Rich Szlosek: Northampton has its fame, but still lacks hall to put it in

Friday, March 07, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — I can certainly count on one hand the number of times I have quoted Lewis Carroll in my life. But this morning it seems to be the appropriate thing to do.

So, here goes. “Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

I’ll skip the part about chortling in my joy, but I am indeed happy as I write this. The source of this pleasure is derived from the Gazette’s decision to permit me to appear in these pages on a monthly basis. From time to time you may have seen some of my efforts in Hampshire Life and on the editorial page. The articles have been either nostalgic or about the tribulations of modern life. I expect I will keep writing in much the same style.

But first, I think it’s time for a slightly more formal introduction.

I was born in Northampton but, unlike most folks who first saw the light of day at Cooley Dickinson or at home, I came into the world at the lying-in hospital once located on North Main Street in Florence. I was glad that last year’s publication of the pictorial history of Florence confirmed that the hospital existed from 1926 to 1941. There was always a little doubt in my mind because I have never met anyone else who was born there.

My birth in that unusual setting seemed to set a pattern for my life, for I always seem to have been on the fringes of things and never squarely in or near the center of the big picture.

For instance, in high school I am sure most of my classmates would have described me as someone who was “out to lunch,” slang for the time to describe someone who knew what was going on but wasn’t really a part of it.

In college I would have been voted the most obscure person in my class.

Yet in high school, I was elected to the student council for three years and, in college, was a fraternity president.

So, as you can see, I am a walking mass of contradictions, a real off-beat character. But enough about me.

One of the areas I seem to be out of step locally is my belief that there should be a statue of Calvin Coolidge in a prominent spot in town. I wrote about that in the Gazette some time back and got zero response.

It’s as if the populace decided Szlosek is still out to lunch.

Am I really the only one it bothers that there is a statue of Coolidge dressed as a cowboy in Rapid City, S.D., and just a tiny bust of the former president on the courthouse lawn in his home city? I am not a fan of his politics but he was one of only 43 men to sit in the White House and won re-election by a landslide in 1924.

There has been much concern lately by our city officials about the effects a Springfield casino might have on our local entertainment businesses. What better way to attract additional tourists to come here than by establishing a memorial to Coolidge and stressing his connection to Northampton?

In fact, my thinking has gone beyond a statue for the 30th president. There should be a Northampton Hall of Fame created somewhere in town.

Think of all the famous people who have lived here: Mary Parsons, Jonathan Edwards, Caleb Strong, Sylvester Graham, Alexander Graham Bell. That list is off the top of my head and I have not even included the 20th century. There should be a building somewhere with plaques for all these folks to be honored and for tourists to appreciate what a unique city this is.

These days there seems to be a hall of fame for everything and I have even read about one for those who make their living in the towing business.

Why should we not have a hall of fame of truly famous people who have dwelled here and contributed much to the way we all live?

We all talk about how proud we are to live here. Now we need someone to step up and show the world why we have that sentiment.

Or am I just out of step again? I hope not.

I will see you again next month, as they say on Monty Python, with something completely different and, I hope, a little humorous and nostalgic. See you around.

Rich Szlosek is a retired attorney and lifelong Northampton resident. His column will appear on the first Friday of the month.