Pool of Seduction

I bet that title got your attention.

If you’ve ever been in our research room at the Historical Society’s headquarters, you’ve seen that we have a lot of books.  However, the books on our open shelves are only part of our collection.  We have school books, rare religious texts, histories of local schools and businesses, but my favorite part of the collection are the novels written by locals.

Way back when we started this blog, I told you about Charles Heber Clark, a best-selling author and rival of Mark Twain, who lived in Conshohocken.  Today I have the books of Howard R. Watt, a Norristown native who took up writing (or at least publishing his writing) in his retirement.

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Howard R. Watt’s author photo

Watt was born and raised in Norristown.  He attended Norristown High School and William Penn Charter School before entering Princeton.  After graduating in 1917, he returned to Norristown and eventually took over the family business, Watt Woolen Mill.

He retired in 1949, and it seems, took up writing as a hobby.  His first book, The King’s Pardon, was published in Great Britain in 1958.  It’s the story of the young Marquis de Tourville and the poor but beautiful Andrienne de Savoie.  The Evening Chronicle in Manchester said it was “altogether a clever and delightfully told story.”

The front cover of Alert All Ships from Amazon.com

He followed up his first book with Alert All Ships, also published in Britain.  It continues the story of the Marquis’ son, René, a physician in revolutionary Philadelphia.  The same year, Alert All Ships came out (1962), his first book was released as a paperback in the US.  The title was changed from The King’s Pardon to the much racier Pool of Seduction.

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The books did not become bestsellers (though they’re not all that bad).  Howard R. Watt died in 1967 after breaking his hip in a fall at his 50th college reunion.  His obituary doesn’t mention his books at all, but I’m sure he was proud of them.  The three books in our collection were all donated by Watt himself, and he inscribed the first one to the Historical Society.

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The Brothers of the Brush

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LaVerne F. “Red” Lane

A few months ago, we received a collection of items belonging to LaVerne F. “Red” Lane, donated by his daughter. In her letter to us, she explained that the top hat and bowtie were worn by her father during the Norristown Sesquicentennial in 1962.  She sent along a photo of him wearing them at the celebration and also mentioned that he was a member of the Brothers of the Brush.

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Hat and tie worn by Red Lane at the Norritown Sesquicentennial, May 1962

This caught my attention, and I did a little digging. I found some of Red Lane’s fellow Brothers of the Brush among our collection of photographs from the Sesquicentennial.  There were quite a few photos of dapperly dressed men with well-groomed beards and mustaches! Many are even wearing the same bowtie we now have in our collection.

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There are also some short articles from the newspaper which date to just before the Sesquicentennial, which took place in May. The Brothers of the Brush seem to have had a great following in Norristown, and they seem like a fun bunch of gentlemen.

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“Bearded Brothers Groomed”

February 1, 1962— “Bearded Brothers Groomed: Good grooming is the mark of a “Brother of the Brush,” according to the “Brothers,” pictured above who were among the visitors at the first Men’s Night held at Mary Allen’s Beauty Salon Wednesday evening.  Shown from the left are Mayor Merritt W. Bosler, Leon Nester Sr., chairman of the “Brothers of the Brush”; Jack Wilson, whose mustache is tinted by Mary Allen, president of the Montgomery County Hair dressers and Cosmetologists Association, and Norristown Councilman Claude Tyson.”

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“Burial Detail Assigned to Razor”

April 3, 1962— “Burial Detail Assigned to Razor: Above, a somber and presumably sad contingent of mourners carries a wooden replica of an old-fashioned razor to a point on the DeKalb Street bridge over the Schuylkill. They then consigned the razor to a watery resting place, symbolically proclaiming that the men of Norristown have no use for razors, or shaving, during the celebration of the Borough’s Sesquicentennial.  Shown from the left, are Francis Denner, Samuel Hertzler, William Edwards, Paul Weidomoyer, Harry Haupt, and William Santillo, pallbearers for the impressive, tongue-in-cheek burial ritual.”

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The Brothers of the Brush even got the youngsters involved, although they may have had to wait awhile for their beards and mustaches.

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“Junior Fuzzy Brushes Organized”

April 10, 1962— “Junior Fuzzy Brushes Organized: The Junior Fuzzy Brushes, fraternal ward of the Norristown Brothers of the Brush, came into official existence Monday night during an organizational meeting in the Lincoln School. The new unit, with membership open to boys aged from 4 to 18, is sponsored by the Westmar Chapter of the Brothers of the Brush.  The junior group will now assume an active and enthusiastic part in the Borough’s Sesquicentennial Celebration.”

 

Do any of our readers have memories of the Brothers of the Brush, or were you or someone you know part of the organization?  We would love to hear!

R. C. Titlow, Cabinetmaker and Undertaker

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Small chair made by RC Titlow

Earlier this year, we received a call from a woman with a chair she thought we might like for our collection. It turns out that this chair had a label on the bottom showing that it was made in Norristown, Pennsylvania, AND it had the name of the craftsman, R. C. Titlow!

 

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Label from underside of chair seat “R. C. Titlow Cabinet Maker and Undertaker Main St. Norristown, Pa”

I did some digging and came up with some more information.

 

Reuben C. Titlow announced the opening of his business in Norristown with a notice in The Norristown Register and Montgomery Democrat on May 22, 1844.  Here’s what it said:

 

“Reuben C. Titlo Respectfully informs the public that he has commenced the cabinet making business in the shop lately occupied by Jerome Walnut, in the lower end of the Borough of Norristown, where he will be happy to wait on all those who desire furniture. The newly married are especially invited to call.  His furniture is made of good materials and durable.  He endeavors to gain credit by the manufacture of good furniture and therefore does not slight his work; his desire is to furnish people with furniture in the future, and not get a job once, and by slighting it, never receive their patronage again.  His work is not made by apprentices.

Old furniture repaired in a superior manner, at short notice.

By strict attention to business, prompt execution of orders, and moderate prices, he hopes to receive a liberal share of public patronage.

He would also beg leave to inform the public that he carries on the coffin making business, and can wait on all those who may desire his services. Having a hearse, he will attend on funerals in the country.

Reuben C. Titlo.”

 

A few years later in 1847, he moved his store and advertised in The Norristown Times Herald and Free Press.  Below you can read the ad:

 

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Advertisement from the Norristown Herald and Free Press

 

It seems that the apprentice he advertised for was found in David Y. Mowday. According to Bean’s History of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Mowday learned cabinet-making and undertaking from Titlow, for whom he was an apprentice and later a journeyman.  Mowday was very successful and his business lasted well after his death.  Undertaking became the main focus and Mowday Funeral Home continued well into the 20th century.

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D.Y. Mowday from Bean’s History of Montgomery County

 

Aside from information about Reuben Titlow’s business, I also found information about his life. The newspaper announced his marriage to Sarah B. Levering of Barren Hill on the 21st of November, 1844, by the Reverend Frederick R. Anspach.  He died February 12, 1858, at the age of 41.  The inventory of his estate lists quite a bit of furniture, including bureaus, chairs, and bedsteads.  There were also 16 coffins.  His wife survived him, and in the 1860 Norristown Business Directory she is listed as a widow with “Cabinet ware rooms North Side Egypt (now Main) Street above Green, house same address.”  An interesting fact is that David Y. Mowday began his business the same year Titlow died, in 1858.

 

Although I could find no images of him, you can visit Reuben C. Titlow’s grave in Historic Montgomery Cemetery! He’s buried in Lot Q-33/34 with a Masonic symbol on his headstone.  Check our website to find out more about Historic Montgomery Cemetery.

Joseph Amodeo

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Last week, I described the papers of Cleopatra McClellan Nelson, which were left in a grocery bag by our back door in 2013.  Mrs. Nelson’s papers weren’t the only ones in that bag.  It also contained the papers of Joseph Amodeo.  If there was a connection between Nelson and Amodeo, I wasn’t able to find it, so I don’t know how their papers wound up together.

Nevertheless, in Amodeo’s papers we can also see the interesting life of an ordinary person.

Born in Norristown in 1917, Joseph Amodeo’s parents were immigrants from Sicily.  His father owned a shoe shop at 303 East Moore Street in Norristown.  Joseph began working in the shop as a boy, eventually inheriting it after his mother’s death.

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Amodeo stayed in the shop for decades as his brothers and sisters grew up and moved away.  His papers give us little hints about them.  There is a letter from his brother Charles who was stationed in San Francisco while serving in the Signal Corps.  His brother Harry got into some trouble with the police.

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He seems to have straightened out and also served in the military during World War II.

As I often do when writing a blog post about a particular person, I did a little sleuthing on the internet.  It was helpful, but I also discovered some of the shortcomings of internet research.

I found the Amodeo family in the 1940 census.  The census taker’s handwriting isn’t great, and here’s what he wrote for Joseph’s occupation:

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Since I know something about Mr. Amodeo’s life, I know that this says “shoemaker.”  The person who transcribed this record, however, interpreted this as “stenographer.”  Always check the original.  I also found him on findagrave.com where he has a spouse listed, “Mary Maria Amodeo.”  Mr. Amodeo never married; it’s possible this is referring to his sister Mary.

Still, I can say with some confidence that Joseph did not go into the military, as his brothers did.  Among his papers was this proclamation on “aliens of enemy nationalities.”  His mother, Anna Amodeo, would have fallen under the category of “enemy alien.”

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Joseph Amodeo continued to work in his shop, a mainstay on the East End of Norristown, while the neighborhood around him changed.  I found a great article on him from the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1994.  The article makes a reference to an old stitching machine.  Perhaps it was the same machine his father Melchiorre (Menzi) Amodeo purchased in 1931.

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In the article, “Mr. Joe” seems determined to stay on E. Moore Street.  The Norristown phone book lists him there until 2003.  He died in 2004 and is buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.