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Diaries Reveal Details Of One Of Newtown's More Colorful And Elusive Characters



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Town Historian Dan Cruson's Edmond Town Hall office is becoming a repository for Newtown ephemera discovered all over the country and returned to its hometown, said the local historian. Some of it has little historical value, but much of what is sent his way serves its purpose in adding to the rich history of this New England town.found its way into the Newtown collection. Most recently, Mr Cruson has been delving into three early 20th Century diaries belonging to Sandy Hook resident Birdsey Parsons.Uncovering An Elusive Personality

Last year, a valuable collection of items belonging to Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams

Dan Long, who was a longtime resident of Sandy Hook, lived not too far from the final residence of Birdsey Parsons. Earlier this spring, Mr Cruson heard from Mr Long, who had moved years ago to Florida. It turned out that Mr Long was still living in Sandy Hook when Mr Parsons' home was cleared out after the latter's death in 1979. Mr Long did a little "dumpster diving," said Mr Cruson, rescuing some diaries and sheet music that had been tossed out. This spring, Mr Long decided the items belonged back in Newtown, and on March 11, a package containing the somewhat disheveled composition books arrived at Mr Cruson's office.

Since then, the town historian has been busy transcribing the three volumes, spanning the years 1905 through 1915.

"They are all written in pencil, which is one reason I want to get them all transcribed. Pencil never fades, but it will smudge," Mr Cruson pointed out.

Longtime residents of Newtown may recall Birdsey Parsons as an eccentric; as odd; as reclusive; as a deadbeat dad; or as a peculiar character about town. They are not completely inaccurate descriptions of the man's later years, said Mr Cruson, although he is also recalled as a fairly friendly man.

Birdsey Parsons lived from 1884 to 1979, the son of a South Center School teacher, Charles Parsons, and a descendent of Newtown's first gristmill owner, Moses Parsons. The Parsonses were a respectable family in town, said Mr Cruson, with a homestead and farm at the corner of Dayton Street and Church Hill Road.

It is the somewhat scruffy-looking man traveling about town with his donkey hitched up to a wagon, collecting scrap wood and selling his original sheet music (the hard cider that came with the music was free) during Prohibition that some remember - or it may be his quirk of working at the Plastic Moulding Company on Glen Road each year, just long enough to earn what was needed to pay taxes; or his decline into a reclusive figure following the 1942 death of his wife.

Birdsey Parsons was also a learned man, with rumors abounding that he had attended Yale - although it was his brother who did so. He was musical, writing lyrics for numerous pieces of sheet music (his daughter, the late Sylvia Davidson, mused in 2006 that it was possible the family fortune had been siphoned from her father by music publishers feeding on her father's hopes of making it big). He was, as well, an early conservationist.

The diaries reveal a young man of the early 20th Century, Mr Cruson said, as well as a depiction of daily farming life in Newtown at that time.

"Birdsey was 21 years old when he starts writing these diaries. The basic value of this is that it picks up his life at age 21 and gives us a picture of Birdsey Parsons in the 1920s. As he starts his journaling, he is living at home," said Mr Cruson, who has nearly finished transcribing the first journal.

Mr Cruson is making discoveries about the man he considers an elusive personality.

A family inheritance provided the youthful Sandy Hooker with "a lot of stock. In his diary, he lists the companies he has holdings with, and how much money he gets from them. I'm piecing together now what Birdsey Parsons buys," Mr Cruson said, as the recluse owned a number of pieces of property around town prior to his death.

This diary tells that while he continues to work the family dairy farm, he wants to get away from farming.   At one point, Mr Parsons mentions that he wants to take courses in electrical engineering.

As the first diary progresses, the writer mentions that he is "living in a house on the hill." Where that house is remains a mystery to the town historian. Birdsey Parsons also writes of owning a house on Walnut Tree Hill that he rents out - and for reasons unknown, is charging his father $1 each month for board in the family homestead.

The diary is Mr Parsons' financial ledger, in many ways. He lists how much milk he gets from the cows, and how many eggs he sells - as well as how many are broken and disposed of … by eating them.

"He is somewhat obsessed with his health. He is plagued by nosebleeds," Mr Cruson has deciphered, which along with his other "health problem" of "nocturnal emissions," the young man attributes to overeating.

"He does record that he has lascivious dreams, and lewd dreams," Mr Cruson said, and records the "emissions" that follow those dreams. It is not a particularly unusual notation for a young man to make, he observed.

"Birdsey is not married at this time, and he is trying to find a wife. There are a couple of young women he is very fond of; he records his rejections, as well," he said.

The early diary indicates that Birdsey Parsons is already mildly eccentric, and hints at the person who in later years would be someone who, upon the death of Betty the donkey, would regularly drive his small tractor up to Edmond Town Hall to see the movies.

"Those traits are becoming apparent here," Mr Cruson said.

The journals are very literate, and the handwriting precise. They show a young man who is a strong speller, knows his grammar, and has an extensive vocabulary.

"It is a series of impressions of what Birdsey Parsons was like," said Mr Cruson. "He was fascinating, and the diaries show what he's doing on a day by day basis. He notes yearly farming activities, like 'beetling manure,'" he said, a task the historian can only assume means using dung beetles to make cow manure a better fertilizer.

"He talks about dividing up pie plants - rhubarb. It is little things like this that make the journal so compelling. They tell of agricultural life in the community," he said.

Birdsey Parsons also touches on his personal life. He attends local dances and enjoys his membership in the local Grange.

"He mentions that he strolled up to Mount Pisgaw, near Eagle Rock. Many place names are abbreviated, though, so it's hard to say what they are. He does mention Minott Auger, who was the butcher in Sandy Hook, and Ezra Hall, who was a tinsmith," Mr Cruson said. To the historian's disappointment, Mr Parsons barely mentions a huge fire in Sandy Hook that he has read about, which burned out the tinsmith.

The 10-cent and 25-cent dinners at the Methodist Church are part of the youthful Birdsey Parsons' routine, and this diary reveals that the future sheet music writer played the organ and owned an accordion.

"In 1908, he celebrated the Fourth of July 'with his cannon,' but doesn't clarify what he did," Mr Cruson said.

"The diaries give a good picture of a young man of this era. When you look at diaries over a period of time, it's a trove of information. When you look at a broader scheme of journals," Mr Cruson said, it gives a sense of the times.

Mr Cruson hopes to finish transcribing all of the diaries in the next month or two. The diaries cannot be handled a lot, due to smudging, but the transcripts will be available through the town historian for anyone who cares to read them, he said. He plans to make the diaries available for a display at a future date, at C.H. Booth Library.

"I want to prove some of my suppositions [about Birdsey Parsons' life], like when he first married, how his mental state was evolving. There's a lot I'm anticipating from the other diaries. Plus," said Mr Cruson of the diaries, "I feel like I'm getting to know Birdsey. Each time I start reading, it's like coming back to an old friend. It's interesting to slip into another person's life and see how it feels."

Town Historian Dan Cruson is transcribing three diaries that have come into the town's possession recently. Written by Birdsey Parsons, known in the mid-20th Century as a Sandy Hook eccentric, the diaries kept during Mr Parsons' younger days add a new layer of knowledge to not only one man's life, but life in earlier days of Newtown. (Bee Photo, Crevier)
This family photograph of Birdsey Parsons shows him as a youth of 17 years, just four years younger than when he begins the first of three diaries, dated 1905 to 1909, now being transcribed by Town Historian Dan Cruson. (Bee file photo )
Inside one of three diaries kept by Birdsey Parsons, Mr Cruson discovered two photographs of the journals' author as a young man; this particular journal contains original poetry by Mr Parsons' sister, Ethel. (Bee Photo, Crevier)
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