Category Archives: Williston Northampton School

Reformer With Fearsome Integrity

By Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist (Retired)
Archibald Victor Galbraith, Headmaster, 1919-1949. Please click any image to enlarge it.

In 1918-1919, the final year of Headmaster Joseph Sawyer’s administration, Williston Seminary’s outlook appeared bleak. Sawyer had been Principal since 1896, and on the faculty since 1866. Aged 77, he had been at Williston his entire adult life. Under his leadership, a vision for a different kind of school had evolved, but little had actually been done about it. Much of his effort had been in fund-raising, in which he had little experience, and for which, little taste. He had undertaken significant financial reforms at home. It was working: enrollment had stabilized, the deficits were shrinking, and Ford Hall had been opened in 1916. But the First World War changed everything. Enrollment, and with it income, plunged; deficits soared. Sawyer closed dormitories and tightened belts. Still, by the time the Armistice was signed in November, 1918, only 13 seniors remained. Depressed and in poor health, Sawyer announced his resignation in June 1919, effective as soon as a replacement could be found. (For Sawyer’s story, see Visionary Keeper of the Flame.)

Joseph Sawyer, a few years before his retirement.

Williston had hired Principals on short notice before. Sawyer himself had been among them. The 1919 timetable appeared open-ended: Sawyer would remain Head, assist with the transition, and then move over to the Board of Trustees. But those who knew him well probably sensed that there wasn’t much time. We are not sure why Archibald Galbraith was approached. Galbraith had been teaching mathematics at the Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts, for 16 years. Aside from a few years as Athletic Director, and service as a dormitory head, he had relatively little administrative experience. In his own words, he “had no other plan than to continue there.” (GY, 8). But someone must have had good instincts. In July, Trustees Robert P. Clapp ‘75 (for whom the present campus library is named) and John L. Hall ‘90 met with Galbraith and convinced him of the “challenging opportunity for real service, one which [he] believed [he] was able to do.” (GY, 9) Middlesex Headmaster Frederick Winsor was supportive, and in due course, Galbraith accepted the position.

As things transpired, Galbraith would have only one meeting with Sawyer, who by this time was too sick even to move out of the Homestead. Instead, the Galbraiths moved into temporary faculty quarters in Ford Hall. Sawyer lingered a few weeks and died, worn out in service to his school, on November 7, 1919.

Helen and Archibald Galbraith, around 1940. Surprisingly, this is our only photo of Helen.

Archibald Victor Galbraith was born in Boxford, Mass., in 1877, and grew up in California and in Springfield, Mass. He was an 1895 honors graduate of Springfield High School, attended Harvard, where he concentrated in mathematics, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior, and received the Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, in 1899. At Harvard he also excelled in athletics, particularly baseball. (According to legend, which Harvard authorities have so far been unwilling or unable to confirm, he was the only Harvard shortstop ever to execute an unassisted triple play.) After graduation he taught and coached at Milton Academy for one year, then three more at the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, before he joined the Middlesex faculty. He married Helen McIntosh, of Newton, Mass. in 1905. Arch and Helen spent 1905-06 in Munich, where he pursued graduate courses. They also traveled extensively on the Continent for a year, before returning to Middlesex. They had two sons, Frederic ‘23, and Douglas ‘33.

When Galbraith arrived at Williston, he discovered a school which, in his words, was administratively “not fundamentally different from what it must have been during its formative years.” (GY, 11) For seventy years the Board, largely made up of the Founder’s friends and relations or their descendants, had labored to keep Samuel Williston’s vision alive, even as the educational needs of the country and the expectations of colleges had changed. There had been some migration away from this in recent decades – but certain Trustees were aware that it was not enough. Notably, John L. Hall ‘90, who had initially approached Galbraith, at age 47 represented the youth movement on the Board, while Clapp lived not far from the Middlesex School and may well have known Galbraith socially. They appear to have found a surprise ally in Robert L. Williston ‘88, Samuel Williston’s grand-nephew, but at 50, another relatively young Trustee.

Latin teacher Lincoln Grannis.

Galbraith inherited a strong faculty, led by Charles A. Buffum (Latin and Greek), Sidney Nelson Morse (English), and the extraordinary George Parsons Tibbets (Mathematics). Several other exceptional teachers were in early or mid-career: George Hero (History), Lincoln D. Grannis (Latin and Greek), Melvin J. Cook (Math), and Earl Nelson Johnston (Science) – the last three are very much alive in the memories of alumni from the thirties and forties. But faculty roles were, by longstanding tradition and preference, largely bounded by the walls of the classroom. Galbraith observed that even Tibbets, innovator though he was, expended most of his attention on his more talented students. Although Sawyer’s writings on “The New Williston” had called for a greater role for the faculty in student life, nothing had been done. The situation was in startling contrast to that at Middlesex.

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The Tale of The Lion

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

We are not a campus of monuments.  Other schools may have their statues of alumni Presidents, of creepy idealized schoolboys, of King Ozymandias . . . Williston has a statue called “The Actor,” generally understood to represent a fictional knight whose every attribute defies institutional aspirations toward Purpose, Passion, and Integrity.  And, of course, a lion.  No . . . The Lion.

The Lion in Winter. (Please click images to enlarge.)

The Lion has no name, nor does he represent the school’s Wildcat mascot.  He stands guarding the flagpole.  His empty eyes scan Mount Tom, perhaps anticipating danger from the bike path.  For generations he has been a magnet for children, some of them quite old, who cannot resist riding him.  Chameleonlike, his colors change so often that while his aging body is cast iron, observers may be forgiven for assuming that he is comprised entirely of layers of paint.  Perhaps like Auden’s Sphinx, The Lion is admired. but unloved.

Periodically, especially before important events like Convocation and Commencement, The Lion metamorphoses to a neutral color, institutionally repainted in the name of Looking Neat and Clean.  It never lasts.  The Lion has celebrated the national holidays of many countries, graduations, and the occasional birthday.  At times of local or national tragedy, leonine memorials have been de rigeur.  These have tended to last longer than other redecorative efforts.  He has been painted to advertise school plays, has appeared in support of political candidates, has been colored pink to promote breast cancer awareness,  and adopted a rainbow insignia to commemorate Williston’s participation in an LGBDQ Day of Silence.

(Ann Hallock)

Not every paint job has been so high-minded.  A couple of years ago, The Lion sported an odd shade of light blue, serving as background for a too-public senior prom invitation.  (Embarrassed, she declined.)  And painting traditions have changed over the years.  There was a time when a student subject to involuntary early departure might leave a farewell message.  More often, his friends would paint the beast in the miscreant’s memory.  Until a recent shift in tradition, it was rare actually to see anyone painting The Lion.  Most of the time, he appeared, overnight, to have painted himself.

The Lion in the 1930s, in its original Williston location, next to Swan Cottage

How the Lion Came to Williston

Edward Clare (William Rittase)

The Lion was brought to Easthampton in the 1920s by Williston Junior School Headmaster Edward Clare (for whom Clare House is named), and was installed next to what is now called Swan Cottage, on the crest of the Main Street Precipice.  When Ed Clare died suddenly in 1947, his widow Hazel stayed on, as did his Lion.  In 1965 the statue was relocated to a spot on the main campus, next to the Theater, where it remained until 1996, at which time it was moved to its present location, to make room for Falstaff.

The Legend of the Lion

According to legend, as transmitted by Hazel Clare, The Lion was one of a pair that stood overlooking the Charles River in Boston, on the property of a British merchant.  At the time of the Boston Tea Party, a mob invaded the merchant’s house and dumped the lions into the river.  The Tory fled to Canada, and the lions remained underwater until around the time of the Civil War, when they were dredged from the river during the expansion of the Charlestown Navy Yard.  Col. George Moore was the officer in charge of the recovery operation.  In civilian life, Col. Moore sold pianos.  That detail becomes relevant because at home in nearby Walpole, Mass., Moore had access to a variety of cranes, blocks, and tackles meant for hoisting pianos through upper-story windows, thus also useful for fishing cast iron lions out of the muck.  Moore took one of the lions for himself and installed it at his Walpole residence, which he named Lionhurst.  The second lion was taken by someone else, and lost to history.  Col. Moore had a daughter, Treby Moore.  Treby, who never married, was Edward Clare’s aunt.  She gave Ed the Lion, which he brought to Easthampton. 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

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).