Every year as Christmas draws near, one of the many songs that we have heard since childhood which play is sure to be Winter Wonderland. The song's local connection to Wayne County, Pa.
WAYNE COUNTY - Every year as Christmas draws near, one of the many songs that we have heard since childhood which play is sure to be Winter Wonderland. The song’s local connection to Wayne County, Pa. is well known in this area; the composer, Dick Smith, was from Honesdale and penned the lyrics in 1934. The rising song writer died the next year at the age of 32, from tuberculosis.
But who made up his family?
To offer full disclosure, I sense a personal connection in that my late mother, Elsa Garratt Harrison Becker, was best of friends with Dick Smith’s sister Marjorie. I also knew Marjorie very well; she died at age 96, in 1996. We lived only two doors away from the Smith homestead, 922 Church St., Honesdale. (Our address was 914 Church Street.) We shared the view of the town’s park where Marjorie said Dick was inspired to write his song by the beautiful, snow-laden scene across the street.
Youngest of four
Richard B. Smith, who was known as Dick, was the youngest of four children of John and Eliza (Bruning) Smith. John was a cut glass manufacturer in Honesdale. They were living on Court Street but moved to 922 Church Street by 1905. I also remember Marjorie’s older sister Marion, who lived there; she was a teacher. She died in the 1960’s. Marjorie worked in the Child Welfare office in the courthouse. There was one other sibling, Warren, who had the nickname, “Chang.” He started a car repair business behind the Smith home, putting ip a long, cinderblock garage. That was well before my time. I have often wondered what the backyard looked like before the garage covered it. Still standing, the garage became the office of The Citizen newspaper. When I was a young child, I vividly remember meeting the publisher/ editor, John C. Dyson Jr. there. I was only 6; I had won an art contest. My mother and I walked over, and Mr. Dyson snapped my picture for the newspaper. Mr. Dyson left Honesdale and started The News Eagle in Hawley in 1965. I later would be working for him!
I have many cherished memories of Marjorie W. Smith. She would very often be visiting my mother in our home or we’d be over there. After Mom died in 1978, I continue dot keep in close touch with Marge (as she was known).
The house is an accounting office today and looks very much the same. In fact, the large quince bush that grows in the yard was there when Marge (as well as Dick) were kids, she said. I still think of Marge when I see the house, and can picture seeing her at her kitchen table, visible from the sidewalk as one walked by. The Smiths had a wonderful cast iron coal stove in the kitchen.
Marge enjoyed life and loved her community. She was raised an Episcopalian and was a faithful member of Grace Episcopal Church. We wonder if “Parson Brown,” mentioned in Winter Wonderland, was inspired by a minister at Grace Church, but there was never a preacher there named Brown.
A trustee of the Wayne County Historical Society, Marge left $80,000 to the Society in her will. A large part of that went to build the “glass hallway” that connects the Main Museum to the Torrey Building.
She was an avid Republican worker. She loved to collect blue glass. She enjoyed playing Scrabble with my mother, and going out with friends to dinner. Only her brother Dick would marry. Marge remained single. She studied to be a teacher and tried it for a year but gave it up. Asked if she drove, Marge said she did, once and only once. She was trying to learn to drive in a Ford Model T, and got once around the block; that was enough, she said. The family, however, had a carriage and horse named Prince.
She would tell how lovely Church Street was when she was a child. The trees were many and large, offering much more shade than there is today. The street, however, was dirt.
At Christmas, Marge would use an advent calendar, and brought out a large candle that was lit only at Christmas, and over the years built up a great cone of multi-colored wax.
Proud of her brother
The song, Winter Wonderland, of course resonated deeply. Whenever Marge, or my mother, first heard the song played on the TV or radio, she would telephone the other and say, “Happy Winter Wonderland!” This was a tradition of many years.
Marge was so very proud of her well known brother Dick. She had an upright piano in the parlor, which I do not doubt Dick would have played in early years. On the piano was a song sheet of Winter Wonderland. At times, Marge would autograph a copy of the song sheet for inquirers and admirers. She would talk about him but now, how I wish I had asked more questions!
Although much has been written about what we know about Dick Smith’s short-lived but promising career, writing radio jingles and numerous Big Band songs, not much has been found about his own family. I have been seeking information, and anyone who may be able to assist, is asked to contact me.
Dick was wed to Miss Jean Connor of Scranton on March 30, 1930. The wedding was in New York City, where Smith was pursuing his career as a songwriter. They lived a couple years in Scranton, then resided at 445 West 146th Street in Upper Manhattan. They never had any children. Information was sketchy beyond that. Marge referred to her, and said she lived in Clarks Green, Pa., which is near Scranton.
Further research determined that Jean Connor Smith was born in Scranton, daughter of Edward and Mary Murray Connor. She was trained as a registered nurse in Scranton and later worked in New York.
She had one son, William R. Hughes; information about his father has not been learned.
After her short marriage to Smith, she was wed to Albert James Trahan, a vaudeville actor in New York and Europe. He was born in New Bedford, MA in about 1897, and died in 1967. He was known as the “American Paderoughski and had a slapstick musical act. He took it to vaudeville and Broadway, and was featured in films.
Among his other play or film credits were Second Little Show (1930), The Musicale (1930), audeville Reel Featuring Al Trahan (1934), Top Notchers (1942) and Calvacade of Stars (1949).
Jean Trahan was living in Allentown for a while, before moving to Clarks Green, Pa. in 1973.
She was a member of the Church of St. Gregory in Clarks Green, the Songwriters Guild and the American Society of Composrers, Authors and Publishers.
Had a son
Dick Smith’s widow, Jean Connor Smith Trahan, died January 6, 1987 in Scranton following an illness. Her obituary stated that she was survived by her son William R. Hughes, who lived in Holland, Bucks County, Pa. at the time; four grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
Further information on Mr. Hughes or his descendants have not been confirmed. A man by the same name, was found, that died at the age of 77 in December, 2002 in Ocala, FL. He was a native of Scranton, and had moved from Holland, Pa. to Ocala in 1991. He was survived by his wife and four sons, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
The songwriter, Dick Smith, was laid to rest in Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, at the family plot. The original marker simply has his name and years he lived, 1901-1935. At some point later, a granite marker was laid next to it, level with the ground. This one has a cartoon of a snowman, and the wording, “Richard ‘Dick’ Smith composer of the winter/ Christmas song ‘Winter Wonderland.’”
Meanwhile, the song, Winter Wonderland lives on and continues to remind us of home, of happy times surrounding the holidays and the beauty of a freshly fallen snow.
Anyone with information about Dick Smith or his family is asked to contact the writer at 570-226-4547 or firstname.lastname@example.org.