It isn’t often that my obsession with perusing the depths of Ebay delivers in such an intriguing fashion. Once in awhile, though, I’ll find a real treasure. That is to say, a treasure to me. Clearly, especially in this case, I’ve put my hands on an item not terribly well treasured by whoever its prior caretaker may have been. Either that or it was discarded due to the rather obvious incursions that one or two generations of small rodents made into the contents.
Question: Can mice survive on a diet consisting mainly of memories? Discuss.
This is the second fencing scrapbook I’ve hauled down from the ether of Ebay and is by far in the worse condition. However, my entree into the world of fencing memorabilia conservatorship began with peeling the leavings of rodentia from the walls of the Charles Selberg estate and preserving their dna samples between layers of acid free backing boards and mylar covers. You don’t really want to know more. Still, it left me with a somewhat high tolerance for handling such pages as these shown above, which have been so obviously nibbled by creatures smaller than a breadbox. Bring it on. My “Buy It Now!” fingers are all warmed up.
You can’t know, when buying some types of Ebay mystery memorabilia whether you’re seeing, in the one or two, sometimes five or six pages of representative photos, something that will be revealed upon opening the package to be a tiny slice of what you’d hoped for, or more than you could imagine. For this one, check the second box.
Today’s hero: Kennedy R. Ludlam, Harvard graduate.
Kennedy Ludlam, Harvard graduating class of 1933, seen in the photo at the top on the far right sporting a sabre and lunging at an unseen opponent in the then-new Harvard fencing facility, assembled a scrapbook entirely dedicated to his fencing career. Sixty pages of news articles, letters, telegrams from Western Union (for the younger readers, that’s a hard copy email delivered by courier) and many hand-written notes regarding publication dates. The mice got well into a couple of corners, but there’s just a ton of information to be gleaned from the very thorough record Mr. Ludlam kept. The years are somewhat limited, mostly covering 1931 and 1932, but if it related to fencing, especially Harvard fencing, it’s likely here.
A representative two-page spread, plus thumb for scale.
Kennedy Ludlam fenced on the epee squad for Harvard. While not garnering much in the way of headlines himself, he does get some mentions. Whether or not he was a coming star or mid-level competitor, it was a good couple of seasons for the lads in crimson. No mention of a ladies squad for foils. Did they have one back then? I can’t find a record of them going back that far. If they were challenging for the NIWFA, they weren’t in the medals. NYU, Cornell and Hunter College were the dominant women’s programs in the early 1930s with no mention of Harvard anywhere in the records I have that show the winners from 1929 to 1973.
Two of the three foilist that took home the IFA trophy in 1931 shown here with 3-time Olympian and Bronze Medalist (1932, Foil Team) Dernell Every.
Ludlam documented everything fencing, whether his name was mentioned or not. Collegiate or AFLA, if he found an article, it seems to have gone in the book. That it really only covers two years worth in the sport, it’s pretty astounding how much material he was able to glean. Many items are from the Harvard paper, The Crimson, but he also has clippings from New York papers the Times, Herald, American and Herald Tribune, along with the Boston Globe and Boston Herald. Did he subscribe to all these or steal them from library copies? Who’s to know? I certainly won’t complain.
The earliest entry in the book is this programme from a 1930 event featuring a rather spectacular lineup. The top two names are worth noting, as a starting point. Robert Grasson was the coach at Yale from 1920 to 1956 and Rene Peroy was the Harvard coach from 1929 until 1951. Peroy also competed for the US at the 1924 Olympics, helped the New York Fencers Club to some National team titles and garnered an individual foil title for himself in 1923. Originally from France, he came to the US in 1909 as the chief mechanic for a French air racing team, and later assisted in the design and building of the motor for Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis. Also of note, we see Joe Levis and Frank Righeimer, who were teammates on both the 1932 and 1936 Olympic teams. Levis was on three teams total, Righeimer on two and both finished their Olympic careers with two medals. Levis famously won Silver in 1932 in the individual foil (a feat unequaled by an American fencer until Alexander Massialas in 2016), as well as Bronze for foil team. Righeimer shared the Bronze medal in foil team and was also on the Bronze-winning 1932 epee team, where he and Lt. George Calnan were most responsible for pulling down that medal for the US. Righeimer was a Yale fencer, which explained his participation here, but Levis went to MIT, so he must have gotten lost on the way to lab and wound up fencing instead. Kennedy Ludlam fences in two matches, one sabre and one epee, so he’s in very good company.
Fortunately, Ludlam also saved the above write-up from the Boston Globe, which gives the details on bout scores. As this was an evening demonstration, I can’t help but believe that the bouts all finishing with a one or two point differential between winner and loser was part of the show. “No blowouts!” was probably the directive. It always has been in the demonstrations I’ve been party to. Interesting that Grasson didn’t take a victory, losing to Peroy in both foil and sabre, and Righeimer in epee. Peroy also defeated Levis, which can’t have been an easy task, even during a demonstration match. Ludlam went down in defeat in both of his matches and was probably the low hanging fruit in this batch of fencers, seeing as how the person who fenced in only one match, the foilist Cassidy, was the Harvard team captain who helped secure the IFA championship. Regardless of the defeats, he was certainly in good company with this batch of fencers.
However, further into the book, it becomes clear that Ludlam had his sights on the lofty goal of securing a spot on the 1932 Olympic team. He competed at the 1931 Nationals, held at the Hotel Astor in New York,
but I don’t know where he finished. Ok, scratch that. I just spent some time searching. As soon as I wrote that bit, I realized, “Hey, I run a fencing archive. I have resources.” I know I don’t have any magazines or national newsletters from 1931, but I do have a list of medalists from 1892 to 1964. 1931 falls in there somewhere. Digging further into the Ludlam scrapbook, I came across a few articles related to the 1931 Nationals, one of which described the final pool for the epee competition. Winning the gold that year was Mike/Michael/Miguel de Capriles and taking second was – wait for it – Kennedy Ludlam! When I started writing this piece, I hadn’t dug up that particular tid-bit of information, but sure enough! Silver medal at Nationals! Here are a couple of clippings from the scrapbook:
More general details:
And I’ll tell you right now, beating George Calnan in anything was no small feat. George Calnan
was a badass took the Bronze medal in the individual epee at the 1928 Olympics, won numerous US championships and was highly respected as a fierce competitor by all who faced him. Check out his bio (here) on the fantastic Olympedia.org site that has all its fencing data kept up by Olympic history megamind George Masin.
For the 1931 National Epee Championship, it’s good to remember that this was one-touch epee. Zero margin for error, extremely large margin for having your best day on the right day. And it’s safe to say, Kennedy Ludlam had his best day that day. Taking the silver medal garnered him an invitation to join the Olympic Squad for training in the run-up to the 1932 Olympic Games. He preserved quite a number of letters related to that invite, including the original invitation, training dates, what to expect, etc.
Four examples out of many of the correspondence from the organizers of the training for the Olympic Squad. Second example of my thumb.
And it’s also clear that expectations were running high in the family, if this telegram from Ludlam’s father? brother? cousin? is any indication:
Who knew that in 1931 Western Union was this close to coining the phrase “Social Media”?
Of all the articles, letters, etc., in this scrapbook, there remains a dearth of photos of Ludlam himself. There are exactly two. The first is the one back up at the very top of the article with him lunging with the sabre. The other is this one here:
Finally, a chance to see what Kennedy Ludlam actually looked like! Sword and Racquet was a short-lived magazine that covered, as you can likely guess, fencing and tennis. I don’t have any issues of it, but I know Andy Shaw does.
To make my life a bit easier and not write something I’d have to retract, I made an effort to review my sources to see if I could find an article that described the outcome of the 1932 Nationals. Sadly, no success. I think it’s somewhat telling that the scrapbook comes to a screeching halt right about the time the Nationals were held, once again in New York City. The 1892-1964 medalists list for 1932 doesn’t mention Ludlam. He would have needed a top 3 or 4 finish to secure a spot on the Olympic team and it didn’t happen. No article, news clipping, telegram or letter of condolence describing what occured at that Nationals for him, but I have to assume that it was a pretty crushing defeat for the rising Harvard senior. No articles about his final year of collegiate eligibility, no articles about the Harvard team, just… the end.
It may well have been the final touches of his brief time as a competitive fencer, but it isn’t the end of his story. And really, it just seems to get better from here. After graduation, he pursued a career in radio broadcasting and had a very long and very (seemingly) satisfying time of it. Since the scrapbook could no longer help me, I scoured the interwebs to see what might come up by searching “Kennedy Ludlam” and had a small amount of success. While I don’t usually like to pull images from other sites, I’m going to this time, and give credit where it’s due. This photo below is from a website dedicated to the radio careers of two men who teamed up to entertain the metropolitan Washington DC area and went by the name the Joy Boys. (Here’s the website with the Kennedy Ludlam information.). The station was WRC and the main guys were Ed Walker and Willard Scott. Yes, THAT Willard Scott. Their show ran from 1955 to 1972, so they had a good, long run. Kennedy, who also spent time at NBC and Voice of America, had a long-running WRC slot dedicated to hunting and fishing reports. Here’s a fantastic press photo of him from his days at NBC.
I’ve been digging through audio clips to try and find an example of his on-air voice. No luck. There are a few clips that he’s definitely on, but he’s listed as “announcer”, as are other voices, with no description of which announcer is announcing what. By far the most entertaining thing I’ve found is the clip below, which is a send-up of Ludlam’s fishing reports done by the Walker/Scott team. This bit is classic radio in the vein of Stan Freberg or Bob and Ray, and is exactly the type of humor and use of the medium that drove me to get a broadcasting degree. This link will take you to the page from which I sourced the photo and you’ll have to click on one of the mp3 links on the page to hear what I’m talking about. I recommend “fishing tips”. Go here, click through to listen, then come back. I’ll wait: http://www.thejoyboys.com/ludlam.htm
These are fun send-ups of Ludlam, his name given as “Kennedy Lump-Lump”. This sort of writing and performance is exactly the reason why I loved the idea of working in radio so much more than actually working in radio, and is better explained by the master himself, Stan Freberg, in this bit I found on SoundCloud:
Ok, am I a little sidetracked? Yes. Yes, I am. Let’s get back to the scrapbook of Kennedy R. Ludlam, Harvard graduate:
That’s the state it’s in today. The mouse-eaten bits don’t show up too much from this view. I’ll need to order another acid-free box to house this one, so it will at least maintain its current condition for however long I get to be the caretaker. Because it’s a hard-bound spine, it will be challenging to get good scans of every page, which is something I like to do with items in the collection. I may have to break out my DIY book scanner and see what I can accomplish along those lines. It’s on the edge of too big to work with that way, but it’s worth a try. It’ll be slow going, as there are a number of folded news articles that I’ll have to deal with, along with folded telegrams and the letters inside the envelopes. Those can at least be pulled out to put on the flatbed scanner, but most are on heavy bond paper stock and the creases are sharp and may not take kindly to a flattening. I’ll just have to see how it goes when I get a chance to work through it. I’ve got a lot on my plate. Doesn’t everyone?
One last picture of Kennedy Ludlam from the Joy Boys website will finish this off. Enjoy.