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Sunday, March 7, 2021

TSD History Corner: Stroman, Fitzgerald & The Betts Family

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Folks, the people in Wilmington were very fortunate in the nineteenth century to have the Bett’s family entrepeneuring skills used for them. There were three generations of Betts family members of innovative founders and machinist.

They played a significant role in the establishment of the Betts Machine Company, the Harlan and Hollingsworth Company and the Pusey and Jones Company.

In 1860, the brothers Edward, 1825-1917, and Alfred, 1836-1918, constructed a large machine shop and in 1867 added a foundry to their plant on Newport Pike. Newport Pike was later renamed Maryland Avenue. This plant was located at Maryland Avenue and Beech Street. In 1917 the E.I. du Pont de
Nemours & Co. purchased this plant and named it the Betts Shops of DuPont. The DuPont Co. renamed the plant in1923 to Wilmington Shops. This plant is no longer there. It should be noted that the Wilmington Shops employed over a thousand skilled workers at one time.

This parade of Betts entrepreneurs in Wilmington started with Mahlon Betts, 1795-1867, a carpenter who arrived in Wilmington in 1812 and went on to construct many prominent buildings. He diverged into foundry work and built a large foundry at 8th and Orange Street. In 1825 he partnered with Samuel Pusey. It was said of his son, Edward Betts, “No good cause but had in him a champion, or no evil but found in him a determined foe. He dealt justly by all men, and left the world better for having lived in it.” No loftier encomium should any person desire.

Folks, here is an article that I hope you find interesting. It concerns the famous novelist Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, 1896-1940, and mentions the two years he lived north of Wilmington in a mansion called Ellerslie. The article notes that it was along the Delaware River in Edgemoor. I read that it had 27 bedrooms and that Scott and Zelda developed an elaborate communications system to let the other know what part of the house they were in.

It should be noted that their 2-year stay at Ellerslie was interrupted by a short jaunt to France. Fitzgerald’s great-grandfather’s brother was Francis Scott Key’s brother, the author of our National Anthem. This should explain his name. Furthermore, on the other side of the ledger, Fitzgerald’s father’s aunt was Mary Surratt who was hanged in 1865 for her involvement in Pres. Lincoln’s assassination. Mrs. Surratt has the distinction of being the first woman to be executed by the U.S. government. Too late for Mrs. Surratt, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1866 ruled in Ex parte Milligan that a military court had no jurisdiction in civilian cases, if a civil court was open.

Fitzgerald {FSF} dropped out of school to enlist in the Army in 1917. FSF was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Infantry. WW I ended just prior to him being sent overseas.

FSF was regarded as The Saturday Evening Post’s writer. His publication of, This Side of Paradise on March 26, 1920 made the twenty-four-year-old famous overnight. He married Zelda Sayre in 1920. FSF’s second novel, The Beautiful and the Damned was well received by the public.

FSF was a confirmed alcoholic, but he wrote sober. He wrote in Echoes of the Jazz Age–” It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of satire.” His The Great Gatsby is considered a classic American novel.

A reporter once asked him what he thought had become of the Jazz-mad, gin drinking generation that he wrote about in his This Side of Paradise. FSF, not one lost for words replied, “Some became brokers and threw themselves out of windows, others became bankers and shot themselves. Still others became newspaper reporters and a few others became successful authors.”

A scholium: Also, Robert Mitchum spent a brief amount of time in Delaware — it seems as if it were only one year, when his parents sent him from CT to live with his grandparents in Felton. It looked like an eventful year, though, because at the age of 12 he was kicked out of school for fighting and met the girl he would later marry.

Folks, Susan Stroman, was born in 1954 in Wilmington, Delaware. She is a 1976 graduate of the University of Delaware, majoring in English. Susan Stroman was acting in a Wilmington Community theater when see got to see a Touring version of “Seesaw” at the Wilmington Playhouse that featured the legendery song and dance man, Tommy Tune, in cloggs leading a chorus line of girls festooned with ballons. This lit the fire in her for Broadway–she proceeded to move to New York City, where her exceptional talents could be exposed. Stroman worked as a dancer for a while, then she spread her wings and began choreographing plays on Broadway, for TV and the New York Ballet. She won her first Tony Award for Crazy for You in 1992.

Accolades became the norm for Wilmington’s Susan Stroman. She has won five Tony Awards, two Laurence Olivier Awards, five Drama Desk Awards, eight Outer Circle Awards, a record four Fred Astaire Awards, and the Lucille Lortel Award. And on top of all these Awards, she walked away with the George Abbott Award for her Outstanding Achievements in the Theater. Among other things she directed and choreographed the hit play, The Producers.

To her laurels is the fact that Susan Stroman was the first woman ever to choreograph a full-length ballet for the New York City Ballet Company. This was the Double Feature (ballet) with music by Irving Berlin and Walter Donaldson, it is now in the New York City Ballet repertoire.

Susan Stroman married the acclaimed British director Mike Ockrent in 1996. Ockrent is quoted in 1986 as saying,”My job is to find something that makes a unified evening with a shape, that goes somewhere, and with characters the audience believes in. Sadly, Ockrent died in 1999 at age 53 from leukemia.

 

Today’s TSD History Corner comes from Alex F. Wysocki, who is a Veteran of WWII, served in the Pacific Theater and was part of the original occupation of Japan. He has a passion for the history of state he was born in, Delaware.

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State to ramp up vaccines for teachers, has given 253,535 doses of vaccine

253,535 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered as of Friday, the state said.

Schools hope summer programs, support will avoid students being held back

  Droves of students will not be held back because of interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Delaware educators say. Instead, schools will bear down on...

Do More 24 shatters record in first three hours, ends with 5 times last year’s total

The grand total for the 2021 event will be announced Saturday by 8 p.m.
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