First, a follow up on last week’s column about Stu Campbell. After I submitted the column, I heard from Ellen and Stu Masters. They had known Stu Campbell and, in fact, the two Stus had skied together the year “Ski with the Big Boys” was published.
In early 1998 the Masters’s daughter was an associate producer for the CBS morning news. Two celebrities (Sonny Bono and Michael Kennedy) had just died as the result of skiing accidents, so she called Stu Campbell about doing an interview. Campbell drove to Burlington at 2 a.m. to record the interview.
On to this week’s column: What are you doing this Saint Patrick’s Day? For 45 years here in Stowe, the answer to that question was “We’re going to McCarthy’s!”
This will be the first St. Patrick’s Day since McCarthy’s closed last fall, so this past week I sat down with Diane McCarthy to talk about the tradition that was McCarthy’s.
Diane grew up in a family that celebrated its Irish heritage. On St. Patrick’s Day, her mother would cook traditional Irish fare and the family would gather to celebrate. She remembers sitting around the dinner table listening to her grandfather singing Irish songs. When she was older, she would participate in the local parade.
In 1974, Diane’s then-husband Bob came to Stowe to join his uncle Tom McCarthy in establishing McCarthy’s restaurant. Tom was a World War II veteran who became a ski patroller and then a ski instructor at Stowe. Diane initially stayed in Massachusetts, where she was a schoolteacher. She traveled to Stowe on weekends, returning on Sunday. At least three times her car died making the trip.
A special St. Patrick’s Day celebration started the first year at the restaurant. Diane says that most of the participants then were the “hardy party” guys that were part of the Stowe scene in that era. The following year, more people just “sort of showed up.” All this was at the original location across Route 108, which now houses Elevated State VT. The size of that venue limited the scope of the celebration.
Of course, Diane would eventually leave her teaching job and become the driving force behind McCarthy’s. In 1985, McCarthy’s moved across the road to occupy the former Sister Kate’s building and provide a larger venue. Diane says that allowed the St. Patrick’s Day celebration to grow: more decorations, entertainment, singing, Irish trivia, face painting.
All this made it a total family celebration. One of Diane’s best memories? When kids started coming and joining in the Irish songs. Diane wanted to make sure that I acknowledged Peg Guerra as master of ceremonies for her role in making the event successful.
As we all know, the line outside McCarthy’s would start forming before the 6:30 a.m. opening and the restaurant would be full for the entire day. Teachers and students would come in before school. The working class would either come early or make it a longer-than-usual lunch break. The retired folks and skiers would fill in the gaps.
Diane shared some of her other memories. There was the year that the face painters painted large green shamrocks on the heads of some of the bald attendees. However ,it was a warm day and the paint on the shamrocks ran!
Then there’s the crew that turns the mountain’s “Waterfall” green, coming in for breakfast covered in green dye. Or the priests who would bless the proceedings. Or Gracie Littlefield, at 95-plus years old, entertaining with her concertina.
Diane also remembered the New Jersey family who came to Stowe every year expressly for the St. Patrick’s Day celebration at McCarthy’s. They would enjoy the festivities and buy a T-shirt for every member of the family.
As for last week’s trivia question, Diane was the award-winning baton twirler and still has the trophies to prove it. She participated and competed from the age of 7 until she was about 17. She competed at the local level all the way to the national level. Her whole family was involved in Liberty Drum Corps from Westfield, Mass. Diane participated in many St. Patrick’s Day parades.
I asked Diane what she was doing for St. Patrick’s Day this year and like most of us in Stowe, she isn’t sure what she’ll be doing.
The old African proverb says “It takes a village to raise a child” and I’ll add that it takes a McCarthy’s to have a village. Thank you, Diane!
This week’s trivia question: James Niehues will be inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame next week in Sun Valley. For what is James Niehues famous?
Post your answer at retro-skiing.com.
Greg Morrill is a retired computer programmer and college professor. Email letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.