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Number 24

 

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The Witherspoon farm This is the Witherspoon farm just up Route 46 between the east edge of the Big Woods and Oteseraga Lake. Schermerhorn's was just a couple hundred yards farther up the road. A typical upstate New York farm family, the Witherspoons never exactly prospered and never exactly starved. Eventually old Zenas went bankrupt and died mysteriously in a plunge from the hayloft. Officially it was ruled a death by accident, but, of course, everyone thought it might have been premeditated since Zenas was widely known as having a distinctly sour and depressed personality. Having been too cheap to insure his own life, he left his wife Netty with nothing but a mountain of debt and a ramshackle house with threadbare curtains. What with that and her son Jimmy's having perished earlier in the Korean War, Netty became pretty threadbare herself and passed away within a couple of weeks. There's no moral to the Witherspoon story, really, unless it's the old chestnut "Stop and smell the coffee," but that does seem rather too pat and banal, doesn't it? In any case, I was the agent in the sale of the property, and I'd like to think that Netty's niece Florence actually enjoyed the rather large proceeds from the sale, less my commission, naturally. I don't know that she did because she lived out West and never made an appearance in Centerboro, but I heard that unlike her Uncle Zenas, she didn't mind at all contributing to a healthy economy, if you get my drift. 
Monument at Main and Herkimer Here's another one of those Main and Herkimer pictures from the ancient days of Centerboro. I've but briefly discussed this monument that stood at the intersection before, so here's a bit more information. The monument is technically called "The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument," but everyone calls it the Upton Monument. It is a four-sided shaft about 30 feet tall with a bronze eagle on top that cost about $15,000 to build back in 1917 or 1918. There are bronze tablets affixed to its base which list the names of all the Oteseraga county servicemen who saw action in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Jimmy Witherspoon's name is on there. The figure in the wide-brimmed hat and cape is said to that of General Emil Carom, a native of Centerboro and a West Point graduate, who served with distinction in the Civil War, but no one knows whether it looks like him or merely represents him, not that it really matters one way or the other. So there's your Centerboro history lesson for today.
Centerboro First National Bank You have here a nice shot of the First National Bank of Centerboro and the Busy Bee from many years ago. Counting the basement, there were three floors of merchandise in the Busy Bee. One could purchase just about anything one would need there--similar to the big box department stores of today. Why, if you needed a fuse, a tire pump, a bottle of perfume, an alarm clock, a can of shoe polish, and a Zenith Deluxe radio, you could get them all in a single stop at the Bee. But the Bee had what you might call character or perhaps soul--not like the big box department stores. At the Bee there were pleasant and competent clerks who didn't have to wear some drab and hideous identity-robbing smocks with idiotic buttons all over them and who could actually count out your change without the assistance of a computerized cash register. An interesting feature of the Bee was the system of pneumatic tubes which connected the register stations to the main office on the third floor. Every once in a while a clerk would load her receipts into a metal cylinder, insert it into a tube, press a button, and off it would shoot to the accounting office. Pretty nifty!  There's a color picture of the Busy Bee on this page.
The old troopers' barracks There are numerous references to the New York State Police (a.k.a. Troopers) in the Freddy books. There actually was a State Police headquarters and barracks just east of Centerboro on Route 365, and here you have a picture of the building before the station was closed and the Troop relocated near Rome about the time of the building of the New York State Thruway. Following the departure of the Troopers, the building housed various groups. It served as a home for wayward girls for a couple of years, a half-way house for alcoholics (of which the more desolate and isolated regions of the lower Adirondacks produce their fair share), a private nursing home, and finally a museum of natural and medical "curiosities" that old Doc Winterpool opened after he retired from general practice. For a small fee one could view such wonders as the late Mrs. Pratt's immense gallstone, a two-headed leopard frog, the skeleton which had hung from a ceiling hook in the corner of Doc's office when he was in practice, a collection of poisonous plants and fungi from Central New York, and so forth. I rather miss the museum. Eventually the building was condemned and torn down. 
Centerboro YMCA This picture of the old Y.M.C.A. which stood on Main Street stirs up unpleasant memories in me. This is where Richard Albacore almost drowned me in the pool because he thought I had snitched on him at school, which I had not, knowing full well that he might do something very much like trying to drown me in the pool. I never liked going to the "Y" anyway because in those days we had to swim sans bathing suits in the strictly non-coeducational classes. My parents insisted that I learn to swim, and to them my natural modesty was not sufficient reason to allow me to learn on my own, in a bathing suit, in the Bean farm duckpond. I always felt shivery and vulnerable in the "Y," even fully-clothed on my way in or out, and especially when the school bully was after me, a not infrequent event. Of course, I did survive Richard's holding my head under water. My thrashing and flailing finally got the attention of the swim instructor who promptly banished Richard from the "Y" for the rest of his life. Now why hadn't I thought of a stunt like that to get out of swimming lessons? By the way, to read more of Richard's exploits, check out the story "The Sean McMurty Incident" on the "Tales Out of School (and Elsewhere)" page if you haven't already.
People dressed as carrots Well, enough of buildings and monuments already. Isn't this an odd photograph? It's from the Bean albums and the note on the back says that the two gentlemen dressed as carrots and standing in a patch of weeds are Cousin Hermie and Ollie Groper in their variety show costumes. I have no further information to impart, so I leave it to you to imagine what their act might have been or why two grown men would want to dress like carrots to begin with. For another picture of Cousin Hermie, click here.

Say, speaking of Ollie Groper, here he is behind the concession desk at the Centerboro Hotel. You see in this photograph a little alcove off to the side of the entrance to the main lobby. The more genteel Centerboro residents used to enjoy a spot of tea and light conversation in the early afternoons in this alcove. This was a younger Ollie, before he became tubby. He was in the habit of sampling most of the preparations in the hotel's splendid kitchen before they were served up, so it's little wonder that (1) he gradually gained significant weight over the years and (2) he was one of the first victims of the hepatitis outbreak at the hotel.

Ollie wasn't merely a hotel manager. He was an enthusiastic thespian who appeared in many Rotary shows, typically as your stock rotund, jolly character. One could always count on Ollie's appearances in the annual Junior Chamber of Commerce talent and variety shows, too. And he actually did have a predilection for byzantine and sesquipedalian locutions, as he may have put it. He was a bachelor his whole life. The bottom photograph is of the Main Street lobby entrance and the check-in desk

Spiffy Mars Totem Head Several readers have asked me if I would assemble my Man From Mars Totem Head so they could see what it looks like, and they wonder if I will put it up for sale again at another Internet Yard Sale since it didn't sell at the March 2001 event. Well, here it is in Techni-Color!  Actually, I have two of these masks, and I think I will sell one of them next year. Factoring in inflation, the price will be $600. I'm keeping one, too. It doesn't look at all like a genuine Martian, but I think that next Hallowe'en I might be able to frighten off some of the neighborhood brats by rushing at them from the bushes wearing this mask as they once again attempt to steal my jack-o'-lantern from the good old silver maple and smash it in the street. Last year I detonated my pumpkin with a radio-controlled device as the little devils approached it, but that did not go over very well with their parents or the constabulary--even though not one of the little monsters was damaged. I got off with a warning after declining to file a complaint for trespassing against the tykes, so I'll try this less risky tactic this year.

Frederick R. Bean obituary

Frederick R. Bean photo

My goodness! You can be sure that I received many communications on November 19 and 20, 2001, after a number of readers of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle spotted this obituary of Frederick R. Bean. As the only semi-official Internet historian of Centerboro and Oteseraga County, I can and will categorically state and prove that this cannot be the obituary of the Frederick Bean revered by the Freddyite community. First of all, the real Freddy is not anywhere near 97 years old. He is closer in age to me, or Herb Garble, or Petey Muszkiski, and if the stories are true, he is currently confined in some nursing facility, whereabouts unknown to me. (Again, I will pay anyone who can discover for me the location of that nursing home a substantial cash reward! I would dearly enjoy paying Freddy a visit so we could reminisce about old times!)  Second, Freddy would never have aspired to become any kind of scientist, lacking, as he does, all interest in intellectual matters and possessing at most a slightly sub-average to average intelligence. He could never have become the "inventor of complex organic compounds at the Eastman Kodak Co." Freddy's strengths reside more in his natural talents in the areas of connivance, chicanery, and con jobs. Third, as far as I know, Freddy never produced (or at least never acknowledged the existence of) the three sons, daughter, or seven grandchildren listed in the obituary. Fourth, the picture accompanying the obituary is of a pleasant and thoughtful individual. These words never were and could hardly now be descriptive of Freddy. Fifth and last, it is a well-known fact that Freddy did not have a middle initial! Q.E.D.

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