Saturday, January 13, 2018

Grampa's Memories: Child Play 100 Years Ago

My grandfather Lynne O. Ramer (1903-1971) wrote over 200 articles submitted to his hometown newspaper and shared in Ben Meyer's column We Notice That. This year I will be sharing some of these articles.

Today's article appeared August 2, 1968.
Lynne O. Ramer, left, age eight with his cousin 

Lynne O. Ramer on his mother's lap, age six

Participating, Simple Toys Liked Best by Youngsters
“All work and no play
Makes Jack a dull boy.”
(So said an ancient adage).

“All play and no work
Makes Jack a mere toy.”
(So says more up-to-date sage).
The Incredible Brocks

From the dawn of creation down to now children love to play with toys.  Says a German professor, living in the heart of the world’s toy manufacturing world:
“Children of all ages and all peoples are the same in the aptitudes and their desires, and thus the same in their play urge too. The baby’s rattle, the small child’s ball, the house of bricks (blocks) the toy animal and the doll have changed very little throughout the ages.”
Kids like toys best that enable them to enjoy participation, on their part doing something, instead of watching an intricate gadget that performs of itself.  They would rather play with an old box than with a fancy new toy.

Now and then, in a city large or a village small, a family can exert a powerful influence on all the kids in the neighborhood, helping them to get real pleasure in making their own playthings. One such family was that into which were born three boys---the Brocks. Their names were Robert, Albert and Luther. They lived in Milroy.

It was really fantastic, almost incredible, what a great variety of “do-it-yourself” amusements they devised. And how the neighbor kids loved them for it. They dazzled and delighted all the small fry in the village.
Making Their Own Fun

As he recalled the Brocks, a native Milroyan told us [added in ink: Lynne], it was during the decades 1900 to 1920 that the three boys were the talk of the town.

First they had a home-made merry-go-round with a grand organ that produced music. It was all hand operated, much to the delight of the teens and preteens who flocked, some invited and some not, to come and enjoy the fun.

The play room—we’d call it the recreation room nowadays—was the storage room off the kitchen.  There among the pies and cookies cooked for the family use, but shared with the youngsters who came calling between meals, were the home-made playthings.

There were hand-carved spreading fans inside of Mason jars, continuous chain links carved from one billet of wood. There were two spinning cylinder wire cages housing chipmunks who chattered gaily all day long.

Continuous wood chain by John O. O'Dell
Besides these and dozens of other games to play there were stacks of comic strips from the Williamsport Gazette and the Philadelphia North American. These consisted of the adventures of the Katzenjammer Kids, Jiggs and Maggie [Bringing Up Father], Enoch Periwinkle Pickleweight [The Peaceful Pickleweights], John Dubbalong and the like.*

On a rainy day there would be no less than 10 or 12 little boys deeply at their work-play, reading the old “continued funnies,” grinding the hurdy-gurdy carousel, and intently watching the chippies race around the insides of their wire cylinders.

There were stacks of paperbacks of adventure characters, such as the Liberty Boys of ’76, Jesse James**, Fred Fearnot+*** , and every known Horatio Alger tale--Andy Grant’s Pluck****, From Rags to Riches.

“And so it went for many happy hours or boyhood daze” says one of the guests. “So once more, it’s thanks to Robert, Albert and Luther Brock, not forgetting their doting mother and a kind father who realized how to keep kids happy and busy, making and using their playthings.”

The lessons learned well by the youngsters of that time. Long since grown to manhood and womanhood, is this: “It isn’t necessary to buy one’s children expensive and attractive mechanical toys, but something requiring participation. And never forget children are fondest of things they improvise themselves---cooking pans and saucers, empty thread spools, old tin cans, a handful of bright, shiny horse chestnuts.”

Lynne O. Ramer ("it"), at 6, with his school classmates in Milroy, PA

Genealogy findings:

I researched the Milroy Brock family on

The patriarch of the family, James Brown Brock (b. 7-29-1858; d. 3-29-1927) , married Minnie Melissa Maben (1867-1925) in 1889.

The 1900 Census for Armagh, Old District,  shows James was a carpenter. The 1910 Census for Armagh, Old District, shows James, age 52, worked in the stone quary. Minnie, age 43, was mother to Oscar, age 19 and working as a baker; Robert, age 17 and working as a presser in a woolen mill; Albert, age 15 and Luther J., born in 1902.

On the 1920 census James and Minnie lived on College Ave. in Milroy.

James' death record shows his father was Adam Brock and mother Mary was born in Germany.

Minnie Mabin Brock was the daughter of Joseph B. Mayben (1835-1900) and Amanda J. Weimer (1833-1880). Joseph was a private in Co. L, 13th Cav. during the Civil War. Amanda was the daughter of Zachariah Weimer (b. 1809), son of Johannes Weimer (b, 1767 and died in Juniata Co. PA) and Mary Brackbill.

The children in my grandfather's story:

Oscar Ream (1890-1973) has a WWI draft card showing he was a baker living in Ohio. His WWII Draft Registration shows he was married to Mary A. and was self employed.

Robert Earl (1892-1964) married Helen C. The 1920 Census shows they lived in Detroit, MI where Robert worked for a motor company as a tool maker. His WWII Draft Card showed he lived in Jersey Shore, PA and owned his own machine shop.

Son Albert Lowell (1894-1979) enlisted during WWI.

Luther Thomas (1892-1964)  has a draft card for WWII which shows he worked for the Armagh County School Board. Luther died in 1964 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in his hometown of Milroy, PA. along with his parents and siblings.


The Katzenjammer Kids and Bringing Up Father were read by my grandfather, mom, and I recall they were still running when I was a kid.

* From the July 14, 1915 New York Canisteo Times, found on Old Fulton Postcards:

Famous Family of Pacificists to Enlarge Its Sphere of Operations.

Who has not chuckled over the unending complications in the household of the Pickleweights — Enoch, the plaintive; Maria, the masterful; Ichabod, the Injun strategist; Dill, the rotund and voracious, and Helen Battleax, gallant defender of her brother's innocence and helplessness?
For years the tribulations of this interesting family have delighted reade rs of the Philadelphia North American, and the characters created by Cartoonist Bradford have become familiar to thousands. In fact, the Pickleweights have grown to be such an institution that more space and special treatment are required to chronicle their explosive history.

Next Sunday, July 11, therefore, they make their appearance in the Sunday North American, occupying a full page, in colors. Henceforth, it is understood, they are to be known to fame as "The Peaceful Pickleweights." Bradford announces that they have moved into the country, in the hope
that tranquil scenes, far removed from the turmoil of the city, will allay the hostilities that have divided them. The first page in the series shows them installed In their new home.

Unfortunately the occasion is marred by some deplorable accidents; but it is the universal
hope that the family has entered upon a career of peace. This is only one feature of The North American's new comic section, which, it is declared, will be the best in the country. With the Pickleweights will appear each Sunday the original Katzenjammer Kids, whose antics have convulsed uncounted readers; "Just Boys," a page of homely humor that will delight everyone who has known childhood, and a fourth page, on the most indulgent of young parents and "Their Only Child." This new comic section will add immensely to the fascination of the Sunday North American and should prove a source of never-ending deltght to all who enjoy rollicking fun.

Order from your newsdealer today.

**You can read a Jesse James dime novel from 1901 at
*** Read a 1914 Fred Fearnot dime novel at
**** Read Horatio Alger's novel Andy Grant's Pluck at

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