Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mom's Birthday Present

The other evening, I was watching a movie on TV, Summer Vacation staring Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold. Included in the cast was comedienne and actress Imogene Coco as Aunt Edna – the crotchety old lady who expires while being returned to her home in Phoenix. So as not to ruin the already disastrous vacation, Aunt Edna is carted seated on a chair on the roof of the family station wagon to her home and left on the door step as the Griswold’s make tracks for Wally World.
Seeing Imogene Coco reminded me of the summer days of my youth and our neighbor Alice Bevin. Mrs. Bevin, as I have previously noted, was an accomplished artist who owned the 3 story Second Empire style house on the crest of Barton Hill. She also owned an apartment in the upbeat Gramercy Park section of New York City. From her wide social network, Alice met many Broadway and nightclub entertainers who were often summer weekend guests at her home in East Hampton – one being Imogene Coco!
I also remember there being a nightclub entertainer / owner Hugh Shannon, who stayed frequently during those summers. On one of those lazy Saturday summer afternoons, Betty Benson, Alice’s daughter called my mother, Pauline and a couple of her friends and neighbors, Beth Hitchcock and Muriel Bailey, to come over to the house to meet a guest. When they arrived, this swarthy gentleman, Hugh Shannon, asked them to join him by the piano where he began crooning a number of popular tunes – you know – the ones a Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett or Johnny Mathis would sing.
I still chuckle today at the vision of these ladies hovered around this singer, cigarette smoke curling about his head, and the captivated small town girls who couldn’t have bought a ticket for a better show. Happy Birthday Mom!

Post Script - Hugh Shannon, born 1921 in De Sota, Missouri, died 1982 in New York City. While attending the University of Southern California, he played in a campus club. After military service in the US Navy during World War II, he would up in New York City where he met Billie Holiday, who encouraged him to become a singer. He took her advice and began working in bars, gradually developing his skills until he was able to find work at leading New York nightspots including the 22 Club and Le Perroquet, before travelling to Europe to take a job in Capri. From there he went to the south of France, then Paris, where he worked in a club owned by Ada "Bricktop" Smith. During the late 40s and through the 50s, Shannon became hugely popular with the smart set, numbering millionaires, film stars and royalty among his fans. He became a regular in clubs in the Virgin Islands, alternative with Capri and occasional appearances in New York. For the rest of his life, he continued working in fashionable resorts for audiences of the rich and famous. An engaging and idiosyncratic style and an enclyclopaedic knowledge of songs, helped make Shannon one of the leading cabaret artists of his generation.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

How Old Home Day Came About

The concept of Old Home Day in East Hampton dates back to the “Village Improvement Society” which began in 1912 under the suggestion of Mrs. Mildred W. Hughes. The small committee that formed was dedicated to the improvement of the village of East Hampton. This could best be achieved, the committee decided, uniting all of the local societies (these were the church districts of East Hampton, Middle Haddam and Cobalt) to work together.

In Carl F. Price’s Postscripts to Yankee Township the history of Old Home Day goes into further elaborations. “The society’s adventures in raising money by entertainments began as a meeting on April 1226, 1912, when the president was authorized to appoint all present at that meeting to serve. At the June meeting, the committee reported in favor of holding a bazaar, such as had been conducted by the Methodist Episcopal Church since 1910 in the summer, with booths and stands on the Congregational Church lawn. This 1912 fair, however, developed eventually in a carnival, the famous “Push-Car Carnival” that flamed along the sidewalk of Main Street for nearly half a mile. It yielded a profit of over $200, and was such a social success that its repetition was demanded for the next year.

Mrs. Mildred H. Hughes was chairman of the carnival for 1913 and 1914, which conformed more nearly to the typical carnival of subsequent years, with a colorful parade, competing floats and sales booths at the fair’s terminals (in later years, the Green at the Center). Subsequent carnival chairman of the society’s records were: Mrs. Carrier, Mrs. W. E. Day, Mrs. Cornelia Strong, Mrs. Carrie Barton, Mrs. Marion Strong, Dr. Frank Luntz, Hubert C. Hodge and Gordon D. Bevin, with many other towns people chairing the event in succeeding years.

All of the carnivals were memorable attracting thousands of visitors, as increasingly the fame of those carnivals spread East Hampton’s fame throughout the state and beyond. Some of these events can be recalled by their titles: 1917, “Carnival of Allied Nations”; 1922 “Mother Goose Carnival”; 1923, “Advertising Carnival”; 1924, “Book Carnival”; 1925, “Carnival of Songs”; 1927, “Carnival of State”; 1929, “Carnival of Painting”.

Old man depression brought about an interruption in the series of carnivals, under the Village Improvement Society, but in 1933, the Treadway-Cavanaugh Post No. 64 American Legion, petitioned the society for permission to hold a carnival on the first Saturday in August, which was granted, and this became the “The Seventh District American Legion County Fair and Old Home Day.” The carnivals under the Legion in succeeding years took on a different character from those in the 1920s, but they enriched the coffers of the Legion. The profits of the carnival of 1944 were given to the Welcome Home Fund of the Military Service Committee. The carnival of 1945 became the last of the series of carnivals. No carnival was held in 1946, one of the reasons recorded in society’s minutes being “the shortage of meats” (An interesting commentary on the etymology of the word carnival).

Old Home Day was revived in 1953 with Donald Markham representing the American Legion and Dennis Erickson representing the Veterans of Foreign Wars serving as Co-Chairs. In the Proclamation from the Board of Selection, Milton W. Nichols, Carl Terp and James F. Wall, it stated,

“We proclaim Saturday, August 1, 1953, as OLD HOME DAY. Acting under the Board of Selectmen, this proclamation is designed to perpetuate the remembrance of past Old Home Days when former resident and old-time friends returned to pay homage to our town. This day should act as a rallying call to ask the leaders of our community government, our churches, our veteran, fraternal, service and business organizations to help make this Old Home Day one of general acclaim to foster and create good will in our community. In keeping with the spirit of east Hampton we urge everyone to help make this day a happy one and one to be long remembered.”

In 1954 the 26th Old Home Day celebration was held with Donald Markham and William O’Neill (who would become Connecticut’s 84th Governor) Co-Chaired the event. Old Home Day was held sporadically thereafter in 1956, 1961 and in conjunction with the Town of East Hampton’s Bicentennial in 1967. Nothing occurred until the celebration of the United State Bicentennial in 1976. Shortly after, Mr. Morris “Moe” Lanzi, Drum Major of the East Hampton Fife and Drum Corp. began seeking interested citizen to reinstitute Old Home Day annually. This revival occurred in 1979 and has continued uninterrupted since. This coming weekend will mark the 32nd annual Old Home Day Celebration since its revival.

During the 1980s when Bill O’Neill was Connecticut’s Governor, he took special pride in his home town and made it an annual affair to not only march in every parade (until his health declined) when he road in an antique vehicle, never missing the annual event. Because the Governor loved a parade, any parade, but especially Old Home Day, many groups, such as the Governor’s Foot Guard, march in the parade, and continuing to do so each year. Other bands such as the Ancient Mariners have never missed an Old Home Day Parade. They provide a wonderful show, great music and entertainment that the kids love.

The Old Home Day Committee runs the 4-day event which includes numerous musical groups or performers, totally on contributions. Among its many benefits has been the raffling of 50 new bicycles to children. The tickets are distributed without cost throughout the weekend and any child is elegible.

Since 1979, Old Home Day has had only two Master of Ceremonies - Eaton E. Smith and Robert "Red" McKinney who maintain a lively exchange throughout the festivities.