Miscellany / Artists, Authors, and Actors
HAMPTON: A CENTURY OF TOWN AND BEACH, 1888-1988
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Chapter 18 -- Part 1
Arthur C. Johnson (1898-1974) was born in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, but summered in Hampton for many years and was a resident from 1942 until his death. A director of the art museum in Springfield, Illinois, he lived for a time in Arizona. A well-known portrait painter, his subjects included banker Hervey Kent of Hampton Falls; United States Senator Styles Bridges of New Hampshire; Montgomery Blair, builder of Blair House, now the vice-presidential residence in Washington, D.C., Frank Poor, founder of Sylvania Electric Company; and many other industrialists.
Hampton’s literary tradition is not so limited. The best-known works based on Hampton are the poems of John Greenleaf Whittier, written in the nineteenth century (and mentioned in more detail in the first chapter of this book). A resident of Amesbury, Whittier often visited Hampton, and he wrote about the natural scene as well as local history.
The most important work devoted to Hampton, however, is the two-volume History of the Town of Hampton, written by native son Joseph Dow and completed by his daughter, Lucy Dow. Born in 1807, Dow was a graduate of Dartmouth and taught school in New Hampshire (including Hampton Academy), Maine, and New York before retiring to Hampton in 1860. For the rest of his life, he was engaged in probate and other legal work, and historical study. Interested in history as a young man, he gave the main address at the 200th anniversary celebration in 1838 and apparently began to write a town history after he retired. Dow had seven children, and when his wife died in 1870, his daughter Lucy left her teaching career and became his housekeeper and assistant. His volumes of history and genealogy were near completion when he died in December 1889.
Lucy assumed the task of readying the manuscript for publication, rewriting much of what had already been written and completing the manuscript for the publisher in January 1892. After various delays and a fire at the publisher’s plant, the first copies of the books were delivered in August 1894. It is not clear who actually paid for the publication. Although the Town in 1895 appropriated $500 for Lucy’s work as editor and for furnishing the manuscript, and paid $250 for “Publishing history of the town,” most of the cost apparently was paid in advance by subscribers. Individuals and some organizations paid to have pictures in the book. The number of original copies printed is not known, but the last ones were sold in 1925. Before the 1970 reprint, first editions were sold for as much as $200 by antiquarian book dealers. According to the Union, Lucy Dow’s friend, Lucy Marston, had the rights to the History, and, in 1925, she was being asked to collect material for a small book of Hampton family legends, a project never completed.
Reprinted in 1970, Dow’s History was the first book issued by Peter E. Randall Publisher, and he coordinated another reprint for the Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association in 1977. A third reprint was completed in 1988. Despite her important role in completing the books, Lucy Dow modestly credited the work only to her father, although she was properly the coauthor. Apparently exhausted from her effort, Lucy died in 1896 at age 55.
In 1937, Beach insurance agent Fred C. Pillsbury authored The Girl from Hampton Beach: An Adventure in Unconventional Living, published by Meador Publishing Company of Boston. The heroine of this novel is Kate, the beautiful, intelligent, and talented but poor daughter of Hampton Beach fisherman Bill Kedzie. One day, young socialite Charles Norton, son of an automobile manufacturer (read Henry Ford), was sailing along the coast and anchored off Hampton Beach. He and his crew went ashore, where, off on a picnic with a “bevy of girls from the Hotel Laxton,” the crew became drunk and left Norton in a predicament when a line storm approached. Anchored off the beach, his million-dollar yacht was in danger, and he hurriedly sought assistance. He was referred to Kedzie as the only man who could skipper the vessel into Newburyport Harbor. The old man was not available, but Kate, a skilled sailor, returned from digging clams just in time to save Norton’s yacht. Young Norton, who had given up on the young society women he knew, fell in love with Kate (although she did not realize it at the time), bought her clothes, and paid her way through a leading Midwestern college. Each fall, Norton flew his private airplane to Hampton Beach to pick up Kate and take her off to college. Partly due to the influence of the moral and idealistic Kate, Norton abandoned his high-society lifestyle and convinced his father to fund a seemingly grandiose airplane plant and establish a model city for the factory workers. Of course, he finally married Kate and they flew off into the sunset, a beautiful and responsible couple totally unlike the other tycoons of the day.
In his preface, Pillsbury wrote, “I have sailed and fished repeatedly with the Atlantic Coast skipper whose ‘other self’ I have introduced to my readers as Bill Kedzie. Every character in the story is the foster child of some counterpart that I have met.” The Union does not mention the book so it probably was not a best-seller, but the idealism expressed by Pillsbury was typical of the day.
A third Hampton-related book is The Moulton Tragedy, by S. Foster Damon, published in 1970 by Gambit of Boston. A heroic lyric poem, this 253-page volume tells the story of Jonathan Moulton, Hampton’s famous colonial Indian fighter, explorer, landholder, and general. A professor emeritus at Brown University, Damon was attracted to this minor figure of the Revolution because Moulton was called (by Whittier) the “Yankee Faust,” the man who sold his soul to the devil. Whittier had written about Moulton in an 1847 ballad of horror called “The New Wife and the Old.” Moulton was a controversial and legendary character in his own time, and it was widely believed that his sharp business practices came after he had made his pact with the devil. Indeed, the Moulton House, now a restored private home but opened to the public as part of Hampton’s 350th anniversary celebration, has long been described as haunted. Abandoned for many years, at the beginning of this century it was deemed suitable only for housing the transient railroad workers. In 1922, when the house was moved 150 feet southwest (to allow the sharp curve on Lafayette Road to be straightened), it was purchased and restored by Catherine and Sarah Little. It is now owned by the Anthony Olbres family. Part legend and part fact, the book-length series of poems deserves to be better known, especially in this town, for as Robert Fitzgerald wrote in the book’s foreword, “At the present time, a time I will refrain from characterizing, a historic poem in which pride, lust, and greed are taken seriously, with amplitude and spirit, must give a decent refreshment to the mind.” To say nothing of a unique view of Hampton’s most famous resident.
The Faces of Hampton, published by the Friends of the Lane Memorial Library, and produced by Peter E. Randall Publisher in 1984, is a book of contemporary photographs by Ralph Morang III, award-winning former photographer for the Hampton Union. It is a superb view of Hampton people and events during the 1970s and early 1980s.
A number of people with Hampton connections have been successful authors. Native son Wheaton J. Lane, Ph. D. (1902-83), was a professor of American history at Princeton University. In 1942, he received the Alfred A. Knopf Fellowship Award for his book Commodore Vanderbilt: An Epic of the Steam Age. His Pictorial History of Princeton University, published in 1947, is still in print. Although he lived in New Jersey, Wheaton visited Hampton often, maintained the Lane Homestead, and was a benefactor of the Lane Memorial Library. His sister Eloise Lane Smith was the author of The Drama of Winnacunnet, a dramatization of the town’s history written for the 1938 tercentenary celebration.
A classmate and lifelong friend of Lane was Stillman Moulton Hobbs (1903-88), who with his wife, Helen D. Hobbs, wrote The Way It Was in North Hampton, the first history of that town, published in 1978. StilIman, who concluded his teaching career at Wmnacunnet High School, was a longtime library trustee and member of the conservation commission, and he coauthored two high-school textbooks, Living in the People's World and Living in Today's World.
Dr. Lawrence R. Thompson (1906-73), a professor of English at Princeton, wrote the authorized three-volume biography of Robert Frost, as well as works on Edward Arlington Robinson, Faulkner, Melville, and Longfellow. A noted educator, curator of rare books and manuscripts, biographer, author, and editor, he was the son of the Reverend Roger E. Thompson, minister of the Hampton Methodist Church from 1916 until 1922. A boyhood friend of Wheaton Lane and Stiliman Hobbs, Larry was a student of Frost and became a close friend of the poet. Fire and Ice: The Art and Thought of Robert Frost was published in 1942; Robert Frost: A Critical Study, in 1959; and Selected Letters of Robert Frost, in 1964. The first volume of the biography, Robert Frost: The Early Years, 1874-1915, was published in 1966; Robert Frost: The Years of Triumph, 1915-1938, in 1970; and Robert Frost: The Later Years, 1938-1963, in 1977, after his death.
During the middle of this century, Hampton’s most prominent actor was Chester Grady (1897-1972). He purchased the Creighmore on lower High Street and lived behind it with his wife, Rae, in a small house that once had been the Little Boar’s Head post office. A native of Kensington, Grady became a dramatic actor, operatic tenor, and dancer, and he performed on cruise ships. Local variety shows often featured a monologue or recitation by Grady, who also earned several seacoast-area acting awards. Interested in parapsychology, he participated in extrasensory-perception experiments at Duke University.
An annual summer institution is the Hampton Playhouse, 357 Winnacunnet Road, founded in 1948 by New Yorkers John Vari and Alfred Christie. With Equity actors and an apprentice program, the theater offers a variety of lighter fare, an annual “burlesque” review, and special children’s plays. Performances are held in the remodeled barn of the old Godfrey Homestead.