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By June 14, 2021 Read More →

Back in Time for Dinner with Thornton Wilder and Fletcher Dole

You’re probably thinking, “Okay, Thornton Wilder is certainly a well-known person but who the heck is Fletcher Dole?” My guess is unless you grew up in Peterborough, NH in the middle of the 20th century you don’t know Fletcher Dole and how he was connected to Thornton Wilder. Here’s a hint — Howie Newsome.


Here’s What We Know…

Thornton Wilder made nine visits to MacDowell between 1924 and 1953. It was during his sixth visit in June 1937 that he worked on his

Thornton Wilder with cast members at the Peterborough Players in 1940.

Pulitzer Prize winning play Our Town. As part of Wilder’s writing routine, rain or shine, he would take long walks through the town, finding inspiration in what he heard and observed. He once said, “At a rough guess, one day’s walk is productive of one fifteen-minute scene. Everything I’ve ever done has come into being that way and I don’t think I could work out an entire play or novel at a desk now if I tried.”

These walks would often take place in the late afternoon. Wilder would leave his cabin at MacDowell, walking down High Street and into the village. Fletcher Dole lived on High Street.

Fletcher Dole, usually seen wearing his work overalls, was the custodian at both the Central School and the Congregational Church in town. Each day after he completed these jobs he would head back to his home on High St. to tend to his small herd of Guernsey cows. Once the cows were milked and the glass milk bottles filled, Dole would hitch his horse to the wagon and head down High Street to make his deliveries. As he moved along, the glass bottles in the metal carriers would create a tinkling sound that would be heard by anyone he might pass by. And remember who else was also taking an afternoon walk down High Street?  Thus Wilder was inspired by Dole to include a milkman named Howie Newsome into his play.

Here’s an excerpt from Our Town describing Howie Newsome:
Howie Newsome, about thirty, in overalls, comes along Main Street from the left, walking beside an invisible  horse and wagon and carrying an imaginary rack with milk bottles. The sound of the clinking milk bottles is heard.

My dad was also a milkman in Peterborough, starting his business around 1950,  but because that was his only job, his milk deliveries were

Fletcher Dole

Peterborough’s Fletcher Dole inspired the Howie Newsome character in Our Town.

made starting in the early hours of the morning (and in trucks!) So the thing is, its a bit unusual that Fletcher Dole was doing his deliveries in the late afternoon. But if it weren’t for this fact, Thornton Wilder might never have come up with the Howie Newsome character for his play.

Thornton Wilder invited Fletcher Dole, his wife Laura, and some other folks from Peterborough to the Boston opening of Our Town. When asked by a reporter there if he knew Wilder, Dole replied, “I never met Mr. Wilder.”
But suppose they had met and had a chance to dine together…


Here’s What I Imagine…

Fletcher Dole probably would never have approached Thornton Wilder but I bet his wife Laura or one of his four daughters would be less shy about stopping him on his evening walk down High Street and inviting him in for supper. Mrs. Dole was an ardent gardener and a good cook so anything she whipped up would be pleasing.

And what would the conversation around the dinner table be like? Fletcher Dole was a man of few words whereas Wilder made his living using words. My guess is Fletcher would be mostly listening. As he once said when asked for advice, “Keep your eyes and ears open, your mouth shut and you’ll find the answers.”


Here’s What They Ate..

Laura Dole would have no shortage of dairy products to use in her dishes and no shortage of help from her four daughters to prepare a special dinner for Mr. Wilder. Dinner that evening might have been Beef Loaf and Squash Puff.

 

Beef Loaf

Squash Puff

Click for recipes

 

 

Lorraine, the Monadnock Center's Resident Culinarian  

Lorraine Walker is the Monadnock Center’s resident culinarian. When she isn’t serving up tasty treats from the Phoenix Mill House hearth, she can be found poring over historic cookbooks and local history documents in the archives.