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80 Years Ago

This column reprises two of your editor’s favorite subjects: Thanksgiving and quarantine. In the mid-1950s two aspects of school life disappeared: the annual all school Thanksgiving celebration (Until 1954 the schools held Friday classes the day after Thanksgiving, and the on campus festivities were a high point of the fall, attracting scores of alumni who would return for dinner.) and the near-annual campus quarantines due to infectious childhood diseases. Eighty years ago, these two events converged. 

from The Hermonite, vol. L, no. 6; p. 1 (December 1936).

Thanksgiving Day Celebrated in Traditional
Style Regardless of Scarlet Fever
Absences Cause Program Changes
Mr. Jackson Substitutes for Dr. Porter

Embattled Hermonites not allowing the “bug” to get them down in any sense of the word observed a traditional Hermon Thanksgiving except for the truism that there was not the usual big reunion. Not to be ignored is the fact that alumni and friends, including “so near and yet so far” Dr. and Mrs. Porter, were conspicuous in their absence.

Naturally not in an over-joyful mood for thanksgivings in the absence of so many old friends, students eagerly applauded Dr. Porter’s message suggesting a “Home-coming Week-end” later in the winter.

Due to the continued quarantine, Charles W. Merriam of Deerfield who was scheduled to address us at the half-hour morning service could not be present. In his stead, our Rev. Lester P. White read Psalm 145.

In a West Hall festively decorated with shocks of corn and chandeliers shaded with paper of a gay autumnal shade, dinner, the really big affair of the day, commenced at one o’clock. Featuring Demy’s celebrated roast turkey, Mrs. Cooper’s excellent menu included a fruit cup, sage dressing, giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, watermelon pickles, mashed potatoes, rolls, buttered onions, celery and tomato sauce, mince pie a la mode, salted peanuts, mints and coffee.

During the meal, there was the usual table-to-table yelling; meanwhile the Seniors went joyfully about the extremely pleasant task of breaking all records by eating more turkey this year than ever before. The Seniors tried to excel in the new musical sphere too, by singing a new “Turkey Song” in two parts set to the music of “Tormented” and “Old Gray Bonnet.”

After dinner Mr. Jackson acting as toastmaster in place of Dr. Porter, read a “cablegram” from the isolated headmaster to which a response was unanimously voted by those present. Also decided upon were messages to the still feverish Hermonites at Greenfield and elsewhere.

In the intervals between his introduction of the afternoon’s distinguished orators, Mr. Jackson read greetings sent by various Hermon clubs in colleges…

Irrepressible Johnny Fisher, one of the few alumni present, was greeted with a great ovation when entering the hall late. A little later, on being called on to present the well wishes of the Class of 1936 and other alumni, he was the recipient of one of the most spontaneous outbursts of applause of the day. From this and other demonstrations it was easy to see that thoughts of the alumni were present in all fortunate enough to be present, although everyone was happy to be able to be at West Hall entering in the traditional ceremonies of the day.
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95 Years Ago

This weekly column was initiated at just this time of year in 2003, as a way to invite students to learn more about Northfield Mount Hermon School. Originally, only the class of 2007 received these articles, but each year the incoming freshmen class was added to the list. As it’s an anniversary of sorts, and with Veteran’s Day tomorrow, we’ll revisit the subject of one of those first columns.

from The Northfield Star, vol. VI, no. 1; p. 11 (November 1921).

Armistice Day, 1921

We celebrated Armistice Day in a way which we will long remember. True, we continued with our classes, but the extended chapel service has meant more to us, possibly, than an entire holiday. Colonel Ernest W. Gibson of the first regiment Vermont National guards brought us the Memorial Day[1] message. Who, after hearing it, would not become a better patriot? “Largo” was played on piano, organ, and violin by Miss Richardson, Miss Tillinghast, and Mrs. Miller. Mrs. W.R. Moody was with us to sing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Mr. Fitt’s scripture reading, Mr. Duley’s prayer, and a Joyce Kilmer poem by Mr. Jones helped to make the service an inspiration. The bugle sounded at noon, and in classrooms, and in dormitories, we stood at attention offering thankful prayers and thinking of what the day symbolized, until, at the end of two minutes, taps sounded.

“As unknown, and yet well known;
  As dying, and, behold, we live.”
            King George’s message to
                        Our unknown soldier.

[1] Note that the “Memorial Day,” which we now observe in late May, was then known as “Decoration Day” and celebrated the veterans of The War of Southern Rebellion. The reference here is to November 11.
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125 Years Ago

Every year your editor gets questions about the age and origins of The Pie Race. The footrace is a long-standing tradition to be sure, but you won’t read any commentary from this corner about this year being its 125th anniversary (and 126th running) because we don’t really know when the first pie race was run. The Hermonite does inform us that foot races which featured pies as prizes were run in the early 1890s. We date the Pie Race from 1891 because Henry Bemis who donated the money for the first medals and who gave his name to the race, recalled winning a pie in that year. Oddly enough, in the fall of 1891, Bemis was already off at college. By the early 20th century, a series of intramural cross-country races were held throughout the fall, each race longer than the one before it. The series culminated in “The Big 6-Miler” in late November. By 1903, the top three finishers were awarded medals or pins, and depending upon participation, the next 10 to 20 places won pies. In this era, inter-dormitory competition was also part of the event, with rewards going to dormitories for fastest times and highest participation. In the early 1930s, longtime athletic director Axel Forslund shortened the course to 4.5 miles, but it wasn’t until 1945 that the 33 minute “pie time,” was added as a further incentive to run. With the advent of coeducation, retired math teacher (and spouse of the former AD) Gladys Forslund contributed to the prize fund so that girls as well as boys might compete for pies. A 40 minute pie time was added in the fall of 1971, and the name of the race was changed to The Bemis-Forslund Pie Race in Gladys’ honor.

If the pie race is not quite 125 years old, so be it. Here’s an account of a race that DID take place in the fall of 1891. 

from The Hermonite, vol. V, no. 4; p. 26 (October 31, 1891).

Hares and Hounds. 

The first “hares and hounds” chase of the season took place on the afternoon of the 19th. McClure, ’93, and Horner, ’92 were the “hares,” and about a dozen fellows formed the pack of “hounds.” The start was made at the principal’s house [now Manchester Cottage] at two o’clock, and the hares were given eight minutes’ lead. The course they pursued was as follows: From the dining hall straight past the store and through the woods to the Bernardston road, down that to Hermon station, thence to the Northfield bridge, where they turned abruptly to the north, passing So. Vernon station and crossing by the Ashuelot bridge from Vermont into New Hampshire. Turning south at this point they made their way down through Northfield to the Gill station, recrossed the river at Munn’s Ferry, and so came home. Many of the “hounds” gave out in the pursuit, and the two courageous ones who followed the entire course, baffled by misleading scents, reached Crossley three-quarters of an hour later than the “hares.”
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Today is November 1st, All Saints’ Day. It is a day when we remember those who are gone from our midst; fitting then, that today we also remark the birthday of our former president and headmaster, Elliott Speer. Born in 1898, he became president of The Northfield Schools in 1926, when he was only 27. Six years later, he stepped down to become headmaster of the boys’ school on this campus. This link will take you to some images of Mr. Speer at the Northfield Mount Hermon Archives Facebook page. I've also placed a link here, to a .pdf of In Memoriam Elliott Speer.

The following poem was not written about Speer, but reading it one cannot help but remember our vanished schoolmaster.

The Vanished Schoolmaster
-- Hermann Hagedorn

I hear him laughing down the hall somewhere;
To think that anyone should call him dead
Or talk as though the best of him had fled
To some blue haven of the upper air.

Make no mistake. Glad, calm, and strong to bear
Burdens, he walks these halls, high-spirited,
With you and me in his great heart and head.
We may not see his face; but he is there.

And he will still be there when you and I
Climb feebly the long hill and turn to view
Our gaudier grandeur and our noisier fame,
And see a desert; while afar his cry
Shakes into manhood boys he never knew
And kindles hearts that never heard his name.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Speer.