Roger MacMillan, November 20, 2009

Title

Roger MacMillan, November 20, 2009

Subject

Cooperstown, NY
Schenectady, NY
Bassett Hospital
Medical School
Sandwich Glass candlesticks
Collecting
Family life

Description

Roger MacMillan is a longtime resident of Cooperstown, NY. Macmillan was born and raised Schenectady, NY in the years surrounding World War II, when the city enjoyed a national manufacturing reputation. As a young man, MacMillan left Schenectady to attend high school at a boarding school in Connecticut. Inspired by his father, who was a doctor, MacMillan perused medicine in college, and eventually received a medical degree from Columbia Medical School in 1965. MacMillan first moved to Cooperstown during his surgical residency at the Bassett Hospital.
Macmillan has spent nearly his entire adult life working and raising a family in Cooperstown, and his recollections touch on what life was like in the village. He recalls the congenial small town life as one of the most attractive qualities of living there. With his wife Carla, MacMillan raised two children, Kelsey and Will, in Cooperstown. He talks at length about their childhood and decisions to leave for high school and college.
MacMillan still lives in the home on Main Street that he bought nearly thirty years ago. A fine collection of Sandwich glass candlesticks dominates his living room. MacMillan, a lifelong collector, has amassed one of the finest collections of Sandwich glass candlesticks in the country. This collection is a source of great pride and interest for him, and constitutes a good portion of the interview

Identifier

10-089

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Research and Fieldwork Course (HMUS 520)
Oral History Project
Fall 2009

Interview with Roger MacMillan by Kelsey Mullen

Interviewer: Kelsey Mullen
Interviewee: Roger MacMillan
Date: November 20, 2009
Location of interview: Cooperstown, New York

Archive or Library Repository: New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Description:

Roger MacMillan is a longtime resident of Cooperstown, NY. Macmillan was born and raised Schenectady, NY in the years surrounding World War II, when the city enjoyed national manufacturing reputation. As a young man, MacMillan left Schenectady to attend high school at a boarding school in Connecticut. Inspired by his father, who was a doctor, MacMillan perused medicine in college, and eventually received a medical degree from Columbia Medical School in 1965. MacMillan first moved to Cooperstown during his surgical residency at the Bassett Hospital.
Macmillan has spent nearly his entire adult life working and raising a family in Cooperstown, and his recollections touch on what life was like in the village. He recalls the congenial small town life as one of the most attractive qualities of living there. With his wife Carla, MacMillan raised two children, Kelsey and Will, in Cooperstown. He talks at length about their childhood and decisions to leave for high school and college.
MacMillan still lives in the home on Main Street that he bought nearly thirty years ago. A fine collection of Sandwich glass candlesticks dominates his living room. MacMillan, a lifelong collector, has amassed one of the finest collections of Sandwich glass candlesticks in the country. This collection is a source of great pride and interest for him, and constitutes a good portion of the interview.
Key Terms

Cooperstown, NY
Schenectady, NY
Urban development
Boarding school
Childhood pranks
Trinity College
Hartford, CT
Medical school
Family life
College admissions
Cooperstown Graduate Program
Collecting
Sandwich glass candlesticks



KM = Kelsey Mullen
RM = Roger MacMillan

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

KM:

This is the November 20th interview by Kelsey Mullen of Roger MacMillan for the Cooperstown Graduate Community Stories Program conducted at his home at 12 Main Street Cooperstown. So, Roger, can you tell me when and where you were born?

RM:
Schenectady, NY November the 8th 1938.

KM:
Can you tell me a little bit about your childhood growing up in Schenectady?

RM:
Well, Schenectady was at that time prior to WWII a very vital city in the upstate NY. It was called the “City that lights and hauls the world” because that is indeed what it did. It was the home city for the General Electric Company. That was formed by Thomas Edison from an amalgamation of a number of little tiny electric companies and consolidated in Schenectady in the late 1890s. Thomas Edison and a couple of other people put them all together as the General Electric Company. I can just tell you, Kelsey, that there were probably 20 families in Schenectady who became extremely wealthy because they bought shares in this company for two or three cents a share. And then of course the General Electric Company flourished and needless to say they became very, very wealthy as the stock increased in value. As an example, there was a friend of my father’s who was president of the Mohawk National Bank in Schenectady. His father was a soda jerk at a pharmacy, but he bought shares in this new company called GE and became a very, very wealthy guy.

Hauls the world because Schenectady had the home factory complex of the America Locomotive Company. There was only two major manufacturers of steam engines in the world, and Schenectady had one of them. So it became was this the city that lights and hauls the world.

Anyway, I was born in the late ‘30s prior to WWII, and it was a wonderful city. It had 7 movie theaters, quite safe, a wonderful place to grow up. My father was a local boy. He was born and raised in Schenectady, went to the Schenectady high school, went to Union College in Schenectady and then went to Albany Medical School and took the trolley everyday from his home in Schenectady to the medical school. He became a surgeon and then practiced in Schenectady. So that he been born and raised and lived his whole life essentially in Schenectady except for when he went off to WWII. So I remember my childhood as very pleasant and in a wonderful place.

During WWII, it was an extremely vital manufacturing area for the war effort. As an example, the America Locomotive Company basically was focused on the manufacture of tanks and armored personnel carriers and things of that nature. And I can remember as a boy hearing the tanks go up to the proving grounds essentially two blocks away from our house and I would look up the street to the Rosa Road, to watch the newly minted tanks and then they would be placed on flat bed cars and take them away to the war effort. So likewise, with the GE they were making all kinds of electrical products—they were involved in bombsites and instruments for the bombers. So it was a huge concern. In fact, it was labeled at one point number 14 target as a priority for enemy bombers should the bombers ever come. Now, how they would ever get to Schenectady; it’s a long way from Germany, but anyway, it was a high priority item. I can remember air raids. Mr. Duncan, our neighbor was a warden. I remember all of that quite well. I was, you know, four years old.

So it was a great city, I loved it. Then after the war there was a huge strike at GE and GE settled the strike after 103 days. GE pulled out. They moved light bulbs to Massachusetts, and small motors went New Jersey, and a whole bunch of stuff went south to North Carolina to reduce the labor costs. Steam engines became passé, so the America Locomotive Company changed to diesels and they used to make the diesels for the Santa Fe super chief and things like that, but actually the whole railroad industry in the United States went belly up including America Locomotive Company so, basically by the late ’50s, early ‘60s GE was in a steep decline. The city really precipitously declined. About a 70,000 job loss occurred, out of a city of 100,000, that’s a lot. So the city contracted in terms of the population. It’s slowly coming back now, but it went into a huge decline. So when I was there essentially in the golden age of Schenectady.

KM:
So do you have any siblings?

RM:
I had a brother. He died precipitously of a heart attack in 1979. He was 51 years old. So I am the only survivor. And our family, Kelsey I don’t know how your family is, but our family is very small. I am a very amateur genealogist and certain families have a couple who gets married and has eight children and then each have six children each. Our family through the generations has been very, very small. So, in fact my father had a brother and he died of an infection in 1925 before they had antibiotics. He died of a facial infection, which today would be cured overnight. He died of that and was childless. And my mother was an only child, so basically I have one living relative who is a second cousin and she’s 91. And that’s it. In terms of bloodlines, very few.
KM:
I know you went away for high school…

RM:
Went away to school, yeah.

KM:
What prompted that move?

RM:
Well I think it was for a variety of reasons, but my mother and father were very much taken with Kent School, which is a school in CT. And they read articles about the founder Frederick Herbert Sill. It was based on the English preparatory concept. So it was quite strict and all of that. And my parents liked that idea and thought the education I would get there would be much, much better than what I would get at a local school. And I think they were quite right. The education I got there was wonderful. That’s why I went away to school.

KM:
How did you feel about leaving?

RM:
Schenectady? I think apprehensive at first, but I think that I came to really like the school and to be honest, I really flourished there.

KM:
In what ways?

RM:
In what ways, well it was based on the English system, so therefore the senior class ran the school and in terms of supervising all of the job efforts of the students they really ran the school. Today you would never do that. The system died out because you’d never be able to get away with it today. But in that system you had prefects. Now prefects were above the seniors. We had four dormitories and prefects ran each dorm. And your word was essentially God, I mean you really ran the show. And I was a prefect. I was tapped to be a prefect. For me, that was just a great thing. And I loved it. As an example, one day a teacher came on the floor, on e of my floors, and said he thought some problem was going on and I said, “Well I have a problem,” and he said “Oh really, what’s that?” and I said “You’re on the floor, you shouldn’t be here. If you have a problem, come see me and I’ll deal with it, but I don’t want you down here on this floor dealing with it.” Where upon he went to the headmaster and the headmaster said “Roger’s right.” That would never happen today. Things have totally changed. In those days it was totally different.

I really flourished at Kent. I did very well in the system and the system did very well for me. What’s interesting was that I must have been a very focused person because when the headmaster gave me my degree at my graduation, he didn’t call me Roger, he called me Doctor. I must have been very driven even in those days.

Graduated in the class of ’57, and ours was a very, very good class. One of the traditions was a rock in the quadrangle, and on it the class succeeding the graduating class, if they liked them, would paint your numerals on that rock. And our class was the first class in years that had their numerals painted on that rock. We were a good group. We had very good sports. I wasn’t an athlete, but we had an undefeated football team. We had an undefeated hockey team. We had some good teams. It was a very, very good time.

So then I went to Trinity College in Hartford, CT. I loved it there. It was a wonderful school and again, I did very well. Senior year I was in Honor Society and President of the Student Body. It was just a great, great four years. I just loved it. I’m very close to Trinity, much more so than Kent. The reason I don’t like Kent—well, I don’t dislike Kent—but the school I went to, Kelsey, is totally gone, totally gone. First of all, though they still have prefects, they are powerless and the seniors don’t really run the school at all. It’s coed, not that that makes any huge problem, but it certainly casts a different light on the whole deal. The school I went to in terms of its traditions and systems is all gone. Totally, totally gone. I went back to my 50th reunion and I might as well have gone to a reunion in Holyoke for that matter. I saw some of the guys, but the school’s totally gone. The school I went to and was so loyal to doesn’t exist anymore.

KM:
You mentioned that the headmaster called Doctor. Did you know from a very early age that you wanted to go into medicine?

RM:
I think so. I would say that’s true. My father was a doctor and a surgeon, and my mother was a lab technician. And for a summertime job I worked in the laboratory at the local hospital as a lab tech, a hematology technician. In those days, it was the only hospital in Schenectady. I would be on call, and go into work and do blood counts and all the other stuff. Mopped the floor and drew blood, and all that stuff. Chemistry and micro chem. I did it all. In those days it was two or three people and we covered the whole lab, on weekends and everything. I really liked it. It was fun and the pay scale was not great, but that was okay. I really enjoyed it and it was about two blocks from my house, so I could walk to work. It was good.

KM:
So you mentioned that your time at Trinity was really wonderful.

RM:
It was, it was very, very good. I majored in biology/premed, and in those days that’s what you had to if you wanted to go to medical school. Now if you did that you would guarantee yourself not to be admitted to medical school. Now you have to be a Greek major or something like that. The is the more diversified you are, the more rounded you’re going to be as a doctor. In my day, you went to college as premed or biology. You graduated, and if you were fortunate, you would go on to medical school that fall, which is what I did. It was different. But we started out our freshman year…

Trinity College had at that time a nationally known premed program. Why a college like that in Hartford, CT, I don’t know. But that’s what they had. We started out with 105 guys—it was all male at that time—who wanted to be premed. The next year we had 49. The following year we had 18, and we had 18 guys graduate their senior year with a premed/biology major and they all went to medical school. That was great. I ended up going to Columbia Medical School College of Physicians and Surgeons and that was a great time too. Very good experience.

But Trinity College, we had the fraternity system was very strong at that point. And sophomore year I joined a fraternity. I could have gone to about three or four other fraternities. You get these bids And you accept a bid and that means you’re going to go. The fraternity I joined, surprisingly enough, it was essentially the premed. All the guys were either going to medical school or dentistry or something. Law school. Another fraternity was a very socially prominent fraternity called Saint Anthony Hall, they hadn’t had a guy got to medical school in 14 years. And I said, I don’t want to go there. I ended up going to my fraternity at Trinity. A nice bunch of guys. We had four or five guys in my class who all went to medical school.

Life was manageable. Life, compared to what it is today, was really quite simple. The things we used to do, memorable things, you’d think they’re sort of childish today, but they were a lot of fun at the time. You know?

KM:
What kinds of things?

RM:
Well, as an example, see it’s in Hartford, CT. One day, one afternoon. So the story went, we didn’t know for sure but so the story went, there was a disc jockey on a local radio station who was going to be fired by the radio station. So what he did was he locked himself in the studio and broadcast. And he broadcast “This Old Man.”

[sings the tune of “This Old Man”]

He kept playing this song over and over, and then he’d stop and explain why he was playing this song because he couldn’t get to the record supply because the door was locked. And there were people outside and he didn’t want to open the door because he’d be escorted out of the building, so he kept playing and playing and playing the same song. About 5:00 in the afternoon some student in the quadrangle at Trinity put his radio outside his window and started playing “This Old Man” and pretty soon the whole quad was playing this broadcast. The song was blaring everywhere. So about 8:00, the guy who rang the bells at Trinity—everybody stopped their radios—and the guy in the bell tower started playing.

[bongs the tune of “This Old Man”]

And they recorded it. So then we all took the recording of the bell tower down to the radio station in downtown Hartford. Someone called the police, and soon we had a police escort down Broad Street, past the governor’s place, and we delivered the tape to the disc jockey. Where upon the disc jockey played it on the radio. We just thought that was the greatest thing that ever happened. And the next morning one of the trustees of the college was shaving listening to the news and “You won’t believe this,” says the newscaster, and he played the whole thing. “And those are the memorial bells at Trinity College playing “This Old Man.” And [the trustee] went wild. He called up the president and oh God; it was all kinds of trouble. The guy who played the bells almost got dismissed from the college. That was the sort of fun stuff we used to do.

After I left, about three years after, they had sit-ins and all that other stuff. Life got a lot more serious after we left. When I was there, there was lots of little pranky things like that. It was much more manageable. Then, as I say, they had sit-ins and protest, and they locked the president and all these faculty members in this room, the students did, as an anti war protest. Things got a lot more serious. When I was there, I was the class of ’61, and it was pretty light.

KM:
Did that political environment affect your time at Columbia at all?

RM:
Not really, no. Because again, I graduated in the class of ’65, so really not much was going on. We didn’t get involved in that stuff. We were trying to learn to become doctors. It was the Kennedy era and all of that, so we didn’t have too much political stuff going on. I remember Kennedy was assassinated, that was a day I’ll never forget, like everyone else. And that was the day that I learned a lesson as a doctor that every doctor should learn. Will learn. I had a clinic called Well Baby Clinic, this was when I was in pediatrics, and the mothers would bring in their 4-6 week old infants who were well babies. And you would ask, “How are things going” and listen and check them all over, and the baby was in fact a well baby. I came back that afternoon and I think the clinic started at 1:00, I can’t remember.

Anyway, I had a mother with a baby in the room already waiting for me. And I suddenly heard an urgent page, a voice page because we didn’t have phone pagers, so I heard all these urgent pages for H. Huston Barrett, a professor of neurology, and J. Lawrence Poole the professor of neurosurgery. And I’m thinking, what the hell is happening with these urgent pages? Well, basically Kennedy had been shot in the head and they were calling for the neurologist and surgeon, and the idea had been that a plane was being readied. Incredibly quickly. The plane was being readied at LaGuardia and they were going to fly these guys to Dallas. Well of course, then he died, so they stopped that whole deal. So I walk into this mother, Kelsey, and I say, “Mrs. So-and-so, you’ll never believe this news, President Kennedy has just been assassinated in Dallas and he’s dead!” And she said, “Oh isn’t that something. Now, Doctor, about my baby…”

You see? You learn the priorities really quickly. Even though the President had just been assassinated and was now dead, she wanted to focus on her baby, forget about the President. You learn right away what people priorities are in life. It was a very, very good lesson that I learned that day in about two milliseconds.

Those were interesting days. Life was not as complicated—medicine was not at complicated, not like it is today. We didn’t know as much. They were good years.

KM:
Can you talk a little bit about what medical school was like for you?

RM:
Well first of all, the first two years were just brute memory. And so, I think it was a problem having a doctor as a father because I knew that 75% of the stuff I was memorizing and spewing back I would never need to know. SO most of the information was really minutiae. It was totally unnecessary because if you needed to know it, you knew where you could go look it up.

It was old fashioned. Whereas today, it’s much more user friendly. And then the last two years in medical school we didn’t have any electives. Our third year and fourth year was totally decided for you. You know, as an example, your fourth year you did two months in OB-GYN. I delivered 25 babies, but I knew damn well I wasn’t going to deliver a baby in my career unless it was some kind of critically unusual circumstance. But you had to do OB-GYN, you had to do fourth year pediatrics, you had to do all these other specialties. Even though you knew you were never going to need, or even do, because you had already decided you were going to go into surgery or medicine, or whatever. Today, it’s all kinds of electives. In the fourth year you can go do tropical medicine in the Tropics if you wanted, whereas you could never do that in my era.

[START OF TRACK 2, 30:00]

The fourth year was totally occupied with again clinical rotations and at Columbia we were still in the era of Robert Loeb who was a professor of medicine. He wrote a textbook Cecil and Loeb and he cast a long shadow. But he thought anyone going into surgery was an idiot and the only field of medicine was in fact internal medicine. So if you weren’t going into internal medicine you were not even worth, you know, talking about. I’ll give you an example of Loeb. The amphitheaters in those days, which were like those old fashioned amphitheaters you see in the pictures, so all the students seated in rows and he was down there in the pit. So, he brings in this patient, a young man probably in his mid to late 30s, who was obviously dying. And he was dying of an inoperable cancer of his liver. Looking at him he was sort of on his last legs. So, Loeb asked the patient some questions—he felt terrible, he felt lousy, the patient that is…

So anyway, Loeb said, “Well thank you very much” and sent the patient back out. So he turned to the students, the professors, and the whole place was packed with people, I’m talking about conservatively 250 people. He pointed to a medical student, picked him out I guess at random, and he said, “Would you stand up? And what’s your name, and…”

He said, “I just want to ask one question. This patient as you can see here has an inoperable cancer of the liver, you can see he’s on his last legs. He’s probably going to be dead in two weeks, three weeks maybe at the most. Would you tell him that in all likelihood he’s going to be dead within a month? And that he should in fact get his affairs in order? “ To the student, “Consider the fact that he’s got two children, and his wife.” To make a very long story, I’m cutting some dialogue down, but basically the student said, “Yes, I think I would tell him that.” And Loeb said, “You would tell him that?” After all we’ve taught you these three years at this medical school, you would tell him he’s likely to be dead in four weeks?” Loeb said, “I can’t believe you would even think of saying that. Son, there’s no way that you should graduate from this medical school. You are dismissed I want you to pick up your books right now,” which he had at his side, “and get out of here. Go to the elevator, get out at the first floor, walk out of that door. And I can guarantee you your days in this medical school are done. You’re never going to come back.”

You could have heard a pin drop. The student started to get a little teary and Loeb shouted at him, “I’m not kidding you. Get out of here, you don’t deserve a degree from this medical school. Get out!” You could have heard a pin drop. All 300 people. So he gets his books, and he starts to walk out ,and he gets to the door and Loeb says, “Stop. Now one more thing, you can come back and sit down now. You’ve just felt 1/10,000 of what that man’s going to feel when you tell him he’s going to die in four weeks.”

Oh, it was just a lesson. I mean, you’d be probably sued for harassment if you did that to a student today. That’s how I came back up here to Cooperstown because my fourth year electives were up here. And I did a sub-internship in surgery and sub-internship here in medicine. So I got to know your [Cooperstown] graduate program when it was, I wouldn’t say in its infancy, but it wasn’t very old.

KM:
What attracted you to surgery out of all of the other specialties?

RM:
The thing with internal medicine in those days, was basically pushing a lot of pills. Surgery could actually take care of the patient, do something and actually get them better. Whereas with medicine, it was not that effective. Remember, Kelsey, it was a different era For instance, I remember a little old lady who was admitted to the medical ward there at the Columbia University Medical Center one night and she had had a heart attack. She was admitted to the ward, an IV was started, and she was comfortable. And the next morning I came back in and she wasn’t there anymore. And I said, “What happened? Where is Mrs. So-and-so?” “Well she died.” Really?

And basically she had had a heart attack, was admitted, started intravenous, and then she had another heart attack, or arrhythmia, or whatever, but there were no monitors on the patient so you didn’t know exactly what happened. She just clutched her chest and that was the end of her. Whereas today, you’re admitted to an ICU, you know, they do cardiac catheterization, they define what the problem is. And you go from there. And you correct it with a stint or a bypass or whatever. People just don’t get admitted to wards and die, you know? Heart block—we had a little old man come in and his heart was beating 40 times a minute. Idiopathic ventricular rhythm, I mean, and they gave him some more medicine, and more medicine, and the heart rate never went more faster 40. So they sent him home because there was nothing more they could do. Today you would put a pacemaker in, pace him, and he would be fine.

So, with surgery you could do things. My father was a surgeon and I think that influenced me clearly. Today you can do so, so much compared with then. Now, general surgery, which I was, is going into twilight because a lot of things now are curable with medicine, alone, whereas you used to have to operate on people for cure.

KM:
What were your first impressions of Cooperstown coming up here as a medical student?

RM:
Idyllic, idyllic. I first came down here during WWII for a visit. The guy who lived in this house was a surgeon— Chief of Surgery at the Bassett. I came to this house in ’43 to visit Mrs. McKeever, his wife. My father and this man Monroe were bunkmates for three years in WWII. But anyway, coming down from Schenectady to Cooperstown over Route 20, you’ve driven that road, right Kelsey, all along there was one farm after another. All working farms. Now there are maybe two working farms there the whole trip. It was all one continuous farm the whole way. Barns were filled with cows and hay, and it was just a totally different situation. Totally, totally different.

Cooperstown actually had a movie theater, you know? We had three maybe even four food stores on Main Street. On Main Street. We had one supermarket, but the supermarket concept was in its infancy because you had basically Michael’s Meat Market and the A&P was here, but you also had Danny’s. Life was a lot simpler. It was much more quaint. You knew everyone. You still know everyone now, everything was a lot tighter. You knew people a lot better than you do know. It was a very nice village. Compared with Schenectady it was like the backwater. Schenectady had a lot more to offer. It was a nice place to come and visit, but you wouldn’t think of living here.

[laughs]

KM:
What made you think of living here?

RM:
Eventually? Well, it’s a long story, but I was in general surgery and then I went into the navy for a couple years, I had to go into the navy. And then I went into pediatric surgery. I went back to Babies Hospital and did my residency for two years there. Upon completion of my residency, I was asked to stay on staff as an attending, and I was there for three years. One day my wife and I were visiting Saratoga and I said, “Let’s drive down to Cooperstown just to show you where I was trained.” So, I brought her down here and she loved it. She said to me, “If they have a job here in surgery, I’m going to stay here and you can go back to New York and move us up.” Well it turns out they did have a job in surgery, but it took me all summer to decide whether or not I wanted to come back. Because if I came back here I knew very well I would have to kiss the field of pediatric surgery goodbye. Because of newborn work it is very laborious answer, but it would be impossible for me to do newborn work here. I could do some operations but not very many. So I wrestled with it all summer because I had spent years of fellowship to be training. I was an attending and all the other stuff. But we finally decided. She said she didn’t really like New York City and pediatric surgeons as a field you have to practice with a population of 200,000 people, so you have to practice in a big city. And I said, Cooperstown really is nice, and life is simpler up there, so we just came back. Then we started having a family, and one thing led to another and we never thought about leaving. If I had to do it over again, I would do it again.

KM:
How did you meet your wife?

RM:
Over a dead car in Boston. She lived in a place called Charles River Park, which is right in downtown Boston at the base of the Storrow Bridge. And when I came back from Vietnam that’s where I also had an apartment in this complex Charles River Park. I had a brand new Carmen Ghia which I had bought with my money from Vietnam. My new car wouldn’t start so I called a tow truck and the tow truck came into the garage and towed my car. And she was standing there with her Carmen Ghia which also wouldn’t work. And that’s how I met her. On only the second day I was in Boston. Two and a half years later we got married.

KM:
You mentioned starting you family in Cooperstown. Can you talk a little about those early years living here, working here?

RM:
Well, we lived over on Susquehanna Avenue. When I first came back here I had the idea that we would live outside the village out in the woodsy area of fields or all that other stuff. Once I got married, Roger’s options weren’t quite as important as her options, and she wanted to live in the village, so we lived in the village. Eventually I came across to her way of thinking and I was glad we didn’t live outside. If we have to move again. I would still stay in the village. I’m not at all interested in dealing with deer and coy dogs and coyotes and all that. Forget it. I like staying in the village. It was very nice for the children who loved it here. Although both of them went away to school eventually for high school. They formed very close friends here. What’s interesting is that they still, for good reasons, really consider Cooperstown their home, which in fact it is. But they always want to return here. Most of their friends feel the same way. As an example, I know a girl, a good friend of Kelsey’s, who wasn’t born here, but came here as a 4th or 5th grader and left here as a high school student. When she gets married she wants to get married in Cooperstown. The people tend to develop very strong attachments to this village. And my kids are no exception.

KM:
Why do you think that is, people forming this connection?

RM:
I think it’s because there are not a lot of distractions, this is just my belief. For instance, there are not a lot of movie theaters and discos and all this other stuff. So you tend to gravitate to each other and do things with other individuals that are quite meaningful as opposed to being filled with distractions.

KM:
Just for clarification, what are the names and ages of your children?

RM:
Kelsey was born in 1977, Kelsey Anne. She’s named for my maternal grandmother Francis Jeaneatte Kelsey. And then Will was born in 1982 and his name is William Forbes MacMillan and he is the third. William Forbes MacMillan I was the first MacMillan who came here from Scotland in our family in 1832. And he had a son named William Forbes MacMillan who was my grandfather. And Will was named after him, so he’s the third. And Kelsey lives in New York City with her daughter and husband. And Will went to Union College like my father and his brother. In fact, of our small family and all our branches who have essentially died off … But anyway, of all of the MacMillans who ever got their college degree in the United States, all of them, all of them, have gotten them from Union College. Except one, me! I’m the only one.

The reason I didn’t go to Union was because it was about two and a half blocks from where I was born and raised. For me, going to Union College would have been about as exciting as going to the YMCA. Will went with his mother to look at the school, and I hadn’t been there in years, but my memory of Union College was Washburn Hall and all that. It turns down that Washburn Hall was torn down years ago. Will went there to Schenectady with his mother one day in March in the pre college application tours. It was a typical upstate New York March day, you know, the temperature was about -40 degrees and the sleet parallel to the ground because of the wind chill factor. An abominable day. So I came back from the hospital and they were back and I said smugly, “Well how was your visit?” And Will said, “Wonderful. I’m applying early decision.” I said, “What?” And he did just that and was accepted.

Just like Kelsey, who was accepted early decision to Bates. I learned a lesson with Kelsey, because of all of the schools that she went to and I went with her to interviews— there were five total—if I put my preference in 1-5 it was exactly the opposite of what she put down. She loved Bates. Early decision, got in. Have you ever gone to Bates?

KM:
I’ve only heard stories.

RM:
It’s the most unattractive campus in the world. It’s all a lot of square brick buildings. Whereas the Bates spirit and unity of the student body is awesome. The interview she had there was great, but it’s not a pretty campus at all. She would still kill for Bates at this point. She just loves it. Just because it’s a pretty campus doesn’t mean you’re going to have a great school time. The one that stands out in my mind is Bowdoin. Did you ever apply to Bowdoin?

KM:
I just visited, yes.

RM:
Well I visited Bowdoin. Kelsey actually interviewed at Bowdoin. Well Bowdoin’s got a pretty nice campus to look at. During the course of this interview … Of the four or five colleges we interviewed, one of which was Middlebury—nice school. And there was a guy at Middlebury, I’ll tell you the Bowdoin story in a minute. But there was this guy at Middlebury by the name of Bertram Finney. And Bertram Finney was in the department of Admissions and I think it’s a great name for Admissions in a New England School. Anyway, he came out to me after the interview. He said that they’d had a very nice interview and did I have any questions or concerns, Doctor, about Middlebury or Kelsey or whatever, And I said, “Well yeah, I’m looking here at this college.” And he said, “How are you doing?” And I said, “I’m a little nervous.” I didn’t know what I should be doing or what questions I should be asking. And he said, “Here’s what you should do. You should do nothing.” I said, “Really?” He said, “Doctor, a child is going to go on a campus, and you don’t know what happens, but all of the sudden they look around and within five minutes can say ‘I love this place and I can make things happen here.’” And he said, “It’s a magic and no one knows why it happens, but it happens. Therefore, you just have to keep you mouth shut and stay out of the way.” And that’s exactly what happened with both of our [children]. Kelsey went to Bates looked around, and said she loved it there, she was done.

So anyway, we went to Bowdoin, and while everyone was very polite at Bates and nice at Middlebury, at Bowdoin it was a frosty reception. I walked in and this student walks in, I don’t know who she was, but she walks up and calls “Kelsey Macmillan? Okay, come with me please.” Didn’t shake my hand, didn’t write anything, just frosty as hell. So I’m standing there like a vagabond I guess, and this secretary I could see I was somewhat distressed, so she said, “If you’d like you can sit down and have a cup of coffee. Down the hall there’s an orientation session for relatives of candidates and maybe that would be of interest to you.”

So I walk into this room and there were about 40 parents and probably the brothers and sisters or candidates sitting there. 30 or 40 people. And on this stage were two seniors from Bowdoin, and they were talking about the attributes of the Bowdoin education, their junior year abroad, and all this other stuff. And finally one of them leans forward and says, “Now before we conclude and answer questions, let me just give you a few facts. First of all…” I’m quoting this verbatim, I remember it as if it was yesterday, “you better remember, people, that Bowdoin is the most elite liberal arts college in the Northeast.” I’m sitting there as a Trinity College graduate thinking, that’s a hell of a statement to make, young lady. I just smiled at her. The other student says, “And the other thing is that, not only are we elite, but you have to remember that if your relative is not in the upper 5%, better than 5%, of their senior class, they really have no business applying to Bowdoin because we’re not interested people who are not really good students.” And I’m saying to myself, “Oh my God. We have no problem with egos here do we?” So, any questions, and I was seething at this point. Because Kelsey had gone to Emma Willard, and she was not in the top five in her class, but she was alright. And I raise my hand, see this is where I’m a Scorpio, and I said, “Yeah, you talked about how Bowdoin is such an elite college and how you have to be in the top 5% of your class, I just have one question. Is it fun going to this school?” The student leaned forward and said, “Sir, life is not fun. Life is a series of ups and downs, challenges to be met. And this is the advantage of Bowdoin education, because it will enable you to overcome obstacles that are thrown in your path.” And I thought to myself, “Honey, I have seen more challenges to be met as a surgeon than you will probably ever see. And I didn’t go here.” And I spent a year in Vietnam, I mean, this person, this student in college is telling me, not that I’m any great cahuna, but… I was really mad. So I walked out, and I came to the person who was questioning Kelsey. And she had nothing to say to me, again. Kelsey thanked her. We turned around and left. Kelsey said to me, “Well, how are things going, Dad?” And I said, “Well, I’ll tell you one thing, Kel, if you decide to go here I’m not going to pay for it.” She said, “Good, we’re out of here.” I think she withdrew her application.

[START OF TRACK 3, 60:00]

She had gone to Emma Willard, which an all girls school, and loved it. She wanted to go to a coed college. So that was the main reason she was applying to coed schools. I thought Hobart-William-Smith was wonderful, Kelsey though it was dreadful.

KM:
Did your children grow up in this house primarily?

RM:
Yeah, Kelsey did. Well Kelsey was about ten when we moved here. Will was three, maybe. Anyway, Kelsey loved Susquehanna Avenue because all her best friends, two of her very, very best friends lived on the same street. So she “never forgave me for moving here.” Will was three when we moved here, he didn’t care. Kelsey is still upset. Now she’s 31, so she’s not worrying about it every nigh, but that was a great blow to her when we left that street. She loved it.

KM:
You mentioned early on having made a visit to this house [12 Main Street] in your childhood. How did you come back to this house?

RM:
Well, because the old house on Susquehanna had grown too small. Will’s room was upstairs; Kelsey’s room was upstairs. The room Will was in was too small. And the upstairs was tiny. There was just no space to conveniently enlarge it. And this house came on the market. I had thought it was a nice house. It was going to be shown on a Thursday morning at 10:00. Margaret, the realtor called and said the McKeever house is going to come on the market on Thursday morning at 10:00. She said, “I think that is the house for you. Roger, clear your slate that morning because we’re going to go there at 10:00 and look at the house. That house will be on the market for one hour.” So, okay. I cleared the operations that morning, 10:00 came, and we were here like at two minutes after 10. There was already a couple in the house looking at it. So, we went through the house and we looked at it. We came out into the driveway, and asked Margaret what the asking price was, and she told us. And we said, “Sold! We’ll buy it.” Whereupon, Mrs. Lib Flavin, who was the executer of the estate and Rose, the McKeever’s daughter said, “Oh my God, Roger and Carla want to buy this house. Tell them they’ve got it. In fact, I’ll reduce the price because they’re buying it.” So Margaret always said for this house there were two firsts: never has anyone met the asking price right off the bat, and secondly, never has the asking price right off the bat been reduced. So that’s how we got it.

We’ve been very happy. Little by little we have redone this house. And this house has really been very happy with us. I mean, since we moved in, Kelsey, has I kid you not, has been re-plumbed, re-wired, all new roof, every room has been refinished, totally new heating system, heating in zones. The porch has been built twice. To maintain a house like this in the condition it’s in now, 1790, it’s about $8-10,000 a year to keep this place perfect. That’s what we do. That’s why when you get to be 71 like I am and Carla is in her late 60s, and both kids are gone now, it’s senseless for us to keep it. But there’s nothing attractive in the village so far that we really like.

KM:
We talked about during our pre-interview, the early years of CGP, your involvement with some of the characters. Would you mind revisiting that?

RM:
Sure, one I really liked, the fellow I knew the best was Minorwine Thomas and he was a really wonderful man. I knew his wife Annabelle too, and she was a character as well. She worked in the Laboratory here at the Bassett. Minorwine and I became very, very, very close friends. He was a wonderful man from Virginia, a nice soft Virginian accent. Well trained guy. He was a major domo at Williamsburg Virginia and was in charge of lots of restorations down there. A curator extraordinaire. He was just a wonderful guy. He and I would have many activities—shooting, hunting together, and all that stuff. He was just a wonderful, wonderful guy.

Louis Jones was sort of austere. I didn’t know him that well. He had these bushy eyebrows, kind of an esoteric kind of guy. A little eclectic to say the least. Anyway, Louis and his wife they were, I don’t want to say unusual, but they were sort of, bizarre. Minorwine was much more down to earth, we’ll put it that way. I’m trying to remember now, the fellow, his wife was a big rose fancier. What was his name? They had a tremendous group of people here. The guy whose name I’m blocking right now, he was intimately involved in the restoration and development of Hyde Park. He was here as one of the major factors, the photographer, whose son now does all that photography work at the Hall [of Fame]. Everyone here was just incredible. I told you the story about the Bump Tavern, I don’t know whether you want me to repeat that or not.

KM:
Sure.

RM:
The house staff party weekend, the end of the year staff party that was catered at the Bump Tavern. So here were all these drunken, and I use that word quite divisively, intoxicated house officers and their wives reeling around the Bump Tavern. Drinking and eating and everything else. In the bar portion were all these historic flasks. One of which was a Tippe Canoe and Tyler Too bottle. And I grabbed it, knowing what I know about flasks, and put it aside so it wouldn’t be knocked over. The next day I ran into Minorwhine, and I said, “Minorwine, that bottle is very valuable. It might cost, if you can find one, it might cost $500.” And he said, “Really?” You better not have that our where people can knock it over, and that would be it. Well he told me he bought it for $300 from Jack Whistance, who’s a dealer over in Kingston, I knew Jack. Many years later, Kelsey, first of all, if you had now a million dollars to spent on a Tippe Canoe and Tyler Too bottle, there are just none available. They’re not for sale. The last one I heard at auction about four years ago in Massachusetts sold for $47,500. Probably, conservatively, it is the most valuable flask known to man. And the Historical Association [NYSHA] has one. I haven’t seen it in years.

In those days, Minorwine used to take me down and I could look at all of your collections and your storage areas and take a look at all of what you had. And I had all of these Sandwich glass candlesticks, and I said to Minorwine one day, “When I’m done collecting, I’ll give them to your museum.” And he said, “The only way we would take them is if we could sell them if we didn’t want them.” And I thought I’m not sure if I want that, and of course now I would say by all means do that. In those days, I thought ‘I can’t do this.’ He was just a very, very nice guy. A wonderful, wonderful friend. And I can really use those words. Minorwine was the kind of fellow that if I called him up to say “I need this, or I need that…” he would have done everything possible to help me. He was just a wonderful man. The Graduate Program was going strong, it still its, but… Fred Wrath, that was the guy who was a Hyde Park fellow. He was also a teacher here. The initial faculty were, well the field was pretty small on those days, but they were nationally known figures. They were nice, nice people.

Fred and Anne Wrath. Anne Wrath forgot more about roses than most people ever knew. She could raise them. One of the few people in Cooperstown who could raise them. Consistently. Floribundas, tea roses. Hard to raise in this climate, virtually impossible, but she could. She would always lose about 10 or 15% of her stock every year, but boy, that was awfully good.

KM:
It seems as though you have a deep interest in antiques and collecting.

RM:
Collecting. Yeah, Kelsey, people say about Roger that if you give him two of anything he will start collecting it. You’re absolutely right. I have collected … In the attic upstairs we’ve got beer trays, I collected beer trays as a child. My grandfather collected stamps and my father never collected anything. I took up my grandfather’s collection of stamps and got rid of a lot of stuff. I carried on that collection until not too long ago. Now collecting U.S. stamps is a joke in terms of value, it’s like forget it. But I collected a lot of stuff. That’s my problem to the extent that I collect everything. If I had my way, I’d have warehouses full of stuff.

KM:
And you’ve been a collector all of your life?

RM:
Oh yeah, my whole life. Absolutely. I collect arrowheads. That’s an interesting thing, the Graduate Program, I don’t know if you’d be interested in that. But around here you’d think, the Leatherstocking Tales, there would be arrowheads all over this county. There are not. They’re very, very few. I’ve interviewed hundreds of people in this county and I know there are only about three places where there is a chance you may find an arrowhead. If you read the books, no one really knows why, but the upper Susquehanna Valley, this region was just not populated with Indians. There are a few spots, but there are very, very few. Whereas Schoharie Valley, there are a lot of places over there that are still quite, quite productive.

Even Ritchie, who is an authoritative archaeologist for New York state, his book doesn’t really know the answer why that’s the case. But again, give Roger a mission, and it starts out with three arrowheads and pretty soon I have 30, and then 60, and then 90, and I have over 100 arrowheads right now. Driven.

KM:
Of all of you collections, which do you think you’ve invested most in personally?

RM:
In terms of money? Probably the stamps. But emotionally the candlesticks. There’s the big authoritative text, a five-volume set about Sandwich glass, and hundreds of glass houses made glass houses. Early 1800s and mid 1800s. But Sandwich glass, the Boston Sandwich Company, I’ve just stayed focused on that. And the authoritative text Borrow and Keiser they discuss the candlesticks in a chapter, and they make this statement, “It is virtually impossible to collect all of the forms or patterns of Sandwich glass candlesticks.” That, Kelsey, is like a waving in front of Roger a red flag. Roger will do that. Well it turns out, I’m pretty certain, I’d almost be willing to bet my life on it, that there are eight patterns of which I know of that I don’t have a pair of. I am really, I am so close. We’re talking about 33 other patterns that I’ve got here on those shelves. I’ve got rare, rare, really unusual candlesticks. Whatever turns you on, frankly these candlesticks don’t do zero for anyone else in my family. So when I croak, they’ll all go to auction.

There are some rare babies there. The Wakefield auction catalogue of ’74, I have a copy of it over there, and they have a candlestick that says ‘extremely rare.’ A more recent auction says, ‘possibly unique.’ Never described before. The possibly rare pair are sitting right over there. You just keep looking. I surf the internet every week. I have a couple of sites I hit. Here is a retired surgeon in Cooperstown who has done something which basically, J.P. Morgan did for the Museum of Art too. If you go down to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the American wing today and look up there you will see on one of the shelves on exhibit a label, “Donated by Dr. Roger MacMillan of Cooperstown, NY.”

KM:
That’s exciting.

RM:
That’s exciting. I just gave them to them. I went down there and Mrs. Nonnie Frelinghuysen, one of the curators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She’s a graduate of the Winterthur program. The Winterthur program deals more with decorative arts as opposed to your program which deals more with administrative… She’s a wonderful woman. It turns out, her boys went to Kent School. It’s just a small world. She’s a great lady.

KM:
Do you have a favorite pair of candlesticks?

RM:
I do, I have one pair over there of dolphins that if I had to give them all away tomorrow, I would like to keep those. They’re small little dolphin candlesticks. I got them about four or five years ago. Or there’s a nightlight candlestick that’s really pretty. I’ve only seen one other ever, and that’s at the Peabody Museum in Massachusetts. But those are the two pair that I would keep. Otherwise, the rest of them, I think that when I die, realistically the best thing to do would be to auction them off. I’d hate to see it. It would break my heart to do it now. I don’t think anyone is going to be so driven as I am to try and get every single one, all the patterns. If you auction them off some other joker can have the same obsession to collect these oddballs as I have. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed that. I’ve really, really enjoyed that. I get a great sense of satisfaction. Like Midas, I like to sit in this room in the evenings sometimes, just turn on the lights and look at them. When all’s said and done, that’s a lot of work. There’s a pair right there on the mantle piece, very common type: petal top and hexagonal bottom. Very ordinary candlesticks. My mother and I bought those just south of Albany for $25 for the pair. That was years ago. My mother said, “We already have a pair like that.” And I said, “Ma, we drove all the way here from Schenectady, almost to Coxsackie, NY, and for twenty-five bucks we’re going to buy these babies and take them home.” So that’s what we did. It’s been a great thing. And that would be the thing, I go to an antique show or shop and take a quick look around. No candlesticks? Out of there.

KM:
Are there any new collections on the horizon, or are you…?

RM:
No. I am done. Done, done, done. It would be nice, the ideal thing would be to figure out something that is relatively easy to come by, inexpensive, and someday it would be worthwhile. But if you asked what that might be I would have no idea. People collect everything, wooden yardsticks, I mean, everything. To start out all over again, no. I’m done. I’m really done. Historical flasks? Kelsey, I used to buy these things for 10-12 dollars a piece. I guess I was a little crazy, but I knew George McKearin very well. And I knew Helen Green his daughter. Anyway, I knew Mr. McKearin in Hoosic Falls and I’ve seen him many times. Then he had a stroke and couldn’t talk, but he’d always invite me to his house and we’d go upstairs to see his flasks and all this other stuff. And then he died. And I went over there after he died and I saw all of the bottles that were going to out to the Corning Glass Museum. So I knew all of that collection was going to go out there before it went there. I have a few bottles here that I got from George.

But that was a great thing to talk about with Nonnie Frelinghuysen because we have a lot of mutual acquaintances. George Abraham and Gilbert May, and Jack Whistance, they were great dealers. There’s a picture of Jack in Keiser and Barlow. I knew all of those guys. So, Kelsey, if you could call them up I could say to them, “Jack I’m looking for a pair of petal loop, amethyst candlesticks.” And he would say, “Geeze Roger, I don’t have them, but let me make a few phone calls.” They could call you back in a few minutes and tell you where there was a pair. But now, you go to most dealers and they don’t know who Abraham and May were. And half of them haven’t heard the name McKearin.

The lady at Corning, a graduate of the Program, now the curator of glass at the Corning, she’s forgotten more about early American glass than anyone else has ever known.

KM:
Well, we’re coming up on an hour an a half, is there anything I forgot to ask that you would like to talk about?

RM:
I don’t think so, I probably bored you to tears. I don’t think so. Glass is relatively straightforward, furniture is very difficult, textiles, very tough. It’s been a good ride for me. It’s been interesting, and we’ll see what happens. When all is said and done, they’ll probably say, “Thank God that guy is gone.” I can’t think of anything else, I think we have covered the front pretty well. Is this the kind of material you needed for your class?

KM:
This is exactly the kind of thing that we are looking for.

RM:
Really?

KM:
Yes, you’ve been wonderful. Really anything Cooperstown folks in Cooperstown have to say.

RM:
Well, I’d be happy to continue or if you’re class would ever want to come here. Some of them did that, I can be happy to talk about the Sandwich glass candlesticks, or historic flasks. It’s a very, very narrow field. Candlesticks, pressed glass came into being about 1820, 1825, 1830…

[START OF TRACK 4, 1:30:00]

By 1830 the techniques were pretty much standardized in terms of pressing. And I’ve got some candlesticks over there from 1830-1835. Then they got more involved in design. The source of heat for making glass changed from wood to coal, and that increased the ability of the glassmakers to increase the temperature of the glass, so they could make the candlestick in one solid piece. Sandwich glass was all made in two pieces. That went on. Then what happened, kerosene was discovered and then whale oil, well actually whale oil and then kerosene. And that was explosive. In terms of burning liquids. Candlesticks as a commercial item rapidly by 1860-1865. They were gone, they didn’t need them anymore. Camphene was very explosive stuff, it used to blow up. It set houses on fire. Whale oil was very good and for a long time it went on. A couple of whale oil lamps over there. But candlesticks as a big deal were pretty much a thing of the past. Until they became decorative and then all of the sudden that whole surge came in the 1880s. All of the sudden you have decorative.

And the other thing that is interesting, Kelsey, was the fact that these were the Woolworth thing if the 1840s. These were stuff that guys used to go from town to town packed in barrels with sawdust, and they’d pull them out and sell them for a dollar or two a pair. You see that the colors varied because from batch to batch, the organization wasn’t that good. This was the Woolworth glass of the 1830s, this was not valuable stuff. That came from England, or France and was cut crystal. This stuff was just dime a dozen, that you buy at the 5 and 10 cent store. It was very, very inexpensive.

KM:
Well, thank you very much for your time.

RM:
You’re quite welcome.

Duration

30:00 Track 1

Files

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Citation

“Roger MacMillan, November 20, 2009,” CGP Community Stories, accessed October 4, 2022, http://www.cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/43.