John Harney Jr. Interview:
This is file #12, cycle 2. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing John Harney Jr. about the White Hart, real estate, Sarum tea, and anything else he that he can think of. Today’s date is December 16, 2015. We will start with the genealogical information.
JM: What is your name?
JM:Where were you born?
JH:Ithaca, New York
JM:Your parents’ names?
JH:John David Harney and Elyse Deublein Harney
JM:Do you have siblings?
JH:Yes, Mike, Keith, Elyse and Paul.
JM:What is your educational background after high school?
JH:First Town Hill until grade 4, then they decided that there wasn’t any point in spending more money so I went to public school Salisbury Central, Salisbury School for Boys and then Williams College.
JM:And you got a degree in?
JM:I have a couple of wonderful hunting and trapping stories about you and Skeet Morey (See tape # 81 and 88 Howard Clayton Morey). Do you have any that you would like to add?
JH:That is pretty much it. Skeet was, I was thinking about skeet yesterday. He was just wonderful. I just remember out in his back yard he was showing us how to prepare the traps and how you had to oil them with bees wax, get them hot and then put bees wax on them.
JH:So there would be no scent. He was remarkable.
JM:Actually I think I had his granddaughter in school. Did he teach you trapping as well as hunting?
JM:Where did you do these things?2.
JH:Usually up on the mountain without licenses for deer. Then the trapping was around Salisbury School so the different streams would flow along. We trapped either on David Harrison’s land or Salisbury School’s land. Then he would just be remarkable in pointing out things as you would walk up the stream. He would point to something; he just knew the animals better than the animals themselves.
JM:I imagine that he was a real woodsman knowing tracks and scouting.
JH:He knew everything. He walked like an Indian, quiet. He just knew anything and everything. Oh I know there was one funny story. Some friends and Bill Kelsey were ice fishing down on Long Pond; they couldn’t get down there so they left their truck up on Long Pond Road. They came back up from ice fishing and the truck wouldn’t start. They finally open the hood and there was a missing battery. The outcome was Skeet drove by and his battery was weak, and he just replaced his battery with theirs. They finally found out who was the cause of that. They repaid him when they found his truck up on the mountain when he was fishing up on the mountain, and they just took his battery.
JM;When you got game of any kind, what would you do with it? If you got a deer, would you eat the meat?
JM:How about something with a pelt, would you sell the pelt?
JH:We were supposed to figure out how to sell the pelt, but we ended up just putting them in the freezers so they are still in the freezers. He would just describe the habits of a raccoon or a fox or a lynx or an otter; he just knew everything. Muskrat he just knew what they did, how they thought, what they ate and what their behaviors were. That was his biggest saying is that you have to observe and know them better than themselves.
JM:A good scientific method
JH:Yes, it was all observation. That carried on because you can only trap so long before you finally say I can’t do this anymore. That happened with me in catching the otter.
JM:I hear that story; it is an excellent story.
JH:I just didn’t want to; that was it for me. So I pulled the traps. It carried on because in walking through the woods you still are observant. You learned from Skeet to be observant and pick up all sorts of signs and observations. That was the biggest lesson.
JM:Have you passed that on to your children?
JH:I think maybe more to Becket; he seems more like it Griffin could care less as could Kathleen.
JM:Becket is in college now, isn’t he?
JH:Up in Cornell.3.
JM:That seems to be a family tradition.
JH:It was funny. He did not use any family connections either. He did it all on his own. He got in himself; he found his scholarship. Good for him.
JM:Absolutely. Now we are going to talk about the White Hart. Your parents ran if from 1960 to 1984?
JH:Something like that. What do you remember about the Country Store?
JH:I just remember that was remarkable with all the different things. You could go in and go through the different aisles and there were just all sorts of things. I just remember Mom was the energy behind it. It was just a wonderful thing. You would go to the White Hart with those beautiful white steps and the deck and then go through the front door and take a left and there it was just passed the wooden Indian standing there.
JM:What do you remember about the wooden Indian?
JH:Usually dad standing there having his picture taken. Of course in the other room during Christmas like now would be Olive Dubois’s Gingerbread house.
JM:Tell me about the gingerbread houses.
JH:She would start and she would bake. It got more and more involved every year.
JM:She would bring it to school first.
JH:The whole thing?
JM:Oh yes the whole thing would come to school first. We would sign up to bring our children down to see it. The children remembered from year to year oh that is new, oh she has added…They really enjoyed it; that was their Christmas treat. It really was. Then she would transfer it to the White Hart.
JH:Olive and Jimmy were incredible. The problem is that all of those people are disappearing.
JM:That is why I am doing this oral history.
JH:That’s right. I think of them. I think of Frank Markey and other people like Skeet. I remember Frank with his big waders on putting the docks out at the Grove. Fred Romeo, he is another guy to talk to.
JM:Fred won’t talk to me. I have tried repeatedly. He will talk to me at the dump; he’ll talk at the post office, but not with a tape recorder going. What do you remember about Olive particularly?
JH:Stern! I only lasted one night as a night clerk. The cash drawer was completely off, so that was it for me. I was shipped into washing dishes.
JM:She ran a very tight ship.
JH:She was the one who kept dad in check.
JM;She was there when the Norton’s ran it, wasn’t she?
JH:Yes I think so.
JM:There were a few others that were there before your parents took it over.
JH:Jim Norton was there. There was Jim and Olive who were his throttles and governors otherwise he would go wild. When he was running for state rep, he would go to Winsted. They would ask him, “What would you do if elected to help us?” His comment was, “The best thing for Winsted is another flood.” So he didn’t win that election.
JM:Oh that was not politically correct.
JH:No but it was wonderful.
JM:Your dad was a wonderful person.
JH:Oh he was a great guy.
JM:We tried to get him on a number of occasions but it just did not work out. Bobby Day?
JH:Bobby Day Dad was the first business owner as far as I know in the state to figure out how to bring people in the state school into the community to work at the inn and be out of the school. He had 15 to 25 people over 20 years.
JH:Oh it was huge. Bobby Day is just one drop in the bucket.
JM:He is the only one I knew.
JH:No there were more.
JM:They came from Southbury Training School?
JH:I think from what I remember he was one of the pioneers as far as that goes of integrating people from Southbury to the community into jobs. So you have Bobby Day, Scotty and also you had “bad” George.
JM:Who was “Bad” George?
JH: He was one of the guys; I think he was drinking too much. He pushed Jimmy Norton off the back steps and broke his arm. They still kept him. So you had them. Most worked, some did not. It gave them a chance. Bobby is the last remaining man standing.
JM:I think I understood from Mrs. Harney Sr. that when the inn was closed, bobby was sort of caretaker and shoveled and kept everything ticking over.
JH:Yeah and it was important that there was a transition. They watched over a number of people. When the inn sold, they found George a job at an inn or a hotel out in Chicago. Scotty went to Riverton. There were about a dozen, quite a few.
JM;But it showed a caring for the individual and not that they have to stay institutionalized.
JM:What a wonderful legacy that is for the young men that came and your family that supported them. I was delighted when I did the talk session with Mrs. Harney and her daughter that Bobby Day was there and they got him to talk a little bit, too, which was all part of it.
JH:I think that was great. They did not drop it when they sold the inn.
JM:No and that is the important thing that they cared and passed them along to something else that they could do. Who ran the dining room?
JH:I think it was mom who was the hostess. She did the Country Store and the dining room.
JM:Your dad did the kitchen and everything else.
JH:Right. He did catering and I remember he had something with Jimmy Norton to run the food up at Indian Mountain.
JM:Was that the Guardian?
JM:He worked with Jim Norton on that?
JH:Oh yeah. Jim Norton would be a good guy to talk to.
JM:He won’t do it either. I have tried. That is fine; I ask and if they say no, I am not comfortable, so be it. I shall get it another way.
JH:That is exactly right. How long did the catering go at Indian Mountain?
JM:Jimmy (Joe?) Burns was the cook, Jim Norton and dad.
JM:Didn’t they do catering of parties?6.
JM:That had a different name didn’t it? Wasn’t that Salisbury Fare?
JH;Maybe, I don’t know. All I know is that we had to work for him.
JM:You didn’t have a choice.
JM:What did you do?
JH:I just remember sorting silverware standing on milk crates at the White Hart kitchen. Then I worked with Bobby and Scotty with the dishes in the dishwasher, working in prep.
JM:You had all the grunt jobs, didn’t you?
JH:Yeah we made all the nut balls.
JM:Oh I heard about the nut balls.
JH:That was very funny so Bobby Day was one of my supervisors.
JM:I bet he was good.
JH:Yeah he wanted it done right.
JM:That is important, working to a standard.
JH;Then you had the different chefs. Danny Lee was one of the last chefs. He was wonderful.
JM:I was going to ask you about that. Do you remember any of the other chefs?
JH:I remember one black guy Tom who was there when we got there. He took care of us as kids because we were young about 6 or 7. I just remember the marvelous blueberry pancakes that he would do. I would also remember that as we got older all of the state police would come in for their morning breakfast. They would stand with dad and whoever the cook was would just put out breakfast. They would stand there talking to dad and the cook. It was quite something. I don’t think that happens anywhere today.
JM:Your father was a very gregarious outgoing person and always made people feel welcome. That was the feeling you got when you walked in the front door. It made no difference whom you were. I would think the state police would have a good breakfast and they would enjoy talking with your dad. It was a nice start to the day.
JH:It was a nice start; then remember he was influential with Stan Sullivan, getting him to be in charge of security for Gov. Meskill.
JM:How did that happen?
JH:Because at that point dad had influence.
JH:He had political influence but I do not know how he got it, maybe because he was a friend of Meskill. He helped get him elected I guess. I just remember somewhere in the 1960’s at the house when we lived on Belgo Road looking over and there was Senator Dirksen and my dad in their shite shirts and black ties, pants and shoes, sitting out in the back yard chatting.
JM:You dad ran for state office?
JH:State office he ran a couple of times to state rep. but since he did not have a governor on his thoughts actually appeared on his lips. He also ran for selectman a couple of times; mom got tired of that so she showed him how to do it and won! So it was her and George Kiefer and Charlotte which was a good combination.
JM:Other than being kicked off the night clerk crew and doing the prep in the kitchen was there anything particular that you did at the White Hart.
JH:Whatever was going on; it was basically busing, helping with the catering, waiting on table, we waited on Paul Newman. We waited on him; we were about 16, 17 and he was there for lunch with his race group, they were just laughing in the dining room and they had a cheeseburger. So I was picking up the plates and I said, “Was lunch ok?” He looked at me, “Son this is the best I have had since Raquel Welch.” His entire crew started laughing and I decided to retreat. I’ll never forget that. It was effective.
JM:Foster used to work at the track for Rotary and he would chat up Paul Newman about cars. He was fine about cars, but didn’t really care to be hounded by fans. He would have a short sharp comment for people that were pestering him.
JH:Just that one experience with him was like oh my god this guy is a great guy, very down to earth.
JM:Most of the people, and I have run into a few celebrities, if you ignore the famous part, they are just normal. They wanted to be treated like normal people. Did all of the family work at the inn?
JH:All I guess Elyse and Paul probably did. Paul is a great guy. Paul is the best, by far.
JM:Well the whole family is. Everyone in the family has a great heart, or at least every one that I have talked to of your family is very good to the community. What do you remember about the blizzard of 1968?
JM:Nothing, but you were around then.
JH:Yes, I would have been in grade school, 8th grade.
JM:Ambulance, what do you remember about the beginning of the ambulance service?
JH:Reese Harris walking around in a light blue one piece uniform with dad. They were starting it up the garage across the street where it is now.
JM:It was Hamzy’s garage.
JH:I just remember a big to-do as far as lots of conversations with dad and Reese, probably Art Wilkinson.
JM:Art was one of the early ones wasn’t he?
JH:Yeah, Weezie Kiefer was one of the early ones; I think those are it.
JM:And Rosemary Fudali?
JM:According to what your mother said, Reese Harris and his wife Ginny interviewed various fire departments and ambulance crews throughout the state and wrote the regulations for the ambulance service here in town.
JH:That may have been; I don’t know but Reese was the mover and shaker.
JM:You have already told me that your dad ran for selectman and did not make it; your mother did. What do you remember about your mother running for office?
JH:She was very pleased to show him how to do it! That was the main driver.
JM:How long was she on the board of selectmen?
JH:She did at least 2 terms.
JM:Have you done anything as far as boards or running for public office?
JH:Assessment Board of Appeals forever, since 2000 or something. The only reason I do it is that I feel strongly that there has to be a voice of some local party that needs tax relief. I am an
advocate for it. The Republicans on the committee “No, you can’t do that. That is not our mission.” I don’t really care a bit. So we have been able to bring relief to some local individuals that otherwise would not be able to live here.
JM:They need it.
JH:Yeah-yeah because otherwise with the weekender properties the taxes go up and up. Barbara Bigos the assessor (See file #53 Barbara Bigos) is very good about trying to figure out if we bring it up in value so that it is within the regulations. It just seems there should be some sort of change there.
JM:She explained about an assessment of my property with which that I did not agree.
JH:Good for her to note it and say that you are still the same.
JM:I appreciated that.
JH:She is a good egg.
JM:She is. I did an oral with her about her job and what she does to value property.
JH:Oh that is great.
JM:I would not know what she does unless I asked. This is why I do the tax collector, the assessor, the town clerks, the town comptroller, the select people so that people have an idea about what these guys and gals actually do. They do a lot more than you realize.
JH:They have to listen to complaints.
JM:Why did you get into real estate?
JH:I wanted to bring the kids back. We were doing non-profit out west so we were doing homeless and teenagers in Job Corps. The point was to come back and get the kids back here into these schools and try to give them a similar childhood.
JM:You had a good childhood.
JH:Yeah it was great because we had Vic Clarke; I loved his statement, “If it is a sunny day that is not a work day. You work on the rainy days.” You paddle or ski or something.
JM:That gives a balanced life.
JH:That is right.
JM:Do you think that you have given your children the childhood that you had to a degree?
JH:To a degree. I think the town has changed; it is completely different then what it was.
JM:I think the essence of caring and working together is still there.
JH: Becket is a good example. So he has picked that up somewhere. When we graduated from Salisbury whoever the speaker was said “Here is the main thing; much has been given to you, and much will be expected socially.” I don’t know if that has continued or not.
JM:I think so; I interview Chiz Chandler a while back; I liked the ethos of the school and the mission statement. I don’t think that has changed. The names of your children are…
JH:Becket, Griffin, Cathleen and then Rachel is our step-daughter.
JM:Is there anything that you would like to add to this interview that I haven’t covered?
JH:It is just that I had better apply Vic’s axiom.
JM:It is a sunny day; you should not be here. But with real estate you are out showing houses or doing building inspections.
JH:I just thought of that. Vic was a wonderful man. We had these wonderful people who actually had time. I am not so sure the parents right now have as much time as the parents of the 1960’s and 1970’s had.
JM:They don’t for a variety of reasons and there are so many activities that the kids are involved with in now that they weren’t then in the ‘60’s and the ‘70’s. They have to strike a balance.
JH:I think we hit it at a wonderful point as far as children and having Vic and George Kiefer and Bam Whitbeck and the list goes on and on. The people at that time had the time to spend with us.
JM:That is precious.
JM:Thank you so much.
JH:You are welcome.