Wednesday, February 06, 2013

A Register special section spurs recollections

The following was sent to Joe Amarante by Dave "D.B." Barry, a Register alum who remembers many of the great names in Register history and worked with several of them. We run it as a followup to the Register's 200th anniversary section and stories from late last year.

        Poetic descriptions of a state of shock escape me but I am in one nonetheless.  I have just finished reading the December 6 and 7 issues of the The Register’s “New Haven Register @ 200.”  Your leading articles and those of Randall Beach, Mark Zaretsky, and Chip Malafronte stunned me.
            I was just a few weeks past my 7th birthday, living with my parents on Shelter Street in Fair Haven, when we heard someone coming down from Clay Street shouting, “Extra!  Extra!  Japs Bomb Pearl Harbor!”  My father rushed out to buy a copy.  It was the only “Extra!” I’ve ever heard clamored in the street and I’ve wished for the greater part of seventy years I had kept it.  But there it was, the December 7, 1941 extra edition of the New Haven Sunday Register, in the December 6, 2012 newspaper, much as I remember it. 
            Then, a few pages on, I saw the photo of Babe Ruth and George H. W. Bush at Yale Field on June 8, 1948.  I was there that day, together with a great many thirteen-year olds who wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to see Babe Ruth if taking it risked their lives.  Besides, Yale Field was the only place where we could see top-flight baseball in those years.  The only alternative was the West Haven Sailors and their games against teams from the Negro leagues and the House of David.  I don’t remember Mayor Celentano’s role but I clearly remember the open automobile that entered from beyond the right field stands and brought the Babe to home plate.  He seemed so frail.  The photograph captured how gaunt he was, so unlike the photographs of him in his days of glory.
            The mention of Charlie Kellogg brought back other memories.  As a commuter student at Fairfield University, I worked as a stringer for Bob Casey, the scholastic sports editor of The Register then.  I covered football, basketball, baseball, and District League hockey for Bob at $3 an assignment.  I liked the hockey jobs best because the six teams of the District League played a triple-header at the Arena once a week and it meant a $9 night for me.  I didn’t know Charlie well but I saw him frequently and talked to him several times.  Bob often spoke of his character, his honesty and his straight-forwardness.  Bob told me Charlie had been either a pilot or part of the Army Air Force Crew crew that flew supplies over “The Hump” from India to the China-Burma Theater during World War II.
            Charlie once had to make a decision involving me.  The Connecticut Class A Schools basketball tournament was held in the Arena every spring.  One year, it may have been 1955, I remember it as the year Johnny Egan of Hartford Weaver was the star attraction, Bob moonlighted in some capacity for the Arena management.  A time conflict between that job and his day job gave me the chance to cover the final for him.  He liked the copy I handed in (condensation from the ice underneath the court interrupted the game several times and my lead compared Egan bounding over the puddles to Eliza crossing over the ice floes) and asked Charlie if they could give me a by-line.  Charlie liked the copy as much as Bob but said giving me a by-line might lead someone to question why the man The Register was paying to be the scholastic sports editor was using a stringer to cover the Class A final.  I didn’t get the by-line.
            A somewhat distant cousin, John Leary covered Yale sports and then, or later, my memory is a little hazy, wrote the Saturday column called “The Elm City Clarion.”
            One final sports recollection:  basketball and hockey games brought me into the sports department late in the evening.  Frank Birmingham was then the sports editor of The Journal-Courier and was usually at his desk.  I learned a lot about the sports I was covering from chats with him.  One evening, I suppose it was close to midnight, Frank said he usually closed his working day with a stop of Jock O’Toole’s (or was it Jocko Toole’s?) on Chapel Street and asked if I would like to accompany him.  I did and was there introduced to Mr. O’Toole who, on hearing my name, immediately said “the Tunney-Dempsey ‘long count’ referee!”  And that was where and when I first heard the story of that Dave Barry and his role in Tunney's successful defense of his title.
            In 1958, I became a reporter on the suburban side of The Register, first covering Cheshire  and later working as the junior member of the two-man team that covered West Haven.  I remember Charlie McQueeney very well, and Al Sizer too although less well.  McQueeney was undoubtedly a very nice man but to people as far down in the ranks as me he could be a very intimidating presence.  I didn’t want to displease him.
            I remember Bob Leeney also, then the Arts Editor, who let me cover some summer theater shows.  My own supervisor was the Suburban Editor, Harold Helfrich.
            There were remarkably talented individuals working as copy editors, deskmen, at The Register then.  They were blunt in their criticisms and generous in their praises.  Some made their careers at The Register, some went on to successful careers on major dailies in New York, a few ended in the alcoholism that permeated the newspaper business in those days.
            A personal note about the subject of Randall Beach’s story concerning the Whitlocks:  one summer while a student at Fairfield I worked for Gilbert Whitlock at the Book Barn in Bethany.  He was a lovely, kind man and a wonderful source of stories about his days as a student in the Yale School of Music, and of the politics of the B-O-W area in the 1920s and 1930s, including the existence of a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and the Young People’s Socialist League at Yale.  The book business was almost as fascinating as Gilbert’s stories, since Gilbert’s mail-order customers included universities, churches (I once asked Gilbert why a particular church indiscriminately ordered any book that was hostile to it and he answered it was his belief it destroyed them) and even interior decorators.  I met his brothers in passing and was fascinated by the names of two of them, Manson and Reverdy.  Such names were not common in Fair Haven.  But one day Gilbert pointed out to me a child from a nearby family and said the child’s name struck him as exceedingly odd.  The child’s name was Kevin.
            I acquired the December 6 and 7 issues of “New Haven Register @ 200” during a rather belated Christmas visit to my sister in Hamden this past weekend.  She had saved them for me because she thought the years covered, 1931-1980, would be of particular interest to me as I had been born in 1934, had worked for The Register in the 1950s, and had long retained an interest in New Haven although I left it in 1961."
A second email continued:
"I learned to read from The Register when I was four, because we lived in a first-floor flat on Blatcheley Avenue then and the son of the Bradley family that owned the house enjoyed reading the comics to me when I went upstairs after he came home from work.  A year later, after we moved to Shelter Street, I wrestled on the floor with The Register trying to take in the Russo-Finnish War to the extent my mother went out and bought me a toy Finnish soldier on skis.  The nuns at St. Francis School on Ferry Street recognized I could read when I showed up in September, 1940 but hadn't a clue as to how I had learned (and in truth never showed any interest in finding out.)  Years later, when a college student and a stringer for Bob Casey, I used to visit the wonderful newsstand on lower George Street, below Chapel, and buy the major out-of-town newspapers. 
    In short, I loved newspapers and still do.  I take the NY Times and the Boston Globe delivered to my door every day and read other US and UK papers on line, including The Register, when I have reason to do so.

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