[02:10] Jackie Kennedy and the Japanese Cherry Blossom Tree
[07:10] Childhood Fun
[13:18] Big events: fireworks explosion/moving nuclear reactors
Jackie Kennedy – Fishing & Crabbing – Peach Bottom Nuclear Reactors
Charlie Mike loves Havre de Grace and loved growing up here. He shares a delightful story of his mom meeting Jacqueline Kennedy. Since we’re posting Thanksgiving week, which also is when we remember the death of President Kennedy, it seemed perfect to bring this story to light.
Charlie talks about his father’s Lebanese ethnic background, delights in childhood stories, and recalls the amazement of watching them move the nuclear reactors from Havre de Grace to Peach Bottom. Enjoy!
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6/14/2016 1st interview
born: January 3, 1954 at Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace
PARENTS:John and Kay Mike, transplant Pennsylvanians. My dad is of Lebanese descent and came from Wilkes Barre – Scranton area to work at the Proving Grounds. That’s what got him down here. My mom came from a little Pennsylvania Dutch town of Womelsdorf, PA – a little town half way between Reading and Manheim.
My mom was a single child – my dad had 8 brothers and sisters – my mom was a single child and she ventured out into the world to work at the Proving Ground also. Eventually they met, courted and got married. They lived in Aberdeen until about1953 before buying our house at 524 South Washington Street in Havre de Grace.
It’s a great old Victorian home right behind the hospital, built in late 1800s – early 1900s. A beautiful, beautiful home. Right on the corner of that house we had a Japanese Cherry Blossom in the back, and that was the prettiest tree in Havre de Grace. The ones that are in front of the Foley House on Union Avenue are nice but this tree was twice as big! It was beautiful!
A quick story of that tree.. it was 62 or 63 when Kennedy was prepping to run for president again. He was – JFK – he was coming down by train from Philadelphia doing some campaign stops. Somebody in his campaign party got greatly sick and they stopped at Havre de Grace. Havre de Grace had a little station at that time and they brought him to Harford Memorial Hospital. This was in the spring.
My mother happened to be outside hanging up the laundry. Jacqueline Kennedy was out walking with a couple aids. The emergency room was right in our backyard, right behind our house. She saw that tree and thought it was beautiful. She came over – and there’s a hedge down Lewis Street separating the side yard and the back yard – and she came over and called to my mother, “Do you mind if we come over and look at your tree?” “No, come on in,” my mother recognized her right away. Jacqueline Kennedy came into our yard, took some pictures of the tree, and talking to my mom for a couple minutes. That was pretty neat!
I have five brothers and sisters, 3 boys and 3 girls, and they all look just like my dad. Nobody looked like my mom. When she’d take us to the grocery store, she’d tell everyone, “I swear they’re my kids.” My mother was, you know, blondish hair, hazel eyes, fair skin. My dad was … complexion, dark eyes and dark skin and dark hair. We all came out the spittin’ images of him. That was always funny when she’d hear, “Are these your kids?” “Oh yea, they’re my kids,” she’d say.
It’s even funnier now. My youngest sister Beth, she’s married to a redhead. And she has three boys, young men now, and all three of those boys have red hair and none of them look like Beth. Beth knows just how my mom feels now.
My mom and dad both were hooked on Havre de Grace when they moved here. My dad made pals with several other Middle East descent people here. You know, Doctor Hatem – the Hatem family was probably the best friends my family had. He was Lebanese, his parents were Lebanese. His parents had a little store up on Franklin and Stokes Street. Other people I remember, Dr. Hirsch wasn’t Lebanese, but he had some Syrian descent in his family. Dr. Simon, old Dr. Simon, who lived in what is now the Spencer-Silver Mansion Bed and Breakfast on Union Avenue. He was Lebanese. Somehow these guys all got together. Tommy Abrahams from over in Aberdeen, had Abrahams Dodge and later was instrumental in starting Ashley. He was married to Mae Abrahams who started Father Martin’s Ashley. He was a Lebanese brother of my dad’s. They all sort of like to cook together and hang around together.
My mom got involved locally. Seemed like right off the bat there were various organizations. When it was time to go to work, after all the kids were school age, she met Mr. Wimmer, publisher/owner of THE RECORD. I don’t know what year, probably early 60s. When you work at a small paper like that, she did everything. She did obituaries, she did columns. Mr. Wimmer, Dr. Wimmer – he was a chiropractor, he, I guess, saw her personality and everything. He said, “You need to be in advertising.” So he put her in charge of going around, soliciting for ads, and putting ads in the paper. So that’s where she really got involved with the business community and everyone got to know ‘Kay Mike.’
All of us kids soon became known as the ‘Mike Kids’ or ‘that’s Kay Mike’s son.’ I always teased that my name’s not Charlie Mike, it’s Kay Mike’s son! But she was real involved and stayed with the paper … oh probably right up into the early 80s. She still helped now and then, but got involved with the Chamber of Commerce which wasn’t very much then.
Allen Fair sort of pulled her into the Chamber saying we needed to build this up. She got involved and started saying, “We’ve got to build this up and get a real Chamber in this town. This town is startin’ to grow.” And she, she helped start really the first tourism activity in Havre de Grace, started promoting that through the Chamber, and started building up the Chamber. Very instrumental in that.
When the Lock House was just an idea, wasn’t even actual yet, and the Lighthouse still a nice place but no one cleaned it up yet, she was gathering people together to help form these committees which we have now. She actually then, she … I don’t know who talked her into it… but she ran for council in the mid-80s. She served two terms on the council and was council president.
When she was on the council, she was very helpful working with people like John Narvell and stuff in getting the promenade – the first section was built but it was just a small section – she was very helpful in going and soliciting funds and getting the grants to help finish off the promenade. Gunther Hirsch was mayor at the time and she served, I think, from ’85 to ’89, two terms. And then she said, “That was enough.”
She was pretty proud of that and we were all pretty proud of her for doing that.
07:10 (what are your earliest memories)
Well when you grow up on Washington Street in a big family, right behind the hospital. You know, the hospital is a central point of Havre de Grace. All my friends were on that block. A lot of them are still here in Havre de Grace.
(what was childhood like then)
Oh, it was fun. The water – we’d go fishing and crabbing. Back then we could catch crabs right in Havre de Grace. We could catch a bushel of crabs every 2-3 hours. The reason then and not now is that the water is cleaner now. Back then the water wasn’t quite as clean because there weren’t water treatment plants along the river. All those little towns didn’t have water treatment plants. So the water was a little bit dirtier, the water not as clean meant it held the salt content better in the summertime, crabs love dirty water and the salt content.
So in the summertime there was always a competition who could get the best crabbing spots down at the piers in the park. So the shoreline (behind where the Promenade Grille is now), there was just a little outdoor shed that sold ice cream and stuff like that. The shoreline was not bulkhead or anything, just rocks. There was a big pier with a gas dock. Where it is now, but a bit more west than that. We’d wade into the shallows underneath the pier there and get the soft shells in the sea grass. And then we throw our lines laid out off the pier to catch the crabs.
Of course, fishing. You know, at an early age, I guess I was 12 years old, I started working at Penn’s Beach Marina, which was 2 blocks down Lewis Street from me. That’s how I got into boating. I’m a big boater now. Got my first rowboat back then. I worked for all of the owners of Penn’s Beach. Mr. De Luca, Sam Reeder, Paul ?, Jimmy Collier.
I probably worked at Penn’s Beach from 1966 until out of college. It was a pretty nice marina – couldn’t rival Tidewater, of course, Tidewater was big and much more affluent. Penn’s Beach was for the common man – the average guy. Penn’s Beach grew. Sam Reeder really put money into it and built it. I helped with bulkheads… he really had a master plan.
Life in Havre de Grace was fun. It was simple. We played Little League in the summertime. Wintertime we went sledding, and had snowball fights. Everyone got along great. We had black friends, white friends. It didn’t seem to matter. We really didn’t pay much mind. The Ware (?) family lived down the street. They must have had at least eight kids in that family. Then the Harris’s up on the other street. I still see a lot of those guys to this day. We get to talkin’ about how the world is today. We wonder why it can’t be today like it was then?
But on the dark side, I can remember when Reed’s Drug Store in Havre de Grace had separate bathrooms. It wasn’t that long ago – early 60s. They had a separate section at the lunch counter. We loved to have chocolate sodas – CocaCola with chocolate in it. But if I’d go in there with Bobby Harris or Robert Ware (?), they’d have to go to one end of the counter to order and I’d go to the other end. You didn’t really understand it, when you’re 10-12 years old, but it didn’t really divide us.
Same thing at the movie theater, they had to sit in the balcony. So we couldn’t sit with them – or we’d go up with them to the balcony.
The State Theater was a big Christmas tradition. You go in watch a Christmas movie and get a bag of candy and an orange.
(where did you ice skate at)
We ice skated down in the park between the piers. In the cold winters, the Susquehanna Hose Company would put ring of railroad ties in the parking lot and fill it with water. It would freeze and we’d play hockey in there. They didn’t want us out on the water, but we did. In the real, real cold winters, you could often skate from the park down the back channel all the way to Swan Creek and back! We were chance-y. But we never did it alone. If something happened it would have been a tragedy. But we were lucky that never happened.
You know where the nursing home is? Citizens Care Center used to be a big open field. The lower end would get swampy towards the water. We made a baseball field out of it. We played the kids from the Project (that’s what we called it), kids from up on the hill. We had neighborhood teams – like a regular league. It was a lot of fun!
We rode our bikes and walked everywhere! And we never locked our bikes then.
We shoveled snow. We had to go out and take care of any elderly neighbor; we’d shovel and not expect to get paid. It just got done.
13:18 (any big events you remember)
Everyone remembers the fireworks plant blowing up. ’62 or ’64 Go up Ontario past Angel Hill Cemetery, to the left of where the new developments (it’s not ‘new’ anymore) start. “When that blew up, oh boy, the whole town shook. That was a pretty tragic event.” The general manager got killed in that. We were in school and one of then nun’s took the son into her office until they figured out what was going on.
I remember when they were building Peach Bottom, the first nuclear reactors. They moved them up through Havre de Grace here. They brought them up on a barge. Unloaded them down there at the Gilbert Property (next to Havre de Grace Marine Center now).
The way they moved them was using these crawler trucks. They moved at a snail’s pace. They were so heavy. They didn’t want to crush the roadway and crush the pipes underneath the road. They would have dump trucks and dump trucks and dump trucks of sand. They would put sand on the roadway all the way from Water Street, up Erie St, onto Juniata Street, going up Rt 155. As the trucks carrying the reactors went over it, they’d come along and pick up the sand and put it in the dump truck, go around and put it in front again. It took them weeks – weeks to get those reactors to Peach Bottom.
(when was that)
Oh, probably late 60s.
Every major tunnel on the east coast, the pieces were built up at Wylie in Port Deposit. We used to go up there to watch them launch them on our boat. It was neat to watch them launch them. They just would take all the chocks out and they would roll right into the water and they’d float ’em on down. Pretty neat!
The whole coastline that is now developed in Port was Wylie shipyard. It was pretty big. 4 or 5 big cranes and they built not only tunnel sections but barges and ship sections. Their sister company was right here in Havre de Grace where the Log Pond Condos are, which were the original condos. That location right there was Havre de Grace shipyard. They built barges and smaller steel structures there.