Days 54, 55, 56, 57, 58 and 59 WLBT

Aug. 8, 9 and 10 – Northeast Kingdom, Vermont

Aug. 11, 12 and 13 — Marshfield, MA via Hillsborough, NH

by David Runkel

It’s been Nostalgia Tour time for The Author.  Three days spent in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom (NEK) where she went to camp, Songadeewin by Keewaydin, as a young teenager and returned as a staffer.  The Kingdom, composed of Vermont’s three mountainous counties, was named nearly 70 years ago by George Aiken, a former governor, senator and Robert Frost lookalike who loved to fish its streams and rivers.   

George Aiken
George Aiken

Operating out of St. Johnsbury just across the New Hampshire border, The Tour went to the old campsite on Lake Willoughby one afternoon.  Alas, the camp was closed years ago, but we passed a Keewaydin green (camp color) truck with Songadeewin of Keewaydin painted on the side in a barnyard as we approached what The Author thought was the lane to the camp.  No, just three private houses, a second attempt also failed but on the third try we entered familiar territory. 

The dining hall where the Author began every day singing “God Preserve Keewaydin Spirit” is in an advanced state of collapse, though several of the cabins were spotted, the hockey field was still there but overgrown, and Fox Hall, a gargantuan Victorian still dominates the top of the hill overlooking the lake and looks better than ever with well-maintained gardens. Millie Holt, who ruled it in the day was, alas, gone for good.  As we parked, a woman named Sue emerged from the back door to say she was renting in the back “mother-in-law” apartment unit.  Ironically, the house and property had been a bed and breakfast inn for nearly 20 years, then abandoned and now totally refurnished by a new owner who is seldom on site.

We walked along the shore of Lake Willoughby, testing the water which The Author pronounced warmer than she ever remembered from swimming, canoeing and waterskiing days.   We stopped at the house of Aline Harter, 94, one of remaining family members of the owners, but there was no response. She must have been out to lunch.

The Author said the return to her camp days was bittersweet and left her with an unsettled feeling. Perhaps it was remembering the day she did at least 52 back dives, the last requirement to get her camp letter. The wicked Kitty Wick found none of them satisfactory and there was no letter to wear home proudly.

Most of the rest of our time was spent relaxing, reading and doing prep work on 

Day Fifty Nine of the Scone by Scone Book Tour
Maple Syrup Museum

the WLBT’s Fall stops.  Friday afternoon we toured the one-small building that comprises the Maple Syrup Museum and made some purchases in the much, much larger gift shop. Time was also spent in the St. Johnsbury library and Athenaeum.  It’s an architectural wonder that puts the Carnegies to shame.  Its majestic entrance bids you to an inside full of old paintings, great wood work and floor to ceiling bookcases accessible by circular stairs.   

That evening we joined 1,699 others in an apparently successful effort to set a new Guinness world record for people attending a fifty-minute long astronomy lesson.  The crowd – of all ages but it appeared of only one race – gathered outside the huge Congregational Church, across from the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium, and in an orderly manner passed through turnstiles and into marked lots on the church lawn.  Sections were divided by pink plastic ribbons with a specified number of people in each section. We were Section 9. The man standing next to us had a daughter who worked on an organic chicken farm.

We faced a giant screen attached to an 18-foot-high speaker’s platform.  Bouncing beach balls kept the crowd entertained while we waited for our lesson.  Tee-shirts were blasted out in soft containers from a blow gun to keep us fascinated.

As the sky darkened, the planetarium’s astrologist Mark Breen appeared in a white jacket.  He produced a tin horn and put it to his lips. Sound emerged.  Not in tune and not pretty, but it got everyone’s attention.

He proceeded to dish out an interesting (truly) lecture on the planets, the stars, the first astrologists, Native American interpretations of the stars along with those of the Greeks and the Romans, and a report on the most US, Russian and other international research on the skies.  Yes, he declared, there is collusion – at least in the scientific field.

The St. Johnsbury crowd eclipsed by a huge margin the current record of just over 1,100 who attended a similar lecture in Australia back in February of 2011.  The Museum’s goal of involving the community in doing something interesting this summer was a huge success and The Tour was proud to participate.

It was our second Guinness record setting event – years ago The Author produced the world record setting scone for a meeting of Oregon innkeepers.   Never recognized officially, but noted locally nevertheless and by far the most significant achievement of her lifetime.

The Tour’s plan to visit two Presidential sites on the way to see Susie and Charlie Bradford in Marshfield, MA, was foiled by the Coolidges. Calvin’s library was closed for the weekend. The home of Franklin Pierce, Buchanan’s predecessor as president and the person who saves Pierce from being the country’s worst chief executive, was nearly as pathetic as his presidency.

His presidential site was the worst we have visited.  It’s in a state park and includes a living room sized “museum” and the house in which Pierce lived for much of his life.  We’re accustomed  to the introductory films by now, but this 25-minute production was more about Hillsborough and surroundings than it was about Pierce and his administration. The paths he walked and streams he saw did little to enhance our understanding of how he could have been elected in the first place. The overseer of the site was possibly the most enthusiastic Pierce person we will ever meet.

One thing of note was displayed: a letter Pierce wrote urging his secretary of war to run for president in 1860 as the only qualified Democrat who could win.  The recipient of the letter did become president in 1861, but is was of the Confederate States, not the United States and that would be one Jefferson Davis.

We intended to visit one of two Calvin Coolidge sites, but decided not to detour to his birthplace in Plymouth, VT where he was sworn in as president by his father, but instead to go to the Coolidge library in Northampton, MA.  This is where he was mayor before being elected governor of Massachusetts and then vice president to Warren G. Harding. The library, we learned on the road, was closed over the weekend. 

While in Marshfield, we took a trip to nearby Quincy (we’ve learned to pronounce it Quin-see. Forget about the “c”.) to the Adams family historic location, where the

Park Service tour goes first to the adjacent birthplaces of John Adams and his son

Day Fifty Nine of the Scone by Scone Book Tour
The Adams Library

John Quincy Adams, located in what is today a busy commercial district, and then another trolley ride two miles to the Adams family home for more than 150 years.   The birthplace homes are Puritan plain and small, with no real family relics. 

The Peace Field home and gardens, on the other hand, are the real thing.  It’s the house the Adams bought after returning from Europe in the 1780s, with Abigail’s addition and later additions by succeeding family members.  All the furniture is as it was in 1927 when the family turned it over to a local historic group, with portraits of John and Abigail, George Washington and others in the same places they have been for all those years.  The standing desk where Adams wrote the Massachusetts Constitution and other historic documents remain in place, the dining table that Abigail bought in England is in the dining room, the chair in which Adams had a fatal stroke on July 4, 1826 at age 81 remains.

Also on the site is the stone library built by John Quincy Adams for his 14,000-book collection. The collection remains intact and new finds continue to be made by curators who are reviewing it piece by piece.  A wonderfully spirited young guide recounted that a George Washington letter was discovered just last year. It fell out of a book a researcher was looking through.

Clearly this is the best preserved presidential site The Tour has visited.

The Bradfords accompanied us on this tour and the day before had taken us to

Plymouth where we lunched on the harbor near the statue of Charlie’s many-greats grandfather in his Pilgrim hat, known to the Bradfords as “Little Willie.”  The Author had a great time catching up with Susie, who’s been in her life since she was 5 on Oak Lane in Wayne, PA. Susie and the Author were both the youngest in their families and have much in common. Incidentally, the Author celebrated her 77th birthday in Marshfield with Charlie’s crab cakes, laced with watercress.  A planned book party fell apart due to vacations and other events and local book stores were not interested in hosting a non-local author, but The Tour was ecstatic with the reconnection with the Bradfords, who are terrific hosts. Their house is as old as the Adams’ and has been Charlie’s family since it was built. 

On to New York and New Jersey.