An Interview with William Leon Cisco

February 1992, Birmingham, Alabama





W. Leon Cisco


David Leon Cisco


Robert Matthews


 (transcript of taped interview)

L: You see what happened was, right at the time he (Henry Francisco) was having his children this war (War of 1812) broke and a lot of the records in New Jersey were destroyed by the opposition parties

D: We've looked through wills, all of the conscriptions for military service, all the pension information for military service, property ownerships, and all of the readily available sources, including the Mormon records, that are non-census type information. We've been through everything except cemetery records. Apparently, cemetery records are normally not kept out-of-state. Where we finally came up with Moses' (Sisco) birthday and where he was buried was the cemetery record right there where he was buried. The librarian is the one who came up with this information. He just happened to remember enough to be able to find it. We had walked that cemetery from one end to the other. We didn't find anything in that cemetery. The reason we didn't, was because the cemetery was vandalized in the '20s and all the stones were pulled up. So, even though he was buried in 1870, and probably at one time had a gravestone, there were no gravestones there. The only thing that daddy kept thinking he might be able to come up with was that he found that one daughter, Moses' sister, Phebe, who was still shown in the New Jersey census. There was an older lady living with her and he thought it might have been her mother.

L: Well thatís the most logical person.

D Because she was about 25 years older than Phebe was at that time. Phebe was about 40 years and the older female was about 65. We got this information from the genealogy library in Cincinnati. We scanned microfiches of censuses for many, many years and wrote down any pertinent information. What was so interesting was when we were going through a lot of this stuff in Cincinnati, it was just incredible how much stuff there is that would lead you to exactly what you want to know. For example, in the American Revolution, we had a list of the soldiers and we had a list of the Ciscoís and we were able to track them as to where they were from. But to tie them to Moses; you couldn't do it. You could see who they were and where they were from, but you couldn't tie them in. That's whatís happened, we've got a lot of information before and after.

D: When daddy was a fairly young man he had an aunt Edda, who I guess was a great aunt, who was still living in the '30s. She was old Moses' granddaughter I think. She had the family Bible which had a lot of the information that we're trying to come up with. But the Bible had been in a fire, in her attic. She let daddy see it and that's what sparked his interest in genealogy. I think most of the information that we have on old Moses came from that original source.

D: Wasnít that right by where he lived?

L: Well, it was just a block or so down the street.

D: From where your grandfather Moses lived.

L: Yes.

D: So you went and visited him and you could watch the trains get switched around the roundhouse.

R: Where did he live?

L: Indianapolis.

D: So that was in Indianapolis?

L: Yes. Out in the western part.

D: Well, it looks to me like in that picture your grandmother was a pretty big lady. She was fairly tall and big.

L: Well, he was so small.

D: Was she from Ireland or were her folks from Ireland?

L: Well, I don't know. The Mulligan family as I recall it, came out of Chicago.

D: Did she have red hair?

L: I don't know. I wasn't very old.

D: Well, your grandfather died in 1921 so you would have been twelve years old.

L: What's that got to do with when he died?

D: Well, you would have been 12 years old when he died and about 15 when she died.

L: Where do we show that she is buried?

D: I don't know. What else do you remember about she and Moses? What kind of work did he do?

L: Well, I think he was a painter.

D: Well, he was the one that was in the Civil War, though.

L: Yes.

D: And he was the one that limped because he had gotten shot at the Battle of Atlanta. From the time he got back from the war, you think he painted?

L: That's all I ever remember hearing.

D: If he lived in Indianapolis then how did he get around, because they didn't have cars back then.

L: Well, streetcars. He only lived three blocks from the streetcar line.

D: So is that the way you got up to see him; rode the streetcar line?

L: Well, I suppose so. Mother and Dad probably took me up there and left me.

L: I used to go down to the railroad station, the railroad turn house and spend half a day down there.

D: Well, that sounds like an exciting time.

L: I'd watch them switch the engines around the turntable.

R: What did your dad do?

L: He was a carpenter. I guess that's really the nearest trade identification.

D: Well, now he also worked in a fire station.

L: That was in his later years. But when he and mother were married he worked for the railroad building bridges in Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas.

R: Do you remember what railroad he worked for, what line?

L: No I don't, Robert.

D: You said he was gone a lot though, didn't you?

L: Yeah, I think the longest he was gone at a time was two weeks.

D: But, he was a carpenter building those bridges.

L: Yeah, he was in charge of the carpenter work on the bridges. They were wooden bridges back then.

D: Did he retire from the railroad?

L: I guess he did.

D: And then went to work for the fire department?

L: No, he was a carpenter around Franklin for a long time.

D: What, just doing remodeling on houses?

L: Well, he helped build that addition to the Baptist church. (pause) He covered pool tables.

D: He built pool tables?

L: No, he didnít build them, he just recovered them.

D: Recovered the marble slab?

L: No, the cloth on them.

D: Well, he put the felt on the marble slab.

L: Yes.

D: Did he go around to people's houses and do this?

L: No. No. This was only at places downtown that had two, three, or four tables.

D: So did you learn how to play pool when you were young?

L: No. I wasn't allowed in.

D: How come?

L: They just didn't allow young people into the pool halls.

D: Mama said you used to hang out at a drugstore down there though.

L: Well, I may have, but that would have been in later years when I would have been 14, 15, 16 years old.

D: She said she remembers seeing you hanging out at the comer of the drugstore and smoking a cigar.

L: I never smoked a cigar.

D: You didn't. That's funny. She remembers that.

L: What were those things called?

D: Stogies.

L: What was the cigar called?

D: What was it.

L: I'm trying to think of the name of them.

D: When you were at the drugstore, was that just a place that a lot of the teenagers would hang out?

L: At the corner of east Port Street and Jefferson Street.

D: Was that by the town square where the courthouse was? And was there just an old drugstore there where you could just go in and get a soda?

L: Yes. Right on the comer.

D: Would you hang out there after school or on the weekend?

L: Nights. Early nights.

D: And then you would walk down there and walk home.

L: Yes. I liked to walk.

D: Well that was better than some of the kids do today.

L: Most of them have automobiles to move around in.

D: Didn't you tell me that your dad was involved in making an automobile.

L: Well, he worked at the automobile factory up in northeast Franklin.

D: When was that? Was that between the time that he was working for the railroad and before he went to the fire department?

L: Well, I've got some information on that.

D: The car was manufactured in Franklin for a short time. But you don't remember how the car fit into his career?

L: No.

D: Well, what did he do for the fire station?

L: Well, he was a fireman.

D: So he went out and fought fires?

L: Yes.

R: Was it a volunteer fire department?

L: No. It was a city fire department. I remember when the old laundry burned in downtown Franklin, he was handling the hose on the back shooting water into the windows. He had so much pressure on them it was almost knocked him down. He was all by himself back there and I went up and told the chief that he needed some help back there.

D: So you were there watching all the activity.

L: Oh yeah. He had a line coming in there in the back of the alley and he had the windows blasted out with the hose. He was pouring water in that window. It got pretty hot there for a while, but they finally got it under control. A total loss though.

D: Was that one of those old-fashioned steam pumpers they used back then to develop that much pressure?

L: No, it wasn't steam, it was mechanical.

D: Well, that would of had to have been in the twenties. Were you still in high school or do you remember?

L: Yeah, I was in high school. I skipped class.

D: To see the fire?

L: Yes.

D: Was it during the day?

L: Yes.

D: But the whole thing burned down and it was a total loss.

L: It was a two-story brick building, it burned out the inside.

R: When did the second floor burn on the house that you lived in?

D: Do you remember anything about when the second floor burned off the house you lived in on Breckenridge street? Didn't ya'll think that Uncle Noel set it while playing with matches?

L: No. He put a penny in the fuse box.

D: And that started the fire. Did it happen at night?

L: No. During the day.

D: Was your dad working for the fire department then?

L: I don't know whether he was or not. I don't believe so. I think he was doing carpenter work down at the new building at the Baptist church on East Jefferson street.

D: But instead of rebuilding the house as a two story house he just put a roof over the top of it.

L: Yes. After he tore off the burned part.

R: What year was this?

D: Were you still in high school?

L: I don't know. I was sleeping upstairs with Don in the front bedroom and Noel had the back bedroom. We threw all the bed mattresses out and Leroy came over and helped us throw the stuff out the window.

D: While the fire was burning?

L: Yes.

D: I bet that was exciting!

R: Did anybody get hurt?

L: No.

D: Did Noel play with electricity and electronics back in his room?

L: He had a short wave radio set up there.

D: Well then after you got out of high school you went to some sort of business school didn't you?

L: Yes. Central.

D: Indiana Central. What did you study?

L: I took accounting.

D: It was a two-year course wasn't it?

L: Yes. But I only went a year and a half. Got a job.

D: But the job you got was with an oil company, wasn't it.

L: I went to work for Ohio Oil Company.

D: What did you do for them?

L: I handled the reports coming in from the field men.

D: Was it a bookkeepers job?

L: Well, in a way it was.

D: A correspondents job?

L: No.

R: You just assimilated everything that came in?

L: Yes. To see if the information they sent in agreed with the actual changes.

D: Well, you would have graduated from high school in about 1927 or 1928 so you would have started with them about 1929 if you started right out of business school. But then you lost that job because of the depression. {Click here for Leon's high school graduation picture}

L: Yeah, they moved out to their main office in Ohio.

D: So they closed the office in Indianapolis?

L: Yes.

D: Were you working right in Indianapolis?

L: Yes.

D: And living in an apartment or a rooming house?

L: No. I was living at home.

D: So you were riding the streetcar to work?

L: No. I was riding back and forth with Don.

D: Was he working at Hibben-Holloweg then?

L: Yes.

R: What was Hibben-Holloweg?

D: They were a clothing wholesaler.

L: They sold all kinds of linens. Pillowcases, sheets, and stuff.

D: But then when you lost your job at Ohio Oil Company you couldn't find one for a couple of years could you?

L: It was a long time.

D: It was during that time that you and mother (Helen Harmon) wanted to get married but couldn't because you didn't have a job.

L: Yes.

D: But she was working wasn't she?

L: Yes.

D: Who was she working for?

L: Hibben-Holloweg. She worked downstairs.

D: Was that how you met her?

L: Yes. I ran the passenger elevator. She heard that her set up was down in the basement. She had to go up to the fifth or sixth floor each day with her data and she would ride the elevator up there.

D: Were you running the elevator as job?

L: Yes.

D: Were you being paid for it?

L: Yes.

D: So you worked for Hibben-Holloweg too?

L: Yes.

D: For how long did you work for them?

L: Well, until they let a lot of us go. I guess it was 15 or 20 of us during the depth of the depression about '32 or '33.

D: But it was shortly after that you got on at Speedway at Lindy Co. wasn't it?

L: Yes. I went to work for them in March of 1934.

D: What were you doing for them?

L: I was working in the plant.

D: Doing what?

L: Wheeling oxygen acetylene cylinders around and loading trucks and cars.

D: Well, that would have been hard work.

L: It was hard work.

R: What was Speedway?

D: That was a plant that Union Carbide had. It was Lindy Company then. They manufactured oxygen and acetylene gas. So you started out loading the cylinders and then worked into the office.

L: A lot of times they would have me in in the afternoons to do some office work. Then eventually I got the inside job that the other fellow left.

D: Why did they transfer you to Atlanta? Was there some reason that they decided to move you?

L: Well, from Speedway I was transferred to the oxygen plant out in east Indianapolis. I was out there about three years. They needed a person in two different places, one in Pennsylvania and one in Atlanta. I chose Atlanta. This was in the Sales department (support). I had been working for the manufacturing end.

D: And your bosses' name was Mr. Elo in Atlanta? Was he in charge of the whole office?

L: Yes.

D: I remember that office. They had a big shop area downstairs and the offices were upstairs. There were two things that I remember about that office; one was those red and green lights on the telephone; I was so fascinated with those. And the other was that big water cooler they had. They put large blocks of ice into this water cooler and you had these little bitty triangular cups to get the water in.

L: I was in correspondence, a correspondent.

D: Well, you worked down in the warehouse sometimes too didn't you?

L: No.

D: You didn't do anything downstairs?

L: Just checked to see if a job had been done and shipped out.

D: Well, you used to ride the streetcar to work.

L: Yes.

D: But you had to walk all the way up to College Avenue to get the streetcar didnít you?

L: Yes.

D: So you walked along Mcdon street and all the way up to where the railroad tracks were and caught a streetcar?

L: Yes. But it wasn't all that far.

D: It was a pretty good distance. It seemed like a long way to me back when I was a kid.

L: I guess it was maybe four or five city blocks.

D: Yes. With the shortcut across the park it probably was.

L: No, we went around the East Lake Blvd. The main line from Atlanta to Decatur was a straight run mostly.

D: It came right down Ponce De Leon.

L: No. They weren't on Ponce De Leon. I don't remember the street name.

R: How long did you live in Atlanta?

D: Ten years. 1941-1951. When did Union Carbide actually buy Lindy Company. Was that before or after you started to work for Lindy?

L: I think they had always owned it.

D: No, Lindy was a separate company at one time. Union Carbide bought them. Union Carbide was formed to buy up several different companies. One was National Carbon and another was a carbide manufacturer and another was the Lindy Gas Division. But the original company started out as two separate companies, National Carbon and the carbide company.

L: They had generators down there in the back of the lot generating acetylene to fill the cylinders with.

D: Yes. But it was generated from carbide.

L: Yes. They had two big carbide generators down there. They produced the acetylene, we had the acetylene filling facility up there was long, I guess the thing was probably 100 feet long. And it had two sections in it. We used to haul the acetylene cylinders out there and dump them on the wooden frame. We would have two cylinders on our truck. We would lean them up against the frame work and then lift them up and screw the cap on. It had brass connections all down the line. We would screw the brass nut into the valve of the cylinder. After they were all set up they would open up the generators.

D: Your trucks would carry two cylinders at a time. How much did they weigh?

L: The large ones, they were heavy. I don't remember exactly, but probably 125-150 pounds each.

D: The only way they could handle those was to roll them by the base if they were trying to move them around. I watched some of those guys one time; they wear gloves and give that cylinder a spin and could walk it anywhere they wanted it to go.

R: I used to see them all the time behind the building at worked in at UAB. They would bring cylinders in every day. They could just work those things like they were feathers.

L: That filling station was probably forty feet from the warehouse. We had to haul those cylinders across that space. There was a cement platform between the two buildings. It was open between the door of the warehouse and the door of the filling station.

D: I bet it was cold.

L: It was very cold in the wintertime. We had to take the cylinders over and lean them against the filling frame and then lift them up and hook the line to them. Then we had to bring them back in and weigh them to be sure they had the night amount of charge in them.

D: Was that dangerous work?

L: Well, it was dangerous to the point of handling those big cylinders.

D: Because they might fall on you?

L: Yes.

D: Did anyone ever get hurt?

L: I got hurt unloading a boxcar of crates. We had to haul these cylinders in and put them in to the stock. I was getting ready to load mine when another fellow came in to the car and shook it just enough so that the cylinders fell over. Caught me on the foot.

D: What did it do to your foot?

L: Mashed my big toe pretty bad. Took a while for it to get well.

D: Was that on your bad leg?

L: No, it was on my good leg.

D: Well, that was fortunate.

R: Why did you get transferred to Birmingham?

L: They needed someone here in the sales office.

D: They were kind of phasing out the office in Atlanta weren't they?

L: Well, it wasn't all that big.

D: Did they give you a choice of moving somewhere besides Birmingham?

L: No.

D: Was the move a promotion?

L: Yes. I was still with the sales department but I was doing different work than what I did in Atlanta. I had direct connection with the outside salesman here. And customers too. We had to correspond with them.

D: You worked for Union Carbide for about 34 years?

L: From 1934-1968.

R: But you didn't move back here until 1974.

D: He went to work for a company called Monarch Welding in New Orleans after he left Union Carbide. You worked for them for about seven years.

L: I was trying to think when they closed the sales office in New Orleans.

D: Were you the manager of that office?

L: No, I was just a sales correspondent. About the same job I had in Birmingham.

D: Werenít you working in Atlanta when that Wyncoff hotel burned?

L: Yes.

D: Were you in town that day?

L: Yes.

D: So you saw the fire.

L: The fire occurred at night. It wasn't too far from where our office was.

D: I know. Your office was right there on Peachtree Street.

L: We were up on the fringe of the downtown area.

D: One thing I remember about coming to your office was that there was a Western Auto store just up the street about a half a block and I used to love to go up to Western Auto.

L: I don't remember that. There was a Genuine Auto parts on the back street. That was on West Peachtree street. You went out the back door; our office extended between the two streets. You went out the back way and Genuine Auto parts was just a half a block down the street.

D Do you remember in riding the streetcars that they made the blacks sit in the back?

L: Yes.

D: Did you have to stand up a lot when you rode the streetcars?

L: Yes. There was a lot of traffic going in to the downtown area.

D: Well, that was during the Second World War and you had gas rationing during a lot of that time didn't you?

L: Yes. Lack of parking space too. It was hard to find a place to park. And Helen needed a car to get around in from out there where we were living. You couldn't just go where you wanted to on a streetcar.

D: Did you buy that 1940 Chevrolet new?

L: Yes.

D: So it was a new car when we left Indiana. And you kept it until we moved to Birmingham. You put a lot of miles on that car. That was our only car.

R: Did you go on vacations every year?

D: We went to Indiana just about every year. That was about the only vacation I ever remember us taking. Do you remember any other vacations besides Indiana. I remember one time we tried to go to the Smoky Mountains and camp and that was a disaster. We went to Fontana Village and tried to camp out. Do you remember that?

L: Vaguely.

R: When I was little, we went to Fontana and camped. I wondered how Mom knew about that place.