Do You Remember the TV Show?
WHEN CONSHOHOCKEN WAS FEATURED
It was Nearly 30 Years Ago
By Jack Coll
So, I was just sitting around in my office when I wondered how many people remembered the television show “UNSOLVED MYSTERIES?” I must admit I think about the show from time-to-time because there was a moment in time when I had a small part in one of the episodes, the key word in that sentence was “small,” I had a very small part, actually if any part in the show at all. Let me start at the beginning.
Back in 1992 I was absorbed in the making of a documentary film called “A Century of Football in Conshohocken.” I considered the film to be some of my best work, it’s was well written, well edited, and had some great visuals along with some great individuals working with me on the film.
A Conshohocken firm called Custom Videography, a professional video business owned by Joe Miller was handling all the filming, interviews and editing of the football film and one day Joe gives me a call and asked me if I had time to spend with a producer from the television show from “Unsolved Mysteries.” So, I’m thinking what the hell does a producer from a television show want with me.
It turns out that the show “Unsolved Mysteries” was working on an episode that involved Conshohocken and needed an advisor for historic location shoots, and they heard that I was a guy who could advise on Conshohocken historic locations. I must admit that I was no more of an authority or an advisor on borough historic locations at the time but they convinced me to spend a couple of hours with this producer.
After a few hours of courting this guy around town it was clear that Conshohocken didn’t have any of the locations they needed for the shoot. They were looking for the building where the subject lived, and that location had been demolished years earlier. They needed an old fashion building with high ceilings and big, old fashion windows and hardwood floors, “No rugs.” They needed a place that would look like an old government facility where the military would hand out death benefits to the widows of deceased soldiers during World War ll. They wanted a street like Fayette Street, with old mansions but much narrower. I felt bad I couldn’t help as they decided to shoot most of the exterior shots in New Jersey.
But, while the camera’s headed for the Walt Whitman Bridge, my interest was piqued about Conshohocken’s roll in this Unsolved Mysteries episode as the guy who rode around in my passenger’s seat for a couple of hours wouldn’t give me much about the content of the show other than, this guy who lived in Conshohocken for a while, had a child with a woman he was living with, but also had a wife in Philadelphia. The fella was killed in the war, but left the Conshohocken woman pregnant and also had a couple of children with his wife. It turns out after all these years the two sons he had with his wife were looking for the half-sister they had from the Conshohocken woman.
Robert Stack, (January 13, 1919-May 14, 2003,) was an actor known for his deep voice and appeared in over forty feature films along with many television roles. He might best be remembered starring in the television series The Untouchables which ran from 1959-1963. He also will best be remembered for his role in the Unsolved Mystery series which ran from 1987-2002.
While Stack played serious roles with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars of the day from the 1940’s into the 1970’s he won a lot of acclaim when he turned to the comedy movies and may best be remembered in such films as “1941,” “Airplane,” “Big Trouble,” “Plain Clothes,” “Caddyshack,” and a number of other films like Beavis and But-Head and “The Transformers.”
But his deep natural voice was a natural for the show “The Untouchables.”
So, if I have this right, the episode pertaining to Conshohocken aired on December 2, 1992, it was Season 5, Episode 12.
So let me tell-it as the story was presented on the show “Unsolved Mysteries” Robert Stack served as the main-narrator to set up the different scenes.
In 1943, the outscore of World War II hung in the balance as the United States and allied forces launched an all-out assault on the German/Italian strong holds in North Africa. After months of fierce combat, and thousands of allied causalities enemy resistance finally collapsed. But during the summer and fall sporadic fighting continued to claim American lives.
One of these killed in action was Army Private Harry A. Young from Philadelphia Pennsylvania. He left behind a wife and two sons. Thirty-seven years later, (Remember this was in 1992) Harry A. Young would become the focal point of an “Unsolved Mystery” when his son and granddaughter came across his obituary when researching his family history. The information in the death notice seemed all wrong as if it had been written for a different man.
Albert Young-son of Harry Young
When I found the death notices, I realized it wasn’t written right. The mothers first name was right. A baby girl was mentioned and me and my brother were not mentioned. At first, I thought the paper made a mistake, which was common, papers made mistakes. I thought they got the information wrong. So, I made a copy so I could go into it further.
So, Robert Stack went on to explain that Albert’s search took him back to World War II. Harry had already served six years in the Marine Corp and now, at the age of 30, he had a family to support. So, Harry re-enlisted following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. He was required by law to get his wife Laura’s permission to re-enlist, Laura adamantly refused. When she refused to sign with her approval for Harry to re-enlist, Harry walked out of his Philadelphia home never to return. He had no idea that Laura was pregnant with their second child. Four months later using forged documents, Harry enlisted in the Army and was sent overseas to fight in the African campaign. Only then did he inform Laura what he had done.
Stack: On October 24, 1943, Laura Young received the news every soldier’s wife fears, her husband Harry was dead. A short time later the local office of the Veterans Administration uncovered a serious problem. According to their records Harry Young was survived by two wives.
So, following military death benefits protocol Laura Young filed for Harry’s death benefits but there was one little problem, a Laura Young had already been to the office to collect Harry’s benefits. Laura objected claiming she was Harry’s wife. Military officials asked Laura if she had a baby daughter, Laura adamantly stated that she had two sons, the very next question was “Do you live on Fayette Street in Conshohocken?” to which she replied “NO” “I’ve always lived in Philadelphia.” Now, Laura and the military had a problem.
As it turned out, when Harry walked out on his wife Laura, he began living with a woman named Estella on lower Fayette Street in Conshohocken. After a long and humiliating battle with the Veterans Administration Laura Young was finally able to prove that she was Harry’s lawful wife so she was able to retain the benefits for herself and her two sons Albert and Jimmy.
As it turned out, Estella was also pregnant with a daughter and used Laura’s name to collect benefits. So, as Robert Stack explained that the details of Harry and Estella’s love affair was kept secret from his two sons Harry and Jimmy. Then in 1992 an intriguing letter surfaced. It had been written by Estella and sent to Harry’s parents the day after she learned of Harry’s death.
The letter read:
October 24, 1943
Sunday 10:30 AM
Dear Mother and Dad Young,
This is a very hard letter for me to write, for you must have received the same kind of telegram I did yesterday, I can’t believe it and won’t believe that he will never come back to me again. I guess I had better explain myself to you. I know Harry would have wanted it that way. I knew he was married and that we couldn’t be, so we lived together as man and wife. He was happy and we really loved each other very deeply.
We have a three-month old baby girl, she was born July 29, (1943) We named her Kathleen Mary Young. I loved him more than life itself and still believe he will come back to me someday.
As Stack explained, “After receiving no reply to her letter Estella paid a visit to Harry’s parents. (The meeting didn’t go well) Estella met Harry’s father at the door, his father was not in favor of the affair or interested in meeting his granddaughter. It was their only meeting.”
So, the letter set things in motion for the two brothers to meet their half sister that they had known nothing about. As Albert explained, him and his brother Jim wanted to know if she was alive? Did she get married and have children? And so-on. The two brothers now knew of their half sister Kathleen, who was born in Conshohocken, but Kathleen knew next to nothing about her two brothers until the night of the broadcast in December 1992.
Again, as Robert Stack explained:
That evening, (The evening of the broadcast) Kathleen couldn’t have been more surprised when she heard her name on television. By the next morning she had talked to both Albert and Jim. Kathleen had heard that Harry’s parents rejected her mother and she knew about one of her brothers but she never imagined that anyone was looking for her.
On September 19, 1993 the long separation came to an end when Kathleen Young Alberti accompanied by her family came to Stratford New Jersey to meet her half-brothers for the first time.
The cameras were rolling as the brothers and sister met for the first time and captured a group of neighbors and local residents gathered outside the house to witness the meeting. At the time of the meeting, they had been apart for 50 years, and now together for the first time.
Harry and Estella lived at 32 Fayette Street in an apartment above Gabins Hardware Store. When Harry enlisted in the service he had been living with Estella and was aware of her pregnancy when he departed. When he was killed his daughter Kathleen was three months old still living in the apartment above Gabins Hardware. I could not find any additional information as to how long Estella and Kathleen lived in Conshohocken following Harry’s death.
Gabins Hardware Store was located just beyond the Matsonford Bridge on the southwest corner of Fayette and West Elm Streets. The popular restaurant “The Spot” was located next door at that time, at 30 Fayette Street, in later years Frank Rykowski ran his Jewelry store from 30 Fayette Street. The “Fayette House” was just across the street on the southeast corner. At that time just around the corner was Kroszczynski’s Grocery Store, Felix Jemionek Tailors and Cleaners and Mary Radatti’s Ice Cream Store among others.
Below is a copy of Harry Young’s obituary as it appeared in the Conshohocken Recorder newspaper dated November 9, 1943.
Pvt. H. Young is listed as Dead In Action
Husband of Local Resident Was in N. Africa
Baby, 3 Months
Mother About To Send Photo of Infant
Pvt. Harry A. Young, 31, U.S. Infantry, husband of the former Laura Rogers, of Coatesville, now residing at 32 Fayette Street has been reported killed in action in the North African area.
“I still believe he is alive,” his attractive 27-year-old wife said today as she held their 3-month-old daughter Kathleen. “I can’t believe it’s true that he may be gone.”
Assigned to North Africa early this summer PVT. Young never has seen his infant daughter born July 29 at Sacred Heart Hospital, Norristown.
“I have been waiting for her photographs to be finished to send my husband.” Mrs. Young said of the baby, but they have been delayed and he never has seen even a photograph of her.”
Pvt. Young is a native of Maple-Shade N. J. where he attended school and enlisted at the age of 19 in the U. S. Marine Carps. He served six years and was honorably discharged. Drafted in February 1940 for a year Army training he was again honorably discharged six months later because of his previous extensive military training.
Enlisting in the Army in March 1941, he has been in the service since receiving his basic training at Wheeler, Ga. And stationed later at Pine Camp, N. Y. Fort Devens, Mass. and Camp Pickett, VA, from where he left in May for North Africa.
Mrs. Young heard regularly from him until two months ago. She believed the delay due to a hold-up in the mail. The silence was broken only by the telegram from Adjutant General Ulio of the War Department, bringing the grim tidings.
Mrs. Young resides with her sister Mrs. Dominic Ruggerio, whose husband is in service at Camp Grant, Ills., in the Gabin Apartment, 32 Fayette Street. She has lived here a year, employed for a time at Lee Rubber and Tire Company. Pvt. Young was employed at Bancroft Tire Company, Kennet Square before enlistment in the Army.
NOTE: Estella and Harry were never married but lived together as husband and wife. Estella knew of Harry’s wife Laura and their one son Albert, but not Jim. Laura Young knew nothing about her husband Harry and Estella or their child Kathleen.
So, that’s the story that ran on national television some 30 years ago mentioning Conshohocken. Although it took a half a century for this story to come to light, I was happy for Albert, Jim and Kathleen.
I also wonder what other mysteries exist in and around Conshohocken, every community has one or two good mysteries but not all communities want their mysteries brought to light for one reason or another, and you have to respect that.
Just another Conshohocken story where many of our residents say, “Hey, I didn’t know that.”
Photographs above include:
Two photographs of Robert Stack, Taken from Robert Stack’s Wikipedia site
Gabins Hardware Store once located at the corner of Fayette and West Elm Street, you can see two apartments on the second floor of the building where Harry and Estella lived with Estella’s sister.
A screen-shot of Harry Young’s obit, source unknown
A screen-shot of Harry Young in uniform
A screen-shot of the letter found in 1992 that Estella had written to Harry’s parents.
A screen-shot of the meeting that took place on September 19, 1993 when Jim, Kathleen and Albert met for the first time in New Jersey.
Conshystuff.com features hundreds of articles by Jack and Brian Coll, many are of community interest, while others are historical interest including a series called “History of a House” talking about some of this community’s most interesting residents.