Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Yes! They built them here: Rolls Royce manufacturing in Springfield, Massachusetts

Logo on a Springfield Rolls

Prologue

Had you just returned from The Great War, say around 1919 or so, you would have noticed that the Wilson Administration’s haphazard efforts to rev up the economy to absorb the many doughboys being mustered out were having a negligible effect.  The economic first fruits of what eventually would be called “The Roaring 20s” were still far from ripe, and the sons of America’s great burgeoning middle class were coming home from Europe to marry their sweethearts and to have kids.

The members of their parents’ generation, born in the late 1870s and early 1880s, who may have served in the Spanish-American War, who suffered economic deprivation in the depression years of the “Gay ‘90s,” and who marveled at the American “Can Do” spirit that constructed the Panama Canal, did well during The Great War.  A great many companies, formed during the darker economic days of the late 19th Century, expanded and profited in the early 20th Century.  They were buoyed by the groundswell of trust-busting and prosperity that characterized the “Oughts” and the “Teens.”

The doughboys returned to jobs as farmers, factory workers, clerks, salesmen, and accountants. Some had money in their pockets…but all were suffering from two to three years of pent-up demand.  One savvy engineer in Detroit, a chap named Henry Ford, figured out how to meet that demand.  He devised a way to produce a four wheeled, self-propelled vehicle called a Model T, on a scale so efficient that the end product — a transportation appliance, if you will — started out being sold in 1907 at $850, but could be sold in the early 1920s for the princely sum of $290.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Club's historic membership roster, part VI: members joining 1916-1941

Editor's note: No new members joined from 1913 to 1915.  In previous installments of our historic membership roster, we've been able to provide a biographical paragraph on most members, largely thanks to the powers of Google to locate sometimes obscure data sources. It turns out, however, that our members joining before 1920 or so are far more Googleable than those joining in 1920 and later, so some of these bios are very brief indeed. As in prior installments, some of the basic information here comes from Harold Hutchins' research in city directories at the Berkshire Athenaeum. If any reader can supplement the information listed here, we would be much obliged — contact Martin Langeveld, the Club historian/webmaster, at the "Contact Us" link at the top of the right column.

1916

Rev. James Edgar Gregg —Born in Hartford, Conn. Nov. 24, 1875; grew up in Colorado Springs; graduated from Harvard University in 1897; attended Harvard Divinity School 1900-1901; taught school in Rhode Island for three years; prepared for ministry at Yale, receiving a Bachelor of Divinity in 1903. Came to Pittsfield as an assistant to (Club member) Rev. William V. W. Davis at First Church of Christ and was ordained at First Church; became the second minister of Pilgrim Memorial Church in Pittsfield. From there, went to Kirk Street Congregational Church in Lowell; returned to Pittsfield to succeed Dr. Davis at First Church in 1912. Presided over the 150th anniversary observances at First Church. Resigned his pastorate in 1918 to accept an unsought appointment as the third president (then called principal) of the Hampton Institute in Virginia where he served until 1929; received a Doctor of Divinity from Yale in 1918. At historically-black Hampton, he was notably involved in a controversial episode in 1927 in which students revolted with a strike against the perceived overly conservative and paternalistic policies of the white administrators. Gregg retired to Pittsfield and rejoined the Club in 1942. He died in 1946.

1923

Elmer Gerrish Bridgham — Principal of Pomeroy School. Born July 18, 1871 in W. Minot, Androscoggin County, Maine. Attended Hebron Academy, Hebron, Maine. Graduated from Middlebury College in 1897, and taught school from that time until he was seventy years old in Pulaski, New York; Gouverneur, New York; Owego; Princeton, Illinois; Sitka, Alaska; Lenox Massachusetts, and Pittsfield. Author of a history of the Bridgham family. 

1924
Rev. Vincent Godfrey Burns — pastor of South Congregational Church. In 1927, his resignation was reported in Time Magazine as follows (April 24, 1927):
Because his flock did not relish his criticism of U.S. Secretary of State Kellogg's Latin American policy, the Rev. Vincent G. Burns of the South Congregational Church, Pittsfield, Mass., recently resigned his pastorate. Said he: "In a day when hypocritical clergymen are mouthing old theologies, in a day when mammon-worshiping, penny-pinching hypocrites are defending the system that exploits millions and sucks the lifeblood out of the workers around the world, in a day when snobs and aristocrats hold up the iron wall of class and caste, I have dared to stand up and tell the truth concerning these soul-blasting tyrannies."

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The bed of Procrustes: Norman Rockwell on education in the Soviet Union, circa 1965

Norman Rockwell was a member of the Monday Evening Club from 1961 until his death in 1978.  In this paper, delivered about 1965 following Rockwell's visit to the Soviet Union in December 1963, Rockwell concludes by saying that he "never did paint" the picture he intended to do, juxtaposing U.S. and Soviet country classrooms. However, in 1967 he completed for Look magazine a picture called "Russian Schoolroom," (above) which later was stolen from a gallery in Missouri in 1973. In 1989, it turned up in the collection of film director Steven Spielberg (a noted Rockwell collector and longtime supporter of the Norman Rockwell Museum), and eventually became the subject of a complex legal tangle with possible connections to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. The case was resolved in 2010 with the painting being awarded to Newport R.I. art dealer Judith Goffman Cutler. 

This paper is transcribed from an undated manuscript in the collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. The title "Bed of Procrustes" is written on the envelope in which it was originally contained, along with the words "ad lib."  In this transcription,  spelling and punctuation is generally left as it is in the original.
 
The Club is grateful for the assistance of Corry Kanzenburg and Jessika Drmacich of the collections staff at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. for providing access to the manuscript of this and other papers Rockwell presented to the Club, to the museum's director, Laurie Norton Moffatt, for alerting us to their existence (via a Facebook comment!) and to the Norman Rockwell Licensing Company for permission to publish the papers. 

Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL.

A year ago last December my wife and I journeyed to Moscow.  I was going as a specialist for the United States Information Service [sicactually the U.S. Information Agency].  My job was to work with our half of an exchange exhibit of graphic art.

I had a project.  This of course, was in addition to my work with the graphic show.

My project was to illustrate with a picture, or pictures, the elementary schools of Russia.  Look magazine was definitely interested so I made my inquiries among our personnel at the exhibit and also at the American embassy.  They, in turn, put in a request that I meet the minister of education in Moscow.

Things move slowly in Moscow — at least for an American with a project.  Not only is there a vast bureaucracy, but there is an amazingly devious procedure that just can not be cut short.  Then, too, there’s an atmosphere of mutual distrust.

After some weeks I was given an interview with the assistant minister and stated what I wanted to do.  I told him I wanted to paint a small country school, and its students, that would be comparable to just such a school in America, and that I wanted to do it honestly and fairly, as a way toward mutual understanding.  His associates were most smiling and amiable, and said that there were no small country schools near Moscow, but that they would arrange that I should visit an  elementary school.  I was very happy, we all bowed, and I left the massive building which was just off “Red Square.”  Two or three weeks later I hadn’t heard.  Then I talked to my embassy and exhibition friends and they laughed and said, “You’ll never hear from them.” But I was sure they were wrong because the officials had been so amiable and cooperative. Then another week went by and I began to get a bit restless.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A voice in the wilderness: A call for safer cars predating Ralph Nader's "Unsafe at Any Speed"

Presented to the club by Roger B. Linscott in early 1965. Roger was, for many years, the associate editor of The Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield's daily newspaper. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his editorial writing in 1973, and died in 2008 at the age of 88, having been a member of the Club since 1950.

This paper predates by about nine months Ralph Nader's seminal book on the same subject, Unsafe at Any Speed, which was published November 29, 1965, but could well have served as an introduction to it.

Like most newspaper offices, ours is a regular port of call for a large and varied assortment of cranks and crackpots who fancy us to be the appropriate mouthpiece for their maledictions against mankind or who hope to find in us a willing vehicle for promoting whatever harebrained schemes they wish to foist upon the public. Some of these earnest but offbeat promoters can be put down as harmless eccentrics, and some are quite obviously psychopaths who belong in institutions.

In the latter category is one local character who, because I made the mistake of listening sympathetically when he first visited the Eagle, has made me his particular confidant. He comes to the office perhaps once a month, and his message is always the same: He is convinced that the Hotel Wendell building is top-heavy, and is in imminent danger of falling down with catastrophic consequences. Moreover he feels there is a conspiracy among our leading citizens to conceal this danger from the public, and he suspects that the conspirators are determined to silence him by fair means or foul.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The silent language of the star

Photo by StarrGazr, used under Creative Commons
Presented to the Club by Albert Easton in April, 1974


We live in an age where the eye is constantly bombarded by visual stimuli. The survival of a television producer, as well as some very important economic results to a number of people, depends on his being able to dazzle the eye of the viewer to a greater extent than his competitors for the viewer's time.

Thus, it should come as a surprise, perhaps, that in our house on a certain night in January, and I suspect our house was not alone in this respect, the family was not to be found at its usual place before the TV set. Instead, they were crowded around the southeast windows watching, at a distance of about three miles, that part of a display of pyrotechnics which was not obscured by South Mountain. To this enduring fascination which fireworks seem to hold for the human imagination, I would like to turn our attention tonight.

Fireworks are usually considered to be any combination of chemicals capable of combustion without necessarily obtaining oxygen from the atmosphere, and intended primarily for either noise or visual effects arising from that combustion. The first fireworks, then, by this definition, were probably those used in China in the eleventh century, A.D. Note that this definition rules out the earlier use of what was called "Greek Fire" in Byzantium around A.D. 676, where the visual and audible effects were secondary to the primary goal of setting fire to the enemy.

It is interesting, however, to compare the formula for Greek Fire with that for the Chinese fireworks of four centuries later. Greek Fire consisted of rosin, sulfur, bitumen, and (almost certainly) saltpeter, although the early formulas do not mention it. This mixture was rammed into a copper tube and ignited, the resulting spurt of fire directed for military purposes. Although the two may have arisen independently, it is not unreasonable to hypothesize a historical connection with the Chinese fireworks reported by Marco Polo to have been used for amusement, not military purposes, and which consisted of powdered charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter, rammed into a tube of bamboo. Making allowances for the different materials native to the two regions, the formulas are about as close as they could be.

The Club's historic membership roster, part V: members joining 1902-1912

Frederick Shurtleff Coolidge



This is the fifth post in a series on the historic membership roster of the Club. These posts may be updated as additional biographical information on the members is uncovered. Research by Martin C. Langeveld, incorporating research by Harold L. Hutchins for a paper given to the Club in 1993.

1902 (Note: No new members joined in 1901.)

Prof. T. Nelson Dale — 1846-1937; taught geology at Williams College from 1893 to 1902; prominent geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey from 1880 to 1920; author of an autobiography he intended to be published posthumously, but the manuscript remained in a box that was not examined until 60 years later. The book was published in 2009 as The Outcomes of the Life of a Geologist (Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences).

Rev. Henry Calkins — pastor of Pilgrim Memorial Church

Judge Charles Lovejoy Hibbard — son of Charles E. Hibbard, who joined the Club in 1886; born in 1871 in Iowa City, Iowa; educated as a lawyer; served as associate justice and justice of Central Berkshire District Court in Pittsfield; married Alice Paddock in 1887. His son, Stephen B. Hibbard, was a founding partner of Pittsfield law firm Cain, Hibbard & Myers.

1905

Clark Harold Foster — Treasurer of W.W. Tillotson Manufacturing Co., "makers of fine cassimeres" (medium lightweight woolens) from 1902 to 1906; born in Hokah, Minn.; educated in Chicago public schools; from Pittsfield, he moved to Troy, N. Y. to become president and general manager of Tolhurst Machine Works.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The contentious count: Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford

Presented to the Club by Roger B. Linscott in 1993.

As usually seems to be the case when my turn comes to read to this august group, I must start by explaining that the title on the notices sent out by [Club secretary] Harold Salzmann has nothing to do with the contents of my paper. "The Way West" was designed to fit an account of the coming of railroads to Berkshire County 150 years ago — but that paper was derailed, subsequent to Harold's call for a title, because I found that a carton of notes I had accumulated on the subject over the years was missing following a move from Pittsfield to Richmond three months ago. Possibly the notes will return in time to bore or edify you in 1993, but tonight you will get a pinch-hitter in the form of a paper that might better be entitled "The contentious count." It deals with a greatly underrated historical figure who has always been a special favorite of mine – Benjamin Thompson, better known to history as Count Rumford.

Lest a few of the more senior members of this group are experiencing vague feelings of deja vu, I should add that he figured in a paper I delivered some 30 years ago — although, if my increasingly unreliable memory serves, he was obliged to play second fiddle to several other 18th century characters on that occasion. In any event, Benjamin Thompson (the name by which I shall refer to him most frequently in this paper) is a person for whom I have always felt a somewhat proprietary interest. I am the possessor of not one but half a dozen cartons of material about him, because I dabbled with the idea of undertaking a book on the subject until that task was authoritatively performed by two competent biographers in the 1970s.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

When East meets West: Personal connections to the Panama and Suez Canals

Presented to the Club by Michael A. Shirley on May 24, 2010

I suppose most of us old gentlemen, with apologies to the younger among us, can recall an event or two as Jack did in his paper a few weeks ago and on reflection realize that they were connected to momentous events in the course of history. In my case I have two whose significance I did not recognize at the time and certainly did not see how they were related to each other. I guess as children we all remember stories our father told us which never really registered. Well, one in particular comes to my mind.

My dear father, born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1895, had lost his father at the age of five to tuberculosis and his mother a few years later, and was brought up by his grandmother. She was a remarkable woman, called in Jamaica a “drogher woman,” i.e. a trader of goods overseas who travels in a ship called a drogher.

She would frequently go from Kingston to Colon, the Caribbean port in Panama, to sell beer, tobacco, toothpaste, shoes, etc. to the Jamaican labourers who were contracted to build the Canal for the French company in the 1880s. A connection between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean was seen by all to be an excellent undertaking so obviating a long journey round the southern tip of South America.

Well, my father’s story was of going with his grandmother on one of these trips when he was 14 years of age in 1909, 100 years ago last year, and encountering a tremendous storm which necessitated sending everyone below decks. The ship or “drogher” arrived 24 hours late and he remembered every citizen in Colon lining the harbour to welcome them because they were sure all had perished.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Which way: Norman Rockwell on the state of light-hearted humor


Norman Rockwell was a member of the Monday Evening Club from 1961 until his death in 1978. He presented the following paper to the Club about 1967. It is transcribed from an undated manuscript in the collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. The manuscript is typed in all capital letters, with some handwritten notes; the orthography is revised in this transcription to standard capitalization, but spelling and punctuation is generally left as it is in the original. The transcript was originally contained in an envelope on which was written “Monday Evening Club / Is light heart humor.” Throughout the paper, the word is spelled “humour,” which may have been the habit of Rockwell’s wife Mary L. (Molly) Rockwell, the likely typist. ADDENDUM: The original can now be viewed at the Norman Rockwell Museum's online digital archives.

The Club is grateful for the assistance of Corry Kanzenburg and Jessika Drmacich of the collections staff at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. for providing access to the manuscript of this and other papers Rockwell presented to the Club, to the museum's director, Laurie Norton Moffatt, for alerting us to their existence (via a Facebook comment!) and to the Norman Rockwell Licensing Company for permission to publish the papers.

Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL.


First of all, I want to apologize for the title of this paper – “Which Way.”

When Joe [Joseph C. Nugent, then Club secretary] called me to get the title I had two subjects that interested me. But Joe needed a title right away to I told him my predicament and suggested the title “Which Way.” He said that was all right but now it does not describe the theme. I apologize.

The subject of this paper is “What Has Happened to Light-Hearted Humour in America?”

[handwritten:] First and foremost I want to say, I am, personally, convinced we are making a better America for all Americans to live in. But we live in an age of change and change is painful and it just ain’t funny. Now to the paper. [marginal note: Nuclear]

I do not know the exact date of what I feel is the demise of our good-natured humour, but I suspect it was about 5 or 6 years ago.

It did not die suddenly but I believe suffered a long and slow decline.

We do know that our brand of humour was born with the birth of our country. Ben Franklin was certainly at the birthday party and contributed many wise and funny comments.

America was a strong and lusty youngster and from the writings and records of those early days we find loads of stories and jests that attest to the fact that a good sense of humour was one of our happy birthrights.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

From the archives: The Club's 1894 trip to Cummington



The following communication was sent to members of the Club in August, 1894 in preparation for a summer meeting in Cummington, Mass., to attend the centennial celebration of the birth of the poet William Cullen Bryant on August 16th, 1894. 

A transcription of the day's proceedings may be downloaded here

Commemorating this expedition 111 years later, during a summer outing in 2005, the Club paid a second visit to the Bryant Homestead, now a house museum maintained by the Trustees of Reservations.


MONDAY EVENING CLUB

The Monday Evening Club will show its respect for the memory of William Cullen Bryant by having the summer meeting of the Club, at the Bryant Homestead in Cummington, on Thursday, August 16th, in connection with the centennial celebration of the birthday of the poet.

Each member of the club is expected to invite such guests as he may choose, and to make his own arrangements for food and transportation, and thereafter to grumble only at himself. But the committee suggests that members join in making arrangements to attend the excursion in such parties as they may find agreeable.

The route is via. Dalton, Windsor P. O., East Windsor (alias Jordanville) and West Cummington — the road to the Bryant place crossing the stream at the first bridge below West Cummington. The distances are, from Pittsfield to Windsor P. O., thirteen miles; to West Cummington from Windsor P. O., four miles; total from Pittsfield to the Bryant Place, twenty-one miles. The road is good. Shaw's hotel at West Cummington village is pleasantly located. As the distance from Pittsfield is but twenty-one miles, the whole excursion can be made by rising early on Thursday; but the best way is to drive to Windsor or Cummington after business hours on Wednesday, sleep there, go to the celebration on Thursday, returning home in the afternoon. Accommodations can be secured at private houses in Windsor, East Windsor and West Cummington. Oats should be taken for the horses, as the farmers have only new hay. Also a pail to water horses on the route. A daily mail for Windsor, East Windsor and West Cummington goes by stage, leaving Dalton at one o'clock P.M.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Say it ain't so: Unravelling misquotations

Presented to the Club by Roger B. Linscott in December, 1996.

I have been, for most of my adult life, an avid collector of quotations. This began more than 40 years ago, when I took a leave of absence as a young reporter at The Berkshire Eagle to do the research for a volume that Harper's publishing company was putting together on the life and times of Theodore Roosevelt — to be published in 1958 on the centennial of TR's birth.

The project immersed me in a remarkably colorful era. Teddy Roosevelt was, of course, one of the most quotable figures in American history, with dogmatic opinions on just about every subject under the sun and not the slightest hesitancy about expressing them. Many of his contemporaries in that post-Civil War era, when the country was being catapulted into the role of an industrial giant and world leader, were similarly outspoken in their political views and equally skilled in the arts of verbal rough and tumble.

With that as a starting point, I began filling what with time have become a dozen notebooks with colorful quotes and noteworthy aphorisms — for the most part of the sort that one doesn't find in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, which draws the bulk of its material from the Bible, Shakespeare, Cervantes and the other great authors, and from eminent statesmen and philosophers of history — and relatively little from the journalistic, political, sporting and entertainment sort of figures that populate my own unpublished book of quotations.

Like many others who have become addicted to the mining of celebrated sayings, I soon made a basic discovery: An astonishingly high percentage of the world's most familiar quotations, when one researched them a bit, turn out to be misquotations — often plagiarized by the persons credited with originating them, usually re-worded almost beyond recognition over the years, and frequently totally spurious.

Let me cite a few well-known examples.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The rich get richer: Is there a solution to the inequitable distribution of wealth?


This paper was presented to the Club by Roger B. Linscott in 1989. Roger was, for many years, the associate editor of The Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield's daily newspaper. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his editorial writing in 1973, and died in 2008 at the age of 88, having been a member of the Club since 1950. We are indebted to Roger's daughter, Wendy Lamme, for a treasure trove of Roger's Club papers which we will be publishing during the next several years. In this paper delivered 20 years ago, he tackled the issue of the skewed distribution of wealth in America, which has only gotten more skewed in the two decades since he wrote it.

A widely-admired New Yorker cartoon of my younger years — done, I believe, by Peter Arno in the 1940s — depicted a rather elderly and obviously successful cleric seated at his desk in front of a huge vaulted window in the office of a Fifth Avenue cathedral. Fingertips together and eyes cast heavenward, he is addressing an eager-looking novice on the other side of the desk; and what he is saying to him is: "Young man, as one who would seek preferment in our calling, I would admonish you to avoid whenever possible two subjects: politics, and religion."

I was given approximately the same advice, albeit under the considerably less pious auspices of my sponsor, the sainted Billy Annin,* when I joined the Monday Evening Club 40 years ago. While it was not writ in stone, he said, or even officially in the bylaws, there was a tacit understanding that readers should circumambulate the subjects of politics and religion, lest sensitivities be wounded and fires started which might not be easily quenched. I trust that tonight's paper won't be felt to trespass on that on that taboo. It deals with a subject of unavoidably close concern to all of us: money — and more specifically, the appalling inequity with which money is distributed in our society.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Those activist judges: On the expansion of marriage rights

Presented to the Club by Charles F. Sawyer on Monday evening, March 22, 2010

As was noted by Bill Moyers in his February PBS program, the Bill Moyers Journal, the quest for marriage equality has created some unlikely allies in attorneys Theodore Olsen, a conservative, and David Boies, a liberal. The two became nationally famous as the opposing counsel in Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court case that halted the Florida recount and resolved the 2000 election in favor of George W. Bush. Now the two lawyers, who have successfully argued many cases before the Supreme Court, are lead co-counsel in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, a case that was recently argued in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. That case is a challenge to Proposition 8, California’s ballot initiative that amended the State Constitution so as to put an end to same sex marriage. A decision will likely be issued this spring by the presiding judge, Vaughn Walker.

Bill Moyers interviewed the two lawyers on February 26. Here are some of the things they each had to say:
Conservatives, just like liberals, rely on the Supreme Court to protect the rule of law, to protect our liberties, to look at the law and decide whether or not it fits within the Constitution. And I think the point that’s really important here, when you’re thinking about judicial activism, is that this is not a new right. Nobody is saying, ‘Go find in the Constitution the right to get married.’ Everybody, unanimous Supreme Court, says there’s a right to get married, a fundamental right to get married. The question is whether you can discriminate against certain people based upon their sexual orientation. And the issue of prohibiting discrimination has never in my view been looked at as a test of judicial activism. That’s not liberal, that’s not conservative. That’s not Republican or Democrat. That’s simply an American Constitutional right.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Doing Sixty: Reflections on automotive proliferation and speed

Presented to the Club by Richard Nunley on Monday Evening, January 12, 1998.

Driving down the Maine Turnpike from Portland one Sunday last summer, we found ourselves in three solid lanes of traffic all traveling at high speed. Even in the right-hand lane we had to go 70 simply to avoid having the car behind (or the camper or the heavy-laden trailer truck from New Brunswick) climb our rear bumper. Cars in the left-hand lane must have been traveling well in excess of 80, much faster in my opinion than the ordinary eye and hand can react within one car’s length to any sudden change.

To many drivers, such a situation has probably become routine. To someone like me who mainly putt-putts short distances at slow speeds around the Berkshires, it raised the question whether evolution has prepared us for the prolonged intensity of mental stress, physical immobility, and hormonal readiness-for-anything that high-speed, traffic-dense interstate driving demands. Is such tension conceivably a contributing factor of our epidemic rates of personality disorder, family instability, heart disease, maybe even cancer?

It made me think back to the first time I ever did 60 — the first time I ever went “a mile a minute.”

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Centennial Celebration (of Sherlock Holmes in 1987)

Presented to the Club by David T. Noyes in 1987

Allow me to transport you back in time 100 years to the year 1887. Grover Cleveland is President. The U.S. Congress establishes the Interstate Commerce Commission and first leases Pearl Harbor as a naval station. The Marine Biological Laboratory is founded at Wood’s Hole and Frank Sprague builds the first successful electric trolley line. Joseph Pulitzer is earning his reputation as editor of the New York World. The winning horse in the Kentucky Derby brings his owner $4,200, and betting at the track becomes legal in New York State. The fastest time for the one-mile run stands at 4:21.4. The Monday Evening Club is closing in on the end of its second decade.

On the world scene, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec are in their prime. Verdi opens his opera Otello in Milan. St Petersburg enjoys the premiers of Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky. Queen Victoria celebrates her Golden Jubilee.

It is also the year that a tall, trim athletic 26-year-old doctor gave the world its first consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. Like many others, I first came to admire this character as a 12-year-old adolescent. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his creation, I would like to share with you tonight some of my thoughts about Sherlock Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Just a little bit: The future of computing as foreseen in 1980

This paper was presented to the Club by Robert M. Henderson on Monday evening, March 24, 1980. The portable computing and communications gadget Bob called a "dator," which he predicted for the 1980s, remarkably resembles today's smartphones and netbooks.

Photo: IBM Model 4341 (produced from 1979 to 1986; source: KCG Computer Museum, Japan)

Back in 1946, well within the memory of each of the members of this illustrious group, three scientists from Princeton University published a paper that has had far-reaching effects. The paper was quite innocuously entitled “Preliminary discussions of the logical design of an electric computing instrument.” Their paper contained no new or startling technical information. However, it did very accurately sum up the technical knowledge already available, and presented a well-organized approach to the development of an electrical computing instrument. Many people immediately recognized a large potential for such an instrument, and the race was on to develop computing instruments of various types. And what a race it has been! IBM, Control Data Company, and large other computer manufacturing concerns, as immense as they may be, are only the tip of the iceberg as far as the total impact of computers in our world society.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Club's 140th anniversary: A group photo and the invocation

The Club's members on the stairs of the Thaddeus Clapp House in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, during the celebration of the Club's 140th anniversary on Monday evening, November 9, 2009. Thaddeus Clapp, Jr. was a member of the Club from 1870 until his death in 1890. During that period the Club had a number of meetings in the house, which is currently operated as a bed-and-breakfast. [Click photo for large version.]

The following invocation was delivered by Rev. Dr. Richard L. Floyd at the 140th anniversary celebration:

O God and father of us all,
Whom the heavens adore;
Let the whole earth also worship you,
All nations obey you,
All tongues praise and bless you,
And men and women everywhere love you,
and serve you in peace.

Tonight we thank you for the Monday Evening Club;
For its rich and fascinating history,
and for the warm bonds of friendship it has fostered
From generation to generation
For the past 140 years.

We ask your blessing on our gathering and celebration tonight,
That here we may rekindle and enjoy our friendships,
Make new ones, and enjoy the pleasures of the table,
And the good things that you have provided for us,
Aware that we who have much still live in a world
Where many of our neighbors, near and far, have little.

We thank you for this meal we are about to partake,
And for those that have prepared it for our enjoyment.
Bless it to our use and us to your service, we pray.
Amen.

120 years of Mondays: A reflection on the Club's place in today's world

This column by Richard Nunley (a Club member emeritus who now lives in Portland, Oregon) was published in The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts) on November 29, 1989.

The Monday Evening Club commemorated the 120th anniversary of its organizing at the house of Mr. Thomas F. Plunkett in Pittsfield on November 11, 1989, with a dinner at the Lenox Club the evening before last.

What, you may ask, is the Monday Evening Club?

It is one tiny thread in the complex weave of associations that make up the fabric of the life of an area. Possibly an anachronism, it and other clubs like it are a survival from a time that was geared differently, that had a perhaps firmer faith in the possibility of harmless uplift and disinterested fellowship than obtains generally today.

"What I like about the Club," Robert G. Newman, retired director of the Berkshire Athenaeum and a Club member since 1946. was quoted as saying on the occasion of the club's centenary, "is that it doesn't do any good."

The Club gets together about six times a year now for dinner and conversation.  Members take it in turns to act as host, either at home or at some comfortable inn or club that serves good food and offers space for pre- and post-prandial talk.

They also take it in turns to prepare a paper, one per meeting, which, after being read aloud, is commented on by the other members. The evening's host calls on his guests in unannounced order.  The prevents after dinner dozing off, or at least ups the hazards of doing so.

It is, so far, a men-only club.  Since, as Newman observed, it doesn't do any good, and is as close to being invisible as makes no difference.

Members from time to time discuss whether remaining a men-only club isn't a little silly in this day and age, but, like most other discussions of the club, nothing has come of it.

And it must be admitted, albeit sotto voce, that males do say more when women aren't around. Whether it is due to residual chivalry that yields the floor to a lady, or to the male's slowness in getting off the conversational mark, the fact is that when men and women meet for conversation, generally speaking, 90 percent of the conversation is conducted by the women, or else the party splits in two, the women saying interesting things to each other in the kitchen, the men hunched over the TV in the den.

Nor are most men these days afforded many opportunities to study up on some subject unrelated to their daily work and compose their conclusions in an essay.  This the club does, and members find this intellectual adventuring fun; it enlarges life.

Topics tend to be historical (in a wide sense), literary or geographical.  Last year members heard talks on Oxford, the distribution of wealth, "news management" by earlier presidencies and the history of the concept of zoning.

On Nov. 18, 1929, in the gloom of the crash, the prepared talk was suspended. "The Club spent the evening discussing its future.  It was voted to elect new members and continue the Club."

In 1932, the club heard talks on "Economic Depression," "Social Security," "Some Current Misconceptions of the Utilities," and "Are We Really To Blame?"

By the end of the decade, members were discussing "Our Most Vital Problem — World Peace," " The Labor Movement," "Dilemma of a Conservative," "Is Pacifism the Answer?"

The Club's minute books reflect history in other ways, too, especially in the directions to special summer meetings.

In 1895 the club boarded the 8:10 from Pittsfield to attend the presentation of a drinking fountain to the town of Great Barrington. ("Colonel Brown will arrange to have carriages meet the train.") In 1915 they journeyed to Perry's Peak and Morning Face in Richmond. ("Members having automobiles please invite those without to ride with them.") In 1900 they allowed two hours to travel from the post office in Pittsfield to Columbia Hall in Lebanon Springs "via the new state road." In 1894 those attending the Bryant centennial in Cummington were advised to carry a pail to water the horses, and to take oats, "as the farmers have only new hay."

In March 1924, "Mr. [William L.] Adam reported that the maid at his house had fallen downstairs and broken her arm and therefore he asked the Club to vote not to hold another meeting this season. So voted."

In the club's six-score year history, 178 men have been members.  At present about 15 are active members; none of them has a maid at his house.

But in the tradition of Franklin's Junto and 19th-century Boston's Saturday Club, they still find something worthwhile in hearing together considered thoughts on well-informed topics, in the good cheer of lively conversation, and, of course, in dining well.

In their 121st year, as they have done so many times before, they will no doubt "vote to elect new members and continue the club."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Old Stuff: Bob Newman's 1992 recollections of 46 years of Club membership

Presented to the Club by Robert G. Newman, Monday evening, April 13, 1992


It is a habit of the elder, when they have an opportunity, to summon up remembrance of things past in pretty heavy doses. Over-burdened with ballast after long voyages, an ancient mariner finds it comfortable to transfer some of his excess cargo to such bearers as chance to pass by.  His suffering associates learn there is no effective way, except perhaps by shouting "fire" in a crowded hall, to stay the flow of antique memories. Such a predicament is that in which you find yourselves as I reminisce on 46 years in this unique organization that we call the Monday Evening Club. I recognize that some present are very familiar with events I recall that are also part of their recollections. For this I beg indulgence.  Maybe they can correct my errors.

First, how I got there, by a flexible interpretation of the hallowed Rules of the Monday Evening Club. In disregard of the apparent intent of Rule 10, I was never among the gentlemen invited to attend a session by the member who is host for the evening. (Perhaps I shouldn't even be here.) At any rate, without prior warning or looking over, I was visited one day in 1946 by two dignified citizens functioning as a committee. James Rosenthal, attorney and [Berkshire] Athenaeum trustee, and Elmer Brigham, principal of Pomeroy School, had known me ever since I was a small boy.  They recited the history and procedures of the Club, concluding by inviting me to join. Although not sure I wanted to sign on for what looked like a long course of solemn-sounding evenings, I decided the correct response for a new librarian was "I do." Thus began my Monday Evening Club experiences.

I suppose that some time before the visitation by James and Elmer, who were probably executive committeemen, I had survived the esoteric ceremony of (here I quote) "balls and cubes" as set forth in Rule 2. This matter of the secret ballot as observed in successive forms has always fascinated me. Its phases have been as follows:

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Then, Now and What's Next: Ruminations on Time and Technology

Presented to the Club by Richard L. Floyd on Monday evening, January 25, 2010

As the first Monday Evening Club paper of a new decade I want to do some looking backward as well as gazing forward. Looking backward is not so hard, since we all have 20/20 hindsight, but gazing forward is more difficult. It was Søren Kierkegaard who once said, “Life must be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.” So let me do the easy part first and look backward, telling a couple of brief stories about two men who were born in the late Nineteenth Century, came of age in the early part of the Twentieth, and lived long lives in which they witnessed technological advances unparalleled in any other period of human history. Then I will briefly try to look forward to take some guesses about “what’s next?”

The first story is one you may have read about in the paper this past year. It is about Henry Allingham, one of the last two British soldiers to fight in the First World War. He died last July at the age of 113. He was, for one month of his life, the oldest verifiable living man on earth. Asked about the secret to his longevity he credited “cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women – and a good sense of humor.”

Originally a Navy man, Allingham was first assigned as a mechanic, and later a spotter, to a unit that carried out anti-submarine air patrols for the newly formed RAF. Keep in mind that the Wright brothers’ first flight had been launched as recently as 1903, so airplanes were just a decade old when the Great War broke out, and this would be the first significant use of them in war. The Sopwith Schneider seaplane that Henry’s unit flew to look for German U-boats and other ships was really nothing more than a big box kite with an engine. It had to be lifted by cranes in and out of the water from a ship every time it went on a mission. The plane carried no parachute, no navigational instruments, save a map and a compass, no radio, only a carrier pigeon. To us it sounds primitive, yet at the time air flight was so new that it was cutting-edge technology. Today those fliers needn’t have risked their lives in reconnaissance missions. They could rely on satellites.

The second man whose story I want to tell is my maternal grandfather, William Ira Laffoon. I only knew “Granddaddy Bill” when he was an old man, for he turned seventy the year that I was born. He was born on October 8, 1881, and when he was a boy of eight he traveled with his family from Missouri (“Missour-ah” is how he always said it) to Indian Territory on a Conestoga wagon to participate in the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. The Land Rush offered 2 million acres of free public land for homesteading on a first come first served basis. The rush, or “run” as it is more properly called, began at high noon on April 22, but many of the participants had already picked out choice parcels and hid on them until the official time. These were the “Sooners.” The ones who played by the rules and went when the cannon was fired were called “Boomers.” Unlike Rome, Oklahoma City, was built in a day, for there were over 10,000 inhabitants by late afternoon of the first day of the run. My grandfather and his family were the opposite of the “Sooners,” and waited until the next day to quietly go in to stake their claim, which is how my mother came to be born in Oklahoma City.