Forging America: The History of Bethlehem Steel - Chapter 5
Bethlehem Steel Graphic Banner: Chapter 5
Comedian and musician Victor Borge, whom the 79-year-old Gawlik describes as ''the comical guy who falls off a chair,'' once entertained in Grace's home. After such parties, Gawlik and other employees couldn't leave until the inventory of gold and silver was counted. She wasn't insulted; rather, she understood the Graces' concern about theft.
After Marion Grace broke her hip, it was Gawlik's job to follow her around the house carrying a pillow.
The Graces ate well even during the Depression, when ordinary Americans scraped for food. Grace was particularly fond of oysters. He had them flown in fresh from Maine and kept a barrel-full on ice in the cellar. He ate them before meals and for midnight snacks, and insisted that others in the family try to enjoy them as much as he did. ''He offered each of us a quarter if we could eat a raw oyster whole,'' says Eugene III. ''I never did it.''
In winter, the Graces escaped to Aiken, S.C., where they had a home. ''In the early days, they used to take a railroad car to get down there. Later, they had the Bethlehem Steel company plane,'' says Charles Grace Jr., Eugene III's older brother. ''A lot of the Aiken people were horsey people, but my grandfather didn't keep horses, just played golf.'' Among Grace's frequent houseguests in South Carolina were Crosby and golfing legends Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.
Grace also stayed at Bethlehem Steel's apartment in New York's Plaza Hotel. He had a home in the exclusive Long Island beach community of Southampton, where he golfed with future President Dwight D. Eisenhower and hosted debonair actor/dancer Fred Astaire and other celebrities. ''Everyone dressed for dinner,'' Charles Jr. recalls. ''By dressed I mean the gentlemen all wore dinner jackets.''
The Graces vacationed at the New Jersey shore and at Buck Hill Falls in the Poconos. They worshipped together at First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, where they had their own pew.
''My grandfather was very family-oriented,'' says Charles Jr., who is 69 and manages the family's investments. ''Just about every weekend we would go either to his home in Bethlehem or to my mother's family home in Bethlehem.''
At dinner, Grace was always a commanding presence. ''He was a pretty smart guy. He was a Republican and had very strong Republican views.''
Charles Jr.'s mother, Nancy Dougherty Grace, found out just how strong, to her dismay. Nancy supported Franklin D. Roosevelt during one of his four presidential campaigns, not realizing how fiercely Grace opposed the Democrat's economic and business policies. Usually, she said nothing when politics came up in family conversations, according to Porter's book.
''Finally, one time (he) pierced me with his eye and asked me, 'Who do you plan to vote for, Nancy?' Unable to lie, I told him. Silence.''
Several days later, Nancy received a letter from her father-in-law that broke the bond between them forever. ''Dear Nancy: From what you told me yesterday, I see that you are not of the proletariat, and I must therefore ask you not to use our apartment in the Plaza Hotel from now on. Sincerely, Daddy.''
Nancy said that as a result of the snub, ''the nice side of our relationship did not come back between us. Ever.''
Grace loved music, especially old railroad songs and silly tunes about golfers that made him laugh so hard, tears came to his eyes. ''We would get together and someone would play the piano and we would all sing,'' Charles Jr. remembers. A record store in New York would send his grandfather all of the latest recordings, adding to a collection of hundreds, and he would return the ones he didn't want.
A 1920 American Magazine profile, under the headline, '''Gene' Grace Whose Story Reads Like a Fairy Tale,'' said the steel man's rise to prominence was ''a narrative of typical American diligence, vision, forethought, pluck, and unremitting application.''
Eugene G. Grace was born on Aug. 27, 1876, to Rebecca and John Wesley Grace in the small town of Goshen on the southern New Jersey coast, near Cape May. The family name was bathed in glory. Eugene's great-grandfather distinguished himself during the Revolution as a scout for Gen. George Washington, marched with the Marquis de Lafayette and witnessed the British surrender at Yorktown, Va.
According to Porter's book:
Eugene's father was a captain of packet schooners trading wheat and coal along the coast and the Delaware Bay and up the Delaware River. He had been sailing for 31 years when his frail wife, Rebecca, urged him to quit.
''We need you at home, Wes,'' she said. ''The boys, 'Gator' and Eugene, are 13 and 11 now. Bess is 15, and you scarcely know baby Roy. Retire from the sea. You could have a grocery store and warehouse right on the property. And Gator and Gene could help you in the summers and after school.''
Gator was John Jr. He got the nickname because of the way he used one hand over the other to catch a baseball like an alligator's jaw opening and closing.
''Cap'n Wes,'' as he was called, heeded Rebecca and came home to stay in 1887. He opened a grocery and a wholesale merchandising business that offered grain, feed, coal, bricks and lumber. On his 20 acres, he had cows, a horse, pigs and chickens, and apple, peach, pear, plum and walnut trees.
The boys helped him in the store before and after school and on weekends, with Eugene keeping the books. On Sundays, the family worshipped at the Goshen Methodist Church, where Eugene's favorite hymn was, ''Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown?''