The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Monday, October 6, 2008

Banking Blues

Revisiting a Northampton scandal.



When I moved to Northampton for the first time as a college student in 1977, it was a much different town than it is today. The downtown was dead after five o'clock and it wasn't at all trendy. The population consisted mostly of lower middle-class workers raising families and hippies living communally in the many large houses that had rent so cheap you could raise it each month by panhandling.

But in the 80's that all changed. Downtown came alive with entrepreneurial activity, the rents rose and the hippies were replaced with hipsters and the middle class by the well to do. Instead of being the low-rent headquarters of the Valley's counterculture, funky ol' Hamp became trendy NoHo, without anyone being quite sure of how it all happened.

Some say that Northampton is better off today. Others would argue otherwise. Everyone agrees however, that it had something to do with the former Heritage Bank, but no one has ever been able to quite unravel the whole series of events as they went down. Someone who has consistently tried is former City Councilor Mike Kirby. The first fruits of his labors have been published recently on his blog Kirby on the Loose.



It's a fascinating read, full of all kinds of interesting historical tidbits. For example he talks about one of my favorite rolling papers, the long gone American Dream.



"Big money rolls in for two Florence entrepreneurs" headlined the Gazette on April 11, l977. "We’re on our way to becoming millionaires" said the partners to the reporter as they toured their plant in Florence. Mike Garjian and Donald Todrin were manufacturing rolling papers in an old factory building at 10 Main Street in Florence....At the time that the Gazette clipping came out, the partners foresaw decriminalization coming for pot smokers in a couple of years, and an explosion in the firm’s business. What happened, however, was the eighties. Selling rolling papers in the Reagan era would become a criminal act.

I'm delighted to see someone doing a historical overview of this controversial era in Northampton history. God knows someone should do the same for Springfield (and I don't rule out myself being the one to someday do it) as this series by Mike Kirby is shaping up to be an historical document of enormous value. To read the first two installments click here.

Incidentally, Kirby is the author of a book called Back Row, Back Ward about the former Northampton State Hospital.



I see a couple of new signs went up on the hospital grounds in the last few days. This one features everyone from the Governor to the Mayor. (click photos to enlarge)



Even President Bush gets in on the act.



Today is the birthday of my lost brother John. Here's a picture of he and I in Maine this summer.



His wife Connie sends along this report:

Today is John's birthday and we have lots of reasons to celebrate. A year ago, we couldn't have been sure we would make it to this day. The Lord has been so good to us. We had such a fabulous summer -- visiting the friends and relatives in Massachusetts, Idaho, and Wyoming. It's hard to believe it is already fall, but the leaves are starting to turn colors and the nights are getting nippy. We have had a positive and productive 6 weeks at school. John's energy and stamina are high and he is feeling great. We thank you all again for your prayers and for standing with us through this trial during the past 18 months.

The weatherman is predicting the first frost tonight. If he's right, then this photograph I took today of a white rose in Northampton was taken on the last day of its life.



May you sleep well on this cold night.

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