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You learn some interesting things writing a blog like this.

Things like this: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute — a classic engineering school, and mostly not thought of as an athletic powerhouse — has been fielding football teams (not quite continuously) since 1886.

This week we hearken back, through my grandpa’s hand, and revisit a rare and noteworthy highlight from a particularly difficult stretch for the school’s football program.

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October 23, 1965. Future Mets pitcher Al Leiter is born in Toms River, N.J.

A Homecoming win is always a nice thing, if you’re into high school or college football.

(My high school was more likely to be a patsy than a victor in Homecoming games; we were the sort of school other teams wanted to play on their Homecomings. The one time in high school that we won our Homecoming game, the other school went out of business at the end of the year.)

Anyway, RPI’s victory over Middlebury College on Oct. 23, 1965, must have sent the Homecoming crowd in Troy home happy.

But, looking at the records, this one meant a lot more than your average win: Going into the game, the Engineers hadn’t won a football game in more than six years. Most of them hadn’t been tremendously close, either.

Following a 21-0 win over Union on Oct. 17, 1959, the RPI gridders lost their last four games of 1959 (scoring a combined two points); all eight games in 1960; all seven apiece in ’61 and ’62; all six in ’63; six in ’64; and four more to start the 1965 season.

(In football-speak, they did manage to kiss their sister at one point, earning a single 20-20 tie against Nichols on Oct. 10, 1964.)

The nadir of this stretch had to have been an 82-6 pasting by Vermont — at home in Troy — on Sept. 29, 1962. For comparison’s sake, the RPI squad only managed to put 76 points on the board in the 1961, 1962 and 1963 seasons combined.

So after the final whistle sounded on Oct. 23, 1965, there must have been some serious celebrations in the dorms, frat houses and beer cellars of Troy.

The student paper, The Polytechnic, got in on the act a few days later with an above-the-fold tease and five pages of coverage:

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The Engineers wouldn’t win another game in 1965, but would post records of 5-4 and 4-4 in 1966 and 1967 — positively Lombardian by RPI standards.

(Rejiggering the schedule had something to do with it. Haverford College, a team that hadn’t been on RPI’s schedule during the down years, conveniently showed up in time to get walloped 57-0 in 1966 and 61-14 in 1967. A lot of events in 1966-67 made people think the world was turning upside down; RPI football winning a game 57-0 must have been one of them.)

The one remaining question, for Hope Street purposes, is whether my grandpa or my dad actually happened to be there for the big day.

The answer appears to be no. My dad only attended a few RPI football games over the years, and those because membership in school organizations required him to. He was not in the house for RPI’s only win of his five-year tenure:

I did not see the game, but I know it was a great excuse to party that night, although no excuses ever seemed necessary.

My grandpa’s calendar doesn’t record any trip to and from Troy that weekend. And if my dad wasn’t at the game, my grandpa surely wouldn’t have gone either.

So the calendar entry for Oct. 23, 1965, is simply a reflection of my grandpa’s amazement at a noteworthy and long-awaited event.

Would wonders never cease?

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At precisely this time of year in 1974, as summer gave way to the early chill of fall, you could have seen the artwork of Bill Blumenau prominently displayed in a public place.

If you’d cared to look up while filling out your deposit slip, that is.

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September 30, 1974. Mets win; Yankees, who are only one game out of first, are idle.

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October 30, 1974. The Mets and Yankees are on the golf course.

I don’t know how my grandpa connected with the State National Bank of Connecticut, but they were a pretty big deal in his area, back in the day — no two- or three-branch local player.

A 1977 document made available by the Stamford Historical Society indicates that State National had 42 branch offices at the time they displayed my grandfather’s work.

(I can’t guess at which office my grandfather’s paintings were displayed. But I’m betting it was in Stamford, as there is no indication on the calendar that he had to drive anywhere else to hang or pick up the paintings.)

State National, headquartered in Bridgeport, marked its 114th year in business in 1977. It claimed that year to have America’s oldest continually active national bank charter, tracing back to a bank founded in Stamford in 1863.

While State National reached historic milestones in the ’70s, it was also looking toward the future.

In 1973, the bank introduced what it called “the 25-Hour BanKey Banking Center,” a computerized device that allowed customers with personal checking accounts to perform any one of 12 financial transactions at any time in a secure vestibule.

Twenty-eight of these pre-ATMs were in place at the time my grandfather hung his paintings. Perhaps he bemoaned his luck: Just as he’d scored a nice public placement, the number of potential eyeballs on his work was dropping, because fewer people needed to come to the bank during business hours.

(This is very much a 21st-century perspective, of course. I’m guessing only a tiny percentage of State National’s customers in 1974 used the BanKey Banking Center as a regular, meaningful alternative to going into the bank and doing business with a teller. Times hadn’t changed yet.)

State National would go from celebration to resignation in just about five short years. In 1982, the company — then the fifth-largest bank in Connecticut — agreed to an $86 million takeover by the CBT Corporation, owner of the Connecticut Bank and Trust Co., the state’s largest bank.

If some Googling is correct, the merged CBT-State National later fell under the wing of Bank of New England, which went into bankruptcy liquidation in 1991. (An interesting New York Times article from 1990 about the foundering of Connecticut Bank and Trust can be read here.)

According to Wiki, the remaining Bank of New England assets are now mostly part of Bank of America.

Bank of America has several branches in Stamford — including one at 898 Hope St. — so it’s possible that, through all the changes, the bank office where Bill Blumenau hung his paintings might still be serving customers.

One other note: While my grandfather might have landed a nice setting for his work, he was still paying his dues.

On the first calendar entry shown above, if you look closely, you can see “W.C. Class #6” written in the previous week’s calendar entries (on Sept. 24, to be precise).

That would have represented a watercolor class. I find it kinda cool to think that, even as he was getting his work in front of people, he was still trying to learn.

I bet the people who noticed his work at the bank — and there had to have been at least a few — might not have guessed that they could find him there in town once a week, leaning over a canvas, taking notes and trying to get better.

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It was a big day in New York City on Sept. 24, 1970.

Of course, I guess it’s always a big day in New York City. But if you were able to walk through walls, ghost-style, and also able to park in front of any building you wanted, Theo Kojak-style, you could have seen the following eminences that day in the five boroughs:

Muhammad Ali met with boxing officials and underwent a physical examination at the offices of the New York State Athletic Commission, about a month before his comeback fight against Jerry Quarry. The New York Times described him as “subdued,” showing a “quiet demeanor and disinclination to boast.”

Sophia Loren and her husband, director Carlo Ponti, were in town to promote Loren’s latest movie, “Sunflower.” (According to Wiki, it was the first Western movie filmed in the U.S.S.R.)

-Director Otto Preminger was in town too, though not to shoot or promote a film. According to the Times (which will be my source for info henceforth unless otherwise credited), he attended a fundraiser at Sardi’s restaurant for U.S. Sen. Charles Goodell.

-Canadian actor Christopher Plummer stopped in town briefly, en route back home to be installed as a Companion of the Order of Canada. The Times reported him speaking enthusiastically about his next role as Frederick the Great, in between sips of a Bloody Mary in the Algonquin Hotel lobby.

-Other performers in town included comedians Bob and Ray, performing at the Golden Theater; gypsy violinist Sandor Lakatos; and Cleavon Little and Melba Moore in “Purlie” at the Broadway Theatre.

-Photographer Bruce Davidson was back in Harlem, showing copies of his book East 100th Street to some of the people he’d photographed for it two or three years prior.

-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller was in town to pick up a re-election endorsement from the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association. (Mayor John Lindsay was in town too, of course, breaking ground on a new police station in the Bronx.)

-The Mets were on the road and the Yankees idle, but Joe Namath and the New York Jets were practicing at Rikers Island ahead of their Sunday, Sept. 27, game against the Boston Patriots.

(This roundup doesn’t include Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, who were in New York in character though maybe not in person. Their Manhattan-set The Odd Couple made its network TV debut the night of September 24.)

The usual bustle of life in New York went on that day despite a serious power shortage caused by unseasonably warm weather. Con Ed imposed voltage cuts for the third straight day, causing shrunken images on TV sets, while the New York Telephone Co. fired up auxiliary generators for the second day to power its offices and network.

And, amid all that, my dad was in New York City too.

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No one seems to remember what led him there, except that it must have been work-related, as he wouldn’t have just gone to New York by himself.

(The note “Stuff to Jac. Penfield” probably means that my grandparents dropped off some things with my other grandparents in Stamford, the Jacobellises, so they could bring it to my parents in Penfield, N.Y. That further suggests that my dad was in New York City on work duties: He would have stopped off in nearby Stamford and picked up the stuff himself, if he’d been able to.)

Inevitably, there is a record of this exchange, as there was for every long-distance call my grandparents were involved in. I wonder when they started that practice and why: Did they get hit with false charges at some point?

My parents have never much enjoyed going to New York City, so it doesn’t surprise me that a brief work trip would be forgotten all these years later. I don’t remember every single place my employers have ever sent me, either.

If anything, then, this calendar entry serves as a reminder of how fast things fade.

Work meetings and projects seem so important when you’re doing them — and if you’re getting sent out of town, that must be even more important.

But try remembering what you were working on five years later — much less 47 years later — and unless it was really major, like a corporate takeover or something, you’re bound to have forgotten.

Work stuff drives us gray, and gives us heart attacks and ulcers and restless nights … but it doesn’t take long for those super-important tasks to vanish into the dustbin and never get seen again.

(If you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go apply to be a lighthouse keeper or a tree farmer or something.)

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Forty-five years ago, right at this time of year, one of the million warped, delectable pop-culture treats that made the Seventies so great was starting to take shape — and it was happening less than a 10-mile crow’s-fly from my grandparents’ house at 1107 Hope St., Stamford, Connecticut.

My grandpa (spoiler alert) had no idea this was going on, of course. And if he had known, he surely would have disapproved.

But it’s a good story, and those never go out of fashion. So pull up a chair (electric, perhaps?) and come back in the day with me …

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If you wanted to craft a summary of the American dream, you could do worse than this (hypothetical) want ad:

WANTED: Five working-class kids from Phoenix, Arizona, seek luxury property near New York City where they can live, work, play, and bring their successful shared enterprise to a whole new level. Property must be large enough to accommodate support staff and girlfriends, yet private enough to avoid scrapes with the neighbors.

Mansions within driving distance of New York don’t come cheap, but the young men in question felt they could afford it.

They’d just broken big with a pair of Top 40 albums and a hit single, as well as a must-see, headline-grabbing theatrical stage presentation. More and greater success seemed right around the corner — and indeed, it was.

Let money talk for long enough on the real-estate market, and a suitable location will present itself.

In this case, the property in question was the Galesi Estate, a 42-room mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut, renting for either $2,000 or $2,500 a month, depending on whose memory you believe.

With heavy doors, massive fireplaces, a hidden passageway and a generally eerie aura, the estate was well-matched to its new tenants’ gothic tastes. They quickly took to it as a place to work, unwind, escape their ever-growing notoriety, and explore other dimensions (in the manner of the day).

And in late summer and early fall of 1972, the tenants began recording new songs in the reverberant ballroom of the estate … plotting out unlikely, over-the-top tales of nightmares, necrophilia and physical decay amidst the country-club swank of southwestern Connecticut.

(Greed was a running theme too, inspired by the tenants’ sudden wealth, and by their interactions with Greenwich teenagers who had their own luxury cars complete with drivers.)

You know the five young men from Phoenix under the name their lead singer took with him when he went solo: Alice Cooper.

And if you are of a particular age and mindset, you know the fruits of their Connecticut labor as Billion Dollar Babies — the only U.S. Number One album that Cooper (the band or the singer) has ever achieved.

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Exactly how much of Billion Dollar Babies was recorded in Greenwich is difficult to tell.

Musicians who try to record in unusual locations sometimes end up going back to the sound quality, and the more disciplined settings, of professional studios. It’s known that follow-up sessions for Billion Dollar Babies took place in studios in New York and London — where, among other things, Donovan’s larkish and completely unexpected appearance on the title track was recorded.

At least one of the album’s most popular songs is a full-on product of Fairfield County, according to drummer Neal Smith.

To capitalize on the 1972 presidential campaign, the single “Elected” was released in September of that year — five months before the full album, and before any of the sessions outside the mansion were held.

A roaring, vainglorious, twelve-cylinder mess, “Elected” was the perfect pop song for the race-to-the-bottom year of Arthur Bremer, Tom Eagleton, and campaign-authorized ratfucking (their term, not mine) … and America’s failure to send the song any higher than No. 26 only underlines how messed-up that season really was.

Great rock n’ roll, it seems, can be made anywhere, even in 42-room mansions in Greenwich, Connecticut.

# # # # #

Alas, even at their moment of greatest triumph, success and indulgence were already starting to crack Alice Cooper apart.

The original group could muster only one more disappointing studio album (also recorded in part at the mansion) before splitting. In April 1974, a year to the month after Billion Dollar Babies hit U.S. Number One, the band was playing its final live shows together.

Like all good horror stories, reports of what happened to the Galesi Estate vary somewhat in the telling.

In the Cooper band’s absence, a fire caused by electrical wiring either destroyed or greatly damaged the mansion. Alice Cooper the singer was spending more and more time in Los Angeles by then, golfing with Bob Hope, drinking with John Lennon, and laying the groundwork for the scary-outside, cuddly-inside celebrity persona that has sustained him to this day.

None of the other band members struck it quite so rich after the ride was over, but one of them sank roots in Fairfield County and prospered. Drummer Smith went back to school and enjoyed a successful second career as a Realtor, selling high-end homes a few towns east of Greenwich.

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To bring this back to my grandpa (and you knew I would), I’d love to posit the notion that he walked past some of the Alice Cooper band members in the grocery store during their Exile on Easy Street.

But there seems to have been something of a wall between upmarket Greenwich and Stamford, even though the two communities border each other. My dad says:

Growing up, the luxury of Greenwich seemed a world away, and I doubt if I was in Greenwich more than a dozen times in my life, most of those for gigs or jam sessions.

(No jams at the Galesi Estate, of course.)

And my mom:

During our time Stamford was definitely blue collar. Changed RAPIDLY after we left. I also spent almost no time in Greenwich except for my violin lessons and my teacher lived almost on the Greenwich/Stamford border. Never went to downtown Greenwich or drove any of the roads. Upper class to say the least – hasn’t changed.

It seems unlikely, then, that anything would have drawn my grandpa in Coop’s direction, or vice versa.

Cooper the singer has said the band had tenuous relationships with its Connecticut neighbors anyway. One suspects they didn’t mix much with the locals — especially when they could spend free time in New York City instead.

And whatever impression of Alice Cooper that my grandpa had would have been negative. A snake-wielding long-haired young man in leather pants and black eye makeup, singing songs like “Hallowed Be My Name” and “I Love the Dead”? Not his bag.

(During the band’s time in Greenwich, my grandpa’s favorite newsweekly and former employer mentioned Cooper in its Oct. 30, 1972, issue, in an article called “Vaudeville Rock.” I can’t read the whole thing, so I don’t know whether it mentioned the group’s unusual choice of residence, or whether my grandpa ever knew that these repugnant, notorious freaks were his not-quite-neighbors one town over.)

In reality, the roughly nine-mile road distance between 1107 Hope Street and the road the Galesi Estate fronted on might as well have been 900 miles. And the Cooper band might just as well have been building a nuclear bomb there, for all it meant to my grandfather.

That doesn’t bother me, though. I still like to imagine my grandfather picking his tomatoes or hosing down his porch while, a scant few miles away, Neal Smith was laying down a thumping drum track or Alice Cooper was belting out a gravelly vocal that would play on radios around the world.

And who knows?

One of those Indian-summer nights on Hope Street, when my grandpa’s half-dozing ears noted the rumble of an unfamiliar, powerful engine above the usual traffic murmur, it might just have been a Yankee Doodle dandy in a gold Rolls-Royce.

You want sources? Here, and here, and here, and here, and here.

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My dad was a semi-pro musician during his high school and college years (and after), and this activity shows up regularly on the early years of my grandpa’s monthly calendars.

I’ve written before about my dad putting phantom “jobs” on the calendar as a way to claim the family’s only car on a weekend night.

Lest anyone think he was just a schemer, we’ll go in the other direction this week, and write about one long-ago late-summer Saturday when he worked his arse off.

(As much as playing music for money can be considered working, that is.)

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August 22, 1964. Yanks split a doubleheader; Mets lose.

Just to set the scene: At the time of this calendar entry, my dad is 21 and a few weeks away from heading off to his senior year of college at RPI.

He’s got his own car by this point — the infamous Shrimp Boat. And he needs it to fulfill this busy agenda:

-First comes an 11 a.m. wedding at North Stamford Congregational Church  (now North Stamford Community Church), where my dad was a substitute summer organist during the summers of 1962 through ’64. Three summers later, my parents would be married there.

-Next up is a wedding from 1-5 p.m. in Fairfield, about 18 miles up the coast from Stamford. While the first job of the day would have involved church organ, my dad is fairly sure he played tenor sax for this one. I’m guessing he was playing the reception, not the wedding itself.

(The timing between an 11 a.m. gig and a 1 p.m. gig seems awfully tight. My dad was apparently counting on the Shrimp Boat, and everybody else, not to break down on I-95.)

-Finally, my dad drove about 10 miles back down the coast for a 6-10 p.m. gig, again on tenor sax, at Chatham Oaks, a long-established banquet facility and catering hall in Norwalk. No doubt a beer or two kept the tunes flowing.

“Joe” on the calendar was local bandleader Joe Denicola; you’ve met him and his bandmates (including the immortal Shaves the Drummer) in this space before.

My dad was not in the habit of packing his days so tightly, and in fact was surprised when I told him about this calendar entry:

I thought I remembered the only triple-header I ever did, which was in 1962 and started at Springdale Methodist Church with their fair. But apparently I did it again in 1964.

This was pretty tightly scheduled; playing two 4-hour gigs plus a wedding service within 11 hours with maybe 25-30 miles between each gig is no mean feat!  And if it was really 8 hours on tenor sax, wow …  I can’t do 20 minutes now.  Ah, to be young!

As you can imagine, my dad was well-rewarded for his long day:

I think a safe number is between $75 and $100 total.  I remember a number of $25/gig.  Organ for wedding service might well have brought a little more.  But gas was 25 cents/gallon, cigarettes were 25 cents/pack, and a 6-pack of the Schaefer or Rheingold was around $1!  This was a good day’s work for a 21-year-old, make no mistake about it!  Minimum wage was around $1.25/hour.  I think I was making $1.40 – $1.50/hour at Parker Instruments that summer, so it’s a given that I brought home more that day than I had for the whole previous 40-hour work week.

Some of the other specific details of the gigs — like the exact event being celebrated from 6 to 10 — are lost to history.

Still, the calendar tells the story of a footloose young man with a song in his heart and a willingness to travel.

Or something like that.

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