Three tales from the 1950s

Sad to say the 50s, which not so long ago was simply “nostalgia”, is fast becoming “history”. Thanks to Ancestry’s new feature – – we are now able to access old newspapers from across the country and Canada. We found a few items of local interest from the mid-1950s.

John Mullen, from Calais boy to Boston Braves G.M.

Main Street-Old Post Office Mullins Shoe Store circa 1930

We came across a 1954 Milwaukee newspaper article praising the talent of  John Mullen, a boy from Calais, who at 29 had been named the director of baseball’s Boston Braves farm system- the youngest farm system manager in the history of Major League baseball. Mullin is not a common name in these parts and John Mullen was a mystery to us but that is our fault, not his, because he certainly made a mark in baseball. We discovered in searching our files the photo above of Mullin’s Shoe Store on Main Street. In the 1935 Calais directory Wilfred and Katherine Mullen are listed as owners of the shoe store with a residence at 14 Spring Street. As there are no other Mullens in the directory we are presuming John was their son.

1939 Calais basketball team – John Mullen back row beside coach

A search of the Calais Academy yearbooks shows he entered Calais Academy in 1937, graduated in 1941 and played all the school sports including center field for the baseball team although even he would admit he wasn’t a star nor was the Calais baseball team in those years particularly good.

 From a 1954 Milwaukee newspaper article:

Braves Farm Boss Is 29 Years Of Age


John Mullen who writes songs as a hobby became the youngest major league farm director by a quirk of fate. Mullen 29 went to work for a Boston contractor after three and half years in the Coast Guard. The contractor happened to be Joseph Muncy who was treasurer of the Boston Braves at that time. Mullen was sent to Brave Field one day to help farm director Harry Jenkins mail some player contracts. He stayed seven years. Last May Mullen was named Braves farm director at the age of 28. The youthful baseball executive said he started writing songs as hobby about eight or 10 years ago. “All my family is musically inclined” he said “My first cousin Marilyn Murphy (19) is a leading soloist with the singing group at the Radio City Music Hall in New York.” Mullen who has written about 40 songs sang one of them on the recent Ted Mack Amateur Hour on Television “Just to get it heard”. I didn’t want to win I’ve got a good baseball Job” he said but he thought maybe someone would want to publish his army song “Company B”. Mullen has a fine voice between a baritone and tenor and he exercises it while playing the piano at Braves get togethers. He said Braves General Manager John Quinn “loves to sing and so does (Manager) Charlie Grimm.  Although the only baseball Mullen played was center field with his high school team in Calais Maine  he said the fact doesn’t keep him from handling his present position “The Job can be better handled by a fellow who has ability for detail work and who is able to organize and get things going. He said “An old baseball man might not want to be bothered with It” Mullen said the “very technical’ farm director’s job is made or broken by the scouts and farm club managers “If you have good scouts and managers you’re going to have good farm system” Mullen who looks younger than most of his 300 players on the Braves’ 10 farm clubs is in charge of everything for the clubs from class D up through the class AAA Toledo Sox. Mullen who heads what is the fifth or sixth largest farm system in the majors likes his work. “I never dreamed I would get Job like this.”

John’s musical talent was discovered early and as a sophomore at Calais Academy he is listed as a soloist on the Rotary Club’s 1939 talent night. He was also right about having a “good baseball job”. He rose to level of general manager of Braves teams and his 1982 Atlanta Braves team won the National League championship. Other than a short stint in Houston he stayed with the Braves his entire career until he died suddenly in 1991. So beloved was he in the organization that the Braves team wore his initials, JWM, on the sleeve of their jerseys for the entire 1991 season-quite a show of respect and honor for a middling center fielder from Calais.

DelMonacos survive sinking of Andrea Doria

The members of a new family In Calais arrived over the weekend from Italy after an experience they’ll never forget —they are among the survivors of the ill-fated Andrea Doria Italy’s liner which was in collision Wednesday off Nantucket with the Swedish ship Stockholm. Mr. and Mrs. Pat Del Monaco their son Nicholas 17 and daughter Sylvanna 12 who are presently living with Del Monaco’s brother Mr. and Mrs. Peter Del Monaco on Lincoln Street in Calais. They recalled vividly for The NEWS this evening what had happened to them after the collision.   The Del Monaco family was sound asleep in a stateroom on the fourth deck when at about 11:15 o’clock at night the Stockholm collided with the starboard side of the Andrea Doria. The impact threw Mrs. Del Monaco and her daughter on top of her husband and son. As they were untangling themselves they were horrified at the loud rending sound of metal grating against metal. As It turned out their stateroom was just aft of the point of impact and the tremendous noise sounded like a train crashing at high speed against another. The son Nicholas dashed up four flights of steps onto the main deck determined what had happened and came back to tell his parents.  Without waiting to pick up anything— they subsequently lost absolutely everything they owned except the nightclothes they were wearing— they made their way to the top deck slowly and painfully. The Andrea Doria by this time was listing badly and water and oil was sloshing about in the passageways making walking very difficult. Once on the main deck the Del Monacos crawled up to the port aide of the ship which was highest above the water and clung there perilously for nearly four hours. By this time other ships had arrived to take off passengers and their turn finally came to get into a lifeboat from the French liner the Ile de France. Mr. and Mrs. Del Monaco were each handed a baby by a mother with five children and they and their own two children climbed down a rope ladder into the waiting lifeboat. Once aboard the Ile de France they were given warm drink and food put to bed on couches and covered with a blanket. Later they were given clothing to replace their soaked nightclothes The rescued Del Monacos were high in their praise of the treatment they received at the hands of the French liner’s crew— both In the lifeboat and later aboard the ship The family came from a town named Sulmona about 150 miles from Rome where Mr. Del Monaco carried on a business of hauling and selling, gravel and other construction materials They were met at New York last Thursday by Mr. and Mrs. Peter Del Monaco who had waited for long and anxious hours after hearing of the collision — and driven back to Calais. Although weary and a bit nervous from their near brush with death and the loss of all their belongings the Del Monacos seemed to be very glad to be alive and are facing their new life here in the State of Maine with confidence.

Andrea Doria listing before sinking
Andrea Doria resting on the ocean floor off coast of Nantucket

We asked Nick Delmonaco about this article. He is obviously not the Nicholas Delmonaco mentioned in the article being only seven in 1956 but he does remember the older cousins Nicholas (Nicola) and Sylvanna arriving in Calais bruised and battered from their ordeal on the sinking ship. They had lost all their possessions, spoke not a word of English and had a difficult time adjusting to their new life. Their parents were not able to adjust and returned home to Sulmona, Italy in just a couple of years but the children stayed in Calais and Nick recalls Sylvanna being quite a torment to the younger kids. The children eventually left Calais but remained in the States and Nick lost track of them but did hear that Sylvanna had become a model in New York City. In 2018, still going by the name Sylvanna Delmonico, she was living in Ft. Lauderdale. The sinking of the Andrea Doria remains the worst maritime tragedy to have occurred in U.S waters. For those looking for adventure it is possible to dive to the ship but the dive is not for the fainthearted – 18 divers have died in the attempt.

Eight daughters keep McLain family busy

McLain girls and parents, Ted and Martha 
They came in all sizes

The short blurb above appeared in several national papers in the U.S. and Canada. Many will recall some of the McLain girls, after all there were eight of them and for twenty four years their suffering parents had to be sure some number of this flock was ready to catch the very early bus five mornings a week at the McLain house on the River Road. It is very hard to imagine this ever went smoothly and that their parents survive the ordeal for 24 years is a testament to the strength of the human will. We do think the City could have been a bit more considerate and built the new high school a couple of decades earlier, then at least some of the girls would have been able to walk to school.

We wonder by what authority the City enacted the “complete stop” requirement, but it was a nice gesture to provide Mr. Curran with an illuminated cane in 1954. He had survived much in his lifetime, including a stint in the Army in World War One but perhaps he never came closer to death than in 1910 when:

John Curran of Union street, came very near meeting a horrible death on the rail, on Monday afternoon, and it was only his quick wit and presence of mind that saved him from being ground to death beneath one of the electric cars of the Calais Street Railway. He was driving his team up Main street and when opposite the St Croix Hotel, the noise of the car frightened his horse, which took a sudden jump, which caused the sled to slew sideways towards the on rushing car. The sudden jump of the horse threw Curran off his balance and he fell head foremost towards the car and quick as thought he grabbed with both hands the iron rod which holds the steel broom which is used to sweep slush, etc from the track. The jolting of the car caused his head to strike against the iron part of the car which goughed a deep cut in his head but fortunately it did not cause him to lose consciousness or his death grip and he raised himself up as far as he could in order to keep his feet from being caught beneath the wheels. His hip was badly bruised as a result of being dragged from in front of the hotel to Casey’s Barbershop where the car finally stopped. In an interview with Mr. Curran after the accident he stated it was a most trying moment and he thought his last day had come and that the car would never stop. Onlookers who witnessed the accident turned their backs expecting every moment he would be drawn beneath the car and they were very much relieved when they rushed over to discover that he had had a remarkable escape.

It was also a very difficult time in the St. Croix Valley for horses. They had never quite become accustomed to the street cars and by 1910 were under assault by another and more dangerous enemy: the horseless carriage or “motor” as it was then called. This hostile beast did not require tracks and soon roamed all the highways and byways of the valley, honking and exploding unexpectedly.

Miscellaneous findings

The national newspapers in the 50s seemed to check the UP wire daily for odd and interesting stories from away to amuse their readers and Calais provided its share.

Louisiana Times 1955
Sam McKnight far right at the corner of South and School streets in Milltown
Colorized postcard of Cotton Mill and trestle from Knight’s Corner

The story above from the Shreveport Louisiana Times appeared in dozens of newspapers. Sam McKnight was from Milltown and worked at the Cotton Mill. He lived for a time on maple Street just a short walk across the trestle from the mill. Later he and his wife Lizzie moved to Boardman Street.

Portage Daily Register Portage Wisconsin

This short article appeared in many national papers in 1954. Editors apparently thought Mr. Weed’s legal problems were very amusing. We don’t know what John thought as other than this article there is no mention of him in our files except the final entry for us all, the mortuary and cemetery record which tells us he is buried in the Calais cemetery in the Curran lot.

Rochester Democrat 1954

While this 1954 article in titled “False Alarm” it might be more aptly titled “Keystone Firemen” for the slapstick nature of the response to the fire. Perhaps the City should have been thankful it was a false alarm but we don’t believe this to be the case. Anyone growing up in Calais in the 50s will tell you that the authorities took false alarms very seriously and most kids deciding on a life of crime would have started with something minor such as armed robbery before pulling a fire alarm. The cop’s attitude may have been a result of this incident.

Finally, a 1954 graphic from the Chronicle of Clarksville Tennessee. We had to do some research to find Sandra Peacock but perhaps that was because she was originally from Crawford. She did attend Calais High School and according to her obituary lived in Calais for some period of time. By the age of 13 she had a dance class of 100 and at 15 opened Sandy’s School of Dance. She spent her life pursuing her passion while traveling throughout the United States. She died in 2013 and is buried in Crawford.

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