1920s & 1930s: Oetting and Manning Families in Wilkinsburg, Penn.
In 1996, Eduard Manning Oetting (1913 - 2005) was interviewed by family about growing up in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania.
June 29, 1996
We're at Dr. and Mrs. Eduard Oetting's home in Scottsdale. We're taping reminiscences about the Oetting and corollary families.
- Dr. Eduard Oetting
- Mrs. Idina Oetting
- Edward Oetting
- Patricia Oetting
- Jessica Oetting
- Mary Ann Oetting Carmody
These are edited highlights.
Dad, where were you born?
I was born in Wilkinsburg, PA, at Columbia Hospital, and I was delivered by Dr. Dixon, who I, in later years after I had my training, assisted in surgery at the Pittsburgh Hospital when I was an intern.
Dr. Dixon was more than a surgeon. He was a family doctor and one of the most respected doctors in Wilkinsburg. We went to Dr. Dixon for practically everything.
Who were your siblings?
I don't know where Bill and Gertrude were born. I always called him Will. Everybody else called him Bill. My father was called Will Oetting.
He was William H. Oetting, and my brother was called William H. Oetting Jr.
Your maternal grandfather was William Manning and your grandmother's name was Schulte.
My grandmother on my father's side was Louisa Lautner Oetting [(1838 - 1919)].
She was really a very stately person who lived on Millvale Avenue...
We would go to their home and Grandma Oetting always sat in a big wicker chair on the second floor of their home and the Oettings on many Sundays would visit, the Oetting entourage...
We would listen to classical music for an hour or two and we would all have to perform on the piano each time we visited the Oettings, particularly Grandma Oetting.
My uncle was Uncle Otto Oetting, my father's brother, who had in Pittsburgh the hat shop of all Pittsburgh.
If you didn't have an Otto Oetting hat, you weren't anybody.
As I say, anytime we visited there, we would have to perform and maybe for an hour or so listen to classical music.
Do you know why the family moved to Wilkinsburg?
It just happened that they found a nice home and decided to buy it at 407 Whitney Avenue.
It was a 3-story home. Actually it was 6 bedrooms, which was unusual. Four bedrooms on the second floor and 2 bedrooms on the third floor.
We had four bedrooms on the second floor and Martina had the third floor to herself.
There was what we called the spare room.
We called it the spare room because nobody lived there, but each Christmas my father would lock the door of that room, set up the Christmas tree, put the train below the Christmas tree, and that room would not be opened until Christmas morning.
Where did you go to school?
We all went to school in Wilkinsburg. First of all the Kelly School through 6th grade.
Then we went to Wilkinsburg junior high and high school.
Martina taught junior high and later she was head of the English Dept there and head of the paper and later on she went to teach at the University of Pittsburgh.
I followed Martina and Gertrude and Will through grade school and junior high and high school. It was a miserable thing. They all said, "Oh, are you going to be as good as your brother and sisters?"
Anyway, that followed me all through and of course Martina and Gertrude went to Pennsylvania College for Women (PCW), which is now Chatham College. The area was given by the Mellons, beautiful area.
I was in several PCW May Days with my socks hanging down. I probably had a picture in the Pittsburgh Press as one of the participants in the PCW May Day with my socks hanging down.
But of course they were magna and summa cum laude and Uncle Bill was the valedictorian from high school and he was an AOA in medical school and I followed all of that crap through my training.
Were Mom and Pop hard on you for academics? Would they help you through math?
Well no. I used to go to the symphony concerts with Pop and of course at intermission we would go down and Pop knew of course all of the people.
One intermission we met Mr. Stanland who was the head of math at the University of Pittsburgh. And so he said to my father about me, "Oh, he's one of the best math students I ever had." I hated math and was no good at all. He had gotten me confused with Will who was excellent in math. But I never said anything.
What would you do when you were growing up in the summers?
I played tennis most of the time. I lived on the tennis court. Played with my friends. Will never played tennis. Will played some ball and some basketball.
I lived on the tennis courts. Also I ice-skated. I was a pretty good ice-skater. I ice-skated every Saturday at Duquesne Garden. My friend Bob Raj and I had steady girlfriends in senior high school. Mine was Mary Navin and his was Peg Smith and every Saturday we went down to Duquesne Garden to ice skate.
By the way one time I was asked to give an exhibition in the halftime between hockey games. I was pretty good. But anyway, we went down every Saturday and we met with these two PSA skaters, Pittsburgh Skating Association. One was Patty McLean and I forget the other name. Very excellent skaters and good looking girls.
We'd go down there and I think our girls would sneak down on stage to see who we were skating with. Skating and tennis were my fortes.
Didn't you go to a lot of the school dances? You and Uncle Bill?
My first drink of gin was when Bill was a member of the Phi Beta Phi medical fraternity and somehow or another, some girl's date cancelled out early. She was a school teacher. Will got me the date with this school teacher. I was still a senior in high school.
I had my first drink of gin. In our car, a big Buick, we were driving out to the Oakmont Country Club, which was one of the spots at that time.
My first drink was dry gin, warm. It was terrible. I was with this school teacher. I was so far behind all night. I was a good dancer, but I was so far behind, it wasn't even funny. So, that was my first.
Your parents didn't drink, did they?
Oh, heavens no. They didn't have anything in the house. My father occasionally drank a beer, but when they were married, my mother said, "Absolutely not, you have to quit that." He occasionally drank a beer.
So that was the end of that when they were married. They never had anything in the house. But of course when Will and I were in medical school in the fraternities, we'd go out to dances and fraternity things and have drinks and we'd come home on the street car and smoke like hell to get the alcohol off our breath.
So that Mom wouldn't know?
Yes. We'd come home on the street car. I remember once or twice we came home on the street car which came to the head of Whitney Avenue. Will was absolutely plastered and I had to walk him home for about 10 blocks.
What about smoking corn silk outside the bathroom window?
Oh well, Will and I always, whenever we would buy ears of corn, we would pick off the corn silk, wrap it up in toilet paper, and smoke out the bathroom window on the second floor.
We would wrap the brown corn silk in toilet paper and open the bathroom window on the second floor and we would puff out.
And then of course in our back yard we had what was called the catalpa tree, with Indian tapes, about this long, and we'd smoke those too.
And this was without Mom and Pop knowing?
Oh, goodness yes.
Was Uncle Bill friends with Gene Kelly's brother?
Uncle Bill had no conception of Gene Kelly, never met him, didn't know a thing about him.
I did. My partner, Carl Dapridge, and I were good tennis players and we used to play at the park which was at the head of our street, quite a number of blocks.
We used to play there. But occasionally we'd go over to the Lovejoy Mansion tennis courts and play and Gene Kelly lived near the Lovejoy mansions.
We would walk across by the bridge up to the Lovejoy mansions and have a court there. And occasionally we would meet Gene Kelly.
He knew we had big serves and he asked us to teach him how to serve a big hard serve.
But he really got disgusted and couldn't catch on. So, anyway, we tried to do it and couldn't.
Did Mom and Pop go to the matches?
No. They didn't go.
Were you good at the piano?
Oh no, no, no. I played one recital and it was under duress.
I hated to practice. I wish I could play now, but I hated to practice. Now, I don't know whether you know or not, but my dad's school was Pittsburgh Musical Institute, which he originated.
He was the president of PMI, which was the third largest teaching musical school in the country. Pop organized some of his friends, Delmar Russell, and Charles Boyd to begin the PMI. They had 2500 pupils and they had branches all around, all over. The Pittsburgh Musical Institute originally was in the building right near _____, and so they moved his school in toto across about 4 blocks to Bellfield Avenue.
The whole darn thing and we would go down. I remember Mr. Ehrlichman was the man who planned the whole thing. While the damn thing was moving you'd hear piano, violin, and all, while it was moving!
It was moved by horse. The horses were tied to the round thing. That's where they developed the power.
It was a very big building with a rotten foundation.
And then of course when they moved to Bellfield Avenue they built a big addition. A recital hall and everything. They had an organ that would rise from the basement floor to the recital hall. As kids it was wonderful when they moved that blasted organ from the basement up to the hall.
How did they move it?
Electrically. And then your father and I often would usher at the recitals. And actually your father and I several summers at Bulton's advertising at PMI would go to Squirrel Hill and we walked all over Squirrel Hill, up and down.
You know that was the Jewish section and your father and I many days, Saturdays and Sundays, would deliver these PMI advertisements all over Squirrel Hill because there weren't many people from Squirrel Hill who were his pupils.
The only time we did hear him when you were very little, we went down to the music school and he played the organ and I think he played the music that he had composed for you when you Mary Ann were born. Mary Ann was the only grandchild that had any music written for them.
Sundays I would take the train to Aliquippa or God knows where all with Bob. I don't know why Will never went with us, to inspect the branch studios. I enjoyed it, but I forget how many any number teachers.
Pop was good with his feet, wasn't he?
Oh, on the organ. He could play a number with his feet. That's when he gave up, when his feet gave out.
Baseball at Forbes Field
I ushered at the baseball games [with Will]. But the only way we got to usher there -
It was a closed thing cause Gus Miller, a little guy who had a tobacco stand past the Shenley Hotel, ran all the ushers and boy he ran them. If you didn't do what Gus Miller said...
Anyway, at the time, Mr. Benswanger, who owned the baseball team, was a pupil of my father's. So my father said to Benswanger, "Could you get my kids in to usher?" So Benswanger told Gus Miller and we got in to usher. We never would have if it hadn't been for Benswanger.
Did you have fun ushering?
Oh goodness, yes. We saw all the top players, Pietrainer, Archie Vaughn, Gus Stewart, Bill Jerry, Giants, Burley Grimes, all those famous baseball people.
This was, I would say, 1928 to 1931. We had a glorious time in Forbes Field right by Shenley Park and it was considered the best baseball park anywhere because it looked right out on Shenley Park which was a fantastic vista for any baseball park.
"Gus Miller’s World Series Ushers,
Pittsburgh vs. New York
Forbes Field, October 21, 1927"
But we thoroughly enjoyed it. And if you were fortunate to be assigned to the box seats, you would take a dust rag with you and you would dust off the box seats and be tipped 10 or 15 cents.
While you and my father were out doing exciting things like that, what were the girls doing?
They were at school.
So in the summer, when you were doing the ushering, would they have to stay home and do housekeeping things or did they go out with their friends?
I don't know that they just stayed home and did housekeeping stuff. They had their things and we had ours, I guess.
I don't think of them having a lot of freedom to go out and about either.
My mother encouraged day after day Gertrude and Martina to go out. My mother encouraged them all the time.
What is the story about the Nutman?
The thing I know about the nutman was that one day during every year it was "Nutman Day." I don't know what the day was, whether it was autumn or spring, but one day was the nutman day.
My father, I don't know how it happened where we would be, but he would go to the front door and throw in nuts, walnuts, pecans and so forth on the floor and then he would run back to the back door in the kitchen, open the door and throw in nuts.
Now that was "Nut Day." That's as much as I remember.
My father would take them and throw them in the kitchen and throw them in the front door.
When we drove to Atlantic City or Ocean Grove or Asbury Park, or whatnot, to which we went every summer. Plus many times we went to Vermilion.
I remember one summer we went to Atlantic City for two weeks and Vermilion for 2-3 weeks. Anyway, the point is, when we would drive to these places, we would stop in the Mennonite country overnight. They would always put a Taylor cake on the pillow.
It's a big round, they call it a Taylor cake, delicious, not chocolate or ginger, but it was brown. The Mennonites would put a big brown Taylor cake on everybody's pillow. So they had a lot of pillows to fill.
When we drove, we usually had nine people in the big Buick. It had two jump seats, but the jump seats met and three people could sit in the jump seats very comfortably. You see there were 6 of our family and Aunt Martha and Aunt Marg and who else? Probably only 8.
All engines boiled over at that time of the year, you drove over the mountains and you would boil over every time. One time we were over half way up and Will and Pop and I went to a nearby farm and they had containers about this big and we filled them all with water and made many trips. But at that time, you see, they had all up the mountain road three or four different people selling water.
I never got to drive until I was in college and then I drove. The first time I drove, our brakes went out in the big Buick. No foot brake at al. We had hand brake. So three-quarters to the way to Atlantic City I had to use the big hand brake in the middle all the way to slow down and to stop.
We'd go to Atlantic City and I thoroughly enjoyed it then because I liked to watch the people on the boardwalk and the meals were fantastic, absolutely fantastic, at the Haddon Hall Hotel and the Dennis Hotel.
Dee and I had our honeymoon trip at the Dennis Hotel, which was a lovely place. The meals were fantastic, absolutely fantastic. Of course, Atlantic City today is entirely different.
I'm sure you're aware that mom always, regardless of who or who was not in the car, always sat in the back seat on the right hand side, as per Queen Mary.
It was Mom over the years who took care of the money. And she's the one that during the year saved the money for our trips. I mean we all went on vacations together, the whole family, plus Aunt Martha and Marg most times, whether it was Atlantic City or Asbury Park or Vermilion or where.
Mom's the one that through the years saved the money for our trips. Every year we went on a trip. Sometimes four weeks.
Pop and the other three directors took what was left after the rest of the musicians were paid.
And in the early days, 10-12,000 income was fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Of course he had income from his church organ playing too. But Mom was the one that garnered the money so we could have vacation trips.
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