By Patrick Curtis
Atlantic News,Thursday, July 8, 1999
[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]
HAMPTON -- History can take many forms. Often we think of history as an official record kept by faithful public servants and collected in books designed to inflict test anxiety on our youth.
Documents bearing the signatures of our founding fathers preserved in air-locked glass are a part of American history to be sure -- as are our national monuments, and the statues and cannons that still guard high hills across the land.
But history is not confined to the myriad inclusions of textbook content or landmarks. It is, in addition, personally enriched and colored by our experience -- our stories, which are most often bound to the places in which we live them. Hampton Beach is no different, and its rich history springs directly from its people.
One such story coloring the history of Hampton Beach is of a blue-eyed boy who vowed never to take the public stage again when an audience laughed at the sight of his five-year- old frame crooning love songs with serious amorous emotion on Watchnight (first night). Fortunately, William Elliot did take the stage again, to the delight of audiences at the Hampton Casino bandstand.
Known as the "Singing Cop", Mr. Elliot worked as a part-time traffic officer between 1930 and 1940, directing beach travelers around the Casino while the big bands played. Around 9 o'clock in the evening, when the house band was about to start its last set, Officer Elliot would hop onto the bandstand and perform a few numbers and then hop down, only to be beckoned back for an encore. Ironically -- as one might imagine with the directing officer gone -- traffic became a tangled mess, requiring the closure of Ocean Avenue, which was in truth to accommodate the gathering bandstand crowd.
Singing on the bandstand is but one of Mr. Elliot's stories. He also worked for the Greater Hampton Chamber of Commerce for a number of years, which was in his words a "wonderful job" as it brought one of the area's proudest residents in constant contact with the local community and inquiring travelers.
Mr. Elliot's lovely wife, Alzena, also worked for the Chamber of Commerce answering questions in their public information booth on the beach. Over the years, Mr. and Mrs. Elliot collected some of the more humorous and frequently asked questions; for example:, "Where does the tide go?"
The Elliot's have witnessed many changes to the area in the 72 years of marriage they have shared in Hampton Beach. A number of the original structures have burned, including the Willows, the magnificent boarding house in which Alzena was born. A great many structures have been built, and vacationers tend to come and go much more frequently than in years past.
Mr. Elliot recalls: "Families used to come to the shore and stay for the whole summer, spending their vacations together getting to know people and bringing a seasonal growth to the community. Now, it seems, young people come with friends or alone, and only stay a short while, and the families that come spend a weekend at most."
This notable change in vacationing is not necessarily negative, according to Mr. Elliot, it's just different. With a winking blue eye, the smiling Elliot continues: "Although we enjoyed having familiar faces around, this way a greater number of folks get to see the finest beach on the New England coast," (a label he quickly and easily defends). "Where else is the sand itself actually cleaned?" he inquires.
When asked to name favorite activities that occupied their time not spent working for the Chamber of Commerce or on other projects, the Elliot's listed attending -- when allowed -- the five- to 10-cent dances at the Boar's Head and Hampton Casino, where the acts were usually big name bands. They also played Ping-Pong, baseball, pool, and kitty-whist, which is now commonly called bridge.
"We walked a great deal," says Mrs. Elliot, who was herself brave enough to ride the "harness-zip-cord" spaning the famous Coast Guard-patrolled mile-long wooden bridge (which, according to Mr. Elliot, was few yards short of the full mile).
Entertainment in Hampton Beach was never hard to find as far as the Singing Cop is concerned.
"There were, and are, always events and occasions to bring people together here at the beach," he continues. Responding to a question about what makes Hampton unique, Elliot replies, "This is a special community that gives back to itself to preserve the spirit of a fine town." Mrs. Elliot nods in agreement as her husband names several of the reasons is an exceptional location. Among them are the number of churches, commitment to public safety, the physical appearance of the shore and town, excellent schools, and pleasant people. For the Elliots, however, the perpetuity of Hampton's charm lies in the fact that the place itself is tightly bound to their own personal story, which began when Alzena told a friend in seventh grade as she watched William descend a school staircase: "Well, I'm going to marry him!"
Today, their story is ongoing as the Elliots continue to live in a house on Dearborn Avenue that William's father built in 1927. Both in their early nineties, William and Alzena are the proud parents of two girls and a boy, who have, in turn, given them eight grandchildren, fourteen great-grand- children, and two great-great-grand- children -- all of whom are marking history, gathering their own stories.
When asked to name one thing that has kept them in Hampton all these years, Elliot replies, "It's the best place to live that I know of; it's natural to be here." And, his smiling wife states simply, "It's home."