All posts by Rick Teller '70

Rick Teller grew up on the Williston Academy campus and is a member of the illustrious Class of 1970. He studied music, religion, and history at Vassar College ('74) and librarianship and ethnomusicology at the University of Michigan (AMLS, '78). He is a librarian at Williston Northampton and, since 1995, the school's archivist.

Albert Kiesling at Williston

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Albert Kiesling next to the Easthampton Congregational Church, working on a view of Shop Row.
Albert Kiesling next to the Easthampton Congregational Church, working on a view of Shop Row. (Easthampton Historical Society) Please click images to enlarge.

Anyone familiar with Easthampton in the ’40s through the ’60s is likely to recall a taciturn gentleman with an easel and paintbox, often engaged in capturing a town landmark or rural scene.  Albert Kiesling (1885-1968) was born in Clinton, Mass., and moved to Easthampton to work in the textile mills.  He was a protégé and friend of the American expressionist painter Oscar F. Adler (1868-1932), another Clinton native.  In fact, Kiesling and Adler often painted the same scenes together.

In the summer of 2016, Easthampton CityArts+, in association with Albert Kiesling’s family, mounted an exhibition and sale of a large group of his paintings, at the Mill Arts Project (MAP) Gallery at Eastworks in Easthampton.  The following video, from Easthampton Media, is an excellent introduction to Kiesling’s work.  (Alumni from certain eras may recognize some of the people interviewed.)

https://vimeo.com/173671869

There are five known Kiesling paintings of Williston scenes.  One had been on campus since 1945.  Following the CityArts+ exhibit, Williston Northampton was able to obtain the other four, through a combination of alumni generosity and purchases.  They are:

The Old Gymnasium

The Old Gymnasium

The Old Williston Seminary Gym, with its distinctive tower, was built in 1864, the first free-standing athletic building in any American secondary school.  It stood on High Street, at the rear of the original Williston campus.  Rendered largely obsolete by the construction of the Recreation Center (now the Reed Campus Center) in 1930, it was razed following the school’s consolidation onto the present campus in 1951.  Kiesling painted the scene in 1952.  Williston Northampton was able to acquire the painting through the generosity of Patricia Zavorski Coon ’61.  This painting currently hangs in the office of the Director of Athletics.

Kiesling at work on the Gymnasium painting
Kiesling at work on the Gymnasium painting

The Button Mill

The Button Mill

The painting of the original Williston Button Mill, Easthampton’s first factory building, was commissioned in 1945 by Charles Johnson, class of 1875, Treasurer of Easthampton Savings Bank, and presented to the school by the Class of 1905, one of whose members, Guy Richard Carpenter, was instrumental in tracking down and preserving many of the documents and memorabilia that now comprise the Williston Northampton Archives.  The building, which still stands on Union Street, was erected in 1846-47.  One of the workers’ tenement houses beyond the mill also remains, now home to the Easthampton Diner.  Kiesling added a couple of historical touches to the background: the spire of the Payson (now Easthampton Congregational) Church and, in front of it, Williston’s original (1841) White Seminary building.  This painting hangs in the front parlor of the Head of School’s Residence.

The Old Campus

The Old Campus on Main Street.

This undated painting now hangs in the Advancement Conference Room in the Williston Homestead.  Purchased in 2016 via the Archives Fund, it shows the pre-1951 campus from the intersection of Main and Union Streets, from the vantage point of the Congregational Church’s front lawn.  The buildings, from right, are South, Middle, and North Halls.  All these structures were torn down after the move to the New Campus in 1951, but a portion of the distinctive iron fence remains in place.  Also visible are the Maher Fountain, which remains today, and the First Congregational Church, which succumbed to fire in 1929.

The Old Campus, from a vantage point a bit to the left of the painting.
The Old Campus, from a vantage point a bit to the left of the painting.

Payson Hall

Payson Hall, formerly Hill’s Mansion House

In the mid-19th century, Hill’s Mansion House was Easthampton’s grand hotel.  Even then, it housed Williston students able to pay the premium rates.  The huge wooden building stood at the top of the hill on the corner of Main and Northampton Streets.  In the early 20th century, when the hotel business had fallen off, the school bought the building and renamed it Payson Hall.  It was used as a dormitory, dining commons, and for many years, the home of the Williston Junior School.  From the early 1950s on the structure, in increasingly fragile condition, hosted inexpensive apartments.  It burned in the early 1970s.  Kiesling’s 1963 painting, part of the 2016 purchase, is now in the office of the Director of Alumni Engagement.

The Mansion House in the late 19th century
The Mansion House in the late 19th century

The Williston Birthplace

The Williston Birthplace
The Williston Birthplace

Here the subject is the Payson Williston parsonage, also known as “The Birthplace,” on Park Street, opposite the Homestead.  Dated 1968, thus one of Kiesling’s last paintings, this seems less successful than the others – something in the perspective is not quite right. The artist has set the building well back from the road and included a nonexistent mountain.  Also part of the 2016 purchase, this painting presently hangs in the Williston Birthplace, now a faculty residence.

The Williston Birthplace, ca. 1880.
The Williston Birthplace, ca. 1880. Note the kid on the tricycle!

Finally, if you watched the video, you’ll recall that Kiesling was also an enthusiastic creator of snow sculpture, often of epic proportions.  On Saturday, February 10, as part of the 5th Annual Easthampton Winterfest, the Nashawannuck Pond Steering Committee will host the First Annual Albert Kiesling Snow Art Competition. Please click the link for details!

Twelve Days

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

(Note: this article was originally posted on December 23.  In the ensuing five days, new information came to light, notably (see the comments at bottom) concerning the year “Christmas Soup” was introduced at Williston, resulting in this revision, posted December 28, 2017. — RT)

A couple of years back a comic arrangement of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” performed by a certain a cappella ensemble from Indiana University, had a sudden surge of popularity.  Apparently unbeknownst to them — despite the presence of the author’s signature on the last page of the score — the “Twelve Days of Christmas” parody was sung by the Williston Academy Caterwaulers of 1967-68.  It was composed by their director, longtime (1961-2004) Williston fine arts teacher Richard Gregory.  Dick founded the Caterwaulers in 1965, as an evolution from the former Double Quartet, long attached to the Glee Club.  The name is a play on the school’s “Wildcat” mascot, and a line from the English version of a once-popular Haydn vocal catch, “You caterwauling rogues, be gone.”

The Caterwaulers of 1967-68, the first civilians to sing “Christmas Soup.”

“Christmas Soup” (the real title of Dick’s arrangement) stayed in the Caterwaulers’ repertoire for nearly three decades.  Dozens of former Caterwaulers went on to college singing groups.  Many took copies of Caterwauler arrangements with them, well within the collegiate a cappella tradition that also brought arrangements by the Baker’s Dozen and Whiffenpoofs — Dick’s groups at Yale in the early 1950s — into the Caterwaulers’ repertoire.  “Christmas Soup” was actually performed and even recorded, with proper attribution, on multiple occasions around the country before Straight, No Chaser picked it up.  And to their credit, they now perform it (I am told) with appropriate acknowledgment of the author.

But, Dick Gregory points out, “Christmas Soup” didn’t originate with the Caterwaulers.  From 1957-1960, Dick was a lieutenant in the United States Navy.  For most of that time, he was stationed on Guam, where he created “Christmas Soup” for a group of his fellow officers.  Since they were members of a communications unit, they called themselves the “Seven Nicators.”  They stuck with that until three of their members were rotated out, and the remainder deemed the name inappropriate for a quartet.  Dick made some minor revisions for the Caterwaulers, but only the ending was new.

Dick Gregory, concluding his last Williston class in 2004.  He is retired and living in Easthampton.

Straight, No Chaser’s performance breaks off abruptly and segues into “Christmas in Africa.”  I once found this baffling, until I came across a recording by a group from Ball State University, also in Indiana, that shifts gears in exactly the same place.  Suddenly, all was clear: the copy of the music that was being passed around between Bloomington and Muncie was missing the final page.  And that’s why no one there knew that Dick had written it, or when.

At a Williston Alumni Reunion in June, 2009, a large gathering of former Caterwaulers got together to rehearse and perform “Christmas Soup” and a number of other favorites.  If the following video lacks the polish of more professional renderings (and I can’t help noting that it sounds pretty good for a bunch of underrehearsed old guys), it has the distinction, not to mention authenticity, of including several of the singers who originated it, and Dick Gregory himself directing.  You can’t get more authentic than that!

For the record, “Christmas Soup,” a.k.a. The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with the ending as sung in the preceding video, is copyright ©1967, Richard C. Gregory.

On behalf of all of us at Williston Northampton, happy holidays!

The Rules, 1846

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Principal Luther Wright, who believed in law, order, and quiet.

Williston Seminary’s first Principal, Luther Wright (served 1841-1849), was reputedly a great believer in the order of things.  Early on, he had printed placards, posted in every student room, which quickly became known as the “23 commandments.”  This set of regulations was considered so comprehensive, of such educational and moral impact, that they remained on the walls, contents unaltered, five Principals and four decades later.  Professor Henry Alford, who had strong opinions about most things, had cause to comment in the 1880s.

In his History of Williston Seminary (1917) Principal Joseph Henry Sawyer (taught from 1866; Principal, 1896-1919) commented that “they are rules which all schools must have,” but even Sawyer, a master of tact, marveled at the level of what adolescent boys must have considered petty detail.   One of Wright’s placards survives to this day:Here are the two sides, in more readable detail.  (Click on images to enlarge.)One can imagine the students’ attitude toward the prohibition of gathering in groups on Saturday night, or might wonder whether most sixteen-year-olds could sit without tipping their chairs.It should be no surprise, then, that by 1846 Mr. Wright’s “young gentlemen” had produced a wickedly funny parody of the school catalogue.  (This, incidentally, gives us a “no later than” date for the Regulations placard.)  Not only did the parody capture and inflate the moralizing and rather effusive marketingese of its model, but the typography and layout were such that the fake could easily have been mistaken for the real thing.Wright’s 23 commandments had expanded to 25.  Together, they suggest aspects of day-to-day Williston that he probably preferred had gone unrecorded.For further exploration of administrative attempts to regulate student lives, please see “Thou shalt not . . .” (Because, boys and girls, it’s good for you, and you’ll thank us later.)

Botanizing

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Rosaceae, Cerasus virginiana (Prunus virginiana), Wild cherry (Please click all images to enlarge)

It was a sunny Saturday, June 20, 1863.  The term was almost over; students and teachers were about to disperse.  With the papers full of news of Civil War hostilities, alumni and family members gone South to fight, there was an overtone of uncertainty about the future.  But for at least a day’s respite, twenty Williston students — ten young men and ten young ladies — went on a plant collecting expedition — “botanizing,” as they called it — to Southwick, about ten miles from Easthampton.  How much of this was serious scientific pursuit and how much an excuse for a picnic, we will never know.  Even at still-coeducational Williston Seminary (the Ladies’ Department would be closed in 1864), opportunities for mixed social activity were few.

Mollie Nelson’s note commemorating the day. Mollie’s name is at bottom right.

The organizer and chaperone was William Austin Richards, Williston 1855, Amherst ’61, who upon his graduation had returned to Williston as a teacher of Latin and Greek.  Richards planned to teach for a few years to gain a little experience and cash, before studying for the ministry.  None of his Williston responsibilities included anything scientific; natural history must have been merely an avocation.  And although a document refers to the “botany class,” there was no formal course in the Williston catalogue.  Nonetheless, at least some of the students took the scientific side of the day very seriously.

Ranunculaceae, Coptis trifolia, Three-leaf goldthread
Mollie Nelson’s cover labels for the wild cherry specimen at the top of the page.

One of these was Mary Lydia Nelson — “Mollie” — a senior from West Suffield, CT.  Mollie went home and meticulously pressed the day’s collection of plants.  Almost unbelievably, 154 years later, her specimens remain in nearly pristine condition.  Mollie did everything right.  There are 57 folders, each a sheet of paper 23 x 18 inches (11.5 x 18″ folded.)  Mollie chose a very high quality heavyweight rag paper with almost no acid content, so there has been practically no chemical reaction between plants and paper.   She secured each plant to the paper with nearly invisible white cotton thread.  Almost every specimen was carefully labeled with phylum, genus, and species.

Trilliaceae, Trillium erythrocarpum (T. undulatum), Painted trillium or Painted wakerobin

Mollie retained her plant collection as a cherished keepsake.  It stayed in her family and against all odds, was always well stored, away from extremes of temperature and humidity.  In 1983 Mrs. J. R. Nelson, widow of one of Mollie’s descendants, presented the collection to Williston Northampton. Continue reading