Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Hurricane of '38

Today, September 21st,  is the 75th anniversary of the Hurricane of '38.  Hundreds of residents of the Northeast lost their lives, 30,000 were injured and 93,000 were left homeless.  Our little 1738 farmhouse on the hill held firm through the storm. Here's how my mother recalled that fateful day in her journal.

 A big storm blew through the first fall we lived in Weston, 1938. It was nameless, for the public relations department of the weather bureau hadn’t yet dreamed up charming names for these destructive storms.  I was at the hairdresser’s when the walloping wind knocked out the power lines. With my wet squiggly curls wrapped in a towel, I hurried home to the hill to cope with the emergencies I knew were ahead.

No heat. I put a match to the logs in the fireplace, and looked thankfully at the woodpile. No electricity. Candles in all the rooms prepared them for oncoming darkness. I removed several frying chickens and vegetables from the freezer, and dropped in a cake of dry ice I’d bought on the way home. No water. The electric pump from the artesian well was knocked out, of course. I worked with the cook and caretaker to man the bucket at the old well. We boiled the water on the gas stove to make sure it was safe, and put large pitchers in each bathroom.

I suddenly thought of the neighbors. Some used electricity for cooking. One of them had a new baby. I invited them all for dinner. By the time I’d rounded up a dozen neighbors, darkness came. Jimmie still wasn’t home from New York. The telephone was out, so I had no way of knowing where he was, when or if he was coming home. While the wind blew ferociously at the big maples, I cheered the refugees with cocktails, until the fried chicken beckoned us to the table. 

At that moment, Jimmie limped in—pale, exhausted and tense. He’d left the City four hours earlier by car, and what with fallen trees and flooded parkways, he’d been fighting the elements all that time. He’d abandoned the car a mile away from home because there was no arguing with the huge elm that lay fractured across the road.

“How did you hurt your leg?” I asked, having visions of my hero felled by a branch, but rising nobly, grimacing in pain, to push on to the homestead.

 “Oh, that,” Jimmie said pulling up his trouser leg and exhibiting a large bruise. “I tripped over a soprano this morning at rehearsal. Hurts like hell. Everything all right here?”

I reassured him. “Everything’s under control. Dinner’s ready, and isn’t the house pretty in the light of fires and candles? Just relax, and let’s have dinner.”

He sank into his chair at the head of the table and relaxed as directed. After he’d served all the guests, he smiled at me. I smiled back, pleased with myself that I’d coped so admirably in the emergency. My hair was dry now, and I knew I looked especially nice by the flattering candlelight.

After dinner, we bade our guests good night, sending them home with leftover chicken.

“I was really worried about you here,” Jimmie said. “So glad everything is all right. You seem to have it all under control.”

“Just fine. Nothing to worry about. I brought dry ice from the village for the freezer. It’s safe for about 30 hours.”

“Well done! And the basement? All okay down there?”

My smile dwindled. “Uh, I didn’t look down there.”

Jimmie’s face tensed again. “But with the electricity out, the sump pumps won’t work!” We headed for the basement.

From halfway down the stairs we could see bottles, cans, jars, baskets and other basement flotsam bobbing gently on the rising tide. “The furnace! The water’s only a half-inch from the oil burner! Get pails!”

Again the help pitched in with buckets, this time to get water out of the house, rather than to bring well water in. By eleven p.m., a kind-hearted plumber with a gas generator had been located. It was hooked up to the sump pumps and chuffed clamorously through the night, saving the oil burner.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Stanley Automobiles

I recently found five small photographs of Stanley automobiles.  It looks like they may be copies of old photos. I have no idea where they came from.  They are each carefully labeled on the back, and signed C.F. Stanley.  So I inquired of Jim Merrick, archivist at the Stanley Museum in Kingfield, Maine.  He wrote back that 

"Carlton F. Stanley was the Stanley Brothers' nephew and right-hand-man - he was Superintendent of the Stanley Works, and later a fine violin-maker alongside his uncle Freelan.  He apparently made up and signed these prints in the late 1940s - early 1950s, and they turn up from time to time. We would be delighted to have them.  Carlton is considered one of the unsung heroes of the 'Stanley Story' around here."

So off they go to the Museum....

Here is one of them, with the inscription on the reverse.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

International Auto Wagon

Some months ago I had an inquiry from the director of the Humboldt Museum in Winnemucca, Nevada. It's a museum specializing in the history of North Central Nevada. Here's the link:

Anyhow, Dana Toth had had been questioned by a patron about the International Auto Wagon in the museum's collection, which has a "Welcome Wagon, Hypoluxo, Florida" banner.  Long story short — and several months later — I found this snapshot of said Autowagon in front of the James Melton Autorama in Hypoluxo, Florida.  

Below it is the photo Dana sent of the vehicle in its current incarnation


Thursday, July 18, 2013

On-line reviews

James Melton and Patrice Munsel backstage at the Met

I have been receiving some very nice responses to my book.  Thank you one and all!

You might also be interested in a couple of reviews on opera websites:

click on Reviews in the left-hand column, and scroll all the way down until you get to James Melton.

Imbedded in the review are links to YouTube audios.

also of interest:

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Happy Anniversary

Yesterday, June 29th, was my parents' wedding anniversary.  Married in 1929, it was their eighty-fourth.  Here's a photo of the wedding party.

The Revelers Quartet, with whom my father was singing, were a part of the wedding—and the honeymoon.  My parents' honeymoon trip to Europe was shared with the Revelers' scheduled concert tour to Paris, Amsterdam, Scheveningen, Cologne, Basel, Geneva, Vienna and Salzburg, all in two weeks!  A five-day crossing on the Olympic (sister ship to the Titanic) prepared them for the hectic schedule abroad.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Book Review on Opera Today website

One of my wonderful "far-flung correspondents," Dr. William Clayton, has written a great review of my book which is currently posted on the the Opera Today website.  Here's the link:

Here's how the website describes itself:

Created in 2004, OPERA TODAY is regarded as a leading web site relating to opera and vocal music. The site provides reviews of current performances, recordings and books, interviews of performers, commentary and links to recent news items. OPERA TODAY endeavors to be an indispensable resource for opera lovers.
OPERA TODAY differs from other web sites in this area through its organization and colorful design. The variety in content and presentation of textual material in OPERA TODAY is incomparable. Moreover, no registration or subscription is required.

And speaking of opera...
I spent yesterday afternoon recording an hour-long program on my father with Vermont Public Radio's Peter Fox Smith, to air on Saturday, July 6th from 12:00-1:00 PM.  His weekly radio program is entitled "A Passion for Opera"—the same title as his fascinating opera guidebook (published in 2004).  VPR classical can also be listened to as a live stream through your computer.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

1910 Stanley Steamer

In this 1942 photograph, James Melton is siphoning water from the Saugatuck River in Weston, Connecticut for his 1910 Stanley Steamer, while his wife watches patiently.

Friday, June 7, 2013

James Cagney and James Melton

James Cagney and James Melton

Speaking of George M. Cohan—James Cagney played Cohan in the movie "Yankee Doodle Dandy" in 1942.  

In 1943 my father sang at an old-timers baseball game at the Polo Grounds to raise money for War Bonds. Irving Berlin, Ethel Merman, James Cagney, Milton Berle, former New York Mayor Jimmie Walker participated, but Babe Ruth stole the show with a home run.

Friday, May 31, 2013

James Melton with George M. Cohan

I recently purchased this photo on e-bay.  On the reverse it says: “Intimate shot of George M. Cohan telling a story to James Melton.”  Don’t you wish you knew what that story was?  There’s no date on the photo, but given that Cohan died in 1942 (at the age of sixty-four), and given how young my father looks, the photo has to be from the mid to late 1930s.

Cohan published more than 300 songs during his lifetime, including the standards "Over There," "Give My Regards to Broadway," and "You're a Grand Old Flag."

Amazing, there is still Melton memorabilia out there on e-bay! 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Tenor of His Times

For Immediate Release

Hawk Pine Press is pleased to announce the publication of 
James Melton: The Tenor of His Times, by his daughter, 
Margo Melton Nutt.

The James Melton story is the story of an era—the first half of the twentieth century: from the Roaring Twenties, through the Depression, WWII, and post-war prosperity. It is also a rags-to-riches-to-rags story of a talented, confident young man who raised himself from obscure beginnings in a tiny Florida town to the height of fame on stage, screen and airwaves—but who could not live without the adulation of an adoring public, and who had nothing to fall back on as he aged and musical tastes changed.

The Tenor of His Times is a daughter’s attempt to rediscover the fascinating man who was her father—to understand what motivated his successes and to sympathize with the many pressures that brought him down. 

Peter Fox Smith, Vermont Public Radio personality and author of A Passion for Opera, has commented:

“Finally, a much needed James Melton biography that is a comprehensive addition to American musical history. This engaging book about one of our most beloved singers will make you want to hear again that beautiful voice. For the author, the researching and writing of this book about her famous father has been a liberating self-discovery of a past both exhilarating and agonizing, told in captivating prose.“

Paperback, 268 pages (with 35 photos), ISBN #1482391449,  April 2013

Copies of the book can be ordered through, or from the author, at a cost of $20.00 plus $3.99 shipping. 
Contact: Margo Melton Nutt, 560 Hawk Pine Road, Norwich, VT 05055 or for further information.

Direct link to the book on Amazon:

Saturday, April 6, 2013

1905 Fiat Touring Car

I received some interesting information the other day from Jonathan Sierakowski, who researches the provenance of antique autos for RM Auctions. He lets me know whenever he finds an ex-James Melton car. (Thank you Jonathan!)

 Here’s what his most recent communiqué said about a car my father previously owned (but sold in 1942) that will come up for auction in  Italy in May.

 "Heading the ever-expanding list of mouth-watering vehicles on offer is the 1905 FIAT 60HP Five-Passenger Touring Car, built especially for American-based brewing magnate August Anheuser Busch. The example on offer is the second of just 20 chassis manufactured, the first having been supplied to Anheuser Busch’s friend, Kaiser Wilhelm II, of Germany. Often thought of as one of the first true, cost-no-object supercars, this mighty FIAT was ordered through the American importer Hollander and Tangman, and the completed chassis was delivered to the luxury coachbuilder Quimby, in New Jersey. Spectacularly extravagant and expensive in period—it cost in excess of $20,000, a staggering sum in 1905—chassis 3003 is offered for sale publicly for the first time in 108 years, having lived most of its life within a few miles of its very first home.

Described as being totally original, including paint, brasswork, upholstery and mechanics, and with complete matching numbers throughout, this FIAT now represents the only one of its kind left in the world, and it is without doubt one of the most coveted examples of the early high-powered, road going race cars to be found. With its aluminum-clad body, it still boasts many unique mechanical features fitted exclusively to the car in period. It is offered in excellent running condition, yet it retains a wonderful patina accrued over its 108-year life. The car graced the lawns of Pebble Beach at the 2012 Concours d’Elegance, and most recently, it was displayed at the LeMay America’s Museum."

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Norwalk Museum

In recent weeks I've been contacted by two people interested in the history of the Melton Museum in Norwalk, Connecticut (1948-53).

The first is Lisa Wilson Grant, who is writing a book about the history of Norwalk.

The second is Nicholas Ord, who is a marketing consultant for the yet-to-be-built New England Auto Museum.  (Check their website: for more details.)

Here is an undated aerial photo of the museum property. Even along Route 7, it was wide open countryside back then. Amazing! 

You can also check my blog of February 11, 2011 for details of the Melton Museum.