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Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)

Clinton's tale keeps growing 

July 24, 2005
Page: B1 

By    Karen Nugent

CLINTON - Anthony J. Bastarache set out to take on a three-week project that would result in a small booklet about Clinton for the town's high-school students.

But then he discovered what he described as a certain something that every Clintonian knows, but doesn't know how to say: That this town is one of a kind, for a variety of reasons. "I have a sixth sense about some things - I occasionally get this little feeling...And I was walking down the street here one day, and I got this feeling that this place is special. I felt I could turn this into a tourist town, and that I could help this town tell its incredible story," he said.

"The town is a snapshot of 1840 to 1860. Few towns exist with buildings from that time so well-preserved," Mr. Bastarache said.

That was three years before the booklet project, which subsequently turned into an 18-month historical research, writing, photography, and computer graphics project that resulted in a 259-page book.

The book, "An Extraordinary Town: How One of America's Smallest Towns Shaped the World," was recently published by Dunn & Co. of Clinton.

It sells for $24.95 and is available from bookstores, and at www.extraordinarytown.com.

The book will also be used as a funding source for the Clinton Historical Society. Mr. Bastarache said he had much help from the society, especially from Terrance P. Ingano, former society president, history teacher, and now the director of curriculum and grants at Clinton High School.

The book was such a success, the first printing sold out within a day, but a second printing will be available later this week. Mr. Bastarache, a computer engineer, said he believes his book is different from other books on Clinton because he was an "outsider" who came to the project with a blank slate.

"I had no preconceived notions and no biases. Sometimes ignorance IS bliss," the Michigan native said.

Intending to have the original booklet replace a older one used at Clinton High, he decided at one point that he needed to rethink the whole project.

He stopped working on it for two weeks, to ponder how to bridge the gap between another - frankly, boring - town history book, to a marketable story of the town from a newcomer's eyes.

As an engineer with a marketing background, Mr. Bastarache, the father of three daughters, started fresh with a scientific approach to his historical research, creating a grid connecting 350 years, starting in the mid-1600s, when Clinton was still part of Lancaster.

After 18 months - about 4,300 hours, he estimates, he had built a grid of thousands of names, events, products, and patents of all things Clintonian.

For example, while most people are aware that President Jimmy Carter visited Clinton in 1977, who knew that John Prescott, the founder of Lancaster (which included Clinton and many surrounding towns at the time), was an ancestor of President Bush?

Furthermore, Mr. Bastarache, who moved here in 2000, points out in the book that Mr. Prescott, of Prescott Mills fame, was the great-great grandson of Dr. Samuel Prescott, who completed Paul Revere's famous ride on April 18, 1775.

Another little-known fact is that Miriam Look MacMillan of Walnut Street was the first female Arctic explorer, with her husband, starting in 1935. As part of a crew, she navigated a ship through storms and ice fields in the Arctic Ocean, traveling to within 660 miles of the North Pole, and then explored Baffin Island, Labrador and Greenland.

Then there's Mr. Bastarache's newfound appreciation of Erastus Bigelow, that severe-looking fellow seen in portraits around town. Erastus and his brother, Horatio Bigelow, founded Clinton's most famous business, the Bigelow Carpet Co.

Mr. Bastarache poured over Erastus Bigelow's personal archives, and discovered that his invention, the power loom, was described in an 1851 article from a London newspaper like this: "Bigelow's Brussels carpet power loom is the most perfect machine yet made in the world."

Enough said.

"He had a worldwide impact," Mr. Bastarache said. "I call him the father of textiles."

Bigelow's company, ushering in the Industrial Revolution, is described in great detail in the book, along with colorful stories about the building of the Wachusett dam and reservoir, Clinton sports heroes, military contributions (a Clintonian, Col. James M. Ingalls, is called the "father of ballistics) and of course, politics.

The tale of Carroll L. Gibbons, a composer, pianist, singer and big-band leader in the World War II era, recounts when a bomb landed in London's Savoy Hotel, knocking Mr. Gibbons and his band off the stage.

But there are many more, current stories to be told; along with large, color and black-and-white photographs comparing old and new Clinton.

The book is easy to read, with striking graphics, and photographs of a particular person or place accompanying each story.

There are even photographs of people and places seen all the time, such as Joanne Souza and Tracy Zangarine of Varise Brothers Florists, the interior of the Clinton Savings Bank, plastics giant Nypro, now occupying the old Bigelow factory; M. Raymond Grady and Michael Grady of J.R. Grady and Sons paving, and the tap room at the Old Timer Restaurant.

The end of the book has several pages of Clinton notables, firsts, and the very necessary "fact or fiction" section. For example, it turns out that the notorious tale about Clinton having the most bars per capita is not true.

But it is true that temperance leader Carrie Nation came to town to give a lecture on the evils of drinking, in 1907.

During the course of his research, Mr. Bastarache said he discovered two previous undocumented facts: Clinton's Central Park is the oldest public park in the country; and Fuller Field, off North High Street, is the oldest baseball diamond in continuous use in the country.

Mr. Bastarache said he has not made any money from the book, and, just hopes to be able to repay loans he took out to work on it.

"It was truly a labor of love. Hopefully, the book's legacy will be a new perception of Clinton's national and international contributions to the world for the next generation," he said.

"It's not your typical history book. This book will be fascinating to read if you're from Worcester or Los Angeles. It's about a small town, and how it helped shape America," he said.

Mr. Bastarache has a few follow-up plans, including getting a statue of John Prescott erected in Central Park, and plaques placed in Fuller Field and Central Park; submitting Fuller Field to the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest baseball diamond in the U.S., and maybe having some "old-timers" games played there; and perhaps creating a "Hall of Fame" of photographs of Clinton's famous people at the high school, as an inspiration to students.

Besides www.extraordinarytown.com; Mr. Bastarache's book will be available at amazon.com; eBay.com; the Strand Theatre, Corner Sports and Leisure and Duvarney Jewelers, all in Clinton; and at Borders books in Marlboro.


CUTLINE: Some famous Clintonians, and their contributions 
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