Ella Gladfelter, York

Age: late 40’s
Interviewed: August 2, 1988

Ella was owner of Gladfelter’s Store in Zion’s View at the time of the TMI accident.

When that thing happened, the firemen went through and announced that we were to stay indoors, keep the doors and windows closed. My daughter, Theresa [age 14] had just had a tonsillectomy and she was home from school. My brother and his wife were getting out of the area, so they took her with them. They went up to Sunbury. I thought my husband’s health went downhill afterward. He had what they called fibrosis of the lung. I don’t know how to explain how he deteriorated after this Three Mile Island thing.

You know, they said it couldn’t be from the nuclear accident, but when I walked out in back of the store after this thing happened, there was an ash all over everything. A gray, powdery ash. Yet they kept telling me that that couldn’t possibly have been from this nuclear accident. Well, where did it come from? I just can’t imagine if it wasn’t from that, what was it from?

It was right after we had the trouble down at Three Mile Island. We lived in an apartment right in the back of the store. It was all over the sidewalks and the back of the house when we went out for her to get in the car. The sidewalk went out the back door and around the garage. The ash was on the sidewalks. I couldn’t imagine why it was. Where it came from. It was gray and it was just very, very powdery, very fine. It was more gray than white, what I saw. [But] it wasn’t that deep in color.

I knew that it was nothing that was done in Zion’s View that caused it. I assumed it was from Three Mile Island. Then everybody said, “It couldn’t be, it couldn’t be.” Well, don’t tell me it couldn’t be. They don’t know what that nuclear stuff’s gonna do. All they know is it will kill people. I felt very sorry for the people that lived closer to it.

I’ve never seen an ash like that before. It made a layer. It made a coating on the sidewalk. A thin coating. I don’t know if anybody else experienced it or not. I talked to different people and they say, “Oh, that couldn’t have been from that.” But who says it can’t?

The ash settled down on the East side of the house. [The house faces west.] Now there could have been on the other sides too, but that’s where I noticed it because it was on the sidewalk. I didn’t pay no attention to it in front of the house. Well, the cars would have blown it away. It was that light, the cars going back and forth would have blown it away there. Running a store, I was really busy. I didn’t have a lot of time to go out and inspect anything, really. I never paid attention to anything else. I just swept it off the sidewalks. I wasn’t gonna let that stuff be drug in the house. But then I was a lot healthier than I am now.

When you took the broom, it would stir. It would rise up. When you tried to sweep, you had to be easy with the broom or it would fly all over the place. I throwed it in the garbage. I realize now that I should have saved it. But then would I have been putting my family in jeopardy through keeping something like that around? I didn’t wanna do that either. I was [just] thinking about cleaning up the mess so it don’t get drug in the house. After I swept ‘em, I hosed ‘em down. I scrubbed those sidewalks. So, you know, there probably wouldn’t be anything there anymore. I just wish I had…well, you can’t go back and do it over. I wouldn’t want to. But this is why I talked to different ones about it. I wondered if they had seen this ash too, you know. If they did, they weren’t admitting it.

They didn’t tell us about [the accident] Wednesday. I think Thursday was when they first told us about it. The Thursday is when I sent my daughter up the country to my sister. Before they let us know anything, really. The ash was already on the ground then. It could have happened Wednesday night. I stayed inside and kept the doors and windows shut except when they got Theresa out of there. I sent her out of the area the same day they told us to stay indoors and keep the doors and windows closed. I wasn’t leaving ’cause I had a store, and that would have meant vandalism.

My husband’s dead now. He died in 1983. He was 80. That’s why I no longer have the store. (That darn fly!) Now there was different ones ready to sue Three Mile Island. Ready to sue the electric company and this and that. And then different ones said I oughta sue ‘em because of my husband’s health. [Swatting a fly] But my husband’s health was bad before the accident and who was I to say that that had anything to do with his declining health. I don’t know. It’s just a vicious circle. I hope I never have to watch anybody suffer like he did.