NARRATOR: David Wood
INTERVIEWER: Kate Stout
PLACE: Seven Gardener Street, Nantucket, Massachusetts
DATE: Not given on tape
STOUT: --Nantucket Historical Association oral history program. The subject of this interview is David H. Wood, 7 Gardener Street, Nantucket, Massachusetts. The interviewer is Kate Stout.... Okay, good morning. We're going to be interviewing David H. Wood. David, what's the "H" stand for?
STOUT: Is that a family name?
WOOD: It's my mother's family's name, yeah.
STOUT: Is that H-a-m-- ?
WOOD: "B"--H-a-m-b-l-i-n. They were a family that came to this--to the island from the cape. There are a lot of Hamblins. There's Hamblin Pond and Hamblin Road ____ on the cape. They were a farming family over there, and some of them came to the island-- I don't know when--probably late in the Eighteenth or early in the Nineteenth Century. And they owned that piece of land up on Perth Road, which is roughly bounded today by Cliff Road, Kimball Street or Kimball Road, and it's from the time you turn out of the--on Liberty Street into Cliff Road and make a left turn. It's all that property on the right-hand side until you get to the road that leads up to the Sherbourne Turnpike.
STOUT: That's a nice piece of land!
WOOD: It was all farm land. They farmed it.
STOUT: Yeah. Do you know what they were farming?
WOOD: They had-- He had-- They had cows, hens, and some Hamblin brothers would have been my grandmother's brothers. My great uncles farmed that over a period of years. Then gradually they sold off the land, probably in the twenties--early thirties--needless to say, for peanuts.
STOUT: ____, and also-- And so, what happened to the farming end of that? Did they just--did it ____?
WOOD: I think when my mother's Uncle Tom died-- He was the unmarried Hamblin brother, and he farmed. And I think when he died--became infirm--I think the farming pretty well went out the window.
STOUT: And that was the early part of this century?
WOOD: Yeah-- Well, yes it would have been. My mother born in 1904 and lived up there. And of course, from the time she was six until she got married in 1922. And so, it would have been some time in that time frame. I mean, she knew Uncle Tom.
STOUT: And she was Virginia Toby[sp?].
WOOD: She was Virginia Toby. Her mother was a Hamblin. Her mother was-- The Hamblin family of that generation-- She would have been my mother's mother, my grandmother, obviously. I never knew her. She died in November of '22, and I was born in March of '23. She was the only girl in that family. All the rest were boys. I think there were--oh, dear, four maybe, I guess. There was Tom and Ed and George and Oscar. Yeah, there were four--Tom, Ed, George, and Oscar. And then my mother's mother, who was--whose name was Edith Hamblin. She married Harry Toby. Harry Toby was a real estate dealer here on the island for a long while.
STOUT: Back then, even?
Back then-- Well, it was much different--a much
different real estate market, obviously, in those
days than it is now. No seven figure properties
were changing hands. In fact, they would be lucky
if it was five figures, I guess.
No, he-- The Tobys also came over from the cape. They're sort of an interesting family. They were all over the place. I think they-- They were sort of an uppity feeling family. I think they always felt that they were sort of the cat's meow. I mean, it was a nice family. My mother's father, I guess-- I never knew him, of course, but he-- When my mother and father got married in 1922 of April, and then her mother died in November of '22, and he took the two boys. My mother had two younger boys, Albert and Breckenridge--named for Breckenridge Long who had the big house up there on the cliff. When they went-- They went to Florida--Tobys went to Florida, my grandfather with his two sons. So that's the Hamblin and Toby part of it in a nutshell.
STOUT: And the Woods? When did they arrive?
WOOD: Well, the Woods-- I often say the Woods don't really--have no real claim on the name "Wood." I will meet people named "Wood," and they'll say, "Possibly we're related." Well, you know, this is every chance there might be some distant, distant relationship, but not on the Wood name, because my great grandfather--this man up here, who was the last surviving Civil War veteran in this town and also in the Northeastern part of the United States--
STOUT: And his name was?
WOOD: James H. Wood, and he died in 1943, May of 1943, at the age of 97, having served in both the Army and the Navy in the Civil War. Came back here as a cod fisherman off Siasconset shore, started a livery business with his horse and carriage. Lived on-- He had two houses, one on York Street, one up on Cliff Road. He was a feisty old guy! Obviously you'd have to be feisty to live to 97!
STOUT: And to fight in two different armed services.
WOOD: And to fight in two different armed services, which created-- When he eventually, in his older age, applied for his pension and so forth, considerably fouled up the records of the War Department or whatever they were. They were for a long time forwarding the thing, because they couldn't believe that he'd been in two branches. Who knows why--how it happened, but it did. I wish I had sat down with him with a tape recorder as I'm sitting here with this one, because it would have been fascinating!
STOUT: And isn't that the truth?
WOOD: Yeah, yeah. So we lost out, or most of it's lost. I mean, the only story of his that we repeat in the family is the story of his shaking Abraham Lincoln's hand at the end of the war--towards the end of the war.
STOUT: Not at Appomattox?
WOOD: No, no. It was in Washington, apparently. There are two different stories. The story he always used to tell was he was sent in to do guard duty in Washington. He was in an encampment on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., and a group of men were sent in to do guard duty. This was-- Well, it was obviously before April of 1865. Must have been late February or March--winter, anyway, when it was cold. And he was patrolling. He didn't even know where he was patrolling, but obviously it was the White House. It was a big building and a long, empty corridor, and then all of a sudden this figure appeared and asked him where he was from-- "Where are you from, boy?" And my grandfather said, "Nantucket, sir." And he said, "Well, you can go home to your mother very soon. The war's almost over!"
STOUT: That was one version?
WOOD: That's one version, yeah. The other version was that it was in an encampment where Lincoln was ____. But the fact was that he did actually-- He didn't realize at the time who it was until afterwards.
STOUT: And we don't know how the Woods got to Nantucket?
WOOD: Well, the Woods got to Nantucket by Immanuel Wood, who was my great grandfather's father. Immanuel Wood was a-- Well, a Portuguese-- There's a Portuguese seaman, and the story that my great grandfather used to tell about his father--who died when he was a relatively young man. He was only in his fifties, I think. My great grandfather was born in May of 1846, and I think his father died when my great grandfather was only about four or five years old, about which would have been the early 1850s. He apparently came to Nantucket via a man by the name of Moses Joy who, for some reason or another, picked him up in a Brazilian seaport where this young man had jumped ship. He'd been on a British ship and apparently had been maltreated, and so he jumped ship. And the story that my great grandfather told was that this Nantucket sea captain found him on the docks and brought him to Nantucket and raised him.
STOUT: On the docks where?
WOOD: In Brazil. I'm not sure of the place. Santos was the name that he always gave, and I'm not sure that that's right. This is all--sort of becomes really more legend than anything else. I mean, he married a Nantucket girl--Nantucket woman named--
STOUT: Sally Folger?
WOOD: --find out now. [Interruption--checks a reference] ____ Folger's daughters--Susan Bowen married Immanuel Wood, and the name Wood was apparently-- I don't know whether--where it was picked up--whether that was the boy's name or claimed to be, or whether-- I have no idea, but I knew-- All of a sudden the name "Wood" appears, and I don't think you could ever trace it back.
STOUT: So it might have just been an acquired name?
WOOD: I think it probably was, yeah. Now, he married Susan Bowen, who was Sally Folger's daughter. And so my line to Tristam goes back through, originally through the Folger-- Some of them intermarried, of course, with the Coffins. Everybody intermarried with everybody else.
STOUT: It's certainly true. Okay, so now we have a Hamblin who has a Toby--marries a Toby, has your mother, and she marries you dad in 1922.
WOOD: Nineteen-- They married in--yeah, 1922.
STOUT: And how did they find each other?
WOOD: Well, they went to school together. They were in the same class in high school. Neither my father nor my mother finished high school.
STOUT: Did they go to school here?
WOOD: They went to school here, and my father left to go to work, and my mother left to get married. She was the first one in her class to leave. She married-- Well, she would have graduated in the class of '23, I guess. But she left and married in '22.
STOUT: She would have graduated if she'd stayed?
WOOD: If she'd stayed, yeah.
STOUT: Okay, so instead they were married in--when in '22?
WOOD: The twenty-ninth, 1922.
STOUT: And then-- And they met at school?
STOUT: And what did your father go off to do?
WOOD: My father went to work with his father in the taxi and livery business. At that time it wasn't a taxi; it was a livery business. They had horses, carriages, which they rented out or drove people in. They had a place up on the cliff, which was opposite Seacliff--opposite the place where ____ house now stands.
STOUT: You mean where they did business--from which they did business?
WOOD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was the-- That house that's there now, 36 Cliff Road, was my great grandfather's house. And he started the business, and the business was in the back. They had two barns in back there with horses and carriages.
STOUT: So by the time your father got involved it was a third generation livery business?
WOOD: That's right. Yep, yep.
STOUT: Okay, and was that seasonal then? I mean, what kind of livery did they have in February and-- ?
WOOD: I don't think they did much in the winter.
WOOD: I don't think they did much in the winter. And then, of course, when cars came in after 1918-- I don't know when they had their first cars, but it would have been in the early twenties, my father had all kinds of stories about going to the mainland and buying cars for the business and the dealers he did business with and--car dealers and so forth.
STOUT: Did he know Harry Gordon?
WOOD: Well, they were very close friends.
STOUT: Were they?
Oh, yeah. They were-- I don't think there was a
day went by that my father didn't check in with
Harry Gordon. They were great pals. My father had--
My father was one of the best judges of character
anybody ever met. I don't know how he came by that,
but he had a facility for smoking out the real and
the unreal. And Harry Gordon-- He said, "There's
nobody like Harry Gordon." He had numerous
stories about his dealings with Harry Gordon, and
they were all very good. My father bought a car
from him one time, for my sister right after she
got married. And it had come to the island on a
trailer. They had been in a fairly serious accident
on the mainland, but it was a fairly new car--practically
brand new car, and Harry had bought it for salvage
and then decided that he would fix it up.
So, over the months that went along-- He was a very persnickety workman. I mean, everything had to be exactly right. So he did the car over completely. And when it was all done, my father said, "Well, it's a nice looking car." He said, "Maybe I might like to buy it for my daughter. She needs a new car." And so he said, "Well, I'm a little bit leery about the fact that it's been in an accident." And Harry says, "I'll guarantee this car." Says, "If anything ever happens to it," he says, "all you've got to do is tell me, and I'll make it good." And that was never necessary, so it was-- Harry and he were great friends. They did business over years and years. In fact, I bought my first car from Harry Gordon--1950.
STOUT: When did you father die?
WOOD: On my birthday, March 4, 1987.
STOUT: Oh, he did? And what was the cause of his death?
WOOD: Well, basically it was from-- Well, actually it was from enigma, but it was-- He'd been having heart problems for a while, not serious ones, but he just had an attack and was very shortly gone.
STOUT: So, what did men like that do in the winter--in the off season here?
WOOD: Well, I think they lived off what they made in the summer, and, you know, I think it was-- Obviously it was a three- or four-month season, or seasonal work for almost anybody except, of course, the trades people like plumbers and electricians would be working during the winter. But people who depended on the summer trade, which was primarily what my father depended on-- But then of course gradually, as they needed taxi work here on the island, it became a year 'round-- It was much quieter in the winter. He might have only two or three jobs during a day in the winter, but in the summer, of course, he went from one end of the day to the other.
STOUT: Yeah. What did you mother do with her days?
WOOD: Well, my mother helped my father in the business by answering the telephone. She was the telephone answerer. We had a business telephone in this house as well as a private telephone.
STOUT: Before we go on, what was your father's name?
STOUT: And what was his middle name?
WOOD: Doane; D-o-a-n-e.
STOUT: That also a family name?
WOOD: Well, we never quite-- Yes, I guess so, though we never quite figured where that came from. My grandmother and grandfather had friends in New Bedford by the name of Doane, and I guess that's probably why they named it.
STOUT: Okay, so back to how he managed in those times.
WOOD: Well, they-- As I say, they had some business during the winter, but I think they lived off the largess from the summer.
STOUT: But you said as the--as tourism, I guess, grew, his business expanded ____.
WOOD: Oh, yeah. At one point they had four or five men driving for them. They had--
STOUT: Cars, by now?
WOOD: Cars, oh yeah, not--
STOUT: When did they make that transition, David? Do you remember?
WOOD: Well, it would have been-- See, cars first came to Nantucket in 1918, so it would have been probably in the early twenties.
STOUT: Do you remember him talking about that, or-- ?
WOOD: Oh, yeah, yeah. He talked about the cars that he'd had. He bought Packards, he bought Cadillacs, he bought Buicks, he bought--whatever. And of course cars in those days were ridiculously inexpensive compared to what they are today. You could buy a car for--obviously-- I mean, the Fords were selling for six-seven hundred dollars at that point. Five-six-seven hundred dollars. No, he had a stable of men who worked for him. Most of them are gone, now. I don't think there's any survivors. But they had quite a good business going.
STOUT: And you mother, you said-- You started to say--
My mother really was a housekeeper. I mean, she
was basically bringing up three children. But she
also helped out with the business--as I say, mainly
answering the telephone, doing errands, and that
kind of thing, and seeing that, you know, we were
kept in line and fed and so forth and so on.
My grandfather, you know, lived next door here. My father's father was very fond of my mother. She was the apple of his eye. She was the only person-- He was sort of a formidable guy--kind of a gruff guy, and she was the only person in the family who talked back to him. And no nonsense from him as far as she was concerned. And he came to respect that and like it, I think. Very fond of her--always said she was a great person. She was. But anyway he, when he saw that the business was taxing both my mother and father and that there were three kids who were coming along, he hired a live-in maid for us. A maid--lady of all work, whatever you want to call it, lived in the house here and helped with the laundry and the meals and so forth, so my mother had more time to help her husband.
STOUT: So she did get involved in that way?
WOOD: Oh, yeah. She was very much involved.
STOUT: Tell about your siblings. You were clearly child number one.
WOOD: Yeah, my younger brother-- That's him over there on the table.
STOUT: His name is-- ?
WOOD: James, for his grandfather and great grandfather. Glad he got the name "James," not me. [Laughter] He graduated from Nantucket high school, and he lived over at the church. He was wedded to that pipe organ over there.
STOUT: St. Paul's?
St. Paul's. He-- We were cradle Episcopalians. I
mean, my mother was an Episcopalian; her mother
was an Episcopalian. And so Jim, early on, discovered
the pipe organ over there and began to teach himself
to play. My aunt, my father's sister Lillian was
a fairly accomplished pianist and organist. She
wouldn't give him lessons because, she said, she
didn't want to give lessons to somebody in the family.
She didn't do much with it in lessons anyway. But
she gave him a few pointers, I guess, somewhere
along the line.
We had a piano at that time. I played piano, and he banged away at that. And then he went over--learned how to play the pipe organ. Spent more time over there than he spent at home, my father was fond of reminding him. [Chuckle] So when he got through high school--while he was in his senior year of high school, my father of course asked him what he wanted to do, and he said he wanted to study organ with E. Power Biggs. And my father said, "You don't have any chance of studying with E. Power Biggs! You haven't had any instruction--" so forth and so on. But he kept at it, and he wrote to Longee[sp?], which is the school in Cambridge where Biggs was the organ instructor. And he used to have a program on the radio every Sunday, half an hour with E. Power Biggs. Quite well known organist. He was British.
Anyway, so my brother wrote to Longee and asked if he could enroll as an organ student there with Biggs, and they wrote back and said well, this was not the usual form, but they had talked to Mr. Biggs and that he was willing to give it a try if my brother was willing to come up to the mainland to Cambridge and give a demonstration of how well he could play. So Biggs took him on as a student. Graduated from Longee and went on to have a career in music. He for over 20 years was head of the music department, an organist, and choir director at St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. And then my sister is the youngest. She was the baby in the--
STOUT: And her name?
WOOD: Edith, after her Grandmother Toby. She is-- She married a lawyer. They live in--lived--live in Manchester-by-the-Sea, North Shore, where my brother-in-law ____ practiced law. She still-- She has Alzheimer's.
STOUT: That's tough.
Well, it is, but it's actually-- In her case it's
fairly benign. She is-- She's always had a very
wonderful disposition. She's a very easy person
to know and to deal with. And she has a helper.
She's at home. Her husband died eight years ago.
And that family has had a very unhappy background. A lot of things when on there in that family. But she survived, and she's perfectly happy. Even though her short-term memory is not nonexistent, her long-term memory is still excellent. I go to see her every few months and check to see how she is.
STOUT: She got kids?
WOOD: She had three children, two girls and a boy, and had a lot--a girl, girl, boy. As I say, the family is plagued with all kinds of disfunction. My nephew, her youngest son, drowned in Salem Harbor couple of summers ago.
WOOD: The oldest girl is schizophrenic. Well, we won't go into all of that ____. Anyhow, that's the family. My brother has--had three daughters, one of who died two years ago of cancer, but he has grandchildren now.
STOUT: And where is he now?
WOOD: He's in New Hampshire. They retired from school, and they bought a house up in Bristol, north of Concord.
STOUT: So, what happened when you graduated from Nantucket High School?
WOOD: Went to Middlebury College.
STOUT: Did you really?
STOUT: And what did you major in?
STOUT: Good for you! What took you there?
Ha! ____ question, isn't it. Well, two things, I
think. One was two teachers that I had in Nantucket
High School, both of whom had gone to Middlebury
College--one to the summer school of languages and
the other to the liberal arts program. And they
spoke highly of the college. And I sent off to Middlebury
and got their booklets and so forth. And I was so
impressed by the-- [Chuckle] Hate to say this. I
was so impressed by the quality of the printing
and the design of the literature that-- It just
seemed so completely outstanding. And I thought,
"This looks real to me!" And so I applied
and got accepted.
I never took any college boards. I just got accepted on my grades and my record at Nantucket High School and, I guess, the recommendations of the two ex-Middlebury people, both of--well, one of whom had really pretty profound influence on me as a person. She was probably one of the two or three best teachers I ever had. Her name is Esther Cook. She was a teacher for some years in Nantucket High School. She taught French. And I took French for three years under her, and learning French with Esther cook was a pure delight--absolutely delightful. It was a wonderful class! There were only, I think, eight of us in there. At that point, Nantucket High School curriculum at the junior and senior levels was divided into college preparatory and non college preparatory.
STOUT: Why was that?
Well, they-- I guess it--in some subjects it was.
They figured out that they didn't have enough teachers
to cover if they divided the sections all through,
but what they did basically was to make the English
course, which was the prime course anyway, into
a two-year course, so that they could split--the
juniors and seniors in college preparatory were
together, and it was a three-year course. It worked
very well. But Esther Cook was a French teacher.
And from the moment we walked into that room-- We
used to meet in a converted cloak room of the academy,
and it was about half the size of this room. And
it was also where the main thermostat was located,
so every morning during French class Carl Appleton,
the custodian would come bursting into the classroom,
look at the thermostat and adjust it, and then disappear
out, down the hall.
But she was a fantastic teacher, because from the first day we walked in there, she said, "You're going to speak French." And we all said, "We can't speak French! That's why we're here." And she said, "Well, you will! And no matter how haltingly or badly you speak it, you will speak French. And the only exception will be when you need a grammar explanation. Then I will make the grammar explanation in English, and then I'll translate it into French." So off we went. It was great! And she was really a very formative influence, I think, on my life. Got to know her a little bit as a person after I graduated from high school. I used to come back and visit with her when I was at Middlebury.
The other teacher was a history teacher named Clyde Fussle[sp?]. He was a kind of a strange guy. He was-- Well, in the first place he was somewhat crippled. I don't know-- I think he may have had polio. He had a very bad limp. Quite a heavy-set man, very excellent history student and teacher. He and I did not get along all that well. I don't know-- I never did figure out why, but not all that well. Anyway, he did recommend me for Middlebury, so-- But Esther Cook was the one. And then my English teacher, Evelyn Tiews--T-i-e-w-s. She was a character!
STOUT: Is it possible that Eileen McGraph had her?
WOOD: Yes, she did. Oh, yes, she had her. And maybe Eileen's told you the story about-- It was a couple of years ago. We have a little coffee klatch. Well, it isn't-- It's a meal klatch, actually. Robert Bennett, whom I guess you know, and Eileen and Pat Gardener and I get together--well, every two or three weeks at least and have a meal together and go into our backgrounds and pull the world apart and so forth and so on. Anyway, we were meeting. And it was a couple of years ago, at lease. I think it was in the winter. It was up at Robert's place on ____ Street. And we got talking about teachers, and we said, "Wonder what ever happened to Evelyn Tiews?" And Eileen said, "I think she's still alive." So she went to the Boston-- She got the Boston telephone operator and found out yes, indeed, Evelyn Tiews lives in one of the bedroom towns around Boston or some place. We got her number and called her up. [Chuckle] She was--
STOUT: What did she teach?
STOUT: English. Yes.
WOOD: She was a terrific teacher! She was probably the real reason that I decided to go into teaching. She made the teaching of English an absolute delight to me. She's and excellent teacher and a wonderful person. And we got along very well. And that was that.
STOUT: Before we get off into college, what was growing up here like? What do you remember doing when you were not in school, for instance?
WOOD: Well, I was not your ordinary [Chuckle] growing up guy in Nantucket. I mean, my interests were not in sports and, you know, that kind of thing. My interests were in collecting antiques and books and it's an entirely different world.
STOUT: You were interested in collecting antiques as a youngster?
WOOD: Sure. I used to go to auctions when I was 10-12 years old.
STOUT: Now, how'd you get into that?
WOOD: Who knows! [Chuckle] I think it's born-- I think you're born with it. I think it's--
STOUT: Was it a love of your mother's?
WOOD: Well, no it wasn't. I mean, there was nothing in the family that would have supported that. It wasn't anything that I got from family. It was just-- I don't know. I think-- The people that I've known in my life have been collectors and dealers and students of antiques and so forth--and books. I think they-- I think it's born in them. One of my old friends is a very successful auctioneer in New Hampshire now, Ron Boujeou[sp?]. And when I knew him-- When I first knew him he was 15 years old, and he was pedaling a bicycle around the roads of New Hampshire, buying antiques for 50 cents and selling them for a dollar. I think that's-- I think it's somehow or other something you have in the genes, somehow.
STOUT: Were you looking for anything particular?
No, it's just-- I don't know. It's just one of the
things I had an interest--and old houses, too. We
used to poke around the old houses. And of course,
growing up here was a different--totally different
thing. In the first place, it was a two-season town.
I mean, it was the summer season, and then it was
the off season. There were we who lived here, and
then, as my God mother, Madeleine Lake used to say,
"There were the other people." It wasn't
pejorative. She didn't mean it in any demeaning--
It's just the fact that we were two worlds.
So, you know, growing up was-- You know, I was-- Robert Bennett was my friend from the time we were probably about 12 years old. We did all kinds of things together. We published a little neighborhood newspaper that we used to sell for five cents an copy.
STOUT: What did you call it?
WOOD: I think it was The Nantucket Journal. ____ some copies of it in Mother's desk. She found them one day when she was going through it. And we also-- Well, we did all kinds of things. We sold magazine subscriptions, and we raised money in order to be able to buy some stuff. And used to go to sales and auctions.
STOUT: Who had auctions?
WOOD: Well, the main auctioneer was Reuben S. Glidden, Jimmy Glidden's father. He was the auctioneer of note. Then of course there were a number of antiques dealers. One of the things I've been working on over a period of years that I've got to do--finish up and get into shape--is-- [Change to Side B of Tape]
WOOD: Well, we used to-- Robert and I used to go around. His uncle, by the way, also named Robert Bennett, was one of the dealers here on the island. So we had an "in," so to speak, with him. But then our neighbor down the street here, Annie Alden Folger, who lives in 16 ____ Street-- She was a descendant of Walter Folger. And she owned the clock which the present--presently is the property of the Historical Association--the astronomical clock that was made by Walter Folger.
WOOD: She was a wonderful old maiden lady. She was--and I got to know her. I used to go over there. I was-- I must have been a real neighborhood nuisance! I used to go around visiting all the neighbors. [Chuckle] I went over there and visited her and then gradually got to know her, because she was an antiques dealer. She had an interesting background. She was a-- Well, she was one of the movers and shakers in the Historical Association. She was an officer and very important to them and then left them a considerable number of her family heirlooms, including the clock. And so I used to go over and pester her. She had a shop down on Union Street in a house that Buddy Ayers ran as a lodging house. I think it's been sold now. It's the house that sits between Union and Washington Street, has a facing on both streets.
STOUT: Oh, yeah, yeah!
WOOD: She had an antique shop there. Very well known as a dealer--very well respected.
STOUT: Were they dealing in Nantucket antiques, David? I mean ____ memorabilia?
Well, primarily, yes. Well, I think where they started,
they started with things that they had of their
own and the family things. I don't know what she
sold, but I know, for example, that she was buying
and selling from Nantucket families. And, of course,
being a Folger and having been brought up here,
and her family was very well known and respected--
So she had entrees to get these things from it,
but then she had to branch out.
Just as a side story, in the 1950s as I was in New York city one day-- I don't know for what reason, but anyway I went to Israel Sach[sp?], probably one of the best known if not the best known antiques dealer in the country at that point. And he was an elderly man then--only a year or two, I think, before he died. But anyway, there he sat in his wonderful shop on West 57th Street, and I went there just to look see what he had, and-- You know, "A cat can look at a king." [Laughter] And so he was sitting there in a chair, and we got into a conversation. He asked me where I came from, and I said Nantucket. And he said, "Oh! Nantucket. Well," he said, "I don't suppose you ever knew her, but I had dealings with a Nantucket antiques dealer by the name of Annie Alden Folger." And I said, "I've know her very well." She had died at that point, I think, but-- And he said, well, she came into his shop when he had a shop on Child Street in Boston, before he moved to New York. And she came in looking for antiques to buy for her shop down here. And she didn't have very much money, but somehow or another he decided that she was the real thing, and so he extended her a credit for whatever she wanted to buy. And he said, "We worked together." And he said, "She bought from me and sold for me, and we both made money in the deals." And he said, "She was the most completely reliable and honest person that I've ever dealt with!" Well, that was just a by-the-way.
No, but the-- We used to go-- There were a number of antique shops here, and we used to go and make nuisances of ourselves looking at stuff and once in a while buying something if it was in our price range, which usually meant $10 or less. But there was a lot you could buy in that field at that point. It was sort of interesting place to grow up for me. It was, you know-- It was much different than it is today.
STOUT: When you went to Middlebury College, was that your first time off island?
WOOD: Yep. Well, no, not off-- No, because I used to go-- My grandmother and grandfather lived next door here--my grandmother and grandfather Wood. We were very close. Well, obviously. We lived just a yard's length apart. And my grandmother and I, we got-- We were good friends as well as relatives. And I used to go over there and spend a tremendous amount of time with her. And then when they left-- In the winter they closed up that house, because they didn't want to heat the whole house, and then went New Bedford and took an apartment at the New Bedford Hotel. So, on my February vacation, I was invited to go up for a week and stay in their apartment with them and case the New Bedford joint and so forth. So that-- No, I had been-- But that was the first time away from home, you know, definitely.
STOUT: Was it tough?
WOOD: Yes and no. I was the youngest--no, there were two of us were the youngest members of the class. I went to college when I was just barely 16.
STOUT: Why was that?
WOOD: Well, I was through school.
STOUT: Were you-- Did you skip?
WOOD: I skipped a year--a grade, yes.
STOUT: Which one?
WOOD: Sixth. Miss Mary Mindanza[sp?].
STOUT: Ah, ha! That was funny.
My fifth grade teacher was a woman by the name of
Elizabeth Chase--Betty Chase. And she was a whopper
of a teacher. She was one of these people who really--
Some how or other, I never have quite figured out
how those teachers work that way even--all my years
of teaching, I still never quite figured it out.
But she was a teacher who could teach a lot of different
levels of ability all in the same classroom at the
same time, and so the bright students didn't feel
as if they were, you know, bored to tears. And I
suppose the slower students didn't feel as if they
were being neglected and whatever, anyhow. But--
So she, Betty Chase, put up on the board a chart
at the beginning of the year with the names of the
students in the fifth grade down the left-hand side,
and across the top were the names of 100 books that
she thought people should read and some contests.
The person at the end of the year who had read the
most books and reported on them successfully would
get a prize. So I was-- That was meat for me!
There was a gal in the class named Trina[sp?] Greet[sp?]--lived up on Liberty Street, a very bright gal. And she and I were vying for first place. We ended up as a tie. We each went 98 of the 100 books in the course of the school year. And no prize was forthcoming. And I was very disgusted and disappointed in my teacher, but then when I came home my mother said, "Well, your prize is that you're going to skip a grade." And, as I say, I skipped the sixth grade and Miss Mary Mindanza. You may never have heard of Mary Mindanza, but she was a legend in Nantucket schools. She was a Portuguese woman who lived down here in this--the Eliza Barney house. That's the Queen Ann house, you know, next down to the Henry Coffin House ____ Main Street. Anyway, she was a holy terror, and if you went to grade school, and you were on the same corridor with Mary Mindanza, at least once or twice during every session there would be this shriek--scream--noises coming from out of this room! And people lived in mortal fear Mary Mindanza. She was known to throw books and upset kids right out of their seats and all these other things you couldn't do today. But she was an excellent teacher.
And I-- So I skipped over her and went directly into the hands of probably the worst teacher I ever had in school, a woman who was a mess. I can't be too hard on her, I guess. But she was just a mess. She played egregious favorites, and I was not one of them--distinctly not one of them, because I had made the wrong move of not bothering to follow the usual course of things and go through five and then six and then go to her--and seven. I'd skipped over six, and she didn't think much of that idea and didn't think much of me, either. Well, anyhow, every Friday afternoon was reading poetry afternoon, and that was pure agony! She'd stand up there and read these poems. The tears would be rolling down her cheeks, and we'd half convulsed with laughter! [Laughter] Anyway-- Well, I survived it, and we went on.
Anyhow, going to Middlebury was a-- Well, it was funny because the first term I was a freshman there was all new. I mean, I was living in the mountains and participating in the boating club, going on hikes every Sunday afternoon and all the rest of it, and making-- Well, I was actually sure when I went there I'd flunk out. I thought, you know, I'm going to-- I'd just come from a little jerk water town and a small high school, and I'm competing with kids from Andover and Exeter and Groton and all the good ____ people. And they were more highly educated than I was, and all the rest of it. And so I worked like a slave. I was a real greasy grinder first year. Then I found that, you know, I was missing the forest for the trees, so to speak. And so then I relaxed a little bit and spend a good four years.
STOUT: Did you come back here in summer?
WOOD: Yeah. Yeah, I came back here in summer. I worked here summers.
STOUT: Doing what?
WOOD: Well, various things. I worked for Heidi Ross in the Rest Hall Hotel there on North Water Street. And I worked for David Tuttle in The Breakers, down on the ____ Point. I did various and sundry things in the summer.
STOUT: But basically working in the tourist industry?
WOOD: Yeah. ____. My grandfather, incidentally-- My grandfather Wood gave me my college education. He paid for it. He said-- He had told me when I was a junior or senior, I don't know which--junior, I guess, in high school--that if I got good grades and wanted to go to college, that he would underwrite it for me. So he--
STOUT: Were you the first in your family to go?
WOOD: I was, yep.
STOUT: On both sides?
WOOD: On both sides-- Well, my aunt--his daughter--went to Bridgewater State Teachers' College and taught for awhile. Then she went into the Nantucket Bank. That's not-- It used to be The Institution for Savings, but now it's Nantucket Bank. Now, Middlebury was a good place for me. I think it was.
STOUT: Good school!
WOOD: Yeah, it's a good school. It was a very much smaller school. It's got "elephantiasis" right now, I think. It's carrying on a $200,000,000 fund drive, of which they've raised approximately 160,000,000 of the 200,000,000. They've built some huge new buildings, and I guess they're in the process of becoming a bigger college. But when I was there it was a smaller, less known college. You could say Middlebury, and people would not even know where it was, but I guess that's no longer true. But it was a good experience.
STOUT: What happened next?
WOOD: Well, then I got out of college. I wanted a teaching job, so I put my name in at a couple of agencies and interviewed a couple of people. Just to give you an indication of the difference in that world and this world-- That would have been 1943. I graduated Middlebury '43. I had a--the possibility of teaching in a school up in New Hampshire called Holiness, which I'd never heard of. But anyway-- And so I went to Boston and interviewed Dr. Egert[sp?] Weld, who is the headmaster of the school. We had a nice lunch at the Harvard Club, and we talked about teaching and some various things, but he was very cagey about compensation when it came down to talking about compensation, because he was obviously going to offer me the job. And-- But I said, "Well, what's the salary, Dr. Weld?" And he said, "Well, we don't pay an awful lot of money. We're not an expensive school--" blah--blah--blah. Then went on to something else. But every time I brought it around to salary again-- So finally, as we were breaking up, and I was about to come back to the Island, feeling very frustrated I finally said, "Well, you know, I really need to know." And he said, "Well, we pay you $500 the first year and with your room and board." So I said to him-- I said to myself, "I can't do this!" I mean, $50 a month! I mean, I didn't have great tastes at that point, but $50 a month seemed a bit too much to me. But anyway-- So I had another arrow in my quiver, which was a school out in Niagara Falls called the DeVoe, which I didn't know anything about, but it looked like a possibility. So I went--"trained" out there and got the job at $1,200 a year, and stayed there for four years.
STOUT: Teaching English?
WOOD: Teaching English, yeah.
STOUT: Did you ever consider coming back here to teach?
WOOD: No! Absolutely not.
STOUT: Why not? [Laughter]
I would have been teaching the sons and grandsons
and so forth of people that I'd gone to school with
and knew. And I knew Nantucket too well to come
back here and get into this. It would have been
kind of incest--intellectual incest.
No, I stayed four years. Four years was enough. Niagara Falls at that time was a most unattractive place. It was a real honky tonk city with the tourism down on Falls Street, the tattoo parlors and the dens of prostitution and all the rest of it that were there. Been considerably improved since those days. But anyway, I got to see majestic Niagara Falls at four o'clock in the morning for the first time, which was probably one of the most incredible sights I've ever seen.
STOUT: A high point of your stay at the DeVoe School?
WOOD: Well, it was the high point of anything, I guess. I mean, I'd never been to Niagara Falls. I got there at midnight. I couldn't find a hotel. I finally got into a flea bag of a place on Falls Street.
STOUT: This is on first arriving?
WOOD: On first arriving, while going out for my interview, actually. And I got into this flea bag of a hotel and it was-- The room was unspeakable! I couldn't stay. I sat in the chair all night, and finally at four o'clock in the morning I went for a walk. And it was in June, I guess--yeah, or late July. And so I went down to the falls, which was a five minute walk from the hotel, Fall Street. And here's this marvelous feat of nature I had only dreamt of anyway.
STOUT: It is spectacular!
WOOD: It is spectacular! Yeah, and of course there was-- As I say, it was a totally different place. And I resigned at the end of my third year and told the headmaster that I would not be back after my fourth year. And so then I got a job at Lenox, where I stayed for 25 years.
STOUT: Before we get onto Lenox, how did you avoid World War II if you were a--
WOOD: I avoided it by-- See, I started in teaching in '43, and that was just at the time during the war. But, because I was teaching in the military school, I got a by-pass. And then they let me--
STOUT: What military school?
WOOD: DeVoe was a--
STOUT: Was it a military-- ?
WOOD: It was a military school, yeah.
STOUT: Oh, okay.
WOOD: It was a sort of a-- It was a sort of a strange school. It was a ____. It was sort of an Episcopal boys' military school, but the thing was-- Well, it was military when they wanted it to be, and it was-- It was a good school, I think, on the whole, some good teachers there, and I have nothing--had no fault to find with it, other than the fact that I didn't like Falls particularly well. I taught some-- [Chuckle] I had an experience here the other day. Two or three weeks ago I had a phone call, and this voice said, "This is Roger Gates. Do you remember me?" And I said, "Yes. You were a junior at DeVoe School when I left there in 1947." And he said, "Wow!" And he said, "I'm on the island," he said, "could I come and talk to you?" I said, "Sure!" So he comes. You know, this kid-- He's no longer a kid. He's an old man--anyway, just a page out of back history.
STOUT: Well, it's like your going and finding Evelyn Tiews, isn't it?
WOOD: It is, yeah, as far as weird things that happen. Then I went to Lenox in the fall.
STOUT: And where is Lenox?
WOOD: It's out just south of Pittsfield.
STOUT: And it's called The Lenox School?
WOOD: It's called Lenox School, yeah.
STOUT: Is it a boys' school.
WOOD: It was a boys' school--well, sort of under the egress of the Episcopal Church, but it was more in name than anything else. It didn't really do anything much to support the school, but we used the-- Excuse me. [Answers phone ring]
STOUT: [Word or phrase lost while recorder was off] Oh, yeah, Lenox. That's right--being a boys' school and you went to teach English.
STOUT: What level?
WOOD: High school. I taught-- Usually I taught-- See, we had four-- Well, we had five grades when I went there. We had the eighth grade and right through high school. But we dropped what we called the lower school, because it didn't seem quite to fit into the thing. And we just did the four-year. We went by forms. The third form was freshmen and the sixth form was seniors. You know, I went to teach English. I ended up by being assistant headmaster, and also I did a drama program. We did a production every term--three terms a year.
STOUT: Do you have a favorite?
WOOD: Favorite what?
STOUT: Production--play to put on?
WOOD: Oh, you mean one of the ones that I did?
WOOD: I guess maybe-- I don't know. It must be one of two, I guess--either "____ Under the Sun or-- What would the other one be? Oh, boy!
STOUT: Doesn't matter. We'll come back to it.
WOOD: No! I'm trying to think of the name-- "Lord of the Flies."
STOUT: Oh, "Lord of the Flies" is a good play. That's a very good one!
WOOD: It was something!
STOUT: Certainly for a boys' school.
WOOD: And we also did ____ play. That was probably the one that stood the school on its ear the most.
STOUT: I would think it might. Did you have an-- In teaching English, did you have a special field or a special interest? Were you teaching American lit., English lit.? What were you teaching?
WOOD: Both--yeah, American lit. and English lit. I had to pick-- You know, you have to make your own curriculum when you're teaching like that, and you have to figure out, you know, what you want to do. My feeling about what was happening in some schools was that they were not--that they were reading too much trashy stuff and not enough what I think they should have for background. And I think that-- You know, I think it was-- I always though it was sad to underestimate the abilities of students to deal with things. I mean, if you teach a Shakespeare play, for example-- I mean, you're not-- If you're teaching at the high school level, you're going to get different varieties of appreciation within the people, but I think it's better to do that than to settle for the least common denominator into something that, you know, is hardly worth the effort. And that was my take on the plays, too. I mean, we got so that we were quite well known for doing ambitious stuff. I saw it, you know, we can do "Springtime for Henry" or some other little crappy play, and you're going to spend as much time on the one as you spend on the other, so you might as well put it in on something that's worthwhile.
STOUT: Do you have a favorite author?
WOOD: In what field?
STOUT: Just yours.
WOOD: Oh, well--
STOUT: I mean, is there somebody you come back to over and over and over again, or is there an author that got you hooked on English lit?
WOOD: Well, that's kind of a hard question to answer. I mean, it's-- I mean, a number of names come to mind, but I'm not sure that I could pull out a favorite. I mean, it's contemporary writers that I never taught--but I never taught his work--Robertson Davies, a Canadian writer, ranks high on my scale. I've read everything that Robertson Davies every remotely wrote, because I think he's a wonderful writer and a wonderful student of human nature. But I mean, you know, I tend to champion some writers that other people might somewhat overlook. Like, for example, one of my favorite books that I come back to and read almost probably yearly is Sarah Onjoir's[sp?] Countries Appointed ____, which I think is a little minor masterpiece of its sort.
STOUT: Have you-- With all this reading, have you thought of writing?
WOOD: Well, I did write a book, you know. I mean, I wrote--
STOUT: Tell me about that, and then we'll talk about it.
WOOD: Well, after I'd been at Lenox for awhile--1969, I think, was the bicentennial year of the town of Lenox. And we always-- I always felt that we had a responsibility, since we occupied 80 tax-free acres in the town of Lenox-- We had a responsibility to the town to give something back to the town for what we were getting from them, which was obviously a very large subsidy. And when the bicentennial of Lenox--the town of Lenox--came, I was on the committee that was making plans for all kinds of things. We had a big bicentennial parade, and we had all kinds of events. They decided that they wanted to--the committee wanted to have a history written of the town. And so I somehow or other got into the position of writing it. I did it over the period of one school year and one summer.
STOUT: And what was its title?
WOOD: Lenox--Massachusetts Shire Town. It's out of print. Interestingly enough, when I was back two weeks ago for our alumni reunion-- We have an alumni reunion every year, and my little school's been closed for 20 years.
STOUT: Lenox has been?
WOOD: Yeah. Closed in '74. Yeah, the history was really fun to write. I mean, I-- It was the first time I really had sat down to put pen to paper, so to speak. But it even got a review in the New York Times book section, I'm happy to report, and a very laudatory one. I don't know how that happened!
STOUT: Well, you know, that's the mark of having made it, I think!
WOOD: [Laughter] It was a one-column review. But they ____, and it was a good review. It was fine. And when I got back this time, a gal in the town who's quite a character-- I call her Brunhild. She looks exactly as if she had stepped right out of a Wagnerian opera! She's built like this, and flaxen hair tied back in a bun and so forth and so on. And she and a group of other people are doing some revival work. They bought a beautiful old estate in Lenox, which was in sad shape, and they're bringing that back. They're talking about reprinting the book, which has been out of print now for, oh, what--20 years, I guess. So it may see print again.
STOUT: Have you written anything else?
WOOD: Oh, articles--various articles. ____ was an article in Antiques Magazine on Nantucket baskets a couple of years ago.
STOUT: And then we did-- You and I did The Light Ship Basket Catalog.
WOOD: Yeah, that's right, yeah, which is-- It still sells very strongly.
STOUT: It must! It was beautiful!
WOOD: Yeah, it's-- Every time Mimi-- Mimi says, "When are you going to get going on your book?" It really should get turned into-- I mean, I've got so much material on it, but I just have not gotten to the point of-- I think if somebody locked me in a room with bread and water and so forth for a period of time, that might spur me on.
STOUT: Just for the record, what was that catalog for?
WOOD: That was for the centennial of the Nantucket Historical Association, founded in 1894, so that was 1994 that that was done. We had the exhibition and the catalog.
STOUT: And what was the exhibition?
WOOD: The exhibition was Nantucket baskets ____ Street Museum.
STOUT: Right. Okay. Those summers at Lenox-- Did you come back here?
WOOD: Some summers I did; some summers didn't. We had-- I got involved in-- We didn't have a summer school--an academic summer school. The campus--Lenox school campus was taken over by Tanglewood music students. There was a Tanglewood summer music school, as you probably know.
STOUT: Oh, yeah--yeah.
WOOD: And our campus, with the dormitories and the kitchen facilities and so forth, was a natural, so it was rented by Boston Symphony Orchestra, and they housed some of their students there, and housed them and fed them there. And so several summers I had-- I was in charge of the crew of boys, Lenox School boys, who came back in the summer to be waiters and dormitory cleaners and do all the other things that they had to do. And it gave me a chance to attend Tanglewood free--for nothing. And there was, you know, a lot going on in the Berkshires in the summer. There was a summer theater--couple of summer theater groups, Jacobs Fuller Dance Festival, which I went to every week and so forth.
STOUT: So, when you came back summers, what would you do here?
WOOD: Well, usually I'd-- If I did anything, I'd help my father out, if he needed help. I mean, he didn't like to do night work. And if it was night work, I would do some of that for him. But most of those summers-- And then one summer I drove across the country with a friend of mine and decided to see the world for once. Good trip.
STOUT: When did you retire here?
WOOD: Nineteen eighty-seven.
STOUT: You retired here in 1987, but that-- You were at the Rockwell Museum.
WOOD: I was at the Rockwell Museum from '74 to '87.
STOUT: Doing what?
STOUT: And you went there because Lenox had closed? Is that what it--
WOOD: Lenox closed, yeah. Lenox closed twice. It closed once in '71. It was beset by a lot of winds of adversity, so to speak. The school was always a-- Well, I don't know. We were very proud of the fact that we didn't have any endowment. And when the winds and the storms came, the lack of endowment was no longer a virtue, but a vice. And then we had a lot of yeasting[sp?] around among the students. They were getting a ____ too many regulations and so forth. And the faculty wanted to make some changes in the routine. And the headmaster was firmly fixed in some of his ideas and wouldn't yield. And it was-- You know, people often say-- Well, we built a huge, huge indoor hockey rink that cost $1,250,000. And people were fond of saying that was what sank the school. And I said, "Well, when the patient's got four terminal diseases, it's immaterial which one kills him." I mean, that's basically it. And it was sad for me to see the school go under, but in retrospect I think there are worse things that can happen to a school. I think there are probably some schools that go on long after their usefulness is--has ceased.
WOOD: Exhausted, you know, whatever the dream was.
STOUT: So what about the Rockwell Museum? That's a jump.
Well, it was a jump that I never expected to make.
And it just-- It's one of those, you know-- I don't
know whether it happened in your life or not, but
these things that happen are purely by accident.
I mean, here I am out of a job in '72. I came home
and spent the year '72-73 here just doing nothing,
helping out in the house and so forth, and when
I realized that my teaching career wasn't over,
I thought. I thought I could get a job. And I started
applying for jobs, and you know, "How much
experience have you had?" Well, I've taught
for 25 years in a school." And--"Overqualified--couldn't
possibly pay you any salary that bum, bum, bum,
bum--" the usual thing.
So I went to church one morning in May of '74, and as I was leaving, a tap on the shoulder. And I turned around, and here's a woman that I'd known for years. And she was on the board of the museum, and she'd also been very generous to Lenox School--quite a character. And she said, "Well, I'm on the board of the Norman Rockwell Museum," and she said, "Our director has just died very unexpectedly." And she said, ""We're looking for a new director." She said, "You know a lot of people. Do you have any names that you could give me?" And I said, "What about me?" And she said, "You're a teacher." I said, "Well, I don't think I am any more." She said, "Do you know Mollie Rockwell?" And I said, "Well, as a mater of fact I do." Because Mollie had taught-- Norman's third wife had taught at Milton Academy, English department, for years and years and years. And she retired to Lenox--to Stockbridge, where her family was. And she started a poetry discussion group, and Norman came for lack of anything else to do after his other wife had died--second wife had died. And so I said-- And she said, "Well, go talk to Mollie Rockwell." So I went to talk to Mollie Rockwell, and I said, "I don't have any qualifications for this job." I said, "I've never had any museum experience, never had any museum training. All I've done is gone to museums as a-- [End of Tape #1]
STOUT: And the fact that you're completely unqualified for this job-- [Laughter]
WOOD: Couldn't have been more unqualified if I tried.
STOUT: And that there were five candidates, so you--
WOOD: Well, so I took the job. It was offered to me. Mollie called me and said the job was mine if I wanted it. And this was in May. "Could you start immediately?" Then I said, "Well, I have some things I need to do." I said I probably could make it by the end of June of '74. And actually I started work on the Fourth of July weekend. Talk about baptism by fire! Anyhow, little did I think that I would be-- Well, actually one of the problems always was housing. They had no housing for a director. Our former director had a place of her--of his own. And so Mollie said, "Well, we have an apartment back of our house that Norman made for his wife--his second wife, Mary, when she took ill. And nobody's using it at the moment. So, if you want to live there, you can." So here I am living in an apartment adjacent to Norman Rockwell and seeing him every day, talking to him. Little did I think that I would--
STOUT: So, he was still alive at that point?
WOOD: Oh, Lord yes! He didn't die until '78. I knew him for four years. And I saw him every day.
STOUT: Was he still painting then?
Marginally. He basically was tapering off, and he
had lost a lot of his eye, and things came-- I think
his sight was beginning to dull. It was not his
best time. He was doing some work, but not a great
So, I started the-- One of the first things I did was to start the definitive catalog of Norman's work, which, you know, nobody had ever bothered to think was important. But I had a feeling that as long as he was alive, could tell us these things that we-- So I hired two young women. One of the first things I did was start this catalog. And that was worked on for-- Oh, I've forgotten when it was published. But it was a major work and contained what we knew at that time--all of his work.
STOUT: So you retired to retire in '87? In other words--
Well, you know, I came home because-- Well, the
museum was in a house. It was in a house similar
to the Macy house on 99 Main Street--looked very
similar to that--a period of house built late in
the Eighteenth Century. And it didn't work for a
museum, especially when you were having-- Well,
we had-- When I went there, the visitor census was
about 25,000 people in a year, and when I left there
it was 125,000. Had nothing to do with what I did
or didn't do. It was just the fact that he was becoming
well known, and people were finding their way to
the door, and that was it. And I had told the trustees--board
of directors--I guess as early as a couple of years
into my tenure there that this wasn't going to work.
Eventually they were going to have to think of a
So we got started on that, and we were able to buy a piece of property--wonderful piece of property on the Housatonic River with a wonderful early stone house on it that became the present museum. We still had the fund drive and so forth, but just at that point I decided fund raising was not my fort, and I just-- It was changing the whole complexion of my job and its ____. I could just see that there were changes that were going--that we were going to have to make. And I think I was really burned out. Actually, I was working too hard, I think. I was doing all kinds of things from sloughing books around and doing--helping with the mail order and our catalog that we started and, you know--and anyhow. So I came home. I resigned in November of '73--of '83 and thought I would leave in February. And I did.
STOUT: You retired in '84?
WOOD: Eighty-four--no, '87! What's the matter with me!
STOUT: I thought you said '87.
WOOD: Yes, '87. No--'87. Where'd I get '84 then? I don't know.
STOUT: So you gave your retirement notice in November of '86, right?
WOOD: Yeah, yeah.
WOOD: Because I wanted to be home for my mother's birthday, which was the twenty-eighth of February. And I came home a couple of days before that in order to be here for her birthday.
STOUT: Was it a big birthday?
WOOD: No, just-- Well, I sometimes can-- Well, see, we closed down for a couple of weeks during the winter in order to get some maintenance work done in the museum or hang some--rehang some paintings, get some reframed, and so forth. And so I sometimes used some time then to come home, just to snooze and so forth. I came home, as I say, for the twenty-eighth of February. And then my father died the fourth of March.
STOUT: That same year?
WOOD: That same year.
WOOD: And that was that.
STOUT: So, did you think that you were going to sit back and knit for your-- [Laughter]
WOOD: No, I had no inclinations to sit back and knit. I didn't know what I was going to do at that point.
STOUT: Tell me a little bit about your involvement in St. Paul's Church and how that-- I mean, if you were a cradle Episcopalian, you clearly went there. But Jim was--went there and stayed, in a manner of speaking. [Chuckle]
WOOD: Yeah, well--yeah. I guess I've sort of taken his place at this point. I'm over there more than I'm here.
STOUT: Are you senior warden?
STOUT: Now? Not for the first time?
WOOD: Yes, for the first time.
STOUT: Is this the first time?
WOOD: My first time. Been on the vestry before, but not senior warden. Well, we-- The church was always important to--well, my mother and my grandmother both did all the altar guild work. And my mother, when she was young, sang in the choir and was involved in the young women's organization and then the Candlelight Guild after she got married. So we were-- You know, we were interested in St. Paul's, and it was just--
STOUT: Did your family build a social life around the church?
WOOD: To some extent. Our mother's-- A lot of Mother's social life was built around her friends in the Candlelight Guild. They were all more or less people of her age--a little younger, maybe. And they met weekly, every Tuesday night. Tuesday night was Mother's night out in this house. She went to the Candlelight Guild come hell or high water.
STOUT: What was the Candlelight Guild?
WOOD: It was a women's group that was started by Dr. Mary Ella Mann and Dr.--not doctor--Mary Eliza Starbuck ____ it, Number 8, Pleasant Street. ____ my house ____, among other things. They started--the two of them, these two maiden ladies, one of whom was a physician. [phone ring] You know, Candlelight Guild was one of the really important things in my mother's life. They did all kinds of things for the church. They raised money for altar linens, and they bought the bread and wine for ____ communion, and they did all kinds of things. It was very important.
STOUT: So, were you as active in St. Paul's?
No, I was not very active in St. Paul's when I--
I had a rebellious streak in me. I-- My mother and
father made me go to Sunday school, and about when
I was 10, 11, or 12-- I don't remember exactly at
what point that was, but I was maybe in that age
bracket. And Sunday school, I thought, was the pits--absolutely
the pits! Held in a god awful room that smelled
of disinfectant and the teacher was dull as ditch
water, and the whole thing was just a-- I was being
tortured! And so finally one day I remember I said,
"I'm not going to Sunday school!" "You
are going to Sunday school!" "I am not
going--" You know, the usual thing. And so
finally I said, "Well, you can't make me go.
I'll go over there, but I won't go to Sunday school.
I'll do something else, and then I'll come home.
And you won't know the difference."
So I guess my mother and father had to have a heart to heart on this one, and finally they said, "Well, alright, if you're not going to go to Sunday school, then you have to go to church." I said, "Fine!" So I started going to church. Here I am a ____ teenage boy going to church. Well, I found it interesting. I mean, there were interesting people, I liked the music. Whether I got anything out of the service or not, I don't know. [Chuckle] But anyway, so that was the way it started.
Then, of course, when I went to Middlebury, I thought, "Well, now's the time to cut out all this religious stuff and do other things." But I guess, you know, I decided I'd sample all the products in Middlebury. There were five churches in Middlebury, so I went to every one of them to see how they did it. And I ended up at St. Stephen's, which is the Episcopal church. And it was one of the interesting things about Middlebury in that particular age, just to jump back a bit. That was 1939, and war was starting in Europe. Hadn't yet got to our shores, but anyway-- And the rector at St. Stephen's Church was a man by the name of the Reverend Mr. Whiston[sp?], and Mr. Whiston also was a member of the history faculty at Middlebury College. He was a great history student--very learned man. But, as the conflict deepened, and it was obvious that we might get into this before we got through-- Europe was aflame.
There arose a great chasm between Mr. Whiston and the president of the Middlebury College, Paul Dwight Moody. Paul Dwight Moody was an ardent interventionist, and the Reverend Mr. Whiston was an ardent passivist. And the long and short of it was that the president of the college, Paul Dwight Moody--for whom I had had great respect--basically cut Mr. Whiston out of the history department, which effectively ended his ministry, because he couldn't live on the salary that the Episcopal church was paying. Well, anyway, that--just to regress for a minute, because I really need to mention this as-- I then got to know one of the people who, I think, was most influential in my life--in later life at Middlebury, and that was a woman by the name of Viola White.
WOOD: Viola White--Viola Chittenden White. She was a character! She was the overseer and ____ of the rare book room in Middlebury College Library. They had a wonderful collection that had been given to us by a department store man in Burlington, Mr. Abernathy. And I used to spend a lot of time in there, and I got to know Viola White. And just at this time when this thing happened with Mr. Whiston and Paul Moody, I talked to her a lot about that. And she was very much on Mr. Whiston's side. And I guess she, you know, came very close to losing her job because of her sympathy with his point of view. Where do we go now?
STOUT: Well, we're back to--
WOOD: We're back to Nantucket? [Chuckle]
STOUT: We're back to Nantucket and St. Paul's.
WOOD: Okay, St. Paul's. Well--
STOUT: You came back retired and then got increasingly involved, I take it.
WOOD: Yeah, yeah. Well, I-- Oh, yes I did. I got--it was-- I went on the vestry fairly soon. I guess they figured new meat-- We might as well exploit--
STOUT: New blood.
WOOD: Or new blood--see what we can get out of him, that kind of thing.
STOUT: What is the vestry?
WOOD: Vestry is the governing board of the church, basically. It's the--like the board of directors of an organization. Basically the wardens and the vestry make the decisions, most of the decisions, having to do the church, including the selection of a rector and, you know, the whole business.
STOUT: So, the other thing I know you've done in retirement is become increasingly involved with the NHA.
STOUT: Talk a little bit about that.
WOOD: Well, the NHA goes back-- I mean I go back with the NHA to when I used to go to the meetings in the summer. They always had the meetings in July or August, always in the--
STOUT: The annual meetings?
WOOD: Annual meetings. The annual meeting was held at the Quaker meeting house at Fair Street, and I went, I guess, when I was 12-13 years old--I mean, you know, as a teenager, because just was interested in it. Annie Alden Folger was one of the principal people and Nancy Adams--Nancy Story Grant Adams, George Adams--George Grant's daughter-in-law--daughter, rather. And I just was interested in it. Annie Alden Folger got up in one meeting, and she had a ____ whale's tooth in one hand and she had a child's pewter tea set in the other, and she said, "These things came this week from the dump. See what Nantucket is doing with its history--throwing it to the dump!"
STOUT: Gosh, that's impressive!
WOOD: Yes, it was very impressive, and ____.
STOUT: What year was that, about? I mean, how old were you?
WOOD: Oh, well, I don't-- Oh, when I was 10-- I was 12, 13 maybe, 14.
STOUT: ____ throwing stuff like that out?
WOOD: Yeah, they were throwing things out, yeah. And I just thought the institution-- I used to go to the museum there on Fair Street when it was, you know, one great huge collection of everything ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.
STOUT: That could be--
WOOD: You've seen pictures of it.
STOUT: I have, yeah.
WOOD: And then I used to go to the Whaling Museum. And one summer I worked as the guy that the--____. Put in one summer there. I didn't want to do it more than one summer. I found it rather dull. You know, you sit there 150 feet from where you lodge, and people would come and-- Well, sometimes they didn't come, and sit there all an afternoon. I got a lot of reading done, anyway. No, the Historical Association, I think, is one of the key players in Nantucket. This is-- If we don't have a history, we don't have an island.
STOUT: What's your role there now, David?
WOOD: Well, I'm on the board of trustees and the head of the collections committee, because that was always one of my great interests.
STOUT: Which means what?
WOOD: Which means that we deal with the-- Well, the first thing I did when I headed up the collections committee was to realize that we really didn't have a collections policy as such. We sort of went--winged it. And this was at the time when--
STOUT: Which-- What is this time?
WOOD: Well, this is the time when Mark Beal was interim director after Roy True had left and so forth, and that ____.
STOUT: Leroy-- It was Leroy True and John Walsh and--
WOOD: Yeah, John Walsh--John Welsh.
WOOD: Actually, I think it started with John Welsh, and then-- Well, actually John Welsh was followed by Mark Beal. And so the collections committee got together and created a collections policy, which is several pages long and very complicated. I mean, that's what we've done. And now we-- We've just had a meeting. We don't meet very often. I'm not a great meeting person. ____ very easily, but we've had to do some revisions of that, and we're also doing some ____ of things that don't pertain to-- We've had all kinds of things given to us that don't relate to Nantucket history and that sort of thing. And I've also now just been asked to be on the architectural review committee for this new center that we're going to build. I went--
STOUT: Are you excited about that?
Yeah, I'm very excited about it. I sat in-- We interviewed
four-- The board of trustees were invited along
with it. See, I was not on the building committee
as such. I'm on the collections committee, but the
building committee appeals to me, so I had the time.
And so, when we interviewed the four architectural
firms a couple of months ago to make a choice of
an architect. And I went to all of those interview
sessions and participated in the process. So Alfie
Sandford, who's head of the architectural review
committee asked me if I'd--you know, if I'd serve
on it, and I said yes, because it very much concerns
me. This is going to be one of the major, major
things that we're going to do, and it's going to
have some major, major impacts on downtown and people's
feelings about things.
And, you know, there's talk of raising the Peter Folger Museum, which is not a building that functions as well as it should for what we need. And I realize that ____ going to cause-- If we even consider that, it's going to cause a lot of ____ in the community. And, you know, we're in one of the foremost spots on the island ____, our thing at the Civic Club, and ____ the quadrangle of downtown Nantucket. So what we do down there is going to impact. What we obviously won't do is interfere in any way with the Whaling Museum, because that's the icon for the whole things, but what we will do-- We need exhibit space, we need space for various things. Have you been to the Fair Street museum and its conversion to the library? Have you-- ?
STOUT: Not yet.
WOOD: Oh, you should. It's a fantastic place. It's not quite done, but it's just-- You just walk in there and say, "Wow!"
STOUT: Well, I'm almost certain I will, because I--anyway, because I talked to-- I interviewed Betsy about it, and we had-- She showed me the plans. So I have a pretty good visual sense. But I didn't want to get in--
WOOD: Well, you will. Betsy's one of the good things that's happened to it--one of many. I think we've made a turn-around in an incredibly short time at the NHA. I really think that it's a-- There are some things that I might wish to be changed, but ____, you know.
STOUT: Besides St. Paul's and the NHA, what else are you doing in your free time? [Laughter]
WOOD: Well, Nantucket Town Association.
STOUT: Oh, that's right. I knew about that.
WOOD: Yeah, the Town Association is an important thing. Just had a meeting yesterday. We meet--
STOUT: What is it?
Well, basically it's an organization which is concerned
with the welfare of the town, not the island, but
the town. Our borders are within-- The people who
belong to the association mostly live within the
town itself and the impact that this growth that
we're undergoing is having on all kinds of things.
And we are-- We're concerned-- Well, we were one
of the forces that were responsible for starting
the Nantucket Regional Transit Authority. I mean,
we felt that we needed a system of small buses to
help allay the traffic crush. We also--one of the--
A couple of years ago we were responsible for getting
the rental car thing under control. It was totally
out of control. People were bringing rental cars,
making a lot of money, and then weren't even paying
the registration fees which are required to the
town. I mean, it's anything that impacts on anything.
Now our principal focus seems to be on the comprehensive plan. We're very much supportive of the comprehensive plan. We've got to have some kind of plan for this island. If we don't, we're going to go straight down the tubes. It's an organization-- It's really, it's an off shoot, I suppose, of the Civic League.
STOUT: That's what I wondered. Isn't it--
WOOD: It is! We are actually under the egress of the Civic League.
STOUT: Okay, you are. Okay, I would have gotten to that direct question if you hadn't gone there.
WOOD: Yeah, yep. I mean, it's a-- It's the-- We're trying to-- You know, we're trying to keep the welfare of the island in mind and trying to support those things that we feel are good for the island and negate the things that are bad. It's an organization, I think, that-- When I was asked to go on the board, I wasn't sure that I wanted to take on one more thing, even though it was only a monthly meeting. But when I heard the names of the people who were on it and were supporting it, I said, "This is a group I want to work with." I think it's important.
STOUT: Yeah. Who is on it?
WOOD: Well, the president for the last several years has been John Nicholson. It's now Marie Ann Werner; Frank Sprigs, Joan ____ Craig, Sandy Knox Johnson, Eileen McGraph, David Olson, Bill Hance-- I'm not thinking of all of them. I can tell you--
STOUT: No, that's alright.
WOOD: I've got the list. But it's a good group of people--good civic minded group of people. We're very concerned at the moment with trying to shepherd the comprehensive plan through and get moving on that.
STOUT: Let's just hope it gets to a vote!
WOOD: Well, it's going--
STOUT: It will now. It will.
WOOD: It will! I'm sure that it-- I think that they're scheduling a tentative town meeting for, I believe, January.
STOUT: January seventh.
WOOD: Seventh, yeah. And this, you know-- As you know, unfortunately the official support for the thing has not been what it should have been--what we think it should have been.
WOOD: It's been denigrated by people who should be ashamed of themselves, but that's maybe here nor there. I guess that's the way you work in a democracy and just hope that the forces of good will prevail over the forces of darkness.
STOUT: One could hope! But you also have to work to that end, I think.
WOOD: That's right.
STOUT: So, is that your-- Is there anything else, David? [Laughter] I keep uncovering nuggets.
Yeah, well there's-- You know, there's some things
that I think probably-- Everybody talks about housing
these days--affordable housing and so forth, and
this is one of those ____ that you've got to address
sooner or later. And the ____ factor always comes
up. Nobody wants "affordable housing"
near them. You know, I think back to when I was
growing up here, and we lived cheek by jowl with
all kinds of people. I mean, we had people in the
confines of the town, as strange as it may seem,
who kept animals in their back yard--pens of chickens
and rabbits and God only knows what all--also even
horses. I mean, this-- We've sanitized the island,
and I suppose that's inevitable it should happen,
but I just see a lot going on that I'm not too happy
In the first place, of course, when I was growing up, all the houses in the old district here were--most of them were owned by people that we knew that were in our working class. And now that's all changed. There's very little of that left. The ____ has changed, the makeup has changed. And while there've been a lot of blessings-- Certainly the NHA is one of them. We could never have raised the money to do the projects that we're doing at the NHA, you know, 10 or 15 years ago, and certainly not 50 years. But-- So there are two sides to the coin.
STOUT: Always! Tell me about this house. Were you born in this house?
WOOD: No, I was-- [Chuckle] I was born in the old ____ hospital, as a matter of fact, out on West Chester Street when it was just one building, I guess. No, this house belonged to my grandparents, who lived next door here. They moved-- When my father and mother were married, they sold him this house and then moved into the house next door. So it's third generation ownership--my grandparents and my parents and now my brother and sister and me. It was built in 1881 by a woman by the name of Emilyne Coffin, whom I've never been able to find much out about. She built both these. She built this house and also 11 Gardener next door.
STOUT: And who-- This isn't owned by the family anymore?
WOOD: No. That's the Goodmen's now. Dr. Goodmen owns that.
STOUT: Basically there was the Wood complex up here.
WOOD: Yeah, that's right. We had a Wood complex, the two buildings right side-by-side.
STOUT: But that's also reflective of the way American families used to live, which was bellying up to the previous generation or the--
WOOD: That's right, yeah. Right. They either lived together, or they lived in close proximity.
WOOD: Yeah. That's changed, of course. Now we tend to shunt those people off to retirement homes or convalescent homes or nursing homes, or whatever.
STOUT: So, how long have you lived in this house?
WOOD: My mother, father, and I moved in here on my first birthday, the same day that the A&P opened across the street in what's now a dwelling place, but used to be the Christian Science Meeting Hall and also a plumbing storage place at one point. That was the A&P store. The front was painted red.
STOUT: Yeah. Do you remember Main Street when you were growing up, David?
STOUT: How has it changed? What was on Main Street in those days?
WOOD: Well-- You mean down business section?
WOOD: Well, they were all necessities. And now they're all--with the exception of the ____ and the pharmacies, I guess everything else is tourist trade. I mean--
STOUT: What was down there?
WOOD: Well, okay, starting from the top of Main Street and going down--Ashley's market on the corner, which is now Coung[sp?] and Coldman. Next door to that was Walter Carbin's[sp?] hardware store. Next door to that was Deacon's Plumbing and Heating. Next to that is Condit's Pharmacy, which is still there. Next to that was the-- Well, it was a pharmacy, but before that it was a store of some kind. Next down to that was the A&P. Next down to that was Holland's Grocery Store, and then at the corner was Ogdie[sp?] Coffin's Drug Store. That's where-- What's his name? One that has an antique shop now.
WOOD: Tonkin's Antique Shop is. Then the Hub, of course-- That was Roger Dunham's Paper Store. Next to that was the meat market--a meat market. Next to that was Katie's Bakery. Next to that was--on the corner of the street that goes through there was Lily Clark's Antique Shop. And in the next block--that short block--Warner Condit Water Company was where the-- What's the name of it--Wolfhound is now. And the Knobby[sp?] Shop was just where it is. Coming back on the other side--
STOUT: Was it the Knobby Shop?
WOOD: It was the Knobby Shop, yeah. That's been there since the thirties at least! And coming back on the opposite side, what was Sylvia's Antique Shop--which is presently a clothing store--that was Paddock's Paint Shop. And the building which is The Looms was Marshall Gardener's Photographic--sold photographics, post cards, and that kind of thing. The next block was the post office, which is now the Sports Locker. That's--the post office was there. Next to that was the Modern--which was-- No, next to that was the Spa--excuse me, that was a soda fountain place. Next to that was the Mod--no, wait a minute, not Mod--the Spa. Next to that was C.F. Wing, which was a furniture store. That's where Wilson Gallery is, where--
STOUT: Stephen Swift's upstairs.
WOOD: Swift's--Stephen Swift's upstairs, yeah. Incidentally, he's made-- He made the furniture for the new library on Fair Street.
STOUT: Oh, nice!
WOOD: Beautiful stuff. C.F. Wing Furniture. Next to that was The Modern, which sold vegetables and fruit--kind of like Green Grocer's place. My grandmother always used to pick--buy melons there. Next to that was the Western Union, barber shop-- What was in there? What was in Reggie's old gallery building? Well, on the corner was--
STOUT: Where Mitchell's is?
WOOD: Yeah, where Mitchell's is was Notions--Eliza Sylvia's Notions Shop. ____ and that kind of thing. Then the--where the Diana Ken England is was Anglo Tweeds. And then, of course, up above was Louis Coffin Dry Goods. That's where Murray's is now. And then next to that, also where-- Murray's is also part of that. Phil Murray's father worked for Gene Espy and had a men's clothing store there.
STOUT: Incredible! It's hard to-- You know, it would be hard for me to do that about what was on Main Street last year. It changes so much.
WOOD: I know, yeah.
STOUT: What era do we think that is, that Main Street? Forties? [End of Tape #2]
[End of Interview]