Harold Davis Speakman
1895 – 1918
The namesake of Narberth's American Legion Harold D. Speakman Post No. 356 lived in Narberth for less than three years, but thanks to that homage, achieved a prominence that has long outlived the young man himself.
Harold Davis Speakman was born the same year as Narberth. His family lived in West Philadelphia where his father was a station master for the Pennsylvania Railroad, perhaps at the nearby 52nd street station (closed 1980). The Speakmans purchased 511 N. Essex in May 1914, at the time of Harold's high school graduation.
The Our Town social column reports young Harold making a splash on the Narberth social scene: in September 1915, he joined a chaperoned straw ride (the same as a hay ride?), in January 1916, he enjoyed a surprise party for Miss Jean Chalfant.
He gained local renown as a performer. In January 1915 he took up roles as a "Yiddish gentleman" and, in a farce based on Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harold "as Eliza and her baby will bring the house down on the second scene in Eliza's escape over the ice, real ice at that. In this scene six Narberth bloodhounds will run across the stage, followed by Simon Legree." Eliza was certainly performed in blackface, as well as drag.
Then, in May "Harold Speakman and Bill McCargo, who have become famous in Narberth as Jewish comedians, will again entertain in some brand new songs and jokes. It is not necessary to dwell on the ability of these two actors—they speak for themselves."
At age 18-19, Harold, front row left in the photo, played on the undefeated 1914-15 Narberth Y.M.C.A. Basket Ball [sic] team.
“Narberth's First Hero”
On April 6, 1917, the U. S. entered the Great War. On May 28, Harold enlisted. Now Our Town regularly lists Harold among "the men of Narberth [who] have answered the call for the defense of our country". In 1918 "The Fireside" social column reported that "Harold Speakman, a private in the 109th Medical Corps, has been selected for the Officers' Training Camp at Atlanta, Ga." He was commisioned a 2nd Lieutenant as his unit shipped to France.
Harold Speakman was killed in action at the 2nd Battle of the Marne on July 25th 1918, age 22. He is buried at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery (Plot A Row 18 Grave 12) in France.
Speakman's death ("Narberth's First Hero") was announced in the September 12, 1918 issue of Our Town in a tribute written by State Representative Fletcher Stites, a former Burgess, as preparations were being made for the September 27-28 Patriotic Fete. "Lieutenant Speakman died as a soldier would wish to die, in the flame of battle with a cheer upon his lips."
Lt. Speakman after the War
The person who emerges from these accounts is an outgoing, sociable young man, quick to integrate in whatever circle he found himself, who excelled at many endeavors. It is not surprising that in September 1919, Narberth WWI veterans named the local chapter of the American Legion in honor of Harold D. Speakman. The official justification was that Harold was "the first Narberth man to give his life for his country in World War I". In 1936, the Post commissioned Merion artist William Tefft Schwarz to paint the portrait of Speakman that hangs in the Legion headquarters today.
Was Domenico Corvaro really Narberth's first WWI casualty?