the last years of his life, Francis worked with Dick to fill in the
gaps of his biography. Dick's comments and additions are in brackets
such as this.]
Greg’s appearance in May of 1956 (child #9) caused the family to look
for larger quarters. The family had considered adding onto the
top floor. Somehow the family Pastor, Fr. John A. Ross, found out
the family needed more room and directed the Schmitts to 31211 Brown,
then occupied by the Timler family and their three sons.
|As we got older and went off to
college, it seemed the youngest kids started getting cuter.
Here's the last of the Schmitts in 1965 -- all born during the Brown
Street years at Annapolis Hospital. The first grandchild would appear
about 3 years later.
The Timlers owned a meat market on Inkster Road south of Cherry Hill
road but were interested in moving to Florida. The large butcher
table in the workbench room attests to their vocation. Francis
negotiated the price down to $24,000 by agreeing that he would pay for
the heating unit’s replacement.
Fortunately, the family was able to convert the system to gas-fired
(gas was still hard-to-get in those days). Not only was this
cleaner, but it made storing a season’s worth of coal in the basement
unnecessary, leaving another smelly but useable room.
1969: The last third of the twelve children form a diagonal on the West
lawn. All but Greg (who was an infant when the family moved here
in 1956) were born here.
Before the family moved in, extensive renovations took place on half
the first floor. Three rooms (kitchen, breakfast area, and formal
dining room) were opened up by a fellow parishioner, Fred Gennera, to
create a huge kitchen, dining area, and sitting room which became the
hub of family activity for many years to come. While this was
going on, Eileen cooked on a stove in the basement which still
functions today. Next to it stood the legendary Westinghouse
refrigerator which functioned for forty years but needed a flat knife
to open the door. Eventually brother Michael took it off their
[Someday we will add the story of the
shower leaking onto the fresh new dining room ceiling the night we
moved it -- and how after 40 years, Francis still hadn't gotten it
fixed. In the meantime, the basement pipe sticking out from the
wall with a showerhead attached had evolved into a lavish tiled shower.]
[...and incredibly that's all he wrote about the 50 years that the family spent in
this large white house that graces the entry to Wikipedia
City. Francis left this section with a "to be continued."
I've added some comments on pictures, but I'd hope that my siblings
will provide many comments in the future so we can flesh out this
I'd hope folks will use Tom's archived pictures (click here
to get to them) to spur their memories -- and then write them down and send to Dick to finish these pages.]
[To revive your memories, you may want to look at the photo albums with
some commentary published around the time the house was sold in
November 2006. Click here
to access them).
[I've included some pictures to get things started.]
[Francis treated Brown street as a
woodlot and after Eileen died, he was unconstrained in his wish to heat
(and perhaps burn down) the place with a wood stove.]
|Tom writes: August, 1962. Looks
like a lot of talk and not much action on a stump in the backyard of
31211 Brown. Francis never invested in a chain saw until his boys
all left home and even then it was a pathetic little electric
unit. Greg and Mike hold the sledge while Mark, Paul, and Dick
discuss the importance of leverage.
|1996: The 83-year-old bringing home the heat
a brand new high school graduate helps his nearly 84-year-old
grandfather reroof the bike shed. Francis was dauntless around
heights his whole life even though he fell from a hayloft and fractured
his skull in his early 20s. He did almost all of the maintenance around
the aging frame house and mowed the lawn almost until the day he
died. But somehow he would never fix a car. His sons that learned
to do almost every repair from him, had to learn mechanics on their own.
|A very young Maria described
31211 Brown to one of her friends once. "My Grandma Schmitt
lives in the biggest house in the world."
Four Weddings and Four Funerals
[Brown street hosted four weddings
(Mary, Lucy, Anne, Greg) and two siblings died during the fifty years
that the Schmitts lived here. Amanda Gatschene lived here briefly
in her late years and Anne returned home to die in the house where she
had lived most of her 26 short years. Eileen left way too early but
Francis achieved his goal of living independently (perhaps too
independently for some of his kids) until nearly his last days.]
|First day of school in 1967. Phil is only 2 but seems to have other things to occupy his time.
What other topics do we need here?
[Francis could be quite nerdy
when Eileen was unable to constrain him. Long before duct tape
was created as a panacea for anything that broke, Francis would use the
pink goop he'd use to create false teeth to fix anything plastic.
It would be quite pliable until it dried rigid -- and the color of
healthy gums. Once Francis broke his thumb playing dodgeball with
the scouts -- one of a very few times that we saw him engage in
athletic pursuits. The next day he had a splint formed around the
thumb -- made of "pink stuff."]
What's the buzz?
[Below we have an ingenious use of
Morse code which Francis deployed to allow Eileen to summon her
children wherever they were in the house. Francis placed a buzzer
in the attic just above the closet in the room rear bedroom next to the
bathroom. Eileen would buzz the appropriate code for meals or to
summon individual children using a button under her desktop built into
[There was a reason behind this
code. When it was time to eat, the entire word EAT was buzzed,
usually by someone standing by who wouldn't mind startling his
siblings. Generally your code was the first letter of your first
name -- but the M's were hogged by Mary so Mark used his middle name
(J). Unknown to us older siblings, as we moved out and the runts
of the litter
appeared, they had the audacity to take our codes which, like Babe
Ruth's number, should have been retired. Philip (whose middle
Thomas as Tom was in the seminary when he was born) took over the T,
even though by the time Phil would have understood what was going on,
brother Paul had moved on to medical school. Martha inherited
Mary's M. For some unknown reason, Alice got Dick's D. And
"James" reusing Mark's J? Turns out young Phil had a friend who
spent enough time on Brown Street to get his own buzz. Make
yourself right at home. Why didn't Mary Margaret Oldenburg have
her buzzer code as well?]
|What's the Buzz: Morse code used by Eileen to summon her brood
[The buzzer could only be heard within the house. Those outside
were summoned by a bell hanging off the back door. Most of the
families on Brown Street ate by that bell for when it rang, the Schmitt
kids quit playing and the other kids were instructed by their mothers
to return home when it was time for the Schmitts to eat.]
- Everything in living room painted with industrial spackled green
Phil's arrival in 1965, the Francis and Eileen Schmitts had a full
complement. That summer we entertained two French visitors who
had hosted Mark and Paul. The personalities matched. Quiet
Paul hosted the introverted Francois Estrangin and brash Mark met his
match with the brazen and chain-smoking (at age 17) Franck
Hamaide. More info in the Garden City Observer article. Mark's letters from Paris can be seen by clicking here.
A Not Quite Empty Nest
After Eileen's death and the start of Phil's journey as a medical
trainee nomad, Francis was left with a seven-bedroom house which he
would occasionally fill with long-term guests such as his Japanese
friends or Garden City city managers in the middle of a relocation.
One of his favorites was Matthias, and not just because of his name. As Tom tells us:
Matthias Helmreich, a German Ph.D. student interning in Tom's
laboratories, roomed with Francis during his assignment which ran from
the end of August to the end of November, 2000. Francis didn't charge
rent but he put Matthias to work on home maintenance projects and the
two got along very well. The following year, Francis spent a week in
Germany along with Tom and Bev. Matthias took a week off his studies
and chauffeured the Schmitts around southern Germany to trace family
roots and enjoy the countryside. Matthias is now pharmaceutical chemist
for Merck Kga. To see more about the trip to Germany, click here.
Helmreich and Francis in November 2000. The decorating scheme is
from Francis's post-Eileen phase and consists of much found art
(usually originating at the post office) gracing most horizontal
surfaces on the first floor. (The second floor was usually
without such clutter.) When Francis entered hospice at Phil's
house in the summer of 2006, Phil and Dick cleared these surfaces in
about 90 minutes brandishing large garbage bags. Mary, who caught
them in the act, commented, "Dad better die, because if he comes back
here and sees what you've done, he'll never speak to you again."
Francis really enjoyed having Matthias around and we have a VCR
recording of Francis giving a cable TV interview where he refers to
Matthias as his "eighth son" or some such.
Getting History Straight
[Dick would like to end with this
vignette from his soccer-coaching days in nearby Livonia, MI. One
of his parents was a Senchek (?) girl from St. Raphael's. (Dick
and Mary went to school with her brother Al.) When we found out that we
were both from Garden City, she asked where we lived. I said, "on
Brown Street." She turned to her husband and said, "You know
where that is, the street with the big white house." I, of
course, replied, "That was our House."
And so it was for the better part of a half century.]
|The Garden City Historical Society
(of which Francis was an officer) featured select homes in their 2005
calendar including 31211 Brown which traces its roots back to 1835 when
President Andrew Jackson started parceling out the land beneath.
The land appears to have been part of the Straight farm whose farmhouse
on Merriman Road near Warren serves as the headquarters for the
Historical Society today. Arnold Folker, a real-estate developer
who served as the first mayor of Garden City, built this structure in
1928. Checkout the entire calendar (including entries for the
Oldenburg and Hammer homes) by clicking here. (7M file)