The Legendary Frank Meighan: 'Santa,' Philosopher, Hermit
Reprinted from the Wilkes-Barre Record, March 1937
Frank Meighan, hermit philosopher of Laketon, young at 76 “because I never worry,” celebrates his birthday anniversary today, in the one-room board cabin he built some 10 years ago, near a cottage settlement at Harvey’s Lake, and waits with wistful impatience for the turn of spring, that he may nurse to life and fruitage the many gardens, lawns and flower beds of surrounding cottages which depend on his skill and care for their productive beauty.
The gentle hearted old man, small of stature, kind of eye, brisk of voice, bushy of beard, has the snap and vigor of a man 20 years younger. He uses glasses only at times, when reading, and then “not because I have to, but it is easier on the eyes.” He spends the winter months, which he admits are lonesome, in reading, writing poetry and visiting at Rood’s general store nearby, from which he purchases his tobacco and other supplies from an old age pension of $15 a month.
His square little cabin looks off to the lake, and is half sheltered by a gnarled and wide-limbed apple tree. Inside there is a small bed, covered with a heavy woolen patch quilt, which he is proud to have made himself. On the wall are prints cut from magazines, and several sketches, including one life size of Dan Hart, which he did during a period when interested in dabbling in art, but not one lesson ever did I take in all my life,” he says. He regrets keenly the loss, by theft of two large oil paintings on which he expended great care and which he said, “I wanted here after I am gone.”
There are two stoves, one for coal and wood in winter, and one for kerosene in summer. A refrigerator, combination work and dining table, small cupboard, radio with lace throw and two chairs complete the furnishings. A few kettles hang on pegs behind the cast-iron stove and a few extra garments hang behind the bed. Suspended by a cord is a small alarm clock. Mr. Meighan said: “I sure am attached to that clock. It had such a good tick. I like a strong tick so I can hear it when I lie in bed.”
Democrat Entire Life
Mr. Meighan has been a Democrat his entire life. On the wall, alongside the picture of President Roosevelt, hangs a fine likeness of Alf Landon. “Why not?” he said. “If he had got elected I’d appreciate him the same as the other one, so long as he was our President.” When asked to what he attributes his undiminished vigor of body and mind the alert little man replied, “I never worry. Smoke? Sure I smoke. And I chew, too.”
His preferred reading is newspapers and magazines, which he said he devours from cover to cover, explaining:
“Short stories and all. I want to be up with the date. I don’t like what is past.” This winter he has interested himself in poetry, of which he writes sincere, straightforward comments on life, with an undertone of the inflexibility of law and goodness of God. He is firm in refusing anything for publication.
“Frankie” or “Sankey,” as the neighbors affectionately call him, believes the world is growing worse. “There is too much privilege granted to the people. It is going to be all covered over some day like Sodom and Gomorrah. Just see the fool-women these days that want divorces for such a silly thing as the husband doesn’t kiss them before he goes to work.
“Look how fine things are down at Retreat and yet there is all the grumbling. They live down there like princes. Free shows every Monday and Friday night and radios all over the place. They have beds that shine like the Hotel Sterling. They can get a bath whenever they want and clean clothes every week.”
‘Never Been Sick in My Life’
“No, never been sick in my life. But I was in General Hospital two years back when I got hit by an automobile and broke my leg. So I can’t dance as good as I did, and they told me I daresn’t skate at all for fear it goes bad on me again. It was down so close to the ankle. That is the hardest, for I was always one grand skater.
“Colds? Never had a cold in my life. And I never bother to bundle up. You catch cold by wearing big heavy wool things and then taking it off. I dress light. In summer I go bearfoot.” For February the hardy little man wears a suit-coat and sweater, thin knickers, cotton puttees and a small red wool skull cap perched on the back of his long white hair. His flowing beard is “not so long as it was, for I cut it off a couple of years ago.”
“Yes, I’m jack-of-all-trades. I’ve taught school and nursed sick folks and done most anything a fellow might want. I figure the reason I so a lot of things so good like berry-picking in summer, is because my fingers are not clumsy. They are small, like my feet. These boots are too big for me. By rights I wear No. 5.
“For three years I was keeper at the County Jail on Water Street. I was on the school board at Parsons with James Boyd, Ben Chandler, Tommie Evans, Jimmie Flynn, and Tommie Davis when we voted in Hopper for County Superintendent. That was all of 40 years ago.”
Frank Meighan was born in Honeybrook, now called McAdoo, Schuylkill County, six weeks before the outbreak of the Civil War but has spent most of his life in Wyoming Valley.
Operated First Electric Car
“I drove,” he asserts, “the first suburban electric car. It went from Wilkes-Barre to Plains and carried the mail. Frank Le Bar was the conductor. Counting stops to let folks off and on it took an hour each way. But in the winter when the snow was bad, many’s the time that laddie-buck and me would start out at 6 in the morning and not get back to town till night.
‘Some Snow in Those Days’
“It was some snow we had those days. We would run 20 feet and then get out and shovel and sand and after another 20 feet it was stop, shovel, and sand all over again.”
Clear blue eyes sparkle beneath shaggy graying brows as he recalled:
“Such light little cars that they were! There was a pipe stove in the middle and seats down the sides. The vestibule was open. If too many got on one end they could tip it clean off the track. Them devils of boys at Plains used to pile on the rear end at night and get swinging and wouldn’t listen to a word anybody said. They could throw her off, going over the Brookside bridge, every time.”
Mr. Meighan claims to be the only living witness to the famous Red Nose Mike murders of McClure and Flannigan 19 October, 1888. “I helped put them in the wagon. But I was never called to testify because Red Nose Mike confessed.”
In the summer the old man is so much in demand as gardener and general yard man that he cannot make the rounds.
He is up at 4 each morning, and busy with rake spade, shovel, lawn mover and hoe till dark. In the fall he puts in his winter’s supply of fuel by dragging small tree trunks by rope down the mountainside.
“Old apple wood is best. Maple don’t last. It is hard to split and it burns off quick, not having any substance. Ash is no good either Tamarack is real good for kindling and leaves a good cider.
“I can work as good as I ever could,” Frankie says, “and I can fight like the devil. Perhaps,” with a chuckle “too much like the devil.”
Copyright 2006-2007 F. Charles Petrillo
Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo