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Do You Remember?

"The Adventurous Willing Sisters Traveled the World"

(Reprinted from the Bronx Times Reporter of 7-29-2010)


The reason most people enter an ice cream parlor seems rather obvious but in at least one case, there could have been an underlying factor. Couple an ice cream soda, banana split or egg cream with exciting tales of adventure before the advent of TV and you have, no doubt, encountered the Willing sisters. Perhaps that’s why Richard Shaw of Edgewater Park chose the three sisters to run his soda fountain. Miss Juliette Willing was listed as the proprietor and she lived at 30-D Edgewater Park.

The Willing sisters of Edgewater Park

It was a huge store featuring the typical overhead ceiling fans that proved so necessary in pre-air conditioning days. Small round white marble topped tables with the wrought iron chairs with backs twisted like pretzels can be recalled with clarity by most old-timers. The long gray marble counter with the tall metal stools of just the right height for young eager heads to peer over as they pondered their myriad choices of goodies also comes to mind. The post-Depression days of the late 1930’s and 40’s is the time period involved and behind the counter stood the stalwart and well-traveled Willing sisters.

Iran was still called Persia in those days and it was still ruled by a shah. The deserts were wild and paved roadways rare yet the adventurous Willing sisters were no strangers to the back roads of the world. Patrons at the Edgewater Park Ice Cream Parlor were treated to more than delectable sweets, but might also glimpse a photograph or two of those serving the treats. Seeing the women borne by camels in strange lands can leave a lasting impression on youthful young minds. The exotic backdrop to the photographs viewed in that iconic sweet shop colored the dreams of many patrons both young and old.

No one seems to know if Juliette, Dorothy and Emily Willing came from wealth and lost everything in the Great Depression retiring to the quaint little bungalow colony that came to be known as Edgewater Camp and then Edgewater Park but the stories they had to tell were certainly hard to forget. Backed up by photographs and brochures, they showed the sisters living a life of adventure. I’m sure it was stories like theirs that inspired at least one latter-day world traveler. That would be John McNamara who grew up listening to tales of their adventures and followed in their footsteps albeit via the less-costly tramp steamers. There are few ports-of-call that escaped John McNamara and fortunately he recorded many of those adventures in newspaper articles or in his book “McNamara’s Vagabond Travels.”

As for the ice cream parlor, after the Willing sisters retired Herman O’Neil took it over and ran it quite successfully for years. It was then taken over by Anna Wehr who ran it with her young son, Larry, until they moved out west where the air was better for Larry’s asthma. Various other owners followed until the stores burned down under rather suspicious circumstances in August of 1978. I still wonder what happened to all those photographs of the adventurous Willing sisters posing in Persia and other exotic lands.

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