Searching for “Pressie”

A few weeks ago Joe Montone, Doylestown resident who produces events in town, invited me to become one of  four locals to premiere “Story Hood”, an evening of  stories about Doylestown to an audience of forty people. Each of our stories will be archived in the Spruance Library at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown. This is my story about the visitation of a Spirit.

It was 1975. After living in California for ten years, fate was telling me it was time to come home: I was laid off from my job at Atari; my in-laws were selling their home where I, my husband Rich and our two children lived; and then a message from home notified me my father was unwell.

Rich and I packed our stuff in a U Haul truck and along with two German Shepherds, a cat and  Melanie 3; and Mark 12. We drove across America to Doylestown, Pennsylvania. After storing our possessions in my parents’ garage, we lived at their house on Ashland Street for several months before finding a rental that allowed pets and children.

The House at 242 North Broad Street, a single standing brick house, about a hundred years old. It reminded me of those New Orleans “shotgun houses”. From the front door I could look down the hall, through to a room which I believe was once the kitchen with its squared fireplace large enough for an iron kettle. Then beyond there, a kitchen that was added later.

Also when entering the front door, before walking down a hallway, on the left was a parlor room with a fireplace (now closed and papered over with an ugly print). Across from the parlor room, stairs led to the second floor with a bathroom and three bed rooms.

The ceilings were 12 feet high with deep sills where house plants enjoyed morning sun. The ugly wallpaper was everywhere, but I really loved that old house!

(By the way, 242 was scraped, along with a few other structures on that block, replaced with the County parking garage).


Once settled, I invited my parents over for dinner, a huge thank you for putting up with us for all those months. I welcomed them at the front door, gesturing them inside. Mom continued walking down the hall to the next room, her artistic eye critiquing my hippy style of decorating. I turned to Daddy who’d paused at the doorway leading into the parlor. He was staring at the fireplace. In a whisper he said, “Oh … My Aunt Pressie was laid out here.” He added that he was six years old but remembered being in this house.

Wow! I thought, How weird! My ten years in California had connected me to some weird people. I just assumed this “Aunt Pressie” was an elder who had lived among the small circle of African Americans in Doylestown. I never thought anymore about it.

I went on unemployment, then worked for a medical equipment distributer, fiddled around with writing, and took up running the streets and roads of Doylestown.

When Melanie was10 years old, she came to me and said, “Mommy, there’s somebody in my room.” I asked her what she meant by “… somebody” and she said, “When I go to bed, I see Her standing in the corner by my closet.” Now to reach Melanie’s room, you passed through Mark’s room. Melanie’s room was small and above the kitchen. I’m guessing the kitchen below and Melanie’s room were added at the same time.

She took me to her room and pointed to a small closet in the corner. Then she said, “When I get into bed, She comes over and sits at the end of my bed.” On her bed, her stuffed animals were piled at the foot of her bed, as if blocking She from sitting there. Melanie said the visitations started a few nights ago. She wasn’t frightened, only curious why this visitor was in her room. Listening to Melanie describe these visits was acceptable to me. During my years in California one of my co-workers taught classes in metaphysics—auras, meditation, and healing. Strange things do happen.

A Failed Seance

A month or so later, when my niece Sara traveled to Doylestown for an Ashland Street family gathering, I shared the visitations with her. She suggested, “Let’s have a séance in her room.” Sara and I set candles and incense in Melanie’s room. We sat on the floor with knees crossed. Sara began speaking to the Room “We are here and feel safe with you. Please tell us who you are.” We sat for nearly fifteen minutes and I finally said, “Sara, nothing’s coming through. We gotta get back to the house with this food.”

We rented 242 N. Broad until 1983 when the owner decided to move into the house. We found another rental and shortly after that I was employed in former Congressman Peter H. Kostmayer’s district office in Doylestown.

The Past is Here

In the mid-1990s I moved into the family’s home on Ashland Street. Around 2007 people everywhere began researching information about their family histories or taking DNA tests, or traveling to ancestral homes, or digging through library archives and old photographs. That’s when my family, during one of our Sunday gatherings at Ashland Street rummaged through photographs saved by my Grandmother and Father. It was a pleasant summer afternoon. Sitting on the porch we passed around faded sepia photographs of relatives, many without names penciled on the backside, strangers possibly known only to my parents, both now dead.

In the early 1990s when Genealogist Joseph Romeo had documented our Stratton lineage, he discovered Tobias Stratton, a Free Black born 1767 in Philadelphia. Mr. Romeo carried the Stratton generations to the present, listing my brothers and sisters born to my parents, Savoy and Dorothy Stratton.

We have only one photograph of my Grandfather Joseph B Stratton, whom we affectionately refer to as “JB”. While discussions continued about photographs, I began reading the histories of JB’s three daughters born in his first marriage. After his wife died, JB kept the family together by marrying his deceased wife’s sister, a common arrangement in the 19th Century. In 1863 JB entered the Civil War serving a year in the Union Navy and returned home in 1864 to his daughters and second wife. No children were born from his second wife who died in 1875.

It would be another ten years before JB married Lilly, the woman who would become my Grandmother. I admit, although the Genealogist’s research was part of our family archives, I’d never paid any attention. Now I began reading the brief histories of JB’s three daughters from his first marriage. I realized These were my father’s half-sisters!

Priscilla—1858; Amelia—1860; and Matilda—1864

First-born Priscilla was widowed twice; bore nine children, including a set of twins, stillborn. Sometime after her second husband died in 1896, she relocated to Doylestown from Philadelphia. JB and Lilly had already been settled at our Ashland Street home; Priscilla moved into 242 N. Broad Street. I stopped reading and shouted, “My God! JB’s daughter Priscilla lived at our Broad Street house!” Now I was shaking. “She died in 1906 and she’s buried in Doylestown Cemetery!”

While everybody gathered around, we never noticed Melanie hovering over some unidentified scattered photographs. “Hey”, she said, holding up one of them. “This is the woman who was in my bedroom.” We stared at the image. Melanie insisted this was the woman who stood in the corner of her bedroom and then sat at the foot of her bed.


Immediately I called the cemetery but being Sunday, had to leave a message asking the location of Priscilla Newman who died in 1906. Instead we drove over to the cemetery, anticipating we’d find Pressie’s marker. We split up and roamed the paths, searching for Priscilla Newman. No luck; but since we were there, we stopped at the grave where my father, mother and an uncle are buried.

The following day the custodian at the cemetery called me. “Priscilla Newman is buried in the Pauper Section. I’ll meet you there.”

He had a stone where she was buried. This section is immediately across from the section where my family’s headstone is sited. While standing at the stone marking Pressie’s grave, Melanie described how the day before she had been drawn to this space of grass.

We siblings, descendants of JB Stratton, pooled our money and purchased a marker for Pressie’s grave. My father was six years old when he had walked into 242 N. Broad Street, startled as he whispered, “Aunt Pressie was laid out in front of the fireplace.” Was he aware he was her half-brother? Yet being only six years old, my Grandmother possibly instructed him to call her “Aunt Pressie”.

Seventy years after Pressie was laid in the ground, I believe she was waiting for my family to move into 242 N. Broad Street so that we, her ancestors would place the headstone she so well deserved.

“The Sins Committed In The Name of Progress”

Another CH construction picMy February 9 post, Preservation Zero. Progress One featured Addison Hutton, the architect who designed the 19th Century Bucks County Court House. On February 17, Grafitti on East Court Street promised to write about the protesters who painted THE SINS COMMITTED IN THE NAME OF PROGRESS on the construction fence surrounding the demolition site of the old Court House. With a large can of black paint and some brushes, three teenagers plastered the message on the entire length of the fence along E. Court Street, from Broad Street down to the intersection where the streets of Main, Shewell and Court finger away in different directions.

The image above appeared in my February 17 post.

Somewhere there is a photograph that was taken within days after “THE SINS …” graffiti was discovered on the fence. It possibly was published in The Doylestown Intelligencer (now called The Intelligencer), according to a persistent researcher at the Doylestown Historical Society who found a third or fourth generation image in the Spruance Library’s microfiche collection.The photographer must have snapped the picture from the second or third floor of the old Doylestown Boro School which was located catty-corner at Broad & Court Streets. The words are invisible in that image. After inquiries to other historians, former and current publications, and a post on the ‘Growing Up In Doylestown’ facebook page, I came up empty in my search for that photograph.

Over 50 years ago the buildings across the street on East Court Street that face the Court House were homes to Doylestown families. If you walked on the pavement after 10 on any given evening it was typical to find no lights at all shining from the windows of those homes. And as you walked not one human being would cross your path. Now the homes are attorney offices. On this particular July 1958 night, three teenagers decided to make a statement about the loss of the nearly century old County Court House that was being demolished to make way for a more “modern” building.

I spoke to two of the three artists: Ed Greiner and Anne McHugh. Anne who lives in New Jersey apologized for not trusting her memory about this incident that happened 57 years ago. She did however get me in touch with Ed who now makes his home in Maine. The three of them were able to accomplish their task on a dark July night in 1958. Their only fear had been  the prospect of getting caught by their “arch enemy” – Doylestown Police Officer George Silk. Officer Silk often stopped young people who were walking around town after dark; so this midnight excursion was a bold move by the three of them. Not anywhere close to being “juvenile delinquents”, if caught the prank might have been considered Destruction of property or Vandalism.

They hurriedly slapped the words “THE SINS COMMITTED IN THE NAME OF PROGRESS” across the fence along E. Court Street. In a letter to this blog, Ed confessed, “I did drop an ‘M’ or else a ‘T’ from committed, but I was never a strong speller. I made up the statement (maybe). We probably may have had a getaway car and driver.” Ed gets his activism from his mother, Martha Darlington, best described by Ed as a “preservationist”. He recalled how she was a faithful attendee at the County Commissioners’ meetings where she expressed her opposition of losing this iconic structure to the wrecking ball. Each time she spoke during public comments, Ed said “… she was steamrolled”. His mother was one of those Doylestown citizens who pitched in around town when something needed to be done. “Once”, Ed told me, “She gathered some people to go into the woods surrounding Font Hill to clear away underbrush. “She even recruited a Boy Scout troop to help.”

Ed also recalled how back in the day the expanse of lawn surrounding the Court House was a venue for band concerts. At that time there was only one memorial on the lawn, a World War I fountain with two soldiers–one cradling a wounded soldier. After the new court house was built the fountain was relocated to the corner of North Main and Broad Streets. The lawn is now a place with memorials to five wars and a sixth to fireman killed in the line of duty.

Within days after its appearance, local residents would stand in front of the fence, arms crossed in front of them as they silently stared at the message. Before a week had gone by the message was covered over with dark green paint. I smiled every time I walked past the fence because looking closely, the three protestors’ message was still visible. It was a half-ass attempt to suppress a statement that in the 21st Century could be painted on demolition fences  surrounding old treasured buildings or land speculators bulldozing farmland.

Elizabeth Biddle Yarnall, the niece of Addison Hutton, described her uncle in her biography of him as a “Nonconforming Quaker”. Addison would be pleased that almost a hundred years later, three teenagers admired his vision enough to pay homage to him with a classic graffiti statement.