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Posts Tagged ‘history’

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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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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For Richard Nixon, August 1974 was the month when he finally reaped what he’d sown long before.

My grandpa (a Nixon voter) spent that month doing pretty much the same thing.

Except, instead of calumny and disgrace, he had his hands full harvesting a much happier crop:

Tomatoes.

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August 10, 1974. Mets lose, Yanks win.

My grandfather’s calendar entries from early 1974 (such as this one) indicated he had his mind set on a serious year of gardening. He had his eyes on the seed catalogs in February, and he got an early start.

And in August — just after Nixon shuffled off to California in disgrace and Gerald Ford took office — my grandpa began to reap the benefits of his work and attention.

On Aug. 10 — the first day on the calendar that specifically mentions tomatoes — he harvested a dozen, weighing more than seven pounds. On the next day, a Sunday, the haul continued under sunny skies:

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August 11, 1974. Mets lose, Yanks win. Again.

Two days later was his 64th birthday, and he marked it with three more tomatoes weighing a pound and a quarter.

By the end of that week, he’d harvested 18 more tomatoes weighing more than nine pounds. The week after that (Aug. 18-24), he took 82 tomatoes weighing roughly 40 pounds.

(Just how big was his patch? I don’t remember it being that big. But he had a decent-size yard to work with. And in this period of time, he seems to have dedicated himself to working with it.)

My Aunt Elaine and Uncle Steve moved to a new place the following week, which called my grandpa out of town. He made up for it upon returning, picking a one-day record number of tomatoes:

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August 30, 1974. Mets and Yanks both win. President Ford meets Woody Hayes.

The harvest continued at a slightly slower pace into September. In fact, you could technically say it continued into the fall, as the last tomato-related entry shows up a day after the autumnal equinox. (It’s slightly unclear on which day the tomatoes actually got picked, but it doesn’t matter at this distance.)

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September 23-24, 1974. Mets lose. Yankees are swept in a doubleheader, knocking them out of first place, which they will not regain. President Ford meets Bart Starr.

Actually, I take that comment back about the last tomato-related calendar entry: On Oct. 2, the calendar records “100 green T.” Ever thrifty, my grandpa, and not one to let possibly usable tomatoes wither on the vine.

And at the end of October, he did the math and summarized the season’s take:

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October 1974. It is entirely possible my grandpa picked his own weight in tomatoes between Aug. 10 and Oct. 2.

If there’s a downside to this run of calendar entries, it’s that my grandmother almost certainly couldn’t make a marinara, Bolognese or puttanesca sauce worthy of the name.

The idea of all those garden-fresh tomatoes makes the mind reel with recipes, most of them involving olive oil and garlic … but, most likely, the season’s bounty was either eaten raw or put up in jars.

No matter. I’m sure every one of those 347 tomatoes was enjoyed, for flavor, for thrift, and for health.

And I imagine Richard Nixon — ailing and stuck in San Clemente — would have given what little he had that summer and fall to swap harvests with my grandpa.

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Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

I’m imagining the cuckoo clock at 1107 Hope Street counting down the minutes, as the occupants of the house sit quietly locked into small tasks — peeling potatoes, washing dishes, reading Time magazine.

I’d love to imagine them doing something more interesting or significant. Unfortunately, in this week’s post, the silence is the story.

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July 1970. The Mets spend the month in first place. The Yankees start it in second, but drop to third.

There are very few months on my grandpa’s 15 years of surviving calendars where he does not make his presence known.

I’ve mentioned that May and June 1971 were slow months for calendar entries, and for good reason. My grandpa’s heart attack at the start of May laid him up for a while. He wasn’t keeping lots of outside appointments, except with the doctor, and he apparently lost his usual interest in the weather.

July 1970, shown above, was another slow month. Almost half of the days are completely blank. Many others are close to it.

And on some days — such as the 8th, the 19th, 22nd and 23rd — the writing appears to be my grandmother’s, not my grandfather’s. He’s not much in effect until the very last week of the month, when he turns in the kinds of entries that I’ve come to identify as much more his style.

Of course, I wonder why he was so quiet.

I haven’t read day-by-day through the month’s newspapers, but a look at Wikipedia suggests July 1970 was a quiet month on the national scene. No space flights, no assassinations, no increases in the cost of postage, and none of the other stuff that used to make it onto calendars.

I know there were fewer people in the house to generate calendar entries. My dad had long since married and moved out, while my Aunt Elaine — not yet finished with grad school — was apparently in California. You’ll note a visit from Rod and Lynn — my as-yet-childless folks — from the 9th through the 12th, and a phone call from Elaine in Palo Alto on the 19th.

 

That doesn’t explain the near-complete absence of weather, appointments, gasoline prices, long-distance phone calls, church events, meals out, and the million other things my grandpa used to write down, though.

I know he was still working at John McAdams and Sons in Norwalk in the summer of 1970. So he wasn’t out of town all those days in July; he was home and on duty.

(His entries near the end of the month mention a vacation, which we’ve written about before.)

I concocted a theory that John McAdams and Sons had told my grandpa in advance about their plans to let him go at the end of the summer, and the news had depressed him to such an extent that he’d lost interest in his daily routines for a while.

But I don’t think that’s a realistic read. My grandfather was committed to providing for his family, but he wasn’t a wage slave.

It’s also possible that my grandpa was in a funk for no particular reason. I didn’t know him to be depressive, but we can all land there sometimes, and maybe he did.

(His description of the Fourth of July holiday as “CLOUSY” could be interpreted in that direction. It was common for him to note rainy, overcast or depressing weather in straight descriptive terms; it was less common for him to pass any kind of judgment on it.)

All I know for certain is, whatever stilled his hand in July 1970 wasn’t there before or after. I guess that’s a good thing.

Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

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