Robert O’Brien Interview:
This is file #36, cycle 2. Today’s date is august 2, 2016. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Robert O’Brien on his life and experiences up on Mt. Riga. First we will start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
JM:What is your birthdate?
RO’B:March 20, 1939
JM:Your birth place?
RO’B:Manhattan, New York
JM:Your parents’ names?
RO’B:Robert Henry O’Brien and Louise Crosby McCabe O’Brien
JM:Do you have sibling?
RO’B:I have 3 siblings. Well I had three at birth. Elizabeth who is deceased, Mary Louise who is now known as Mariah, who lives in Canada, and Margie Vail who lives in Salisbury and Mt. Riga, Margaret Clare O’Brien at birth. (See file #20, cycle2 Margie Vail)
JM:What was your education after high school?
RO’B:I graduated from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service.
JM:What is your connection with Mt. Riga? Are you one of the original families?
RO’B:Yes my grandfather and grandmother built a camp on Mt. Riga in 1906. My great grandmother has become one of the original three shareholders but it was not a corporation at that time.
JM:Then she was one of the 3 original proprietors.
RO’B:Yes she was one of the original people and she divided her interest between my grandmother and my great uncle Harry Wells.
JM:I’ll get to Wish-Come –True eventually, but I want to start with the horse, Chiefy. What did Chiefy look like?
RO’B:Chiefy was a very large pony; everybody who saw him and knew about ponies was surprised when I said he was a pony and not a horse. He was as big as a lot of horses. He was stocky and strong. He was mostly white, had some brown on his face and I think on his chest.
JM:Do you remember how many hands high he was?
RO’B:12 I think.2.
JM:How did you get him?
RO’B:My Uncle Frank McCabe owned him. They had a big house in Albany, New York, where they kept horses as well as at Mt. Riga in the summer. He had two daughters, my cousins Polly and Tinker who were older than I was. Both now deceased. They tired of the pony at some point and Uncle Frank offered to me. My parents let me accept so we had Chiefy on Mt. Riga in the summer. He was already at quite an advanced age, but I don’t know how old. It was understood that he might not last too long, but he lasted a couple of years. We would take him down to White Plains where we just barely had enough space to have a horse because we lived in sort of a suburban house. My father owned the two houses next door and all the yards sort of adjoined. There was an old stable because they were old houses. I kept Chiefy in White Plains two or three winters I think he survived. He was trained and suitable to both pulling a wagon and being ridden with a saddle. I had a saddle and would ride and I had an old U.S. cavalry saddle which I think had come from my Uncle Vincent McCabe, my grandfather’s brother who was a veterinarian in Millbrook, NY. I had a 2 wheel cart with a bench seat that we used a lot, much more than riding with a saddle because there was nobody that had a horse. I could only ride by myself. We used the cart a lot because then other kids could join in. I was 11 or 12 when I got Chiefy.
JM:That’s about right because you would have to do all the care of him so you had to be old enough.
RO’B:Then I also had the farm cart that had 4 wheels and was 10 or 12 feet long; that was the one I used to deliver water to camps on Mt. Riga and pick up “pig food”, garbage. My Uncle Spalding McCabe owned pigs and had them at Castinook up where we stayed those summers. He got separate brand new garbage cans, little ones of galvanized metal. All garbage cans in those days were galvanized metal that had lids. These were maybe 10 gallons, smaller than people usually used. The customers or camp owners who wanted their garbage removed free had to separate the edible par for the pigs and put it into those cans labeled “Pig food” and the other part. I had to take away both. I had two routes with 5 or 6 people on each one; one went towards the Upper Lake and one went up on the hill at the Lower Lake. Then I would go back and feed the pigs, and fill up the water jug. My uncle paid me something, but I do not remember what. The people paid me for water because that was my own business. He incorporated the garbage detail to my business. He paid me something for feeding the pigs.
JM;How many pigs did he have?
RO’B:There was a big sow, a huge pig that weighed like 300 pounds and varying numbers of piglets.
JM:Was that for the war effort?
RO’B:That is where it started; most of the years were actually right after the war because it was still going on in 1950-51. My mother had chickens at Castinook for the war effort. Right after the war she got rid of those, but Uncle kept breeding the pigs. He would keep the sow over the winter somewhere
on Mt. Riga. When I got there in the summer, there would be a litter of little pigs and then before winter he sold them to the butcher.
JM:How often did you do the garbage/water routes?
RO’B:It seems like I did it every other day, so probably 3 days a week. It seems like I did both routes one day, rather than one one day and the other another day. It seems I would do one, go back and have breakfast and then go in the other direction.
JM:What did you keep the water in?
RO’B:A large galvanized 25 gallon garbage can that I bought because it had to be brand new and I had a brass tap soldered into the bottom of it so I could draw out water. I filled the can with buckets from the well at Castinook. The water there is pure spring water. I could draw water and fill whatever jugs people had.
JM:Because there was no running water as such up there so you delivered water.
RO’B:Even now people pump it out of the lake, while I do not know of anyone who has died from drinking water out of the lake and I certainly had drunk a lot of it. People prefer to drink the well water as it is recommended.
JM:This was drinking water you were delivering.
RO’B:People had water for other purposes. People would get 2-3 gallons of water a couple of times a week to drink. In those days we used to buy ice.
JM:Did one of the Brazee boys deliver the ice?
RO’B:Yes, “Bud” or David Brazee and his son “Peanut”. I do not know what happened to “Peanut”. He was” Bud’s” oldest son by his first wife.
JM:Yeah that gets a little complicated, I know because when I was teaching I had Teddy Brazee and Margaret Brazee. They were of that family somewhere in there.
RO’B:Yeah but those are Kathleen’s children.
JM:Yes. That was the second wife, not the first one.
RO’B:Kathleen was born either in Canada or Ireland. She came to Salisbury to care for me. My mother brought her here from New York City. Kathleen took care of me when I was a little kid. She always had a particular interest in me and my children. When her last days when she really didn’t go out of the house, if I went up and down the road, she would know how many times I had gone up and down the road. If I did not stop and see her, she would be upset. If I didn’t stop, she would say, “You have
been going up and down.” I would say, “Sometimes I am very busy or I wanted to bring my children.” She always wanted to see my children. “Well I didn’t have the children.”
JM:That is so nice to have the continuum, the interest and the care. I think that is absolutely marvelous. Tell me about the flood of 1955. Let’s start with the war wagon. What was the war wagon?
RO’B:The war wagon was a vehicle that the Red Cross in White Plains, Westchester County, has. That is where we lived at that time. During the war it was built upon a Dodge car but they had cut out the back of the car. It had 4 doors like all cars did in those days, but then it was elongated and it had dual wheels on the back like a truck and a huge wooden body like a station wagon on the 1940’s and 1950’s, except much bigger. It was like 5 feet high inside but you could not quite stand up. In the back it had a bench seats that folded up against the sides of the thing so you could put stretchers inside. I don’t think we ever had in White Plains during the war an emergency, but certainly nothing related to the war. There may have been other things that they used it for. The front seat was very typical; it was the original seat from the car and where the back seat should have been, there was a step up to get onto this deck that went back to the back of it. Sitting down you could carry 14 people. We would just pile kids in there. During the flood that was at the Upper Lake so with the roads washed out, it could only move from the Upper Lake to the Lower Lake. That was as far as it could go. I was not on Mt. Riga when the flood actually happened. By that time I was old enough to have a summer job and I was working for an engineering & surveying company down in Westchester County actually in Pleasantville. I owned a jeep, a 1946 civilian Willy’s jeep; it was like the first civilian jeep they sold after the war. I got the jeep up to the Lower Lake but I couldn’t get it up to the Upper Lake. I think I must have done that by driving through Massachusetts, coming down Mt. Washington Road because there were no bridges on that road.
JM:Tell me the story with the ice.
RO’B:Oh yes, I got a phone call, I was in White Plains and my mother was not there. I guess she was on the mountain. I was told I should not come up on Friday which I normally would have done, which would have gotten me up there in the dark. I should come on Saturday going up the New York State road what we called the Kay Road as it went up to the Kay camp on the New York side of the Upper Lake. I should stop in Rudd Pond and buy 300 pounds of ice. I was to bring 300 pounds of ice up to the Kay Camp and get one of their boats and bring it across the lake because they were out of ice or we were going to run out of ice.
JM:300 pounds is a lot of ice.
RO’B:At that time at Wish-Come-True there were three camps. Everybody put 100 pounds of ice in their frig every week. Because David couldn’t get up with his truck, that would have kept them going for a week.
JM:Would they be in 100 pound chunks?
RO’B:When Bud brought them, they were in 100 pound or 50 pound chunks that he would chop them. But at Rudd Pond they only sold them in 25 pound chunks.
JM:Because I was wondering how you were going to handle that amount of ice. I remember ice being delivered with the leather pad and tongs. They were probably 25 or 30 pounds.
RO’B:Ice the way they sold it here was 100 pounds chunks or they were chopped into 50 or 25 chunks. There was sort of a line that was formed in the ice when they made it at the ice factory. One of the things that marveled us was Bud who was not a very big guy could carry 100 pounds of ice with ice tongs. He could carry 100 pounds of ice and then open the top of the ice box and sling it in there. It just fitted in.
JM:He knew what he was doing. Who were some of the kids that you played with up on the mountain?
RO’B:Around that time at the Upper Lake before we went down to Castinook which was probably in the summer of 1948, It was mostly girls; there were my three sisters, 3 Lawlor girls, and my cousins Ellen and Skeeny McCabe, Ambrose McCabe’s children. At the Lower Lake there was Dwight Collins(See file #107 Dwight Collins) Bim Collins was considerably older than me and we never played together that much, Robbie and particularly Chet Sawtelle, Gordy Chapman, if he was there, and Donny Lippincott used to visit the Chapmans he was a cousin. They are related to the Wellses too. Younger than me, but we sometimes played together there was Jimmy Dresser (See file #25 & 26 Jim Dresser), Mike McCabe, who is my cousin, (See File #104 Mike McCabe) and Steve Griggs, (See file #23 & 24 Steve Griggs). Those were the little kids. We were older.
JM:When I was doing Mike McCabe, he was the one that told me about Chiefy and the garbage detail. He said, “You have to get Robbie because he’ll no more about it than I do.”
RO’B:Jimmy has also collected stories about the hurricane; he was very impacted by that. We had a party a couple of years ago; it was the 50th anniversary of the great flood and a lot of people told stories.
JM:That must have been fascinating. Now you had a story that you told about a bulldozer.
RO’B:Yes and I think that was the aftermath of the flood so it was probably the next year. Obviously there was a lot of damage. They had to completely reconfigure the road around the lower lake dam. The road had washed out and the hillside that used to hold the road was gone. The river had reconfigured the terrain and they had to put back a road. There were a couple of bulldozers at various times. This one was not very big, I can’t tell you what model it was, it was parked in the field below Castinook and nobody was around so it probably was on a weekend. It may even have been in the fall before the Mt. Riga meeting. Chet and Dwight and I were there; Chet said he knew how to start the bulldozer. He did not have a key or the key was in it or something. So of course we had to drive the bulldozer. We started it up; Chet was driving it and it was a thing that you had to drive with levers
rather than a steering wheel. It was sort of jerky the way it ran. Dwight and I were sitting on the fenders beside the seat. The seat was made for one person. So we were hanging on the sides. The grass was tall and there was a mound of dirt and then a trench at the bottom that the water from the well ran through. At that time it did not run through a pipe as it does now, it just came over the wall and ran like a little stream. The bulldozer went up in the air and came down with the blade stuck in the pile of dirt. I am sure that an experienced operator could have gotten it out of there, but we were not. The motor stalled which was good because 2 of us were on the side found ourselves hanging over the blade and we probably would have been mangled by the tread of the machine if they had been moving. I don’t remember if there was an actual siren, but we were convinced that the police were coming; there were no police on Mt Riga, but anyway we had to get out of there. So we just faded from the scene and never told anybody. I don’t recall if anybody ever asked me about why the bulldozer was stuck in the mud where we left it.
JM:Typical boys. I am going to ask you about Castinook and then I am going to go back to Wish-Come-True. With Castinook, you rented it in the 1940’s.
RO’B:My mother rented it in the 1940’s. There were 2 elements that I am not sure about as to which came first, or if they were both combined in the same thing. 1. That my father would be more comfortable there. My father being a New York City man; he was born in Brewster, NY. He was used to life in the city and was not so used to life at Mt. Riga. At Wish-Come-True we had just separated the camp and my family just has a couple of little cabins. Castinook had an indoor bathroom. . He would be more separated from my mother’s family because at Wish-Come-True we were and still are all mixed up together.2. The other element was the idea to raise chickens for the war effort. She spent a good bit of money fixing up the house so somebody could live there year round including, I think the cistern was there but renovating the heat system so there was a furnace in the basement and it had regular radiators and all of that. She put in an electric generator, eventually there were two generators. The house was wired for electricity; you could turn on a light and the batteries would start the generator. It was all very downtown. It had a pressurized water system in the basement. She drilled that well, a marvelous well and put the water in the basement. Before that the water at Castinook had come from a spring up on the hill, not very far up you can still find the spring up there. The pipe came down and went across the driveway above where the cars were parked. You drove under a water pipe. It came off that hill. There is an old chimney up there. As a child I do not know the details of her motivation, but she did lease it from Mt. Riga Corporation for 10 years,(See File 14, cycle 2 Charlie Vail) In the barn she put insulating boards all over it and made it into a 2 floor chicken house; it was several hundred square feet on each floor. She moved the barn; it was back about 100 yards behind the house. They built a new foundation right behind where the well is and moved the barn up there and did all this insulating therein. The stone foundation must still be there about that high with a concrete slab on top of it and then the 2 story chicken house which was the converted barn on top of that.
JM:Would she have used local people for that like the Lorenzos perhaps?
JM:So she was not importing from Brewster or White Plains.
RO’B:No, no the guy who lived there was Jack Shakespeare. I do not know where he came from. The guys, who worked there particularly after the war when Jack Shakespeare wasn’t there, were Balls and Sherwoods both of whom are local families. The Sherwoods, one of them, Roy, was an Olympic ski jumper. My mother bought a Model A Ford car that was part of that operation. It had had a rumble seat, but the rumble seat was removed before I saw it. I don’t know whether my mother had that done but what was in the back was a wooden deck; it was effectively more like a pick-up truck than a car. I assume that it had at one time a canvas top, but that that was gone. It had seats that got completely soaked when it was wet. I think it had wire wheels, but it had a regular gear box a three speed gear box. I never drove a Model T Ford that did not have a gear box, but the Model A was more advanced.
JM:I have seen them with the elliptical brakes.
RO’B:Those brakes also did not work very well when it was wet. On Mt. Riga it was frequently wet so you had to be very careful and sometimes use the Emergency brake because the elliptical brakes just would not work. If you were going down somewhere and put the brake on, and nothing would happen. Then you would have to pull on the Emergency brake which only worked on the rear wheels. It would stop you if you knew how to do it. I was not old enough to legally drive, but I used to drive anyway. The other vehicle she had was a 1938 Plymouth which she had had from before the war. We drove that car all during the war which also had a little pick-up box in the back. I think it has been in an accident and rather than replace the truck lid, they put in a little pick-up box in the back. She had an interesting collection of non-standard vehicles.
JM:Who was it that had the fire engine?
RO’B:Uncle Frank, my mother’s brother.
JM:If I have the story right, what I was told was that he had the fire engine. When they went to insure some of the property, he said something to the effect that they had fire protection because he had the fire engine.
RO’B: I couldn’t verify that, but I have heard it. Why the insurance company bought it, I don’t know. If you were more than 3 miles from a fire house, your rate went up.
JM:What happened after she got rid of the chickens? What happened to the hen house?
RO’B:I used to sleep in it. Basically the ground floor was nothing just storage space for junk. The upper level I have spelt in it in the summer with friends of mine who came from White Plains or other kids from Mt. Riga. It always smelt like chickens shit. It never smelt good. The whole south wall was glass and you could just remove the window frames, unless it was terribly cold or something, we would just take them out and sleep over there near the fresh air. It was not full height and if you went over to the lower sections and the corners did not have windows, it was terrible. The girls wouldn’t go up there
because it smelled so bad. There was still an old ice house at Castinook, but I am not sure if it is still there. The privy was attached to the back of the icehouse; there is a retaining wall there which I am sure is still there. We put a floor in and used it for a tool shed, but before that the ice had been down on the lower level. I guess you could put the ice in at the top and get it out from the bottom. The lower part was just sawdust and we just built a floor over it. On the side of it was the privy which was also not a hole in the ground like most of them were. It just was built out like a porch and then the house with the seat was out there. It was boarded up, but everything just dropped to the ground.
JM:Was there a log cabin behind Castinook?
RO’B:Yes, we called it Uncle Tom’s Cabin. My mother had somebody build a kitchen on the side of it and a porch. The Lawlors stayed there; they always stayed with us every summer for the month of August. Uncle Tom Lawlor was a college professor, first in Omaha, Nebraska, then in Andover, Massachusetts. Uncle Tom, Aunt Peggy and their three girls stayed there. I think the girls must have slept in the house with my sisters, probably because the cabin only had one room; it didn’t have a separate bedroom. Uncle Tom and Aunt Peg stayed there; they had their own kitchen so they could cook.
JM:Again if I have this story right, Steve Griggs took it down and moved it and reconfigured it. (See file #23 & 24 Steve Griggs)
RO’B:The logs are at his camp now. I assume those are chestnut logs.
JM:I have been in that one. Yes, he said they were.
RO’B:I think the original chimney is still there behind Castinook, not the one you can see from the road. That is an older one; it has never been anything but a chimney in all memory, but it is back away from the road a little more. Oh I remember they had a tent with a platform up there, a wooden platform and a big tent. That is where all the girls slept in the tent some of the time anyway. There was a road that went from behind where the barn was up to where the tennis courts are now. When I say a road, there are the remnants of a road you could sort of see the track and walk up there. All that area had at one point been fields.
JM:Yes, because it had all been cut over for the Ball Forge charcoal business.
RO’B:But they also raised sheep up there for a brief time. In that area there are stone walls in the woods and so forth.
JM:Tell me about Wish-Come-True. When was that built?
RO’B:The main camp that I now have was built in the spring or early summer of 1906. One building was built the fall before and used to stable horses and store building material. That is now the cabin that Emily Vail sleeps in right by the road. The is actually the oldest building and that was built in the fall
of 1905. Then there are log cabins and other cabins that we use for sleeping but I am not sure what year they were built in, some of them as late as 1920’s. The original barn was in the time of my mother’s generation called the “Men’s” Cabin and apparently had a lot of bunks in there. She had three brothers and any single men that came along slept in that cabin.
JM:How long have you lived there? You said there were 3 separate periods.
RO’B:I was there every summer from 1939 when I was born until my parents split it up. My mother and her brothers split it up, split up the camp. I think it was 1951 but after the war. Then my uncle Ambrose got it. I don’t know exactly what year but probably sometime in early 1970’s when I was living in Jamaica, Ambrose and Betty wanted to build a new camp on vacant Wish-come-True land. So they did a different sub division of the 6 acres. My mother then got the main camp and buildings that she already had which included the old barn and one log cabin. That is the one that Margie now has. Mother didn’t choose to live in it and she rented it to friends and family members. My family and I came usually for 2 weeks; we lived in Jamaica. So sometime during the summer when I go a vacation, we would come here. After my mother died in 1983, Margie and I bought the buildings; we each bought the building from the Corporation, or from my mother’s estate. We each now own buildings and we lease the land from Wish-Come-True which included my cousins. It is not just Margie and I. I have really been the owner of the camp or at least the building since 1983.
JM:You lease the land from the Mt. Riga Corporation?
RO’B:No, from the Wish-Come-True Corporation. That is a separate corporation made up of all the heirs of my mother and her 2 younger brothers. The older brother Frank moved out. One wag who tried to explain real estate title issues on Mt. Riga said,” You never owned anything on Mt. Riga, You can’t buy anything on Mt. Riga and you never own anything on Mt. Riga except that you can inherit the right to spend money on it.”
JM:That is probably right because older houses need a lot of maintenance.
RO’B:You are always fixing something up particularly old wooden buildings that are up on that climate.
JM:They weren’t necessarily built on a stone or a cement foundation to begin with.
RO’B:No you may have masonry piers and sometimes just logs and various other stone outcroppings or whatever. They were not built to any particular building code. That was built in about 6 weeks by 8 or 9 people including a brick chimney and two fireplaces. It is about a 2,000 square feet building so that is pretty good. It would be hard to get that done today. Some of those guys came from Brewster. She documented that. The head guy came from Brewster and brought some people with him. She listed who the people were; then it says the last 4 or 5 were local people. One was a Lamson and there were others. You would have to look at the history book, the camp log that my grandmother wrote up something about the construction. There were Lamsons, 2 Sherwoods and 1 Ball. Danny Brazee, the
one who is alive now, his mother was a Ball. She is the only one I ever me. There were a couple of other Balls. (See Tape #116 Edward Brazee)
JM:There was a Charlie Ball on Farnam Road.
RO’B:There are things like Ball Brook and Ball Forge, so they were here. I remember particularly that I think the 2 Sherwoods were an uncle and a nephew, if I have this right. The nephew was older than his uncle. I think they were the first ones that let me drive that Model A Ford. My mother let me drive at a fairly young age.
JM:But that was common then.
RO’B:We did on Mt. Riga. Even though it is a town road down to here, I mean up to the lake and Mt. Washington, the theory was that you didn’t need a license to drive where the road wasn’t paved and it wasn’t paved as far as it is now. You could drive down and then you had to stop the car; some guys would drive that old Plymouth and leave it at the end of the dirt road and walk into town to do whatever we wanted to. Then we would walk back to the car and drive back up the mountain. We weren’t to drive on paved roads if we did not have a license. There was no legal issue.
JM:That is good folk lore.
RO’B:Nobody cared I guess.
JM:You have a guest book. I was given photocopies of the guest list for the Mountaineer’s Dance on August 31, 1907. That came from Elizabeth McCabe Keith. Do you still have that guestbook?
JM:Do you keep it up?
RO’B:Not very well. In the first place we decided that we weren’t going to write any more in that book because we wanted to keep it safer. We started another guest book and do try to keep it up. We have done it somewhat. I am going to go look now to see if anyone has written anything this summer.
JM:In the old guest book, is it preserved in some way so that it won’t be water damaged?
RO’B:It is in a box which Beth gave it back to me after she had it which is an archival box, but it is right up there in the camp at Mt. Riga because it does not make sense to have it elsewhere.
JM:That is where it belongs.
RO’B:If the building burns down, it is going to go.
JM:This is why I am gathering as much information as I can.
RO’B:Beth has copied the whole thing. She has done a lot.
JM:Yes, she is absolutely wonderful. Tell me about the fireplace tools.11.
RO’B:My recollection was(or the book says and my mother told me the same thing) that they were a house warming gift from Dwight and Julie Collin to my grandparents Ambrose and Pauline McCabe on the occasion of their moving into that camp. That Dwight and Julie were the first guests, the first people to sign the book, and that I can attest to and that they gave them the fireplace instruments for the camp.
JM:When I was doing Dwight (See file #107 Dwight Collin) he was very specific about how good your people had to been to him and his family and how generous they were. He really waxed eloquent about that and was so pleased that there was something in Wish-Come-True that they had been able to do as a gift. Now we are going to talk about parties. You were going to tell me a story about a roast sheep.
RO’B:Oh on a couple of occasions, the first one I remember was up at Wish-Come-True on the tennis court as we called the lawn behind the house because many years ago it was a tennis court, my mother organized a roast, a whole roast lamb on a spit. I cannot tell you what the occasion was, whether it was a wedding anniversary or what. My mother and father were both born in June and their wedding anniversary was in June. June is not usually a time when you have parties on Mt. Riga. I remember how it was done by building, not a deep pit, but a thing in the ground and putting a lot of stones in it, building a fire and then a pipe and placing the animal on the pipe. As a matter of fact, I learned from that one that you have to bore some holes in the pipe and put some wire through it because otherwise, you turn the pipe and the animal stays in one spot.
JM:Yep it would and you want it roasted on all sides.
RO’B:You want to be able to turn it which is the whole idea of a spit. When they opened the tennis courts in the 1950’s, early ‘60’s I think, we were still at Castinook and they decided that they were going to roast a lamb in the field by the forge which is really a blast furnace even though they call it a forge. At that point we were old enough to tend the fire. The thing was you had to get a big pile of wood and start the fire early in the morning; you built the fire and let it burn down. A friend of mine from White Plains Billy Gallagher was there with me. We were staying in Castinook and we were given this detail to keep the fire going from 8 o’clock in the morning until whenever they were going to start cooking. Then they put the meat on there. We just had to tend the fire, not touch it, but watch things. The whole crowd of them- my mother and probably my father, Frank Collin Van Griggs, Charlie Sawtelle, and his wife, Frank’s wife Margaret, probably Jim Dresser, Jimmy’s father they were all up on the Sawtelle’s porch which is Wentworth (See file #106 Fran Sawtelle and Pete Miller) which now they have built a deck around, but this was a little porch towards the road which was not all that big. So they are all up there drinking and partying and shouting and almost falling over the banister because there were so many people there. We were down in the field tending the fire; this carload of people obviously from New York City from their clothes, their accents and everything and cameras. In those days people carried cameras, with a neck strap and they were big. They drove up and they parked by the bridge there on the road and walked over to where we were by the fire. One of them asked about the forge which had been reconstructed at that time. It looked then pretty much as it looks now. They wanted to
know “where is the deserted village?” Because there was a road map either by Texaco or Esso that had a little thing down there that said “Mt. Riga, Deserted village” We were standing there. No they said “Mt. Riga, ghost town” is what it said. So they asked” Where is it?” We just looked up and here are all these ruckus things going on up there on the porch. “Right there!” They looked at me as if we were crazy or something. I don’t even remember if they took pictures. Of course we had no shoes on and probably no shirts which was the way we usually were then.
JM:Have you ever heard of the road to Babylon because there was a little hamlet of about three cabins called Babylon?
RO’B:No, I don’t know about that.
JM:Tell me about the square dances at Mt. Washington, Mass.
RO’B:They were at the church at the crossroads up there. When we were teenagers, somebody got the idea that it would be fun to go to these dances. I don’t know whether we were invited or not. We were welcomed. We should take Chiefy and the farm cart and put all the kids in there and go up there. I don’t think we had hay in it, we had more like pillows. People did come by cars also, but there was more than one occasion when we went. Some summers we went more than one time, I think they had them every week. It was quite popular. I remember getting cowboy boots and I think it probably had something to do with the square dancing. We never wore shoes otherwise. It was good fun.
JM:Yes it would. That would be part of the attire. Would you take the girls and the boys?
RO’B:Oh yes both the girls and the boys. In my generation there were always more girls than boys. There were 2 Sawtelle boys, but all the other families had girls.
JM:When you had Mt. Riga parties, where were they located?
RO’B:They were in various places. That ones I remember best were at the farmhouse, Collin’s place or in our living room at Wish-Come-True which during most of those years belonged to Uncle Ambrose. They were also at Frank McCabe’s, the Dresser’s; they were a very normal occurrence up there. It was pretty much what people did on nights or the weekends. The reason for those was that there were pianos in those two places. Somebody, usually Margaret Collin, would play the piano and everybody would sing. In the farm house sometimes Bim Collin, when he was at Yale and for years afterwards, was very much into real old time country music and playing the banjo. He used to bring friends up from Yale who were very good musicians. So they would sometimes play and sing; that was more like a performance. It never stopped us from singing. We would sing all the time.
JM:You said that the liquid refreshment was generally beer?
RO’B:Generally beer, I mean at a party you pretty much had to have a keg of beer, not that people didn’t drink other things, but it was sort of the idea when you had a party, you would go get a keg of beer or 2 kegs of beer. When they had softball games, they used to have a keg of beer by the back stop at the softball game.
JM:The Mountain Lions and the Lilies of the Valley
RO’B:The Lilies of the Valley (town team) would play softball.
JM:What haven’t I asked you, before we close, that I should? Or what would you like to add to this interview?
RO’B:There are a couple of things. 1. During my childhood the mill was still operating down here on the road (Factory/Washinee St.)
JM:The grist mill?
RO’B:No the wood mill, they used to wood things Salisbury Artisans so they used the water from the lake to run the mill. During the summer the lake level would go down. Now it pretty much stays the same level. People got used to the lake being full all the time. I think that is affecting the quality of the water and the amount of organic material growing in the lake. I am not advocating running out the water, but I am saying that I think when the mill shut down; we changed our water management policy without giving it any thought as to the consequences, just because we always wanted to have more water for swimming and boating. 2. The other thing related to the lake when I was a kid, I remember when the first sunfish came. They were a kit and you had to assembly it. You had to buy it and put it together. Before that sailboats were bigger and it was very hard to sail on Mt. Riga. There were a couple of boats. Sail were made of canvas. If you tipped the boat over, it would take a full day to dry it out and you would have to drag it up on the shore. It was hard. So ailing wasn’t nearly as much fun although we tried it a little bit. Now with nylon sails and little things like sunfish and sailfish and paddleboards makes a change that I think is worth documenting.
JM:Absolutely, because that is the whole point of helping document the changes from candles, to kerosene, to generators to whatever. This has been absolutely fabulous. Thank you so very much.
RO’B:You are welcome.