ST. VINCENT'S ORPHANAGE
in Columbus, Ohio
I found Frank Hrabley through Virgil Gelormino. I talked with Frank Hrabley over the phone. He remembers Richard Basehart quite well, but does not remember his brothers Harry and Hubert. The boys were separated by age and Richard Basehart's brothers were in a different dormitory.
There have been several tales about Basehart getting beat up often while he was there. Frank Hrabley has the dubious distinction of being one of the boys that fought with him. He said a lot of kids picked on him. He did say that Basehart was able to take care of himself. Frank said he could bully the others, but he couldn't bully Richard Basehart. Richard was not a sissy. He does not remember what might have started the fight although he said he had a tendency to get into fights because he had a chip of his shoulders because his mother was shot and killed and that is why he was in the orphanage. His father paid the nuns to take care of him. I told him that Richard's father did the same for his sons and told Frank that the reason the three of them were in the orphanage was because their mother died of childbirth.
Frank also mentioned that Richard never smiled. Frank said he always seemed sad and because of what I told him now realizes why. Frank said he was a loner. Sometimes he would play, but a lot of the time would stand aside and just watch. He was quiet, unassuming and minded his own business. There was a swimming pool in the dormitory where he swam. They played football in the basement of the dormitory. It had a concrete floor and he said "you had to be tough" to play. There were different areas in the basement that they did things. Football in one, marbles in another, just sit and talk in another. One of the "fun" things they did was get their fingers wet from the water on the floor splashed there from the swimming pool and stick them in an electrical socket.
Just like inside, they had different places outside on the playground that they did things. Frank said they flew kites and Richard liked to do that. They did that all over the yard he said. They practiced sword fighting. (It looks like Richard had a lot of practice if he started there!) The teeter totter was near the small boys dorm. That may have been where Richard hurt his fingers. Frank said that the nuns would wrap wire around the post when they didn't want the boys to play on it. The wire would bite into the hands of anyone who tried to get it off. In another section during the winter, they would create a fort made out of snow in the shape of a half circle. They would use snowballs for ammunition and garbage cans as shields. It was the war between the British and the Americans. Frank said no one wanted to be the British. The sliding board was tall enough they could stand on top of it and wave over the wall to the kids at St. Anne's, the orphanage across the street for the children under the age of 6. There were weeds growing next to the fence that they "rolled" to make "cigarettes". The nuns had an old fire horse named Friday who would run around the yard trying to get out whenever it heard the fire engines. Some of the kids tried riding it and would fall off.
Their life there didn't appear easy. They had a box kept at one end of the room in the dormitory where they kept their belongings. They had to take turns helping out in the kitchen. Apparently they would be hungry and fight over a crust of bread left in the box. They always put onions in the meat, Frank swore, to kill the smell. Apparently the meat wasn't the greatest. They ate a lot of potatoes. The nuns would take the wagon into town to see what they could come up with for food. They sold ever scrap of metal, wood, material, anything to get money for food. Their Thanksgiving dinner was usually roosters donated by farmers which the boys would watch fight in the yard. One time one of the boys stole a grate and wouldn't own up to it. The nuns found out that it was gone and they were all standing in line at the time so the nuns made them go outside and stand at attention without moving for 3 hours. To wash, they would wear something like a short skirt and would stand in the water. The nuns would then wash them. It was very embarrassing as the skirts would float up and the boys had problems keeping it down.
They had Christmas in the auditorium. Each boy got a small present. They did get to see Madame Butterfly in the auditorium once. Other times they could see inside the auditorium from their dormitory room windows. They did have a picnic on July 4th.
The nuns could be demanding and one in particular was very mean. She was so mean they called her Sr. Vengeance. There was a tale that went around that a Sr. Elizabeth told that Sr. Vengeance knew the Indians that killed Custer and the Indians cut her ear off. She was not liked.
Frank said that Richard Basehart donated $1000 every year to the orphanage for their July 4th picnic.
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