It’s summer and too hot to do much of anything. I now do my writing close to the air conditioner with the window shades closed and chilled bottles of water always with in reaching distance. In these “lazy, hazy days of summer” I’m too lazy and hazy to go to the library. Instead I’ll do my research at home. All I have to do is dig into my “miscellaneous” file and give you snippets of history that are too small or unimportant to make into a full-length column. These are all from the files of the Derry News.
In March 1907, I read that: “Emanuel Nelson has opened his ice cream parlor for the season and is now ready to serve customers with his delicious creams. In his ice cream room he has placed upon the side wall the head of one of the deer he shot last fall. It is finally mounted over a plate glass mirror with 8 feet of deers about the glass serving as pegs for hats.”
This ice cream parlor is claimed to be where the first ice cream sundae was invented. It was latter sold to the Pieroni brothers and was torn down in the 1980s. On its lot is now the Abbott House on West Broadway. The article didn’t say if the patrons of Nelson’s ice cream parlor enjoyed slurping their sarsaparilla frappes or rainbow-hued ice-cream bombes while looking at the head and feet of dead forest critters.
In that same issue there was a report of a gathering at a Mount Washington Street house. The room full of friends “heard thru the telephone very plainly a number of selections played by Mr. Charles Bartlett (editor of the Derry News) upon his Aeolian Orchestrelle at his home in Derry village and later a vocal solo with piano accompaniment by Mrs. Kingsbury from her residence on 7 Park Ave. In the 1st instance the orchestrelle was several feet from the open telephone and in the 2nd the piano was in a room apart from the telephone. Truly the telephone is a wonderful instrument.”
The Aeolian Orchestrelle is also a wonderful instrument. This music maker is basically a pneumatically powered player piano. They were made of the best quality hardwoods and ornamented with fancy carvings and elaborate lattice work. They were also very expensive, the cheapest model costing a year’s income for the average Derry shoe worker. I guess editors in those days were paid better then they are today.
To play the Orchestrelle, the owner would sit on the plush stool, install a paper music roll, throw a lever or two and move the foot petals up and down. And now out of the piano will miraculously come music — ranging from waltzes and classical symphonies to popular songs and folk tunes. The Aeolian Company advertised that it had for sale 8,000 different compositions. The machine was also much more than just a player piano as it could reproduce the sounds of most of the instruments in a regular orchestra.
The player of this player piano had a degree of control over the sounds that came out of his machine and acted in effect as a conductor over a whole orchestra. While the notes of the music are played for him, the owner could make the music go fast or slow, loud or soft “at will.” Charlie Bartlett also had the freedom — right there in his Derry Village living room — to decide if one musical section should be played by a violin or French horns and another by a piano, organ or drum.
As long as we’re on telephones let me add a couple more little phone stories. In June 1900, an article said: “If some of the New England Telephone Co. workmen would uses less profanity in front of the residences where they work, women and children would appreciate it.”
Every Christmas, one local citizen sent the “Hello” girls — the telephone operators — a small present; sometimes a box of chocolates, other years a small piece of jewelry. In 1903, he writes that the girls are “overworked and little thought given to these of toilers.” The writer is starting a campaign for all telephone patrons to “send them a small amount of money — say $1.00. It would not only gladden their Christmas but it would be a big help to them, as their pay is small at the best.”
This charitable idea probably won’t work today. Computers don’t eat chocolate, wear jewelry or need money but I suppose it’s the thought that counts.
Rick Holmes is the official town historian of Derry and plans to hold office hours at the municipal center. He is the former chairman of the Derry Heritage Commission. Several of his books on local history are available at Mack’s Apples and Derry’s libraries.