Friday, March 27, 2020

Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 (Maynard, MA)

Revisiting a column written in 2018, so much more germane now.

Since the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 there have been smaller pandemics – the Asian flu of 1958-59 and the Hong Kong flu of 1968-69 each killing on the order of one million people worldwide. And now, COVID-19, a coronavirus pandemic of uncertain severity and duration.

Fort Devens, MA: Influenza epidemic afflicted thousands of soldiers. No
 ventilators. No antibiotics. Click on photos to enlarge.
September 1918, Fort Devens, west of Littleton, was a major staging area for tens of thousands of U.S. Army troops preparing to ship off to Europe, we having entered into World War I in April of that year. Fort Devens was also one of the two earliest stateside sites of the “Spanish Flu”, the other being among Navy personnel stationed in Boston. At Devens, the first case was reported September 8. By September 23 the number of men ill exceeded 10,500. Deaths reached 100/day. Nationwide, more than 675,000 Americans died (out of a total population 1/3 of what it is today). Worldwide, within little over two years, the flu infected an estimated one-fourth of the world’s population, killing between fifty and one hundred million.

Deaths were unevenly distributed by age and by region of the world. In developed countries – those with hospitals and nursing care – deaths were on the order of one percent of the population. With poorer medical care, more like five to ten percent, and in remote reaches of the earth where people had fewer prior exposures to any strains of influenza, exceeding twenty percent. Influenza typically kills the young and the old. What was unique about this flu was that there was a high risk of death for people ages 15-35 years, the reason being that their immune systems responded too vigorously.

Town of Maynard, Annual Report for 1918, shows the impact in late Sept.
and early Oct. The number columns are age in years, months, days. 
The fact that World War I was ongoing contributed to the speed the flu spread worldwide. Troops were constantly being moved. War-time censorship hindered knowledge of the extent of the problem. This censorship was why the popular name was the “Spanish flu,” as Spanish newspapers, in a country neutral in WWI and hence not censored, produced lots of headlines and articles about the disease, whereas in countries at war, bad news was censored. Without real-time information, communities within these countries were slow to institute isolation and quarantine.

Viruses have been described as being a bit of bad news (in the form of a strand of DNA or RNA) wrapped in proteins. For the influenza pandemic damage was threefold: 1) the virus getting into cells, replicating and then killing those cells so as to re-enter the blood stream to find new cells, 2) the patient’s immune system reaction to the foreign proteins coating the outside of the virus, causing more damage than the actual virus, and 3) viral infection damage creating an opportunity for bacterial pneumonia. The flu caused so much damage because it reached deep into the lungs (as does COVID-19), rather than just the upper respiratory system, and because it triggered a massive inflammation response. In effect, many people were dying of collateral damage as their immune system over-reacted while trying to neutralize the virus. At autopsy, lungs were often blueish, signifying oxygen deprivation, and filled with fluid. Those the virus-triggered reaction did not kill outright were at high risk of succumbing to bacterial pneumonia.

Glenwood Cemetery, Maynard, MA. People dying from
influenza who had no families to claim them were buried
 in unrecorded and unmarked graves. 
Locally, the arrival of influenza is documented in the Town of Maynard Annual Report, which reported deaths with causes noted. The first death identified as either influenza or “la grippe” dates to September 22, 1918, the last on July 21, 1919. In that interval there were 38 deaths identified as influenza and another 18 attributed to pneumonia. Combined, a bit under one percent of the population. Likely, twenty times that number had become ill but recovered. Schools were closed for five weeks. Theaters, movie houses, dance halls and places of worship were ordered closed.

Then and now, the goal of prohibiting public gatherings and closing businesses was to slow the rate at which a contagious disease spread. Slow, not stop. Slowing allows healthcare facilities to keep ahead of the demands for staff, equipment, supplies and hospital beds. Slowing gives time to test existing and new drugs, even time for work on a vaccine. Back in 1918 there being no antibiotic drugs to combat the bacterial pneumonia. Influenza vaccines were first mass-produced during World War II, used primarily to protect military personnel.

Surface proteins on influenza virus change so quickly that a new vaccine is developed every year. Preliminary research on corona viruses suggests that the mutation rate is lower, so that a successful vaccine could be good for years, and also that people who survived an initial infection with this corona virus will be resistant to reinfection.

Not in the newspaper column:
Interestingly, deaths in the U.S. may have been in part caused by a recommendation from the the US Surgeon General, the US Navy, and the Journal of the American Medical Association to treat the flu with very high doses of aspirin (8-30 grams). The theory, poorly tested, was that aspirin would lower fever and blunt the immune over-response, but it was not understood that aspirin itself could cause pulmonary edema. An example of too-hasty, try-anything treatment. Starko KM. Salicylates and pandemic influenza mortality, 1918–1919 pharmacology, pathology, and historic evidence. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 49(9);2009:1405–10. 


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Digital Equipment Corporation - Diversity

Digital’s core commitment to growing beyond being a white, male dominated technology company moved into higher gear with the hiring of John Sims as Manager of Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity in 1974. He rose to become Vice President of Corporate Personnel in 1984. Early on, the “Efficacy” program was available to help hundreds of employees to deal with uncertainty, take responsibility for their careers, and manager their own career development. In addition, in a 1986 interview for US Black Engineer, Sims explained, “Very early on we recognized that there were not enough minorities and women flowing into technical careers.” The company started programs in scores of high schools and junior colleges with equipment gifts and funding. The company also deliberately located manufacturing plants in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, and trained staff there to qualify for promotion to management.

This quote from Deborah Pace, who had been an employee at the Springfield facility, from a collection of quotations and tributes compiled by Gordon College in 2006: “I want to thank Mr. Olsen and his family for providing people in the black community with excellent job opportunities, corporate training & other great skills that were ahead of so many other Fortune 500 companies. Because of Mr. Olsen, his brother, and their passion to bring Digital Equipment Corporation into the world; a vision that help others to dream and realize their potential, I was able to work, purchase my first home, take care of my two daughters, finish my college education and gain skills that I will utilize the remainder of my life. DEC will always be a part of my life and memory. I would love to work for him again. I salute the leader, hero and great visionary man today and always.”

Women at work at Digital Equipment Corporation,
Maynard, MA. Second floor, Building 12.
Barbara Walker, an African-American lawyer with years of experience s Director, Office of Civil Rights, in the federal government, joined DEC in 1979. She started “Core Groups,” as monthly meetings at the senior management level, later expanded downward across the company, with the premise that “Affirmative action is for everyone.”  Walker’s training program began with self-assessment of one’s own stereotypes. Workshop participants were expected to build relationships with people they felt were different from them. People were expected to talk about how they felt victimized by those perceptions. These groups of 7-9 people met on company time several hours per month to discuss the different expectations of people who were racial minorities, were women, were people from different countries, of different religious beliefs, or were people with other than heterosexual orientation. Even within the confine of white male employees, the company came to realize that people in Engineering, Manufacturing and Marketing misunderstood the motivations and expectations of people outside their department.  

Women at work at American Woolen Company, 1904.
Possibly same room (ceiling higher?). Click on photos to
enlarge. Courtesy Maynard Historical Society.
The “Valuing Differences” program, which evolved from the core groups in the early 1980s, called for employees to acknowledge differences among their co-workers rather than pretending they did not exist. One of the tools was a mock questionnaire that inverted questions so frequently asked of homosexuals, to wit: “Is it possible that heterosexuality is just a phase you may grow out of?” A New York Times article from 1991 mentioned that the U.S. Labor Department had praised only three large companies for a commitment to affirmative action: Pacific Gas and Electric, IBM and DEC.

Digital was ahead of its time with this work. The company had a zero tolerance, non-discrimination policy toward gays, and provided for internal gay support groups. This was in addition to the diversity/differences Core Groups. Support groups were also encouraged for women. Managers who violated anti-discrimination policies were terminated. Were benefits quantifiable? DEC gained a reputation as a good workplace for minorities and women. The company attracted top talent, and staff turnover was below national norms. All employees felt empowered to identify problems and propose solutions. This fit well with a DEC mantra: “He who proposes, does,” meaning that a person identifying a problem was often charged with putting together a team to fix it. Clearly, it came to encompass “She who proposes, does.”


Wednesday, March 11, 2020

50-Year Businesses (part 2)

A handful of Maynard businesses present at the centennial made it to the sesquicentennial, criteria being no name change. Last week featured the oldest – this week includes those that just crossed the line.

Pleasant Cafe, est. 1945 Maynard, MA (This is the old sign,
currently mounted on an inside wall.)
Pleasant Café: Maynard's oldest food/drink establishment. Per the website: "Serving cold beer since 1945." According to a walking tour compiled by the Maynard Historical Commission, the building was built around 1899. Earlier tenants were the Cleary & Williams Dry Goods and Millinery, Jersey Butter Company, Arena & Sons Grocery, and the Royal Cafe. The Pleasant Cafe, also known as the "PC," actually dates further back. The town's 1936 business directory lists an establishment by that name at a different address. The current owners confirm that the family business opened at 157½ Main Street around 1934-35, closed for World War II, then reopened at the current site after the war.

Fine Arts Theater: Although the Coughlans, father James and son Burton, were both involved with Peoples’ Theatre, on Nason Street, Burton decided to build his own theater on the family property at 17 and 19 Summer Street. James had started there with a horse stable in 1897, later converted to an auto repair shop. Burton’s vision, the luxuriously appointed Fine Arts Theatre, with 400 seats, opened on June 29, 1949 with a showing of The Red Shoes. As a student, Burton had been heading toward the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but switched to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. He had a studio next to the theater, and was responsible for the murals that adorn the main theater and hallway. An adjoining second theater (later split in two), was added in 1969. One employee reminisced: "...the projectionist had to scamper across the roof to get to the [projection] booth for the smaller of the theaters." The theater remained a Coughlan-owned property – Burton’s daughter – until sold in 2013. Steven Trumble has been the owner since then, carrying on what the Coughlans had started.

John's Cleaners, est. 1963. Maynard, MA
Click on photos to enlarge
John’s Cleaners: Oldest mention is as a sponsor of the Maynard High School yearbook “Screech Owl” for 1963. Business may be a few years older than that. Started by the son of the owner of the Maynard Coal Company, with which for a while it shared the building. The site – with a two-story, wood-frame building – was home to the business of William F. Litchfield, Dealer in Coal and Wood, started around 1900

The Paper Store: Began in Maynard in 1964 as newspaper and magazine shop, by Bob Anderson. Over time, his wife, sons and daughters joined the business. Still family-owned, the business has expanded to more than 80 stores across New England and into the mid-Atlantic states. Intriguingly, the name appears to be far older than the business. Starting 1908, James “Jim” Ledgard had a store at that site that was informally known about town as “the paper store,” as it sold newspapers and magazines. When Babe Ruth, a young Red Sox pitcher at the time, was wintering in Sudbury, he came here for newspapers and dime novels.

Jarmo’s Auto Repair: Located east of the east end of Main Street, Jarmo’s is a full-service automotive repair center. The business was started by R. Michael “Jarmo” Jarmulowicz III in Concord, moved to Maynard in 1969. Previously the site had been Barber Chevrolet. The building itself dates to 1920 when it was erected by William Holly and John and Herbert Comeau for their moving company. Earlier still, the site had been Maynard’s two-classroom high school (1877-1892).

RAY & SONS CYCLERY Maynard, MA
Ray & Sons Cyclery: Serving the bicycle business since 1969. Prior to that, same site, same family, Ray’s TV. In the early 1950s, different family, different business: Millstream Café (restaurant main floor, barroom downstairs). Explains the fancy wood floor.
  
Maynard Outdoor Store: Under this name, just makes 50 years. An Army & Navy Surplus store opened in Maynard in 1950 just south of the Peoples' Theatre building. It moved to 24 Nason Street in 1968 and shortly thereafter changed its name to the Maynard Outdoor Store, one reason given being that Levi Strauss & Co. would not sell jeans to Army & Navy stores. Same site, 1942 to 1967, had been home to an A&P supermarket. A&P (short for The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company) was the Walmart of its era. Its self-service stores, with sections that provided groceries, baked goods, meat, produce and dairy, plus its low prices and preferential selling of its own A&P branded products, put thousands upon thousands of small shops and suppliers out of business. The façade of the Outdoor Store features a panel that reads "CASE BLD 28." Nason Street addresses 24-30 were once the Case Block, built 1892, home to W.B. Case & Sons, dry goods (clothing, shoes, hats, gloves, etc.). Case went out of business around 1935.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

50-Year Businesses (part 1)

A handful of Maynard businesses present at the centennial made it to 2020 – a year before the sesquicentennial – criteria being no name change. Gruber Bros. Furniture gets honorary mention even though the doors closed in 2015.

Fowler-Kennedy Funeral Home, Concord St., Maynard, MA
Fowler-Kennedy Funeral Home: This establishment will celebrate its 150th anniversary the same year as the Town of Maynard! Henry Fowler – a signer of the 1871 petition to create the town of Maynard – was an undertaker. His son Orrin S. Fowler followed into the family business in 1887. Orrin’s son, Guyer Fowler, moved the business to the Concord Street location in 1941. There, he continued the family trade until a year before his death, selling the business to John A. Kennedy in 1955. The business was renamed Fowler-Kennedy. Kennedy sold the business to John E. Erb, his son-in-law, in 1981. Business in turn sold to Glenn D. Burlamachi in 2014, to Matthew M. Farrow in 2017. Thus, we have a business without a current connection to the owners that gave it a name, but the occupation remains the same.

Parker Hardware: Thomas F. Parker opened a store in the Amory Block building (later, Gruber Bros. Furniture). Parker Hardware moved to Nason Street, back to Main, and then to its present location at 239 Main in 1980. An envelope in the Historic Society collection reads "Since 1892, Your Friendly Store", providing “Hardware, Paint, Oils, Etc.” The present-day owners – no relation to Parker – have been running the business since 1970.

Gruber Bros. Furniture, Maynard, MA
Gruber Brothers Furniture: The original building, three stories tall, known as the Amory Block, dated to 1868. A meeting hall on the second floor served as host to Maynard’s first town meeting, April 27, 1871. Julius and Benjamin Gruber started their business there in 1917, bought the building 1919. Starting in 1922, upstairs was Riverside Theatre (motion pictures), managed by Samuel Lerer. After a 1934 fire the re-build was to a one-story building with Gruber Bros. Furniture as its sole occupant. Next generation went to Burton “Burt” Gruber, Julius’ son. In a 1982 interview he had recounted a story about selling $69 worth of office furniture on credit to a couple of guys starting a business named Digital Equipment Corporation. When Burt retired operation of the business went to his nephew, Joel B. Cohen.

Gruber Bros. closed its doors November 2015 – three generations and 98 years as a family business. As Joel put it, "When I was 16 years old my mother sent me over to the store to help with a furniture delivery. Now, 54 years and one hip replacement later, it’s time for me to get off the truck and retire." As of 2020 the building is slated for destruction to make way for a four-story brick apartment building with retail tenant(s) on the first floor.
  
Hawes Florist, est. 1932, Maynard, MA
Hawes Florist: The Hawes family was operating out of Sudbury, with greenhouses. In 1932 Hawes opened a florist’s shop on Nason Street. Victor Tomly worked there part-time while in school, then in 1961 he and his wife Marion bought the business, as the next generation of Hawes family members was not interested. They moved the business to 70 Powder Mill Road in 1971. Victor still works there and his daughter Melissa is carrying on the family tradition.

Butler Lumber, est. 1938, Maynard, MA

Butler Lumber: Doing business since 1938, currently going by “Butler Lumber, Pipe and Stone”, the company has been at 67 Parker Street since 1947. The name comes not from being Butler family owned, but rather that it got started on Butler Avenue. Ron and Helga Starr owned it from 1973 to 2019. Mike Sawvelle then made the transition from long-time manger to owner. Butler offers construction supplies of all sorts, plus a wide assortment of tools, etc. That “etc.” is much larger than you can image, the concept being that if every possible thing is in stock, nothing will ever have to be special ordered. Wander around the store – excepting things such as left-hand threaded bolts – Butler probably has it.

Erikson's Ice Cream employees, in E-shirts (2011). Click to enlarge.
Erikson’s Ice Cream:  Hans Eriksen starting a dairy farm and milk delivery business in Stow, along White Pond Road, in 1902. Home delivery was by horse and wagon. His son, Hans Eriksen, Jr., returned from serving in the U.S. Army in France during World War I, and took up the family business, which by this time had shifted to buying milk from local farmers rather than milking their own cows. Hans Eriksen, Jr., moved the dairy to its present site, just inside Maynard’s border, in 1937, and started the ice cream operation next door, making 2020 the 83rd year in the ice cream business.

The fourth generation now manages the business and their children have put in time scooping ice cream. Over the years, Erikson’s has provided employment to hundreds of high school students. Many of the alumni make a point of stopping in at Erikson’s when visiting family or old friends still living in the area.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

ONLY IN MAYNARD (2020)

ONLY IN MAYNARD mugs
Nearly 20 years ago it was possible to buy ONLY IN MAYNARD bumper stickers, t-shirts and sweatshirts at local stores and at Maynard Fest, the annual street fair. The lettering for ONLY IN MAYNARD products was orange against a black background - Maynard's school colors. Then, for a while, the sole remnant of this endeavor is bumper stickers for sale at Russell's convenience store, next to Town Hall. Since ceased.

As of  February 2020, mugs for sale. 
See information at end of this column.

"Only in..." can have different meanings: "Only in Vegas," has one; the Only-in-Portland ethos of the cable TV show Portlandia, another entirely. Only in America was a TV show about taking pride in things American, while "Only in Boulder" is the motto of www.keepboulderweird.org. Life in Boulder includes the Naked Pumpkin Run: flash mobs of people running down streets wearing real or plastic jack-o'-lanterns on their heads - and nothing else except running shoes.      

The words on ONLY IN MAYNARD products were deliberately printed so that the right side was noticeably higher than the left. Best guess is the wording was askew to convey that negative, rueful pride that only in Maynard could things (town things, school things, people things...) be so humorously incompetent or fouled up.

The original bumper sticker
An example: use of snow blowers on the roof of Memorial Gym, adjacent to ArtSpace, during the big-snow winter of 2010-2011, was intended to save the roof from risk of collapse, but instead resulted in roof damage, leading to leaks and severe water damage to the gym floor, which had been completely refurbished only months before. In the end this contributed one more reason for demolition of the gym in 2012. 

Back in 2005, to counter the prevailing negative impression, a group of civic-minded citizens approached Jesse Floyd, the then editor of the Beacon-Villager newspaper, to see if they could take turns writing a pro-Maynard column featuring the friendly and welcoming nature of this unique small town. The column lasted only a few months. Only in Maynard.

An echo of that positive intent was conveyed in a 2008 article in the newspaper that read in part "A clever slogan, coined some few years ago, continues to describe our singular uniqueness, our melting pot citizenry and our basic values for the 'good life.' That slogan, ‘Only in Maynard,’ sets up the town as a special place where very special people do distinctive and exceptional things. This is especially true in the art of song and music as developed in our town."

An informal survey of people about town yielded both the negative and positive connotations, and also a third meaning - the concept of specialness. Only in Maynard can you see Santa Claus arriving by helicopter for the Christmas parade. Only in Maynard can you still find a local movie theater. Only in Maynard are the bars close enough together to have a pub crawl that might involve actual crawling (or at least walking) rather than driving.  

ONLY IN MAYNARD mug. Note TM after the D for trademarked.

Harking back to the origin, bumper stickers, shirts and mugs have "TM" superscripted above the end of ONLY IN MAYNARD, signifying that an application had been filed for a trademark. An initial check of the records of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office found no application was ever filed, the omission apparently qualifying as one more "Only in Maynard" example. However, further search found that a state-only trademark had been approved by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in September 2003. That one lapsed, but a new Massachusetts trademark was issued in 2017 to a new holder. As of 2020 there are ONLY IN MAYNARD bumper stickers, T-shirts and mugs offered for sale at various venues and events. Profits are channeled to non-profit organizations located in Maynard.

So, after all this debate, what does "Only in Maynard" really mean today? Whether it is only in this small town are people so warm, friendly and welcoming, or only here are things so ruefully, headshakingly messed up, or a comment on the unique nature of life in Maynard, my own opinion is that in comparison, bumper stickers reading ONLY IN ACTON or ONLY IN SUDBURY would make no sense whatsoever.

As of February 2020, mugs that are imprinted with ONLY IN MAYNARD can be purchased from David Mark, damark51@gmail.com. Price is $10. All profits go to supporting a program that plants flowers along the Assabet River Rail Trail. See www.trailofflowers.com. Also available at The Outdoor Store, Sugar Snap and the Boston Bean House.

Maynard's History of Banks

Approaching Maynard’s 150th anniversary, the town is served by Middlesex Bank and Citizens Bank. Of course, for many people their cell phone is their bank, but you don’t get a safe deposit box or free lollipops with that.

ASSABET INSTITUTION FOR SAVINGS
Facade has dates 1904 and 1929 for bank start and
this building. As of  1988,Middlesex Savings Bank.
The first mention of banking services in Maynard pre-dates 1900. The Assabet Manufacturing Company, under management by Lorenzo Maynard, allowed employees and citizens of Maynard to have money in interest-earning savings accounts; employees earned 5%, non-employees 4%. At the time the company declared bankruptcy on December 31, 1898, deposits were $132,000. According to the centennial history book, on August 12, 1899, assignees managing the distribution of mill assets paid the depositors 25%, and then on February 23, 1900 (after the purchase by the American Woolen Company), an additional 35%. [A different account of the event says employees got a combined 66 2/3.] There were rumors at the time that the mill owners and Maynard family had diverted funds before the bankruptcy, and that Lorenzo Maynard signed over mill property estimated at $250,000 to protect himself when the crash came. Such was the animosity that there was a failed attempt to change the name of the town to Assabet.

Starting in 1898, the Hudson Cooperative Bank (established 1885) – had an agent, not a branch – in Maynard. People could make mortgage payments and deposit savings with George Salisbury, who was station agent at the train station. This made sense because he could take the train to Hudson. George was succeeded by Charles H. Persons (main job, musical instrument salesman), and then by Frank E. Sanderson, who served as bank agent at his store. Frank is better known to Maynard history as the Town Clerk from 1913 to 1948, and also for being entombed in the Maynard family crypt with his wife, Mary Augusta (Peters) Sanderson (1874-1947), the great-granddaughter of Amory and Mary Maynard, last descendant to live in Maynard. 

Assabet Institution for Savings, the first bank in Maynard, opened on April 29, 1904. Its physical location began in the Riverside Block – building later home to Gruber Bros Furniture – then built an impressive brick building at 17 Nason Street in 1929, moved in January 1930. It survived the Great Depression, morphed into Assabet Savings Bank, and in time was acquired by Middlesex Savings Bank.   

Logo for Maynard Trust Company
bank, 1913. Click to enlarge.
The U.S. Postal Savings System was operated by the Post Office from 1911 to 1967. These savings accounts were popular during the Great Depression because they were backed by "the full faith and credit of the United States Government." President Roosevelt’s creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1933 provided security for commercial banks, lessening the attractiveness of postal savings.

Maynard Trust Company began operations in 1913 as Maynard’s second bank. The MTC building at 75 Main Street, under a statuary eagle and the founding date, opened for business in 1926. MTC was acquired by Middlesex County National Bank in 1947, the building abandoned in 1965 for an existing building at 25 Nason Street. Middlesex acquired Assabet Savings Bank and moved into Assabet’s building, adding “Middlesex Savings Bank” signage with an electronic clock and a semi-accurate temperature display.

BANK OF AMERICA
building vacant as of 2017
The United Co-operative Society of Maynard started Maynard Consumers Credit Union in August 1948. It was at 64-66 Main Street, later 68 Main Street, and lasted until the end of the Co-op in 1973. Bank-wise, there was then a quiet bank start-up period until the 1970s, when a spate of branch banks opened: Community National Bank (1973; at 52 Main Street), Garden City Trust Company (1973), Concord Co-operative Bank (1978) and Digital Credit Union (1979). None are in Maynard now. DCU had a branch office in the mill and at 129 Parker Street. DCU survived the end of Digital Equipment Corporation, but the closest branch is in Acton. BayBank Middlesex moved into the building at 25 Nason Street in 1979 and then underwent a series of name changes including BayBank, Fleet, and lastly Bank of America (2004), which closed its doors in the fall of 2017.   

MAYNARD TRUST COMPANY
building, as of 2019 vacant.
The most recent bank building to make an appearance in Maynard was 47 Nason Street, opened as Garden City in 1973, later housing Concord Co-op, then Citizens Bank starting in 2001. The company had started out as High Street Bank, Providence, Rhode Island, in 1828.

Traditionally, banks had impressive facades that often outlive the actual banks, leaving behind “ghost signs” on buildings that have been repurposed. “MAYNARD TRUST COMPANY” graces 75 Main Street. The building dates to 1926. The bank was acquired by Middlesex in 1947. Similarly, “ASSABET INSTITUTION FOR SAVINGS” is lettered atop Middlesex Bank, there since 1988.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Digital Equipment Corporation - Aftermath

Ken Olsen (second from left) at June 2006 event held in his
honor at Gordon College, Wenham. MA. Click to enlarge photos.

June 17, 2006: Fourteen years after Ken left DEC, an estimate one thousand former employees participated in “The Salute to Ken Olsen,” held at Gordon College, Wenham, MA, for a groundbreaking ceremony for a Ken Olsen Science Center. Ken has been a Gordon College Trustee since 1961. The Town of Maynard was represented by Board of Selectmen Chairman Bob Nadeau. Ken died in 2011; his wife had preceded him by two years. They are buried in a modest plot in Lincoln Cemetery, Lincoln, MA. At the time of Ken’s death he was survived by two children and five grandchildren.

DEC had stopped all company operations in the mill buildings in 1993. Not long after, same for Parker Street. The company headquarters had been relocated to a new building at 111 Powdermill Road, subsequently sold to Stratus Technologies. In November 1994, Digital sold the mill to a newly formed private healthcare company called Franklin Lifecare Corporation (FLC). The price was $1.5 million. It was a fire sale; during DEC’s last year the town had assessed the value of the mill at $25 million, and DEC’s property taxes were $671,000. Digital was not completely out of the facility. The Maynard Historical Society has correspondence about DEC leasing space from Franklin, and disputes about whether equipment was DEC’s to sell or had been part of the sale.

FLC’s plans were described in a prospectus titled “Mill Pond Village.” The intent was to start by finding commercial tenants for the buildings facing the mill pond. The follow-on was to create a massive senior independent living, assisted living and nursing home complex in the other buildings. The project was to have up to 800 living units, dining rooms, craft rooms, a museum for the town (!) and a café overlooking the Assabet River. Funding never materialized. The mill complex stayed mostly vacant until Wellesley Rosewood Capital LLC (Clock Tower Place) agreed to buy it in October 1997, closing the deal January 1, 1998.

Clock Tower Place numbering of buildings. In the compass rose, north and
south are reversed, but east and west are correct. Click photos to enlarge.
After DEC shuttered the mill and other buildings, and laid off employees, Maynard was not quite a ghost town, but it felt like one. Housing prices did not decline, but also did not increase at the same rate as neighboring towns. New housing starts and population growth stalled. Local businesses suffered greatly as the demand for daily services fell and weekday foot traffic all but disappeared in the downtown area.

An essential part of the deal for Clock Tower Place was an agreement with the Town of Maynard establishing tax incentive financing (TIF). The terms were that for increases in assessed value of the property – based on improvements to the buildings and grounds, and increased value as tenants moved in – there would be a 95% discount of property taxes for the first five years and a 50% discount for the following ten years. The TIF was approved at Town meeting, April 1998, and was to run July 1998 through June 2013. The TIF initially saved CTP more than half a million dollars a year. CYP also got a state abandoned building tax credit. Because of the tax breaks, Clock Tower Place was able to offer below-market rental rates. By mid-1999 the mill complex was at 50% occupancy, 73% the following February, and all 1,100,00 square feet full by the end of 2000. Downtown’s vacant storefronts were reoccupied in parallel.

Monster.com sign at Clock Tower Place parking lot
After filling the existing buildings with tenants, CTP was so optimistic about potential growth that it proposed adding a new 300,000 square foot building on the south side of the mill pond plus a five-story parking garage. Then, the business outlook changed. Three years into the recession that had started in 2008, the vacancy rate was hovering around 30%, with more departures expected. The death knell sounded when Monster.com relocated. This international job-search company had moved to Clock Tower in 1998 with about 50,000 square feet of floor space. Within years it had expanded to 300,000 square feet. Monster also had a visible presence in town, sponsoring blood drives and an annual road race to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Assabet Valley. In early 2014, the company, which had already been downsizing (having missed the social media impact on job search that had fostered LinkedIn), relocated all of its 600+ remaining employees to Weston.

mill&main sign for Stratus and Battle Road (tenants)
With Monster gone, Wellesley Rosewood was facing less than 30% occupancy, a $50 million mortgage, and an expired TIF. Clock Tower Place was put up for sale. The buyers, in 2015, were Artemis Real Estate Partners and Saracen Properties, having bought the mortgage and secured an additional $40.8 million financing. The mill complex was rebranded as Mill & Main. Lincoln Property Company was brought in as on-site managers. Remodeling included removal of two of the smaller buildings (10 and part of 2) and extensive landscaping. Town-approved zoning changes allowed for retail and restaurant opportunities, not yet realized. Heading toward Maynard’s 150th anniversary, Mill & Main continues to seek tenants for the building space and other options that could benefit it and the town.   

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Maynard Police Department

Plaque at Maynard Police Station showing
what is on the current uniform patch.
At the very first town meeting, April 27, 1871, the need for law enforcement was seen as essential. Three constables were elected: Fred Fletcher, William Maxwell and Thomas Farrell. Their responsibilities included keeping order, distributing town warrants, and for an extra $10 per year, school truant officers. The following month the town approved construction of a brick lock-up, 14 x 14 feet, consisting of two cells. The location was behind Railroad Street. Twenty years later, the town voted to build a new lock-up, also of brick, behind the Nason Street fire station. It was in use until 1934, then demolished in 1984 to make way for the Paper Store building at 36 Nason Street.

As late as 1900, the entire annual budget for the Police Department was $500 per year, but with the growth after the American Woolen Company bought and enlarged the mill, a larger police force became necessary. In 1930, crosswalks and yellow lines were painted in various places for the first time for traffic safety, indicating increased automobile traffic. A few years later police headquarters, including a lock-up, were moved to the building on the west side of town hall. The department got its first police car in 1938, added two-way radio in 1946, became responsible for managing the newly installed parking meters in 1951. Recent years have the meters bringing in about $40,000 and parking tickets $20,000.  

On October 4th, 1955, the department moved into the new combination police and fire station at the corner of Summer and Main Streets, to reside there for 54 years. After several years of planning and failed attempts to gain voter approval, a new station got a “Yes” vote at town meeting in 2007. The site was the building west of Town Hall, vacated by the Maynard Public Library, which had moved in 2006 into what had been Roosevelt School. The Board of Selectman attended the ground breaking ceremony on April 22, 2008, the ribbon-cutting ceremony one year later.

The police department uniform patch has its own history. From 1965 to 1982 it featured an eagle clutching arrows and olive branch, and a shield, all loosely borrowed from the Great Seal of the United States. In 1982 the Maynard Clock Tower replaced the stripes on the shield. Ten years later the shield contained the present-day Maynard Seal, with a smaller eagle clutching the US and Massachusetts flags. Lastly, in 2007, the eagle vanished, leaving space for the town seal centered on a blue background, with the words MAYNARD (above) POLICE (below). The trim on the clock tower image is shown as bright red. Through the years, the clock tower trim has been painted many colors: white, grey, bright red, and the present-day brick red.    

Maynard Police Headquarters, Maynard, MA
Present day, the Maynard Police Department headquarters are adjacent to Town Hall. Staffing is 21 officers (2 women) and 7 civilians, mostly dispatchers. Fire and Police Communications (dispatch) were combined into one communications center in 2015. Maynard has 2.0 officers per 1,000 population. That is below the national average of 2.4 per thousand. The completion of the Assabet River Rail Trail catalyzed a decision to purchase two electric-powered bicycles. Completion of Maynard Crossing, at 129 Parker Street, may necessitate increased staff.

According to city-data.com, the 2018 crime index in Maynard was 3.3 times smaller than the U.S. average, but higher than in its surrounding towns. ‘Crime index’ is a City Data score that combines crimes against people and crimes against property. The great majority of reported crimes are thefts of property. There has been only one murder in the past 20 years. Week after week, the police report in the Beacon-villager is mostly loose/lost animals, vehicle accidents, family disputes and arrests for impaired driving.   
The town was not always so benign. Back around 1900-1940 there was a murder almost every other year! Circumstances were the usual: robbery, revenge, jealousy. Lorenzo Barnes murdered Acton Street resident John Dean in 1896 after robbing him of $70; Barnes was the last criminal in Massachusetts to be executed by hanging. In 1919, Luigi Graceffa was found floating in Charles River, knife wounds. He had testified as a witness in a murder case in Waltham, and this was thought to be a revenge killing. Referred to in the Boston Globe as the "Mill Pond Murder," Lila Taryma, mother of four, disappeared the Saturday evening before Easter Sunday, 1953. Her body was found weeks later in the mill pond, lashed to a heavy radiator. Cause of death was head injuries. Her husband, Anthony Taryma, was initially charged with her murder. They had been seen arguing at a bar that evening, but he left and she remained. Anthony was not brought to trial due to insufficient evidence.

Police Chief: From 1902-1925, the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen acted as chief of police. After that: John Connors (1925-1936), Henry F. Piecewicz (1937-1954), Michael T. Zapareski (1955-1968), Albert J Crowley (1968-1980), Arner S. Tibbetts (1980-1986 as interim chief, 1986-1994), Edward M. Lawton (1994-1999), James F. Corcoran (1999-2012), Mark Dubois (2012-2019), Michael A. Noble (2019-present).


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Digital Equipment Corporation - the Decline

After protracted negotiations, Compaq announced on January 26, 1998 that it would acquire a downsized Digital Equipment Corporation. The deal closed in June. The purchase price was $9.6 billion dollars. DEC shareholders got $30 plus one share of Compaq stock for each DEC share. This for a computer company once second only to IBM, a company that had reached annual sales of $14 billion dollars, market capitalization of $24 billion and 125,000 employees working in more than 80 countries.

Stumbles in the end that contributed to DEC’s decline and fall were many. A simplistic, off-repeated story is that DEC had declined to get into the personal computer business, but this was only a small part of the problem. Circa 1985, DEC decided to compete in the arena of commercial data centers. This market traditionally belonged to International Business Machines, and to complete would require a massive increase in staff involved in sales and service. The employee population increased 26,800 in two years. Around the same time, senior management decided that the upgraded VAX system would no longer support ‘open architecture’, making it difficult for manufacturers of add-on components. DEC also decided that any purchase of a used DEC computer would require a fee to relicense the software that was already on the computer. Profitable short-term? Yes. Angry customers? Also yes.

"Clocktower" belt buckle for employees
who had been at headquarters five years.
The company was also strongly committed to vertical integration, meaning that it wanted to own its manufacture of components – chips, screens, keyboards – even when buying from independent companies would cost less. Meanwhile, competition had gained ground. Sun Microsystems and Data General competed head-to-head in the mini-computer niche, DEC failed in an attempt to compete with IBM in the mainframe niche (development of the failed VAX9000 mainframe chewed through $3 billion in critically needed capital), and while DEC was focusing upward IBM, all the micro-computer companies were approaching fast from below.

DEC’s crash was fast. The last year of billion-dollar profits was 1989. Total revenue continued to increase, but 1990 was only marginally profitable, and subsequent years saw losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Restructuring was rampant and continuous. People in senior management were leaving. There were hiring freezes, followed by offerings of early retirement and generous severance packages for those willing to volunteer to leave. The layoffs began in earnest in January 1991, including in Maynard. All company operations in the mill buildings shut down in 1993, the Parker Street complex soon after. Company headquarters had previously been relocated to a new building on Powdermill Road (later sold to Stratus Technologies, soon to become part of Beijing Royal School).

Ken Olsen, President of DEC
Click on photos to enlarge
President Ken Olsen, 65 years old in 1991, and the only president the company had had since its creation in 1957, was strongly against layoffs. From a May 1992 article in the New York Times: “We’ve lived through many recessions,” he said, “This is just one more.”

The company had weathered downturns before by depending on its research excellence to leapfrog the competition to a new industry supremacy. Staff were reassigned, but not let go. This time, no. In July 1992, the company’s Board of Directors forced Olsen to resign. For thousands of employees, working for DEC within the empowering management system and mantra of “Do the right thing,” this was a heart-wrenching event. A forum comment from one employee “I used to drive to the office in the morning, and I couldn’t wait to get to work – I love my job and the company environment… The company doesn’t love itself anymore. Now I drive to work in the morning and all I can think about is getting out of this company and doing something else”

Robert Palmer, who had joined the company in 1985 to run the computer chip manufacturing division, took over as president, also taking on the title of Chief Executive Officer, and later, Chairman of the Board. He was perceived as competent, but not visionary. Over six years, Palmer oversaw plant closings, staff relocations, layoffs of 60,000 employees and sale of many of the major components of the company. Downsizing cost the company close to $5 billion.

Poster for DEC's search engine, AltaVista
Even during the decline, there had been successes. Digital launched the internet search engine AltaVista in 1995. It was the most popular among many competing search engines such as Lycos, AskJeeves and Yahoo, until Google came to dominate the market after 2000. According to one source, Larry Page and Sergey Brin had approached DEC in 1997 with their Pagerank system, hoping to be acquired by Altavista, before going on to start Google.

DEC was not alone in suffering setbacks and contractions in the 1990s. IBM shrank from 405,000 employees in 1985 to 220,000 by 1994, and reduced its stock dividend by two-thirds. Data General, Wang Laboratories, Prime Computer, Lotus Development Corporation and Apollo Computer were all greater-Boston area computer companies that faded and folded or were acquired around the same time.

Was the sale inevitable? Probably not. With a different senior management, it is possible that Digital could have survived, perhaps prospered, but unlikely that it could have regained its aura as a radically innovative company attracting the best and the brightest. Instead, ex-DEC employees went on to populate the next generation of tech companies.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Digital Equipment Corporation - Logo Changes


Over its 41 years, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) went through a number of logo changes, some obvious, some subtle.  The original from 1957 was a vertically oriented black rectangle against a white background with the letters “dec” also vertical – within the black book white, but the ascender of the letter “d” extending above the top of the containing rectangle being black. The second version consisted of the letters “d i g i t a l” all lower case, the dots over the letters “i” being squares. Each letter was in its own vertically oriented dark rectangle. There were no white spaces between the rectangles.

Digital Equipment Corporation's first logos, including the
briefly considered all capitals "DIGITAL" in 1965
In 1965 there was an attempt to create a new logo with all capital letters, either DIGITAL dark against a light background or light against a dark background. This did away with the individually boxed letters. It did not ‘take.’ DEC reverted to the individually boxed letters, lower case, letters in various colored rectangles separated by spaces. The letters and spaces were not designed as white. Rather, they were intended to appear as cut-outs in the rectangles, so the color of the letter matched the color of the paper or piece of equipment the logo was on. The dots over the letters “i” were squares. For a while, the different PDP models each had their own color, but the transition to the VAX minicomputers settled to “Digital Blue.”

There was a brief period, circa 1985, when “digital” appeared as white letters within grey rectangles, separated by white lines. In 1987, the background color was changed to burgundy. The “i” dots remained square. A reason for abandoning blue not yet discovered, but one possibility was an intent to differentiate from “Big Blue”, the nickname for International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), which became popular in media in the early 1980s. That name has an unclear origin, but is generally assumed to refer to the blue tint of the computer cases. Not counting company name and logo changes between founding in 1888 and becoming IBM in 1924, its logo has been through changes: a couple of font changes, 13 stripes, and then the reduction to 8 stripes in 1972.

Blue logo, pre-1987. In 1987 the
rectangle color changed to burgundy.
Finally, in 1993, during the layoffs era, the DEC logo underwent one more set of relatively subtle changes: keep the burgundy, black between the letter rectangles instead of white, from squares to circles over the letters “i” and the ends of the letters “g, t and a” slanted rather than horizontal. This did not save the company from its downward spiral toward the 1998 sale to Compaq.

In 1993 the Digital logo dots over the
"i" letters became circles. 
And then there is being kicked while you are down and REALLY being kicked while you are down. The announcement that Digital Equipment Corporation was being purchased by Compaq Computer Corporation was made January 26, 1998. Two weeks later, Hewlett-Packard, a major competitor, ran an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Business Week, targeting DEC clients who might in theory be worried about future support of their DEC hardware and software by Compaq. The WSJ ad was a double-page spread, a tableau of white space, centered six-inch high lettering: “worried?” Each letter was in its own black rectangle. The two magazine versions matched DEC’s burgundy color for the rectangles. Smaller print at the bottom of the ads read: "You've committed to UNIX by spending millions," the ad said. "But if you chose a Digital system you're probably thinking, 'now what?' " The ad went on to proclaim that H-P's "dedication to Unix ... has never wavered ... and we're not going anywhere."

The advertisement, created by Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, was deliberately designed to mimic DEC’s logo. This triggered a cease-and-desist letter from Digital's lawyers, protested trademark infringement, so it ran only the once, and it is impossible to find an image of it on the Internet. In addition to quashing the H-P advertisement, DEC and Compaq ran jointly branded counter-ads that while not specifically naming H-P, promised “Continued success. Continued support." It is totally ironic that only four years after the DEC/Compaq deal, H-P merged with Compaq.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Maynard's Newspapers

I stepped out our front door a few mornings ago to get the Sunday newspaper, which is delivered in a blue plastic bag. Across the street was my neighbor and his young son. The boy pointed to what I was about to pick up, and asked "What's that?" 
  His father answered "Mr. Mark gets a newspaper delivered to his house every morning. It's inside the bag."
  Then the boy asked, "What's a newspaper?"

Concord, our ancient neighbor to the east, had newspapers long before Maynard warranted a bit of local reporting. The Middlesex Gazette was begun in April 1816 as a weekly. Between 1816 and 1852, Concord papers started up and stopped: the Gazette, Observer, Gazette & Yeoman, Yeoman’s Gazette and The Concord Freeman. Those last two, conservative and liberal, overlapped. Oddly, Concord had no paper from 1852 to 1875, news items appearing as a section in the Lowell papers

"Above the fold" for the Beacon-villager.
Maynard has been served by several newspapers through the years. Starting at the present and working backwards, we have the Beacon-Villager, for Maynard and Stow. It’s a weekly. It shows up Thursdays, home delivery and in stores. Holly Camaro has been the editor and major reporter since August 2013. Of late, it runs as 16 pages, but in the past was 24 or even 32 pages. The Beacon-Villager owner had gone by the name Gatehouse Media until November 2019, when Gatehouse acquired Gannett, making it the largest newspaper publisher in the United States, and then took the Gannett name. In Massachusetts, Gatehouse had already owned MetroWest Daily News and more than 100 town weekly papers, publishing in print and at town-by-town websites. Ours is maynard.wickedlocal.com.

The Beacon, started in Acton was the forerunner of the Beacon-Villager. It launched in 1945. In the summer of 1953, the Beacon Publishing Company was the first business to move into Maynard’s mill after the conversion from woolen factory to rentable office and industry space. As The Beacon and later The Assabet Valley Beacon it served several towns. In time this evolved to papers for each town, including Acton’s Beacon, the Concord Free Press and the Sudbury Citizen.  

Rolling the years back, “The Maynard News,” a weekly published in Hudson, servicing the towns of Maynard, Hudson, South Acton, Stow and Concord Junction (West Concord). It started in 1899, ceased publication in 1943. What is surprising is how little actual “news” was in the paper. Week after week, the pages were filled with announcement-type items, such as a wrestling match at the Finnish Hall, a lecture on the “White Slave Trade,” engagement announcements and school concerts. Apparently, the main function of the newspapers of a century ago appears to have been akin to what we now think of social media - personal items people wanted to share with the community. Most of the old issues exist as bound folios at the Maynard Historical Society (MHS) and on microfilm at the Maynard Public Library.

“The Enterprise Weekly” later renamed to “Maynard Enterprise,” predated “The Maynard News” by eleven years, and was also printed in Hudson. A century ago, individual copies were three cents, a year’s subscription $1.50. Advertisements are interesting reading: Distasio’s Market offered beef at 15-25¢ per pound. Lerer’s Clothing Store had men’s shoes for $2 and suits for $10-20. An oak dining room table with six chairs for only $25. Ford Motor Company offered car models starting at $700. To put all this into perspective, factory pay was less than two dollars a day. The Enterprise ceased publication in 1970.

The oldest record of newspaper content about Maynard is from an unidentified paper. What exists is a handful of pages in the MHS collection dated 1879. Among the typical coverage of bridge club outings and people taken ill was a mention that the Maynard family was vacationing in New Hampshire, and hoped to visit Mount Washington.

Thoreau – famously – was not a fan of newspapers. “And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, - we need never read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?” He also wrote that he had tried reading one newspaper a week, but even that dulled his awareness and appreciation of nature.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Digital Equipment Corporation - DEC world & DEC air


This is actually the 1993-changed logo.
Note black spacing between the
rectangles, circle dots over the "i"
letters and subtle font changes.
There was a brief time in the 1980s when Digital Equipment Corporation ruled the computer world, and it was epitomized by the annual DEC-produced, DEC-featured, one company trade show known as DEC World (also as DECworld). In 1987, the event brought 42,000 people to Boston. Just weeks before the September opening day, senior management realized that it had underestimated the housing demand, and that all hotels in Boston were 100 percent booked. The solution? Jack Shields, marketing senior vice-president, proposed chartering ships. DEC contracted to have the Queen Mary II and the Starship Oceanic, also known as the “Big Red Boat” docked at Boston for the duration of the convention. The event cost DEC an estimated twenty million dollars, but generated close to a billion dollars in product orders and service contracts.

Poster for DECWORLD 87 (internet download)
Click on photos to enlarge.
DECworld had started as DEC Town in 1982 as an annual convention for employees – primarily for the sales force to be made familiar with the year’s innovations and new product introductions. According to an anecdote from employee Jack Conaway, Ken Olsen showed up at the Digital exhibit at a CAD/CAM Expo on the west coast, and immersed himself in talking to DEC’s booth staff and the customers. A while later Ken's office announced DEC Town the pre-cursor for the highly successful DEC Worlds that extended this model to all the applications and industries that Digital served.

DECworld 1988 was held in Cannes, France. Two years later the company split the event: DECworld in July in Boston, followed by DECville in Cannes in September. DECworld 1992 was newsworthy on two counts: being the last ever of these conventions, and Bill Gates (CEO of Microsoft) as a keynote speaker to DEC’s major corporate customers. The event, April-May 1992 tallied some 30,000 attendees. Boston estimated that the event brought about $50 million in spending on hotels, meals, transportation, entertainment, etc.

Bill Gates, a tech superstar with a net worth of six billion dollars (who’s first exposure to computers was timesharing on a PDP-10 at his school in 1968), was there to expound on how a newly forged deal to combine DEC’s minicomputers and Microsoft software was going to benefit both companies. He went off script. Gates talked about himself. Or rather, his brand new 66,000 square foot house that incorporated software to run everything. The message was not subtle: software rules, and I am the emperor of software. And he was right on both counts. Microsoft’s current capitalization stands at $1.2 trillion. Ken Olsen, the emperor of hardware, president of the second-largest computer company in the world, was forced to resign in July 1992. The company downsized for six years, then sold what remained to Compaq for $9.6 billion.

Helicopter landing pad
Although never actually called the “DEC Air Force,” Digital had a fleet of six helicopters (more?) that regularly flew routes to nearby-facilities in New Hampshire, and also to Digital’s own gate at Boston's Logan International Airport. The landing pad in Maynard was at the rear of the 55-acre complex on Parker Street, currently being developed as Maynard Crossing. From an article by Jack Farley: “The helicopters were not executive perks at DEC; they were used by any and all employees who wanted to avoid traffic in going from place to place. This egalitarian policy further emphasized just how different DEC was and how indifferent they appeared to be to the cost of anything. In doing the case study, we were told that DEC had state-of-the-art video-conferencing facilities that no one used because it was sexier to take the helicopters.”

Paul V. McGovern, an ex-Marine and Vietnam veteran, was Digital’s first helicopter pilot. Most of the pilots were veterans. One frequent user of the helicopters described how she lived in Wayland and had offices in both Marlborough and Merrimack, New Hampshire. She could drive to the Parker Street complex, park, get on the scheduled helicopter, and she would be in Merrimack about twenty minutes later. There, DEC had built a brand new million square foot facility and out back constructed a little log cabin with a pot-belly stove and a location sign on it as if it were a railroad station to act as a place to keep warm while waiting for the flights to Boston. There was a downside, in that round trips were not guaranteed. If the weather soured or you missed the last helicopter back you might be stuck many miles from home. Fortunately, DEC also had shuttle vans and limo service.

In addition to the hired air force – helicopters and corporate jets – Ken Olsen was himself a certified pilot. He owned his own plane, and at times flew himself to “Woods Meetings” (senior management retreats) in Maine and New Hampshire – a thought that surely worried the rest of senior management at Digital! The solution was not to ask him to stop flying, but rather to insist that he have a professional as a copilot.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Decorated Tree in the Woods

On the Assabet River Walk trail, which can be accessed from Concord Street or Colbert Avenue, there is a fifteen foot tall spruce tree. It is the only spruce tree in the entire forest. This December, for the third year in a row, it has been decorated with more than 100 red, silver and gold bulbs. Toward the end of January almost all of the bulbs will be removed. Until then, anyone essaying a walk in the woods gets a surprise. Walking in from the Colbert Avenue end, there are silver decorations every 20-30 yards, in tree branches above or alongside the trail, decreasing in distance between them as the decorated tree nears. Think 'breadcrumbs,' marking the way.

UPDATES: January 18th, before storm, all silver and gold removed (except near the top, which will require a ladder). Also most of the 'breadcrumbs.' February 8th, removed all but about 20 of the red.



Sometimes winter adds its own decorations in the form of a dusting (or more) of snow. With a bit of snow only the red bulbs stand out, the silver and gold lost against the white snow.


With a lot of snow the whole tree folds up sort of like an umbrella. Snow-covered or not, best effect achieved by approaching the tree from the Colbert Avenue end in the afternoon of a sunny day. Distance from trailhead is about 1/3 mile along a root strewn trail. After rain or thaw there are soggy sections, so best to visit when the ground is dry or frozen.


Mid-January : all non-red bulbs (around 2/3 of total) removed except at top (because that will require  carrying in a ladder). By end of January most of the red will be removed, but a dozen or so will remain until next December.