November 23, 1891 - 1974
Marion (left) and her
sister, Betty 1900
Marion - 1970
Erskine Abbott was born in Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania on November 23, 1891 to William Oliphant Abbott and Anna Zulick.
Her sister, Elizabeth (Betty) Zulick Abbott was born two years later. Her
father was a civil engineer who worked for the Lehigh Valley Railroad when Marion was young. The
family was required to move to a new location every time he had to start work
on a new bridge, Thus, Marion attended many
different schools in her younger years. Betty remembers living in Rochester, NY, Ball Mountain near Wilkes Barre,
Kittaning, and Pittsburgh (all in Pennsylvania). When asked what
her sister was like, Betty wrote, "She was very attractive and everyone
seemed to love her. She had a temper, however,and would take no criticism from
anyone." Marion had a beautiful
operatic singing voice and at one point was invited to tour with the Pittsburgh
Philharmonic Orchestra. Betty wrote, "When our mother said they couldn't
afford to buy her a new dress for every evening Marion refused to go. We
thought this was a mistake as the orchestra would be in a city only one night.
However, Marion played in many
amateur shows, and one summer played in the stock company theatre (musicals)
where they played one show, rehearsed another and studied parts for the
third." A 1913 newspaper review of a play she was in reads:
"The Forum of the Philadelphia Trades School will produce its
second annual play, 'The Private Secretary,' at LuLu Temple next Wednesday
night. The play, which was staged by the boys of the school, is woven about the
life of a young man who is heir to a fortune. Frank H. Hoffman, who takes the
part of Douglas Cattermole, is told by his rich uncle that he must 'sow his
wild oats.' To do this he takes a position as a private secretary to a planter.
The planter has already engaged a young minister to the position, who is in
love with the planter's daughter. During the time Cattermole is acting as
secretary his creditors swarm him, but in spit of all he wins the planter's
daughter and the fortune, too." Marion played Edith
Marsland, the planter's daughter and Mrs. Stead, Cattermoles' landlady.
Betty also remembered, "She was always wonderful with me and would read to
me when I was punished, etc., etc. When she was in (her) third year of high
school, mother had to go to the hospital for a slight operation and was
hospitalized...a week or so. Marion stayed home from
school to care for the house and cook meals. She refused to go back to school
but read a great deal and studied some. She was very fond of Shakespeare. She
studied some French with a very fine boy friend, Jimmy Miller. Incidentally, he
wanted to marry her, but he was a minister's son and that seemed to discourage
Marion and Betty spent their summers in Schulkill Haven when they were growing
up. Betty said "many good friends would stop by for a chat." One of
these visitors was John Robert Jones, who was thirteen years Marion's senior. He was
Welsh and his mother was Pennsylvania Dutch. On September 8, 1915, at the age of twenty-four, Marion married John.
Everyone in Schulkill Haven thought it was a wonderful match. Betty said that Marion married John
because life with him seemed "glamorous and more to her liking."
Betty said, "Although he wasn't liked personally, he was continually
called on by lawyers for advice." He was highly respected in his field.
John worked with the Red Cross during World War I taking service men who were
on leave to places of interest. According to Betty, he was "very popular
there." John was later a politician in the Pennsylvania state capital of Harrisburg and eventually
became a judge in Philadelphia.
Marion saved a few newspaper articles that chronicle
some of her performances in her years with John. In the Pottstown Republican an
article about a Red Cross concert on April 30th (year unknown) lists Mrs. J. R.
Jones as singing Cycle of Life, Prelude, Spring, Down in the Forest, Summer,
Love I Have Won You; Autumn, the Winds are Calling; Winter, Drift Down. The
article states, "Mrs. J. R. Jones, soprano from Schuylkill Haven is also
well known and holds the distinction of being one of the finest singers in this
section of the state."
Marion sang at many events while they lived in Harrisburg. An undated
newspaper clipping probably from a Harrisburg newspaper
reviewed one of her performances:
"The concert held in the auditorium Tuesday evening for the benefit of the
Red Cross was a complete success, musically and financially. Mrs. John Robert
Jones, as soloist made her debut before a local audience and pleasured and
delighted. This former Pittsburg resident proved
herself quite an artist, having a full, rich and sweet tone of considerable
range, and perfect control of it. Her varied program lent added effectiveness
to her evening's contributions to the program."
In the Patriot, a Harrisburg newspaper, dated Thursday, November 4, 1920, under the heading, "Social
Events of Capital City", an article highlights another production put on
for the benefit of the Salvation Army. The production was entitled "America" and the
review reads in part:
"The leading part was taken by Mrs. John Robert Jones, a newcomer to Harrisburg whose soprano
voice is a distinct addition to the musical life of the city. Her main song
"Castles in College Dreamland" was especially well given and gave
opportunity for her to show her wide range and the power and beauty of her
Marion and John's only child, Robert (Bobbie) Erskine Jones, was born on January 18, 1922. The details are unknown but at some point in
time Marion took Bobbie and left John. John refused to
give her a divorce and continued to support her throughout her life. Betty once
wrote that John was "thought a great deal of in Pottsville and Schuylkill
Haven, but after he and Marion were married, his relatives told her that John
was mean to his mother." She believed that this knowledge shed some light
on the reasons Marion left.
Always impeccably dressed, Marion was a very
independent woman. She was a perfectionist who had very definite ways about how
things should be done. Her daughter-in-law, Gloria, claimed that she learned a
lot about entertaining from Marion who had a way of letting people know what
she thought they should do. More than once she said to Gloria, "You ARE
going to use this (serving spoon, ladle, etc.), aren't you dear?" When Bob
and his wife, Gloria, had two daughters, Kathy and Carol, Marion doted on them and
they adored her. The girls remember loving to being with her because she had a
way of making them feel like they were the center of her universe. The girls
called her "Babbie" because Marion claimed she was
trying to teach older granddaughter, Kathy, to say "Granny" but the
name came out "Babbie". Babbie always seemed to know the one thing
they wanted more than anything else for their birthday or Christmas and it
wasn't until they were grown and their grandmother had passed away that they
learned their mother had made the gift purchases and Marion had paid for
them. Kathy remembers spending a week at Alden Park when she was
young (around 1960) and being exceedingly spoiled. Specifically she recalls
loving to watch Babbie take off her make-up with cold cream at night and being
allowed to stay up past her bedtime to watch The Andy Griffith Show on
television. A copy of Misty of Chincoteague, Marguerite Henry's famous story
about a horse, was ordered and delivered to the apartment by the store. Horse
lover Kathy was thrilled.
Marion lived alone for many years at Alden Park Manor
in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. From 1963 to
1965 she lived in West Chester, PA in an apartment
with her sister, Betty, who had been recently widowed. In 1965, Betty moved in
with her daughter's family and Marion moved back to Alden Park. Marion died in 1974.
information for this biography came from letters written by Marion's
sister, Betty Abbott White, and the memories of her granddaughters.