Yessiree, my friends! Yet another picture page!

Number 32

Once upon a time Centerboro folks complained about their disappearing bicycles, and the sheriff had never been able to solve the several dozens of cases that ensued over the course of about a year. It was a great mystery, a real head-scratcher, which resulted in a lot of speculation. People blamed juvenile delinquents (of which Centerboro had its share, believe me), the Ignormus, Martians, and a suspected theft ring said to have been run from a utility building behind the Centerboro jail and right under the sheriff's oblivious nose. Well, several years after Uncle Ben had left the Bean farm to go to spend his last years on permanent vacation at the Oteseraga County Custodial Asylum, William and Martha were strolling along a ravine that ran the length of a long uncultivated upper pasture about 100 feet south of the back road. There among the tall weeds and scrub they spotted a couple of bicycle wheels sticking up. Upon further investigation, they found a large number of rusting bikes, all missing their saddles. It didn't take them long to tie this discovery to Uncle Ben. William proceeded to break the lock on the old abandoned silo he had given to his Uncle Ben years before so that he could build his "space ship." Inside the silo he found wood plank seats with almost fifty bicycle seats bolted to them--Uncle Ben's barking mad idea for mass seating on the commercial space ship he believed the silo to be. William, a man of good conscience, let the story be known, and this photo from the Bean family album was taken the day a crew came up to clean out the ravine. This little story is a fine example of just how much stranger than fiction truth can be.
Speaking of the Oteseraga County Custodial Asylum, here's a very early stereoscopic view published by one Langdon Tallman as part of some kind of series called Views of American Scenery. The picture must have been taken shortly after the asylum's construction on about 50 acres in the latter part of the 1800s. A dark brick building trimmed in stone, it looks rather forbidding and desolate, doesn't it--hardly the kind of thing to be considered "scenery" in my opinion. Anyway, Uncle Ben was hardly the only Centerboro resident to wind up here for a little visit or extended stay. I could mention names, but even though most of the clients are long dead and the asylum long closed, I refrain out of respect for their privacy. I mean if your Aunt Hilda wound up here with hysterical fits, would you want complete strangers to know about it? I make an exception in Uncle Ben's case because his sojourns there were certainly not any kind of secret around town.

Here you have another photograph from the Bean family album. Scrawled on the back is "Freddy 5th grade," but that cannot be right, because I would have been in any of Freddy's fifth grade pictures, and neither he nor I am in this one. Neither is Petey Muszkiski, Herb Garble, Richard Albacore, Sean McMurty, or Louis Doberman, all classmates of ours, and the teacher in the background is not "Prune Face" Peppercorn, our fifth grade teacher, but the wonderful fourth grade teacher Miss Pottle, whom I mention in the little story "The Sean McMurty Incident" on the Tales Out of School page. (You can go here for a fifth grade picture if you wish.)

I suspect that this murky photo may be Madeline ("Minx") Bean's fourth grade class, but I can't make her out in it--perhaps she was absent that day. I include the picture only to give you some idea of what a typical Centerboro elementary school classroom looked like way back then. It surely is a far cry from the classrooms of today, and the pupils who went on to Centerboro High School from such classrooms were actually competent enough in reading, writing, and mathematics to hold their own with the best students in any high school anywhere. I shall end here before I am tempted to launch another fulminating diatribe about modern public education..


Here's a photo of the barn on the Bean farm--not the cow barn, but the other one. If after you entered the barnyard from the Centerboro Road, passed the farmhouse on your left and the cowbarn on your right, and put the henhouse at your back, this is the barn with the stable that you'd see. This photo was taken in 1959 before the big fire.

By the way, the fire was started by William's pipe while he dozed in the farmhouse. The flames were fanned by by a stiff wind and quickly spread to the two barns. Despite all the talk of the fire's having occurred so soon after William had thrown a milking stool at me (see below), those two events were purely coincidental, not a matter of provable cause and effect!

One of the items I have decided to part with is this three-legged milking stool used by the Beans. It was thrown at me in 1959 by William when I went to inquire about whether he'd be interested in selling off some of his property for development--just before the big fire that pretty much leveled the barnyard and convinced the Beans to retire to Florida. Rather than give William a second shot at me, I grabbed the stool and threw it in the back seat of my car before rushing off. I never did have occasion to return it.

Well-worn by the rumps of Mr. and Mrs. Bean, this stool has never been refinished, so it would definitely please the experts on Antiques Roadshow as far as condition goes. Though it has been used hard, it's still very sturdy. I weigh about 195 pounds, and it exhibited no structural weakness at all when I tested it recently. So should you have cows to milk, it would serve you very well indeed. Of course, as you are reading this, a Freddyite fanatic will undoubtedly have already seen this stool as a collectible worthy of display and forked out a bundle for the privilege. As far as provenance, you have both my word and the fact that there is a very faint inscription in pencil ("Made BY Wm. 1927") on the bottom of the seat which lends more than enough credence to its being the real deal and a rationale for the price I am asking.

Oh, phooey! Sold! What did I tell you!

This is an old Model 625 backpack pump that fireman employed to put out brush and forest fires. It was manufactured by the R.E. Chapin Company of Batavia, New York--a little dinky upstate town about midway between Rochester and Buffalo, New York. I can attest that it still works just fine, propelling a pretty strong stream of water about 20 to 25 feet. This is the very pump I was handed the night of the big Bean blaze when I stopped to help out after enjoying dinner at the Beachcomber up near Lakeville where, incidentally, I had been seen by several people. As I remember it, these pumps were known as "Indian Cans," but I can't recall why exactly. This item is not for sale, for I still find it useful now and then--for spraying trick-or-treaters, for example, who come to my doorstep after the official Centerboro 10 P.M. Hallowe'en curfew.

Speaking of the Beachcomber, here's a nice picture of the joint, a little roadside diner just northwest of Lakeville on the east end of Oteseraga Lake. If you wanted to see C. Jimson Camphor coming off one of his infamous weekend benders following his jilting by Isabel Pomeroy, this is where you'd be most likely to spot him drinking black coffee on a Sunday morning. Once, he walked all the way up to the Beachcomber from downtown Centerboro when he had lost his automobile in a game of poker to a traveling salesman staying at the Centerboro Hotel who promptly drove it out of town and was never seen again.

No one knows why this establishment was called the Beachcomber, because there was no beach to comb within miles. But then no one knows why a street in one of the developments just northwest of Centerboro in the general area once known as the Big Woods is called "Fox Trace" when there's not a trace of a fox to be found anywhere around there.

Pushing 85 as I am, I don't know if I'm going to be around for the next CEO of the USA election in 2008, so I thought I'd auction off the pins I would like to have worn in my perambulations about Centerboro three years hence. All the pins are about actual size and in decent, maybe even collectible condition.

Also, I have come into possession of a truly spiffy all-American outfit from 1901--a somewhat tattered, but nonetheless very keen Uncle Sam costume that was actually worn in 4th of July parades by former Mayor Sibney himself. I would say this handmade item is somewhere between medium and large in size, and it was no doubt made to order for Major Sibney. All three articles show evidence of having been altered several times to accommodate Major Sibney's increasing girth as he grew older. I picked this costume up at the estate sale shortly following ex-Mayor Major (U.S. Army, ret.) Sibney's unfortunate demise. (See the Centerboro necrology.)

To make things easy, I'm pricing the pins at $10.00 each--except for my favorite one, "Henny Penny for President." Since the sky really is falling, I believe the message will be particularly relevant in 2008, and so Henny is going for $25.00.

Shoot! All sold!

The handmade stars and stripes suit is unique, so it's difficult to name a price. I hope you will agree that you'd look quite natty in it, perhaps struttin' your stuff leading a Fourth of July parade down Main Street in your hometown. There are a couple of moth holes, some loose seams, a bit of crude stitching here and there, yet the overall splendidness of this suit completely warrants my asking price!

Sold. Better luck next time!

I will bet you any amount that you cannot identify right off the couple in this old parlour photograph (Answer is at the bottom of the page--no peeking yet!) He had a little tailor shop on Main Street, and besides tending their house, she had a little side business doing crochet work.

Starting at the well-known downtown establishment of Muszkiski's Family Theater, my ex-wife Harriet Peebles had her hat shop in the next building to the west. She shared the bottom floor with Rudy Murrey's, a jewelry store ("It's Always O.K. to Owe Rudy!"). Up the narrow staircase that separated Harriet's shop from Rudy's, you'd find Ben's Billiards (Ben was an astounding player!) on the left half of the second floor and on the right, Tip-Top Tailoring which was run by the fellow in the photograph. Mr. Brooks was an occasional customer of the gentleman, and he created characters in the Freddy series based upon the couple. So, who do you think they are?

The Centerboro Club has had a long history. It was founded in 1882, and today it is still basically just the same old cliquey, snooty club for Centerboro's wealthier "professional" class. Some things just never change around here. When my name was brought up for membership, I found that there was a smaller clique within the bunch of plutocrats that comprised the club who blacklisted me owing to my so-called criminal career and my association with the Martians. Not that I would have joined anyway--the dues were way too high and the level of conversation way too insipid. I mean sitting around drinking, playing cards, and stuffing themselves at lunch and dinner is pretty much it for the members' activities. I'm sure all kinds of deals are made over drinkies, but frankly, I always rather liked making it on my own versus making it through being connected.

I have no idea when I picked this bank bag up, but it must have been back in the early 1950s when I did business at the First National, and for over fifty years it has sat in my toolshed where I used it to hold assorted screws, bolts, and nails. As you know, I was in the real estate business, and my office was right on Main Street a few steps from the bank, which was the biggest of four in Centerboro at the time. For a picture of Mr. Weezer sitting in the vault with a pile of money bags, click here. (By the way, have you ever wondered why there are so many "First National" banks? Well, it's because when a lot of banks were organizing just after Congress passed a national banking act in 1864, they adopted a rather obvious name in consequence.)

When the Urban Renewal Agency half-wits destroyed Centerboro's old Main Street in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the First National was one of the many victims of the wrecking ball, and this bag is one of the few First National artifacts around. I have transferred my screws, etc., to some coffee cans so that I can make available to the discerning collector this truly neat-o item from the much better days of Centerboro. It's a bit water-damaged, and the darker stains along the bottom are from rust, but I think it will clean up pretty well, and I do not think my price is at all unreasonable.

Dang it all! It's sold!

I don't believe I have ever published this older photograph of the Centerboro Hotel which received quite a lot of free publicity in the Freddy series. Besides achieving some local fame as the spot where Vice-President Teddy Roosevelt paused on a trip to the Adirondacks so his son could relieve himself in a civilized manner rather than stepping behind a roadside bush, I believe it derived some prestige from locally famous author Walter Brooks's having dined there when he wasn't stuffing himself at Mrs. Bean's table, at which he was a fairly frequent visitor.

Unfortunately, the hotel really couldn't capitalize in any honest way on T. R.'s "visit" in the same way as did the many places that advertised "Washington Slept Here." It just wouldn't do to state truthfully, "Kermit Roosevelt Peed Here." Nor would some equally honest, yet less specific claim, e.g., "Teddy Roosevelt Stopped Here Briefly," do much to enhance the image of the place. Indeed, the Roosevelt occasion didn't amount to much more than Kermit's dashing in and out in the space of no more than four minutes. The hotel derived much more publicity from the outbreak of hepatitis which originated in its kitchen. I refer you again to the little Centerboro necrology I have provided here to see some of its more noteworthy victims.

Photo Quiz Answer: Quite right! They are the Webbs, who lived four doors down from me at 37 Clinton Street.

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