View of Market Street in days of old, from boy’s perspective
Raymond Witt of Hannibal, Mo., reflects upon the 1940s and 1950s, when lived with his mother, Roma, above Hedges appliance store, across the street from the Market Street Wedge. 2022 photo by Mary Lou Montgomery.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Memories are among the few tangible remnants of the Market Street Wedge. All that are left of the buildings constructed during the years following the Civil War, and torn down (for the most part) in 1978, are some pictures, scattered newspaper clippings and the memories of an aging populace. These combine to preserve an image of the neighborhood that today is little more than a pass through from one area of Hannibal to another.
And while not all memories are precise, the experiences of one particular young boy, as described in 2022 by a nearly 85-year-old man, remain remarkably accurate when checked against print records of the era of the 1940s and 1950s.
Raymond Witt. White hair and whiskers, boasting a recent right arm tattoo in memory of his late wife.
Back in time
Raymond Witt, his mother, Roma Shafer Witt, and his older brother, Lester Eugene Witt, moved into a second-story apartment at 1231A Market Street, circa 1940. Raymond, born in 1937, was little more than a toddler.
Now in 2022, living alone following the loss of his wife Juanita, in 2021, Raymond passes the time of day on his home’s comfortable front porch, located as it is in the seclusion of the Singleton Street hill in Oakwood. Surrounded by woods, wildflowers and projects awaiting completion, Raymond reflects back to a day when the apartment he grew up in was in the center of a bustling commercial district along Hannibal’s West End.
“My mother, (Roma), my brother and I moved to 1231A Market in 1940; we lived upstairs, it was called a cold water flat. There was no heat or hot water. We heated with a coal stove in the living room.”
The building’s ground flood would soon house the Hedges Supply Company.
Roma, a young widow, went to work across the street at the Annex Cafe.
At the back of their apartment was a two-story porch. “We sat out there in the summer; the porch was top floor of the two-story building. We had to walk down a big flight of stairs, and I had to carry up two or three buckets of coal every day,” during the winter months.
“There was the 150 cab company,” at the tip of The Wedge, “and behind it, the Wedge Cafe. Next, a shop that sold boots and shoes, then Sawyers Grocery and the Annex Cafe. There was Coley Bowles’ Tavern, Jack Alexander had a smokehouse where they played pinochle in the back, there was Krogers, and a radio shop. Another tavern, and beside it was Al Till’s Tavern.”
When he was 8 or 9 years old, Raymond mopped the floors for a store that sold products to dairy farmers. There was the Missouri Brokerage which sold clothing, and a lady had a dress shop that sold uniforms for nurses. “My mom always bought the white uniforms there to work in at the restaurant,” he said.
Heading west on the north side of Market Street was the Ben Franklin Store, and next to the Ben Franklin store was a big store that caught fire. Raymond remembers standing in the parking lot of the old American Trust Company bank and watching the fire.
Across from the bank (to the west) was Whalen’s pharmacy.
“All of these businesses faced Market Street; none faced Broadway,” Raymond said.
Over on the south side of Market, starting at The Wedge, was Toalson’s bakery, Hedges Westinghouse, Schanbacher’s meat market, and a two-story double-faced second-hand business and apartment building, where his mother bought Raymond a used bicycle for $10 in 1943. “I got it for Christmas and I thought I was living high when I got that bicycle.”
Next door to that building was the Dixie Cream Donut Shop, which was no more than 12 feet wide.
“I worked (at the doughnut shop) as a kid, too. Mom would get me up at 4 o’clock and I would go down there and work until 6:30. I helped make the doughnuts.” He would fry them in a great big tub made out of copper, “and that thing would get so hot you couldn’t hardly get near it. It stood about three feet tall and must have been 36 inches across. He’d be making the dough in the back and I would be turning the doughnuts up front. They were real light, in three or four minutes they would be done. They weren’t like a doughnut or long john, they were lighter than the regular doughnuts, and crispy. If you cooked them too long they would blister and break open and they weren’t any good then.
“Count to 12 and flip with a wooden spoon. (The grease) was boiling hot. Lay them out on a drip sheet, they would dry almost instantly.
“Put 12 in a box.
“I worked there 4 o’clock to 6 o’clock and got 50 cents an hour; five days a week. I had to give half to my mom and she put it back and would buy my clothes for me; two pairs of blue jeans, 4-5 pairs of socks, 1 pair of boot type shoes, like a regular shoe with a high thing over the ankles. In the summer I took them off.”
Raymond got his haircuts at Cecil Daniel’s barber shop. Next door was a tavern run by two “old maids,” Raymond said. “They sold magazines on the back wall; they had eight or nine tables and sold beer.”
On July 23, 1941, Raymond was at the Annex Cafe with his mother when a storm blew up.
“Mom was standing in the doorway of the restaurant. She wanted me to shut the (apartment) windows. I ran across the street.”
The wind caught him, and he remembers, “I reached over, grabbed a hold of a pillar, and all the glass front blew out of the Hedges store and fell around me. One, two, three, four big plate glass windows blew out, and blew the roof off and blew it over on the little building next door.”
“But I never got one little scratch,” he said.
“The wind blowed the back of the house off. Windows gone, porch gone; that was our kitchen area. We continued to live there. There was a doorway that went out to the porch; they just boarded the door up and put the windows in and we continued living there. My mother lived there another 10 years.
An early entrepreneur, he was always looking for a means of making money.
“I worked for Toalson’s bakery for awhile. They needed extra help. People were working for the shoe factories, and there were so many orders for donuts. A guy would deliver donuts around town. I helped do this, that, and the other. I cleaned floors and helped package the donuts. They had an automatic donut machine. It would squeeze out a donut and drop it into the oil. I would stack them into a package.
“Schwartz brewery was across the street on the Broadway side; I worked there loading the trucks.
“I delivered Coke Cola on the truck two summers, all over town, and made $18 a week. I was still going to school, I was a junior and senior when I worked on that coke truck. I worked for Gene Williams all my summers and Fridays and Saturdays when I was 14, 15 and 16. I worked for him, delivering Coca Cola” to all the taverns.
“During the war you couldn’t get shoes. I still have a ration book somewhere. You had to have green stamps, so many to get a pair of shoes.
“I remember meatless Tuesdays, and you couldn’t get sugar so Mom used saccharine tablets for sugar; she used Eagle brand cream for coffee in place of milk. When she did get a bottle of milk, it had cream on top; she poured the cream off and used that for her coffee. I remember that quite well. We were poor but we didn’t know we were poor.
“My brother went into the service at 17, to Corpus Christi, Texas for boot camp; he came home for 10 days on leave, then went to San Francisco, and I never saw him again,” until after the war. “He went to the South Pacific, to Saipan, and the Fiji Islands, which had bases all over. He was in the medical unit, and the war moved forward and they had hospitals and recovery places (for the injured) to get well. He used to send Spearmint gum, a whole package. We couldn’t get gum. Mom would cut a stick in half and chew that.
During the war, “Mother would go down to the Armory when they had dances; I’d have to sit up in the balcony. A lot of ladies went down there and danced with soldiers and sailors.
“I saw Frank Sinatra at the armory, when he was real skinny. I remember that real well; I was 6 or 7. They would put on a show for service men who were home on leave. It was awful exciting that things like that were going on. When he was a famous movie star I was proud I got to see him in person.”
(The Hedges building) “had great big plate glass windows; when TVs started coming out, (Floyd Hedges) had a TV on and I used to watch that series where Buster Crabbe was Tarzan, and a space science type of movie series with Flash Gordon. Flash was the good guy.”
(Mr. Hedges) “used to let me sit there and watch the two series that were on the TV. He had refrigerators, stoves, kitchen appliances, and TVs when they first started coming out. That was the first time I had seen a TV. I also watched a western cowboy series; it was nothing like TV is today.
“My mom finally bought one, octagon shaped, 12 inches wide and tall. About that time Quincy came on the air and WGEM was pretty prevalent. On one series, one of commentators would pantomime songs of famous singers of the time, he was really good.”
Roma Witt died May 23, 1994, and is buried at Centenary Cemetery, Ralls County, along with Raymond Witt’s wife, Juanita Alyce Rosenkrans Witt.
Note: Some of the information for this story was obtained through an interview with Raymond Witt i
Raymond Witt, of Hannibal, Mo., regarding his childhood memories living on Hannibal's Market Street, near the Wedge. Interview by Mary Lou Montgomery at his home in Oakwood on April 26, 2022.
The pillar, which Raymond Witt clung to during a fierce storm in 1941, still stands, at the entrance to the building where he lived during his youth, along with his mother, Roma, and brother Lester Eugene Witt. The entrance to the apartment where the Witts lived, address 1231 Market, is directly to the left of this photo. 2022 photo by Mary Lou Montgomery.
Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.firstname.lastname@example.org Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com