Wednesday, December 28, 2011


What's in a name?  Recently I have spent much time focusing on Holyoke -- the place and the name, and my connections to Holyokes past and present. I've been looking at a mural at the Holyoke Public Library.

It was painted in the mid-20th century to depict exploration of the Connecticut River valley by English settlers in the 17th century. One survey team was led by Captain Elizur Holyoke. Legend has it that he named Mount Holyoke, a prominent local landmark.

Growing up in Danvers in the 1950's I often heard the name Holyoke mentioned, but I didn't know the story of Elizur. Instead, I heard about Edward Holyoke. My uncle was named Edward Holyoke Nichols after an important ancestor whose portrait hung in the parlor of the old family homestead in Danvers. As a child I had no interest in such portraits and very little curiosity about family genealogy. I just knew that my great aunts were proud of some Holyoke ancestors, especially ones named Edward.

When I attended Mount Holyoke College in the 1960's, I became acquainted with the mountain. I still didn't know anything about Elizur. In the 1990's when I returned to western Massachusetts and decided to buy a house in the city of Holyoke, my father asked, "Why Holyoke?" He wondered why the city was so named, and if there was any connection to our family. I did not think so, but took him to the Holyoke Public Library to find out. That's when we learned about Elizur Holyoke and his survey team. There did seem to be a possible connection to the Holyokes in our family, but I was too busy in those days to investigate further. 

This month (December 2011) I have done additional research about Elizur's life and times and have read about the creation of this library mural. The artist (Sante Graziani) did not work from a portrait; no likeness of the real Elizur exists.  For more images of the mural, click here.

To learn about my family connection to Elizur Holyoke, read my January 2012 column, "Holyoke connections" in the Danvers Herald, or read the copy below.

Remembering Danvers
1-1-2012  ~800 words

Holyoke connections
By Sandy Nichols Ward

The house in the Hathorne section of Danvers where my grandfather grew up was full of old things, including some portraits of ancestors named Holyoke. As a child visiting that house, I paid no attention to the dark paintings on those dark walls. I was far more interested in the kittens I could chase or the sweets my great aunts offered. I didn’t care then about family genealogy and don’t remember now the details of stories the aunts and cousins liked to tell about their forebearers. I did grasp the fact that they were quite proud of some fellows named Holyoke, especially one who was a president of Harvard long, long ago. My uncle Edward, my grandfather’s first son, was named Edward Holyoke Nichols in honor of that ancestor. Thus the name Holyoke has always been familiar to me.

Years later, in California, where I lived for 21 years raising a family, I skimmed through an inherited copy of The Holyoke Diaries, 1709-1856 (published by The Essex Institute in 1911), liked the name Susanna Holyoke Ward, and chose a similar name for my daughter. I had no idea that I would ever move back to New England.

Now I live in the City of Holyoke on the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts.  “Why is it called Holyoke?” my father asked in 1994 as I showed him the house we intended to buy in the Holyoke Highlands. “Does it have anything to do with the Holyokes in our family?”  “I don’t think so,” I replied, “they were all in eastern Massachusetts, as far as I know.”  To me, the Holyoke name was a common one in the area; I had attended Mount Holyoke College in the 1960’s and hiked to the top of Mount Holyoke, the local landmark for which it had been named (1837). I’d never considered a family connection. My father’s curiosity, though, sparked a thought.  “Let’s go to the public library and ask.”

Thus my father and I visited the Holyoke Public Library and met Mr. Paul Graves, then in charge of the Holyoke History Room. Mr. Graves helpfully pulled out old maps and old documents and introduced us to the history of Holyoke, one of the first planned industrial cities in America, with a big dam on the river, three canals and many mills. The first dam had been built by 1850. The name Holyoke, probably from the nearby mountain, was given to the planned city. The city was incorporated in 1873. Only a small village had existed before, and it went by different names (e.g., Third Parish, North Parish, or Ireland Parish of West Springfield). We learned that an early English settler named Elizur Holyoke had come to Springfield in 1640, married Mary Pynchon (daughter of the founder of Springfield), and helped survey the land in the region. Legend has it that he named that mountain.

Where did Elizur Holyoke come from?  Am I related to him? What connection, if any, does he have to those portraits that hung in Danvers? From Mr. Graves we learned that Elizur had come from Lynn and that a son (also named Elizur) had returned to eastern Massachusetts. A family connection seemed likely, but at that time I didn’t investigate further; I was too busy with my job (coincidently, at Mount Holyoke College). I hadn’t even noticed the big mural labeled “Capt. Elizur Holyoke” in the library’s central room. Now retired, and serving on the Board of the Holyoke Public Library, I have been paying much attention to that mural, which was recently removed for conservation while the building undergoes renovation. I’ve taken the time, at last, to answer my questions about Elizur.

Elizur Holyoke was my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather! That’s seven greats, or nine generations back. He was born in England, came to Lynn, MA, with his father Edward, and was 22 years old when he married Mary in Springfield. He was the grandfather of Rev. Edward Holyoke (1689-1769), who in 1737 became President of Harvard (then a school of about 100 students).  “The diary of President Holyoke, contained in sixty almanacs, was inherited by Mr. Andrew Nichols of Hathorne, Mass., …  Mr. Nichols and his sister Mary W. Nichols have been of great assistance in copying from the original… and in permitting the reproduction of family portraits.” (The Holyoke Diaries, 1911, page viii.)

This fall I have been wearing a small brown “I love Holyoke” button, as have many other residents of Holyoke. We have elected an energetic young mayor who has great visions for the City of Holyoke. My focus is mainly on the future, with excitement about the coming library expansion, computer center, train service, and other improvements in Holyoke. But I have enjoyed this excursion into the past, connecting my Danvers and Holyoke roots.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

TV Remotes

My first experience with a remotely-controlled television was startling and funny. I've written about it for this month's column, which is to be published in the Danvers Herald on December 8th:
TV Remotes and other memories.

While doing background research for this writing, I found a few relevant webpages about early TV equipment. For instance,

Erics Vintage TV Sets:

I also emailed my childhood friend Janet (Hoberg) Cantatore to ask what she remembered of the TV her family owned in the mid-1950's. It was bigger and fancier than any TV I had seen elsewhere, and had a remote control device, but otherwise I didn't recall much about it.

Janet and I rarely watched TV together at her house. She reminds me that her parents' rule was "no TV in the day time." She confirmed the type of TV they owned: a 1955 Zenith Flash-Matic. You can see an advertisement for it .

Saturday, November 26, 2011

More TV memories

Writing last month's column about my earliest experiences with television, and talking with my sister Jean about the TV shows she remembers, stirred up many additional memories.  We recall the Disney shows,  variously called Disneyland, Walt Disney Presents... and then The Wonderful World of Disney, which became a staple on Sunday nights. Disney brought us a variety of content (fantasy, adventure stories about nature, futuristic stories) and movies including the popular Davy Crockett mini-series (starring Fess Parker) in the mid-1950's.  I bet we could still sing "The Ballad of Davy Crocket."

Speaking of songs, do you remember "When You Wish Upon a Star"? That was the opening theme song for the Disney show in the early years. (It was created for Disney's Pinoccio film in 1940, I've just learned from Wikipedia, but for me it is strongly associated with the opening graphics of Disney's TV show.)

Through the magic of YouTube, you can now travel back though time and watch the first episode of the Disney show, including BOTH of those memorable songs!

I have other memories of watching TV with my grandfather and also in the home of my girlfriend Janet down the street.   Perhaps I'll write another column about TV memories in other homes...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Early TV

Can you remember the first TV show that you watched as a child? For me, the first show was Kukla, Fran and Ollie.  Fran was a nice lady who interacted with the puppets Kukla and Ollie.  Here's a sample from YouTube:
   Kukla, Fran and Ollie

This month I wrote a column on Watching TV in the early years. I've had fun sharing my memories with my sister and other family members and hearing what they remember.

My cousin Stuart comments, "My memory of early television is that your Dad was the first in the family to have a set and that he built it from a Heath kit ... The screen was very small.  My brothers and I  came over at times to see some shows such as Roller Derby, Dagmar, ... etc. Our uncle, Walter Barton who lived in Salem, had a big TV very early on.  His wife was Grace Bill, sister of my Grandmother.  We always went to their house for Thanksgiving and would watch Football while waiting for the dinner to be served."

"It was well into the fifties before they had one at Pine Knoll.  I remember that they especially enjoyed Arthur Godfrey.  Also, they watched the McCarthy hearings and, as a result, changed their viewpoint about the alleged Communists in the Govt."

I too remember the McCarthy hearings. My mother was angry about that TV program, but kept watching it and we couldn't see our usual cowboy shows. So we, as kids, were rather annoyed by Mr McCarthy and his hearings, which we did not understand at the time.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

TV Test Patterns

Remember TV test patterns?  In the early years of television, we often had to wait for a program to come on.  All we got was an unmoving test screen or test pattern while we waited and w-a-i-t-e-d...

You can see some examples by following these links:

New England Television stations
Television Test Patterns
That Pesky Television Test Pattern
Indian Head Test Card

I am writing this month about my early experiences with television. Maybe I ought to post a test pattern while you wait for my column to appear in the newspaper. (The severe snow storm on October 29 knocked out power in my entire neighborhood for 3 days and we didn't have Internet service for 5 days, so there has been a slight delay in my production.) While waiting, you can view this photo of the snow woman I created in our yard:
October 30, 2011
in Holyoke, MA

Monday, October 3, 2011

Size confusion

Recently I was shopping for casual slacks and tried on a variety of styles and sizes, starting with what I thought was my size, as usual. I have a strong habit of reaching for size 12 first. In this month's column (submitted to the Herald today), I tell why I identify with that size.

The pair of pants that fit me best was size 8. Huh? That's the second time in two months that size 8 has been the right fit. I thought the first time was a fluke, perhaps a mistake in labeling. Never before had I worn an 8. Occasionally I had bought a 9 or a 10, but usually regretted the resulting tightness and discomfort. Safer to stay in the 11-12 range, I had learned years ago. Sometimes for extra comfort I used to buy a 14 or a 16.  How could I possibly fit into an 8? What is going on? I haven't lost weight. If anything, I've gained a few pounds.

Women's clothing sizes have always been a bit of a mystery to me. I remember two different series:  odd-numbered sizes (e.g., 9, 11, 13) for Misses and even-numbered ones (8, 10, 12, 14) for Women. I had a vague idea that the difference was to accommodate differently proportioned bodies, but I wasn't sure which applied to me. Many stores fudged the difference by putting both numbers on the labels: 9/10, 11/12, 13/14. Or perhaps that was meant to be a 3rd series?  Of course there is also the common series of S-M-L XL, which works reasonably well for loosely-fitting (one size fits many) garments.

Men's clothing sizes --in real inches that can be measured-- make much more sense. Why can't women's sizes be given in inches?  That system would be more precise and consistent. It's the INCONSISTENCY of women's sizing that confuses and annoys me. The numbers seem to be shrinking.

My sister Jean, who is runs UpCycled Fashionsays, “there's now a trend to rename sizes smaller."  Some people call it "vanity sizing." Some in the fashion industry call is "size evolution."  See History of Women's Sizing part 1" (and pt. 2 and pt. 3). 

See my October column: Confusing sizes and body image.

While creating this blog entry, 
I experimented with a "new improved" format, 
then decided I preferred the original style. 
When I reverted, I noticed that the FONT SIZE had shifted to a smaller size. 
Sorry!   I've been trying to fix it, 
but the Blogger software seems to be as confused about size as I am! 

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Chuck Roy told me (and others at our High School reunion this summer) a harrowing tale about a camping experience he had in Danvers at age 11.  I asked his permission to share his story with the readers of the Danvers Herald.  He agreed and sent me a written account, which I incorporated into my September column:  A Camping Adventure.  Thanks, Chuck!

It was published September 1 with the subtitle, "Surviving Hurricane Carol in the woods of Danvers."

Chuck and his wife Elaine live now in Beverly and have founded Casa Connection, a non-profit organization supporting the children of the Casa San Jose orphanage in Colima, Mexico.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

1938, 1944 ...

My cousin Stuart Brewster, who lived at 98 Preston Street ("Pine Knoll") as a boy, wrote to me via email from CA this week in response to reports of Hurricane Irene and a story I had sent him:

"Your Hurricane story brings back many memories of Hurricanes especially the 1938 disaster where hundreds were killed.  It happened on Sept. 21, 1938, if I recall correctly.  On the two days before, we had driven my brother Dudley to Proctor Academy in Andover, NH, and David to the U. of Mass. in Amherst.  It rained continually on both these day trips.

"Late in the afternoon on the day of the big storm, we (Aunt May, my mother, Mayon and myself) were out in the back yard at Pine Knoll watching the clouds that were passing overhead at an unbelievable speed. Aunt Margaret had been in Salem at some Church affair and drove in, put her car in the barn and announced that we were going to have a Hurricane.  What is a Hurricane? was the response.  We then noticed that a hugh locust tree that was near the western side of the house was leaning, fortunately away from the house.  We all stood there and watched it fall, closing off the Western driveway.

"For the rest of the night, the wind blew and blew. The noise was like that of a freight train roaring by at top speed.  This lasted all night. We could hear trees crashing all around and were worried that one might fall on the house but none did.  I don't think anyone went to bed or considered getting undressed since we were worried about a possible fire from lightning or if the chimney fell.  Also there was a big Maple tree on the South side that was a big worry for hitting the house and then rain would pour in.  Of course, we very quickly lost all power and did not get it back for weeks. But we had a coal stove in the kitchen so were able to cook.  Many in town who had electric stoves were not so lucky.

"The next day, we could not believe the carnage.  The Pine Grove which is why it was called Pine Knoll was almost all gone.  A few White Pines were left but the grove area was far more open. The Eastern drive entrance was not blocked.

"I was still attending Speedwell School held at Locust Lawn.  The drive up to the house was blocked by many fallen trees. School was to have opened on October first but was delayed for a number of weeks.

"The next Hurricane came in 1944. I was in college at Tufts living in Somerville. It didn't cause much damage since it went up the middle of the state somewhat like your current storm.  Renate talked about how she had just arrived as a freshman at Mt. Holyoke when the storm hit causing extensive damage to trees on the campus.

"The 1954 storm was strong but there wasn't the loss of life as in 1938. Pine Knoll lost more trees. I also drove over to Marblehead early in the day before it really hit in order to see the surf.  It was very scary with the waves smashing against the shore on the Neck and the spray spreading over the road.

"My last one was the weekend of [my nephew's] wedding in Rockport, held on the day after what had been projected to be a hugh one. [Hurricane Gloria, September 27, 1985]
 I had been at a ... retreat held on the Cape in Chatham.   [... People debated] about staying or moving up to Boston.  I made a strong statement pointing out that if the storm hit as predicted and the two bridges were closed, then we could be caught there for days.  Cooler heads finally prevailed and we moved.  Andy and Sally who lived on the Cape could not get to the wedding.

"Thus endeth my recollections of Hurricanes in New England."

Sunday, August 28, 2011


As Hurricane Irene threatened New England this week, I thought about the hurricanes we experienced in Danvers during my childhood: Carol and Edna in 1954 and Connie and Diane in 1955. Downed trees created green jungles to play in. That was my perspective as a youngster.

During Reunion last month I heard a hurricane memory from Chuck Roy, who grew up on the Burley Farm in Danvers. During Hurricane Carol he watched a farm worker there attempt to put a truck into a barn:
"From the safety of my home I watched as the storm raged on. At one point I saw Nate heading to the “A” barn to put a truck inside. He rolled open the two large barn doors that would allow him to drive into the barn. As he turned and walked back to his truck a gust of wind blew into the barn and lifted the entire A-shaped roof right off the barn, dropping it just a few feet to the side! I can just imagine what was going through his mind when he turned around and saw what was left of the barn. I was thinking I would have lots of wood to make a new fort."
Forts, jungles...  Hurricanes can create new playgrounds for kids. See what I wrote in 2007 in my column: Hurricanes in my childhood [now copied into this blog, as the newspaper archive isn't accessible.]

For another perspective, read Mr. Richard Trask's article: Of microbursts and hurricanes in Danvers. (November 2009).

Today as an adult I'm relieved that Hurricane Irene weakened to a 'tropical storm' before reaching us.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Last weekend I attended the "Big Fling"  - the 50th Reunion of the Danvers High School Class of 1961.

I want to thank the 50th Class Reunion Committee (Marsha Yetman Coogan, Sue Halupowski Evans, Elaine Hayden Roy, Sue Ellen Tagg, and Barry Robertson) for organizing such a wonderful weekend of events. They chose a variety of locations and planned several different activities (e.g., bus tour of historic places in Danvers, a cocktail party, a tour of the Richmond-Holton school, a breakfast) -- each drawing a mix of classmates. Over 70 people attended the Saturday night dinner and dance party.

This was the first time I'd been invited to a Danvers school reunion (because I had left Danvers High before graduation). Quite a few other classmates were also coming back for the first time. I enjoyed making some new friends and well as connecting with old pals. A fun time!  

I especially enjoyed the stories told by my classmates about their experiences growing up in Danvers.  I hope to share many of these stories in coming columns or on this blog. I've invited my classmates to write down their memories and send them to me for inclusion in "Remembering Danvers."

See my August column "Reflecting on a High-School Reunion" (published in the Danvers Herald August 4, 2011).  Or view this version of it:

Reflecting on a High School Reunion
By Sandy Nichols Ward

Nametags! Thank goodness! That was my first thought as I entered the patio area where Danvers classmates were gathering for an informal "Welcome Cocktail Party" at the start of our 50th Reunion weekend. The people did not look familiar, but some names jumped right out at me. I then looked from the nametag up to the face and gradually recognized features of the younger student I once knew. This was my first-ever reunion with the Holten High School Class of 1961. I had left Danvers schools after 10th grade, so I was now attempting to recall faces from 52 or more years ago.  

Friendly smiles and a few greetings of "Hi Sandy!" helped draw me into conversations.  Whether they really recognized me, or were just reading from my nametag, didn't matter. We were soon exchanging stories about where we grew up and what we remembered.   Ken Beck recalled the dinner parties my mother and father used to host before square dances. That reminded me of the fun of being able to invite FOUR boys and three girls to join me in making a "square" for a dinner and dance date. The only trouble was that these boys would then meet my beautiful younger sister and flirt with her, not me. I laughed with Ken about these long-ago memories. 

And so the weekend went, with much laughter and story-telling among classmates as each story triggered someone else's memories.  "Do you remember Nesson's Dept store?" asks one; "I worked there!" answered another.  Orpheum Theater (25 cents for 2 movies, 1 cartoon, and world news)… Snow's Bakery… good fries at Woolworth's… the Rat Hole … late night visits to Cherry Hill…  the soda fountain at Almy's…  

On and on the stories flowed, especially on Saturday morning during the bus tour of Danvers. George Meehan, our tour guide, talked of historic sites and events in the 1600's, while we told of our own history and experiences in the 1950's and early 1960's. He took us to visit the Endicott Pear Tree, now safely preserved behind a high fence. Some classmates recalled climbing on it or painting it; others never before had seen the famous tree. We were quite impressed that a tree planted in the mid-1600's survives and STILL produces pears!  The 50-year span since our high school days seemed trifling compared to lifespan of that tree.

I discovered that I wasn't the only first-timer.  Helga, a German exchange student, was returning for the first time since her 1960/61 school year whe hse had resided with a Danvers family. She and I had never met, but we quickly connected. She's from the Munich area, which I had visited. Her son works in scientific research at Stanford University, where I had worked as a science librarian for 15 years. Helga needed a ride back to her hotel, which turned out to be the same one I was in!  I enjoyed getting to know her. One of the joys of a reunion is making new connections as well as renewing old friendships.  

Of course I had fun reconnecting with old childhood friends. I'll write more of our stories in future columns.  I thank Gordon Lindroth for telling me about the reunion and passing my contact information to the organizing committee.  I thank the organizers for a very well-planned weekend that included a variety of activities from which to pick and choose.
I am SO glad that I attended this special reunion.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

1957 Ford Fairlane camper

In my old photo album, right after the photos of the July 1958 Horribles parade (which I posted in the entry below), I found a few photos of Niagara Falls. That was at the beginning of our family's 6-week camping trip across the country.  

We traveled in a 1957 Ford Fairlane stationwagon that my father adapted into a camper.  Here is a photo taken when we visited my uncle Dick and his family in Milwaukee.

Our family of four, two parents and two teenagers (13 and 15), were able to sleep inside that wagon, thanks to sleeping platforms my father constructed.   In this month's column, I'll describe the preparation of that car for our trip.

An important part of the camper design was the special roof-top luggage carrier, which could be opened from either side.   You can see it propped in open position below:

1st stop on our trip west,
visiting the Stevens family in Rochester, NY.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

July 4th Horribles Parade

I remember the Horribles Parade in the Danvers Highlands.

Here are two photos dated July 4, 1958.  I found them in my old album.

I recognize my mother (in light-colored dress) standing to the left of the car.

Today I found an announcement online of this year's parade:
 "Join the most horrible parade in Danvers. All are welcome. Dress up yourselves, your wagons, your bikes, make your own floats, or just march in your most festive 4th of July attire. "

I'm glad to know that the tradition continues.

Horribles Parade 1958
Our family enjoyed coming to the Highlands and  watching the parade. My parents knew some people who lived nearby and liked to talk with their friends. My sister and I liked to look at the "Horrible" costumes. Unfortunately I didn't capture any good photos of the costumes. Probably I was too busy staring at the best ones and forgot to aim my camera. (I was new at photography that year, having just received a Brownie StarFlash camera at Christmas 1957.)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Summer birthday

I've just returned from a visit with my sister Jean at her home in New Mexico, where we celebrated her birthday. In the pile of mail that accumulated during my absence, I found an invitation for the 50th Class Reunion of the Holten High Class of 1961! I look forward to attending this reunion, which, coincidently, will be happening on my birthday weekend, July 8-10, this summer.

For this month's column I've written about my memories of having birthdays in the summer. 

Here I am at a July birthday party long ago. Ray Dirks is at my right... Janet Hoberg is at the end of the bench on the right side.  I can see my sister Jean's blond bangs, 5th or 6th? girl on the left.

Can YOU identify any of the other faces?

Here is another photo of the same party, as we were acting out for the camera:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The barn

I have fond memories of this barn, which was located on the Locust Lawn property not far from our home.
This month I have written about playing inside the barn.   See Playing in an old barn, published in The Danvers Herald on Thursday May 5, 2011.

I was happy to find these old photographs (taken in 1956 by my father, copied from slides to prints years ago, and now scanned from the prints into my computer).

We loved to play in these fancy stalls, pretending to be horses, or more often, riding on top of the stall walls as jockeys in a race.  To climb up so high, we'd have to move some boxes or furniture into place; our legs were too short to get up there without a platform to climb on.

I wish we had a photo of the antique hand-pulled fire cart that was kept in this section of the main floor.

Upstairs was a wide open room or hay loft, used for games and square dances.  Note the banner of dancers posted above the horizontal window.

I believe this barn was built in 1856 as part of the Kimball estate.  In Country Estates of Old Danvers, Charles S. Tapley wrote (on page 43) 
 "Locust Lawn" ...
(Nichols Street)
     In 1856 Edward D. Kimball of Salem, a prominent merchant and ship owner, built on the side of "Dale Hill" a fine residence.  ...
     Mr. Kimball died in Paris in 1867. ... The next owner was Philip H. Wentworth of Boston, who improved the grounds by laying out more avenues through the wooded places and planting many shrubs. The huge elm tree near the entrance gates was one of the largest in the country. ...
     Mr. and Mrs. Wentworth were instrumental in forming a Unitarian Church in Danvers.
     In 1893, Mrs. Leopold Morse acquired this estate and she resided there during several summers.
     In 1917, Dr. and Mrs. John Holyoke Nichols* bought "Locust Lawn" but they never occupied it, and the mansion was torn down several years ago.    [The mansion was torn down in 1944.]

This barn survived until the Route 95 construction project (1970) removed it and the eastern side of Dale Hill.   I hope that some of the contents and the wonderful old wood (e.g., those fancy stalls, the big beams) were salvaged and re-used somewhere.  
*"Uncle John," a brother to my grandfather, was the Superintendent of Tewksbury State Hospital. After retirement, he lived in the Silvester-Howe house (see p. 56 in Tapley's book) on Peabody Ave, Danvers.  He was married to Oda Howe. She was deaf and my father --a clever math-physics major-- figured out how to help amplify sounds for her, thus making his first hearing aid.  Later, my father began to make hearing aids for others, forming the Nichols & Clark, Inc., factory in my grandfather's garage on Preston St.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuckerman's Ravine

My cousin Stuart Brewster informed me this week that there used to be a family tradition of going to Tuckerman's for April 19th (the Patriot's Day holiday). Stuart and his brothers, David and Dudley, and my father, Nick Nichols, would go there for spring skiing.

I was unaware of the April 19th tradition, but did often hear my parents speak of hiking and climbing up Tuckerman's Ravine, and then skiing down. They and their college outing-club friends loved to reminisce about their adventures at Tuckerman's.

Here's a link to a trail map of Tuckerman's Ravine, which is on the side of Mount Washington in NH.   You can see the ski routes here.   An impressive place!

I particularly recall the story telling about a famous incident in the late 1930's. As spectators on the sidelines of a ski race, they were startled by a sudden blur in the air in front of them. A skier had gone STRAIGHT OFF THE HEADWALL, sailing out into the air, rather than making the expected turn down a trail.   Astonishing! And the skier lived to tell the tale.  Even just skiing on the slope of the headwall is challenging. See Tuckerman photos and history on the New England Ski Museum website.

Today I found a review of Over the Headwall: a Short History of Skiing at Tuckerman Ravine. I was pleased to find evidence there confirming what I had heard from my parents:  in 1939 a young Austrian named Toni Matt became the first to schuss the headwall in a competition. Searching Toni's name, I found a report in his own words of how he beat Dick Durrance in that race, cutting in half the previous record time for that Inferno race.

I think both of my parents witnessed Toni Matt's feat in Tuckerman's Ravine that day, but they weren't yet married and may not have been aware of each other that day. Perhaps my father was with the "Brewster boys" (his cousins) or with college friends. I'll have to ask Stuart more about the trips to Tuckermans.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


This weekend I attended the NEFFA Festival, also known as the New England Folk Festival.  I love the music, the dancing, and the many friends I see there each year.  In the early 1990's when I moved back to New England, attending NEFFA became a spring ritual.

I've often wondered whether my parents attended NEFFA. They loved to square dance, and very possibly may have attended square dances at NEFFA.  I don't recall any mention of "Neffa" during my childhood, but perhaps the acronym N.E.F.F.A. for the New England Folk Festival Association wasn't used as a word back then.  I do recall frequent mention of favorite square dance callers  (e.g., Ralph Page, Ted Sannella) and musicians (Joe Perkins and his orchestra). The names Angie Taylor, Connie Taylor, and Marianne Taylor were also mentioned.  In the 1960's I attended a few dance classes taught by Marianne.

Nancy and Angie
On Saturday I met Nancy Lob and discovered that she had attended the same square dances in Salem that I had attended as a child.  Her husband Walter Lob --another name I recognize-- played fiddle for Ralph Page for 20 years. I told her I recalled seeing a photo* of her husband.  Nancy said he's now 92 and playing viola weekly in a chamber music group.

When I mentioned my parents as "Nick and Cut Nichols," she instantly recognized the names.  "You are the daughter of Nick and Cut Nichols?!?" she exclaimed with much excitement.    She immediately introduced me to Angela Taylor, who was sitting at a nearby vending table, selling hand-sewn items.

Meeting Angie was quite a treat. She is a member of the 2011 Festival Committee, and has helped with every Festival for 67 years!   Angie definitely recognized my parents' nicknames. She didn't know if they had attended NEFFA festivals, but knew them.  As we talked, some of Angie's family stopped by.  I have known and danced with her nieces and some of her grandnieces and nephews, but had not met the legendary Angie until now.  For more about Angela Taylor and her history with NEFFA, read this 2002 newsletter article (pdf): Lifetime award to Angela Taylor
Nancy and Andy (Angie Taylor's niece, daughter of Marianne Taylor)
Dancing to "Marianne Taylor's Favorite Dances" April 2011

NEFFA history:
"The History of the New England Folk Festival 1944-1994" published by NEFFA during for its 50th Anniversary Festival.   See  text online.

*Looking for the photo of Walter, I discovered that I had already posted it in this blog last year, when I wrote about music lessons.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Ditch-digging and maintenance of water channels was a springtime ritual in our family. Our house happened to be situated between a underground spring (above) and a pond (below). In addition, surface run-off water from the hillside and dirt road above flowed down across Nichols Street towards our yard, adding to the moisture problem. Thus, we did what we could to divert the flow of water.

This month I have written about our efforts with roadside ditches.  See Remembering Danvers (April). April was a wet time of year.

Regardless of the success of our ditches, some water was always seeping into our cellar. The underground spring was probably to blame. Even adding water-proof paint didn't help. The pressure of the water in the soil below the cellar floor was enough to push up and crack the painted cement. Water bubbled in along that crack, making a slight "singing" sound.  Stepping on the floor changed the music of the sound!

I remember watching Mommy do the laundry down there by the stone sinks. She wore big rubber boots and often stood in several inches of water as she manipulated the sheets and towels through that old wringer attached to the washing machine. Then she'd haul the basket of clean damp laundry outside into the sunshine and hang it with clothespins on the laundry lines down by the pond. In the spring boots were required there, too, because the pond water flooded the laundry yard.  Water was everywhere!

Thursday, March 3, 2011


I have fond memories of toasting marshmallows in a fire   --sometimes outdoors at a beach or campsite in the summer,  or at Girl Scout camp, or at home in our fireplace on a winter evening.

We didn't have sweets like marshmallows very often, and Mommy didn't let us eat many of them, so each marshmallow was rather special.  This rationing of marshmallows was intended to save our teeth. It also happened to save marshmallows; one bag of marshmallows lasted a long time at our house! Another consequence was the ease of toasting. Although stale marshmallows were a bit more difficult to pierce with stick or skewer, they did stay on the skewer longer.  I can still recall the firm texture of those treats. You might be more familiar with soft sticky ones, which are fragile and can droop down and fall off your stick if you're not careful.   No such problems with our firm ones!

"Fireside memories" is the theme I have chosen for this month's column: Marshmallows and other fireside memories.  I composed the first draft while sitting in front of a lively fire in the fireplace of my present home.  The weather that day was cold and wet.  I enjoyed hunkering down by the hearth and remembering childhood experiences as I watched the flames flicker.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Big snow

This winter is shaping up to be a record breaker.  I wonder how it will compare to the notorious "Winter of the Big Snow" that I heard so much about as I was growing up in Danvers.

 I often heard the adults speak of  it: The Winter of the Big Snow  -- as if there had been only one.  It was always mentioned when anyone asked about the barn foundation at the bottom of the ski hill.  The barn roof had collapsed during the Winter of the Big Snow.     I think that was 1948.

Here's a undated photo that is probably from that winter of the Big Snow:

Jean and I are sitting at the top of a huge snowbank by our grandparents' house.

It looks as though we've been sliding down the face of the bank  -- quite a long slide for little girls like us.    Whee!  The clothing we're wearing matches other photos from winter 1947/48.  Our ages were then about 2 1/2 and 4 1/2.

A Google search on the phrase "winter of the big snow" brings up tales of various big snow winters:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mtn of memories

My column for February was published in today's Danvers Herald and also posted online: Remembering Danvers: A mountain of ski memories.

I am enjoying a beautiful sunny day here in western MA, with snow piles melting and shrinking.  Memories of earlier winter experiences linger, especially the fun of skiing with my sister.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Jean and Sandy at Sipapu Ski Resort, Dec 30, 2010
Today it's snowing again -- lots of fresh powder, reminding me of skiing with Jean in NM. We skied during a snowstorm there.  Today we're both snowed in, she in NM while I'm home in western MA.    I've submitted my February column, "A Mountain of Ski Memories,"  to the Danvers Herald.

Here is a much earlier photo of Jean standing on Mommy's skis on our front yard in Danvers:

I can't tell if these are the same old skis described in my recent post.
Mommy had probably acquired new skis by this time; almost fifteen years had passed since her college days.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Old skis

In December I visited my sister in New Mexico and enjoyed a delightful day of skiing -- my first time on downhill skis in over 25 years.  The ski equipment I rented was dramatically different from anything I had used before.  The boots were bizarre, opening up from the back and having many adjustment options.  The shape of the skis looked weird, with exaggerated side curves and rounded, not pointed, ends.  How the technology has changed!   I wondered if I'd be able to adapt, and whether I'd remember how to ski. As it turned out, these new skis helped me ski with confidence and ease.

Skiing down the mountain trails with my sister (our first time skiing together in probably 40 years) was a joy,  and triggered many memories. Her graceful turns reminded me of the way Daddy had skied.  I thought of our family's long history with skiing, and thought too about the changes in the shapes and lengths of skis over the years.

My very first skis were short, straight wooden "toy" skis with a high curl at the front, and a band of red paint on the wood. Simple straps tied the little skis to my rubber boots.  I could toddle around on these skis on a relatively flat area.  Later my baby sister used these skis and I played with her while our parents (the real skiers) skied down the real hill.  Jean and I amused ourselves trying to "ski" down the short gentle slope of an embankment, but I think we mostly tumbled and fell,  laughed and played in the snow.

My mother's first skis, in contrast, were very, very long.  She didn't learn to ski until she was in college, invited to the Dartmouth Winter Carnival.  She had friends in the Dartmouth Outing Club (D.O.C.) who helped set up her equipment and taught her to ski.  She loved to tell us stories about those Dartmouth boys and her outing club trips from Vassar College to Hanover, NH -- an adventurous drive in the automobiles of the 1930's.   She kept those old skis.

Yesterday I found them in a forgotten corner of a storage closet, and pulled them out to measure just how long they were:  6'6" tip to tail. (She was only 5'4'' tall.)

Let's look closely at that old technology.    I've taken some photos to show the details.
The metal binding shown here clearly came from Dartmouth;  the letters "D.O.C." appear at the upper edge, right.

The wooden skis are much older than the binding.   How do I know?

Years ago I had found some of my mother's letters home from college describing her ski adventures at Dartmouth. [I have given copies of those letters to the Dartmouth Outing Club and the originals to Vassar College Archives.]  She apologized to her mother for some wear and tear on "your skis"!   My grandmother's skis?   I'd never heard about my grandmother skiing.   I called my aunt and asked.  Oh, yes, her mother had used long skis that were probably hand-carved by the Norwegian farm hands employed by John T. MacDonald at the family farm in Delhi, NY.  My aunt recalled a photo of her mother, Amelia MacDonald, as a young woman skiing down the cow-pasture hill in Delhi, wearing a long wool skirt. Imagine that!

You can see in this side view that the old wooden skis have a slot for a previous style of binding.  It was probable a simple strap to tie or buckle over a boot.

My childhood skis had a similar slot.

Note handcarved look of tips.

Note thin design lines on the top surface

My mother's maiden name was J.N. Cutler  (Janet Nesmith Cutler).

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My Brownie camera

In December 1957 I was given a "Brownie StarFlash" camera, my first camera.    The first photograph that I took was of our family posing was on the doorstep on our new home at 121 Nichols Street, Danvers:

Christmas Day 1957

The photo is blurry and not well centered -- not a good photo -- but it was preserved in a photo album I started at that time.  

My grandfather, William S. Nichols, is on the right.   I'm so glad he was included in this photo.  He died the next year, at age 84.

The photo includes my father, mother, sister Jean and our dog Heidi.   The house was then very new (constructed in summer 1957) and lacked plantings in front.  Yew bushes were soon added. Over time they grew so large that they almost obscured those front steps, in spite of my mother's pruning.  She loved to use fresh-cut yew branches for indoor decorations, especially at Christmas time.

Here's another photo from my 1st roll of film:   my sister rolling down the slope in front of our house.

Winter 1958
That house no longer exists.  I'm glad to report, however, that my sister and I still enjoy playing in the snow. I've just returned from a wonderful visit with her at her home in NM. We enjoyed a delightful day of skiing together.