In childhood, we press our nose to the pane, looking out.
In memories of childhood, we press our nose to the pane, looking in.
Sometimes, finding the answers to puzzles or solutions to mysteries involves a lot of research and leg-work and frustration. And sometimes, it’s pure serendipity; such is the case with our mystery.
My original blog post on 59 North 5th Street elicited an amazing response. I had made some attempts to locate relatives of the Steckels, but between a full-time job with a 100-mile a day commute, and the fact that the surname “Steckel” might as well be “Smith” here in Pennsylvania, I was not able to make a lot of headway.
Then very recently, Elizabeth Ingham Steckel Armstrong (Betsy), William Bradford Steckel (Brad) and Henry Franklin Steckel III (Hank) were looking online for information regarding Mount Ida (aka “Coca Cola Mountain"). As often happens with internet searches, they were led to the Patch article and started looking around. When they found the original blog post on Mt Jefferson , they were shocked and pleased by all the interest shown. When they posted under the comments section, I asked them to email me, puh-leeze!
And they did. Boy did they
All 3 of the Steckels have very clear and extremely happy memories of our mystery house. What is a “mystery house” for me, and for a lot of people in Easton was for them a place where family gatherings and birthdays were celebrated. Most importantly, it was where their loving and indulgent grandmother, Mabel Simmons Steckel lived.
“Marnie”, as she was known to her grandchildren, was the wife and widow of Daniel E Steckel, the son of Henry Franklin Steckel, the Easton attorney and owner of the “big house”. Marnie’s house was given as a wedding gift when she married Daniel in 1912. Daniel died at the relatively young age of 43 in 1923. Marnie & Daniel’s son, Henry Franklin Steckel II was the father of the 3 Steckels who stumbled onto Patch.
Betsy, Brad and Hank have many happy memories of Marnie’s house, and remember quite a bit about the interior. The parquet flooring in the entryway and the way the afternoon light would refract into little rainbows through the leaded glass windows of the first floor are enduring memories for both Betsy and Brad.
Both of them recall the buzzer in the floor under the dining room table that could be discreetly tapped by the lady of house to let the kitchen know they were ready for the next course. That dining table now belongs to Brad. A couple, James, who was the chauffeur, and Genevieve who cooked for the house “lived-in” as help and resided in quarters in the finished lower level of the house.
The living room and dining room were separated by pocket doors, and could also be closed off with a heavy dark curtain. Everything in the house was old-fashioned when the children would visit in the 1950s. There was an old stove, a kitchen table, a sink and an ice box in the kitchen. Betsy was always perturbed that there was never any ice cream because the ice box couldn’t keep it frozen! There was a laundry area in the basement; Marnie used an old-fashioned washer with the wringers attached. The house wasn’t completely antiquated, though – Betsy remembers being with Marnie and Aunt Mady (Mabel’s sister, Marion Simmons Newell) when Elvis was on “The Ed Sullivan Show” – “they had a fit!” she says.
Betsy remembers Marnie as a very doting grandmother, but one who did things “the proper way”; a Bostonian, Marnie was very unique in her thinking and ways. Betsy says:
“My mother told me that Marnie gave a party for my parents before they were married. She and my great Aunt Mady stood on the landing at the bottom of the stairs, champagne glasses in hand, and toasted my parents. They then dramatically threw their glasses into the fireplace! My mother found this amusing”
Marnie’s son had an interest in photography as a young man and there was a darkroom in the basement. There was also a root cellar.
In 1936, Marnie and her son (who was an only child) traveled around the world, including visits to Hawaii and the Philippines; they sailed on the President Lincoln. Brad remembers seeing some old 16mm footage taken by his father in which a freighter hung with a big Nazi flag is shown going through the Panama Canal. The third floor of the house was a wonder to Brad; it was filled with items they had brought back from their travels and he loved to spend time poking around the souvenirs.
The children spent a lot of time outdoors, exploring the grounds. They were cautioned about the remains of the “big house” on top of the mountain. Brad remembers the remains of the basement in the middle of a fairly open flat area. He would roam around the property and wonder why there were staircases near the top that seemed to go nowhere; it was all very mysterious and wonderful for a young boy. According to Brad and Hank, there are “exactly 101 steps” that lead from the house down to North West Street behind the Morning Call building. Much to my disappointment, neither Brad nor Betsy can shed any light on the “door” in the wall on North West Street; however, I am not going to give up!
You can see Betsy, Brad, Hank, their parents Henry II and Eleanor, as well as Marnie and Aunt Mady in the pictures that accompany this article, along with photos of “the house” in its former glory.
By 1963, Marnie was unable to live by herself and the property was listed for sale. It was sold to Rocks Construction in 1965. Marnie died in 1972; Aunt Mady passed away in 1967.
As you can see, Betsy, Brad and Hank remember many things about our “mystery”, but, as Betsy says, what they remember most is “our dear Marnie and how she loved us”.
I know that’s how I’ll think of the “Mystery on Bushkill Hill” from now on – as “Marnie’s House” – a house of history, rather than mystery, and a house of love and happiness and elegance – things that today are all too rare.
I am indebted beyond measure to Betsy Armstrong, Brad Steckel and Hank Steckel for being generous enough to share their memories, their photographs, and most of all – their “Marnie” – with all of us.
Huge thanks to Richard and Ginny Hope, who provided amazingly detailed historical research and who never once told me what a pest I was for calling theme every time I found something “new” about this story. They are lovely people.
Thanks, too, to noted bottom-feeding blogger Bernie O’Hare for his property record search.
For more detailed information on “the big house”, including its disappearance, those cannons, and never-before-published photos of HFS at the house, please look for Richard Hope’s forthcoming articles in the “Easton Irregular”.