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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Talk on the Mill Girls - South Hadley, Massachusetts


"Sophie" photo by Lewis W. Hine, 1911, Library of Congress

In celebration of Women’s History Month, I will be presenting a talk on “The Mill Girls” - Wednesday, March 14, 2018, at 6:30 p.m. at the South Hadley Public Library.



At the dawn of the Industrial Age in the early nineteenth century, New England mill owners coincidentally spawned another economic revolution:  The hiring of thousands of young, unmarried women to work in the cotton, woolen, and silk textile factories.  A huge workforce was needed for the burgeoning mill towns, and women comprised the biggest untapped labor force in the United States.  The women changed the economy, they changed society, and they created new opportunities for themselves. Come follow the adventures of the mill girls of Chicopee, Holyoke, and South Hadley at the South Hadley Library, 2 Canal Street, South Hadley.  For more information, see the library website at: http://www.shadleylib.org, or call 413-538-5045.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Chicopee Historical Society Seeks New Members!


The Chicopee Historical Society will hold its ‘2018 Opening Organizational Meeting’! 

All are welcome; members, residents, and anyone with an interest in history.

The agenda will plan and prepare for this coming year’s programs and events and enlist new members, including board members and club officer positions, so needed to enable this worthwhile community endeavor to continue.

With its rich history and varied contributions to American industry and culture, Chicopee deserves a vibrant historical society to educate, entertain, and share the story of this city’s history and memories and the Pioneer Valley’s part in the making this happen.

Join us at the Chicopee Public Library, 449 Front Street, Chicopee on Wednesday, March 7th, at 6:00 p.m. in the conference room.

See you there!

For more information, email: thechicopeehistoricalsociety@gmail.com.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Model Train Show at the Big E - West Springfield, Massachusetts

 Photo by JT Lynch

It's time again for the Amherst Railway Society Hobby Show on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Massachusetts.  The show, which hosts exhibitors, displays over 60 model train layouts, and has welcomed over 20,000 visitors annually from around the country, is a very popular event for both model railroaders and anyone who gets a kick out of seeing an elaborate train layout recreating a city or village from the golden age of train travel.

Photo by JT Lynch

The show runs through Sunday the 28th.  For more information, see the website here.

Photo by JT Lynch

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Dickens, and Christmas, come to New England



English novelist Charles Dickens came on a book tour to the U.S. in 1842, the first of his trips to America. He was already famous, but it was still some five years before A Christmas Carol was written.  While New York and other parts of the young United States were celebrating Christmas, New England at that time still did not observe the holiday; here Thanksgiving was the big day. In some small measure, the popularity of his yuletide ghost story would help bring Christmas to New England, one of several factors that turned the Puritan tide.

When he was in the Boston area, they took this former workhouse victim to Lowell to show him the factories.  We mentioned his excursion there in this previous post on mill girls.



When Dickens left Lowell, his next stop was Springfield, on February 7, 1842, when accompanied by his wife, he toured the Springfield Armory.   This was before the impressive iron fence was constructed around the Armory.  That was made at the Ames Company in Chicopee, and the project was started in the early 1850s and not completed until 1865.  We may assume at the time of Dickens’ visit, the cows of local farmers continued to stray across the quadrangle and the lawns of the Army officers’ quarters.  


After his brief tour of the Armory, Dickens traveled down the Connecticut River to Hartford aboard a steamboat.  We discussed that journey in this previous post.

Though Dickens apparently felt favorably toward Massachusetts, the United States on the whole did not impress him on that trip, and, of course, he was particularly angered and disgusted by slavery.  He wrote of his impressions in American Notes.  He had made two trips here in 1842, but did not return until after the Civil War, when in 1867 on his next trip, both the war and slavery were over.  


Something else was different, too.  New England had adopted the custom of celebrating Christmas.  He could see this for himself as he arrived in late November and remained for the following month, giving readings from his novels in Boston and in New York.



The following year, 1868, he returned for another book tour, this time commencing in February and returning to England in late April.  He gave his readings in Boston, New York City and upstate, as well as Washington, Philadelphia, and in Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.  He read from many of his books, including A Christmas Carol.



His first public reading of A Christmas Carol was on December 3, 1867 at the Tremont Temple in Boston. According to this article at the New England Historical Society website, his agent noted the audience reaction at the end of the first chapter:

When at least the reading of The Carol was finished, and the final words had been delivered, and "So, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us every one," a dead silence seemed to prevail -- a sort of public sigh as it were -- only to be broken by cheers and calls, the most enthusiastic and uproarious.




He spoke at Tilly Haynes’ Music Hall in Springfield on March 20, 1868.  For a long time, the Tilly Haynes Music Hall on Main Street was the only theater in Springfield, built in 1856.  It burned down in 1864.  Haynes rebuilt it, and in 1881, he sold out to Dwight O. Gilmore, who established Gilmore’s Opera House there, until it burned down in 1897.  Twentieth century audiences would remember this as the site of the Capitol movie theater that showed Warner Brothers films. That has long since been demolished and is now the site of One Financial Plaza.

He arrived here on the train during a snowstorm, and stayed at the Massasoit House (part of this building remains in the building that was later constructed in 1929 for the Paramount Theater).  The Music Hall was packed for his appearance, as he was probably the most famous author of his day.




The Springfield Republican reported,


“Mr. Dickens is not a reader... He is simply and emphatically a very natural and delightful actor, gifted with the power of throwing a whole personality into his face.” He spoke in the voices Scrooge, the Cratchits, Mr. Pickwick and other characters from his novels. “There walks on the stage a gentleman who gives you no time to think about him, and dazzles you with 20 personalities.” 

He was “slightly bent, in the street not a remarkably noticeable man.” His face “bears signs of incessant toil.”

The tour was successful, but has been described as grueling, and Dickens died only two years later in 1870 at the age of 58.  That year, President Ulysses S. Grant declared Christmas a national holiday.

We discuss two classic film versions of A Christmas Carol in my post “Mankind Was My Business” here at Another Old Movie Blog.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Maude Tait - Aviatrix - Springfield, Massachusetts



Maude Tait, who was born in Chicopee, Massachusetts, in 1901, once beat Amelia Earhart in an airspeed race. She was one of the most successful and prominent pilots in a time when the word aviatrix called to mind a dashing figure in slacks climbing into an open cockpit of a wooden biplane, wearing a leather flying helmet, goggles, a long white silk scarf, and a smile as big as the sky. She was courageous, she was intelligent, and she was professional. An aviatrix had to be all these things to be successful.

Her father, James Tait, grew up on his parents’ farm on Chicopee Street. He and his three brothers eventually became very successful when they took over the farm in adulthood and established a dairy distribution business and also became a manufacturer of ice cream. They owned property in Springfield, and also in Agawam. They owned dairy farms and milk processing plants, and their sales territory spread out across New England and New York. Some of their milk and ice cream products were used on the White Star and Cunard steamship lines.

By the 1920s they employed over 500 people. However, in an interesting and perhaps, inexplicable to us, turn of events, the Tait brothers sold their business in 1928 in order to launch themselves into a new industry: the young and vibrant and promising aviation field. A farm in Springfield between Liberty Street and St. James Avenue became their launch pad for an adventurous new endeavor. They established the Springfield Airport with the intention of making Springfield an important aviation center, a hub in New England flight and manufacture of this new mode of transport.

Air travel was not yet common; indeed, only the very brave would risk their lives strapping on a parachute and hopping into one of the wooden crates. But visionaries, like the Tait brothers, foresaw a day when air travel would be a popular mode of transportation, perhaps even surpassing trains. Travel by automobile was not yet even considered a rival, because most roads in the U.S. were still poorly kept or even unpaved. A car trip across the country in those days before interstate highways or even paved roads, was at best inconvenient and at worst, dangerous.

The Tait brothers found another band of brothers to join in their new enterprise: the five Granville brothers. Originally from New Hampshire, the brothers Zantford, Robert, Mark, Tom, and Ed, were largely self-taught mechanics who, with the lauded Yankee ingenuity of the time, fashioned themselves into aircraft mechanics, designers, and even pilots; they wanted to set up a plant to produce their famous design of Gee Bee racing planes. “Gee Bee” or GB stood for the initials of Granville Brothers. Zantford, the oldest, was the leader of the group. But there was another notable member of their band, and she was the daughter of James Tait: Maude.

Maude attended Springfield’s McDuffie School for Girls among other seminaries, and began a career as a schoolteacher in a one-room schoolhouse in the town of Hamden, and also in East Longmeadow. She taught school until 1928 when her father and the Granville brothers set up shop on the old farm that was now the Springfield Airport. She had taken flying lessons in 1927 from Roscoe Brinton of the Curtiss Flying Service. Brinton would team up with another associate of the Granville Brothers, Lowell Bayles, to form a new flying service in Springfield. By 1928, when the Taits’ and the Granville brothers’ new enterprise “got off the ground,” she had achieved her pilot’s license as well as gaining a commercial pilot’s license. She was the first female to become a licensed pilot in Massachusetts and Connecticut to fly solo. In 1929 she set an unofficial altitude record for women at a height of 16,500 feet. An era of stunts and personalities, she flew an airplane over a football field and dropped the football from her cockpit for the kickoff at the Silvertown professional football season opener.

Two years later she would break Amelia Earhart’s speed record at 214.9 mph in her Gee Bee Sportster.

Maude Tait with Gee Bee Model Z

The Granville Brothers planes were built for speed and they used designs that were far ahead of any other plane of their time. Indeed, planes flown by the military in their fledgling air services were slower than the Granville Brothers planes. The distinctive snub-nosed Gee Bee some called a flying engine, and indeed was far advance of the skills of most pilots of the day.


The pinnacle of this happy band of pilots, designers, mechanics, and their Tait investment backers, and the adventurous Tait daughter, was the 1931 Cleveland Air Races.

Bob Hall was their chief designer; he and Lowell Bayles, and Zantford Granville, and Maude Tait, swept the championships in the week-long flying events. In those golden days around Labor Day 1931, Springfield was the capital city of aviation and the sky was the limit. Maude Tait for her part, won the Aerol Trophy race for women. She set a new record in the Gee Bee Model Y Sportster—and beat Amelia Earhart’s record by 10 mph. She missed hitting the men’s existing record only by 1 mph.

That was the high point. Unfortunately, the worst years of the Great Depression now set upon the country, and for those with dreams of starting a new business or expanding industry, it was extremely difficult to set plans in motion, or even to meet payroll. The Granville brothers engaged in these airspeed races not only for the prestige and the publicity to interest buyers for their planes and backers for their manufacture, but they needed the prize money just to keep things going.

It wasn’t enough. By 1934, the Granville Brothers closed shop and the Springfield Airport though it continued for still many more years, would eventually be replaced by a shopping plaza in 1959. Aircraft industry went elsewhere, and the plot of land, with its air strips of dirt and grass, was never big enough to accommodate the larger planes of the future, especially as it was hemmed in by residential neighborhoods on all sides.


A Gee Bee model returns for display at the Springfield Plaza, 1982, photo by J. T. Lynch

A Gee Bee model returns for display at the Springfield Plaza, 1982, photo by J. T. Lynch

Maude Tait married attorney James Moriarty in 1932. She had plans to participate in the 1932 National Air Races but mechanical difficulties sidelined her plane. That was the end of her competitive flying career. She would occasionally be seen flying her Gee Bee over the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts through the decade of the 1940s, but otherwise lived a quiet and private life. She died in Springfield in 1982, at 81 years of age.

We might wonder why the dream and the excitement of flying was so quickly extinguished, but the Great Depression had its chokehold on most people, and very few were able to continue their dreams in that desperate era. There was another reason, however, and it was even sadder, and more tragic, for two of her pals in that tight-knit Springfield Airport gang died in their Gee Bee planes. Only a few months after the glorious 1931 Cleveland Air Races, their friend and partner Lowell Bayles flew one of the Gee Bee planes to Detroit, Michigan, in an attempt to establish a world speed record. It was December, and he flew the Model Z Super Sportster. Lowell Bayles was clocked at 314 mph, breaking a record; but on the return run, he crashed.

A few years later, in 1934 Zantford Granville also met his death in one of their Gee Bee planes. We might well imagine that the venture collapsed because the money was gone, but we can well imagine, too, that the heart and soul of the enterprise was gone as well with the deaths of Bayles and Zantford Granville.

On that glorious day in 1931 when the Springfield Airport gang flew home after their streak of victories at the Cleveland Air Races, the scene occurred which still lives in the memories of the lucky remaining few who were there. For five days, the feats they achieved at the Cleveland Air Races were splashed all over the headlines of the Springfield newspapers. When it was time for them to come home, a crowd of over 100,000 mobbed the Springfield Airport to watch their heroes fly home. They flew home to a dirt and grass field, with that old ramshackle hangar that had used to be a dance hall, flying the fastest planes in the world.



They came in, one by one, first it was Lowell Bayles flying the plane christened the City of Springfield. An announcer called their names over a loudspeaker and the crowd cheered. Next it was Maude Tait in the red and white Senior Sportster, followed by Bob Hall, and finally, Zantford Granville. When Maude landed, cheers erupted, and people in cars parked on the edge of the field sounded their horns. Maude’s parents ran up to her taxiing plane and everybody rushed it, and she was handed a bouquet of flowers. There was a band and they were taken in a parade down Liberty Street down to City Hall. That evening there was a banquet at the Hotel Kimball. It was the high point of Springfield aviation in a time when people needed something to cheer about.

And one of the boys was an aviatrix named Maude Tait.

***********
A replica of one of the Gee Bee planes is on display at the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History.

For a dramatization of the events, please see my one-act play written on commission for Springfield students, Soaring in the City of Springfield, courtesy of In the Spotlight, Inc., here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Norman Corwin - Boston, Greenfield, and Springfield, Massachusetts



Norman Corwin, was of the finest writers and producers of the Golden Age of Radio, as well as being a screenwriter and teacher, had New England roots, and some of his earliest writing was for western Massachusetts newspapers.

During the 1930s and 1940s, he used the medium of radio drama and comedy to address social issues in profound ways.  His writing was vivid, lean, and imaginative.  Here on my Another Old Movie Blog, we covered his emotional We Hold These Truths, broadcast the week after Pearl Harbor in December 1941 with a cast of stars dramatizing the nuances of the Bill of Rights. It was the most famous radio event of its day, and he won a Peabody Award.

Corwin was born in 1910 in Boston, the son of a printer.  The family moved to Winthrop and he graduated from Winthrop High School.  At only seventeen, he was hired as a cub reporter in Greenfield, Massachusetts, for the Greenfield Recorder, reporting on the courts and writing movie reviews, and made western Mass. his home for several years.

He next worked down river for the Springfield Republican, where he was the editor for radio news, his column  called "Radiosyncracies," written under a pseudonym.  It was during his stint in Springfield, Mass. that Corwin became involved in radio broadcasting.  In the early thirties he worked for WBZ and WBZA in Springfield and in Boston as a commentator and reader of poetry.  He left New England in 1935 for work first in Cincinnati, and then New York City where he remained with CBS until 1949.

On a Note of Triumph, a celebration of victory in Europe, was broadcast May 8, 1945 with actors and commentators broadcasting from both New York City and Los Angeles. Corwin wrote Fourteen August, which was similarly broadcast on V-J Day.  He earned a Distinguished Achievement Award from Radio Life magazine.

He eventually left radio, disgusted by the blacklist and being a victim of that notorious era, though he was not a communist; his work, particularly where it relates to freedom of speech, brought his liberalism into question.  He also wrote the two episodes of Hollywood Strikes Back, the actors’, producers’, and writers’ response to the persecution of the Hollywood Ten.  Have a look at my Another Old Movie Blog on Thursday for a post on that program.

Corwin moved on to television, the theatre, film, and teaching writing, and is the subject of a documentary on his life and work: A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin (2005).  He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1993.  Norman Corwin died in 2011 at the age of 101.




Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Vaughn Monroe Show - a review


from Dan Gabel's website

DO NOT MISS the current Vaughn Monroe Show tour presented by Dan Gabel and his magnificent orchestra and singers: their next stop is this coming Sunday, October 15th, Worcester, at the Holy Name High School from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The program is an extraordinary opportunity to experience live Big Band music as it was meant to be performed, and is a notable tribute – perhaps the best kind of tribute—to Vaughn Monroe and his orchestra.


Lynch photo

But the two hours is more than foot-stomping entertainment from an 18-piece orchestra with brass so exhilarating it practically lifts you off your seat.  It’s a recreation of the old Camel Caravan live radio remotes.  It’s October 1949, and you are there.


Lynch photo

Last weekend I was delighted to attend their gig at the Springfield Technical Community College, sponsored by the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.  The only disappointment was that the show as not as well attended as it should have been.  All fans of Dan Gabel need to spread the word, for this Vaughn Monroe Show is as much about skill and musicianship of this young orchestra leader, arranger, and musician and his superlative band members, as it is about Vaughn Monroe and the heyday of the Big Bands.


Lynch photo

The program began with a warm-up act, so to  speak, of vintage video clips – a cartoon, some early television commercials, to set the stage for 1949.  It was a good lead-in; the audience laughed, particularly at the cigarette commercial, which Gabel and his troupe later reprised in a teasing “commercial” for their live program.


Lynch photo

Specialty numbers included Gabel’s regular featured vocalist Elise Roth, who always impresses me not only with her 1940s-look in dress, hair, and makeup, but that she sings with the style of the best of the swing singers of that era.  She displays great control and range, “selling” the songs in the classic manner of back in the day.  For this program, she was joined by a recreation of Monroe’s “The Moon Maids” – Sarah Callinan, Annie Kerins, and Emily Greenslit.  Their vocal blend and dreamy expressions during the romantic numbers—and a lot of Vaughn Monroe’s hits were romantic—gracefully lends the perfect combination of charm and talent.


Lynch photo

Craig Robbins, who plays first trombone, also steps up to the mic and displays a terrific baritone voice, particularly the romantic number, “There, I’ve Said it Again.”


Lynch photo

Steve Gagliastro, who plays second trombone, wowed ‘em with his comic rendition of “The Maharajah of Magador.”  He was Jerry Colonna on steroids—but his tenor voice is outstanding.

Katie Piselli and Steven Plummer, a pair of lively jitterbugs, brought a novelty and physical expression to the music.  Ms. Piselli had a featured role as the “Ballerina” of Vaughn Monroe’s hit song while Monroe himself was seen in video singing, Gabel’s orchestra backing him up, a nice effect.


Lynch photo

Leader Dan Gabel also croons, and was joined by his “girl singers” and “boy singers” for a spirited “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”  Gabel is a genial host, and his youth may strike some fans of this kind of music—mostly middle-aged to quite elderly seniors—as being something of an anomaly.  However, that is doing Gabel, and for those of us who grew up loving music that was popular long before we were born, a disservice, for such completely misunderstands the attraction of this music.  Gabel’s The Vaughn Monroe Show is not simply nostalgia.  That’s part of it, to be sure, especially for those older folks who actually remember dancing to this music.  But it’s more than that.  It takes the music and the musicianship of this era and recreates it, plays it as it should be played so fans new and old can appreciate the magic of it.

Lynch photo

This is not just an exercise in parody.  This, despite it’s being 2017, is the real thing.  This is genuine Big Band music.  Gabel’s orchestra is that good.



To call it nostalgic is to dismiss all that is excellent about this music.  When we hear of a symphony orchestra performing Bach, we don’t think, “Oh, how cute they’re doing nostalgic music from the sixteen century!”  No; we accept it as an art form.  So, too, is Big Band music an art form, a cultural expression from the first half of the twentieth century.  Dan Gabel’s critical success is that he understands that and respects that, and has become a most skilled interpreter.


Lynch photo

Here is Dan Gabel’s website for more information.  Here are links to two previous posts we’ve discussed on Gabel’s music and on Vaughn Monroe’s New England base.

Don’t miss the rest of The Vaughn Monroe Show tour!


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