PAGES IN TIME: Horror films scared me out of my gourd

PAGES IN TIME

by Milt Huntington

Frankenstein, The Wolfman and Dracula were the trio of terror who lurched from the silver screen to scare me out of my gourd during the early days of horror films. They survive to this day in sequels and parodies, but they’re not nearly as frightening as they were in their original form.

How well I remember, crouched in a darkened theater, peering through my fingers with my hands over my eyes as the music swelled to indicate something really bad was about to occur. My most horrific nightmares and trepidations of terror were brought to the surface by the monsters on the screen as I continually reminded myself: “It’s only a movie.”

Frankenstein

If I had to pick a favorite spook, I guess it would be Frankenstein, adapted from Mary Shelley’s novel and originally starring Boris Karloff. In spite of his square head, borrowed body parts and electrodes sticking out of his neck, he was kind of pitiful as he walked stiff-legged through the film, not quite understanding what the heck was going on. What fun Hollywood had with their countless repeats of the Frankenstein theme. When Abbott & Costello met Frankenstein in the movie of the same name, Costello looked down on the prostrate monster and scared poor Frankenstein half to death. Herman Munster, of course, was the epitome of modern day Frankenstein parodies.

The Werewolf

The werewolf flicks will never die. They go on endlessly from the original 1935 “Werewolf of London” in which a scientist brings the wolf curse upon himself. Next was the 1941 version of the Wolfman with Lon Chaney Jr, whose remarkable make-up transition from man to wolf captivated me every time. The type-cast Chaney then appeared in a bunch of B-grade sequels, including “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.”

The full of the moon brought the Wolfman into full bloom with his evil eyes, two big fangs and hairy face and body. Only a silver bullet could take him out. The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, was the latest to do a take-off on the werewolf legend in his top-selling “Thriller” album.

Dracula

The well-dressed but blood-sucking Dracula may have been the most successful of all the horror films. The vampire has been portrayed nearly 200 times in horror films since the first one was released in 1931, starring Bela Lugosi. No silver bullet for him! You could hold him at bay for a spell by holding a cross to his face, but it took a stake through the heart to really do him in. Daylight was also tough on his skin, so he hunkered down in his casket and waited for night fall to take a bite out of life.

I love the story about Bela Lugosi’s actual funeral. It seems that his real-life friend, Boris Karloff, was standing and peering into the casket. Lugosi was looking ghastly white and very dead, not unlike the way he looked when he was made up for the movies.

Karloff was heard to say” “Bela, you wouldn’t put me on, would you?” Some of the humor born of horror films is equally entertaining. I remember George Hamilton, in a Dracula tale-off movie, being asked: “How do you like your stake?”

Lon Chaney Sr. was undoubtedly the best of the beasts. Known as the man of a thousand faces, his most famous role was perhaps “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Quasimodo, the poor deformed bell ringer, was enthralled by a lovely maiden, but he was hopelessly unattractive. I remember the scene when he clamored to the top of the cathedral and said sadly to the cement decorative cornice: “Oh, Gargoyle! Why am I not made of stone!” James Cagney had the leading role in the film depicting Chaney’s life and turned in a memorable performance.

Chaney delivered big time with his portrayal of “The Phantom of the Opera” in which he gets unmasked to reveal a hideous face. Several versions of the movie followed Chaney in the years ahead, one with Claude Raines. “The Phantom” was also a smash on Broadway.

Then, there were the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde films with leading actors like John Barrymore, Frederic March and Spencer Tracy. The kind doctor was transformed into the evil Hyde by drinking some concoction he had devised. Miriam Hopkins and Ingrid Bergman each took a shot at co-starring as the wicked, slutty prostitute. More recently, Julia Roberts gave the role a little different spin with her portrayal of Dr. Jekyll’s innocent maid.

Creaking doors, sudden sounds, fog-shrouded moors and the ever-present scary music all combined to keep my hair standing on end in movies like “The Mummy’s Ghost”, “The Invisible Man”, and “The Hound of the Baskervilles” with Sherlock Holmes. I particularly enjoyed being terrified by “The Beast With Five Fingers” in which a separated hand walks around throughout the flick. In the final close-up scene, the hand appears to be crawling up the shirt front of the narrator. When he sees the hand approaching his throat, his eyes bulge and he grabs at the hand only to find it is merely one of his own.

All the morbid tales of the living dead, the mad scientists and the half-man–half-animal creatures were cinematically designed to slip into the minds of theater-goers like me and keep us on the edge of our seats. Every kind of slimy, over-sized, reptilian monster is being brought to the screen today in movies like “Jurassic Park”. Then we have the movie, “Jaws”, which featured a great white shark approaching unsuspecting victims as the beat of a drum grows faster and louder to herald the monster’s arrival. As a grown-up adult, I handled that scene very well. I simply lifted my feet off the movie house floor and placed them under me on top of my seat.

Ah yes, all these classic monster movies from years gone by and all the scary films of today with their horrifying special effects are designed to raise our blood pressure and send chills down our collective backs. All those vampires, zombies, ghosts, and other grotesque and supernatural fiends play on our fears of the unknown and eventual death. Hey! Get over it. It’s only a movie!

Milt Huntington is the author “A Lifetime of Laughter” and “Things That MakeYou Grin.”

Remembering the Saturday afternoon serials

Pages in Time

by Milt Huntington

We hunkered down in Augusta’s Capitol Theater to watch pulse pounding, thundering, throbbing, breathless, breakneck adventures packed with thrills, spills and chills. It was one of many Saturday afternoons of long ago, when we watched the countless movie serials.

Sometimes we were mesmerized by the adventures of Superman, Batman and Robin, The Lone Ranger or perhaps Flash Gordon. The 20-minute episodes always closed with life or death cliffhangers, only to reappear the following week with miraculous escapes. Sometimes, the movie makers would conveniently invent a different ending to enable the hero or heroine to escape from certain death. I always remember the time that Jackie Cooper played Donn Fendler in the serial and fell off a three-story roof. When the serial picked up again the following week, he managed to land in a rain barrel full of water. Donn Fendler was the real life boy scout in the book about him: Lost On A Mountain In Maine.

The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet

It was an inspirational book for boy scouts everywhere, but the movie serial was really a stretch.

A lot of the serials originated as comic strips, enhanced by special effects and original sounds. I always liked the Green Hornet and Cato who would tear through the night in the Black Beauty super car as The Flight Of The Bumble Bee music buzzed in the background. Who can ever forget the mysterious masked hero of the plains with his faithful Indian companion, Tonto. I can hear the bugle ringing out even now to introduce The William Tell Overture as The Lone Ranger Rides Again. Robert Livingston and Chief Thundercloud were the originals, and then Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels appeared in the feature films when we all “returned to the golden days of yesteryear.”

Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon was a fixture of the movie serials. He was played by Buster Crabbe, and Jean Rollins was his sexy blonde heroine-girl friend, Dale Arden. One of the villains was Mingo The Mercilous, ruler of the planet, Mongo. Flash Gordon conquered the universe and took a trip to Mars. It was the most expensive serial ever made, something in excess of $350,000. I remember it being portrayed in green and white instead of black and white. Incredibly, the futuristic rocket ships and equipment were ahead of their time and materialized as the actual space travel of today.

One of my all-time favorite serials had to do with a guy in a tight fitting costume who could leap tall buildings in a single bound, was more powerful than locomotive and was faster than a speeding bullet. Clark Kent was a likeable wimp. Lois Lane was stuck on the Man of Steel. They were both reporters for the Daily Planet. If it weren’t for that darn kryptonite, Superman would have been invinceable.

Then of course, there was Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, the dynamic duo who rode around in the Bat Mobile as Batman and Robin. I never really understood how the police chief was able to send the Bat Signal into the sky in broad daylight . Strange!

The Phantom

The Phantom

 The Phantom was another fugitive from the comic books. He wore a purple and black uniform with a skinny black mask. I sent away for a Phantom ring with skull and crossbones. I also sent away for a full- blown King of the Mounted Police uniform and a magic decoder ring.

I remember Captain Marvel as being a little bit chubby with an ill-fitting costume, but I liked the lightning bolt on his chest and the way he exclaimed “Shazam.” Captain Marvel Junior was another favorite hero, who changed from a handicapped newspaper boy to super hero by simply saying: “Captain Marvel.”

Zorro

Zorro

I also remember Dick Tracy, Terry and the Pirates, Mandrake the Magician, Brenda Starr-Reporter, Jack Arm­strong – All Ameri­can Boy, Hop Harrigan, The Spider’s Web, Adven­tures of Tarzan, Zorro, Tim Tyler’s Luck, Jungle Jim, Gang Busters, Don Winslow of the Navy, and Nyoka of the Jungle.

“Years ago in the Orient, Lamont Cranston learned a strange and mysterious secret, the ability to cloud men’s minds so they could not see him”. That’s when he became “The Shadow,” and philosophized: ”The weed of crime bares bitter fruit. Crime does not pay. The Shadow knows.” Then we would hear his sinister, nasal-like laughter. How much fun was that!

Blondie and Dagwood were technically a series of 28 films with Arthur Lake and Penny Singleton, but they also qualified as feature films. Unlike the cliffhangers described before, they were just a lot of fun with the bumbling Dagwood character and their kids, Baby Dumpling and Alexander. Dagwood was always getting into trouble with his boss, Mr. Dithers. I loved those flicks.

By the 1940s and early 1950s, serials were so numerous with so many boring and stale plots, they totally lost their popularity. There was a brief revival of serials in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, but, but alas, they were never quite the same again, but they were certainly great while they lasted.

Milt Huntington is the author of “A Lifetime of Laughter’ and ‘Things That Make You Grin.”

Pages in Time: Mushy stuff from years gone by

Pages In Timeby Milt Huntington

Fifty percent of the many responses I received from my newspaper articles come from senior citizens over 65 years of age. I know this for a fact because one of them told me so. Both responders agreed that they love all the mushy stuff from years gone by.

So, let us reminisce. Flipping back through the dog-eared pages of time, I found a piece about the home front in WWII. I told of air raid wardens, rationing of butter and gas, patriotic movies and buying savings stamps at school. Yes, there were no bananas, and we ate sherbet instead of ice cream. Contributing to the war effort by helping mother squish red dye into white margarine to make it yellow was a genuine source of pride.

Growing up in Augusta was a priceless chunk of my young life, so I described the beauty of early Western Avenue and the bustle of Downtown Water Street. Western Avenue was lined with shade trees back in the good old days, and it had a skating pond. It didn’t have a federal building or a shopping mall. You could actually cross the street without taking your life in your hands. Heck, you could even watch soap box derbies there or ride down the hill on your bike with your feet on the handlebars.

There was no traffic circle at the bottom of Western Avenue–just the intersections of State Street, Grove Street and Grove Street Extension. There was, however, an elegant yellow brick building–The Augusta House. The historic old meeting place played host to the rich and famous and was the site where many legislative measures were lobbied to death but often revived by mouth-to-ear resuscitation. Gone now–all gone.

To our young eyes, Water Street was the Broadway of the Capital City. There were Class “A” movies at the Colonial Theater featuring musicals with new Technicolor technology. The Capital Theater drew us in with the Class “B” westerns, vaudeville and cliff-hanging serials. The names of a lot of the flicks are beginning to fade from memory, but I remember well, and always will, the nickel candy bars, the Ju-Jy fruits and buttered popcorn. I also remember the eleven-cent price of admission.

Thoughts of the old American Legion building by the little park stir memories of teen-age dances, football on the lawn, post-war suppers and playing pool with friends in that old front room. Those, indeed, were the good old days.

Still there at the top of Rines Hill is the Hartford Fire Station with all of its history and its bellowing nine-o’clock whistle. The beautiful train station at the bottom of the hill was replaced by a parking lot. Arlene’s Bakery and the aroma of doughnuts and pastries is still a tantalizing memory. You can’t get your shoes repaired or shined anymore at Turcotte’s.

The shop is long gone along with Augusta’s shoe factories – R.P. Hazzard and Taylor Shoe.

You want to talk about change? Just take a look at Bangor Street. Whatever became of Hussey Hardware, Doc’s Lunch, Mike’s Lunch, Williams School, The A&P, Charlie’s Market and the Esso gasoline station?

I can still remember, with delight, the taste of a good steak at Hazel Green’s, a shrimp scampi at Al Biondi’s 89 Winthrop or First Tee on Water Street. I remember well how great the meals were at Ray Lammer’s Pioneer House. Nobody served up cheeseburgers like John McAuley did at his place on Outer Western Avenue. Then, of course, we salivated over the fare at the Roseland Restaurant on the Waterville Road and McNamara’s in Winthrop. The beer was also pretty good over a hamburger and fries at the Oxbow hangout in Winthrop.

Don’t even get me started about Island Park. Suffice it to say, the memories are many. All I need to resuscitate recollections of your own is to casually mention the revolving ball that left colorful squares on the dance floor below and the 21 Club that got us high on a bottle of beer. It was the site of my first date with the girl that I married.

For the beer drinkers in the crowd, I would be remiss in failing to mention Ray’s Dine and Dance in the lower end of Water Street and Duffy’s Tavern on the Bond Brook Road. Don’t talk to me about inflation. I remember when “dimies” went to 20 cents a glass. In some of those places and in most cafeterias, juke boxes were mounted on the walls over the tables. For the drop of a nickel, you could listen to Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board; Mel Torme, The Velvet Fog; Vaughn Monroe, Frankie Laine, Perry Como, Patti Page, Jo Stafford, Joni James and Doris Day. If you’ve read this far, you can easily recall the names of all the others who helped promote romances of the teenage years.

OK! That’s it for now. I’m beginning to tear up. I just hope that all my fans, (both of them), will think back on all the things that they remember if I’ve been successful in jump starting their memories again.

Milt Huntington is the author of A Lifetime of Laughter and Things That Make You Grin.

Memories are made of these

Pages in Time

by Milt Huntington

Sit back, relax, and make a few withdrawals from your collective memory banks while I dredge up a few nostalgia nuggets of my own.

I had the honor of speaking at my 60th Cony High School class reunion a while ago and used the occasion to delve into the pages of yesteryear where fond and distant memories were lurking.

I assured my classmates that some things never change like the Hartford Fire Station whistle that still sounds religiously every single day at 12:30 p.m. and again at 9 o’clock. I reminded them that the State House and the Blaine Mansion are still there along with the old Post Office, the Armory, the AMHI buildings and of course the old flatiron building where long ago they built a school upon a hill.

Speaking to a room-full of Cony grads from here and away, I reminded them of the icons of long ago that no longer exist–places like the Augusta House, Jose Motors, the State Street Diner, Forrest’s Drug Store and the A&P. Gone, all gone, I lamented are our old hangouts like McAuley’s Restaurant on Outer Western Avenue, Doc’s Lunch, Mike’s Lunch, The Roseland, Foster’s Smoke Shop, McNamara’s and the Oxbow out in Winthrop. We still all smile with happy memories when we hear of Island Park.

It was my sad duty to remind folks that McLellan’s, Kresge’s and Woolworth;s have all disappeared from downtown Water Street. No more can they visit Penny’s, Montgomery Ward, Sears & Roebuck, Adam’s, Chernowsky’s, Farrell’s Clothing Store, Nicholson & Ryan’s or Bilodeau’s jewelry stores.

Other institutions that have faded into the pages of time include: the Colonial and Capitol theaters, the drugstores with the wonderful pinball machines, the barber shops, the beer joints, the Depot News, the Army-Navy store, Foster’s Smoke Shop and the Hotel North.

Stealing thoughts from one of my earlier columns, I pushed some buttons of memory concerning the clothes that all of us wore. The boys of the 40’s and 50’s wore maroon corduroy jackets with plaid trousers rolled up at the cuffs. Their shoes consisted of white bucks or penny loafers. Crew cuts were far and away the style of the day. I wish I could grow one now.

The Cony girls of long ago displayed pony tails, up-do’s or page boys, and they looked “sharp” in blue velvet, sweaters, clinging skirts, Gibson Girl blouses and midi-skirts. Their feet were decked with bobby sox, white sneakers and saddle shoes.

The guys never called them “cool.” Nah! They called them sharp, groovy, snazzy or neat. Today, of course, all the younger whippersnappers say “like” and “you know” most of the time. Not all the time, just when they open their mouths. It doesn’t take much to get me going on that subject. I think of the the Red Sox pitcher I watched who said “you know” 32 times in a three minute television interview. I expressed my amazement that a lot of college graduates who go on to sports never learned to exhibit some degree of articulateness.

Seizing my moment in the spotlight, I dug down deep to dredge up memories of icons of 60 years ago and more. I asked them to sink into the depths of their memories to remember stuff like table-side juke boxes that played the music of Frankie Lane, Joni James Patti Page, Jo Stafford and Frank Sinatra. The songs that continually spring from my memory of years gone by are the likes of Mule Train, Jezebel, Come Fly With Me, See the Pyramids, Music, Music, Music, Purple Shades and a thousand more.

Those were the days, my friends, we thought they’d never end, but they did–just like the pant leg clips we wore when we road our one-speed bicycles. Gone forever are the glass milk bottles delivered to our doorsteps and the ice boxes that actually contained blocks of ice. Gone, all gone, are the telephone party lines, Howdy Doody, 45 rpm’s, S&H Green Stamps, Hi-Fi’s, Studebakers and Packards, roller skate keys and pizza when we called it pizza pie.

I could go on and on…and I usually do, but suffice it to say: “Those were the good old days.” How much fun it is to pause now and again to think back on all the things that we remember of our own particular and special Camelot.

Milt Huntington is the author of “A Lifetime of Laughter” and “Things That Make You Grin.”

Pages in Time: Growing up in Augusta…priceless! (Conclusion)

Pages In Timeby Milt Huntington

Conclusion (for part 1, please see Growing up in Augusta: Priceless)

Down at the other end of the street was the old Colonial Theater where Class-A pictures were shown. On Sunday, after week-long previews of coming attractions, we would be rewarded with musical extravaganzas starring Esther Williams, Bing Crosby or Jane Powell in living color or flicks like Casablanca, The Wolfman or war movies like Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. The Colonial played their movies continuously so we could sit through a good movie twice for the price of a single ticket.

Once in a cowboy thriller, an Indian chief, played by blue-eyed Jeff Chandler, stood in the middle of a pow-wow session, folded his arms and dramatically declared: “I walk away!” “Our Gang” had seen the movie once, but we stayed for a second showing to get back to that pow-wow scene again, when we stood in the theater, one by one, folded our arms and declared to the rest of the audience: “We walk away. People call them punks today. We were harmless “hooligans” then.

On the way home from the Colonial was Ed Houdlette’s Drug Store which was known to have a particularly vulnerable pin ball machine. We hung out there a lot because Mr. Houdlette was also nice to us.

Water Street is what I like to call a street of dreams because it conjures up so many memories of shops and businesses that vanished with our youth. Remember the five- and ten-cent stores that anchored the center of down town Augusta – McLellan’s, Kresge’s and Woolworth’s. We had ‘em all. I was a stock boy and soda jerk for the Kresge operation, but it suvived anyhow for awhile.

Then of course, we had JCPenny, D.W. Adams, Chernowsky’s, the Army-Navy Store, Lamey-Wellahan, Montgomery-Ward and Sears & Roebuck. A jewelry store graced the corner of Water Street and Bridge Street – A.J. Bilodeau’s. Another one sat on the corner between Farrell’s Clothing Store and the post office. It displayed a sign with a picture of a diamond ring. The caption stated: “I came here to talk for Joe,” a popular World War II love song. Speaking of Farrell’s, it once boasted just a single aisle between two counters with a little space downstairs where I bought all my Boy Scout gear and a tux for the senior prom. Nicholson & Ryan Jewelers was always there, it seems.

Near the bottom of Rines Hill was a liquor store where my father and grandfather liked to surreptitiously shop. They would always leave their change with the Salvation Army lassie who parked out front. Once, running an errand for my mother, I dropped some change into the lassie’s tambourine. When my mother questioned me about that, I replied: “That’s what Papa and Grampy always do.”

On the other end of Water Street were the beer parlors which gave the neighborhoods a shoddy reputation. Across the street was Allen’s Grocery Store. a fish market and Berry’s Cleaners. Depositor’s Trust Co. on Haymarket Square was on the ground floor of a six-story affair which is now the site of the Key Bank building. We’re talking ancient history, I know, but who can ever forget Stan Foster’s Smoke Shop next to the old Hotel North. He specialized in meals, smokes and some real great pin ball machines. Near the

Depot News was Al’s Barber Shop which took care of ducktail haircuts and crew cuts in the early years. His partner and relative bought him out and opened Pat’s Barber Shop at the other end of Water Street near the lights.

Swan Street and Water Street have undergone a lot of change in the last 60-plus years or so. Downtown was the main thoroughfare to all those movies, and it was the pathway to Cony High before the new bridge opened up. Most of those downtown places are now long gone, but the memories (some a little fuzzy now) will remain forever. I wouldn’t swap those memories for anything. Growing up in Augusta was as good as it gets.

Milt Huntington is the author of “A Lifetime of Laughter” and “Things That Make You Grin.”

Growing up in Augusta: Priceless

Pages In Timeby Milt Huntington

Our family moved from Belfast to Augusta when I was a mere 10 years old. I knew Augusta was the capital of Maine, because every time we drove through town to visit out-of-state relatives, my parents would wake me up to see the State House dome.

The only other thing I knew about Augusta was the fact that it was the home of a mental hospital which, back then, was commonly called an insane asylum. I experienced a few nightmares before moving here about crazy people walking the streets. When our moving truck pulled up at our new home on Swan Street, my bicycle was the first thing to be unloaded. That drew the attention of the kids in the new neighborhood who would soon become my childhood friends.

I was small. My bike was a 22-inch affair compared with the 31-inch bikes most kids had. That seemed to fascinate the Swan Street gang with the exception of one guy who didn’t accept this new kid on the block. That was OK with me. I didn’t accept him either. He was a grammar school football hero who became bigger than life when he broke his nose. We got into a fight over some exchange of words, and a lot of fists were flying back and forth. I don’t remember any of them making a serious connection, and we never fought again. He became my closest friend from that day on.

What a neighborhood! A family with five kids lived next door. Down on nearby Gage Street, there was another family with five, plus another Gage Street boy who would also become a life-long friend. We played street hockey using a tin can for a puck; All-y, All-y Over, which involved throwing a ball over the roof of a house and Ring-A-Lebo which was sort of like hide-and-seek. We also played Mother, May I, which involved taking giant strides or baby steps when you remembered to ask: “May I?” and Red Light, a game where the person who was “it” shut their eyes and counted to ten while the others tried to sneak up and tag him before the “it” person said: “Red Light”.

We stole apples, broke a few street lights on Halloween and played football on the approach road to the new Memorial Bridge before it got paved. As a matter of fact, while the bridge was under construction, a few of us walked out on the steel work one night and made our way across the river. After making it safely to the other side, I remember remarking to my friends: “Hey! We beat the governor across!” A KJ reporter heard the remark and printed it in the next day’s news.

Swan Street was located right behind the Hartford Fire Station, and provided a neat short cut through its alley on the way downtown. The fire whistle sounded loudly every night at 9 p.m. to signify curfew time for the younger set. There were times when we would be cutting through the alley way when the whistle would blow and frighten us about ten feet off the ground. There’s no curfew anymore. I wonder why the 9:00 whistle continues to blow? Right beside the fire station, two nice men named Frank and Howard worked at a small shoe repair shop. We hung out there because we liked it when they teased us half to death. We thought we were kind of tough. They laughed and called us “pansies.” We were also firemen wanna-be’s, and pestered them a lot.
I always liked walking down Rines Hill when the trains passed under the bridge. Once, we stood there as a smoke-spewing locomotive went underneath. We were covered with black soot as we leaned on the soot-smudged railing, and we had to go home to get cleaned up. The marvelous old brick railroad station at the bottom of the hill would see some of us come and go from the Korean War. The next place down Water Street was Frank Turcotte’s shoe repair and shoe shine parlor where “Our Gang” would go on Sunday mornings after getting all gussied up for church or some such thing. Next to the shoe shine shop was the coolest store in town–the Depot News. A really nice guy named Joe Kaplan ran the place and provided a second home for all us kids who played his pin ball machine for a nickel a game. All the downtown merchants were good to us kids.

We always stopped at Joe’s on the way to the movies at the Capital or the Colonial theater to load up on candy bars. It was also the place to buy comic books. Between the Depot News and the Capital Theater was a nice little store that sold fruits and vegetables. When I was flush, I used to buy a quarter pound of cherries there to eat in the movie theater.

Next to the fruit store was Partridge’s drug store, where we pigged out on ice cream sodas and chocolate malts or milk shakes, often referred to as chocolate velvets. In my high school days, I would work there as a soda jerk. I even took two years of Latin at Cony High in preparation for a career as a pharmacist. Didn’t happen! My high school year book prophesized that my writing would take me far in the literary world. Yeah, right! All the Way to the Capital Weekly and Kennebec Journal, in Augusta.

Getting back to the movie theaters, the Capital provided all the B-Class movies, westerns and such in black and white. It did have a weekly serial, however, which drew us in every weekend without fail. The serials ranged from Superman to Flash Gordon to Tom Mix and The Shadow. The feature was often Gene Autry, Roy Rogers or the Three Musketeers, starring John Wayne as Stony Brooks and Bob Steele as Tucson. I forget who the third one was – somebody very funny, but forgettable. My first ticket at the Capital cost me 12 cents. What a shock one day when it jumped all the way to 20 cents. We used to horse around noisily a lot at the movie theaters, and it was something to brag about to get ejected at least once during our young lives.

Down at the other end of the street was the old Colonial Theater where Class-A pictures were shown. On Sunday, after week-long previews of coming attractions, we would be rewarded with musical extravaganzas starring Esther Williams, Bing Crosby or Jane Powell in living color or flicks like Casablanca, The Wolfman or war movies like Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. The Colonial played their movies continuously so we could sit through a good movie twice for the price of a single ticket.

Once in a cowboy thriller, an Indian chief, played by blue-eyed Jeff Chandler, stood in the middle of a pow-wow session, folded his arms and dramatically declared: “I walk away!” “Our Gang” had seen the movie once, but we stayed for a second showing to get back to that pow-wow scene again, when we stood in the theater, one by one, folded our arms and declared to the rest of the audience: “We walk away. People call them punks today. We were harmless “hooligans” then.”

On the way home from the Colonial was Ed Houdlette”s Drug Store which was known to have a particularly vulnerable pin ball machine. We hung out there a lot because Mr. Houdlette was also nice to us.

Water Street is what I like to call a street of dreams because it conjures up so many memories of shops and businesses that vanished with our youth. Remember the five- and ten-cent stores that anchored the center of down town Augusta – McLellan’s, Kresge’s and Woolworth’s. We had ‘em all. I was a stock boy and soda jerk for the Kresge operation, but it suvived anyhow for awhile.

Then of course, we had JCPenny, D.W. Adams, Chernowsky’s, the Army-Navy Store, Lamey-Wellahan, Montgomery-Ward and Sears & Roebuck. A jewelry store graced the corner of Water Street and Bridge Street – A.J. Bilodeau’s. Another one sat on the corner between Farrell’s Clothing Store and the post office. It displayed a sign with a picture of a diamond ring. The caption stated: “I came here to talk for Joe,” a popular World War II love song. Speaking of Farrell’s, it once boasted just a single aisle between two counters with a little space downstairs where I bought all my Boy Scout gear and a tux for the senior prom. Nicholson & Ryan Jewelers was always there, it seems.

Near the botom of Rines Hill was a liquor store where my father and grandfather liked to surreptitiously shop. They would always leave their change with the Salvation Army lassie who parked out front. Once, running an errand for my mother, I dropped some change into the lassie’s tambourine. When my mother questioned me about that, I replied: “That’s what Papa and Grampy always do.”

On the other end of Water Street were the beer parlors which gave the neighborhoods a shoddy reputation. Across the street was Allen’s Grocery Store. a fish market and Berry’s Cleaners. Depositor’s Trust Co. on Haymarket Square was on the ground floor of a six-story affair which is now the site of the Key Bank building. We’re talking ancient history, I know, but who can ever forget Stan Foster’s Smoke Shop next to the old Hotel North. He specialized in meals, smokes and some real great pin ball machines. Near the Depot News was Al’s Barber Shop which took care of ducktail haircuts and crew cuts in the early years. His partner and relative bought him out and opened Pat’s Barber Shop at the other end of Water Street near the lights.

Swan Street and Water Street have undergone a lot of change in the last 60-plus years or so. Downtown was the main thoroughfare to all those movies, and it was the pathway to Cony High before the new bridge opened up. Most of those downtown places are now long gone, but the memories (some a little fuzzy now) will remain forever. I wouldn’t swap those memories for anything. Growing up in Augusta was as good as it gets.

Read Part 2 here: Growing up in Augusta: Priceless (Conclusion)

Milt Huntington is the author of “A Lifetime of Laughter” and “Things That Make You Grin.”

Pages in Time: Christmas in Korea

by Milt Huntington

When I begin to reminisce about the Christmases-past, they all seem to blend together into a single memory of sparkling red and green. My Christmas in Korea in 1953 is a blur of khaki and canvas, homesickness and humor. I remember it well.

The 5th Regimental Combat Team was perched in the center of Chiporee Valley, just south of the 38th Parallel. We were the members of the Honor Guard Platoon. The war had recently ended, and the responsibility fell to us to shine our boots, clean our rifles, press our khakis and guard the officers of the Headquarters Company. Highlighting the drudgery of it all was the assignment we had of greeting dignitaries when they arrived by chopper to meet the brass before entertaining the troops.

Photos of Milt Huntington in Korea in 1953. Photos courtesy of Milt Huntington

Photos of Milt Huntington in Korea in 1953.
Photos courtesy of Milt Huntington

The spit and polish made it all worthwhile when we stood at attention to salute the likes of Marilyn Monroe, General Maxwell Taylor, Chief of the Far East Command; Accordion Artist Dick Cantino, and Catholic Cardinal Francis Spellman. Our days were filled with close order drills and practice sessions, twirling rifles in a variety of salutes. Our evenings were spent walking guard duty endlessly on the slopes of Chiporee.

The Honor Guards were housed in canvas, nine men to a tent, including two KATUSAs, (Koreans Attached to the U.S. Army). Pak Bu Hong was an older man compared to all the rest of us. He could cook up a wonderful Korean stew on one of the two kerosene stoves in our quarters.

Kim Yung Sam was the other native. His ready smile and passable English made him a favorite among the Koreans in our squad. His pay was 37 cents a month, more than GI’s paid for a pack of cigarettes back then. Our leisure time was spent listening to music on the radio in our tent or playing tag football or basketball in the warmer months. In the winter, we did a little hunting of pheasant or tracking mountain lions in the snow. It was mostly boring, but we passed away the time playing poker and getting in debt or reminiscing about our lives back home.

Homesickness was the common disease, but it was never as bad as it was at Christmastime. I only experienced one Christmas in Korea, but it was more than enough to rack up significant memories. Ed Seary from New Jersey was a huge guy with a soft voice and kind demeanor. He hardly ever said a word, but oh, could he ever play a harmonica. I’ll never forget that Christmas Eve when he played Christmas songs as we sang along. Our little Christmas tree, cut from a nearby hill, was dectonorated with homemade paper ribbons and blue and silver Combat Infantry Badges (CIB’s). It looked pretty darn good.

We were getting more than a little maudlin that night when suddenly our lieutenant burst into the tent to order us out for a full scale “bug out”. That meant we had to pack everything we owned, clamber into a 2 1⁄2 ton truck and head the heck out of there. A few miles down the road, we stopped, turned around and returned to camp. It was only a “yellow alert” a practice session to see how fast we could retreat in the event of an attack. I think the higher ups wanted to keep us busy on Christmas Eve as an antidote to the insidious homesickness disease. What really helped later that night, however, was when our lieutenant gained our undying gratitude by bringing to our tent a case of gigantic bottles of Japanese Asahi beer. The guard duty was on a hill behind our camp. This was a lonely job, made more lonely because of this special time of the year. The stars were out, featuring the Southern Cross and the Big and Little Dipper. On an adjoining ridge opposite ours was a huge red pentagon-shaped insignia of the 5th RCT, lighted by spot lights in the night. It was almost Christmas-like, but it made me sad. I really wanted to go home. To make matters worse, music drifted up from a tent down below. Joni James was singing “Purple Shades,” one of my favorite songs of the day.

As I sighed and strolled along the ridge, I saw flames from a fire, and proceeded to investigate. A small band of Korean civilians and an English-speaking KATUSA were huddled around the fire, roasting something on a spit. “Hey, GI,” he yelled. “Come in by the fire, get warm. Have some chow.” Their kind offer was politely refused. They were woking a Korean dog!

I think back now on that Christmas eve so long ago and remember with fondness the guys whose experiences I shared. They included Joe Vrable from Ohio and Ron Stahl from Illinois who missed their girlfriends; Denver Arnett from West Virgina, who was the sharpest looking soldier of them all; Roland LaTaille, a really funny guy from Woonsocket, R.I; — Kaffenburger from somewhere else. I don’t remember his first name either, but we never used it anyway; the two Katusa’s; and of course Ed Seary and his harmonica. I can still hear him playing “Sleigh Ride” on that unforgettable Christmas Eve. As nice as those memories are today, I sure do appreciate the holidays at home. Merry Christmas, you guys, wherever you are.

Milt Huntington is the author of A Lifetime of Laughter and Things That Make You Grin.

Pages In Time: Those darn socks

by Milt Huntington

I’ve pulled off a lot of April Fool jokes in my day and always took sadistic pleasure in tricking my family members and friends. The best April Fool joke of all, however, was the one my friends orchestrated for me.

My wife and I were scheduled to attend a political event in Portland one night and were running a little late. We dashed into our hotel, frantically changed from casual to evening attire, and headed out to a nearby home for a pre-event cocktail party with friends.

I had changed clothing a little too frantically, as it developed, because I was wearing a dark suit and bright yellow socks. My dear friends were quick to let me know that I was fashionably incorrect. After some good-natured ribbing, my host got serious and insisted I borrow properly colored socks from him. My wife and other companions joined the chorus and became (I thought) a little too preoccupied with the stupid socks.

It got to the point where I stubbornly refused to change into basic black. When they became increasingly insistent, I got my back up, pulled off one lonely sock and replaced it with one borrowed black one – and that was that!

We arrived at the political event, donned our name tags and proceeded to circulate through the crowded gathering. Although the room was dimly lit, the very first person with whom I smoozed asked about my socks. Puzzled though I was that the socks were even visible, I patiently explained my stubbornness and silly insistence by wearing socks of many colors.
I moved on through the crowd and soon encountered Maine Sen. William Cohen for whom the fundraiser was staged. He immediately asked: “Milt, what’s the story with your socks?”

Chagrined, I repeated the whole chain of events on how it happened I wore socks of different colors–boring though the whole incident had rapidly become.

Senator Cohen then introduced me to a Congressman from California and a number of other dignitaries, each of whom were chomping at the bit to quiz me about the darn socks. Can you possibly imagine how boring it was to waste a whole evening at a cocktail party talking about your stupid mismatched socks!

When the evening came to a merciful end, I tore off my nametag and read on it what one of my so-called friends had written there: “Hello! My name is Milt. Ask me about my socks!”

Milt Huntington is the author of “A Lifetime of Laughter” and “Things That Make You Grin.”

Pages in Time: Mushy stuff from years gone by

by Milt Huntington

Fifty percent of the many responses I received from my newspaper articles come from senior citizens over 65 years of age. I know this for a fact because one of them told me so. Both responders agreed that they love all the mushy stuff from years gone by.

So, let us reminisce. Flipping back through the dog-eared pages of time, I found a piece about the home front in World War II. I told of air raid wardens, rationing of butter and gas, patriotic movies and buying savings stamps at school. Yes, there were no bananas, and we ate sherbet instead of ice cream. Contributing to the war effort by helping mother squish red dye into white margarine to make it yellow was a genuine source of pride.

Growing up in Augusta was a priceless chunk of my young life, so I described the beauty of early Western Avenue and the bustle of Downtown Water Street. Western Avenue was lined with shade trees back in the good old days, and it had a skating pond. It didn’t have a federal building or a shopping mall. You could actually cross the street without taking your life in your hands. Heck, you could even watch soap box derbies there or ride down the hill on your bike with your feet on the handlebars.

There was no traffic circle at the bottom of Western Avenue – just the intersections of State Street, Grove Street and Grove Street Extension. There was, however, an elegant yellow brick building – The Augusta House. The historic old meeting place played host to the rich and famous and was the site where many legislative measures were lobbied to death but often revived by mouth-to-ear resuscitation. Gone now – all gone.

To our young eyes, Water Street was the Broadway of the Capital City. There were Class “A” movies at the Colonial Theater featuring musicals with new Technicolor technology. The Capital Theater drew us in with the Class “B” westerns, vaudeville and cliff-hanging serials. The names of a lot of the flicks are beginning to fade from memory, but I remember well, and always will, the nickel candy bars, the Ju-Jy fruits and buttered popcorn. I also remember the 11-cent price of admission.

Thoughts of the old American Legion building by the little park stir memories of teen-age dances, football on the lawn, post-war suppers and playing pool with friends in that old front room. Those, indeed, were the good old days.

Still there at the top of Rines Hill is the Hartford Fire Station with all of its history and its bellowing  9 o’clock whistle. The beautiful train station at the bottom of the hill was replaced by a parking lot. Arlene’s Bakery and the aroma of doughnuts and pastries is still a tantalizing memory. You can’t get your shoes repaired or shined anymore at Turcotte’s.

The shop is long gone along with Augusta’s shoe factories – R.P. Hazzard and Taylor Shoe.

You want to talk about change? Just take a look at Bangor Street. Whatever became of Hussey Hardware, Doc’s Lunch, Mike’s Lunch, Williams School, The A&P, Charlie’s Market and the Esso gasoline station?
I can still remember, with delight, the taste of a good steak at Hazel Green’s, a shrimp scampi at Al Biondi’s 89 Winthrop or First Tee on Water Street. I remember well how great the meals were at Ray Lammer’s Pioneer House. Nobody served up cheeseburgers like John McAuley did at his place on Outer Western Avenue. Then, of course, we salivated over the fare at the Roseland Restaurant on the Waterville Road and McNamara’s in Winthrop. The beer was also pretty good over a hamburger and fries at the Oxbow hangout in Winthrop.

Don’t even get me started about Island Park. Suffice it to say, the memories are many. All I need to resuscitate recollections of your own is to casually mention the revolving ball that left colorful squares on the dance floor below and the 21 Club that got us high on a bottle of beer. It was the site of my first date with the girl that I married.

For the beer drinkers in the crowd, I would be remiss in failing to mention Ray’s Dine and Dance in the lower end of Water Street and Duffy’s Tavern on the Bond Brook Road. Don’t talk to me about inflation. I remember when “dimies” went to 20 cents a glass. In some of those places and in most cafeterias, juke boxes were mounted on the walls over the tables. For the drop of a nickel, you could listen to Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board; Mel Torme, The Velvet Fog; Vaughn Monroe, Frankie Laine, Perry Como, Patti Page, Jo Stafford, Joni James and Doris Day. If you’ve read this far, you can easily recall the names of all the others who helped promote romances of the teenage years.

OK! That’s it for now. I’m beginning to tear up. I just hope that all my fans, (both of them), will think back on all the things that they remember if I’ve been successful in jump starting their memories again.

Milt Huntington is the author of A Lifetime of Laughter and Things That Make You Grin.

Useful Citizens Tour: Guided walking tour of Skowhegan’s North Cemetery

Pages In Time

by Melvin Burnham

Skowhegan History House Museum & Research Center will be hosting a tour of the historic North Cemetery off Madison Avenue on July 29th at 10 AM. During this guided walking tour participants will visit with some notable citizens that proved to be useful in developing country, community, and business.   In her two volume history of Skowhegan, Skowhegan on the Kennebec, Louise Helen Coburn selected a few useful citizens that “may be regarded as representative of the human stream, which during the late 18th century and early 19th flowed eastward and northward to come to rest beside the Kennebec near Skowhegan Falls, and here to pause for a generation before flowing outward to the ends of the known world.” Many of these notable souls rest in the North Cemetery.

This tour visits many prominent citizens of early Skowhegan including Amos Mann and Asa Dyer.  Dr. Amos

Dr. Amos A. Mann

Dr. Amos A. Mann

Angier Mann practiced medicine in Skowhegan for many years preceding 1882. He evidently didn’t go to school until he was 15, attended Lancaster (NH) for one term and served as assistant teacher in that institute.  Being an unusual doctor, he was sometimes summoned as a last resort because he did things that no other practitioner would dare attempt. In some cases of indigestion he would prescribe “plenty of pork and beans and stuff the potatoes right to her.” Dr. Mann was interested in politics and did not hesitate to share his opinion in his newspaper entitled “Mann’s Family Physician and Down East Screamer.”  His home was located on the corner of the Dr. Mann and the Athens’ road.

Many of the homes and businesses in Skowhegan are constructed of brick.  Most of those bricks were manufactured by two firms in Skowhegan, one being owned by Asa Dyer.  Louise Coburn notes that Asa was the first settler on his considerable farm of 85 acres which ran eastward across the plains on what was considered upper Madison Street known as Dyer Hill. Mr. Dyer ran a brick-yard just behind his home and the business was later carried on by his sons, Chandler and Isaac.  Isaac Dyer, notable Civil War General, is also at rest in the North Cemetery along with his servant slave Morgan Ellis.

Ellis Morgan Freed Man

Ellis Morgan Freed Man

Skowhegan History House Museum & Research Center strives to bring local history alive through guided tours and research assistance at the museum, history related presentations, and by hosting tours featuring historic Skowhegan. After the Useful Citizens Tour, there is one remaining tour

Gen. Asa Dyer

Gen. Asa Dyer

scheduled for this season and it is new.  Early Bloomfield Settlers, Tour of the Bloomfield Cemetery on August 12th at 10 AM.

Participants will meet tour guide Melvin Burnham at the cemetery gate and a donation of $5 per person is suggested. For more information: info@skowheganhistoryhouse.org.