Old Freddie 9/7/1943
One of the most picturesque characters of northwestern Berks in years gone by was “Old Freddie,” a bachelor who lived with his spinster sister, Betz, on a small farm on the Bossum Stross (Possum Street) in the Fogelsbarrig section. Ordinarily he minded his own business and somehow managed to eke out a living from the hilly land. Both he and his sister were regarded as peculiar, but they were self-supporting and no one bothered them.
At certain times Old Freddie would come to town and it was on these visits that his eccentricities would be displayed. When he came to Womelsdorf he would enter the town at the end of Main Street so that more people could see him for he liked attention. He drove slowly and every now and then would give a peculiar cry, on the order of a yodel, and follow this by muttering a string of gibberish. He used to call it “ladinish” (Latin). By the time he reached the hotel in the center of town, a small crowd would be gathered and after tying his horse in the courtyard he would start his performance.
Facing the crowd, he threw his hat on the ground and let out a few yells. His long, uncombed hair fell forward and partially covered his eyes: his torn and dirty shirt was open at the neck: his trousers supported by means of a rope instead of a belt or suspenders and the legs tied shut at the shoe tops with binder twine. His trouser legs were stuffed so full that he could not take regular steps but walked by swinging his legs in half circles.
His feet were unusually large but so served the better for a foundation as he was rather short and stout. After some more yelling and more of the “ladinish” talk, he slapped his legs and announced that he bet the beer for the crowd that he could fill a half-bushel with the contents of his pockets.
This challenge was immediately accepted. A basket was brought and Freddie started taking out the contents of his pockets. Actually he had no pockets for what should have been the opening to his pocket opened directly into the pants leg. Most anything could be expected that was small enough to be pulled through the pocket opening: such things as parts of harness, old paint brushes, gear wheels, monkey wrenches, hammers, muskrat traps, candle holders, pieces of farm machinery, lengths of chain, cow bells – anything and everything. Today he would make a one-man scrap drive. By changing the articles from time to time no one ever knew just what was coming, and so he would always amuse the crowd.
By the time everything had been placed in the bushel measure it was usually more than half filled and Freddie would laugh with great glee, for he had won the bet. All the men would now move to the barroom where Freddie would get all the free beer he could drink.
Freddie was not as dumb as they thought he was. He made only a few trips to each town in a year for he seemed to know that if he came too frequently he would become a nuisance.
After his sister died he had only his dog “Wasser” for company. He kept him with him all the time and at night tied him to the stove in the kitchen. They had a tragic end, for both burned to death when the house was destroyed by fire. In a joking manner, people would tell of the great amount of money that Freddie had and it was thought that thieves, who believed the rumors, broke into the house and set it on fire after a vain hunt for the treasure.
-Louis J. Livingood, M.D.