This One is on Me
The life-story of an old doctor who saw many changes in medicine,
in industry, in social customs, and the world in general

By Dr. James Lee Fisher
Edited by Eric Davis & Elizabeth Fisher Davis, 1997

Including a collection of photographs from dry plate glass negatives taken by his father, George Elmer Fisher, a telegrapher on the Panhandle Railroad.

Every man should leave some record of himself. I do not remember my Grandfather Fisher and never saw Grandfather Goff, but I would like to know how they lived, what they believed in and how they met the problems of their day. They left no record.

Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, "Every man is an omnibus in which all his ancestors ride." Being something of an ancestor now, it seems proper to put down some things about me so that my descendants will know how I lived and perhaps thus know themselves better.

James Lee Fisher , 1977

Table of Contents
Chapter I - Carnegie, Pennsylvania, 1895-1903
Chapter II - Freeport, Pennsylvania, 1903-1906
Chapter III - New Castle, Pennsylvania, 1906-1915
Subject Index to the Photographs of George Elmer Fisher
Fisher Family History Web Site
Goff Family Sheet: 1550-1754 (92 KB)
Goff Family Sheet: 1754-1885 (178 KB)

Chapter I
Carnegie, Pennsylvania

I was born August 14th, 1895 in Carnegie, Pa., the fourth child of George Elmer and Anna Martha (GOFF) Fisher. The gruesome details of my birth were often related to me by my mother. It seems that she had a contracted pelvis and bearing children was extremely difficult. The first two children were stillborn, one boy and one girl. Then came my brother George Ross Fisher [born March 15, 1887], who was born prematurely without much trouble. She was advised by old Doc Mendenhall not to have any more children but eight years later Father took her to the World's Fair in Chicago and she came back pregnant.

 Her return from Chicago was precipitate because of the death of her father, James Thumwood Goff who was a prosperous farmer near Frazeysburg, Ohio. He was driving across a ford in [Wakatomika] Creek between Dresden and Trinway in his buggy when he was accidentally drowned. It was said that he was drinking in Dresden and this made my Mother a militant prohibitionist.

 Mother was born on a farm near Frazeysburg, the daughter of James Thumwood Goff [son of Thomas Goff and Mary Ann Mart] and Nancy Ellen [Dunn] Goff. They were prosperous farm people and their table always was loaded with good food: fresh milk & butter from the spring house, hams from the smoke house, chickens and eggs from the hen house. Their own honey, fruits and baked bread were common fare. For dessert they served "float", a cornstarch pudding with whipped cream or "ambrosia", a mixture of fruit with shredded coconut. My mother was always a farm girl interested in birds, flowers and gardens, but most of all in home-making. She was scornful of father's efforts to raise vegetables and flowers. He was a town boy.

 Grandma Nancy [Ellen DUNN] Goff was a quiet and gentle person. At sixty she was a wrinkled old lady in a black bonnet with ribbons under her chin who lived in succession with her married children Lee, Thumwood, Henrietta, Frank and Anna. Whenever there was a birth or sickness, she was there. When she stayed too long with one, the others were jealous and would send for her.

Grandfather [James Wilson] Fisher [son of George Fisher & Sybilla Margaret Shamel] was said (by my mother) to have been a fine man. He was the station agent at Adams Mills, Ohio on the Panhandle Railroad which he helped to build. It is now the Fort Wayne Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. He died a few years after I was born and I do not remember him. Grandmother [Margaret (Long)] Fisher and her two daughters Ella and Rose were cordially hated by my mother. I thought they were alright but too mushy, always kissing me.

My birth was extremely long and difficult, and was accomplished by forceps, which were a new invention in those days, and only used as a last resort. I bear the scar on my forehead to this day in a location which to any obstetrician would mean a very unskillful application of the instruments. My eight year old brother looked at me and thought I was a mess.

My earliest recollection is about the turn of the Century. I can remember George running into the house saying, "Look ma, I've got some more 1900 Calendars!" Another early memory was when I was four years old and father would come home from work. He would seat me on the palm of his hand and hoist me up as high as he could reach. It never frightened me. He was a man who loved life.

My father [George Elmer Fisher] was a telegrapher on the Pennsylvania Railroad making thirty dollars a month for a twelve hour day. He was a handsome man, a telegrapher in an isolated tower on the Pennsylvania Railroad somewhere between Pittsburgh and Columbus. He left his one-room red schoolhouse about the fifth grade, to be a water boy for a section gang where his father was a foreman. How he learned telegraphy I do not know, but he could read and write and figure well enough and someone taught him telegraphy and the Morse Code which was a new thing then (ca. 1875). At the age of nineteen or twenty (ca. 1883-4), he was installed in a signal tower along the railroad at Frazeysburg, a telegrapher who clacked back and forth to the train dispatcher; received messages, set the signals, and pulled big levers which set the switches. I was never told the details of the romance between the young telegraph operator from Adams Mills [Ohio], and the plain farmer's daughter of Frazeysburg. It was an incongruous match, but it lasted for 60 years, fighting all the way.

Father was interested in photography and bought a camera from our family doctor [Dr. R. L. Walker of Carnegie, PA]. It cost $60 and mother was furious because that was two months pay. It was a big thing mounted on a tripod and he focused by covering his head with a velvet cover while he looked at a ground glass image upside down. After focusing he inserted the gelatin coated plates and everyone kept still for two or three seconds while he pressed the lever. It took clear, sharp pictures if you did everything right. He was always taking pictures, mostly of people. He mixed his own developer and fixer. He developed the glass negatives in a darkroom and printed the pictures by sunlight. I still have the camera in our attic [now in the possession of Eric & Liz Davis]. It is an antique collector's item. I have an album of pictures taken by it which are priceless records of our early family life [see the linked images from this page].

 We lived in a rented house in a decent part of town. It had 6 rooms and we were proud of the inside toilet with a big box high up on the wall with a long chain to pull. Mother cooked on a big coal stove in the kitchen and we had a cozy fire in the dining room with a big fender in front with brass knobs on it. We had a fire in the parlor when company came but mostly we lived in the dining room. I can remember how father would put slack on the fire at bedtime so it would keep. Mother would put a big jar of buckwheat batter on the fender to raise and when I started up the stairs I could see the firelight flickering on the brass knobs, and the big glazed pot, and knew there would be buckwheat cakes in the morning and the world was good.

 Our cellar had a dirt floor and rough stone walls. It was reached by steps from the outside and usually smelled of apples which we kept down there in barrels. We had no refrigeration of any kind and it was a problem to keep milk and bread and butter. Mother baked all her own bread and there was usually a jar of ginger cookies in the pantry. We had a small yard in front with a picket fence and gate, and a large yard in the back usually filled with my brother's pets.

 George loved pets. We always had a dog and rabbits. Besides [these] there were guinea pigs, white rats, chickens, sometimes ducks and usually pigeons. Every time he would go out to uncle Lee's or Thum's at Trinway he would come home with turtles or ducks which would be turned loose in the yard. There was a high board fence around it but they were always getting out and being searched for through the neighborhood.

 George was not very popular with the neighbors, especially around Halloween. Those days Hallowe'en was a succession of nights starting with corn night, then gate night, then privy night, and ending with Halloween proper when all Hell broke loose. On corn night the boys threw corn against the windows, on gate night many a bonfire was fed by wooden gates, and the morning after privy night there was much snickering among the boys and angry threats by irate householders. To have one's privy pushed over was the height of indignity and very inconvenient, besides. After Hallowe'en there were always indignation meetings and vows to punish the culprits if caught, but they never were.

 In the winter the sleighs used to drive past our house and when we heard the bells we always ran out and tried to hop on the runners for a free ride. The drivers would whip their horses which added to the sport, and it was often more dangerous to get off than it was to hop on. But falls in the snow never hurt us and we never minded the cold. There was skating on Chartiers Creek and we all had skates which clamped on, and were secured by a skate strap. They were always coming off, especially if our heels were worn down. Father was an excellent skater and thought nothing of skating up to Bridgeville and back, a distance of ten or twelve miles. He enjoyed skating until he was in his seventies when he fell and banged his head on the ice and didn't know where he was for a while. Then he quit.

 My father was a handsome man with black hair and a black mustache. He was active in the Methodist Church and sang in the choir. He had a way with the ladies and mother was very jealous. She worked hard and kept borders. At our table there were usually two borders and one or two relatives and on Sunday a visiting minister or missionary. They always seemed to come to our house. Father was very agreeable and especially kind to the ladies. He played the violin, the cornet and the banjo, all self taught, and knew a lot of funny songs. The neighbors came over on a summer evening to hear him play the banjo and sing [songs like] "Kentucky Babe". He taught me the songs and I would sing with him.

 Anyway, we had a happy home. We envied nobody and when the end of the month came Mother would take the book to the grocery, Mr. Kumpf would add up the items, she would pay the bill and he would give her a bag of candy for the kids. Mr. Porter would come around and collect the rent, a little would be put in the bank and we were all set. All of this out of thirty dollars a month!

 When I was eight years old there was trouble with Father's job. He expected to be promoted to train dispatcher and didn't get his promotion. He had joined the union, the Order of Railroad Telegraphers, and he thought he had been found out. They usually fired men who joined a union those days, and membership was kept a secret. He was very unhappy and dissatisfied. About that time, he met a man who was a broker and was looking for a telegrapher.

This man was not a broker as known today. His firm had no seat on the New York Stock Exchange. He operated what was later known as a "bucket shop". His firm had an office in New York which leased a telegraph wire connected with any town where they cared to open an office. The office in New York would relay quotations on the prices of stocks to their outlying offices where traders could buy and sell stocks on margin. The margin then was three points which meant that a man could buy any stock for three dollars a share. He could also sell stock he didn't have at three dollars a share. If he thought a stock was going up, he could buy 100 shares for $300. If he thought it would go down he could sell 100 shares for $300. If stock cost $100 a share he could buy 100 shares, not for $10,000 but for $300 on margin. If it went against him he could put up another $300 margin or be wiped out. If it went with him, he could take his profit and get out. He didn't own the stock, he was betting on which way it would go. It was gambling but at that time it was not illegal. All that Father knew was that he was offered a job at more than he was making, but he had to move to another town.

Chapter II
Freeport, Pennsylvania

So we moved to Freeport, Pennsylvania, up the Allegheny, thirty eight miles from Pittsburgh. It was a small town and we liked it there. We lived in a little house up on the hill on Washington Street on the edge of town where we had apple trees and peach trees, a well with a bucket and windlass, and the most delicious water you ever tasted. Down the walk a sensible distance (50 feet) from the dug well was the privy, a two-holer where flies buzzed lazily in the summer. In the winter it was not so inviting, so chambers were kept under the beds and night time would often find me on my knees by the bed for other purposes than prayers although they were not neglected.

 Strange to say, we were more advanced there in some ways than in Carnegie with its bathroom. We had gas lights and a gas stove in the kitchen. We bought an Edison phonograph with a big morning glory horn and listened to Collins and Harlan sing "Bake Dat Chicken Pie" and "The Preacher and the Bear". We bathed in a washtub on Saturday night in front of the kitchen stove and wore long woolen underwear and felt boots in winter.

 Up above us on the hill was the McCue farm where I went every day to get the milk. They had a big swing on a huge oak tree on the hillside and there were seldom less than three boys on it at a time swinging out in space and yelling to make it go higher. There was a spring there which fed two ponds where we skated in the winter and if we fell in when the ice was thin we ran home to get warm in the kitchen and put on some dry clothes.

 It was lovely there in the summer. On my tenth birthday my brother gave me a baseball and a new fielder's glove. Each of them cost a quarter and they were tops. He was a telegraph operator then at nineteen years of age on the Pennsylvania Railroad making fifty dollars a month and money was no object. The backyard was full of pets which mother cared for most of the time because he was working. I brought a stray black dog home one day and Mother threw a pan of water on him to chase him away. He was not completely discouraged by that and hung around and soon she was feeding him scraps from the table and he was one of the family. He had a kennel filled with straw out in the woodshed and I used to crawl in there and talk to him. We understood each other perfectly. No one can tell me that dogs can't talk. They just don't use our language.

 Father had a great deal of trouble with his bile while we lived in Freeport. The spells usually came on Sunday morning after he had been down to Pittsburgh on Saturday night. He would have violent pains in the abdomen with vomiting. Mother would send me down town to fetch the doctor. I would find him and go over to the livery stable and wait while they hitched up his horse so I could ride out to the house with him. The doctor said father's bile was too thick and gave him medicine and he would be out to work Monday. He took me with him several times to Pittsburgh and taught me to eat oysters on the half-shell.

 We had no telephone or electricity but when I used to visit my cousin, they had a telephone and when it would ring they used to let me listen. It was a party line and their ring was one long and two short but when it rang everybody on the line listened and the conversations were very interesting. It was a way of obtaining news about births and deaths and trouble and it made greater cohesion in the neighborhood.

 I had my first automobile ride in Freeport in 1905. It was a red roadster with two cylinders and when we were having a church lawn festival he brought it around and let everyone have a ride for ten cents. It was thrilling. We persuaded my Mother to get in the car but when he cranked up the motor she hopped out. Nobody was going to put anything over on her, she said.

 It was a great adventure to take the train to Pittsburgh for the day. The bustle and confusion of the traffic was exciting for a small-town boy. One had to be careful at crossings not to be knocked down and run over by the big horses pulling drays and beer wagons. Occasionally an automobile could be seen, but not often. It was standard procedure to go to Boggs & Buhl in Allegheny (now the North Side) for school clothes, then Kaufman's for lunch (always a hot roast beef sandwich), then in the afternoon I would have an ice cream soda at a drug store for five cents which was the highlight of the day.

 We lived in Freeport about three years and then Father announced that we were leaving to go to New Castle. I shall never forget that moving. All the crating and packing was done by ourselves. You didn't call a mover in those days, you packed everything yourself, then hired a man with a horse and wagon to haul the stuff to the freight station. Father was working in New Castle and Mother did all the packing and cried most of the time. We sold off George's pets, gave away our big tent, threw away countless old items which would now be priceless antiques and said goodbye to the Kelly's, the Mosses, and the McCues. My dog went along, riding in the baggage car. I have had a horror of moving ever since. My mother counted up in her later years that she had moved fifty times in her married life and every time we moved my antipathy increased.

Chapter III
New Castle, Pennsylvania

At first we lived on Boyles Avenue and I went to Highland Avenue School. It was a good town and father was making good money ($100.00 a month). There were steel mills there and the Greer tin Mill was the largest in the world. Across from the school was Boyles' field, an enormous meadow where we played baseball and where the high school games were played.

 My brother bought me a bicycle when I was twelve. I had a dog and there were good playmates. In the summer we went up to Second Dam on the Neshannock Creek to swim or skated up and down the sidewalks on roller skates. Polo was popular those days, played on roller skates like hockey and for a quarter we could go see the professionals play, then go out the next day and commit mayhem on each other. It was great to get on the front seat of a summer street car and ride out to Cascade Park which seemed the most beautiful place in the world, full of silvery fountains and music and the smell of popcorn.

 We lived in New Castle about eight years with a short interlude when we moved to Newark, Ohio for nearly a year. That was during a panic business depression about 1908 when Father was out of work and the brokerage office closed. He was an office manager then, sometimes running the wire himself and sometimes hiring an operator. Frequently the firm in New York with whom he had wire connections would fold up, they were not very stable and he would be out of business until he made new connections. The New York Stock Exchange was clamping down on these small firms which had no seat on the Exchange and it was getting difficult for them. This time it was bad and he had no wire so we went to live with Aunt Ett [Marietta McCann] in Newark and he went to work on the B & O Railroad.

 Newark, Ohio was a nice town. We had relatives there and in Trinway and always went visiting them in the summer. While living in Newark Mother sent me down the street to Della Slaters to take piano lessons. I liked music but it was hard to take lessons and practice when the other boys were out playing. Mother was a practical psychologist and used to praise everything I played and ask me to play them again, even the simple exercises, so she could hear them. So I would do it, just as a favor for her then run out and play with the boys. I never gave up the piano and later it was a great pleasure and comfort to me.

George Elmer Fisher Broker's business card  When father got wire connections again we went back to New Castle and lived at 126 Quest Street which wound up the hillside and was so steep that we would walk off the street at the front door and when we got back to the kitchen, the back porch was on the third floor. New Castle's hills made for a great sport in the winter, the coasting was thrilling. We made our skis out of tongue and groove flooring by planing the ends thin, soaking them in hot water and curving them upward. A leather strap was nailed across the middle to slip our toes in and we were all set. We would come down Quest Street at a great rate and if we could make the curve at the bottom and come out on North Street standing up we thought it was great. I never could jump, though. The skis always came off. There were a few automobiles those days but not many and they were not much of a hazard. When we were coasting or skiing they were supposed to keep out of our way.

 In 1909 I entered high school at the old school on the corner of North and East Streets. It was old and crowded. The upper grades went to school from 8:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. and the freshman from 1:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. Some of the teachers taught two grades and they had a long day. There were no junior high schools then.

 In 1911, my junior year, we went to the new high school up on Wallace Street. It seemed very nice to me, a big auditorium and a gymnasium. I went to school from 9:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. and then went downtown and cleaned Father's office for $3.50 a week, spittoons and all. In the summer I worked at the soda fountains in Love & McGowan drug store which was the center of social life for the younger set. People coming home from Cascade Park or the nickelodeon would stop in there for a nut sundae or a cherry dip and it was a lively place. I had long known that I was going to be a doctor and thought a drug store would be a good place to work but I never got near the prescription counter. Love and McGowan paid me $10.00 a week but I should have paid them for all the ice cream I ate.

 My first date with a girl was at the end of my Junior year when it was the custom to give a dinner-dance for the Seniors. I don't remember much about it as I was slightly delirious. Neither Gladys Anderson nor I danced but we watched the others and had a long talk and made great plans for next year.

 In my Senior year I was seventeen years old and beginning to realize that time was running out. The girls were looking very attractive to me but not vice versa. I was the youngest and smallest boy in class, a pale youth with pimples and having frequent bouts of tonsillitis. I belonged to the Boy Scouts, went to Sunday school regularly, and my dear cousin Goldye [McCann] had taught me to dance the waltz and two step the past summer, but Gladys had got herself a big lanky fellow and had no more time for me, and when the boys and girls paired off together during lunch period, nobody paired off with me except Harold Baer and Bill Stewart, and there was no romance in them. Something had to be done.

 When the call came for football, I reported to the squad. Nobody took me very seriously. I found an old torn pair of football pants in the locker room. I had my own jersey and Mother sewed up the pants and I went for practice. We practiced kicking and running and falling on the ball. The Coach put me at playing end on the second team and there I stayed. That satisfied me. My ambition was to play in the annual game between Juniors and Seniors which was as important to me as the game with Sharon or Butler. I worked hard at football practice but the best thing that could be said for me was that I was always there. The job of the second team was to take a pounding from the first team, and we sure took it. After practice I would run down and clean my father's office, go home and eat supper and then do my homework. We had study periods in school and I was smart enough to do most of my homework then. Marian Hover was a big help, too. She would do my Virgil translation while I would do her German. I would go down to the Methodist Church and take her home after choir practice on Friday nights. I took her to the Junior-Senior banquet that year and waltzed with her. When I was leaving for college, I asked her to kiss me good bye and she wouldn't do it. That's the way it was.

 When the Junior-Senior football game came up, I was ineligible because I was on the regular team and could not play in class games. I got in the big one that year with Sharon. We were way ahead when the coach sent me in and our team was penalized five yards on the first play because I was offside. I felt disgraced but nobody said anything. I was very surprised when I got my "N" to put on my jersey.

 The year was not a total loss. I was an honor student, ninth in the top ten of the class. It was the custom at graduation for each of the honor students to give an oration. My subject was "Modern Advances In Medicine". My material was collected from popular magazines and Sunday supplements and was pretty lurid. The High School auditorium was filled with fond parents and relatives of the class. Nobody could see my knees shaking because of my long black gown when I exhorted them to cooperate with these wonderful men of science who were doing so much for suffering humanity. When it was over, Dr. Womer of the Health Department congratulated me and offered his help in furthering my medical career. It was not necessary as I was already accepted at Jefferson Medical College [Philadelphia], but he was my friend for many years afterward.

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© Eric Davis 1997