Manumit School Stories

The Manumit School was an “experimental boarding school in Pawling NY. Founded on purchased farm land in 1924 by William and Helen Fincke, it was formally call the Manumit School for Workers’ Children. An early promotional flyer for the school asked parents if they’d like their children to grow up “to become men and women who can think for themselves, stand on their own two feet and fight injustice and oppression. “ It’s teachings were meant to provide a “progressive “ “workers education” slant during a time of increasing socialist optimism in America. Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn worked here as an English and Drama teacher until 1929. A former student. Robert Shnayerson, is quoted in a Time Magazine article in 1961, describing the Manumit experience: We drove trucks at nine years and plowed with tractors, slaughtered pigs and took care of the cows. But I didn’t learn anything about anything.

 

I’ve been enjoying all the “nostalgia” emails that has awakened , my own dormant memories of the time I spent at Manumit about FIFTY years ago. My younger brother, Tommy (Tomas) Wolff (he lives in Easton, PA) was there, too, although I’m still not totally sure exactly when we were there, as our lives were in constant turmoil at that time….I believe it was somewhere between 1952-1955, or thereabouts.I do remember that the play, “Harvey”, was performed in the “big room” of the big house anyone remember that? And that I was housed on the second floor with other girls and we had continual, very competitive card (solitaire) tournaments, took baths in very deep, old fashioned tubs.I remember sitting in an open field and spending hours eating wild strawberries, spending days roaming around the countryside, getting turned onto and encouraged with arts & creative projects, sneaking off the grounds to go buy hoagies down the road and does anyone remember the ice cream place that sold “a pig’s dinner” ice cream extravaganza? I also remember on saturdays, getting onto an old bus with other students, we were taken for a day trip to Trenton, where we were turned loose to do whatever we wanted, with the only rule being that we got back to the bus by 6 PM for the return trip. Many of us were NYC kids and living in the country was an event that opened my eyes and gave me many experiences that have profoundly affected my life ever since, especially the independent and adventurous side of me! The encouragement & sense of family, too, was a beneficial part of the experience. Please keep up the emails and i’ll write more whenever I remember something………

Juanita Wolff

 

Jonathan,

Thanks for that memoir. I remember “Winterset”, “Watch on the Rhine” and “The Crucible”, plays very few high schools would ever attempt but we did passionately at Manumit, I remember the Abe Lincoln “Freedom Train” and can still recall and sing some of its refrains. The pine tree you mention was easy to climb and I had many a cigarette in its upper branches. Before coming to Manumit I had attended Catholic boarding schools and would probably have remained repressed and been committed or harmed myself in some distructive way, The freedom at Manumit, as suggested by its name, allowed me to flourish artistically and individually, Despite life’s travails, Manumit gave me the strength of character and desire to overcome. Regardless of misgivings and disappointments and losses I was embued with a sense of self that has allowed me to accept most of what life tosses to me and enjoy myself a good deal of the time. I would never have developed into the resilient, opinionated, creative and tolerant (except politically) individual. Good God, I might have been a nun!!!!!

Thanks again for you memories.
Denise

 

We seem to be remembering alot of plays and music. I’m sure this is significant. Judy.. when we were discussing Tovarich, I thought it was you who played Mme. but I had forgotten that Bruce, with whiting in his hair, played M. I think he was also in “Fumed Oak” as was I (with sort of English accents) and I remember the intensity with which he gave his scathing opinion of his surroundings. So intense he was. I see he is gone. Too bad. music… I already mentioned “jerusalem”. It was assumed that we all new the words to everything just because Billy did. There were so may songs that I would remember better if I had learned the words. Some songs I remember from chorus are “Landsighting” by Sinding…did Albert sing the solo? And a setting of “When I was one and twenty” written be a friend of someone. I wish I had liberated a copy of that. It still haunts me. Dickson Busch… wasn’t he a grad student who had spent some time at Manumit and was doing a dissertation on the benefit of physical labour on something or other. More to come… I’m sure. Oh, by the way, do you remember if I was known as Barbara in those days or did I use Suki. I know I changed in some schools and camps.
bj

 

What a delightful and heady memory collective or rather collective memory. A bit of tweaking, I think, of memories that I have. “Tovarich” was by Robert Sherwood and I played the mother of Aulay and Hildy and wife of Bruce Fearing and was the youngest of all, but deep of voice and fated never to be an ingenue…the next year I was a lion tamer in “He….” and thought that Judy Van looked very sexy and knowing to my 14 year old eyes as she cavorted with Al as the Princess Tatiana in “Tovarich”. Elna Nelson was the art teacher and my advisor… teaching me about art and being a warm and supportive person. I wonder if anyone knows of what became of her…She left Manumit and returned home to Natick, Mass. but I do not know any more about her. Barry Schecter and Dick Marlis were cousins, thanks to that reminder and Susan Marcus was the girl who died. She was not there when I arrived at Manumit but had died on my Birth date and so I was very aware of this and still cannot forget the kindness of Bruce who brought me a book for my birthday to mitigate the difficulty that was to be the celebration of my birthday there that year, the first birthday after my mother’s death. I am very interested in locating the Kreiner sisters…any info regarding them out there in that collective memory bank…..more for later… please keep the memories coming in….it is so wonderful….
Judy R. (Wise) , 1952-54

 

“Elna Nelson was the art teacher and my advisor… teaching me about art and being a warm and supportive person. I wonder if anyone knows of what became of her…She left Manumit and returned home to Natick, Mass. but I do not know any more about her

To all, It has been a great pleasure reading the recent posts from Manumit alumni. It brings back many memories. Most of the posters are from the “big people” who were upper school students graduating in the years between 1954 and 1957 when I was a Gamma and Delta (11-13 years old). The sole contemporary who has contributed so far has been my best friend Michael McCarthy. Today I found the link to the web site of Juanita Wolff, another contemporary, posted on the Manumit web page. I have worn my fingers to the nub Googling for my contemporaries and I trust they will show up in due course. One solid hit was Peppy (Agneta) Vulliet with whom I had lunch yesterday in San Diego. She was just as enchanting as a 60 something grandmother as when she was the young girl who made every 13 year old boy make sure their hair was slicked down with enough Bryll Cream. I have also kept in touch with Norman Cooper, art teacher 1955-1957, and his daughter Sukie who was a few years younger than I. Norman lives in Costa Mesa and at 85 insists that he is dying (which he has been saying for at least the last 5 years).

A few years ago, in an attempt to make sure that I remembered my 3 years at Manumit I wrote down random memories that seemed important. I just read over some of my notes. Let me share some high points:

Drama: 1954 – Winterset 1955- Watch on the Rhine 1956 – The Crucible Music:

I recall that we had a formal singing group and the music teacher was a Mrs. Richmond (Violet ?). One year we did an oratorio on the life of Abraham Lincoln from called the “Lonesome Train” a reference to his funeral train. I remember the choral refrain:

Another year we sang a choral version of Finlandia by Sibalius. It always brings a tear to my eye when I hear it today. I recall Sunday night “meetings” where we always sang union songs and songs of protest led by the booming voice of Billy Finke. “Joe Hill”, “Peat Bog Soldiers” and others. Once the parents of two students (female sisters) came and led an evening of folk singing with beautiful close harmony. I wonder who they were. To this day I can remember a song they performed that night called “Down in the Mine”

It’s dark as a dungeon As damp as the Dew Where the dangers are double And the pleasures are few Where the rain never rains And the sun never shines, It’s dark as a dungeon Way down in that mine Dixon Bush aka work parties or forced labor. Who was Dixon Bush anyway?

 Education

I consider my junior high years, grades 6-8, to be the “lost years” in some respect, I entered high school not being able to convert fractions to decimals or parse a sentence, and even Billy Fink had to admit my spelling was a “little weird”. On the other hand, the educational process did not lack lofty intentions. I seem to remember that my class collectively read the NY Times from cover to cover each morning and discussed the articles. And the afternoon was devoted to creative writing, a skill that has served me well throughout my professional life. Periodically Ted Hemberger and/or Billy Fink would read to us entire works of fiction or poetry, for example “All Quiet on the Western Front” or “The Highway Man”.

 Steak and Beer Breakfast

I recall that all graduating seniors were feted at a steak and beer breakfast on the morning of graduation. This custom seemed so grown up to me. Today, I suppose, the directors would be sent to jail for the offense.

Random Thoughts

In about 1956, some student sole the school bus and drove it to New York to confront a wayward girlfriend.

My favorite place on campus was the Himalayan Pine tree that must have been the best climbing tree that ever existed

In 1954 the art teacher was name Olga and was horribly crippled by arthritis. She lived in the carriage house lower story which was also the art studio. I often hitchhiked down to Buehl Airfield to watch the Tri Pacers and Stinsons buzz around. This contributed to my lifelong passion for flying. The airport restaurant made magnificent hoagies.

 Disintegration

Most of the older students exchanging memories did not experience the final and heart breaking year of The Manumit School, 1956-57. Unfortunately, it was a year when the school was scrambling to survive. It apparently had little or no money. The school enrolled any student who could afford the tuition and a number of serious juvenal delinquents were in the student body. We did not have heat or hot water in the Delta Boy’s dorm for nearly the whole winter. Since hygiene was not a serious issue at Manumit, no one seemed to mind. The kitchen fell apart. The director (Bill Finke) who was also my teacher was understandably distracted and classroom instruction became erratic. It was a sad time, I seem to recall. Much of the high ideals that I remember from earlier years were eroded by inattention. Even the faculty seemed to loose heart. Sad times.

I wonder…..

What happened to Billy Finke after Manumit closed down.

Who was Ben Finke? Who was Ann Finke? Both were mentioned in recent posts.

Best Regards to all former Manumit students and staff,

Jonathan Paul

Corral de Tierra, CA

 

I remember an art teacher—could be Olna??–I was there 1950-57—but I do remember her great enthusiasm. I’d draw or paint something and then complain and threaten to throw it away, but she’d quickly say, “No, don’t throw it away, it’s good, it’s good.” But then I’d say I was going to throw it away and do another and amazingly she’d just as quickly say, “OK”! I figured it out that she just didn’t want me to give up.

On another note, I’m happy to see several of you mention the music at Manumit. I sang along at those assemblies and really thought nothing of it except amusingly watching Billy’s enthusiastic face and waving motions as he led us. Well, years later while living in Paris, surrounded by french, starving for english (this is my theory??) what should start poping into my head but these old songs from Manumit! I too did not of course remember all the words, but I guess was anxious enough to go to the American Library in Paris and start looking for them. And to my amazement I found many and have been joyfully singing their full versions ever since! Every once in a long while I happen to hear one of them on the radio–what a pleasure! —heard “Where ‘er You Walk” (from the Handel opera “Semele”) and recently a beautiful Irish version of “Raggle Taggle Gypsies” !

At our first reunion there were ten of us and I gave copies of these songs to everyone–if any of you are interested –(sounds like Jonathan and Barbara are!) give me an address and I’ll send what I have.

best to you all of our beloved Manumit!
Ray Raphael

 

Yes, things are triggering me like mad. Tar Baby, yes, that was the horse that died. Remember, I was back at Manumit for the second time. I was there first when I was 11 to 13 and then went to California with my mother. Subsequently, I left school and got a job as an usherette at the RKO Pantages Theatre on Hollywood and Vine earning 75 cents an hour. I worked the Academy Awards the year “Born Yesterday” won. We trapsed across the country in a trailer. Stopped in Arizona where I car-hopped at the Root Beer Stand in Tucson. Ended up in Southern Jersey at a backward, conservative High School and was miserable. Wrote a letter to Billy Fincke (ohhh the nuthatches) saying how much I missed Manumit. He, unbeknownst to me, went to NYC and beseeched my Father to pay tuition (which in itself is a miracle). One day my mother came to me and said: “I didn’t know you had written to Bill Fincke”. “Oh yes” I said, “just a note to say hi to old friends”. “Well it must have been some note cause your going back to Manumit… he gave you a scholarship and got your father to pay the rest”. Boy, talk about happiness. Wow. Altho coming from Ca., to Manumit, wearing makeup and tweezing my brows did not sit well upon arrival. I got made a lot of fun of about that. I had a makeup sponge in my drawer. Judy Wolfe used to pull it out and pretend it was a falsy. God we could be mean in those days. Barbara… I remember you now!!! This is all very amazing. Hi guys.

Judy VW

It’s been a long time since…I started at Manumit in the fall of ’52 after the regular start of the term because of some kind of cold or other. My initial incident of getting in trouble was hanging around with Johnny Gates, and thereby breaking into the pantry one bright moonlit night after we all should have been in bed. We came back to our dorm (Gamma, converted stables) with trays of cupcakes, institutional size cans of grapefruit segments, jars of instant coffee and sugar, and other goodies. I recall a bunch of us in what passed for the gym (upper level of the senior dorm, formerly a barn) scarfing down the loot and getting caught by the staff. I know we got yelled at, and probably campused, but that’s not clear in my mind. I remember going to Buhl field with an older student (I was 12 at the time) and for $15.00 each, we were taken up in a Piper Tri-Pacer to do loops, steeply banked turns, and other maneuvers before landing. We had less money, but had a great rush. (yes, they had great hoagies) I remember Saturday evenings watching rented movies in the Main House, with pauses to change reels on the clanking projector. I remember the student who borrowed the bus for a drive to New York was Charlie Gardner, who was fascinated by anything with an engine and wheels. I remember climbing smaller pine trees near the sunken garden with Steve Klein and Hildy Lindloff. Steve was about thirty feet up, standing on a thin branch and holding onto two other thin branches at shoulder height. The branch under his feet snapped and Steve hung from two weak branches which didn’t seem much stronger than the one that already broke. Hildy reached out from the trunk and pulled him against it so he could get a new foothold. I remember going into the upper class common room (later to be Virginia Hall Smith’s “apartment”) with some of my classmates, picking up flattened cigarette butts from the floor, and going off into the woods to smoke them. I smoked until age 26. (Also had surgery for bladder cancer in June ’03, they got it all, and I and my baggie are doing fine). I remember the plays Winterset, Electra, Watch on the Rhine, and The Crucible, though I didn’t have an adult appreciation of them, just the fun of seeing my classmates in front of everyone in costume and under fancy lights. I remember Ray Raphael, Alan Essner, Alan Manion, Charlie Gardner, Charlie Evans, Michel Bourgios, Richard and Harry Royce, Joan Slocum, Betty-Jo & Rhoda Kreiner, Bunny Rotker, Mayer Wiesen, Diane Martineau, and many others. I remember singing in “The Lonesome Train”, and our glee club being bussed into Philly to sing it in front of the group “The Singing City” and being blown away by their musicality and power when they sang something back to us. I have lots of memories, but not enough time to write them all down now. I’m glad you guys are still around and look forward to seeing you at a reunion that doesn’t conflict with family commitments.

Ted Greenstone

Posted in: Memories, School Stories

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