Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Memorable Death of Five-Ton Mary

Ninety-seven years ago, on September 13, 1916, Mary the elephant was hanged by a railroad derrick car at the Clinchfield Railroad yard. Mary was a five-ton Asian elephant who performed in the Sparks World Famous Shows circus.

Charles H. Sparks owned the show and it had a reputation in the entertainment world as being a 100% "Sunday School" Circus.  That is, no short change artist-a clean family entertainment.  Charles Sparks had been in the circus business since the late 1800's.  The circus purchased its first elephant in 1896.  That was Mary.  She was four years old and four feet high. At that time the show was a horse and wagon show.  By 1905, they had grown to railroad transportation with one railroad car.  By 1906, they had three rail cars; by 1916, the show had expanded to fifteen rail cars and five elephants.

The Spark's show played in Jenkins, Kentucky, then on to St. Paul, Virginia where they connected with the Clinchfield Railroad on September 9, 1916.  Late in the summer, Louis Reed, the regular elephant trainer, had to leave the show. Paul Jacoby, who had previously been the elephant trainer, took over the job. By the time they got to St. Paul they needed an 'under keeper' for the elephants  On Sunday, October 10th or Monday September 11th, Walter "Red" Eldridge was hired as 'under keeper.' Ruth has spent many hours trying to get the background of Red Eldridge. His age was estimated as between 23 and 38 years. He was hired in St. Paul but apparently had no family there.

The circus went from St. Paul to Kingsport where they played on September 12th. Between shows the elephants were driven to a watering hole. On the way back to the tent, Mary went for a piece of watermelon beside the road.  Red prodded her sensitive ear with a bull hook and she became enraged.  She grabbed Red with her trunk and threw against a drink stand.  Then she stepped on his head until it was flat.

The people were terrified.  They began screaming, "Kill the elephant!" A blacksmith tried, but the guns that day were not powerful enough.  Charlie Sparks soon arrived on the scene and calmed Mary.  Mayor Miller and Sheriff Hickman 'arrested' Mary and staked her by the county jail where many onlookers came by to see her.  They gave a statement to the Johnson City Staff newspaper that steps would be taken to see that the elephant did not come into contact with the people of Johnson City.

That night, Charlie and Addie Sparks had to make the most difficult decision of their circus careers. After all those years with Mary they had become so attached to her, but they couldn't take a chance that she might harm a circus patron. They decided to have her destroyed.  But how were they to destroy a 7500 pound elephant?  Shooting her in four soft spots on her head might have worked but was too risky with the crowd of curiosity seekers that the story attracted.   She was too smart to eat food laced with cyanide.  

In 1903, an elephant had been electrocuted at Coney Island, with the help of Thomas Edison.   Kingsport or Erwin did not have enough electrical power for an electrocution.  Clinchfield could use two engines to crush Mary, or the derrick could be used for hanging her. Technically, Mary killed Red in Kingsport, so Sullivan County should be where she met her fate.

The summer of 1916 had torrential rains that caused floods and washouts on the railroad tracks. Clinchfield would not risk sending its derrick car 80 miles, round trip, north to Kingsport when it might be needed south, over the Blue Ridge Mountains into North Carolina.  Before midnight on September 12th Charlie Sparks made the decision to take Mary to Erwin to be hanged.  That decision would also hang on Erwin the fame of elephant killer for the next 80 years.

Wednesday, September 13th was overcast from several days of rain. The five elephants were moved from the circus lot to the railroad siding where the hanging was to take place.  It was about 5 PM.  Mary's foot was chained to the track and the derrick chain put on her neck. A witness described the derrick chain breaking as she was lifted. The reason, the ankle chain had not been released. The witness said he could hear the ankle tendons being torn. When the chain broke, Mary fell back on the track and was stunned and not able to get up. They quickly got another chain around her neck and hoisted her into the air once more.  Within a few minutes she was dead.  Mary was buried on railroad property near where she was hanged.  A few people today say they can point to the spot. No one has ever been allowed to dig up her bones. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Foxboro Lakeview Mill Site & Lake View Pavilion History

The first century of the Lake View Pavilion property was characterized by early industries and manufactories. An early record of ownership of the property is that of Simon Pettee. On March 27th, 1784 he purchased the land on which he erected an iron forge and opened a blacksmith shop. Several decades later Pettee erected the Foxborough Thread Manufacturing Company, one of the earliest cotton thread mills in the area.

On June 30, 1832, Daniel Carpenter purchased the mill and operated the thread factory for the next forty years. It was during this era that the unnamed manmade “mill pond” became known as Carpenter Pond.

On June 26, 1871, the property was deeded to John Dixon, who initially manufactured interior decorations and table mats of pressed pulp and later operated a dye house on the property. On December 24, 1875 the property was sold to Charles Freeman, who operated a wool scouring mill on the site until September 28, 1886, at which time the property was conveyed to Alexander Ross. Ross operated the wool scouring business until July 1898 when the mill it was destroyed by fire. Several years after fire he announced his plans to erect the Pleasant Lake Park. 

The first century of the Lake View Pavilion property was characterized by early industries, manufactories and production of goods. The latter century is an ongoing evolution of family ownership and business enterprises focused on the entertainment, recreation and social desires of its patrons. 

On July 4, 1906, Lakeview Park opened and operated by the William Ross family. The park was situated on a parcel of land associated with the former wool scouring mill which was destroyed by fire in 1898. The mill had been built atop the Granite Street dam on Carpenter Pond. After the opening of the park, Carpenter Pond renamed Lakeview and in 1933 the western end of Granite Street was renamed Lakeview Road. 

According to the Foxboro Reporter, “The people began to arrive early in the afternoon, and from then on some 1000 people visited Park, and 500to 600 people were present at one time in the evening. One hundred couples were on the floor of the dance hall at one time in the evening. Good music was furnished by Slavln's orchestra of Norwood. The natural features of the park, combined with the beautiful sheet of water make it an ideal place for picnics, and already engagements for two or three picnics have been made.”

The park consisted of a dance hall pavilion which was 90’ x 60’ with a promenade of 4 feet and is incorporated in the present structure today. Additionally, there was a dining room, a theatre, and a band stand that accommodated 25 pieces.

Recognizing the potential rider ship business, the Norfolk & Bristol Street Railway constructed a spur line from the electric rails between Foxboro and Wrentham directly to the park. 

The railway company added three new double truck cars to its equipment. Each car was 40 feet in length, with a 30 foot body, and had a seating capacity of 40 people. The cross seats were upholstered in rattan and the sides of these new cars could be removed in summer, making them either open or closed. They were fitted with weather-proof curtains to be used in case of storms and when the windows were out. Patrons arriving at the park on the trolley were greeted by musical entertainment performed on the band stand located within the trolley line loop next to the cove. 

The September 8, 1906, Foxboro Reporter described the success of the first season and future plans. “Ross Brothers & Williams are to make still further extensive improvements at Lake View Park which will be ready next season. Much work will be done on the grounds, including new lawns, preparing and seeding of these to be done this fall. An extensive promenade will be erected around the dance hall, and a new restaurant will be erected several times the size of the present one. Dancing will continue until further notice three evenings each week, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings. These are patronized by delegations from many places including Providence, Pawtucket, the Attleboro’s, Norton, Walpole, Franklin, Dedham, Norwood, and even as far as Revere and places over that way.” Patrons who hailed from distant towns would arrive by train in Mansfield and board trolley cars that ran directly to the park 

Prior to opening day in 1907, the local newspaper noted, “Much money had been freely spent in making the building and their surrounding commodious and attractive and many changes, all noteworthy, had taken place, greatly to the credit of the proprietors. A promenade, with roof and side coverings was built on the large dance hall, 170 feet long and 10 feet wide with windows every 10 feet, each 6 feet long and 2 feet, 3 inches wide. There were two entrances on the promenade facing the road way, and one entrance on the rear. The check room and ticket offices received alterations, and the orchestra stand was removed several feet to a more prominent place. An addition to the restaurant of 14’ x 30’ permitted the restaurant of the previous year be made over into a kitchen.”

“A rustic bridge 50 feet in length was built over the cove. Young pines and cedars were planted along the shores of the lake in the vicinity of the buildings, flower beds were arranged in front of the main building which added greatly to the beauty and attractiveness of the surroundings, and a concrete walk was built leading from the dance hall to the restaurant.”

The June 1, 1907 Foxboro Reporter described the opening of a new theatre at the park. “The opening of Lakeview Park theatre took place under the management of John Quigley, who brought an all star vaudeville company headed by the Bingville minstrels. In the evening there were other attractions including moving pictures and illustrated songs. Dancing was enjoyed from 2 to 12 pm., with music by Slavin’s orchestra.”

An advertisement at the time describes the entertainment. “In the theatre there will be four big acts, with monologues, comedy and vocal music. Both German and black faced comedians will appear. Three shows commencing at 1:30, 3:45, and 7 pm. Boating, cane tossing, etc. First class restaurant and lunch room on the grounds. The choicest ice cream in various flavors, soda, tonics, candies, sandwiches, cigars, and tobacco will be supplied at all times.” 

In July 1926 the Ross family sold Lake View Park to Paul F. N. Witschi. The new management remodeled the pavilion and ushered in an era of Big Band concerts, dances and entertainment.

The June 11, 1927 Foxboro Reporter described the first concert of many popular bands to play at the Lake View Ballroom. “What is believed to be the largest crowd ever in the Lakeview Ballroom assembled last Tuesday evening, over 1200 paid admissions being registered. The musical attraction was the famous Mal Hallett and his orchestra. Mr. Hallett was very pleased with his reception, and expressed the desire to return to Foxboro again, and arrangements have been made to bring him here again in July.”

The article continues, “Many who had not been to the Lake this year remarked on the present beauty of the ballroom. The management has made extensive changes in the building, and now has one of the best ballrooms in the state. Additions to the building have been made to house a ladies room, men’s smoking room, large check room, and soft drink parlor, and a large screened veranda has been constructed just of the dance floor, and running the entire width of the building. The Witschi brothers deserve much of the credit for these improvements, and their desire to run a modern, lawful, up-to-date ballroom.”

The year 1927 marked Duke Ellington’s second tour of New England. Opening night began with an engagement on June 20, 1927 at Nuttings-on-the Charles. It was a traditional battle of the bands against Mal Hallett's orchestra. The following evening, June 21, Duke Ellington played at Lake View Ballroom. 

The anticipation and excitement of Duke Ellington’s band was described in the June 18, 1927 Foxboro Reporter article titled, Famous Orchestra coming. “Duke Ellington and his orchestra will play at Lakeview Ballroom next Tuesday evening. Ellington and his orchestra were widely acclaimed on their trip to New England last year, and many dance fans are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to dance to the strains of jazz.”

“Wednesday evening, July 13th, the incomparable Mal Hallett will again play at Lakeview, and the week following, Duke Ellington will play a return engagement. The management of Lakeview Park is surely living up to their slogan of, “Lakeview Ballroom, The Home of Headliners.”

The July 23, 1927 Foxboro Reporter, Dance at Lakeview reported, “The famous Duke Ellington will furnish the music. This is a return engagement, as Mr. Ellington and his band played here their second night in New England on their tour this year....As modern jazz orchestras are nearly as much fun to watch as to dance to, many attend dances when a famous orchestra is playing, just to watch the musicians, and comedians with them. Knowing this , the management of Lakeview has installed several hundred comfortable seats around the hall, in such positions that their occupants are not disturbed during the evening, for the use of those desiring to look on.”

The July 30, 1927 Foxboro Reporter, “Next Wednesday evening at Lakeview Ballroom, Phil Napoleon and his famous Victor Recording Orchestra will furnish the music for dancing. All of the radio fans know Phil Napoleon on account of his extensive broadcasting through station WRNY, New York, and lately, through station WEEI of Boston from the club Karnak, Boston, where Phil and his orchestra has scored a tremendous hit. This is his first tour of New England, and the dancers of this and neighboring towns will appreciate the opportunity of dancing on the fine floor at Lakeview to music played by this noted orchestra.”

The August 27, 1927 Foxboro Reporter, Ross Gorman at Lakeview reported, “Music lovers will flock to Lakeview Ballroom next Tuesday evening, August 30th, when Ross Gorman, world’s greatest instrumentalist, and his famous orchestra, will furnish the music. Mr. Gorman was soloist with the noted Paul Whitemen for five years. He plays 48 different instruments, and is acknowledged to be foremost in his line in the country. He has written a complete orchestration of the famous “Rhapsody in Blue” and will offer it as a feature next Tuesday evening. This is played in its entirety, requiring about twenty minutes to play. Mr. Gorman and his orchestra will offer other features in addition to popular music for dancing.

As the “Big Band Era” waned during the Great Depression and later World War II, so did the popularity of the ballroom. In 1961, the Lakeview Ballroom was purchased by the Crichton brothers, Ralph, James, and Edwin. They embarked on a business plan to expand the ballroom activities to become a destination for weddings and social events. A new function hall was constructed the two structures were joined by a new central entrance way. 

There was one major hurdle to overcome to assure economic viability on the investment, obtaining a full all alcoholic liquor license. The ballroom is located in a residential neighborhood and historically operated on a special one day liquor license when alcohol was required to be served. In October 1968 the owners, submitted an application to the Board of Selectmen, reporting that “the license was necessary to maintain the business because of the increase in taxes, and it was important in the business from weddings and special arties. The application was denied on the potential negative impact on the quality of life in the neighborhood. Attending the meeting were eight residents in favor and four against.

In February 1969, a second application was submitted to the Board of Selectmen. By a show of hands there were 154 residents in favor and 3 in opposition to the application. Regardless, the application was denied on the same grounds of the previous application. In an attempt to allay the concerns of the Selectmen and the neighbors, in June 1969 proposed legislation to create a special liquor license with safeguard controls was drafted and submitted to the legislature. The bill was defeated by a vote of 133 to 76.

Efstathios and Kiparisia (Steve and Kathy) Kourtidis arrived in Boston from Greece in 1981 in search of the American Dream. They purchased Steve’s Greek Restaurant on Newbury Street, where the entire family worked. Their philosophy as you treat your customers well and provide them with good food and the best service.

In October 1988 the Kourtidis family purchased the Lakeview Ballroom after a family discussion. Renamed and managed by daughters Anastasia Tsoumbasnos and Natalia Kapourelakos over the past two decades, Lake View Pavilion is considered a premier facility especially, for its personalized “Fairytale Weddings” that has set the standard for the wedding industry in the local market. 

The Lake View Charitable Trust provides scholarships to graduating Foxborough High School graduates; funds library patron passes to museums and is a generous supporter of the Foxborough Discretionary Fund. The Kourtidis family philosophy has evolved to incorporate the sensitivity to community involvement and desires of the previous family owners as a proven formula for business success.