Category Archives: Marblehead

Usually a memoir

The Book

Actually, it was a gift for Dave's father who was an editor on the Boston Herald Traveler.

Dave works on his memoir.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the stories that I’ve posted here along with those that appeared in the Marblehead Reporter. The total is 34.  But some of you may have noticed that I mentioned a memoir when I started this website in July 2013.

This book is still in second draft form and needs a lot of work before I can think about submitting it to literary agents. And the truth is that I can’t work on it while I’m teaching statistics at Washington University here in St. Louis, writing new material for the Marblehead Reporter,  generating weekly blog posts, and taking care of normal household responsibilities for my wife Barbara and me. To say nothing of the exercise—three mornings a week—that a sedentary occupation like writing demands, and singing in the church choir (Barbara sings in two). Something has to go.

The original draft of the book had fifteen chapters and was far too long. Now I’ve managed to cut it down and have three chapters of the new version ready for some feedback. Believe me, it’s difficult to produce a coherent and readable book-length memoir when you’re used to churning lots of short pieces as I have. Novelists start at other end of the process, and have a far easier time with memoirs.

I could keep up the weekly blog posts (there’s no shortage of material) but each one can take up to a full day to research, to write and to highlight with decent photos. So I need to hold off on the blog posts for while and focus on a few more short pieces for the Marblehead Reporter along with the memoir.

I’ll let you know when new articles appear in the Reporter and when I reach major milestones with the book. If the meantime, if you want to be sure of receiving updates you can subscribe to the website or follow me on Facebook.

Troop 3 Reunion

Dave Eckhardt and Bob Baum at the 2004 Troop 3 reunion. Photo by Pic Harrison

Dave Eckhardt and Bob Baum at the 2004 Troop 3 reunion. Photo by Pic Harrison

It must have been at my 40th Marblehead High School in reunion in 1997 that some of us spoke of Dave Eckhardt, the scoutmaster we hadn’t seen since the mid 1950s. Someone, maybe Tom Hansen, remembered that he had moved to Chicago, and on a visit there had tried to look him up with no success. Someone else remembered hearing something about Dave living in Virginia and had tried to find him, again without result.  The mystery of Dave Eckhardt rattled around in the back of my mind for a couple of years and I couldn’t let go of it. After all, I had played a role connecting him with Troop 3 in the first place. He had turned up as a border in the summer of 1951 in the house where we rented rooms at 18 Pearl Street when I was twelve. I mentioned that I was Boy Scout in Troop 3, and Dave, then age twenty-one, had jumped at the opportunity to get involved.  Fifty years later, in April 2001, I undertook an internet search and found a David C. Eckhardt in Virginia Beach, VA. I sent off a letter and received an email from him several days later. That evening we spoke on the phone for an hour.

Dave had four grown children and two grandchildren. What brought him to Marblehead in 1951 was a job with Sylvania in transistor research following his graduation from Carnegie-Mellon University. His young single co-workers, he told me, spent their evenings in bars, but he wanted to do something useful with his spare time — his explanation for his non-stop dedication to our Boy Scout troop.  He had discovered after his three and half years in Marblehead that he was better suited for sales than for research and had switched from Sylvania to IBM where he had worked mostly in Chicago. After IBM he moved to Virginia and began a real estate business. At seventy-one he managed an agency full time that dealt in condo time-shares. He added that he had raised his children through their teenage years as a single parent.  I couldn’t think of anyone better prepared for single parenting than Dave Eckhardt after his experience with us.

At our forty-fifth high school reunion in 2002, I suggested to Hopper Cutler and Tom Hansen that we might do a Boy Scout reunion and bring Dave back to Marblehead for a visit.  They agreed. After returning to St. Louis I dug into the job of locating as many alums as I could. I did a lot of this research using my internet connection at work during slack periods which my employer didn’t seem to mind. We had weathered the millennium bug thanks to intense preparation, and my job had become a lot easier. I started with a few addresses and sent letters and then emails. Everyone I contacted helped to locate others. The Yankee Clipper Boy Scout Council dug up old troop rosters from Marblehead going back into the 1930s and sent me copies.  Of the 41 alums I found 22 were willing to come on the date we had set: May 22, 2004. At the Marblehead end, Hooper arranged for us to use the Masonic Hall on Pleasant Street and located a caterer who did a marvelous job with fried shrimp at low cost. Buck Grader volunteered the Landing Restaurant for a Saturday morning gathering and arranged lodging for Dave Eckhardt at the Boston Yacht Club.

Hooper hams it up, again. Photo by Pic Harrison

Hooper hams it up, again. Photo by Pic Harrison

Barb and I drove east from St. Louis and stayed at the Harborside House B&B on Gregory Street. Eckhardt, it developed, was flying in from China, and had missed a connection which would delay his arrival at Logan Airport until late Friday night, May 21. Hooper picked me up at the B&B and we drove into Logan to collect our prize. Dave seemed refreshed after three sleepless days on airplanes. Except for white hair, he looked just he had in 1954. We drove him back to the Boston Yacht Club where Buck Grader was waiting; it must have been well past midnight.

The reunion was well chronicled in The Marblehead Reporter by Dawn Bucket, George Derringer and Hooper and Joan Cutler. “Pic” Harrison supplied great photos. Here, in part, is what Hooper and Joan wrote:

Mr. Eckhardt (Dave) spoke of his gratitude being sought out after so many years, what these “kids” had meant to him, done for him, given back to him – not the other way around.  A devout Christian, he told of his travels to Thailand living with a peace-loving gentle Buddhist family; or before yet another adventure, reading the Koran to better understand the Muslim family he would visit. …He shared his most recent journey: visiting a … Chinese English teacher. When asked to teach the class a song and poem, all he could think of was “John Jacob Jingle Heimer Schmidt” and “Peter Piper Picked, etc.”  Then Dave encouraged all present (former Scouts, families and friends) to look at life as an adventure and recognize that just Marblehead or just Virginia Beach isn’t our world anymore. He enjoined all to open themselves, to embrace, to learn what the world is and what it will be. With his four children grown and twin granddaughters recently born, he continues to live by own words, embracing life, sharing himself with them and others just as he did 50 years ago. Lucky Troop 3.

Dave Eckhardt at 79 in his office in Virginia Beach

Dave Eckhardt at 79 at his office in Virginia Beach

“Pic” Harrison shared another perspective:

In concluding his remarks, Dave Eckhardt said that, “life was a continuing journey and that we all had much to look forward to.”  After the applause Hooper Cutler, a third organizer of the event said, “Dave, why didn’t you tell us this fifty years ago!” For just a brief time while Dave was talking he was our leader once again, and we were the boys.

Next week: WRMC at Middlebury College

Sea Scouts

Marblehead Sea Scout in their whaleboat off Fort Sewell. from Hartley Alley's " A Gentleman from Indiana Looks at Marblehead" 1963

Marblehead Sea Scouts in their whaleboat off Fort Sewell. From Hartley Alley’s “A Gentleman from Indiana Looks at Marblehead” Bond Wheelwright Company, Freeport, Maine1963

I remained with Boy Scout Troop 3 in Marblehead until 1954 when I was 15, around the time that our scoutmaster, Dave Eckhardt, was drafted into the Army. Many of us knew of the illustrious Sea Scout Ship Marblehead, which had prospered in the 1930s, winning the National Flagship Award and appearing in a Life Magazine feature in 1940. All of those boys and their leaders went into the military in World War II and after the war the Ship was revived but dissolved a few years before I became eligible to join.

A number of us in Troop 3 lobbied our parents and sponsors at the American Legion to revive the Sea Scout Ship again. An adult committee, which included my father, met with Legion and Scout officials who agreed to re-charter the Ship to begin meeting in the fall of 1954. Our new Skipper was to be Don Sweet, who had been a member of the 1930s group and who had served in the Merchant Marine during World War II.

When we met, Don told us to scrounge surplus navy uniforms, both wool winter blues and cotton summer whites. My mother knew a man about my size who had served in the Navy. She drove me over to his house in Beverly where he handed over his old uniforms with the sailors’ bell-bottomed pants. We stopped at Almy’s in Salem for the Sea Scout patches which she sewed on the next day.

Each week we gathered in uniform at the American Legion Hall. Our skipper directed us to lay out the room like the deck of a ship with wooden stanchions connected by ropes representing the rail. He taught us the proper naval protocol for boarding a ship, including proper salutes and piping officers aboard with a Bosun’s pipe.

We needed a whaleboat which one of our leaders located in Georgetown. We drove about twenty miles one evening in his pickup truck with a trailer hitch to bring it back to Marblehead. The boat was a little over twenty-six feet in length with four benches, or thwarts, accommodating eight oarsmen. A coxswain at the stern used a steering oar to direct the boat while an officer sat at the bow.

The American Legion did not allow us to use the “Beachcomber” cottage across from Fort Sewell Beach that the earlier groups has used as headquarters. But they did let us store and maintain our whaleboat right behind the cottage where we could launch it easily at high tide into Little Harbor. We fixed it up, launched it and set out to practice our rowing skills with our skipper’s son Don Sweet, Jr. serving as coxswain. After several weekend trips around Marblehead Harbor we learned to handle the boat well and were prepared for a big event coming up in June.

Sea Scouts Dick Bridgeo and Walter Bartlett on the porch of the Beachcomber Cottage. from Life Magazine, August 5, 1940

Sea Scouts Dick Bridgeo and Walter Bartlett on the porch of the Beachcomber Cottage. from Life Magazine, August 5, 1940

Several Sea Scout Ships from the North Shore of Boston held an annual regatta at Stage Fort Park in Gloucester timed to coincide with the festival of St. Peter, the patron saint of fishermen. A naval vessel, a cruiser, made a courtesy visit for the festival and some of the Scouts rowed out in their whaleboats for a tour of the ship.

To reach Gloucester from Marblehead we rowed about fifteen miles across Massachusetts Bay taking maybe two hours with a light wind and favorable currents. Don Sweet, Jr. steered from his coxswain’s perch at the stern while Don, Sr., our skipper, directed from the bow. We wore casual clothes, saving our summer whites for formations and for a night on the town in Gloucester. We carried our clothes in sea bags in the whaleboat with us while my father and some others brought the rest of our gear to Gloucester by car.

We were pitching our tents in the park when I heard a scream behind me. I turned to see Don Sweet, Jr. running in circles having hit his hand with the back of an axe while pounding in a tent peg. My father tackled him, bringing him to the ground and held his bleeding hand steady. Don Sr. arrived on the run and bundled his hysterical son into a car for the short drive to Cape Ann hospital. They returned to the campsite a couple of hours later with the younger Don sporting a fat bandage on his left hand. I hadn’t expected my father to act so quickly. I was proud of him for his decisive action in an emergency.

That evening we donned our whites and walked towards the Gloucester fish piers to enjoy the carnival set up to celebrate the Feast of St. Peter. The crew of the naval vessel visiting Gloucester had shore liberty and wore summer whites just like ours, except for the Sea Scout patches. A small group of us, Dave Fleming, Paul Meo, Charlie Pike, “Pic” Harrison and I, stopped at a booth selling ridiculous joke hats. Paul Meo and others dared me to buy a very wide, floppy beret: yellow with blue and pink polka-dots. I bought it stowing my white sailor’s cap into a pocket and putting the silly hat on my head. We stuffed ourselves with hot dogs and other snacks and decided after a while to walk back to our camp site in the park.

We had almost reached the Gloucester Fishermen’s Monument on Western Avenue when a jeep manned by sailors with Shore Patrol arm bands stopped beside us. “Come over here!” the driver barked at me. “You’re out of uniform!” I realized right away that the Shore Patrolmen had mistaken us for sailors from the cruiser, and that if I didn’t produce my Sea Scout card quickly I’d be on my way to the brig. I snatched the polka-dotted beret off my head and fumbled for my wallet. The man looked at my card and said OK before driving off.

The next morning, a Sunday, we Catholics attended Mass, celebrated by a priest in full vestments in front of a tent in the park. Two Gloucester Sea Scouts served as altar boys. Afterwards we competed in a whaleboat race, coming in second despite an exhausting effort at the oars.

Our fathers returned with their cars to pick up our gear. We broke camp, and started the long row back to Marblehead Harbor. The current which had favored us on the trip to Gloucester now opposed us and the rowing got very hard. We put our backs into it but the water towers and other landmarks on shore barely moved in relation to us. After an hour and half we hadn’t yet completed a third of our journey. A friendly man in a powerboat pulled alongside. “Want a tow?” he asked. We tossed him a line and relaxed all the way back to the dock in Marblehead.

The Beachcomber Dory Club, occupants of the building before the Sea Scout took over. From the Peach Collection

The Beachcomber Dory Club, occupants of the building before the Sea Scout took over. From the Peach Collection

Beyond the camping expedition, our skipper and his associates taught us numerous nautical skills and took us on expeditions which included a visit to an aircraft carrier, a weekend at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire, and a short cruise on a destroyer. These Sea Scout adventures were the high points of my late adolescence, but I gave little credit to our leaders for arranging them. As kids we had no idea what it took to set these plans into motion.

Years later I read that Don Sweet Jr., had died in Florida in 1995 at age 55 and that Don, Sr. died in August 2001 at 85.    My mother kept the polka-dotted beret from the St. Peter’s festival in Gloucester at our home in Marblehead until it disintegrated.

Next week: Crawford’s Notch

Troop 3

Troop 3 Scouts at Bald Hill Reservation in Boxford, MA. Left to right: John Kohler, David Butler, Terry Soule, Jim Stone, Don Ridgeway, Bill Doane & Assistant Scoutmaster Bob Baum at Bald Hill. Photo from Bob Baum

Troop 3 Scouts at Bald Hill Reservation in Boxford, MA. Left to right: John Kohler, David Butler, Terry Soule, Jim Stone, Don Ridgeway, Bill Doane & Assistant Scoutmaster Bob Baum. Photo from Bob Baum (1920-2009)

I came into Troop 3, Marblehead in early 1950 just after I turned 11, having been in a Cub Scout pack at the Old North Church. We met at the American Legion Hall on Pleasant Street, a building that first served as Marblehead’s high school and was converted to condo’s after Legion Post 32 moved to the Old Town House.

Our scoutmaster was Al Gross, then in his thirties, a veteran of World War II and a businessman who, among other endeavors, brought the first coin-operated soda dispensing machine to Marblehead.  We met every Thursday evening, and under Al’s direction, lined up in ranks of four patrols, each with a leader. There was Senior Patrol Leader Tommy Hansen, Junior Assistant Scoutmaster, Barnes Ellis and Assistant Scoutmaster Bob Baum, who joined a couple of years after I did. I lead the Horse Patrol, which included Ben Chadwick, Peter Miles, David Fleming, “Pic” Harrison, Charlie Pike, Peter Gottlich and a couple of others.

Al took us to Boy Scout Jamborees at the Topsfield Fairgrounds, where we camped in tents and cooked over open fires. He taught to prepare steaks in a salted frying pan and to enjoy canned brown bread. We had along a supply of waterless hand cleaner in tubes like toothpaste – a jellied substance called No-No-No which came in quantity from one of Al’s business ventures.  You rubbed your hands together with the stuff until it turned into little balls of grime that you brushed off.

I found several cartons of No-No-No in the large open attic of the Legion Hall near the closet where we stored our camping equipment—the product had not been as popular as Al hoped. It might be fun, I thought, to remove the caps of the tubes, and stamp on them to see how far the stream of jellied hand cleaner would squirt. Dave Fleming and I disposed of about a dozen tubes this way, producing streams that reached no more than five or six feet.

In the fall of 1951, Dave Eckhardt, a young man from Pittsburgh, took over as scoutmaster. Like Al, he didn’t have a son in the troop, but he wasn’t consumed with business ventures as Al was. Instead, he had a full time job with Sylvania in transistor research which left his evenings free for us. We camped in the fall, spring and summer, first in Harold Parker State Forest near North Andover, Breakheart Reservation in Saugus, and then in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Campfire at Bald Hill, February1956.Left to right: John Kohler, David Butler & Jim Stone

Campfire at Bald Hill, February,1956.Left to right: John Kohler, David Butler & Jim Stone. Photo from Bob Baum

I don’t remember a trip to Harold Parker  or Breakheart without rain or freezing drizzle. One Sunday morning at Breakheart in the late fall, Dave Fleming cut his hand badly chopping kindling for a fire. Our Scoutmaster wrapped Dave’s bleeding hand in some cloth, loaded him into his MG Midget, and took off in search of a doctor. Meanwhile, deprived of adult supervision, we needed to get the fire started.  Eckhardt carried a five-gallon jerrycan of gasoline on the back of his MG, which we saw sitting near where he had parked.  The mind that thought nothing of squirting tubes of jellied goo on the floor of the American Legion didn’t hesitate to connect the five gallons of gasoline with the need for a fire.  We dumped it all on and tossed in a match. We jumped back as a huge flame erupted in the wet forest. Three minutes later the camp fire went out and left us wet and shivering to wait for Eckhardt’s return. He was back in an hour with Dave Fleming properly sanitized, sutured and bandaged.  After Dave’s emergency treatment, Eckhardt took him for a large green frappe which Dave proceeded to throw up. It was Eckhardt who got the fire started in the wet woods. After all, he had been an Eagle Scout and knew how. Sixty-five years later Dave Fleming still bears the scar.

Next week: Sea Scouts

Freddy at 18 Pearl

Liquid Joy

Liquid Joy

After school one day in 1950 when we were twelve, Freddy and I got to Pearl Street and found a small plastic bottle sitting on the porch by the front door. There was a large tag attached to it proclaiming that “Liquid Joy,” a brand new product, would get your dishes, glasses and silverware cleaner than any of the old fashioned powders could. What’s more, the tag said, this very sample of “New Liquid Joy” was free.

Neither of us I had given any thought to dish washing detergents, but we brought the sample into the house anyway. No adults were home. We took it upstairs to the bathroom and I got the idea of pouring the whole bottle down the sink. I did and ran a lot of hot water after it for good measure. After a while we went into my room which had a window overlooking the side yard. I looked out and saw a large mound of soapy bubbles in the center of the yard. The pile of bubbles billowed larger and larger as we watched. I knew right away what I should have thought of before dumping the detergent into the sink and sending all that hot water in after it. In the middle of the side yard was a vent connected to the sewer pipe that joined the drains in the house to the sewer line in the street. The bubbles were lighter than water, and like the sewer gases that the vent was designed to expel, they rose to the surface.  The bubbles stopped growing and, very slowly, began to pop. By the time the adults came home an hour or so later no evidence was left.

After I reconnected with Freddy in 2102, he and I were talking on the phone when I thought of an incident my mother had recalled, but that I had forgotten. Freddy and I were around eleven when we came back to my house at 18 Pearl Street after an afternoon of fishing in the harbor. My mother was fixing dinner and I asked if Freddy could eat with us.

“Sure, let me speak with Vivian and make sure it’s OK with her,” my mother replied.

“My mother isn’t home, it’s only Omama,” Freddy said, referring to his grandmother.

“Fine, I’ll speak with her.”

“She doesn’t speak any English, only Spanish and German,” Freddy answered.

“Well….” My mother paused and said, “OK, can you call and ask if it’s all right for you to stay over?”

Freddy called Omama and emitted a rapid-fire burst of Spanish. He listened for a minute and turned to my mother and said, “It’s OK.”

Later my mother told me that she had been uneasy. After all, she didn’t want to get into hot water with Vivian, a very strict European-style parent, but she also  wasn’t about to deprive Freddy of dinner.

At age twelve, I knew nothing about Omama except that she and Vivian spoke in German.  For all I knew she could have been the witch from “Hansel and Gretel.”

When I told the story to Freddy he laughed. “Omama’s English was fine,” he said, “She could speak six languages.”  I had forgotten that he had said that she had been married to an Englishman in Argentina for many years. Now we both laughed. At age eleven, Freddy had bamboozled  my mother about his grandmother’s English and gotten away with it. But something about what he said had ignited my curiosity about Omama. His truthful account had liberated her from the fairy tale in my mind.  “If Freddy’s grandmother looked and sounded so Germanic, wouldn’t her name have been something like Hilde or Gertrude?,” I wondered. What was Omama’s name, I asked Freddy.

“Her name was Margaret Lewis,”

Next week; Camp Norshoco