Bill “Not Billy” Beal

Bill Beal at Turner-Phifer-Underwood-Robinson Family Reunion 07-21-2012I’ve been working like crazy transcribing interviews and editing videos to try to get them ready for the Vine Street Reunion at the end of this month. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed talking with Bill Beal at a 2012 family reunion. (He’s been trying to shed the “Billy” nickname as long as I’ve been trying to retire “Kenny.”)

Bill was one half of one of my favorite photos from Smelterville in 1967. He said he was 10 or 11 when I shot the picture with him, Margaret Turner and a cat. His sister, Fay Beal Powders, said “Not many people had cats, but mother let us have cats because I loved them.” Bill, she said, was a twin, and so was Margaret, his cousin.

Bill and Margaret

Smelterville 06-04-1967 27He dropped out of Central High School when he was 17 and went into the military. “I wanted to get out of Cape and I wanted to better myself. I was a ground pounder [in Vietnam]. Carried an M60 around.”

“A scrawny guy like you carried an M60?” I interjected.

“A big M60 and belts,” he said. “Then I got into sniper. I really enjoyed that. It’s not all what they say it’s cut out to be,” he continued. “When you go into sniper, you might be off in that drain pipe over yonder and you have to sit there for two or three days. You can’t move, and that’s it. I mean, bugs bite you and you can’t move. Snakes run across you and you can’t move.”

“Would you do that part of it again?” I asked.

“Yessir. In a heartbeat. In a heartbeat, I would.”

Dad was a truckdriver

Turner-Phifer-Underwood-Robinson Family Reunion 07-21-2012Bill’s dad was a truck driver for the cement plant until he died of a massive heart attack when Bill was about 8 or 9. When he got out of the military, he thought, “maybe truck driving is in my blood.” He’s been an owner-operator for more than three decades, and “I put three stepkids through college.”

That’s Bill’s sister, Fay, with him.

Happy memories of Smelterville

Bill Beal and "Tube" Wren Smelterville 06-05-1967Echoing the sentiment I’ve heard from everyone I’ve interviewed, Bill had happy memories of growing up in Smelterville: “We didn’t go hungry. We weren’t dirty. We weren’t nasty. We had clean clothes. All the relatives, we lived together. It was like a little community down there like you’d have up in the mountains. Everybody knew everybody in that community.”

Bill is on his bike in the foreground.

“Back then, we didn’t care what nationality you were or what color. We all got along. You’d go out and get into a fight right now, then later on that night, you were all sleeping on a pallet or in a bed together. It didn’t make no difference. You all ate at the same place. If momma cooked something or grandma cooked, or whoever cooked, everybody ate. We didn’t care who you were or where you came from. Even the – they called them hobos that used to ride the trains and such – momma and grandma even fed them.”

Life could be hard

Smelterville 06-04-1967 12“We had the community pump. Later on in life, we actually had running water in the house, once we ran lines into the house. We still had wood stoves. We didn’t have any propane gas or anything like that. We always moved up north for the floods. Then, when the river went back down, we went in and scrubbed the floors and walls, threw the snakes out and rebuilt what had to be rebuilt to make it livable.”

Looking back at the pictures, he said, “brings back memories. After so many years, you don’t remember, but once you start back looking, yeah, it brings back memories of where we come from and where we are today. You know, what we went through to get where we’re at.”

That’s Bill on the left next to his cousin, Mary Jean Phifer. The baby name is unknown. The two boys at the right are Mark Turner, Margaret Turner’s twin brother, and “Jim Dandy” Wren.

Other Smelterville stories


Eugene Beckett’s Smelterville Treasures

Eugene Austin Beckett MapI hinted yesterday that I many have to cut back on blog posts while I rush to finish an update to my Smelterville stuff before the Vine Street Reunion July 25-27 and put together a workshop in Athens, Ohio, in August.

I’ve spent most of the past week editing video interviews. Today I waded through emails and comments from people who talked about Smelterville. That’s where I stumbled across a treasure trove of information. Just about this time last year, I got an email from Eugene Beckett. He said he had some photos of the area in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, plus a map that he had put together showing many of the landmarks. I asked if he could send me the info.

Consigned to the Future Basket

When it arrived, I looked at it hurriedly and put it in my Future Basket. Well, today, I took a closer look and was floored by what he had sent.

It dovetailed directly with my workshop topic. He did everything I’m going to encourage the participants to do

  • 1. Make or collect the photographs
  • 2. Document when they were taken
  • 3. Write a description of what they show.

(Basically all the stuff I wish I had done for the past half century)

He went the extra step of producing the map of an area that doesn’t exist today.

Legend for map

1   –  City Pump. The only water between the railroad and the river.
2   –  Funny Ferrell’ Store
3   –  Ben Cannon’s Church
4   –  Old foundation of the Lead Smelter plant
5   –  Central Packing Co.
6   –  Fish Market
7   –  River Navigating Light
8   –  Blue Hole Garden Barbecue (the old Blue Hole Garden was at the bottom of toll-gate hill where they build the new hwy.)
9   –  Standard Oil Service Station
10 –  Federal Material Co. Office
11  – Kelley’s Store
12  – Sandy Beach.
13  – John Deiteker’s Store
14  – Lane’s Market
15  – Railroad switch house
16  – Booker T’s scrap yard

I told Curator Jessica that she needs to find a Eugene who has done that kind of documentation in the scores of old coal towns in SE Ohio that are ghost towns or merely memories. The goal of our workshop is to encourage people to go out today to start the documentation that will be invaluable in 30 or 50 years. I’m just beginning to realize what a resource my files are, and I’d like to encourage others to produce similar collections.

Living in Houck Woods during flood

Sarah Addie Bequette Houck Wood escaping flood in 1940s courtesy Eugene Beckett_11aOne of Eugene’s photos is of his grandmother, Sarah Addie Bequette in a tent village in the Houck Woods up Tollgate Hill where Smelterville residents fled Mississippi River floodwaters. I’m going to guess this was the Flood of 1943. I had read accounts of that, but here is an actual photograph of one of those refugees. Eugene also wrote an extensive biography of Mrs. Bequette.

Here’s why his detective work and captions are so important: if you look at the photo without the background, you might think she’s on a camping trip or that there’s a tent revival set up in the background. Filling in that detail about the flood places it in historical context.

Thanks to Eugene for sharing his family documentation.

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Smelterville: Rose DePree

Ruth Depree Smelterville 06-04-1967 9Here’s part of the Smelterville project I’ve been working on since the middle ’60s. I was lucky enough to track down Rose DePree in the summer of 2011 to see what she remembered about growing up in South Cape, as The Missourian called it.

[Editor’s note: an earlier version of this post contained an embarrassing error: even though I had interviewed Rose DePree in 2011, someone identified her as Ruth Depree in the 1967 photographs, so I didn’t go back to check my notes. There’s a chance there will be more people misidentified because I’ve been given different names for some subjects by different people. Memories fade and kids look different than remembered. I’m sorry for the error.]

Didn’t know we were poor

Ruth DePree 08-19-2011_3816I don’t really remember bad things. I just remember that we were all one family. It was totally different than it is today. We couldn’t address an adult by their first name. It was either Miss, Auntie or Uncle. I just remember having fun. I don’t remember bad things. I didn’t even remember we were this poor until I saw the pictures.

Three-bedroom shotgun house

Ruth Depree Smelterville 06-05-1967 12There was ten of us. My oldest brother worked in St. Louis, but he’d come back on the weekend. The rest of us lived right there. It was a shotgun house. There was two bedrooms in that house, I believe. No, there were three bedrooms in there. All of the girls slept in one bedroom, and all the boys slept in a room, then my mother had a room.

We had a wooden stove. We might have had lights, maybe, eventually, but we started off with oil lamps. I remember the wooden stove. Mama would get up early – or one of my brothers – and make sure the wood was in the stove, and get the house warm so the rest of us kids could get up in the morning.

I remember we took a bath in this big round tub. That’s how we took baths. We had an outside toilet. I was always the chicken. I didn’t like to go outside at night, so Mama would always have to go outside with me ’cause I wouldn’t go on out there at night. I don’t really remember if we had running water in the house. I don’t think we did. I’m pretty sure just about everyone had a pump in the back of their house. When you’d go out the back door, you’d have your pump, then a little further out, you’d have your outhouse. We didn’t know what toilet paper was. We used brown paper bags.

[That’s Rose swinging. The other children are  Leonora “Honeycone” Beal, Andy Lyons and Beatrice “Bea” Wren. The baby is unidentified.]

Cape was very segregated

Smelterville Ruth Depree and granddaughter 08-19-2011_3824Cape was very segregated. Very. Very. I remember when Martin Luther King got killed in Memphis, All the black families, it touched them. They came up to the school. I didn’t know what was going on; all of the parents came up and took us out of school. I remember my mother crying. We really didn’t associate with white folks like we do now… I didn’t really start being friends with white people – you know, children my age – until I was in about the 5th or 6th grade.

In the 6th grade, my best friend was [unknown], and she was a white girl. But, I know her father was really prejudiced. When I’d go over to her house, she’d always want me to spend the night. I heard him tell her one day, “No nigger ain’t staying in here.” I went home and told my mama. She said, “That’s the way white folks look at us. Don’t you EVER, EVER, if she ever asks you to spend the night again, you tell her ‘No.’ It ain’t nothing against the child, but with the parent feeling that way, I wouldn’t feel good about you staying there.”

When we moved up on college street, there were black and white families and we all played together. My best friend was Clara; I went to her house and her mother never acted like that or nothing. As far as she was concerned, we were just a child., you know. Kids these days don’t know nothing about prejudice. You’ve got some that have messed-up families, that still have that mentality.

[Rose is pictured with her granddaughter, Ja’Nya Brand.]

 It’s all gone

Smelterville 06-04-1967 4I didn’t remember we had street buses. My mom said she used to pay a dime to come up town to work, to clean houses and stuff.

I remember the Sterling store because when my momma got paid, she used to alway try to give us a nickel or a dime and we’d go to the Sterling store to shop, you know, downtown.

It’s all gone. There used to be a whole community there.

[Pecan Street youngsters: Rose, Alice Depree, Leonora Beal, Sheila Wren and Beatrice Wren. Click on the photos to make them larger.]

Earlier Smelterville stories


Clinton Wren Remembers Smelterville

Former Smelterville resident Clinton Wren, photographed as a child c 1966-67.I’ve got to get on the ball if I want to have an updated version of my Smelterville project out by this summer. Clinton Wren and I took refuge in Long John Silver’s on a scorching hot day in July 2011 while he talked about growing up in South Cape. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

Everybody was loved

Smelterville“Everybody was loved,” he said. “Everybody was family. If one done something, another parent would take care of you. Everybody’s parent looked after you. It wasn’t like now, you know. It was one community of love. I’ve got good remembrances from there, you know. Some of that made me the man that I am now.”

Floods and chopping wood

Hogs in Smelterville 08-01-1967“Worst thing was the floods and high water. Actually, coming back in and lots of cleaning to do. After that ’73 flood, we didn’t come back after that. We went through two floods before finally Mama made the decision to move out.

“I’ll tell you another thing – making fire, too. Going out there in the cold and chopping wood; that’s another thing coming back to me. Outside bathrooms. We had some hogs back there, too. That might have been our hog pen, but I don’t remember us having that many pigs.”

A quarter went a long way

Smelterville 06-05-1967“Henry Warfield was in the construction business. Sold a lot of lumber; tore down a lot of houses. There used to be a couple of big houses at Morgan Oak and Frederick. He just tore down stuff all over the city. He’d haul it down there and salvage what he could salvage. He’d save all the bricks. You can drive all over this city and see brick homes built with those bricks. Cleaning bricks… Made a lot of money then.

“We always had a little money. Of course a quarter was quite a bit of money. We’d get a quarter a month allowance. A quarter went a long way. After school we’d work for Henry. Maybe make 50 cents or a dollar, depending on what he was doing. Brick work, you’d make a little bit more money. A quarter was quite a bit of money in those days.”

Other Smelterville stories