In 1870, my father’s mother was born in Bergdorf, Switzerland. As a teenager, she migrated to Philadelphia where she met my grandfather, a plumber. He was the child of Irish immigrants–his mother, born in Dublin, his father, Belfast. My great-grandfather’s name was William John Park and I am the fourth to bear that name. Luckily—since we are hardly royalty–I have the III after my name rather than IV because my grandfather, known as W.J.P. Jr., upgraded himself when his father died.
I am proud of my great-grandfather because he served for four years in Pennsylvania’s 118th
Regiment (the Philadelphia Corn Exchange Regiment) which saw battles from Antietam, where he was wounded, to the Appomattox Courthouse. The state of Pennsylvania erected a monument at Gettysburg which lists all the names of those who fought there. When I saw my grandfather’s name, I wept.
In 1880, my mother’s mother was born in Kiel, Germany. At age six, she migrated to Hazelton, Pennsylvania, where her stepfather worked as a coal miner. As a young woman, she was hired by a coal baron’s wife to be her traveling companion on that lady’s European Grand Tour. On the ship S.S. Hamburg—I know not whether coming or going—she met my grandfather, Murray Jordan.
Murray Jordan was the only non-working-class among my ancestors. He graduated from Princeton in 1880 and went on to the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania where, in two years, he obtained an M.D. But rather than practice medicine, he devoted himself to the new art form of photography. He created a thriving business of travel postcards and souvenir travel books. According to family legend, he invented the book of folding postcards.
The Jordans were already a prominent Pennsylvania family before the Revolution. Even more prominent were my great-
grandmother’s family, the Duffields. George Duffield graduated from Princeton in 1752, two years before the university was re-located in Princeton. He built and became the first pastor of the Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, now known as The Church of the Patriots. One of the pastors serving the Continental Congress, his sermons were so impressive, John Adams wrote letters to Abigail about them.
Unfortunately, Murray Jordan died in 1909 when my mother was but four years old. The business collapsed. My grandmother, as a single mother, had to sell their elegant home in Germantown and find work as an office clerk and later saleswoman. My mother, who as a toddler, played in the sand at The Breakers in Palm Beach with Vanderbilt children, experienced radical downward social mobility. Being very pretty, she became a model and showgirl. In 1924, she competed in the Miss Philadelphia contest and lost first prize but went
to Atlantic City as Miss Logan in the Court of Miss Philadelphia, who became Miss America.
In 1926 she married my father, a bank teller. Both of my parents attended Philadelphia’s Northeast High School, but neither graduated.
I was born in 1930 and from the day I came home from the hospital, above my crib was a Princeton pennant. My mother wanted me to restore the family luster.
One last anecdote. In my senior year at high school, prompted by that pennant, I applied to Princeton. But I also applied to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where my best friend had chosen to attend. In 1939, following the failure of my father’s bank, my family moved to Miami because my dad found a job at The First National Bank of Miami. In 1946, to Floridians, Chapel Hill and Duke were the Ivy League. I didn’t want to be with a bunch of snobs at Princeton and my first choice was Chapel Hill. So at Christmas vacation one morning as I got out of bed, my mother came into my room. Suddenly she dropped to her knees before me, threw her arms around my legs, and, weeping, begged: “If you love me will you just go to Princeton for one year, and then you can transfer to wherever you want.” I started crying and made the promise to suffer the snobs for her sake.
To this day, when I meet new people, within a few minutes I say, “I’m Bill Park, I went to Princeton…”