The Life & Times of Bill & Birdie Baldwin
Compiled by W.R. Baldwin
Although Bill and Birdie Baldwin were both born in Utah, they were born in opposite ends of the state so it is interesting how they got together. Bill was born in Beaver and Birdie was born in Lawrence.
They met in Mohrland, Utah where Bill had gone to teach school and Birdie’s family had moved there so the men in the family could find work in the coalmines and Birdie worked in the Hotel there.
One evening Dean Bench, the principal of the school in Mohrland asked Birdie if she would like to be in a school play entitled. “Not Such A Fool As He Looks.” She thought it might be fun so she accepted and was to be at a practice in the Amusement Hall the next night. She showed up for practice and there was Bill Baldwin. She was told her part was to be Bill’s Mother and the principal was to be her husband. Bill and Birdie became well acquainted during the play practices and as he walked her home from practice each night. They also found out that Bill had two of Birdie’s brothers in his school class.
This gave him a lot of reasons to spend time at Birdie’s home and he did that. In fact he spent more time there than he did at the hotel where he was boarding with his good friend “Curly” Dugmore.
Things progressed in the relationship and the first thing you know they were “going steady” as they used to say in those days. In December 1929 Bill gave Birdie a diamond ring and asked her to marry him. They were married in June 1930 in Beaver, Utah at the home of Bill’s parents.
Bill received his higher education at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City in 1927. His first teaching job was in Mohrland, Utah.
After getting married Bill & Birdie found out they could not survive on the salary they paid teachers so Bill took a job with the U.S. Fuel Company managing the Amusement Hall complex which consisted of; the Show Hall, Dance Hall, Soda Fountain, Bowling Alley, Card Room and Pool Hall. Birdie went to work for him running the Soda Fountain.
In 1938 the town of Mohrland was shut down and most of the people moved to Hiawatha where Bill and Birdie settled into East Hiawatha where over the years they made many friends and became involved with the town.
They loved to go to dances that were held almost every weekend in one small town or another in the area. If the band was a good one the couples would follow them from town to town on every weekend. They might be in a town in Emery County on weekend and then in Carbon County the next but they did not care if the music was good and they had a great time.
One place they really liked and talked about a lot was Wilberg's dance hall just outside of Huntington. It was an outdoor pavilion, with lights strung all around the perimeter. There were also peacocks and guinea hens strutting their stuff all around the property as the Piano and the rest of the band made the whole place rock. Is was not unusual to have a baby wrapped up in a blanket behind the piano sleeping on the floor as the young couple danced away. Birdie told her kids that one orchestra they really loved to dance too was Jimmy Dart’s however she only recalled it playing at Wilberg’s a few times in the last part of 1941. They really played some swinging tunes.
In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s the people in Hiawatha were like many people in small towns across America. They made their own entertainment and many times it was just getting together as a group. One of the big social activities for Bill & Birdie was just getting together and visiting neighbors. They did not have to have a reason to drop in for a visit it just seemed to be the thing to do.
Bill and Birdie had a lot of friends and they all enjoyed just socializing together, whether it was just dropping by for a cup of coffee or for a more formal organized thing like one of the social clubs. They belonged to groups that got together for card playing, dinner parties or special activities on Easter, Halloween, Labor Day or the 4th of July. Birdie also belonged to sewing groups, and quilting groups where many time there was more talking going on than there was sewing.
One party that was held each year for several years was a Halloween Party at the Baldwin’s where everyone came in costume and visited and sit around in a pitch black room and listened to a gruesome ghost story as different things were passed around for “body parts”, such as “peeled grapes” for eye balls, “cold cooked spaghetti” for brains and “a bone from the butcher shop” for a leg bone. The Baldwin kids, Wally & Geri talked about this for years even thought they were not allowed to be involved in the party.
Of course in the 1940’s travel was curtailed because gas and tires were both rationed because of the war. There were many other things rationed and you could not buy them without ration stamps or coupons. Among them were sugar, coffee and it seemed anything wrapped in tin foil. All the kids in town would save tin-foil and roll it into a big ball and then take it to school to give for the “war effort.”
Although the rationing curtailed travel it did not slow down the “pot luck” dinners that were enjoyed by the Baldwin’s and their friends. In those days they truly were pot luck gatherings, not organized ones, like today, where everyone is assigned what to bring. In the 1940’s in Hiawatha it was a case of grabbing whatever you had in the fridge or cupboard and meet at someone’s house. They might end up with six desserts and two main dishes or the other way around but it did not matter much because the purpose was to get together and visit and they always had an enjoyable time.
One of the sewing clubs that Birdie belonged to for years got together almost every week to sew or stitch or crochet on something while they visited. The ladies were: Sadie Frandsen, Rhea Larsen, Helen Jeffs, Louie Allred, Lucille Olsen, Frances Day, Vivian Yates, Ruth Davis, Belle Reaveley and of course Birdie.
In the 1950’s Bill was given the job of Secretary and Treasure of the local 6363 United Mine Workers Union of America. He must have done a pretty good job of it because he had that job for over 20 years. He was a staunch supporter of the United Mine Workers Union all of his life. While Bill was in that position there were many men, who did not speak or understand English very well, come to Bill’s home to get him to explain something to them.
Birdie was a naturally outgoing and friendly person. Several people have said she was a friend to everyone, no matter their age, who they were or where they came from. She also was a wonderful cook and there was always some of her Greek cookies or Italian Biscuits of fresh homemade bread and butter in her home for anyone who dropped in to visit. And of course there was always a warm pot of coffee on the back of the stove to go with them. Anyone who came to visit always got a snack or a sandwich of some kind whether they wanted it or not.
Even after her son Wallace left to go into the Air Force many of the kids his age still stopped by Birdie’s for a cup of coffee and a cookie or a piece of cake.
Bill and Birdie enjoyed the annual “Miners Vacation”. Because the economy of Hiawatha was completely based around the mining of coal it was not possible for people to take a vacation anytime they wanted to so in the summer they would shut down the mine and the tipple for two weeks and it was miners vacation time.
Many of the families went places together and Birdie and Bill were no exception. The one place that they and their family enjoyed going was Fishlake. There were usually eight to ten families in a group that camped in the same area and it was almost like one big family. Everyone, old and young would jump in and help with setting up camp, food preparation, catching minnows for bait or even bathing the smaller children in a #3 galvanized wash tub that was brought along just for that purpose.
Bill and Birdie’s two children, Wallace and Geraldine had lots of friends and they were all welcome in their home either for lunch, a quick snack, to play Monopoly or to “watch the radio.” Of course it was before TV and the kids used to lay on the floor in the front room and watch the radio. Just like kids do TV today, except there was no picture. They just stared at the radio and listened to Superman, The Shadow, Dick Tracy, Amos and Andy and many others. Of course they all ended with------“Be sure and come back for the next episode.”
After people started moving from Hiawatha many of the old Hiawatha friends continued to get together. One that Birdie fondly remembered was in 1962 when they met at the home of Lavar Scow in Dragerton, Utah. They enjoyed a turkey dinner and talked about the “good old days” most of the day and evening. Those who attended besides Bill and Birdie were: the Lavar Scow’s, Leslie Allreds, Clair Clement’s, Verge Olsen’s, Vic Christensen’s, Domminic Malatchie’s, Myron Grange’s, and Spencer Day’s.
In 1964 Birdie was called to be the Relief Society President in Hiawatha. She says she was almost “swept off her feet” by that. However because of her friendly nature, her cooking and sewing skills and her outgoing personality she enjoyed it very much. She served in that position with Belle Reaveley and Gladys Bearnson for many years. Birdie said many time the thing that she enjoyed about that calling was that she got to know many ladies in Hiawatha better than she had known them before.
The Labor Day celebration held each year in Price, Utah was one of the highlights of the year for the Baldwin’s as it was for almost all the towns in the vicinity. Everyone became involved in the food booths, the games, the rodeo and the parade and anything else that went with that wonderful celebration.
After the Labor Day celebrations were discontinued a group from Hiawatha started meeting together for what was called the Hiawatha Day Reunion. It was held in various places over the years. Some in Granger City Park, Murray Park and Helper City Park but more recently it has been held in the Price City Park. It is a wonderful time to gather and visit and talk about the fun times had in Hiawatha. There are stories to be told and pictures to be seen and “Tall Tale to Tell.” Everyone with a connection to Hiawatha is invited and the attendance varies from year to year from 100 to 150.
Like many families in small towns Bill and Birdie loved to keep a nice looking yard. Bill always kept a small vegetable garden and you could almost judge the coming of spring by seeing Birdie on her hands and knees digging in the dirt to get her flowers planted.
After retirement The Baldwin’s moved to Salt Lake City to be closer to their children and grand children. However they loved their ties to Hiawatha and their friends and they kept in touch with them whenever possible. Their son Wallace must have inherited this love of Hiawatha as he has set up a web-site on the Internet devoted to Hiawatha and its people.
In March of 1980 Bill and Birdie celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in Kearns, Utah. They decided not to send out invitations but just to invite people by word of mouth. It was amazing. People kept coming all afternoon and into the evening and when the time came they did not want to leave. There were people of all ages from Hiawatha, Mohrland and Salt Lake that had come to visit and reminisce. I am sure Bill and Birdie had not realized how many lives they had touched.
Some things everyone seems to remember about Birdie was that whenever you came to visit she wanted to feed you. The other was that she was always busy doing some kind of handwork, knitting, crocheting or making doll clothes. She never just sat.
Everyone who knew them said they were just the “typical Small Town American Family” but to their family their love and caring were not typical of the world today but they were extraordinary!