1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


FRW Memory # 0 Putting on the Ritz 
John McCurdy '09

            Mary Morgan's letter about being invited to dinner at the Federal Prison at Alderson when she was a young girl reminded me of when I would take my wife Pearl and our young five year old son Bryan to Sunday Dinner at the prison. 

            Pearl, like Mary Morgan had been taken several times by her dear friend, Frances Follen to have dinner in the Staff  Dining Room and then visit the inmates in the Cottage to which Frances was assigned. Pearl, like Mary, was treated like royalty by the women inmates, who were reminded of their family and children from whom they were separated. 

            We would often, after attending church, go to the prison for dinner. For the exorbitant price of twenty five cents apiece we would join the large group of employees who lived at the prison and their familys and the several employees from the area who had availed themselves of the dining privilege. The Shawvers, Rowes, Huffmans. Mary Ruth Andrews, The Livesay family were only a few. The Staff Living Room in the Administration Building was a large room used, since the prison was established, as a social center for the employees who lived on the prison grounds. A large Knabe grand piano sat in the corner and often a staff member would play, sometimes ever eating late, so her playing could entertain the diners! The biggest radio console I'd ever seen, a Stromberg Carlson was against one wall with a stand of large 78 RPM records standing next to it. There were oriental rugs on the floor and many wing chairs and sofas with tables and lamps beside them. There was a fireplace and a stack of wood on the screened in porch that adjoined the room. All in the room would be in their Sunday finery, the ladies in hats and all the men in coat and ties, for Sunday Dinner at the FRW was always a formal kind of affair. 

            We sat at tables sat with a full complement of crystal and silver, and the inmate waitress in crisply starched white uniform brought our food and placed it family style on a folding server beside the tables. The white table cloths and the huge white cloth napkins caused our son some concern, after a few Sundays we noted he put his napkin on his lap but he never used it, when his mother asked him why he said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "Momma, it is cloth, I would get it dirty!" Pearl realized we had been a little remiss in training!  

            For some reason Miss Kinsella, the Warden, would often join sat our table, I think in was an attempt to make us feel comfortable since we were the youngest couple in the room by several years. I realize now that must have been the reason, but back then it meant I couldn't enjoy my meal very much. Miss Kinsella had a disconcerting way of asking one a question and then taking a bite and chewing while you fumbled and stumbled trying to answer it. Pearl and I were both to become very fond of her as the years went by. A very reserved and proper Bostonian I think perhaps she sometimes realized what she had given up for her career. I recall she had a nephew, John Kinsella of whom she was very fond. 

            The prison had a staff swimming pool that was between the Administration Building and the Perimeter fence and the railroad. The pool was built by volunteer labor and with the funds of the Officers Association, I think surely some government equipment was used in the construction but by and large it was entirely volunteer built. However the muck-raking columnist Drew Pierson saw people using the pool one summer day when he rode by in a Pullman car and wrote a column about women Federal Prison Inmates and "MEN" cavorting around a swimming pool. It was touch and go for a few years, I understand, as to whether the pool would be allowed to stay open.  In later years when it developed leaks and became expensive to maintain, each year it was considered closing it. Dick Simms and his family and mine made a special effort to use it several times a week, even slipping down on work time and signing the log book so it appeared our family had been there the previous evening. It finally was closed, the final straw was when Bruce Grant, a large and portly man was on the diving board and  an inmate shoved him in the water, saying, "get out of the way, fat boy". It was a goner for sure. Sure enough, that fall it was filled with dry leaves and the next spring it was not filled. It became a compost bin! 

            I had swam in that pool, it seemed, for most of my life. Various members of my family had worked at the prison and that allowed the use of the pool by their family members. I can remember riding my bike, along with Charlotte Ann, or some other cute Alderson girl, down past the stock pens, through the stone gate posts and onto the long, almost a mile, of roadway to the little green Gate House.

            In my memory, George Bare or "Pop" Taylor was always on duty at the Front Gate.  They would have us sign the Visitors Register, give us a little lecture and tell us not to drown because it would be too much trouble to get us out of the water! They might tell us that sharks had been seen in the pool and to be careful!

            There were no private pools in Alderson then, as far as I know, (very few today), and swimming without rocks and with a diving board was a real treat. No one ever bothered us, it was almost as if we were in a private world. I wonder how much resentment our use of the pool caused among our peers. Probably not a great deal, because almost anyone in Alderson had a relative working at the prison and could have had entry, and even as we were swimming there, we would wonder who was at Patton's or Rock Bar or Anvil Rock and what was going on with the rest of our friends, thatís kids , I guess!