A continuing tale of life in the boonies

No. 314

WOOOF and clock fans wagging tails

FARMINGTON – It has been a good spell for both the town clock and the campaign to ring out the name of Vice President Henry Wilson across the rooftops.

First the clock, housed in the tower of the First Congregational Church, but which, in a delicate interweave of church and state, belongs to the town. It is in need of repair. Not so much the great metal cogs, wheels and spindles, which the late John Oakley occasionally had to thwack into compliance with a two by four, but the rotting wooden sills and facings that look out over Farmington.

The petition article to fix the clock sat near the end of a lengthy March town meeting warrant. The $34,000 required for the repair was not being recommended by the Budget Committee, for that group maintained it wasn’t a town problem, but an ecclesiastical one.

The article’s prospect for passage looked gloomy, indeed. It was well after midnight, and several hundred people had already been blabbing on and on, mostly about sewer plants, and whether certain roads were up to snuff, and if Fords made better cop cars than Chevys, for over five hours.

It was then that the slight but distinguished figure of Don Marble, beadle or sexton or whatever he is, rose at the back of the hall and pulled a brilliant masterstroke. He innocently took up a sheaf of papers, and, after being handed a microphone, embarked on an incredible one-man filibuster.

"In 1875 …," began Don, leisurely, knowing that he had the floor, time on his side, and 134 years of clock history to recount. A retired pharmacist, he didn’t have to get up for work at the crack of dawn.

The impact of his oration was surprisingly instant and dramatic. Down front, at a Budget Committee table peopled with early risers, a white flag was immediately hoisted. Town ownership of the church clock was unexpectedly and utterly conceded.

Unaware that the opposition had caved in or that Moderator Krasner was now gaveling for a vote, Don adjusted his spectacles and plodded slowly and carefully on with his chronology and had reached 1882 (the year the Precinct sought an appropriation to take care of said town clock) before his microphone was thankfully switched off – a relief to Marble’s many friends and admirers, the more fearful of whom had began to imagine the re-emergence of Oakley’s two by four.

So, with a gratifyingly large vote in favor of fixing the town’s timepiece now behind us, repairs bids can go out, and clock fans can look forward to many more years of happy clanging.

The First Congregational Church, wherein the Town Clock is housed on its perch, was built in 1875 (See Ye Compleat History of Ye Town Clock of Farmington, N.H. by Marble, D.), and by coincidence the town’s most famous son, Henry Wilson, U.S. Vice President under Ulysses Grant, died in office that very same bitter-sweet year.

Here at WOOOF, the epicenter of the decades-long mission to hurtle Wilson Out Of Obscurity Forthwith, things are also on an unpredicted uptick.

As mentioned in a recent column, the Hatters of Natick are doing sterling work in the field of parade organizing, and we’ll keep our grateful eye on them.

In other good news, a couple of months back, historians in the nearby town of New Durham requested a presentation on the life of Henry Wilson and the Magnificent Toils of WOOOF, and with the help of friend and fiddle player Stacy Lynch, I was happy to oblige. Of course that sparked off invites from Strafford and the historians of Farmington, themselves, but one has an obligation to navigate the tricky path between obscurity and overexposure. A stale presentation could doom Henry for years to come, so those latter two programs are shelved for now.

But, who could refuse Mrs. Skeffington’s class of third-graders? What an audience! They listened with rapt attention to the story of the indentured servant from Farmington who, later in life, went on to rail at great length against slavery, lead a regiment into the Battle of Bull Run and almost get captured by the Confederates.

A semicircle of innocent, gullible faces peering up at one, as one described what a reincarnation was, and how Royce Hodgdon was Henry Wilson’s. It was so touching! I almost felt a pang of guilt for spouting rot. And then they asked questions, so many questions - most of which I couldn’t answer. But were they disappointed? Apparently not!

A few days later I received a large envelope of fan mail.

"We really learned a lot of facts," wrote Rhys Pilsbury, while Samantha Berrill said that she liked the story of Henry Wilson’s big cake - which truly was an epic. Sarah Shaw said her favorite song was Poem, Poem on the Grange, which I had to write once for those Grangers on Mechanic Street, to get myself out of a tight spot. For anyone who doesn't remember it, the first verse and chorus go thus:


I’ll give you a poem, about folks (and you know ‘em)

Who are not often mentioned – how strange,

From Mechanic Street, therefore, throw hats in the air for,

Henry Wilson (Vice President) Grange.


Poem, poem on the Grange

Where the dear little farmer folk play

‘bout whom seldom is heard an encouraging word,

And Mechanic Street’s rowdy all day.


The second verse goes on about all the bars in the street, and even though it doesn’t mention the bow and arrow murder, I decide to spare the tender ears, anyway.

"I enjoyed when you played the banjo," said Maggie LaCroix in her letter, while Kimberlee Raymond and Cambree Oliver both liked the Band Jo. Kyle Mitchell even mentioned me in the same sentence as the words "great musician."

The pleasure was all mine, o’ seed corn of WOOOF. Long live the name of Henry!

And indeed, thanks to Mr. Roger Nutter, just about the oldest old-timer in Farmington, Henry’s name has now become permanently emblazoned on the Electronic Age. It was Roger who, in the 1980s, petitioned the state to place signage on Route 11 between Rochester and Alton indicating this was Henry’s stretch of road. While boors quickly stole the signs, the great name did linger on in theory, and theory has now flourished once again into law.

Last month, my wife bought a Tom Tom GPS unit to help her get lost less often, and right on her little screen, along the Farmington section of Route 11, shone those three magic words - Henry Wilson Highway!



March 14, 2009


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