Oral History Cover Sheet
Interviewee: Harold and Florence Corbin
Tape #:82 A & B
Place of Interview: their home in Salisbury, #1 East Main Street
Summary of talk: see next sheet; order by category, not by tape sequence
Property of the Oral History Project, The Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library
Salisbury, Ct. 06068
HAROLD AND FLORENCE CORBIN
INTERVIEWED BY ROBERT STECK DATE:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
An overview of the history and founding of Salisbury School from 1902 through World War 11 years. Mention of the Summer Acceleration Program, the Salisbury Summer School of Reading English conceived of by Harold Corbin. Salisbury School’s relationship with the town and its population, shopping, and well known residents. Residents mentioned: Maurice Firuski and his book store, the Scoville family, Hop and Jo Rudd, the Rand family
Corbin’s connection with the area as first student to attend The Rumford School which became Rumsey Hall School. Wrote his first poem at 8. Asthmatic as child. Interest in reading. Yale education. Hired as English teacher at Salisbury School in ’42. Summer School of Reading English begun in “46.
Formation of Poetry Society at Salisbury School led him to contact Robert Frost. After remaining at Salisbury School for nine years, Harold Corbin moved to Illinois to work at the Lake Forest School for 18 years. His relationship with Robert Frost became more personal as he had Frost as a speaker and teacher at Lake Forest.
When Corbin returned to Salisbury after retiring from the Lake Forest School, he and his wife, Florie, (Florence) opened their antique business, called The Three Ravens, after Harold Corbin’s family crest. His early interest in antique collecting began when he and Florie needed to furnish their house at Salisbury School in the 40’s. It became an obsession and his collection of early maps, iron, eagles, chalk ware was well known and exhibited in several museums.
He served on the Board and the Book Committee and subsequently, on the Board of the Scoville Library for a number of years because of his great interest in books and poetry. Fellow servers during the years were Warner, Scoville, Milmine, Becket, Wagner and Whitridge, all important citizens of Salisbury.
Corbin published a number of collections of his poetry and gave readings of his poems at various venues. Included in this tape is a reading of KEEP US BY. A Litany of the Land, read by Corbin.
The tape ends with an informal discussion between Harold and Florie Corbin and Robert Steck on how he and his wife, Jo, moved to Salisbury
Harold and Florie Corbin
RS: I am going to ask both of you if you will tell us your full name, Harold.
HC: My name is Harold Harlow Corbin, Jr.
RS: How do you spell your middle name?
HC: No “T”.
RC: And your name?
FC: Florence Smith Corbin.
RS: And how do you spell your first name?
RS: Sorry I didn’t get that. Thank you. Now let’s start then. When did you come to Salisbury?
HC: Well, we arrived in Salisbury in, huh, I think, late September of 1942.1 had accepted the position as Head of the English Department at Salisbury School up on the hill here and we came in huh, huhWe
had been teaching over in Washington, Ct., or outside of Washington in a small school where I had actually gone to school as a boy to prep school – called the Romford School. It is no longer in existence but its present occupants are the Rumsey Hall. The Rumsey Hall is where I went to school but not as Rumsey Hall, The Romford School.
RS: How do you spell the original name?
HC: R-O-M-F-O-R-D. It was the farm of Romulus and Remus Ford over there about 2 miles outside of Washington where the band of the Bantam and the Shepaug River come together and later, it was the Fitch estate of Abercrombie and Fitch and Mrs. Cruckshank, the founder of the Romford School’s wife -Bob Cruckshank – she was Edith Fitch anyway, but that’s another story. I was the first student enrolled in the school over there. So I saw a school for four years build from literally nothing – a dairy farm – a former dairy farm – into a very successful small prep school. I went down to Yale from there and then came back and taught there for three years after Yale, and, uh – where I had majored in English and then, Salisbury School had lost its head Master – Emerson Quaile, who died in March 1942, suddenly, in New York, as a result of an operation and they had to get a new headmaster and that’s when George Langdon came in – George D. Langdon, who recently died- a very fine person – who had come from Pomfret School where he had been Chaplain and, I believe, Assistant Head Master up there. Anyway, he hired me to replace the English teacher who was off to the wars and I had two little children at that time and was – one child? -1 am being corrected by my wife, Florie, who is sitting there checking on me. But anyway, we came over here and went into the Salisbury School with George Langdon and I was there nine years – we were there nine years and then in 51, we were called out to Lake Forest Academy to replace Ebenezer Francis Boogie who was Headmaster there who had taken a position as Dean
of Students at M.l.T. So, we spent 18 years out in Lake forest, Illinois, at Lake Forest Academy as Head
out there. We had a wonderful time. We loved Chicago and environs and Lake Forest almost as much as we loved Salisbury, which you know where we came when we retired, so to speak, from the school business. We came right back to Salisbury, as our beloved town. And we’ve been here well, not in the town, since 69 when I retired.
RS: In 69?
HC: We came back and tried to find a home here, we knew this house -the old Chittenden house, or one of the Chittenden houses because it had been the residence of Walter Herrick who was the Assistant Headmaster during my time at Salisbury School. So, we couldn’t find anything we could afford here so we went over to Falls Village and found a lovely home over there and spent what, 12 years over there? (Florie: Yup)— waiting for something to come loose in Salisbury and finally, Patsy Herrick, who is now Patsy Collin, who was then in the Real Estate business, called us one afternoon. She said, “Our house is coming on the market tomorrow”, so we came over and bought it that day and we owned two houses for an uncomfortable length of time – but anyway, so, we moved here in 1980, is that right? (Florie: Right)…moved to this house in 1980 and went into the – well, we had already been in the Antiques business for 10, 12 years over in Falls Village and we continued that when we moved here.
RS: When you were in Falls Village, had you retired?.
HC: Well, the year we arrived there, we went into the antiques business under the name of Three Ravens – my name means Raven in Latin and there were three ravens on my coat of arms -there still are. So, we were featuring, specializing in bird related folk art which we had been collecting for many years. So, we had a backlog of things and so we just went into the trinket trade as we called it. We didn’t burn any barns down in the business but we were very happy with it and did reasonably well.
FC: We had not retired. We just got tired….
RS: You were still teaching?
FC: —of the school business.
HC: I had had 30 years in the boy business .1 could see in 1968 the fist in the air and I was afraid I might maim some youngster in my school if I stayed around much longer. It had not hit in Chicago yet- the, the unrest – well, it had hit in Chicago, but not in the secondary schools – so we huh, conferred with ourselves and decided that this probably was the wisest thing we could do for the safety of the boys – to get out -so we gave a year and a half notice – ten years early, incidentally – I was only 55 at that time and had no other saleable skills or career interest or anything else. Even so, we just, we took the bullet and came back here and borrowed some money and bought a house. As with most of our moves in life, we have been pretty lucky and very happy and we are now happy that we are in Salisbury where we’ve been since 1980.
RS: That means you retired from teaching.
HC: That’s right. I got out of the boy business.
RS: When you came back here
HC: That’s right.
RS: Let’s go back a moment to the Chittenden School. Who were the Chittendens?
HC: Well, the Chittenden’s were one of the, I think, one of the founding families, in a sense, of the town. They were very important historically and there were two or three —I’m on thin ice here because I really don’t know enough Salisbury history to expatiate on this but there is at least one other “Chittenden House” in town but the Chittenden family or one or two members of it moved to Vermont and they were, and I understand, important, in the umbilical relationship between this town – Ethan Allen and all that kind of thing and the state of Vermont. As a matter of fact, I am not sure that a man named Chittenden wasn’t the first Governor of Vermont. This is all subject to historical check back. (Thomas Chittenden was the first Governor of Vermont ed.)
HC: I do know that one of the big banks in the state of Vermont is now called the Chittenden bank in the banking system up there.. And there were many other real estate and other contacts between Salisbury and Vermont. I think this is a subject which probably has been explored but could take more exploration as time goes on if anybody gets interested in Salisbury history. I am told that this, at one time, was one of the Chittenden houses. That’s all I know about that.
RS: One other question and then I want to go back to Salisbury School. Your interest in poetry and publishing and so on, when did that happen?
HC: Well, going through some old files of which I have a great number, not long ago, I came across a poem I had written in the sixth grade at the Bronxville Public School and I won first prize with it – it was something about geese migrating or something like that.
RS: At which school did you say?
HC: Bronxville. My family lived in Bronxville at that time (laughs) – that – I’ve always been interested in it. I was an asthmatic as a kid and I am now. I was confined in bed well, maybe six months for a few years when I was very young and I did a lot of reading and I think I got interested in words and in literature and poetry at that time. Later on, I taught a good deal of it, I studied it at Yale
FC: ….and nothing else!
HC: I went to Yale during a very curricular permissive period, curricular permissive, period and one year, I think I had five English courses which doesn’t make me not necessarily knowledgeable about English -1 was doing what I wanted to do, but I don’t think it was a very good education. Never had any Greek, never had any music, never had any art. Nobody made me do it. I’m a lopsided steward, scholar.
RS: Excepting for what you yourself —
HC: Yeah, I’ve read some stuff. I did have some Latin, thank God.
RS: When you came here to Salisbury School in 1942?
FC: We had one child. I wanted to correct that because later, in 1948, we had our second child and I just didn’t want to leave her out.
RS: Certainly. What was it like-1 am thinking particularly about the atmosphere in town, the relationship of the School to the town and that kind of thing?
HC: Well, it’s a very interesting -I know I can tell you some of the history. The Salisbury School had been founded as the-what was the name of the school Saint -?
FC: Saint Austin? (Yes, St. Austin ed..)
HC: Saint something school -1 should know this – down in Staten Island founded by the Rector Quaile who was an Anglo- Irishman who said “Ware are me glasses?” You know? And he was an old fashioned schoolmaster in the Saint Austin tradition it was founded in 1883 (as a military school in the Brighton section of Staten Island. Ed.) He ran the school for I think four years down there-(He was Headmaster from 1894-1901. Ed.) As tradition has it, felt “too much the parents breath down his neck” down there so he decided that he wanted to found a school a hundred miles from New York.
HC: So the story goes, he took a compass and drew a line on the map and then he proceeded to go in spare time and hire a horse and buggy and ride the periphery and when he got to this hill top there was a family in the farm house there – the first house you come upon on the right going up the hill. And he went in and said,” Your name?”
“My name is Fox”.
“Well. I am going to buy your farm.”
Ultimately, he did and bought the whole hilltop and then founded the school up here in 1902 I think- it transmogrified itself up here. And, you know the big white building with the turret on there? There was a red light in there and when the boys came by train to Salisbury after vacation they put that on to guide them up the hill – they walked up the hill or came up. I suppose they sent down sleighs and so forth in the winter time. But when I was there, that light in the tower always went on when we had an athletic victory – that’s one of the little traditions.
HC: But, when Emerson Quaile died in ’42 in New York as a result, I think, of pneumonia contracted because he was having an operation on his elbow.
– he was quite a great athlete – he was having a____ removed from his elbow and uh – just while he was in New York over spring vacation and caught pneumonia and it
galloped on him and he died tragically. George Langdon was found, fortunately, and came in and had to replace some faculty but at that time the school was floundering a bit-as a matter of fact, I think I am correct in saying that we had only 55 students that first year in Salisbury School – that’s correct isn’t it? So George Langdon had a great big building job on his hands. He not only had to rebuild the faculty but build the student body and the alumni backing and so forth and so on and he did it by tightening belts all the way around and we pitched in – he did a fabulous job and when he retired in1963? (See Anne Langdon” interview)
FC: 1965, 1 think.
HC: 65 or 63. The school was coming along. I had made one inadvertent contribution because when we got through – when George Langdon got through – running an eleven or 12 week summer acceleration school during the War to help boys who were about to turn 18 get their diplomas before they had to go to war – he did that for three summers and it was a great service to the boys. I remember, I was teaching eight hours a day or something like that for 12 weeks in a row and I was a little weary but we did it and it was a great service. At the end of that, I asked the trustees if I could have the plant for a new idea I had running a school for boys who were bright boys but needed help with language skills, and study skills. He said, “Sure, go ahead.” So we made an arrangement. I hired my own faculty and in – what was the year, sweetie?
HC: 1946. We opened the Salisbury Summer School of Reading English. I planned to have about 12 boys, maybe, – we got lucky, 15, and the night before we were still hiring faculty because we had 36, 1 think that we opened with. The appeal was just Instantaneous.
RS: Where did they come from?
HC: Oh, all over New England, from Andover, from Exeter, and—
FC: — from New York
HC: —and New York. And I went up to Groton to see Jack Crocker, the Headmaster, up there and he said, “You’re going to do what?” and I told him what I was going to do and he said, “How many beds do you have?” so he sent me 4 or 5 boys that first summer.
FC— and Lawrenceville.
HC: And Lawrenceville. We – it traveled like wild fire: it was very successful. We had a wonderful faculty. We made up a specialized curriculum, practically the night before. But we were advised by Dr. Stella Center who was an NYU reading department. We had the best kind of advice in the world. It was a school that did not grade the kids. We took them in, gave them extensive diagnostic testing of all kinds including ear screening tests and visual tests and so forth and so on. We picked them up where they were – at what level where they were in terms of reading skills and word
recognition and so forth and so on and patterned, of course, for them for seven weeks. It was just phenomenally successful. We took the competition element out of it. They were competing only against themselves-
RS: Sounds great-
HC: —and we would average maybe, according to certain reading tests, maybe three or four years improvement in seven weeks . Of course, they’d lose some of that when they got out of a controlled situation. After that, we kept track of the records .There was a slow build up and a lot of these kids were really saved by this concentrated program of study habits, and composition skills, reading skills, and eye training and so forth.
HC: It was a residential situation and, of course, it was good for the school too and good for education. I feel very happy about having conceived that and gotten it off the ground and started it. As a matter of fact, it was because of that, that we got the opportunity to go to Lake Forest. One of our boys was from Illinois-from Lake Forest, as a matter of fact-and his father, when he heard that Frank Boogie was leaving Forest Academy, called the Board and said “There’s somebody back in Connecticut you ought to take a look at”, and that’s how we made our way to Illinois.
RS: That the -just the fact that there is a residential situation, where you control that, that must be a very helpful situation. I never taught in a private school.
HC: – In English ? In education? My heavens. Oh, sure, sure. We have never had any experience otherwise. We have always been an independent boarding school – not private-1 hate that word “private” – independent school. We had the great privilege of going broke if we didn’t do what we said we would do.
RS: Why do you reject the word private?
HC: Well, because it’s an exclusive implication and we had black boys and we had all kinds of kids.
RS: Oh, you did? You had an interracial situation?
HC: Oh, yes.
RS: You had an ethnic situation?
HC: Oh, yes. Boys from Brazil and boys from Cuba, -that was PC, in Cuba. And we had wonderful, wonderful kids from down there. And we had boys as old as well, – in their early twenties. We had one boy who was a casualty from the Navy that never finished high school and came up there and was – well, it was just a wonderful educational experience – a pure education – not bound by artificial constraints and restraints and so forth and so on.
FC: The best thing is it is still going just exactly on the same track.
RS: And you started it -—
HC: —it’s still going 43 years later, whatever it is and you had to get in in March or something or you don’t make it – it’s very popular. But anyway, we are very happy about that.
RS: As it happens, I am on the Regional Board now and I was thinking of the folks that I have at home and I ran into Summer Hill, do you remember that? Did you know that—
HC: I know the name.
RS: O’Neil, a Scotsman in England, based his school.
HC: Oh, yes, yes, yes.
RS: I kind of thought of that because it was also an experimental -1 don’t know how successful that was so when,Now, what was the relationship of the School to the town? Both in terms of students
or in terms of teachers’ involvement in town and so on?
HC: Well, it’s kind of hard to define when you are in a school like that that is so busy and such a twenty four hour program. You’re basically a community in yourself up there and that’s true, I think, with most schools except maybe where the school is right in the town and there you get more interaction and there are schools, obviously, that are- great schools – that interact with the town because of the immediacy of being in the middle of it. But, Salisbury School was -tends to be small, the boys are very busy with their program. We did come to church down here every Sunday and there were— the boys would come down on holidays and so on and so forth -I don’t know-the relationships were friendly and supportive. We had Maurice Firuski –
FC: —we had a few day students.
HC: Yes, we had a few day students. As a matter of fact, I think the policy used to be -I am not sure that it still pertains- that any boy who was acceptable to the school could come as a day student free of charge. I don’t know whether that still goes on or not. It used to be that way.
FC: Maurice Firuski. You made contact very quickly with Maurice because of the book store. Maurice ran The Housatonic Book Shop where John Harney Sr.is now and Elyse –
RS: I met him, yes. (See Maurice Firuski/ Housatunic Book Shop interview)
HC: Probably the greatest bookseller on the East coast in this country. Founded the Duster House Book Shop in Cambridge and had run that and had decided to go country and then bought this place and opened a shop here in 1930 – married to Elvia Scoville and he had a fabulous book shop, fabulous. And during the war, he came up to Salisbury and taught history and he and I coordinated his United States History course in the Sixth Form with my American literature in the Sixth Form and we had bi-weekly
seminars after 9 o’clock at night : first in his house, then in my house, and then back and forth for the Senior Class – no preparation. We would post a subject a week ahead of time or two weeks ahead of time: Human America or Problems with Alcoholism in American culture and so forth and so on and we’d have a ball talking to these kids until 10,11,12 o’clock at night..
FC: So, through him we made many friends in town but there were very few townspeople our age – we were in our twenties then –
HC: It seemed to me there were quite a few older people but no one our age –
FC: The younger ones who came in were lawyers or doctors but there really — there was no employment opportunity for younger people – younger educated people – and it just gradually grew. But, in the beginning, it was very, it was limited. To older people –
HC: Oh, the town – the whole second home business had not quite blossomed yet.
FC: Oh, no –
HC: – and the town was smaller and the age median was, as I say, was quite a bit higher. So, that we, us, there was no necessity to interact. We did. We belonged to a poker club in town which was wonderful. We had great fun with that but there was no animosity. There was no town and gown feeling at all that I ever remember. I think it was very cooperative in that.
RS: How about the relations, let’s say, with Hotchkiss or other schools?
HC: Well, we all had our athletics. Hotchkiss was too big for us in most cases, we played Millbrook, we played Kent, some teams from Kent, and South Kent was in our League, Canterbury was in our League in New Milford, Berkshire School – we went there –
FC: Millbrook –
HC: Millbrook School – and, of course, there was a very close contact with Pomfret – and we’d have a Pomfret Day every year and they’d bring their crews down – we were always good on crew. Matter of fact, we used to send, maybe we still do, send a crew to Henley – four of our shells to Henley. Matter of fact our hockey used to be fairly good after I got out of there. We used to beat the Plebes, occasionally. We used to play the Plebes over at West Point. So, Salisbury was never a great athletic school but we did reasonably well in certain areas. Skiing. We were good on skiing.
FC: That brings in Hop and Jo Rudd.
HC: Did you ever know Hop and Jo? Josephine Rudd?
HC; Part of the great Rudd tribe that lived in Salisbury – a legend in town.
RS: Yes, the name is familiar.
HC: Oh, a wonderful family. And everybody knew Hop and everybody loved him and he was our Athletic Director – coached baseball and hockey, am I right about that?
HC: He did football too, I don’t remember.
FC: And she taught reading.
HC: She taught reading.
RS: In terms of the physical area, compare it with the time you came in ’42 and now. What differences in terms in my time, of course, Shagroy moved from here to there. You know. Are there any things that you — or are they pretty much the same?
HC: No, I think the pace. It’s a question of pace – of pace and space, so to speak. It was a – the pace was slower as it was all over and it was more rural but I think the intellectual inclinations of the town – the atmosphere in the town was about the same then as it is now. I don’t know. How would you characterize it?
FC: I don’t remember any second home people at all. There were summer people but the majority of summer people, I believe, went to Twin Lakes and the population of the town, as we knew it, was very constant. They were all twenty years older than we were – the people that we saw daily, but it wasn’t anywhere near as cosmopolitan as it is now.
RS: Was the railroad still operating?
FC: —to Millerton.
HC: Ah, the railroad came up from New York – the railroad – but not the one that went down there.
FC: No, from Canaan it was too – we could take the train to New York from Canaan or from Millerton.
RS: But there was nothing coming through?
HC: Nothing, not through. The roads were the same except that they are much improved and much more widely traveled now than they were then. Everything was smaller and more wonderful.
RS: That’s one of the problems.
HC: I know it, I know it. We are all too unseparate from one another, as Robert Frost used to say.
FC: I am trying to think of some of the more famous people in Salisbury were. Of course, Bay Rand, a portrait artist, and her son, Jake Rand, who died many years ago.
HC: Did you know Jake Rand?
RS: I met him.t
HC: He is the one who should be in your oral history bank.
FC: He was Mr. Salisbury to me. He knew more of Salisbury history than anyone I know with the possible exception of Jack Fisher. Is Jack in your program?
RS: I think that someone did tape him. (Yes, Jodi Stone See Jack fisher interview)
FC: I hope so. He’s just a walking dictionary on Salisbury. And, of course, Jake Rand’s son Curtis is now our Second Selectman. So, happily, the Rand family continues on. (See Curtis Rand interview)
RS: Some of these people -1 know that Don Warner is – isn’t he on the Salisbury School Board?
HC: Oh, I think he was.
FC: He was. Not sure he is at the moment.
RS: I think he mentioned that he—
HC: That was one of the big families too in town – and the Warner family.
FC: The Warners and the Scovilles.
RS: Now, were there other members on your Board from town that you can recall?
FC: Well, yes, George Milmine.
HC: And, I think, uh, uh -oh well, there may have been one other.
FC: Cam Beckett?
HC: Cam Beckett might have been.
FC: Tom Wagner?
HC: Tom Wagner, I think, was at one time — on the Board.
FC: Yes, he was.
HC: George Milmine. He was very definitely on the Board. He was Treasurer of the Board at one time.
FC: Oh yes, there was —
RS: Well, when you have that kind of relationship —
HC: Arnold Whitridge, I think, was on the Board with me at one time. Who else was on the Board with me?
FC: I don’t know.
RS: Where do you do your shopping?
HC: Where did we then?
RS: Yes, the school.
HC: Well. We were —
FC: at Kimberly’s Market.
HC: O.K., Kimmerly.
HC: Kimmerly’s Market.
FC: Kimmerly’s Market which is where the Liquor Store is now.
RS: In Salisbury? That preceded Shagroy?
FC: That became Shagroy.
HC: Well, Shagroy was founded over west, you know, off Reservoir Road over the hill from Belgo Road. I think that was where the original Shagroy was.
FC: And then we shopped in Canaan.
HC: We shopped a good deal in Canaan. We were on top of the watershed, you know. We could go downhill to Canaan and downhill to Salisbury.
RS: Tell me about some of the people that were brought up to the area through the efforts of Salisbury School. Tell me about some of the poets and some of the guests of that kind. Were they brought up?
HC: There was not a great deal of that kind of activity at Salisbury School. Somehow —
HC: —and, I don’t think there was that kind of activity in most of the little self-contained communities which were the New England prep school. There was not – it was not fashionable or thought necessary, I guess, to have the contact with the outside world that we – at Lake Forest Academy, we did that,
extensively. We had all kinds of seminar programs and visiting lecturers and so forth, but I don’t think that was true at Salisbury School.
RS: So, how did your personal relationships — we were talking about Robert Frost –
HC: Well, that all occurred, really, out at Lake Forest Academy. Actually, when I first came to Salisbury, I met Robert Frost first then. And, I founded a little thing called the Robert Frost Society-among the boys —
RS: Was not like the Dead Poet’s Society?
FC and HC: No (laughter) because Robert Frost was very much alive then. We published for, I think, two or three years a little pamphlet at the end of each year with the two best poems by each boy in it, you know. They got a big kick out of this and when I did this, I wrote Robert Frost at 35 Brewster Street in Cambridge -1 still remember the address —
FC: They were nicely printed.
HC: They were nicely done. I asked him if he would just send us a little sentence or two – you know, congratulations and so forth. I wrote him twice. Maurice Firuski, who knew him well, wrote him and asked him to do this. We sent him telegrams. We never heard a word from him. And, years later, in 1957, when Robert came out to spend a week with us, or ten days, whatever it was, on the occasion of Lake Forest Academy’s 100th birthday – part of our Centennial Celebration.
FC: -at your behest.
HC: I arranged for him to come out. He got off the train and I met him and he said, “Hal Corbin”, he said, “I want you to know I remember your letters in ‘42,1 remember your telegram and Morris” (he called Maurice, Morris), “I never answered them. I’ll explain why as the week goes on. But I’ll make it up to you”. So, all these years he’d remembered this, you see.
FC: He did make it up to you.
HC: He did. He sent me some wonderful stuff. We have a reasonably good Robert Frost collection.
FC: He spent a week at the school, teaching. The boys just were — thrilled.
HC: Oh, the boys – it was a magical experience for the kids. Of course, he was the greatest teacher who ever lived as far as I was concerned. He was a walking(prophet ? not clear)
FC: And then he came back, urn, six years later —
HC: -Five years.
FC:—five years later.
HC:—around ’61—(FC: ’61, yeah—four years later-) -which was the Centennial of the city of Lake Forest, you see. The city of Lake Forest grew up around the School.
FC: And then, he spent another week with us.
HC: He spent another week with us and wound up with a reading, a public reading of his poetry. (RS: marvelous) It was great for the boys.
RS: What, ah, what would you say are the advantages for a town like Salisbury, that has a school like Salisbury? Here, from your outlook?
HC: Well, I don’t know. It seems to me, as I’ve said, as a new Trustee of the our Library here, I’ve tried to promote the idea that Salisbury is an industrial town and that raises everybody’s eyebrows, of course.
RS: Yeah, how do you conclude that —
HC: Well, the chief product is education.
RS: Oh, O.K. (chuckles)
HC: They had the same reaction you did.
RS: Oh, oh, I see—(laughter all around)
HC: Well, it’s true. You count the schools, both independent and public, in this town, this township, and boy, it’s pretty impressive.
FC: Town Hill, Indian Mountain, and Salisbury and Housatonic —
HC: and Housatonic, which is the first of the great Regional High Schools, and all our elementary schools. Gee, it’s wonderful.
FC: I think the town is very, very involved in education.
HC: I think there is a very honest and valid prestigious point in it being a town known for education, and a variety of education. The great thing about independent schools is that they preserve the factor of choice in American education. The diversity —1 won’t get into that. I am a great proponent for independent—
RS: Just one question related to that. How did the students far? — I know there was a little problem at Hotchkiss at one point or other. How did students fare who came from less advantaged areas. You mentioned that you did have some students —
HC: Well, I don’t know —course, it’s a reasonably recent phenomenon that schools went out after that
kind of thing to make sure that the education was democratic and representative and so forth and so on, But I don’t quite understand — what’s your question again?
FC: Well, I understand. In our time, as I look back now and then, I think there was very little snob appeal or snob consciousness. I think it was hard work, academics and athletics and maybe the average boy at Salisbury was not the best student and required a lot of individual help and concentration and therefore, it was not a snob appeal school. It was a learning center.
HC: It was thought to be – the popular image of “them prep schools”, you know, there was some of that feeling certainly abroad in the land.
RS: But, within the School—
HC: But not within the School.
RS: How about that. For instance, was there a dress code or were there difficulties in terms of differences in dress between the disadvantaged and advantaged?
HC: Within the School?
RS: Yep, within the School.
HC: Never, no, no, no -— I never remember—
FC: The dress code was just a coat and tie —
RS: So that everybody — no matter what-
HC: Matter of fact, Bob, you’ll be interested in this. When we went to Salisbury, it was customary for all teachers to teach in gowns – academic gowns, believe it or not.
RS: Is that still a thing?
HC: No, no it’s not. We were there at its demise. But I thought it was too bad because it lent a certain…
RS: It gives it a character.
HC: —Character. They got awful chalk dusty. The gowns did.
FC: I think the faculty didn’t keep up their gowns properly.
HC: The Chaplain of the School had a gaping run in the backseat of his gown. The Headmaster didn’t like that. It was one reason why the thing went by the boards. But I think you’ll find the independent schools these days, ‘specially these days, are, in a sense, far more democratically organized and oriented than many of you other educational institutions.
RS: My brother is just retiring as the Head Coach of Albany Academy—
HC: Oh, yes — an old, old school.
RS: What about your involvement in some of the activities here. You began to talk about the Library involvement. Maybe, we could start there.
HC: Well, I served with you on the Book Selection Committee. I don’t know how I got there except —I don’t know.
RS: What do you see as advantageous about having a Book Selection Committee? I know you were with them for several years.
HC: Well, I don’t know except that you try to assemble a small group of people who are au courant with the NYT Book Review section, which was our Bible, and were habitual readers, and had some taste, were thought to have some taste. You helped the Library staff. It’s just an extension of the Library service really, to recommend books that are valid and were thought to be popular and so forth and so on – useful books to come into the Library.
RS: In terms of your particular area, it certainly did increase, didn’t it, the Library’s attention to the poetry area.
HC: Oh, yes, I think so —
RS: No question about that.
HC: I’m of two minds about much contemporary poetry but I wouldn’t want to get into that.
RS: And now you’re with the Library Board, aren’t you?
HC: Yes, I’m a new member of the Library Board of Trustees. And, I am doing an increasing number of readings in town – five or six or seven now. We had such a wonderful time with your outfit the other day.
RS: They had a wonderful time with you. They talked about that for days. Looking forward to your coming back, by the way.
HC: Well, fine. I feel conscience stricken because I have a better time than anybody when I do that. I guess I miss my teaching. But I read to the Rotary Club the other day and I think they enjoyed it.
RS: And you were at the Library. You read at the Library.
RS: Weren’t you also at the Tea Room?
HC: Yes, a couple of times there, and a couple of private homes. I have done a reading -both Robert Frost and my own stuff.
RS: Do you have any material specifically on this area? on Salisbury, amongst your poetry?
HC: Oh, yes. I’ve written a poem about the Housatonic River and I’ve written one about Canaan Mountain which is my favorite mountain. We lived under its eastern lee.
FC: Well, I think Bob meant artifacts—
RS: No, no, I was thinking about—
HC: There is a little poem called Waiting Snow, Connecticut, which is local. I wrote a little poem for the first 1991 issue of the paper here – The Journal – Called Anvil and Star. I thought something ought to be on the first page to celebrate the first issue of our two hundredth and fiftieth birthday.
FC: You’ve always been interested in Salisburyana.
RS: Salisbury what?
HC: Salisburyana, I don’t have that much. I’ve given an eighteenth century anvil to the Historical Society here, and I gave-
RS: Where is that?
HC: Here at the Library.
RS: Oh, at the Library.
HC: It was found over near the old Britton home in Falls Village. But I’m not an historian. I’m not a scholar at all, but I’m interested in antiquity and anything —
FC: What I was going to say was Harold has always been a collector — a great collector.
HC: An acquirer, not a collector.
FC: Well, both.
RS: They go together.
FC: Well, he acquired and collected and was very knowledgeable in several fields: bird decoys,—
HC: This is my wife speaking.
FC: American stoneware, American burl,—
HC: Well American maps and so on—
RS: American maps, uh, uh.
FC: And, most recently and most especially, iron. He had a big iron collection that was ongoing for several years and ended up at Shelburne Museum for a season and the, and then, it went into a big auction after that. But, as a result of that, his teaching is ongoing because every time anyone wants to know something about a piece of stoneware or about a decoy, or about a map—”Why don’t you go and ask Harold Corbin?”
HC: Well, it’s —
FC: And, he does — the boys from Salisbury come down once a year to talk about Robert Frost.
HC: Occasionally, a boy is referred to me and I have a couple of sessions with him on Frost.
RS: Swell, that’s great. So you still have an oar, so to speak —isn’t that great.
FC: Oh, yes.
HC: There’s a painting over there by a native Salisbury artist- and that’s Twin Lakes and that’s the view from our house up at Salisbury School when we lived in the house across from the driveway, across the road from the driveway. It’s expensive. That was the old Frink House except for two years with thirteen boys and our two little daughters. That was interesting. Talk about home life! It was quite a crowd.
RS: A great experience. Could we include a poem or two?
HC: Well, sure.
RS: Whatever you select.
HC: Better let me say it.
HC: For whatever it’s worth, I’m the only son of an only son. And his father, my father’s father, was the youngest of thirteen children. So this eliminates a whole generation so that there is one fewer “great” intervening between me and the American Revolution.
FC: Ah, his father’s father was born when his father was—
HC: That’s right. My father was born when his father was sixty so that stretches the, uh – or eliminates another great.
RS: Oh. And you said, Harold, that you are a member of the Colonial Club ? (not clear)
HC: I have not re enrolled with the Society of Colonial Wars in Connecticut. But I was a member of the Society in Illinois. That means you have to trace your — you have to trace male lineage directly back through to the wars before the American Revolution….(?)
RS: Tell us about the eagles that you mentioned.
FC: Well, Harold started collecting eagles when you were at Salisbury School. Ah, I think his interest arose primarily because his first collection was maps. the maps were very inexpensive. And, uh, salaries at Salisbury School were absolutely, incredibly small. You wouldn’t believe if I told you –
HC: Well, they were small all over – not only at Salisbury School – but all teachers’ salaries.
FC: He bought some pretty terrific maps – really great ones – for $18 and the better the map, the better the eagle cartouche on the map.
HC: They often had —
FC: I think that is really how he got started and it just grew in ah, oh, an enormous hobby which covered, probably, 15 years and he used to lecture on eagles and show slides on the American eagle in —
HC: —in history and design.
FC: — in history and design.
HC: -and I had about 800 eagles in all media.
FC: Yep. And they were ultimately on exhibit at the Chicago Historical Society which was a —
HC: Where I was a Trustee for a couple of years.
FC: –great feather in his cap. So, he denies being a collector but I can’t deny it.
RS: (800 eagles, laughter)
HC: Well, eagles on everything from door knockers to bed covers, to weather vanes. I had them all at one time.
FC: I don’t deny his being a collector at all.
HC: But I have dispersed of many more collections than I had.. But it’s a lot of fun gathering things and then trying to beat the market, you know, gathering things that you think are going to have future value that you can still pick up for reasonable prices. That day is pretty well gone.
RS: How did your – your interest in antiques came out of this kind of interest?
HC: We were moved at Salisbury School from an apartment in the dormitory to that lovely 1790
farmhouse across from —
FC: Frink House –
HC: -the Frink House – the houses on your left as you go up the hill. And we didn’t have a stick of furniture. So, Florie said, “Come on, we’ve got to go out and buy furniture. We’re going to get antiques.” And, I said, “Oh, no, not antiques!” And she said,” Oh, yes, we are. We can sell them if we have to”
HC: But not like second hand. So, she began toting me around to antique shops and the first thing I noticed was the omnipresence of the eagle as an American motif. So, that’s how I got interested in antiques in general, and, uh, from then on, I was a goner. So, we had a ready- made retirement bed to fall into.
FC: I would say that Harold has been totally interested and involved in antiques since 1946.
It’s a longtime.
RS: A long time. That’s great.
q FC: We’ve been continually buying and interested.
HC: Well, now, would you like to hear one of my ditties?
HC: are we on the tape there?
RS: We’re on the tape.
HC: Well, this one is called KEEP US BY. I may have read it up at the meeting. It was called,” Litany for the Land.”
Oh, Housatonuc, born in the ruck of one
Lost eon’s granite jest that spilled your hills
From Gaylordsville to Canaan, keep us by.
When, rich with snow’s emboldened now in March by some
New urgency at river’s end, you surge coiling down
Your bouldered way-yet seem to stay-Oh keep us by.
In April, with you, to lift our eyes
To hillsides stern with the hue of rock and iron,
But starred with tremulous bursts of shadblow white.
In the hour of curving trout, or August drought
When rivers show their bones: in October’s flame,
Or winter’s silent rest, Oh Housatonuc, keep us by.
In all days and seasons help us make our heart the land’s
To know the redeeming verity of mountain stream
In granite hills, Oh Housatonuc, keep us by,
Oh, keep us by.
HC: Great river.
All: Oh, yes. It certainly is.
RS: I have had more fun canoeing – canoeing down that river.
HC: Coming back from Falls Village this morning, there was a fella in a kayak out there below the power plant paddling away. I could hope – boy, if he ever tips over –
RS; There is a great –they have some great hiking paths down there too.
FC: What brought you to Salisbury?
RS: Accident. We, uh—1 was at that point teaching at Fairleigh-Dickenson and uh—
FC: Oh, really
RS: And, uh, we were looking for a summer place and we knew the area around Pawling and Wingdale.
So we came up there to look and we couldn’t find anything we wanted and we were interested in
an inexpensive place. We weren’t thinking of—
FC: Right, we weren’t either-
RS: and, uh, we ranged as far as Warren, Connecticut. And then, Jo noticed this advertisement for a house at $16,500 and that was for contrarian pricing –
FC: It’s just what we were looking for –
RS: We came over and looked at it, Mrs. Fitch—
HC: Mrs. Singleton Fish, indeed —
RS: – and so we took it for the summer of 68 or 69 – and uh,
FC: Was it in Salisbury?
RS: In Lime Rock. And Jo made the mistake from her point of view to say to me because I was lucky enough never to spend a summer in New York City because I had a summer children’s camp. And, so she said if (I was teaching), you can get a job as a teacher, you can get a job here, we’ll stay.
RS: So, I went to the phone book and there was Hotchkiss. And I called Hotchkiss – no opening. And I called Housatonic, next one, and “Yes”, and I went there and they thought I was answering an ad they had put in the Hartford Courant. I ended up with a wonderful, wonderful situation there teaching Contemporary Problems and so, we stayed up. But Jo missed the city; she was born and raised in New York City. So, we did go back. But then we found that we were very little there and once I retired which was now—
FC: So you kept the house here —
RS: And we kept the house which was – you know, we began to use in winters. It was winterized. And we added on to it. So then, finally, we were up here -We were only in New York a month a year.
FC: And, how long have you been here, all told?
RS: You mean, with the exception of those two years at Housatonic earlier? About eight years and I have found so many opportunities for involvement because in the city you don’t tend to get involved as you do here.
FC: No, you really get involved.
RS: Oh, it’s wonderful.- very rewarding.
FC: Harold seems to get involved very, very easily but I think it’s because of antique collecting and poetry.
RS: Oh, sure.
HC: What else is there? (laughter)
FC: And he was teaching. That seems to cover every waterfront. Bob, I have the kettle boiling. Would you have a cup of tea or coffee?
FC: No, I’m fine and let me tell you that we’re—