Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Bridge: An appreciation of George Gershwin

George Gershwin in 1937. Photo by Carl Van Vechten.

Presented to the Club  on Monday Evening March 19, 2018 by Albert E. Easton
The Triborough Bridge connects the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens. Basically it’s a bridge from the Bronx to Manhattan, with an offshoot connected to Queens. George Gershwin built a bridge too, basically from popular music to classical, but connected in is a bridge that already existed from popular music to jazz. We wouldn’t be at all surprised today if a classical piano program included some pieces by Gershwin, and we could probably stand the shock if there was a little jazz thrown in.
Gershwin’s parents came to the United States in the 1890’s from Saint Petersburg, Russia. Rose Burkin came first and was living in Manhattan when a couple years later, Moise Gershowitz (who later changed his name to Morris Gershvin) arrived and asked her to marry him. Both came from fairly well off families in Saint Petersburg and had known each other there. They married in 1895, and in December 1896, their first son Israel (who later changed his name to Ira) was born. Almost two years later, in September 1898, their second son Jacob, who was always called George, was born.
The Gershwin family was fairly well off, and always had a maid. Morris was an entrepreneur at heart and bought and managed several businesses: cigar store, restaurant, several Turkish baths and many others. Each time he took on a new business, he moved his family to be near it. If I told you George Gershwin was a product of the lower East Side, like so many famous Jewish Americans, I wouldn’t be lying because he did live there sometimes, but he also lived lots of other places. In all, the Gershwins had over 20 addresses in Manhattan and three in Brooklyn while George was growing up. Religion and Jewish tradition did not play a very important part in their lives, although they always celebrated the seder at Passover.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Fur Seals of Alaska (an 1892 paper by Henry Laurens Dawes)

Alaska Fur Seal — photo by US Fish & Wildlife Service — Used under Creative Commons license
One of the members of the Club in its early years was Henry Laurens Dawes, United States Senator representing Massachusetts, who lived in Pittsfield. Dawes himself was the subject of this 2015 paper.

Here's a paper by Dawes, delivered to the Club in 1892, entitled "Fur Seals of Alaska." The original is among the Dawes papers in the National Archives. Dawes himself was the subject of this 2015 Club paper.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Fatal Choice: Choosing no longer to live

Photo by Alberto Biscalchin, used under Creative Commons Licens

Presented to the Club on Monday evening, Dec. 4, 2017 by William P. Densmore

One day in March, 1981, a short obituary appeared in the Chicago Tribune about a fatal choice — the suicide of Earl Russell Marshall, of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It mentioned that Mr. Marshall was a supervisor at the Tulsa maintenance base of American Airlines.

Colleagues of Mr. Marshall at American Airlines had also made a fatal choice two years earlier, a choice primarily responsible for the deaths of 271 people.

Those 271 people had been passengers May 25, 1979 on an American DC-10 jumbo jet which dropped an engine and crashed on takeoff from Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The engine had been worked on at American’s Tulsa maintenance two months earlier. The day after his death, Mr. Marshall, then 47, was to have been questioned by lawyers for the aircraft maker.
The airline said Marshall had no involvement with the accident aircraft. The Tulsa World newspaper talked to Mr. Marshall’s widow in 2004, 25 years later. “He had very bad guilt feelings, and the accident gave him something to attach his feelings to,” Marilyn Marshall to the daily. ‘He was a casualty of that crash.”

DC-10 maker McDonnell Douglas Corp. and American sued each other after the crash and the National Transportation Safety Board investigated. The companies and the government learned that a maintenance work shift ended on one of the nights the DC-10 was in Tulsa and the crew left a 15,300-pound wing engine and attached pylon hanging overnight partially disconnected from the wing – and supported only by the forklift’s hydraulics. The result – a hidden, 13-inch crack formed in one of the three attachments of the engine to the wing.

Friday, October 27, 2017

In Memoriam: Robert Henderson, 1923-2017

Robert Maurice Henderson passed away in Lenox, Massachusetts, on October 16, 2017, the morning of his 68th wedding anniversary. Wife, Aleva, and son, Jack, were by his side. He was four days shy of his 94th birthday.

Born in Livingston, Montana, October 16, 1923, and raised just over the mountains in Bozeman, Bob was a consummate cowboy. Raising and caring for horses in his early years gave him compassion for animals and a high regard for nature and all its wonders. Bob's father, Maurice's career in public service, ultimately retiring as city manager of Bozeman, MT and Colonel in the Montana National Guard as well as the example of his mother, Grace, a former school teacher and community volunteer, taught Bob the value of hard work and sound ethics. Throughout his life people turned to Bob for good advice and leadership. Bob attended Montana State College (now MSU). He paused his education during WWII for service in the Army Air Corps but returned to MSC to complete his engineering degree and as he would always be first to acknowledge, most fortunate to meet the young nursing student who would become the love of his life, Aleva Benjamin. Aleva ultimately attained a degree in dietetics and Bob in mechanical engineering. They married in Bozeman, MT, October 16, 1949.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Ethics: Our evolving understanding of animal rights

Photo by Rick Eh? — Used under Creative Commons License

Presented to the Club on Monday evening, December 15, 2003 by William A. Selke

In May [2003], a letter appeared in The Berkshire Eagle as part of a continuing debate as to whether the Housatonic should be stocked with trout or with smallmouth bass. While other writers had argued about the sporting merits of the different breeds, and which fish would survive long enough to be caught, this letter spoke of the "standard of ethical treatment of the stocked trout." Then, a few weeks later, a letter appeared decrying the exploitation of animals in circuses, the writer identifying herself as a member of People for the ETHICAL Treatment of Animals. Was the re-appearance of that word, ethical, coincidence, or was it a manifestation of a vast animal rights conspiracy? This is a report of my findings. That key word, ethical, is defined as: "pertaining to or dealing with morals or the principles of morality: pertaining to right and wrong in conduct." The writers using it were presumably among a growing number who feel, deeply, what is moral and what is right-and-wrong in our relationships with other creatures. Their position has evolved over a considerable period, not steadily, but, it seems, in fits and starts.

Humane folk have probably always been kind to their own animals, and sometimes encouraged others to do the same. Concern about the mistreatment of livery horses led to the founding of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in England in 1824. Right-thinking Americans traveling in England noted the success of that organization, and copied it with the founding of the ASPCA shortly after.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Van Gogh's Irises: How much is a painting worth?



Presented to the Club by David T. Noyes in December 1988

I would like to ask you to think about the items on the following list. Can you identify what they have in common?

  1. Two F-16 fighter jets
  2. The Town of West Stockbridge, Mass.
  3. 3,448 Williams College students
  4. the largest private estate in the United States — the 250 room Biltmore House on 12,000 acres in Ashville, N.C.
  5. The City of Pittsfield
  6. The entire world’s mining production of mercury for one year

We’ll come back to this list in a moment.

A little over a year ago, on November 11, 1987, the art auction house of Sotheby’s in New York City auctioned a painting depicting a garden of blue irises painted in 1889 by Vincent Van Gogh. It was lot number twenty-five in a ninety-four piece evening. A crowd of 2,300 people had gathered in the cramped bidding room with intense anticipation; and at 7:55 p.m., Irises was brought on stage. The bidding started at fifteen million dollars. At thirty million, only two bidders remained. The price then passed forty million, the previous highest price paid for any painting. The bidding finally concluded at forty-nine million dollars. The total elapsed time: three minutes, thirty seconds!  Including the ten percent buyer’s commission, the total price came to fifty-three million dollars, or in real money — eight billion yen!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

John Haines "Jack" Spencer Jr., 1936-2017

By Derek Gentile, The Berkshire Eagle

STOCKBRIDGE — John H. Spencer Jr. was a longtime public servant in his adopted town of Stockbridge, but his greatest impact came as an educator and mentor to hundreds of students over the years, friends and colleagues said on Tuesday.

"He literally hired the first history department at Monument Mountain Regional High school," said his fellow teacher and longtime friend John A. Beacco Jr. "He led in developing a unique ninth-grade course. As a department head, he mentored me, Roselle Chartock, Terry Flynn and Bill Fields, as well as many others."

Spencer died early Sunday at age 80.

He was the longtime chairman of the Stockbridge Planning Board, as well as the Zoning Board of Appeals. He was also the longtime president and member of the board of trustees for the Stockbridge Library Association.