Carol Sampson Feaster – Oral History

Friendless Child Stock Photo

Q – Were you baptized and if so, in what religion?

A – Protestant. It was a Presbyterian church. I was baptized in this church because I remember being dipped in the water. [First Presbyterian Church – Ed.]

Q- So you were older?

A – Yea, I was about 9 years old, that I remember that, I don’t know, I guess I was baptized as a baby. I lived at Ninth and Lawrence street and it was on 8th and Cooper, it was just one street over and one street down.

Q – I know there was a Catholic Church down there, Holy Name Church.

A – No, it was Presbyterian, cause they dipped you in the water.

Q – The whole body dipped in the water?

A – Yeah, you had like a robe on and they had an arm on your back and just leaned you back and dipped your whole face.

Q – What was the first home you remembered?

A – The first one I remembered was Fogarty Avenue. I remembered that and I remember, what’s when my sister Peggy, my half-sisters Peggy and her husband came to visit and Faye come down and they stayed for a while. I’m going to say she might have been around 16 she wasn’t married and Peggy had just gotten married. And her husband’s name was Stone, they called him Stoney.

Q – Dad says his first name was Harry.

A – I can remember Faye and her and I would lay on the couch and she would read to me and that’s the last time I ever saw her. I never saw them after that.

Q – They lived with you in 1930, that’s what dad said.

A – They didn’t stay, I don’t remember them staying.

Q – Do you remember any of the friends you had at that time?

A – The only ones I really remember was when I was older and I was in the Children’s home. I can remember one funny story, when I was in the first children’s home. It was right before my mother died or right after. They put us all in the Camden Home for Children on Haddon Avenue.

Q – The Home for the Friendless?

A – Yeah, the Home for the Friendless Children, and I was 9 and I had 3 kids to take care of besides myself. I had to make sure they had their baths and were ready to go to church on Sunday’s. They used to be inspected by the matron, to make sure they were all right and that you were doing your job alright. We’d walk to church and another girl, I can’t remember her name, but the living room on the first floor and we were on the 4th floor, the girls, and the boys were on the 3rd. We were down in the sewing room. Like every day, you didn’t have your own clothes, you just wore anything that fit you, you know, everything would be washed that night and then the next morning you were issued clothes that fit you and that’s what you wore. Like what you had on today, I might have worn yesterday. We were down there and we were putting them (the clothes) on the dumbwaiter. You had to pull it up till it was on the 4th floor and then I’m up there on the 4th floor taking them off and putting them away. And we got to fooling around, messing around and we’re hollering things up and down the dumbwaiter, “stick your head in, here comes a woodpecker” and it wasn’t her that was down there it was the sewing lady, Mrs. Fisher. And she was a lady and she had gray hair and it was up on a great big knot on top and she said “Who is that up there? You come down here.”

And I said to her, “I’m sorry, we were fooling around.” And she said, “You’re not supposed to be fooling around, you’re supposed to be working. She made me write 500 times, I must not say to Mrs. Fisher, ‘Stick your head in, here comes a woodpecker.’ 500 times, I had to go to her room, every afternoon around 4 o’clock and I had to sit there and write so many till I had 500 done.

You know, these were the things and eh… when, the dining room, when you went in there, you had to sing, and everybody marches 2 by 2 and you sing a song going in and then you’d say grace and then everybody sits down. They served Squash and it was mashed and it had no taste, they had no salt and pepper on the tables and you handed them you plate and they went ahead and filled it up and I said, “What is that?” And they said, “It’s squash, it’ll make you grow.” Well I couldn’t eat that, but you weren’t allowed to throw anything away, but like chicken bones or anything that was inedible, like bones of any kind. Everything else was edible. But I couldn’t eat this squash, so when I went up to take my plate back up, you scrape what was left in a big pan and then they put your plate on the table. So, I scraped it in but she caught me.

Well she said, “Young lady, come with me.” And she grabbed me by the ear and she took me into the kitchen. And I said, “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t eat that, it was making me sick.” And she said, “Well, you’re going to eat some.” She said, “That’s good for you though, it’s good for your bones and will make you grow.” and she’s going on with all this baloney. So she sat me down with a soup bowl full of it and handed me a spoon and said start eating. Well, I just looked at the dish and upchucked all over. And she said, “You can go.” So she let me go, I was surprised she didn’t make me clean it up. The next time we had squash, she made sure she didn’t put none on my plate.

“Q – How old were you then?

“A – I was about 9.

“Q – How long were you there?

“A – I guess I was there for about a year or so. Another thing they had there, did Herb tell you they had a great big tank on the side of the building? It looked like an oil tank only it was smaller round, you know. It went from the 4th floor down to the first floor and it was a fire escape, and it had a, like a sliding board, there were no steps, it was a sliding board, so every Saturday they let you practice, because if there was ever a fire they didn’t want the little kids to be afraid. We’d go in the kitchen and get some, they’d say bird paper, with the wax and you’d sit down on that… well the older girls had to take a little girl cause it was all dark in there, there were no lights or anything, just at the bottom the door was open when you swept out. Every Saturday we got to play in this thing for about 4 hours. You go to the top and go down and go all the way upstairs again and go again until you got tired, you know, from climbing the steps. The older girls had to take a little girl with them so they wouldn’t be afraid and you’d tell them it’s dark in there but you’ll be alright. Then they got used to it, in case there was ever a fire. But years later, I went to a … where they read your handwriting?

“Q – A palmist?

“A – Not your palm, a hand writing expert and the first one, with just my signature, he told me my whole life and I never saw him before. He told me, you lived in a… looks like an institution. He said, what’s that big oil tank doing on the side? This great big black oil tank. And I said, “That’s not an oil tank, it looks like and oil tank, but it’s not.” You know it reminded you of a silo. I said, “It was actually used as a fire escape.” I said, “It had a slide all the way down from the fourth floor to the first” and I explained it all to him. And he told me my whole life.

“Q – You said you lived on Fogarty, do you remember what the house looked like?

“A – It was a row house, a skinny little house. You know, when anybody came to stay at the house, I had to sleep on the couch or the floor, and I thought that was great. I was only little so it was like camping out. I guess Herb told you that after they took my father to Lakeland, well by that time, they took him and he went on the farm, my brothers Bill and John and I were all taken to a detention home. They couldn’t take us back to the Camden Home for Children because we were too old. That only went up to maybe 10 Years old. So we had to go to the detention home where they took the bad kids, you know, the kids that got into trouble. That was like you were locked in a room and had to be checked by a doctor to make sure you didn’t have any diseases, you know the girls. So I was there for 18 months, never went to school, they had school downstairs and you learned, but you never got promoted. You know you just went to school and the teacher, Mr. Ciroti, he taught you. And when I first went there, I was locked in my room until I could see the doctor. Well it had, not bars, but that uh…

“Q – Mesh like?

“A – Yeah on the window and all steel and cement floors. So I was in the room by myself and the room was spotless, and I wasn’t allowed to mix with the kids on the floor until after I saw the doctor. So, I was locked in there and they’d bring me books, they had a big playroom, and they’d bring me books from the playroom. I’m locked in there and all the kids were down at school and this woman had charge of the place and when I heard her coming I looked out the door, I was happy to see anybody, you know, I was getting stir crazy. And she said what are you doing in there. And I said they’ve got me locked in. And she said what for? She said what did you do. And I said I didn’t do nothing, I just got here like a week ago. I’ve been locked in this room for a week and they bring me my meals. I haven’t seen the doctor and he comes like once a month. So she told me you go on into the game room, if there was anything wrong with you it would have shown up by now. Find something to do, the kids will be up for lunch. So I’m sitting there and the cook comes in and she says do you know how to butter bread? I said yeah. She said, come with me. So I washed my hands and all and the bread, ’cause she cooked for the girls floor and the boys, so I stood there and I must have buttered I don’t know how many pieces of bread. Then she said, do you know how to set tables and I said yeah. What are you doing in here anyway, she said? Well I don’t have no where else to go, we don’t have no relatives. And I said, I was too old for the other home so they brought us here. I got 2 brothers on the other floor and my older brother went down on the farm. I wondered why they would bring you here, this is a place for bad kids, she said. You behave yourself here and don’t listen to those kids in trouble cause they’ll get you into trouble if they can, she’s going on. So after that, I was allowed to go to school the next day, and when I’d come up from school, I had to go into the kitchen to help her. You know, with things. And then I got promoted to dining room girl. They put the food out family style and you just helped yourself. And I’d set the tables and serve the food.

“Q – I thought you went to the home after your father died, I didn’t know you were at the home after your mother died.

“A – Yeah, I was at the home before my mother died, at the Home for the Friendless Children. But this was the Camden County Detention home that I’m talking about now.

“Q – How long were you there?

“A – About 18 months, ’cause I remember when they found a home for Bill and John and the probation officer… they had a little dining room off the big room where we ate and it was just for the doctor and the judge when they were there. And they’d have dinner there too, and I used to serve them. At the end of the week, every Friday, when they were there, they’d put fifty cents under the plate as a tip.

“Q – Did you know the judge’s name?

“A – No.

“Q – I know John and Bill went with the Hebles.

“A – Yeah, the probation officer told me he had found a home for them but I wouldn’t be able to go with them because it was all boys.

Note: My Aunt Carol died before we finished her Oral History.

— Anne Sampson Harrison, October 2016


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