Story, photos by Bob Dunn
Shortly before beginning this article, I took a trip down memory lane and visited the Mount Washington Hotel. I know one of the owners, Joel Bedor, and he gave me the grand tour of the renovated hotel. The present hotel is a beautiful sight, and I feel sure that the original owner and builder, Joseph Stickney, would be very happy to see the grand hotel that he opened in 1902, in such great shape more than a hundred years later. I confess, though, that aside from looking around to see the general condition of the hotel, I couldn’t wait to see if my initials were still up in one of the towers where I had carved them so many years ago. When Joel and I climbed up to the tower, I saw that it had all been changed. Joel explained that when they installed central air conditioning in 2004, many of the walls and door frames were eliminated. I had carved my initials right near the exit door to the roof, where, in the old days, there was a wooden walkway between the two main towers. It was a favorite spot to view the surrounding mountains and the golf course and to have a quick sandwich.
Joel Bedor, on top of the Mount Washington Hotel
The Boston businessmen who had purchased and reopened the hotel for the Bretton Woods conference were primarily of Jewish heritage. The Mount Washington was one of many old hotels that in pre-war times did not offer accommodations to Jewish people. That policy changed abruptly in 1944. After the convention ended, the hotel was very popular with all tourists who could afford the tariff, and many of the hotel guests were from Boston and New York and were of Jewish heritage. The proximity to the railroad, with gas rationing still in effect, was certainly a draw, and the advertising of a Grand Hotel re-opening brought almost a full house for the remainder of the season.
The first thing that changed in the hotel after the IMF conference was the installation of a horserace betting room downstairs in a room near the indoor swimming pool (today, the room houses a massage facility). The betting room was quite busy, with telegraphs receiving the results of races all over the country. I had two uncles who were “turf accountants” (bookies), and one of them worked for the big Jewish bookmaking organization in Boston. I found out that the same group in Boston operated the gambling at Bretton Woods when a man from the operation introduced himself to me and mentioned that my uncle said to say “hello” to me. In addition to the hotel’s betting room, the same group operated a gambling operation about a mile away on the main road toward Twin Mountain, not far from the Fabyan railroad station. He invited me to take a look at the small casino they had opened and told me that if I liked the idea, he could arrange for me to work there instead of bellhopping. He explained that it would be six nights a week, six to midnight or later. The job would be as a waiter serving sandwiches and drinks. Due to the war, it seemed that the drink-serving age was lowered in the mountains. I tried it for a week, but the tips and the hours were not as good as being a bellhop so I went back to the hotel.
The Maplewood Hotel in Bethlehem had a large casino that is still standing as part of the golf course. The Fabyans building is still there but is now unoccupied. Perhaps, if legalized gambling ever comes to New Hampshire, it will become a gambling house again one day. But the number of hotels operating in the area in the mid-1940s was amazing: the Crawford House, the Mount Pleasant House, Fabyans, the Mount Washington Hotel, plus the Twin Mountain House and many smaller hotels and lodges in Twin Mountain. In those days, the practice, for those who could afford it, was to travel to the resort and spend the entire summer.
a spot to relax and read a good book
The work hours for bellhops were great. We worked every other day in the afternoon, twelve to six; and on the alternate days we worked morning and night. It was seven days a week, but with every other morning and night off, and every other afternoon off, it was a pretty comfortable schedule. We could take a complete day off by swapping with guys on the opposite shift. Some of the interesting things that I did during the summer were:
My roommate and I wanted to climb Mt. Washington, so we swapped hours with some other bellhops and checked out the Ammonoosuc Trail up the mountain. It was quite long on the map so we decided that since the Cog Railway was not running that summer, we would take the shortest way up by walking up the tracks. It may have been the shortest way, but after a mile of one railway tie after another, it became the hardest way up the mountain. We had picked a day when the sun was bright and it was hot and we used the train water tower about a third of the way up for a quick shower. The section called “Jacob’s Ladder,” a curving steep section that was about twenty feet above the rocks, was great with fantastic views off to the north. We decided that no way would we walk back down the tracks, so we hitch-hiked a ride down the auto road to Pinkham Notch and further hitch-hiked down to North Conway. We didn’t have the money for the railroad ride back, but the conductor gave us a freebie back up to Fabyan station.
Water tank on the Cog Railway up Mt. Washington
Swimming at the upper falls of the Ammonoosuc was a great time. The waterfall into the natural pool was awesome. We would brace ourselves between the smooth rocks where they narrowed above the falls and then let go and off we would go over the falls, about a ten foot drop into the pool. When you swam up to the surface, the thing to do was swim under the falling water to a shelf under the falls and sit there, and people who were new to the place would wonder what had happened to you. When the water was high due to fresh rains, a whirlpool would form in the pool, and swimming to the surface was more difficult. The lower pool was more shallow and larger so it was a great place to float and relax as the water was a little warmer.
Upper Falls of the Ammonoosuc
Lower relaxing pool of Ammonoosuc
Exploring the area was also great fun; hiking or hitchhiking down to Crawford Notch and either swimming at the private pond behind the Crawford House (where the water was much warmer than the Ammonoosuc) or hiking down the railroad tracks through Crawford Notch to “Frankenstein’s Trestle,” where the tracks went over a cut in the mountainside that was about 80 feet high. The trestle was quite long, about 400 feet, and had only one track, so we always checked the train schedules to be sure no trains were due. It became a very serious walk as we would get to the middle of the trestle looking eighty feet down through the ties. Another great thing to do was to climb to the top of Elephant Rock, located at the top of the notch, and watch the train and cars come up through the notch.
Bellhops spend a lot of time waiting for customers, and the system worked with us all sitting on a bench adjacent to the front desk. The first person up was the “front” boy and the last person on the bench was assigned the various jobs that in most cases did not receive a tip. While sitting and waiting all those hours I fell in love--with an older woman who worked the reservation desk. She must have been twenty-two or so. She was beautiful and had a ready smile for everyone. When she would ask me to do various things, I would jump at the opportunity. This went on for many weeks until one night I was on “front” and received a call to deliver two drinks to a room. I delivered and knocked on the door and entered with the drinks for the gentleman and my love! It was at that point that I was suddenly dry behind the ears. Education is a great thing.
When the summer ended, I climbed on “The Mountaineer” for the ride back to Boston and the beginning of my senior year in high school, a much more experienced young man. I think I did better than Jack Driscoll, in that I arrived home with about one hundred and fifty dollars rather than fifteen (see October’s Call for caddies, etc. article).
November 3, 2005
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