My Travels Abroad; War on the Horizon (1939)

A reminiscence based on the personal diary of a 14-year old in the last gorgeous summer of 1939 in France

La Cour aux Glycines: L’Hôtel de la Renaissance, Rue Murger, Bourron-Marlotte, Seine et Marne, France


In the spring of 1939 my father could see the War coming and realized that the coming summer would be the last opportunity for him and my mother to see their European friends—of twenty years—before the end of peace. He had not taken a real vacation for ten years or so and arranged for an entire summer of vacation.

My father had served with the AEF in France in the summer and fall of 1918 as a Lieutenant of engineers (303rd Engineer Train, 78th Division) where he commanded a corps of one-hundred mules and fifty motor trucks seeing action near St. Menehould in the Argonne Forest building pontoon bridges under fire at night to permit river crossings by the AEF.

Paris- 1918 (Kerr on right)

Following the November 11th Armistice he was billeted for the fall, winter, and spring months of 1919 in the house of a family named Chapeau (also Fleureau) in the village of Vénary-les-Laumes—a billet he shared with two fellow officers Herring and Lokensgaard (see framed sepia-tone of trio taken in Paris).  My father became attached to the family and especially to the small boy Fernand Chapeau to whom he later sent assistance for his schooling.  The old uncle (Fleureau) in residence had lived through two Prussian invasions of France (and as yet unforeseen, was to witness and to survive a third).

Leandre et Mme. Legal 22 Rue St. Martin, Hautvillers
Leandre et Mme. Legal 22 Rue St. Martin, Hautvillers

My mother had gone, in December of 1918, under the auspices of the YMCA, to do canteen work in France at Bay-sur-Aube for the soldiers who remained in France long after the Armistice—for lack of available shipping.  There she came to know another Y-girl, Juliet Whiton. Later, in June 1919 when that assignment ended, in order to remain in France over the summer, she joined an American Red Cross group, locally administered by British (Quaker) Friends, where she met “Jock” (Lady Chalmers) and “Benjamin” (Grace Lindley); British women, who took men’s names for a lark (my Mother became “Rufus” owing to her auburn hair) and who became lifelong friends.  With them in Nanteuille-la-Fosse (now-la-Forêt) and Hautvillers near Epernay she helped in the rural reconstruction, worked in the vineyards, and came to know the widow Legal—later Minoggio—and her son Léandre, to whom she became “marraine” or godmother.

In 1921 my mother and father (who had grown up together in Ithaca, NY) met again by chance in the New York subway and were married in Ithaca on August 18th, 1921.  They spent the rest of that summer on their honeymoon in France during which time they visited the friends they had come to know in 1919.

This summer of 1939 would be their last foreseeable opportunity to revisit them.  I was fourteen (just leaving eighth grade) and my sister Holley was thirteen.  We lived at 85 Ledgeways, Wellesley Hills, MA.

Much of this account is pretty mundane. Pay more attention to the annotations in italics and later parts as the War clouds gathered.


June 6th, Tue.   Wellesley Hills, New York (by car: a new ’39 Pontiac)
“We started from Wellesley Hills about 8:00a with a farewell party in the driveway.  Had lunch in Westbourough [sic] then went by the Merritt Highway into the Whitestone Bridge.  Found our lodgings and went to the Fair.  We saw the Federal Bldg., Railroads, and the Trylon and Perisphere.  Tomorrow will see all the countries.  We wore our feet out walking and went to bed.

So worried had been my father about getting away on this trip that for several days in the preceding weeks he had forbidden us to go to school where mumps were for a while prevalent, and forbade us to go to at least one party or social function which seemed to us at the time as desperately unfair. Tears of anger and frustration!
      In the driveway at 85 Ledgeways the neighborhood kids came over on their bikes to hang out and to say goodbye. The Merritt Parkway had just opened that spring and was considered a marvel of modern highway engineering. The Fair, of course, was the New York World’s Fair of 1939.

Trylon & Perisphere (NYDailyNews)June 7th, Wed.  Flushing Meadows, Long Island

“Got up early.  Ate breakfast at Blue Bird Inn.  Daddy went in to New York City and left Holley and [me] at the Foreign section.  Had lunch at Childs then saw Chrysler, Ford, aviation, maritime, US Steel, Italy and USSR.  We were so tired that we ate at the Blue Bird Inn and went to bed. PS we saw the smallest [electric] motor in the world.  It was about the size of a kernel of corn.

      At US Steel a full-sized automobile was suspended above the floor by a steel wire so thin it could hardly be seen and somewhere else a bicycle rolled continuously on rollers in wavering balance without a rider, controlled by some sort of rudimentary feedback computer.

June 8th, Thu.    Long Island
“Up at 7:30 and had breakfast at the Blue Bird Inn.  Then we went to the Fair.  We were at the Fair all day and saw Petroleum, Westinghouse, Amer. T&T, Communications, France, DuPont, Carrier Corp., Metals, Cons. Edison, Kodak, Sweden, [Missourie] and the fireworks on the Lagoon of Nations.  When we came home we met mother.  Coming home we went right to bed.

      Holley and I wanted desperately to go on at least one of the seemingly spectacular rides (Parachutes, roller coaster, etc.) but my parents wouldn’t allow it; too frivolous a waste of time otherwise to be spent in educational pursuit!

 June 9th, Fri.    Long Island
“Up at 7:30.  Went right to Fair and saw General Motors.  Also we saw Glass, and again Kodak and General Electric.  In afternoon we met Randolph Cautley for supper.  Saw French and Coronation Scott [?] exhibits.  In morning Daddy smashed up the car and we had to have it fixed.  We leave for the boat tomorrow, oh! boy! 

June 10th, Sat.    Long Island, New York City, MV Georgic
“We left Flushing and went to Pennsylvania Station by the subway.  From there we went to the Cunard dock and had breakfast.  Then we got on the boat.  We sailed at noon and passed the Statue of Liberty.  After dinner we looked around the boat and had tea.  After supper we went to bed.  I have an upper berth.

MV Georgic []
     The ship, the Cunarder MV Georgic was, I believe, later lost during the War after having been converted to a troop ship.  In 1939 ordinary people were unable to fly across the Atlantic as regular commercial air service became common only after the War.

June 11th, Sun.    MV Georgic
“Had breakfast and made some new friends.  Then we went to church.  After that we had some fun at deck tennis and the gym.  In the afternoon we went swimming and had tea.  In the evening we saw “Gunga Din” in the lounge also we set our clocks back one hour.

      To this day I remember scenes from that film—vultures taking to the air from desolate desert telegraph wires and, at the end, as the unsuspecting British Gurkhas approach the rebel ambush, prisoner Gunga Din, wounded but determined, struggles to the top of the fortress dome with his bugle to sound the alarm.  Not quite what Kipling had in mind but a stirring story nonetheless.
     ECA [my mother]: Holley fell out of the upper berth so we put her in the lower.

June 12th, Mon.    MV Georgic
“Holley and I played deck tennis all morning.  In the afternoon we had a swim and played ping-pong.  Later there were some “horse races” but we did not bet.  After supper we played some more ping-pong and went to bed.

June 13th, Tue.    MV Georgic
“Got up and played deck tennis with Holley.  After dinner we played ping-pong.  Later we went on a trip through the engine room of the ship.  I had a slight headache all afternoon.  After tea we played chess and watched the horse races.  In the evening there was a movie “The Cowboy and the Lady” which was lousy.  Went right to bed.

      I remember some popular tunes of the time which I always associate with this ocean trip: “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen”, “The Three Little Fishies” (They swam, and they swam, right over the dam), “Deep Purple”, and “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”.

June 14th, Wed.    MV Georgic
“Slept very late in the morning.  Wrote four letters in the writing room.  Holley and I played deck tennis all afternoon.  The sea is pretty rough and the ship is rolling a little.  Played ping-pong and went to bed late.

39061201_GeorgicJune 15th, Thu.    MV Georgic
“Got up at 7:30 had breakfast.  Played around with the elevator boy for about an hour.  Holley and I played deck tennis all morning.  At 11:00 we went on a tour of the ship.  In the afternoon we played deck tennis and skipped a kiddie’s party.  At supper there were balloons again.  Broke several.  Went to a concert and saw the “Little Princess” [Shirley Temple].  Bed late.

      The concert was a string quartet.  My mother was continually annoyed at not having been able to place one of the passengers whom, she was convinced, she knew personally or, at least, had seen before somewhere. It was revealed at the concert; for the man she “knew” was playing first violin. She had observed him closely, she finally remembered, at a concert in Boston in the spring. They were the Pro Arte String Quartet [the first violinist was Alphonse Onnou, who died of leukemia at age 46 in late 1940].

June 16th, Fri.    MV Georgic
“Got some guys and played Michigan in the morning and afternoon.  Also watched them hauling cars out of the hold.  Someone said we would see land in the morning.  Bed early.

June 17th, Sat.    MV Georgic
“Got up at 6:30 and saw first glimpse of Ireland.  Came in to Queenstown [sic; it was Cork] harbor and the tender came to meet us.  Watched the passengers and cars go overboard to the other boat.  Also saw the pilot come aboard.  Left Queenstown and headed for South Hampton, England.  Saw “The Wings of the Navy” then went to bed.

June 18th, Sun.    MV Georgic, Rouen
“Got up early and watched the boat come in to South Hampton.  Cars and [ship’s] laundry were unloaded.  Had lunch and headed for Europe across the English Channel.  Played Michigan and lost.  Arrived at Le Havre, France.  Started driving to Paris and stopped at a hotel in Rouen.  Went to bed.

June 19th, Mon.    Rouen, Les Petites Andelys
“Had a lousy breakfast.  Went out and saw the Cathedral, the market place and the tower where Joan of Arc was a prisoner.  After lunch we started for Paris but stopped at Les Andelys on the Seine to see a lady [Mme. Champsaur].  We had to wait so long that we stayed for the night.  While there we saw the Chateau Gaillard built by Richard the Lionheart—all in ruins.  Stayed at the hotel Chain d’Or.

June 20th, Tue.    Les Andelys, Paris
“Got up early.  Took the [guide] book back to Mme. Champsaur.  Started driving for Paris.  Arrived in Paris and found the Hotel [Universitie].  Went to the Amer. Express Co. and got mail.  Holley and mother to a hairdresser.  Daddy and I saw the Luxembourg Gardens.  After supper [Rallye] we saw the Tuileries Gardens and the Arc de [Triumph].  Drove in the car and saw the [Eiffle] Tower.  Back to the Hotel and bed.

June 21st, Wed.    Paris, Fontainebleau
“Had breakfast in Paris. After this we started driving for [Fontainbleau]. Saw a palace that Napoleon built and found a place to stay.  After dinner we went on a tour through the Chateau of Napoleon then walked around the garden. We went to look for hotels for the summer. Had supper and stayed over night at the Hotel Angelus “lousy”.

June 22nd, Thu.    Fontainebleau
“Went back to Fontainbleau to the “Cascade”.  Played ping-pong and wrote letters.  Daddy at Chateau for music. All afternoon looked at hotels and at last found one [La Renaissance] that we [all] liked. Had supper at the Cascade and played ping-pong. Bed and bath.

39062301_Cascades      Les Cascades was in Avon just south of the Palace.  We had great arguments about hotels for the summer.  Mom and Dad would like what Holley and I hated and vice versa.  Holley and I sort of liked the Cascade. Nice graveled yard and garden, games, etc. In the dining room of the Cascade was a painting of the head of an American Indian carrying a grim expression on his face; mother commented that it seemed to her that he had just had an “arrow escape”. Groans all around.

June 23rd, Fri.    Paris, Fontainebleau
“Played ping-pong for awhile.  Daddy and Mother walked to Fontainbleau while Holley and I played at the Cascade.  In the afternoon we went back to the Hôtel [de la] Renaissance and took a walk in the forest.  We drove to the firing range [champ de tir] of the artillery school and back to the hotel.  When we finished our business there we watched an old painter at work [in the street].  Had supper and played tennis.  Bed.

      At the champ de tir the guns [French 75s?] were firing directly away from us toward a distant hillside.  My father claimed that, at the height of its arc, he could discern a fleeting shadow of the shell itself in flight directly away from us.  I looked, and looked, and could never see what he saw.

June 24th, Sat.    Fontainebleau, Paris
“After P.D. [petit déjuner] we started driving for Paris.  On the way we played a new game.  We went to the Amer. Exp. Co. and to the Louvre and saw some artists.  After dinner we went to Notre Dame and saw the 3 rose windows.  Then we climbed to the top and saw the grotesque gargoyles.  We stayed for supper at a hotel [Victoria Palace] took a walk [Luxembourg Gardens] and went to bed.  P.S. bought a map of New England, 1580 A.D.

June 25th, Sun.    Paris, Fontainebleau
“Got up early at the Hotel Victoria Palace and went to Napoleon’s Tomb.  Then we went to Versailles and went through the palace with an old man.  After that we had lunch and walked around the gardens.  We watched the fountains for a while and went to Fontainbleau had supper and went to bed.

      In Paris in late June and early July dark does not come until almost eleven at night so that the days can be long filled with activity.

June 26th, Mon.    Fontainebleau
“Daddy took us to see them firing on the champ de tir.  On the way home we got caught in a rain storm.  Had lunch.  Went and played in the sand pile while Daddy and Mother went to Fontainbleau.  Holley and I ran to the champ de tir saw them fire and walked back [to the Cascade].  Holley walked with Mother and Daddy then supper.

June 27th, Tue.    Fontainbleau, Bourron-Marlotte
“We played ping-pong all morning while Mother and Daddy packed.  After lunch we packed our bags and played ping-pong.  Then we took the bags down to [La Renaissance in] Marlotte and on the way we watched the firing.  We watched the old painter finishing his picture and then went home.  After supper Holley and I tried to see how far we could get in ping-pong, we made 120 times.

      We spent the summer at the Hôtel de la Renaissance on the Rue Murger in Bourron-Marlotte.  It was owned by the family Perronet (Madame, M’seur, and their two boys Jacques, the elder, and Michel who were just a year or so older than we).
One entered from the narrow street through an iron gate which opened onto a spacious gravelled court—itself widely open beyond to a wooded wilderness after crossing hedged and gravelled garden paths.  Buildings enclosed the court on three sides, a two story   connecting structure forming the façade on the street and the roof of the gate; all of it old and stuccoed.  Overhead garlands of hanging wisteria draped the court in the center of which was a small stone “well”.
      The section on the right housed a dining room—used only in bad weather—and farther back, under more wisteria and flanked by a kiosk, an open gravelled space served as the al fresco dining patio; tables all around under parasols.  The kitchen was nearby and beyond somewhere was the kitchen garden.  On the right over the dining room and other ground floor rooms were other guest rooms and the residence rooms of the Perronet family.
      We were assigned rooms on the left over some public spaces containing a billiard and a ping-pong table and another (with a piano) large enough for fencing matches.
      There are three surviving color stereopticon photo’s of the courtyard area two of which have Holley, Jacques, and me in the middle ground. There is as well a sepia tone postcard probably of the thirties.  Thereon the yard is grandly called La Cour aux Glycines.
      Renoir’s house is across the rue Murger, occupied then by his son.
      Anyone who has stayed here and at the same time has read Rumer Godden’s novel The Greengage Summer would be convinced that the two venues must have been one and the same.

June 28th, Wed.    Marlotte, Loire valley
“Got up very early in order to get an early start for the [Chateaux] Country.  We started at 9:00 and drove to Blois where “Ze Duc de Guise vas here kill-ed right in ze middle of ze room”.  We had lunch and drove through Tours to Chinon and the Castle.  Here we had tea and saw the ruins of Chinon.  There were towers and dungeons all around.  When we got to the car we [had] lost the keys but [I] found them again [in the grass].  We drove to Tours, had supper and went to bed.

      When my parents were at Blois in 1921 their guide had so described the demise of the Duc and my Mother delighted in repeating the phrase whenever it seemed vaguely appropriate.

June 29th, Wed.    Loire valley, Marlotte
“Had breakfast in the girls bedroom then drove to Loches and saw all the awful dungeons and tortures.  We had our picture taken at a stone dog.  Then we went to Chenonceaux and its Chateau.  After lunch we drove to Amboise and saw a spiral ramp where horses could climb up.  Then we drove to Marlotte and had supper and bed.

39062900_LochesDog     The picture by the stone dog(s) is among the stereopticon photos that we took with my father’s two-lens camera.
      At Loches my parents were sure that they had the same man as a guide that they had had in 1921.  They remembered him as a master at rattling the keys, locks, and chains in the dimly lit dungeons.  He gave me a rose blossom which I saved and dried and put in a little screw-top bottle; sill among my things.  It smells as rich now as it did then.
      At Loches in 1999 I asked the guides about this man and they remembered him well-—he had died sometime in the seventies at a great age.  I took a picture, again, of the stone dogs.

June 30th, Fri.    Marlotte
“Bought a ping-pong ball and played, (it was lousy).  Holley smashed the ball so we played billiards.  Then after lunch we played more billiards, put another dent in the ball and played more billiards. After supper Mother read to us.

July 1st, Sat.    Marlotte
“Stayed in bed all morning, wrote a letter and two postcards.  Mother read to us.  Had some soup in bed.  Played some games, told some jokes then had an orange.  Mother and Holley drew me in bed and Mother drew Holley.  Daddy came home and went to sleep had supper and went to bed.

July 2nd, Sun.    Marlotte
“Had breakfast in the girl’s room.  After breakfast Mother read to us from Holley’s book.  Then I got up for lunch.  After lunch we played billiards and then studied the verb donner.  Then played more billiards.  After supper Mother read to us then we went to bed.

July 3rd, Mon.    Marlotte
“Played billiards with Holley.  Mother and Daddy went to Fontainbleau after lunch and we played chess.  Holley won twice and I won once.  Then we played billiards with Jack  Perronet.  After supper we went to see about French lessons.  Then came back and talked with M. Perronet.  Bed.

      My parents had enrolled in the American Summer School at Fontainebleau for the summer; my mother in French and the history of music and theater, and my father in violin—which he played moderately well but which he enjoyed immensely.   With our parents at school part of most weekdays Holley and I were left to ourselves and to play with Jaques Perronet.   Michel must have been elsewhere; I have almost no recollection of him.

July 4th, Tue.    Marlotte
“Holley and I played billiards then went with Mother to rent bicycles.  We rode around Marlotte in the morning.  Mother and Daddy went to Fontainbleau for lunch.  We had lunch alone then rode almost to Grez [-sur-Loing].  When we came back we played a tie game of chess.  Then we rode our bicycles with Jack and he showed us his room.  After supper Jack showed us a new game of cards.  Bed late.

July 5th, Wed.    Marlotte
“Had a French lesson with Mlle. Coquard.  It was lousy, rode around the garden and then had lunch.  In the afternoon Jack took us up to the “Gorge au Loups” and we sailed boats.  Then he gave us some good tea.  After supper we played cards with Jack in our room then went to bed.

July 6th, Thu.    Marlotte
“Had a French lesson.  Then went down and played chess and rode bicycles.  After lunch played chess and rode bicycles.  After supper read and went to bed.
P.S. Went and saw a much better lady about French lessons.

July 7th, Fri.    Marlotte
“Had a French lesson. Rode our bikes then had lunch.  Daddy took Mother to Fontainbleau for her French lesson.  Holley and I played chess then went to a violin quartet in Fontainbleau.  After supper we read in our room.  Bed.

      At lunch and dinner there was always fresh garden salad available.  Without fail, a minute or two after salad had been ordered, we would see the tall blond waiter fly from the kitchen to the garden and back, long curly hair streaming behind him like wings on a casque.  My mother called him Hermes.

July 8th, Sat.    Marlotte
“After breakfast we had our last French lesson with Mlle. Coquard.  After the lesson we rode around the garden.  We had lunch and then did some sketching on the street.  Then Holley and I rode our bicycles into the forêt.  After supper we rode around the garden with the French family.  Bed 10:00.

July 9th, Sun.    The Argonne
“Started for the Argonne forest.  Had lunch at St. Menehould then went to the forest.  We saw the front line, the old German machine gun nests and trenches.  Daddy took us over the same route that he and his mules went over in the war.  Also we saw the big American cemetery and monument [at Romagne].  We saw the German dugouts also.  Got home at 12:00 very tired.  Bed!!
P.S. Daddy got stopped for having white headlights on our car.  The French ones are yellow.

ECA: “Started for the battlefields. A day of showers, sun, and cloud shadows.  The countryside was beautiful.  Drove to Grand Pré where K. showed us all his hangouts during the War. Swung around by Varennes and the Argonne Forest.  Saw Joy’s and my dugout salle de bains and the Kron Prinz dugout.  Then to Romagne to see the American cemetery.  Home by way of Montfaucon where we climbed the high war monument.  Everything is green and the scars of the War are practically gone.”

July 10th, Mon.    Marlotte
“Got up very late and had breakfast.  We rode around on our bicycles around the garden.  After lunch Mother and Daddy went to Fontainbleau.  Jack, Holley and I rode to Fontainbleau and saw the champ de tir, the Palace, and his school. I painted a stained glass window then we had supper and read.  Bed.

July 11th, Tue.    Paris, Vincennes
“We rode around all morning.  Then we and Jack drove to Paris and the Bois de Vincennes [a zoo].  We had lunch at the bois then saw the animals.  They are all in pits surrounded by cement like stone.  I liked the bears and the seals the best.  We climbed the big rock and then went home.  After supper we played ping-pong and went to bed.

July 12th, Wed.    Marlotte
“Wrote letters in the morning then had a drawing lesson with Madam Bourgose.  We drew a hand.  After lunch Jacques took us to a big sand pile in the forest.  He had some firecrackers and almost killed himself (oh yeah).  Played ping-pong after supper and had a [bike] crash.  I got a flat tire.  Bed.

July 13th, Thu.    Marlotte


“After breakfast we wrote some postal cards and letters.  Then had our French lesson.  I drew Mme. de l’Epinois’ bathroom window then had my lesson.  After lunch fooled around the garden and then went and watched the artist [M. Vaillant] sketch the street.  Started one myself.  After supper did some more and went to bed.

      Madame de L’Epinois (our “new” French teacher?) was a middle aged lady whom my parents more or less befriended.  She had an old house directly across from La Renaissance with an ornate bathroom window that overlooked the street.

July 14th, Fri.    Marlotte, Riom, La Bourboule
“Got up at 7:00 and had breakfast in the room.  Then started driving to Clermont-Ferrand.  Had lunch at St. Pierre and went on.  At Riom we turned off for La Bourboule through some beautiful mountain country.  When we got to Bourboule we found a hotel  and then went up a funicular railway and got a good view.  Then we went into a church and saw some [Bastille Day] fireworks.  Bed.

July 15th, Sat.    La Bourboule, Clermont-Ferrand,
“Started driving for Clrmt. Ferrand.  On the way we stopped at a Chateau and saw it.  It is in Murols.  Had lunch at Champaix.  Got to Clrmt.  Ferrand and found Daddy’s friend [Paul DeBrion].  They took us to their summer place.  There we saw their baby.  On the way back we saw a rainbow that was very beautiful. Stayed for the night at La Palisse.  Bed Very tired.

      The rainbow was memorable for its having been projected well below us against a dark, forested background as we traversed a high mountain road above a deep valley.  It was double.  I have seen few like it since—one from halfway up 1,200 foot Cannon Cliff in Franconia Notch, NH as I retreated by rappel to the talus after a soaking hail storm.

July 16th, Sun.    Clermont-Ferrand, Venary-les-Laumes, Marlotte
“Started driving for Venary.  Arrived there at dinner time.  We stayed for lunch at Fernand Chapeau’s house.  After lunch he took us to see a statue of Vercingetorix.  Saw some Phenoecian ruins.  After this started driving for Sens and Marlotte.  Had supper at La Renaissance.  Very tired so went to bed.

KA, Fernand Chapeau, MFleury/ HA, WA, MmeC?, MmeFC, MmeF?/ PierreC, SisterC

    The ruins are actually Roman—The ancient site of Alesia.
Vercingetorix is, I believe, the inspiration for the French cartoon character Asterix.
Whom we visited was young, thirtyish Fernand Chapeau of Venary. The village is Venary-les-Laumes near Montbard between Auxerre and Dijon. After a long search ca 1999 I found Fernand’s son Pierre at the same house. He was smitten, and he later told me that his sister refused to believe my visit. He was
maçon and described his father, who had died several yeras earlier, simply as écrivan without elaboration. I have wondered since about this reticence. The Vichy period during the War was a divided and dangerous place.

July 17th, Mon.    Marlotte
“After breakfast we wrote some letters and then went to our French lesson.  Then we had lunch.  Mother went to Fontainbleau and we fooled around and then we had tea with Jaques Perronet.  Went sketching with Mother.  Started a street scene.  Read after supper out of “Land For My Sons”.  Bed

July 18th, Tue.    Marlotte
39072001_MarlotteMurgerE2“Played around with Jacques then took our bikes to be fixed.  After dinner we sketched awhile and I finished a very good one of the street.  Got our bicycles and had supper.  Then we read while it rained.  Bed.

July 19th, Wed.    Marlotte
“Had to write a letter to Mr. Mackey in picture writing.  Went to our sketching lesson with Madame Bourghus.  Had lunch.  Rode our bikes then went to Moret to sketch.  I did a shield.  After supper we walked and then read.  Bed.

      Mr. Mackey was the “hired man” at the Booth farm in Locke, NY where Holley and I were boarded out for several summers in the mid-thirties.
     He was memorable for having taken a more or less educational interest in us.  Showing us unusual things in the woods, how to make pokeberry ink, making for us a board with mounted and labeled samples from a dozen kinds of tree, building a little water wheel mill in the stream behind the barn, etc.  We considered him somewhat mysterious as he would come and go for extended periods without ever telling us children where he went.
      I still have the watercolor of the shield and the other “drawings” mentioned in this account.

July 20th, Thu.    Marlotte
“As in all others.  Wrote letters and then had our French lesson.  She showed us her dog’s medals from Paris.  Had lunch and then sketched the Rue Murger from where the artist first sat.  Had supper then read “Land For My Sons”.

July 21st, Fri.    Marlotte, Paris
“Had breakfast in the room!!!  Then Daddy drove us to the train at Montigny and we went to Paris.  We shopped all morning then had lunch. Got on the train and went to Montigny where Daddy met us.  Rode our bikes then finished “Land For My Sons”.  Bed.

July 22nd, Sat.    Marlotte, Moret
39072201_MoretWindow2“Went to Moret and started to sketch the old gates but it poured rain and we went into the church.  I did a stained glass window.  After lunch we went for a walk and I lost the party and came home.  After supper we started “Quentin Durward” by Sir Walter Scott.  Bed.

      Louis XI figured prominently in Scott’s Quentin Durward and Loches was one of his venues.  It was Louis Onze who invented the cages and many of the tortures there.  He wore a soft cap with cast leaden ornaments.  His massive wooden cages—too small either to stand in or to lie full length—can still (1999) be seen at Loches.

July 23rd, Sun.    Marlotte, Chateau Thierry, Reims
“Started for Reims to see the Cathedral.  On the way we stopped at Chateau Thierry and saw two monuments.  Here is where the heaviest fighting on the American side was done during the war.  Also we saw Epernay where mother was after the war and saw Hautvillers and the house where she stayed [at Nanteuille-la-Fosse, 110 rue de Bré].  At Reims we had lunch and saw the Cathedral.  Then came home and then went to bed.

July 24th, Mon.    Marlotte
“Wrote some letters then watched the gym teacher do some junk.  Went to our French lesson and had lunch.  Mother et Daddy went to Fontainbleau and we fooled around.  Went to the big sand pile and made a ball shoot.  Started home and got caught in a hail and rain storm.  Got soaked.  Came home and dried off.  Read, supper, read and then Bed.

July 25th, Tue.    Marlotte

The gate at Moret

“Wrote a postcard and then went to Moret with Mother and Holley.  I drew one of the ancient gates and Holley drew nothing.  Had a late lunch.  Played ping-pong with a man.  Daddy met him and he is a Baron.  After supper we played billiards and went to bed.

     This man was Danish Baron Peter von Soren a member, we later learned, of the British Intelligence Service.  After communicating with him for a year or so we lost touch and presume that he was lost in the War.  Peter had a goatee and somewhat resembled likenesses of Shakespeare.

July 26th, Wed.    Marlotte
“Wrote a postcard then went to our drawing lesson.  It was lousy.  Had dinner then fooled around.  Later we went to meet Baron Peter Soren for tea.  Then he took us canoeing.  Had supper then read and to Bed.

July 27th, Thu.    Marlotte
“Did jobs and went to our French lesson.  After lunch we went to Fontainbleau and met Polly Applewhite and her friend.  Then went to the movies.  The first one was lousy but the second Marco Polo was swell.  Afterward we went home had supper and read Quentin Durward.  Bed.

      Polly and her mother we had met on the Georgic.

July 28th, Fri.    Marlotte, Melun
“Played around until dinner.  After dinner we went to Melun on some tourist business.  After that we saw a beautiful chateau called Veaux le Vicompt.  Afterward we passed some plages and I walked home from Montigny.  After supper we read.  Bed.

      The French government had issued a requirement that all aliens must register for “Cartes de Tourismes” at the nearest departmental seat—for us, Melun.  There was a huge line for the caisses—one had to wait in one line for one part of the process and then go to the end of the other line for the second part.  It took forever.  When my father finally reached the first window the fonctionaire began to review his papers.  Upon being asked in what capacity he was last in France (as my father had noted on his form) my father answered, “Comme soldat“.  The man exploded “Comme soldat, comme soldat!” and passed him instantly to the head of the second line and we were out of there in moments.
      Vaux le Vicompt was designed by the builder of Versailles; André le Nôtre

July 29th, Sat.    Marlotte
“Looked at the maps of Brittany for mileage.  Played around and had dinner.  After dinner we went to Fontainebleau and played a new game of billiards there.  Got some ice cream and came home.  After supper Daddy and I played billiards then went to bed.

July 30th, Sun.    Marlotte
“Went to Montigny to get Peter Soren.  Mother and Daddy went with him to church while we went to the restaurant.  It was closed but we got in later.  After lunch we went canoeing with Peter and went swimming it was cold.  Came back and had supper.  Read and went to bed.

     The restaurant was in Montigny-sur-Loing called La Vanne Rouge and its terrace was right on the river dotted with tables and parasols and with a boat ramp and canoes.
ECA: “[for dinner] they served chicked and veg., fresh melon, salad, cheese, fruit, tarts, coffee.  Peter is a conoisseur on wines so we had him choose.  He took Grande Cru Croton, 1910, a red wine, very nice.”
     La Vanne Rouge is still there (1999) as I went out of my way to find it.  It was late afternoon and closed; the patron wouldn’t let me in for a beer so I had only to peer through the cracks in the gate to get a glimpse.  I tried to walk from there to Marlotte but found the distance (3 km) far greater than I had remembered, so great in fact that I had to return to get my car. In 1939 we thought nothing of walking to Montigny and back of a summer evening.

July 31st, Mon.    Marlotte
“Did jobs and went to Fontainbleau and picked up Polly and her mother.  Then came to the hotel an got a pick-nick lunch.  Went to the Loing river got a big rowboat and went up the river.  Had our supper and boy what sandwiches.  Had a swell time coming back.  Took them to Fontainbleau and then went to bed.
ECA: “In Fontainbleau we saw whole lines of artillery soldiers file by on horseback in the moonlight.”

August 1st, Tue.    Marlotte
“I got out the maps and planned the mileage for our Brittany trip.  After lunch rode to Fontainbleau and met Polly at the Palace then we went to the restaurant and played all afternoon.  Came home and had supper then went to bed.

August 2nd, Wed.    Marlotte
“Went to our drawing lesson.  Holley started an oil painting.  After lunch we went to Peter’s hotel and then he took us to a little weekend house and we played ping-pong.  Mother and Daddy came and we had tea and played chess. Read out of Quentin Durward.

August 3rd, Thu.    Marlotte
“Went down to breakfast then went to our French lesson.  I drew and started some oils and Holley some palette knife.  After dinner it rained so we went over and finished painting.  Rained all afternoon then we had supper and went to bed.

August 4th, Fri.    Marlotte, Nemours
“Had breakfast and then got Peter and went to Nemours and saw the church and an old museum with some guns and old locks in it.  After lunch we went to Fontainbleau on our bikes and met Polly and two others with red hair Billy and Joan.  Had tea under the arch with Simon Pigley.  Glad to get rid of Joan.  Had supper with the Applewhites and heard the concert.  Bed.

August 5th, Sat.    Marlotte, Paris, Libourne
“Got up and packed for Libourne near Bordeaux.  Had an early lunch then took the bus to Paris.  Saw the museum of Arts et Metiers then saw the Wax Works [Musee Grevin].  Had supper then went to the station [Gare Quai d’Orsay] and got on the wagon-lit.  Went to bed in the upper berth.

     The Gare Quai d’Orsay  is now the Musée d’Orsay since 1986.

August     6th, Sun.    Libourne, Ste. Foy la Grande (Gironde)
“Got up at 5:00 and got off the train at Libourne.  Then took a small train to Ste. Foy la Grande.  Here we met the Minoggios and went to their house [Villa Anfa, Rosière] and had breakfast.  Took a walk [along the Dordogne] until lunch.  After lunch we took another walk to town and the park.  Came home and had supper.  Played with the cats then went to bed in the cellar.

      Mme. Minoggio (Mme. Legal) was the woman that my mother knew from Hautvillers (Epernay) in 1919 and to whose son, Léandre, she became marraine (see prologue).  At this time he was in the French airforce in Morocco.  He survived the war;  I met his son Jean Pierre Legal in Paris in 2003 on one of the days of the infamous weeklong canicule in which thousands of Parisians died.
I found Léandre’s son Jean Pierre in Paris after a laborious and months long search by mail through the
mairies of  France and Luxembourg where resident records are kept. Sadly, as a teenager, he had had a moto accident that put him in a wheelchair for life. In spite of this disability he drove a car and showed me around Ile de France in several subsequent years. He died in 2016.
ECA: “They   showed us photo’s of Léandre and Janny(?) in Morocco where they live.   Also showed us the pictures of ourseves that they had framed, and the oil portrait of Leandre which Papa [Irving Porter Church] had painted.”

August 7th, Mon.    Ste. Foy la Grande, Libourne
“Played with the cats in bed.  Had breakfast then took a walk to the Gare to find my hat.  Saw the church and the river.  After lunch we made tents for the cats then had tea.  Went to the train and went to Libourne.  Went in the church and waited at the Gare for the train to Paris.  Went to bed on the train and went to sleep.

August 8th, Tue.    Paris, Marlotte
“Got up at Austerlitz Gare and had breakfast.  Took the Metro to Opera and left Daddy at the American Exp. Co.  We shopped all morning and I got a French railway car.  Went to the Bastille to see about the bus then had lunch.  Took the bus to Marlotte and played around until supper.  Read then went to bed.

August 9th, Wed.    Marlotte
“Rode to Fontainebleau with Mother and found Polly.  We all rode to Marlotte and fooled around.  Had lunch and then went to the sand pile and just sat and talked all afternoon.  Rode to Fontainebleau and had tea.  Played in the restaurant then came back for supper and saw a fencing match.

August 10th, Thu.    Marlotte
“Went to our French lesson.  Then had lunch.  After lunch we rode to Fontainebleau and met Polly for an hour then went to the Spicer-Simpson’s for tea.  Played deck tennis then came home and had supper.  Later we went to say goodbye to Peter.  He also gave us tea and we talked then came home and went to bed.

Autographs: Peter Soren, Spicer-Simpson (Ship personnel)

      Mr. Spicer-Simpson was a well known sculptor and medalist.  He lived in the Bourron part of Bourron-Marlotte.

August 11th, Fri.    Marlotte
“I went to the sand pile with Holley while she collected colored sands.  After dinner we went to Fontainebleau and found Polly and Rowena LaCoste then went to Samoise plage to swim.  Came home and played ping-pong at the restaurant.  On the way home we got soaked in the pouring rain.  Had supper then read and went to bed.

August 12th, Sat.    Marlotte, Chartres, LeHavre
“Packed our bags and started driving for Chartres.  Saw the cathedral then had lunch.  After lunch drove all afternoon to Le Havre and got supper there.  After supper we walked down by the docks then went to bed.

August 13th, Sun.    Le Havre, Avranches, Rennes
“Got up and in the middle of breakfast Benjamin [see preface] came in and Mother and she renewed acquaintances.  We drove to the river side in the fog to get a bac or ferry but waited 3 hrs for it.  Went to Honfleur and met Jock then had lunch in a little town.  Drove all afternoon to Brittany.  Stopped at Avranches and saw le Mont St. Michel across the water.  Drove to Rennes in the dark where we spent the night.
P.S. stopped at Bayeux and saw the famouse tapestry there.  Made by the wife [Queen Mathilde] of Wm. the Conquerer.  [Got a folding reproduction of the entire tapestry.]

August 14th, Mon.    Rennes, Quimper
“Drove to Quimperlé where we had dinner.  Walked around and saw the church then went on to Quimper. Found a hotel and settled there.  Drove to Concarneau to see the fishing boats then came back to Quimper.  Holley got her coifs and Daddy left for Paris on the train.  Bed.

August 15th, Tue.    Quimper, Vannes
“Walked around Quimper and saw the fair.  Drove to Quimperle and had lunch.  Then went to Carnac and saw the old Druid tombs.  Had ice cream then went to a museum.  Took a drive around the coast then went to Vannes for the night.

August 16th, Wed.    Vannes, Sillé-le-Guillaume, Marlotte
“Said goodbye to Jock and Benjamin and drove all morning.  Had lunch at Sillé then drove all afternoon to Marlotte.  Had supper and went to bed.  Dead tired.

 August 17th, Thu.    Marlotte
“Did jobs and then had lunch.  Afterwards we rode to Fontainbleau on our bicycles to see Polly.  Rowena was there and we ducked Isabella.  We went to see the rocks in the woods but did not find the cave.  Played in the restaurant then came home.  Had supper and went to bed.

      These rocks are undoubtedly among those which became popular and  world renowned rock climbing (bouldering) venues after the War.

August 18th, Fri.    Marlotte
“Packed all the bags and trunks for Switzerland.  After dinner Mother drove us to Fontainbleau to see Polly.  We just sat and talked then went to Polly’s lesson.  Daddy got us and we said goodbye and went home to bed.
P.S, This was Mother’s wedding anniversary but Daddy and Mother both forgot it.

August 19th, Sat.    Marlotte, Grenoble
“Got up early and had breakfast in the room.  Packed and started for Grenoble in the alps.  Drove all morning and had lunch at Chalons and drove on to Lyon.  South of Lyon we saw our first “alp”.  We drove to Grenoble and found a hotel.  This hotel [Lesdiguires] had super elevators and swell surroundings.  Had supper and went to bed.  We were amused to see telephone booths labeled “Allo-1” and “Allo-2”.

August 20th, Sun.    Grenoble, Annecy, Chamonix
“We went [to] the Syndicat d’Initiative [local chamber of commerce] and found out about the alps.  Drove to Annecy and had lunch at the top of an aerial tramway and had a swell view of the lac.  Drove through the Col des Aravis which was 1,400 meters high.  In the mountains the cows have bells.  We came out of the pass and came to Chamonix to spend the night [at the Beau Rivage].

      In 1997 I took a detour through the Col des Aravis and found it exactly as I had remembered it almost sixty years before.  It was here that I remember looking from the car window up the grassy alps and to the rocky towers above thinking, “Wow, wouldn’t it be swell to be able to climb to their tops”.

August 21st, Mon.    Chamonix
“Went to the teleferique du Aiguille de Midi and went halfway up Mt.  Blanc in the little cable car.  Took a short walk to the snow line and threw a snowball.  Had lunch at the top of the teleferique.  Then took a long walk over a glacier [Glacier des Pelerins] and saw some huge cracks.  And a natural bubbler.  The avalanches of snow and rock sounded like the crashing of distant thunder.  Came down had supper and went to bed.
P.S. I had no supper because of a bad headache.

   The top in 1939 is now only “halfway” up and is now called Plan de l’Aiguille.

August 22nd, Tue.    Chamonix, Annemasse
“Went to another teleferique [du Brevent] with two stages.  Stayed at the top and got a few views.  After lunch we came down and finished packing.  Started out for Geneve.  Got halfway and Daddy found he had lost the passports.  We looked all over car but in vain, turned around and looked in the hotel—but in vain!  Then, after searching the baggage again Daddy found them in the bottom of his bag.  Whew!  Drove to Annemasse and spent the night.  The hotel was dingy.

August 23rd, Wed.    Annemasse, Lausanne
“Got up in Annemasse and packed the bags then took an hour going through the customs at the border.  Drove to the Amer. Exp. Co. and did some business in Geneve.  Had lunch [Coq d’Or] then took a bus trip around the city.  Saw the League of Nations buildings.  Then drove to Lausanne and found a hotel [Mont Fleury].  Had supper, wrote in this book and went to bed.

      In Geneva I remember that my father took me especially to see the confluence of the Rhone (clear water from Lac Leman) and the Arve (glacial rockflour filled water from Chamonix).  The two streams run parallel in the same bed essentially unmixed for miles.

August 24th, Thu.    Lausanne, Interlaken
“Packed and went to see the church.  Went up in the steeple and saw the town.  Drove to Aigles and on the way saw Chateau Chillon on Lac LeMan—Lord Byron was there.  Had lunch and drove through a high pass to Interlaken.  Here we found a hotel and had supper.  Went and looked at the stores then went to bed.

      At the hotel in Interlaken we slept for the first time under huge, white down featherbeds, something we had seen heretofore only in movies like Heidi.

August 25th, Fri.    Interlaken, Altdorf
“Drove to Grindelwald and took a long walk around the cliffs.  I saw a mountain goat.  We watched some boys and girls scale a cliff with mountain climbing equipment.  A fall meant death.  We came home and had lunch [Parc des Alpes] then drove to Altdorf and went to bed.
ECA: “When we came down we saw a real mountain climber giving a demonstration of the use of spikes and rope.  It was quite thrilling”.

August 26th, Sat.    Altdorf, Luzern, Zurich
“Went and saw the church and the monument to Wilhelm Tell.  Also saw the chapel by the lake.  Drove to Luzern and the Amer.  Exp. Co. Had lunch then went on a tour of the city; we saw an ancient wooden bridge with paintings of death in the tympani.  I got a Swiss chalet.  Drove to Zurich and had supper.  Walked around outside the Fair grounds and went to bed.

August  27th, Sun.    Zurich
“Went to the [Industrial] Fair and spent all morning there.  Had lunch and stayed there all afternoon.  It is very interesting.  I liked it better than the World’s Fair.  Had supper, took a walk and went to bed.

August  28th, Mon.    Zurich, Bern
“Went to the Exposition and stayed there all morning.  Had lunch then packed to go on.  Drove to Bern where we found a hotel.  Had supper by the riverside at a place under a bridge.  Read Quentin Durward.  Bed.

August 29th, Tue.    Bern, Basle, Lausanne
“Went to tourist office and got a guide to show us the city.  We drove around all morning and saw a big clock strike.  The clock was really complicated.  Had lunch then drove to Basle and looked into Germany.  Drove all afternoon to Lausanne and spent the night at the same hotel as before in the same rooms.  On the way to Basle we realized that the Swiss were mobilizing [their army].  We had to get gas ration cards.  Tank traps were in the roads at Basle.
ECA: “Found that we could not get gas without a permit from the military”.

In 1949 with my roommate from Cornell we were picked up while hitch hiking to Bern by one Edith Roth, captain of the 1939 Swiss ski team. She drove alarmingly fast. The reason, it turned out, was so that we would arrive in Bern at noon, in time to see ths old clock go through its paces.

August 30th, Wed.    Lausanne, Bourg
Went to Geneve and got our laundry and went back to Nyon to cross into France [at La Cure in the high Juras] but the border was barred with barbed wire and wagons.  We went to the next place [Divonne?] and found it barred too.  We got scared so went to the American consul [in Geneva] and he told one that was open.  Drove to Annemasse got through the customs and had lunch at Annecy.  Drove all afternoon to Bourg where we spent the night.
P.S. Got a flat tire and changed it.  [First] blackout at Bourg.
ECA: “Tension seems to be growing.  Hitler has  replied to the note from Great Britain”.

    My recollection of Annemasse is one of barbed wire, tank traps, and visible machine guns.

August 31st, Thu.    Bourg, Marlotte
“Had breakfast early.  Drove all morning and had lunch at Marlotte.  Drove to Fontainebleau said goodbye to the [American] School and came back.  Played with Jaques Perronnet and had suppper.  Then played in the billiard room.  Bed.
ECA: “Partial mobilization [of French Army] taking place everywhere.”

September 1st, Fri.    Marlotte
“Washed and dried all morning.  Had lunch while Mother and Daddy went to see Peter while we played battleship and swatted flies.  Changed rooms and then had supper.  After supper finished Quentin Durward.
P.S.!  Hitler attacks Poland.  Refugees from Paris in all small towns.  General mobilization in France and England.  “Mobilisation général” was on every tongue!

September 2nd, Sat.    Marlotte
“Drove to Fontainebleau with Peter and got some papers and went to the bank.  Mother, Daddy, and Peter read the papers and we are not sure [now] about our sailing.  Had lunch then Holley and I played battleship all afternoon.  Had supper then Mother, Daddy, and Holley went to see Mr. Spicer-Simpson.  Bed.
P.S.!  Blackout in Marlotte.  Hitler still in Poland.  France and England are mobilized.  The Bremen is on its way across under the watch of the British cruiser Warrick.

      In the evening outside the Renaissance I remember “Hermes”, the hotel waiters that we knew, and other young men of the town all gathered in the street by the gate in their army uniforms and with their knapsacks and guns. They were saying goodbye to their friends and families.

September 3rd, Sun.    Marlotte, Paris, Marlotte
“Collected Peter and all went to Paris.  There we went to all the Consulate, Am. Exp. Co., and Cunard.  ‘Abris’ all over also blue lights and windows.  Had lunch at the Rallye then came back in the pouring rain.  Packed a little went to bed.
P.S. War declared!  Hitler still in Poland.  France and England declare war on Hitler as we were told by the doorman at the Consulate.

On this day the Cunarder Athenia was sunk by a German  submarine.

September 4th, Mon.    Marlotte, LeHavre
“Got up and had breakfast early in our rooms.  Said goodbye and drove all morning.  Had lunch in the car then came to Havre.  Looked for hotels and found a nice small one.  Went to the Consulate and Express Co.  Also the U.S. Lines.  Had supper at the Hotel Bordeaux.  Daddy met [ran into] Mrs. McBride of the Music School [in the steamship office line].
ECA: “American Consul advises only American boats. The ‘President  Harding’ and the ‘Washington’ are being sent over by the end of the  week.”

September 5th, Tue.    LeHavre
“Woke up to the tune of an awful air raid siren at 6:00.  Boy, what a noise!  Had breakfast.  Did some business then sat by the sea untill lunch at a small restaurant down the street.  After lunch went to the beach and swam untill 4:00.  Fooled around untill supper.  Had supper at a small restaurant then went to bed.

    The [Cunarder] Athenia having been sunk we cancelled the Mauritania passage. My father considered it by then too dangerous to sail on a British ship.

September  6th, Wed.    LeHavre
“The siren blew again twice.  Did some jobs around LeHavre then met Mrs. McBride for lunch.  Drove around the port then went swimming until supper.  Had supper.  Learned some bridge then went to bed.

September 7th, Thu.    LeHavre
“Did some business in Havre and Mother met some old war friends [Juliet Whiton] and we had lunch with them.  Sat around while Daddy wrote a lengthy document on efficiency then went swimming.  Had supper learned some more bridge then went to bed.  Boy are we bored!

      My father was incensed to distraction by the confusion and lack of efficiency exhibited by the steamship companies in handling the hordes of tourists, mostly American, trying desperately to arrange for safe passage home.  Queues at information and booking windows—in which one could stand in vain for more then half a day only to be denied in the end an answer to a simple question—contained hundreds of people, stretching outdoors into the weather and down the streets.  There were never any useful general announcements; no one had any idea of what was going on or how to manipulate the “system”.   

      Dad was going to remedy all this and spent days writing an efficiency manifesto to be given to all the steamship companies for their edification.  However, the exercise was rendered moot the next day as the port of Le Havre was summarily closed by the French government and the mobs of tourists were directed, thence, to Bordeaux, four hundred miles and two days travel away.  A real disaster for anyone having to take a train or bus.

September  8th, Fri.    Le Havre
“Did some washing and darning then went swimming.  Boy was it swell because the tide was out.  Had lunch then stayed in the room all afternoon waiting for Mother and Daddy.  Several British fighter planes were doing manoevers over the city.  Fooled around then has supper.  Played some bridge (not very well).  Bed.

September 9th, Sat.    Le Havre, Alencon
“Packed and put Mrs. McBride’s luggage on the fenders [of the car] and went into town.  Spent the morning in all the steamship offices then had lunch.  Mrs. McBride got passage on a freighter so we took her bags off.  Started driving for Bordeaux and stopped at Alencon at Hotel France.  Bed.  Many trucks and troops are passing [the other way] on their way to the front.  Roads jammed with southbound cars.  All of France in blackout.

September 10th, Sun.    Alencon, Bordeaux
“Started driving for Bordeaux.  On the way had sort of a hard time getting gasoline.  Met several long lines of old trucks being collected for the army.  Had lunch at Chatellerault then drove on.  We were stopped once to have our head]lights painted blue.  Awfully hot.  Gas rationing pretty serious.  Got to Bordeaux then found a stuffy and dingy hotel. Had supper and went to bed.

      At one point below LeMans we encountered an endless southbound tie-up.  As we neared the bottleneck it became clear that it was caused by a huge water-filled pothole in the road around which “les poilus” were struggling to direct traffic—cursing and swearing at drivers whose cars went in and then had to be muscled out.  When it became our turn the soldiers put up an anguished shout and covered their eyes as my father headed more or less straight for the hole, lumbered in, gunned the engine, and lurched clear on the far side.  Smiles of amazement on the faces of the soldiers; “Voiture du millionaire!” one shouted as we passed  on.

Poilu with blue paint

     As dusk fell, somewhere in the countryside south of Poitiers two poilus stepped into the road, bayonets crossed against us.  We stopped and a third scurried out of the bushes with a brush and a can of  paint; he painted our headlights blue.

September 11th, Mon.    Bordeaux
“Went around Bordeaux to the U.S. Lines and Consulate.  Found a better hotel then had lunch.  After lunch moved in to our new hotel then Holley and I played slapjack.  Daddy took us to an old church with the tower across the street [Tour Ste. Michele].  In the bottom [crypt] of the tower there are a whole mess of skeletons (some chemical in the ground preserved them) that were found when the tower was started.  We bought some soup then had some supper.  Bed.  I slept on the floor.

September 12th, Tue.    Bordeaux
“Played cards most of the morning then had lunch.  Played some more cards then had supper.  Played bridge.  Boredom terrific.  Bed.  Much chiseling and graft in the steamship lines.  No passage in view for several weeks.

September 13th, Wed.    Bordeaux
“Same as before.  Played cards and such things and walked in the park.
ECA: “They say the ‘Washington’ by a mixup of wires was almost entirely booked in London when it came to Le Havre and so a great many people there were disappointed. The U.S. Lines have certainly made a mess of things but I suppose it is not entirely their fault.  With 1000’s of people milling around Havre, Bordeaux, and Paris—what a proposition.    All we can do is wait and hope.”

September 14th, Thu.    Bordeaux
“Mother and Daddy went to the Consulate.  We played cards and had lunch then played some more cards.  Had supper then played some bridge.  Bed.

September 15th, Fri.    Bordeaux
“I started a paper airplane.  Had lunch and Isabella [Murray] walked in.  She treated us to a patisserie.  Had supper at the Becassine with the Murrays.  Bed.
P.S. Isabella showed us her gas mask.  They are building abris in the Allees de Tourneys.
ECA: “Stormed the Consulate and offices of U.S. Lines again but there was such a crowd everywhere that we didn’t accomplish a thing. …they say Toscanini is here and stands in line with the rest of us.”

September 16th, Sat.    Bordeaux
“I worked on my paper airplane and started a car.  Mother walked with Mrs. Fitzherbert and we talked until lunch.  Worked some more then had supper with Mrs.  Fitzherbert and the Murrays.  Bed.

      My parents had run into Mrs. Fitzherbert a close neighbor in Wellesley Hills.

September 17th, Sun.    Bordeaux
“Made some more things of paper.  Had lunch with Mrs. Fitzherbert. Fooled around until supper with the Murrays.  Bed.
ECA: “The children were so homesick today that they were making maps of Wellesley.”

September 18th, Mon.    Bordeaux
USS Manhattan“Daddy went out and I and Holley waited.  Daddy came back with passage on the ‘Manhattan‘, Sept. 22nd.  Had supper at the Dubern with Mrs. Fitzherbert.  Met Miss Boreson and she ate with us.  Bed.

September 19th, Tue.    Bordeaux
“Saw Mrs. Fitzherbert off with Daddy to the train [to le Verdon].  I worked some more then had lunch.  Worked after dinner then had supper at the Becassine with the Murrays.  Bed.

September 20th, Wed.    Bordeaux
“I worked some more [on my paper and mucilage models; by now a steamship and a steam locomotive].  Mother and Holley went shopping.  Had lunch and went to the movies.  Saw all about the Maginot Line and France’s defense.  Took a buggy around the town.  Ate at the Becassine.  Played in Isabella’s room.

September 21st, Thu.    Bordeaux
“Finished the paper stuff.  Got the Murrays and had dinner at the Capon Fin.  Wow!  Packed and fooled around until supper at the Richlieu.  Bed.

September 22nd, Fri.    Bordeaux, le Verdon, SS Manhattan
“Drove early to le Verdon and got the car on the dock.  Much red tape along the way.  Sat on baggage and finished book.  Got passport stamped and got on board ship!  Met the Albros.  Had supper then went to bed.  Our cabins connected by a bath.

September 23rd, Sat.    SS Manhattan
“Explored the boat all morning and found Alice Albro.  Had lunch and explored some more.  After supper Daddy and I stayed up and watched [as] the car [was] loaded until twelve o’clock on.  After the car got on we stayed up till 4:00a and saw the boat sail away from the dock.  Our boat was brightly lighted and painted with [huge] lighted American flags [on the sides].  There were 700 extra people sleeping on cots in the lounges.

September 24th, Sun.    SS Manhattan
“Played around with shuffleboard and deck tennis until lunch.  Met a boy and played around.  Had supper and went to bed.

September 25th, Mon.    SS Manhattan
“Played around the ship and had dinner.  Sea calm and pretty.  Met some more guys and played shuffleboard.  [Igor] Stravinsky tripped over my shuffleboard stick in rushing to ask a girl for a ginger ale with him in the bar.  Paderevsky was aboard also; he was melancholy all the trip.  In morning had a lifeboat drill.  Had supper and went to bed.

September 26th, Tue.    SS Manhattan
“Not feeling very well so went to bed again.  Sick untill about 5:00. Went to sleep.  Had some ginger ale.

September 27th, Wed.    SS Manhattan
“Went out on deck and played shuffleboard and deck tennis.  Had lunch and played around some more.  Got a haircut.  Had supper; took a bath.  Wrote in this book and went to bed.

Here ends my trip diary.  Several days later [the 30th] we arrived in New York and drove to Boston by way of the Havilands’ in Hartford where we spent the night.  The next day we were at great pains to complete the trip in daylight so that we could show our friends the blue painted headlights.  Returning was exciting and we were envied by our friends not least because we were three weeks late for the start of school!


On a several occasions I have returned to Marlotte.

Once, ten years later, in 1949 while on a European trip with my college roommate Bill Pistler.  We arrived, having given up hitchhiking from Lyon by boarding a train in Macon.  Mme. Perronet put us up in a back room somewhere at no cost.  The place seemed exactly as I had remembered it.  The War had been hard though.  The Germans had taken over the hotel for officer’s billets but the Perronets had been allowed to stay on.  M. Perronet had died (of a heart attack) either during or shortly after the War and Michel and Madame ran the hotel.  Jacques was following an engineering career in Paris.  We later visited with him there.  From this visit to La Renaissance I have a photo’ of Madame and my friend and of Jacques and me.

Then not until 1997 (and once more in 1999) was I able very briefly to return; really only for a few minutes each time.  In 1997 in an effort to re-contact Madame or Jacques I learned that all three of the remaining family members had died; Madame sometime. probably in the seventies. and both Jacques and Michel of heart attacks, like their father, within this decade.  However I arranged to meet Jacques widow, Janine, briefly in Paris to give her the photographs and was able to cajole some friends into taking me to Marlotte one evening to look around.  The “new” Madame Perronet has a son, also Jacques, and an apartment in part of the original hotel from which she commutes to Paris.

In Marlotte I found the Rue Murger and La Renaissance which has now been partially dismantled and converted to a cirque hippique.  Most of its former charm had vanished.

Bill Atkinson, January, 2000
ECA: additions, January 2002
Conversion to MSWord, May 2010


Aunt Liz

In my childhood my family used to visit my Grandfather’s place in northwestern Connecticut for a week or a weekend here and there. Usually we would stay nearby in an antique farmhouse with my aunts, uncles and slightly older cousins and later in a large boarding house bought by my uncle Bill as a vacation place. Mostly we just hung out there and marched around playing army games arranged by my cousin Web or played kick the can or a nighttime variation called German Spotlight.

Author at Doolittle Lake 1973

Sometimes in the summer my cousin David and I were rousted out of bed at 4:30 in the morning by my aunt Liz to go fishing on Benedict Pond nearby. We got in the station wagon with various rods and spinning reels and tackle boxes. We had an old, wooden grey rowboat that probably belonged to my grandfather stashed by the pond and we loaded up our fishing poles and shoved off. Aunt Liz rowed while Dave and I trolled our lines from the stern. We mostly turned up Perch and nasty Pickerel, a spiny, spiky, slippery thing that was difficult to get off the hook. Back they went into the pond worse for the wear to look for a bug or another shiny spinner flashing by. These were warm, early summer days. The pond was peaceful as the sun came up and the fish started to eat bugs off the surface of the pond. The only sounds were our hushed voices, the creak of wooden oars, and David peeing off the stern. Often, we snagged a lily pad and had to work to get the hook and line back in the boat.

I remember only once (?) one of us hooked a good-sized bass, the prize we were apparently after. I think we had a rubber worm on the hook. Aunt Liz was thrilled and coached us through the struggle with the fish, alternately giving it some line and reeling it closer to the boat. Then she was out with the net and giving it a clubbing with the end of an oar. Six pounds of pure joy for Aunt Liz. It might have been three pounds or ten, but this is a fish story. We trolled for a little longer, but we had what we were after. On shore Aunt Liz cut the fish down its belly, cleaned out the guts and wrapped it up in wet grass.

Then back in the car and a short ride home as the sun came up. Bass for breakfast. Maybe a trip to Doolittle Lake for a swim later. We could always count on Aunt Liz to advocate for ice cream on the way home.

Matthew W. Atkinson, 2020

Note: Aunt Liz is my late sister-in-law. Matthew is my son.


Covid-19: A View From Assisted Living

When it became obvious that the Covid-19 corona virus would become a national disaster I began this Post as a periodic email to my children and grandchildren. When informed by my elder daughter that nobody—especially grandchildren—reads emails anymore, this is what has emerged.

The most recent update is here at the top. (If you’d like to start at the beginning, click here for the March 17 update.)

I’d love to hear from you in the Comments (scroll to the bottom of the post).

Update 13: Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Hi All:

Youville House has posted no update during this twenty day period.
I believe there are no covid-19 cases among inmates or staff.
This is owing to the dedication of our essential workers who, themselves, must find it much more daunting to follow the “rules” than for us for the most part safely hidden in our dens.

Here are links to covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven.

I did go through the car wash. 🙂

And I went elsewhere as well—to the Subaru shop in Belmont, to my old shop in Auburndale for a new inspection sticker, and to Needham for an annual hearing evaluation. I was hugely impressed by the coronavirus response at these places. Masks and distancing universally and cheerfully observed—no Karens in sight. Waiting rooms closed, hand sanitizer on the counters, seating only outside, door handles and steering wheels wiped. Too, masks on the street are almost universal. Cambridge has new lighted traffic signs saying “Face covering required in Cambridge;” in Needham—not so much.

It should be noted that today Massachusetts has almost the lowest transmission coefficient (R0) of all the states, and that its curve of confirmed infections is noticeably flattening. Massachusetts rocks!

My previous posts have been at ten day intervals, but I delayed this one another ten days so that the unfortunate national trend would stand out more starkly.

My fears of June 10th have been realized. The early and ill-advised (mostly red state) maskless and crowded “openings” in the South and the West have proved disastrous—nationally overwhelming the modest gains made in the Northeast. This failing is owing to the Administration’s  having instituted no national coronavirus policy. The daily increase in the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. [highest in the world] has ballooned from about 22,000 cases per day (June 10th) to 45,000 today (June 30th) with no end in sight:

Here is the graph showing the upward curving national infection rate between June 10th and June 30th:
OWD 6-30

And here is a link to data for all fifty states.
Click around in this link to see how Massachusetts and its counties and the rest of the U.S. are doing.

The “first” wave is still building and is long from crashing over us.
We will be submerged in this disaster for many, many months.

Sorry—no cat pic.

Dad (aka Bill)

Update 12: Wednesday, June 10, 2020
Hi All:

Here is a link to Youville’s June 1 update.
It’s mostly new complicated and cumbersome visiting requirements—certainly justified in the current Covid-19 climate.

Links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven.

Again, as for me, there is really nothing new.
As usual, surfing the Twitterverse (with @EricBoehlert and his trying to hold the feet of the Trump-enabling Press to the fire.

Now that it has arrived it is hard to take advantage of the nice weather—unless you’re resigned to enjoying it alone or, at most, with masked and muffled beings six feet away. My hearing being what it is I don’t much take to it. (I’m thinking of having another hearing exam and aids update.)

As entertainment I’m thinking of taking the car through the local car wash. Any takers?

I continue in my personal view of these current nation-wide “openings” in that they will prove to have been a mistake—if not a disaster—the results of which will be still hidden for another few weeks. The U.S. total infection rate arc continues upward, now just noticeably more steeply than ten days ago. The “first” wave is increasing in size and long from over.

Here is link to a broad assessment from The Atlantic.
And here (6/11) is a new confirmation of my fears.

Dad (aka Bill)

Update 11: Sunday, May 31, 2020
Hi All:

Here is a link to Youville’s May 29 update.
They are announcing that if we should leave Youville for “an extended stay” we will be subject to fourteen days of quarantine upon our return. I’m assuming that this definition does not include local medical appointments; but I think it needs some clarification.

Here are links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven.

And here is a link to a timely piece, “The Virus,” by Ruth Daniloff, a fellow Youville inmate.

Again, as for me, there is really nothing new.
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps on this petty pace from day to day.”

I do wonder about my own vulnerability to the virus, not so much as to who I’m with and where I am, but more as to what I am—a product of good fortune and chance. I suppose that reaching age 95 says something good about general health, but it definitely speaks ill of the statistical chances in regard to surviving the infection.

Does it mean anything that I haven’t had a chest or head cold in ten years? Have I had them all? So, that I’m now immune to all of them? Will the new virus respectfully take heed?

They say that a vitamin D deficiency plays a role. I was discovered to have such a deficiency 50 years ago and have been taking pills ever since.

They say that maintaining lung capacity is important; the reason that, every day, I exercise to breathlessness; hoping that in the ICU with “proning”—if it comes to that—I might make it. Sometimes I try to review in my imagination what days and nights of struggling would be like and how I might be able to respond.

I continue my personal view of these current nation-wide “openings” that they will prove to have been a mistake—if not a disaster—the results of which will be hidden for another few weeks. The U.S. total infection arc continues upward, only barely less steeply than ten days ago.

In the states—especially those in the south and central U.S.—many of the total case trajectories are yet becoming steeper: more and more cases per unit of time as time passes. Their peaks may be months in the future.

The national rate of increase has eased slightly from around 20,000 cases per day, but I expect that, owing to reckless national gatherings having become common again, it will strengthen substantially. It’s not that there will be a “second wave,” it’s that the first and only wave will be bigger.

By mid-June or July we will know whether the “reopening” will be sustainable.

I sure hope that something will allow us to be social beings again.

Dad (aka Bill)

Update 10: Thursday, May 21, 2020
Hi All:

Massachusetts cautiously “opens” but there is to be no significant change here at Youville.

Here is a link to Youville’s May 21 update.
Anything I could tell you about what’s new at Youville is included in this update.

And again links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven.

As for me, there is really nothing new. After a few weeks, which will give us time to see what’s going to happen, I will again look into reinstating medical appointments.

We try to sit in the sun for a while but others are so far away that conversation is impractical, especially with hearing aids.

20052001_ChatelaineThe quality of the food has remained good all along, although sitting down to dinner—alone in ones apartment—is fraught with minor inconveniences like no syrup for the pancakes, no butter for the mashed potatoes, and the impertinent expectations of a kitty-cat.

My personal view of these current nation-wide “openings” is that they will prove to have been a mistake, the results of which will be hidden for another few weeks. Already today news out of Florida suggests that after having opened last week they may be forced to close again.

It no longer makes sense to characterize the change in the infection rate by its doubling time, which has lengthened to a month, because now—owing to sequestering—the case rate of increase appears to be more nearly linear than exponential.
OWD 5-21The national rate of increase is now around 20,000 cases per day, and will stay that way until it increases again as reckless “reopenings” become common.
I expect that by mid-June we will be able to see whether the reopening is sustainable.

Here are two interactive websites that show national and state-by-state data:
1. Our World In Data—The one I have been using for the past several updates.
2. USAFacts—A new one showing state-by-state data that I just found this morning (5/22). Louisiana is interesting because it hints at the up-tick I expect for the rest of the country.

Dad (aka Bill)

Update 9: Monday, May 11, 2020
Hi All:

The City of Cambridge has tested us, yet again–for the third time! Go Cambridge!
My result was negative. Also they tested us for coronas antibodies but we’ve not heard back on that.

Here is a link to Youville’s May 8 update.

And again links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities North Hill and Brookhaven.

Well it’s really a super serving of the “Same old, same old.” What can I say?
Some people have been lifted from fourteen-day quarantines and others have returned from surviving the infection itself. There seems to be a bit more distancing sociability going on, but following speech filtered through masks is tough—you don’t realize how much of speech interpretation is visual, especially with hearing aids.

The weather continues cool and inhospitable and so no one is yet out on the patio.

Here is an example of the current tonsorial state:


The doubling time continues to increase having now reached thirty-one days.  At last post it seemed to me that the total infections might reach four-million by July. If the current count doubles two more times from now—each in thirty-days: to July 11th—it will indeed have exceeded four-million by then.
It is hard to know which course of action will win out. The country in general seems to favor social distancing, but Trump’s “open the economy now” scenario may gain enough strength to cancel the effects of general distancing. We will know the answer by the end of June; watch the doubling time.
OWD 5-11

Here is the logarithmic plot:
OWD 5-11L

Dad (aka Bill)

Update 8: Friday, May 1, 2020
Hi All:

Yet again the City of Cambridge has come through with continuing concern for its citizens. As of Wednesday (4/29) all Cantabrigians are required to be masked when on the street. What an opportunity for lovers of intrigue!

Here is a link to Youville’s April 27 update.

And again links to neighboring facilities North Hill and Brookhaven.

Au Cordon Bleu in my kitchenette

At mealtime a knock on the door precedes the appearance–in the kitchenette–of a plastic shopping bag:

Gloves on!

Soup: In paper container; pour into coffee cup; microwave (30sec on high); container back in bag.
Entree: In plastic doggie-box; transfer to dinner plate; nuke as required; container back in bag.
Coffee: In paper cup; transfer to coffee mug; paper cup to trash.
Shopping bag: Finis! Out the door.

Gloves off!

Banana: Wash with soap.
Milk carton: Wash with soap.

Bon appétit! (keeping Châtelaine at bay the while!)

Sewed two more masks to pass some time. Always hoping not to break the thread. Threading the needle is an exercise–almost–of geezer impossibility. And invokes speaking sternly to the machine.

The family has made two forays into Zoom world with mixed results, owing to having to patch video and audio in from my cell phone–my PC/monitor (for the purposes of viewing the Gallery) having no camera or microphone. Lots of talk-over and frantic waving.

I spend time on Twitter watching the cats and baby elephants go by; marveling at the examples of Why Women Live Longer Than Men–it’s akin to the Darwin Award; and pleading with the @NYTimes to give up its sloppy, Trumpy ways. If you’re on Twitter you should be following @EricBoehlert’s new presence at, as he holds the feet of the wayward Press to the fire.

For history buffs here is an excellent timeline of the pandemic of 1918-1919–the similarities are sobering.

What’s worrisome now is the occurrence then of three infection peaks of which the second was the worst. The end of World War I enabled a resurgence of influenza as people celebrated Armistice Day on November 11 and soldiers begin to demobilize.

In 1918-19 my father was stationed in France with the AEF. But on November 14, 1918 his father (my grandfather)—botanist and mycologist George Francis Atkinson—died of that second peak of flu while on a mushroom specimen gathering expedition near Mt. Rainier. (It is my impression that my father was given leave to attend the funeral in Raisinville, Michigan—which would have meant at least a month’s absence from his unit in France.)

Also near the second peak in New York City, on November 16, 1918 my mother boarded a steamer for France to spend a year working with the YMCA running a soldier’s canteen, and then with the Red Cross in reconstruction in the war-torn Champagne region.

Fortunately both Elsie Church and Kerr Atkinson spent the winter of 1919 in different rural regions of France where the virus never penetrated.

What to say about the current Covid-19 crisis? The national doubling time is now about 25 days and increasing 😃. But out in Trumpworld the dynamics may turn out be dramatically different. On that path, I’m reluctant to think, the doubling time could decrease again; the national case total then approaching four million by July. We’ll see.

“Be well, do good work, and stay in touch.”–Keillor
Dad (aka Bill)

Update 7: Tuesday, April 21, 2020
Hi All:

The City of Cambridge has tested all of us a second time, this time including an antibody test. I have tested negative.

Today Youville House has issued its latest official update of April 21.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow had a segment on the independence–from Trump–of some savvy smaller U.S. cities. I’m trying to encourage her to do one on our own super Cambridge.

Youville has built a transparent barrier around the welcome desk to protect the receptionist.

Our isolation from one another is virtually complete. We are encouraged not to visit.
The meals staff has changed from rigid trays to plastic bags; perhaps considered safer because disposable.

If I may dabble in simile I can say that the efforts of our staff are Herculean. Day in, day out–while the rest of us loaf (ha, ha) in our rooms.

April has been unusually cold and wet (snow recently) so we’re looking forward to the first seventy degree day for sitting outside.

I’m reading that practicing strong breathing, through breathing exercise, may have a positive influence on covid-19 outcomes. April is my third anniversary here at Youville and I am blessed to have an apartment on the same floor as the exercise machines, one of which is easy to use for arms and legs. The Internet lately (for a couple of years maybe) has promoted the idea that short, intensive workouts may, in the long run, be more generally beneficial than longer, less strenuous ones. And, since I dislike exercising as much as the next guy, this seemed worth trying. I set the machines’s stiffness to the maximum (15), maintaining a pace of more than seventy strokes-per-minute for seven minutes*–I do the last ten seconds at 80spm. This is enough completely to exhaust me, breathing so hard I can’t talk, but I feel that it has had a salutary effect on my lung capacity. I’ve been doing this every day now for three years.
*Once around the machine’s “quarter-mile” track.

But not everyone here is as fortunate as I am. Those already with heart conditions and compromised lungs can’t take advantage of this idea.

I have friends in retirement communities in Needham, at North Hill and in Lexington, at Brookhaven, each of who are reporting covid-19 cases.

OWD 4-21
The doubling time has increased significantly from six to eleven days, but bear in mind that the testing under Trump as been an abysmal failure and that the unknown number of actual cases is many times the published figure. And that, owing to the recalcitrance of some GOP state governors, the doubling time may shorten again as their new cases flood the record.

And so–hang in there.
Dad (aka Bill)

Update 6: Saturday, April 11, 2020
Hi All:
Big news! The City of Cambridge has arranged for every inmate of a nursing home or a retirement community to be tested for covid-19. In fact, two burly fellows in full PPE have just left me after having stuck a long thin swab up my nose.
There is no information yet as to the availability of the results.
Note (4/11): I have since found out that there were not enough test kits to include the Youville staff; and that these additional tests are expected to be available on Monday.

Now everyone here is masked. It began with staff and, just a day or so ago, expanded to everybody.

My mask effort

Earlier I had made a mask on a corrugated pattern but it was awkward to make on my sewing machine and was made of some old napkins I had which are too “see light thru” to be of much use.I found a simple mask pattern on-line which used two layers: tight weave cotton bandana outside and cut up fleecy long johns inside. No light see-through the two layers. They look good but are only OK as the fit is not the best and I couldn’t find anything good for the ear loops.

Well, it killed a couple of days anyway.

All Youville all social programs have been cancelled. Staff roams the halls wiping door handles, delivering meals, and checking in on us. They work hard and I hope they will be safe.

My friends at North Hill, a retirement community in Needham, MA, tell me of similar restrictions.

Occasionally the Internet has slowed into uselessness. This was true on Sunday.  At first I accused my browser but it was confirmed by my granddaughter in SF. Everybody is WFH, watching YouTube, Zooming, and taking university classes on-line.
It’s been much better since Monday.

I don’t walk well enough to take advantage of the coming nice weather outdoors.

On a political note everyone seems to be blaming Trump for this. This is all very well as a proximate stance, but misses the main point: The true failure is that of our Senate who have the power, if not the will, overnight to alter our calamitous course.

It is time to see what my eight doublings (since March 20) have wrought.

OWD 4-11
Instead of  64 million we have only 0.5 million.
This is because the case doubling time has increased significantly–a very good thing–and indicative of the efficacy of  social distancing which in no way should be relaxed or ended for many, many weeks.

Dad (aka Bill)

Update 5: Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Hi All:

The only significant change here at Youville is that our kitchen staff is now fully masked and gloved when in the common spaces distributing and retrieving trays.
The onus on gathering menu preferences has been transferred from staff to us; a huge relief for them I am sure.

People seem pretty upbeat and are putting a brave face on things, although I see so few to talk to day-to-day that this may be a misconception.
While keeping our distance we are free to move about in the building and to step outside for “air” or to walk.

However dire the prospect overall there are this week some inchoate signs of change.

OWD 4-1
My guess for April 1, Wednesday (250,000 U.S. cases) was too high; we’ll have to wait all the way to Saturday for that.

Obligatory cat pic: Châtelaine

Since March 21 the case doubling time has increased (a good thing) from two days to almost five but there is nothing strong to indicate that this trend will continue.

Since, in fact, the total number of cases in the U.S. is much, much larger than this, and is essentially unknowable owing to the national failure in testing ability, we may actually know almost nothing about the future actual doubling times.

Dad (aka Bill)

Update 4: Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Hi All:

As you see I have transferred this post from email to my website.

Youville has closed its hair salon, a good move, so that all the men now can look like Einstein, and the women like Raquel Welch.

The food stays really good; last night: kudos to the Chef for his medallions of pork.
New plastic dinner trays have replaced the papier mâché. I think this is a good plan; much easier to wash, wipe, and to keep clean.

And they’ve just marked the floor at Reception so that we can’t lean in too closely to the person at the desk.
Meds are still available from Skendarian, the local connection, and we have hard working Connie who is our driver and does our shopping–stuff we need as for pets and the outer man.

We see almost nothing of one another these days, except maybe in the exercise room where some gravitate to the machines–which are now provided with alcohol wipes.

I’m fortunate in having access to the world through my computer; I can’t imagine such solitary confinement without it. Many here were born too soon to become part of the computer age and must be content without it.

We seem largely to be hopeful here inside although outside things are not looking much better:

My 64,000* U.S. infections guess of the last post for the 25th was not met so that there is, as yet, faint hope that the country’s case load has begun to slow, in spite of the fact that the nation has not yet done as much as it should to slow the rise. It is painful to accept that there are, in fact, hugely more U.S. infections than today’s published number indicates owing to the lack of testing and the irresponsibly slow response of our Government.

*By the evening of the 25th the number was 64,000.

QWD 3-25

You can see that the doubling time has slowed from two to three days and, if this trend continues, that in six days there will be two more doublings to 110,000 cases. We can hope by then that the doubling time has lengthened still further, a good thing.

For the more scientific of you here is the semi-log(arithm) plot in which equal doubling intevals plot as a straight line, the slope (steepness) of which indicates the doubling time. My own feeling is that this conveys less well to the layman the truly alarming nature of the growth rate.
QWD 3-25 Log

“Be well, do good work, and stay in touch”

Dad (aka Bill)

Update 3: Friday, March 20, 2020
Hi All:
Things are stabilizing here at my assisted living facility in Cambridge, Mass. People are getting used to the draconian lockdown derangements. We are already pretty much restricted to our digs. Outside visitor ban; even the U.S. mailman is denied entry. All staff and aides are queried and have their temperature taken at the door. Compulsive hand washing [wringing?] abounds.

Social programs have been cancelled and the dining facilities closed. A system of delivering meals to the apartments—initially a bit chaotic— is smoothing out.

Very few of us now are out and about in the public spaces. We miss talking to people. Only one person at a time is permitted in the elevators. Basically I’m just plunked here at my computer.
The staff is knocking itself out to help us and to ease the following of the rules. For them this is a dedicated and dangerous business because they themselves have no way properly to do in-house self-isolation.
Theoretically we seem pretty safe here, but it’s early days and the prognosis for us and the U.S. is not good.
I think many have not really grasped the vastness of this crisis. Few seem to understand the exponential growth function. Especially not the psychopath Trump, his feckless enablers in the GOP, or the Nation at large.
The latest yesterday from Rachel Maddow at MSNBC:
Covid-19 Update 3
With a bit of extrapolation: Today 14,000 cases. The case doubling time seems now to be about 2.2 days. Probably owing to the hordes of the unidentified infected among us.

This is much faster than estimated as recently as a week ago. Originally 9 days.

By April 1 (10 days) four doublings, 250,000 cases.
By April 11, four more doublings: 4 million cases (1% of US population).
By April 21: four more doublings: 64 million (18% of US population). If at 3%, 200,000 dead. Four times the US 50,000 of the 1918 pandemic [in which my grandfather George Francis Atkinson–a prominent mycologist and botanist–died at age 64].
You don’t want even to think about May.
We are still essentially without testing and will be for many weeks; flying blind. Hard to imagine a more colossal (Presidential cum GOP) failure, but there it is.
Let’s see what the case number is on March 25th, five days from now.
Two doublings, to 64,000, would confirm this particular prediction. We may then be able to see whether our one week old (and only partial) national isolation mandate is having an effect.
At least I don’t have to worry about my taxes.
I can’t tell you how weird and unsettling this all seems.
Call me alarmist. I don’t mind.
Dad (Bill)


Update 2: Thursday, March 19, 2020
Hi All:
OK. yesterday, the house instituted a new rule: Only one in an elevator at one time. I thought it would be chaos, but no, our lockdown has sufficiently reduced local circulation so it’s not a problem. The Feds have banned postal personnel from entering the building so staff is now laboriously sorting mail into our cubbies.
Chatelaine: mistress of the castle (foreground) Irving Porter Church: my grandfather (background)

Cat company is good, but with its hazards. Food delivery to the apt. has proved a boon to Châtelaine and a problem for me. She is aggressively into everything that arrives through the door; I have to fight her off.

On leaving a recent long-scheduled Doctor appointment at Tufts Boston, the receptionist said that I needed another appointment.
  “In six weeks.
      “In six weeks? Are you kidding?
  “No. A bone scan in six weeks.
The woman at the next station caught my eye; she was appalled. She knew.
  “Don’t you realize,” I said, “that in six weeks the US medical system will be on the verge of collapse?”
Blank stare.
I wished them both well and shuffled on home.
Covid-19 Update 2
I can spend the next few days doing taxes. At least something to do.
Love to all,


Update 1: Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Hi All:

I’m surprised and impressed with my assisted living facility. Now for the past week no visitors to residents from outside; staff and outside support personnel temperatures taken on arrival.

Today they eliminated all group activity and closed the common dining facility. All meals to be ordered in writing and delivered to individual apts. Worrisome only if paper plates, utensils, cups are not handled carefully. They’re starting out with the usual hot meals.

But I imagine it will morph gradually into cold and packaged food only (cereal, canned stuff, milk, juice, etc.). We all have small fridges and microwave ovens.  It seems a bit ad hoc and chaotic today but I think they’ll get the hang of it soon.

It will be interesting to see how the “one person in the elevator at a time” rule works out. I’m still able to negotiate my two flights of stairs–but slowly.

I have a new and friendly shelter kitty cat (Châtelaine by name–the mistress of the castle).

We’re all looking forward to its being warm enough to use the patio.

Alas, it will be unseasonably soon; a harbinger of our other existential crisis.

As Garrison Keillor was wont to say: “Be well. Do good work. And stay in touch.”


Dad (GPBill, Bill)


April Foolery (1977)

On the morning of April first I made some huge letters out of computer paper—six feet tall—and taped them to the inside of the twenty-fifth floor windows of the Lollipop Building at 100 Summer Street in Boston. Our offices looked out over the roof top of the Jordan Marsh department store a few blocks north where my friend Susie worked as a fashion photographer.

After having called Susie on the phone—with a desperate story of a man about to jump to his death from the height of my building—I waited.

And, sure enough, soon I saw her small figure emerge, camera in hand, from a doorway onto Jordan’s roof. Here is her photograph:

100 Summer St. [Susan Manning]

Cornell Days: The Big Red Wheel (~1948)

The Big Red Wheel (Atkinson, Konold, Rath, Thomas, Roark)

When spring finally comes to Ithaca after a cold and dismal winter the students at Cornell shed their winter gear, bid farewell to the endless grey above and turn their faces at last to the sun. It is said that Ithaca sees more cloudy days per year than the Olympic Peninsula, the record holder.

Waiter's Derby
Waiter’s Derby

April’s social centerpiece then was spring house party weekend the Saturday of which was Spring Day, a more or less pagan celebration featuring weekend long “dates” (“blind” or otherwise); women allowed—under some sort of chaperonage—upstairs in the fraternity houses; more alcohol than might be prudent; and widespread organized inanity. Among these: pie throwing contests, the hotel school’s Waiter’s Derby, the architect’s Dragon Day parade entry, fraternity and sorority floats and parties, and in 1948, the recently established Inter-fraternity Crew Race.

A fifty yard course on Beebe Lake crossed above Triphammer Falls. The rules were simple: human effort only (no motors, no wind), and five crew members. This last to eliminate sophisticated racing shells. Entries comprised anything that would float from rafts of beer kegs to brass bedsteads made seaworthy.

We at Sigma Chi decided to build a paddlewheel boat. The naval architecture and ship building expertise fell to me and to Al “Oop” Thomas.

We first conceived a Mississippi riverboat arrangement with a paddle wheel on each side but soon abandoned that idea as impossibly unstable; even at small departures from the vertical we couldn’t get the center of gravity below the center of buoyancy. We had thought at first that one boat and two wheels would be easier to make. And so it became a center-wheeler with a pontoon boat on either side.

The Big Red Wheel

Al proved expert at building these using pine freeboards and a galvanized sheet iron bottom with carefully fashioned lock-seam joints. The wheel, eight feet in diameter, had eight paddles driven by a crank handle on either end to be turned by four of the strongest among us.

In deep secrecy we took the parts down to Cayuga Lake Inlet and reassembled them there for trials. It was windy and cold and the water choppy so we spent less time evaluating results than we might have. It seemed fast enough but the enthusiastic man-power overcame some of the structural elements which had to be re-detailed for strength. One crucial aspect of the design’s shortcoming went unnoticed.

48050003_BigRedWheelWe christened it the “Big Red Wheel” in homage to the world of Cornell “Big Red” sports and—incidentally of course—to the bawdy barroom song. The engine room comprised Bill Konold, Bob Rath, Ed Rorke, and Al Thomas.

Reassembled on Beebe Lake before dawn on the day of the race it passed a strength test; we were ready.

The race was almost an anti-climax. We churned forward way ahead of the competition. But owing to unexpectedly large counter-torque the stern was sufficiently depressed that we took on water at a rate large enough to cross the finish line essentially submerged. The rules had not addressed this submarine possibility and we were adjudged the winners—both for speed and originality of design.


That was the year we stayed for summer session and Bob Rath and I painted the Lansing high school building. The Big Red Wheel spent all summer on the lake gradually falling into disrepair at the hands of whoever could manage to keep it afloat.

Wm. C. Atkinson, 2016


The Hurricane of ’38

Why doesn’t any thing exciting ever happen around here?

That day I walked home from Junior High with Hughie Chapin. He peeled off on Hundreds Circle at Ledgeways and I went on to my house close by. Even if it seemed a bit calm, warm, and humid, this was an unremarkable September afternoon.

No one was home but our housekeeper Maude—Daddy in town at the office and Mother out and about in the car. Around three-thirty we became aware of a rising breeze from the southeast, coming in gusts and swaying the trees in our wooded lot. Soon green leaves began to fill the air and I went outside to see what was happening. By then the wind had risen hugely and suddenly, before my eyes, a huge oak crashed down partially blocking our driveway.

Wow! Excitement. I ran over to Hughie’s and, as I ran, other trees fell. So that by the time we two returned to Ledgeways there was nothing further remarkable about downed trees—they surrounded the house.

Unexpectedly (impossibly?) Mother arrived after tortuous weaving and backing through the neighborhood and we all decided to walk down to [Wellesley] Farms to meet Daddy at the train. The train was late. We walked back through the storm with other commuting neighbors. By then dark had fallen and at the house we discovered a large tree leaning and lunging against the second floor porch railing. Daddy took an axe and, in his business suit, cut the tree so that the top fell away allowing the trunk to spring clear. By midnight the wind had largely abated. There was no electricity and no heat nor hot water, and so to bed.

No school the next day. For weeks the air was filled with the aroma of torn leaves. The world was transformed; nothing seemed familiar. We clambered through the fallen trees playing house among the branches. Gradually after weeks and months the destruction was cleared by men, not with chainsaws, but with bucksaws, two-man saws, and axes. Fifteen mature trees came down on our quarter-acre lot; a lot underlain by ledge which gave roots only shallow purchase. The resulting piles of cordwood, neatly stacked here and there, eventually rotted away for lack of days and years to burn them in the fireplace.

The storm struck from the sea; a complete and disastrous surprise especially for those living in coastal areas on eastern Long Island and southern New England and the Islands. Although the Weather Service knew of the storm the news failed to reach the general public in time. The eye made landfall at New Haven and pretty much moved straight north up the valley of the Connecticut River. Consequently the strongest winds to the east were southerly and had added to their circulation the velocity of the storm mass itself; winds clocked at 121mph at Great Blue Hill. For decades afterward hikers in much of New England struggled over and under the decaying trunks in the forest—all pointing north.

The ocean surge was gigantic having come in on a spring tide. There are marks on the buildings in downtown Providence, Rhode Island thirteen feet above mean high water. There was little or no rain, most of it having caused flooding on the western side of the eye.

And so at last we had an answer to the adolescent’s perennial question: Why doesn’t anything exciting ever happen around here?

Later we heard funny stories about things that were supposed to have happened:

o  On the morning of the storm a lady in New Haven—let’s say—had just accepted postal delivery of an expensive barometer she had ordered from Abercrombie and Fitch. Upon opening the package it seemed to her that the needle was stuck at the extreme low end of the scale—near 28 inches of mercury. After much tapping, sure that it was defective, she repackaged it with a note and took it back to the post office.

When she returned home her house was gone.

o  A book store on Long Island had its display window blown in. One book remained on the shelf—Gone With the Wind. [At that time a contemporary novel; weightier than most.]

o  On the Web:

Wm. C. Atkinson, 2013


The Depth Perception Caper (1943-1944)

Things are seldom what they seem.

Among the many qualities required of every aspiring airman in the Army Air Force in World War II was the ability to distinguish the distance relationship between two similar but abstract nearby objects—that is, to decide which is closer and which farther without clues from the nature of the objects themselves or from their surroundings.  The perception of depth in this way depends upon the natural focusing mechanism of the eyes coupled with their ability to converge laterally upon any point in space.  I had no reason to believe that my eyes were any different in this regard from those of any other.

When called up by the draft at the age of eighteen in June of 1943 [just a week or so after graduating from high school] we were summoned to a building on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston to begin our induction into the Army.  After having filled out much paperwork and having sat through interviews by uniformed officers—one certainly a psychologist—we spent the rest of the day shuffling slowly through long lines stripped to our undershorts and undergoing various physical probings, needle-stickings, and examinations.  At day’s end we were free to return home for a period of about two weeks before reporting for duty and shipment out to Fort Devens and the duration.

Being drafted meant that you joined the Army in some as yet unknown and unassigned capacity: the infantry, artillery, intelligence, ordnance, etc. there being no obvious way at the outset to direct your course.  The idea of the infantry seemed worrisome—I had many high school classmates who served in that gritty service almost all of whom returned after the War.  But, as it happened on that afternoon, upon leaving for home I passed a desk with a sign and a recruiting officer looking for men to join the (then) Army Air Force.  I stopped by.  A limited number of applicants could be taken.  I filled out an application and found that I must return in a day or so for another round of induction indignities.  I went home with fantasies of flying beginning to fill my head.  It certainly seemed better than the alternatives.

At that next round I discovered that I had just barely met the Air Force body weight requirement.  The lower limit was 111 pounds for my height—I weighed in at 112.  (I had been previously turned down by the Navy V-12 college program for having been too short—I was 5’-2”.)  Among other things, after the eye test (luckily I was 20/20), there was a test for depth perception.


In a long narrow space about twelve feet from a chair was a large black screen with a small rectangular window cut out about the size of a post card.  Through the window I could see two vertical white lines about two inches apart and as wide as a pencil, both against a black background.  The operator showed me that the lines were really white sticks that could be moved by pulling the two strings he handed me; as one stick moved forward the other moved back.  The track carried a scale visible only to the operator for observing their separation.  I was to be given three attempts to set the sticks equidistant from me; side by side.  I pulled the strings watching the sticks move back and forth and stopping when they seemed even.

After my three tries the operator told me I was outside the allowed three millimeter limit and that I had failed.  My heart sank.  Was I for this to be denied the chance to join the Air Force?  “Yes; unless you can pass this test. You will be permitted two re-tests, one next week and one the week after that.”  But, gee, I had to report for active duty in a week and would be able to make it for only that one chance.

I fretted all the way home and immediately upon arriving I went to the basement and, several hours later, had fashioned a passable facsimile of the depth perception apparatus.  I began to practice.  When my father came home from work he enthusiastically joined me and we spent the evening I pulling the strings and Dad reading the scale and taking notes.  At first I wasn’t very good at it but practice seemed to work.  By the end of the week I could line up the sticks almost perfectly.  At the induction center I passed the re-test easily and began my wartime Air Force career.

Many months passed.  After induction at Fort Devens we cadets were shipped by train to Greensboro, North Carolina for a summer of basic training pretty much indistinguishable from that of any other Army service—drill sergeants, forced marches, heat, mud, mosquitoes, and poison ivy.  Thence to the University of Cincinnati for a fall of college-level courses in mathematics, physics, geography, and English.  It was during this period that we were given ten hours of instruction in flying Piper Cubs.

WCA & Piper Cub J-3 (1943)
WCA & Piper Cub J-3 (1943)

Near the end of that year [1943] we were sent to San Antonio, Texas to undergo a rigorous classification process at the end of which we hoped to emerge as qualified to attend pilot, bombardier, or navigation school, graduation from which guaranteed you silver “wings” and a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the Army.  Those not considered qualified were assigned to aerial gunnery or aircraft maintenance schools and graduated as non-commissioned officers.  I had decided that my chances of getting through the rigors of pilot training were slim and settled on aiming for aerial navigation as more suited to my temperament.

Once again we were confronted by a battery of many tests to prove aptitudes in mathematics, physics, reading comprehension, balance, coordination, reaction time, spatial manipulation, etc.  And again, near the very end: depth perception.

As I sat facing the white sticks with the strings in my hand I panicked. Nothing to do but try my best. I moved the sticks; I strained to see when they seemed even; three tries; I failed. One re-test permitted the next day and so, no chance to practice even had I the means to do so. I tried to think of some practice scheme for the barracks but had to give it up.  For a long day I agonized over my fate until the final hour.  I reported to the test and found myself assigned to a different test space (there were three) and a different operator. I sat down. The operator explained the test and moved the sticks to and fro and I noticed that he was standing, not at the apparatus where he could see the scale, but behind me. He had rigged up an auxiliary scale on the wall beside me but just out of my sight. It was crudely driven by two cords along the wall that passed my left ear and, right there—between two screw eyes—was a large knot arranged to limit the motion.  If I turned my head ever so slightly I could just see it out of the very corner of my eye.  The test began.  I watched only the knot—setting it each time as best I could guess midway between the two screw eyes.  It was a slim chance depending as it did on the knot’s having no built-in bias.  But… I “passed” the test!  I could go on to preflight training and aerial navigation school!

At least a year later [late 1944]—after preflight and navigation school at Selman Field in Monroe, Louisiana where we got our commissions and won our wings, after radar navigation school in Boca Raton, Florida, after meeting our crew and flying at last in B-29’s in Lincoln, Nebraska, after bombing and gunnery practice in Peyote, Texas, and after finally arriving in Kearney, Nebraska for overseas assignment—amazingly, I faced the white sticks yet again.  I failed, but it was by then too late.  In my final interview before we were to fly overseas to the Pacific Theater the debriefing officer looked up from my record noting the failure in depth perception.  Without hesitation I told him this story.

He commended my resourcefulness and said, in effect, “It’s guys like you that we need in the Air Force.”  He stood up; I stood up and saluted.  “Good luck,” he said.

I became an Aerial Radar Navigator and was deployed to Saipan in the Marianas to fly bombing runs over Japan in 1945, and, after the Japanese surrendered, we dropped supplies to POW camps in Japan.



Chemistry (1930s)

…the book had an index entry for gunpowder.

In the depths of the Depression [ca. 1933] daddy came home one night with a lump of coal and a “recipe” that was then all the rage. The black lump was placed in a saucer and some water and ammonia poured over it, to which some blueing, salt, and a few drops of red ink had been added.  In a few days fanciful and feathery crystals of blue and green and white began to envelop the lump of coal.  The result was called a “Depression Plant” [1]—something decorative that all could afford in those desperate times.

On the Fourth of July daddy always produced a supply of fireworks, fire and cannon crackers, and weird things like “snakes”; little grey cones which, when lit with a stick of glowing punk, would erupt into an ever growing serpent of ash coiling and curling around. We could set off the firecrackers ourselves but the cannon crackers were reserved for daddy.  Out on the “East” lawn and on the back steps we set firecrackers under tin cans and broke them in half to make spitting “cat” fights. For after dark among the fireworks were Roman candles, fountains, pinwheels, and sparklers to end the day.

One year I was sent to my room for some forgotten transgression on a Fourth when daddy was making for us a special wooden cannon  supposedly to shoot firecrackers.  My punishment was exclusion from the firing.  My sister Holley told me later that it was a failure; it blew into bits. Yess!

On another Fourth, while fooling around and watching fireworks at the Bacon’s, I had several firecrackers in the bottom of my shorts pocket. Unaccountably one (but not all!) went off shredding my underwear amid frantic hopping and slapping of the smoking fabric.  I had to have a tetanus shot the results of which eventually kept me in bed for several days with a high fever and a painful and uncomfortable case of “lockjaw.”

Just before I was ten [1934] I was given a boxed chemistry set for Christmas and, for my birthday a few weeks later, a microscope kit.  The detailed memory of them has faded but the set had test tubes and some little vials of chemicals, litmus paper, phenolphthalein, some sort of spirit lamp I think, and things like tweezers, a wire test tube holder, etc.  So, I could test vinegar and ammonia as acid or base, magically convert water into wine, extinguish lighted matches in invisible carbon dioxide, and make tiny quantities of the poisonous gas chlorine, greenish in the bottom of the tube and fascinating because of its horror in the Great War.  Dark purple potassium permanganate and glycerine when mixed would sizzle and spontaneously burst into flame with purple smoke.

I could dissolve sal-ammoniac in water, put a drop on a microscope slide and, as it dried, watch the beautiful crystal feathers spread out like living ferns to fill all the field and stop.  Similarly one could watch emerging cubes of sugar and salt and, as my father showed me outside in the winter, the simple freezing of water.  One summer, in the mucky water from the pond in back, I found a rotifer with the microscope.

According to mother’s diary in 1937 [4/21, I was twelve] “Donny and Wm. made paddles for a boat and also gunpowder.”  I have no recollection of this day but I certainly remember my gunpowder of later years.

When I was almost fourteen daddy gave me a “real-life” chemistry set for Christmas.  With it was at least one book by A. Frederick Collins; “The Boy Chemist” (1925) or the “Boy’s Book of Experiments” (1927) the last mentioned being most memorable for its having an actual index entry for gunpowder.

The “set” comprised individual items that he had amassed and packed in several boxes: spherical and Erlenmeyer flasks, a retort!, Bunsen burner, ring stand, test tubes, glass funnels, a “thistle” tube, bottles with rubber stoppers perforated with holes for glass tubing, the tubing itself (in long straight pieces later to be cut with a file and softened and bent in the heat of the burner)–and chemicals.  Chemicals in real regular sized bottles.  Sulphur; potassium, sodium, and strontium nitrates; vicious (fuming) acids–sulphuric, nitric, hydrochloric.

He helped me set up a laboratory in the basement laundry room where there was water for the big soapstone laundry tubs and gas to be tubed up to the burner from a spigot he added to the two-burner wash-boiler stove. We had an old enamel topped kitchen table; we made shelves for the equipment and chemicals.

I think I spent more time bending and welding glass tubing and blowing glass bubbles than actually experimenting but as time went on several things stand out in my memory.

One was the making of oxygen and hydrogen by the disassociation of water with a direct electric current–the bubbles rising in each of two inverted test tubes filled with water.  A red-hot iron wire immersed in the oxygen would burn violently with sparks and the hydrogen tube, when inverted over the Bunsen flame, would go off with a pop reverting explosively to its original compound leaving water droplets on the sides of the cooling tube.

Another was guncotton and its dissolved form–nitroglycerine.  I started with guncotton (nitro cellulose) made by treating ordinary cotton with nitric acid then washing and drying the result.  It would burn in an instantaneous flash but I don’t remember trying to confine it as in firecrackers as described by Collins.  Just as well, maybe.

Nitroglycerine came later.  I can’t imagine how lucky I might have been for the making involved dissolving cotton in a mixture of two acids with heating over the Bunsen burner.  I learned—much later—that this reaction is highly unstable and requires precise temperature control to complete safely.  (In a similar experiment Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, lost his eyesight.) I poured the small amount of resulting yellow liquid into one of my mother’s tiny perfume bottles and suddenly realized that I hardly dared touch it further.

Finally, I arranged a flagstone on the ground below my sister’s second floor porch in back and gingerly took the small bottle upstairs and outside where I leaned over the railing and, centering it over the flagstone fifteen feet below—dropped it.  Nothing happened; and I guess I was well out of that one.

We had fun with elemental iodine crystals which we could get at the drugstore and which we treated more or less haphazardly with household ammonia.  The result was ammonium iodide, a brown substance so unstable when dried that the touch of a feather or a house fly could detonate it. We spread it “wet” in various places like the floor of my sister’s room where it would snap and crack making purple smoke under her shoes.  Later, in college, we made larger quantities but abruptly ended our experiments after an unexpected blast from a damp batch.

The rubber hose on the spigot of the washtub stove proved ideal for the making of paint can bombs.  The lid of an old one gallon can would be hammered on all ’round and a nail hole punched in the center of the top and in the side at the bottom.  With the rubber hose end held firmly at one of the holes the gas would be turned on [2]. The entering gas made a faint hissing sound and, as the can filled, the musical pitch of the hiss would rise gradually leveling off when the can was full.  Then, with a finger or a thumb over each hole, the can would be taken outside, set down, and a lighted match applied to the hole at the top.  A small flame, like a candle flame, would then burn steadily and quietly for what seemed like a long time.  Then, getting smaller and fainter, it would suddenly vanish as—BAM! the lid would be blown sky high.

We gradually learned that this was fairly harmless business and took the activity inside to the playroom where a can might be set to burn silently and maliciously under the player-piano bench beneath some unsuspecting musician.

Better and louder blasts were obtained with rectangular gallon screw-cap cans—cap on tight.  The result being a  large (and fairly neat) rectangle of sheet tin and two ends.  I learned once of a machine that shelled walnuts by a similar method.

Rockridge Pond (Bill & Loki, 1938)

Floating out onto Rockridge Pond on a home made raft we would poke the rotting bottom with long sticks.  Bubbles rose and could be captured in an overturned water-filled can.  Methane.  We ignited it to see the blue flash.

In the thirties any kid could ride down to the drugstore on his bike and buy all the ingredients for black powder in satisfyingly large quantities–sulphur and potassium nitrate; the charcoal we gleaned from the fireplace ashes.  Even potassium chlorate could be had which was a great blast and sensitivity enhancer; the only additive that would make a good homemade firecracker–plain old black powder made with only potassium nitrate was too slow for that.

Mix a little sulphur and potassium chlorate on the anvil and hit it a smart hammer blow.  Bam!  The hammer bounces as though having struck a rubber pad.

Somewhere we learned that one could take a 1/4″ machine bolt, just barely thread on the nut and fill the small cavity with kitchen, strike anywhere, match heads–the white part, very carefully shaved off the heads one at a time.  A matching bolt would be screwed carefully in and both slowly tightened to compress the charge.  Tossing the assembly onto a hard surface would detonate the match heads blowing the assembly apart.  I’m sure we never gave a thought to the potential danger of the flying bolts.

Cannon (1940)

In 1940 I made a cannon out of some 1/2 inch iron pipe and a couple of fittings.  It lacked realism and so I built a carriage that could vary the elevation, a recoil mechanism of rubber bands, and some giant 20d spikes to anchor it to the ground.  I painted it in military camouflage. We made a mold out of plaster-of-Paris and cast cylindrical slugs of lead to fit the barrel.

Dad was supportive but counseled caution—pointing out the obvious; that black-iron water pipe was not designed for use as ordnance—and so we always rushed to hide behind trees after having lighted the fuse.

The gun was a muzzle loader.  Pour in some powder (not too much the first time).  Add a small wad of newspaper, tamp it in hard.  Then the slug.  Another wad; tamp it in.  Magnesium ribbon worked well as a fuse, brilliant, hot, and slow burning.  Light the fuse; run for the tree.  The cannon bided its time: first sparks from the touch-hole and then, as though gathering its strength—boom!  We could fire a slug through a three-quarter inch pine board.

Once we took it to a small promontory overlooking Rockridge Pond where we set the barrel at an angle high enough, we thought, greatly to shorten the horizontal range.  We fired and watched for a distant splash. A second or two.  No splash?  Then, from the far shore about two-hundred yards distant, came a sharp clank.  Sheesh!  A slate roof?  A car?  We grabbed the cannon and ran pell-mell for the house.  I later learned in physics class that maximum projectile range is obtained at a barrel elevation of forty-five degrees.

One day I completed my finest batch of gunpowder.  I had used water in the mixing and grinding and had spread the black goo out onto newspapers to dry at low heat in the kitchen oven before final grinding. The finished batch half-filled one of my mother’s enameled metal salad bowls and on this afternoon it sat in the playroom at the far end of the workbench.  It contained potassium chlorate; I needed to test some.  So, at the near end of the bench, I set a pinch on the anvil and whacked it with the hammer.  Bam! As expected.  But…  What’s this?  A great hiss and rumble at the other end of the bench!  A mushroom cloud arose on a pillar of dark flame and spread out over the playroom ceiling [3]. In an instant my beautiful powder was gone and one of my mother’s better salad bowls left red-hot, blackened, and deformed—to say nothing of the soot besmirched ceiling and the smell of brimstone which soon pervaded the house.  This was around 1940 before the atomic bomb but it realistically foreshadowed that event in miniature. No one was home and I have repressed whatever lies and stories were fabricated and whatever family repercussions might have been the result.  It was my last boyhood batch of gunpowder.

My mother’s diary has no mention of this event.

[1] Depression Plant:
3 lumps of coal
6 tbs. blueing (added to laundry, the “Whiter than White” of the day.)
6 tbs. water
6 tbs. salt
2 tbs. ammonia
4 drops red ink or food coloring

[2] Not recommended for fuel gases heavier than air such as butane or propane.

[3] For years I have puzzled over how a spark could have flown the distance between the anvil and the bowl. I have lately come to suspect that it might have been the sharp shock of the hammer explosion that caused a detonation. If so, I was better out of that one than I realized at the time!

Wm. C. Atkinson, August 2002



Aeroplanes (1930-1943)

1912_2 FkaFlyer
My father, (Francis) Kerr Atkinson

My father was connected to flight as a member and builder for the Cornell Aero Club in 1912. He took part in the design and building of single-seat bi-planes which  were then “flown”—towed behind autos—around a large circuit on the playing fields above Schoellkopf stadium in order to learn flight control.  The Wright brothers had made their epic flight at Kitty Hawk only nine years earlier, and Wilbur his historic flight at Le Mans in 1908.

In June of 1919 my mother, too, took flight in an airplane over Paris. She was between assignments, having left her YMCA attachment to the AEF (American Expeditionary Forces) as a canteen girl in Bay-sur-Aube and waiting to join the Red Cross via a Friends Service group in Epernay,

In her own words:

“But in the meantime I must tell you what I have been doing in Paris. Besides relieving myself of beaucoup francs in their perfectly fascinating stores, I have managed to see quite a few of the sights and, from a strange angle for, let me announce to you the fact that on Sunday I was 700 metres above Paris in an aeroplane!  Yep, it’s the actual truth.  Joy and I were in the Hotel Petrograd for lunch on Saturday and found that there was a French aviatrix who would see that people went up in her plane for the small sum of 60 francs.  She herself didn’t take them up, but her pilot [did], a Capt. in the Escadrille. So—along with four other adventurous souls we went with her to Le Bourget on Sunday afternoon.  After waiting from 3 until 8 P.M. we all six got separate rides of about 20 min. each.  The only time I was really scared was when they hoisted me up into the little front seat and clamped a seat belt around me.  After the propeller started with a whirr and the machine actually moved I lost all fear entirely and just enjoyed every minute.”

19061501_ECA Caudron
Elsie Sterling Church at Le Bourget, Paris

“You can’t imagine how wonderful it feels to go soaring over the country, to look down on buildings, fields, roads, trees, gardens and mere mortals stalking around on the ground.  It was a wonderfully clear day and the view of Paris was superb.  We went towards the city and turned around just about over Sacré Coeur.  Underneath us lay the Seine winding along, spanned by bridge after bridge, on the left was the Eiffel Tower, and on the right was the Place de la Concorde, the Louvre and all those lovely public buildings near the river.  It was a sight I will never forget.  You had the whole city before you in a mass and at the edges stretched fields which were finally lost in the surrounding hills and they in turn in the haze of the horizon.  The ride was over all too soon, but I would have paid twice the price I think to go. The one I went up in was a Caudron.”

My own first memory of airplanes is that of having just stepped off the DL&W sleeper from New York City [probably on July 17th, 1929 with mother, my sister Holley, then three, and “Nanny” Bennett] to the platform at the Lackawanna station in Ithaca, NY where Aunt Edith [Church] had come down the hill in her new Dodge touring car to meet us.  I would have been four and a half.

Someone must have remarked an airplane in the clear sky and we all looked up.  “Aeroplanes” were hardly twenty-five years old then and still a novelty.  It was a biplane.  I was transfixed.  It was tiny but seemed to me to be extremely close like a drifting mote or toy that I could have reached out and taken into my hand and I long wondered how that illusion could have been.  Many years later I decided that it had been an optical illusion—that in reality there had been two planes flying in tandem and that my (slightly crossed) eyes had merged them into one seemingly much nearer; the way two images are fused in the stereopticon, or the way the bathroom floor tiles sometimes seem to merge and to hover in the air above the floor when you are musing on the toilet.

It was on this—or another of these Ithaca trips—that we had seen Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis as we passed through Grand Central Terminal in New York City.  It was elevated on display in the great concourse.  We climbed some wooden steps and mother lifted me up so that I could see into the cockpit [1].

For many years mother was part of a sort of therapeutic women’s “Rhythm” group who, as near as I could tell, spent their time dancing and swaying in flowing and diaphanous gowns, all with a classical Greek motif.  [Such a group would today be seen definitely as “New Age,” in fact, the same Noyes Rhythm movement exists still; I found it on the Web.

So it happened in the summer of 1932 that Holley and I were sent to Cobalt, Conn. for six weeks of family Rhythm group camp where, incidentally, I learned to swim in the lake and was exposed to the humiliation and the terror of boxing.  My memory of the adults is one of ghostly dancers in the waning light of day, in diaphanous gowns and crowned with flowered wreaths, clasped hand-in-hand, weaving in and out among the trees in the twilight.  Incongruously it was here that I first became aware of model airplanes.

The older boys—I was seven—had been given model airplanes to build at camp workshop.  They had wingspans of about 24 inches.  I was fascinated and remember that the wings were of thin silk somehow attached to bent loops of fine wire or bamboo.  At that moment all I wanted in life was to have a kit of my own to build but, in spite of tearful cajoling, I was told that I wasn’t old enough.  Model airplanes were deferred.


Planes were then uncommon enough that one always looked up at the sound of an engine overhead.  As the years passed flights increased—we would even see autogyros (planes with no wings but with helicopter-like free rotors driven by the forward motion of the craft)—and the novelty began to fade.

One afternoon in 1933 Holley and I were playing in the back yard in Wellesley [Massachusetts] by the inlet to Rockridge Pond when we heard a huge, deep, and growing noise in the sky overhead.  Suddenly, at first filtered by branches and then in the clear over the water, a huge silver airship loomed moving majestically eastward seemingly just above the treetops.  We ran pell-mell toward the house shouting for the others to “come see” but too late; it was immediately lost to view.  The next day we learned that it had been the huge American dirigible USS Akron en route to East Boston Airport.

Mother notes in her diary of 1933 that [daddy] helped William with an aeroplane and later, in 1936: “Wm. worked all P.M. on an aeroplane.”  The first was probably some crude assemblage of parts but the second could have been my first model in kit form.  It wasn’t of silk and fine wire but of balsa wood and colored tissue paper.  The company that made the kits and the glue was Megow’s.  The direction sheet spoke of “templates” so I asked Dad what was a template and he had no idea.  This surprised me because until then I had always thought he knew everything there was to know about technology.

This model was the first of uncounted successors.  I set up a card table in my room and had an old soft wood drawing board of mother’s that would take straight pins with only moderately killing finger pressure—a permanent callus formed on my thumb and forefinger from planting endless pins to secure the work over the plan outlines while the glue dried.  Wax paper, eventually shredded by the cutting, covered the printed plans so that the glue would not stick.  Eventually “X-Acto” knives replaced the stiff single-sided blades borrowed from dad’s razor.  The glue was orange “Ambroid” and later clear “Duco” cement which built up on the fingers to be eaten off in layers.  It had a sharp chemical flavor and, when not quite dry, a real bite.

Often I would be up long before breakfast for days on end to have extra time to work on the current model.  Waiting endlessly for glue and lacquer to dry was a real frustration; an introduction to the virtues of patience.

The outlines of the fuselage bulkheads and wing airfoil “formers” were printed on thin balsa wood sheets to be carefully cut out with the razor blade.  Some models had formers only for the wing sections; the boxy fuselage being made only of sticks.  The stringers, long and thin, sometimes of bamboo, were glued into notches in the formers and three-dimensional skeletons began to take shape eventually ready for covering with the tissue paper.

Covering was fun and went pretty fast.  A surface of the skeleton would be painted with banana oil which came with a brush in a little bottle and had the wonderful fruity pungency of the overripe fruit.  Then the paper would be laid on the oiled form and later trimmed around the edges.  The result when dry was loose and wrinkled but when sprayed with water (using one of mother’s charcoal drawing fixatif aspirators) and dried it shrank to a skin, tight as a drum, which could then be painted with lacquer which also came in little bottles and in various colors.

The result was a real airplane that would glide and fly when the rubber band (propeller motor) was wound up to “double” or “triple” knots and the plane released.  Some were “ROG’s” which meant they would take (Rise) Off from the Ground if given a runway with enough scope.  If the balance was right some would even land again at the far end of the basement playroom—or down the street—before veering off into some obstruction.

Daddy would sometimes take us to the East Boston Airport (now Logan) to watch the planes.  One fall [1936] mother noted in her diary that I had made a Beechcraft and in October she took me to Richard Knight Auditorium at Babson (Institute, now College) to hear Amelia Earhart lecture [she was lost in the Pacific the next summer].  We sat high up, in a balcony, and the afternoon light streamed through the vast arched windows.

I remember nothing of the lecture but after it there was an indoor model air show that used the great height of the hall to advantage.  I had never imagined that models could have been built like these—endurance models designed to circle, for hours it seemed, gradually gaining altitude and then descending, gliding down after their rubber band motors had wound down.  They were large—three or four feet wing span and light as feathers.  I think some of them weighed no more than three or four ounces.  The wings were of “gossamer”; actually films of collodion only a few molecules thick applied by immersing the wing skeleton in water, applying a drop of collodion to the surface where it would spread out instantaneously into an invisible film, and then lifting the wing through the surface to capture the layer.  The collodion rippled with rainbows like those seen in soap bubbles.

The propeller lobes were made the same way—collodion covered loops of bamboo like the wings of dragon flies.  They turned slowly, perhaps once per second, as the planes rose majestically gaining maybe a few inches of altitude at the end of each fifty foot circuit.  Each remained in the air for at least fifteen minutes it seemed.  I was fascinated but never aspired to enter that school of model building.

When I was twelve I began a really big model of five feet wingspan.  Dick Haward, a school friend, also had a big plane and for it a small gasoline engine.  We would try his engine in my model when it was finished.  It was common then to invite various school teachers to dinner occasionally and that spring my airplane was being proudly shown to Miss DeLura, the school principal.  She took it unexpectedly in hand and—crack—broke one of the stringers in her clumsy grasp.  I could have fixed it, and perhaps I did, but I have no recollection ever of having tried it out with Dick’s motor.

One Sunday in October of 1937 Holley and I were awakened unusually early by mother and dad and told to prepare for a surprise.  We drove into Boston and out to the airport.  We were to fly to New York City for the day!  The plane was, I imagine, a Douglas DC-3

Douglas DC-3, East Boston Airport 1937

and seemed in my memory to have had about two dozen seats in rows of one and two.  At 10:20a we taxied out to the runway and took-off.  What excitement!  We were enthralled.  On the way a steward(ess?) served snacks.  We landed in Newark and got to 42nd Street by 12:30.  We saw the science museum at Rockefeller Center and went to the Planetarium.  The taxis had folding jump seats in the back and we had lunch at an Automat—a wall of cubbies with glass, coin-operated doors behind which were sandwiches, chicken pot pies, shiny bowls of jello, and a corps of workers dutifully refilling the empties from behind—the grand daddy of all fast food.  Later we went to friends of mother’s [the Fairchild’s] for dinner.  We came home on the Pullman sleeper from Pennsylvania Station. This was mother’s first flight since her sight-seeing jaunt over Paris in 1919 and surely my father’s first flight ever.

At one time daddy worked on a model of his own design; a kind of helicopter device.  The rotor, elaborately constructed of thin paper, looked like an unfurled umbrella with curved vanes—like the chambers of a nautilus or the fine gills of a mushroom—on the underside.  I still have the propeller and the wooden stick frame that stretched the rubber band motor.  I haven’t the least memory of how it was supposed to have worked.

When I was fifteen I conceived and built a balsa wood and yellow tissue paper ornithopter; a plane that flapped bird-like wings.  I fashioned tiny cranks and levers out of piano wire with needle-nosed pliers.  A rubber band powered it.  It flew—sort of—mainly flopping toward the ground with a sound like a broken window shade and much sooner than I might have wished.

Gradually my room filled with models both flying and (more detailed) solid models aiming for realism.  Some were suspended on wires overhead.  My best was the Beechcraft, a biplane of about eighteen inch wingspan with staggered wings (the lower forward of the upper) and a radial engine.  I photographed them all once but the photos are now lost. Eventually the planes found their way to the attic to be retrieved several years later for the final act.

By 1942 the War was well under way.  Somewhere in that period a friend and I conceived the idea of simulating, in a small way, aerial combat.  This began by the opening of the front window of my corner room at 85 Ledgeways. Those models that would fly were wound up, anointed with kerosene, ignited, and launched out the window to circle, dive and to crash and burn in the driveway two and a half stories below.

WCA & Piper J-3

During my later service in the Army Air Force in training at the University of Cincinnati we had occasion to be taught to fly in Piper J-3s. We learned a long list of maneuvers in addition to simply taking off and landing with a minimum of jolting, careening from side to side, and bouncing clumsily back into the air. We learned to keep the nose up during turns—with the wings at an angle vertical lift is reduced.  I had trouble with the rudder controls because they were counter-intuitively the opposite of what I had learned as a kid on my Flexible Flyer. We memorized and executed a codified “series of turns” without losing track of our bearings, and had to be able to recover from a vertical tailspin in a prescribed number (like two-and-a-half) wild gyrations while trying to keep track of how many times the highway below had rotated. I was not much good at this emergency counting but in the end my instructors gave me a good report.

After the War, while a freshman at Cornell, I made a last detailed solid airplane model.  It was a B-29 carrying the markings of our 20th Air Force, 498th Bombardment Group on Saipan in 1945: T-Square 37 on which I was the radar navigator.  I have it still.

My Last Model Airplane (~1947)

[1] As of this writing I can find no proof of my ever having seen the Spirit of Saint Louis in Grand Central Station. An exhaustive Google subject and image search seems to confirm that the plane was never there on display. It is possible that it was the German plane “Bremen” on display in 1929 during one of our passages through the station. It had just completed the first east to west Atlantic crossing. But the plane was suspended in air with no possibility of having a close look.





Construction (1930s)

As school children we were endlessly fascinated by construction work, with the men and materials, but especially with the processes, the equipment and, above all, the machinery.

The machinery in general seemed muscular and open to the possibility of actually revealing to us how it might work—like anatomical drawings showing the tendons and bones of a limb.  It was angular, black, rusting, and oozed dark grease from its joints and pivots.  It ran on coal, hissing steam, and smoke.

Steamrollers had a great spoked iron flywheel on one or two sides of the engine.  The driver’s cab was filled with hand levers and long shafted steering wheels and covered with a flat canvas sun-roof that shook as the machine lurched forward and backward over the hot macadam steaming from water applied to keep the roller from sticking.

1932_Steam Shovel
Coal-fired steam shovel

Steam  shovels were tracked—as Cat’s are still—but the mighty torso of the machine carrying the awkward shovel arms and the cab and engine swiveled on a huge circular crown of gear teeth and the shovel arm, itself a gigantic rack, was thrust forward and back with pinions and greasy cables.  The shovel itself seemed to be the head of a giant beast with an articulated jaw—the hinge was the eye—and a row of huge teeth sprouting, oddly, like spiky hair from its forehead.  The teeth had no reverse reach (as on today’s backhoes) so workmen would have to hand-excavate the close-in stuff.

The behemoths clanked and smoked and, happily, were left at quitting time totally exposed and unguarded, metal chinking as it cooled, and various fluids sighing faintly to our ears as we took command of the controls to advanced the projects into the summer evenings.

Often a squat, rusty, and lurching diaphragm pump (sometimes left to run overnight) would be connected to two hoses one of which vanished into the turbid depths of an open hole or trench and the other, at labored intervals, belched forth gouts of muddy liquid into a canvas hose and then into a nearby ditch where the flow ran on to supply our dams and other grand and fleeting roadside civil engineering projects.

Hit-or-miss gasoline pump engine

Driven by a primitive one-cylinder, hit-or-miss gasoline engine—running at about 120 rpm—such a pump had a flywheel capable of carrying it, stumbling onward between frequent and random misfires, through a couple of cycles or so.  This gave it a characteristic and rhythmic but intermittent bump and breathy suck which I am certain any adult child of the twenties or thirties (who had endless time on his hands after school) would recognize instantly.

Smudge pot “bombs”

After dark the open pits and obstructions left for the night would be marked by crude black kerosene-filled spheres about the size of bowling balls with blackened wicks at the top burning dimly, smokily, and flickering in the darkness.  They were loose; but we never touched them; they seemed to us a little too dangerous—like the real bombs of our imaginations.

The heavy construction, machinery, and masonry workmen seemed mostly from southern Europe; swarthy from the sun, often mustachioed, and under banded fedoras and with bandannas at their necks.  I don’t remember much about the carpenters, plumbers, plasterers, and roofers except that they wore white canvas “farmer johns” and arrived at the jobs all together in the back of a truck. Individual autos were never parked around because they didn’t own cars as is common today.

After the workmen had left for the day we swarmed over the skeletal forms of the new house construction then burgeoning in our area, pocketing the coin-like knockout plugs from electrical boxes, sticking our fingers into the huge tubs of pristine white slaked lime left overnight by the plasterers to cure, and walking the gutters and ridgepoles arms waving widely—falling occasionally but usually able to hide the consequences from our parents.  Once, while balancing around a right-angled turn on a wooden hip roof gutter, I lost it and fell twelve feet onto a pile of bricks.  I had sprained my wrist in a fall, of course, from my bicycle [11/6/38].

Hod carrier

Often, too, we would hang around during working hours watching form-building, the pouring of concrete, and the laying of endless bricks and stones—the mortar mixed in great tubs with long handled shovels and hoes and the bricks and mortar carried, around and up ladders to high staging in wooden hods balanced on the shoulders of the carriers, to the masons who deftly plied their trowels.  We watched plasterers working their smooth magic over wire lath and were fascinated by the plumber with his roaring blow-torch pouring molten lead into oakum-packed cast iron bell-joints.  (Cinder-block and so-called dry-wall construction were not to come into use until after the War.)

Sometimes we would talk with the men and they might deign to answer questions.  Without realizing it at the time we were learning how it all goes together; how the world works.  We were even learning some small things about cultures different from our own and how to get along with them.  I can trace some of my later ability to enjoy work with others less privileged than I to encounters such as these.

As we grew older and bolder we stole.  Nails, lumber, hinges, tarpaper, shingles (the occasional piece of capped pipe—for a cannon).  Somewhere nearby and hidden in the woods a crude club house would take shape.  One day (panic!) a policeman found his way to a remote site and we had to raze that one.  But we saved everything.  We laboriously pulled and pounded out and straightened the nails and the structure rose again, phoenix-like, in someone’s else patch of woods.  It seems unbelievable, now, that we were never charged with theft.

There was the digging of tunnels, too.  Cut and cover.  It was hard, grubby work getting through the local glacial till and hacking through roots.  Damp, dark; and fun for a while but without the allure of a really swell shack with a sloping roof, a door and windows, a trap door in the floor, and an old kerosene heater.

And there were real, scary tunnels to walk through.  We would ride our bikes over to an aqueduct project nearby in Weston and sneak through a fence and into the open end of a huge pipe that we could stand up in.  We would walk in toward the darkness, our footsteps and voices echoing eerily, as the pipe gradually curved to cut off more and more of what little light filtered in from the now distant end.  As the darkness increased we would voice concern over what would happen if “they” suddenly turned on the water and then—suddenly convinced that the water was actually COMING—run like crazy for the distant opening.


But best was that sometimes there would be blasting.  Compressors and air drills shattered the silence.  The dynamite (pale yellow and waxy looking sticks) would be charged into the holes, a cap inserted and quietly wired up to the centerpiece—the iconic wooden box with the plunger in the top.  A huge blanket seemingly woven out of old steel cable would be dragged over the work by the steam shovel.  We would watch respectfully from a remove always considered too close by the workmen.  “Hey. Kids. Get back!”  The men were much closer than we were; we would step back about an inch watching and waiting.  Then, “Look: he’s about to do it.”  THUMP!  The blanket would leap mightily and little pieces of rock would fly, some falling near and behind us.  The workmen would move in and we, satisfied, would drift away in pursuit of other endeavors.