Last year, the Greater Derry-Londonderry Chamber of Commerce honored Janet Conroy as its Citizen of the Year. It was a good choice. The Chamber in Derry had its origins in the Business Men’s Association that was founded in 1890. In time, this group morphed into the Derry Merchant’s Association. After a few more pushes and pulls, starts and stops, it became the Greater Derry Chamber of Commerce in 1963.
In the early 20th century, the Business Men’s Association annually had a summer get-away to a seashore resort. These days in the sun continued for a number of years until the approach of World War I put an end to such frivolity. It was impossible to think of spending money on such a trip when the doughboys would soon be “over there.” Our money would soon be needed to buy war bonds.
The first Business Men’s Association outing was held on July 26, 1911, and would be typical of later summer excursions. That morning, 44 local businessmen gathered on East Broadway where nine automobiles were waiting to carry them to the Bass Point Hotel at Nahant Beach in Massachusetts. Two of these cars were owned by Derry News owner Edmund Trowbridge. Before they left, a local photographer took a picture of the men and their flivvers that filled the entire block from McAllister Court to Manning Street including the vacant lot that’s now home to the Sovereign Bank. I have a picture of this line up in my office at the Municipal Center. Stop in and see it.
The all-male caravan took off south down Birch Street at 8:25 — remember I-93 wouldn’t be built until 1963. Their route took them through Windham and Salem Depot and then to Danvers where they stopped to re-inflate their tires. The route took them to Beverly, Mass. There they rubber-necked at the home of President William Howard Taft. (Note: Beverly Hills, Calif., is named in honor of Taft’s summer White House.) Bill Taft wasn’t home so they didn’t stop. After driving for over three hours, they had covered 58 miles and were finally at Nahant.
At Bass Point, they were offered full use of the faculties of the sprawling hotel. Some used the time to walk through the well-landscaped grounds which went down to the rocky coast; some listened to a concert by the hotel’s eight-piece orchestra or tested their skill at the hotel’s bowling alleys — while others just sat and waited until lunch was served.
At 1:30, lunch was served in the hotel’s grand dining room where the Derry group was served a “shore dinner” of lobster, clams, oysters and corn on the cob by “pretty girl waiters.” At the end of the meal, one of the local wise guys had a waitress serve a tall glass of Frank Jones Clipper Ale to the town’s leading ultra-temperance advocate. The shocked non-drinker took the glass and held it out at arm’s length and told his “friends” that he was not used to drinking that kind of liquor with his meals and could not possibly begin at this time. Immediately, the practical joker grabbed the foaming glass from the non-drinker and personally chugged down the brew to the applause and laughter of the entire room. A reporter for the Derry News — or perhaps it was the editor — was reported to have “make himself conspicuous by having a side order served in liquid form.”
After the meal, some of the Derry men went for rides on the nearby amusement park’s roller coaster; other took a steam boat to Boston and took in a baseball game — the Red Sox beat Chicago 3-1. Still others took the advice of the representative from the Derry News and bought a ticket on the narrow gauge railroad to watch the “diving girls show” at Revere Beach. The performance consisted of a troop of young ladies in risqué — for 1911 — skin-tight bathing suits who drove into a pool and performed synchronized swimming. Later that afternoon, our business leaders were entertained by a vaudeville show.
On the way home these men compared notes and debated which of the girls was the best diver and best looker. The young “girl with the dark hair” seems to have been the winner. This collection of older men — some with graying hair and some with no hair — decided that their names would never be printed in the local newspapers. The reason? If their wives found out, they would be in deep trouble. What happens at Nahant should stay in Nahant.
On the automobile trip home, they sang many choruses of “Oh! You Blondie”, a song that had been sung by a lady at the vaudeville show. The chorus — as best I remember it — goes:
“There are naughty men, who most every now and then, stop to make big eyes at me. Flirting is not nice so I’m as cold as ice and just tell them 23-skidoo. But oh, oh you Blondie. You made a hit with me. Gee, I like you. Do I strike you? All your sins you’re telling to me. Oh! Oh! You Blondie, you made a hit with me!
Rick Holmes is the official town historian of Derry. His office hours at the Municipal Center are Mondays from 8 a.m. to noon and Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. Several of his books on local history are available at Mack’s Apples and Derry’s libraries.