Tuesday, August 14, 2018

CHS Newsletter Summer 2018


As Cavendish Historical Society (CHS) board member Bruce McEnaney notes, “the best blueberries are the ones you pick yourself.”  He should know as for the last four summers, Bruce and his wife Betty have opened up their blueberry patch to the public in order to help raise funds for the Carmine Guica Young Historians program at the Cavendish Town Elementary School (CTES). These funds have helped to pay for the sixth graders to go to Sturbridge Village and more.

While the season lasts, pick organic berries ($3 a pound) at the McEnaneys blueberry patch is located at 354 Miner Rd. just over the Cavendish line in Chester. It's  off Smokeshire, which is off route 103. Thank you Bruce and Betty for your ongoing generosity


September 9 (Sunday): Annual Phineas Gage Walk and Talk, 2-4 pm. The “talk” begins at 2 pm at the Museum and will be followed by the walk to the scene of the accident, with stops at the site of the boarding house where Gage stayed as well as the surgery of Dr. Harlow.

October 14 (Sunday): Last day the Museum is open for the season. Program to be announced.


We were recently invited to the home of Janet Pipkin, who  has since moved to Maine, to see if there were some items we’d like for the Museum. While we found some real treasures for our upcoming Life in Cavendish: Boomer Generation, more to follow on this, board member Bruce McEnaney discovered a copy of “The Word for the Week,” July 9-15, 1974. In it was a story featuring Dr. Eugene Bont, who practiced medicine at the Cavendish Health Center for 30 years-1957-1988. 

Being bitten by a full fledged poisonous timber rattlesnake is no bowl of blueberries, as Wilma Laitinen of Ludlow will tell you, so understandably she was somewhat miffed recently when she read a story in another publication which casts some doubt on the seriousness of her encounter with the realer of if in fact the snake was a rattler at all!

It all began on a summers day in 1961, “up behind Benson’s on West Hill” in Ludlow where Mrs. Laitinen her daughter Diane, Mrs. James Milnes and her sons, Jeff and Jim were blueberrying. Just before crossing a stone wall, the berry pickers noticed a coiled snake sunning itself but paid little heed since there was a lot of snakes on West Hill. Leading the way Wilma had just started over the wall when the snake lashed out sinking a fang into her leg just above the ankle. Now Mrs. Laitnen isn’t prone to be afraid of much of anything so instead of becoming panicky she yelled at lot at the varmint for its audacity and then took her time about finishing up the berrying and getting home. In fact, it was almost six hours before she decided she was feeling too darned peculiar to be well and decided it might be a good idea to go down and see Dr. Bont in Cavendish. Wilma didn’t know it at the time but she had already been mighty lucky and was to even get luckier during the next few hours. Dr. Bont treated her and then called Burlington where a poisonous snake specialist from Texas named Dr. Parish happened to be at the time. She was immediately taken to the Springfield Hospital and shortly afterward Dr. Parish flew in from Burlington with anti venom serum. By all account’s Wilma had no right to be alive by this time, say nothing of being alert enough to wisecrack with the doctors, but the specialist from Texas had an explanation. It was his opinion the snake had recently eaten and therefore had released some of the venom into its food, which is normal. However, there was no doubt that Mrs. Laitnen had indeed been bitten by a timber rattler for Dr. Parish had allowed himself to be bitten by a critter of the same heritage only a few weeks before and his reactions to the bite were identical to those of our heroine.

Wilma’s advice to berry pickers and others who roam Vermont’s fields and forests,” Feed a snake today today-sometimes it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys.”

As a follow up to this story, we contacted the Bonts, who remembered Wilma with fondness, recalling how she was so helpful to the older members of the community.  To learn more about this incident, we contacted the Agency of Natural Resources. Jim Andrews of the Agency of Natural Resources who provided the following information:

We have that bite record in our database. It looks like it was a venomous snake bite and Dr. Bont corresponded with us directly about it (see below). The date according to the Rutland Herald (August 22, 1959, Vol 106, No 201) was 1959. The bite victim was Mrs. John Laitinen. According to the paper, they were picking blueberries on West Hill. Dr. Bont remembers it as Okemo Mountain.

It was the only venomous snake bite that he or any of his colleagues in that area had ever heard about. They assumed rattlesnake only because that was the only known venomous snake in the state.

Since we have no other reports of this species anywhere in that area, we don’t consider this a current population and we wonder if it was even an historic population. Any reports over 25 years old are considered historic. Snakes occasionally get moved around in hay, old cars, pieces
of equipment, etc. The other likely venomous snake is Copperhead, but that snake would have had to have been brought in from further south. Even garter snakes can occasionally generate a reaction in sensitive people, but the bite pattern should have ruled them out. Racers rattle and we have one other historic report from that area, but they should not generate a reaction. Milk snakes rattle frequently, would have been there, but again, they should not have generated a reaction.

Rattlesnake antivenin would not help with the bite of other snakes. According to the reports in the paper they seemed unaware that rattlesnakes can control the amount of venom released. Between 25% and 40% of bites are dry bites that contain no venom at all. Dr. Bont did not see any hemolysis, which he should have seen if venom was injected, but he did mention other symptoms that suggest envenomation.

At the remaining two locations where we know we currently have Timber Rattlesnakes we get multiple reports and photos of sightings every year.

So, the snake could have been among the last surviving rattlesnakes in that area, it could have been accidentally transported, or it could have been another transported species (Copperhead).

Here is Dr. Bont’s letter.

Elizabeth Cillo (working for us) contacted Dr. Gene Bont, and he wrote her back on November 6, 2000. His letter read as follows:

Dear Ms. Cillo:
Sorry for the delay in answering your letter, but it took some time to recall the details of the snakebite involving Mrs. Laitinen.

To my best memory, she was hiking on Okemo Mountain and some of her party came across a snake. She tried to get the snake to move with a long stick, but he attacked her and bit her in the leg. She was concerned because she was quite sure it was a rattlesnake and shortly afterwards felt lightheaded and a feeling of not being well. She was brought down to my office where on examination there were the four marks typical of a rattlesnake bite. There was mild redness and swelling. Because of the nature of the bite, she was hospitalized fearing neurological and hematological consequences. I called the state health department as I had been in practice for many years and had never had a snakebite incident and no one else in the hospital recalled such an incident either. As it happened there was a public health person from Florida whose specialty was venomous snake bites. Within a few hours he drove down with someone from the health department to Springfield Hospital and examined her. By this time we had done blood tests and there was no evidence of hemolysis going on and after careful examination, it was his conclusion that it was indeed a venomous snakebite. From her description of the snake and knowing that a timber rattler was the only venomous snake in the area, his conclusion was that the snake must have eaten and pretty much emptied its venom before she was struck. She had some paresthesias of numbness and tingling in the extremity, but no serious effects were noted. She was kept for observation for 48 hours and was released. This is the only such episode I have ever been involved in.

I’ll give you a call to let you know this letter is coming as I read about Dr. Andrews research in the newspaper and was really curious about it so this adds a good deal of interest on my part.

Thanks for your letter and again my apology for late return.


James E. Gay was originally a school teacher and didn’t move to Cavendish until 1890, though his family had started the Gay Brothers Mill in 1886. In 1902 his brother Stearns Gay, who was president of the mill, died leaving James the guardian of his three children, Leon, Olin and Vernice as their mother Alice had died in 1895. Besides being treasurer at the Gay Brothers Mill, he was also Secretary, Treasurer and General Manager of Cavendish Electric Light Company. The president was Olin D. Gay and Vice President was Mertie A. Gay. Power was purchased from the Claremont Power Company.

James retired from the Mill in 1922 and died in 1965 at the age of 106. Below is a poem he wrote in honor of his 105th birthday.

Thank you to his great great niece, Sue Beyer, who sent his poem to CHS.

1. This is the day I long have sought
And mourned because I almost thought
I would not pass the crucial test
And be left alone at last to rest.

2. My grit has stayed by like it should
I’d walk again now if I could,
But I am told to use my chair
To save my head—if not my hair!

3. Now the day has come and gone,
My friends returned each to his home;
While I sit quietly by my typewriter
To show the world I’m still a fighter.

4. I sit and think to improve my mind,
Don’t bother my housekeeper all the time.
I still enjoy all kinds of wishes
But long since gave up wiping dishes.

5. I think of some Alumni to write
To see if any of them “Got Tight.”
On This, to me, EVENTFU DAY
When they met with me, they said, JAMES GAY.
6. You See I never drink or smoke,
The taste of either would “Get my Goat.”
I’ve had so many bids to drink,
But refused and said, “You Stop and Think.”

7. In college I never entered sport,
But spent my spare time just at work
To earn enough, my way to see

8. In passing by the Bakers’ shops,
I’d often stop and lick my chops;
Wishing I could take one cake,
To ease my constant “Hunger” ache.

9. That’s my story at ONE HUNDRED AND FIVE;
I’m a lucky man to be alive!


If you have not joined the Cavendish Historical Society, need to renew your membership, and/or would like to be a volunteer, please complete the form below and sending a check, payable to CHS, to CHS, PO Box 472, Cavendish, VT 05142. All contributions are tax deductible.

Name: _______________________________________

Address: _______________________________________________

Phone Number: _____________________    E-Mail: ____________________________
Membership Level
__ Individual Member $10  ___ Senior Member 65+ $5  ___ Sustaining Member $500
__ Household Member $15  ___ Contributing Member $250                            

___ I would be interested in serving, as a volunteer .I would be interested in serving on the following committee(s):__ Program Planning          __ Fundraising    __ Building (Museum)
__Archives                       _ Budget           ­­–– Cemetery    __ Carmine Guica Young Historians

Donations are always welcome and can be designated as follows:
__ For general purposes                   __ Young Historians                  __Publications
__ Archeological Activities                _ Museum & Archival             __ Special Events
__ Rankin Fund                             __  Williams Fund                             __ Solzhenitsyn Project
__ Other (please specify)                   __ Cemetery Restoration           __ Preservation Projects

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

CHS Briefs August 1, 2018

This is going to be a short brief since we’ll be publishing the quarterly newsletter in a few weeks, however, we are thrilled to let you know that the McEnaney’s amazing blueberries are once again ripe and ready for picking. As CHS board member Bruce will tell you, “they are the best ever as you pick them yourself.” Proceeds from the picking goes towards the CTES 6th graders trip to Sturbridge Village and the Carmine Guica Young Historians program.

The McEnaneys blueberry patch is located at 354 Miner Rd. just over the Cavendish line in Chester. It's  off Smokeshire, which is off route 103. Berries are $3 a pound . Thank you Bruce and Betty for your ongoing generosity. The kids love this trip. 

Bob Naess & Dave Stern with "the doors"
Museum: The doors have posed more than one challenge this summer to Dave Stern and Bob Naess but they are making progress and with any luck they’ll be installed this month.

Carmine Guica Young Historians: CHS is now working with the After School Program (ASP) to offer a Roots camp for two weeks in August. The first week will focus on how first peoples lived off the land while the second week will provide “hands on history” for life in Cavendish for European settlers.

The state has changed the curriculum requirements so CHS has begun working with the teachers in addressing programing ideas for the up coming school year.

Solzhenitsyn: We’re entertaining people from around the world as they visit Cavendish during the 100th anniversary of Solzhenitsyn’s birth. CHS has a number of speaking engagements leading up to the anniversary on Dec. 11. An evolving calendar for the months ahead includes:
• September 7-8: Reading Solzhenitsyn: An International Conference Margo Caulfield will be speaking on Sept 7 as part of the program for teachers. Her talk will be “The Stories behind the Quotes: Using Solzhenitsyn's Writings for 21st Century Students.”

• October 15: Publication of “Between Two Millstones, Book 1.”  Fast-paced, absorbing, and as compelling as the earlier installments of his memoir The Oak and the Calf (1975), Between Two Millstones begins on February 12, 1974, when Solzhenitsyn found himself forcibly expelled to Frankfurt, West Germany, as a result of the publication in the West of The Gulag Archipelago. Solzhenitsyn moved to Zurich, Switzerland, for a time and was considered the most famous man in the world, hounded by journalists and reporters. During this period, he found himself untethered and unable to work while he tried to acclimate to his new surroundings. There are passages on Solzhenitsyn’s family and their property in Cavendish, Vermont, whose forested hillsides and harsh winters evoked his Russian homeland, and where he could finally work undisturbed on his ten-volume history of the Russian Revolution, The Red Wheel.

• November 15: Vermont Historical Society at the Marsh room, Billings Building at University of Vermont.  Presentation by Margo Caulfield “I Wrote and Waited": Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Life in Cavendish, VT

• Margo will also be doing a presentation for the Oshler Center for Life Long Learning at Dartmouth. Date to be announced.

• The Solzhenitsyn exhibit continues at the Vermont Historical Society Museum in Montpelier until October.

Sept: 9 (Sunday): Annual Phineas Gage Talk & Walk-Met at the Museum at 2 pm. Wear comfortable walking shoes. The accident site is a little over ¾ of a mile from the Museum

If you can help with any of the following, please contact CHS margocaulfield@icloud.com; 802-226-7807 or PO Box 472, Cavendish, VT 05142

• Baby Boomers: Recently CHS acquired a fan from the 1950s and it has sparked a conversation that we have far more examples of life in 1800s Cavendish then we do from more recent times. If you have items you would like to donate, CHS is working on a “Life in Cavendish-Baby Boomer Style.”

• CHS is looking for new board members as well as volunteers who can help with various activities.