These people profiles were first published in Maynard's newspaper, the Beacon-Villager, and then assembled into Chapter 6 of the 2014 book "Hidden History of Maynard."
Poet Laureate of Maynard
|Men on their way to Marlboro after Maynard
voted itself 'dry' in 1915 (3rd poem)
His topics were local: the woolen mill, a
town election, the bandstand controversy; and also general: the war, death,
motherhood. Quite a number of the poems had to do with efforts to ban the sale
of alcohol. This was a topic Kenyon appeared ambivalent about, as in several
poems he portrayed the harmful influence of alcohol, while in another he
lamented Maynard voting itself dry. Here are excerpts from some of his poems
(which will benefit from being read out loud). The first example is the
beginning lines from “Maynard's Woolen Mill”:
which flows by Summer
in the old town of
stands Maynard's woolen
A high imposing
the largest of its kind;
it answers well the
for which it was
It is not a thing of
though planned with
it was ugly when
and it is ugly still.
if I had the proper dope,
should be made to do a
with their necks inside a
For the men who rob our
of their meat and of
should be hung from some
and left there till
Next example: April 1915, and the town of
Maynard had just voted itself dry. The neighboring towns were consistently dry,
but Maynard flip-flopped from year to year. Prohibition was town-by-town,
county-by-county or state-by-state before it became Federal law in 1919. From
the start of “The Wail of the Wets”:
For no one seems to know.
Now, just how quick can
we make the trip,
from here to Marlboro?
For spring is here and we
we don't care what you
So we ask you, what shall
after the first of May?
Titanic Disaster Affected Maynard Resident
The RMS Titanic sank in
1912. Per accounts in the February 14, 1913 issues of the Maynard News and the
Concord Enterprise, Frances M. Ford filed a lawsuit against the White Star Line
for losses suffered in the disaster. Miss Ford had crossed the Atlantic in
1911. She found work as a domestic servant. Her letters to her family, with
glowing accounts of the prospects of a good life in America, convinced them to
make the crossing.
Back in England, Miss Ford’s mother,
Margaret Ann Watson Ford, sold the family’s meager belongings and bought
tickets for herself and her four other children: Dollina, age twenty; Edward,
age eighteen; William, age fifteen; and Robina, age seven. Also crossing with
the Ford family was Mrs. Ford’s younger sister Eliza Johnston, her husband
Andrew Johnston, and their two young children. In all, a party of nine. Their
one-way tickets in third class cost a bit more than seven British
pounds—roughly four hundred dollars per person in today's dollars.
None of the Fords or Johnstons survived.
Miss Ford was living in New York at the time of the ship’s sinking, but she
became so despondent after her loss of nine family members that she gave up her
position to go live with an uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Watson, in
Haverhill, Massachusetts, later relocating with them to Maynard. It was while
living in Maynard that Miss Ford made the local newspaper by deciding to join
the many who were filing lawsuits against the White Star Line.
The sinking of the Titanic caused many
wrongful death and loss of property lawsuits to be filed in the courts of the
United States and United Kingdom. Claims filed in the United States alone
easily exceeded ten million dollars. A legal definition of ownership of the
Titanic would be crucial to remuneration.
The backstory: John Pierpont Morgan, a
wealthy American, bought the White Star Line in 1902. A nuance of the purchase
was that White Star continued to be registered as a British shipping company
with British officers and crew. Hence RMS Titanic, signifying Royal Mail Ship.
By doing so, Morgan avoided enforcement of U.S. anti-monopoly laws.
There was another benefit. White Star
claimed that the tragic loss occurred without any cause on their part, and
filed a petition to this effect asking for a cap on their liability based on
the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851. The U.S. government had passed this
law to make U.S. shipping more competitive via lower insurance costs. The law
specified that damages could not exceed the value of the ship at the end of the
voyage in question. Even if the ship was insured by the owner, the claimants
had no claim to the insurance payout, only the ship’s remaining value.
Nothing could be salvaged from the Titanic.
Morgan argued that the remnant value of the Titanic was only $96,000—calculated
from the value of the recovered lifeboats—thus leaving little to file lawsuits
Across the ocean, a British citizen
counterclaimed that since the ship sailed under British registry, England’s
maritime law should apply to his lawsuit. Under this law, the liability limit
would be determined by the size and value of the ship—in this case several
million dollars. Morgan initially lost his petition for U.S. jurisdiction,
appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and won there. Thus, all successful
lawsuits filed in the United States would divvy up only $96,000 (minus lawyers’
fees). But because of the ship’s registry, lawsuits could be brought in Britain
and would have access to the larger pool of money.
History does not reveal if Miss Ford was
successful in her lawsuit. On a different note, there was no mention of a Mr.
Ford being on the Titanic with his wife and children, the reason being he had
deserted the family in 1904, shortly after the birth of their last child,
leaving Margaret Ford to struggle in poverty as a single mother of five.
However, he joined the British lawsuits against the White Star Line and was
awarded a modest annuity.
|Babe Ruth in RED SOX uniform
Ruth was well off at the time but not rich.
He was twenty-two years old and had been paid $5,000 for the 1917 season. In
today's inflation-adjusted dollars that would have been approximately $90,000.
Baseball in the era before radio or television broadcasting, and all the
associated advertising, was America’s pastime, but no one got rich.
This story is not complete without a
connection to the legend of Babe Ruth’s piano. Again, Ralph Sheridan's
reminisces, as recounted by Allan Wood:
Sheridan recalled that he and his friends would play outside with Ruth. When they got cold, Helen Ruth invited the boys into the cottage and served them hot cocoa and cookies. “Mrs. Ruth would play the piano and we would all sing along, including the Babe,” wrote Sheridan. “He loved kids and always liked to have them around. And, always when we would leave, he would say, ‘Come over again and bring the gang.’ We were thrilled to be with him.”
So how did that piano supposedly end up in
Willis Pond? As one version of the story goes, a daytime gathering at the house
got overcrowded—the cottage being only twenty by fifty feet—so Ruth and others
pushed the piano down the hill and out onto the ice. There, they continued the
party complete with singing and dancing while Helen played the piano. When it
was time to move the piano back it was too heavy to push up the hill. So, the
Babe simply left the instrument on the ice, where it eventually sank to the
Kevin Kennedy, a resident of Sudbury, has
been searching for the piano for many years. Teams of expert divers have been
in the pond more than once. In 2010, a group of divers pulled out pieces of
wood, possibly white oak, that piano expert David Sanderson, of Sanderson Piano
in Littleton, believed was the veneer of an old upright piano.
Initially, lore of Babe
Ruth drinking or otherwise carousing in Maynard appeared to be just that. A few
neighboring town waterholes—such as the Dudley Chateau in Wayland—claim to have
been speakeasies frequented by Ruth back in the day. The timing would have been
in the early 1920s, i.e., after national Prohibition was in effect. What is
missing from this story is confirmation of sites within Maynard that were
serving booze before or during Prohibition. The two oldest bars extant—the
Pleasant Cafe and Stretch’s Tavern (now Morey’s) —both postdate the end of
Babe Ruth could have been buying illegally
in Maynard and drinking at his Sudbury estate just two miles away. When he
bought the farmhouse in 1922, it included a simple cabin on Willis Pond about
half a mile from the house. Babe and his friends could head out there for an
evening of drinking, card playing and whatnot without disturbing his wife and
daughter in the farmhouse. His name for the cabin was “Ihatetoquitit.” (I hate
to quit it.)
A quote often attributed to Babe Ruth, but
in fact the work of current-day comic writer Jack Handey: “Sometimes when I
reflect on all the beer I drink, I feel ashamed. Then I look into the glass and
think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams. If I
didn't drink this beer, they might be out of work and their dreams would be
shattered. I think, ‘It is better to drink this beer and let their dreams come
true than be selfish and worry about my liver.’”
On the other hand, this one appears to be
true Ruth: “I learned early to drink beer, wine and whiskey. And I think I was
about five when I first chewed tobacco.”
First appearances were that Ruth was not
drinking during his Red Sox years. In Ralph Sheridan’s reminisces about
visiting Ruth’s cabin on Willis Pond, he said he never saw Ruth drink nor saw
any alcohol in the house. Babe Ruth spent mid-1914 through 1919 with the Red
Sox, initially as a pitcher, but by the end he was pitching less and putting in
more time as an outfielder. He was sold to the Yankees before the start of the
After two years of Ruth’s successes and
shenanigans in New York, Colonel Jacob Ruppert, the owner of the Yankees,
attempted to curtail Babe's drinking and partying. Thus an addendum to the
contract signed in late 1922:
“It is understood and agreed by and between the parties hereto that the regulation set forth shall be construed to mean among other things, that the player shall at all times during the term of this contract [$52,000/year] and throughout the years 1922, 1923 and 1924, and the years 1925 and 1926 if this contract is renewed for such years, refrain and abstain entirely from the use of intoxicating liquors and that he shall not during the training and playing season in each year stay up later than 1 o'clock a.m. on any day without the permission and consent of the Club's manager.”
This appears to have been the first morals clause for a professional athlete. Ruppert may have hoped that the Sultan of Swat would also curtail his compulsive womanizing, but did not try to get that into the contract. Supposedly, at the time of that meeting, the Babe told Ruppert: “I'll promise to go easier on drinking and to get to bed earlier, but not for you, $50,000 or $250,000 will I give up women. They’re too much fun.”
While a Yankee, Ruth and his wife made one
more stab at reconciling. He returned to Massachusetts, bought the farmhouse
and farm at 558 Dutton Road, in Sudbury, and took up the public image of a
gentleman farmer living the good, clean life in the country with his wife and
their adopted daughter. Babe was in residence the winter of 1922–23. After
that, his wife continued to reside in Sudbury or elsewhere in the Boston area,
but Babe was mostly in New York. They formalized their separation (not a
divorce) in 1925 and she sold the house in 1926. Mrs. Ruth died in a house fire
in 1929. Babe Ruth remarried, and remained married until his death in 1948.
After this column appeared in Maynard’s
newspaper, I got a phone call from Bob Merriam, Maynard High School class of
1962, with stories about how his grandparents, Niilo and Saimi Hirvonen, knew
all about Babe Ruth’s drinking in Maynard. According to Bob, during the time
when Ruth was still with the Red Sox (and liquor was still legal), Babe would
show up at the bar at Bughouse Corner with a big roll of cash in his pocket,
slap it on the bar, and tell the bartender “Everyone drinks on Babe Ruth.” Not
only was he buying, but he also insisted that everyone stay until the bar
closed, because he liked being around lots of people. He would have been in his
early twenties at the time.
Bughouse Corner was a nickname for the
intersection of Waltham and Parker, possibly due to speechifying Socialists,
and came to apply to the bar also. The latter was a low-key, smoke-filled
drinking haunt for workers coming off shift at the woolen mill. More than one
night, Ruth was too drunk to drive the two miles back to Sudbury (where his
wife was home alone in the remote cabin on Willis Pond). Instead, Niilo—himself
being a drinking man—saw no problem in inviting Babe Ruth back to his place,
where Ruth would sleep it off on the living room floor.
As Bob Merriam told it, “When I was growing
up, my grandfather was proud that he had known Babe Ruth, but my grandmother
had nothing kind to say.” What he heard from her: “‘That man would wake up in
the night and go outside and pee off the porch instead of using the bathroom.’”
When Bob asked his grandfather if this was true, the diplomatic answer was
“Your grandmother has a good memory.”
Another story about the Babe and urination
is not as well documented. As the story goes, he was an avid golfer, at times
played the Stowaway Golf Course (in Stow), and when he did, had on occasion
stepped into the woods to relieve himself. Some players joke that they may be
wetting the same spot honored by Ruth, ninety years ago.
Sid’s Airport (closed circa 2017)
|Sid Mason, wife, dog and his beloved plane
Sidney H. Mason created his backyard
airstrip in 1948 (the same year Orville Wright died). Sid was twenty-eight at
the time and an army veteran. He and three friends bought a used Luscombe 1946
8A in 1947 for one thousand dollars. The plane was a two-seater with an
all-aluminum body and wings, powered by a sixty-five horsepower engine. The
airstrip land was carved out of what had been an extensive Mason family farm
that dated back to at least 1875. In fact, back in the farm days, the family
had two runways, and many of the pilots in Maynard and nearby towns kept their
Sid was still flying in the left hand
(pilot’s) seat as late as 1997, at age seventy-nine. A few years before he gave
up flying, he had switched over to a 1955 Cessna that needed a bit more runway
than his private airstrip provided, so he started flying from Stow’s Minute Man
Air Field. Meanwhile, Sid's son—Jack Mason—had taken up his father's hobby
while still in his teens, earned his pilot’s license, and was flying a Vector
Ultralight in and out of the backyard. This meant that their landing strip continued
to be an active, FAA-numbered airstrip (MA52). Sid also soloed the ultralight
now and then.
Run the timeline forward to 2012, and Jack
Mason had just become the proud owner of a 1946 Luscombe 8E (a model with a bit
more horsepower than his dad's old plane). He won the plane in a lottery. By
choosing a propeller that maximizes takeoff and climbing power, he has a
vintage but modernized plane that can be flown in and out of the landing strip
behind his house. Thus, while the plane lives at Stow’s airport, Jack can start
a voyage from there, stop home for lunch, then head out again…or just step out
the back door and into an ultralight.
Sid Mason passed on to the big airport in
the sky in 2005. His life-long love affair with the air is memorialized by his
tombstone, as it portrays his Luscombe in flight, with the plane’s registration
number N72025 on the side.
Women at Digital Equipment Corporation
October 10, 1957: A short
item on the third page of the Maynard News mentioned that Kenneth H. Olsen and
Harlan E. Anderson had formed a new electronics company named Digital Equipment
Corporation. Both of them had been employees at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory before
striking out on their own. Ken was thirty-one, Harlan twenty-eight. They
started with 8,680 square feet of space, rented for $3,600 a year.
For the first three years, they were
producing electronic test modules for engineering laboratories, and in the
meantime working on Phase II of their plan: Digital's first computer, to be
named the PDP-1. By October 1961, the company had grown to 265 employees. In
time, Digital made Maynard the “mini-computer capital of the world.”
Olsen was a big believer in numbers.
Employees were assigned consecutive numbers based on order of hire, later
becoming their badge numbers. Ken was #1. Harlan was #2. The first two women
hired were Alma E. Pontz, #5, and Gloria Porrazzo, #6.
Women were not rare at Digital. From
perusing a list of the first one hundred full-time employees, thirty-six were
women. Years later, the main reasons Olsen gave for locating in Maynard were
low rent and a local work force with lots of factory experience. Many of the
women were walk-to-work Maynardites who had worked in the same buildings in the
woolen mill era, ten to twenty years back. The newly refurbished work area was
clean, quiet and well lit, although hot during the summers, as no air
conditioning was installed until around 1970. Throughout the buildings, summer
weather meant lanolin from the old wool-processing days dripping down the walls
or from the ceilings above.
Alma E. Pontz was the first woman hired.
According to her 2013 obituary, she had already put in twenty-four years in the
wool business before being hired by Olsen as the first administrative
assistant, and thus was more than a decade older than her bosses. She stayed
with DEC until she retired twenty-one years later. Gloria Porrazzo was the
first woman hired to work in assembling the Laboratory Modules and Systems
Modules. These products allowed Digital to be profitable from its first year
onward. The women who worked in assembly, informally “Gloria's Girls,” did
circuit board assembly, welds and quality control.
|Barbara Stephenson, DEC engineer
Women were promoted from within. Maynard
resident Angela Cossette was hired as an administrative assistant in 1963 in
support for DEC User’s Society. DECUS provided a pre-internet forum for
computer users to exchange technical information and user-developed software.
Cossette moved up to becoming the company’s first woman manager, in time with
as many as one hundred people reporting to her. In her own words “Digital
became very aggressive about giving women the opportunity to grow in their
careers and making it possible for them to move into key positions.” Cossette
retired in 1992.
Her comment reflected Digital's
self-realization that it had a problem with its history of male dominated
culture. A Core Groups program was started in 1977, evolving into the Valuing
Differences philosophy in 1984. The stated goal was for the company and its
employees to pay attention to differences of individuals and groups, to be
comfortable with those differences, and to utilize those differences as assets
to the company's productivity.
Fleepo the Clown, aka Philip Bohunicky
November 2014 marked ten
years since Philip W. Bohunicky, aka “Fleepo the Clown” passed away, a month
shy of his eighty-fifth birthday. Phil had been a fixture in Maynard’s parades
and celebrations for close to forty years. He, as have others, qualified for
the honorary title “Mr. Maynard” in his time.
Phil wrote up part of his life’s story for
the Maynard Historical Society shortly before he died. As he told it, he began
sponsoring and coordinating Maynard’s Christmas parade in 1966 because of an
event from his youth. His early memories were of growing up in a Catholic
orphanage. He described a snowy winter evening when the nuns told the boys that
after evening prayers they were to put on their winter outfits. They walked to
the center of town, where he heard a small band playing “Jingle Bells,” and everyone
joined in to sing Christmas carols.
Plaque honoring Phil Bohunicky
In his own words, “All of a sudden a huge
red fire engine appeared around the corner with its sirens and horns blasting
away. Standing in the back of the fire engine was a huge Santa Claus waving and
yelling ‘Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas! Ho Ho Ho!’ As Santa faded slowly in
the distance I was mesmerized, and to this day, oh so long, long after, I never
forgot when I first saw Santa Claus when I was only six years old and living in
In addition to starting the Maynard
Christmas Parade tradition, behind the scenes he also personally covered much
of the cost of putting on the event, a responsibility since taken on by the
Rotary Club. Phil also organized the annual Easter Egg Hunt at Crowe Park and
helped provide entertainment at the Fourth of July carnivals at the same
location. At many events he was joined by his children, and others in the seven
to ten age range, who performed as the Happy Toe Square Dancers.
Phil's main alter ego was “Fleepo the
Clown,” but he also put in appearances at children’s and charity events as
Grandpa Fleepo or Harmonica Phil. Many Maynardites remember Fleepo on WAVM’s
The Fleepo Show; or in costume, on roller skates, handing out lollipops; or
seeing him drive by—in costume, on his way to an event—with a very, very large
stuffed panda in the car as his sidekick. His license plate read FLEEPO. One
story that made local news in April 1990 was that Fleepo was hatjacked of his
signature antique top hat at the Easter Egg event. Sadly, the hat was never
As to how his clown name came to be: Philip
clown-apprenticed for years with Chris Sclarppia, who went by the name “Bozo”
(not the famous Bozo). Chris took the French pronunciation of Phil’s name—think
“Fe-leep”—and from there mutated it to “Fleepo.”
Out of costume, Bohunicky put in uncounted
hours supporting Little League baseball, T-ball and the water safety swim
program conducted at Lake Boon. He had served in the Army Medical Corp in
Europe during World War II, and appeared in uniform at Memorial Day and
Veterans Day remembrances. His post-war career was as an electronics technician
at MIT’s Lincoln Labs, in Lexington. Bohunicky died on Veterans Day, 2004.
Little is known about Bohunicky’s family
history. One source mentions both of his parents dying when he was an infant,
and with no other family member to take him, he ended up at St. John’s Catholic
Orphanage in Utica, New York, until he was eleven, and then lived with a series
of foster families. His good luck was the last family insisting he finish high
school, and then the GI Bill putting him through Massachusetts Trade School.
Phil's contributions to town spirit continue
to be remembered. Each year, the Philip Bohunicky Humanitarian Award is
presented at the WAVM banquet to a member of the town who exemplifies the same
type of dedication to his/her community.