Social Events, Swimsuits, and Rudy Vallee
HAMPTON: A CENTURY OF TOWN AND BEACH, 1888-1988
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Chapter 3 -- Part 2
An event probably unnoticed by most tourists at this time was the reappearance of Winnicumet the turtle, picked up near King's Highway and Meadow Pond by Phil Blake in 1928. This interesting creature was first encountered in 1840 by Zacheous Brown, who carved his initials and the date on the 12-pound turtle's underside. The turtle was released and found in 1857 by Warren Brown, who added his initials. Amos Leavitt came across Winnicumet in 1881 and placed his initials and the date beneath the others. When Leavitt found the turtle again in 1905, it weighed 18 pounds. He took it to a natural history museum in Boston, where its age was estimated at between 150 and 160 years. Leavitt attached a silver tag with the turtle's name on it, then let it go. When Winnicumet was found again in 1910, the tag was in place, but it was missing when Blake saw the animal, although he did notice the rivet holes. The turtle has not been seen since Blake released it.
In 1929, Joseph McDonnell opened the Sunshine Auto Court, the first motel to boast of improved features and facilities, the forerunner of today's motels. That same year in June, the new Boar's Head Hotel was ready for business, replacing the original inn that had burned the previous Janary. In 1930, Ocean Boulevard was widened into a three-lane road from Winnacunnet Road to Boar's Head. The Union reported that so many motorists came to the Beach that many had to leave before the fireworks to avoid the congestion.
In July 1930, crooner Rudy Vallee and his Connecticut Yankees orchestra played for dancing to a packed house at the Casino and gave the Beach national attention. Vallee and his orchestra were the featured performers on the weekly Fleischmann Hour, which was broadcast live that night on NBC radio from a temporary studio in the Ocean House. Noted announcer Graham McNamee told his radio audience that more than 5,000 people had gathered to hear Vallee play at the Casino. Thousands of Vallee fans poured into the Beach just to catch a glimpse of the man as he walked from the hotel to the Casino. Vallee had played the new Casino Ballroom in 1927, when 6,000 people paid $1.50 each to hear the star, and his return, as a much bigger performer, did much to enhance the Beach's reputation as an entertainment center.
Vallee first performed at the Beach in the early 1920s as a saxophone player in Murphy's Orchestra, which played jazz in the Dance Carnival, located at the foot of Boar's Head. Armas Guyon had taken over the huge dance hall in 1923 and the popular Murphy Band and Mal Hallett's orchestra attracted crowds that walked north from the main beach to hear the swinging music. At the Casino, Rufus Graves, who did not approve of jazz and featured waltzes and similar music, lost customers to the Dance Carnival. While many businesses along the main beach suffered, the Dance Carnival had three booming years. John Hines and Jack Walsh, later to manage the Playland penny arcade for many years, ran a soft-drink concession, and below the dance floor were bowling alleys and pool tables run by J. Fred Hayward and Mrs. Dell Munsey's restaurant. Mrs. Leroy Woods also offered lemon pie there. The new Casino ownership opened its own large ballroom in 1927 and the dancers returned to the main beach. The Dance Carnival then had three lean years until it burned in November 1929.
Meanwhile, at the Casino, some 20,000 people danced weekly, paying 10 cents per dance, four for a quarter, to take a partner onto the floor. Only soft drinks were sold, women were not allowed to smoke, and mothers would come to watch their daughters dance with likely prospects for marriage. John J. Dineen, Jr., who ran the place after his father died in 1937 until he sold out to the present owners in 1976, estimated that 50,000 people met their husbands and wives from dancing at the Casino. By 1976, Dineen also estimated that about 12 million people had been inside the building, and hundreds of the top acts of the day had performed there. In the 1930s, according to Dineen, the Casino was the “biggest grossing ballroom then. Every dance band worked here.” Paul Whiteman, Sammy Kaye, the Dorsey Brothers, Bing Crosby, and many other internationally known orchestras filled the hall with dancers and brought tens of thousands to the Beach.
Big bands were not all the Beach had to offer, however. The following highlights from the 1932 season are typical of the variety of activities that kept the Beach busy during the 1930s and 1940s:
A holiday crowd of 76,000 opened the season on Fourth of July with the annual Precinct banquet held on the third. Soon after, the New Hampshire order of Mystic Shrine held their field day with a long parade, concerts, vaudeville show, and fireworks. On July 7, the Union reported that 25 New York Tribune Fresh Air Fund children were arriving at the Beach for their annual stay the following week. The previous year's trip had been canceled when polio broke out in New York City and the Hampton people didn't want to risk getting the illness.
About 1,000 Boy Scouts held their first annual jamboree on July 13, camping overnight in their tents on Ross Field in order to participate the following day in the Children's Day activities. The Scouts had a parade, drum-and-bugle competition, and contests among troops. George Ashworth, who “has worked unceasingly to make Hampton Beach a children's playground,” was honored by the Boy Scouts during the jamboree when they named one of the camp streets Ashworth Avenue. Other streets were named for Governor John Winant and Daniel Webster. Children's Day was July 14, with a parade and floats with costumes celebrating George Washington. In mid-July, New York governor and Democratic nominee for president Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the Beach on a Sunday. Planned as the only New Hampshire stop for Roosevelt, and his first campaign speech, the event disappointed the Hampton Union, which carried no story of the visit. In an editorial, however, Edward Seavey said Roosevelt mainly talked about repeal of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition). Seavey called liquor “the legalized sale of young manhood and young womanhood....”
Also in July, workers were improving and extending the Hampton Airport, with pilots from Concord Airport flying passengers on sightseeing trips. The Union expected to see a plane on the field every day. The Chase-Chace Family Reunion, honoring their first Hampton ancestor Aquila Chase, who came to Hampton about 1640, was held at the Ashworth in late July. On the same weekend, the second American Legion Field Day featured a parade, a drum-and-bugle competition, and a speech by Boston Mayor James Michael Curley, who arrived by seaplane, landing on Hampton River. In early August, it was the turn of the Merrimack Valley Pocahontas and Redmen Councils to hold their second annual powwow with a parade, vaudeville show, and convention. Not to be out- done by the Democrats, 400 Rockingham County Republicans met at the Ashworth in mid-August to begin their campaign for the primary election.
A main event of the summer was the late-August pageant celebrating the 200th anniversary of George Washington's birth. Sponsored by the newly organized Women's Civic League of Hampton Beach, the 10-episode show depicting the life of Washington was performed on a specially constructed stage on the sand. The Reverend Ralph Walker, the “singing” pastor of the Community Church, played Washington. A similar pageant planned for the Town was canceled and those who would have taken part in it were welcomed to the Beach pageant. The 100-member cast was directed by Mary F. Blanchet of Manchester, who also had produced the Beach pageant on the early history of Hampton in 1926.
On August 31, the Beach proved to be one of the prime sites for observing a total solar eclipse, an event suitably described, via the loudspeaker of the comparatively new Orthophonic Victrola, by Bart J. Bok, then an assistant astronomer at Harvard College.
Beach fun continued into September with Carnival Week. The Merrimack Valley Archery Association held a tournament, and swimming races included a one-mile swim from Boar's Head to the center. Carnival Week events included the queen contest, awarding of the raffle auto, a stage show, and fireworks. William Elliot won second prize in the final radio broadcast talent show. Weekly contests had been held all summer and all the weekly winners competed in the final program. The weekly amateur shows were held on Mondays, the nights when the band played in Depot Square. The Community Church hosted its annual civic night. In December, William Dow paid off his election bet by walking backward across the Mile Bridge, and, perhaps exhausted by the busy summer, some 125 Hampton people were wintering in St. Petersburg, Florida. Mr. and Mrs. Edward B. Towle were spending their sixteenth winter there. While the practice of spending the winter in Florida may seem to be a contemporary idea, the Exeter News-Letter reported as long ago as February 1889 that Sam Taylor and his sister Annie of Brides Hill were soon to leave for Florida, where they would remain for the rest of the winter and spring.
In May 1933, Hampton hosted the fifth annual symphony concert of the 216-piece New Hampshire All-State Orchestra at the Casino. The concert required 10,000 square feet of the floor for the players and 1,000 seats for patrons. In August, the Scenic Highway and Recreational Development Conference was held at the Beach. The scenic highway proposal was to designate a scenic route from Newburyport up the Merrimack River Valley to Franklin, New Hampshire, then to Laconia, Alton, and down to the seacoast and Hampton Beach, and finally back to Newburyport, a distance of some 200 miles. The plan, which involved building and improving roads, was never carried out. Five people were rescued by lifeguards on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, bringing the total number saved during the summer of 1933 to about 40 people, the highest total in many years.
In July 1934, 50 volunteers cleared one mile of beachfront, raking up seaweed and other debris. Hundreds of vacationers watched and cheered the workers. “The beach has never been so thoroughly raked in its entire history,” the Union reported. The “raking bees” were scheduled for three mornings per week. While there was good-natured fun involved, Beach people felt it was the Town's responsibility to keep the beaches clean.
A major event in the summer of 1935 was the Bektash Temple Shrine Circus, which performed for 10 days in a Big Top set up in the Casino parking lot. The sum of $15,000 was raised to guarantee a the show, and three baggage cars were required to bring the show with its 20 acts to Hampton.
During August 1936, as talk of war was beginning, the Coast Artillery of the New Hampshire National Guard conducted night gunnery practice at the Beach, firing tracer bullets at balloons sent up from a boat offshore. Later that month, Colonel Frank Knox, GOP vice-presidential candidate, arrived at the Beach on a campaign tour. He spoke from a temporary bandstand built in front of the Ashworth Hotel by Ashworth. Some 30 feet by 24 feet, and seating 70 people, with surrounding seating for 1,500, the new bandstand created a controversy because of the congestion at the location. Attempts were made to have Knox speak from the main bandstand, but there was objection to having the 450 dinner guests walk down the beach to hear the speech.
In July 1937, telephone and power company crews removed one line of poles from the side of the boulevard between Boar's Head and the North Shore Hotel and reset the poles on the west side of the street to allow the road to be widened, and improving the overall appearance. At the other end of the beach, the new state bathhouse opened. Up to 160 men were employed on the bathhouse project, which took 40 days to complete. In August, Mr. and Mrs. J. F. McPherson came to the Beach for their annual vacation. They had stayed in the same room in an F Street hotel for the previous 23 summers.
The end of the 1937 season was celebrated as Bill Elliot Week, with the “Singing Cop” as the master of ceremonies for musical events and concerts throughout the week. This was a busy year for Elliot, as he appeared on coast-to-coast radio shows, on Major Bowes's amateur radio program, and sang to a special session of the Legislature. The vocals of Hampton's Bill Elliot were heard frequently with the Beach bands. He won his first Beach Amateur Night contest at 16 in 1921, and he began to appear regularly with Hal McDonnell about 1927, continuing until the mid-1950s. About the time he began regular performances, he was a full-time policeman, and later served as a special officer. Since he often sang while wearing his uniform, coming from directing traffic in front of the Casino straight to the bandstand, he became known as the “Singing Cop.” For many years, the Dineens would invite him to sing a vocal or two with some of the big bands that appeared in the Casino. Hampton residents often tuned in to hear Elliot as he performed for regional and national radio shows. Equally at home on the baseball field, Elliot was a regular and often the leading hitter on Hampton teams. Elliot, now 83, recalls the McDonnell Band as one of the Beach's best. The 21-piece brass band featured 11 members, including McDonnell and his father, who had played with John Philip Sousa. Elliot still appears on Labor Day weekend with the bands.
In September 1937, the John J. Dineen, Sr., memorial clock, some 5 feet in diameter, was dedicated at the Casino. As the Beach closed for the year, it was expected that more than 100 new homes and cottage units would be built in the Beach and the Town before the start of the next season.
Although environmental conservation was rarely a topic during this era, the Union mentioned in July 1928 that one of the few remaining colonies of common and arctic terns in this area was located on the south side of the Hampton River. According to reports, there were a few pairs of arctic terns and 150 pairs of common terns, along with piping plovers and spotted sandpipers. It is likely that the original dune area of Hampton Beach had been home to these birds, but their habitat had been lost with development. In 1938, this arctic tern colony was being preyed upon by mackerel gulls, according to John D. Smith, who had been studying the birds. The colony existed at least until the 1950s, on the west side of Ocean Boulevard, where increasing traffic from bathers, and probably the increase in herring gulls, drove the terns away. In the 1980s, a tern colony has been reported out on the marsh, where it has been monitored by the Audubon Society of New Hampshire.
The dredging of Hampton River made possible an expansion in recreational boating. As mentioned earlier, Hampton River has always been difficult for navigation because of its shifting channel and shallow waters. It is likely that during the era of sail there were few recreational boaters, but with the development of gasoline engines, the river became increasingly popular with local residents as well as summer visitors. In August 1930, Edward H. McCabe of the Hampton River Motorboat Association received approval from the New England Lighthouse Division of the Department of Commerce to place a bell buoy at the mouth of the river and possibly to mark the channel as well. In March 1935, Fred R. Batchelder was elected commodore of the newly formed Hampton Harbor Yacht Club, and in August the club began construction of its facilities, the buildings owned in recent years by the Smith and Gilmore fishing party business. A 50-acre yacht basin was dredged out in the harbor and the Lighthouse Division completed work on properly lighting and marking with the buoys the route of the inlet from the sea to the harbor. In 1936, the yacht club floated a $10,000 bond issue to finance construction of the clubhouse, which was dedicated in August. The club planned cruises to Gloucester and Rockport. Moonlight cruises were also being conducted along the shore and out to the Isles of Shoals. With so many pleasure craft attracted to the river, a bill passed the Legislature in 1937 to permit the appointment of a harbormaster to control boats and moorings in the river. The Seacoast Development Commission approved the appointment of Selectman Edwin L. Batchelder as harbormaster, following two years of controversy between local commercial fishermen and the members of the yacht club. The club sponsored the first Hampton Beach yacht race in August 1937 with 20 entrants in four classes.
The 1939 season opened on Fourth of July weekend with a crowd estimated at 120,000, some of them attracted by the sight of ships attempting the recovery of the submarine Squalus, which had sunk on a training mission off the Isles of Shoals. Thousands of people came to the shore in September when the ship was hauled up and taken to Portsmouth, where it was refitted. Renamed, the vessel had a successful career in World War II. Many of the Fourth of July visitors may have been Canadians who were reportedly present in large numbers at the Beach in the 1939 season. The northern influx was so great that the Chamber of Commerce set up a special fund to assist Canadians with changing their money into United States dollars. Some credited the successful season to the Canadian business. The Beach was also host to its first annual dog show in August 1939 with some 300 dogs entered, including a special show class for children.
Several interesting pieces of Hampton Beach property also changed hands in 1939. The Avon Hotel, which George Ashworth built in 1900 and added to for a decade, was acquired by John W. Dignon from the heirs of Ethel Powers. She had purchased the hotel from Ashworth in 1912 and hired Dignon in 1938 when, jobless, he came to the Beach seeking work. He was appointed clerk, and, although he had no experience in the work, he ran the place successfully for Mrs. Powers, who was ill when he was hired, and finally died. Her heirs made it possible for him to acquire the place. Another 1939 transaction was the acquisition by Kenneth Ross of the summer residence of Ashton Lee on Ocean Boulevard -- the site of the original Ocean House. Ross, who was the owner of a garage and had built several cottages, was just coming into prominence as a Beach businessman, and he turned his new property into house lots in the Church Street area. Ross was a direct descendant of Thomas Nudd, who had built a house at the Beach in 1826.
During World War II, the Beach remained open as usual, although the proposed new seawall and bridge projects were postponed. Because of the many blackouts and test alerts conducted during this period, Beach businesses erected temporary walls to prevent the light from stores being seen at sea. The Casino's windows were blacked out, but the dancing continued, although without the big-name bands of the 1930s.
This is a piece of the roof of the cottage that the plane hit on July 23, 1940 killing the pilot. [Courtesy of John & Connie Holman, Hampton, NH, 2003]
On July 23, 1940, an airplane crash took the life of a young army pilot on the marsh just west of the Beach and north of Boar's Head. Lost in the fog, Second Lieutenant Raoul Burgoin, was killed instantly when the plane hit power lines and bounced off a small cottage. The 1941 Fourth of July crowd was estimated as the largest in history, and, because of the war threat, the Children's Day festivities had a patriotic “Spirit of ‘76” theme. In February 1942, concerned Beach businesspeople and residents were told that the army did not plan any coastal restrictions. For the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends, the Beach was jammed with an estimated 200,000 visitors. The Boston & Maine Railroad was running special trains to handle the people, many of whom needed mass transportation because gasoline and rubber tire rationing restricted automobile use. The weekend crowd of August 1 and 2 was even larger, with correspondent Maude Hamilton reporting in the Portsmouth Herald that 250,000 “milled about the resort.” The railroad ran five special trains from Boston and at one time 53 buses were at the Beach. With all hotels and rooming houses full, many people had to sleep on the sand. Despite the busy weekends, Beach business in 1942 was down about 25 percent from the record 1941 season. Labor Day weekend in 1943 included Armed Forces Day, when some $62,000 worth of war bonds were sold. During these years, musical entertainment was often provided by military bands. The Bundles for America program operated a canteen for servicemen stationed in the area.
The biggest news at the beginning of the 1944 season was the announcement that George Ashworth, at age 76, was retiring from the hotel business. He sold his 60-room landmark property to Ralph Moulton, owner of the Moulton Hotel and other Beach businesses. As a businessman and civic leader, both at the Beach and in the Town, Ashworth was one of the area's dominant individuals during the first four decades of the twentieth century. The Fourth of July 1944 was again recorded as having the largest crowds in Beach history, as the temperature soared to more than 100 degrees on Sunday. Week after week during that torrid summer, the newspapers again and again reported record throngs. Finally, in August, the Union predicted, “There could be no greater crowd at Hampton Beach at any time in the future, for there would be no room for them to stroll.” One addition to the Beach this year was a special telephone center with 14 phone booths connected to a switchboard. Established partially to allow visiting servicemen to call relatives, the center had a phone directory library and was staffed with specially trained junior and senior coeds from Hampton Academy and High School. The week preceding Labor Day was proclaimed as “Victory Week,” with patriotic speeches and war-bond sales.
With an easing of travel restrictions and an increase in gas coupons, the summer of 1945 was another successful season. Traffic was the heaviest recorded since 1942. The summer was marked by the first drowning in six years when eight-year-old Charles Keefe died at the State Reservation. The Union charged the State with “gross neglect and failure to operate ... with proper regard for the safety of the public.” According to the paper, reservation manager John Fanning said he had been one of only two lifeguards on duty. Governor Charles M. Dale was present for the real “Victory Week,” which ended with Labor Day 1945. Record crowds of 225,000 were present for the summer's end -- and war's end -- festivities.
With the war over and many building restrictions ended, the 1946 season began with many new faces among Beach businesspeople. Harry McLane acquired the Ferncroft bowling alleys from James Eastman, and John C. Percival sold the Standish Hotel and Gift Shop to Leo T. Mower. The following hotels and rooming houses also changed hands: the Langley, The Hill Crest, The Somerset, Seven Gables, Holiday House, the U and I, Ken and Ken Annex, the Penobscot, and the Happy Hampton. Early in the year, Hampton resident Frank L. Moody, Sr., purchased the brick house at the corner of Ocean Boulevard and M Street. Moody, who later became a Precinct officer, quickly renovated the house into the Seacrest Hotel. He expanded the Seacrest several times and was one of the first at the Beach to advertise “rooms with bath.” Moody and his father Albert built many Beach cottages and the Marilyn Hotel on I Street, the latter hotel owned and operated by Frank's sister. The Moodys advertised in Montreal newspapers and were among many innkeepers to welcome the Canadians back to postwar Hampton Beach. Closed during the war, the Hill Crest dining room and Kelley's Gift Shop reopened. Predictably, the Union opened its post-Fourth of July story with “Unofficially estimated as the largest crowd in the history of Hampton Beach....” The constant assertions of “record” crowds at Hampton Beach must be accepted as promotional hype, or else today's records must mean that close to half a million people are present on holiday weekends, seemingly impossible. On the Saturday night of the 1946 Fourth of July weekend, some 10,000 people slept in their cars or on the beach, and parking space was in short supply despite the new 1,000-car parking lot on Ashworth Avenue behind the Casino. This lot, pursuant to a March 1944 vote and a $10,000 appropriation, was made up of land received by purchase, gift, and eminent-domain proceedings in 1945.
Another Beach institution ended in October 1946 when Billy and Gertrude Lamb auctioned off their fixtures and closed their grocery store after 37 years on the beach. Located for many years in stores on Ocean Boulevard near the junction with Ashworth Avenue, they were burned out in both of the major fires, but they rebuilt and continued to operate year round. For the previous 25 years of business, they had been in the Garland building on Ocean Boulevard. In the winter, their store was an informal civic center for Beach residents, who met their friends daily for a cup of coffee or to buy the daily newspaper. Billy was a longtime clerk and treasurer of the Precinct.
In May 1948, the New England Music Festival for high school bands met at the Beach. Rain and cold temperatures hampered the parade of the 6,500 musicians but the various school bands still played in three different concert halls and participants danced at the Casino. On July 22, 1948, George Ashworth was honored on his eightieth birthday as part of Children's Day, an annual event that he had organized some 30 years earlier and that usually was held on his birthday.
Two of the oldest hotels at the Beach changed hands in 1949. Built in 1885, Cutler's Sea View (actually two buildings), then known as the Constance, was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Allen of Amesbury, who renamed it the Hotel Allen. At the other end of the Beach, the Hill Crest, built just after the turn of the century, was sold by Mrs. Roberta Winkler to Lucien Cadieux of Nashua. The $60,000 selling price was the largest real estate transaction on the Beach in many years, according to the Portsmouth Herald. Another 1949 development was the construction of the Hampton River Boat Club, built on the marsh off the end of Landing Road on land leased from Homer Johnson for $1 per year. Once a busy section of the river, the Landing area had been little used for decades after marsh haying declined. The new boat club gave uptown residents and people from surrounding towns a wharf and mooring space with access to the ocean without having to endure summer traffic to drive to the harbor. A social center as well, the boat club became well known for clambakes cooked under the direction of member Carlyle F. Randall.
While the tourists brought dollars to the community, they also arrived with different moral values, and many residents objected to their behavior. Sunday business was for many years a subject of great controversy in Hampton. Many people believed that amusements were not appropriate for the Sabbath. In July 1930, for example, a Union editorial opposed to opening amusements on Sunday argued, “If Hampton Beach changes its policy of limiting the Sunday amusements then it is a free for all and this beach will have lost its appeal to the very splendid class of summer visitors to which it has catered these many years.” Apparently Selectmen Shaw and Munsey had issued an order that all places of entertainment were to be closed on Sundays.
A more humorous situation concerned bathing suits, which were becoming more revealing. In August 1928, some folks were calling for two municipal bathhouses at the Beach, an idea promoted by those who were opposed to people “parading around the beach and particularly through the business section in scanty attire.” These protests reached the 1934 town meeting, which passed an ordinance stating, “A suitable covering should be worn over bathing suits by all appearing in public places except when on the beach or when crossing the boulevard in front of private residences.” Children under 15 were exempted and the fine was $5. There is no record that anyone was arrested under this ordinance, which remained on the books until 1971. (Another ordinance, circa 1925, said, “Automobilists stopping their machines and eating lunch on the side of any highway ... are forbidden to leave any food, waste paper or paper boxes or any unsightful substance on the side of the highway on any land adjacent, under penalty of a fine of $10 to be paid to the person making and sustaining the complaint.” There was more concern over indecency in 1937 because bathers “parade in and out of stores on the water front.” Directors of the Community Church passed a resolution protesting the “flagrant violations of the laws of decency” and planned a meeting with the selectmen to discuss the problem. Years earlier, the Precinct had voted to appoint Joseph Dudley as “bathing suit censor,” apparently an attempt at humor, since Dudley sold bathing suits in his store.
A serious situation that had an impact on the Beach for many years concerned discrimination. Although charges of discrimination against anyone at the Beach have always been hotly denied by community and Chamber of Commerce officials, the subject has been frequently discussed, primarily in out-of-town newspapers, and privately, many longtime Beach residents will admit that certain people were, in the past, less than welcome at Hampton Beach. In 1923, a series of promotional booklets was distributed by a private company. The front cover of each booklet carried the name and a photograph of a different Beach business, but the text was nearly identical in each booklet. The written material was mostly typical historical background and recreation promotion, but at one point the anonymous author wrote, “The town authorities of Hampton have placed restrictions on the sale and leasing of land, both in town and along the beach, so as to ensure a desirable class of residents and business for both.” In the 1930s, a Moulton Hotel brochure advertised “Christian clientele.” Another example of these attitudes involved the re-formation in 1935 of the Hampton Beach Cottage Owners' Protective Association, with John C. Percival of Lowell as president. The group's aim was to “uphold the standards of beach visitors and the elimination of undesirables (drunkards, those who annoy others by keeping late hours or who crowd several families into apartments).” Members were asked to pledge not to do business with undesirables who wanted to buy, lease, or rent property. Percival stated that according to law no race discrimination could be allowed, but that owners had the privilege of renting property to those whom they chose to occupy it. The forerunner of this organization was formed in August 1922 by people who had learned that the selectmen had planned to give a permit to a group that wanted to build “an amusement proposition” at the Hampton River end of the Beach. The hastily formed organization circulated a folder entitled “There's a Nigger in the Woodpile,” and the project, which involved building jetties and a landing for steamboats in the White Rocks Island section, eventually was canceled. More than 100 association members attended the gala last meeting of the year, held at the Community Room of the fire station in August 1937.
Who were the people “who crowd several families into apartments”? The Association didn't say, but in that era, large families coming to Hampton Beach were probably ethnic minorities. De-facto discrimination -- or simply a lack of awareness of the implication of certain activities -- was long evident in Hampton, and probably almost everywhere else in New England. In August 1888, the Union reported, “A novel entertainment took place at the Hampton Beach Hotel Tuesday evening. A ‘coon' ball was given by twenty guests, blackened and suitably costumed.” Most of these guests called themselves by such names as “Topsy,” “Chloe,” or “George Washington.” “Dancing, in which white and black mingled in perfect harmony, followed until eleven,” the paper concluded. An early black vaudeville act at the Casino was described in the Union as “Real Coons from the Deep South.” Today we recoil at such items, but one wonders if there was any response from John G. Cutler, a black man and certainly one of the leading and most respected businessmen of his era at Hampton Beach. For many years, one of the most popular winter social events in Hampton, Exeter, and most surrounding towns was the minstrel show, in which the leading characters were “end men,” who wore blackface and told jokes. There have never been more than a few resident blacks living in Hampton, and minstrel shows were not considered to be in bad taste until the 1960s, when the civil rights movement increased awareness of such activities.
Hampton had a brief acquaintance with the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. They held meetings in the town hall, beginning in 1924, and, because one of the local Klan leaders was a Methodist, a group of 18 Klansmen, clad in white robes, marched into the Hampton church one Sunday in February 1925 and presented the minister with an American flag while the choir sang America the Beautiful. After this service, the Union reported that the Reverend A. B. Thompson made “some very interesting remarks on conditions in America.” In September, 2,000 people attended the KKK field day and a parade “with over 700 marchers in full regalia,” headed by two knights on horses and the chief and members of the North Hampton police department. There were speeches followed by the initiation of a “naturalization class” and the burning of a 24-foot-high cross. About 100 new members were added to the order, and, despite the good beach weather on this Labor Day, many men and women from Hampton and surrounding towns “heartily endorsed the remarks of the speaker, the Reverend Mr. Johnson of Little Rock, Arkansas.” In a newspaper advertisement, KILGRAFF signed a notice for the Hampton Klavern #4 apologizing to residents because the guards at the field refused entrance to some people. The following June, the KKK held a statewide field day off Mill Road, just over the North Hampton line. The parade was again led by the North Hampton chief and police force and a cross was burned again. A heckler was arrested for making remarks to some of the women marchers. He was found guilty in Hampton Court of driving an automobile to endanger and fined $10.
With few blacks living anywhere in this part of New Hampshire, these Klansmen directed their protests toward Catholics. In October 1925, the Reverend W. R. Pierce delivered an address on Americanism at an open KKK meeting in the town hall, and “All Protestant people of Hampton” were invited. Portsmouth Klavern #2 had cosponsored the large Hampton events. At its height, the Hampton Klavern had nearly 100 members representing two generations of some 60 local families. The Klan's public presence ended by 1927, although the attitudes it represented apparently remained with some individuals. One of Hampton's first postwar land developers was J. Walter Hollis, a New Yorker who first came to the Beach in the 1940s as the owner of the Seven Gables. After World War II, he built such developments as Fairfield Park. One night, after meeting with the selectmen, he was told by one member of the board that he had been doing a good job with his developments except for one aspect: “You are letting in too many Catholics." Hollis, whose wife was Catholic, was outraged.
Italians in particular were singled out for many years. As recent immigrants at the turn of the century, they found work only at the bottom of the labor pool. In this area they built the streetcar line, the waterworks, and much of Ocean Boulevard from Hampton to Rye. In March 1902, the Union reported on upcoming work on Ocean Boulevard: “A large crowd of Italians will be put to work, for they are much more fitted for such jobs than any other race and will work cheaper.”
A few months later, the paper described the men working on the Seabrook section of the street railway:
The Italian quarters are interesting. There are several large buildings in the camp, most of them rough board shanties covered with tarred paper. Others are built from sod and turf. They are charged 25 cents per week for their lodging. They have stoves in their lodging houses and purchase quantities of poultry and vegetables from the farmers. They cook their own meals. Since the work began April 10, 1901, over 200 Italians have been engaged on the work ... and their conduct has been uniformly good. They have attended the Rev. W. A. Rand's church [on South Main Street in Seabrook] several times and their ... reverence is noticeable.
The discrimination issue was addressed publicly in the summer of 1952 when Deborah Gale Bryer of Hampton wrote to the Union in mid-August: “Questions have been raised in the minds of some of us about alleged discriminatory practices on the basis of religion, color, creed, or national origin at Hampton Beach,” she said. “It is not enough for an editorial in your paper to dismiss statements by responsible leaders of this community as ‘injudicious.' The fact is that these statements have not yet been formally repudiated by those [apparently the Hampton Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Hampton Beach Improvement Company] charged with making them." A few weeks later, Edwin Batchelder, manager of the Improvement Company, spoke to the American Hellenic Council in Portsmouth, denying discrimination against Greeks. “There is no discrimination on the part of our company based on race or creed. We do, however, endeavor to control the types of businesses in this area as well as the people who operate them in order to perpetuate the clean and wholesome type of resort area for which Hampton Beach has become famous all over the country ... We believe this type of resort is appreciated by families of all races and creeds.”
In 1954, Baron Frary von Blomberg, in response to an interview he gave to the New Hampshire Sunday News, denied that he was leading a fight against discrimination at Hampton Beach. In a letter to the Union, he wrote, “I am grieved that it [discrimination] exists and should any specific case be brought to my attention, it is my intention to speak publicly and to do all that I can to bring it to light.” Praising the people of Hampton, the baron said, “I cannot help but believe that Hampton will stretch out its hand to the stranger ... regardless of his blood or his church. Naturally we all wish to have the finest town and Beach possible and we want people who will help us to continue this policy. But if we keep out anyone because of his race or religion, we shall be judged by all lovers of true freedom ....” The baron described himself as an International Christian Diplomat, and, from his Exeter Road home, he carried on a correspondence with many world leaders, many of whom he also visited in his campaign against communism and for peace and Christianity.
Following the baron's letter, James Tucker devoted a column to the subject, refuting charges of widespread discrimination and mentioning many minority people he had known who had lived and worked at the Beach since he first arrived there about 1915. He called it poor public relations when some local officials reportedly told the New Hampshire Sunday News that the Beach “screened” patrons to keep out undesirables. Tucker said those statements were intended to give potential visitors a favorable impression of Hampton Beach, “50 they magnified and multiplied a few isolated cases of what might be called ‘discrimination.' ... Certainly there have been cases of genuine racial and religious discrimination at Hampton Beach. This we will freely admit, but the percentage of such regrettable incidents is no greater in our town than elsewhere.”
Anti-Italian discrimination reached its height in 1959, when the Hampton selectmen refused to issue a lease to the Italian Carmen Segres family, who had purchased a North Beach cottage and needed a town lease to occupy it. In writing about the Segres case in July 1960, Tucker wrote that he had heard of two other similar cases, all of which were usually considered top secret, which “did not reflect commendation on officials of this town.” He was writing about the Segres case, he said, “only in the hope that Hampton citizens may decide on a way that such matters shall be handled by town officers in the future -- a way which, by no stretch of the imagination, can cast even a shadow of the taint of discrimination on our town."
Segres, the owner of an ironworks in Waterbury, Connecticut, and his family rented at Hampton Beach for many years until they decided to purchase a summer home on Ocean Boulevard. A friend and collaborator of sculptor Alexander Calder, Segres fabricated some of the artist's pieces in his ironworks. When Segres went to the Board of Selectmen in the spring of 1959 asking for a town lease, he was refused because, according to Tucker's column, “Mr. Segres was of Italian descent, but this [refusal] they refused to believe because they had always been made to feel welcome and at home in Hampton.” The family responded by securing letters from the mayor of Waterbury and from two judges, attesting to the family's high standing in their community. Without comment, the Hampton selectmen refused to change their decision.
Segres decided to test the matter in Superior Court, where he asked for permission to inspect the lease, to have it approved by the Town, or for the Town to provide a reasonable excuse for its failure to approve the lease. The Town moved to deny the permission, and, when the court refused to issue a denial order, the case was appealed to the state Supreme Court. The court ruled in July 1960 that the lease document was public and the Segres family was entitled to view it, but the selectmen still refused to assign the lease to the family. The Segres family went back to the Supreme Court asking if the terms of the lease gave the Town an arbitrary right to deny or refuse to assign a lease, and also asking if the selectmen had the right unreasonably to withhold the assignment of a lease of Town-owned property. Tucker, in a March 1961 column, asked the selectmen to take the “steps necessary either to properly transfer the lease in question or to inform the community they are supposed to serve as to the reasons for their costly refusal to assign said lease to the Segres family.”
The selectmen did neither, instead waiting for the Supreme Court to make a ruling, which it did in May 1961, upholding the selectmen's right to withhold the lease and not to give any reasons for so doing because they were acting in a quasi-public capacity and were not acting for governmental purposes. An outraged James Tucker wrote in June: “The Carmen Segres are a typical American family of excellent repute -- a family which has been treated by our town with injustice, intolerance and malice. Because a distinction has been made between them and other families to whom leases have been freely assigned, they likewise have been victims of discrimination. It is hard to believe that any combination of legal circumstances could possibly exist today in any American community where a reputable family could be victims of oppression. Yet these circumstances were found right here in Hampton.” He again called on the Board of Selectmen, whose membership had changed since the original lease denial, to make amends to the family by granting the lease. “We want nothing more of modern versions of the Goody Cole incident,” Tucker concluded. In August, Tucker reported, the selectmen reversed the decision of the earlier board and issued the lease to the Segres family.
Ironically, one of Hampton's most beloved citizens was Luigi Marelli, an Italian immigrant who came to this area with his brothers. Each one opened a store -- Luigi in Hampton about 1916, the others in Exeter and Newmarket. Because of his many acts of kindness and charity, especially in sending Christmas packages to servicemen during World War II, and “for his exemplification of all the traits of good citizenship and for his loyalty to and love for his adopted country,” Hampton's town square was named in his honor as a result of a motion by William Elliot at the 1960 town meeting. In yet another charitable act, during 1952, the children of Hampton, through the Charles M. Lane Fund and the Foster Parents' Plan for War Children, “adopted” eight-year-old Caterina Bartola of Palermo, Italy, sending her $15 per month.
For those who have wondered about the term “Guinea,” which is given to the Drakeside, Towle Farm, and Mary Batchelder roads section of town, the late Eloise Lane Smith, a longtime student of Hampton history, wrote in 1951 that the word referred to a form of money minted by the English prior to 1813 that came from their Gold Coast colony (now Ghana) on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. James Tuxbury, a large property owner along Drakeside Road in the early 1800s, had some of his wealth in gold guineas, but apparently few other people in town had them, and somehow this name became applied to the area. More recent residents of the area suggest the name came from several farmers who raised guinea hens. Another writer said the name came from a farmer who used to “pasture” guinea pigs in the area. And of course the name may well have come from the Italians who stayed in the Drakes Pond icehouse while working on the railroad construction in 1900.
Time changes perceptions and brings education and awareness. There was discrimination at Hampton Beach, but there is little likelihood that anyone will be turned away again from the resort because of race or religion.