Wednesday, December 7, 2016

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

Ed Wood lived here at 35 Delano St. in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Miracle on Delano St.

An overhead view of Eddie's old neighborhood.
In our first Poughkeepsie Odyssey, we recently shared a few details about Ed's final residence in his home town of Poughkeepsie, NY before he left for World War II: a modest apartment at 1 Fountain Place. Previously, the historical record had only identified Ed's birthplace, another apartment house at 115 Franklin St., a structure that was torn down within the last few years. Could he have resided elsewhere in Poughkeepsie while growing up?

We'll find out in this week's Ed Wood Wednesdays!

Eddie's father and namesake, Edward Davis Wood, married Lillian C. Phillips on November 28, 1922 at the Hedding Methodist Church in Poughkeepsie, New York. Little more than a year later, Lillian was pregnant with the couple's first son, Edward Davis Wood, Jr. Flash forward a decade, and the 1940 US census record has the family living at 35 Delano St in Poughkeepsie. 

According to that same document, the Woods were already living at 35 Delano at least as early as 1935. This residence—and, yes, it's still standing—is located about six blocks north of Ed's first home on Franklin St, and roughly a quarter mile from the east end of the Mid-Hudson Bridge. 

Delano is a one-way street that bends like an elbow about halfway through. It extends east from Clover St. before abruptly changing its mind and plummeting south to Union. The Woods' former residence at 35 Delano is located right near that elbow. The entire block largely consists of apartment houses and buildings.

The apartment house itself is a sturdy colonial built in 1870 with three units—presumably a ground floor apartment and two upstairs apartments—and a fireplace. Totaling ten rooms occupying 3,000 square feet, 35 Delano contains four bathrooms for its inhabitants. In 1940, Ed's neighbors at 33 and 37 Delano respectively were: Edward L. Food, a machinist, and his wife, Anna; and Pete J. Yerganson, a laborer who lived with his mother, also named Anna, his wife, Elaine, and their nine-year-old son, Richard.

Edward Davis Wood, Sr. would have been his mid-forties by this time. He was a custodian at the local post office, a job for which he earned $1,100 in 1939. That was a high-end salary among his (entirely Caucasian) neighbors at the time. And he needed the money, since the Woods had a second child by then: Eddie's oft-overlooked younger brother Howard William Wood, who typically went by his middle name.

There's always a bit of a wrinkle in cases like this. Joseph Masterson, the census taker who recorded these details on April 22, 1940, listed Edward D. Wood, Jr. as 16 years old. If Eddie was born in October of 1924—and I believe he was—he would actually have been 15 in April of 1940.

The 1940 census lists Ed's age as 16.

Meanwhile, a wedding anniversary article for Ed's parents in the Poughkeepsie Eagle News from November 28, 1940 places the Woods at their subsequent residence, 1 Fountain Place. The family, therefore, must have moved from Delano to Fountain Place sometime between April and November of 1940.

Eddie's parents celebrate an anniversary.

Not starring: George Keseg.
Already residing at 1 Fountain Place was Ed's close high school friend, George Keseg. George worked at the Bardavon Theater, like Ed, and was in the same grade at Poughkeepsie High School. The pair enlisted into the military on the same day in 1941, with Ed dropping out of school in his junior year. George was badly injured in the war and returned to Poughkeepsie in 1944. By 1946, when Ed briefly returned home after the war before leaving Poughkeepsie for good, he attempted—apparently without success—to stage his play, The Casual Company, there, with Keseg part of the acting troupe. 

Close as they eventually became, Wood and Keseg did not grow up together. The 1940 census places George at 1 Fountain Place, but in 1935, Keseg lived in Yonkers, about 70 miles due south. By 1940, he resided with his older sister, Helene, and her family: brother-in-law Joseph Wermter (born in Germany) and George's adolescent nieces, Joanna and Janet. Incidentally, Joseph made $1,250 as a bearing grinder in 1939.

What happened in Poughkeepsie wouldn't stay in Poughkeepsie, at least not for long. Ed returned briefly to his home town after the war in 1946, but he left again and soon landed in Hollywood. He never went back. But we'll go back again, right here at Ed Wood Wednesdays!

Special thanks to my friend, expert Woodologist James Pontolillo, whose research into Ed's upbringing in Poughkeepsie infuses this article throughout. For more views of 35 Delano St., check out the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr.