Pennsylvania Memories is a special series marking the turn of the millennium featuring readers' memories of events, experiences, incidents, individuals, innovations or inventions that profoundly affected them or gave them a deep appreciation of personal history.

In 1923, I was four years old when my family moved from Philadelphia to Harrisburg. My father, Einar Barfod, had been appointed chief investigator in the securities department of Pennsylvania’s ban.king department by Governor Gifford Pinchot. My earliest memory of Harrisburg was a summer when my mother hired a farmer to plow the field next to our house, then having all the neighborhood children stake out their garden. All kinds of vegetables were grown, from corn and beans to carrots and tomatoes. At harvest time in the fall, she awarded prizes to the biggest, best vegetable grown, then gave a corn roast for all the participants.

One day Mother came home with a huge carton and when we peeked into the bottom, we saw a big ball of fur! She announced this was our new puppy, a pedigreed Newfoundland she named Hector. He grew faster than we did, so when my brother Pat was two, he rode him like a pony. The time came when Mother got tired of not receiving mail and the garbage not being picked up – ­sadly, Hector had a bark that scared everyone who didn’t know that this was his customary greeting – and she decided to find him a new home with a lot of space to roam. She learned that Conrad Richter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who lived in nearby Clark’s Valley at the time, had Newfound­lands and had written about his prize dog. She contacted him and he welcomed Hector to his “gang.” Although we cried, Mother assured us Hector would be much happier and would have playmates. I am sure that Hector spent the rest of his life happily frolicking with Mr. Richter and his “Newfies.”

In 1926, Dad was appointed Insurance Commissioner by Governor Pinchot. The following years were filled with happy memories – swimming lessons, Saturday mornings all winter in the old Ambassador Hotel swimming pool, ballet lessons twice a week at C. O. Shaar’s Dance Studio, and at ten, joining Mrs. Lillian Phipps’ Girl Scout troop. One event I vividly remember was when my Mother took us to hear the twelve-year-old violin prodigy, Yehudi Menuhin, in 1928.

Girl Scouting was a big part of my life, and I spent six wonderful summers at Pine Grove Furnace where we all learned to swim in the “Old Ore Hole.” Phyllis Mellancamp was the camp director, and she often entertained members of the Harrisburg Council, such as Helen MacFarland and Mrs. Vance McCormick – and an odd old lady named Miss Thorsell, whose long black cape was “borrowed” for a camp fire skit.

I was a junior at John Harris High School, when in the spring of 1936, the heavy rains caused the Susquehanna River to rise above its banks, flooding the city’s low-lying areas. Many families were left homeless in the southern section of Harrisburg, around the Harrisburg Hospital. Water was contaminated and there were power shortages throughout the city. My Mother, active in the PTA, volunteered to gather clothing and blankets for the evacuees. She also volunteered my sister and I to join forces at John Harris High School. Many in my class and scout troop kept busy bathing and dressing babies and toddlers in the girls’ lavatory. The Red Cross set up cots in the gymnasium, helping to make the flood victims as comfortable as possible.

The following day Mother asked me to drive her 1927 Oakland to deliver canisters of water and bottles of ginger ale to a station at the market on Second Street. I had obtained my first driver’s license the year before so I was thrilled she gave me a chance to drive such an important errand.

After the delivery, I drove down Front Street to see the Susquehanna River and as I came near the Walnut Street Bridge, I noted a large crowd of people along the banks. I stopped to ask what was happening. I was told the authorities had warned that the bridge might collapse. All were in awe as the waters rushed under it.

I have since learned that the bridge stood intact another sixty years until January 1996, when two of its fifteen spans were swept away [see “Lost & Found,” Summer 1998].


Ann Ross Barford Comeau retired in 1975 as commander from the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve after more than three decades of service. She was one of eight women who were the first enlisted SPARs of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve in Washington, D.C., in December 1943. She attended the Navy Pay and Supply School at the University of Indiana, graduating in 1943. The following year she attended the Coast Guard Academy and was commissioned an ensign. Her tour of duty took her to many places, where she witnessed many history-making events and met many fascinating individuals. On duty in Boston, she covered the collision of the Andrea Doria and the Stockholm off Nantucket Island in July 1956 for the Coast Guard. In 1959, she shared an office with a chief petty officer, Alex Haley, with whom site spent many hours discussing genealogy and research methods; thirteen years later her former office mate published Roots. She currently lives in Mesa, Arizona, with her time to researching the genealogy of the Ross family in Pennsylvania.