Monday, December 26, 2016

A Most Unusual Christmas Present

All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, a seasonal favorite written in 1946, was a far cry from the present, Bruce Tolhurst, my neighbor and best friend growing up on East High Street, his sisters Kathy and Misty and cousins David and John Purple, received in 1951. Imagine the most unusual Christmas gift you might ever receive. Theirs topped it. Shipped by train from Texas in a wooden crate was a Mexican Burro - Uncle Buster!

Uncle Buster ca. 1956

 As the story goes, aunt Mary Purple Newhall hadn't called Bruce's father or mother, Allen or Eleanor (her sister) of the impending arrival. The good news arrived when the Hartford Station Master called Allen asking him to "come pick up his ass!" Allen arranged with his best friend Jack Peters, owner of a pickup truck, to transport the burro back to East Hampton where a stable was created from an old shed at the rear of the property. I remember Uncle Buster fondly as his pen enclosure of over two acres came up to our family's property line. In the summer after shucking corn husks, we would feed them to a very happy burro - a nice variety from dry oats. Apples and carrots were other favorites. That Christmas, Mr. and Mrs. Tolhurst decided that Uncle Buster was going to be a real surprise. Besides not telling the children, they also kept the secret from Louise and Nelson Purple, David and John's parents, and grandmother Eleanor Purple. On Christmas morning the families gathered together for 'presents and dinner.' After opening presents, Bruce's father retrieved Uncle Buster from the shed and brought him to the kitchen door of his grandparents apartment, announcing "surprise, another present." The kids were thrilled. Aunt Louise apparently not so much. She was quoted as saying: "Oh no, not another mouth to feed!"

Allan Markham feeding Uncle Buster ca. 1956

Mark Condon, Kathy Tolhurst, Bruce Tolhurst with dad Allen Tolhurst holding reins

Peter, Bruce, Kathy & Misty (holding Buster)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

75 Years Ago - the Weeks After Pearl Harbor

75 years ago on December 7, 1941, America was plunged into war with the bombing of the U.S. Naval Fleet at Pearl Harbor.  One would think, based on today's immediate live broadcasts and social media accounts posted from cell phones or tablets with on the spot videos or pictures that the mobilization for war would dominate all aspects of the news.  Once that initial shock subsided, news accounts portrayed a much different setting in our local community.  Of greater immediate impact had been the fire destroying the village center Congregational Church, immediate efforts to find alternative worship facilities and begin the arduous task of rebuilding (not to occur until 1948 due to war efforts and scarcity of supplies).  The locally reported news in the weeks following Pearl Harbor depicted the day to day events in the life of a small, close-knit New England community.  Headlines ranged from "Will Present Yule Program - Entertainment is Planned at Swedish Zion Church"; the untimely death of Mrs. Hazel Robinson Carlson; the local Defense Council seeking a $500 appropriation at Town Meeting; a play planned and written by Center Grammar School Students entitled "Nutcracker Prince"; ads from local merchants or Middletown's big city stores describing the latest merchandise for Christmas shoppers;  an editorial providing reviews and praising Carl Price's new book Yankee Township; and the personal notes announcing soldiers home on leave - men such as Pvt.s John Peterson, Leroy Bissell, Leon Goff, William Valli and Cpl. Albert Hansen.  It was noted Pvt. James Baxter's leave had been canceled and that he wouldn't be home for Christmas - something that would occur for the next three years for over 400 other young men and women from East Hampton serving in the Army, Navy, Marine Corp, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine during World War II.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Ambulance Association Formed 1953

Recently, while waiting for a family member being treated in the Middlesex Hospital Emergency Center in Marlborough, the Town’s ambulance arrived, doing as it has done for 60 years – transporting, without fanfare, those from our community in need of emergency service.  Arriving with the patient was EMT Kate Morris, who along with the 35 or more volunteer EMT’s and drivers, respond to nearly 1,200 calls annually.  This encounter was fortuitous since I had just met with Kate a few days prior to obtain information on the history of the East Hampton Ambulance Association.  Seeing these dedicated members of our community in action reminds me and us all of the important service volunteers provide – an important component in small communities such as ours where the well being of our families, neighbors and townsfolk becomes a common bond and an important feature of community pride.  Without this volunteer corps, response time to emergencies would escalate from minutes to hours if we relied solely on paid responders from Middletown or Hartford to respond to emergencies – all when time is of the essence.
EHAA formed when First Selectman Milton Nichols convened a committee on May 6, 1953, composed of local businessmen and members of Rotary, to evaluate, design, structure and determine the need for an ambulance association.  Incorporated shortly thereafter by members of the committee, Chauncey Bevin, Eleanor Fazzino and Jim Walsh (Kate Morris’s father).  Frank Popowitz was appointed the EHAA’s first President.  Its original mission was to provide transportation for patients in need of emergency medical care to the doctor’s office (Dr. Louis Sorreff or Dr. Norman Gardner) or hospital.  The basics have not changed, but the delivery of service has.  In those early years speed was tantamount, transporting the patient for medical attention quickly and as comfortable as possible. 
With a major transformation in The 1970s transformed service as medical attention on route became important.  Since the  mid 1990s, EHAA  has been affiliated with the Middlesex Hospital Paramedic Service providing advanced medical care which significantly improved the quality of service in emergency situations, and since 1998, the corps has been AED (defibrillator) certified, keeping pace with training and protocols from their medical control facility, Middlesex Hospital.
As previously noted, early supporters included businessmen of the community and Rotarian's who comprised many of the Town’s professionals and merchants.  Their support was critical as they possessed a firsthand view of much of the emergency requirements.  If a valued employee suffered an injury in the work place, it was imperative to get that worker treatment as quickly as possible.  As you may recall, East Hampton had several bell manufacturers and numerous other machine shops.  Long before OSHA, much of the machinery lacked what today we consider essential safety measures. Speed getting an employee to medical treatment could me the difference of saving versus losing a hand or arm.  Workers were not just valued employees. The closeness of the community and years spent together made them all like families. Unlike today, it was common for owner and management to be on the shop floor, running machinery or overseeing production. They knew their workers on a personal level.  They often attended the same churches, shopped locally, and recreated together, in the business and professional baseball or basketball leagues.  The formation of the EHAA included not only our business and political leaders, it was staffed by a volunteer group of twelve First Aiders, trained from the ranks of volunteer firemen, who responded to calls for aide “as often as they could” and were literally from the old school of “you call – we haul!” 

Our first ambulance was a 1939 Cadillac housed in one of the Bevin Bros. Manufacturing Co. barns on Bevin Court.  A few years later, a 1953 Cadillac was purchased and served the community, with the EHAA acquiring its first box type vehicle in 1976.  Today, we are served by two state of the art Ambulances and a proud group of highly trained and dedicated volunteers available to help any who call at a moment’s notice.
The First Aiders, volunteers from the fire department, coordinated by Captain Don Ingraham, provided emergency support until the early 1970s, when Ron Brady, one of our EHHS teachers, became coordinator and began an intensive training program to certify personnel as EMTs.  From formation, townspeople became “members” of EHAA for $5 a year which guaranteed transportation to hospital.  If you didn’t join, you were still guaranteed care and a ride to hospital.  Many families contributed because without the support, vehicles and equipment that might save their lives could not be purchased. In 1997, the corps moved away from the annual membership drive and became an insurance supported response team.  2005 saw the opening of the EHAA new headquarters on Middletown Avenue.  This three-bayed facility, made possible with bonding from the Town and significant financial contributions from our citizens, is equipped to become a regional center for emergency personnel in time of disaster.

So what could you do?  Kate Morris explained that many of the volunteers who start out as drivers train and become EMTs.  This is wonderful for the EHAA and our community, but often leaves us short of drivers.  You could give your town a wonderful Christmas or Holiday gift - volunteer your time to become an ambulance driver!  Give Kate Morris a call for further information.  860-     .  Remember, EHAA has never abandoned what it calls itself, “Neighbors Helping Neighbors.”

Treasure Hunters in Ruins of Old House

Fortune hunters are an intriguing lot.  Whether it’s Lord Carnarvan and Archaeologist Howard Carter excavating Tutankhamen’s tomb, or the dismantling of an old house, the intrigue entices the imagination.  In July 1938 Howard and Clark Rich of East Hampton and Spencer Jewell of Hartford (later to operate a plumbing business and own the Carrier Block at 82 Main Street) were tearing down a house built in 1750 by Nathaniel Markham, who, according to the last resident Charles Darling, is said to have hidden a fortune in bills and coins among stones of the Chimney.  Perhaps this early date is derived from the opinion of a local authority on art, who says its architecture resembles that of house build around 1750, rather than from the sign that has been on the house since the Connecticut Tercentenary, “Nathaniel Markham, 1786.”  And likely, the legend of the “hidden fortune” has come from the well-accepted tradition that in the War of 1812, when the British fleet was raiding the Connecticut shore towns and venturing up river, nearly discovering the American fleet harbored in Hamburg Cove, some Chatham householders hid their silver plate at the base of an old chimney.  Silver plate is the British definition of solid silver which differs from the plated tin or pewter often found today. The house by the way, was a tavern on the main highway passing along the east side of Lake Pocotopaug across a shallow ford from Markham’s Point (Meeks Point) to Arrow Point (Spellman Point) and thence along the north shore of the lake to Clark’s Hill and on to East Middletown, present day Portland.   In the end, no precious metal treasures however. The only silverware that had been found in dismantling the ancient inn was four rusty forks. 

Carl Price, author of Yankee Township, investigated the dismantling process by the treasurer hunters of the Nathaniel Markham homestead and managed to rummage through a box of literary treasure trove, rescued from the attic, with little intrinsic value, but of great interest and certainly the only fortune the house yielded.  There were readable books of ancient vintage in this box:  “the Village Blacksmith – Life of Samuel Hicks” 1842; “Anecdotes of the American Revolution” 1844 along with a dozen others.  The manuscript diary of C. N. Darling for 1875, neatly written, was full of East Hamptonian (what the Town was called by my High School Principal Andrew D. V. Ferrigno) interest.  For each day the weather was fully recorded with special reference to the clouds, with whose scientific names the author was quite familiar, and also as to the temperatures – frost on June 13 and September 22; six below zero on February 9.  A record of carpentry work as billed against various distinguished citizens, Dr. Notling, Horatio Chapman, W. W. Watrous, Joel S. Ives, Leonard Willey, John M. Smith; Chancy Bevin for filing 1 saw 25 cents; Augustus H. Conklin to making conductors 40 cents.  Work on the new Methodist church building was recorded throughout the year, and a catalog of all its spruce timbers up to the time of its dedication on Wednesday, October 20, 1875, when 100 were present for exercise beginning in the afternoon and lasting until midnight.  One item proved, however, that life was not all work:  “November 12.  Went hunting today.  Father Herm (Rich), myself, with dog, 7 greys.”  A final notation from the diary: “East Hampton needs a Board of Trade to induce manufacturers to locate here.  Western enterprise can well be imitated.”  We’re still talking about how to attract business 138 years later!