My High School Band and a Lesson in Politics

My father knew Sherman Adams, Governor of New Hampshire from 1949 to 1953. Every Christmas we got a card signed “Sherm and Rachel.”

In January of 1957, the Stevens High School Marching Band boarded the train in Claremont Junction, bound for Washington. This was no mere field trip – we were marching in the Inaugural Parade, thanks to countless rummage and bake sales, car washes and other community activities that raised over $8,000. It seemed like the whole town turned out to see us off and, four days later, to welcome us home at 2:30 in the morning. “Band Arrives in Soaking Rain,” proclaimed the Daily Eagle.

After serving as Governor, Sherman Adams became President Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff, a position he held until the famous vicuna coat episode in 1958. My father told me that if I saw Mr. Adams in Washington, I should introduce myself and send his regards. I promised I would.

Marching down Pennsylvania Avenue as part of an inaugural celebration was a uniquely American experience, a keepsake for the collective memory bank of 100 patriotic young Claremonters. Stevens let everyone out of school early to watch us on television – there was no such thing as a television in schools in those days. The pre-cable era reception wasn’t very good, and we later learned that a Cold War army missile blocked the camera’s view. I was oblivious to that as I marched along, playing my clarinet with Senator Cotton keeping in step right beside me. Governor Dwinell waved to us from the New Hampshire “Live Free or Die” float, just ahead. No sign of Sherman Adams, however.

We attended the inaugural ball and saw the best entertainers of that era, including Pat Boone and Abbott & Costello (“Who’s on First?”). We toured the city, saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (as it was then known), and visited Mount Vernon. On our last day, we went to the Capitol Building.

And there he was, standing in the Rotunda – Sherman Adams! I went straight over to introduce myself. “Hello, Mr. Adams,” I said. “My father sends you his regards.” “How nice to see you,” he said. “Who is your father?” I told him – Frank Steinfield. “How is your dear father?” “He’s fine, Mr. Adams,” I replied. “And your mother?” “Also fine.” “Please send them my very best regards.” I promised I would.

Later that day, as the train left Union Station, I told my friends about the encounter. “I didn’t see Sherman Adams,” said my friend Mike. “Well I did, and he was very friendly and sent his best wishes to my parents. Look, there’s his picture in the newspaper.” Mike handed me the paper and told me to look at the caption, which read “Sen. Styles Bridges of New Hampshire.” I blanched. “They’ve got the wrong name.” “No,” said Mike, “you’ve got the wrong Sherman Adams.”

When I got home I told the story to my father, who informed me he had never met Styles Bridges.

2017-05-19T20:27:55+00:00By |