Roger Fenn
Strawberries and Streetcars

Interviewed October 21, 1977

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer

Roger Fenn relates some of his remembrances and experiences as a teacher in the Concord schools many years ago.

Fenn, RogerThere's a lot of fun in the schools and being a teacher. Most of my experiences as a teacher have been in the independent schools in Concord, but in the later years I have spoken many, many times in the public schools.

I was the superintendent of the Sunday school, and on one Sunday morning I was going down the long corridor to the chapel for a chapel service, when a little boy came into the other end of the corridor and started toward me. He was about 8 years old and he seemed very happy to be coming to Sunday school. He saw me, raised his hand and said "Hi God!"

There seems to be some irreverence in the schools in Concord now that the Supreme Court has told us that we must not mention God in the schools or have the Bible and prayers there.

My school teaching actively began up at Middlesex School. In 1915 I came out here fresh from college, twenty years old. I got off the train at the old railroad station, put my trunk in the back of a horse and buggy from Tuttle's Livery waiting for a customer there, and told him I wanted to go to Middlesex School. We started up there and I guess he thought I was fresh out of somewhere, still a little green and wet behind the ears, because he asked me "Be ya to school up there?" So I said "No, no I've done all the schooling I want to do." And we went along another half a mile and he asked me "Well, where do you want me to let you off?" So I said, "Dave Baldwin's farm house on Westford Road, in the back of the farm house where the cow barn is." "Be ya one of the help?" he asked.

I went up the stairs to the loft next to the cow barn. The loft had no furnishings at all, it was just a place for the boys to put their trunks. He had seven boys living in the back ell of his farm house overflow boarders that were at the school. The loft had a little corner room built in for me to sleep in about 8 feet by 8 feet. It had one bed, a table, a chair, and a closet. I had to open three doors to get to a radiator where there was heat. But I didn't mind, there was a whole herd of cows right next door and downstairs, and they kept the place fairly warm. As a matter of fact, it was not only warm but they provided a certain odor which was very familiar and I liked it.

So my teaching days began smoothly until one weekend that I visited my family in Cambridge. On Sunday morning I went with a few friends on a picnic to the north shore. I was walking along the beach and I saw an empty bottle. It suddenly gave me an idea.

I was teaching chemistry, Latin, English, and arithmetic, at the time with chemistry being my favorite subject. I grabbed the bottle, took off the cork and cleaned out the bottle. I filled it with ocean water with the idea that I would have my chemistry class analyze the chemicals in the ocean. I put it in my overcoat pocket. We had to then hurry to catch the train to come back. I returned to Concord on the midnight train. It was snowing and there was about two inches already on the roads. But my bicycle was still where I had left it. I lit a lamp and hung it on my handlebars so I wouldn't get stopped by the police, and I prepared to set off to ride back to school. At the first corner at Thoreau Street and Sudbury Road, I hit ice under the snow and fell off the bicycle into the snow. After preparing everything again including relighting the lamp, I set off only to slip on ice again on Main Street. But I continued and headed out Lowell Road. I fell into the snow three more times before I got to the school about 2:00 in the morning.

I hung my overcoat in the shower room where the seven boys and I all took the required cold shower every morning before breakfast. That was just a little spirit of manhood, you see. When I got into bed, my feet found the bed full of icicles. I threw the icicles out the window, put my tee shirt on the spot that was the wettest and fell asleep.

The next morning I went into the shower room for my shower and shave, the boys were already there but they seemed strangely quiet. One was more courageous than the others and he asked, "Sir, do you know who's overcoat this is?" I said, "Yes, it's mine. I hung it in here to dry when I got home late last night." And he said, "Well, what's all that broken glass in the pocket?" "Oh, is that broken," I answered. He wanted to know what was in the bottle. I said, "I was bringing out a bottle of seawater because I wanted to show it in the chemistry laboratory." And he said, "Oh, and how did it get broken?" "Well, I slipped off the bicycle five times on my way up from the train in all this snow and ice," I answered. I let it go at that and I let him go, which was foolish.

He got to the school dining hall with all his classmates way before I did. And when I came in, and the remaining 161 boys were in the dining hall waiting for me, they said, "Oh, you had a bottle of seawater in your pocket, eh" and "You say you fell off your bicycle five times." That was my reception!

I have been twice mistaken for other people. I have an identical twin, so if you meet me or him on the street, and you get no reception whatever, it isn't because I have forgotten what you name was or what you look like, but it probably, I hope, will be he.

The other time I was mistaken for someone else was in 1925 on the 19th of April when we were celebrating in the usual manner here in Concord with a parade, and that year with a reenactment of the battle at the North Bridge. I was in my old Army uniform, first sergeant. I was to be one of the 17 mounted aides to Bebe Hosmer. I didn't get there early to get my horse. My wife had had a baby the day before at Emerson Hospital and I wanted to see her. So I was delayed in getting to Joe Dee's stable where 17 horses were in readiness for the 17 aides. There was only one left. I said, "What's the matter with her?" I was assured, "It's all right; it's a good horse, if you know how to ride." I had never ridden in my life, except to be on a horse once, if you call that riding. So I got on the horse and was told to take it up and down the street a little bit.

The parade was already in action. I was told "Don't get too near the band; the horse likes to dance when he hears the music." So I rode down Court Lane toward Monument Street and the parade was just coming down Monument Street almost to Court Lane and the Colonial Inn with just the drums playing. Just as they get to me the whole band begins to play, and the horse didn't just dance, he was on two legs in no time at all. I was promptly lying on the street behind the backs of all people watching the parade, and the horse was lying there too. I remember from childhood that if a horse is on the ground and you don't want him to get up, to keep him down you sit on his head. So I immediately got up and the horse was lying there with his head on the curbstone and I sat on his head and watched the band go by. Well, I got ribbed about that the rest of the day.

The literary exercises were later in the day at the Armory. It was packed. This was the 150th anniversary of April 19, so there was quite a crowd for the celebration. I didn't have a ticket to get in the Armory, I hadn't thought I would attend to listen to a lot of hot air from politicians, but there I was standing on the street in front of the Armory without a ticket. When the parade of black limousines from Boston came up, McGann's taxi service, the politicians began stepping out. Very soon among the politicians I saw an old family friend, whom I called Uncle Morton, who was a representative from Chicago, Illinois. Well, this was too good an opportunity to get help financially to start my school. He was coming out to give a speech, and I was so glad I was right there.

I went up and saw him and his wife, and I followed right along as he was led to the platform talking all the way. I was still in my uniform so I looked like I officially belonged. I didn't know where I was going to sit without a ticket but he said I could sit with his wife, Aunt Katherine. But the usher said there was no room so Uncle Morton said to come with him. He took me right up on the platform and told me to sit there. So throughout the exercises I sat up on the platform happy that I was there and I could look out at all those that had ribbed me about the horse. Later someone asked me how I got to sit up there and who's seat did I take. Well, we got a program to see who was supposed to be there and wasn't. The only name we found was General John J. Pershing. The Commander in Chief of the U.S. Army had been demoted to first sergeant. That was a mistake in identity which can match anything we can produce now even an identical twin.

Mike Ryan, the father of Bill Ryan, who was later chief of police, was the farmer at Middlesex School that took care of all those cows. He had a two horse team of big animals that would pull a pung around the school grounds to every married master's house picking up the garbage and carrying it to the dump. In the winter they would go down to Bateman's pond and cut ice and fill the ice house to last all summer. Four or five neighbors would come in with their horses and pungs to help with the ice. This was very interesting to the boarding boys from the south, who had never seen the cutting of ice, and the city boys, who probably had refrigerators in their houses by that time. So the cutting of ice and storing it away for the summer was a typical New England farm activity.

One day Mike Ryan had his team out on the ice. They had already cleared the snow and had cut a channel three feet wide to float the cakes of ice to the edge of the pond. The two horses got too near the shore and broke through the ice, and that was a mean job to get two horses in full harness out of ice water up to their bellies. It took all the men there to do it.

The boarders at Monument School would go to Punkatasset Pond and watch Gordon Hutchins cut ice for his ice house. This was a piece of education that most of the boys were not accustomed to where they came from.

Text mounted 22nd September 2012; Images mounted 10th October 2012. RCWH.