Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dottie Shaw Takes Wing

Dorothy Shaw’s formal portrait
 in full pilot regalia, circa 1940s
(Courtesy of the Canton Historical Society)

Childhood should be a time of innocence, of youthful diversions and a time when you begin to see the world as your own and find a place within. You do, however, grow up fast when a family depends upon you to bring them together, even if you are just a child.
Dorothy Shaw grew up on Everett Street, that small street at the intersection where Chapman and Spaulding streets meet. “Dottie,” as she was affectionately known, was born in 1910 and was surrounded by a loving family that included a sister and two brothers. The house, still standing, had a magical turret and is one of the prettiest houses facing Chapman Street. Dottie’s father was a well-respected builder and her mother filled the house with love and affection.
Fannie Shaw, Dottie’s mother, was born in 1878, and her parents died shortly after she was born. Adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Cushman, the girl thrived at the Crane School and was married at age 19 to Walter Shaw in 1897.
Dottie’s catapult from childhood into adulthood happened when she was 13 years old. Her mother had been seriously ill from the time Dottie was 10 years old. The illness was quite bad, and for three years Fannie Shaw endured several strokes and convulsions, leading to diminished eyesight and poor speech. At 1 a.m. on February 23, 1923, Fannie Shaw died, leaving the family in the care of her only daughter. It would be an understatement to suggest that this was difficult. Taking care of her brothers and father became a full-time job, and in addition to her schoolwork, there was always a mountain of chores to be attended to across the day and late into the night.
Taking care of siblings Walter Jr., Howard and Florence was only part of her job; balancing school was the other. Dottie excelled in all her subjects. As part of the Canton High School graduating class of 1926, Dottie graduated at the top of the class and was not only the class president but the valedictorian as well. In short, this was an extremely smart young woman.
As it turns out, there were several smart women around town in those years. Dorothy Spear would go on to attend Bates College in Maine, while Kay Draper attended Wheaton. Not to be outdone, Dr. Rubin’s wife, Sophie, went to Radcliffe, and so many of her friends began life after Canton in wonderful and far-flung places. In writing her introduction to the Echo Yearbook, Dottie noted: “Years ago, there might have been excuse for students not going to college, but in this era of opportunities there is no one who cannot go to a higher institution … there are many ways for poor students to earn tuition.” Dottie wanted to desperately go to college, yet it was not to be. Keeping the family together was her focus, and soon she found a job in the local Boston Edison office in Canton Center where she was always a smiling face well known to many of Canton’s residents.
An aerial view of Chapman Street with the
Canton Airport in the background.
Photo taken by Dottie Shaw in 1933. (Courtesy of Jane Boland)
It would be the skies that would capture Dottie’s dreams. Everett Street is at the top of the Neponset Valley, and photographs from the turn of the last century show a broad expanse across which one could see straight to Norwood. By the early 1930s, the Canton Airport was in full throttle, and Dottie could see and hear the “airships” taxiing and lifting into the sky and roaring over her house. The idea of flying was one that captured many young hearts in those days, and Dottie’s was not excepted.
Perhaps it was Amelia Earhart who made an impression on 18-year-old Dottie Shaw. On June 17, 1928, it was Earhart who set off from Trepassey Harbor in Newfoundland and 21 hours later landed at Burry Port, Wales. The headlines were fantastic, and while three women had previously died attempting a transatlantic crossing, it was Earhart who was greeted by ticker tape and President Calvin Coolidge. Whoever it was who influenced her, Dottie Shaw was indeed influenced to take to the skies. While other young women were off in college, Dottie decided that one thing she could do to set herself apart would be to fly. To fly – to soar – to glide – to dream. Saving a small portion of her $16 paycheck each week, Dottie was able to scrape enough together to begin flying lessons at the Canton Airport. Walking to the airport, less than a mile from her house, was a weekly ritual. And if she was lucky, she could grab a ride from friends — including Ralph Beasley or his son Ralph Jr. These were heady days in aviation. Takeoffs were easy; it was the landings that would prove tricky. In August 1932 a flight permit was issued to the intrepid D.B. Shaw. One of the early masters of aviation took on Dottie Shaw as a student. G. Bancroft Hall, or “Banny” as he was known, would teach Dottie how to fly.
G. Bancroft Hall was a fixture in early New England flying, and by all accounts he favored Dottie with his vast knowledge of piloting. In 1929, Hall was a partner in the Wachusett Airways Company in Fitchburg and at the same time the chief pilot at Canton-based Wiggins Airways. In an old, dog-eared scrapbook, Dottie writes of Banny — “God’s gift to women students.” Taking to the skies for women became pretty extraordinary in the early 1930s, and yet there were several notable examples, largely from well-to-do families.
The “gang” hanging out at the
 Canton Airport in 1933 (Courtesy of Jane Boland)
Flying was as much about the freedom of being in the skies as it was the camaraderie of the fellowship, and Dottie loved the people and the stories that were part of this sport. At the municipal airport in Canton there was a close-knit group of friends, and Dottie was certainly included. The “Gang” was Chin Jung, Ralph Beasley and his son, Ralph Jr., Dick Chase, Sumner Fischer, Charles “Scottie” Scott, Appellino “Red” Janeskus — from Stoughton, Uno Frederickson and several other “guys.” Dottie was the only woman flying in the group. Even in her canvas coveralls and grease-smudged nose, Dottie was a beautiful woman with a ready smile and a winning personality.
On Thursday, June 8, 1933, Dottie climbed into the single cockpit Spartan C2-60 monoplane, the “Trusty 902.” At 5’4” and 100 pounds soaking wet, the blonde, blue-eyed kid slid behind the controls. This would be her first solo flight, and she was probably quite nervous. Inscribed in the front of her scrapbook is an old saying: There are “old” pilots and there are “bold” pilots, but there are no “old, bold” pilots.
At 23, Dottie Shaw was certainly not old, but as for being bold, this is up for interpretation. It was a beautiful summer evening; a slight breeze kicked up the smell of sweet grass from the nearby hayfields. The runway was dusty as she taxied out and made the turn for her takeoff. At exactly 7:11 p.m., Canton’s first female pilot took flight from the soft grass meadow at the airport at the edge of the Fowl Meadows. Aloft above her beloved town, it was a magical evening. The small engine could get her up to a top speed of 93 mph and she must have reveled in the private view of Canton. Pulse quickened as she maneuvered on her own without Banny to gently guide her. After six hours of training spread over the course of a year, this was her moment, her dream of flying realized.
Dorothy Shaw, Canton’s first aviatrix,
posing in front of her “solo” ship in 1933
at the Canton Airport (Courtesy of Jane Boland)
On the ground a welcome committee was sure to be waiting. Perhaps her fellow students had stopped by, and certainly her instructor. At the head of the pack may have been Joe Garside. Joe came from a wealthy family in Hyde Park that had made a small fortune developing a special paint for canvas-covered planes. In 1927, he piloted his mother across the English Channel from Paris to London — Joe was only 13 at the time.
As far as formal instruction, Joe learned to fly in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a year later we find him soaring around the nation’s capital and the Washington Monument. The 14 year old soloed in 1928 at Hoover Field in Washington, D.C. (now the site of the Pentagon). Joe had tried to persuade the chief of the Department of Commerce (now the FAA) to waive the 16-year-old age requirement for private pilots. At the time, Joe Garside was the youngest pilot to solo in the world. The flight was a success; the waiver was not. Despite not having a pilot’s license, Joe flew extensively and by age 16 became a full-fledged pilot, owning several air-ships.
At 19, Joe Garside, very well known in early flying circles, became the manager of Wiggins Airways in Canton. Close to his home in Milton, Joe was an early pioneer of commercial aviation and attended MIT, studying aeronautical engineering. Of the 40 students who came for lessons, Dottie stood out. Spending more of her time at the Canton Airport, she soon became an assistant to the dashing, young airport manager. It would not be long before the two became an item. Eventually, the “air-pair” fell in love and began an extended courtship. In October 1938, Joe and Dottie were married and moved to the beautiful stone house at 180 Chapman Street.
Joe and Dottie were a well-suited pair — smart, ambitious and very friendly. In fact, both were described as having magnetic personalities. After ten years of trying to have a child, they turned to a family attorney in Brockton, who arranged for them to adopt a nine-day-old baby girl. Jane Garside said that from the time she was old enough to know, she knew she was adopted. “I was a very fortunate child,” she recalls. “I never desired to hunt for my birth mother, and Joe and Dottie were my mom and dad.” Jane was told from day one that she was special.
Dottie flew until the 1940s, joining the famous Ninety Nines, a women’s pilot organization founded by Amelia Earhart. After Jane was born, Dottie never piloted again. The family did fly together in small private planes, but Dottie exchanged her wings for the caring arms of a mom.
When Jane was 13 years old, her mom and dad divorced. In the mid 1950s, Joe engaged in a particularly public and forbidden love affair with a neighbor’s wife. Dottie asked him to move on by simply stating in rather stoic terms: “You can do whatever you want. I am keeping our house and Janie.” Jane continued to see her dad, but certainly was closest to her mother. The split was amicable even under the circumstances. In later years, Joe would reflect that his divorce was perhaps the biggest mistake he ever made in his life. Dottie remained on benevolent terms with her ex-husband, most likely because they were such close friends. Today we call people like Joe and Dottie soul mates.
Dorothy Shaw Garside in Honolulu, Hawaii, with her daughter
 Jane, in 1963 (Courtesy of the Canton Historical Society)
 Dottie’s life in Canton continued to be a proud and lasting tribute to the things she loved. A member of the Garden Club, the Sweet Adelines, and the Canton Historical Society, she remained active her entire life, and was frequently seen volunteering at Norwood Hospital as a “pink lady.” Jane recalls that her mother “had a beautiful voice” and loved organizing community activities, including the 50th anniversary of her Canton High School graduating class. In the winter of 1978, Dottie battled a nasty flu, and soon it was discovered that she was suffering from heart disease, which quickly led to two heart attacks, the second fatal. On January 4, her 68th birthday, Canton’s first female pilot departed this earth.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Grave Matter

The Gridley Cemetery, 1764.
After my last story, the one that helped rediscover the Boston milestones around town, I headed out to repaint the ancient relics. I had done this before, about five years ago. This time, my brother Jonathan and I dutifully drove to the stones around Canton and took some time painting in the carving and cleaning up the faces. At one point, Jonathan turned to me and asked, “What else can we paint?” The question was simple, almost asking, “What else has been lost that we can rediscover?”
It seems to me that there are plenty of long-neglected sites in Canton that could use a bit of sprucing up. Case in point: what is historically known as the Gridley Graveyard. Few people realize that it exists, but in fact it is closer than you may think. As you drive toward Cobb’s Corner, and just after the waterfall at Shepard’s Pond, on your left is Kinsley Place, a small street that dips down a hill.
Find a respectable place to park, and on your right is a tiny field hardly bigger than a postage stamp. You will not see any gravestones or markers. A crude sign is erected proclaiming the site as Gridley Cemetery. The weathered sign is slowly deteriorating and time is overtaking this space very slowly. Along the edges of the plot are a lovingly tended grape arbor and plenty of vibrant Hostas. Bearing silent testament to time is a large tree, a maple perhaps, standing at the back corner of this place. Measuring barely 20 by 25 feet, there is not much to see here. A recent mowing caused historian Jim Roache to wryly ponder if a cookout was planned, as this is a perfect picnic spot.
What lies beneath, however, is a part of Canton’s history that is both celebratory and sad. This plot was not planned; rather it was opened by necessity. In 1763, a full-blown epidemic ravaged Boston, and in May 1764, the scourge of smallpox darkened the small town of Stoughton. In the Canton Historical Society, in a lead-lined drawer, there is a small diary written in the hand of the Minister Elijah Dunbar. The entries are indescribably small and equally hard to read. The diary entries for 1764 are dark and forlorn. It would appear that people were falling ill at an alarming rate. The time was known as the “visitation,” and nothing would stop the pox from indiscriminately cutting down young and old in a matter of days.
Elijah Dunbar writes: “May 27, terrible time on account of the pox.” In June the entries pick up the pace of the disease: “Vilet died this night, a very terrible time, Leonards folks taken with the small pox, Mrs. Vose dies of the small pox, Old Joseph Fenno dies, Polly Billings dies of the small pox; purple sort, Leonards family in great distress, Sunday Mrs. Davenport dies of the small pox.”
By mid June, the parish began fasting and prayer in the hope of staving off the disease. At this same time, Mary Leonard and her newborn baby die followed three days later by Nurse Howard. Families perished, only to find few willing to bury the dead.
The Gridley Cemetery was opened to bury these dead souls. There are no official records that tell us who are interred in this ground. The markers were standing in 1893, but they are long lost. Folklore suggests that they were taken away and used as stone steps or foundation rubble in some of the homes in the vicinity. We do have a record of a few of the carvings.
They all tell a sad story: “Here lies ye body of Mr. Wally Leonard, who died of small pox, June the 14th, 1764, in the 44th year of his age.” And another: “Here lies ye body of Mrs. Mary Leonard, and her new born babe, the wife and child of Ensign Nathaniel Leonard, who died of small pox, June ye 14th, 1764, in the 39th year of her age.” Even the young were hardly spared: “Here lies the body of Mary Billings, daughter of Mr. William and Mrs. Mary Billings, who died of small pox, June 8, 1764, in the 18th year of her age.”
Eventually the small cemetery was enclosed with two low stone walls and became part of the conveyances when abutting property was sold. Principally, the cemetery was opened as a family burying plot for the Leonard family. You may recall Nathaniel Leonard carved the 1736 milestone, our oldest marker and now at Shepard’s Pond. Perhaps Leonard carved some of the stones that have been long lost. After Leonard died in 1772, his son Jacob conveyed the property to Richard Gridley, Edmund Quincy and others.
Major General Richard Gridley was an impressive man in American history. In fact, Gridley is credited as the founder of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Born in Boston in 1711 to a well-established family, he would become a giant in the American Revolution. Space does not allow a full explanation of his accomplishments, but suffice it to say that Gridley was a patriot in the truest sense of the word. At age 61, Gridley had business interests in Canton and was involved in a venture that purchased Massapoag Pond to mine it for iron ore that would be used to cast cannons for the American Revolution. In the spring of 1772, Gridley purchased a house in Canton from the Leonard family. Gridley named his home “Stoughton Villa.” The house is now gone, but it is rumored that the peonies on the property still bloom from the stock planted by Gridley. Along with the house came the small burying ground.
Alongside the graves of the smallpox victims, the Gridley family is buried. General Gridley’s son, Scarborough, was laid to rest in 1787, and Gridley’s wife, Hannah (Demming), was buried in 1790. There were two daughters, Becky and Polly, who are perhaps buried here as well. It was the general, however, who was buried here to which the name of this place is attached.
In a declining age, Gridley was in financial distress. His business partnership had soured and had caused considerable financial drain. Among Gridley’s creditors was listed John Hancock, Edmund Quincy’s brother-in-law. Gridley’s last public appearance was at the laying of the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House in 1795. That same year he signed the petition for the Act of Incorporation of the Town of Canton. In late life, at an advanced age, Gridley took great pleasure in tending to his gardens. Cutting dogwood bushes in the summer of 1796, Gridley contracted blood poisoning and died at age 85. On June 23, the old revered general was laid to rest in the quiet spot of this family graveyard.
The final resting place of the remains
of an American Patriot, Major General Richard Gridley,
1711-1796 (Photo by George T. Comeau)
For almost 80 years the grave was neglected. As early as 1874, however, a move was afoot to somehow recognize this great man. Gridley, a Freemason, was celebrated in an early magazine article written by Brother D.T. V. Huntoon, with a closing remark that read: “The school that is situated nearest to where his house stood is called the Gridley school, but the children, as they pass and repass the little graveyard, know not that one of the distinguished men of the Revolution sleeps his last sleep in its quiet precincts. But the Patriot and Mason, as he passes, may pause and ask himself: Is it right that one, who in days gone by defended his country with bravery, and upheld the ancient landmarks with zeal, should thus be forgotten and neglected by his Brethren and countrymen?”
On an autumn day in 1876, a small committee of men gathered at the Gridley Cemetery with the intent to remove the moldering remains of the deceased patriot. After a false start, the men located the grave, and seven feet below the surface the coffin was reached. A trowel was used to clear the grave, and the skull of Gridley was lifted from the earth. A quantity of grey hair attached helped identify the remains, to which a small braided ponytail, his queue, was pocketed by Elijah Morse. The contents of the grave were placed in a box and reinterred at a suitable monument at the Canton Corner Cemetery.
Today, you can visit Gridley’s final resting place, impressive in size and topped with a cannon in the imitation of a “Hancock” or “Adams,” which served Gridley so well at Bunker Hill. On the other hand, you can visit his wife and family more than two miles away to the south on Kinsley Place, in a long forgotten graveyard that tells a story that should be memorialized and respected for the souls buried therein. On this 215th anniversary of Gridley’s death, plan a pilgrimage to both spots and pay homage to the man and his family, a true son of Canton and of America.