P. O. Box 7442
Steelton, Pennsylvania 17113-0442
of Jacob Benjamin Franklin
Friends of Midland
is privileged and fortunate to receive many treasured family papers,
documents and photographs from local residents and former Steelton residents
now living far away. We take seriously our stewardship role, proud
that this community trusts us to preserve not just local history, but their
own family history. To that end we strive to make available on the web
as much information as possible, believing that an understanding of our
common history is not just a right, but a responsibility.
Benjamin Franklin's autobiography is one such piece of history
that tells not only the story of his own family, but reveals through rich
detail what daily life was like in Front Royal, Virginia, and then in
Harrisburg, Lochiel, Steelton, and finally Oberlin. He relates boyhood
memories of seeing the Graf Zeppelin, delivering milk, moving to
Pennsylvania, living beside the railroad tracks in Lochiel, attending the
Hygienic School and finally moving to high school. Franklin's adult
life included stints as a railroad laborer, steel worker, army service
during World War II and as an embalmer for local funeral homes. He
later worked in the pathology labs and did autopsies at Polyclinic Hospital
and Holy Spirit Hospital.
Remembrances of Jacob Benjamin Franklin
Aka Jacob September Baker (not dated)
(transcribed exactly, with original punctuation and grammar)
From the first acknowledgement of me and the persons around
me as an individual among individuals began in 1921 as I have later
pinpointed the time to have been. It was in Front Royal, Virginia on
Water Street, there was Clare Franklin And Charley Franklin, both whom I
called Mom and daddy. Also there was a lady, called Kate Jackson,
Clara’s mother, who had just died and the Undertaker, Mr. Maddox, with a
black wagon and two horses waiting to take her away. I recall getting
the butcher knife from the kitchen table to stop him from taking my Nina
Although I was just three years old, I recall Charley “Buddy” and
Georgie Jackson, Buddy was Clara’s son who lived in the Dungen House, a
big house up the street. The Dungan family was Georgie’s parents. Buddy
was a known horseman who cared for horses up on the Remount (Government
There was Jessie Jackson, John Jackson, Charley Jackson, Alice Jackson,
Eva Jackson and Eugene Jackson. Sam Jackson and Ann Jackson’s children.
Sam was a brother of Clara, and had a peg leg, I think they say a horse
fell on him.
There was the Dean family who ran a grocery store, that had their
grandson and granddaughter living with them that were my first
Across from us lived the Wade Travis family, relatives of sort where we
often visited and I played with their five or six children, also the
Carter DeNeil family of three children that I remember.
Now Charley Franklin worked construction, building the Post Office in
Front Royal, that still stands out as good workmanship. I recall his
having volunteered to be hoisted up the flag pole to paint it and the
people standing around to watch him. There may be an article in the
archives of the Front Royal Sentinel as it was a long talked of fete
aside from the dedication of the Post Office.
At four years old, I would get up on summer mornings and ride with the
Milk-man delivering milk. I started going to a day school, run by a Mrs.
Julian Jeffrey and learned to read the primary books. By the time I was
five I could recite most of the stories in the book.
Buddy used to ride his horses down, to the Dungen House and would have
Georgie hand me up to set in front of him, for a short ride. As I look
back, Georgie was a very attractive, aristocratic looking person, right
out of the story books of Washington society. One day The horse reared
back on his hind legs and Charley “Buddy,” tossed me back into George’s
arms; I was not hurt or made afraid. I began to love being around horses
and was given more rides whenever there was a chance.
One day a man on a bicycle came riding by our house and Mom, who Georgie
called Mother Clara, told me that that man was my daddy. He talked about
his two daughters and said when I got bigger he would get me a bicycle.
I never saw him after that for many years. I really didn’t like him
because he called me his boy and I was Charley Franklin’s boy.
One Saturday, everybody ran out into the street to watch the Zeppelin on
its maiden voyage pass. It was a real long, like a cigar and moved slow.
Some summer nights Buddy and Georgie would take me down town Front Royal
for Chinese food, we would pass the movie house with its bright lights
but never went in. I later learned that Black People was not admitted.
“Jim Crow,” a term I grew to learn of ant hated.
In 1924, we moved to a place called Harrisburg as Charley (my daddy) got
a job offer building Hershey, Pennsylvania with a Contractor that knew
of his mixing dark mortar. Getting mortar and brick up to raise a
building was done on the shoulders of men, called hod-carriers; Charles
Franklin was in my eyes a big, strong man. He had been one of the first
policemen on the Steelton force back in 1800.
In Harrisburg, we lived on Seventh Street, Current Street and later
moved to Lochiel, between Harrisburg and Steelton during the next three
years of leaving my friends in Virginia. During these days I came to
know Joe, Gladys and Estelle as my brother and sisters. I met Uncle
Charley, Uncle William, Uncle Rob and Aunt Bert.
While in Harrisburg we were close with the Rev. Henry Corbin family and
made many memorable trips with them back to Virginia to church meetings
in their model T that would run out of water and get very hot every so
many miles, but we children had fun. His children Johnny, Henry and
Lorraine became my close friends down through the years, even after we
moved into the Steelton area.
Lochiel was just a named place; we lived by the railroad tracks and the
engineers and crewmen use to blow and wave at me every day; I thought
that was big. In Harrisburg I went to a Catholic Day School and like it,
they served milk and Graham crackers, until I had to get the needle
inoculation. I remember they broke the needle point off in Gladys arm
and that hurt her, I didn’t like them any more. We only stayed in
Lochiel a couple months and there was no school, it must have been
Charles Franklin (daddy to me), had relatives living in Steelton who
suggested we move there, just a mile away. There was a school and they
wanted me in school. We moved to 222 Bailey Street and later to 166
Ridge Street. (That number later became the first number pulled in the
draft for what later became World War Two and my assigned draft number.)
I started to school in 1925 at Hygienic School and had a lot of fun and
made a lot of new friends, Potsie, Simp, Dizzy, Jimy, Blimp, Sag, Dick,
Bolla, Jack, Robert, Alfred, Sock, Johnny, Lunch, Razz, Thomas, David,
Edgar, George Cole, and George McKamey. There were picnics in Rocky
Springs, Willow Mill, Hershey and Williams Grove which meant new summer
clothes and good eating out of a big basket.
One Christmas, Aunt Laura, who was daddy’s sister came with
bird-coloring gifts for me and offered to rent daddy a house she and Mr.
Mont, her husband, owned on Lincoln Street, next to them, and so we
moved. The house had more modern fixtures and close to the trolley stop.
It was a big house and I liked my room as it had a good view. I had
several parties from there as well as making more friends. I would spend
my summers in Clark’s Summit, Pa. where Buddy lived, taking care of
horses for the wealthy. I learned to ride and go on fox hunts, and fish
in the lake. Mom use to tie a rope around me and sit on the dock holding
onto one end in case I started to drown, that was her protection of
During this time I came to know Aunt Bert and her daughter Leona, Aunt
Emma and her children Charley Eddie, Virginia and Mary. Virginia and
Mary began to tell me of my earlier days, before the age of three, when
they brought me from Virginia in a clothes basket to live with them on
Drummond Street in Harrisburg, after my real mother, Mary Baker took
sick and was sent away. I was about eighteen months old they say.
There use to be a circus ground up near Aunt Bert’s and we often went to
watch the parades. Aunt Bert was a remarkable person for cooking and
loved to feed you when ever. One day, I walked from Steelton with Dizzy
Small and stopped to see Aunt Bert and she fed us until we could eat no
In 1934, I transferred to high school, going from a segregated school to
a integrated system was a trip, for the first time I learned of the
difference in the teaching area covered. We did have smart, brainy
teachers at Hygienic, but their hands were tied by contract as to what,
and how much to teach in the system. I met new friends and teachers,
some I liked, some I disliked. High School sports was not by bag, high
school fraternizing was.
In 1935, we moved again, up the hill to 500 Lincoln Street, in the Mose
Everett’s property and it was there in 1936 that Mom died. I sensed the
fact of losing a dearly loved through death. I was filled with questions
of what to do, or how should I handle this being without my mom. Daddy
was still great, but mom was Mom.
One Sunday afternoon daddy and I had just finished dinner, we always ate
Sunday dinner at 3:00, a car pulled up front. There was Gladys and
Estelle and my first confrontation with Mary Baker, my mother. At
nineteen this was an awkward introduction to accept a year after the
passing of the only mother I had known. I like her, I looked like her,
she was tall an pleasant and talked of regret for not having been with
her children because of her temporary mental condition and her not being
signed out after having been declared as recovered.
My mind flashed back to the man on the bicycle and I disliked him even
more and more determined not to be like the man on the bicycle, who said
he once rode from Front Royal to Harrisburg, some two hundred odd miles.
They talked about Joe and David. David I have not yet met but was of
desire to meet my little brother, I understood that he is a year younger
than me. He too had been taken to live with an Aunt, Judy Parker. Aunt
Judy, Uncle Cain and Uncle Gabriel are three more close relatives I had
There was an Uncle Samuel Jackson living in Edgemont who had died, his
large family still lived there or around, I have not met any of them,
Joe has. My older brother, Joe has just about met all his kin, as he
The years began to move swiftly, I went to work on the railroad, tamping
down and raising track. It was hot in the summers and cold in the
winter, but a job. Mr. Mont arranged a better offer for me by getting me
employed at Bethlehem Steel Company. I worked there until one day, my
draft number was pulled. I was sworn in and swore to myself that I would
make the best of having to leave home. Days became nights, and they both
became months, and years. During this time, newer avenues of training
and education were opening, and I became obsessed with the desire to
prepare for civilian life, when I was discharged.
On my first leave home before shipping out for overseas duty I visited
with my friends, the Bouldings, and by chance me the ideal girl of my
life. Odessa, who was later to become my wife, and mother of my off
spring, Fabian, Charles, Craig and Renae. My swearing to do my best in
the service was paying off, as I had gone through the enlisted ranks in
one year and was commissioned a Warrant Officer.
I was discharged December 26, 1945 after four years, ten months,
twenty-six days of hell and of appreciative experience.
Odessa and I had a built in baby-sitter in that daddy loved taking care
of Fabian and Charles so we both were able to work towards a better
future. I went back to school, finishing embalming and business
administration, she working at Middletown Air Depot.
The better future began unfolding with plans to build a house in Oberlin
Gardens, a nice quiet suburban area, ideal to rear children and feel
secure in. My education and training started paying off. I quit the
Steel Works and started my own accounting business as well as doing
trade embalming for several Funeral Homes; while doing Pathology
Research/Autopsies, for the Harrisburg Polyclinic Hospital and Holy
The move to Oberlin Gardens, twenty-six years has brought Odessa and I
to the “mountain top” feeling that we have lived the life of being
somebody. Our family now numbers four children and the memories of a
deceased daddy, who not by birth right, but by the Grace of God inspired
us to greater heights. He was ninety when he passed and I had had
thirty-five years of his teachings to make the best of and to pass on.
I remember so many good times of my youth and honestly remember of no
bad, hateful, rejected times. The first “sad time” I can recall was when
Kate Jackson, Clara Franklin mother, died and was carried away in a long
basket, she lived with us on Pine Street.
From then on through the years I learned to bear, strive, and enjoy the
ups and downs of life, except those periods of “death losses” of loved
ones (Clara and Charley Franklin). The only mom and dad I knew, until I
was twenty-five, married and had started my family. By then I had two
sets of relatives, the Franklins in Steelton and Virginia, with their
friends had accepted me over the years as Charley Franklin’s boy.
I am only talking of my past now to give honor and respect to those that
made it happen as it did and for whatever enlightenment it may be on the
past as a tie to Black History. I feel I lived a very protected life
under GOD’s Hand. I can, but won’t detail several brushes with death in
Virginia and Pennsylvania over the past 75 years.
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This page was updated March 18, 2006.