New Bluebird settles into Salem home

Recent photo of the otter, who only appears at night or very early in the morning, at the Occum dam.
Recent photo of the otter, who only appears at night or very early in the morning, at the Occum dam. Photo courtesy of Norwich Public Utilities

Salem - A bluebird landed in a field of buttercups at Dave Wordell's Olde Ransom Farm on Monday, touching down promptly at 10 a.m.

This particular bluebird was unique-more than 8 feet high and approximately 12 feet long, it arrived by way of a trailer driven from New Holland, Pa., by Larry Prescott.

Wordell, who is president of the Salem Historical Society and an antique carriage aficionado, commissioned a reproduction of this Civil War-era coach known as Bluebird. The royal blue vehicle was used to pick up young ladies - usually wealthy Southerners - at local train stations and transport them to Music Vale Seminary in Salem.

"Oh my God, look at it," breathed Wordell as Prescott eased the gleaming coach out of his trailer. "That's Bluebird, no question about it."

Wordell purchased an unadorned Concord coach reproduction last April and took it to Shady Lane Wagons, a New Holland company run by an Amish Mennonite named Weaver Martin, to be transformed into Bluebird. Wordell spent the better part of two years researching Bluebird's appearance, digging through the historical society's documents and taking several pictures of original Concord coaches at a museum in North Conway, N.H. He shopped in New Holland with his wife for appropriately luxurious-looking fabrics to adorn Bluebird's interior and requested glass windows when he found a student letter describing rain pelting the "panes" in the coach.

This year marks the 175th anniversary of the founding of Music Vale, a school that brought fame to this small town. It was founded in 1839 by Salem native Orramel Whittlesey to teach young women musical notation and composition and provide lessons in voice, organ, harp, guitar and piano. It was the first music school in the nation to confer degrees, Wordell said, but began to decline during the Civil War when it lost some of its wealthy Southern students. The school closed in 1876.

The music school may have faded from many residents' memories, living on primarily as the name of a short road connecting Routes 82 and 85 should one wish to bypass the roundabout, but it's alive in Wordell's imagination.

Bluebird is part of his plan to bring his vision of the thriving 19th-century school to life. Assuming good weather, the coach will make its public debut rumbling up Route 85 on Monday as part the town's Memorial Day parade.

Preparing for that will be a challenge: Wordell will start at 6 a.m., hauling Bluebird to Salem School with the help of Selectman Elby Burr. Burr will remain at the school, making sure no one touches the coach, while Wordell rounds up two of his Austrian Haflinger horses, transports them to the school and hooks them up to the coach.

Then Anna and Edyta Wolk, 14- and 15-year-old sisters, will climb into the coach, clad in period dresses sewn by Wordell's wife, Lois. The passengers will be surrounded by walls lined with blue damask and a ceiling covered in white fabric with golden stars. Two young men will serve as the Bluebird's footmen.

When Bluebird reaches the town green, Wordell will give a short introduction and the girls, along with Ian Aldrich, will sing a few verses with which students were welcomed to Music Vale. Then the Salem Elementary School will play "Salem Quickstep" and the East Lyme High School band will perform "Music Vale Quickstep" - both composed by Whittlesey.

The historical society's museum, which Wordell said has been "majorly revamped" by the organization's vice president and groundskeeper, will open for the year on Memorial Day. Continuing the annual tradition, parade-goers can pick up strawberry shortcake there.

Music Vale's founder also manufactured pianofortes with his two brothers, and, accordingly, Wordell has another event planned to celebrate Music Vale's anniversary: a recital in which one of those pianofortes will be played by a direct descendent of Orramel Whittlesey.

Dorothy Hayden, a pianist and graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, will play the earliest known instrument made by her great-great-great grandfather at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Salem Historical Society.

The pianoforte is in the final stages of tuning now, Wordell said, and the Bluebird is sitting in his barn, waiting for Monday.

When he looks at the coach, it seems Wordell himself might not be able to take the wait.

"It's so accurate, it's amazing," he said.

k.catalfamo@theday.com

Dave and Lois Wordell admire the interior of Bluebird, a replica Concord coach, Monday at their Antique Carriage and Sleigh Museum in Salem. Weather permitting, the coach will roll in the Salem Memorial Day parade.
Dave and Lois Wordell admire the interior of Bluebird, a replica Concord coach, Monday at their Antique Carriage and Sleigh Museum in Salem. Weather permitting, the coach will roll in the Salem Memorial Day parade. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo
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