Hiking in Australia's Blue Mountains, I remained convinced that I am right to have a new focus for my writing: my own little corner of the world. That's Andover, Massachusetts. Plenty here to contemplate, try to understand, put into words, stories. Phillips Academy headmaster Claude M. Fuess liked to think and write about how closely the life of the school was bound up with that of our country. I would like to think and write about how closely it was bound up with that of our town. P.A. strove to "eradicate provincialism," Fuess wrote in An Old New England School (1917). A rare-book and print dealer who used to have a shop in Andover once complained to me that P.A., if searching for rare materials, never thought to consult with him. He was too local. Too provincial. In writing local, I am trying to look at what's right under my nose.
On November 10, 1906, at Cheever House, 157 Main Street, Andover, Massachusetts -- a boarding house for P.A. students -- C. Edmond Riggs ('10) of Emporia, Kansas, shot J. Creighton Tracy ('09) of Mount Vernon, New York, with what was ruled to have been a "purely" accidental discharge of his revolver. The night before, Riggs had lent the revolver to a day student. Named only Hilton in The Phillips Bulletin, he reportedly told Riggs he dreaded the dark walk home through the woods to Canobie, New Hampshire, a distance of nearly 13 miles. The following morning, the Bulletin states, when Riggs and Tracy entered Riggs's room, the revolver was lying on a table, where Hilton apparently left it. The tragedy occurred when Riggs reached for it with one hand while with the other hand he began to retrieve from his pocket the key he needed to unlock the drawer of the desk in which he kept the weapon. "In some unaccountable way," the Bulletin states, "the revolver was discharged."
What a different world this sad accident took place in! Who can imagine a firearm in a P.A. student's possession today? It's equally hard to imagine that Hilton would have fared well with Riggs's revolver if faced with a threat of violence on his journey home. One really has to wish that guns weren't so readily available at any time, in any place.
A quick internet search reveals that Tracy, age sixteen, was buried close to his family home, in New Rochelle, New York, while Riggs, who died six years later at age twenty-three, was buried in Emporia. There's no way for me to learn the cause of Riggs's death, but he and Tracy were described in the Bulletin as "warm friends and constant companions."
Stephen Porter (www.stephenporterpiano.com) played Chopin and Liszt at Andover's Memorial Hall Library yesterday. Polonaise Fantasie was my favorite piece, perhaps because it is most familiar to me, from years of hearing similar Chopin works played by our reproducing Ampico piano. Now, thanks to Andover-based artist and friend Pat Keck (www.patkeck.com), we have a Steinway grand for husband Bob to play. No one played it at Pat's house anymore and she wanted more room for her sculptures. Our Ampico is now at the Morris Museum (morrismuseum.org) in Morristown, New Jersey.
In posts past, I have talked about Memorial Hall's first librarian, Ballard Holt, who doubled as its janitor. His Civil War photo is behind a glass-fronted case in this room, along with other 19th-century "Andover Faces." On the walls are plaques (one shown) listing the names of the town's war dead. When, years ago, I walked in with writer Andre Dubus (1936-1999) -- we were doing a program together -- he noticed the plaques immediately, as a former Marine -- or, probably, any veteran -- would.
Having seen Frederick Wiseman speak about his film Ex Libris on Saturday, I found myself on Sunday even more grateful for this library than I might otherwise have been, even though, judging from the excerpts he showed, the Wiseman film is as much about New York City as it is about its library or libraries in general. Each library in the country or the world reflects its community, and mine reflects mine. I can't change that, nor would I want to. In these politically difficult times -- Wiseman could not help but make derogatory comments about Trump and I can't blame him -- I have found it best to dive deeply local. Eat locally? I am writing locally, and it has made all the difference in achieving peace of mind.
Many people buried in Andover's graveyards lived through the American Revolution. As I research and write about Andover's past, it's my duty to reimagine them. Looking at this photograph taken on Memorial Day 2015 helps. It shows the Middlesex County Volunteers marching up Main Street, playing a jaunty eighteenth-century tune on fifes and drums. Our Old Town Hall is in the background; a newer one is a few blocks away.
This image features a prettied-up version of war. I have also seen small, bedraggled bands of Civil War re-enactors shuffle down Andover's Main Street on parade. They looked so convincingly bereft, some of them wearing blood-stained head rags, and in no mood to make music. Fifes and drums were, however, the soundtrack of both wars, before soldier’s fifes were replaced with bugles. I learned that fact while reviewing a book on the subject of these early American music-makers, Connecticut’s Fife & Drum Tradition by James Clark, back in 2011. I looked at the book again today after finding this photo of the Massachusetts group in a forgotten computer file.
Clark, who has been a drummer since 1963 when he was nine, took up the instrument just as the last links to its early American past were breaking. The Civil War veterans were gone and so were their musical ways. But Clark’s encounter with a “grandfatherly figure," who played an antique drum using antique sticks, introduced him to “a whole other world of artisanship and a kind of historical continuity with the early days of New England and the United States that a boy already fascinated by American history found irresistible.” In the standard phrase, he was hooked -- on drumming.
Although Connecticut is a small state, it looms large in the fife-and-drum tradition. “For nearly a century, the standards set and maintained by the CF&DA [Connecticut Fife & Drum Association] were among the highest in the nation,” Clarke's history declares. One reason for its superiority was its long lineage. The instruments were an integral part of 17th-century village life. Drums in particular were essential, calling people to public meetings before tower clocks did. Drumming even figures with some prominence in at least one incident in Connecticut’s history. According to historian Benjamin Trumbull (1735-1820), when a New York State colonel attempted to usurp command of the Connecticut militia in 1818, there was “such a roaring” of their drummers that he was literally silenced.
More important, Clark argues, the music expressed Connecticut values, which became the values of the new democratic country. Early American soldiers were mostly bumpkins -- “provincial, ill-equipped, and seldom able to win head-to-head battles with British regulars." Their music was no more sophisticated than they were, but it was well-suited to a new country that rejected pomp and championed democracy for all. In Clark’s words, “As the stories of Nathan Hale and ‘Yankee Doodle’ show, in the American imagination it was not the polished, the precise, or even the victorious that were most valued, but the efforts of ordinary people to ... create an independent and more equitable society.”
Twenty years after the Civil War ended, competitive fife-and-drum corps emerged, attracting mainly working-class men, who adapted the battlefield’s musical traditions to contemporary tastes. The grandfatherly man who introduced Clark as a boy to the old traditions was a member of such a group. But, as Clark observes, the factory workers who used to fill the ranks of most corps are gone now, along with their factories. What remains are small groups of historical enthusiasts like Clark -- and like the members of the Middlesex County group -- who are keeping fife-and-drum music alive by performing it in parades and other public celebrations. They are also, unwittingly, helping me conjure up my erstwhile neighbors far better than visits to graveyards.
In "Conviction [Part I, October 21]," I posted about Sherlock Bristol, the student who in 1834 expressed his anti-slavery views at Phillips Academy and was expelled. Claude M. Fuess, in his history of P.A., An Old New England School, is dismissive of Bristol, calling him "somewhat excitable and pugnacious in temperament." Dr. Fuess recounted Bristol's activism this way: "[A]t one of the Wednesday afternoon speaking contests, [he] delivered an inflammatory harangue against slavery. The effect of his oratory was sensational and the act could not, of course, be ignored. At the chapel exercises the following morning, with all the students and teachers present, [headmaster Osgood] Johnson arose to condemn in solemn fashion Bristol's alleged insubordination... Johnson finished by dismissing him from Phillips Academy" and refusing to let him defend himself. "Bristol afterwards entered Oberlin College, and ended his days in comparative obscurity as pastor of a small church in southern California." (pp. 226-7)
Yet Bristol's act lit a fire, and, to Fuess's credit, he seems to have been retrospectively impressed by it. A few days after his expulsion, Fuess writes, Bristol's fellow anti-slavery supporters presented a petition to Johnson, asking him to sanction their newly formed abolitionist society. When he refused, they convened anyway, asking him now for an "honorable dismission" from the school. When Johnson equivocated, some forty or more of them submitted resignations. (p. 228)
Fuess reports that "only two or three ever reentered the school; the others, who were practically graduates, readily found their way into various colleges." More significant, three decades later, several of them, despite being in their late forties, actually fought in the Civil War -- "of which, Fuess notes, "their own 'little' rebellion' was merely a prelude." (p. 228) Now that's conviction.
As for Osgood Johnson Jr., who was thirty when he became headmaster and thirty-one when the "little" rebellion took place, he died at age thirty-four.
Phillips Academy headmaster Samuel Harvey Taylor remarked in his 1855 report that P.A.'s proximity to the mill city of Lawrence was "one of the most fruitful sources of irregularity to which we are exposed." Hardly anyone who had been expelled from the school in the past two or three years, he noted in that same report, had "not commenced his irregularities by his night visits to that place."* In 1867 what was termed a "rebellion" uprose at P.A. Twenty-four of the school's 42 seniors hired carriages to drive them from Andover to Lawrence, where they attended a circus and had supper at a hotel. On their way home, passing Dr. Taylor's house, they gave "cat-calls for the edification of the infuriated Principal."** They were expelled, but nearly all of them got into Harvard anyway. Thirty six years later, in 1903, the P.A. trustees voted to reinstate them.
* Claude M. Fuess, An Old New England School, p. 271.
** Ibid., p. 272.
In 1946 Charles Sheeler lived for six weeks in Andover as the guest of Phillips Academy. As the school's first artist-in-residence*, he was free to roam the town, uninhibited by any obligation, including that of teaching. Quickly he found his way to one of the industrially picturesque, former mill sections of Andover, a little cluster of red brick buildings and working-class clapboard houses alongside the Shawsheen River. Today as then it was known as Ballardvale. There he made drawings and took photographs that inspired him to create artworks that continued his exploration of American values through depictions of our industrial architecture.
On a recent afternoon visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, I went to a gallery where I knew I would find one of those artworks, New England Irrelevancies, an oil on canvas completed by Sheeler in 1953. A kind of double exposure, it is composed of images of Ballardvale mills combined with ones Sheeler studied in Manchester, New Hampshire, during another artist-in-residency, at the Currier Museum of Art in 1948. In an interview tape-recorded by the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art on June 18, 1959, Sheeler offered a somewhat clumsy but convincing explanation of his personal philosophy of perception that lay behind this technique. "I realized that, when we look at any object around us and [walk] around among other things subsequently, we have to bring it up into a conscious plane," he said. That's "because -- at least I didn't realize it or think of it in that light for some time -- but when we look at the next thing in sequence to the first object that we have gazed at, there's still an overtone carried over of what the retina has just previously recorded. And in these later pictures, I make use of that as an element in the final picture. There may be two such images playing against each other or possibly three, no definite number arbitrarily decided, but certainly two."
I like this as a way of explaining how perception works for everyone, not just artists, and why our memories sometimes (often?) get distorted. I also like the way it helps me appreciate this painting more than I initially did. And if I needed the artist's words to get there, so be it, Tom Wolfe.
The MFA curators who wrote the online catalog description of New England Irrelevancies speculate that Sheeler may have been unconsciously speaking of himself when he chose his title. Presuming that it alluded to "the once-impressive buildings and prosperous industries that had dominated Andover and Manchester but were now obsolete," they conjectured that the "sense of the buildings' irrelevance may have struck Sheeler personally, too: by the time he completed this painting, he was seventy years old and remote from the artistic mainstream."
It is true that the abstract expressionists were in the ascendancy in 1953. But after having "bailed out" (his words) for a ten-year period beginning in 1909, abandoning what he had been doing artistically up until then, Sheeler was confident he had found his proper path. That's not to say he liked what he was eventually label: Precisionist. Nor did he like being called a Realist -- a meaningless term, when one considers the nature of reality.
"I do like contrasts." That's as far as he was willing to go with defining himself for his Smithsonian interviewer. "I think they're important; that's an important consideration to me. It may be contrasts of forms or of color. I like a black, not as a rule, but at times I like a black coming right next to a white, kind of like a pistol shot in the still air."
To be continued.
*Some of the more recent artists-in-residence at P.A.: Frank Stella, Robert Frank, Kerry James Marshall, Dawoud Bey, Trisha Brown, Fred Wilson, Wendy Ewald, and William Wegman.
I never imagined while reading the poet Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) in college that one day I would live in the town where she had lived -- Andover, Massachusetts. To be honest, her poetry didn't mean much to me as a student. I found it difficult and irrelevant, to use one of the many buzzwords of the era. But rereading it 50 years later, I find I am much better prepared to appreciate it and her. Her famous "Some Verses Upon the Burning of Our House" seems particularly relevant today, given the heartbreak and tragedies of the California fires. The Bradstreet house here in Andover burned to the ground on July 10, 1666.
In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow near I did not look,
I wakened was with thund’ring noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
That fearful sound of “fire” and “fire,”
Let no man know is my Desire.
I, starting up, the light did spy,
And to my God my heart did cry
To straighten me in my Distress
And not to leave me succourless.
Then, coming out, behold a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And when I could no longer look,
I blest His name that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so ‘twas just.
It was his own, it was not mine,
Far be it that I should repine;
He might of all justly bereft
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the ruins oft I past
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sate and long did lie.
Here stood that trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best.
My pleasant things in ashes lie
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sit,
Nor at thy Table eat a bit.
No pleasant talk shall ‘ere be told
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle e'er shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom‘s voice e'er heard shall be.
In silence ever shalt thou lie,
Adieu, Adieu, all’s vanity.
Then straight I ‘gin my heart to chide,
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mould'ring dust?
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the sky
That dunghill mists away may fly.
Thou hast a house on high erect
Frameed by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though this be fled.
It‘s purchased and paid for too
By Him who hath enough to do.
A price so vast as is unknown,
Yet by His gift is made thine own;
There‘s wealth enough, I need no more,
Farewell, my pelf, farewell, my store.
The world no longer let me love,
My hope and treasure lies above.
Claude Moore Fuess (1885-1963) is an Andover character I'd like to learn more about. Headmaster of Phillips Academy from 1933 until his retirement in 1948, he wrote not only a history of the school but of the town, Andover: Symbol of New England, published jointly by the Andover Historical Society and the North Andover Historical Society in 1959. Born in Waterville, New York, Dr. Fuess had a long tenure here, arriving to teach at P.A. in 1908. What makes him interesting to me is how he embodies a time when the town and the gown were more closely associated. To cite just one bit of evidence: for many years he was a trustee of our public library, Memorial Hall. Today's P.A. headmaster, John Palfrey, is a trustee of a library to be sure, but it's the private Boston Athenaeum. What is even more interesting -- and surprising -- is that Dr. Fuess also trafficked with Lawrence, the mill town next door, addressing Lawrence High School students on graduation day for several years.
He acknowledged, however, a regional imbalance of power, one that began when the mills were built in Lawrence in the mid-nineteenth century. “The rapid rise of Lawrence and its subsequent expansion were naturally disturbing to Andover, which, although to some extent industrialized, still remained an orderly New England village," he wrote in his town history. "Lawrence, only three miles away, was a hurly-burly, a melting pot, a crowded and complex city with all the problems which a society without traditions or cultural background must meet. A large percentage of its alien population could not understand the principles upon which Andover had been established. … The pressure from those who favored a so-called ‘Greater Lawrence,’ with Andover as just another suburb, was to be aggressive, especially after Andover, for political reasons, was districted with some of the wards in Lawrence. This issue, always imminent, has not yet been settled.” (Fuess, Symbol, p. 267)
These are sentiments typical of men like Dr. Fuess, whose constricted vision of America and Americans in the mid-twentieth century carried forward the views of those who had earlier set a goal of "Americanization" for immigrants.
“Everywhere and always, first and last, she has been the manly, straight-forward, sober, patriotic New England town,” Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) once said of Andover. The occasion was the dedication of Andover's Memorial Hall at South Church on May 30, 1873. It's a debatable line to be sure, not to mention one whose syntax makes contradictory use of both "she" and "manly." Dr. Fuess, nonetheless, quoted it in his town history. Later in Reverend Brooks's dedication speech, however, he expressed something I think we all can embrace, and Dr. Fuess quoted that, too. “It is truth that we want in every department of our life," said the great grandson of P.A.'s founder, Episcopal rector of Boston’s Trinity Church, and composer of O Little Town of Bethlehem. "In State and Church we need it, at home and on the street; in the smallest fashions and in the most sacred mysteries... When we have that, we shall have at least a solid basis of reality on which to build all future programs.”
In subsequent posts I'll have more to say about Dr. Fuess's writings both about Andover the town and about P.A. i.e., An Old New England School*, published just a little over a century ago, in 1917.
To be continued.
*I borrowed the copy I'm reading from the Boston Athenaeum, where I am a member and a proprietor. It was signed and inscribed by Dr. Fuess to William Crowninshield Endicott Jr. in 1928. Mr. Endicott (1860-1936) is himself a character I would like to learn more about someday. According to the summary of his papers, which are at the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, he was a personal friend of Isabella Stewart Gardner, actively participated in the collecting and placing of art in what became her museum, was one of the museum's original seven trustees, and later served as its vice-president and president, respectively.
Consider the objects gathered and exhibited at the 250th anniversary celebration of the incorporation of Andover, Massachusetts, for three days in May 1896. The lending categories were portraits, "chairs," "pictures and samplers," "china," silver and jewelry, "wearing apparel," musical instruments, "Relics of Four Wars," "Indian Relics," money and coins, autographs and manuscripts, books, "Miscellaneous," and a grouping that, including such things as "a Haggett's Pond turtle," could only be labeled "Unclassified" -- or perhaps "Unclassifiable."
Of the 116 portraits, most were images of prominent Andover family members whose surnames were given to Andover streets: Abbott, Chandler, Chickering, Gould, Hidden, Holt, Jenkins, Poor (my own street), etcetera. There were also portraits of two famous people, a couple, who lived here only briefly, Harriet Beecher Stowe and her husband, Calvin E. Stowe; a likeness of a semi-famous one, author Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1815-1852); and those of many who were locally famous, e.g., Samuel Harvey Taylor (1807-1871), a principal of Phillips Academy, and the Honorable John Aiken (1797-1867), a Phillips Academy trustee. It wasn't important to the people who put this exhibit together who the artists of these works were. Nor did they mention the works' media, except in the case of silhouettes and daguerreotypes. The lenders' names were noted, however, in thanks and in apparent acknowledgment that ownership was key, the reason these things had been preserved in the first place.
I can't say the chairs, a category that included seating as well as other forms of furniture, were well described. Mrs. John C. Sears lent "two chairs of the last century." John L. Abbott's contribution was an "Inlaid table, 100 years old." Charles L. Carter showed an "Old table used by one of the Fosters at the time of the French and Indian War." Miss Gertrude L. Flint's loan was an "Ancient washstand." Mrs. C.E. Abbott brought out her "Chippingdale [sic] work table." The descriptions of china were even sketchier: "Choice plate, very old." "Very old plate." "Very old mulberry plate." And of those with dates appended -- "Two blue plates, 1770," "Mug, 1830," "Mug, 1800," "Plate, 1785" -- one has to wonder how the dates were determined.
For some reason, though, my skepticism leaves me when I read down the list of silver and jewelry in the exhibition. I want to believe that Andoverites really did possess and show a "Pepper box made by Paul Revere, before 1775" and a "Watch, 150 years old, carried by Moses Bailey through the Revolutionary War." Same with the war relics: "Knee buckles worn by a revolutionary soldier," "Bone pie marker, carved with a pocket knife by a prisoner of the War of 1812," and "Piano key taken from the house of Joe Davis, home of Jefferson Davis." The curators of this exhibition must have felt the same way about the "First apple parer made and used in Andover," "Razor of Andrew Peters, the first town treasurer of whom record is found," "Curious shaped stones, found by Mr. Follansbee twelve to eighteen feet below the drift in undisturbed glacial deposits and supposed by him to show artificial shaping," and the inevitable "silver spoon brought over in the Mayflower."
These people didn't care much about their objects' condition or completeness, as evidenced by "One-third of a wedding dress of the wife of Lieutenant Poor of revolutionary times," "Stone pestle and part of mortar dug up near Great Pond, North Andover," and "Piece of flag presented to the 'Old Sixth' by the loyal citizens of Baltimore after its passage through the city, April 19, 1861." Like artists, they were trying to communicate a feeling, via these bits of wood and silk and metal, to others. What is more, these were not objects whose dollar value they knew or were concerned about. They weren't selling them; they hadn't bought them. They had kept them, or found them, or been given them, and would pass them down. To put it as simply as possible, they loved their country, its history, their town and their "antiques." How pure is that? All of us in the antiques world would do well to take a page from their (rare) book.
The "Commentaries" portion of this website is a record of some of Ms. Schinto's cultural experiences, e.g., books read, TV series watched, movies seen, exhibits visited, plays and musical events attended, etc. She also from time to time will post short essays on various topics.