Category Archives: Fine & Performing Arts

“Sammy, my Sammy . . .”

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Williston’s Song of Songs

It is sung, with varying degrees of solemnity and competence, at solemn events like graduations and hockey games.  If “Hail to Williston Northampton” is our recently adopted Alma Mater, then surely the much more venerable “Sammy” qualifies as our Alma Aviam.  (That’s “Beloved Grandmother.”  Don’t you regret not having taken Latin?  But I digress.)  At least one former Head of School thought the song and its associated traditions puerile and tried, without success, to suppress it.  “Sammy” remains the Song that Would Not Go Away.


Link: Listen to the 2012 Caterwaulers singing “Sammy!”

The music for “Sammy” — a broadside printed for Williston Academy’s centennial in 1941.

Link: A more rough-and-ready performance from Mem West, National Kazoo Day, 2019.

Venerable Williston Lore tells us that “Sammy,” our “stand-up song,” was written by Paul “Pitt” Johnson, class of 1905.  This appears to be accurate, although it seems that the memory briefly slipped Johnson’s mind after he graduated.  But in 1939, Alumni Secretary Howard Boardman asked for Johnson’s recollection.  Pitt wrote back,

Pitt Johnson to Howard Boardman, 1939

“Although  there might have been in my mind a slight doubt of the authorship, nevertheless, it was instantly removed after singing the first two measures.  I instantly recognized it as my work, which was one of the many songs I wrote during my years at the old school.”  [The full letter is reproduced at right; please click on the image to enlarge it.]

Johnson continued, “It so clearly comes to mind now how Dr. Sawyer [Headmaster Joseph H. Sawyer], upon hearing the song on the campus, called me to his office and suggested that theretofore the name Samuel had never lost its dignity and couldn’t I rewrite the song using Samuel instead of Sammy.  I remember how three or four of us tried it out but it sounded a bit brummy and didn’t cut the mustard so the song continued to refer to the founder of Williston as Sammy and I cannot recall a single instance of where Samuel Williston haunted me from the tomb because of it.”

Headmaster Sawyer

It is perhaps ironic that Johnson knew “Sammy” as his own when he heard the first two measures, since that is the one portion of the tune that he most certainly did not write.  Fans of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas will recognize the phrase as having been lifted, note for note, from the Bridesmaids’ Chorus in Trial by Jury, at the words “Wear the flowers ’til they fade.”   The show was wildly popular at the time Johnson “borrowed” the tune – and the cribbing was probably unconscious.  As for the lyrics that so bothered Joseph Sawyer, it is likely that having written “Sammy, my Sammy, my heart yearns for thee,” Johnson needed a rhyme, and settled on “and your old elm tree.”  Nothing we know of Samuel Williston suggests that he ever took an interest in trees, elm or otherwise.  Yet, as has been detailed elsewhere, from this bit of doggerel entire school traditions have risen.  (See “The Brand,” particularly toward the end of the article.) Continue reading

Dong Kingman Painting Comes Home

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

Dong Kingman (1911-2000) was a respected Chinese-American watercolorist, one of the leading figures in the “California Style” school of painting, and the father of Dong Kingman Jr., Williston Academy class of 1955.  In 1953 he and his wife Janice visited the campus.  While here, Kingman painted this picture of the east end of the Recreation Center, today’s Reed Campus Center, and presented it to Sarah and Headmaster Phillips Stevens.  It was hung in the Homestead (at that time, the Headmaster’s residence) and, according to Phillips Stevens Jr., went with them to every home.

Peter Stevens with Dong Kingman’s painting

Last year, on behalf of the Stevens family, Phillips Stevens Jr. presented Kingman’s painting to the school.  It has been conserved, re-framed, and added to Williston Northampton’s permanent art collection, and is displayed in the west end of the Reed Campus Center, which it depicts.

At right, another member of the Stevens family, Peter Stevens ’60, admires the Kingman painting in the Reed Campus Center, March 30, 2019.  Peter was visiting with his wife, painter Linn Bower, for the opening reception of her exhibit, The Passionate Hands of the Sun, in the Grubbs Gallery, just down the hall.

More information about the life and work of Dong Kingman may be found in a variety of online sources, and several books, including Dong Kingman: an American Master, by Monte James (Twenty-Second Century Film Corporation of America, 2000), and Kingman’s own Portraits of Cities (Twenty-Second Century, 1997) and Dong Kingman’s Watercolors (Watson-Guptil, 1980).

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!