Friday, August 12, 2016

The Dashed Hopes of the 1916 Olympics

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on August 12, 2016.

Quick, where were the 1916 Olympics held? Trick question – the 1916 Olympics were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I.

The modern Olympic Games were still new, having only been revived in 1894 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Exeter’s residents had followed the 1912 games in Stockholm, Sweden, with interest. The Exeter News-Letter, which rarely followed international news, gave the games three large entries over the course of the games, although it should be noted that the Olympics shared the front page with articles like, “Traction Engines Used in Plowing” and “Farmers Day at Hampton Beach.” 1912 was the year of Jim Thorpe, who won both the pentathlon and decathlon events. “James Thorpe, of the Carlisle Indian School, proved himself easily the greatest all around athlete in the decathlon, which provided a variety of tests of speed, strength and quickness” the News-Letter crowed. Thorpe wasn’t the only Native American to represent the United States in 1912 – Andrew Sockalexis, of the Penobscott Nation in Maine, ran the marathon, coming in mere seconds behind the third place winner.

The US Team fared well in 1912 – winning more gold medals than any other country, although Sweden was able to nudge us out of first place for total medals. The strength of our team was noted by other countries. Germany, in particular, sent envoys to investigate the American training program, which turned out to be our college athletics programs. Considering this is still our training program for professional sports, the finding isn’t too surprising. Other nations fared better than the US in fields such as equestrian events, which drew participants from military training. The Tug of War competition, an event that was dropped after 1920 but should totally be revived, was comprised of teams from police departments. The Stockholm Police won the tug of war over the City of London Police after two members of the London team dropped from sheer exhaustion. I mean, I’d watch that.
With the Olympics being such a new event – this was only the fifth Olympiad – much of the pomp and ceremony we’re used to today hadn’t been established yet. There was no Olympic flag, no torch relay, no fast-food endorsements and little in the way of established ritual. The Swedes were left to create the award ceremony as they wished. “The presentation of the prizes Monday afternoon was a spectacle nearly as thrilling as the opening ceremony,” the News-Letter remarked, “All the winners of the first, second and third prizes marched into the arena and assembled in three groups before the stands.” Gold medals were presented by the king, Silver medals by the crown prince and lowly Bronze medals were granted by the king’s brother, Charles. Lest we believe that the Olympics today spend too much media time on fashion, the News-Letter was completely besotted with the athlete’s wardrobe. “The procession into the arena was a remarkable sight. Every sort of civil and military costume figured, from full-dress military with plumed and shining helmets and much gold lace to simple khaki, and from frock coat and silk hat to running tights. The women swimmers and tennis players wore pink and white dresses, while the women gymnasts made a very charming appearance in sailor frocks.”

Things were looking good for the 1916 Olympics – there was worldwide support, the events were set and the venue chosen: Berlin, Germany. No problem there, right? An extensive new stadium was completed three years before the games were set to begin; a standard later Olympic venues have never matched. War broke out in the summer of 1914 but the games weren’t cancelled on the assumption that the fighting would be over long before 1916. Even as late as 1915, Germany was convinced the games would go off. There was some talk of moving them to the United States, but the IOC refused to move the games without consent from the host country and Germany wouldn’t budge. And, of course, crossing the Atlantic Ocean had become quite perilous what with all the submarine warfare. In the end, the games of the Sixth Olympiad are still credited to Berlin – even though the games never took place. They’re the ghost games – picture a huge empty stadium silent except for the whistling wind and possibly the sound of distant cannon fire. It could have killed the entire Olympic movement.


The games returned in 1920, but coverage in the Exeter News-Letter did not. The Olympics were not mentioned at all except for a quick ‘history of the ancient Olympics’ fluff piece – and really, who reads that kind of stuff. Baseball had taken over the hearts and minds of Exeter’s citizens. It was also an election year, although in all fairness, Olympic years are always election years. But in 1920, the nation was voting to allow women’s suffrage. On August 18th, at the height of the Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium, the 19th Amendment was ratified and New Hampshire’s female voters were unleashed on the polls for the primary election a few weeks later. Apparently, no one in Exeter was interested in an international tug of war competition with that type of excitement going on.

Photo: Exeter citizens eagerly followed news of the 1912 Olympics, but after the cancellation of the 1916 Olympics interest flagged. Most residents were far more interested in local baseball teams, such as this Grand Templar team.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Swasey Pavilion at 100 Years

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on July 29, 2016.

Maybe they talked about Abraham Lincoln. In the summer of 1915, three men – Ambrose Swasey, Daniel Chester French and Henry Bacon – made a visit to Exeter, New Hampshire. Swasey and French were both born in Exeter and may have known each other as boys. Both had made their fortunes elsewhere, Swasey as an engineer and French as a world renowned sculptor. They knew Exeter well and on this trip they seemed to be planning something – looking over locations and beauty spots – to the puzzlement of local people.

Henry Bacon, an architect, had no ties to the town but was a friend and collaborator of French. For the previous 17 years he’d been consumed with one project – the creation of a great Greek temple dedicated to the memory of Abraham Lincoln. His single-mindedness had broken up his partnership with James Bright. Bright had been the financial administrator of the firm and Bacon’s often unpaid time devoted to the project had caused the rift. By 1915, the Lincoln Memorial was finally under construction and Bacon was able to focus on other projects. Yet here he was, standing in the square in Exeter, New Hampshire, directly in front of the Exeter town hall where Lincoln had addressed the town in 1860.

French had been a boy of 10 and Swasey was 14 when Lincoln arrived. French may have missed the event, his family was preparing to move away from town, but Swasey and his brother Eben memorably set a bonfire alight at the family homestead on Newfields Road to mark the event. The fire department had to be called to save the farm.

Also at the Lincoln speech was the Exeter Brass Band, at that time called the Exeter Coronet Band. James Prescott would later recall, “The Exeter Band was trying to ‘blow’ out in front of the Town Hall. Robert Atkins and I got up on the steps and listened. Pretty soon the band went around the building and in the back door, and blew some more inside.” The band had been organized in 1847, and was frequently called upon to play at town events and particularly political rallies.

The three men – the engineer, the sculptor and the architect – were planning something for Exeter. Swasey, who still spent summers in town, wanted to give his hometown a gift. Something monumental, but practical. He’d already donated money to his church and would later pay for the beautiful Swasey Parkway that is beloved by Exeter residents to this day. In 1915, he decided the town needed a bandstand.

There had, of course, been a bandstand in the center of town. In the 1890s, a wooden bandstand was erected to hold summer concerts. By 1902, however, the Exeter News-Letter reported that it was in poor repair and was slated to be removed. “In the square the stand constantly threatened accident, but was too long tolerated for the pleasure derived from midsummer concerts.” The bandstand was moved to the commons on Park Street, where it suffered from vandalism and neglect. It was later sold and moved again, leaving the band with no fixed place to perform. Swasey’s permanent bandstand, announced in early 1916, would be an ornament in the town.

The town accepted Ambrose Swasey’s generous offer. Henry Bacon set about designing an architectural gem worthy of a town that had hosted his idol, Abraham Lincoln. Whether French contributed any flourishes is unknown. He and Bacon were toiling away on the Lincoln Memorial project – French having been awarded the commission to sculpt the mammoth seated Lincoln. One thing is certain, the bandstand, officially known as the Swasey Pavilion, was far more ornate and elegant than any Exeter resident had expected.

The bandstand was built in the summer of 1916 at lightning speed. Ground was broken in May and it was ready for dedication in mid-August. The Norcross Brothers Company of Worcester served as the contractors, building the bandstand with modern construction – steel trusses and concrete form the base – and old-world style design. Pink granite with marble flooring creates the base of the bandstand, which is roofed with copper. Looking at it from the outside it is beautiful, but to really appreciate the design one has to step inside. From there the mosaic ceiling and floor can be viewed closely. The ornamental electric light chandelier has to be seen to be fully appreciated. In the center of the floor is a bronze plate with compass bearings and the zodiac – homage to Ambrose Swasey’s work with telescopes. A pine cone finial stands at attention on the peak of the roof, which has 16 lion’s head gargoyles to discharge rain water. Other towns may have bandstands, but Exeter has a temple.

The dedication was held on August 10th, 1916 – a day later than planned due to rain. Ambrose Swasey was there to hand over the symbolic keys to the Town of Exeter (no key is needed to visit the bandstand – it is accessible to the public at all times). A few speeches were made; there was polite applause and a bit of jovial horseplay. Finally the Exeter Brass Band took the stand for the first summer concert of 1916. As war was overtaking Europe, the first piece of music played on the Swasey Pavilion was a march called “International Peace.” From her home on Pine Street half a mile away, Helen Tufts wrote in her diary, “dedication of Pavilion going on. I can hear band.” Somewhere Abraham Lincoln was smiling.

Photos:
Swasey Pavilion under construction during the summer of 1916. From a snapshot taken by an employee of Exeter Hampton Electric.
Swasey Pavilion shortly after its dedication on August 10, 1916.

Swasey Pavilion at 100 Years

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on July 29, 2016.

Maybe they talked about Abraham Lincoln. In the summer of 1915 three men, Ambrose Swasey, Daniel Chester French and Henry Bacon made a visit to Exeter, New Hampshire. Swasey and French were both born in Exeter and may have known each other as boys. Both had made their fortunes else ware, Swasey as an engineer and French as a world renowned sculptor. They knew Exeter well and on this trip they seemed to be planning something – looking over locations and beauty spots – to the puzzlement of local people.

Henry Bacon, an architect, had no ties to the town but was a friend and collaborator of French. For the previous 17 years he’d been consumed with one project – the creation of a great Greek temple dedicated to the memory of Abraham Lincoln. His single mindedness had broken up his partnership with James Bright. Bright had been the financial administrator of the firm and Bacon’s often unpaid time devoted to the project had caused the rift. By 1915, the Lincoln Memorial was finally under construction and Bacon was able to focus on other projects. Yet here he was, standing in the square in Exeter, New Hampshire directly in front of the Exeter town hall where Lincoln had addressed the town in 1860.

French had been a boy of 10 and Swasey was 14 when Lincoln arrived. French may have missed the event, his family was preparing to move away from town, but Swasey and his brother Eben memorably set a bonfire alight at the family homestead on Newfields Road to mark the event. The fire department had to be called to save the farm.

Also at the Lincoln speech was the Exeter Brass Band, at that time called the Exeter Coronet Band. James Prescott would later recall, “The Exeter Band was trying to ‘blow’ out in front of the Town Hall. Robert Atkins and I got up on the steps and listened. Pretty soon the band went around the building and in the back door, and blew some more inside.” The band had organized in 1847 and was frequently called upon to play at town events and particularly political rallies.

The three men, the engineer, the sculptor and the architect were planning something for Exeter. Swasey, who still spent summers in town, wanted to give his hometown a gift. Something monumental, but practical. He’d already donated money to his church and would later pay for the beautiful Swasey Parkway that is beloved by Exeter residents to this day. In 1915, he decided the town needed a bandstand.

There had, of course, been a bandstand in the center of town. In the 1890s a wooden bandstand was erected to hold summer concerts. By 1902, however, the Exeter News-Letter reported that it was in poor repair and was slated to be removed. “In the square the stand constantly threatened accident, but was too long tolerated for the pleasure derived from midsummer concerts.” The bandstand was moved to the commons on Park Street, where it suffered from vandalism and neglect. It was later sold and moved again, leaving the band with no fixed place to perform. Swasey’s permanent bandstand, announced in early 1916, would be an ornament in the town.

The town accepted Ambrose Swasey’s generous offer. Henry Bacon set about designing an architectural gem worthy of a town that had hosted his idol, Abraham Lincoln. Whether French contributed any flourishes is unknown. He and Bacon were toiling away on the Lincoln Memorial project – French having been awarded the commission to sculpt the mammoth seated Lincoln. One thing is certain, the bandstand, officially known as the Swasey Pavilion, was far more ornate and elegant than any Exeter resident had expected.

The bandstand was built in the summer of 1916 at lightning speed. Ground was broken in May and it was ready for dedication in mid-August. The Norcross Brothers Company of Worcester served as the contractors, building the bandstand with modern construction – steel trusses and concrete form the base – and old-world style design. Pink granite with marble flooring creates the base of the bandstand, which is roofed with copper. Looking at it from the outside it is beautiful, but to really appreciate the design one has to step inside. From there the mosaic ceiling and floor can be viewed closely. The ornamental electric light chandelier has to be seen to be fully appreciated. In the center of the floor is a bronze plate with compass bearings and the zodiac – homage to Ambrose Swasey’s work with telescopes. A pine cone finial stands at attention on the peak of the roof, which has 16 lion’s head gargoyles to discharge rain water. Other towns may have bandstands, but Exeter has a temple.

The dedication was held on August 10th, 1916 – a day later than planned due to rain. Ambrose Swasey was there to hand over the symbolic keys to the Town of Exeter (no key is needed to visit the bandstand – it is accessible to the public at all times). A few speeches were made; there was polite applause and a bit of jovial horseplay. Finally the Exeter Brass Band took the stand for the first summer concert of 1916. As war was overtaking Europe, the first piece of music played on the Swasey Pavilion was a march called “International Peace.” From her home on Pine Street half a mile away, Helen Tufts wrote in her diary, “dedication of Pavilion going on. I can hear band.” Somewhere Abraham Lincoln was smiling.

Photos:
Swasey Pavilion under construction during the summer of 1916. From a snapshot taken by an employee of Exeter Hampton Electric.
Swasey Pavilion shortly after its dedication on August 10, 1916.

Swasey Pavilion at 100 Years

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on July 29, 2016.

Maybe they talked about Abraham Lincoln. In the summer of 1915, three men -- Ambrose Swasey, Daniel Chester French and Henry Bacon -- made a visit to Exeter, New Hampshire. Swasey and French were both born in Exeter and may have known each other as boys. Both had made their fortunes elsewhere, Swasey as an engineer and French as a world renowned sculptor. They knew Exeter well and on this trip they seemed to be planning something – looking over locations and beauty spots – to the puzzlement of local people.

Henry Bacon, an architect, had no ties to the town but was a friend and collaborator of French. For the previous 17 years he’d been consumed with one project – the creation of a great Greek temple dedicated to the memory of Abraham Lincoln. His single mindedness had broken up his partnership with James Bright. Bright had been the financial administrator of the firm and Bacon’s often unpaid time devoted to the project had caused the rift. By 1915, the Lincoln Memorial was finally under construction and Bacon was able to focus on other projects. Yet here he was, standing in the square in Exeter, New Hampshire, directly in front of the Exeter town hall where Lincoln had addressed the town in 1860.

French had been a boy of 10 and Swasey was 14 when Lincoln arrived. French may have missed the event, his family was preparing to move away from town, but Swasey and his brother Eben memorably set a bonfire alight at the family homestead on Newfields Road to mark the event. The fire department had to be called to save the farm.

Also at the Lincoln speech was the Exeter Brass Band, at that time called the Exeter Coronet Band. James Prescott would later recall, “The Exeter Band was trying to ‘blow’ out in front of the Town Hall. Robert Atkins and I got up on the steps and listened. Pretty soon the band went around the building and in the back door, and blew some more inside.” The band had organized in 1847, and was frequently called upon to play at town events and particularly political rallies.

The three men -- the engineer, the sculptor and the architect -- were planning something for Exeter. Swasey, who still spent summers in town, wanted to give his hometown a gift. Something monumental, but practical. He’d already donated money to his church and would later pay for the beautiful Swasey Parkway that is beloved by Exeter residents to this day. In 1915, he decided the town needed a bandstand.

There had, of course, been a bandstand in the center of town. In the 1890s, a wooden bandstand was erected to hold summer concerts. By 1902, however, the Exeter News-Letter reported that it was in poor repair and was slated to be removed. “In the square the stand constantly threatened accident, but was too long tolerated for the pleasure derived from midsummer concerts.” The bandstand was moved to the commons on Park Street, where it suffered from vandalism and neglect. It was later sold and moved again, leaving the band with no fixed place to perform. Swasey’s permanent bandstand, announced in early 1916, would be an ornament in the town.

The town accepted Ambrose Swasey’s generous offer. Henry Bacon set about designing an architectural gem worthy of a town that had hosted his idol, Abraham Lincoln. Whether French contributed any flourishes is unknown. He and Bacon were toiling away on the Lincoln Memorial project – French having been awarded the commission to sculpt the mammoth seated Lincoln. One thing is certain, the bandstand, officially known as the Swasey Pavilion, was far more ornate and elegant than any Exeter resident had expected.

The bandstand was built in the summer of 1916 at lightning speed. Ground was broken in May and it was ready for dedication in mid-August. The Norcross Brothers Company, of Worcester served as the contractors, building the bandstand with modern construction – steel trusses and concrete form the base – and old-world style design. Pink granite with marble flooring creates the base of the bandstand, which is roofed with copper. Looking at it from the outside it is beautiful, but to really appreciate the design one has to step inside. From there the mosaic ceiling and floor can be viewed closely. The ornamental electric light chandelier has to be seen to be fully appreciated. In the center of the floor is a bronze plate with compass bearings and the zodiac – homage to Ambrose Swasey’s work with telescopes. A pine cone finial stands at attention on the peak of the roof, which has 16 lion’s head gargoyles to discharge rain water. Other towns may have bandstands, but Exeter has a temple.

The dedication was held on August 10th, 1916 – a day later than planned due to rain. Ambrose Swasey was there to hand over the symbolic keys to the Town of Exeter (no key is needed to visit the bandstand – it is accessible to the public at all times). A few speeches were made; there was polite applause and a bit of jovial horseplay. Finally the Exeter Brass Band took the stand for the first summer concert of 1916. As war was overtaking Europe, the first piece of music played on the Swasey Pavilion was a march called “International Peace.” From her home on Pine Street half a mile away, Helen Tufts wrote in her diary, “dedication of Pavilion going on. I can hear band.” Somewhere Abraham Lincoln was smiling.

Photos: Swasey Pavilion under construction during the summer of 1916. From a snapshot taken by an employee of Exeter Hampton Electric. Swasey Pavilion shortly after its dedication on August 10, 1916.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Off to the Convention! Rally Round the Candidate!

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on July 15, 2016.

The bane of summer vacation for children of the 1970s was the two weeks of gavel to gavel TV blackout caused by the party conventions. Politics was for grown-ups (and perhaps my wonkish eldest sister) and without our steady supply of Gunsmoke and Mary Tyler Moore reruns most of us became unbearable. And after the turmoil of the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, the rules for choosing candidates changed and conventions became even less, shall we say, exciting? State primary elections and caucuses now decide the candidates before the convention, so gone are the days of endless roll-call votes and dark horse candidates. Too bad, some of our earlier political conventions would have made great TV.

Exeter residents closely followed the political scene in 1848, which was a pretty anxious election. Here’s a quick review of the purpose of party conventions from Civics Teacher Barbie. There are three goals to achieve at the convention: 1.) nominate candidates for president and vice-president, 2.) approve a party platform, which is non-binding but still important and 3.) rally the party faithful. It is also generally assumed that: 1.) the candidate will be a member of the party, 2.) the party platform doesn’t directly encourage violating the U.S. Constitution and 3.) the party faithful will remain in the party.

In 1848, the party in power called themselves Democrats. Their president, James K. Polk, had been elected in 1844 as a dark-horse candidate. A slave-owning southerner with expansionist ambitions, Polk had supported the annexation of Texas, plunged the U.S. into the Mexican War and enlarged the country by gaining the entire southwest at the close of the war. Then he basically quit. By refusing a second term, he left his party with new territory and no real guidance on how to govern it. Except for some hand-wringing over Puerto Rico and Guam, we no longer expend a lot of political energy on territorial expansion, but back in the 1840s, this was a real and difficult issue due to the issue of slavery. At the time the constitution was written, it was assumed that slavery was on the way out. It was also notable, of course, that of the first 11 presidents, 9 of them had been slave owners at some time.

The Democrats held their convention in Baltimore in May. They chose Lewis Cass – an Exeter native and former governor of Michigan. Cass loved the idea of expanding the United States, but more than anything else in the entire world, Lewis Cass loved the U.S. Constitution, which he felt allowed slavery. One of his earliest memories was watching the celebration bonfires in Exeter’s downtown following the adoption of the Constitution. He was also devoted to his party. Of him Amos Tuck said, “General Cass was a genial gentleman, of genuine patriotism, modified by the erroneous belief that the Democratic Party was the country, and that whoever served that party served God and is fellow beings in the best possible manner.” Cass was also quite comfortable with slavery and didn’t object to its spread to the new territory. Because of this, a sizeable faction of the Democrats bolted after the convention in search of a new less slavery loving candidate.

The Whigs met in Philadelphia in early June. Still stinging from their defeat in 1844, they were determined to nominate a winner. Although they had a barn full of capable politicians, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay among them, after four ballots the nomination went to Zachary Taylor. Wait, who? Was this guy even a Whig? Taylor was a career soldier, having served in the U.S. Army since he was a teenager. He had no interest in politics and had to be coaxed into running after he received the nomination. But he was a war hero, and the Whigs needed a war hero. His running mate was Millard Fillmore, a disagreeable former member of the “Know Nothing” American party, which opposed immigrants and Catholics. Taylor hailed from Nashville. In attempting to make him seem likeable, the editor of the Exeter News-Letter, noted, “It is said that Gen. Taylor lives at the South and is a slaveholder. This is true. Slavery is wrong, a great evil, all know. Yet we should not lose our reason when we speak of it. The South, and those who live there are a part of this republic.” Unsurprisingly, there were members of the Whig party dissatisfied with this candidate.

Angry Whigs and anti-slavery Democrats found their way to a single-issue hippie party called the Free-Soilers. They’d already held a convention the previous year and nominated John P. Hale of New Hampshire (and Phillips Exeter Academy graduate, like Lewis Cass) as their candidate. They were persuaded to hold a new convention where they were joined by the disaffected Democrats and Whigs. Here they created a platform that opposed expanding slavery into new territory basing this on the Northwest Ordinance, which admitted new states without slavery back in 1787. The Free-Soil platform was a long list of anti-slavery planks. At the very bottom, someone must have realized they only had one issue, so they added “cheap postage for the people” almost as an afterthought. At this second convention, Hale was persuaded to step down and the nomination went to Martin Van Buren. Free-Soilers back home reacted with a collective, ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? Van Buren was a Democratic party man to the core, having served under Andrew Jackson as Secretary of State, minister to Great Britain and vice-president before being elected president himself in 1836. Sure he was something of an abolitionist, his only slave ran away long before the election, but voters still blamed him for the depression of 1837. Still, he seemed sincere so the Free Soil party decided to risk it anyway.

The 1848 election between three unpopular candidates was held that November. New Hampshire threw all of its electoral votes to Lewis Cass. He was one of the devils we knew and at least he hadn’t tanked the economy and wasn’t Zachary Taylor. Taylor’s name was enough to win him the election. He died just over a year later and Milliard Fillmore served out his term. The slavery issue remained unresolved – compromises were tried, tempers flared, boundaries were set and then relinquished. It was a complicated turbulent time in American politics. It would have made great TV.

Image: Political conventions, and local meetings like the one advertised here, frequently had unanticipated outcomes, unlike our party conventions today.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Spirit of ’76 – Forty Years On

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on July 1, 2016.

It seemed like the United States Bicentennial couldn’t have come at a worse time. The nation was in an economic recession caused, in part, by the oil crisis of 1973. The divisive Vietnam War was grinding to a slow, humiliating end that did nothing to bind up the social fractures it had caused. President Nixon’s landslide election win in 1972 had given way to his downfall and resignation in 1974. The years leading up to the Bicentennial seemed to be at odds with the original optimism of our nation’s independence.

The original idea for the Bicentennial observance had been to repeat the celebrations of one hundred years prior. A commission was created in 1966 to plan a world’s fair to be called “Expo 76”. The Centennial Exposition in 1876, held in Philadelphia, had been a great success after all. But as the decade began to erode into the 1970s, and confidence in government began to lag, the focus began to shift. Rather than hold one enormous national event, the Bicentennial might be better observed by hundreds of local observations. It was the age of television, after all, and the nation’s birthday party could be shared in ways unimaginable back in 1876.

Exeter established its Bicentennial Commission in September of 1972. As in most of the towns and cities of America, the celebrations were planned to commemorate not just the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, but the entire revolutionary period. The national kick-off was held on April 1st, 1975, when the American Freedom Train began its journey around the country. It passed through Exeter (although it didn’t stop) on April 16th on its way to Portland, Maine, where I waited three hours in line to get on board to view the exhibits. My brother broke the rules and leaned in to touch Judy Garland’s blue checkered dress from The Wizard of Oz.

In Exeter, the Reverend Charles Calcagni lit three lanterns in the tower of the Congregational Church on April 18th to commemorate the signals given to Paul Revere before his famous ride. In June, the town received its official bicentennial flag and certificate designating Exeter as a bicentennial community – a participant in the broader celebration of events. The town commission planned multiple events and reenactments, with the big party to be held in June of 1976.

Nancy Merrill’s History of Exeter, New Hampshire, picks up the story: “On January 5, 1976, Mr. Calcagni, surrounded by the selectmen on the town hall steps, read a copy of the first state constitution of any of the thirteen colonies, which was adopted in Exeter two hundred years previously.” Exeter took seriously its place as the revolutionary state capital. In photos of the event, the selectmen look somewhat awkward in their colonial costumes, but they also look quite serious. So what if the economy was in the duldrums and faith in the federal government was at an all-time low – somewhere back in time ordinary people had set the bar high and this crazy experiment was still working.

June 12th brought the largest parade ever held in Exeter – kicked off by the Exeter Brass Band. The Exeter News-Letter reported, “Parade chairman Robert Strout started marchers at 1 p.m. for the procession that contained over 50 units including floats, bands, antique cars and fire apparatus.” Crowds were reported as “several thousand spectators.”

The parade was followed the next day with the arrival of Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra, who played a concert on the field at Phillips Exeter Academy. Fiedler, who arrived on an antique fire truck, was 81 years old. “Fiedler Dazzles Exonians,” declared the News-Letter headline. Over 9,000 people attended the concert.

For two weeks events continued in town. There was a kangaroo court (with a holding ‘cell’ erected in the town square), carriage tours, traditional crafts and trades – including horse shoeing and sheep shearing, tree planting and the dedication of the official Exeter Bicentennial Seal. Old Home Night was held on Saturday, June 26th on Swasey Parkway. The evening began with a “Revolutionary Barbecue” featuring Independence hot dogs, Declaration of hamburgers, Bunker Hill corn on the cob, Philadelphia potato salad, Constitutional cole slaw and Liberty brownies. Too bad there wasn’t any Samuel Adams beer back then. The Exeter Brass Band played a concert with a community sing-along followed by fireworks.

On July 4th itself, the town did nothing. Not that there wasn’t anything to do – other towns were holding their own celebrations and there was entertainment all around. On July 16th there was a reenactment of the arrival of the Declaration of Independence by pony rider, John Law, followed by an official reading of the document by Phillips Exeter Academy principal, Stephen Kurtz.

The town continued to focus on its revolutionary past for several years. The old Powder House, long neglected, was spruced up by students from Exeter High School. An oral history project spearheaded by Flavia Page, Harry Thayer III and Matthew Thomas produced Reflections of a Few Older Exeter Citizens, a booklet that has since become invaluable to local historians.

On June 24th, 1977, the town buried a Bicentennial time capsule in Gale Park. It contains bicentennial articles, programs from local groups, a savings bond, a fire department alarm card – all manner of Exeter ephemera. The stone marking its location can still be viewed in the park. When the capsule is opened in 2076 the future residents of Exeter should get a clear picture of how a community was able – in the worst of times – to pull together to celebrate a national event in a very local way.

Images: Reverend Charles Calcagni, Chairman of the Bicentennial Committee, flanked by Selectmen Arthur Plouffe and Sherman Chester stand on the steps of the Exeter Town Hall on January 5th, 1976 for a bicentennial reading of the New Hampshire Constitution, and Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops orchestra perform at Phillips Exeter Academy to appreciative crowds on June 13, 1976. Exeter music teacher John Bethel performed as a featured soloist.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

When the Band Comes to Town

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on June 17, 2016.

Mid-summer Mondays in Exeter find many townies comfortably settled into lawn chairs, maybe with ice cream, listening to the Exeter Brass Band. Our band was organized in 1847, but even though we’ve loved our band for over a century, it wasn’t always the only show in town. In the late nineteenth century, there were other more famous bands that gave Exeter a thrill.

The first of the great bands was led by Patrick Gilmore, an Irish immigrant who is often credited as the “Father of the American Concert Band.” He arrived in Boston in 1849, at the age of 20 and quickly became a bandleader. During the Civil War he wrote, When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again under the pen name Louis Lambert. He led the Boston Brigade Band and the Salem Brass Band and established a Fourth of July concert on Boston Common that would rival the Pops at the Esplanade. According to the Boston College Burns Library, “Gilmore organized the National Peace Jubilee in 1869 to benefit the war widows and orphans of the Civil War, and to celebrate the peace of war’s end. A coliseum was specially built in Boston for the Jubilee, with seating for 30,000 audience members, 10,000 chorus members, and a 1,000 piece orchestra. Highlights from the festival included a performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore, which included 100 Boston firemen striking anvils, a battery of cannon, chimes, church bells, a huge bass drum 8 feet in diameter, and a gigantic organ specially built for the occasion.”

Gilmore’s band came to town and played a matinee concert on January 27, 1888, at the Exeter Opera House. Nearly 300 people, mostly townspeople, attended the show. Gilmore introduced his players as the “Twenty-second Regiment Band of New York” but the music they played was not traditional marching band fare. “No music of the kind, at all approaching it for excellence, was ever before heard here,” commented the Exeter News-Letter. The selections were arrangements of classical pieces. Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide opened the program, with its beautiful French horn quartette. Harder to adapt, but with apparent success, was Rubinstein’s Valse Caprice, written for piano but, “its performance by Gilmore’s Band has widened the scope of its popularity by taking it out of the classic chamber, and playing it for the great majority,” as the program for the event explained. I was unable to find any recording of a stage band performing this piece, so we’ll have to take the word of the News-Letter that it was a success. “All were rendered with rare dash and with a perfection of harmony and time that completely entranced all hearers.” Gilmore saved his marches for the encores – of which there were many. On this occasion, it was not mentioned whether Gilmore played Hail! Columbia! - a brisk patriotic tune that he repeatedly campaigned to have declared the national anthem.

Gilmore’s popularity inspired other bandleaders, including John Philip Sousa, who would leave his long career with the U.S. Marine Corp band in 1892 to pursue touring with his own band. A musical prodigy, he’d been apprenticed with the U.S. Marine band at the tender age of 14. Gilmore didn’t live long enough to see Sousa’s band in concert, he died the same year the new band began a concert tour. In 1893, Sousa’s band was engaged to play at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It was there that he played a piece he’d written for an unfinished stage show – the Liberty Bell March, now best known as the opening music to Monty Python. His band toured throughout the country and played in Exeter at least twice, in 1892 and 1894. Like Gilmore, he performed classical pieces adapted to the stage. His 1894 program included a finale of banjo music, hardly classical but very American. He also embraced his marches and included them in his main program as well as the encores. If he played the Liberty Bell March in Exeter we can assume it did not contain the raspberry and whoopee effects used in the Python series. His later work, The Stars and Stripes Forever, is far more popular today.

In 1896, Sousa related a tale from one of his Exeter concerts to the Concord Monitor. “When we reached the hall I found two juvenile residents of Exeter, who, by distributing handbills, had earned the privilege of hearing the concert from behind the scenes. The youngsters had some sort of quarrel, and when I came across them were making threatening demonstrations at the one another. I separated them, sat them down in two chairs and gave them a lecture on the sinfulness of fighting until it was time to go on the stage. From where I stood I could see the boys, each in his chair, out in the wings we began with one of Liszt’s Hungarian rhapsodies. First came a lively, rather martial allegro movement, and as the music proceeded the little fellows got out of their chairs, and sliding toward one another, took up the quarrel where they had left off. A collision was imminent, when the music ceased and a soothing andante movement followed. The boys resumed their chairs and listened quietly during this passage, even exchanging looks which I interpreted as conciliatory and repentant. Another allegro movement followed and the stage hands had to interfere to keep the youngsters from punching one another.” The pattern of behavior continued – fighting during the brisk numbers and calmly sitting when the music quieted. “The last I saw of them was the spectacle of their ejectment from the stage door, one of them stanching a profuse nasal hemorrhage, while the other nursed a badly blacked eye. It was the most forcible demonstration of the influence of music upon the human passions which I remember having seen.”

Exeter Brass Band concerts begin on Monday, June 27 this year. Try not to let passions go unchecked.

Image: an advertisement for a John Philip Sousa concert in Exeter at the Exeter Opera House in 1892.