Stories elicit fond memories, laughter

July 25, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - The crowd roared with laughter Wednesday as Bob Starry recalled his favorite childhood memories of Shepherdstown.

His tales covered a mix of memories, from the awesome basketball he and his friends used to play to the days before indoor plumbing.

There were the times when people used to wash their cars in Town Run, when local fairs included strange attractions like the "ugliest man" contest and when kids sold corncobs to local residents to be used for kindling in wood cookstoves, said Starry and two friends who grew up with him in town.

The Historic Shepherdstown Commission is inviting long-time Shepherdstown residents to the Entler Hotel in Shepherdstown each week to recall some of the history of the town. The noon storytelling sessions, called Wednesdays in the Garden, are being taped and will be published eventually, said Cindy Cook, administrator of the Historic Shepherdstown Commission.


There wasn't a story - or subject matter - Starry resisted to recount.

Take bathroom habits.

Before there was plumbing, people resorted to using "slop jars" or "thunder mugs" in the home when nature came calling, Starry said.

Starry recalled how Town Run, a small stream that meanders through town, ran under a house near the intersection with Princess and High streets. A woman who lived in the house used to lift up a trap door in the floor and empty her "thunder mug" in the morning, Starry said.

That got the crowd going.

Then Starry hit with the second punch line.

In the afternoon, the woman would open up the trap door again and fish out of it.

"I can't think of a better place in the world to have a childhood than in Shepherdstown," Starry told about 20 people gathered at the Entler Hotel.

Many of Starry's stories date from 1929 to 1942. He now lives in Waynesboro, Pa.

There were several references to past waste-control methods, like the pipe that used to deliver raw sewage into the Potomac River, near one of the area's favorite swimming spots.

The kids in town became very good basketball players because they played often and they were blessed with three gymnasiums to play in, Starry said.

There were up to 15 on each team, and the scores reached up into the 200s at times, Starry said. Often, the games ended with a fight, Starry said.

"After the fight was over, we would choose up sides again," Starry said.

The kids who played in Shepherdstown often traveled out of town to play other teams, and town historian Jim Price remarked about how the local team would often go to Harpers Ferry, W.Va., to "dispose of" the team there.

There was often some hard feelings and wisecrack remarks following the games, Price said.

A favorite remark from the Shepherdstown gang was that they were going to go back home and flush their toilets to make sure the Harpers Ferry team had enough water to drink, Price said.

The Potomac River flows to Harpers Ferry.

Town Run flows behind store buildings along German Street, and Starry said he remembers when people used to pull their cars into the stream and wash them.

Starry, who moved from Shepherdstown in 1956, said he went back to the spot recently and found it was blocked off.

"You tried to wash your car, didn't you?" said Shepherdstown resident John Van Tol, who joined Starry at the storytellers' table.

"Some of the stories are just hysterical," Cook said. "It really helps us connect with how the town has become today,"

Ernie Fuss, Doug Pittinger, and Ed Williams will recount their town memories next Wednesday.

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