7 Feb 65 : Catskills ski resorts and Chinatown’s New Year : New York, USA

This continues the letter of 4th February 1965, which began…

New York

Dear Family,

Sunday 7th February 1965

We have just returned from a weekend up in the mountains. We had a very good time, although it was spoilt somewhat by the weather.

We left on Friday at 6 o’clock and drove up the fabulous New York Thruway, which is a superb road which goes all the way North and West to Buffalo. We drove for about two and a half hours and were in the mountain area – and stopped for a meal. This turned out to be the best meal we have had since we have been in America. It was in a sort of Swiss-like setting, high up on a hill with thick snow all around.

We then drove on to the mountain ski lodge where we were staying, and this turned out to be a terrible place. I think it was the worst place I have ever stayed in (and the YMCA New York was pretty bad).

In the next room to us water was pouring onto a bed from a hole in the ceiling. It was run by a little old Polish man, and if it hadn’t been so late we would have left there and then, but we decided to stay that night. Next morning at breakfast, we told him we were moving on, and he must have realised why, because he simply said ‘We will talk about it, and make a deal’ – and then vanished. When we asked where he was, the waitress gave us our bill. It was very cheap so we didn’t mind, and we went and looked for a motel.

We soon found a place up to our usual standard and dumped our things and went for a drive around the mountains. The scenery was beautiful, rolling hills and pine forest, and lots of skiing centres. It’s all very colourful and fashionable.

The women seem to go to extremes to look more glamorous than the others, and in the ski lodges, where there are huge roaring log fires, they wore really exotic creations. Women who we are convinced go there to sit and look beautiful, and haven’t been on skis in their lives!!!

Hunter Mountain ski resort signage
Image with thanks from http://nyskiblog.com/directory/ski-area-history/hunter-mountain/

The best lodge we saw was at Hunter Mountain which is one of the best in the area. In the lodge there was a dance band, a health club, a swimming pool, a Turkish bath, a bar and a restaurant.

All these places have all the mechanical lifts and equipment for skiing without effort. We were decidedly impressed and determined to have a go today, Sunday, by hiring skis and boots.

On Saturday night we went to the local bar and found this to be a very lively and friendly place, and soon were talking with some young skiers. We met five young girls who were teachers. All had new cars and had an apartment in the mountains for weekends, and had been to Europe several times – and didn’t seem to think this was at all unusual!!

We had a very pleasant evening and got home at 2am and consequently slept late, awaking at 11 o’clock to find it lightly raining, and making skiing out of the question.

So we decided to cancel our plans and drive home over the mountains via a different route. This too proved useless as the rain got heavier and a thick mist blotted out all the views, so we headed back to New York via the Thruway once more.

It was a disappointment as we were very keen to have a go.

However next weekend we shall be travelling to Boston via some other mountains, and ski resorts, so we shall stop there for one day and night and have a go there.

Up in the mountains the snow was thick and deep and very white, and with little villages consisting of just a small group of little white houses and a general store, just like you see in the films.

The place where we stayed was called Phoenecia and it consisted of just a main street about 100 yards long, two hotels (facing each other) and a small white wooden church.

One day this week, Tuesday, was the New Year’s Day of the Chinese calendar, and we went to Chinatown to see the festivities. This consisted of a parade through the streets.

They were all in Chinese war costume, and some were carrying the effigy of a dragon. The warriors were fighting with the Dragon and leaping around in front of it with huge swords and knives, and all the time the crowd (mostly Chinese) were throwing firecrackers which made the most deafening noise. Others in the profession were beating drums and cymbals, and the total result was bedlam!!

Outside every house there was, hung on a string, lettuce and tomatoes, and the Dragon would go up to it and swallow it, and when this happened all the people in the house screamed blue murder, and showered firecrackers on it!!

I suppose it all meant something to them – but what I don’t know. Anyhow it was all very colourful and interesting.

(NOTE: This was actually a New Year Lion Dance (not a dragon!) and it’s really interesting – there’s lots of brilliant information HERE. There would be red envelopes filled with money in among the lettuce. It seems that during the 1960s, a violent gang culture developed between the rival lion troupes in New York, with dancers even attaching knives to their shoes to use while battling rival lions for the money! There are two great photos from the 1965 Chinatown New Year celebrations HERE and HERE)

We have opened bank accounts and our banking our wages and will get 4% interest on it, which isn’t bad.

The police are now wearing their winter uniforms, which are terrific. They wear three-quarter length leather black coats with huge fur collars, black breeches, knee-length leather boots, black leather mittens and a black leather fur cap with flaps, which can be pulled down over the ears. I somehow can’t imagine Dad (a British Police Inspector) dressed in this, but on these fellows it looks great. Add to this all their armoury, and the whole thing looks very fearsome!!

There is a big rumpus going on here about the lack of representation at the Churchill funeral. Everyone is very indignant about it, and lots of questions have been asked on radio, TV and in the press. Finally Johnston replied, and this has caused an even bigger rumpus.

He said, with heavy sarcasm, that he ‘Didn’t realise it was the Vice-President’s duty to attend funerals, and that if the nation felt so strongly about it, he would bear it in mind for any future funerals’!! He has been heavily criticised lately in the papers, and this certainly hasn’t helped matters.

We watched ‘That Was The Week That Was‘ this week on TV, compered by David Frost, and Johnson was heavily ‘knocked’.

We have just checked into a very beautiful motel and have a very spacious suite. It is furnished in ‘Old American’ which is very attractive wooden furniture. Vi’s house is furnished throughout in this style and it makes it look very homely and comfortable.

There is a huge pool which is frozen over at the moment. It would be great in the summer to be able to come home at night and have a swim.

Well, I can’t think of much more to tell you so I will end now. Oh by the way, one more thing. We have had a small Union Jack on the aerial of the car, and this usually causes a bit of comment and interest. Unfortunately it has become quite frayed, and won’t last much longer. It is only a small one – about 4 inches long. If you can get one, and slip it in with a letter, we would be very grateful. I think you could get one in Halfords. The one we had was silk, which isn’t really very satisfactory. If you could get one a bit stronger it would last longer. If it’s on a stick, take it off as we have the old one. If Mum could reinforce it on the machine, it would be it would probably lengthen the life of it.

Well that’s all for now. Look after yourself and give my regards to all the neighbours.

All my love. Tone xxxxx

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NOTE 1, from Tony: I still vividly remember Colin and I asking to open these bank accounts in a very imposing New York bank. We were asked to wait until the bank manager could see us, and soon after, a very casually dressed fellow in short-sleeved shirt, with no tie, effusively greeted us saying, ‘hi Tony, hi Colin, I’m Chuck the branch manager – come into my office and have some coffee!’ We were astounded by the informality and friendliness of it all. In 1960s Britain, we were used to the strict formality of British banks where bank managers still wore bowler hats and starched collars, and were to be revered and treated with due deference! What a difference!!

NOTE 2: The history of the Hunter Mountain resort is pretty fascinating. The area was in an economic slump in the mid 1950s when some local landowners, including the Slutzky brothers, saw an opportunity in America’s new love of skiing.

After failing to get financial backing from the local area, they informed the New York Herald Tribune that they would donate the mountain to anyone who would build a ski resort there. This unusual offer caught the interest of America’s showbusiness community, and a group was formed, headed by James Hammerstein, which included many Hollywood and Broadway stars. The grand resort they built used then-cutting edge snowmaking technology, and opened in 1960 with a glittering celebrity clientele.

Sadly the group went bankrupt in the 1960-1962 season, but the Slutzky brothers took over and ran the resort for the next 50 years. Hunter Mountain is still a thriving resort.

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