38th Annual Chesterwood Antique and Classic Auto Show
On Sunday, May 27, Chesterwood, the 129-acre Glendale, MA home of Daniel Chester French, sculptor of, among other iconic monuments, the seated figure of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., will be the setting for the 2012 Chesterwood Antique & Classic Automobile Show.
Son of the Yankee tinkerer who invented the French drain, Daniel Chester French grew up in a milieu rife with household names. His father’s pal Ralph Waldo Emerson lived next door. May Alcott, sister of the author Louisa May Alcott and one of the “little women” on which that sibling’s most famous novel was based, encouraged young French to follow his artistic bent. John Quincy Adams Ward was his first sculpture instructor.
The brand names that will dominate Saturday’s proceedings are no less key to American and local history. The oldest among them recall a day when Fiats destined for the American market were manufactured in Poughkeepsie and “the Knox” came out of Springfield, MA. “At a certain point, every manufacturer of horse-drawn carriages also started making cars,” says event chair Rich Bradway. “Or, as they called them back then, ‘chemical-fueled carriages’.” Michael Krieger of Spencertown (Columbia County, NY), will be there (weather permitting) with his open 1931 Pierce-Arrow (top photo), manufactured in Buffalo, NY. According to Krieger, that company started out making birdcages before moving onto bicycles in the late 19th-century. They introduced their first production automobile in 1901.
Bradway, who first visited Chesterwood as a child to attend the antique car show with his dad, explains that the well-to-do French family would have been among the early adoptors of the automobile. At the start of the 20th century, cars were the playthings of the rich, exquisitely crafted toys, or, as Bradway describes them, “moving forms of sculpture…works of art.” The French family cars were suitably housed in a handsome garage designed by Henry Bacon, the architect of the Lincoln Memorial and of the house and studio at Chesterwood, which will be open for touring during the auto show. “They owned a powder-blue Buick [the oldest, still-active American make] Roundabout, used primarily by Mrs. French, and they also had a 1907 Locomobile,” a model manufactured in Brideport, CT that, despite its steamy-sounding name, was by ‘07 powered by gasoline. By 1917 French was looking to unload it, so he sold it to a small consortium from the Glendale Fire Department for $50. The buyers promptly transformed it into a fire truck. Impressed, French gave them their money back, and good karma ensued. According to Bradway, five years later “that very vehicle came to the French’s house to put out a chimney fire.”
Perhaps because his own childhood—indeed, the course of his entire life—was influenced by early visits to Chesterwood, Bradway is trying this year to make the auto show as family-friendly as possible. There will be food for sale, including Lakota BBQ, Berkshire Mountain Bakery pizzas, and Barrington Bites mini cupcakes. There will also be games specifically aimed at kids—i.e., a scavenger hunt, culminating in a free SoCo ice cream cone for each participant. In keeping with the spirit of the occasion, the cones will be dispensed from SoCo’s own vintage truck.
Today Bradway is associate director of e-commerce and new media for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He also sits on the Chesterwood Advisory Council. Since he became co-chair of the auto event in 2011 (this year, he’s chairing alone), there’s been a 50% increase in attendance and a 35% increase in the number of vehicles shown. “My dad was an electrician,” he says. “He was not a museum goer.” The elder Bradway brought his son to Chesterwood for an auto show, and the boy left as smitten with art and history as with the cars on display. Unlike other such shows that are held in soulless public arenas, the setting for this one brings the past alive, permitting susceptible imaginations to soar. —Marilyn Bethany