Hyde Bay Logo Herbert Pickett's Family History
Life In The 1920s

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Herbert Pickett, Jr. writing:

      What was the parents’ recreation in this period?  Mother sang for a while in a women's chorus, the Treble Clef Club, as a second soprano.  My impression is that it lasted only two or three years, but while it lasted it was rehearsal one night each week and a concert at the end of the winter.  The Smith College Club was fairly active and met frequently.  In this group was Justina Hill, as classmate and a scientist, who had something to do with the development of Mercurocrome, and a Mrs. Pitts, an expert in remedial reading, The Smith Club activity that affected the family was the annual picnic on the Magothy River at Severna Park with a family named Samuels.  It was fun with the swimming, good food topped off with strawberry short cake.

      Mother was also active in the College Club, the local  chapter of the AAUW, where I believe she found congenial women and useful contacts.  Somewhere along the line she was elected to the Board of the Women’s Civic League, which eventually became her primary activity.

      The Women’s Civic League was a remarkable social action organization of women that worked for civic betterment all over the city.  Every section had a local chapter concerned with local issues. They had an office in town with an executive secretary, and a very active and powerful board. I am sure Mother got in at the Board level; I never remember her ever being active in the Roland Park group.  Their big fund-raiser was the annual Flower Mart held in May around the Washington Monument on Mt. Vernon Square.  Traffic on Charles Street and Center Street were detoured and bright stands were clustered all around the monument.  The different neighborhood chapters sold flowers, plants, handicrafts, food, etc.  One of our favorites was a lemon with a peppermint stick plunged into it.  There was enough of a hollow in the stick to draw up the lemon juice sweetened with the sugar.  One year Scarlet Sister had a litter of kittens ready to go, and they sold well there, especially the yellow males.     

      At some point, Mother was elected President and served, I believe, until they left for Cooperstown in 1940. The office gave her recognition so that she served on the Criminal Justice Commission of the city, the Board of Directors of the YWCA, and later on the board of the Presbyterian Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital.  The latter was really a mission clinic in the slums near the Shot Tower.  I had my tonsils out there when I was about 13.  They had only 2 private rooms.      

      For Dad, his chief recreation was the theater.  He and Mother went to see every play that came to Baltimore, either at Ford's or the Maryland Theater. It was the end of the era of the "Road", caused by the advent of movies.  There were three kinds of plays that constituted "The Road.”  There were touring companies of Broadway hits. There ware the old stars who toured one play sometimes for years.  Then there were the pre-Broadway try-outs. Boston, Philadelphia, New Haven and Baltimore saw these. Mrs. Fiske was always a favorite.  She brought a new play to Baltimore, prior to Broadway, almost every year. Some of the old troupers brought the final tours of their great plays in the 20’s. When a goad play came, when Larry and I were older, Dad sent us to the Saturday matinees. In this way we saw Walter Huston in “Cyrano de Bergerac” and William Gilette in “Sherlock Holmes” We also saw the original company of Roarke Bradford’s play of the Negro interpretation of the Bible,  “Green Pastures.”  We went to Maxwell Anderson’s “Valley Forge.”  Not as well known as his “Dead End” or “High Tor”.  Apparently it was a bust and didn’t do well on Broadway or the literature collections. Later on, the Theater Guild came regularly with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine, but they were usually in Noel Coward comedies thought a little too sophisticated far us kids.     

      The richest fare in professional theater came when a group of Princeton graduates took over the Maryland Theater and produced a repertory season, a different play each week.  They were a bunch of unknowns named Margaret Sullavan, James Fonda, and others. The director was Joshua Logan.  Dad persuaded Logan to came to dinner.  He said he’d be glad to, but he had an important rehearsal at 7:30.  So there was good theater talk at the dinner table, with Dad asking a lot of questions about why they had done this or that. When 7:30 approached, Dad said, “Well you've got your appointment; we won't keep you".  Logan said, "I don't have an appointment; I just said that so I could get out of a boring evening.  I want to stay."  So they talked theater until midnight.  Logan of course won national fame as a director on Broadway and Hollywood. The other names don’t need explanation.    

      Then there were the Vagabonds, The Vagabond Players ware a serious little theater group playing in a tiny theater on Center street, near the Monument, then in a larger house near the Stafford Hotel on the Charles street side of Mt. Vernon Place.  The family, of course, subscribed to all their plays and somehow Dad got involved in acting there.  He did at least one play every year.  I think he tried two one year, but that took too much time, four weeks of rehearsal and two weeks of a run, every night.  I remember a Galsworthy play, "The Great God Brown” played with masks.  Then there was the “Jest.”  This was a very successful Broadway play written especially for the Barrymore family, John, Lionel and Ethel.  It was a renaissance swashbuckling romance, where Dad played a rough and ready soldier.  He brought his breastplate home to show us.  It was the only play that I know of where he had one torrid love scene.  At rehearsal, Mrs. Rose, the Director said, “A little peck is all right for rehearsal, Herb, but when the show goes on, the real thing!” The first Monday after the play closed, maybe even Sunday night, when the time came when he would have gone to the theater, he tried to settle dawn to read or listen to the radio, if we had one then, but he could not relax.  He kept getting up and wandering around couldn't sit still. After two weeks of acting out romantic fantasies, it took him a while to decompress.  Mother sat there laughing her head off.

      The last play he did was Sean O'Casey’s  "Juno and the Paycock."  Originally produced by the famous Abbey Players of Dublin.  He had the part of a drunken blow-hard, whose wife was played by Kitty Walker, Cooper's mother.  It was played in a rich Irish accent, and allowed a lot of hamming.   I did get to see that one.  It was so well received that the Maryland Theater had them do a third week on the big stage, a thousand seat theater.  He enjoyed doing a real professional theater, but generally it was a bust.  One night, they sold 94 seats, as I remember.  

      Shortly thereafter, he was elected to the board of Directors of the Vagabonds, immediately got into some sort of argument with the ruling powers, including the aforementioned Mrs. Rose, and he promptly resigned, and he never did another play there.

      He put his love of theater, his experience, expertise and perfectionism into the Gilman Dramatic Association yearly play.  Rehearsals began about February 1st and the play was put on in March, just before the Spring Vacation. One of his first was “Seven Keys to Baldpate” a mystery.  One I particularly remember was "Captain Applejack” where the second act took place on board a pirate ship.  The plays were put on in the Auditorium of the Maryland Casualty Company on 40th Street.  The plays were so well enough received they had to go to two nights. Dad tried to instill in his actors as much professional seriousness as possible, and he did all he could to have professional standards in scenery, props, lighting, etc.  Boys played all the girls parts, which was always intriguing.

      The last weeks leading up to the play were tense in the house as problems in the production were discussed.  The boy who got most of the flack was the business manager, who was in charge to ticket sales, advertising in the program, and sundry other details.  Year after year this individual was blasted at the supper table.  Guess who was Business manager in 1935? Me!  I managed to survive.  At least, we didn't hear as much about the stupid business manager that year.

      As for other recreation, Dad played a lot of tennis fall and spring.  Many Fall Sunday afternoons he spent with Eddie Brown punting a football, a game where they kicked the ball back and forth on the football field.  If you caught it, you moved five years forward and kicked it back.  If you missed, you kicked from where you retrieved the ball.  The object was to force your opponent back over his goal line.  One day though, Dad got off a goad kick as I was watching him.  Suddenly he grabbed his thigh and fell to the ground.  He had pulled a muscle, and was lame far a week or two.  No more punting. Early fall days, we went to Annapolis to see a Naval Academy football game on the practice field at the Academy, free.  We went there for wresting meets in the winter.

      Spring brought the hunt races.  These were steeplechases, horse races in which "gentleman jockeys" rode their hunters over fences across some farmer’s land.  The big one was he Maryland Hunt Cup in the Worthington Valley.  This was a four mile course over twenty or more post and rail fences.  This was considered equal in difficulty to the English Grand National at Aintree, where many of the jumps are brushes. The Worthington Valley is the next valley beyond the Green Spring.  There is a long ridge to the North with big country houses perched here and there.  The course is laid out on the floor of the valley and is entirely visible from the ridge.  On Maryland Hunt Cup Day, thousands gathered and stood on the high ridge, the more effete reclining against shooting sticks.  Bookies with placards of their odds stood here and there on soapboxes.  There was only the one race.  Usually one or two Gilman grads were riding.  It was all totally amateur, of course.  "Billy Barton" was a favorite several years, a magnificent brown horse.  He did go to Aintree once or twice, but didn't hack it there.  It was a colorful and exciting day the first week or two in May. And of course, Maryland is particularly beautiful in May.

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