Windham Life and Times – May 11, 2018

Bette Davis and Chick Austin

Bette Davis greets fans at the Windham Playhouse

SHE ATTENDS WINDHAM PLAYHOUSE IN 1948

In 1948, Bette Davis agreed to attend one of Chick Austin’s performances at the Windham Playhouse.  You might wonder, as I did,  how Austin and Davis had formed their friendship. In Magician of the Modern, Eugene Gaddis details their relationship. “When Chick Austin arrived in Los Angeles, he was Paul Byk’s guest in one of the poolside cottages at the Garden of Allah, the former residence of the Russian actress and silent film star Alla Nazimova. It had become a popular resort hotel for writers like Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Christopher Isherwood, and W.H. Auden, along with artists, musicians, and movies stars. In 1943 Hollywood and New York were the two most stimulating places to be for anyone involved in the arts, and the Garden was a prime location for a meeting place. Chick already had friends in the film world—John Houseman, Virgil Thomson, Ruth Ford, Tonio Selwart, and George Balanchine among them—and Helen’s brother-in-law Willie Graff was in the movies. Chic soon had a large circle of acquaintances. Bette Davis, with her New England background, developed and immediate rapport with him…Chick soon bought a house on Miller Drive in the Hollywood hills overlooking the city, where he could throw his own parties. ‘It was always an event if you went to Chick’s.’ Angela Lansbury remembered, He always had an incredible mixture of people.’ He reverted to his premarital habit of using every dish in the house and never cleaning up. When a friend asked him how he coped with the mess he replied, ‘Oh, Bette Davis comes in once a week and does dishes…” In 1946, Austin was appointed head of the Ringling Museum in Sarasota Florida. “After a brief stop in Hartford, he dashed back to Hollywood to give a birthday party for Bette Davis. When he found out that one of the actors from ‘Tis Pity, Paul Geissler, was planning to visit a friend in Mexico, he invited Geissler to accompany him to Hollywood first to help with the party. Chick decided that nothing less than a total redecoration of the house would do. He borrowed paintings, furniture, and silver from Adolf Loewi to create the perfect setting for his guest of honor, and the  party was one of his most dazzling.” In 1948, Ruth Ford’s brother Charlie with Pavel Tchelitchew, Bette Davis, Tonio Selwart, and his wife Isa visited Chick in Sarasota.

“He was now more of a celebrity in the museum world than ever, but as soon as Bette Davis told him she would attend the opening of Laura  at the Windham Playhouse that summer, he became once again the starstruck movie fan. He rushed to Boston to buy designer clothes for the leading lady and went all out on the set. At the last moment, Chick’s idol sent word that she could not come after all, but would attend the opening of the next play, Voice of the Turtle. Chick was so determined to impress her that, two days before Voice of the Turtle started rehearsal, he announced that he was bringing a professional company from New York to perform it. The summer actors were incensed, but when Miss Davis did appear, radiating charm, they all sat at her feet at Chick’s party in Uncle John’s.”

Despite Austin’s flamboyant and extravagant lifestyle, his true love was his theater and home in Windham.  He is buried on the Cemetery on the Hill.

 

Windham Life and Times – May 4, 2018

My Grandfather’s Barn

Cutting Pine Trees with My Brother

For those  of you who have lived in Windham for a while, you’ll remember my grandfather’s barn, that stood on a small rise, across from his field-stone house on Route 111. I loved to crawl around in that old barn because it smelled so cool, and because there was always some treasure to be found inside. It was quite beautiful with its field-stone first floor and shingled, gambrel second floor. As a kid, I always fantasized about turning it into my house someday. That was not to be. The reason the pine branches are on the roof in the photograph, is because  the large pine grove behind the barn had just been cleared to make way for what would eventually be the Woodland Ridge office building, which was developed by my dad, George Dinsmore. I can still remember clearing those massive 100 foot pine trees with my older brother and a friend of his, without much of any supervision. We were high school aged. We almost killed ourselves; but we didn’t, and we became more confident in our own prowess. That’s what being young and “privileged” got you, as you were allowed to prove your own worth, back in the day. Today, boys are required to follow rules they were never meant to obey. A life worth living is a risk. Can a safe space ever provide a substitute for the bold adrenaline rush? I will always remember as my brother and I watched in awe, as by our own young hands, massive old pines, first cracked and hissed, and then whooshed, before they hit the ground with a glorious, loud thud.

 

Windham Life and Times – March 23, 2018

Memorializing Windham Veterans

1898 and Beyond

On the left are the minutes of a meeting held on August 30, 1898 concerning the installation of marble plaques in the Nesmith Library reading room. It was a time of heightened patriotism in America with the Spanish American War having recently come to an end. “Voted …that a committee of three be chosen to ascertain the names of all soldiers who went from this town to the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, The Mexican War and the War of the Rebellion, array the same upon suitable tablets, and cause the same to be erected in the Library Building when completed.”

     Of course, more wars would follow, with the need to erect new marble plaques. The photograph above shows both the original plaques and the new one which commemorated the service of the veterans of World War Two. The plaque for World War Two memorialized the names of 79 Windham men who had served including Wilbur Tarbell who was the only casualty from town in the war. Bob Armstrong can be seen at left.

 

Windham Life and Times – January 16, 2018

Avoiding the Civil War Draft

RICH MAN’S WAR, POOR MAN’S FIGHT

I grew up with the blood and guts of the Vietnam War playing in full color on our television during dinner time. Walter Cronkite solemnly intoning the body count: 10,132 North Vietnamese dead or wounded, 207 ARVN troops dead or wounded and 3 American dead or wounded. Of course, I exaggerate, but not by much. With numbers like these how could we possibly lose, but lose we did. This was my childhood Civil War, it was just fought half-way around the world, to make it safe for democracy.

The draft and draft dodging were a huge topic during the Vietnam War. Many young Americans burned their draft cards and went to Canada to avoid going to Southeast Asia. On a family vacation, to Ausable Chasm, I remember seeing  burned draft cards in the rocks. Of course, during Vietnam, the rich man’s sons procured college deferments, which kept them out of the fighting, until the end of the war. When these provisions changed, the war ended pretty quickly. I still remember my brother getting his number in the mail, and it was low and caused a lot of foreboding, because he was going, except for the luck of the war coming to an end.

Well it seems that draft dodging was a part of the Civil War, more than 100 years before Vietnam. Again, it was the son’s of the rich who could afford the loop-hole of buying a substitute. I came upon this subject when reading Morrison’s History of Windham. “In 1863, the quota of the towns not being filled as promptly as was desired, a draft was made; and at a meeting of the town, Sept. 5, 1863, it was voted ‘to pay a bounty to all of its citizens who are, or who may be drafted into the services of the United States, or who procure substitutes under the calls of the President to put down the rebellion,’ the sum of ‘two hundred and seventy-five dollars to each citizen so drafted, or who procures a substitute.’ The money was to be paid after the soldier was mustered into the service. The selectman were chosen as a committee to carry the vote into effect and to hire (borrow) money at a vote ‘not exceeding six percent,” to pay said men. Nine men were drafted, and seven of them sent substitutes.”

This seems, really incredible to me, of the nine men drafted in Windham in 1863, only two actually joined the troops to fight in the war.

The website, http://www.thecivilwaromnibus.com, explains the civil war draft and substitution nicely, in an article entitled, “Hired soldier, Substitutes During the Civil War.”

“When the Civil War began, there was no shortage of able bodied men who volunteered for service in both the U.S. Army and the Confederate Army. Eager to show their patriotism, convinced that their cause would be victorious in a matter of months at the most, men gathered in cities and towns throughout America to form volunteer regiments, clamoring to assist in the war effort.”

“However, by late 1862 and early 1863, the patriotic fervor that had characterized the war effort early on was wearing thin in both the Confederacy and the United States, and finding men to replenish the armies of both nations was becoming difficult. Those who wanted to serve were already engaged; those who did not had either refused to serve, or, having volunteered and found the experience to be much more arduous than it seemed at first, had deserted or refused to re-enlist. This necessitated instituting a draft to choose men for service, and, in both the North and the South, the practice of hiring substitutes to serve in the place of those who were called and did not want to serve.”

“Long before the United States began the draft process, the Confederate Congress had allowed men to forgo service in the Confederate Army if they met certain occupational criteria – criteria that mostly exempted owners of large plantations or other enterprises, leading to the phrase “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight” to describe the Confederate war effort. Southern men who did not meet exemption criteria but whom were otherwise able to fight often hired substitutes to serve for them. Yet by 1863, exemptions were outlawed in the Confederacy, where men willing to fight were becoming too scarce to exempt from service. This practice was just beginning, however, as it traveled north.”

“When the draft laws – known as the Enrollment Act – were first placed on the books in the United States in 1863, they allowed for two methods for avoiding the draft – substitution or commutation. A man who found his name called in the draft lotteries that chose men for mandatory service could either pay a commutation fee of $300, which exempted him from service during this draft lottery, but not necessarily for future draft lotteries, or he could provide a substitute, which would exempt him from service throughout the duration of the war.”

“With the Enrollment Act, the Civil War truly began to be known as a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight throughout the entire nation. The $300 commutation fee was an enormous sum of money for most city laborers or rural farmers, and the cost of hiring a substitute was even higher, often reaching $1000 or more.

In small towns where the potential loss of their entire population of able-bodied men became an imminent possibility, taxes and other means were raised in order to pay commutation fees, and, as commutation was outlawed, substitutes. These “bounties,” as the fees were called, would pay substitutes in lieu of townsmen.”

“The practice of hiring substitutes for military service took hold quickly in the North, becoming much more widespread than it had ever been in the South. For one thing, there was a much larger pool of men to draw from; immigrants that flowed into the ports of the North, even in a time of war, provided a large number of the substitutes hired by those who did not wish to serve. As the duration of the war lengthened, African-American soldiers, who’d thus far been only nominally accepted by the U.S. Army as viable soldiers, also became part of the pool of potential substitutes; many of the recruitment posters from the time explicitly solicit African-Americans for substitution.”

“Although the hiring of substitutes seems mercenary, and in many cases, resulted in the desertion of the substitute, many who went to war as hired men went because they were unable to enlist through the regular channels. This included the recent immigrants who were anxious to fight for their new country, and, importantly, the African-Americans who found going to war as substitutes the only way to fight for their freedom. For these men, the war was indeed a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight,” but from the perspective that poor men were more willing to fight for the possibilities they saw in their country.”

http://www.thecivilwaromnibus.com/articles/133/hired-soldiers-substitutes-during-the-civil-war/

 

Windham Life and Time – January 26, 2018

Edward Searles and Angelo

LETTERS BETWEEN ANGY ELISION AND MR. SEARLES (2)

“By this time Angy was twenty-three years old and had matured since Searles first met him. He decided to return to his homeland to straighten out family affairs over there. Accordingly, on November 5, 1919, Searles sent him off to Smyrna, Asia Minor. Before the ship sailed Angy wrote the following letter:”

November 5, 1919

“On board S.S. Canada

My dear loving Daddy,

In an hour or as the boat is sailing and by tomorrow I will be far away on the sea. But no matter in what part of the globe I am found I will always love you and remember you. You have been too good to me, more than I deserved, but dear Daddy be sure that your boy always loved you and will love you with all his heart. I can not give you anything or repay you with anything but my love which is pure and which is true for you.

God bless you and give you health and happiness forever.

I wish that I had not gone away from you but I am sure that my homecoming to you will be speedier than you think.

Take good care of yourself. Wishing you happiness and hoping to see you soon.

Your Boy,

Angy”

“Pine Lodge

My dear Ange,

Your  letter of December 11th was received yesterday and I was very glad to know you of your safe arrival to your old home, and that you are making progress at getting your family affairs into better shape. I hope you will be able to make such arrangements for them that you will feel that you can leave them to take care of themselves without much anxiety on your part. I am looking forward anxiously, for the time when you will return, and the old Murray Hill apartment is very lonesome without you.

Hoping this letter will find you well and happy. I am, as ever,

Faithfully yours,

Your Loving Daddy,

E.F.S.”

“In the next month of February Searles, as usual, went to New York to live at the Murray Hill Hotel for a while. Towards the end of the month he began to suffer from the prostrate gland trouble and on March 2, 1920, it was necessary for him to go to a hospital in New York. Since Angy was still in Greece, and Searles was all alone in the New York hospital, he sent for Walter Glidden, a young caretake at the Pine Lodge Estate. After Searles went under an operation by Dr. McCarthy, a New York urologist. Angy returned from his trip on April 3rd to find his friend convalescing at the Murray Hill Hotel. It was his first knowledge that Searles had been ill. Walter Glidden continued to care for Searles while Angy began his studies at a New York preparatory school. Searles continued his hospital treatments until April 20th. In May he and Glidden returned to Methuen and later that same month, Angy received the following letter:”

“Pine Lodge                   Methuen, Mass. May 17, 1920

My dear Ange,

Your letter was received yesterday, and you are not forgotten. The reason I have not written to you is that I have been very sick and am still in bed under the doctor’s care.

I am glad to hear you are employing your time so well in your studies.

With love from Dad”

“Pine Lodge                  Methuen, Mass. June 18, 1920

My dear Ange,

I am still in bed under the doctor’s care but think that I am gaining slowly. As soon as I am able I will let you know when I can see you.

Mr. Walker says that the Troy Polytechnical School for Electrical Engineering is the best place for you, and you approve of it, and I advise you to take the preparatory course in New York this summer, and Mr. Walker will make all the arrangements for you.

Hoping you are well and happy and will keep so I am ever,

Faithfully yours,

From Dad

P.S.– Let me hear from you as often as you can.

“That was the last letter that Angy ever received from Searles although he didn’t realize it, he would never see him again. Arthur Walker, Searles trusted business secretary, arranged for Angy to go on vacation during that summer’s school recess. Was Walker aware that if he could make it appear to Searles that Angy was neglecting him in his illness, the old gentleman would be sufficiently hurt as to be willing to think the youth as merely a fickle boy, rather than a close companion that he actually was? The result was, perhaps, that Searles, resigned to loneliness, ill, and without Angy’s company, signed the will of July 24th, 1920, leaving the bulk of his fortune to Walker. Never-the-less, it is certain that Searles proved, by his kind affection for this young man,  to be something more than a stuffy old Victorian full of hypocrisy and prejudices. He was human after all. His hard, high stone walls then were not symbolic of his true emotional character.”

“As his strength slowly left him, Searles rarely left his bed, and when he did, he was carried downstairs by the human-chair method, only to sit in a wheelchair. Thus he spent his last six weeks. Doctor Henry F. Dearborn, of Lawrence, who attended him during this time, recalls that his disposition was normal for one as ill as he was…He was in the doctor’s own words, ‘easy to handle.’” He died on August 6, 1920

Quotes from: The Life Story of Edward F. Searles, By Ray Fremmer

 

 

Windham Life and Times – June 11, 2017

Eastern Illustrating Company

NORTH SHORE OF SHADOW LAKE, WINDHAM NH.

According to, At the Edge of Megalopolis, Shadow Lake was a “fair sheet of water hidden among the hills,” when surveyor Theophilus Satchwell discovered it in the 1600’s. It was known as Satchwell Pond while the area was claimed by Haverhill. The lake aquired its native American name of Hitty-Titty Pond when Salem became a town. Douglas Weed in his Images of America Salem says that the name was changed to Shadow Lake in 1913. I am guessing that the change had something to do with the “Shadowland” recreation area which was developed on its shore. Shadow Lake lent itself to better marketing for cottages and a lake resort than did Hitty-Titty, primordial name or not. Shadowland included a store, a beautiful beach and a large dance-hall which hung out over the water on piers. People have been asking me for more history of Shadow Lake and I was so happy to find these beautiful photographs of the pond. Shadow Lake, like Canobie Lake is shared, as is their history, with our good neighbors in Salem.