In the early days, before Bradford Arena, local Webster girls got a ride to the dances with Mike. They would start calling early in the day so that they would be sure of a seat. Their parents would let them go with him because they knew he would keep an eye on them. He would entertain them on the way with scary stories. Luther Fairbanks would also give rides to young people wanting to go to the dance. These cars were always full.
Frank's nephew, Bill, remembers coming to the dances as a small child with his mother, who was selling tickets at the time. Bill would just sit on the benches and watch until he was old enough to get out on the floor. He watched well, as he is a very good dancer.
So many of the people that I have talked to remember seeing their future spouse across the hall; the women recalling the man walking over to ask them to dance and the men recalling walking across the floor to where the girls sat to ask the one they thought was particularly cute. Most people attending did not pay much attention to the musicians, as they were paying more attention to their partners. Many people in those years met their future spouses at the dances or were at the dances with a date, often to become a spouse. They say that one of the reasons the attendance declined in the late 50s, was because those dancing in the earlier years were then raising their families and did not go out. Some people, however, brought their children with them.
Louise French from Henniker remembers going to the Bradford Arena when her daughter was just three weeks old. She brought her in a car carrier and when the ticket taker saw her, he said, "just leave her in the coatroom, I'll watch her." Louise went back to check on her between dances.
One dancer, who we loved to watch because she and her partner danced hard and fast, but so smoothly, recalls taking newcomers into their set to teach them the numbers and the fun it was to be able to do the squares with lively enthusiasm. Another woman recalled having to get to the dances early to get a place to park and the floor was so crowded some nights that they could not dance as lively as they would have liked, as the sets were squeezed too closely together.
Jon Thunberg writes "I have fond memories of the dances at the Bradford Arena. The dances and calls were identical from week to week so eventually we didn't really have to listen Frank. Not mentioned in the write-up was that a significant percentage of the couples spent a good part of the dance time making out in the cars in the parking lot."
Roy Parsons says that he joined the National Guard because of going to the dances. He met a group of Guardsmen from Hillsboro who were leaving in two weeks for Texas. They talked him into joining them and he went with them into World War II.
Mike's wife, Ethel, always told the story of one winter night she woke up in the middle of the night with a scary scratching noise coming from the yard. It went on for a few minutes and seemed to get closer to the house. She got up and found Mike crawling up the driveway on his hands and knees, dragging his fiddle case in one hand. It seems there had been an ice storm during the evening and he could not get the car up the driveway or even walk up.
After the dances everyone was hungry. There was a tiny snack bar down in the center of Bradford called "Evie's Diner." After the dance, and sometimes during intermission, many of the dance crowd would stop there. We remember she made the best brownies and custard pie. There was also a small diner further down Route 103 towards Warner, in a little red dutch shaped building which opened before Evie's, but it was not as popular as Bill and Evie's. Others remember stopping at the Edelweiss Restaurant, just down the hill from the Arena, after the dances.
The "facilities" at the dances in the early years were quite primitive. At the Bradford Arena, the "ladies room" was a "three-holer". It seems that one evening one of the ladies, for unknown reasons, lost her false teeth down one of the three holes. They were eventually returned to her. After all, false teeth were expensive and there was no dental insurance in those days. Ruth McLaughlin remembers on cold winter nights opening the window to see how long the line was for the "ladies room" and when it got fairly short, putting on her boots and coat quickly to make a hurried call. Another woman was having trouble with her petticoat coming unraveled as she danced and she went out and unraveled the whole thing and threw it down the hole. This spot appeared to be the object of many memories.
Occasionally Frank would do what he called a "Grand March". He did this at most weddings, with the bride and groom leading the march, and around July 4 and November 11 (it was called Armistice Day then). The figure he used was what Ralph Page called "The Platoon."
Mike was always happy to give rides to young people who wanted to go to the dance and his car was always full. Marcia Young Palmater, who lived across the street from the Colbys in Concord recalls having to be on the sidewalk on time to catch her ride. One evening she had a friend of hers with her as well as a young man she was dating at the time. That was the era of the crinolines and all the girls wore 2 or 3. On this particular evening the young man sat in the middle of the back seat with a girl on each side of him. When they sat in the car their petticoats engulfed him and caused a lot of laughter and I'm sure remarks from Myron. Marcia also recalls one evening while riding to the dance with Myron and Woody Roberts the car stalled. As it was taking a bit of time for the men to get it going, the young people started fretting about being late. They were informed by Mike and Woody not to worry, as the dance wouldn't start until they got there. Marcia recalls searching for bottles that she could redeem, as money was scarce and she came with $1.00, $.85 for admission and $.15 for a soda. If she could get enough bottles to return, she could afford another soda.
In the Colby household if you did not want to go to the dance on Saturday night, the alternative was to stay home and watch Lawrence Welk and not utter a word while Joe Feeney was singing. He was Ethel's favorite Irish Tenor.
Eleanor Rounds Kimball recalls that her father also gave rides to young people living in Andover. He always told them they could have a ride if they made sure to wash their feet first, as he didn't want stinky feet in his car. (The members of this orchestra certainly had their own sense of humor.)
As we have said, the dancers liked to move about fast, so fast in fact that one night one of the woman dancers wig went flying off into the crowd as she was swinging.
Don Smith recalls that during the contra dances when you balanced and swung the one below, you could feel the floor swaying. When the dancers came back up the center to cast off, Helen Bowers would grab the man and lift him off his feet if possible. She was a robust woman, but a smooth dancer. He remembers seeing a girl he was attracted to sitting on the benches at the side of the dance floor and walking over to ask her to dance. They have been married 52 years now.
Marcia Strout recalls meeting a young man and dancing with him, then saw him across the hall hugging another girl. The next week on the way into the hall she saw him hugging two more girls. She later found out they were his cousins. She married the young man a while later.
Bob Messer recalls that someone had been throwing all the paper down the hole in the "men's room". Frank put up a step ladder at the back of the outhouse and hired someone to climb the ladder and watch to catch the culprit who then "took a ride to Concord." (It seems that those who misbehaved were transported to a jail in Concord for an overnight stay and released the next morning.)
When Frank called a grand right and left, one of the regular dancers, Walt Fletcher, would grand right and left from one set to another, trying to mix everyone up. Some of the newcomers would be startled, but the regulars were used to his antics and kept right on going. When the dances moved to Dunbarton, Walt Fletcher and his wife, Bertha, would stop by Bradford on their way from Claremont to pick up members of the Page family who wanted to go to the dance but were too young to drive.
Judy Waters Willoughby lived just down the road from the Bradford Arena. She remembers that after the dance her mother would have refreshments ready for the group of young people who dropped by after the dance. She was the youngest member of the group but had to be included when they went anywhere. The group of friends who had met at the dances often went on day trips together. They all piled into the car of one of the young men, sometimes Erwin Lane or Graham Gordon, and went to Lake Sunapee or the Mountains or Pine Island Park in Manchester.
Woody Roberts remembers that at intermission time Frank would ask the members of the orchestra if they would like something from the snack bar. If they wanted a hot dog, Frank would often come back with 3 dogs in one bun.
A group of youngsters who lived in South Newbury could always tell when it was dance night because of the heavy traffic going by their home which was on the back road to the barn. In the summer they would often put out bases as in a game of baseball and see how many bases they could run before another car went by.
Pat and Myrtle Gilchrist, regulars at the dances for many years, insisted they saw a flying saucer on their way home from the dance one night.
Ted Young of Warner made the statement, "The one thing I would say about the Bradford Dances was that no matter where I have traveled and we start talking about our youth, when I mention going to the dances in Bradford, NH, someone else there also went to those dances and we would have a great time reminiscing."
Afterthoughts and reflections
All generations have their traditions. These dances are our heritage, our tradition, and our fond memories.
Needless to say, the dances are remembered with great affection by all those I have interviewed. Everyone says, "What happened to those dances?" As the dances have always been the focal point of my life, with my father, husband and sons directly involved with them, I have been amazed at the enthusiasm with which everyone talks about them. There have not been as many specific "human interest" stories, as everyone just remembered going and dancing to music they loved and having a good time. Pictures are also lacking because cameras were not used as much in the 40s and 50s and so many have said that they just thought the dances would be there forever.
Today it is very hard to find a group of musicians who want to play this type of music. Many fiddlers want to play driving fiddle tunes or bluegrass music rather than old melodies like Comin' Round the Mountain or Red River Valley. They have not been enthusiastic about playing waltzes or fox trots, but that trend may be changing. Modern callers want to change the dances from what the crowds who attended Bradford dances are used to. They don't want to repeat the simple tunes and steps handed down from the 40s and 50s, while the dancers who started out with these singing calls want to continue with them as they were then. In working with youth groups as well as other groups who have had little or no previous experience with square dancing, we have found that they enjoy the simple steps and singing tunes that they are given. This type of Eastern Barn Dance Style Singing Call Square Dances is a traditional form of dance which is still enjoyed in small town halls in many parts of the country. Northern New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York still have many small groups happily dancing to these same calls.
If anyone reading this has memories to share, please contact Janice Colby Boynton at 603-774-4412. We will be adding to this part of the website in the future.