1967: Williston Academy’s Literary Society had, for many years, published an oh-so-serious magazine called The Scribe. Imagine, then, the excitement when the Society announced that they would depart from venerable tradition and attempt a humor magazine. The first, and only issue of The Jester appeared in the winter of 1967. Almost immediately, certain elements in the administrative hierarchy objected to the cover on grounds of taste, until it was pointed out that the navel in question, which belonged to our champion diver, was on display in the pool every afternoon.
51 years later, this seems relatively innocuous. Tasteless, yes, but hardly provocative. But our plan to republish substantial excerpts here was somewhat modified when we realized that by 2018 standards, the magazine was so replete with trademark violations, potential libel suits, and what are now called “trigger warnings,” that we had to be very selective. Plus: some of it was too insider-obscure to resonate today, or just wasn’t very funny.
But much of it was funny, or clever, and still is. Perhaps against our better judgment, here are excerpts, beginning with a parody of that prep-school classic, The Catcher in the Rye.
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.)
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 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.
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
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.
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 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.
Finally, if you watched thevideo, 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!
(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.”
“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.
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!
A recent social media discussion among members of the Class of 1968 recalled Horace Thorner, English master from 1943 to 1970, a scholar whose breadth of interests and talents was truly extraordinary. Thorner was a poet of frequent insight and technical virtuosity. Some of his work has already appeared on this blog. (See “The Round World Squared.”)
For the school’s 125th anniversary in 1966, Thorner was asked to write a celebratory “Ode to Williston.” Commemorative poetry is tricky; it is hard to avoid either hyperbole or mawkishness. Thorner was reasonably — though not entirely — successful. But his chapter on founder Samuel Williston is especially perceptive; Thorner, writing for an audience that perhaps expected the old hagiographic legend, captures the essential conflicts in the man better than others have managed using many more words (see “The Button Speech” ).
II. The Founder
Who was this man? There is no simple rule
To separate the warm flesh and the blood
From such another statue, pale and cool,
As since the time of ancient Athens stood
In lifeless grandeur in the public square,
Defying time and tempest, lightning, flood,
But never living, never quite the bare,
The unadorned, the simple human truth,
Standing in unabashed completeness there.
Indeed, he was ambitious as a youth,
A start for marble statues, but God's will
To spoil his eyes left him uncouth,
Compared to what he wanted for his goal,
To preach, just as his father had, to strive
With old New England devils for the soul.
He had his children, none of whom would live,
And felt God's wrath, but trusted and was brave,
Adopted others Emily would love —
A stern man but a just one and no slave
To outward polish in his speech or act,
Never forgetting that his father gave
A life of service to the church, a fact
That well accounts for all the generous years
He took such care his parish never lacked.
We see the flesh through marble, know his fears
To board a ship on Sunday well may show
A man whose God laughed little, lived on tears.
He may have driven bargains hard. We know
The history of most great fortunes proves
The man who rises, steps on some below,
And afterwards he finds that it behooves
That he appease his conscience by his tithes.
Some great philanthropists had cloven hooves.
But whether conscience prospers or it writhes,
The good it does lives after it, and so
They well deserve their shining laurel wreathes.
Williston wrote his conscience long ago
Into the charter of his school. The words
Still shine upon the fading page and glow
With all the brightness of crusader's swords.
"Knowledge without goodness" — so they read —
"Is powerless to do good." The phrase affords
An insight to the sturdy heart and head
Of Williston, for they were words he chose,
Although, indeed, they had been elsewhere said.
On this foundation, then, the school arose
Between the winding river and the hill
That speak God's strength in action and repose.
Horace E. Thorner
Naples, Italy, February 1966
All eight sections of Horace Thorner’s “Ode to Williston” are too long to publish here. Readers who would like copies of the entire poem may email email@example.com.