Community Celebrations

Chapter 18 -- Part 2

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Hampton is one of the four oldest towns in New Hampshire, and residents have regularly honored this heritage with "old home days" and anniversary celebrations. Historian Joseph Dow was the speaker at the 200th anniversary celebration in 1838, but he was too ill to play a major role in the largely attended 250th celebration in 1888. For the occasion, his daughter Lucy authored the short booklet A Beautiful Place of Pines, a preview perhaps of the soon-to-be-published Dow history. More than 8,000 people were present on August 15 for the daylong festivities, which began, according to the Exeter News-Letter, when Hampton "citizens were early aroused by the merry ringing of bells, which for an hour saluted the rising sun. Incoming trains brought hosts of visitors, and returning sons and daughters, and early morning saw vehicles of every description in continuous procession along roads leading to the village. By ten o'clock the population of the town must at least have been quadrupled."

The day began with a parade of three divisions, featuring three bands, various dignitaries, and floats from surrounding towns, local organizations, and businesses, followed by a "Long Line of Citizens in Carriages." After a loop around the Village, passing many gaily decorated homes, the parade ended at the Union House (Hotel Whittier), where a bandstand was erected. Following a welcome by Judge Charles M. Lamprey, president of the day, Judge John J. Bell of Exeter delivered an "eloquent address," paying tribute to the independent character and religious virtues of the first settlers.

After the catered dinner for 850 people, served under four huge tents, there were toasts and more speeches on subjects ranging from public education, agriculture, and fraternal societies to the judiciary, relations between ancient neighbors Exeter and Hampton, and the Grand Army of the Republic. Events continued at sunset, when the bells were again rung for an hour, the band played, then everyone gathered to hear more speeches and the reading of a letter of greeting sent by poet John Greenleaf Whittier. At nine o'clock, the formal activities ended and the throng adjourned to Windmill Hill to watch an hour of fireworks. A few days later, on Sunday, the First Congregational Church held its 250th anniversary celebration with morning, afternoon, and evening services.

About the turn of the century, New Hampshire towns began to organize Old Home Day celebrations. After a few years of editorial prodding, Union editor Charles Francis Adams finally got Hampton residents, led by the Grange, to observe Old Home Day in August 1904 with a series of events at the Beach. A highlight was the baseball game behind the Casino between the town team and the 1887 academy graduates, all 14 of whom were in attendance. Following a banquet that required two seatings in the Casino convention hail, future governor John Bartlett gave an address. Old Home Day has been celebrated irregularly since that time, and most notably in the early 1960s -- events described below.

Two other major celebrations held prior to the 300th anniversary were the Armistice Day events of November 11, 1919, and the founding of Meeting House Green in October 1925, both described elsewhere in this book.

For the Town's 300th anniversary in 1938, residents put together the community's most ambitious and elaborate celebration. Planning began in 1937, when the town meeting voted to appoint a committee to prepare the tercentenary celebration, voted to invite the towns that were formerly part of Hampton to participate, and raised $1,000 for planning purposes. The appointed committee included the selectmen and the Precinct commissioners and was chaired by Judge John W. Perkins. In April 1938, the Beautification Committee supervised the planting of 130 16-foot sugar maple trees, most of which were placed along streets in the center of town.

Although most of the events were scheduled between Sunday, August 21, and Sunday, August 28, the celebration began with the opening of an exposition at the Beach sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the Casino Associates. Held in the Casino convention hall and entered through a special 60-foot-high tower, the exposition featured a variety of exhibits, including "a demonstration of television." In opening the exposition, Governor Francis P. Murphy "pleaded for patience with the efforts of the state to make Hampton Beach one of the finest on the Atlantic seacoast."

Each day of the tercentenary was dedicated to a specific topic. On the opening Sunday, a historical pageant was held in the Congregational Church and an exhibit of antiques opened in the Centre School Auditorium. Monday featured an athletic field day at Tuck Field, and that evening the tercentenary ball was held in the Casino, admission 50 cents. A highlight was a group of residents who demonstrated early American dances. Old Home Day was observed on Tuesday, and the feature event of the celebration was held that night -- the historical pageant, The Drama of Winnacunnet. Written by Eloise Lane Smith and staged by the John B. Rogers Producing Company of Fostoria, Ohio, the show event was performed on Tuck Field. The five episodes of the pageant revolved around early history: the Arrival of the First Settlers with an Indian Feast, Settlement of Winnacunnet, and Father Bachiler's *** Departure; Seventeenth Century Crime and Punishment with the Persecution of the Quakers, the Witchcraft Delusion, and the Return of Edward Gove; Events at the General Moulton House showing Eighteenth Century Life, the Revolution, and The Farewell Ball; Nineteenth Century Days with the 250th Anniversary Celebration; The World War. Then came Finale Procession -- 300 Years in Review. The latter was a panorama of characters across the stage, "followed by a 1938 automobile in which ride members of the general committee and the last minister of the church which is older than the town itself." The cast included several hundred costumed men, women, and children.

The next day was the parade, which traveled from High Street to Lafayette Road, then down Winnacunnet Road to the Mile Bridge, followed that evening by the last performance of the pageant. Although the parade, watched by an estimated 100,000 people, was captured on movie film, the pageant was not recorded.

The most publicized event occurred on Thursday, designated as Eunice "Goody" Cole Day. The story of the "Witch of Hampton" is told in Dow's History, so it is only summarized here. Accused of witchcraft in 1656, the elderly Eunice Cole was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, or until the court decided to release her. After three years, her husband petitioned the court for her release, pleading that he had turned his property over to her and that he could not care for himself. The court ordered the Town to take over the Cole estate and to care for both of them, although Hampton was often delinquent in paying for her jail costs. Her husband finally died and she was released, as a ward of the Town, sometime prior to 1671. In that year, she was accused of witchcraft again, but was judged not legally guilty, although there were grounds for "vehement suspicion of her having familiarity with the devil." Careworn and ill, she returned to Hampton, where she lived out her years scorned, persecuted, hated, and feared. According to legend, she died about 1680 and was buried by a vengeful mob with a stick, topped with a horseshoe, driven through her heart; another legend says the body later was removed secretly by kindhearted residents and properly buried near today's Meeting House Green.

Whatever other incidents ever happened in Hampton, the story of Goody Cole remained an embarrassment—and, for some people, a smear on civic pride. In the spring of 1937, James Tucker, Sr. (then executive secretary of the Chamber of Commerce and always open to promotional ideas), his daughter Phyllis, William D. Cram, and a few friends formed "The Society for the Apprehension of Those Falsely Accusing Eunice 'Goody' Cole of Having Familiarity with the Devil." Tucker said the name was meant to attract attention, but the purpose of the society was to make amends for the obvious wrongs committed against Goody Cole and to clear the name of the only woman to be convicted of witchcraft in New Hampshire. The society accomplished the first of its goals at the 1938 town meeting, when residents unanimously passed a resolution restoring Eunice Cole to her rightful place as a citizen of Hampton, and also authorized a ceremony to be held during the tercentenary celebration when certified copies of all official documents related to the false accusations were to be burned. The ashes, together with dirt from the area of her well on Island Path and from her last known resting place, were to be put in an urn and reverently placed in the ground. The town meeting vote was not without some controversy, as Arnold Philbrick of Haverhill, Massachusetts, a descendant of an early settler who was an accuser of Goody Cole, suggested that the town meeting action would condemn "the pious folk of the seventeenth century for adopting a belief that had been prevalent in educated Europe for hundreds of years." When Goody Cole Day was held at the Beach on Thursday, however, Philbrick said that his relative, Thomas Philbrick, "would be one of the first to concur with the spirit of the resolution." The importance of the Town's action toward destroying witchcraft delusions was stressed in a few words by Mrs. Harry Houdini, who came from California for the day. She said her late husband "would thank everybody responsible for this very historic event." With Goody Cole finally laid to rest as a citizen, the celebration was nearly over; all that remained were church services on Sunday. As reminders of the event, the Tuck Museum still sells copies of the official pictorial magazine, which is filled with photographs and historical articles, and reproductions of the original historical map of Hampton drawn by Hazel Leavitt Smith.

The euphoria of the tercentenary was soon lost in the events of World War II and the hustle of postwar housing development. It was two decades before the town again looked to its heritage in formal celebrations. Annual Old Home Day events, sponsored by the Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association, began in 1960. The daylong activities included church services, family reunions, house tours, art exhibitions, band concerts, picnics and barbecues, baseball games, and speeches. Special events in 1961 included the laying of the cornerstone for Tuck Museum and observance of Hampton's role in the Civil War. Program booklets featured historical articles and photographs.

These activities helped to prepare the town for celebrating its 325th anniversary in 1963. The five-day event began on Wednesday, August 14, with a family field day and picnic at Tuck Field. Thursday was Dedication Day, with appropriate ceremonies held to dedicate Seaside Park (now Ruth G. Stimson Park) adjacent to the Coast Guard station, North Side Park (now honoring longtime selectman Joseph B. Brown) at Plaice Cove, and Marsh Conservation Park, off the expressway at Tide Mill Creek Bridge, where a stone marker acknowledged the people who had donated marshland for conservation purposes. (In June, prior to the main celebration, the East End School Park, at the junction of Locke and Winnacunnet roads, was dedicated in ceremonies coordinated by the Hampton Monday Club, which promoted and sponsored the project.) Friday was Historical Day, featuring exhibits in many town buildings and churches, an address by author Edward Rowe Snow, and the screening of the 1938 tercentenary celebration movie.

Old Home Day was next, headlined by a morning parade from the Hampton Academy Junior High School to Tuck Field. There was also an afternoon parade at the Beach. The Garland and Locke family stones were dedicated at Founder's Park, and a Goody Cole monument was dedicated on Meeting House Green. (Goody Cole was not laid to rest after the 1938 celebration. The selectmen were supposed to have buried the urn containing the ashes of the documents and dirt from her "grave" in a town cemetery; instead, the urn remained in the town offices, officially forgotten. In 1955, according to a James Tucker Union column, several people reported seeing an old woman with a shawl and buckles on her shoes walking the streets in the oldest section of town. The woman visited some homes, asking questions about the past, and some of her hosts figured she was an antiquarian doing research. The old woman, who knew about the 1938 events, asked former town clerk John Creighton for the location of the Goody Cole monument and was angry when told none existed. Jack Hayden, husband of then town clerk Helen Hayden, saw an old woman mysteriously walking among the stones at Founder's Park. One day, a policeman stopped an old woman on Park Avenue and urged her to be careful, since there was no sidewalk. He was told, "I guess I'll get along all right, I've been walking along these roads for hundreds of years." Was this the ghost of Goody Cole asking for a final resting place or was Tucker again attempting to revive interest in Goody Cole? No one now knows, but as part of the 325th celebration, a stone in memory of Goody Cole was placed on Meeting House Green, the urn is in the Tuck Museum, and no one has reported seeing the old woman again.) Worship services and closing exercises concluded the 1963 events on Sunday.

In the fall of 1963, a brief ceremony on October 14 honored the actual founding day of Hampton's settlement. Members of the Wmnnacunnet High School History Club, some of them descendants of original settlers, marched from the Landing on the river to Meeting House Green, symbolizing the actions of the Reverend Stephen Bachiler and his followers so many years earlier.

A celebration that some people would just as soon forget was held in July 1970 with the opening of Winnacunnet Plantation, a collection of buildings donated by local people and moved to Meeting House Green, which the historical association thought would become a tourist attraction. Among the buildings were a colonial print shop, blacksmith shop, and general store to go along with the existing old schoolhouse. Despite a festive opening day, complete with a parade, band concerts, New England dinner, and a visit from Governor Walter Peterson, the project was fraught with financial and other problems. Within a couple of years, the buildings were removed and the "plantation" closed.

The town soon was celebrating again, however, this time joining the rest of the country for the American Revolution Bicentennial. Chaired first by Harold Fernald, then by Arthur Moody, the local American Revolution Bicentennial Celebration (ARBC) Committee produced dozens of events and sold a variety of historical commemorative items during the six-year period from 1972, when planning began, to 1977. The committee's activities cover more than 30 pages in the town reports, ample evidence of Hampton's participation in the nationwide celebration. Funding began in 1972, and on Founder's Day 1973, the ARBC sponsored a program to recognize the 335th anniversary of the Town and the First Congregational Church. It was the first Bicentennial-era event in New Hampshire. The ARBC's varied program allowed Hampton to be designated as a National Bicentennial Community, the 16th town in the state to be so designated. Other important events were the dedication of Bicentennial Park (site of the former Coast Guard station) in June 1975; the recovery of the 50-year time capsule from beneath Founder's Rock, and placement of another one to be opened in 2076; the Bicentennial Ball, enjoyed by 600 people at the Casino in May 1976; and the special activities of the Fourth of July weekend in 1976. The parade featured Peggy Spellacy of Hampton, that year's Miss New Hampshire, and nearly all of the town's 11 living and former selectmen. The major addition to the town office was dedicated, along with the new selectmen's meeting room, named to honor all past selectmen. A large relief sculpture of the town seal was placed in the town office. A number of men formed the Winnacunnet Home Guard, an eighteenth-century militia unit. They participated in local activities and represented Hampton in many out-of-town parades and historical reenactments, including the Arnold Expedition, which traveled from Maine through the wilderness to Quebec. Among the souvenirs issued were a commemorative bottle; 2,800 license plates, which residents used to replace the state plate on the front of their vehicles; a series of five pewter plaques; and a set of Bicentennial medals. The ARBC ended its activities in June 1977.

A different approach to a celebration was selected by the committee planning Hampton's 350th anniversary in 1988. Instead of a week of activities, the committee elected to conduct events throughout the year, beginning on January 1 with a ceremony in front of the town office and ending with an ecumenical candlelight church service in December. Under the chairmanship of William Wilson, and later, Gerald McConnell, the committee staged or coordinated such events as a firemen's muster, the dedication of the Rye town stone at Founder's Park, an historic house tour, a colonial militia encampment, art exhibits, and the two main events held in September -- a massive parade along Ocean Boulevard and the anniversary ball at the Casino. The parade became a major controversy, as many people objected to a route along the beachfront, instead of the more traditional route through town. The parade committee held firm in its belief that the Village lacked the proper staging space to assemble and dismantle the massive number of parade units. The requirement of closing Route 1 for a number of hours on a busy weekend also contributed to the decision by the committee to move the whole event to the Beach. The parade was set up north of Winnacunnet Road and marched along Ocean Boulevard, past the reviewing stand on the main beach, to the state park at the river. Colorful floats, numerous bands and uniformed marching units, antique automobiles, and beautiful sunny weather made the event a major success, watched by thousands of residents and visitors.

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