’t help wondering whether Leon and Elly ever heard this hip-hop classic from 1990, and if they did, what they thought of the message it was trying to send.

The coarse, the crude, the unspeakable.

Leon couldn’t go see a play and not give his opinion of it — which, in the case of “Tobacco Road,” was mixed. As he wrote on Feb. 25, 1941:

I had to finish my last letter so fast that I didn’t even have time to comment briefly on “Tobacco Road”. I fear we saw a cleaned-up version of it, although there was plenty of the coarse, the crude, the unspeakable. I remember you said you and Phil (I think) got down on the floor to re-dramatize (I was going to say recreate) and I used to wonder what the hell that scene was about. So! You’ve been “horsing”! But I forgive you, sweets, as I used to horse around myself. Seriously, I was disappointed by the failure of the playwright to capitalize on a wonderfully-rich-in social significance-theme to put across the message of the starving south. At times it seemed like nothing more than a burlesque show with sharecropper stage scenery. The second act in particular — the scene where the banker tells Jeeter he’ll have to scram — could have afforded a magnificent opportunity to lay bare the whole process of exploitation in the south but no! the scene subsides midway in the process of building toward a dramatic climax. One redeeming feature — other than the “broad” humor which Scummy Rosenberg relishes — was the extra-fine portrayal of Jeeter Lester by John Barton. Did he play the role when you saw it?

John Barton (here in costume as Jeeter Lester) went on to play the role on Broadway for revivals in 1942 and 1943.