Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Poughkeepsie Odyssey, Part One by Greg Dziawer

This week, we travel back to Ed Wood's hometown of Poughkeepsie, NY.

1 Fountain Place: Your Dreams Were Your Ticket Out

In this week's Ed Wood Wednesdays, two days after observing what would have been Ed's 92nd birthday on October 10, we're travelling back in time to his 17th birthday in 1941.

Less is doubtless more, and this brief snippet from The Poughkeepsie Journal (the second-oldest daily newspaper in the United States), dated October 13, 1941, is a picture-window on Ed, albeit a smudged one.

Note the discrepancy regarding Ed's age.

Ed was early into his sophomore year at Poughkeepsie High School at that time, and the Netco Theater Corporation (Paramount's northeast subsidiary) ran the Bardavon Theater on Market St in the the city's downtown district, where Ed worked as an usher. The usual record places Ed as usher at the Bardavon in the "late '30s," but this indicates he was still working there not long before joining the Marines. The Bardavon is still active (as the Bardavon Opera House), a performing arts venue now, as it was when it opened in 1869. During Ed's youth, it showed vaudeville acts (Burns and Allen played there) along with films. A few months before Ed's birthday party in 1941, a young Frank Sinatra performed there as vocalist for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. And it's worth noting that the Bardavon is haunted by Roger, once a stage-hand there.

Bet you never thought Ira Glass' name would come up in this series.

And here's a look at the Bardavon's entryway.

Ed would have been very familiar with these doors.

Ed's first residence was 115 Franklin Street in Poughkeepsie, a multi-unit residence of over 4500 square feet, built in 1890. Until it was torn down recently, real estate listings as late as 2013 mention six units, pictures showing a boarded-up building.

Eddie's first home, 115 Franklin Street.

Today, with the house demolished, the location looks like this:

The lot where 115 Franklin Street used to be.

At some point, the Wood family moved into an apartment building at 1 Fountain Place, a mere four blocks from Poughkeepsie High.

1 Fountain Place as it looks today..

One of Eddie's classmates was George Keseg (last name spelled incorrectly in the birthday article, which also connects George to Ed as fellow employee at the Bardavon), who also lived in the same building as Ed at 1 Fountain Place. They must have been tight. The two enlisted into the military together on the same day.

A newspaper clipping about Ed Wood and his pal and neighbor, George Keseg.

It's worth mentioning—as always seems the case in Woodology, there's a wrinkle— that the birthday article has Ed turning 18 in 1941. Ed's birth year is everywhere listed and universally agreed to be 1924. While I'm no math expert, if he was born in 1924, his 17th birthday would have occurred in 1941. 

Expert Woodologist James Pontolillo speculates: "So far, that one newspaper clip about the party is the only source that doesn't add up. If nothing else turns up to support it, a typo is the most likely explanation."

Map of Poughkeepsie. Fountain Place is in in the upper right quadrant.

1 Fountain Place is the sort of brick apartment building you'll find on street corners in plenty of old northeastern industrial towns, of which Poughkeepsie is a prototype. I don't know why the Wood family moved there, but for whatever reason, they left their apartment on Franklin St. 

1 Fountain Place turned out to be Ed's final residence in Poughkeepsie. Once he left for the military, he never returned. 

But we'll return to 1 Fountain Place, and meet some of his neighbors, and we'll return to Poughkeepsie future episodes of Ed Wood Wednesdays!

Special thanks: To my friend James Pontolillo, whose amazing research into Ed's early life infuses this article throughout; and to Woodologist Stash Surowiec, who graciously shared photos of the now-empty lot at 115 Franklin St and the Bardavon from a trip he made to Poughkeepsie earlier this year, in February.