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Chapter V - Evanston High School Days

hen Larry became fourteen in 1909, it was either go home or become subject to service in the French Army. This was five years before the first World War broke out; these boys would be nineteen and prime cannon fodder when the time came. Almost inevitably they would become First Lieutenants in the French Army, and have to lead their men over the top. In fact, except Larry, the other American boy, and one French boy who was crippled, every member of that class was killed in the war.

Mrs. Hammond, however, took her group back across the Atlantic to the home in Evanston. She hadn't much money, but she managed. And Larry went to enroll in Evanston High School, which seemed "tremendous" after L Ecole Alsacienne.

After I'd been there a while, I came to feel that they hadn't learned much of anything, while I'd had an education. But at first the difficulty was that I'd had nothing but science that fitted what there was. They decided that, on account of my age, I should probably be a sophomore, I knew nothing about some things, like American History - I had learned French History - and some things about other subjects, like English; and there were great compromises. But as to Latin, I hadn't had any amount of that, so they said, "We'll try you out in Fourth Year Latin."

The only trouble with me was, when I came back I had on French clothes, and American boys had on the most extraodinary clothes. They had suits where you couldn't possible take your pants off without taking your shoes off, and they went right down to little things around your ankle. And they had big knobs on the front of your shoes that stuck up like a rhinoceros. And I came into this with clothes more or less like it would be now, with French shoes - and they all had great big enormous shoulder pads, and I didn't. I was a droopy little duck.

ut the thing that was so God-awful was that it was co-educational. I had never been any place in any class with girls, and the idea of having girls in my class was horrible.

The very first day we went in to Senior Latin. In the Latin thing I felt absolutely top. These kids had just gotten along to the Aeneid . You were supposed to get up and read a little bit of the text and translate. and I thought, for Heaven's sake, I know this thing by heart. So I just got up there and read. And I read it, of course, just like French boy: Aaghrrmaa veeghrroomquay cannoo, quee tghrrozhay.. etc. (rapidly, without emphasizing any syllable, as in French). Whereupon all the children absolutely collapsed in gales of laughter till they practically fell in the aisles. The teacher had to kind of lean over his bench, and the whole thing was God-awful. Because what they said was (slowly and ponderously) : ahr-ma wee-room-quay can-no, quee Tro-jeye.. etc.,etc.

Finally I told my mother how everyone thought of me as a kind of drip and that there wasn't anything I could do. If anybody wanted to play any ball game, I couldn't even try to catch a ball. I'm completely uncoordinated; I am the least naturally athletic person that I have ever met. If anybody throws a ball at me, I drop it. I mean, its ridiculous, because in the first place we didn't play ball on those days. And if I threw a ball, I threw it kind of like a girl, and everybody would laugh just to see me throw a ball. I was just absolutely hopless. Well, with all this trouble, it just goes to show the extraordinary intelligence of my mother.

I kind of broke down and complained to her that i was just hopeless. I was a drip and this whole thing was just awful, that I was a rejected person and couldn't do anything. She said, Now Larry, I'll tell you what you can do. If you will listen to me and do exactly what I say, you will be enormously successful in school - - because every school has some kind, some form of dramatics, where there's a teacher that coaches them, and you will find if you just go and act right away what this is going to be - the English teacher will probably be the coach - and they will probably give Midsummer Night's Dream or something like that. Now- you just go and say that you want to enter and compete in that and have a chance to show what you can do in dramatics. I don't know what the play is going to be, but whatever it is.. you are tall and you have a very loud voice, and the first thing to do in amateur theatricals is to learn the part. Now when I say learn the part, I mean you learn the part so that at anytime you could say anything - give you any cue and you not only know your part, but you know the part of everybody else. And then you go in and you learn to practically scream. You must talk so loud that you are heard everywhere in the hall and back. Now, that's what amateurs never do - they always go in there and they're not sure of their parts, and they don't speak out loud, and nobody hears them at all and she said, "You'll have to know your part in such a way that if anybody doesn't speak loudly, you say your line and they don't answer, you immediatly say, Well why don't you say to me this... and you give them their line, you see, and then you go right on with your own line. The audience just can't resist that." And she said, "You will be a tremendous success;" and of course I did exactly what she said, and it turned out precisely as she had predicted.

hey elected me on the basis of the fact that I was so successful in the amateur theatricals - not only the first one that they had run, but all the others. I had a wonderful wig and I played the part of Golightly and one thing and another; anyhow, I was the person that was sort of the best known that you could think of in the Senior Class, although it was the first time - - it had never been before - ordinarily the President of the Senior Class is the captain of the football or baseball team or something, but it had never been somebody who was just a theatrical fellow - but in case, they elected me President of the Senior Class.

For the part of Golightly he had to go downtown to rent a very large yellow wig. Then he went to watch a White Sox baseball game, putting the box with the wig in it under his seat. On the way back to the L station he realizedhe had forgotten the wig, and ran back- - but in that time the ball park had been closed. He finally got to see the grounds keeper, who said he could claim his package the following morning. "But the play is this evening!" Larry insisted. He finally persuaded the keeper to let him in; he got the wig, ran to the staion, got to Evanston just twenty minutes before opening time at the auditorium. Everyone had been hunting for him, at their wits' end. "If someone will just give me two raw eggs", he said (for some reason he felt he needed two raw eggs). They did, and the eggs made a peculiar sensation going down, but Golightly was a tremendous success.

But success on the stage never dulled his interest in mechanical things. That first winter in Evanston he worked out a way of avoiding the chore of getting up at 5:00 A.M. to open the lower furnace doors and shut the damper at the top. Like various other ingenious boys, he used alarm clocks and strings and weights and Rube Goldberg devices to do the job for him. One thing he devised, however, was more sophisticated. To warn him in case he should get up early to shovel snow, he balanced a crate outside so that half an inch of snow would tip it over, closing an electrical circuit which would result in an alarm clock ringing half an hour earlier than his usual time to wake up.

With Maurice Webster and other friends, he joined the Literary and Scientific Society in Evanston. Everyone had to take turns putting on something for the group. He and Webster answered questions handed to them in the dark, and produced apparitions. They also answered written questions that were burned up before everyone's eyes without the magicians being allowed to look at them. (For this, they had carbon paper laid on a square of silk concealed under the table cover. The silk was whisked down through a hole on the table top into the drawer below by Hammond, who went to the next room to read the questions and devise plausible answers while Webster kept the victims occupied).

ut the most original trick was a sort of electronic ouija board Hammond developed. He and the victim would each put on a sort of "Crown" that was wired up to a box. The crowns looked alike, but the victim's crown was a dummy. Hammond's crown contained a thin glass tube he had bent slightly with a bunsen burner. It had some mercury in it, and a cork at each end with a needle through it. If he tipped his head slightly one way, it closed one circuit in the box; if he tipped it the other way, it closed the another. In front of the box was a needle suspended from both ends by thread; closing one circuit created electro-magnetism that swung it one way and vice versa. The victim asked questions, Hammond tilted his head one way or the other - almost inperceptibly - and the needle turned in the direction he wanted. There were letters on a board below, to try to spell out an answer. But if a question was asked which he knew had an emotional charge, he could make the needle gyrate wildly by just the right tilting combinations. The device was not perfect, but its answers obviously showed intelligence. No one ever figured out how it worked.

One of his schoolmates was giving some kind of a show in the garden that needed arc lights. Larry prepared and operated a saline-solution dimmer as a resistance to balance the arc lights, as he had already learned that an arc light is too unstable unless it has a resistance in series with it. The arc lighting plus the resistance ran up quite an electrical bill for his schoolmate's family. Years later Hammond was to produce an invention to solve wastage caused by this resistance - a sort of tragi-comedy as it turned out.

At the age of sixteen he applied for and soon after recieved his first actually useful patent - on a differential mercurial barometer. This was a mercury barometer in a vertical tube, but the tube was really two tubes he had fused together at a joint, one of them being slightly larger than the other. The result was a barometer so sensitive to change of pressure that you could see it react to being lifted from the floor to the top of the teacher's desk. His mother advanced the hundred dollars it cost to hire a patent lawyer and get it patented. It didn't have a broad application but was sold to high school science teachers, and brought in some modest royalties - about two hundred dollars, after he had repaid his mother. And sometime during these four years - he can't remember just when or where - he achieved spectacular effect in lighting up a theatrical production in some country club that stood near trolley line. He wired up, in series, banks of five 110 volt bulbs, and grounded one end. The wire attached to the other end he took out to the street and tossed over the trolley line, with a rock fastened to the end of it. "I had to be sure to let go of my end of the wire before the other end touched the trolley wire," he says. The ensuing 550volts lighted up the stage so brillantly that the audience went into enormous applause. Apparantly no one was hurt.

n another example of living dangerously, Hammond and Webster decided to steal a ride in box car going westward. They found an unlocked box car, sneaked into it, and the train started up. Then they found there was a drunken bum already there. Hammond had a target pistol on him for emergencies. When the train lurched to a stop on a siding at Fox Lake, the bum jumped out - and they heard the splashes as he rolled into a deep ditch of water below, but finally got out of it. The boys found their way to a dubious looking "hotel" where they got a room for 75 cents and locked the thin door. A drunken brawl went on below. They heard a drunk come roaring up the stairs toward them - and fell down backwards. Hammond slept with the pistol under his pillow. The next night they settled for a haystack to sleep in and scratched all night. They walked the whole way home - about forty miles.

Perhaps as a sequel to that dancing school in Paris, Larry took to attending weekly subscription dances in Evanston. They had a pianist, a drummer, and a saxophone player. Larry wore a tux, and always took the same girl, but they went to dance, not for romance. He was freely critical of her dancing, and says he never spoke to her except to say, "Don't do that," when she missed a step. In keeping with those days, she held her chin firmly against his tux below the throat. Her chin gradually wore the nap off the cloth of the tux at that place. They danced the Dip, he remembers. He always delivered her home, but never gave her a kiss; their dancing was "on a professional basis." Later, when her invalid father died, she opened a dancing school and did very well.

But good as his dancing was, interest in dancing still couldn't compete with interest in tinkering. One night he was going to call for a girl and escort her to a dance. He got all dressed in his tuxedo, but it was still too early to start, so he began some experimental work, and tried to drill a hole in a glass tumbler. He got more and more absorbed in this, and before long had forgotten all about the dance. All of a sudden glass broke, the drill went into his leg a mite, and his leg started to bleed. It wasn't till he saw blood dripping on his patent leather slippers that he remembered the dance and the girl he was supposed to have taken to it.

Former Charlie Dawes Residence, Evanston

The house next door to the Hammonds in Evanston - between it and the Lakefront - had a large ballroom on the top (second) floor. It is quite a showpiece, and now houses the Evanston Historical Society. Charlie G. Dawes, who became a General, then Comptroller of the Currency, and later Vice-President, purchased this home.

Dawes was a very amusing man in many different ways, a kind of eccentric, and he would invite a lot of people to come to a fine dinner with him and his wife - and then, regardless of the fact that he had all this "company" there, he would go over to the a sofa there and lie down and take a little nap. And when he woke up, he would say, "Now the children are giving a dance upstairs." They gave a dance because he had always hired an orchestra. And if you had hired an outside orchestra that was going to come and play dance music, why of course all the kids that anybody knows can go there and dance, and I used to go there and dance. And then, what was so remarkable was that Dawes would come up, and while the orchestra was playing, he would beckon to some fellow like the violinist with his finger - and the violinist would step down, handing his violin to Dawes - and Dawes would go up there and play along with the orchestra, playing the violin part, and doing very well - he could really play - and after he had done that for a little while, stand the same thing for the drummer. He did it for all the instruments he could play! He was quite a remarkable man.

The Chicago Opera Company, like others, required extras for most operas, to represent members of crowds, etc., and Larry naturally gravitated to this kind of fun. Before long, he set up a business - assembling extras, or "supes", as they were called, whenever the Company asked for them. He had cards printed, and distributed them at Northwestern University in Evanston. Everybody wanted to be in the opera, and word of mouth was very effective in getting out the "supes" when he needed them. The job paid fifty cents a head, and Larry explained that he got a commission. (It didn't seem necessary to mention that it was a seventy-five cents a head).

One evening the opera was Aida, and a large number of young men that Larry had rounded up were herded into a basement room, stripped, and all painted greasy black. They were given nothing to wear but loin clothes, and, as Ethiopian slaves, these dusky figures were assembeld in the wings ready to go on stage. In the confusing dazzle and shadow, one of them who was not another "supe", but the Prima Donna herself, bulging with importance and protoplasm. Suddenly she stepped backwards, almost colliding with him, and in his naive ignorance he folded his smeary black arms around her. The diva was outraged: her face was a study in high compression. A stage manager read the hurricane warnings, and seeing that nothing less than instant action could save the situation, ran up and grabbed the bewildered "supe" and propelled him vehemently to the stage door, through it, and slamed the door shut. After a series of outraged grimaces and gestures, the mollified prima donna gradually relaxed, and the show went on.

But the hapless, shivering "supe" found himself locked out in a lonely Chicago alley on a bitterly cold night - smeared all over with black make-up, with nothing on but a loin cloth. His bare feet curled away from the pavement. What to do now??

ammond (similarly arrayed) having fortunately seen what happened, slipped over opened the door enough to stick his head through. "I don't think I can get ya back in", he said cautiously, "but if you can tell me where you left your clothes, I'll try to bring them to you."

The other, who had been so inattentive moments before, was suddenly very clear and definite. Oh, yes, he knew - and described - exactly where his clothes were - - and would Larry please hurry? In a few moments he was able to scramble into his things in the frigid alley, and he went home alone, still blacked up and without his fifty cents- sadder and wiser than he'd come.

When the Company produced Tosca, Larry went in with his friend Maurice Webster and others as usual, but when the make-up man saw him, he said, "Oh. I think we can do something with you." He sent him to the hairdresser who made up his hair so strangely that Larry couldn't imagine what this was for. Then he was arrayed in magnificent scarlet vestments. He was to be the Cardinal, and they rehearsed him in his bit part. Maurice was one of his four attendants who carried a canopy over him. Everybody, including the Prima Donna, came in and made the sign of the cross. For that hushed moment he was the commanding one, the cynosure of all eyes as he solemnly blessed the kneeling throng with the sign of the cross. His older sister, Louise, who knew nothing about his part, but had gone audibly, in the still house, "Why that's my baby brother Larry!"

At the end of the opera, the Prima Donna, finding that she has been betrayed and her lover killed, leaps to her death from the roof of the prison-castle. She has to jump over a low parapet and disappear behind it. On the other side of the parapet was a stout mattress to recieve her ample form. But Larry and Maurice had just discovered the mattress, and when the moment came for her to dive to death they were casually relaxing at full length on it. just in the nick of time a stage hand spotted them, and he got them off that mattress just as 179 pounds of diving diva came sailing over the wall. Larry never forgot "Tosca".

Chapter VI - Cornell Episodes   Index

ęCopyright 1974, Stuyvesant Barry All Rights Reserved May not be copied, published, used on anyone else's web pages or in any way without express written permission.

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