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Posts Tagged ‘new hampshire’

These calendar entries of my grandfather’s aren’t just windows into what was.

From time to time, they’re glimpses into what wasn’t — things that could have become part of the family history, but didn’t in the end.

We’ve looked at the Rambler he didn’t buy, the retirement village he didn’t move into, and the lottery ticket that didn’t make him a millionaire. (More than one of those, actually.)

We’ve got another one of those entries this week featuring an institution that could have been part of the Blumenau family warp and weave, but didn’t make the cut.

Join us in the old Ford, then, on another steaming hot New England summer day. We’re going to visit a college:

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July 17 and 18, 1964. Yanks split two. Mets lose two, the latter in sickening fashion. The 4 Seasons are at Number One, but the Beatles have a hot new one on its way up. Rod’s skin is still around today, with Rod in it, so the tests of the 17th must have come out OK.

Google Maps today shows the University of New Hampshire at three hours and fifty minutes away from Stamford, even with an accident in Hartford and a battalion of work crews blocking the way. Either the highways of 1964 weren’t what they are today, or similar long-ago impediments got in my grandpa’s way.

This was my aunt’s trip, so I’ll turn to her to lay out the basic information:

Yes, I visited the University of New Hampshire in the summer of 1964. I was interested in the education program there, so Drawing Boy, your grandma, and a friend who was also interested in the school took a ride there to check it out. I recall the campus was beautiful!

My friend wound up going to UNH and the New England setting was great for her skiing enthusiasm. I chose Southern Connecticut State because I was looking for more urban education programs.

I couldn’t tell you if it was the best choice, but it was the right choice at the time! As I have said previously, college choice was not the huge deal then that it is now!

(As the parent of a soon-to-be high school senior, I can attest that college choice is indeed a huge deal now, and will only get huger between now and next March or so. Maybe I am making too much of it.)

What did my aunt miss by not going to UNH from 1965-69? Let’s see:
– A mob of 2,000 students pelted 20 pacifists with eggs.
– Sargent Shriver spoke on campus, telling students: “There is only one war and we are all in it. It is the same war in Watts as it is in Vietnam. … The war for human dignity and human rights is going on everywhere.”
– Also speaking at UNH: Labor leader Walter Reuther; U.S. Sen. Wayne Morse; poet Stephen Spender; political theorist Hannah Arendt; and socially active priest Father James Groppi.
– Performers on campus included the Shirelles, cellist Janos Starker, and the Juilliard String Quartet.
– The hockey team was pretty good; the football team won some and lost some.
– The Public Service Company of New Hampshire announced plans to build one of New England’s first nuclear power plants in Newington, about seven miles from Durham. (The plan was shelved, then resuscitated in the early ’70s farther down the coast in Seabrook. It became the site of extensive anti-nuclear protests.)
– People attending UNH during that time included Carlton Fisk; future New Hampshire Gov. Steve Merrill; actor Michael Ontkean, who played on the hockey team; college football coach George O’Leary; and television producer Marcy Carsey.

(Some of the above info comes from Wiki, while other tidbits come from back issues of the Granite, the UNH yearbook, helpfully digitized by the university library. The rant that opens the 1967 yearbook, in particular, is a hoot — though it probably hits home to the members of the Class of ’67.)

After graduating from Southern Connecticut State, my aunt went to grad school at Boston University. I eventually chose to go to BU as well.

Since that visit in July of 1964, the closest the University of New Hampshire has come to being part of the Blumenau family story has been to serve as the target of boos and jeers at the BU hockey games I attended long ago.

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I’m scheduled to go back to New England in a few weeks for — yup — a couple of college visits. UNH is not on the agenda, so it looks like another generation of Blumenaus is passing up whatever charms it has to offer.

As I tour the various campuses, I’ll be wondering in the back of my mind which one becomes part of the family’s life, and which ones will end up as a footnote many years from now.

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Last time around, I wrote about finding my grandmother’s birth listed in a New England annual report — specifically that of Keene, New Hampshire, in 1914.

This time, we go back to the report for a closer read, to see what it tells us about the place where she was born. What was her corner of the world like at the moment she entered it?

We find Keene in 1914 as a city of about 10,000 people (it’s about 23,500 today).

It’s a city on the move, at least by its own modest standards, with population increasing almost 10 percent between 1900 and 1910. It has a fairly healthy manufacturing sector; maybe the growth reflects an increasing willingness among the area’s people to swap farming for well-paying jobs in a factory.

One of the city’s major employers is making threatening sounds. The Boston and Maine Railroad is hinting at what the report calls “a very considerable reduction in the working force” at its Keene repair shops. (Layoff anxiety is eternal.)

Among the city’s other companies are the Monadnock Shoe Co., Keene Mica Products Co., Ashuelot National Bank, the Sentinel newspaper and its affiliated printing company, the Burdett Chair Co., the Keene Glue Co., and the marvelously named Impervious Package Co.

There is no business specifically identifying itself as a brewery. Perhaps Keene does not have a large enough German population to support one. Or maybe the mood in town is starting to favor prohibition, which is only about five years away from becoming national law.

Keene is not a dry city, though. It has a liquor agent, Ervin M. Bullard, who reports purchasing and selling everything from New England rum to porter to California brandy to something called “cherry rum.” And H.O. Wardwell, clerk of the Board of Police Commissioners, reports 152 arrests for drunkenness and nine for violating liquor laws in the first three quarters of the year.

Wardwell also reports one arrest for operating an auto under the influence of liquor, and five for auto speeding. Clearly, the automobile is not a major transportation option in 1914 Keene. (Progress is coming: The fire department’s portion of the report recommends the purchase of an automotive fire truck.)

Keene might not be a dry city, in the alcoholic sense, but it sure is dusty. Of the 103 miles of roads in town, only about nine-and-a-half are paved. Each home or business abutting an unpaved road is charged $2 in taxes to pay for water sprinkling to hold down the dust.

Keene Gas and Electric has 522 incandescent streetlights installed in the city, the locations of which are noted in detail in the report. One is located opposite the city’s hospital, Elliot City Hospital, then at 305 Main St. Perhaps it lit Maud Wamboldt’s way there as she prepared to give birth (if indeed she gave birth there, and not in a private home).

Also, while water and sewer lines are still being laid, quite a few are already in place, and the report goes into detail about when each one was installed. One wonders how many of them, patched and repaired over the years, are still in service.

Exactly 1,969 students aged 5 to 16 are in the city’s public schools — 1,063 girls and 906 boys. I cannot remember how long my grandma lived in Keene, but I am not sure it was even long enough to ever make it into that statistic.

The report includes each of the resolutions passed by City Council during the year, and they make for an interesting combination of the important and the mundane:

  • “Sliding” (presumably sledding) is permitted from 4 to 9 p.m. on a section of upper Water Street.
  • No one can rent a room to use for dancing without obtaining the permission of the mayor (one Herbert Fay in 1914) and the city aldermen. A dance permit costs $2 per year.
  • The Lynn Wood Heel Co. is exempt from taxes for 10 years as a reward for moving its operations and machinery to town, with 150 jobs expected to be created.
  • An extensive set of driving and traffic laws, covering both autos and horse-drawn carriages, is passed six days before my grandmother’s birth. (There is no indication that these laws supersede anything already on the books.) Fines are anywhere from $1 to $10 per offense.
  • Nine hundred dollars is set aside for the construction of a concrete bridge over Beaver Brook on Church Street.

The state of New Hampshire has levied a bounty on hedgehogs, and the annual report lists a good 30 names of local men who have taken advantage of it. The most industrious, Ralph Manley, collects $1.60 for his work.

Keene has a college — then called Keene Normal School — but it’s only five years old in 1914 and doesn’t appear in the city’s annual report, except for a few brief mentions related to expenses.

Also mostly absent is World War I, freshly begun and not yet directly involving the U.S. There’s a reference to it in the library department’s report, of all places, but not much else. Keene, and the rest of the country, was still willing and able to stick to its own knitting in 1914.

Finally, William and Maude Wambolt and their two young daughters do not appear in the report, except for the Vital Statistics section mentioned in my previous post.

They didn’t owe any taxes; they didn’t serve on any city boards; they didn’t do anything else of note.

They just had a daughter, without whom you might have spent the last 10 minutes doing something more productive.

William Wamboldt.

William Wambolt.

Maud (LaBatt) Wamboldt.

Maude (LaBatt) Wambolt.

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Twenty years ago, I learned to love the New England-style annual town report.

(It might be that towns in other parts of the country also issue these reports. But I came to know them in the context of New England small-town democracy, and they live there in my mind to this day.)

An annual town report is a snapshot of ongoing operations — the municipal equivalent of a public company’s annual report. It lists all the town’s relevant financial info at numbing length, as well as other operating data and the results of Town Meeting votes.

Department reports provide splashes of narrative amid all the numbers. The police chief might decry an increase in breaking and entering, while the Parks Commission might plump for money for a new dock at the town pond.

A recent annual report cover from one of the towns I used to cover. The full report can be seen here.

A typical annual report cover. This report is recent, but comes from one of the towns I used to cover back in the day. The full report can be seen here.

These reports were a staple at the chain of Boston-area weekly newspapers where I worked in 1996.

A year or two earlier, a reporter with a freshly issued annual report had had a genius idea. He’d written a snapshot-of-local-life cover story, based entirely on interesting info culled from the report — five births; six deaths; three marriages; 13 underage drinking arrests; 22 miles of town-owned road resurfaced; $4,020 in library overdue fines collected; and like that.

Combined with creative graphics, “Sherborn By The Numbers” or “Natick By The Numbers” made for addictive reading. (Basically, they were Internet listicles before such a thing existed.)

The only people who disliked these stories were town employees, who hated seeing their salaries in print. The supervisor of the local sewage plant once got salty with me after I included his salary; listed the amount of waste his plant processed that year; and did the math to find out what he got paid per gallon.

But, town employees’ salaries are public info. They’re in every town’s annual report. And the reports were available free to residents — in some places, every household got a copy in the mail. So we weren’t telling anybody anything they couldn’t have looked up themselves.

These by-the-numbers stories were so popular, and so easy, that every paper in the chain took to running them at annual report time.

Perhaps they still do.

# # # # #

Twenty years later, I’ll still thumb through a town report whenever I find one. They’re like postcards from a place and time. You can see moments of real people’s lives if you squint at the numbers the right way.

I’ve been lost to the outside world lately, since I discovered that the University of New Hampshire Library has almost 15,800 annual reports from New Hampshire towns and cities available online.

Even though I’ve never lived in the Granite State, I’ve dived into the struggles and triumphs of its communities, from the Holderness Floods of 1973 to Derry’s celebration of hometown hero Alan Shepard a dozen years before. A few paragraphs after praising Shepard, the Derry report adds: “We hope to have our main street paved in 1962.”

(Charlie Baker, if you’re reading: You need to put some resources into closing the online annual-report gap. New Hampshire is housing you. Are you going to stand for that?)

I became doubly interested in UNH’s online treasure trove when I realized that I might find my paternal grandmother there.

She was born in Keene, in the southwest part of the state. And most town or city reports include what’s called Vital Statistics — a list of births, marriages and deaths recorded over the course of the year.

A few minutes with UNH’s marvelous archive and there she was, swaddled and screaming:

keene1914

You have to squint a little bit, but she’s the second line from the bottom — “Corrine,” born female and living on June 24, 1914, the second child of 30-year-old teamster Wm. L. Wamboldt and 33-year-old Maud LaBatt.

As far as I know, the two R’s in her first name are a typo. In my acquaintance with her, she was always Corine. Her mother’s hometown is also listed incorrectly: Maud LaBatt came from North Easton, N.Y., not “No. Eastern.”

(Regular readers have met and recently said goodbye to Corine’s older sibling, who was born two years earlier in Vermont. William and Maud had no other children before William’s death in 1920. Or after it, for that matter.)

Reading the list of births — nothing else in the report, just the births — is enough to paint a picture of Keene as a place torn between 20th-century cityhood and the roots of its rural surroundings. (Remember what I said about seeing real people’s lives if you squint the right way?)

For instance, there are 26 living births listed on “Corrine’s” page and only one stillbirth. The ratio is similar on other pages, and some list no stillbirths at all.

I’m no expert on public health, and just because all these children were born alive doesn’t guarantee they lived long.

But on the whole, it’s a better report than I would have expected from a small city in a rural region 100 years ago. It suggests that prenatal care was available in the area, and was making a difference.

On the other hand, there are birth reports from as far back as 1869 wedged in among the 1914 new arrivals. You can see 1894 and 1898 listed on “Corrine’s” page. The notion of promptly reporting a child’s birth, something we take for granted today, was clearly not yet standard.

I don’t know the full story, but I’m guessing these people were born on farms or in rural homes outlying Keene — maybe even without a doctor present — and no one bothered to file the notifications until years later, when they needed a birth record to accomplish some goal or other.

I’ve prattled on a while at this point, but there’s a lot more to discuss in the Keene annual report.

I think I’ll do a little more squinting for my next post, and see what more I can deduce about the time and place in which my grandma was born.

(For those who can’t bear the suspense, the 1914 Keene annual report can be downloaded here.)

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