Category Archives: Williston Lives

An 1880s Williston Scrapbook

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
George B. Wardman portrait
George Wardman in his student days. (As always, please click images to enlarge.)

Consider why people keep scrapbooks.  Are a they a repository for the ephemera of one’s life, souvenirs of things that seemed important at the time?  If so, then they can be unique windows into individuals’ lives, in a particular place, at a particular time.

Among the many student scrapbooks and albums held by the Williston Northampton Archives, that of George Wardman, class of 1889, is among the older and more comprehensive.

George Benjamin Wardman entered Williston in the fall of 1885, as a member of the class of 1888.  Born in Cheyenne, WY, April 20, 1869, he was a resident of New Orleans, LA, according to the 1886 Annual Catalogue.  How he found his way from the deep South to Easthampton is not known.  To further confuse matters, his academic transcript, in contradiction to the Catalogue, claims he resided in Pittsburgh.  In any event, he arrived in the fall of 1885, bringing with him a leather scrapbook.

George B. Wardman scrapbook.The book, now in fragile condition, measures 12 x 9 inches, bound in buckram-covered boards with a leather spine.  Inside the front flyleaf is a penciled inscription: “George Wardman.  Christmas 1884.  Mama.”  George appears to have saved the book for something special; he did not begin adding to it until the winter of 1886.  The first pages contain a pasted collage of items from the 1886 Annual Catalogue, including a rosters of the faculty and George’s classmates, his first year curriculum in the Scientific Department, and what must have been the major news of the time, the appointment of a new Principal.

George B. Wardman scrapbook. Catalogue pages.
(Click on any image to enlarge.)

Here are the results of George’s entrance exams, assigning him to the Junior Middle class (“J.M.,” equivalent to the 10th grade) and initialed by Acting Principal Joseph Henry Sawyer.  Note how items have been sewn into the scrapbook with gold ribbon.  George eventually became less fastidious about this; later items were often simply tucked between pages, without sewing or the use of oxidation-prone glue.  Ironically, this has aided in their long-term preservation. George B. Wardman scrapbook. Results of placement exams.As was customary in most schools and colleges at the time, students’ physical measurements were recorded.  George’s vital statistics indicate that he was smaller than average, standing 5’3″ and weighing 102 pounds.George B. Wardman scrapbook. Vital statistics.George B. Wardman scrapbook. Vital statistics rotated. Continue reading

“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