I find it so interesting that a blog entry about my 1951 experience at the Totem Pole Ballroom, posted in 2007, is still getting comments. Just this week I received another one and I thought it would be fun to post the article again and then follow it with some of the comments that it’s gendered over the past 13 years.
1951 … Dancing at the Totem Pole Ballroom
One of the joys of growing up in Massachusetts was the chance to spend a magical night at the amazing dance hall called the Totem Pole at Norumbega Park in Newton. Virtually every famous swing band in the country appeared at that venue. These included Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Harry James & the Dorsey Brothers among others. A night at the Totem Pole was pricey so most of us in the teenage bracket had only dreamed of going. However, shortly after I turned 18, I met a college man (sigh!) who actually had the means to buy tickets and we spent a memorable Saturday night there
As I recall they didn’t have a name band the night that we were there, but that didn’t dim our enthusiasm. I was mesmerized the minute we walked in. We were on the upper level of a huge hall. A large staircase led down to the main dance floor and couches and small tables were interspersed on the way down.
There were actually three dance floors…the enormous one in front of the live orchestra and two smaller, intimate, ones on either side of the seating arrangements. It was all very posh and incredibly romantic. The lighting was soft and the music was dreamy and just right for slow dancing. I doubt if I was as much enthralled by my date as I was by the idea of it all; but, it was certainly a night to remember.
Of course it all came to an end,,,not just that night, but the Big Band Era itself…and in 1964 the Totem Pole closed it’s doors for good.
But the city of Newton has preserved ten acres known as the Norumbega Park Conservation Land. It has access to the Charles river and is a popular jogging and dog-walking site during the day.
During the night? I can’t help but wonder if it is occupied by “Totem Pole ghosts” of the past ,,,romantic couples on an enormous dance floor, swaying to the hypnotic swing tunes that dominated the 50’s and 60’s.
38 people have responded since 2006. Here is a sampling of the most nostalgic:
* I would be part of the ghosts, part of me is still back there dancing and canoeing on the Charles.
*That would have been a marvelous time. I know when my mom used to cater for a Masonic Lodge in the 70’s and I was a litlle girl, I loved to see the ladies and gents dancing and swooning and dressed all lovely.
* I had a date that took me to the Totem Pole. He didn’t have a car so we got there by street car, subway and bus! I lived north of Boston. The ballroom was beautiful, the band was great and the couches were cozy. Each couch had a dim light and some couples would turn them off.. only to have an employee turn them back on !
* I danced at the Totem Pole as a teenager and remember how romantic those booths and little lamps were. I saw Peter, Paul and Mary in all their youthful fervor. Several years ago I saw them again – all of us decidedly middle aged, at my daughter’s music camp in Michigan. The parents swayed and sang along .. the kids thought we were so funny.
* I remember what a magical place the Totem Pole was back in the 50’s. Only couples were admitted and I remember the sign near the entrance said “No alcohol allowed either internally or externally” The setting was as romantic as could be and we all felt a bit like Fred Astair or Ginger Rogers.
* When I was at Fitchburg High School in the 40’s a group of us boys were recruited to go to the Totem Pole to meet and dance with a group of students from a girl’s school in Boston. I’ll remember the wonder of that evening all my life. It was magic.
* I found a love letter tonight from my deceased husband and laughed because he said he just couldn’t wait until Saturday night when Glen Miller and his band would be at the Totem Pole. He was 17 then and we went as often as his pitiful little grocery store job paycheck would allow. We were married for 42 AWESOME years before he died of cancer. You made my day as I was sitting here missing him so much tonight.
* I am 82 and lived in Newton all my life. I worked at the Totem Pole from 1944 to 1958, first on soda fountain then to ticket booth and then the hostess in the ballroom where I met my later-to-be husband who was the manager. You can’t even imagine all the memories and happy images you’ve brought to me.
* Going through my High School years in Newton, it was a pure delight to take a girl to the Totem Pole … so romantic and such fond memories of our youth when we were so amazingly innocent. We had no idea what made up a girl but we sure loved ’em.
And this week I received yet another …
* My mother related to me several times of her and her brother who were home from leave from the Marines in World War II. They went to the Totem Pole and got called up on stage to meet Frank Sinatra. I’m not sure if it was Tommy or Jimmy Dorsey playing that night.
What a thrill.