By Lou Bernard in Arts & Entertainment
April 19, 2012
This probably wasn’t how Mary Coira really wrote her recipe for meat loaf. But it may have been pretty close. Mary was known for her meat loaf.
Mary Ellen Dempsey was born in Barhead, Scotland on May 30, 1893, daughter of William Dempsey and his wife, who moved to America with the whole family when Mary was fourteen years old. She met her husband, Charles Coira, while living in Philadelphia. The two married in 1922, moved to Lock Haven, and bought a house on North Fairview Street, not far from Lock Haven University.
Charles managed the silk mill that stood across the street. Mary was a homemaker, cooking, cleaning, and raising their children, one son and one daughter and one of the things she got very good at cooking was meat loaf. Everyone knew about Mary’s meat loaf.
Mary was a member of the American Legion, and attended the Immaculate Conception Church. Made for both of these organizations, Mary’s meat loaf had a secret ingredient, which she taught solely to her namesake daughter. The ingredient?
During Prohibition, when alcohol was outlawed, illegal stills popped up all over the country, run by bootleggers who made and on the sly. The most notorious of these was Prince Farrington, of Clinton County. This was no nickname or title; his real name was Prince David Farrington, named after the Doctor Prince who delivered him. Farrington brewed a very high-quality whiskey, and sold it all over the county. He was a close friend of the Coiras, the Coiras being so close to Prince that their family car was one of his old getaway cars, a Pierce Arrow purchased from Farrington when the last of its getaways were behind it.
Mary would get the whiskey from Farrington, and bake it into her meat loaf, never telling anyone but her daughter. One of her friends who lived next door was hosting a meeting of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a group that was against alcohol.
The WCTU was not just against alcohol, they were vehemently against alcohol. In 1909, when local tavern owner Peter Meitzler died, he had a statue of himself placed at his grave in Highland Cemetery. It was originally made with either a beer mug, or a scotch glass in one hand. We’ll never know which. The WTCU was strongly against alcohol, they went up and smashed it off with a baseball bat.
Mary made the meatloaf for their meeting, and served it to them. The WTCU loved it; they said it was the best meat loaf they’d ever tasted. Several of the members asked for the recipe, which Mary obliged, but left out any mention of the whiskey. Later, the members never could figure out why their meat loaf didn’t taste like the original. Mary Coira got away with serving whiskey from America’s most notorious bootlegger to America’s most rapid anti-alcohol group. You have to respect that.
During the flood of 1936, Mary and Charles let the Red Cross set up a rescue center in the silk mill, and helped with the efforts. They were a large part of the reason there were no fatalities in that flood. Later on, they moved to North Carolina, Florida, and eventually Mexico, but Mary was always remembered in Lock Haven for her whiskey-laced meat loaf.
Sadly, the recipe no longer exists. Mary died on May 1, 1964, three years to the day after her husband passed away. Their daughter knew the recipe, but she died, as well, never passing it on, and since Prince Farrington never let anyone in on how to make his whiskey, nobody will ever be able to quite duplicate Mary’s meatloaf.