Once Upon a Berlin Time - 1979

Once upon a Berlin Time Poof Tardiff


Hello fellow Berlinites. How the time passes so quickly is amazing. For those who graduated in the year 1979, you are all now about 56 years old and probably can’t remember much of what took place in this time period. With a little research, I will refresh many memories with some of the highlights.

A skiing accident on Wildcat Mountain claimed the life of 17-year-old David Beers. The news of his accident came out in a Jan. 3 local paper and said that the accident had taken place on Dec. 26, 1978.

Beers loss control on the final curve of the Pole Cat Trail, skied out over an embankment and hit headfirst a large rock that was well off the course. It took the search and rescue team about 12 hours to find the young man.

Norman Rheaume of Berlin found the body of Beers. He said that during their second sweep, the rescue was concentrated on the easy slopes, because friends of Beers said that he was a novice skier. The rescuers then spent more time combing the woods along the edges of the easier trails figuring that Beers might have veered off into the woods.

As they were finishing their search at about 3 a.m., on the final curve of the Pole Cat Trail, the brightness from one of their flashlights reflected off Beers’ ski poles. They quickly went to the spot and found the young skier passed away and covered with snow.

At this point in time, Wildcat Mountain was 22 years old, and this was the first fatality that had taken place on its slopes. Today, after 60 years of operation, this great local ski area is still going strong. Sadly, these accidents do occur occasionally.

In the beginning of January 1979, Sen. Laurier Lamontagne, the great fighter for this North Country area, was appointed Senate whip. Lamontagne was also chairman of the Rules and Resolutions Committee, vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, a member of the Transportation Committee and chairman for the Council on Aging. Our great state senator was always looking for ways to help the Northern District of New Hampshire and always knew that this area needed better roads to prosper. A section of Route 16 locally is dedicated to this great state senator and former mayor of the city of Berlin.

The headlines in the middle of January 1979 were very bleak for the city of Berlin. It was announced that all operations at the Granite State Division of Converse Rubber Company would cease by March. News of this plant closing came early on Friday, Jan. 19, in an announcement the company made to its employees. The shutdown would put 400 area residents out of work.

According to this statement, the action was taken after the most thorough and painstaking investigation of the alternatives to the company. There were many reactions to the news that Converse was closing and all were very depressing. Most people were not ready to move out of town, but there were no jobs around here for 400 unemployed sneaker manufacturers.

Gov. Hugh Gallen indicated his support for Berlin and his willingness to do all that he could to improve this city’s dire situation. He planned to attend the annual Chamber of Commerce meeting at the New Hampshire Technical College (White Mountains Community College today), in demonstration of his personal concern for Berlin’s future. The governor also said that he would contact the congressional delegation for help and would work with Berlin in upgrading route 110.

Sadly, many families packed up and left Berlin to find jobs in other places. Some people did struggle and stay in their hometown, but Converse was not saved and finally closed its doors. The foundation of this great sneaker factory still sits today on Jericho Road where 1,100 people once made a living here in this city.

During the beginning of January, our famous Mount Jasper was mentioned as a site for archaeological excavation. Because the cave on this mountain is the only prehistoric site of its kind in the entire Northeast and because no archaeology had been carried out in New Hampshire North of the White Mountains, archaeologist Richard Gramly of Harvard University’s Peabody Museum had been busy convincing funding agencies that an intensive excavation of the cave and related sites in the valley below Mount Jasper should be conducted.

Mr. Gramly had conducted earlier minor excavations at Mount Jasper in 1975 and discovered definite proof that prehistoric Indians had mined rhyolite at the cave. He also unearthed a prehistoric worksite near the Dead River where he found 250 finished tools made of different types of stone alien to the area surrounding Berlin. At the time, Gramly suggested that this demonstrated that prehistoric Indians (Native Americans today) who mined the cave, came from distant areas.

Studies that were completed in the past months of 1978, confirmed his belief. They had shown that the stone that was used in the manufacture of these tools came from different places in Maine and Vermont.

Gramly wrote an article for an archaeological journal, explaining the results of his findings to date and saying he hoped that the publication of this piece would help earn him the additional financial support he needed for the project here in Berlin. He had already enlisted a substantial portion of the necessary funding.

Once he got the total financial backing, Gramly presented it to the city manager and city council with a detailed outline of the project’s objectives. He did not want to go in front of them before he had everything worked out and could assure the city that this project would be carried out in the best interests of this municipality and the prehistoric site.

Since the city held the title to the mountain, Gramly had to gain the support of the city council before he could begin excavating. On his visit to New Hampshire on Friday, Jan. 5, 1979, Gramly enlisted the help of a historical society in the southern part of the state and won from the Brown Company the assurance that it would provide some of the materials for this project.

At this point, Gramly was fairly confident that the excavations would become a reality. Only a few more obstacles needed to be overcome. These excavations were done later in 1979 and yielded many artifacts, which may be viewed at the public library here in Berlin. These artifacts are over 7,000 years old. Imagine what it looked like here back then.
I will continue with the year 1979 in my next writing.

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