Frank Fortune was born in 1912.
He did a variety of things during his lifetime. He was a lumberman and farmer, but was probably best known for being a "Yankee trader", dealing in whatever turned a dollar. As Del Harris says in an article from Soonipi Magazine, "Frank Fortune, farmer, builder, square dance organizer, lovable rogue, and general entrepreneur. His dances on Cochran Hill at Fortune's Barn were legendary, with upwards of 500 people. He fertilized the fields where the old Loch Lyndon golf club stood with chicken manure so powerful that it was rumored to take the paint off houses for miles around. A few glasses of Frank's hard cider were thought to make one invincible."
Frank and a bear that he shot in 1955|
In 1939 he bought the property on Cochran Hill in Bradford, which was formerly the Belleview Hotel. The main building had burned and been rebuilt but the original barn remained. His nephew recalls Frank started running dances in the cattle barn (with the cattle still housed underneath) and it became apparent right away that the barn was too small. He acquired another barn, tore it down and rebuilt it onto the original barn, renovating it at the same time. People said he was crazy to spend so much money on it and wouldn't be able to fill a big hall, but within two weeks that barn was full every Saturday night. He insulated it with hay. It had a smooth hardwood floor and was nicely decorated with ox yokes and wagon wheels as electrical fixtures. The windows were just part of the barn sides that were held open with wooden slats in hot weather. As there were no screens, everyone had to keep dancing fast to keep the mosquitoes away.
When Frank first opened the barn he had a band believed to be named Luna Nova, and a caller named Shorty. After a year or so Frank decided he did not need to pay a caller as he had been listening and learning the calls himself. It is estimated he started doing the calling about 1940. The Bradford Arena ran to a full house throughout WW II. About the time the war ended, Myron Mike Colby's Orchestra came to play at Bradford Arena, establishing a relationship lasting for the most part until Myron's death in 1967. Frank told Mike's family that calling the dance the night Mike died was the hardest thing he had ever done. Frank stopped calling in 1968.
Frank learned to call the square dances from listening to other callers and he and Mike picked up numbers from publications such as "'Good Morning' Music, Calls and Directions for Old-time Dancing as revived by Mr. and Mrs. Henry ford, 1943", "The Cornhuskers Book of Square Dance Tunes, compiled by Harry E. Jarman, 1944" and "American Square Dances Magazine, 1948." Frank also had records to which he listened until he had the calls memorized. Some of these were "Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight" by Bill Mooney and His Cactus Twisters, "Little Old Log Cabin In The Lane" by Folkraft Country Dance Orchestra, and "Hinky Dinky Parley Voo" by Harold Goodfellow and His Good Fellows. The ones that Frank's nephew Stewart remembers most vividly are by Red Warrick and the Melody Cowhands. It seems that Frank and Red had heard of each other and wanted to meet up. Frank gave Red directions to Stewart's house and then Stewart was to direct him along up to Frank's. Red arrived in a big Cadillac with huge horns on the hood and Texas number plates and was wearing a big cowboy hat, creating quite a sight for a small central New Hampshire town.
One of the squares which Frank wanted to call, "Open Up Your Heart and Let's Be Friends", was a little more complicated than the crowd was accustomed to. It took him a year to get the whole crowd to do this. They did not like it at first, but Frank was persistent and there was much grumbling. He always put two other easy numbers in that set to keep them happy. In those days there were seldom walk throughs before a dance as most everyone went every week and knew the dances by heart. If new people came, they would go into an experienced set and learn the dances by doing. People were friendly to the newcomers and most of the "teaching" was done within the sets.
He rented a small hall beside the railroad tracks in Newport and ran dances there for a while in the early 1940s. This could possibly be while he was putting the addition on the barn in Bradford.
He sold the property and bought it back several times, but continued to run the dances and did the calling until he developed laryngitis around 1959 and had to let his voice rest for a while. His wife, Ann, worked with him running the dances and she ran the snack bar. He had members of his family selling tickets and helping in the snack bar.
The stage was at one end of the hall, and at the other was the snack bar, ticket office and coatroom. The "restrooms" were out back of the barn. The ladies restroom was remembered as a "3 holer". The men's was probably only one hole as there were plenty of trees. Frank paid the person who cleaned them out with whiskey. That made the job more palatable.
On August 8, 1963 the Bradford Arena burned to the ground. Frank built the "new barn" named Fortune's Barn on Fairgrounds Road, just a couple miles past the Arena, which he opened about 1965. In the interim, he called for a short time at the Stark Mansion Dance Hall in Dunbarton, NH.
Frank sold Fortune's Barn to Cliff and Betty Sillers. Eventually his voice gave out, caused by the strain of calling, and the smoke and the dust in the halls. It is said that after the dance Frank would go to the snack bar and get a raw hamburger with plenty of salt and pepper.
Frank died in 1976 from complications of heart surgery. The doctor wanted him to have the surgery earlier, but Frank asked him if he would guarantee success and the doctor said he could not guarantee it so Frank would not do it. The following spring he could not breathe so was taken to the hospital and agreed to the surgery, but did not come out of it.
Written November 2006 by Janice Colby Boynton, with help from Myrna Colby Toutant