FOUNDER OF THE CENTRAL PARK CONSERVANCY, CHAIRMAN OF S & H GREEN STAMPS AND DONOR OF THE BEINECKE LIBRARY AT YALE. HE RECALLS WATCHING THE TROOPS RETURN FROM THE FIRST WAR AND SEEING THEM MARCH UP FIFTH AVENUE FROM HIS GRANDFATHER’S NEW HOTEL, THE PLAZA.
William Beinecke Interview
March 25, 2009
PK: Today is the 25th of March, 2009. I’m interviewing William Beinecke. Bill, tell me where you were born and when and something about your early childhood.
WILLIAM BEINECKE: First of all, Peter, my name is William S. Beinecke. The S stands for Sperry and I was given the name William Sperry Beinecke after my grandfather, whose portrait is right over there on the wall. His name was William Miller Sperry, the father of my mother. So my middle initial is S, William S. Beinecke. I was born here in New York City 95 years ago this year at 817 West End Avenue, which was on the corner, still is on the corner of 100th Street and West End Avenue. My birthday is in about two months. May 22, 1914, was the day that I first saw the light, if I saw the light. I guess I did. I was born at home, which happened in those days, in the apartment. Soon—oh, and before that, I have to go back. My father was also born in New York City and he was born not far from where we’re sitting today. We’re sitting at 21 East 79th Street and he was born on 78th Street between Madison and Park Avenue in 1887.
In those days, Park Avenue, you may remember, was an open railroad cut and the steam trains came down Park Avenue to whatever the terminal was at that time. I don’t exactly remember where it was. Remember’s the wrong word, ‘cause I could not remember of course, but it preceded the Grand Central. Later on when the line was electrified, they closed Park Avenue and Park Avenue became the upper-class gentried area that it is now and is the way we think of it. But of course, it was not that way when it was an open railroad cut. My father and his brothers and sisters were born on 78th Street not far from Park Avenue.
My grandfather, who was a German immigrant, had been very successful. So early on in their youth, he moved his family from the East Side to the West Side to a private house on West 76th Street, not far from the site of the museum, the south side of the Museum of Natural History is on 77th Street. So they could see across the yard from their house to the Museum of Natural History. My father and his brothers went by bicycle down West End Avenue to where they went to school in the late ’90s.
PK: Did they go to public or private school?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: They went to private school and I am not sure that I can recall the name of it. I think it was called Columbia Grammar, but I’m not exactly sure, Peter, so you can’t rely on me for that. However, my mother was a New Jerseyan and I’m going to pause over that for a moment. This has nothing to do with my early boyhood, but it has to do with my mature years and you may remember this by reading my book. Lots of people referred to people who lived in New Jersey as New Jerseyites. I didn’t think that was quite the right word and the New York Times and other authoritative publications referred to residents of New Jersey as New Jerseyans. So I thought that that was a more appropriate term and believe it or not, I persuaded Webster’s dictionary not to replace New Jerseyite but to add New Jerseyan in the dictionary. And since of course they did it alphabetically, they now have New Jerseyan preceding New Jerseyite and that pleased me.
I had an interesting correspondence with the editor of the Webster dictionary because I suggested in my letter that calling a resident of New Jersey a New Jerseyite was like calling a Chinese person a Chinaman. I did that on purpose to get their attention. Indeed it did get their attention because he pointed out to me something I knew anyway, that Chinaman was a downgrading term and they didn’t mean New Jerseyite in that sense. But it got their attention, which was the point of it all. And so anyway, New Jerseyan is now the word.
My mother was a New Jerseyan, she was born in New Jersey and her father, whose portrait is sitting over there, was not from the East or from the Northeast. He was originally from the South. He was born in Bristol, Tennessee, which you may know is on the extreme Eastern edge of Tennessee and if you’re born on the north side of Main Street in Bristol, you were born in Virginia. If you’re on the south side of Main Street in Bristol, you were born in Tennessee. His father was an author and a newspaper editor, my great-grandfather, and during the Civil War he was editor and publisher of a paper, the Knoxville Register in Knoxville, Tennessee. And of course his editorials were pro-Confederacy. So when the Union troops came in, he ran away and they smashed up his presses but they caught him, made him a POW, which was not correct. They didn’t have a Geneva Convention in those days, but he wasn’t in the armed forces.
PK: What was his name?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: His name was Jacob Austin Sperry. He had married Susan Langley, my great-grandmother, who came from Michigan. Now how somebody from Virginia, which was his original state and a young lady from Michigan met and got married in or around 1850 is difficult to figure out. You have to conjecture. But anyway, they did meet, they had a family and they were living in Tennessee. So when the Federals captured him, here she was with I think about five children, all very, very little. One of them was only a year or two old, the youngest. Believe it or not, she was able to take her young children back north to Michigan, leaving the eldest who was my grandfather’s older brother in Virginia to be brought up by his cousins. The rest she took north and then eventually they moved east and so my grandfather, William Sperry and his siblings, substantially all but one were residents of this northeastern part of the United States. I knew my great-uncle, Joseph, who was my grandfather’s older brother and his sister quite well as I did know my grandfather. That’s sort of a deviation but I thought it might be interesting.
So my mother and father were married in November 1912 and of course they had this son a year and a half later in 1914, namely me. And they then in 1915 moved back out to New Jersey where my mother had originally been brought up. They moved in 1915 to a home in Cranford, New Jersey, where my grandfather and his younger brother, Thomas Sperry, had very fine homes. I never knew Thomas Sperry, even though he was my grandfather’s younger brother, because he had died a year or so before I was born and he wasn’t really all that old. He was born in the 1860s, I think he was born in 1863, that would be 37 years to 1900 and another 13—he was only about 50 years of age when he died. I understand that he got sick coming home from Europe on a steamship and he didn’t survive.
Anyway, his home was in Cranford, New Jersey, and he had four children, my mother’s first cousins. My father and mother had a home on Prospect Street in Cranford. So we lived in Cranford, New Jersey, in a house, the address was 401 Prospect Street, Cranford, New Jersey and I even remember the phone number. The phone was 47. In those days that’s the way the phone numbers were. My grandfather had a very nice home down near the Rahway River and there was a park along the edge of the Rahway River, which was then known as the Sperry Park, which he and his brother, Thomas Sperry, had given to Cranford. The river was dammed at that point to provide a more placid and a wider area so people could canoe it. I really think that dam was also given by the Sperrys, probably by Thomas, not so much by William. That park is no longer known as the Sperry Park unless it’s called the Sperry Division as part of the Union County park system in New Jersey.
Anyway, my grandfather owned a few vacant lots that were a little larger than a house lot today, ‘cause I’m talking about 1920 or thereabouts. He had a cow. He didn’t milk but his hand milked the cow and the hand would walk the cow up Prospect Street on alternate days to the lot next door to our house and on the other alternate days, he’d walk it up the other street to another lot he had on Union Avenue, which was only a couple of blocks away from our street. So I grew up there and my grandfather was alive with my grandmother as I referred to her, but technically she was my step-grandmother because my mother’s mother died when my mother was only a few months old. So of course my mother never knew her mother or my grandmother. So my three aunts, my mother’s younger sisters who were her half-sisters, were all living at home with my grandfather and they were all very good to me.
One used to read the Oz books to me, I remember, as a boy growing up. That was my Aunt Dorothy. And the youngest of the three sisters, whose name was Emmy Lou Sperry, was only six years older than I was. So she was in a sense more like an older sister than an aunt and she used to take me for a ride in her pony car and stuff like that when I was a little boy growing up. I don’t know how much you want me to tell you about my early days in Cranford, Peter. Would you be interested in some more recollections about Cranford?
PK: Yes. I think if you get into your educational experience out there and then move from that to your college years.
WILLIAM BEINECKE: That’s a good point, Peter. I remember my schooling in those days. I went originally to either a kindergarten or a pre-kindergarten that was a private school, a private class, given by a lady named Miss Bourne., I think her first name may have been Mildred, but she was a sister of a lady named Abby Ruthrauff.. And there was a very famous advertising firm, which you can look up in Google, in New York called Ruthrauff & Ryan. They were one of the leading advertising firms in the city. Mr. Ruthrauff was—I can’t remember his first name, but they called him Rudy—was a person who went to Yale about the same time my father did. My father graduated from the Sheffield Scientific School in 1909. Mr. Ruthrauff and a fellow named Fritz Ryan formed this advertising firm. So I just mention that because Abby Bourne Ruthrauff, was the sister of Miss Bourne, who conducted this kindergarten class. Oh, I recall Rudy’s first name was Wilbur, Wilbur Ruthrauff. They had a son, whose middle name I guess was Bourne after his mother, but we all called him Bourne and he was a boy I grew up with and remained a good friend of until he died, oh, a long time ago, 20 or 25 years ago. Bourne Ruthrauff.
In any case, I went to this kindergarten given by Miss Bourne until I was about 6 I guess and then I went to the public school in Cranford. Peter, I went to the public school in Cranford, to the 1st grade, the 2nd grade and the 3rd grade. I can remember the name of my 2nd grade teacher; her name was Miss Almy. And I think that she was also the 2nd grade teacher for my mother, after all, my mother was only 23 when I was born and this was only six years later. So Miss Almy didn’t have to have been there all that long. In any case, I remember her name. I don’t remember the other two, the 1st grade teacher or the 3rd grade teacher. However, when I finished the 3rd grade, my parents decided that I should go to a private school. So they enrolled me in the Pingry School in Elizabeth, New Jersey and I went to the Pingry and I entered the 4th grade. I went from the 3rd grade at the Grant School, the public school in Cranford, the Grant School, which was the grade school, to the Pingry School and I was in the 4th grade.
Here I was in a private school and Peter, my recollection is that that was 1923. I would have been 9 years old in May 1923, so this would have been the fall of 1923 if I have the year right. I think I have. I hadn’t been in the 4th grade at the Pingry School more than three or four weeks at the most when I was told that I was too advanced for the 4th grade. So they moved me across the hall into the 5th grade. Now, Peter, think of that—going from a public school to a private school and having the private school tell me that I was too advanced for the next level. That couldn’t happen today. Usually the private schools are way ahead of the public schools, but this was quite surprising. I didn’t know it was a surprise, I was too young, but in thinking about it, it was a surprise.
Now, I do remember the name of the 5th grade teacher at Pingry, her name was Mrs. Wagner. This we thought was a joke but after all, we were only kids. There was a pie company in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and their vans were around Elizabeth and the name of the company was Mrs. Wagner’s Pies. So we used to kid each other and say, “Wonder how Mrs. Wagner had time to bake all those pies before she came to school.” In any case, I went to the Pingry for only three years. I went to the 5th grade, then to the 6th grade and then to the 7th grade. In the 6th grade, I was taught—Mrs. Wagner actually only taught for about one year as far as I know—but then in the 6th grade we were taught by a lady named Miss Budd, who—I’ve forgotten the word. I don’t know what the correct term would be, but she was a landmark, she was historic. She’d been teaching at Pingry for years and years and years and was quite well-known as the 6th grade teacher. I remember that so well and she read a book to us about France. I think it was called “The Reds of the Midi” or a name something like that, which I think had something to do with the French Revolution. I can’t remember the circumstances; it was such a long time ago.
Then I went from the 6th grade to the 7th grade, which was the middle school, and the teacher was a man named Otho, O-T-H-O, Vars, V-A-R-S. Well, I’d never heard anybody with a first name like Otho before or since. However, on checking out names, somehow or other I learned that one of the Roman emperors was named Otho. So I guess the parents of Mr. Vars selected that name from the list of Roman emperors and gave Mr. Vars that name. The circumstances were these. We moved in 1925, my parents did, from our home in Cranford, New Jersey, to a home in Madison, New Jersey. It was a larger home and more sumptuous. My father had been successful in his business, so he wanted a more elaborate place. So they moved there.
Now, my father was in the automobile business in Newark, New Jersey, the Studebaker Company, and he was president of Studebaker sales of Newark or of New Jersey, whatever the correct name was. He and his good friend, Ira Jones, Ira was the partner of my father and he was vice president and my father was president of the company. Now, we lived in Cranford and my father on his way to Newark in the morning would take me to Pingry and drop me off and the Pingry School was not too far from the railroad station of what we called the New Jersey Central. The correct name of it was Central Railroad of New Jersey. I would walk to the railroad station with my friends, who also took the train home, and we took the 4:16. I remember this exactly. Elizabeth was 10 or a dozen miles from Cranford, that’s about all, so it didn’t take any time for the 4:16 to get to Cranford. There was a stop in between at Roselle and a couple of our friends got off at Roselle, but I went on to Cranford and some of the boys continued on to Westfield. Then I walked home from the station and I’d be home by 5 o’clock in Cranford.
But when we moved from Cranford to Madison. Pingry did not have in those days any elaborate school bus system as it has today to bring the students from all over to school. There was no way to commute from Madison to Elizabeth and back easily. My father continued to go to Newark and continued to drive me to Pingry in the mornings, but then getting home was quite a task. There were some boys from Summit, New Jersey, who went to Pingry. One of the Pingry masters lived in Summit, I think he lived in a room in the Summit YMCA, and the parents of these boys pooled together so they purchased a car for this teacher, who I think taught Latin. And he would drive these boys to Pingry in the morning and bring them home to Summit in the afternoon. Not too tough. So my father was a friend of one of these men and he worked it out for me to get a ride home from Elizabeth to Summit and then I’d take the train from Summit to Madison.
Sort of an odd aside here—I went half-fare of course, and the half-fare tickets on the Jersey Central from Elizabeth to Cranford cost 9 cents and the half-fare ticket from Summit to Madison on the Lackawanna Railroad cost 11 cents in 1925 and 6, which was the year I did it. So then I had to walk from the railroad station to my home in Madison, which was up a steep hill, and for a young kid it was quite an arduous task to get home. So after one year of that, when I finished the 7th grade my parents took me out of the Pingry School and I entered a small private school in Madison called Madison Academy that’s no longer there. It only went from K through 8 or 9 and I went there for two or three years. It was run by a man named Joseph Pooley, who was I would say a contemporary of my father’s. Mr. Pooley was a graduate of Harvard and he and his wife were really the proprietors of this Madison Academy. I don’t know how they’d acquired it; I don’t think they’d founded it. It was a school in what was a large; it must have been a large private house before they created a school there.
I went there for three years, I guess two years was probably all, because I went from there to Andover and I entered Andover as a junior—not a junior in the sense of freshman-sophomore-junior-senior, but the way the Andover called their classes in those days, it was junior, lower middle, upper middle and senior. So I was a junior, which would be the same as freshman in high school. Now I’ve got to pause now.
PK: Say that again—you went to Andover—
WILLIAM BEINECKE: I entered Andover in the fall of 1928, I was 14. I lived in the place for young kids called Williams Hall and my experience as a junior—that is to say, as a freshman at Andover—was completely unsuccessful. I didn’t fail all my subjects but I didn’t do very well. The passing grade was 60 and those subjects which I didn’t fail, I got around 60 in. So at the end of one year at Andover, the then-headmaster of Andover, Alfred Stearns, suggested to my father that I ought to go somewhere else. Well, Peter, it so happened that I knew and admired some Williamson boys who were older than I was, but they were good athletes and I think I knew them from a distance down at Westhampton Beach where we went in the summer time.
My father asked me what I would like to consider and I’d heard of two schools. One was Mercersburg in Pennsylvania and that other was this Westminster, which these Williamsons had been to. So my father suggested that maybe I ought to consider Westminster and that considering my poor experience at Andover, maybe I’d better go there and try to catch up by going to summer school. Well, I did, Peter; I went to summer school in 1929 and entered Westminster right there and then. The headmaster, Mr. McOrmand, my father took me to see up in Simsbury, Connecticut in the summer of 1929 to be interviewed to go there in the fall. I was accepted and Mr. McOrmand and my father talked about my starting summer school. My father said when should he start summer school and Mr. McOrmand said, “Right now.”
So okay, I had to start summer school right now and I didn’t have any clothing or anything like that. So my father took me into Hartford and I got a few shirts, a couple pair of trousers and went to summer school. Then I went to Westminster. I was a student for two years and I did very well and also I did very well athletically. Believe it or not, at the end of this fall term of my second year there—which would have been my junior year in the usual sense—I was elected captain of the football team. A strange thing happened. Mr. McOrmand, who was the headmaster, had recruited a very good player from Hartford, whose name was Farrell, Bob Farrell, who had been a good football player at a public school in Hartford. Mr. mCormand had recruited him to be, with a football scholarship I guess, to be on the Westminster football team. So of course we all elected Bob Farrell captain of the team. Then Mr. McGorman said no scholarship boy can be the captain of a football team, so you’ll have to elect somebody else. So the somebody else turned out to be me. I was embarrassed by that, I thought it was inappropriate. So I kept thinking about that.
So I decided to see whether I could, instead of taking my senior year at Westminster, take my senior year at Andover. Go back and join my original class, which is what I did. Well, again, it turned out that Andover was too much for me. I failed a one-semester mathematics course called solid geometry and therefore did not get a diploma. But this was 1932 and I’d done well enough on my other College Boards so that even though I didn’t graduate from school, I was accepted at Yale. So I entered Yale in the fall of 1932 and I had no difficulty with Yale and going on after Yale to law school and so forth. But I want to say something else; I want to fast-forward now from 1932 when I failed to graduate from high school to 2000, when my personal memoir or autobiography was published.
As you may remember, I had long been a trustee of the Pingry School and I had brought about the move of the Pingry School from Hillside, New Jersey, next to Elizabeth out to Martinsville. So my wife and I went out to the Pingry graduation. I think the year was 2000. I was wearing my cap and gown and I was in the forefront of the trustees because I was one of the senior ones walking into—the graduation was outdoors; the place where the graduation was taking place, along with my good friend and old classmate who was still on the board. He’s gone to his final reward now, Bob Gabby. And I was listening there as they were giving out the honors to the different students who’d won this and that and all of a sudden, the chairman of the board began to refer to me.
Betty knew this was going to happen. That’s why she persuaded me to go to the graduation. I didn’t, of course, I was surprised and so what happened was that Mr. Engel, the chairman of the board of trustees, had read my memoir in which I had said I never graduated from high school. So I received an honorary diploma from the Pingry School and I have it framed on the wall right over there beyond where you’re sitting right now, Peter.
So let’s return to where we were. In 1932 when I entered Yale—let’s pause for a minute. Anyway, Peter, I entered Yale in the fall of 1932 and you may recall that this was during the Depression and I remember it very well for a number of reasons. I have to tell about what happened to my father as a victim of the Depression. My father had been very, very successful in the automobile business in Newark, New Jersey, and so successful that at the end of 1928, he sold out his interest in the Studebaker sales company of New Jersey, I don’t know for what particular amount but whatever it was, it was a substantial amount of money in 1928, especially for a young man who was only 41 years old at the time.
Now, he had a very good friend whose name was Charles Coady, and I remember Charles Coady, or Charlie Coady as my father called him, very well. They had a house down at Westhampton Beach where we had a house. We rented them; we both rented them from a woman named—
PK: When you mention Westhampton Beach, you’re talking Jersey shore or Long Island?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: Long Island. Out in the Hamptons. And we rented a two-story cottage from a Mrs. Townsend and so did the Coadys. We lived on the bay side of the street and the Coadys lived across the street on the ocean side. My father used to play chess with Mr. Coady during the ’20s down there. Mr. Coady was in Wall Street at a stockbrokerage firm called MacQuoid, and Coady. And Mr. MacQuoid was more senior and he retired about the same time my father sold his interest in the business. So Mr. Coady persuaded my father to become his partner and to acquire Mr. MacQuoid’s seat on the New York Stock Exchange. Now, believe it or not, the date for that was April 1, 1929. So my father was off to a good start at a very successful Wall Street business—
PK: How much did a seat on the Exchange sell for at that time?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: I wish I could answer that. I don’t know. I think we’ll have to Google that. In any case, my father either had a seat on the New York Stock Exchange or a half-interest in one, I’m not sure. However, in the fall of 1929, we had, I guess it was called Black Friday or something like that, when we had the terrible crash in the stock exchange. The market continued to go down and this whole business had a terrible impact on my father and on the firm of Coady, Beinecke & Company because it failed. How soon after 1929 it failed and went out of business completely, I’m not sure. But it was gone in my first year or two at Yale. So I had to do various other things. I had to have a job, working for my board at Yale for a while. This seems unusual when you think of the way the Beinecke family has been gifting Yale over the last several decades, but this is a long time ago.
In any case, my father was out of work and living at home in Madison, New Jersey. The Beineckes had a controlling interest, in fact they owned the business, in the Sperry and Hutchinson Company, which was the S&H Green Stamp company. They acquired it from the Sperrys—Mr. Sperry, my grandfather, whose portrait is over there, had a half-interest, and his other brother Tom, the late Tom, because he had died before I was born. His estate had the other half. In the early 1920s, the Beineckes—my father was married to one Sperry and his brother was married to another Sperry, a cousin—they acquired the business and it wasn’t the big, successful business that it later became but it was still going in the Depression years. My father was at home in New Jersey and they had a controlling interest in a department store in Boston called Houghton & Dutton, which was a department store located not far from where the Parker House Hotel is in Boston.
So my uncle, who was chairman of the board of the Sperry and Hutchinson Company, suggested to my father that he go over and take on the presidency of this department store. That was a good thing for my father because he got a salary and even though the Houghton & Dutton department store was not a great, imposing department store, it least it paid a certain revenue to the S&H Company for the use of their stamp business. So that’s what my father did and he and my mother had an apartment, a small apartment in Boston during a couple of my college years. I remember the location of it—they had two, one a very small one on a place called 1 Primus Avenue on Beacon Hill. Primus Avenue was not an avenue that cars went on, it was just a little walkway.
A couple of apartment houses went off this walkway and they had a small apartment there for less than a year and then they moved to an apartment in a brownstone down on Beacon Street, 176 Beacon Street, Boston, where my father and mother lived for another year or so. They returned to Madison before I graduated from Yale in 1936. By that time, the Sperry and Hutchinson Company was beginning to get back on their feet and it was beginning to pay dividends again to the stockholders. So life was better for my parents.
For my own college experience, I was at Yale from 1932 to 1936. I went out, tried to play football, never got very far even though I had played football at Westminster and at Andover. I was on the freshman football squad but never played in any games. Then in the next year or two, I tried to play football and I was on the JV squad. I never really played. One of my coaches was a man who later became president of the United States. His name was Gerald Ford, who was then a student at the Yale Law School. He had graduated from the University of Michigan and he was a football star there. So to get additional revenue to help him go to the Yale law school, he had a job coaching football at Yale. Later on, years later in the ’70s, when I became member of the corporation at Yale—that’s the same as being a trustee—we of course entertained President Ford at a dinner party. After all, he was a Yale alumnus and here he was president.
So I went up and I shook hands with him and I said Mr. President, I’m sure you don’t remember me but I tried to play JV football when you were coaching it. I’m sure he didn’t have any recollection of me. But when we were shaking hands, he reached over and squeezed my biceps and said to me, “You’re still in very good shape.” It’s interesting; one doesn’t forget what a president of the United States says to him. So that’s one memory I have.
I have another that’s really quite funny because another one of the JV coaches who had been a football star at Yale—and I know his name, Walter Levering, He had been a star player, a good halfback on football, at Yale in the early ’30s a few years before I was an undergraduate and now he was coaching. I went to a talk that he gave years and years later, probably in the ’60s or ’70s at the Yale Club, talking about his recollections of when he was coaching and playing football at Yale. He saw me sitting over there in the audience, so he said, “One of the things that I remember”—this is this man talking—”was taking the JVs over to play the West Point, the Army JVs over at West Point. And Bill Beinecke sitting over there today played one of the best heads-up games you’ve ever seen.”
Well, I didn’t want to interrupt him or anything ‘cause after all, he was an old man telling his recollections. But he was way off base because I was not even invited to make the trip from New Haven to West Point. So that’s one of the things that sometimes mars one’s memory. But I thought that that was a very good memory that I had about that event Walter Levering.
So going back to my undergraduate experiences, there was a time when I had to try to make a little additional money to make ends meet. After all, it was the depths of the Depression for my father, which I’ve already explained, and he was forking up money for my tuition and my room. If I could help out in any way, I should, I thought. So I got a job, which I think lasted for about a year, working at the YWCA cafeteria on Howe Street in New Haven. It’s very interesting because when you think of prices today in 2009—and when I think back that this was 1934 and I’ll tell you, and I think I have the numbers right—I worked for my breakfast and for my dinner. So I got 60 cents an hour if I took out my pay in food. I only needed to work half an hour in the morning to earn my breakfast and I only needed to work an hour in the evening to earn my dinner. If I worked overtime for an additional hour, I got paid in cash but not 60 cents, but 40 cents. So sometimes I’d work over an hour or so and I’d have 40 cents or so that I didn’t have before. So that’s one Depression experience.
Another Depression experience is this. First of all, our costume and décor—we didn’t look like the present-day college kids at all. We all wore jackets and ties and trousers to class. That was standard costume and we didn’t have a nickel in our pockets and yet this is the way we were. I remember one spring day—I was in Berkeley College—and one spring day we were sitting out on the lawn in Berkeley College on the Elm Street end of it and we heard the bell of a Good Humor truck going by. Now, the Good Humor truck, Peter, I’ll tell you, it sold Good Humors, which was a chocolate-covered ice cream bar on a little stick, and they cost 10 cents. So one of the fellows sitting with us—we were all pretending to study, maybe some of us were, I don’t know—out on the lawn with our books and one fellow said gee, does anybody have a dime? I’d sure like to have a Good Humor. Well, I thought, and I remembered that I did have a dime. There was a dime on my bureau, which was up one of the entries up two or three floors. And I said I have a dime, there’s one on my bureau. You can have it if you want to get a Good Humor. But if you get a Lucky Stick, I want it.
Well, he went and he got the dime. A Lucky Stick, Richard, was a stick that had the word Lucky Stick written on the stick but you couldn’t see it until after you’ve eaten the ice cream. And if you got a Lucky Stick, you could present it to the truck driver and get a second Good Humor. We were sitting out there and this fellow came in eating his Good Humor and then he went back out on the street and he came back eating a second Good Humor. Well, that meant that he had the Lucky Stick and I had told him that if he got one, I should get it. Well, I won’t tell you what I said to him because—
PK: It was not printable.
WILLIAM BEINECKE: It wouldn’t be printable. I was furious. So that was another Depression experience. I’d like to not fast-forward but to fast-backward a little bit to the year that I failed to graduate from Andover. We were in the beginning of the depths of the Depression, this was 1932, and even though I was just barely turned 18—after all, my birthday is in May—I was thinking about the situation a great deal. So I thought that Socialism was the solution to the situation that we were facing. At that time, we had a Socialist candidate for president of the United States whose name was Norman Thomas. You were nodding your head so I guess you remember the name.
PK: I remember him well. He ran not once, I think he ran half a dozen times for president and then I think he was from Manhattan and I think somewhere—I grew up in Gramercy Park—I think he was from somewhere down in that area.
WILLIAM BEINECKE: In any case, I believe he was a graduate of Princeton. But I decided in the summer of 1932 that I wanted to work for his campaign for president. You’re right about the neighborhood because I located his office down on East 19th Street and I went there and somehow or other, I was interviewed by someone. At some point along the way, I met Mr. Thomas but I didn’t have much personal contact with him. But I did get a summer job and my summer job was in the office addressing and stamping envelopes and taking care of mailings, doing things of that sort when they were trying to get more people supporting the Norman Thomas ticket for president of the United States. I don’t know how many votes he commanded that fall, but as a third-party candidate, he did, I would say, reasonably well. Didn’t get any electoral votes obviously, but he did fairly well. I had that job really until September.
I did an interesting thing that September before going to Yale. Two friends of mine—a fellow named Ben Moyer, and a fellow named John Wight, who lived in Summit and Ben Moyer lived in Madison as I did—John Wight had a small Model A Ford touring car. We took off on a trip to Buffalo, Niagara Falls and across the northern side of Lake Ontario, these three boys sleeping out in the fields when we could, returning eventually after about 10 days. I don’t know what the trip cost us, but very, very little in terms of present-day dollars. Gasoline was probably 12 or 15 cents a gallon and we had a car that didn’t use much. We slept out. So that was one of the vicissitudes.
Then another interesting thing happened. I entered Yale that fall. Now, I can’t recall exactly how it happened but the various colleges were meeting up at Smith College in Northampton to have a mockup League of Nations session. The League of Nations existed then, the United Nations of course did not. The United Nations didn’t come into being until after World War II and we’re talking about the fall of 1932. When I got to Yale, I had gone to see the undergraduate Socialist party headquarters because after all, I’d been working for Norman Thomas. These upper-classmen noted that here was this freshman over here that was also interested in the Socialist party and they were not in a Yale University building, they were in the basement of a church on College Street, sort of across the street from where Calhoun—is it Calhoun or Trumbull on the corner of College and Elm, I’m not sure. Calhoun I guess. Anyway, that’s where they were located.
The reason I mention this is to tell you that they invited me to go along with them up to this League of Nations mock session up at Smith College. This was in the days before Hertz, so I found somebody around New Haven who would rent a car for the weekend and I rented a car and I went up there. And of course I knew a girl or two at Smith, so I called on her as well as went to the session. One of the interesting things was that our group was assigned to represent a place that was then called the Union of South Africa, which I don’t know how it managed to be a member of the United Nations because it was something in the British Empire before the South African republic came into being, if I have it right. In any case, what these upper-classmen had learned was that there was something happening that the South Africans didn’t like, so that they threatened to walk out of the meeting at the real League of Nations. So of course, they had to give a mockup of walking out at the place. And that’s about all I can recall about that and then I returned to New Haven, continued my college career which I’ve talked to you about, and eventually graduated in the spring of 1936.
During my other college years, I had three paying jobs. I didn’t get paid anything by Norman Thomas. They said they would pay my expenses, that is to say my commuting fare from New York out to Madison, New Jersey, and pay for my lunches. But that’s about all. I didn’t get any pay. But I did have three jobs as an undergraduate. After the conclusion of my freshman year, I had a job working for John Wyeth, a pharmaceutical firm in Philadelphia, and this is also interesting because it’s also a Depression-like story. When I lived in Madison, a family next door was named Ross and the Rosses had three children. There was David and Sally Ross. David was in the class of ‘28 at Yale and then Sally Ross and then Mildred. Mildred was about a year or two older than I was. Mildred married a man named Ted Eckfeldt, who was a graduate of Princeton. They’d been married a couple of years when I got down to Philadelphia with this summer job in 1933 and they lived in one of the suburbs of Philadelphia.
So I was 19, Mildred was probably 21 and Mr. Eckfeldt, Ted Eckfeldt, who was probably as old as 26 or so, something like that, but to me he was a senior person, he said to me, how would I like to live at the Princeton Club. I said living at the Princeton Club, you must be crazy. He said no, it won’t cost you anything. They’d like to have somebody there just to stay there. If you take any meals there, you’ll have to pay them. But they’ll give you the room. So I thought gee whiz, that’s amazing. So I did, Peter. I lived at the Princeton Club in the summer of ‘33 in Philadelphia. I think there were only about four people living in the club. The Princeton Club was having a difficult time surviving the Depression, so they enjoyed having somebody actually using it. Then I’d get out and get on a streetcar and go down whatever the name of the street was to the John Wyeth factory. It was called John Wyeth & Brother at that time, it’s now Wyeth Incorporated and I think it’s a subsidiary of somebody else.
But in any case, I had this job down there and worked all summer and I actually managed to make a little more money than I spent. So I always wanted a car. So at the end of my summer experience, I went to a second-hand automobile dealer in Philadelphia and purchased a car for $100, a second-hand Ford. Maybe it was third-hand.
PK: Was it a Model A?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: Yes, it was not a Model T. It was the first model that succeeded the Model T’s. So I had this car— it was a two-seater.
PK: A coupe is what they called that.
WILLIAM BEINECKE: I think it was a coupe. So I took it home from Philadelphia to Madison and then my roommate, who was a fellow name Jonathan Pine. Who lived in Baltimore. He wasn’t my roommate freshman year, but he was to be my roommate sophomore year. So we got in the car and drove it down to Baltimore for a long weekend before college started and I went home to Madison. Then I went back up to New Haven and took the train from Newark up to New Haven and a few weeks later, I came home. I looked around in the yard for my car and it was not there. So I said to my father, “Whatever happened to my car?” He said, “Why, that piece of junk? I got rid of it.” So that’s one Depression memory for you.
My other two summers, I had the same job and I got them in an interesting way. I was working in the accounting department of the International Paper Company on East 42nd Street, quite far east. It was over about Third Avenue, I think. This was the headquarters of the International Paper Company, which is one of the big paper companies which was selling newsprint to the newspapers.
PK: The Daily News was over there in that neighborhood also. I think it was on East 42nd, the headquarters.
WILLIAM BEINECKE: I think that the International Paper Company was in the Daily News building on the upper floors. There was a great big globe in the lobby of the building that I remember. So anyway, Peter, this is an interesting experience. I was returning to New Haven on the train one time from visiting my parents at home in New Jersey and I’m sitting in the train. I happened to be talking with an officer of the International Paper Company. I don’t remember his name. But he told me that he was assistant treasurer of the International Paper Company and his job was to run the accounting department. This had to be in the spring of 1934.
I got to New Haven and I thought gee, if I could only get a job next summer with the International Paper Company, that’d be wonderful. I wonder if I can. So I wrote a letter to this gentleman, told him that I was interested in employment and could I come in and see him about it. He responded, I went in for an interview and I worked in the accounting department for the next two summers. Remarkable. Then after that—this was now 1936—I graduated and my father was now a vice president of The Sperry and Hutchinson Company and getting paid a decent salary in New York and my father and mother were back home and residents in Madison. My father made it possible for me to spend the next year traveling abroad.
I went around the world and I remember that I purchased a round-the-world ticket that was good for two years. You couldn’t go backward but you kept going forward, a second-class round-the-world ticket on steamship lines and on railroads. A round-the-world ticket cost $750. My father said that he could afford that if I’d buy the ticket and he’d give me some money that I would have access to using what was then called a letter of credit. That was in the days before travelers checks. The letter of credit was good for whatever number of dollars it was good for. You went to a bank somewhere and presented it and then they would advance whatever sum of money you wanted and then deduct it on the letter of credit from the amount that the letter of credit was originally funded with.
So that’s how I paid my expenses and I was going to go originally to New Guinea. The reason for that was this. I knew two young men who were graduate students at Yale and they were seeking their graduate degrees—whether it was PhD or Masters Degrees I don’t know—in whatever science it is when you study native tribes. Do you remember what it could be called?
PK: It was anthropology maybe.
WILLIAM BEINECKE: I think that was it. So John Whiting was one of them, he had been captain of the Yale wrestling time. And he was a native of Martha’s Vineyard. The other name I don’t remember. So they heard that I was going to go abroad and they said why don’t you come with us to New Guinea and you can see what we’re doing over there in this anthropological work we’re doing. So I said fine. I’ll join you for that and I’ll meet you wherever you’re going to leave the Pacific Coast and we’ll go on the same ship, ‘cause I’ll go out there by train. So it was arranged for us to meet in Vancouver and by the time I got to Vancouver, I had decided I didn’t want to go to New Guinea. But I did meet them and I’ve forgotten the name of the ship that we went on. It was the Canadian-Australasian line.
They had two ships, one was called the Niagara and the other was named after something in New Zealand. It was that one, the Aorangi that we embarked on in Vancouver.
PK: Where was the destination?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: The destination was of course Australia. Then they would go from there out to New Guinea. But I only went as far as Hawaii with them. The reason for that was this. On my way from the Twin Cities where I’d stopped off to visit one of my college roommates—Cole Oehler, first name Cole,—he’s since gone to his final reward, but he had been a very successful lawyer in St. Paul. But he was only just a few weeks out of college at that time. So I went and visited him, then I embarked on the train to go the rest of the way from the Twin Cities to Vancouver.
On the way, I met two New Zealanders who were young New Zealanders on a western United States trip. One was named John Bull and the other name was, Bill Rathbone. And they each were proprietors of what we would call a ranch and what you would call a station I guess in Australia. But in New Zealand, they were called farms. They were pretty large, they were several thousand acres. So I had a nice conversation with them and we watched the Rockies from an observation car. They said if you ever come to New Zealand, come and visit us. So I had that in mind.
But I got on the ship with my two friends from Yale and then two New Zealanders, and went from there to Hawaii and on the way, on board I should say, there was a delegation of female schoolteachers who were on a budget trip to Hawaii. They would go out on this particular ship that I was on, spend a few days in Hawaii and then come back on the sister ship, which was the Niagara. Would you believe it, in just that few days it took to go from Vancouver to Hawaii, this fellow Bill Rathbone met one of those schoolteachers and he invited her to come down to New Zealand to be his bride. And she did. And they produced some children whom Betty and I used to know quite well. Strange things happen in the world.
I disembarked when we got to Honolulu and stayed there. I had some classmates who were from Hawaii and I had some good friends and some good times in Hawaii, as you can imagine. Then I took the Niagara, when it finally came through on its way back, and I embarked on it and went from there to New Zealand and I went to visit John Bull at his ranch and stayed there for some time, maybe as much as a month. You can say at his farm ‘cause they didn’t use the word ranch. We would ride horses and go out and round up the sheep and things of that sort. Mr. Bull introduced me to his bride-to-be, whose name was—I’ve forgotten her full name, but her name was Trixie, and they later married after I left and produced a child whose name is Penny Bull Davies, who was born about 1939 and is my goddaughter today.
The reason that Mr. Bull asked me to be the godfather was that they were fearful about the Japanese and he thought it would be good insurance to have the godfather of this young baby be an American. So of course I became the godfather and I never saw Penny for a long, long time. And now, of course, she’s a woman of 70, or about to be, and Betty and I have seen a good deal of Penny. We have visited her out in New Zealand, she’s visited us here in New York and it’s a good relationship that dates back to the interlude when I visited Mr. Bull at his farm in New Zealand a year after I graduated—not the year after, the year I did graduate from Yale in the summer and fall. Or in New Zealand, it would have been the winter and spring because of their being on the other side of the Equator.
I continued that trip, eventually returning to New York. My father and mother, after getting my letters and so on, decided they should take a trip to Europe and meet me as I came around from the other direction. So I met them in Alexandria. My father and mother and my brother, my late brother, Richard, got off whatever ship they were on and we met in Alexandria and we toured Egypt a little bit. I had previously, ‘cause I had gotten there about a week before they did, I was looking around for things to visit. So I actually visited Palestine, then called Palestine. It was a British mandate, it was stemming from World War I. It was not a British colony. There were certain territories that under the Treaty of Versailles that had been part of the Ottoman Empire that European powers took over and controlled. Palestine was mandated to the British, so it was run like a British colony but it was really a mandate. Later on, of course as you know, that terminated and it became the nation which we now know as Israel.
So I had an interesting few days in what was then Palestine, returning to Egypt in time to meet my parents in Alexandria and we toured Egypt and then went back to Italy from Egypt on a steamship in the Mediterranean. My father and mother had arranged for a car, a Cadillac, to come over with them on the original ship but to be disembarked in Naples and not taken all the way to Egypt. Then we toured, my father and mother and brother and I, through Europe in the spring and the early summer of 1937. My brother then came home and he entered as a freshman the University of Vermont and I came back and I was really at a loss as to what I should do, Peter, whether I should go to work right away. After all, I was out of college for 14 months. Or whether I should do other things.
So I had a long talk with my father and my father said, “You know, Bill, I think you ought to think about going to law school.” My father was an engineer. I was anything but an engineer. I had no mechanical sense, I couldn’t repair things and my father knew that. My father could fix anything and did. I remember that when our car broke down on the border between Czechoslovakia and Germany and he lifted up the hood and he got in there and he took it apart and something was wrong with the carburetor. He repaired it with my mother’s hairpins, I think, and that car continued to work until we got to Paris. When we got there, he took it into the Cadillac place in Paris and they put a new part in. So of course we continued to drive around France then England and then of course, he had it shipped home. But that’s the kind of way that my father was.
Anyway, he suggested that maybe I ought to go to law school. So I thought about that and I talked to two other men that I had a high regard for who were contemporaries of my father. One was a man named Horace Corbin, who lived in Elizabeth and by this time he’d moved to the Oranges and lived in Llewellyn Park. He was the head of the largest bank in Newark; I’ve forgotten the name of it. I used to know the Corbins, he was a great friend of my father and I knew the Corbin family. There were five kids in the Corbin family and I consulted with Horace and he had seen me grow up and he also suggested I go to law school. Then there was a third one, a man you’ve probably heard of, his name was Harold Medina. Harold Medina had a place down in Westhampton.
Anyway, the third man I consulted was Harold Medina and Harold Medina was a prominent New York lawyer. He was also a professor at Columbia Law School. The reason I knew him was that he was the father of Harold Medina, Jr. and of Standish Medina. I knew them both. I was a year older than Standish and a year younger than Harold.
So I used to be in Harold Jr.’s crew in some of the sailboat races down in Westhampton in the ’20s when we were there. So I knew the Medina family. And then of course, Mr. Medina had sort of a cruising boat, I think he called it the Spindrift and we used to go out on it and have supper and things like that when he was at his home in Westhampton. So I went to see Harold Medina and asked him to counsel me. Well, he didn’t have any difficulty asking me to go to law school ‘cause that’s what he wanted me to do and he was actually a teacher there.
So I returned to New York in July 1937. I’d been gone maybe 13 months. And I did this interviewing that I’ve just been talking about and the third person that I interviewed was of course Professor Harold Medina, not yet a judge. After those three conversations, I decided to try to go to law school. Here it was, the end of July, early August and I hadn’t even applied to law school. So everybody had heard of Harvard Law School, it was then a great law school of the land, and that’s about all I’d ever heard of in terms of law schools. I knew that Yale had one, but that’s all I knew. I didn’t know anything about it and I did have this association with Columbia by virtue of talking to the judge, then the professor, and his older son was already at Columbia Law School. So those were the two law schools I knew anything about. So I decided to file an application to go to Harvard and to go to Columbia.
Now, if I’d been accepted at Harvard, I think I would have gone there because of Harvard’s reputation. But I wasn’t accepted and I wasn’t accepted because I wasn’t qualified. I was turned down because my application was just too late. But for some reason, I was accepted at Columbia and I remember something about that, sort of a sidebar story. I knew where Columbia was and I guessed you got there on the subway. So I came in from New Jersey and got on the subway and went up to get off at 116th Street. But what I didn’t know was that at 96th Street, some of the subway trains went straight up and some of them didn’t. They branched off to the east and went up through Harlem. If you knew the subway system, you knew which number went where and I didn’t, though. So when I got off at 116th Street—I don’t know where, Lenox Avenue I guess or something like that—and it was a boiling hot day. So there was Columbia up by Morningside Heights. So I walked up there to meet somebody on the faculty and be interviewed.
Well, I must have looked like the wrath of God because I was absolutely soaking wet by the time I got up there. However, the interview took place, the application was accepted and I was admitted. And as I said, I didn’t go to Harvard, so I went to Columbia. My experience at Columbia Law School was one of the highlights of my educational experience. I learned how to work hard, I learned how to study. I had a good record at Yale, but it wasn’t a difficult encounter with the study system. The law school was, the law school imposed a kind of discipline on one that has stayed with me all my life. So I’ve become interested in Columbia, I support Columbia as I support Yale.
PK: Where did you live when you went to Columbia Law School?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: That’s a good question, Peter. When I went to Columbia Law School, I didn’t know anybody there. It turned out that I did know two people in my class but I didn’t realize that until I got there. One was Professor Medina’s second son, Standish, who I’d known from Westhampton. He was in my class at law school, Standish Medina. The other was Constantine Mittendorf who was my quasi-cousin. I put it that way because Mr. Mittendorf’s grandmother was my great-aunt Tillie, Matilde. She was in fact my great-aunt. she was my grandmother’s sister, Joanna Weigle Beinecke. She had a sister named Matilda, my grandmother, who became Mrs. Mittendorf. But she was the second wife of the old gentleman because his first wife had died. So she was in fact the stepgrandmother of Constantine Mittendorf, who was a class behind me at Yale because after all, I was a class late in going to Columbia. So we called him Connie and he was in my class.
So where did I live. When I first went there, I lived somewhere, a little apartment somewhere that I found, and I wasn’t there long, two or three weeks at the most, when I met two fellows from Harvard—Eddie Bennett and Harry Stimpson. I mentioned him earlier. They were kind enough to invite me to join them in an apartment they had on 118th Street. So I did that.
PK: It must have been Amsterdam to Morningside?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: It was between Amsterdam and Morningside and it was on the north side of the street and it was really a humble apartment that we had there. It was two rooms, so they lived in the bedroom and I lived in the other room.
PK: Do you remember what the rent was?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: It wasn’t much. But I don’t remember what it was. There was no room really to do any studying in that apartment. So we did all our studying in the library of the law school. I can tell you something about the prices, though, because there was a little Japanese restaurant in the basement of a building across the street from us. I’m pretty sure it was 118th, not 117th, I think 118th, called Aki. Dinner there cost 65 cents and we’d have dinner and leave a 10-cent tip. That shows you what prices were like in 1937.
So an interesting thing about it was this. Mr. Bennett continued to be my roommate for three years at Columbia. We had three different apartments. Mr. Stimpson left after the first year and he continued his legal studies down at the University of Virginia. He didn’t like Columbia. But Mr. Bennett and I were there, and became good friends. Actually he later served as my best man when I got married. Ed Bennett had been captain of the Harvard crew, but he was a very short and very slight man. He was the coxswain of the Harvard crew in 1937, which of course beat Yale because the Harvard crews most of the time beat Yale. Once in a while Yale wins, but Harvard usually does.
Sometime along in there—I’m not sure exactly when, whether we were still in law school or whether it was after law school, I think it was after law school—Mr. Bennett invited me to be his guest at New London for the Yale-Harvard race. They had a private railroad car that his Harvard club—I think he belonged to something called the Owl Club at Harvard—and they had this private Pullman car which they came down from Boston on and it was on a siding in New London. So that’s where we stayed overnight. They had a viewing train, an observation train with benches that faced the river. They’ve put that out of business but it used to go along very slowly and you could watch the two crews coming down the river. So I was sitting as the guest of Harvard in one of the Harvard cars on this train, ‘cause some cars were Yale cars and some were Harvard cars.
I was sitting there with Bennett and another man who had also been on the Harvard crew with him, who went to Harvard Law School and then later became chairman of the board of Coca-Cola but I can’t think of his name.
In the row in front of us, there was one fellow who was noticing the way Harvard was pulling ahead of Yale and he turned around and faced me and he said something, I don’t know what he said, but it was ya-ya-ya, look at the way Harvard is beating you today, something like that. This man, who later became the chairman of Coca-Cola, thought that this fellow was behaving very rudely toward a guest. After all, he’s a Harvard man. He’s not supposed to act that way. The man I’m talking about had a glass of some kind of a drink in his hand and he reached forward and pulled out the side pocket of this fellow in front of him and deposited the glass there and then took—I don’t know what he had, he didn’t have a hammer, but he had some kind of a heavy implement and tapped the side of this fellow’s pocket, broke the glass to smithereens and the liquid flowed all over this fellow’s jacket. And he said, “Well, that’ll teach him manners.” That’s one of my better memories of my association with Harvard.
There were really two trips to Europe. There was a trip with my parents and my brother to Europe in 1937 and then I went to Europe again with my Columbia classmate and cousin, Constantine Mittendorf, in the summer of ‘38. I had a couple of experiences that I think I ought to relate. I don’t have too clear a recollection of any experiences with the Nazis during our 1937 trip. My father’s older sister lived in Leipzig, which later on became part of East Germany, but that was after the war. At that time, Leipzig was still a part of Germany and Alice, her name was, and she was the No. 2 in the family of six of which my father was No. 5. My grandfather was a German immigrant and they grew up here in New York but they spoke German at home, a German-American household, and they would entertain visitors.
So one of the visitors they entertained was a man named Edwin Weickert and Alice married Edwin Weickert and went back to Germany and lived in Leipzig and they reared a family over there. The Weickert family owned a factory called the Weickert Felt Factory or Felzen, I think it was or something like that, I’m not sure of the German—which had been in the family back to the 18th century and they managed to hold it, own it throughout the Napoleonic Wars, throughout the revolutions of 1848 through World War I. They still held onto it. But it was after the Russians came along at the end of World War II that they lost possession of the factory and so on. More recently, some of the heirs have been paid something by the German government, even in the last two or three years for taking it away from them. But there wasn’t much and the payment was in euros.
We had a very interesting trip, but I don’t really recall any Nazi experiences even though I think I did see some soldiers and that kind of thing. However, the following year, when I took a trip with my cousin, Constantine Mittendorf, we went to Germany and we visited my Aunt Alice in Germany and then decided to rent a car. We did, we rented a car, it was called a Horch, it was a type of automobile produced in Germany. We took with us on the trip the next youngest of the Weickert children, who was named after her mother, her name was Alice. We called her Allie, Allie Weickert. she was about a year or two older than I was. She wasn’t the youngest. Berni was the youngest, but Allie was next.
Then there were some people we’d met, Americans on the ship going over, an American fellow from the West Coast, his name was Billy Leake and his sister Virginia. So they, too, joined us and we traveled around Germany and also into Austria. Now between 1937 and 1938, Hitler brought about something called the Anschluss, which was the union of Germany and Austria. When I was there with my parents, Austria was still a separate country. When I was there with Constantine Mittendorf a year later, Austria was part of Deutschland. Whether this was next episode was ‘37 or ‘38, I don’t know, but I remember going to one of the monuments or memorials in Munich and seeing rigidly standing at attention German soldiers. And when I say rigidly standing at attention, I mean it—it was unbelievable how those fellows could stand that way. They didn’t stand that way for a long length of time ‘cause they couldn’t, but for an hour or two hours and then they were relieved and another one got into the same immobile position. I remember that quite well.
I had an incident in Munich with my cousin, Mr. Mittendorf, that I remember. We went to something called the Hofbrau House in Munich one evening. We had with us, I think three American girls. One was an American girl that my cousin, Mr. Mittendorf, had sort of gotten sweet on who he’d met on the ship going over and so we managed to be in the same city sometimes where this tour of American girls was and he had a date with her. And then two other girls who were part of that group were friends of hers and they were also with us. So we had two men and three American girls at the Hofbrau House. I didn’t have any particular sweet spot for any of the girls, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t interested in girls. Of course I was. But it just so happened that this was just a date, not a special interest.
Now, the extraordinary thing happened. At a table near us there were some young Germans in uniform and one of them, or perhaps two of them, came over to our table and said that there were three young ladies and two men at our table, we had too many young women there and one of them should go and be at their table with them. You can imagine how our American girls felt about that. So Mr. Mittendorf and I got up and we said no, thank you, no, sir, we’re not going to do that. And then I, like a damn fool, I gave this one young German a push. Well, when I gave him the push, out came a dagger in his hand and he said to me that he would like to have me meet him downstairs out in the yard in a few minutes and we would exchange whatever was necessary to be exchanged because, he said, “When you push this uniform, that’s like pushing the Fuhrer.” I don’t know whether he was talking in English or German. I didn’t know very much German, but Mr. Mittendorf knew German very well. Whether those were his exact words, I don’t know—but that was his message, especially the part about not pushing the Fuhrer. So the three young ladies and Connie Mittendorf and I managed to get out of a side door and home.
Going back to Columbia Law School, I entered in 1937, I graduated in 1940. Among the professors that I can remember was Herbert Wechsler, who was really truly remarkable. Remember that I was 23 when I entered Columbia and he was on the faculty. I don’t think that he was more than 29 or 30 at the time. Herbert Wechsler was one of the giants in the law. I took criminal law with him my second year and then I got to be a good friend of his years later after we were both a lot older because he had a place at Cape Cod and I used to see him at the same golf course. He lived here on the East Side not far from where we lived and his wife Doris lived there, too. He died a few years ago and I was invited to make some remarks at his funeral service and she lived up until a couple of years ago. Herbert Wechsler was really one of the giants of the American legal world because as you know, lawyers are trained to advise clients, to look up the law and to tell their clients what the law is and how they should do to behave properly, to run their business to comply with the law and so on. Or they act as a defense lawyer or prosecuting lawyer or something.
But Herbert Wechsler was the kind of person who would be involved in counseling changes in the law as it related to various things. So he was really one of the American giants. I may have some things around here but it would be too difficult to find in my bookcase over there that he had put out over the years. Then there was a fellow named Julius Goebel, I think he was Julius Goebel, Jr., but it doesn’t make any difference. He taught a course that I took in my first year at Columbia that was completely unintelligible. It was called the DLI, the development of legal institutions. It started really with the medieval period in English legal history and carried it forward and we were always reading something that I didn’t understand, it seems to me. And then when we got to the final examination, it didn’t seem to me to relate to the subject matter of the course. But somehow or other, I managed to pass the course and Julius Goebel was a person of remarkable intellect. Later on, as I was not one of his students, I became a good friend of his as a young alumnus of the law school.
Other members of the faculty—I remember there was the dean who taught us torts in the first year, I don’t remember too much about the course or about the dean. Those are some of my recollections. Oh yes, and then Judge Harold Medina, then Professor Harold Medina, I took his course in civil procedure and that was a very interesting course given by a very interesting man. And of course, I have to tell you that I took another course of his later on because he gave the cram course for the preparation for the bar examination that lasted about a month and it was given down on 39th Street in a public auditorium that he hired down there not far from where Lord & Taylor was, I guess still is. We took that cram course and then took the bar examination and I managed to pass it the first time I took it. That was in 1940.
PK: So at ‘40 we heard the war drums beating but we weren’t in the war at that point.
WILLIAM BEINECKE: That is true. But in the spring of 1940—remember, the war started in the fall of 1939 with the Germans invading Poland. Through the fall and winter of 1939 and 1940, it was kind of a quiet interlude and there’s been one or two books written about that period when not much really exciting was happening. Then in the spring of 1940, all of a sudden the Germans unleashed one of those, I’ve forgotten what the word—
WILLIAM BEINECKE: Yes. Attacks. And they went right through France and of course the British went to—where was that place they had to, Ostend, was that it? Where they retreated from?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: Dunkirk, yes. The British had to go to Dunkirk and then embark in any kind of craft they could get into to retreat to England, what men they could save. The Germans went right through France to the coast of the ocean in practically no time at all. So here was I, about to be 26 years of age in May 1940, realizing that we’d probably get into this war at some point and we had a draft at that time and I recognized that there’d be a draft. So I was interested in the navy. I’d always been interested in the navy even though I didn’t have any naval connections of any kind. But when I was a little kid, I used to take the pictures out of the Sunday paper and post them on my wall of American warships.
So there was a program at that time that was called the V-7 program, which was open to young people who were interested in joining the navy and getting a commission if they could complete the course.
PK: Was this the 90-day wonders?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: This was the 90-day wonders. But 90-day wonders was a term that relates to World War I because we were not 90-day wonders, we were 120-day wonders. What happened was, the V-7 program, you signed up and you could go to sea for 30 days as an apprentice seaman and then after that as a midshipman for 90 days—that was the 90-day wonder part—and get a commission. So I heard about that and after I graduated from the law school, I went down to the headquarters of the 3rd Naval District down in the Wall Street area somewhere and inquired about it and signed up for it. I went on a cruise on the USS New York. I remember the day very well, August 19th, 1940. That happens to be Bill Clinton’s birthday but he was born in ‘66
In any case, there were three ships and we boarded those ships in the Hudson River at 135th Street. The USS New York, the USS Wyoming and the USS Arkansas. There were 1,500 kids who didn’t know much of anything and took a cruise down to Panama and back and on the way back, we stopped at Guantanamo and did a few things down there. There were a few people aboard who did know a little something and those were the people who had washed out of either the naval academy or West Point and learned that they could sign up for this V-7 program. So they had a little more knowledge. Some of these former midshipmen, who were now soon to be 90-day wonder midshipmen, had actually been on a cruise before. But there weren’t many. There were 500 on each ship, 1,500 altogether. Maybe if there were six or eight of these former midshipmen among the whole 1,500, that would have been a lot.
In any case, we did that and came back and the place that we embarked was where that sewage disposal plant is up at 135th Street and the Hudson today. Standing at that spot at that time in 1940 was an old Theodore Roosevelt-era battleship called the USS Illinois, which at that time was being utilized by the New York State Naval Militia like an armory or something. When we returned to New York a month later, the navy took 500 of us from these three ships and put them on the USS Illinois to be midshipmen. They told the rest of us to go home and that when they wanted us to report for our further training, they would let us know. Which is what I did and then I went to work as a lawyer in New York for nine months.
Meanwhile, the US Navy took the USS Illinois back from New York State and converted it to a training school and they changed the name from Illinois to the USS Prairie State because the new Illinois they were planning to build and have a modern Illinois. So when I reported next June, June 1941, I reported to the USS Prairie State at the same location, 135th Street and the Hudson River. Meanwhile, I’d gotten married. I got married on the 24th of May, 1941. And of course when we signed up, we were not supposed to be married. It said so. So when I went aboard the Prairie State, I thought I ought to tell ‘em that, which I did. I told the executive officer that I was now a married person and he said, “Well, you’re not supposed to be married.” And I said, “Well, they didn’t say that I was not to get married, they just asked me at the time that I signed on whether I was married or not and I was not at the time. And then of course, I went on inactive duty for the last nine months. You didn’t have any jurisdiction over me at that time. So I got married.”
Well, this man then was very impatient. He said, “Don’t get too legalistic with me.” He said, “Don’t expect any special concessions.” I said no sir. I don’t expect any special concessions. I saluted and backed out of his office and went to spend the rest of the summer as a humble midshipman. And I have the yearbook over there, which I got at that time when I graduated, and what may be of some interest to you is this—that one of my classmates was a fellow named Robert Morgenthau, who’s now the New York County District Attorney and has been for a record period of time. He and I have remained very good friends over the years and I go down and have lunch with him about once a year. I just wrote him a letter the other day about his forthcoming retirement.
One incident that took place during that summer involving Mr. Morgenthau—
PK: This was on the Prairie State?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: On board the Prairie State. We had weekends off unless we had the duty. So I used to have three out of four weekends off, so I’d go home to spend the weekend with my bride, to whom I’d only been married since late May.
PK: Were you living in New Jersey?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: No, in Connecticut, where she came from. She was staying at her mother’s home up in Connecticut, so I’d go up there and stay with her. Anyway, we also had Wednesday afternoons without any class. We could go take a walk in New York City if we wanted to or something like that. So sometimes Betty would come down and see me on Wednesday afternoons. So here one afternoon, one Wednesday afternoon, here we are bride and groom holding hands, looking across the river at the state of New Jersey across the river in the haze. All of a sudden Betty says to me, “What’s that fellow crouching down behind you doing?” Well, I looked down over my right shoulder like this, Peter, and here is a guy down there trying to give me a hot foot. In any case, I reached down with my hand and brushed him aside and said get away from me and I used four-letter words. Who was the person who was doing that? His Excellency, Robert Morgenthau. Now, when we graduated, instead of the secretary of the navy giving us our commissions, the then-secretary of the treasury—
PK: Who was Morgenthau’s father?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: It was Morgenthau’s father It was Henry Morgenthau, Jr. because Henry Morgenthau the first, Bob Morgenthau’s grandfather, had been ambassador to Turkey in World War I, which you may know. I’ll tell you an interesting story about that that you may want to remember. But anyway, later on, years later when I became president and chairman of the The Sperry and Hutchison Company and the press release was repeated in part in the New York Times and my picture perhaps was on the financial page or something like that, I got a letter a few days later from Mr. Morgenthau, which said I guess that hot foot got you going.
To go back in the Morgenthau family—I should tell you this because it’s very interesting—do you know a book called The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman?
PK: I’ve read it.
WILLIAM BEINECKE: I was looking in it last night for a special reason. I don’t know whether you want to turn this off or not but I’ll tell you the story. Henry Morgenthau the first was the grandfather of Bob Morgenthau, the district attorney. He was also the grandfather of Barbara Tuchman. Barbara Tuchman’s maiden name was Wertheim. Mrs. Wertheim was Miss Morgenthau, the sister of Henry Morgenthau, who was secretary of the treasury. Her daughter was Barbara Wertheim, Mrs. Tuchman, who wrote The Guns of August. Now, one very interesting this is this, that I met Barbara Tuchman back in the 1960s when she was attending some special naval thing that I was attending also in Newport, the Naval War College. She was there because of who she was and I was there because I had been a former naval officer.
We happened to be in the same committee going to these lectures at the Naval War College and I commented to her that I’d read with great interest The Guns of August and that I noted that she was in it. She paid me a great compliment for noticing that she was in it.
PK: tell me about your recollection of the presidential elections.
WILLIAM BEINECKE: Believe it or not, I was at summer camp in 1923 and I remember that Harding died. I just remember that, that’s all.
The summer camp was called Camp Wampanoag and it was located on Cape Cod and I was there, you know, I was a 9-year-old kid. Harding died and Coolidge succeeded him. I don’t remember anything other than that, although I do remember that, of course, in 1928 I was older, I was now 14 and I remember very, very clearly Mr. Coolidge saying, “I do not choose to run.” And the meaning of the word choose was debated by a lot of people. What he meant was, that he stuck to it, was that he was not going to run. But he said I do not choose to run and some people wondered whether if somebody else chose him, would he run. But of course, he didn’t and Herbert Hoover was elected.
PK: Ran against Alfred Smith, didn’t he?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: I think that’s correct. And Hoover was elected in 1928. Roosevelt was elected in 1932 when I was a freshman at Yale. And at that time, inauguration day was still the day that was set up in the Constitution, namely March 4th. So it so happened that I was walking along the street outside of the Yale bookstore on March 4th and they had a loudspeaker over the front door and the day was raining. I heard part of Franklin Roosevelt’s inaugural address. I don’t remember whether I heard him say something about anything. The only thing to fear was fear itself. Whether I heard him say that or whether I read it so many times, I don’t know. But I did hear him speak. I remember that, standing in the rain, freshman year.
I didn’t vote in that election ‘cause I wasn’t old enough. I didn’t vote in the 1936 election because of course I was on my trip around the world. In 1937, if my recollection is right, Mr. Roosevelt was inaugurated on January 20th because this was the new inauguration date that was adopted. I’m reasonably sure that it was adopted during his first term, but I could have been mistaken. In 1940, which was the next election, I voted and I was really for Roosevelt. But I was under such pressure from my friends in my law school class who were working hard for Wendell Wilkie, who was running against Roosevelt—namely Standish Medina and Constantine Mittendorf—that I was wavering. I didn’t know which way to go and I actually entered the voting booth here in New York City with my mind not made up between the two candidates, even though I had been favoring Roosevelt all along. So I pulled the lever for Norman Thomas, The man that I’d been working for back in 1932.
Then in 1944, I was on active duty in the navy and we had absentee ballots and I voted at that time for Franklin Roosevelt, which was a mistake and I should not have voted for him because he was anything but a well man at that time. But we didn’t know, no one ever told us how sick he was. He was inaugurated early in 1945 and he died very soon thereafter, in April.
Now, carrying on forward, I was a registered Republican and I didn’t vote for Mr. Kennedy. I voted against him. But of course I regret the fact that he was assassinated. I met Mr. Kennedy when he was president. I was invited down to the Rose Garden for some event. I went there and shook hands with him, probably the first or second year of his administration. Then Johnson, I think I did vote for Mr. Johnson. I had one very interesting experience. In 1964 when Mr. Johnson was nominated to run for president, having succeeded to the presidency in 1963, the Democratic convention was down in Atlantic City that year. I had a good friend that I had gotten to know by legal work for the S&H Company, who was a lawyer in Utah by the name of Calvin Rawlings, who had a lot to do with the western organization of the Democratic Party. He invited Betty and me to go to Atlantic City and attend the convention, which we did.
We got on the floor of the convention in Atlantic City and we were there just after Mr. Johnson received the nomination. And then, Peter, Bobby Kennedy, the brother of the late president, was invited to come and address the convention. The convention went absolutely wild. Had he been there before Lyndon Johnson nailed down the nomination, it might very well have gone the other way because of the enthusiasm and so forth for Bobby Kennedy and the feeling that everybody had among the Democrats about the terrible thing that happened to his brother. Of course, he was assassinated himself not long after that.
So I remember that event with some distinction. Then I did go to attend a couple of the inaugurations. Betty and I attended the inauguration of Jack Kennedy in Washington. At S&H, we had an office in Washington that fronted right on Pennsylvania Avenue, so we could watch the inaugural parade. I remember standing in that office and watching Jimmy Carter and his wife walk up Pennsylvania Avenue. They literally walked up Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol on up to the White House and we watched them do that.
Then after that, I really didn’t have any much more to record. I had a few invitations to the White House. I went to the White House at the invitation of Mr. Nixon, or rather his staff. I think he was out on the West Coast. But I was the CEO of a company and we went down there. They invited us down there, they said, to hear our views about the situation in the economic and financial community. But that’s not why we were there. When we got there, we found out that we were there to hear their views about the—
PK: It probably hasn’t changed much today. Tell me about your earliest memory.
WILLIAM BEINECKE: My earliest memory was watching the returning AEF and I think the year was 1919 when they had a special parade of these soldiers up Fifth Avenue. I didn’t know how far they went, but you’ve already told me, Peter, that they went up to 110th Street. My grandfather, as I told you, was the proprietor of the Plaza Hotel and he and his wife, whom I called Oma and I called him Opa, had a very nice apartment on the 12th floor of the Plaza Hotel looking down on Fifth Avenue. I remember being in that apartment and looking at this parade. And that’s about all I can say. I was about 5 years of age.
PK: This is April 6th, 2009 and the second interview with William Beinecke
WILLIAM BEINECKE: Yes. You, Peter, asked me about my recollections about Central Park and about also the Hudson River Foundation for Science and Research. You also said were there any other New York experiences that I thought I ought to mention. I think first of all I should mention that I served on the board of Consolidated Edison for a number of years. That was a most interesting experience because in a way, I felt that it was a sort of quasi-public service because I didn’t serve on the board because I wanted to have another corporate board to be on. Actually when I was invited by the chairman of the board, Charles Luce, to serve on the board, I had already extracurricular boards, if that’s the right expression, from my own business, which numbered enough. So I wasn’t really looking for another one. I had been on the board of a company called Texas Gulf Sulphur, which was a very successful mining company. It was incorporated in Texas but its home office was here in New York. So I was able to attend the board meetings here without difficulty and went to the annual meeting down in Texas of course.
Then when I was invited to serve on the Con Edison board I thought gee, this would be more like doing a service in the city of New York rather than serving on the board of a worldwide company. So in order to make room in my own schedule to serve Con Ed, I gave up the Texas Gulf Sulphur board and joined the Con Edison board and I was there for, I don’t know how long, 10, 12 years, something like that. And I found it a most interesting and edifying experience. Charles Luce, who was the then-chairman who died about a year ago, remained a good personal friend of mine after I had retired from my service on the board and then after he retired and until his death.
I don’t know whether I have any particular reminiscences that I can tell you about. One thing that happened, there was a downturn for some reason that I now do not recall, which caused us to pass the dividend—that means to not approve it but to skip it—for the first time in over a hundred years. This was a shocking experience for the company and also for us, the members of the board. But it was necessary to do that. I had participated in that somehow and Charles Luce paid me a compliment but I’ve forgotten exactly what it was for.
PK: I don’t know whether it was when you were on the board, but there was an incident in Gramercy Park where a pipe blew up and it had asbestos in it and they had to empty the whole building out and there were lawsuits that came about because of that.
WILLIAM BEINECKE: I don’t think I was on the board at that time. I think that came after I got off the board. I think I read about that also in the paper. But I did want to mention that because I felt that Con Edison was one of the best-run companies that I ever came in contact with and had a sense of public service that many people who live in New York City don’t really understand. This company has got a big job supplying electricity to this vast metropolis that we live in and it has done really a superb job over the years and has had a very able management. I wanted to mention that.
I’ll tell you one incident This is amusing rather than earth-shattering or something like that. But I commuted to New York from my home in New Jersey and one day I was on the train coming in and I had a terrible stomach ache while I was on my way to a Con Edison directors meeting. Actually the Con Edison board were not called directors, they were called trustees, but the more common term is directors so I’m using it here. So I was in no shape to go to the meeting. We had a small apartment in New York down on 55th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue that was owned by the company but the officers could use it and I was chairman of the board so I used it.
So I felt lousy and went there to rest up for a while but as a result I got to the meeting late. Well, it so happened that that was the day that we passed the dividend. Subsequently the officers of Con Edison and the board were sued by a number of people for this action. The company had retained some lawyers to represent the members of the board in the lawsuit that was brought against us. I remember being interrogated by the lawyer who was representing me and he said, “Mr. Beinecke, I note that you came late to this meeting, which was such an important meeting. How was it that you came late?” I said well, that’s a very personal matter, I can’t tell you the answer to that. He said well, I’m your lawyer, you can tell your lawyer anything. I reflected on it and I said well, to myself, all right.
So I told him what I’ve just told you. Oh, he said, that’s very good news. He said, “You were so upset by what was going to happen in Con Edison that you had to lie down before the meeting.” So I laughed and said say what you want, but that wasn’t the reason. That’s one amusing experience that I had and it came, at a most opportune time. All I can say is that my experience of being on the board of Con Edison was a very good one and my association with Charles Luce, the then-chairman of Con Edison was very good.
Now, I’m going to move on from there to the two organizations, the Central Park Conservancy and Hudson River Foundation—which is called Hudson River Foundation for short, but its full name is the Hudson River Foundation for Science and Research—and I’ll talk about that one first because it has continuity with my association with Con Edison. This is my best recollection, Peter. Some years ago—now I don’t know just when the Hudson River Foundation came into existence, but I was the first chairman and so it wasn’t too long ago—Con Edison in collaboration with another public utility was contemplating building a reservoir on top of a mountain. I don’t know whether it was Storm King, but it was one up in that area up the Hudson. Then at peak hours they were going to have the water come down and power a power plant that would supplement the electric power during the peak hours.
So there were lots of people, especially environmentalists that thought that this would be improper for these utilities to have that power plant up there. So there was a lawsuit about it. If I have the right incident correctly, at the end of the lawsuit, the Consolidated Edison Company had to pay into some kind of a fund, several million dollars, which the state of New York had something to do with, and then as a result of that, this money was dedicated to a public use. The Hudson River Foundation for Science and Research was founded and funded with this money that was paid over. The board of the Hudson River Foundation, some people were nominated by, I think, the utilities and some were nominated by the environmentalists. They wanted a chairman that they felt was disinterested from both standpoints acceptable to both sides, you might say. So they invited me to be the initial chairman.
PK: What year do you think that was?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: I would say pretty close to 1980. The reason I say that is this. The Central Park Conservancy I know was established in 1980 and I think that the Hudson River Foundation was established at or about the same time. Anyway, the funds were used for just exactly that—for research in the river, studying the life cycles of the various fish that live in the river and the various things that cause contamination in the river, things of that sort. So the Foundation has really done very well. I asked Mr. Luce if he would join our board and he did and he was chairman of the finance committee of the Hudson River Foundation board for a number of years. That was done at that time. I don’t think I can be more specific. I will say this, that a man named Ross Sandler was the executive director, the first executive director of the Foundation. He was succeeded by a man whose name is Clay Hiles, who’s still the executive director of the Hudson River Foundation.
Ross Sandler was a lawyer by profession and he’s now a professor of law at New York Law School and has established there the Center for New York City Law, which is very interesting because New York being the vast city that it is, has all kinds of executives and administrative agencies and so on handing down decisions. A lawyer representing a client had nowhere to look for all of this vast quantity of administrative decisions, so it was difficult to say what to do about some particular thing. Mr. Ross Sandler and a colleague of his have organized this center where they have a couple of publications, periodicals that summarize the decisions that are made in the city of New York all the time. These are collected and he has, I think, served the legal profession in the city of New York very well by doing that. He was, as I said, the first executive director of the Hudson River Foundation and gave it good leadership during my role there. I would serve there I think about half a dozen years as the initial chairman.
Turning from that to the Central Park Conservancy, this too is an interesting story. At least I think so. Betty and I moved here in 1979, having lived in New Jersey and reared our family in New Jersey in the town of Summit, New Jersey. We lived in Summit, New Jersey from 1948 to 1979, 31 years, and reared our family there. Then when we came to New York, we got this apartment, not far, as you know from Central Park—21 East 79th Street is half a block from Central Park. So we would occasionally walk in the park and at that time, Central Park was a disgrace. It was covered with graffiti, the park benches were in a state of disrepair, the litter barrels such as they were also in a state of disrepair and litter was all over the place everywhere. The public restrooms were mostly inoperative and even if someone risked going into one, they were quite unsafe because there were marauders and people like that that would hide in there to jump on people.
Then also the grass, the green grass that you see when you look at Central Park now was pretty much brown because there had been so many large gatherings in Central Park, it stamped out the grass almost completely. So that it was really not what it had set out to be and for I don’t know how many years prior to the year I’m talking about, 1979, the park had been going downhill. But I imagine ever since the close of the war and of course during the war, there hadn’t been much maintenance either. So when I noticed that there was a couple of signs on the park about an organization—it wasn’t the Central Park Conservancy, it was something else, I’ve forgotten its name—of people that were trying to clean up the park and they were asking for other people to help with it. So I was curious about that and I contacted one of the people, or I guess the person who was pretty much the head of it. It was a woman named Betsy Barlow. Her name is now Betsy Barlow Rogers, she remarried.
I contacted her and asked about what was going on and so forth. I learned that they were contemplating an organization called the Central Park Conservancy, which actually had been incorporated and all the papers relating to it were in the drawer of someone’s desk, perhaps Betsy Barlow’s desk for all I know. But that’s all that existed, just the paper organization form and so on. This was now 1980. I had retired in the spring of 1980 from my role as chairman of the board of The Sperry and Hutchinson Company, so I had more time to wander around the park and so on. I was a lot younger than I am now, of course, almost 30 years later. So it wasn’t long after that that Betsy Barlow and Gordon Davis, who was then the parks commissioner, invited me to be chairman of this organization in being, or in contemplation of being, and asked me if I would take on this job and help get it organized. This was a thought that I hadn’t had any exposure to before that, so I said I’d have to think it over.
The thinking-over process took place really over the summer. Betty and I had gone on a trip that summer, the summer of 1980, up to Alaska on a little cruising boat—not just the two of us, but we were on a small vessel with a party of maybe a dozen or 15 people, something like that. So I had plenty of time while I was on my trip to Alaska and back to think about this offer that had been made and the contemplated appointment, which would be by the then-mayor, who was named Ed Koch. I wouldn’t be elected, I’d be appointed. So when I returned to New York, I decided I would take on this job. It turned out that it was a job that occupied a good deal of my time. But the first thing I had to do was to get a board of directors. Having been chairman of the board of an important company and just having retired from it, I was—what’s the expression where you contact people—
PK: You had a network—
WILLIAM BEINECKE: I was in a position to network with lots of other CEOs all over the city. So I did that and over the next several months we organized a board. I can remember one particular instance, I was recruiting a man named Howard Clark, who was then the chairman of American Express and was a good friend of mine. I don’t know when the last time before he was with me and Betsy Barlow. He’d been at Central Park, but it had been some long time ago and we said let’s walk across the Sheep Meadow, we’ll go over and have a cup of coffee at a—I’ve forgotten what the establishment. It was on the other side of the Sheep Meadow on the western edge of the park. As we were walking across the Sheep Meadow, Howard Clark—I could tell by his actions that he was somewhat apprehensive about being in the park—he turned to Betsy and said, “Have you got your gat?” I remember that very well. Well, he joined the board, among others, and we had a good board of important people in the city, business leaders and so on. This was in the early fall when I was doing this recruiting because I came back from Alaska in the summer.
I think we held our first board meeting in the fall of 1980 and I had to organize the board into its various committees to do various things—a finance committee, accounting committee, a committee to nominate new board members, things of that sort. I even called on one of the members of the Rockefeller family, Mr. David Rockefeller, and asked him if he would join us. He couldn’t, he said he was too busy, but he did suggest Tom LeBrecque who was then the man who was president of his bank, the Chase. And he of course became our chief financial officer on the board. He has died in the last few years and his wife has been very active in raising funds to fight the illness which took him away from us. So that was the origin of the Central Park Conservancy.
Then the Central Park Conservancy went to work and it did two or three things. One of the important things was its ability to raise money from the private citizens as well as companies in the city of New York that respected the park. Then with those funds, we were able to clean up the park, get rid of the graffiti, buy new benches, put the restrooms in a state of repair, get the irrigation systems working again and things of that sort. Today, if you walk in the park, it’s basically a gem. And Doug Blonsky is the present president of the Central Park Conservancy. The city has turned over to the Central Park Conservancy the whole responsibility for the maintenance of the park. At the time when I became chairman nearly 30 years ago, we were an adjunct to the service that was being provided by the Department of Parks, which service, as I have indicated, was at a minimum. Now of course, with the Central Park Conservancy in charge, not only has maintenance of the park been very well performed, but also all of the structures and so on that needed to be fixed, refurbished—that has been taken care of so that the park I can say now is not only a gem in itself, but it has served as an example to other parks. For example, over there in Brooklyn there’s a Prospect Park Alliance and the Prospect Park Alliance was formed after the Central Park Conservancy gave them an example of what a private organization could do. The person who organized the Prospect Park Alliance is Tupper Thomas.
One of the things I wanted to mention, which I haven’t, was how successful the women’s committee of the Central Park Conservancy has been. It was organized only a couple of years after I became the chairman and the organizing women—one was Jean Clark, she’s the widow of Howard Clark, Norma Dana was another, Mrs. Wagner, Phyllis Wagner was another and then there was a fourth one whose name—
PK: I think it was the woman whose husband was at Johnson & Higgins. Either Johnson & Higgins or Marsh & McLennan, I’m trying to remember her name.
WILLIAM BEINECKE: I think her name was Maggie something and she came from Pittsburgh.
PK: Is that the person you were thinking of?
WILLIAM BEINECKE: Yes, that’s right. I can’t think of her last name right now. But they organized this women’s committee and they began to have these luncheons the first week in May over there and they’d give an award called the Olmsted Award each year to somebody who has been very helpful and prominent in the care, maintenance, preservation and rejuvenation of Central Park. I don’t know how much they raised, a great deal of money, for—
PK: Maggie Purnell.
WILLIAM BEINECKE: Maggie Purnell, exactly right. Thank you. Those were the four ladies who got the Central Park Conservancy going—I mean, got the women’s committee of the Central Park Conservancy going. And it’s been a very successful spring luncheon and as I said, they raise a great deal of money each year at that. So my hat is really off to the women’s committee and I couldn’t talk about the Central Park Conservancy without giving them their due.
There was a park commissioner, one of my classmates was park commissioner, his name was August Heckscher and he was parks commissioner for a short time, one of my college classmates. We called him Augie Heckscher, he was kind of a slight man with a slight build and he was the most effective public speaker that I’d ever heard. His voice was just terrific and he had the ability to have it carry even in the absence of loudspeakers. But what I wanted to say in connection with that was—this happened before my time—but the Metropolitan Museum was established on its present site a long time ago. As it continued to grow, it continued to expand and took more and more land until whoever the powers that be or the powers that were in Central Park at the time this was happening or had been happening, those people reached the conclusion that despite the really excellent collections that the Metropolitan Museum had and the excellent quality as a museum that it had then and has now, it simply wasn’t proper to have it use more land for its purposes when the land for Central Park was really set aside for other purposes. So they managed to interpose a permanent restriction and the Metropolitan Museum of Art cannot any longer expand on the lands of Central Park. That is true.
PK: I think Tom Hoving was actually the head of the Metropolitan Museum when that happened. But previously I think he’d been the parks commissioner when Columbia tried to build a gym in Morningside Park. It was defeated and everybody said at that point, it doesn’t matter what the use is, you should never take parkland.
WILLIAM BEINECKE: I remember that incident also.
PK: The other thing I was going to ask you about is—and I don’t know whether this is in your memory—but Jimmy Walker was the mayor of New York and there was a casino in Central Park. I’m not sure where it was, but it’s not where Tavern on the Green is now.
WILLIAM BEINECKE: No, it is not. I don’t know. I heard about that and read about it.
I wanted also to mention some other things about Central Park When I was chairman of the Central Park Conservancy, originally the parks commissioner was Gordon Davis. But he was succeeded by Henry Stern, who was really a remarkable man, one of the brightest men I’ve ever had any contact with. He gave good leadership to the park and as an ex-officio member of the board of the Central Park Conservancy by virtue of his job as commissioner, he was always at all of our meetings and helped me very much with the agenda that we had and the problems that we were confronting with Central Park. Our association continued for a long time after I ceased being chairman. Henry continued in his job as parks commissioner. We’d have lunch every once in a while and he’d bring me up-to-date on the things that were happening.
But I have to tell you something else about Henry. Henry always wanted to have every one of us, people that had anything to do with the park, have a particular name—named after a flower or after a tree or something of that sort. He always was able to remember all of those names. I had a special name, which I now must confess that I don’t remember and Betty, I think she was called Daffodil, my wife, Betty. He had a secretary who was always with him with a list of all of the people and if he confronted someone who hadn’t been named by this special naming process, he would pick out a name that he hadn’t conferred on anyone yet and name this new person by this particular name. That was a peculiarity of Henry’s. But I think it was a nice peculiarity—it showed the kind of personal relationship that he would have with scores of people. He did a very good job and he continues today to write something for publication. He’s been a good citizen in the city of New York in my opinion.
I think my name may have been Longleaf.