A special 1946 parade dress stirs special memories
It’s the dress she wore as “Lady Justice” in Weirton’s July 4 parade and celebration in 1946. The then-21-year-old was selected to represent Weirton Steel’s Steubenville Plant and was the lone rider on the float where she held a “Justice and Labor” scale.
The white gown fosters many memories, parade and otherwise, which the Wintersville resident revisited during a recent interview in the company of her daughter, Sue Hershey of Steubenville.
June was 19 when she started working in Weirton Steel’s Steubenville Plant in April 1944 during the World War II years when men went off to war and women went to work in the factory jobs the men had temporarily abandoned to serve their country.
Not too long into her employment there was an accident in which June’s left hand was crushed in steel rollers. She returned two months later, however, with her arm in a cast, and she worked as a time clerk in the master mechanic’s office.
Initially, though, June worked on the lines, she said, pickling magnesium. “We put these sheets in there with a big wheel, put the sheets on there, and they went down through acid to clean the magnesium sheets of it and it was used in Walkie-Talkies and things like airplanes. One day this little thing came lose. I had on a pair of gloves getting another pack of sheets to put in the thing, and I saw this was going to fall, and I reached up to push it back. At that time, a sheet came up and caught my glove and took my hand in the rolls and mashed my hand — mashed the daylights out of it,” she said.
June was relieved it was her left hand. “I’m right-handed,” she said.
“Dr. Herrington spent four hours. The nurse looked at me — I was only 19 — and he said, ‘What a shame.’ He stood there and kept looking and pretty soon, he said, ‘OK, let’s get to work and save a hand. For four hours he worked.”
June was born Sylvia June Freas on June 22, 1924, the third of six children.
“My mother worked in the glass house and dad worked in the sheet mill, and they were just starting the Pope plant when they came here.
“My dad was working in the sheet mill in Cambridge, and they were laying people off and so a fellow from the Steubenville plant came and asked my dad to work there,” she said, noting she was a year old at the time.
“Dad worked at the Steubenville plant of Weirton Steel before it was Weirton Steel,” she said of what was the Pope Tin Plate Co. that Weirton Steel ultimately purchased.
When the family moved to Steubenville, they lived on Hermania Avenue, then Terrace Avenue when June said it was “an elite street of Steubenville. They were just starting Pleasant Heights and LaBelle View. That was the elite thing. As I recall, we used to go up over the hill to Pleasant Heights from Terrace Avenue, and the streets were dirt at that time. They hadn’t paved them yet,” noted Jane, who added, “I have three brothers younger than me and one of them has passed away. I have one brother who will be 87 and the other one was born in 1946, an afterthought. He was a change-of-life baby,” she said with a laugh, noting her mother was 46 when she had him. Both brothers are local residents.
Her parents bought a farm out along Beacon Ridge in Unionport.
“I was 6 years old when we moved to that farm. My dad was having problems breathing, and the doctor said he would be better off if he got out in the open away from mill,” she said. Her father’s job as a “doubler” was “hot and smoky.”
“When I was 6 we moved to the farm on Beacon Ridge. When I was 16 we moved back to Steubenville for five years and in 1945 we went to East Springfield. We had a dairy farm.”
“My oldest brother was in the war but he wanted to come home and be a farmer, so they bought a 156-acre farm in East Springfield,” she said
June and her sister Rhoda worked in the mill during the war effort.
“My sister and I were working in the mill,” she said, looking at a photo. A picture of the “Women of the Mill” is one June was photographed in as part of a promotion showing women who were holding down the homefront, doing their part. Her sister was, too.
“They just came in one day and said, ‘June, wrap your hair up, we want to take your picture,” she recalled the circumstances of the photo being taken of the six women. “They lined us up outside that office and took a picture. Two of them worked in salvage, one in the electrical department, and my sister worked as an inspector on the cutting line, and Rae worked in the electric shop, and I worked in the master mechanic’s office. My title was time clerk, but I was kind of legs for every boss in the mill, I think,” June said.
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s personal aides visited the Weirton Steel Steubenville and Weirton Steel plants as part of a pep promotion, with plans to honor the women workers during a dinner at the Weirton Country Club.
June wasn’t able to attend, however, because as one job ended, another began.
There was work to do on the family farm.
“I had cows to milk,” she said of a work detail that included feeding hogs and hauling hay.
The inability to attend, though, didn’t really disappoint June.
“I wasn’t into that classy stuff at that time,” she said, noting she and her sister would go for weeks without ever wearing a dress. “We’d go from the mill and go home and milk the cows and eat dinner, and then we hooked up the horses and went out to the field. That’s the way it was,” she said. “We worked from 5 in the morning to 10 at night.”
The invitation to be on the float was extended by Charles Eddy, president of the Weirton Steel Steubenville Plant.
“He came down one day and asked, ‘June, would you like to ride on the float for us?’ and I didn’t even know what he was talking about,” she said, admitting she even made light of it until a co-worker told her it was “a serious thing.”
“I would be representing the whole Steubenville plant and that was an honor,” she was told.
“Mr. Eddy’s secretary and I went to Wheeling. We got that dress at Horne’s Department Store,” June said. “She took me, and we went in the First National Bank clear up on the top floor, and we looked with binoculars at the Lady Justice on top of Union Bank so that I knew how to fix my hair and what kind of constituted it all and then we went to Wheeling and we spent the whole day.”
The dress they found wasn’t quite the perfect fit or so easy to find.
“We wanted a white dress, and I think they only had one or two others and they were strapless or this or that and this one, they only had in a size 12,” explained June, who at 5’6,” 105 pounds, was a size 6.
“They told me they’d put a size 6 pattern on it, and that was the one we wanted,” she said.
“I felt really special,” June said of her memories of the day of “the huge parade” in which the float won second place out of all the entrants. “I had to go to the beauty parlor to have my hair done,” she said of her visit to a woman who lived on Ohio Street.
“She gave me a facial and the whole nine yards, and she did my hair. I told her how I wanted it, and she put hairspray on — the first time my hair ever had hairspray,” she said.
Getting to the parade caused some concern and resulted in a unique arrival.
“There was something wrong with my dad’s car, and so my brother took me to Weirton in the cattle truck. Everyone turned around and here I come trotting down out of there in my gown,” she said. The vehicle was driven by her older brother, Loran, who had returned home the previous October 1945 after having served four years in the Army.
“The parade started up on Pennsylvania Avenue and came down clear to what at that time was Holliday’s Cove and the streets were lined with people,” she said. “At that time the personal movie cameras had just become popular, and every one was taking pictures. That made me feel even more special.”
The first time she saw the float “was when they put me on it. Every department had their floats under wraps. No one knew what the other guy was doing.”
June said the special parade dress found its way to her cedar chest and has stayed there. It’s been something she really didn’t pay any attention to through the years although it did come in especially handy once during the 1960s.
That’s when the underskirt of the dress found new purpose when daughter Sue needed a slip for the dress she wore to her junior prom at Catholic Central High School in 1966.
“I took the inner skirt out of it and put a piece of elastic in it, and she had a full-length half slip –mom to the rescue,” June chuckled of her re-purposing ingenuity.
June has no problem parting with a dress once so special to her.
“I’d be happy to see a museum get it,” she said, intending to perhaps donate it to the Jefferson County Historical Association Museum.
June would meet her husband, George J. Granatir, in the mill. He was a hook-up on the cutting line but she gave him no heed, even though he was eye-balling her.
“I didn’t even really notice him. He was just another worker, and I was used to the guys whistling, and I just brushed them off, you know,” she said.
Actual conversation happened for the first time at the Rainbow Gardens in Steubenville where June and family members were enjoying an outing in an environment where there was an orchestra and dancing.
“We took my brother out to celebrate. He was coming home. We were in there and at that time my husband’s two older brothers had come from the war, and so they decided they were going to celebrate, so they go to Rainbow Gardens,” she said.
June said her husband-to-be came over with his brothers, introducing them to her sister. When he introduced his brothers to June, he said, “She’s the one so damned stuck up down at the mill.”
“That’s the first words he ever spoke to me,” she laughed.
The couple went on their first date in January 1946, courted two years and got married Jan. 21, 1948.
They raised four children — June Alexander of Cincinnati, Sue, Elaine Saltsman of Bloomingdale and G. David Granatir, who died of pancreatic cancer. June has five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Though living in Wintersville, she and her husband worked a 50-acre farm in Bloomingdale, raising cattle, and “a huge vegetable and fruit garden.”
They enjoyed travel to nearly every state and in 1985 went on trips with the Toronto Sunrise Seniors.
The last one was in 2004 to Myrtle Beach. “My husband loved Myrtle Beach and to swim,” she said, adding that they enjoyed their children and loved taking them everywhere, close to home at Jefferson and Tappan lakes or farther away.
June put her talents to work fundraising on behalf of the Mended Hearts Association of which she was the chairwoman of the scholarship committee for many years. “I think I made 40 some afghans to be raffled off,” she said.
She stays active, cooks for herself and reads the Herald-Star faithfully, working the crossword puzzle and quoting the comics. She’s an avid baseball fan — the Pirates and the Indians; an avid college football fan — Ohio State, Cincinnati and now Wisconsin where a grandson is a student; and is a regular viewer of the PGA tour.
June is “a talker” who engages in conversation, having never met a stranger. “I love people, and I love to talk. I’m an outgoing person. My kids always said mom breaks the ice and dad jumps in and swims,” she said with a laugh.
“He was a joy,” she said of her husband, who died on Aug. 18, 2008.
“I’ve lived a happy life,” June said. “I’ve had my tears, but God’s been good to me.”