My first writing project

Carolyn Cary's picture

I read in a recent news item that Pennsylvania is celebrating 150 years of extracting crude oil from the Allegheny foothills.

Back during “the war”— that’s World War II for you young folks — grade schools were only first grade to eighth grade and then you went on to high school.

While in eighth grade at Firestone Park Grade School, Akron, Ohio,, we must have studied this subject, although it would only have been 88 years old at the time.
A man named Edwin Drake decided to drill for oil in Titusville, Penn. He was an employee of the Seneca Oil Co. and had learned that the Seneca Indians had placed blankets on the ground that soaked up the surface oil. A farmer with land on a nearby creek in Titusville could capture as much as 20 to 30 barrels of oil a year of the seeping goo.

When he was offered $5,000 for one acre of his land, neighbors were astounded. Who would want to pay that kind of money for land that constantly dirtied their shoes?
Drake and others were trying to find a means to replace whale oil as a heating source. His first attempts in 1857 and in 1858 in Titusville were unsuccessful. Locals had lost their confidence in him and began to refer to the project as “Drake’s Folly.”

Because the only method for drilling at that time would only go 16 feet deep, he had to invent a “drive pipe” that would go deeper. In August 1859 at only 69.5 feet deep, he struck “black gold.”

Unfortunately, he did not patent his invention.

Thus one Edwin Laurentine Drake and his personal drive began the first oil boom in America. Just a few months before, the Seneca Oil Co. had withdrawn its funding and Drake had to use $2,000, $40,000 today, of his own funds to complete the task.

He was able to pump as many barrels of oil in a few days as a whaling ship could gather on a four-year voyage.

Sad to say, he died a pauper a few years later and donations were raised to bury him in Titusville.

Now back to 1947, when I announced that I wanted to write a play about Drake. The teacher, whose name I do not remember, graciously agreed. I entitled the play “Drake’s Folly” and I remember it was given one time in class. I rather imagine it is probably remembered by classmates as “Carolyn’s Folly.”

While I have never risen to a “laureate” status, my writing has helped to keep my children fed and now it helps to keep my prescriptions filled.

And by-the-by, my sister, Shirley, lives directly across the street from the school. When I visit and look out her front windows, Firestone Park Elementary School is still in business, 70 years after my budding attempts to write.

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