John Ott, November 18, 2020

Title

John Ott, November 18, 2020

Subject

United States
Army
Cooperstown
Louis C. Jones
Fred Rath
Long Binh
Minor Wine Thomas
Ordnance
Otsego Lake
Per Guldbeck
Vietnam
White House
Winter Carnival

Description

John Harlow Ott was born in Canada before moving with his parents to the United States. In 1947, he and his family moved to Philadelphia. He was educated there at the St Peter’s Choir School for Boys and Northeast High School prior to entering and completing a degree at Eastern Baptist College. He then entered the Cooperstown Graduate Program as a member of the Class of 1967. He entered the U.S. Army about two thirds of the way through his year at CGP since his being drafted to serve was a very real possibility and he had the rather prudent thought that joining voluntarily would give him a chance to have more of a say as to what he would do in the military.

Mr. Ott then embarked upon his military career in which he completed three different lengthy training courses and came out the other side as a Second Lieutenant in the Ordnance Corps. After a period of stateside duty, Mr. Ott was then selected to be deployed to Vietnam. He spent a one-year tour of duty down range as the officer in charge of a maintenance section dealing with equipment for engineering units as part of the 29th General Support Group in Long Binh, South Vietnam. At the end of his tour of duty he decided, with counsel of one of the CGP faculty, a WWII veteran himself, to end his service career and return to finish the program at CGP where the professors made sure that his re-entry into the civilian world was as smooth as possible.

Mr. Ott in his recollections herein speaks at length about the dining arrangements students came up with, the social milieu, the professors, and his deep love for and gratitude to CGP for all of the opportunities and experiences that he had. Mr. Ott also speaks a bit about the experience of being a returning veteran of the Vietnam War both in the United States and Australia, which provides valuable insight into the different ways that these men were treated by their nations upon their return from serving said nations.

Due to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic this interview was conducted using the Zoom videoconference platform. Mr. Ott was at home in Maine and the interviewer was at his apartment in Cooperstown, New York. The recording of the interview was taken by this service.

Creator

Thaddeus J. Booth Trudo

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2020-11-18

Rights

Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
61.7 mB
image/jpg
85.9 KB

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

20-003

Coverage

Canada
Cooperstown, New York
1944-2020

Interviewer

Thaddeus J. Booth Trudo

Interviewee

John H. Ott

Location

Harpswell, Maine
2 Pine Blvd., Apartment #2
Cooperstown, NY 13326

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2020
TJBT = Thaddeus Booth Trudo
JHO = John Harlow Ott

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

TJBT:
This is Thaddeus Booth Trudo interviewing Mr. John Ott remotely on the Zoom video conference platform. Mr. Ott is at his home in Harpswell, Maine and I am at my apartment in Cooperstown, New York. Today is Wednesday, November 18th, 2020, and this interview is being conducted for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Oral History project, which is part of the Research and Fieldwork course. Now Mr. Ott, could you please give me your full name and tell me a little bit about where you grew up.

JHO:
My name is John Harlow Ott. I was born in Canada but moved to the States with my parents in 1947, and at that time grew up in Philadelphia, PA. My father was an Anglican Episcopal Minister, went to school in Pennsylvania both in downtown Philadelphia at St. Peter’s Choir School for Boys, Northeast High School and then went to Eastern Baptist College in St. David, Pennsylvania. So, most of my time was in the state of Pennsylvania where my education took place and most of my growing up, so I was really a product of the urban landscape. City boy start to finish, which is one of the things that really attracted me to Cooperstown.
I had an interesting childhood because in the years that I was at St. Peter’s Choir School that was being conducted in what was Society Hill which was where the first major urban restoration project in the United States involving the National Park Service was. So, the church where the choir was, was 1765 it was the off shoot to Christ’s Church and it was a fabulous place, with an ancient burial ground, we had gun boxes in the pews. It was a place where on the weekends you would be taken around to various museums and historical sites because a third of the people – I swear – that were in the school were all sons and daughters of people that were in the program of the National Park Service. They were the people conducting a lot of the research work going on. So, it was an opportunity to visit places where Benjamin Franklin and Mr. [Benjamin] Chew and so many other leaders in our country had grown up and made their mark on American History. So, I enjoyed that and I rode public transportation. It took me a long time to just really absorb what I had in the city of Philadelphia, but all of that was, I think in many ways instrumental in why I ended up choosing the Cooperstown Graduate Program, because when that decision was made it was simply because I got the announcement. The brochure showed up in the student union at Eastern College, in Walton Hall and I remember this little pamphlet hanging on the board and taking it down. I still wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do upon graduation and after reading that I said “This program was like tailor made for my interest and what I was hoping to do at some point.” Originally I thought it would be teaching history but in the end it ended up being much more valuable, because since I was I kid I had been collecting stuff, and I am still collecting stuff and it has been a bit of a problem, but throughout my career it has really helped to guide what I do. It also made me appreciate what I had in my surroundings, the people I had lived and worked with, both in school and afterwards. So that is kind of a basic overview of my years in Philadelphia, before coming to Cooperstown.

{TRACK 1, 4:18]

TJBT:
So in previous discussions you’ve mentioned to me that you served with the United States Army during the Vietnam period and in Vietnam, could you discuss a bit what lead you to join the service at the time?

JHO:
Well, I was in Cooperstown and growing up in Philadelphia, I belonged to Selective Service Board 127, and it was toward the end, right about I guess, February or March, I was getting calls from friends of mine saying that they were being called up into the service. I realized that given their names and numbers that I was right there in the middle of it, and I was absolutely positive that I was going to be called to duty. So rather than take a chance on just ending up in a non-descript infantry unit, which I guess would have been fine, but I wasn’t sure it would make the best use of my talents. I drove up to Utica and found a recruitment office and I asked the recruiter, I said, there is a good chance I am going to be called to service, and what kind of opportunities would I have if I was to enlist in the military? So, they said there were a number of programs available, but since I had, on the verge of having a master’s degree why not try for an OCS [Officer Candidate School] ? So, I looked at the various opportunities, and what came out of it was there were several. There was the Ordinance Corps, Transportation, Quartermaster Corps – all of which were things that interest me because it was with stuff. I have always been interested in vehicles, tools and so forth, so after I got done talking with the recruiter he suggested that – why don’t we look at the Ordinance Corps? I said that the Ordinance Corps would be fine. He said the only requirement is you have to go through basic training and then you go through Advanced Infantry Training, when you’re done and graduate you will become out as a Staff Sargent. So, if you make the program into OCS, then the Staff Sergeant would be removed, and you would come in as a Second Lieutenant if you make it through OCS. So, I ended up signing aboard for the Ordinance Program, and the Ordinance Program was then being conducted at this time on the Eastern Seaboard at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. So, the problem with that was the Ordinance School didn’t have a program so to get the Ordinance Advance I would have to go through the Engineer School. So, I ended up going through the Engineer Program at Fort Belvoir, Virginia and then getting a branch transfer into the Ordinance Corps after I completed it. The year spent going through basically basic training and AIT [Advanced Infantry Training] wasn’t hard except I end up getting recycled in AIT after two weeks in the program and had to repeat that because I ended up catching pneumonia. All I remember going through the bars and that was the last thing, they just said I collapsed because I had this terrible congestion. I remember my mother visiting me at the military hospital then which was a World War II hospital at Fort Dix, and she thought that I had been sent to like a camp in Moscow. She said she never saw anything so primitive; there are all these GI’s sick with pneumonia and upper respiratory. Anyway, I recovered. Went through that. Ended up getting sent down to Fort Belvoir. Getting through the program, and that was probably one of the toughest things going. Because again, so many people going in there were going in from ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps] programs, Reserve training programs. Someone asked me what program I had come out of, I told them Eastern Baptist College and I said I had been in the Cooperstown Graduate Program in American museum training and I think it started with “Drop on down – smack” I mean, they were pretty humbling because they said if you’re such a smart guy, you’re not that smart if you’re here. He said all the smart guys managed to go somewhere else. And I said, well you know I’ve got to do my part; I said I’m a naturalized American, Canadian by birth so I remember swearing allegiance that if I was called upon I would serve in the Armed Forces of the United States, so that’s what I’m doing. So that was basically you know a six, seven month program. End up graduating from there. Ended up going to the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Did the Ordinance Officer Program there, and from there my first assignment was in Cumberland Pennsylvania the Army Depot. I was the installation maintenance officer assigned to work with civilians at the post and that post was rebuilding helicopters. So the big Chinooks were being brought in there all shot up and banged up and we would put them back together and we were also one of the sites responsible for painting outgoing military equipment to both the Arabs and the Israelis depending upon what side we were supporting at the time. So, I then spent, close to a year there and it was during that period when I received notice that I was going to be sent to Vietnam. And it was interesting, all the other guys that were there that had come from ROTC weren’t chosen and I said, “How is this possible?” Out of the eight officers it could have been, I ended up being the only guy. Well one guy did get sent to Korea, two guys ended up going to Germany. But I was the only one of the group, of the group of officers that had been the young guys coming up through the ranks to get sent. So, with that I ended up being sent over to the 90th Replacement Battalion in Long Binh, or outside Saigon and then to the 90th Replacement Battalion at Long Binh post. I ended up taking my first interview up at the {unclear} headquarters. And there the General and I just didn’t hit it off, so he told me to come back and check in with the 1st Logistics Command the next day, which was part of MACV the Military Assistance Command [Vietnam].
So, the next I went back to the army headquarters and before very long the next thing I knew I was being assigned to the 1st Log. Command. The 1st Log. Command [1st Logistics Command] sent me back to the post at Long Binh. Again I was with the 90th Replacement and I went to an officers club one night, while I was waiting to hear if there was an opening, and while I was sitting at the bar with a couple of other young officers who were also waiting for a placement with a specific unit a Major came in and I think he’d had a couple drinks. But he wanted to know where the new officers were because all of the new officers usually ended up in the club when they first came there. So the three of us were just a little nervous, because this guy had had a couple drinks and you never knew what you were getting into with these guys over there because when people were getting short, time to rotate out, the way it was set up is to rotate out you had to find somebody to take your position. So anyway, he said well I’m looking for the new guys, so the three of us turned around and waved at him and he came over and he said, what are your specialties? So, I said Ordinance, one guy said Quartermaster other guy said I’m Network Communications. He said, well I’ve got a quiz for you. He said if you pass the quiz, I’m going to send you to group headquarters. So, he wanted to know what the definition, or what did MHE mean. I looked at him and I said I know what that means, if it means what it means, but it could be meat head, jar head or something. And you never knew with these guys whether it was a joke or serious, and the other two guys were, well one was communication quartermaster, and I thought the quartermaster guy would get it but he said, “Sir I don’t know.” And I said, well if it’s not a joke it should mean Material Handling Equipment. And the guy said, You’re my man! He said, tomorrow morning I want you to report to the 29th General Support Group S1 shop , and we’ve got a position for you in the Maintenance Division. So, I ended up in the Maintenance Division and then because again I had gone through the Engineer school they both had the ordinance and the artillery and communications were already filled but they didn’t have anybody to handle the Engineer Equipment. So, I ended up spending a year over there dealing with heavy engineer, power generation, refrigeration, any type of power that was needed. I mean, it was an amazing opportunity and all of the sudden I am Second Lieutenant in a Major’s slot and the only thing that saved my tail was Master Sergeant Starboard from West Paris, Maine. I mean that man kept me out of more trouble because you know within the first day of being in the office there was a TO&E [Table of Organization & Equipment] I had to sign, I had to sign for the property of the group. And that was this massive list of equipment – graders, dozers, heavy lift, forklifts of every type. And Sergeant said, just sign it, he said, and we’ll take care of it. And I said, well, I mean I am signing for all, he said just sign it and you’ll be ok. So I signed the list and I was okay, but there were once or twice where pieces of equipment ended up in the Mekong River and I thought I would end up either going to jail or having to pay for it with the last of whatever money I had left from the service. But that year in Vietnam taught me more about handling men, equipment, dealing with leadership, issuing reports, getting out in the country really understanding what the war was about. I don’t regret a day of it today, and I was never in actual combat but I was in enough combat sites at the time, where they were being shelled that I just, my heart went out to these men that were stuck in these fire support bases and posts. I spent a great deal of time, you know, when somebody called that they needed parts, machinery, power. I mean, doing everything in my bloody power to get what they needed as quickly as I could. So anyway, that was it until it came time to re-enlist at the end of the year and I was about to do that, and I though, you know, gee, I can do this but, I want to go back to truly finish graduate school and get the thesis done. And so I remember writing Dr. [Louis C.] Jones and just saying is there any chance you could find? I found a draft of the letter I wrote him and I was almost begging for help, I said, if I don’t hear from somebody I‘m going to re-enlist and do another tour over here. There was a re-enlistment bonus of $8,500 dollars, which was a world of money to me at that time and so anyway I didn’t hear, and I went about two weeks without hearing, and I wrote a second letter to Dr. Jones, saying I don’t know whether you got my first letter, I sent it from the APO [Army Post Office] but I didn’t hear and then I got a letter from Fred Rath. He was the Deputy Director. He said Dr. Jones apologized but he is swamped with this, that, and the other thing. He said, John as an ex service man, he said, I am writing you, Do not re-enlist! He said, I made that mistake in North Africa in 1942 as a young officer. He said, don’t do it. He said, come home! Come to Cooperstown, we’ll find you a job. There is a seminar program going on this summer. We will bring you up there and we’ll, give you something to do and he said we will talk to you about the program and everything. So, that’s what I ended up doing. I didn’t re-enlist; I was just short of two weeks of making captain and getting the bonus. I returned in the end of June to the States and immediately came up to Cooperstown. It was like a different world. I mean, I was so glad to be out of the place I was, worried about all the men I was leaving behind, the job I was doing because they weren’t trying to fill. They were already starting to draw down, and we had just gone into Cambodia, the Parrots Beak, and I had tons and tons of equipment sitting up there on the border. So, I left with those kinds of regrets but at the same time I was absolutely thrilled to be back in Cooperstown. So that’s the military story basically start to end.

[TRACK 1, 18:14]

TJBT:
Well thank you for that. I know you mentioned that you just kind of ran into the CGP brochure at your undergrad college, was there any more specific thought that led you to choose CGP?

JHO:
No, I just looked at the program that was being offered. All the things that they were talking about – you know the joke about there are classes in basket weaving, you know all those things they used to make fun of about going to college and what kind of college you going to. But this sounded like a program that was really talking about basket weaving, open hearth cooking. It was talking about building log cabins, understanding folk culture. I mean, they were all the things I did. And they were talking about collections, preserving collections, and I thought about all of the material I already owned of things I just picked up in the city, and it just seemed like maybe the teaching would come out of this. But at the same time spending all those years from 1955-‘59 in Philadelphia and then afterwards going to school out on the Main Line, looking at the great estates of so many of the barons who were producing beers and you know other corporate giants. I thought maybe this is something that would really do a lot more for me. My parents knew that I had already turned down one job. During the summers before, I had spent time at Ocean City, New Jersey and because of my time in downtown Philadelphia I had sent an application to the National Park Service to see if they needed any summer guides there. But you know when you’re 20, 21, you know it was also about girls and fun, and so I chose working the shore and not taking the job with the National Park Service. My mother never forgave me for that. So, this in part was a way of making up for that. I thought well gee, maybe that museum job will come because I do love museums, and I spend a lot of time at them anyway. So anyway I signed up and filled out the whole application, wrote to Dr. Jones, and as I mentioned a little earlier in our pre-conversation, I got the letter back from Dr. Jones. It was only two paragraphs with typos in it that had been corrected because his secretary was Annabell Thomas, who was the wife of Minor Wine Thomas, who was a character beyond characters. But basically, it said, that because of your circumstances we are going to give you a $500.00 scholarship and we hope you will let us know whether you’re going to be able to attend school. But it never said was I accepted, it just said, will you attend, will you show up here? So, I wrote another letter saying I understand and thank you I’m delighted to have $500 dollars because you know the tuition for a semester was 600, 500 was a big piece of that. So anyway, I got another letter and it said something like, sorry that didn’t seem to be enough money because I understand you’re considering getting married, we’ll give you another $500, so now I had a thousand dollars for the year but again they never actually said whether I was in. So, I ended finally calling them and they said well of course you’re in, I mean we wouldn’t give you a thousand dollars. I said, maybe in future letters maybe you could just say, you are now going to be a member of the class 1967, and we are so delighted you’re going to be up here. They weren’t wasting typing because it wasn’t being done on computers this was done on a typewriter. You could still see where somebody put a carbon in to take out a letter and then use correct type to fix it. So, that was my beginning up there, and I’ve never regretted having chosen the program. I thought it was the most unique experience. First of all, I didn’t have a car. After college my dad just said you don’t need a car, you’ve got two good feet you can get where you’re going. We’ve got a city with the best public transportation; you’ve got the Main Line if you’re only local you can get out there. You’ve already gone to school at St. Peters, and you had to take a trackless trolley, the elevated, the trolly car to get to that, that was all the way in town on your own – and at that time I was only ten or eleven years old and he said you managed to get in and get out on your own, so I don’t see why you have to have a car to go to school. So why don’t you just get up there and see how things go and maybe you’ll find friends.
So anyway, I ended up deciding let’s go up and see. So, when I interviewed, I had to take a bus from Philadelphia to Port Authority. At Port Authority I picked up the Pine Hills Bus Line from Port Authority up to Cooperstown. I arrived on the bus, the bus pulled up in front of main street by the theater, and Dr. Jones’s son David Jones picked me up and he said we are going to put you up for the day, I hope you don’t mind he said. We’re not going to spend money on a hotel, there’s no point in doing that, you can stay with us for the evening. They put me up in [Riverbreak?] and so that afternoon I had a chance to walk around Cooperstown with his son David and he was pointing out all the sites and talking about the school. Then that evening we had dinner at Dr. Jones’s dinner table with Aggie his wife and his son, and I forget there was somebody else with us. That night I spent it in there house upstairs in the upstairs bedroom in this great Napoleonic classic style bed with four heads that I kept starring at for most of the evening thinking about the stories he had told me about the hanging ground out in his front yard there. And I thought, wow, I am really in it this time! I wasn’t sure whether I was going to get a chance to talk to him, but Dr. Jones he was asking me a lot of questions about this and that. Why did you go to the shore, and not there? I said, well I really enjoyed it down there. I was working. I had a whole number of jobs, but [Simms’?] restaurant was old line. I really enjoyed talking to the employees about the stories and about how long they worked there. They had waitresses that had been there 38, 39 years waiting on the same people, with table service on the boardwalk and what the boardwalk was like. So, he kept asking more and more questions. What’s it like being a kid and your dads a minister? I said, as a kid I was interested in the regalia that he wore. All the liturgical garb the albs, the coats the miters and the dickies. He said well you know that is all Puritan it has all this relationship. So, unbeknownst to me that was a big part of the interview; I had no idea I thought this was just chatting over dinner. He didn’t say anything about my grades or anything. They were, they were okay, they weren’t great because I had fooled around a bit in college and probably should have booked it more. But anyway, being the son of minster of PK [preacher’s kid] you had a tendency to get in trouble anyway. But the next day I had an interview with Dr. [Bruce] Buckley at the White House. We just started talking. There was somebody else there; but I’m not sure who it was. I don’t think it was Minor Wine, and it might have been Fred Rath, might have been Wendell Tripp, but anyway they asked again a bunch of questions and then toward the end of the interview I remember Dr. Buckley said something like, he said your grades are okay, but we’ve got a lot of people who really want to be in this program. He said tell me again why you want to be here? I said, I really think this is the right place for me, I really enjoy what I see going on here I enjoy all the things your working with, and I really feel I can be a contributor to the field eventually if I can find a job. I just like the town, I’m not afraid of the outdoors. I don’t have a car so I’ll find a way to get around if you’ll give me a chance and he said, Well he said I’m looking at these grades, I said, I know, but I swear to God, I’m really going to buckle down. He said well I heard from Dr. Jones, there’s something about you he really liked so, I think we’re going to give you a chance. That was it. And then the letter came. The next thing I knew I wasn’t in I was in, the second letter I was I wasn’t, and I was in. And after I arrived there, you know I just loved Dr. Jones, Fred Wrath, Per Guldbeck, it was just this group of interesting kind of strange men that were all they dressed differently, some wore pouches with gunpowder, other ones were fishermen, they kept ferrets in their house. I said you know this place is alright. Its going to work out pretty well and so it did. Until the army thing came up and kind of took me away and created then a hiatus of a little over three and quarter years.
But, once I came back, those same men helped me find my first job. And because of my military experience I was able to get my first job at Hancock Shaker Village where Frank Spinney who was also one of the professors had been a trustee and he was a former head of Old Sturbridge Village. So, I think he was part of it. And when Frank went off the board, we were able to get Fred Rath to join the board of Hancock. Again, it was a chance, because what I learned didn’t prove half as helpful as what I was to learn from the woman who was to be my boss. But they sent me back into the battlefield a second time I want you to know. They told me that she was tough, but they never mentioned how tough she was and working for this woman who would kind reshape my thinking about how you deal with a museum that’s large, it has a women who runs the show [phone ringing] and it just made all the difference in the world. So, and again they said after, we knew it was going to be a tough haul, but we figured coming out of combat, coming out of Vietnam maybe you could do it. So, we haven’t had a lot of luck with some of our others that had gone into that area. Anyway, that’s the story there.

[TRACK 1, 29:52]

TJBT:
So about how many classmates did you have in the class of ‘67?

JHO:
Well in ‘67 there were 34 of us, and you know it was really interesting because I still have the original list, that was printed out on a mimeograph machine. Again, there was a technical oversight, because I noticed John H Ott 14 Leatherstocking Street, my new telephone number and has me as a graduate of the University of Connecticut. I don’t know whether that was Annabell Thomas trying to improve on my Eastern Baptist background because everybody else was Baylor, really big schools Smith College, Boston University, Colgate, Indiana University, Syracuse, so it may have been an oversight, and maybe just Annabell trying to help me because she and I hit it off as well right away. There were 34 of us and then that first year I think Billy Cursare, died before the end of the year. Marty was one of the five, six women, she left the program. And we had one special student who actually never came to any classes that I knew of. Then we had one farmer who was both a student and a farmer at the same time John Mott who went on to Sturbridge to help with their farming. He had to sit at the back of the room because he always came from the barn and he was usually pretty mucked up and so you knew he was in the classroom when you were with him. It was in the White House and there wasn’t a lot of ventilation. It was a good group of people, it was a really a cross section, but very heavy on men, that had had some experience working either as interns or had basically a fellowship working with a museum or a historical site beforehand. We had a number of them who were interested really in more of the decorative arts furniture. And then there were another group, Bill McNeil that were really folklorists. And they, you know Bill McNeil could rattle off 60 verses from some folk song from Appalachia and he would have people enthralled. Then there were people interested in architecture, there were people interested in going into government work, who wanted to be part of the park system dealing with historic buildings. And then there were people like me, myself, Pete Corey who was probably my closest friend. He was into Indian culture. He was a great guy. So, we bonded, and we bonded in different ways. First of all the library wasn’t the library then, what we had, we had the White House, which was where our primary classroom was, and they hadn’t built anything else. There was no library then, what we had was Fanny Hill which is what we called the little garage. Which served as our student union; it was a place you could cook a meal or lunch. It also had the dark room where you had practicums on developing prints and pictures. It was a place you could jump a battery on a car it was just a very useful, it was the only other building there. Then the Library itself was back in Fennimore House on the second floor. So, you had to work at the tables up there you didn’t have the beautiful array that you do today. So, you really had to fend for yourself all the way around. And then the housing situation again some people partnered. Because I was a little different, and I wasn’t sure about all these guys. Definitely I was a street person versus these guys that seemed a little more fussy about their dress and everything. So, I ended up staying with Dr. and Mrs. Pitcher, he was a retired dentist who lived on Leatherstocking Street and that was right next to the [Otsego County] courthouse, which proved to be a boon for me in the end, but it was great, so that’s where I lived. For eating, it was you either had to fend for yourself in town, or a couple of people would get together. Very early on a group of us formed what we called a supper club and I think there were seven or eight. It was made up of a couple of women and the rest of us were men. We basically divided up into three jobs, so you either purchased food and then we divided up the cost. We took the whole cost and divided up and then once a week or every two weeks you would pay for your share of it. Second you had the job of cooking, that was where I was the least capable. You know I had a mother, sister, girlfriends, restaurants I worked in where food was never a problem or in college it was always the mess hall or in the army. So anyway, the last job was the cleanup, so I was, and I’m a clean freak a neat freak. If it doesn’t grow there like the military says you pick it up. I would do dishes, clean the apartment where we would eat, we basically had the headquarters being Corey and Dick Slavin’s home, which was a rundown slum on Leatherstocking Street, but it worked for us. That is where we met in the evening usually. Lunch we were on our own, so we would either eat out at the lunch bar at the museum – The Farmer’s Museum. Or we would go into town and have lunch at the Glimmerglass or the Pratt or Tunnicliff, or one of the little hole-in-the-wall places where you could get a burger and fries. Then it was either back to the library or you were off on research in the field or you were meeting somebody to do some sort of project. So, you might be over to the Carriage Museum or going somewhere else, Fenimore House. The museum was a great place to spend time. It just appealed to me, the farm buildings, tools, so I was probably over there as much as anywhere because I loved the genre paintings, the folk art that was in Fenimore House that was the other place I would spend lots of time wandering around. So, I don’t know whether that covers the class, but you know we really had a very successful supper club right away. We shared vehicles. When I had to finally enlist I had to borrow Cheryl’s car to head over to Albany because I didn’t realize I waited and there was a snow storm going and I remember asking her I’ve got to be there at 8 o’clock in the morning and it’s 7 o’clock now. She said it’s snowing like crazy, and I said yeah, I know but you don’t need the car for the morning, if I can get over then and then get back can I borrow it? She said well you’re not going to wreck it? No, I’m not going to wreck it, I said, I’ll take care of it. So, she lent me the car, so I started off at 7 o’clock in a snowstorm getting up to Route 20 and then going over Route 20. Then when I got over near Carlisle, sure enough I slid off the road into the ditch. I said, boy I’m cursed tonight but I was right by a farmhouse and this old guy came out and he said son you got a problem. He said you’re in a ditch, I said yeah, and I need some help big time. Do you know where I can get a wrecker? He said no, not at this time and not in this storm. I’ve got a tractor, give me a few minutes and let me see. So, this guy brought out an old tractor and a chain and he put it on and pulled it out. So, I slowed down the rest of the way to Albany and I got there in time – I don’t know whether I spent the night or whatever. I was there I got sworn in and that’s how my Army career began. Then I brought it back and believe it or not the snow had actually acted as a buffer because that car should have had the front end screwed up, and it wasn’t. She said did you have any trouble? No, I had no trouble, I got there, here it is and I even put gas in it for you. Which I did. So that was that story of just dealing with your friends and they were good. We would all take trips together; we would go off in small groups. I can still remember going bobsledding on Mount van Hoevenberg one weekend. Taking ski doos out on Tupper lake, and going back and forth. My wrists getting frostbite because they were the only part that wasn’t covered. And really just palling around together. Another adventure, as part of the documentation project for buildings in Otsego County we were assigned documenting hop houses. I had a hop house outside of town and I just found a picture the other day. So, I had gone out there, now again I didn’t have a car so I went out on my bike. My dad said, why don’t you rent a bike so that’s what I did up until the winter and I still remember sending him a photograph that I took of the bike outside of Fenimore House covered in snow. And I said you know this is really getting, Dad, a little old and I said there’s the bike, there’s the snow, and it’s still almost a mile to get out here. That didn’t have any [effect] so I ended up still borrowing cars the entire time I was in Cooperstown. But on this day I was taking the bike and I was way out, I don’t know probably 8 or 10 miles out and it was on the way down the thing. I’d already measured [it one]time but this time on the way out there I passed this farmhouse and I remember seeing these dogs and I thought uh-oh, this might be trouble, and sure enough I got to the bottom of the hills and one of the dogs, a big white shepherd came out and he started at me on the bike and he was chewing on my leg like nothing so I just peddled as far as I could. I kicked him away a few times and finally I got him in the neck and I think it hurt so he let me go so I went up about another, part just beyond where the hop house was, and low and behold along came Jeffery Stine and Billy Cassaro in a little open I don’t know what it was, it wasn’t a Miata, but it was a little sports car. I said boy am I glad to see you guys. There’s some dogs down the road here that don’t like me at all. I said they already chewed on my legs and they looked at it, I looked and I had some bite marks but fortunately I had tucked, my pants in so they wouldn’t get caught in the chain and so they said okay hop in the back. I said well there’s no room. He said just throw your bike in and climb in on top of it and we will get you back, so I did and I went by that dog and gave it, I’d like to say I gave it the finger but you know I just got home that day. But it was just fortunate that these guys were always there it seemed in a pinch. So that was fun. In other times, I remember there was the winter festival [Winter Carnival]. At that time, they were still having dog sled races in Cooperstown and I don’t know whether that still goes on or not, probably not. Part of it there was an ice sculpture contest and I talked to Corey and a couple other people and since they were in the folk program and I said why don’t we do something. I’m not sure they’d ever done anything before. So, we decided to do a folk sculpture. Right on Main Street, it was by the shoe repair shop. We built the Fenimore House Mermaid the wonderful mermaid, Corey and I sculpted her. The only problem with that is it took more snow than we realized so we got down toward the end of finishing the breasts and a little bit of the tail and Corey said, we haven’t got enough ice. I said let’s try using some of the slushy snow at the curb. We can pack that and then we will cover it with white snow. Well, that was good until the first drizzle and then the white stuff went away, and the breasts turned a little brown and then the food color we used also ran. We got an honorable mention as I remember for the snow sculpture. But it definitely stood out in town you knew it was the Cooperstown Graduate Program at work because we did have a label down below that. It was great fun. Part of that festival I remember that year we were racing cars on the lake. [Nichol Forsht?] she had, I don’t know, I think it was a Chevy Nova. It wasn’t a great car, but Jim was driving it and Nikki was in it with Cheryl his girlfriend and there was somebody else in the back of that, so they were going to race. Then Jeffery came along, and I said gee, you got room for me I’d love to go in that. No, we can only take four in here. So, I said okay, I’ll see if there is anyone else racing. Again, Jeff Stine was coming along, with Billy Cassaro and Billy Cassaro liked the sports car. So, when they came up, I said is there any chance I can get a ride with you guys? I said, I know there’s no room, then he said no you can come. Oh, I said so where am I going to sit? Just get on the back he said and just hang on. I said what’s my role, and he said you’re the weight. Because then I realized this was a race down the ice up against these hay bails in and out and I’m hanging on for dear life as these guys are spinning around trying to win this thing, so, again it was great fun. And I just think of all the good times there. You know the research projects were fun, but also working with people like Minor Wine, and Per Guldbeck. Winter came and the first thing you had to do, there was a job for graduate students. Minor Wine had to get his ice fishing shack out on the ice and he needed a lot of brawn to drag that thing down and help drag it out onto the ice and cut the hole. Then he’d be out there fishing people, graduate students were always invited to come out have a seat and fish for a while, have a sip of toddy, or whatever it was he was sipping on, it was probably some whiskey. It was great and in summertime Minor Wine might even have a boat on the lake and he was always offering on the weekends to take graduate students out there and he would tool up and down the lake and he would point out Natty Bumpo’s Cave, and you know Kingfisher Tower and all of the sights you had to see, teach you how to fish if you didn’t know how to fish, and then telling stories. They would go on and on about what was happening here. Or if you were at Buckley’s, there was always sitting through these music sessions if somebody had a guitar, ukulele, banjo I mean you would end up having to learn a few songs if you wanted to be part of the evening that was it. And also, you could have your own meals at the supper club and invite one of the professors to dinner and they would come over and sit and talk to you just like they were one of the crowd. There was such a sense of comradery among all of us there. We really, I think thrived on that. You couldn’t be too weird. Because there were some strange happenings, but we really got along. I understand later classes there were sometimes issues with people. You know there would be occasional an issue but for the most part we did really well and I ended up dating Diane Tarentino for a good part of the second half of the year and we became great friends so, it was just fun. I still had a girlfriend and she also had a car, it didn’t have a complete floor in it but it was something that if you put some cardboard down in it the slush wouldn’t come up when you were driving up and down the lake. The Practicums were great fun. In the little Fanny Hill you had to learn either photography using cameras or enlargers or developing, some of that could be done at the small building but at the same time it was easier to use an offsite place. The Hickory Grove Inn was up at Nine Mile Point and you would have your practicum in the lounge at the far end, lectures and talks and then after that everyone would go to the bar and have a beer, turn the jukebox on and listen to music. It was a great time of fellowship, and everybody would have cars and bring people home. In my case I became great friends with Paul [Unknown Last Name] and Madeline [Unknown Last Name] because my restaurant experience a couple times I helped them out with bartending. Then also I realized Hickory Grove Inn was an old building itself, so I did a couple research projects about Hickory Grove. Analyzed material about the cemetery that was on the property. The stairs down to the basement had the names of the former tavern owners, the basement was full of bottles and debris that had been left for I don’t know, 150 years. And so it was great there was some nights where you know again I would just stay there and sleep on the benches and they would cook me breakfast in the morning because they had a little restaurant and then I would drag myself back in. Either wait for somebody or Madeline was going in to shop and she would drop me off. So, you know it was just a wonderful time. Augur’s Book store – Dick Carr who was the manager of that. He was such a good friend to so many students. If you couldn’t get a book through the bookstore, he usually found a way to order you material or supplies, and he was always willing to go out and have a drink, and do whatever was needed to make sure that if you had something to post he had a little bulletin board he put it up so graduate students could share information about what was going on. And because we had a number of married people living up and down Main Street you were also getting invited to dinner often time, Paul Varden’s wife, he ended up heading the Maine State Museum but he became a great friend and classmate. And there were others Winey, Mike Winey and his wife, Mulligan and his wife, it was great, and then there were a few students from the previous class that you could still count on. But you know throughout The Farmers’ Museum and the Fenimore House, the staff were busy, but they were never too busy to take time to speak to you answer questions show you things offer advice point you in the right direction give you extra material, offer suggestions where you might find or go to look for something. They said, my last period is this why don’t you come back and we’ll try see what we can do with this piece of metal. Can we clean up this tool what I might do. So I remember Per Guldbeck was always great, and he was such a character anyway, the way he dressed or the way he carried his knapsack or if he had his shotgun, it was down over his shoulder and would talk about making his own rounds and loading his own cartridges. Then if you happened to pop into the blacksmith’s shop; it was, you want to try something, what do you need for your project? Well, we need to make a little something or other, and they would take time to work with you. And you might be in there with visitors there or you might not; you might be just in there on your own. But you know there was no carousel it wasn’t as fully developed the end of the village ended with the farm. You could still get cookies down there, gingerbread, it was always fun to go to. And the other thing that is missing today that used to be there was the trapper’s cabin.
George Campbell the brother of Buster who ran the antique shop down in Index, he was always up there and that again was more than living history. They were trapping, stretching pelts, cooking over fires using Indian concoctions for this, that, and the other thing. That trapper’s cabin was just a throwback in time because it was isolated from the main part of the Village Crossroads, but it was just up on the hill not far away. Again, they were always willing to work with you. I only mention Buster Campbell because I was a collector so one of the things we loved Buster just had the uncanny ability to find folk and country furniture. There were then a lot of small antique shops up and down Route 28 and in some of the small towns. If we had time off midday, when there weren’t tourists or people around, we would hop in a car and go down to their shop, so Buster was just wonderful. I’m still using the four drawer dresser, the classical dresser I have that I bought from him for forty dollars, the blanket chest is still at the foot of the bed, the one that was twenty dollars. These crocks are all over the house. I mean it was just wonderful. People were looking for china, glass, textiles, quilts. There was nothing you couldn’t find, and it didn’t cost you an arm and a leg. It was reasonable. He never took advantage. He really encouraged graduate students to learn what they were doing. He would send you over to talk with people about, I know somebody has something you might be interested in. So, we did that, and there were also a few cases of completely abandoned houses that were literally falling down, they were just ramshackle. They would do reconnoiters of some of these places and then it was retrieval by neglect. Things that should be saved and then we would bring them back and either offer them to the collection [or keep them for] ourselves. Once in a while you could get in trouble for trespassing, we had a couple of students who got picked up by the state police. Once the state police [realized], I think I remember the guys telling me, that once he realized, Oh you’re from the graduate program, he said ok, well , you know he said you can’t do this. Even though these houses are abandoned they’re still protected so you can’t, so just give me it back and we’ll return it and it’s over and done with. So, nobody ever got arrested, but we came pretty close trying to salvage New York’s Otsego history, best of intentions, but not always well executed. So those are just some of the stories I can think of off hand how classmates worked together, lived together and you know shared what we had. You could borrow money from peoples parents when they came promising to pay it back, but moms are really great, if they were just coming with you on these trips and Diane’s mother one day, I said Mrs. Tarantino I don’t have but ten dollars, this chest is just twenty, could you lend me ten dollars, and she said I’ll just give you twenty dollars she said, you just give it back to Diane or somebody when you can. Then I said by the way I don’t have a way to get it back is there any chance we could put it in your car and take it? So, we ended up doing that taking it back to my house in her car. It was just a wonderful, wonderful, time and part of my life that has just affected what I have done throughout my career in so many ways that I don’t know.
But until I started digging out some of this material in my files, again being such a saver, I still have the ticket stubs from Mount Van Hovenberg and tickets to the Susquehanna Ball and the mimeograph sheets that were done on the old copiers. All I ever had was a typewriter, I never had a cell phone, a typewriter that had one of those correct things that you could shove into the side of it when you had to fix something, and my two feet and a bike. Then thanks to Milo Stewart I invested what I thought was my life savings in a 35 millimeter SLR Necromat camera, again that was another great investment. Because once I started taking pictures, there was no stopping me. I still have boxes of slides of doorways and buildings and kilns and hop houses, and I’m still collecting till this day.

{TRACK 1, 57:56]

TJBT:
So, we’re running low on time, but I did have one other question I wanted to get to, and you just mentioned something that circled back to it previous mention. So earlier you mentioned that you’d had a bit of an experience at the Susquehanna Ball because you showed up in dress uniform, so I’d like to ask, if you’re willing to share, what was your experience as a Vietnam vet living in Cooperstown like?

JHO:
Well, I never actually lived in Cooperstown; I came back to Cooperstown after I got through the OCS program. I think it was in probably 1968. I got an email from somebody that the Susquehanna Ball was taking [place] and I can’t remember if it was Dick Slavin or Roger Howlett and they said what about coming up if you can get away from base, come up and have some [fun], but you know it was a great chance to come up and see how things were going on there. You know it didn’t get me out of the Army or anything, but it’d be a fun weekend to go to the ball. So, I bought two tickets, I called Diane I think she was working at the Mattituck at that time. I said, would you like to go to the ball with me? She said sure and I said you know what it’s like at the Otesaga, it’ll be fun. I can’t remember, the tickets weren’t all that expensive, they were like twenty bucks or fifteen dollars. So anyway, I bought the tickets. Then I said, well I just graduated from OCS and one of the things we had to do we had to buy an officers uniform a dress uniform to wear. So, I said gee I invested all this money in this dress uniform, why don’t I just put it on and come to the ball looking pretty snazzy, you know. Having both an ego and what I thought was a good build at the time, it could stand a little work now. But anyway I showed up there, and when it came time to go I went to I forget who’s house I changed in, where I was staying, Diane was staying one place and I was staying the other but I went and changed. So, I guess everybody thought I was wearing a suit to this ball, the people that were going from the graduate program. So, when I came out in this dress uniform they said “WHOA! Where you going in that?” I said well, that’s what I’m wearing to the ball, he said, you can’t wear that! He said people up here they hate the Vietnam War, they hate the Army they hate this they hate that. I said ,well I don’t care, I said that’s all I have, that’s what I brought. I can wear the street clothes I had. You can’t wear those, so I said I’m not buying a suit I don’t have any money. I’m going to wear this uniform. So anyway, my friends drove me reluctantly you know, if they’d had shades on the car, they would have pulled them down. I took it and I had the uniform and the eagle on the front of it, looked good. We got to the ball and went in there, and yeah, I caught some looks from people, but for the most part I looked pretty damn good. I was there, I was proud I was in the military and I was doing what I had to do. I didn’t necessarily know all that we know today about the war, so I thought I was just doing my part, I was following orders, I was getting ready to go overseas. You know it just wasn’t going to be a problem. But anyway, a lot of people, my friends in the program just thought it was inappropriate at the time given the nature of the war and the way people felt about it. They were getting ready; the riots in Chicago there was trouble on so many campuses, but you know I just bore up with it. But I ran into the same problem actually when I came back from overseas service. I remember landing at Travis Air Force Base; as soon as we got off we had our fatigues on and I was going to put on the greens and they advised us to not wear any military uniforms. Please wear your civilian clothes going home he said, we can’t tell you that you have to but we suggest it and he said it may avoid trouble on flights and in airports with people who are protesting the war. I was, I was I don’t know, just taken back by that, but I had already by that time had [seen] issues of the Stars and Stripes over there that showed the trouble that was going on, on campuses and I still remember saying to one of my other lieutenants one day, when he saw Stars and Stripes. I said gee, where is that APC, that armed personnel carrier, that looks like a golf course. And the guy said that’s on a college campus in Greensboro, I don’t know South Carolina or North Carolina he said there’s been some trouble and they called out the National Guard and they’re using it with riot control soldiers to try to kind of control the campus. And that’s when I began to say what on earth is going on, I mean how? What am I caught up in? So you know it was really bad and that also brings up one other story I will tell. I took two R and R’s , one to Hong Kong which I’m glad I did then because you can’t do it now very well. And the other one was to Australia. And when we flew to Australia, I remember coming in on this chartered plane, I don’t know if it was Air Service America or something, and there were a bunch of GI’s on it so when we landed in Australia they taxied down the runway and then they stopped. And then the guy said, how come we aren’t going back to the where the hangers, to the terminals. The next thing these trucks come up and they hook onto the plane and the next thing the whole plane fills with this white gas and the black servicemen that were there I don’t know they were going crazy, they thought they were being gassed, I don’t know what they thought, but the plane was just being disinfected. They wouldn’t let any of us off the plane until the plane was disinfected. We sat there I think for a half hour and then it brought it up and the pilot came on and said you know this is nothing, everybody calm down, this is just Australian operating procedure. So, then we taxied up to the ground and there were quite a few Australian soldiers on board they were our allies over there and they were great soldiers. I have tons of stories about them the way they handled themselves. When we pulled up and it was time to get off and we started deboarding, all of a sudden there were two ranks of these guards in their Scottish uniforms with bagpipes and things and they were welcomed back like heroes and to this day I can still [long pause] I felt so proud to be part of that at that point. I felt so different coming back to the States at Travis. There was one sense of appreciation of what you had done for everybody that was on the plane, they weren’t just celebrating but I’m sorry, but these things stick with you. So again, throughout my career I have done programs about and exhibits and things about the war, migrant labor, suicide things that people often don’t want to deal with. I think it is absolutely incumbent upon Americans to deal with race relations, to deal with the way people are treated, you know dealing with the way people are treated you know dealing with problems you can sweep them under the sill, in Atlanta dealing with things like the Klan, the prison release system and how prisoners released to homeowners to do lawn work and building. There are things you take away in your life and career that really are helpful as you move forward in your career. The opportunities to live and serve in the South, to live and serve in the mid-Atlantic, to be in New England, to deal with history museums and to really tell stories about people and the folk culture connected to them still weighs heavily with me and why I serve on the Board of Old Sturbridge Village and have at the Fruitlands Museum. It’s just real important what you do with your career, but Cooperstown certainly made possible for me all of the things that followed and the Vietnam just added a side to it that a lot of people didn’t experience. But it has been an attribute in the end for what I have done and how I’ve handled myself.

[TRACK 1, 1:07:31]

TJBT:
Well, Mr. Ott I think that about wraps up the time we have for the main interview here, but I’d like to really sincerely thank you for your time this morning and for your participation in the project, so thank you very much, sir.

[END TRACK 1. 1:07:51]

Duration

1:07:51 - Track 1

Bit Rate/Frequency

126 kbps

Time Summary

START OF TRACK 1, 0:00 - Start of Interview
TRACK 1, 4:18 - Time in the Army
TRACK 1, 18:14 - Why Cooperstown?
TRACK 1, 29:52 - The class of 1967 and professors
TRACK 1, 57:56 - Experience as a Vietnam veteran

Files

Ott, John H._Photo_ND.jpg

Citation

Thaddeus J. Booth Trudo, “John Ott, November 18, 2020,” CGP Community Stories, accessed September 16, 2021, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/470.