Captain Noah Remembered: The Time He and Mrs. Noah Drank Me Under the Table
With news that Captain Noah has died, there are probably a lot of non-native or younger Philadelphians scratching their heads, wondering, Who the heck is Captain Noah? But if you lived in the Philadelphia area in the 1970s or 1980s, Captain Noah was a household name then.
For those of you who don’t know, Captain Noah, born W. Carter Merbreier, and his wife Mrs. Noah, a/k/a Patricia Merbreier, hosted the hugely popular Philadelphia-based children’s television show, Captain Noah and His Magical Ark, which ran in one form or another from 1967 until 1994.
In addition to the countless local kids who appeared on the show, there were also celebrity visitors like Charles Barkley, Martina Navratilova and Elvis Presley.
But more than that, Captain Noah was, by all accounts, just a really good person, one of the few people who actually did everything they could to make the world a better place. He was a Lutheran minister and Philadelphia Police Department chaplain.
And so when I met Captain Noah and Mrs. Noah back in 2005 to interview Captain Noah for a story in Philadelphia magazine, I knew I had to be on my absolute best behavior. I was expecting a big halo over his head.
So naturally, I was surprised when my wife and I arrived at their Gladwyne home around 4 p.m. one afternoon only to find Captain Noah and Mrs. Noah pretty darn tipsy. Mrs. Noah greeted us at the door holding a rather large glass of Johnny Walker Black.
It was for her.
But, gracious host that she was, she quickly filled a couple of glasses for us, explaining that she and the Captain drank Scotch every day at the same time. We all sat around for an hour or so reminiscing, drinking, and laughing.
“[Frank] Rizzo was the best there was,” Captain Noah told me as we sat in his living room, going on to explain that he was a close confidant of the man both when he was police commissioner and mayor. “We had a close relationship. There are many things involved that will go to my grave.”
After cocktail hour was over, Captain Noah drove us all to Gladwyne’s storied Old Guard House Inn, where he and Mrs. Noah had a weekly table reserved. Captain Noah kept ordering drinks for the table, and by the end of the meal, my wife and I could barely stand up straight. Captain Noah and his wife fared much better.
We were hoping for a cup of coffee to wake us up, but the couple was on a pretty tight schedule. I don’t think they actually had anywhere to be other than home, but they were clearly used to a certain routine. When we pulled into their driveway, we expected to be invited inside — again, hoping for a cup of coffee — but as we started to follow them to their door, they turned, shook our hands, and abruptly bid us adieu. And that was the last we ever saw of them.
Mrs. Noah died in June 2011 after a long illness, and Captain Noah followed her on Tuesday. He was 90.
They’ll both be missed.
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