Thursday December 13, 2012

Tom Pinsonneault

It's December and I have chosen to write about rattlesnakes. I know its an odd topic considering the time of year coupled with the fact that many people do not consider rattlesnakes a part of the Vermont wildlife scene. This is about a type of rattlesnake that has been able to stay fairly hidden from our experience even though it operates in the open and is as close as our next-door neighbor.

People who live in Addison and Rutland Counties closer to Lake Champlain are familiar with an outcropping ridgeline called Rattlesnake Ridge. The reason for this name? You got it! Rattlesnakes live there and have been sighted my many hikers along this ridge. Local athletic teams have taken the name "Rattlesnakes" for obvious reasons although I'm not big on the idea of having an actual rattlesnake as a team mascot.

These creatures of nature live among us but try to stay out of sight and away from our big clumsy feet. You will be happy to know that I am not writing about that kind of rattlesnake.

It's curious how we tend to live our lives thinking that we are quite aware of our environment and all things in it. Have you ever had that notion? However, sometimes we are taken by surprise when we discover something in our surroundings that have been there for a long time but have never been aware of. A case in point are the Rattlesnakes in Bennington.

I remember when after a Sunday service in Fair Haven a couple years ago Ron Knapp, a long time Bennington businessman, approached me to compliment my column in the Banner. He said that every time my column is published in the Banner he and several others meet read and discuss it along with other Bennington-related subjects. He further suggested that I devote one of my columns to the Rattlesnakes. Easier said than done.

There was an organization in Bennington that I had no knowledge of? I found that incredible! I had the largest paper route in Bennington (at one time), extending from Burgess Road at one end of town to Seule Street at the other end of town. I worked at the Hotel Putnam for five years, for the District #1 Highway Department for four years. I worked at Adams Clothing Shop on Main Street, in Bob Cummings' barbershop and at Sibley's Machine Shop. How did I miss finding out about the Rattlesnakes? I realized: "It's time to do some snooping." Here is what I discovered, the results of my snooping. The Rattlesnakes have been lurking in the streets and shops of Bennnington since the 1920s. Consisting of a group of businessmen (mostly) they began gathering every day at local restaurants for coffee before the workday began. Their discussions focused on town politics, business and general information. They really had no specific agenda.

The origins of the name "Rattlesnakes" is unclear; however, it is thought that the name was chosen because they did not like the idea of being pushed around by anyone. One could imagine the town trying to regulate hours and days of trade, which might be considered a threat to their businesses. So, hands off! We will regulate our own best interests. Sounds like they meant business.

The Rattlesnakes met at several local establishments. The Village Nook, the Paradise Restaurant, Geannelis' and other local eating establishments all served as their meeting place. On occasion, their meetings would become so boisterous and loud they were asked by the proprietors of all the aforementioned establishments to leave.

Who were these Rattlesnakes? They were all men from all walks of life who lived in Bennington and shared a common interest in the business life of the community as well as its history and the welfare of Bennington in general. Some of the members' names may ring a bell. Abe Noveck (owner of a music and camera shop on Main Street), L. Nichols (owner of the L. Nichols Store), Gerry Morrissey (owner of Morrissey Construction), Hy Savage (executive director of the Chamber of Commerce), Bill Eddington (co-owner of the Chevrolet-Caddilac dealership), Steve Green (Congregational minister), Fred Grant (owner of Adams Hardware Store), Jimmy Playotis (owner of Paradise Restaurant), Charlie Gould (jeweler on Main Street) and Waldo Holden (lawyer) to name a few of the old timers

Some of the later and present members are: Ron/Ronnie Knapp (president of Knapp's Pets and Hobbies on Monument Plaza and former Vermont legislator) and a Rattlesnake since the 1960s, Tom Steffen, Joe Hall, Syd Russell, Adrien Lane, Al Ray, Ted Bird (Ted who, along with Al Ray provided me with this information about the Rattlesnakes), Chet Stockman and Jack Evans. The list goes on. The Rattlesnakes represented occupations ranging from Retired Navy Chief Petty Officer to schoolteachers. The group does not promote any specific activities but do make donations to some charitable causes. Today the Rattlesnakes meet at Jensen's Restaurant, where the topic of discussion could be town politics or sporting events or this particular column.

The Rattlesnakes are not all strictly business. They have been known to pull a prank or two. Take for example the following, as related to me by Ted Bird: "Apparently at one time Abe Noveck went to Florida on vacation. During his absence his fellow Rattlesnakes took a picture (see photo above) of the front of his store with big signs reading: "NEED CASH -- EVERYTHING MUST GO! 2/3 OFF." And mailed it to him as a joke. We can only imagine Abe's reaction to this bit of mail!

So, there you have it! Bennington's Rattlesnakes. If you have never seen a rattlesnake before, keep an eye on Jensen's!

Tom Pinsonneault can be reached at tmap@shoreham.net. He grew up in Bennington and attended the former Bennington Catholic High School.