A little past-due recognition
Life is full of little ironies. In March, 2006, theater-goers enjoyed an off-Broadway revival of a 1968 musical titled “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.” The problem is, Jacques Brel was a heavy smoker who died from lung cancer in 1978, at the age of 49. He’s no longer alive or well or living anywhere, but he is still celebrated.
Compare that with so many others in this world who are still alive and well and living somewhere, but who have never received the recognition they deserve. True, they haven’t written songs or starred in movies. But they have lived their lives – and are still living them – very well indeed.
Take Claude Musgrove, for example. He was born in Ohio in 1915, 14 years before Jacques Brel was born. He’s still alive and well and living in Greenville, approaching twice the age that Jacques Brel attained. And he has probably contributed four times as much to this world through his creativity, dynamism, courage, family – and sense of humor.
Oh, yes, he has had a tad bit of recognition during his lifetime. “Once every 42 years I get my picture in the Sharon Herald.,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the next 42 years, I want you to know that.”
The picture 42 years ago was for the work he was doing as an engineer at Westinghouse. The company needed a rubber compound that could be extruded in a mold for some of their transformers.
“We couldn’t get anyone to compound it the way we wanted it, so we put in our own compounding machine. That saved hundred thousand dollars a year or so.”
That might not be as glamorous as singing and dancing in New York, but it had a positive impact on millions of people. Claude had started working for Westinghouse in 1939, shortly after graduating from Hiram College with a degree in chemistry.
“Sometimes I wish I hadn’t majored in chemistry,” he said. “It was really hard.”
But Claude succeeded, maybe because his father Carl had set a good example for working hard to get what he wanted. “When my dad was growing up in Cleveland, he worked in his dad’s furniture store and spent summers out on a farm. He got a job in Akron working as a carpenter for a company, and he built houses on the side. But he loved farming, so he built a new home in Akron and traded it for a farm in Shalersville, Ohio.”
After living there a few years, the family moved to a farm in Braceville, Ohio, where Claude graduated from high school. They moved once again, this time to his mother’s home town of Garrettsville. Claude worked on the railroad for a year before entering nearby Hiram College. When he graduated in 1938, it was tough to find a job. The Depression was still lingering, and the industrial buildup for World War II hadn’t started yet. But in February, 1939, he started working at Westinghouse in Sharon.
A couple of years later he met Evelyn Anderson, who became the love of his life.
“I was out at Yankee Lake at a dance with some of friends from Sharpsville,” Claude said. “Evelyn and someone from Fredonia were there. I asked a friend who had grown up with her what kind of a girl she was. He said she’s a wonderful girl. But she doesn’t like Sharpsville boys because her ex-boyfriend was from Sharpsville. But he managed to get me a date with her anyway.”
Evelyn and Claude got married on February 15, 1942. “Evelyn and I drove to Lake Worth, Florida, for our honeymoon and stayed in a small honeymoon cottage provided by my parents. At that time, there were no interstate roads. Restaurants, motels and gas stations were few and far between. The car that we drove would now be 66 years old. When we got back, Evelyn told everyone that she had picked a ‘lemon.’ Needless to say, I never lived that down.”
Their first daughter, Claudia, was born on February 22, 1943. Claude was drafted into the army less than two months later. Their son, Chris, was born prematurely on January 20, 1944.
“When Evelyn was eight months pregnant, her father went to work one day and died of a cerebral hemorrhage. That brought on Chris’s birth. I was on maneuvers in Mississippi. They sent word to me that her dad had died and we had a son. Right away they sent me home.”
Claude went to Europe with the 164th Engineer Combat Battalion. He spent some time in London while it was being bombed.
“London was one half to three fourths destroyed. I walked through Hyde Park. They had searchlights and anti-aircraft guns in there, so it was pretty beat up. I knew somehow I had a relation who was involved with Hyde Park.”
Claude later learned that his mother, Arda Waters Musgrove, was a descendent of Edward Hyde, the First Earl of Clarendon, and Lord Chancellor of England.
“His daughter, Anne, married King James II. As a dowry, he gave King James the plot of land that is Hyde Park today.”
While in Europe, Claude served as 164th Engineer Battalion photographer.
“We were moving all the time and we couldn’t find a place with running water and light to develop and print the pictures. We captured a German ambulance, so I converted it into a mobile darkroom. I made an enlarger using a condenser lens from a movie theater.”
He had many opportunities to photograph history in the making. His unit was among the first to enter Germany, crossing the famous Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen. Hitler’s army had failed to destroy the bridge as they were retreating, and 8000 troops of the 9th Armored Division crossed it within 24 hours after capturing it.
Claude’s battalion was put in charge of defending the bridge. The Germans threw everything they could at it – bombs, artillery, even frogmen who swam down the Rhine to blow it up. They managed to damage it severely. “The major who was in charge of the Ludendorff Bridge said in The Stars and Stripes [the armed forces newspaper] that after ten days work it was stronger than it ever was. The next day it collapsed and killed him and twenty-three engineers.”
Claude did his best to preserve historical photographs he found in destroyed or abandoned German government buildings. He has more than 500 photographs taken by Heinrich Hoffman, Hitler’s personal photographer. One of them is a photo of Hitler showing Mussolini the destruction caused by a bomb detonated in the failed assassination attempt on July 20, 1944.
Another photo triggered a personal memory for Claude. It shows Herman Goering, head of the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) with Colonel Ernst Udet. “Col. Udet was the number two ace in World War I, next to the Red Baron. In 1935, I saw him over here at the Cleveland Air Show in person. He was over here spying on our airports to see what we had. He flew a biplane upside down and picked up a handkerchief off the ground.”
Claude also has two books that each include a viewing apparatus and 100 stereoscopic photographs of Germany and the war. Another book, a history of the rise of the Nazis, has actual photographs glued in where most books would have pictures printed on the pages.
After the war, Claude returned to work at Westinghouse. His second daughter, Barbara, was born on August 1, 1947. He has wonderful memories of his life with Evelyn and their children.
“Evelyn was a good mother” Claude said. “I didn’t know anything about raising kids. My job was to make sure we had meat on the table. She was a fantastic natural-born athlete. She could have been a professional golfer. She could hit a baseball farther than any of the boys. Any game she played, she beat the heck out of the boys. I don’t care if it was fighting or wrestling. All our kids took after her. She was also a good singer. She sang at a lot of different programs in Fredonia.”
After Claude retired in 1969, the Musgroves bought a motel on Clearwater Beach, Florida. They ran it for nine years, then sold it and bought a house in Clearwater. For the next 13 years, they spent winters in Florida and summers in Pennsylvania. Then Evelyn was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. As her symptoms got worse, they stopped going to Florida for the winters.
“The last nine years she was in a wheelchair here. She developed high blood pressure, heart problems, you name it. She died in 1998 from a septic infection she picked up in the hospital.”
As mentioned above, Claude himself is still alive and well. He treasures the old, but refuses to be intimidated by the new. When he was 88, he bought his first computer. He uses it constantly to digitize the photographs he has taken and acquired through the years. He continues to be proud of his family – past, present, and future.
“I now have 18 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren. Among the great grandchildren, in the last five years we’ve had three sets of twins. So I’ve done my job as a propagator of the species.”
Considering how well he and his family have lived, there’s nothing ironic about that.
Claude passed away on Wednesday, September 22, 2010.
Excerpted from Zentis, Joe. Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 2. Hermitage PA: Green Street Press, 2008