Mike McCabe Interview:
This is file #104. Today’s date is August 19, 2015. This is Jean McMillen; I am interviewing Mike McCabe. He is going to talk about Mt. Riga, his family genealogy, some of the stories that he remembers from the mountain, the Housatonic Book shop things like that. We’ll start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
MM:Spalding McCabe Jr. My nick name is Mike, locally.
MM:Feb. 20, 1943
MM:New York City
JM:Your parents’ names?
MM:Elsie Meyer McCabe was my mother; my father was Lyman Spalding McCabe, Sr.
JM:Do you have siblings?
MM:I have one sister, Linde McCabe Gee who is younger, 4 years younger.
JM:What is your educational background?
MM:I went to local private schools and prep school and then I went to Hamilton College in New York State.
JM:When you say local private schools?
MM:Town Hill, Indian Mountain, and the Gunnery in Washington, Ct.
JM:Who was the Headmaster at Indian Mountain School.?
MM:Oh it was Mr. & Mrs. Doolittle.
JM:I met him.
MM:Oh you did?
JM:My husband taught at Indian Mountain. We would sit with Mr. Bill Doolittle at graduation because of the Doolittle Prize and the McMillen Prize.
MM:Oh the McMillen Prize?
MM: I remember that. Both of my sons went there. They did not win the McMillen Prize, but somehow it rings a bell.
JM:It was a prize given in honor on my husband for the boy or girl that volunteered, oh I’ll help, I’ll do that, and I can do that. So you did not have to be talented or gifted or athletic or musical, you just had to be a decent sort of a person.
MM:It still does.
JM:I thought that was fabulous and it was something that the faculty chose to do for my husband because worked there 5 years and took no salary.
MM:It is prize worthy. That is a human being is always welcome.
JM:I am rather fond of that one.
MM:That is great; that is good.
JM:I am trying to get your genealogy sorted out. Your grandparents were who?
MM:My grandfather was Ambrose Farrell McCabe and my grandmother was Pauline Wells McCabe.
JM:Was she nicknamed Polly?
MM:Yes, she was. Not to be confused with the other Polly McCabe who was named Pauline, same first name but Polly was my cousin. I am sure she was called Polly; I never met her she died before I knew her.
JM:You grandmother was born?
MM:Well that I really don’t know. Probably in the 1880’s I’ll say.
JM:Pauline and Ambrose had four children.
MM:They had 4 children.
JM:They had Frank, Louise, Ambrose and Spalding.
JM:Your father was Spalding.
MM:Yes the youngest of the 4.
JM:Who married Elsie Linde Meyer. Do you know the year they were married?
MM:They were probably in 1941 I would say as I was born in 1943.
JM:They had two children.3.
MM:Yes me and my sister.
JM:What was your father’s occupation?
MM:He was trained as a lawyer. He went to college at Harvard and then was trained as a lawyer. He never really practiced law officially. Unofficially he practiced law locally and with people who needed veterans’ forms to be filled out or maybe a hospital trip. A lot of these people were illiterate; they couldn’t do it themselves and they had rights. Sometimes they had money coming. He did things like that. He certainly did a lot of legal work for the Mt. Riga Corporation. In formal ways he did practice law, but he never had a real business.
JM:You mentioned he worked with Cock Robin. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
MM:I went there only once with Dad; I was probably 8 or 9. What dad’s business was with cock Robin I don’t know, but it probably had something to do with Veterans privileges or rights, maybe money. Maybe he was going to try to get him into a VA hospital. Cock Robin had trouble with drink so maybe dad was going to try to sober him up. I don’t know. That ran through a lot of those illiterate veterans. They had trouble with alcohol. Dad was familiar with those troubles.
JM:He was sympathetic.
MM:Yes he was sympathetic. He could do it he set up and he would take some of these people to the veteran’s hospital in southern Connecticut. There was one in Fairfield, Ct. He would actually drive them down and sett whatever was wrong. A lot of them had a fear, an innate fear of hospitals because that is where you went to die.
JM:I understand that.
MM:So they wouldn’t go on their own, but if dad was there holding their hand, they were ok.
JM:Moral support. You told me a story about your dad and Doug Ostrander.
MM:Yes he was one of the people that dad helped. Doug was about 55 or 60 when I went there. I went there twice actually with my father. Doug was discharged from the army before he really go in; he was classified as a moron which now has the worst connotation, but then it was more of a medical term. The army actually gave him a plaque which they had framed and it had a big flapping eagle, ribbons and it had a lot of Latin. It basically said you couldn’t join the army because you were a moron. You were unfit for service. He never understood it; either the English portion or certainly not the Latin. He was very understandably proud of the plaque. Dad said, “Say good things about it.” It is behind the door as you go in the house. So I was instructed to turn and close the door and look at it for some time. Sure enough there it was, but I do not know where it is now. Even the house I do not know exactly where it was down by the ski jumps somewhere.
JM:Your father was a very kind, compassionate man.
MM:He would whatever the problem was, he would help. He helped Frank Spurr one time in the same way. I don’t remember Doug giving anything, money was out of the question, but Frank Spurr gave us a glass cheese holder. In the old days you wouldn’t put cheese in the ice box, but out and covered. It was big enough for cakes so we used it for covering a cake to keep flies off it.
JM:You had a special name for it.
MM:The special name for it was the Frank Spurr Memorial cake holder. It was shortened to the Frank Spurr Memorial, when mother was asking for it. Someone else gave dad a car, an old Buick. I just remembered that. We got the strangest things, sometimes tools, sometimes things like vegetables in payment for whatever services dad rendered. I may remember, I don’t think my sister would, but I remember driving in this car, it ran. We lived at the end of the road up to Lion’s Head; we had 50 acres to drive around in the fields. It always started; I never took it downtown because we never registered it. He did some work for another person and that person gave him a stagecoach. He had a small stagecoach which slowly rotten into the ground, but we played in it as kids. We played cowboys and Indians and robbing the stage. Margie and Charlie Vail own the property now; I bet the springs and anything that was iron is still there. I shall have to ask Charlie about that. Dad would come home with these things and my mother would just roll her eyes in horror. In the eyes of the person who needed the help it was a fair exchange. They wanted to do something, and they couldn’t pay him. Dad was not about to charge them.
JM:They did not want to be under obligation; this was a way of making it even. Did your dad ever run for state office?
MM:He ran for State Representative; he and George Bushnell in the early 1960’s. Dad had a sober stretch for 4 or 5 years. During those years he ran for office. He was involved locally; he was trying to…This was his one chance to try to do something on the state level. He and George ran on the Democratic ticket. They did not get elected, but we still have stickers and bumper stickers and those little lapel buttons that say” McCabe this year”. It turned out that it wasn’t but we still have the stickers. He was always a member of the Democratic committee and things like that, the Open Forum. There was a historical group that he used to be in; he was a member of that. George was local; he was never head selectman, but one of the selectmen for several years (1978-1987 Ed.)
JM:You were telling me something about garbage detail when you were a boy on Mt. Riga.
MM:Oh a lot of things on Mt. Riga is in the 1940-1950’s, we had pigs on the mountain; it was part of the war effort. My aunt, Aunt Louise, Margie Vail’s mother on her place, Castinook, had pigs. My cousin Robert O’Brien who is 4 or 5 years older he and I had the garbage detail on the mountain which consisted of our pony Chiefy and a garbage cart. We would hitch Chiefy up twice a week and we would go to all the camps. There were then maybe 15 camps; we would collect all the garbage and then take it back to Castinook to feed the pigs. The pigs had regular food but this was sort of supplementary food.
It got rid of the garbage so they didn’t have to take the garbage either off the mountain to the dump or just toss it into the woods.
JM:What did you collect it in, pails or…
MM:We had pails, we had garbage pails we had probably 3 or 4. Each can would take their garbage and dump it into these bigger cans
JM:Then you would go around and collect these bigger pails.
MM:No the bigger pails were on the cart and people would dump their smaller pails into our bigger pails. One time it tipped over by Camp Ozone; we were fooling around. We were whipping the pony to go faster and it made a sharp corner. The garbage cart tipped over; there were 2 garbage cans so we learned our lesson. Chiefy won that round! We had to pick it all up we did clean up after the spill. We were horrified.
JM:Can you tell me something about the formation of the Mt. Riga…Is it an association or corporation?
Mm:We always pronounce it Mt. Riiga and it is controversial. Mainly the people on the mountain who have camps there call it Mt. Riiga and the people that live here call it Reega. Then there is to confuse the issue there are the Raggies. Everyone pronounces Raggies as Raggies whether you are in New Haven or Boston, it is always Raggies. Reega and Riiga are sort of, the dust has not settled yet, it has never been settled. It is either from the Swiss there is a mountain called Rigi, it is a strange spelling, and then there is the Latvian capital I think is Riga. There are arguments to be made both ways. There were supposed to be Latvians up there in the iron business and also there were workers who were Swiss.
JM:My question to you is, is it a corporation or is it an association?
MM:It is definitely a corporation. It was incorporated in the state of Connecticut in 1922 in the Green Hotel in Danbury, Ct.
JM:Who were the participants that incorporated then?
MM:There were four; there was the original Mr. Schwab, there was Philip Wells. In 1922 that might have been the second Wells, I think. I am sorry I mean Judge Warner, Donald Warner and McCabe was not represented. He was a lawyer sort of in the background. The woman was Caroline Crosby Wells so that there were four, three men and a woman signed the papers. People tend to forget that there was a woman who signed. There was a Warner, Schwab and there must have been another Wells. There 4 signatures supposedly represented the 4 camps, but McCabe was not one of the signers. He was probably there; he was a lawyer in New York State, maybe in New York City.
JM:Maybe a conflict of interest?
MM:Yeah maybe he couldn’t represent the corporation. The corporation the 4 members had certainly had camps long before it was incorporated. It was incorporated I believe for legal reasons. They were trying to protect the land, taxes and a number of things. I know Judge Warner had most of the land and he came to the conclusion, probably around the early 1900’s, that he had too much land and he was being taxed too much. Thus they decided to incorporate.
JM:Did they give each participant equal shares?
MM:No, they did not. The Warners and the Schwabs, there were 3,000 shares, each had 1,000 shares. The McCabes and the Wells each had 500 shares. They grouped the Wells and the McCabes together because they were one family. I think they were intermarried. Both the Warners and the Schwabs were separate families.
JM:What was the name of the McCabe camp?
MM:The McCabe camp was built by my grandfather (Ambrose Farrell McCabe) and finished in 1906. It was built by carpenters, some were local but some were brought up from Brewster or White Plains. They stayed there for the summer. They first built a horse barn which we called the Winter Palace and that is where some horses stayed. My grandfather never drove a car in his life; whereas my grandmother (Pauline Wells) was the first woman in Westchester County to drive a car. She was very forward thinking. On the mountain they built the horse barn first. The workers, the carpenters lived in the horse barn s they built the camp. The camp was finished in 1906 and it was called “Wish-Come-True”, presumably if you parse the word, they is what they wanted and that is what they got. It was what they wished for. It consisted basically of one large cabin with kitchen, and then 2 or 3 sleeping cabins sort of satellite sleeping cabins, log cabins. There were 2 log cabins they had built. The log cabins were built a little later; they were built by an Italian Marcello anywhere from 1905 to 1910.
JM:No it would be Marcello Lorenzo.
MM:Yes, it probably was. Yes, I think that was his name. He was responsible in a large part for most of the log cabins on the mountain. There were probably 5 or 6 altogether, mostly make out of chestnut.
JM;Oh yes I saw Steve Griggs’ log cabin that he had taken it from behind Castinook and then reconfigured slightly. It was amazing to see this.
MM:When we were kids during the pig detail the man who lived at Castinook in that log cabin was Jack Shakespeare. He was sort of a maverick; he was a drinker. He was sort of a farm hand. I think he had some education; he might have played on his last name, Shakespeare. I vaguely remember him. Dad took over his dogs. He was either going to, they were coon dogs, Dad took them. He was going to
get rid of the coon dogs. Jack Shakespeare was a local character. He was not really friendly with anyone, but he just sort of stayed on. I don’t know where he came from or what happened to him. Crosby (Wells) might know. Maybe Margie might know because when Louise had it, he might have been in residence. At Castinook besides pigs they also had chickens. They built a big chicken house which is still there and used as a sleeping place. As kids we had to feed the chickens. I had forgotten that.
JM:From them you go eggs and meat?
MM:Oh yeah. The house was two stories; it was quite formal with beaver board on the inside.
JM:Now this brings up a question. If you were raising pigs for the war effort, who did the butchering?
MM:Well there were a lot of people from town then who could butcher. They all killed deer; they all killed whatever animal they ate.
JM:Did they get any of these pigs?
MM:Oh yeah I am sure they did. I don’t know how we spread out the wealth. The eggs I remember. I remember there being 3 or 4 pigs when we dumped the garbage down. The pigs lived in the ice house, one of the many ice houses on Mt. Riga. They were fenced off. I am sure my father or any of the local people up there did not do the butchering. They would bring someone up from town because there were lots of people, maybe Chet Thurston because he could do everything.
JM:Or it could have been a Morey.
MM: Yeah, it could have been a Morey, any one of those people were very handy. Certainly as you say with deer and there were pigs in the valley. I don’t remember killing any chickens, but they had to die. The chicken house was 2 stories; for a long time maybe 20 or 30 years it just sat. Then maybe the Schlesingers when they rented it in 1960’s or 1970’s, they redid it. It is where their daughters slept. It became a sleeping cabin, but it never really lost that chicken smell. They could be separate away from the parents who lived in Castinook, so they liked that. They had to put up with the smell. I remembered it as the chicken place and then it was long before the Schlesingers got there. It always did have the smell of chickens.
JM;The state of Connecticut thought they were going to take over land on Mt. Riga to make a park?
MM:Yes I have several files on that.
JM:What year was that?
MM:It started around the end of 1961; I have letters to that effect. 1963 was the big year, they wanted to give for 5,000 acres, the camps and the lake $100,000. It was roughly the land was $60,000 and camps were like $40,000 to be distributed. That was Connecticut’s appraised value. That is what
they went on, $100,000. That is what they went on – $100,000 for the whole thing. My father’s generation fought it along with people like Senator Ribacoff, Bill Barnett the head selectman and local people of some renown who would write letters to Connecticut. I also have letters written to the New York Times. Christopher Rand, Donald Warner. There were a number of people like Harriet Harrison who were related to the Warners somehow. There wasn’t a letter in favor; it was all against from people who went there and people who did not go there. There were lots of other things that Connecticut could do with its money. At that point maybe they had $100,000. The dream was to combine the Mt. Riga property with Massachusetts and New York to form a tri-state park. It would be thousands of acres. New York was sort of in favor and Massachusetts was also sort of in favor and Connecticut at that point was spearheading the plan because New York already had it in the park system there, and also Massachusetts as Mt. Everett. They thought it was a good idea, but they really were not pushing it; they were not going to spend money backing Connecticut. Various people went there; there were many legislative sessions that Mt Riga people attended; Salisbury people attended.
JM:You are going to get into the story about Danny Brazee.
MM:The most colorful trip was made by Dave Brazee, who was Danny and Cricket Brazee’s father. He was a ranger on the mountain for about 30-40 years; he knew the mountain better than anybody else and knew animals. He always used to have a pet something, wood chuck, rabbit, fox and in the early 1950’s he had a pet deer which he named appropriately Bambi. We would always stop and see Bambi, and Bambi would actually go in truck when Dave Brazee would take ice around to the camps. Sometimes Bambi would ride in the back of the truck, always held by one of the children, not like a dog on a lead but would hold him. Dave Brazee and his family and Bambi went to Hartford to the State legislature and pleaded the case that Bambi would somehow suffer. They didn’t want fancy roads, cars going too fast. I guess it was very successful. Everyone loved the deer and the argument sort of faded in time. If you see a deer walking up the steps of the Capitol, you somehow keyed it to that argument. By 1964 a year later it had faded away, but it was frightening. Ever since then we- the corporation- has been very vigilant in trying to keep a low profile. We have tried to make ourselves as inconspicuous and unattractive as possible.
JM:There was a school house up there at one time.
MM:There was a school house which went along with the village which was a vibrant village from anywhere from 1810 to 1860, the Civil War; those forty or fifty years. It had a general store, it had a school, but it did not have a church. The school was at the Lower Lake. As you are driving up towards the cemetery, there is a fork in the road. You could go to Grandma Thurston’s house or you could go to the Frink house down by the cemetery. In that fork was the school. In the 1820’s or maybe 1830’s one figure is 71 or 73 student in the school. Not all the kids went to school. How you can extrapolate that to how many families are up there it is hard to do. They tend to have a fairly number of children; any child from age 12 on was working. The younger child might go to the school. There were a fair number of people up there; there were camps and then there were people who lived really in the woods like the
charcoal burners. That is the reason the village was there is because of the charcoal. The school I don’t remember it as a kid being in the original position. I would say maybe in the 1930’s the building was moved from its original position in the fork of the road to the top of the hill by my Uncle Frank’s house. He wanted it as sort of a separate camp for as a sleeping cabin. I remember it there. It was definitely a school. It has a big room and a couple of little rooms in back. The big room was where the students were. It had wonderful old maps around the walls; maps of Connecticut, maps of the world, maps of Salisbury and the United States. I can’t remember if they were the original maps or 100 year old maps but they were old maps. We never spent much time there because it was either a camp for someone or someone was sleeping there. I do remember going in. That unfortunately burned I would say in the early 1970’s. (A Lakeville Journal article dated 5/20/1985 showed photograph of the burned building and a history of the school Ed.) A gas company was hooking up the hot water heater; luxuries came late to the mountain.
JM:Hot water would be a luxury.
MM:Hot water was definitely a luxury from the tap; you could heat it up on your wood stove.They failed to do something, the gas built up, leaked and eventually the whole thing blew up. Thus the school house was no more. The whole thing burned. It was an old building, an old wood building and I am sure it went very quickly. We were probably on the Upper Lake so we did not see it until after it burned. There wasn’t much there, just the foundation. A big grist mill stone out front was the doorstep and that is still there, but everything else was pretty much gone. It was an historic building for sure one of 8 or 10 old buildings that date back…
JM:Would there have been a chalkboard, a black board, in that school or was it just wood.
MM:I am sure there was a chalkboard; I don’t remember specifically but Margie or Robbie might. Robbie spent more time there. Robbie (Robert O’Brien, Margie Vail’s brother Ed.) being older played more with our cousins who were also older down at Frank’s so he probably spent more time there. He would remember or Margie might too. I do remember the maps; it was set up like a school. It was rectangular with the chairs when they were in session. The teacher would be up front with a chalkboard.
JM:Was there a dais up front or just a high desk?
MM:I think the desk had gone when I saw it. There was no platform. I think it was probably just a desk. I assume there was some sort of a chalkboard behind the teacher.
JM:Some of the older one room schools that I have seen did have a chalkboard. You had a nifty story about the first temperance association.
MM:Yes, the first temperance society in Litchfield County was up there. It is funny although that honor belongs to Mt. Riga; Mt. Riga never had a church. For that you had to go down to the third road going down to Salisbury, the one we use now, then the middle road goes over to Ore Hill and the road
past the Dressers and the cemetery goes down to Selleck Hill. There was a middle road the only horses uses it. I don’t think it was big enough for any carts.
JM:That was not Babylon Road was it?
MM: It went or paralleled and went over the mountain. Babylon Road that I don’t know. If you went to church on Sunday you would take that one. It started about the back of the cemetery and went over the mountain and went straight right on down. If you came back in a cart you had to go down the road we use today (Factory/Washinee Street). Although you can go down the other road, but after the 55 flood we, that was the only way we could drive off the mountain over that road.
JM:Tell me about the Temperance Society.
MM:The Temperance Society I do not know the individual who started it, but it was the good ladies of Mt. Riga, I assume. There were two dens I shall call them. One of them was a boarding house which was downstream from the blast furnace. That is where the unattached workers lived, a lot of drinking and not much eating; it was fairly wild. Then there was another camp up on the lake which I have seen pictures of and whether it was a whore house or bar/whorehouse, but something along those lines. It was enough so between these two holes, the ladies in between decided that enough is enough. They convinced the men to give up drink. According to what I have read, it did work for a couple of days or maybe as long as a week. When everyone sobered up, they decided that enough is enough. The story is that after the ladies got the men all enthused and dumped out all the home made whiskey for the most part, hard cider and all that, they dumped it into the steam. Downstream in the valley people stayed if not drunk at least high for three or four days!
JM;Drinking the water would do it.
MM:Drinking the water, washing their clothes so they saved a little on booze cost for those three or four days; they just drank the mountain water.
JM: Now we are going to come off the mountain and talk about book shops. Who had the first bookshop in town?
MM:The first bookstore sort of in modern memory and in my memory was Phil Warner. His shop was in what is now the Stiles house, Agnes Fowler, Whitney Ellsworth (75 Main St. Salisbury). He had it there and ended about 1930, so he might have had it for 20 years, 1910 to 1930. He was a very quiet man, very intellectual; he was a great reader, he always smoked a pipe. He was very tall, long thin and tall. My father might have remembered going there.
JM:What kind of books did he sell?
MM:A lot of them were English, he enjoyed the English writers both novels as well as nature writing. He had a lot of nature writers, Richard Jeffreys, Gilbert White. I assessed the books of his widow in
about 1970. Phil had died and Mil Warner was still there. Mill said, “Mike, take all the books, give me something if you want, but I just can’t be bothered.” She was moving. I bought from Mil…
MM:Millicent Warner, a wonderful woman. My mother was a great friend of hers. I bought from Mil probably about 200 books that had belonged to Phil in his book store. Raggie Books was the name of the book store. He had a wonderful little book mark that he put in the back of his books. It was taken from his Mt. Riga camp. It showed Lotus Lodge with the lake and then the three mountains, one hump, a bigger hump and a smaller hump. I still have them a lot of his stickers. Those books eventually sold. They were mostly English, mostly natural history and philosophy. He had a lot of philosophy. His 2 main sisters who lived across the road (84 Main St., Salisbury) they said about Phil, “There’s poor Phil, trying so hard not to sell his books.” He would discuss it with you and three hours later you would leave maybe with one book.
JM:If you were lucky!
MM:So he was in that business at the Fowler’s house. In 1930 a man by the name of Maurice Firuski who had had a book store in Harvard Square during the 1920’s. He for a variety of reasons decided to resettle in Salisbury, Ct. I’ll say in 1929 he went to Phil and said, “MY name is Firuski; I would like to run a bookstore in Salisbury. Phil supposedly said, “And you can with my blessings!” so Maurice encountered no trouble with that. By 1930 he was up and running. He had a wonderful catalogue, rare books, first editions, his book store and house (11 E. Main Salisbury) is where the Harney Real Estate Office is now and where Elyse Harney lives, right opposite the White Hart. Maurice was well connected in the book store, the book trade. He knew publishers, he knew authors, T. S. Eliot. He knew a lot of poets. He was interested in poetry. At his shop in Cambridge he was connected with Harvard; he was a Yale graduate, but he said he spent most of his business time in Cambridge with more Harvard graduates who would come to his book store.
JM:When did he sell out?
MM:He sold out the Cambridge bookshop in 1930, and the shop here was the Housatonuc Book Shop spelled with an uc, not an ic which he thought was closer to the Indian way of spelling it. (See tape #73 Housatonuc Book Shop) Maurice was lucky enough; he always wanted to die in the traces and that is what he did in 1978. In a snow storm his wife Betty at the time called Dr. Brewer and said, “Doc I think Maurice has had a heart attack or something.” Eddie Brewer was living out of town and he came, snowstorm and all. I don’t think Maurice lived the night, I am not certain. He feared retirement; he never wanted to retire and there was no real reason for it.
JM:No not with that kind of an occupation.
MM:John Curry and Gayle Binzen working for him. I worked for him for 5 years in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. I eventually wanted to run my own store which I did. I apprenticed with Maurice Firuski. It
was 1967 to 1972 were my 5 years. I couldn’t have gotten a better boss; he was knowledgably. The idea to me and to most book sellers if you want to remember a book you have to handle it, and look at it. Then you can recall it years later. It was true of me and to Maurice. He sat and looked at a lot more books that I did. He was in business for 50 plus years, no almost 80 years. It blows my mind, but he was wonderful at his job, he loved it. I respected him. Young men who wanted, it seemed to be mostly men, who wanted to start collecting and get slowly interested in one author or another. He knew a lot of the poets who people were interested in; he had signed copies. He would spend hours with them. I remember David Sexton who went to Princeton; he had grown up in New York City with stocks, bond and all that. Every weekend he could, he would come up and he and Maurice would closet themselves. He was interested in Frost and other.
JM: He had quite a Frost collection.
MM:Maurice did yes. He knew Robert Frost. He knew Joe Blumenthal who outlived Maurice by quite a few years. He did all the printing of Frost’s works. Frost was said to be the best printed poet in America. Jeffers had nice things printed, the size of his editions of Frost are just beautiful.
JM:Tell me about Lion’s Head, your book shop.
MM:I all along was going to run my own store at some point; Maurice understood that. He was slowing down by c 1972. In the early 1970’s he was going down and I at that point was chafing at the bit. He and I talked and set a rough date at the end of 1972. He allowed me to buy any book I wanted from his store; a few I think he held back. He said all these you can buy; those you can buy. There was a lot of poetry; I bought a lot of paperbacks from him, I bought a couple of rare books from him. I paid him what he wanted. The core of my store was his nucleus. Then I brought in my own books and books from wholesalers, new books so I had a combination of Maurice’s books, my book collection and then books from wholesalers of new books.
JM:You had a shop your first shop was located where?
MM:The first shop was across the street from the library right in back of the Congregational Church on Academy Street where the Country Bistro is now. You go in the same door and where you would eat and drink that’s where my bookstore was. It was small which was fine. I had a bedroom, bathroom and a kitchen in the back third of the building. The middle one third was my office, wrapping, ordering all that. The front third was filled up with books in my shop. I did a little renovation; I was there for 4 years. it was a great location, a nice building, on the front step of the little porch I would always put some sort of a rack with books on the front that was protected from the rain so they did not get ruined. Then John Rand owned the building; he had another building closer to the ski jumps. In the mid 1977’s about 1975-6 he said, “Mike suppose that we move that building here; it would give you more space.” Then he could do something probably more profitable with that building. It was agreed; the foundation was poured and the building was moved onto it. The whole thing took maybe a year to do, to secure the land, pour the foundation and move the building. There was a full apartment upstairs. I had a full poured concrete
cellar which was reasonably dry and one room which was new that was very dry so I could store books down there. I very quickly filled it up. I lived upstairs. Then I got married in 1980. Nancy and I lived there and we had our first child there, Wesley was born there. Then it was too small for three. By 1981 we were in Falls Village.
JM:In your bookshop did you have a special focus?
MM:I did not have one overwhelming focus; I had probably half a dozen areas of expertise; Melville, architecture, gardening was certainly a strong point, local history was a strong point, I always had a good group of second hand hardcover books, books that were out of print as a hard cover, usually biographies, sometimes novels, medical books, medical biographies of medical people. I would always buy those because I had customers who liked that.
JM:Did you do catalogues?
MM:I did two catalogues. I should bring you one. I still have some. Hell is paved with good intentions. I meant to do one something like Maurice did in the early days into the 1930’s and 40’s. He did almost one a year. They were small but little gems. He had them printed beautifully. My first catalogue was modeled after Maurice’s catalogue. It was printed by hand and hand set by a William Burk in New York City who was a known printer. It had double columns. A lot of those books I would say a third of those books came from Phil Warner’s book store. Then maybe a third came from Maurice’s book store, these were the rare books and first editions and then the other third were books that I had. There was a total of 250 books, not a big catalogue. In the end I said this is my modest sampling and I hope to do something like this once a year. This did not turn out; I put out lists to people, but as far as actually doing a catalogue, no. As all dealers find, when they start out with privately printed beautiful this and that, you wind up mimeographing copies. Now of course we use the internet which goes all over for very little money. The original catalogue I had dealers from New York were coming up by train and they would get as far as they could, then get a cab because I probably had the books underpriced. They had a good deal. The first question was when they would come in was, “Now these books, are there more like these, do you have others like these?” I had some; I didn’t put them all in. The catalogue was very successful. Most of the books I paid very little for either from Maurice who gave me a good deal and the books I bought from Phil Warner’s widow. She gave me a good deal. I made some money, but I could have made more by charging current prices.
JM:But it is a way to get the stock out and reorder.
MM:It was an introduction to the book world, get it out there. There is no better advertisement than a catalogue. If you order a book and you get it, you are going to go back. But after three times as every time you call, they say “It is sold.” You give up.
JM:I have been dealing with book dealers, and the one I return to are the ones that say, “I will get it for you. I have a colleague.” That’s when I go back. When did you sell your business?
MM:I sold it in 2002 it was all gone, so it was 2001 I got rid of the books. I had a big sale for a year. Dan Dwyer took over the space. (See #211 Dan Dwyer) The book store all along was owned by Susan Rand. She bought it from her father-in-law John Rand. At that point I wanted to get out of the retail store part of the book business and maybe do more shows, and internet. Dan was the opposite; he had done shows and internet for some years. He wanted a retail presence. So we dovetailed and he bought a lot of books from me. Some books never left the premises. Then he redid the whole ground floor where the books are. The office is pretty much the same. He is there now. I am going to go visit him perhaps today. It is a different kind of store than mine. Mine has more current books, children’s books. He had more reference books and more unusual books; gardening is a part of his business as is local history. He is ABAA the antiquarian association whereas I never did. I had friends who were in the Grolier club in New York City who said, “Mike, come on down; we’ll get you in and fill out the forms. You deserve to be in.” I said, “It is one hundred miles, it is once a month.” All these people who wanted me to join were people who lived in New York City; they would come up here for the weekend. So it was perfect for them to go to the Grolier Club.
JM:When I did Dan on his book shop, he was fulsome in his praise for the fact that there had been a fine book shop in town for over 80 years. He really emphasized that.
MM:Yeah over 80, I’ll say 90 to 110 years, at least 110 years.
JM:He did not know about Phil Warner. That was the difference.
MM:Talking to people I have never heard… The library is the first public library in the country, but whether that meant there was a book store around here too in the early days.
JM:No the books for the library were given a collection of books were given by Smith and Bingham (150 books were given by Caleb Bingham in 1803 Ed.) There was a collection of about 200 books. We are fortunate; we are a book reading community and we always have been.
MM:There was always, and this speaks about Connecticut, that there was always a need for a good responsible book seller. In the early days when Phil was in business there weren’t really best sellers the way there are now. You would read a classic. There was nothing else to do. Maurice fanned the flames; he made a lot of money. He married wealthily, all 4 or 5 times, and so he always had some money to buy more. Instead of 6 copies he would buy 12 copies.
JM:He had the backing to do it.
MM:He had the backing to do it and he knew books. He cultivated individuals; he would socialize with individuals. He was a real professional. I didn’t do that, I went to dinners and cocktail parties and things, but.
JM:You were a different individual.
MM:I was a different individual. He was a part of the theatre productions at the Salisbury Players. He always sold to the library. The library got most of its books from him. When I came along, Sarah Belcher O’Connor Wardell said, “We really can’t do it anymore because we need a bigger discount.” He sold to Hotchkiss library and Salisbury School to some extent, more with Walter deMelle. There was a period of 30 years when they would buy from him. It was heaven to have the money. The library would come to the book store; they would give a list of 30 book. We would have 20 of them and the others had to be ordered. But they would always find maybe 10 more-novels nonfiction. Maurice was always very alert; he was a good businessman. Hotchkiss library bought from him too. He knew what to put away, what to sell. His term, which I still use for junk books; he really never ordered the trashy best seller. He always referred to them as pieces of cheese. Occasionally someone would want one and he would order it and maybe get 2. He would always put them on the sale rack. “That is a piece of cheese, Mike. Don’t even put it out.” You can understand it is damning, cheesy.
JM:We have talked about work; we are now going to talk about play. Baseball, when did you play baseball?
MM:Well I played at Indian Mountain, I played at Gunnery. I was on the Varsity team and was co-captain. I played a little bit in college, but didn’t stay in college that long. I probably would have made the varsity team. I did play on the town team after I came back here in 1967. I played for Frank McArthur on the Firemen’s league. I played for him for 4 years. Jim Dresser and Steve Griggs were on the same team. (See file #62 Griggs on McArthur) Frank McArthur was the coach; he was wonderful. I think he could have played pro. He was a black man in a white man’s baseball world.
JM:He was still athletic and he could have done it.
MM:He was wonderful, knew the game was a great talker.
JM:Who were some of the other men that you played with that could have become professionals?
MM:His sons were both would have been able to play division #1 in college, I think. Their older brother Frank maybe so. I played with Frank only one year. He came back from Viet Nam. Both Doug and Dave were superb ball players, very smooth. (See tape #143A David McArthur) I played with Andy Whalen, Tommy Atkins, the catcher was Mike Cleaveland. He was a wonderful catcher.
JM:Is this our Cleaveland family?
MM:Oh a local family, yes there were a couple of them: John Cleaveland could have been the father Cleaveland Street on in the village.
JM:I was thinking about the spelling with the A in it.
MM:There was a Cleaveland over at Herrington’s who is in the lumber yard, Mike Cleaveland. I asked him whether he was related to the catcher, but he was a little vague.
JM:How about the Belters? Were there any of them?16.
MM:No Belters on the teams that I played on. Andy was that age, John Belter their father’s generation those Belters all played. There was Hank and Willis. Willis was good, but Hank was great.
JM:You had a story about Hank Belter and Frank McArthur.
MM:Yeah when they were playing in the 1930’s and 1940’s maybe even in the 1920’s, Frank McArthur always was a good ball player; he played short stop or 2nd base. He could probably play anything! They would play rough teams like Poughkeepsie, Pittsfield, Springfield and blacks were not welcome. Either on the field or certainly if you stopped at the bar afterwards, there were several stories mainly involving Hank Belter. They would go to a bar for a beer, the bar tender would say, “We don’t serve blacks.” One story that was told to me by Bob Constantine who was on the team was about Hank Belter. Hank was a formidable man stood up and walked over and said to the bar tender, “You do now.” that was enough of an argument to persuade the bar tender and Frank got his beer. I can’t remember if there were any fights involving this, there probably were but I don’t remember any.
JM:But that is such a good story.
MM:It is a great story.” You do now!” I guess a couple of others, Willis was there and who was also a big man, and whoever else was in the bar.
JM:Just his presence was enough.
MM: Hank was great. I never saw him play ball, but I heard the stories. You would be easily intimidated.
JM:I am going to end this section with perhaps your personal test for being a bat boy. If you truly are a bat boy, that is the test?
MM:I am not sure whether it is 100% test, but it is certainly one. I know a couple of people, kids, one is my son, but once you are a bat boy in baseball lore, a uniform is usually issued. Once the young man age 7 or 8 or 9 is given the uniform, the test is that he is going to be a ball player if he sleeps in his uniform. If he takes it off, he is not a true ball player. One of my sons just took off his uniform and that was it. He kept it in the closet or something, but my older son actually slept in his uniform. To me and I have talked to other parents in Little League, “Oh yes, Johnnie slept in his uniform.” The other boy never did; he just took it off.
JM:Perfect story. Before we close this, are there any additions that you would like to talk about?
MM:there are wonderful stories I thought of one which ties in with Danny Brazee who just died. (May, 2015) This involved Danny Brazee’s grandfather; it is half story and half true. The man existed and was a great wood chopper. The story is that he would cut, he lived on Mt. Riga Lane and he would cut up and down the stream. He would go all the way up the mountain.
JM:What was his name?
MM:I don’t know, Old Dave? Danny’s grandfather was old Dave, and I remember him.17.
JM:Would that have been David Corbett Brazee?
MM:It could have been. He might have died in the 1930’s or 1940’s. He would use 2 double bitted axes. He made the handles they were short and beautifully carved. I remember seeing axes handles made by him. The story is when he would start working upstream cutting any tree that he would see, he would alert the women who lived along the stream. He would say to the ladies, “I’m going to be cutting along the stream.” He would then disappear into the woods. He apparently was such a ferocious cutter he would cut so fast that his axe would get hot. If you had a long handled axe, you would take one chop, then another chop, but if you had a short handled axe, you would chop, chop, chop, chop, chop. He would get the axe head so hot it would be white hot so he would put them into the stream to cool. He would then pick up his other axe and start. The axe heads were so hot that it would heat up the water in the mountain brook. The ladies would wash their dirty laundry in this heated water which would come down stream.
JM:What a wonderful story!
MM:Then the water would chill down, so they would have cool water to rinse their laundry in. Then he would take a lunch break and he would do the same thing in the afternoon. From about 1:30 he would chop like crazy, and he would put the axe in the water. It would heat up and the ladies, if they were alert, they would have two washing sessions per day, when Old Dave was cutting wood.
JM:A wonderful story and a wonderful way to end this interview. Thank you so much for your time, and your stories. It has been absolutely wonderful.