Oral History Transcript — Alma Kesner
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
See the catalog record for this interview and search for other interviews in our collection
Interview with Alma Kesner
Alma Kenser; May 18, 1997
ABSTRACT: Recounts her substitution of condoms for balloons when she could not find enough balloons to fill Captain Kohlerís request for 15 gross. Describes Lamont buildings and grounds, physical location of departments, and the directorís residence. Rockefellerís opposition to some construction. Recalls the humor of working in a building with kidnap protection bars on the windows. In the early days no one is fired. Bruce Heezen and Marie Tharpís maps. Describes the new and old machine shops. Characterizes Harry Van Santford and mentions the electronics group at Lamont. Discusses the directors that following Ewing, Manik Talwani, Neil Opdyke, and Barry Raleigh. Recollections of John and Sally Nafe. More on the sale of the Vema. Women forbidden on board the Vema until the seventies. Recounts the time a scientist overspent buying commodities for the Conrad. Describes John and Elizabeth Ewing. Recalls times at the Navy SOFAR station, Leonard and Elsie Spry, parties in Bermuda, buying and ferrying supplies to Bermuda. More on Harry Van Santfordís work and character. Leaves Lamont when Gene Landriau is hired. Her relationship with John and Elizabeth Ewing recalled. Describes Ewingís wives, their characters, and how they fit in at Lamont. Ewingís third wife, Harrietís effects upon Lamont. Discusses problems at Lamont over granting credit to Ewing, the separateness of geochemistry, the dispute between Heezen and Ewing, and physical isolation of groups following the construction of new buildings. Describes Tharp, Heezen and Tharpís relationship, and Heezen and Tharpís problems at Lamont. Explores how Heezen and Tharpís dispute with Ewing affected Lamont. Ewingís health. Tensions at Lamont affect Kesnerís health. Reactions to Ewingís departure. Her opinion given for why Ewing chose Talwani as the next director. Recalls Manik Talwaniís directorship, his character, and style of leadership. Characterizes Arnold Finck and describes her working relationship with Finck. Experiences working with the staff Columbia. More on the sale of the Vema, as well as the Vema in overhaul.
TranscriptSession I | Session II
Doel:This is Ron Doel, and this is a recording with Alma Kesner. This is a second interview. Todayís date is the eighteenth of March, 1997, and weíre making this recording in Jensen Beach, Florida. And Iím sorry, I interrupted you a moment ago, you were about to tell me something.
Kesner:Well, I told you that I wasnít going to give you any surprises, but maybe Iíll tell you this story. If my granddaughter, who is seventeen, had enough -- thought of it enough to send it to school, I guess I could let it go to Columbia too.
Doel:You were telling me off tape a moment ago that she had written it for school --
Kesner:For a school project, yes. She got an A on it, by the way.
Kesner:Yes. Captain [Henry C.] Kohler was in Cape Town, and he sent me a notice that Denny [Dennis S.] Hayes would be coming. Well, unfortunately when I got the message, he was leaving Lamont the same day as Iím talking to you now, see. Well, Captain Kohler wanted about 15 gross of balloons, because what they were doing, they were going to test the waters down near Cape Town by floating the eels -- now, you know what eels, I think I explained to you before about the eels -- and they had no way of keeping them afloat, and they wanted to do this for quite a number of miles. And without it the project just wouldnít be any good, and they did want to do it this time off Cape Town. Well. I started -- I gave it to the girls first and asked them to, you know, a simple thing like a gross of balloons, each one of you could get me five or six gross, that would be fine. They all come back with ďNo. This is winter time, and balloons arenít the best seller for winter.Ē Well! Then what do I do. I called travel to see how much time I have to spend by knowing at least Denny Hayesí flight time. And I had exactly two hours. Well, so I didnít waste any time, I just got into my car, told the girls Iíd be back when I came, when I got there, and off I went. Well, I hit a few stores in Tappan, figured the best place is to go locally. Nothing, nothing, and I was getting kind of nervous. So I walked into a drugstore, my own druggist, right on Main Street. And I said to Pat, ďPat, donít ask me any questions, but do you have any condoms down inĒ -- youíre laughing, youíve heard this story.
Doel:I havenít, but I was picturing in my mind where this might go --
Kesner:So I said to him, ďDo you have any condoms downstairs?Ē So he said, ďYes, I have quite a supply.Ē And I said, ďCan you supply me with about ten gross?Ē ďHoly mackerel,Ē he said, ďWhat are you going to do with all that?Ē I said, ďIím going on a long weekend.Ē So anyway, he said to me, ďOh, come on, Alma.Ē I said, ďItís for Lamont.Ē I said I tried to buy balloons, but was unable to get that amount. So, anyway, I walked out very happily with a nice package. At least I could present Denny Hays with a shipment going to Cape Town for Captain Kohler. Of course, I wasnít there when he opened them, but he said he never laughed so much in his life because, not only was he happy to have them because the experiment went on, but he said, to see the help and everybody around looking with chagrin on these things that were, had funny shapes all the way down. On top, he said, it was, I wish, he said, I only wish I had a camera. So when he got back from that trip, it was funny, he came and he said, ďIíve seen things happen before Alma, but never like this one. This one you topped it completely.Ē I said, ďWell, at least you did get it, the job done, didnít you?Ē He said, yes. And can you imagine the teacher? My daughterís.
Doel:Your daughterís teacher.
Kesner:Who read that? Figure what kind of a grandmother must she have. Oh dear, but we had a lot of laughs about it.
Doel:You say Denny said that the story topped all other ones. Did you think that it did or were there other things that --
Doel:-- come to your mind that you think topped that.
Kesner:Oh no. No. No. No. No, I donít think so. No I donít think so. There are little silly things like forgetting the ice cream and tying up the ship for twenty minutes.
Doel:I remember you telling me that that you had raced out.
Kesner:I raced. And I said to them, for heavenís sakes, I say, couldnít you have gone to the next port and gotten it? You know. No, he says the next portís going to be England. I said, oh well, then the boys would be unhappy because they like their ice cream and they like their little bit of cake, you know. They like to eat well aboard the ship. Thatís all they really had, and thatís why when I first started to supply food for Captain Kohler, I made sure that the quality was there, not quantity. And when I found this one vendor in Texas who could supply shrimp -- ah! -- it was like heaven on earth. They came in a can. I think I told you that before. And Captain Kohler was very happy, I was happy, and the boys were happy because they got a shrimp cocktail every Sunday. Iím sure they got it on Sunday with their dinner. But it was things like that that made this job to me enjoyable. And, like I said to my daughter only a few weeks ago, you know if it wasnít for -- oh I shouldnít even say it, heh -- if it wasnít for Gene Landriau, I would still be working at Lamont. So she says, Mother, you overestimate yourself. She says, you might wish you were there, but she said, you wouldnít be there today. Because youíd have to compete with the computers. Oh, I said, yes Jane, I forgot about the computers, you know. Theyíre wonderful. Absolutely gorgeous. She had a computer that does everything but talk. But anyway.
Doel:Did you feel that was happening in the very early eighties or late seventies?
Doel:It hadnít already started.
Kesner:No. It hadnít already started, no. Nothing was started because I understand now the purchasing department is strictly on computers. And I havenít talked to the director of purchasing in a long time, but I know itís -- everything is done on computers. Nothing goes back and forth with paper anymore. Gee.
Doel:Itís a big change.
Kesner:Big change is right.
Doel:I brought something that I thought you might enjoy seeing. Itís one of the old maps of Lamont from 1962, and it included some things that folks were hoping to build.
Kesner:Oh yes. The old core lab, storage, geochemistry. That was the only building when I came from, when I was at Lamont Hall that had anything to do with scientific health. Now the other places, these buildings were not here, the marine geophysics, meteorology. No, that wasnít here. And the future building up there wasnít. None of that was here.
Doel:You see there was a whole row of buildings that were planned --
Kesner:Oh, up here.
Doel:-- at the ridge.
Kesner:But never came to doubt, no.
Doel:That was in part because of the opposition from the Rockefellers --
Kesner:Oh, I know.
Doel:-- seeing the oceanography building.
Kesner:Do you know when the oceanography building went up, we had to plant two maple trees because when they looked over from Westchester, they could see the building, and they want it hidden completely. So they paid for it, of course, they sent us, I think in those days, about two hundred dollars for a tree. Arid we planted it. But you know when I looked at it I said, that tree wasnít big enough. No, I think theyíre just puffing our legs, you know. But other trees around it grew up higher and faster, the oak. But.
Doel:That was the reason, wasnít it --
Kesner:Thatís the reason.
Doel:-- that the other buildings were not built.
Kesner:That definitely was the reason because we absolutely hindered their beautiful view of nothing but green trees for the Rockefellers. And Lamont Hall, the rose garden, machine shop, oh gosh, yes. And this was the first building that went up was the marine geophysics building.
Doel:Youíre pointing to the marine geophysics, yes.
Kesner:Yes. Thatís the building I was in. And, but this here building here, next to it, meteorology and biology, that was the swimming pool. That was the -- oh, you should see that swimming pool. We thought that when we got over into the marine biology, into the geophysics building, which was downstairs and we were upstairs, we were going to have, believe it or not, a wonderful time with the swimming pool.
Doel:Was it ever filled?
Kesner:No, they never filled it with water. But it was empty, and it was absolutely beautiful. All the tile all around, you know. And the first thing you know, we heard bung, bing, bang, bang, and they took the tile from around flooring, because theyíre going to put new floor down, and over the swimming pool. So big, that went up in a balloon; you know like a balloon, we never did get our feet wet.
Doel:So to speak.
Kesner:Oh yes, this is very nice. Oh you know, you asked me at one time if I had anything I would like to give away. Well you know when Larry Sullivan was fired from Lamont, did you know that?
Kesner:Well, Larry Sullivan had been with Lamont, oh I guess, longer than I have. He was there when I came and I think it was about three years ago I went into the local store and he usually is very jolly and, you know, always greet me with a nice greeting. He was kind of down. I said, ďLarry, whatís the matter?Ē I said, ďIs something wrong?Ē He said, ďOh I guess you donít know; I was fired from Lamont.Ē I said, ďWhat?Ē I said, ďYou canít be.Ē I said, ďNobody ever gets fired from Lamont.Ē Nobody. If they didnít have room for you in one department, they would call up every department to see if, you can use Denny Hayes for a while? Weíre short of funds; weíll take him back once we get refunded.
Doel:Is that right that that was really a general pattern --
Doel:-- At Lamont?
Kesner:Nobody ever got fired from Lamont. Nobody. Because Doc wouldnít hear of it. If you did good work, thatís fine, but if you did bad work, now thatís another thing. But now these people if theyíve been there over twenty years, had to be good, you know. Well anyway, prior to this, I gave him some maps of the ocean that Bruce [C.] Heezen had given me. Unfortunately, I never had Bruce sign them. I wish I had. Or Marie [Tharp]. And when he was fired, he said to me, Alma, I think you better have these back. I guess he was feeling a little bitter and he gave them back to me. I said, ďWell, I canít use them because I have no walls where I can display them, and to put them in a cellar I think is a sin. So Iím going to offer these to the -- next time Ron comes, Iím going to ask him if he would like them.Ē Would you have any use for them?
Doel:I think these would be good acquisitions. We can make sure they get into an appropriate...
Doel:-- place. Absolutely.
Doel:That would be fine.
Kesner:And there, I had them framed --
Kesner:I had them framed so theyíre really lovely. Even for your own office if you would like them. If you liked Bruce Heezen and Marie Tharp, their work.
Doel:Well, those are very important.
Kesner:Oh theyíre very important. Oh gosh, yes.
Doel:Indeed, in fact, I want to talk more in a little while about them.
Kesner:About Bruce and Marie. Yes. They were wonderful people.
Doel:Iím wondering as you are looking at that map, what kind of memories are coming back as you see one building or another? Youíve told me about some of the things that happened already at Lamont Hall when you were first there and first arrived.
Kesner:Oh yes. Well, it was this building and this building, and all of these up here were never there when I first came, see. None of them were.
Doel:Right. Youíre pointing to where the swimming pool had been.
Kesner:Yes. Swimming pool had been in this building and was later made into a cafeteria.
Doel:Into a cafeteria.
Kesner:Yes. And geochemistry was always here. That was a standard procedure.
Doel:And you werenít over there very much at all in that?
Kesner:No, because they had their own --
Doel:Because they were separate.
Kesner:-- Purchasing. Yes, they had, Wally [Wallace S. Broecker], Wally wanted to keep it like that way, you know. And he for years he fought. He never talked to me much because he was afraid that I might say, ďHey Wally, how about, you know, letting me, let me do your purchasing.Ē But I had no intention. And it wasnít until Doc forced us to combine and sent the girl that did his purchasing over to my building. I was in this building here at the time.
Doel:Which became the Butler Building.
Kesner:Which was the Butler Building, yes. And it worked out fine, but she didnít stay long. And then she came down to Florida. I understand she was right here in Jensen Beach and I tried to find her and I couldnít. Yes. But, yes, this rose garden here which had. The rose garden also had a path that went across here, went around the machine shop, and then weíd walk up the hill to the Butler Building. This Lamont Hall also had a nice walk from here to here. And all through here, all around it.
Doel:Right. And youíre pointing to the area that goes past the apple orchard, up towards the rose garden, where Ė
Doel:-- a number of very large trees are right there.
Kesner:Yes. And the, of course, the residence. Dr. Ewing lived there for years. And --
Doel:Were you in the residence much?
Kesner:Oh yes, yes. I canít say a lot. Maybe two or three times. I was up there when Manik Talwani was there. And that was it I guess. And oh, when Doc was there of course.
Doel:How comfortable a house was that?
Kesner:Very comfortable. It was a beautiful house. Lots and lots of books, I can assure you. And it was a house Iíd love to have. It was lovely because it was overlooked the Hudson. The Hudson River was right there.
Doel:You could see it pretty clearly from --
Kesner:Oh sure, sure. These here trees up here are going downhill, you know. Because youíre right on the top.
Doel:Thatís the crest.
Kesner:And this is the crest too, yes. And it was just lovely. And of course Lamont Hall was the most beautiful house Iíve ever seen. This is the -- in fact, I have a painting at home done by a friend of Alice Hofferís, and it shows you the whole Lamont Hall at winter. And she did a beautiful job. Iíll think, maybe I could give you that too. And that would bring back, oh, such wonderful memories. Because the very first time I was sitting in the hallway down here, and this is where I -- right, see this little front thatís built out a little further than the house itself. The house is about four feet, or five feet I should say, from here to here, which made the entrance.
Doel:The entrance juts out --
Doel:-- a little bit.
Kesner:Right. I was sitting right about. No, this is crazy. Because I wasnít sitting here. Well, this drawing is wrong. But anyway, because when I was sitting at my desk, there was a wall here and this is where I saw the snake going up the ivy, you know, after the eggs for the birds. And --
Doel:Oh, literally a snake.
Doel:Not the eel?
Doel:This is a snake.
Kesner:This is a snake.
Doel:I donít think Iíve heard about this.
Kesner:And, oh dear me! I was working there and I saw this huge thing going up the thing, and I called B & G, buildings and grounds. And they came up with the long gloves and the -- and well prepared for a bite, you know -- but they did get it down and it wasnít a poisonous snake, but it was a threatening snake that I wouldnít want to see climb again. But he was after the eggs for the birds. The birds used to nest in the ivy that was growing up the side of the house. Thatís why, as I show you here, the paintingís wrong because itís --
Doel:That part of the house --
Kesner:That part of the house.
Doel:-- does extend forward. And this is where; this is where the seminar room is in the moment, on the -- to the right side as one enters.
Kesner:Yes. Right. Yes. But thereís something wrong there anyway. But anyhow, thatís when they -- and of course, they did take the snake and take it miles away. Iím sure to the next door neighbor and let it go then. They didnít kill it because it was a good snake. But we had so many wonderful memories of that first -- many years before it was, it became the -- now, where is the old machine shop? The old machine shop here, but I donít see the new one.
Doel:The new one is actually not on --
Kesner:On this map.
Doel:-- because itís far enough away --
Kesner:Away. Oh yes.
Doel:That you have to look on the newer map to find it.
Kesner:Oh thatís it. Of thatís right Oh thatís it. Thatís the idea. Thatís where it is now. Yes. And I used to love to drive up the bill, rather than take my car and go through Lamont, and go out on 9W. Because in the winter time, oh that was a treacherous ride down that 9W hill. You know, it was never plowed when we left the office. So I would rather have gone down the hill. But one day I did, and I stopped my car, but as I turned around, the car coming behind me was coming too fast. And I could see it turning around, and it plowed right into me. But so, youíre never sure, are you?
Kesner:[Laughter] But we did, oh, but it was a lovely, lovely ride.
Doel:Of course, a lot has changed at Lamont since then.
Kesner:Oh yes. Yes.
Doel:And you were describing the old machine shop, I think, the last time that we were speaking.
Kesner:Yes. Thatís right.
Doel:Which was the home of the parties. When Angelo --
Kesner:When Angelo, yes -- oh, God bless Angelo. He was Dr. Ewingís right hand man. If Dr. Ewing had an idea, he would call Angelo. And they would go into that machine shop and stay there for -- until they ironed out what they had in mind. And they did some beautiful work. I canít tell you the number of things they invented, but they did a lot of inventions to be used later on the Vema, you know. Aboard the Vema. And Captain Kohler can tell you, Iím sure, about many of those. New things that happened.
Doel:Harry Van Santford was in the machine shop too, wasnít he?
Kesner:No, he was always in electronics.
Doel:Electronic shop, thatís right.
Kesner:Yes. He was the -- now.
Doel:Where was that?
Kesner:He was here. The marine geophysics building that later became the Butler Building.
Doel:The Butler Building, right.
Kesner:He was always downstairs. Now prior to that he was in the basement of the Lamont Hall, and I was sitting right on top of him. Right here. And he was under me.
Doel:Completely underneath you.
Kesner:And I said to him for heavenís sakes, I said, I hope youíre not doing anything, experimenting down there, because these floors are pretty, you know, easy.
Doel:What did he tell you?
Kesner:Yes. He said, no, we do all our experimenting behind closed doors. So I said, fine. And then I was, I was sent from upstairs, down to his level. But we had a lot of space then. And they gave me an office that normally was used by the Lamont children. It was their playroom or something. And when the Lindbergh kidnapping happened, the Lamont people had grills put on all their downstairs windows because they didnít want anybody kidnapping the Lamont children. And it was funny; every time I had a salesman come in or someone comes in to see me, they always asked me, ďAlma, what did you do wrong that you got put in prison?Ē You know, because I had the prison bars on the windows. So I used to kid with them. I said, ďThat wasnít for me,Ē I said, ďthat was for you so you donít get away.Ē Oh, we had a lot of laughs.
Doel:What sort of person was Harry Van Santford?
Kesner:Harry Van Santford was a very quiet individual. He didnít have too much to say, and he didnít have too -- [Interviewer is coughing] -- oh dear, can I get you some water? [Interruption] Individual so quiet that if you wanted to talk to him you almost had to make an appointment, you know. And it wasnít until he got married, and we were all so surprised about that, that he opened up a little bit, you know. And now what I mean by that is, I mean, just to say good morning and good afternoon. You know. And he was very conscientious with his job, everything In fact, he was the one who explained about eels to me.
Doel:Is that right?
Kesner:That helped me out when I had the -- as I told you before in the last interview, when the representatives from Washington would come up and, you know, go through my orders to find out why I put permanent equipment and so forth and so on. But, he was very, very helpful in lots of ways. And he saved the day for me on that one, because Iím sure they were going to question me constantly about it until like, they get another answer. But to show them what an eel was used for was the same thing as using it for, as I told you in the beginning of this interview, what I bought the balloons for. See the eels, they have to stay to the top of the water to get the water temperature, or other results, you know.
Doel:How close was he to Ewing?
Doel:Was he someone that Ewing would seek out in the way that he did Angelo?
Kesner:Very possible. Very possible. But you see, before I came, I was on the first floor and to go to see Angelo you just went by passed me by using the service stairway. And that was around little, right from his apartment upstairs. So I wouldnít really, I couldnít even answer that.
Doel:That was the round stairway that had been put in where the elevator had been?
Kesner:Thatís right. Right. Yes.
Doel:And thatís what Ewing would use?
Kesner:Would use when he went down. And, of course, Harry used to work until all hours of the night. So itís very possible that they discussed many a thing going on with scientific work or improvements of something or other, you know. And Harry worked with everybody who worked in this electronics department. But it was very -- I think he got fired too, didnít he? No, no, he left.
Doel:He had left.
Kesner:Yes, he left.
Doel:You mentioned a moment ago about Larry Sullivan who had been fired. What did he do there by the way?
Kesner:Oh, you know, if I have to tell you I donít know.
Kesner:I donít know. He worked in a number of departments. And -- but he had been there so long. If he was so bad, as a scientist or as a helper, or whatever, why did they wait so long? You know. Just like Molly [Malone]. Now, you canít tell me all these years of working for the Observatory. Iím sure it had to be just a matter of money, finances. And why it should be, if they didnít do anything about her retirement. See. So I really canít even answer that question. I couldnít even fathom a guess, you know.
Doel:I thought that was very interesting when you said a moment ago how much effort was made if money ran short in one division, to find --
Doel:You mention Denny Hayes. Was it actually a time at which his funding line had been jeopardized and that efforts were made to find him funding elsewhere? Or were there other examples that came to your mind?
Kesner:No, not really. It was just something that we automatically accepted. We knew none of us would be fired. And you had to be pretty bad to be threatened more or less by Doc or so. And if you ever threatened by Doc, you shaped up in a hurry, you know. And, no, I really donít know. But I know that this was common knowledge from all the department heads that we knew, that this is what their theory would be. They would never fire anybody. Now Iím talking about the early days now. Iím not talking about --
Doel:Early, up to, through Ewingís period?
Kesner:Oh yes, yes.
Doel:And through Manikís too?
Kesner:No. No. I wouldnít say to Manikís. There were too many unhappy people at that time.
Doel:By the time that Manik took over in Ď70, Ď72.
Kesner:Yes. And, in fact, when I left in Ď80, Manik came and gave me -- did he? Yes, he did. They had a little party for me in the rose garden, and he did speak. And he told me things that I didnít even remember, you know. Like I typed for him when I first came to Lamont. I probably did, but I canít remember doing it. And he said that.
Doel:He still would have been a graduate student then?
Kesner:Oh no, oh no -- yes, he would have been. Sure. So I couldnít imagine why he would say such a thing unless he didnít know enough about me so he put that in. I donít. I donít. But anyhow, he finally left, as you know. And I forget who came after Manik. Who came after Manik?
Doel:There was -- the interim director was Neil Opdyke.
Kesner:Oh, Neil Opdyke, thatís right, yes. Yes.
Doel:We, you know, certainly Manikís dismissal from Lamont --
Doel:-- and Opdyke and then Raleigh follows.
Kesner:Raleigh, yes. Nobody liked him anyway.
Doel:Did you have much contact with him?
Kesner:I had no contact with him whatsoever. He ignored me completely. Not that Iím looking for anything, but usually if you -- even Doc when I -- Iím not saying that he ran my doorstep off. But if I was in a group, he would always say to me, ďRemember the day.Ē And thatís all. And then weíd all laugh and that would be it, you know.
Doel:And that would be, thatís the recollection --
Kesner:Thatís the recollection.
Doel:-- of you going in to give him a kiss.
Doel:The challenge kiss.
Kesner:And thatís the, he always did that to me. To the day he died almost. And I was so happy that his wife understood because he now was married to Harriet, you know. And she would laugh.
Doel:Harriet would laugh.
Kesner:Yes. Yes. I said, oh boy. I said, ďHarriet, Iíll never live that one down.Ē She said, ďI donít think you ever will.Ē [Laughter]
Doel:Did you say that people didnít like Barry Raleigh? From what you were hearing from other folks?
Kesner:From what I was hearing from other people, yes.
Doel:What sort of things did they talk about?
Kesner:I -- see, I shouldnít even say it, because I canít remember.
Doel:Youíre certainly not the only one who --
Kesner:Said that, yes.
Doel:-- had that impression. Iím just curious if you had remembered.
Kesner:Just. I think itís just modern gossip. And then it could have been sometimes, Iíll tell you, jealousy. Another time. I forget who was his secretary at the time, but she didnít like me one bit. And if she could possibly not send me a copy of the newsletter or if she could possibly not send me a copy of the Columbia statements, you know, she would, see. It would mean Iíd have to call her and say, did you forget to send me, you know. But, I have no idea why. And I have no idea. Iíve never -- nothing ever happened to cause this, you know.
Doel:She was someone who had been at Lamont?
Kesner:She was at Lamont a long time. And she worked for Manik when Manik was there. Now I canít even remember her name. Isnít that awful? Thatís what it means to me, see.
Doel:Any of those names can always be added later. Thereís no problem with that. Someone else we barely mentioned in the first interview was Jack [John E.] Nafe. Iím wondering what recollections Ė
Kesner:Oh, Jack Nafe.
Doel:-- you have of him.
Kesner:Oh, Jack Nafe. I wrote to Sally only about a few weeks ago. Now, they lived right on the grounds. And now they donít.
Doel:Youíve got the map yet in front of you.
Kesner:They donít show.
Doel:Youíve got a few of the homes there, but not all of them.
Kesner:They donít show them at all. Letís see now. Geochemistry, the storage. This is -- oh dear, in between here and there, there should be a space for a house here, like say, and a house over here like this say. Now [J. Lamar] Worzels lived in one. Jack Nafe lived in another house. And Sally and Jack Nafe were just lovable people. Jack Nafe was quiet, gentle man. Exactly. Always had something good to say about everyone. What he did in the scientific end of it, I donít know, because Jack very seldom came to my office. He very seldom ordered anything to be sent to him. And if he did, his secretary would usually come up to me or call me on the phone. But Jack Nafe and Sally and I, we became very good friends. And before they left, believe it or not, Sally called me over and she had a few things that she was going to leave behind. And she said, ďI hate to do it, Alma, because I thought maybe youíd like that painting right there.Ē And it was a nothing painting at all, all green with a few blades of grass coming up. Oh, I said, Iíd love it. I still have it home in my house. And they moved to Victoria, Canada. Now I did keep in touch with them by mail all this time. And I also, when Jack died, I felt very bad because I had been up to -- letís see, I think it was the year before. I tried to reach them. I visited my nephew who lived in Seattle. And his mother lived up in Victoria, and I tried to hit the Nafeís at that time. But they were on the mainland and I was on the island. So it was a big difference and I couldnít impose upon my nephew to take me over to the mainland. And I never did. I tried to reach them by telephone, but I wasnít successful. So when he died, I felt very bad about that. I wrote Sally a long letter, and she wrote back to me. And weíve been corresponding ever since. And Jackís wife Sally was a very proper person. Everything was done properly, you know. And I loved her for it, you know.
Doel:What sort of things come to mind when you say that, done properly?
Kesner:Well, if we went anywhere and gloves were required, you could bet all the tea in China Sally Nafe would have gloves. Or she would have a hat and the rest of us would be without, you know. Thatís what I mean.
Doel:Was Jack the same way?
Kesner:In a funny sort of way, yes. Yes, he was. But he was a, as I said, a gentle man. And he was in all phases of life. He spoke quietly. And he was quiet in his ways with everything he did. He would never scream at anybody. Like sometimes I used to get, you know, a little bit of that screaming.
Doel:You used to get it from others, including Ewing and --
Kesner:Oh yes, yes. But he was a wonderful person.
Doel:Did he have trouble fitting in, that kind of personality --
Doel:-- at Lamont or?
Kesner:No. No. He was very, very well represented. Now you might say that living next to Joe [J. Lamar] Worzel. Now heís an individual, you know. Joe tells it like it is. And we used to love to hear Joe bellow off, you know, if something went wrong or if just something that he was trying to say, would come over in an awkward manner, you know. But I always loved Joe. He always told it like it was. And he was very fond of Henry [Henry C. Kohler], except Henry was very mad at him at the end for not letting him know about the sale of the Vema .
Doel:Did Henry feel that Joe was the one who should have been able to tell him?
Doel:And Joe already knew about the sale of the Vema?
Kesner:Yes. Right. Right. He said, yes, he said, he blamed it all on Joe. He said, ďJoe should have wired me and let me know what was happening.Ē Not that I come in here as a, uh, as a shock.
Doel:You were telling. Go ahead.
Kesner:In fact, he even said to me when he came to the house that day.
Doel:He had called. Henry had called you up earlier and said he was going to come over to visit you.
Kesner:Yes. Yes. And he had to let off steam. And he had no place to go. If he went down into his own cabin, a million people were around. They were already trying to get everything off the ship. So when he got to my house, he said to me, ďAlma, what would you like from the Vema? I want you to have something.Ē I said, ďI love a shipís clock, just a small one.Ē So when he left with Laney [Kohler] and they went back again, he said, ďAlma, guess what, theyíre all gone.Ē When I was gone, they cleaned the ship completely of everything that was removable.
Doel:In the interval that he had come over to visit you.
Kesner:Visit you. I said, ďNo, I donít want anything.Ē I said, ďThereís nothing really that I could have in the house.Ē But I thought I would like a shipís clock, you know. So, he said, ďNo,Ē he said, ďbut Iíll tell you what,Ē he says, ďkeep your garage open because youíre going to get a hell of a lot of food.Ē I said, ďI donít want a lot of food.Ē He said, ďWell, what am I going to do with it?Ē He said, he said, ďThese -- Iíll give you the canned goods, Iíll give you something that will hold you for a while.Ē But he said, ďDonít, what am I going to do with it? Wait until everybody comes in and empties out the larder.Ē He said, ďYou can have a little bit of something that you worked so hard for all these years.Ē Oh, I said, ďDonít be like that.Ē So, anyway, he did bring a few things and --
Doel:That must have been a really emotional time.
Kesner:It was. It was. It was terrible.
Doel:When did he know that the ship was? Was it only when he got to dock or had he gotten a radio message just before then?
Kesner:Just until he got in here.
Kesner:Into Piermont. And it was sad. I was so sorry for him. Because he was hurt and after all, all the years that he, you know, that he worked without going home even for a vacation. His wife would come down here and would go on the cruises. Well in the beginning, of course, it was tough on her too because no woman was allowed aboard the Vema at any time. Never. I couldnít even go up the gangplank, you know.
Kesner:No, oh no.
Doel:When you first came on board, you were not allowed?
Kesner:No sir. Women were not allowed on board. This must have been an ill omen or something. I donít know. But then after a while, then it opened up that, yes, and you can also take your wife on the cruise. So not only did the wife go, but the daughter came another year and then they hired women aboard. Women went aboard.
Doel:When did that change happen?
Kesner:Oh about, in the seventies.
Doel:It wasnít before?
Kesner:No, in the seventies. And, of course, I donít talk much about the -- the Conrad. Because I -- that she wasnít my ship, you know. The Conrad, I did everything for that I knew I was going to do. But they used to sneak things on me for the Conrad.
Doel:Really, what sort of things?
Kesner:And on one thing, Iíll never forget, when. Now who was the captain then? Oh, I canít remember his name. There were so many captains on that.
Doel:They had changed quite often.
Kesner:Oh, so often. And the only time I got my really dander up was when -- I can see his face, but I canít tell you his name. Isnít that awful. That shows you Iím getting on in years.
Doel:Happens to me too.
Kesner:The Conrad was ready to leave to go out in about another week when the shipment came in from the Community Market in Piermont. That was either Sam or the captain at that time.
Doel:Sam being Sam [Robert D.] Gerard?
Kesner:Yes, Sam Gerard. They went down to the Community Market and ordered everything. The meat, the whole provision for the next six months. Which I normally had to go out on three bids, but not after a while. When I confirmed to Columbia that where I was going to the Kansas people, they were giving me the best of everything. Getting three bids on food products is kind of stupid, you know. But not to go to a community market where the prices are time and a half again as much as the wholesale market that I was going to down on Fulton Street. Now, you couldnít get much better than that. And I used to spot check prices and so forth. And if I had a, any question about it at all, I would call Kansas people and say, look, you overcharged me or whatever. But anyhow, when I got a look at that bifi, I went right up to his office. I said, ďWhat are you trying to pull?Ē I said, ďWe canít accept this.Ē I said, you, ďItís like going into the Ritz for a bed and you can get a bed next door for half the price or a quarter of the price.Ē I said, ďThis reflects on me.Ē I said, ďFurthermore, you should have gone through my office for this kind of material.Ē Well, you know, I was mean enough to have them take everything back. I was. And they didnít like it, but they came and took the complete shipment back. And when I re-ordered that material, Iíll bet there was a four thousand dollar difference.
Doel:And thatís back in 1965 or Ď70 -- dollars?
Kesner:Oh yes. Right. And I wasnít looking for any praises. I wasnít looking for anything. But in those days money was tight. And I was still afraid of the auditors coming in. How could you possibly go to a place like this? I didnít possibly go. I would never go. But anyway.
Doel:Was this the one exception, really, when you think back on it?
Kesner:Yes. Yes. The one exception. They never did it again.
Kesner:We had lots of little things happen in the very beginning, you know. And Iím not saying Iím a complete angel. A lot of times I made a mistake too, you know, and Iím willing to admit it. But I was in the learning period in those days too. So we were sort of at the bottom of the class all around.
Doel:This is in your beginning days with Vema once it.
Kesner:Right. Right. But in other parts of the -- of course, I was always in publishing, you know. And I learned enough in publishing that you donít take one personís word for it, you take three. Thatís why I see when these politicians go out on jobs locally even here, with one bid. Oh, that horrifies me. You know. And it makes a big difference when you go out for three bids. You get a feeling of what youíre buying and so forth. But anyhow. Thatís my story. I canít think of another thing.
Doel:Other person we didnít talk about in the first interview was, was Doc Ewingís brother, John. How well did you come to know John and Betty [Elizabeth Ewing]?
Kesner:Oh, John and Betty were two more friends of mine. John and Betty lived right here in Snedenís Landing. And they had a lovely home, way in the woods. And I will say --
Doel:In the woods, say back in the vicinity of where?
Kesner:Well, you know where Marc, Marc Langseth lived.
Doel:Where Marc Langseth, yes.
Kesner:All right. Marc Langseth lived on the street, on Oak Tree Road. You had to take that little path right next to Markís house and go way back into the woods. And they were the last house in the woods. Now I, I liked Betty very much. I still love her very much. She lives now up in Woods Hole.
Kesner:Not in Woods Hole actually. She lives in.
Doel:But very close.
Kesner:Very close to Woods Hole, yes. In fact, on the same street as where Betty and John live, the wife of the former captain to the Sahara Slam in Bermuda, they -- she -- the wife lives there. She remarried. She divorced the captain, and she married someone else. And they lived there. And as long as Iíve been going up to Woods Hole, I always miss seeing them. But we send Christmas cards back and forth all the time, you know. That was in the good old days of the Bermuda affair, you know. Now what was his name? Did you know the captain on the Sahara Slam at all?
Doel:I donít believe so.
Kesner:Sahara Slam, you know, the Navy SOFAR station was part of our station too. But due to the fact, that at Columbia, the students were up in arms against anybody --
Doel:In the late 1960s.
Kesner:Sixties, right. That we had to sort of disassociate ourselves with the SOFAR station, but I used to go back and forth there all the time, as you know.
Doel:And you were part of the development of the separate group to run that.
Kesner:Thatís right. Yes, the PGI [Palisades Geophysical Institute, Inc.].
Kesner:Yes. But the Sahara Slam was another ship out that was their ship in Bermuda. And now what was his name, the captain? Oh, I --
Doel:We can always add.
Kesner:He stayed at; he stayed at my house many a time when he was in New York.
Doel:Is that right?
Kesner:He and his wife, but then they were divorced because he drank too much. Oh, he was quite a, quite a heavy drinker. And, isnít that terrible to have your mind go blank like that. I donít like it.
Doel:Iím afraid I find it happening to me far too often. Weíll make sure that we get
Kesner:In, yes. And he was a character. He was strictly for Bermuda because he walked around and never put a shoe on his foot, you know. And when I came, he said, youíre not going to act like a tourist. Take the hat off. Take the --
Doel:This isnít Peter Olander by chance is it?
Kesner:No, no, no, no. Not Peter Olander. He operated the sailboat, Peter Olander.
Kesner:Yes. There was a sailboat there too that I went aboard to the consternation of the director then of the SOFAR station.
Doel:Oh, Leonard Spry.
Kesner:Yes, Leonard Spry. He said to me, Alma, if you have any intention of going out with -- I almost had his name then. He was going to take me out on the sailboat. Donít you go? Itís too windy. Look at the day out there. Donít you dare go today? Where do you think we went the minute we left his office?
Kesner:To the sailboat and out we went.
Doel:And how was it?
Kesner:It was windy. But it didnít bother me at all, but when he kept handing me a can of beer. Now Iím not a beer drinker. And Iím sitting down here and the sails are up. And the -- once we put the sails up and listed to the side, it was gorgeous. Until the sails went up it was horrible.
Doel:Rocky, or you going back and forth.
Kesner:You know, all over the place. And we had another couple with us and they decided to go down below. So -- Clem McCann.
Kesner:Clem McCann was the skipper. He was a character. He said, I would recommend you do not go below because itís going to be worse down there than up here. Sit up here. So they sat for a few minutes, but they went down. Were they sick, oohhh. And they kept handing me a can of beer. I hate beer. So I took a sip, and when he wasnít looking, overboard. I said, you know, by the time we got back, I think half of the beer was on the bottom of the ocean. But anyhow, we had a wonderful, you know, visit, after I had my business with Leonard Spry. Oh, he was another doll, oh, he was.
Doel:What sort of person was he?
Kesner:He was just wonderful. They were, he and his wife Elsie, they had lived in England all these years, and then he got this chance of becoming the -- well, director of the Navy SOFAR station. Not the director, but the, what would I call it, business officer, yes. And he took care of all the ordering and he took care of all the orders. Heíd call me every day from the SOFAR station and place an order. Get me such and such and such and such. And I tried with him too to spot check and make sure he got it as fast as possible. And I put things on planes for him which was costly in those days. And he was satisfied and we became very good friends. Because Elsie and he lived right on the island, and they were part of a group for theatricals, and to get me away from the SOFAR station, they would take me to a show at night, you know. And they were great, you know people in Bermuda drink like fish. You know why? Because it was so cheap. Youíd buy a bottle of scotch like that for a dollar.
Doel:Your handís up about sixteen inches from the table.
Kesner:Right. And things like that. Iíll never forget the very first party they gave for me when I went to visit. You donít sit down at their parties; you stand up, you know. And they come up and hand you a glass like this, full of scotch. Oh, I said, no, no, no. I say -- it wasnít to Gordon Hamilton, it was Carl Hardegan, I guess. And Carl Hardegan had two boys. And every once in a while Iíd get something like, felt like shhhh, over my head, you know. ďSay, what was that?Ē Leonard Spry would come over to me and say, ďAlma, I suggest you sit down.Ē I said, ďWhy? Everybody else is standing.Ē ďI know, but Carl Hardeganís kids are up in that tree there and they have bow and arrows and theyíre trying to see how close they can get to your head.Ē
Doel:Bow and arrow?
Kesner:Bow and arrow. Oh, Iím telling you. Well, anyway, thatís part of the fun then.
Doel:Itís a reminder how often you were down in Bermuda as part of Lamont business.
Kesner:Oh yes. I did a lot. Very often Gordon Hamilton would come through and say, ďI forgot something. It has to get to Bermuda. Tell travel to let you have a next ticket, and go and come right back.Ē I said fine.
Doel:This would be overnight.
Kesner:Overnight, yes. Or sometimes back the same day.
Kesner:If I could. And the only trouble is sometimes I had to be very careful because I didnít know what I was carrying. Just put it in your valise with your nighties, you know, or something. So I said, well, all right. But Iíd like to know what Iím carrying half the time, you know. But they liked me because I didnít ask too many questions, but I knew what they were giving me.
Doel:Well, youíd mentioned the last interview that some of the, with the detonation caps.
Kesner:Yes, they were harmless. Nothing could happen. You had to have the -- between the detonators you had to have the other part of the explosive to make it ignite, see. So it was pretty safe.
Doel:This was just an accident of the way that the orders had gone in that that the explosives were there, but the detonators hadnít yet.
Kesner:No, nothing like that. Because I wasnít buying explosives for Bermuda. I tried at one point. And do you know I had to go to Camp Dix.
Doel:Fort Dix, you mean, in New Jersey?
Kesner:Yes. Fort Dix in New Jersey. I had to speak to the captain in charge of ammunitions. [Interruption to say hello to someone] To find out when is the next shipment going to Bermuda of ammunition. Well they said. [Interruption to speak to someone who comes in the room] I said, oh about six months. Oh, I said, well, that will never do, never do. So I called and tell Carl Hardegan, ďSix months before I can get that through.Ē ďOh, weíll have to think of something, wonít we Alma.Ē I said, ďWeíll have to figure something.Ē But usually they came -- they got their own explosives through the Navy department who would drop shipment to, you know, SOFAR.
Doel:That was the normal way to do it, but at times, when it was so long in between the shipments.
Kesner:So long, yes. And I never did partake in any great shipment of explosives directly to Bermuda. It was too long for me to do it. And they would take care of that themselves on the other end. Because they are the SOFAR station. And it wasnít for years that I found out what Navy SOFAR station meant. Do you know that?
Doel:Is that right?
Doel:When did you -- how -- do you remember when you were finally told?
Kesner:Gee I canít. Not too recently, not too long ago.
Doel:Who had told you about it?
Kesner:Ahhh. Who told me about it? [Pause] I know it wasnít Leonard Spry because Leonard Spry is living in California. That was a sad situation. He was an Englishman. Had worked all his life until his retirement in the SOFAR station, and being an English subject, could not retire in Bermuda.
Doel:Is that right?
Kesner:He went back to England and they couldnít afford it there. They had to come to America. Theyíre living in California. Whether theyíre still living or not, I donít know. And I really feel bad because thereís one set I should have kept in touch with, you know. But it takes two to tango. So. I canít remember who told me that. Oh, I read it; I read it in a magazine. Yes, yes, I did. Explaining how Doc had -- Doc and Joe had this -- invented this instrument which enabled them to detect submarine approaching. And I thought that was great.
Kesner:Yes. So Iím, at least I knew why. Because nobody would ever explain SOFAR station to me, see.
Doel:You knew about a few things that were going on like the pinger.
Kesner:Oh yes, the pinger. I loved that too. Yes. The little story about the pinger. And that was great.
Doel:You were telling me that --
Kesner:But thatís when Harry Van, excuse me.
Doel:Sure, go ahead.
Kesner:Thatís when Harry Van Santford lived underneath. And thatís where he was, he was working with -- wasnít Marc Langseth. It was with, oh dear; this is where I get into trouble. I can see his face, but I canít remember his name.
Doel:If this helps, itís a list of some of the people who were there at Lamont in the very early years.
Kesner:Oh yes. Dave [David B.] Ericson for heavenís sakes. [Pause] No, see, it might have been one of the lesser important people.
Doel:Someone who was only coming up through the ranks at that point.
Kesner:Yes. And would be down there working, you know, on the -- because if -- Larry [J. Laurence] Kuip, oh gosh, yes. None of the names on here at all ring a bell. But letís say it was Lynn Sykes, all right? And they were having the, well, you know the story of the pinger. I donít have to tell you that one again. But they were -- Harry would work with all of these people, if so needed. And he would be wonderful with them, you know. If they come down, they wanted to -- have an idea of how they want to change something or other aboard the Vema, he would do it. And he was a very, very helpful person. You asked me about Harry Van Santford before.
Kesner:He was very, very strange boy because he was very quiet, and as I say, he never talked very much until he got married. And then when he did get married, it was short lived, unfortunately. She died after a few years of his marriage, and he was a very unhappy person. He loved to work. He -- in fact, he didnít want to retire, I understand. They forced him into retirement. And he and Dave Ericson used to get along quite well. He did a lot of core work for Dave Ericson. And also Angelo Ludas did a lot of work for Dave Ericson too because he used to build the trays that the cores came in, you know, that they brought up from the ocean bottom. But it was all very interesting work, and, of course, Harry was a slave driver. He expected everybody to work as long as he worked, you know. And the only one that really worked hard with him was the -- Smith, Harold Smith -- worked with Harold Smith. He was a -- the wife of the housekeeper who was originally hired by the Lamont people. And they worked for the Lamont people as cook and he was the driver. And when the Lamont people gave this beautiful home to Columbia, it was with the understanding that Alma and Harold [Smith] would stay with that until the end.
Doel:Thatís right. Right.
Kesner:Well, it didnít happen that way, but anyway. They were very nice people. And Harold above all, very quiet, but he worked with Harry and did everything that Harry wanted to, you know. And Harry was always looking for someone to hold the rope or do whatever, you know. And he was also in on the eel building too. So it was all very, very interesting. It was like one big happy family.
Doel:Iím curious what Harry Van Santfordís office, the shop looked like. What did it look like when you went down and put your head inside it?
Kesner:Oh my gosh. Nothing but wires. Wires all over, you know. And when I, I didnít notice it so much when I was upstairs because I never would go down because he was always working on something. And heíd say, careful where you work or youíre going to ruin it, ruin it. Hated women to come in anyway. You know that. But when I was officially moved down there, with -- ohh. Who was in the other office across the -- he became the administrator. Oh, Gene Landriau. Now, oh, I shouldnít even open my mouth. Because I donít think I better say another word.
Doel:This is the person who was brought on? Iím curious if this is the person that you alluded to in the first interview that Arnold Finck had brought in?
Kesner:And when he did, I told him. I said, Arnold, if you bring Gene Landriau in here, Iím leaving. I said, Iím not going to threaten you, but Iím just going to warn you, you know.
Doel:Why did Arnold feel that Gene Landriau was the right person to bring in?
Kesner:Well, Iíll give you a little history of this. Gene Landriau was charge of buildings and grounds when I first came. And his office was down the basement, and he had an office to the side. I had a double entrance office here with the -- the protection so I wouldnít be kidnapped. I wouldnít be kidnapped. So anyway, he would be down there. And Dr. Ewing made it very understood that if, if the buildings and grounds department worked, they had to work Saturday and Sunday when required and so forth and so on. So at that time, I think it was in nineteen, in the early sixty, 1960 I guess it was, he asked Gene to make sure heís home over the weekend because heís expecting Russian visitors and they have to be picked up at the airport and brought right to his home. Dr. Ewing was going to have them stay at his home because they were, in those days, it was very --
Doel:This was a big deal.
Kesner:Big deal to bring a Russian from Russia here and stay in your house, you know. They brought a lot of vodka with them. They only drank the hundred percent and fifty proof of vodka, I guess. But anyway, it was a Sunday afternoon, and I guess Doc was sitting up there watching his time. He said, they should be along any minute, you know. Finally an. hour went by an hour and a half, and he called Gene Landriauís house. And he said to Gene Landriau, ďWhat are you doing home? Where are my guests that you were supposed to pick up from Russia?Ē I mean, from the Kennedy Airport. ďOh,Ē he says, ďI didnít go.Ē He said, I donít know whether he gave the excuse that he forgot, didnít write it on his memo. So Doc said to him, ďGene, you can forget all about Lamont now. Donít even bother coming into work tomorrow; youíre fired.Ē And then he had a heck of a time. We had to call. I guess he called Arnold Finck right away, and Arnold had to find somebody to go out to the airport. And those people were still sitting out there waiting. What an embarrassing situation!
Kesner:And it was many, many years that he was out. You know. And, see, unfortunately, he lives right in Snedenís Landing. And I guess Arnold has seen him over all these years.
Doel:Now this is -- when is this happening? Is this the late sixties or is it much later?
Kesner:Oh no, 1962, Ď63, around that time.
Doel:When this happened.
Kesner:When this happened, yes. Donít hold me to it.
Doel:Sure. Somewhere in the 1960s.
Kesner:Somewhere in the, yes. And it was all right because he wasnít too well liked anyway. And he thought he was too good for the job, you see.
Doel:And the firing really did stick?
Kesner:Oh sure. Never. The only time he came back, the day I left, 1980. And I said to Arnold, I couldnít work with him. I couldnít, I couldnít honestly say that I would trust him every minute of the day. I said, because he always used to try to pick my brains. He always had to ask me a question. ďIs this right? Can it be done this way or that way?Ē I said I never knew whether he was trying to be kind to me or whether he was trying to frame me, you know. I always had that feeling. So anyway, after that, I never heard another thing about him until Arnold said when he was leaving; he thought he would have him come back. Now he did go to many a job in New York. He went, I think he went back to college, took in a few semesters of extra credits. He went to NYU, got a job there. But he flitted from post to post, all the way down. And I said, Arnold, why are you doing this? He said, oh, heís a changed man. You donít know, Alma, heís so changed. Well, to make a long story short, he did hire him. I left, and --
Doel:He hired him for what position?
Kesner:As his administrator?
Doel:As the administrator.
Kesner:Arnoldís, Arnoldís job. And he said that that he changed. Now, I left in 1980. Anytime I met anyone in my going through the local store -- we always met somebody in the supermarket, you know, always. It would be Andy [Andrew] McIntyre over in Jersey, or Iíd have -- meet somebody here in Tappan. And Iíd say, how are things going up at the office with the new administrator? Oh, donít even talk about that. He said, we hit bottom, he kept saying, they used to say, we hit bottom. He cannot make a decision. If you ask him a question, heís got to think about it. Oh, I said, heís up to his old tricks. Thatís the way he was at the very beginning. And he used to come in and try to question me about some things, you know, when he first came. But I, I said, you go out. Iím too busy. I canít answer these questions now, you know. And out heíd go. But he never changed. And to the day he retired, thatís the same impression I got from everybody. Thank heavens. I donít know who they have now. Oh they do. Effie Wellman, I think, is in there, isnít she?
Doel:I donít know. It could be.
Doel:That must have been difficult for you because you felt that his hiring meant that you had to leave.
Kesner:Yes. Yes. And I didnít care really because I was sixty-eight then. And I knew theyíd be asking me to leave sooner or later, you know. But I was still -- I still loved the work. It was challenging. It was -- you never knew what was going to happen for the day. And I loved every bit of it. But it was too bad about that because that was wasted years for administration work because I donít -- canít remember how many years it was that he was -- when Arnold left. Of course, after I left, I was never invited back again, you know, for anything. No parties, unless. Oh yes they did. When I left, they had me do the party for Captain Henry Kohler.
Doel:But that was one year.
Kesner:Yes, one year after, yes. And I said, thatís the only one Iíd come back for. They said weíd like you to come back every year and give a party. I said no thank you. You know. But anyway, that was it. I canít think of anything else. And you know your coffeeís probably ice cold. Iím going to make another pot.
Kesner:What time is it anyway?
Doel:Itís just about noon.
Kesner:Well are we through?
Doel:No, weíre not through yet.
Kesner:No. Oh I thought you said by three hours weíd be through.
Doel:But we havenít been talking for three hours yet. If you want to take a break, we can, but I do have some more questions that Ė
Kesner:How much about?
Doel:Could be another hour and a half yet or so.
Kesner:Another hour and a half?
Doel:Yes, if you can.
Kesner:Oh. I was going to have lunch. And I have some stuff in there.
Doel:Well, we can take a break. [Interruption for lunch] Weíre resuming after a quick pause. You were recalling John Ewing and Betty a few moments ago. How much -- did you observe John and Doc interacting much?
Kesner:Not too much. No. We were never in the company. I used to go with Betty a lot. And I, well of course, it really started at the Observatory when they had their little house here, letís say.
Doel:Right, and youíre pointing. Thatís near to the geochemistry. In that area.
Kesner:Yes. Oh there were. In here. You know.
Doel:It was actually in --
Kesner:In between these little houses and all this. Or maybe in between these trees. I donít know. But anyway, they had a very nice house in the woods. I told you about that. And John would be gone for quite a while. And I donít think I really got to know them very well until -- it was after John Hennion was killed aboard the Vema.
Doel:Right. On Vema.
Kesner:That was a terrible weekend. And we all went over to Johnís house. And it was just -- Mrs. Hennion came over and all. And it was a pathetic situation. And it made us close, you know. Well, anyway, John was very much like Doc. He was very quiet. Doc never raised his voice. You never heard him raise his voice at all. Nor did you hear John ever raise his voice. But I worked for John and I worked for -- John Hennion I didnít know, because it was when I first came. And we had a very close relationship. We had, if they had anything special they wanted to have done, that they were going to have something at the house where theyíre entertaining Russian visitors. They could have, Doc might have said to John, I donít know, I never heard these. We never alluded to any conversations between Jack and Doc. But, John was more -- with Woods Hole too. He was the -- he worked up there. He had a house up in Plymouth, not Plymouth. Whatís the name of the town?
Doel:The oneís that in the vicinity of --
Kesner:Of, of Woods Hole. Falmouth [MA].
Kesner:Falmouth, yes. And -- and any parties that were given at Lamont at all. And the -- I was always included, always. Which I thought was very nice. Now, even when they had honors to be given out in any way down at Columbia, and it was a formal affair, John would always see to it that I got an invitation. Which was very nice. And I used to love to go out formal, you know. Evening dresses and all this. And it was either John who would drive, or it would be Bruce and Marie. Because half the time Bruce would want me to check over how Marie was dressed as you know. Because sheíd wear sneakers, you know, with a long dress. But, I spent a lot of time at their home, you know, after hours. We used to have dinner together. We used to plant together. She loves plants. I love plants.
Doel:You and Betty.
Kesner:Yes, Betty and I. And we would sort of swap, and then, of course, her neighbor on the one side of her house, I met her. And we used to change plants there too. In fact. Iím dry.
Doel:Weíll stop in a moment, sure.
Kesner:And now that she is up in Falmouth all the time. They sold their house down in Palisades, went up to Falmouth, and John has been working, associated himself up in Woods Hole.
Kesner:And also down in Galveston. I believe he sees Manik and he sees Annie down there, yes. And Betty goes down very often. So she tells me. And the sad part of the situation is Iíve been writing to Betty for the past two years; please send me the address of your daughter. I said, I havenít spoken to her in a long time. And I said, I havenít even sent her acknowledgement of her wedding. She got married. She married a student, I believe, from the University of Hawaii. And she was down in -- where is it now? Not Hawaii. Texas. No, Louisiana. Oh, in New Orleans.
Kesner:She lived there. I said, I always wanted to go to New Orleans. So this will give me an idea of going down to visit with your daughter, so forth. Only this year I learned that she died. And Betty was so broken up because she couldnít even write to me and to tell me that she died. And she died of the same thing as my granddaughter has cancer of the breast. And it was, you know, it makes you wonder sometimes. And, but now we talk about it openly in our letters back and forth. But very often, she wants me to come up there and spend the weekend and so forth. But I donít travel like that anymore. Thatís how close we were about family, you know. And it was sad hearing about it. Thatís all.
Doel:Itís a reminder of how precious life is and how --
Kesner:How you can cope.
Doel:But also, how all of you back then coped with these sorts of things.
Kesner:This is what -- this is the way we got along. Every one of us. There wasnít -- I canít talk unkindly about anyone at Lamont. Even though there was a lot of, you know, discussions about Marie doesnít get along with this one or that one, you know. But, we all got along. We got along beautifully because weíre all striving for the same thing. And we werenít bucking; we werenít bucking to get up to the top line because the top line is already there. It was filled, you know. And weíre just helping along an institution thatís struggling to make a name for it. And, of course, it didnít take very long before we did make a good name for ourselves.
Doel:Weíll stop in just a moment. Iím wondering about something that you had written in that history that you had prepared the brief history of Lamont.
Kesner:When I did it, in longhand?
Doel:Yes. And then it was typed up.
Doel:And you had said there were sad times too that you could name them one after another but their work will go on and on. There would be no end. Iím wondering what you were thinking about when you --
Kesner:Well, I was thinking of John Hennion, number one. And Angelo Ludaís, another one.
Doel:When he had lost his wife.
Kesner:When he lost his wife, and his daughter was first. And he was -- that killed him completely. And then his wife died. And then he died after a certain period. I went up to see him. I think he was living up in, near --
Doel:It was in upstate New York wasnít it?
Kesner:-- the Borsch Belt.
Kesner:What do you call that up there?
Kesner:Catskills, yes. He had a nice little house up there, and I went up to see him. And he was still despondent; he was still mad at the world because of his beautiful daughter and so forth. And I tried to talk to him. You know, you have to make the best of it now. Because, you know, but it didnít do any good. I knew I wasnít getting anywhere. And it was shortly after that that he died. And his work was so wrapped up with Docís work that there was a combination of love in what they were doing. And the whole thing was done so beautifully for the whole group, as a group. But one went after the other. The same thing when, whatís his name, I saw his name here before and I never talk much about him. Dave Ericson, for instance. He was another one. But his work of course was isolated. It wasnít in with everything else. It was the core lab. And he was quite an individual, an intellectual. He was very quiet person. Scared to death of women. If you walked in, heíd blush.
Kesner:Yes. And these are the people I meant that are gone, and their work will live on forever. In somebody or other coming up. They touched a lot of people. And you donít know if the man that they really inspired is still at Lamont, or whether heís gone off to California, anywhere, you know. Florida. Theyíre trying to open up down here again. And I donít know. But theyíll be somebody around to take their place.
Doel:Those are all interesting points. Why donít we pause here for lunch and then weíll cover a few more things.
Doel:Weíre resuming right now after a lunch break. One of the things I meant to ask you earlier today, was how well you had gotten to know Doc Ewingís second wife, Marge [Marjorie Kidder]? Was she someone that you did get to know?
Kesner:No. She was, when I first came to Lamont, she was Docís wife. And very little was she seen around, you know, or working. She never worked with Doc. I donít think that much. But anyway.
Doel:She had been a writer before.
Kesner:Yes. But I think for her -- I felt sorry for her because she wasnít part of Docís life the way Harriet became when she got her hands on him. And it was sad when she had to divorce Doc. She was an alcoholic, and it was self-defense really. And I really felt sorry for her because she was not included in a lot of things that later came as automatic with Harriet. Harriet was a go- getter. And she was bound to get Doc and she did.
Doel:When did she arrive at Lamont?
Kesner:Oh, letís see. A couple of years after I was there. 1958? Ď59? And it was very obvious, you know, but --
Doel:Had Doc been the one person who hired Harriet?
Kesner:I donít. That I canít answer. But she claimed, she stayed close to him all the time. And we were not surprised at all when it happened. We were really eared for by the -- I mean we were care -- we eared a lot about Docís children too, you know. There was quite a transition period there for them, you know. It was hard. But I understand from years after that Docís wife, his first wife, did fine for herself.
Kesner:Yes. Yes. Yes. She did very well. And I didnít know Harriet at all. Harriet, as I say, was not close to any one particular person at Lamont, especially the women, you know. And she wasnít very well liked at Lamont. Well, we didnít like what was being done, and helpless, you know, just stand-byish.
Doel:Particularly you mean in seeing her move closer to Ewing.
Kesner:And, but she was always very kind to me. I was no threat to her, of course, you know. And she always spoke nicely to me, and never harsh like she did to some people. But I guess it was because I gave out to Lamont all that I had, you know, as an employee.
Doel:And she recognized that you feel that you -- yes, thatís important. You mentioned that off tape that she had helped had been the one that got you the presidential award from Columbia.
Kesner:Yes. Thatís what I understand. Thatís what I understand, yes. Because I always thought it was Arnold Finck, but no, I found out it wasnít. It was Harriet who did this. And I thanked her in many ways, you know, for doing it for me because itís also helped me out in my retirement and so forth. So.
Doel:Having the award.
Doel:Having the award helped you --
Kesner:Yes. Oh yes.
Doel:-- in that way. How many people got that award by the way?
Kesner:I donít know. I donít. I donít think it was ever given out who got it and who didnít. It was very funny. I had no idea what it was all about, you know, until I got the letter from Columbia saying I had been awarded the presidential citation. And I thought; now what is that, you know? Until someone explained to me exactly what it was.
Doel:Yes. And the explanation was that it --
Kesner:Has to do with children in school. So I said, oh. So then I found out and I was very appreciative. You know. But when they didnít want to use it, oh.
Doel:Youíre talking about your two daughters who decided not to go to Columbia.
Kesner:Oh, not to use it. Yes. Oh, Jane said, oh, if we only had it to do over again. My daughterís still going to college. Would you believe it and sheís fifty years old. And sheís still going to -- now where is she going? Someplace, Trenton she goes into. Trenton. Whatís in Trenton?
Doel:Ryder College and Trenton State University.
Kesner:I think its Ryder. Sheís taking up -- sheís going to be -- sheís getting her degree for consultation as a -- oh sheís -- oh, what is it now? I should know it. Sheís told it to me often enough. When she retires she can hang out her shingle as a -- Iím stupid sometimes. I always forget.
Doel:Again, that can be added to the tape later on. We can make sure it gets in.
Doel:I was wondering a moment ago, when you first got to Lamont, did you sense the relationship between Ewing and Marge was already in difficulty even before Harriet arrived?
Kesner:Oh yes, yes, yes. Because of her.
Doel:Because of -- was it, did it seem in trouble even before she arrived?
Kesner:Oh yes. Yes. Yes. She was --
Kesner:She was -- alcohol had gotten her. For the simple reason she wasnít included in anything. She was a brilliant woman, you know. And she just wasnít included, and I guess it was her alcoholism that shied him away because he was new, he was trying to do something for himself, and I guess she wasnít the right partner at the time. Itís just sad, you know. She wasnít included. So the more she wasnít included, the more she went to alcohol.
Doel:And you feel --
Kesner:It was kept very hush-hush, you know. But you couldnít help sometimes knowing what was going on, you know. Because we were like one big family there.
Doel:Did anyone seem particularly close to her among the Lamont people?
Kesner:Well Dorothy Worzel tried to be, and also, John Ewing. Naturally, as her sister-in- law, see. But it just didnít work out. I donít know for some reason or other. And I never questioned Betty Ewing at all. I would never do that, you know. And as far as John was concerned, I would never ask him any questions, but it was just little things that would happen once in a while, you know. That theyíd have a dinner party and wouldnít invite her at all because of, they didnít know whether sheíd be standing up or lying down. It was just sad. But then she took off and she went to California. I think it was California. And we never saw, did see her again.
Doel:And this was in the early 1960s.
Kesner:Yes. Yes. Then Harriet moved in fast, you know. I donít know how she ever got onto it though. I really donít know. But I know she was hired, and she worked very close with Doc. I guess he was looking for a secretary. Thatís what it was, yes. And she came as his secretary.
Doel:What changed at Lamont once she became Doeís secretary? What sort of things seemed --
Kesner:Jealousy. A lot of people were jealous about the idea that she moved in with such a hand that she let nobody anymore come through the open door upstairs unless she checked it out. She sort of -- she was the cloud right in front of the whole Lamont Observatory.
Doel:Thatís an interesting description, yes.
Kesner:And no one saw Doc unless she approved of it. And he sort of went along with it.
Doel:Was he, he aware of it, that change had occurred?
Kesner:Oh yes. Yes. Well, the first thing you know they went along and secretly married and came back and said this is it.
Doel:Oh, you didnít know? They didnít announce it beforehand? They came back and told you all?
Kesner:Never, never, never told us about it. So that made, from that day on it made a big difference. With approaching Doe for things, you know. For asking questions, or, you know, it sort of, how should I say it, put a block in front of the whole presence of a director when his associates and so forth could walk in any time. Now they were barred from it, you know. So it made a big difference.
Kesner:And I think this was the, really the starting of the downfall at Lamont because when Doe left, you know, it fell apart.
Doel:Of course, that, weíre talking about the period now from 1965, when he marries Harriet, to 1972.
Kesner:Yes. Ď72, yes. Things were just not the same. I canít remember. You know the days. Try to remember things and you donít want to say the wrong thing.
Doel:I wonder if you remember how you felt when you heard the announcement that Doc and Harriet had married.
Kesner:We werenít surprised. We were, you know, but we were kind of surprised at the way they had run off and just -- I donít even know where they were married. Not that it mattered, you know.
Doel:And she remained as before, his secretary. It really didnít change at all?
Kesner:Right to the end. Right to the end. Yes.
Doel:Was it your perception that Harriet played favorite to any interests within Lamont in the gatekeeper role that she came to play, or was it more just that she was there as the gatekeeper that mattered?
Kesner:Just that she was the gatekeeper that mattered. Thatís all. She -- I imagine, she had a lot to say with some of Docís decisions, you know. But this -- I -- canít be proven either.
Doel:How did it affect you once, in your role at Lamont?
Kesner:Not a bit.
Doel:It didnít matter.
Kesner:Not a bit. Not a bit. No. Because it was, you know, during that period when -- I told you the story about Peter. What was his first name? Came from California. And he tried to bring me up on charges --
Kesner:-- because I wouldnít allow him to go out and buy an instrument that he wanted to buy and get reimbursed from petty cash for, I think it was sixty or seventy dollars. Petty cash was supposed to be no more than five or ten, you know. And he was going to bring me up on charges. It was during that time, Harriet was there. And I was never, nothing was ever, you know, designated to me that things had changed in that office at all. Because if Doc was willing to go along and read somebody out because of me, there couldnít have been any, much of a change, you know. On her part, I mean. Because I was only trying to keep Lamont the way it should be. I had, I had more of the fear of having the auditors come and catch me in something. Which very often, you know, I put down it was a piece of permanent equipment, and half the time I didnít know. And so I inquired from the source what youíre going to use it for. Itís hard to really say permanent equipment is this, and if you donít know. And so it was, and many things like that that I was always leery of because, although auditors also only go by dollar signs, they donít go by effects. I told you that one story with the eel. How they insisted that these eels were expendable. And I said you and Columbia. I said, they all say that because of the extent of the expense for each eel. Each eel may cost a thousand dollars. That doesnít make it expendable. So he said, well show me. I said, what can I show you? Oh, I said, by the way, and I told him about -- well, you know that story. And, to save the day, he never bothered me again. See, he let me off. And then, of course, at the same time I had to show Columbia the same thing. Prove myself that I knew what was expendable and what wasnít, you know. And Columbia couldnít tell. Columbia couldnít tell any more than I could unless I asked the person who was placing the order how it was going to be used and whatís the life expectancy, you know. And what would they do with all that stuff anyway. All of that folderol of calling these things permanent equipment. Do you think anything was done after the two years? No.
Doel:Interesting. Iím still thinking about the change at Lamont at the time that Ewing married --
Doel:-- Harriet. Did you sense that it affected Ewingís relationship particularly with any of the other leaders at Lamont, like Denny Hayes or others?
Kesner:I think it did. I think it did. But I can only say from hearsay --
Kesner:-- and my own observation. I think everybody was angry about it, number one. And number two, it wasnít the fact that Harriet took over so much and took so much, as she claims, the weight off Docís back. Now no secretary, as far as Iím concerned, has the right to do that to a brilliant scientist. If she were a scientist, she should have gone into scientific work. But not to take the work off his back, because she couldnít perform. She had to depend on someone else. But she never did call on anyone else.
Doel:Oh, is that right? That she acted very independently?
Kesner:Oh yes, yes. So. I think that was the, I think that was the start of the bottom falling out of Lamont. Really I do.
Doel:I wonder if anything particular comes to your mind when you think back to that time? As you say, youíre looking over and seeing how other people are reacting to the change.
Kesner:I remember, oh dear. One of my favorite people at Lamont who died when I was down here in Florida I think. And he lived right in Palisades on 9W. His wife was a doctor too. And a doctor, terrible to get --
Doel:Donít worry about it. Weíll make sure we get it on. I think you may have mentioned this person the first interview. We can find. The woman was a doctor, who was practicing in Nyack if I remember.
Kesner:Yes, she was. Well, she was practicing right out of her own house.
Kesner:On 9W. In Piermont. She had a lovely house. And he used to call me on the phone and say, Alma, todayís Friday. Meet me over at the house. I guess I told you that.
Doel:And you would have aÖ
Kesner:One martini we were allowed. But when I get out there it was so wonderful. First of all, he was such a grand man. When you went into his house, this is busy 9W, you see. You go right through it. And -- Bill [William] Donn.
Doel:Bill Donn, yes. Thank you.
Doel:I was going to ask you about him later.
Kesner:Yes. And when you went through his house and you came out to the porch, well you opened up. Like my little porch here, a huge veranda, with nothing but the Hudson in front of you and heaven above. It was like going into a different world. And we used to love it. Sit there and have our martini. He used to tell me, you know, youíre such a great gal, you know. He said, why do you think I have you down here? I said, I donít know. Why? To throw me overboard. He said, no. He says, I never saw anybody work so hard to try to get supplies for scientists like we are, and we are all so pleased to have you. Well I thought that was very nice. And I said, and this wonít get you any more favors, you know. We used to laugh about it. But he was a grand person. I liked him so much. And his wife was wonderful. She was a pediatrician. And when my daughter had a baby, she took her baby to Dr. Donnís wife. Her name was Rene [Brilliant]. I remember that. And sheís still practicing.
Doel:Was Bill one of the persons upset particularly by Doc Ewingís marriage to Harriet?
Kesner:Oh, I think so. I think so, yes. Because there were very few of the scientists themselves who could get to even ta]k to Harriet, you know. And so it made them -- it just put a block, a stumbling block, right in front of the whole scientific program, you know.
Doel:When you say that they couldnít get to talk to Harriet, you mean that she wasnít willing to talk with them?
Kesner:Yes, she would put some kind of an obstacle in the way that. You can do it maybe next week or so, but you canít do it right now because heís very busy. And you know this was not like Doc at all. He was always ready for any of the men who, who needed him or had questions to ask or inquiry, you know, of his method of what heís doing. And of course a lot of them resented the fact that Doe too, no matter what scientists did what, and it was in a legal form, Doeís name had to be on it too. Whether he had anything to do with it or not. And they resented this lot. Some of them did.
Doel:Yes. You mentioned Bill Donn in the first interview as one concerned about this.
Kesner:Yes. But you know, itís hard to understand, not to understand that he was building something for the Observatory and for himself. He had to build up; he had to make his own name too. And as director, I think he had a right to do this. I think they do, donít you?
Doel:Well clearly he, in many of the instances, had either helped to develop the facilities with which the work was done or had developed an early form of the research program Ė
Kesner:Yes. Right. Right. This is what I mean.
Doel:-- in which the publications later came out.
Kesner:So he had a legal right almost. But there are some people that just canít understand this. And of course geochemistry was so far away from us that this was just another block in Doeís way. He never interfered, though, with the geochemistry. Never. They sort of went off on their own until this one year when he, Doe, got his dander up and said, now, weíre either one or not at all.
Doel:Was there a particular incident that led to that?
Kesner:No, I donít think so. It was just an accumulation of instances where -- evidently Wally [Wallace S. Broecker] was doing something without asking advice of Doc Ewing.
Doel:And this was at the time after Larry Kulp was essentially out from Lamont, right? And Wally was the one running it.
Kesner:Thatís right. Thatís right. He was no longer there. Yes. Yes.
Doel:I always meant to ask you. Were you aware of the religious view shared by many that had joined with Larry Kulp?
Kesner:No. I knew nothing about it whatsoever until it was all over that I had heard.
Doel:Later, you had heard --
Kesner:No. Where is he now, by the way?
Doel:In Washington State.
Kesner:Is he in the state of Washington?
Doel:Not far from Seattle.
Kesner:Oh. I often wonder what happens to people, you know.
Doel:And I think itís very interesting about, what youíre saying about the role that Harriet played. And I was curious if you felt that this development had anything to do with the way that the faffing out with Bruce Heezen developed? Iím curious generally about --
Kesner:This I donít know. See, this I do not know. I really donít know.
Doel:When did you sense the problems were beginning between Bruce and Doc Ewing? Were there signs of it in the early sixties, for instance?
Kesner:No. No. But you see, Bruce did not hold to any man, whether it is Doc Ewing or whatever. He was always his own boss. And he wasnít about to be told what to do. He used to; he used to have more fights with, with his assistant. Whatís her name?
Doel:Do you mean Marie?
Doel:Iíd heard that there used to be pencil tosses back and forth between them.
Kesner:Oh yes. Oh sure. Anything. If a book was in the way, itíd be a book. Well this is the way they just got along. They were in the, they used to have a room upstairs in the big house before. We all were.
Doel:When you were all at Lamont.
Kesner:Lamont, yes. That was when it was fun. You know, what I mean by fun. We were all together and it was easy access to upstairs if I had a question. And if he wants to bring down a requisition to me, heíd always come over and give it to me and say, and make sure you do it fast, you know. [Laughter] And things of that kind.
Doel:Right. It just made it. It sounds like, and I donít want to interrupt your thought, but thereís, that things changed just as Lamont grew when different divisions were all in different buildings. That the social structure was very different.
Kesner:Right. Thatís right. And everybody tried very hard to be top-notch man. And everybody was working just as hard as the next. And we were recognized. All of it was recognized the same way Iím sure by Doc, you know. And I canít, I canít really say where the change came with Doc. Whether it was --
Kesner:Regarding Bruce, yes. Bruce knew his business. He had a mind of his own. And he was a hard worker. He had a beautiful, beautiful house on 9W. And Marie got it when he died, of course. Now Marie has the two houses. The one in Palisades and then the one up in Nyack. The one up in Nyack is still gorgeous. Itís right, you go down a hill and you go right into the Hudson.
Kesner:Youíve been there?
Doel:And as you say, itís right on the Hudson --
Kesner:Right on the water.
Kesner:Many a time I was down there. And I used to get help for her too. She needed boys to work. And I used to send them up to her, you know. Boys that I knew that would be good for her. And she, adorable Marie. I havenít seen her; I havenít seen her in years. And I think when I go back to Tappan, Iím going to get in my car and just drive up there and say, Marie, I just came to say hello. You know?
Kesner:But sheís a wonderful person.
Doel:She clearly was one of the most original people --
Doel:-- in personality and other terms.
Kesner:In personality, yes.
Doel:Some folks have mentioned to me, for instance, what they call the green period in Marieís life. Iím wondering what you remember of that.
Kesner:Oh, Marie had a certain way of -- she had the -- well, she had the house up in Nyack. And she used to have me come up. And Marie had a certain way of dressing that nobody could really imitate. But today when you look around at people walking the street today, they all like to me like Marie. When we were invited to Columbia, for instance, for someoneís award. It would be a very prominent person. And weíd be invited down to Columbia for a black tie affair, or was it a white tie? Black. Well you had to be extra formal, you know. None of this halfway. Straight formal. He used to say to me, go over and see Marie. Weíre going to leave at eight oíclock, but for heavenís sakes Alma, donít let her wear sneakers with the dress sheís going to wear. Iíd say, what kind of a dress is she going to wear? Who knows? You go see her. Well Iíd ask Marie, what are you going to wear tonight? Well, I thought Iíd wear what I have on. Oh Marie, come on.
Doel:What would she have on for instance?
Kesner:Sheíd have on a, probably a tailored skirt that had a slit up to here.
Doel:Up to your knee cap.
Kesner:Up to your knee cap. And then over it sheíd have a manís shirt. I said, you canít go like that. So I said to her, what size do you take by the way? So she told me. So I said, oh, weíre almost the same size. Iíll bring something tonight. Now, let me see what kind of shoes you have. What do you mean, I have to wear shoes? I said certainly you have to wear shoes. I donít have anything like you have on. Marie, youíre hopeless. How can you walk in amongst a lot of people who are going to be nicely dressed? She says, I donít go in for the looks of what Iím wearing. I look for intelligence in their head. I said, well, tonight youíre going to be different. Youíll have intelligence in your head, but youíre going to look presentable too. You want; you want Bruce to get mad at you? Oh, heís always mad at me, she said. Well anyway, I would bring a dress and a jacket if it was winter or whatever and a pair of shoes. I said, if the shoes hurt, let them hurt. But she was all right. She used to wear the things. And then we would get down there. And then sheíd say to me, you know, Alma, I donít know what Iíd do without you, you know.
Doel:Did she really?
Kesner:Yes. She realized, you know, that when she looked around, how foolish she would have been had she worn what she wanted to, you know. But anyway, these are the little quirks that she had, you know. But they were lovely.
Doel:I was going to say you had mentioned in the first interview that there was a time that the house at the end, that her house in Nyack had caught fire. And that -- Iím not sure if that was a metaphorical or whether that was an actual incident. Kesner; I canít remember that. I did mention that?
Doel:I believe so.
Kesner:If I did, it slipped my mind.
Doel:It may well have been. I wasnít quite sure that if something like that happened that she needed someone to help pull her out. That this was the description of.
Kesner:Oh, wait a minute, no. She -- oh, thatís right. When I first came to Lamont, she was in. I was there the first week when someone came in and said to Arnold Finck -- I was sitting in his office. He was talking to me about; I donít know what, but something. And he said, Marie Tharp had a fire in her apartment. It was apartment.
Doel:It was back at the --
Kesner:It wasnít in her house.
Kesner:Yes. And thatís what I was trying to think of the house, the house. So, Arnold said, ďOh, thatís too bad.Ē He said, ďYes and thereís nobody been up to see her at all.Ē And so I said to Arnold Finck, ďWho is Marie Tharp?Ē He said, ďWell, she is the assistant to Bruce Heezen and they have an office upstairs.Ē ďOh,Ē I said, I met them yesterday, thatís right.Ē So anyway Iím sitting there. And I said, ďWhoís going up to take care of Marie?Ē He said, ďI donít know.Ē Well, I said, ďDonít you think it would be nice if somebody did go? If sheís had much of a fire,Ē I said, ďshe must be sitting with either her clothes on or Bruceís clothes on, whichever, you know.Ē So I said to him, ďDo you mind if I go up?Ē He says, no, go ahead. So he gave me her address. I went up. And sure enough she was sitting in the living room with Bruceís robe on. Everything of hers had burned. And she was in Bruceís apartment. I think thatís what it was. Well anyway, to make a long story short, I went, I left her for and I got her size, whatever she wore, and I went home and I got underwear and, you know, the whole works. Came back, got her dressed. I said, ďNow you can go out. At least you can see what youíre going to do about your apartment. Letís go look at it.Ē So we went into her apartment and it was pretty well burned. But all her clothes and everything was saturated from the water. And so I said to her, ďCome on home with me and Iíll get you more things to wear. You canít just live in what I just gave you, you know.Ē And I said, ďI can loan you a couple of things, you know. And then weíll see about what youíre going to do, you know.Ē And thatís what we did. We became very good friends after that, you know. And Bruce came along and he said, ďYou know, I canít understand Marie sometimes.Ē He said, ďSheís a wonderful person, but yet, if she had to sit like that all day, sheíd sit like that all day, you know.Ē So, I said, ďWell, she doesnít mean to be, but I think things turn out so well for her at the end, sheís never worried about whatís going to happen, you know.Ē
Doel:Yes. That this has been her life experience and that she was used to --
Kesner:Yes. And when Bruce left to meet -- now wait a minute. He was going to Paris when he died.
Kesner:And he came into my office. I think I told you that story. And he -- to say goodbye to me. He always did. Of course, he gave me the -- that was his office I was occupying when he went up to oceanography.
Doel:You mentioned that only that he had left the rug for you, but Iím not sure that I know about what happened.
Kesner:So he said to me, ďI am going to meet [Jacques] Cousteau in Paris.Ē And he said, ďWeíre going aboard his submarine.Ē I said, ďYouíre not.Ē I said, ďBruce, come over here to me.Ē So he came over. He said, ďWhatís the matter?Ē I said, ďDo you know how fat you are? You canít, you wonít get through a door, porthole of that little, tiny little thing.Ē So he says, ďDonít worry.Ē Thatís when he died. So, oh I was --
Doel:You had a premonition that he would be?
Kesner:I said to him, ďOh, this is awful. I wish you wouldnít go.Ē But he did. He died of a heart attack. Right in his submarine as he got on. And Marie was devastated, of course. She really loved the man, you know. It wasnít just a work association.
Doel:I was going to ask what the relationship was between the two of them.
Kesner:Yes, she really loved him. And he loved her too. In a way that, it was the funny -- you know, get off my lap, but I love you anyway. Or get up off that chair. You know. They used to yell at one another and -- but their work was so involved, and they discovered so much together. The rift around the whole earth, you know. And I used to get funny questions. People used to call up and say; ďNow this Heezen, you work with him, donít you?Ē I said, ďYes.Ē ďThey say thereís a rift right around the whole earth. Will you call and ask him if it can split in half.Ē [Laughter] Oh, I said, ďYes, Iíll ask him, sure.Ē And so, of course, sometimes when Iíd meet him. You know or -- I mean I wouldnít call him up just for that you know. When talking, Iíd say, ďBy the way I had a question from someone. Can we split in half with that rift around the earth?Ē Oh he said, ďWho was that?Ē I said, ďSomebody called up and wanted to know if I could ask you that question.Ē Things like that. You know, weíd laugh about it. But those were good days. Really good days.
Doel:Thatís very interesting what you say too that -- and it was clear to people that they loved one another.
Kesner:Yes they did. They did.
Doel:Perhaps not quite lovers, but loved one another?
Kesner:Loved one another.
Doel:Is that the way to put it?
Kesner:Yes. Yes. They did.
Doel:Did they have other relationships with other people at the time?
Doel:It really was the two of them.
Kesner:No, just the two of them. And they would work, believe it. Marie is the one who really found the rift around the ocean, around the floor, bed, no, the floor bed.
Doel:The sea floor.
Kesner:Yes. I forget all my terminology now. I used to be so good at it. But anyway thatís when they, Bruce and Marie gave me the pictures, you know. And I had them all framed. And I used to have them in my office. Iím so sorry I never had them autograph them. Who knows, you know. And he and Marie discovered that. And, in fact, he got a citation from the National Geographic Magazine, and I went to Washington with them. Can you imagine, asking me to go to Washington with them to accept his award? And he was, he was a gentle man. He was great. He had a way about him that if he didnít like you in the office, and you were sitting over there, and you said something, this would come. [Makes noise] No questions.
Doel:No hesitation about it, was there?
Kesner:No hesitation. No hesitation. No. Oh dear, we had a -- it was a nice -- Iím so happy I knew him. And as I say, when I go home, Iím going to see Marie, really. Just for once more anyway. I donít know how long, much longer Iíll be around, you know, but weíll see.
Doel:Do you remember if Bruce or Marie ever talked about marriage with one another?
Kesner:I used to kid her. I used to say, ďHey, when are you going to marry Bruce?Ē ďOh, heís not interested at all,Ē she said, ďno, no, no.Ē So they talked about it, you know. But, they used to kid about it and fool about it, but nothing ever happened. But yet, when he died, he left everything to Marie. So. And I understand, I donít know whether his parents had died not too long ago, and Marie and he had gone out to visit. I believe he came from Michigan.
Doel:It was out in the Midwest.
Kesner:Midwest, yes. And also Marie was from the Midwest too, you know?
Kesner:But they were two happy, happy campers. Oh, theyíre funny.
Doel:But that must have been very difficult for both of them, as first Bruce and then Marie were increasingly shut out --
Doel:-- from Lamont. How did that actually happen in practice? What did you begin to notice about?
Kesner:Well, I think thatís what really started Marie, I mean Doc Ewing and Heezen. See, when Bruce went up to Docís office, heíd think nothing of walking right through, you know. Nobody would stop him. But then when Harriet came, her office was right outside, nobody got past that office to get into Doc at all. She claimed that it was interfering with his writing. It was interfering with his method of doing, either writing or whatever his memoirs were, or whatever he was doing. This was an interruption to him. And she thought it was best that they go through her first. But now when you interview her next week, sheíll probably have a different story. Iíd love to know what it is.
Doel:But you feel that that, particularly for Bruce, this became a real irritant, a real?
Kesner:An irritant, yes. I think this is probably what happened. But I know they had no love at all for Harriet. But she made a lot of enemies by doing such a thing. And I think Bill Donn was one of them too that resented it very much that he couldnít barge in. He wrote a beautiful, beautiful essay on Doc. Did you ever read that in the magazine?
Doel:I donít believe I have Bill Donnís essay on --
Kesner:Bill Donnís essay. Oh yes, see if you can get it. Itís beautiful. I might have a copy home. Iím sure I do.
Doel:Iíll make a note of it.
Kesner:Yes. And itís. But it starts, the little boy who had everything or something.
Doel:But it was by the late, the mid and late 1960s that Bruce was effectively shut out from certain Lamont operations. And after a time, Marie never came back on to the lab?
Kesner:Right. Right. She never came back. She never came on the grounds. She would come into, if she was going to have lunch with him or something, but thatís about it.
Doel:I suspect that must have raised the tension level at Lamont in a new way.
Kesner:Oh it did. It did. Yes.
Doel:What did you notice? When you think back to that time, what comes to mind?
Kesner:I really donít know. I canít tell you. As I say, I was friends of theirs. Never asked questions. I never did say to Bruce, ďHey, what, you angry with Doc again? Or is Doc puffing a fast one?Ē I never would do that. So I cannot say. You know. That I wouldnít want to even guess at.
Doel:Perhaps a better way to put that is, how serious was that, that development. The -- as Bruce Heezen was increasingly and Marie were increasingly ostracized from Lamont, how did that affect Lamont as a community? Did you feel that this was a significant change in [cross talk]?
Kesner:Well, I never questioned it because I was, believe it or not, I was on the side of Bruce. But a lot of them said Bruce brought it on himself with his tantrums. He used to have tantrums, you know, like a little boy. And he said, as a result of it, Marie was the goat. She was thrown off the campus completely. But why it all happened, I cannot say, but I know that it did happen. And I remember the time because he was really taking it out on everybody around him. He was, people used to say to me donít go up to Bruce Heezenís office; heís in a mean one today. You know. Well, he was made at Doc, he was mad at the world, he was mad at Harriet, he was mad at the world. And then Marie couldnít come in and he would have to take whatever he needed to be done up to Marieís place you see. So it was hard. And...
Doel:And some of the files themselves were --
Kesner:I donít know. I donít know if they ever resolved that at all. I donít think they ever did. You know.
Doel:I was wondering if you sensed that it was a reason why a number of people began leaving Lamont in the late 1960s. Some have suggested for instance that it was a factor in a number of people who had been, who had arrived at Lamont in the earlier years leaving in the late sixties. Iím wondering if you sensed or heard people talk about that.
Kesner:If you mention a name or something, but I canít remember.
Doel:Chuck [Charles] Drake possibly.
Kesner:Oh, Chuck Drake. Oh no. Jack Oliver.
Doel:Jack Oliver is another.
Kesner:Well, Jack Oliver was there when I was there. He was quite a man. Who else went with Jack that time? He was with seismology. Now, he was up on the first floor of the little - - of the building that -- the Lamont building, you know the homestead. And I canít tell you. I really donít know.
Doel:Sure. Thatís fine. One thing I meant to ask you -- in the mid-1960s, did you sense that Doc Ewingís health was in trouble as the sixties went on? Were there already signs? I was curious what you remember that gave you that --
Kesner:He slowed up quite a bit. And he wasnít his usual jovial sense, you know. Because he was always happy. And to a certain extent. And then little things that you would hear. Doc is not feeling so good today, you know. And thatís about it.
Doel:And you knew what that --
Kesner:But as we moved, as we moved out of the big building into our own Butler Building, then we lost contact completely with the senses that you would have if we all lived in the house together. Because Alma Smith lived on the first floor with Harold as you know.
Kesner:And there, they would have, well she cooked constantly. All youíd get is this roast beef cooking, and youíre starving to death about six oíclock or four oíclock or five oíclock, waiting to go home to eat. And oh these aromas would come, you know. But when we moved from that building, you lost all that contact with how things were progressing, or did Doc look good today, or didnít he look good? And sometimes you wouldnít see him for weeks or months. And I never had any contact with him after we moved to the Butler Building unless he called me on the telephone. And Ė
Doel:And when was that again that you moved to the Butler Building?
Doel:Okay. Did maintain it through the 1960s --
Doel:-- and then it was the last few years that you were --
Kesner:Yes. And the next ten years, because I didnít leave until it was Ď80. And by that time everything had happened, you know. So it was just unfortunate. They were dark days for us because, I think it was during the -- we were having the May showing, open house, and thatís when Doc -- we heard Doc died.
Doel:In Galveston in Ď74. The open house.
Kesner:Ď74, yes. Open house, right. And I wasnít quite sure the year, but I guess it was Ď74, yes. And then we all went down to Galveston. And I was invited and I went down with Joe Worzel and Dorothy, and John Ewing and Betty. And I was always included. And you know I have to tell you this though in all fairness, people in administration didnít like me a bit for this reason. Because I was with the scientists all the time. And I couldnít help it. I liked them. I wasnít playing footsie with anybody. It was just that John Ewing thought I was great, and he used to tell. I said, ďDonít tell me these things, John. And Iím not liking you because youíre a scientist. Iím liking you as a person, you know.Ē And then I had a lot to do because very often we would -- theyíd send me up to Woods Hole for something. After I got up to Woods Hole what was I going to do, just leave John and Betty in the next town without saying hello. He says, come on in and have a cocktail. And come on, because we drank a lot in those days. And have a cocktail with us before, you know. And the same with Joe Worzel and Dorothy. We were like one big family. She would raise the flowers, Iíd arrange them, and weíd make money. And weíd put the flowers back into the ground again, you know. And we did things like that. I tried to make friends with people on the floor. I had crazy hours because lots of times I ate, I worked right through my lunch hour, and I wouldnít take my lunch until three oíclock, maybe four oíclock. Well, I guess I worked too hard. Well, I didnít have my cancer operation when I was there. But I did have a lot of them. I had my gall bladder removed. I had my stomach, I had a gastrostomy. And Iíve had. Thatís what I get from working at Lamont, gastrostomy.
Doel:And you really, you feel it was a direct relation to the tensions.
Kesner:Oh sure. It was tension. The tension was terrific. The tension was awful.
Doel:And that was particularly the last decade, or was it building up over even a longer time?
Kesner:Oh it was building up over the years, you know. I used to get it more from fighting with Columbia than anyplace else.
Doel:Yes. That makes sense.
Kesner:Because the purchasing department down at Columbia, you canít blame them. They were there long before I was. But they wouldnít accept even a word from me that what I was doing was right. And you know this was kind of embarrassing to me. And yet, before I left Lamont, I had almost had my way with the whole thing. I almost had them convinced that I could write my purchase orders at Lamont. And I swear, I think so, if I had been there another six months, I would have had that privilege. Do you know he still canít do, and Iíve been out of there seventeen years? And he cannot do it yet.
Doel:I remember you mentioning to me that this was one of the real frustrations that you still had with you that it was so close.
Doel:This had been what you were working to do at Lamont the entire -- at least much of the time that you were there.
Kesner:And not only that, but I did so many other things that Miss Elia -- I donít know if you know her at all. Oh no, you couldnít have. She was in accounts payable. Oh, was she awful. Everything I did was wrong. Everything. And she would come up, and she wanted to go and see Dr. Ewing. Oh, this is a story, oh. And she came in one day. I said, ďOh, what are you doing up here?Ē I said, she said, ďIíve come to see Dr. Ewing. Iím going to have a word with him.Ē Oh, I thought to myself, she doesnít know what sheís in for. Because at this time Harriet was in the barricades. And the first thing you know, she walked up the stairs. And I looked at my watch, and I said, well, maybe itíll be five minutes, ten minutes. It wasnít two minutes she was back down the stairs, and she came down that, you know, that circular staircase.
Doel:The long, winding, circular stair.
Kesner:Oh, furious. ďWhat do you think I am, a jerk,Ē she said. ďI came all the way up here to speak to Dr. Ewing and that goddamn woman up there wonít let me in.Ē
Doel:Did you talk to her then about what happened?
Kesner:No. No. So, I said, ďOh, thatís too bad. I had no idea.Ē I was being very sweet to her. I said, ďItís a good thing it happened to you, you know.Ē And I was wondering what she was going to complain about, see. So anyway, she thought we were so stupid up here. You know, everything we did was wrong. So I said, ďAll we do is approve, approve the invoices you send and if theyíre approved, that means we received the material. So how stupid can we be?Ē I said, ďNow, if you talk about purchasing, thatís another angle.Ē She said, ďNo,Ē she said, ďand furthermore you shouldnít be doing accounts payable and purchasing together.Ē I said, really. I said, ďWhy not? What am I doing, pocketing some of the money?Ē So she laughed. She said, just about. Well, then I got my dander up. And that was the time I thought would be a good time to have these people come up to Lamont. And thatís when I told you the story about enough of this fooling around. Iím sick and tired of purchasing telling me that I cannot call this an expendable item when it is expendable. You know, and how do I have reference and how do I know that, you know. Well anyway, I had them brought up and you heard what happened. It rained and snowed and everything else. But thatís all right. I got them in for lunch and I explained everything and I showed them the core lab and I showed them -- I got them that far -- and they were very satisfied. And do you know after that I had no trouble with purchasing at all. Any suggestion I made they, they accepted, to listen and then they thought about it for about a week. And Hank Nelson, he was in charge, heíd call up. He says, ďWell Alma thatís sensible. If youíre working for a company and you have to, like you are, and depends on when you get the material, if youíre going to get money from the government again, if you donít get money we donít work either.Ē I said, finally. Finally. So he said to me, yes, finally. He said, ďAll right, Iíll allow you to call up and get purchase order numbers over the telephone.Ē Well that was my first break with purchasing. And then I never stopped. I kept trying more and more and more. But it would have made me very happy if had I left Lamont knowing we could write our own purchase order numbers. You know. So I donít know when it will ever happen.
Doel:But as you say, when Gene Landriau came in, you felt you werenít able to stay.
Kesner:No. Oh no, no.
Doel:And then the tensions you say were getting worse by --
Doel:-- the end of the 1970s. You felt that was increasingly --
Kesner:But I had very good people watching out for me. Like Joe Worzel walked into my office one day, and he said, whatís wrong with you? Oh. No, I had my gastrostomy already. You know I had it. And I was in the -- I had a doctor do it from Nyack Hospital. You donít know Nyack, but he was a terrible doctor. And ever since I had the operation, I kept throwing up -- every two days. Went back to him, I said, what is this? He said, oh he said, itís a dumping syndrome youíre getting after this kind of an operation. Twenty years later, twenty years I kept doing this -- throwing up, throwing up, and throwing up. I called Dr. Hegenson, who was living on the grounds, and I said, ďDr. Hegenson, this is Alma Kesner. I said, can you do me a favor? Is there any doctor around here in Tappan who could help me?Ē I said, ďYou sent me down to Columbia. I had the doctors down there look at me; they canít find out what it is.Ē I said, ďJust to refresh your memory Joe Worzel recommended me to you, you know.Ē Oh, he says, I remember, I remember. He said, ďIíll tell you. There is a doctor here that I just, he graduated as my student and heís just starting in Nyack Hospital.Ē Iíll make -- I wonít make this too boring for you. Anyway, I went in to get the operation after much going back and forth, and do you know. He operated and came in the next morning and smiled. He smiled. He said, youíll never throw up again. I did it for twenty years now, every two days.
Doel:And what was it?
Kesner:What happened was the doctor who did it originally did a sloppy operation. He cut my stomach right off. And where he took the. What do you call that thing? When the stomach empties of fluid and everything. What is it, gastro? I donít know. Well itís the tube. He tied off the tube about a foot off the old stomach. Tied it up and gave me another tube so that when my food went down, it went into the old thing. It fertilized, it stayed in there until it did something, I donít know, backed up into my stomach. Iíd be sour and up it comes. I did that for twenty years.
Doel:Until the next operation that --
Kesner:And he did that in two seconds. Yes, that was Dr. Vracknos. And these are the kind of things that Lamont did for me though. They made me sick and they made me well. [Laughter]
Doel:It was a real mixed --
Doel:-- mixed experience.
Kesner:Yes. But the best of health.
Doel:But I hadnít known about how that had affected you physically.
Doel:Thatís an important story. Did it affect others in a similar way?
Doel:Did it affect others in a similar way that when you think back on it?
Kesner:I donít know. I donít remember anybody getting sick working at Lamont. But I have to tell you what kind of a person I am. If they said you can climb that ladder up there, Iíll do it, you know. And of course I do too much too. I take too many things on. And then they did pile an awful lot onto me as extra work, as you know. Give me the cafeteria to take care of, let me do all the Christmas parties. Anybody that had a special affair, Alma, would you do it. And then flowers. I used to get all kinds of flowers and arrange them, and put them out when they needed them. I was forever running. I was never walking. ĎBut I loved it. I loved every minute of it. But then I had to go home. I had another job I had to do, you know.
Kesner:Because I worked for a doctor.
Doel:You were the receptionist.
Kesner:Yes. And there were lots of other things. So, it was my own fault. Nobodyís to blame but myself.
Doel:I wanted to turn this to something else that was important you were talking about in addition a few moments ago. The experience of Ewingís departure that, and I think you recall that quite vividly when you were in Lamontís -- the lecture room and you were hearing the announcement that -- and that they wanted, that Doc Ewing wanted you to accompany him to Galveston at that time.
Kesner:Well he didnít do it that day.
Doel:This came later.
Kesner:About a week later. He and Joe Worzel came to me. You know, they approached me. Wouldnít I come to Galveston with them? I couldnít possibly. And Joe said, he understood, but he said, we really could use you down there, you know. And theyíll get me set up with the college and so forth and so on. I said, yes, I know Joe, but I cannot take my mother. So they understood.
Doel:Yes. Thatís interesting. An extraordinary experience to be sitting in that room watching Lamont as a community react.
Kesner:React. Well, everybody --
Doel:What was that scene like?
Kesner:It was, you know what happened? After Doc mentioned, well he was going to resign and was moving to Galveston. Well, we had a kind of an idea this was going to happen.
Doel:What gave you the idea?
Kesner:Well, just the tension of the place. You know, it was just like a time bomb was coming, youíre going to explode any minute.
Doel:Was your operation after that, after all this? I meant to ask you before when the --
Kesner:Oh no, yes. After it all.
Doel:It was after?
Kesner:Yes, after. So anyway, when he did speak about his resignation and then he said, and I am also going to announce the name of my --
Kesner:-- successor -- Manik Talwani. It was just like weíd hit by the atomic bomb. Nobody could move. There was silence. There were no -- nothing.
Doel:No clapping, nothing but silence.
Kesner:Everybody, everybody had their head down. Like I canít lift it up and look at anybodyís face.
Doel:That must have been an extraordinary --
Kesner:It was. For Manik, it was hard on him too. We never, I never had much love for Manik. But it was quite horrible. We didnít know whether Doc did it on purpose. Whether he was so mad at Columbia that he was going to fix Columbia by making Manik his successor. So we never did find out. But I think thatís exactly as it was. Thatís the way I felt.
Doel:That he was trying to get back at Columbia by choosing someone --
Kesner:That he knew everyone disliked. Because Manik wasnít liked by too many people at the Observatory. There were too many people at that point who -- how should I say it -- would have liked to have stepped into Docís shoes. And there are still people who had been applying for it, you know. But, itíll never happen. And it didnít happen. And so thatís the way it ended. And when people walked out of that place, it was just like we walked out after viewing the death of your best friend. Just walked out and all of us went on our way. No one talked to each other. It was just, it affected us that way. Just went back to my office, I closed my door for a minute, and I said, this is it. This may be the end of the work here. I donít know. I was talking to myself, you know. And I said, I hope things can iron out. But it didnít take long before you could see the handwriting on the wall.
Doel:With Manikís directorship?
Doel:And Ewingís departure.
Kesner:It was just. He wasnít equipped for that kind of work, socially or scientifically. How can I say it without being too unkind? I guess if I was with John and Betty Ewing I could tell you a story or two because they still see him down in Galveston. You know, they go down there, and heís connected with Galveston. So I donít know.
Doel:You were telling me one story off tape about the way that he would go through the lunch line in the cafeteria.
Kesner:Oh yes, when he had guests in and all. Well, you know.
Doel:And just to make sure it is on the tape, that if he didnít like the food that was being served. Am I right?
Kesner:Not him. Not him.
Doel:Or the guests.
Doel:The guests didnít like it he would let the person at the cash register know.
Kesner:Well, he wouldnít. Heíd let the guests do the talking.
Doel:Oh, I see.
Kesner:And I went to him though, and I asked him if he couldnít sort of instruct his guests, when he has them, to be kind to the people who were served because they worked very hard. And I said, they try to make things as pleasant as possible for each one. But you know if youíre going to stand there and yell at a person for doing something -- not enough bread or not enough meat on your sandwich -- you do it in a nice way. You know, you can things do, you can ask in a cordial way. But I always found that out with the Indians. They always had this belligerent way about them, until you, you almost had to say, look, stop it already, youíre in America. Itís terrible to get down to their level of yelling, but this is what we had to do. And believe it or not, the next time they came through that line, we had no problem whatsoever.
Doel:So that really ended that sort of problem.
Kesner:Yes, that ended it. And see, the girls would get upset, and theyíd be threatening to leave. You know, if this goes on, we donít have to take this nonsense from these people. I said, look, just say it once to them, you know. Weíll try to serve you the way you want, but donít get temperamental with us, you know. Say just that. So, I guess thatís all over -- universal. You find that with the Indians at all?
Doel:Theyíre that problems of this sort come up just given the different cultures and such different ways of expressing.
Kesner:Thatís it. Thatís right.
Doel:And Manik, if I recall, was the only Indian who was, at least at that level, in Lamontís body.
Doel:Do you think it was on the level of prejudice in a broader sense that affected Manikís?
Kesner:Oh no. No, no, no.
Doel:It wasnít that?
Kesner:No, no. Oh no, no, no. It was just, I think itís the fact that the women still walk behind a man. And thatís the way they treat women.
Doel:Did his wife do that? Did you notice that in functions?
Kesner:You know, I donít think so. No. She was German and I think she was pretty well determined that she was going to be -- sheís going to walk ahead of Manik.
Kesner:But no I didnít feel that way at all about Manik and Anna [Talwani].
Doel:When you think back just generally to Manik Talwaniís time as director, and he is there, of course, through nearly nine years, what stands out in your mind? What seemed to work well and what seemed to not work well?
Kesner:What do you mean, when he was director?
Doel:Yes. Because you had such experience with Ewing and the style and the kind of directorship that Ewing brought when you think about the differences.
Kesner:Oh the difference was night and day. First of all, when Manik took over, nobody saw Manik again. I never saw him or spoke to him until the day I left.
Doel:Is that right? That he just --
Kesner:That he just went inside of this office and that was it. I never was called on the telephone. I was never called down on the carpet. I was not -- nothing. But that was all right with me because I was doing my job, and I knew if I didnít get called, I was doing everything right. So, the only one I did talk to was Arnold Finck. You know, after all, he was my boss too. He was the administrator. And -- but Arnold never -- thatís one thing about Arnold. He never came into my office and looked around and said, what are you doing, you know. Heíd just say, hi, Alma, and walk away. Did you interview Arnold?
Doel:I have been interviewing him, yes.
Kesner:How is he on the interviews?
Doel:He was good.
Kesner:Does he talk about me at all? [Laughter]
Doel:He said some good things. He said good things. How did he feel about -- did he talk to you about -- knowing Arnold Finck, I can imagine he may not had. But I was curious if he spoke about he felt in his role as administrator in the difference between the two administrations.
Kesner:I donít understand what you mean.
Doel:Did he -- would he talk to you about how it was to deal with Manik Talwani?
Doel:Thatís what I would have thought.
Kesner:No we never. He never discussed his job with me at all. And he never discussed anything with me. I blame a lot on Arnold for holding me down the way he did. I donít know why, why he was so afraid of even letting me go to Columbia. I never went down to Columbia to meet a person.
Doel:Was that because Arnold said --
Doel:-- he didnít want you to go.
Kesner:Yes. And he said anytime thereís anything that has to be done down at Columbia, Iíll do it. I didnít have to have anybody do it for me. I could have very well gone down to Columbia and held my weight with any of them. Because they knew about what I was doing. Lots of times Arnold would come back, and heíd tell me the story that he told them and it was not right. And I used to get a little annoyed, but I wouldnít say anything to him. Heíd say well, when I talked to -- what was his name again down there? He left a number of years before I did. He was the director of purchasing. He and I would talk. So if I can talk to him over the phone, why canít I talk to him in person? And then, you know, thereís such a thing as no -- how do you call it, the no -- oh, Iím getting confused now. By not talking directly to a person, you lose the contact of feeling.
Doel:Sure. Yes. The face to face, personal contact is critical very often.
Kesner:Of course it is.
Doel:And you knew that for the fact of inviting the people up to Lamont.
Kesner:Sure. When I did. And Doc thought that was very good that I did that. And I said, yes, it is good because now they know what weíre doing. Before they had no idea, you know. And I said the more we can do that, the better off we will be up here. So they donít have to blame us for not doing our job correctly. When we know what weíre doing here, so. Well anyhow, we had a --
Doel:Do you have a feeling why Arnold didnít feel comfortable to let you play that role?
Kesner:I have no idea. I have no idea. And he never bothered with my work. He never questioned me on anything I did. But I donít know what he did when he went down to Columbia, you know. Because he would never allow me to go down. And even to be with Miss Elia. She was a tyrant. Oh she was a -- you know, I think half the time she made my ulcers. She used to say to me, ďI wish youíd come down some day and see how busy we are down here.Ē You know, I did that. I got on my high horses, and I got into my car, and I drove down to Columbia. And I walked right into her office. I said, ďMiss Elia, here I am. Now what are we going to do?Ē Well, she was so surprised. She said, ďCome on, Iíll show you around.Ē So I said, ďAU right. When are you going to come up to my office and Iíll show you around?Ē She said, ďOne of these days.Ē Then we became good friends. Not good friends, but we --
Doel:You had a relationship, a working relationship.
Kesner:-- understood. We knew what each other looked like. All right? Weíre yelling over the phone at each other. But she was funny. She was so taken back. It wasnít twenty minutes later, you know, I walked right into her office. Because thatís all it takes from Lamont down to the campus, 125th Street, you know. Well, I said, I happened to get a good parking place too. She had to laugh. Well then she introduced me to a lot of people that I spoke with, you know. I did the same thing with the purchasing department one time I went down. I hadnít met Mr. Nelson who was in charge of electronics or Mr. so and so who was doing other things. And I did the same thing. I went down, an unexpected visit too. And I left one day and I want to go down and meet them all. And I did. They were not as boisterous as Miss Elia. They were very nice. And Mr. Nelson was very nice. And we had a long chat about possibilities of writing our own purchase orders. We had all of that, you know, hashing it out in conversation. It made a big difference when I got back to the office because I was the only one at the time doing purchasing. I didnít have my four assistants, you know. And I said, ďThatís the only way Iím going to lick anything here. If Iím going to be behind a telephone, Iím not going to listen to Hank Nelson say to me, Iím sorry I canít give you that order because itís over fifty dollars and you donít have three bids. Well I couldnít get three bids because you donít have three vendors around here where I can get three bids without going into New York.Ē Well, all right. So weíll -- send it to my office, and weíll do it for you. I said, ďNo, I canít do it that way because I want to get a purchase order number over the phone.Ē Oh he says, ďYou make it so difficult.Ē I said, ďI donít make it difficult, Iím making it easy for myself.Ē So, we, in a nice way, we laughed about it, talked about it, and then we stopped, you know. And then after that, it is much easier talking to these people because they knew what I looked like, they knew that I didnít have two heads, and we had a meeting of the ways, you know.
Doel:Yes. Did Arnold understand that in the sense of knowing what you were trying to do in these face-to-face meetings?
Kesner:Well, he did because I told him often enough. And he would just stand and shake his head. ďYouíll never make it,Ē he said to me. I said, ďI will make it.Ē So. Thatís the way he used to leave things, you know. Instead of saying, look, let me help you in a way. Maybe we can do it. Together, you know. But he would never give me the confidence that I would make it. The only one who would give me the confidence was Doc.
Doel:Thatís important, isnít it? Yes.
Kesner:And how he ever got it, Iíll never know. Unless he just questioned people around on my position in purchasing, see.
Doel:Doe was one to do that sort of thing, wasnít he? He really would inquire. Do you think his level of understanding of what was happening at Lamont diminished after Harriet took over the gatekeeping?
Kesner:I have an idea he did. I think so because it wasnít as happy as a place as it was before, you know. How much further have we got to go? Youíre giving me the works today. You know that? I guess you donít want to come back here anymore.
Doel:Well I do want to come back some more. And let me actually just finish up.
Kesner:Iíd like to be a little cat in your pocket tomorrow when you go to Harriet. Oh boy.
Doel:Iím just realizing your microphone has come down.
Kesner:Oh, is it off?
Doel:Itís not off. Itís just been down. So weíll put that right back up there. Weíll likely have things weíre going to need to come back to. And maybe one thing that we ought to end on today is what we talked about a little bit off tape where you had mentioned about Henry Kohler coming in, needing to talk with you, when he didnít speak with others. And hearing when Vema had arrived at Piermont that Columbia intended to sell.
Kesner:Sell the boat. It was sold already.
Doel:It was already sold by the time that he got there. And you mentioned that had he been told this, when he was stilling South Africa, he would have been able to have made alternative arrangements, and he couldnít.
Kesner:Right. Yes. He was very upset about that. Very much so. He said, ďHow would you like to go away for the weekend, and then you come into work and go to sit down at your desk, and youíve been fired.Ē Oh I said, ďI wouldnít like it a bit.Ē He said, ďWell, thatís the same feeling I have coming into port, puffing up, and find out the ship has been sold for sixty-five thousand dollars, and here I am without a job.Ē
Doel:That must have been a powerful emotion.
Kesner:It was terrible for him.
Doel:Was it devastating for him?
Kesner:Devastating for him. If I ever wanted to say, I can hear a man cry, it was that time.
Doel:Did he actually weep?
Kesner:No, he didnít. Not when I was -- no. No.
Doel:But I can imagine.
Kesner:But I can imagine how he would want to, you know. But he said he didnít think people could be so unfeeling. Here he is, taking care of the ship like a baby for twenty-five years, and then to have this happen. Itís unbelievable. I agreed with him. I thought it was terrible. And he and Laney then went back over to the ship, and when they came back. I told you about that. They said what do you want off the ship and I said --
Doel:Yes, but this was all mentioned off tape. So I wanted to hear. You had told him that you wanted a --
Kesner:A shipís clock. Thatís all I wanted. A tiny one. I donít want one of those big ones. Just a little one.
Doel:And youíre holding your hands about.
Doel:Maybe four inches across.
Kesner:And I said, oh just one of the little. Oh he said no problem. I have one in my -- I think he said I have one in my stateroom. Well anyway, when he did come back later on that evening --
Doel:Itís the same evening.
Kesner:He said, ďTheyíre all gone.Ē He said, ďThe ship has been cleaned of everything. The vultures got on the ship and took everything off the ship they could possibly get.Ē
Doel:These were Columbia employees or contractors?
Kesner:Gene -- I was going to say Gene Landriau. Whatís his name, Sam Gerard, his group? They all knew that the ship was going to into sale. So they were going to strip it. So they did. We never got one.
Doel:You say that Sam Gerard had played a role in the, in the sale.
Kesner:He was the instigator of the sale, yes.
Doel:What was? Iím wondering how that decision got made. And let me just pause to --
Doel:A moment ago you felt you were wrong about?
Kesner:Sam Gerard. I donít know whether Sam did it or Columbia did it. I donít know why Columbia would try to sell the ship, but it was sold for sixty-five thousand dollars. And someone did make a remark to me that, oh, thatís Samís tactics again, you know. So I just assume then that Sam had something to do with it. Because he was in charge of the ship at that time you know?
Doel:Yes. Iím wondering whose decision to sell and acquire the vessel that would have been. Presumably it would have been in the hands of the director, Manik Talwani. But Iím curious if you knew how --
Kesner:I have no idea.
Doel:Yes. How that?
Kesner:No. I have no idea. It should have been the directorís choice, Iím sure. But all of it was done by the -- Gerardís office, you know.
Doel:How effective was Gerardís office and what were your impressions?
Kesner:Very bad. Sam wanted to be the whole cheese of the maritime department. But he had such bad help around him that -- perhaps with the other ship, the -- I told you before, I forget it now -- not the Vema, the Conrad. The Conrad was Sam Gerardís ship, and while he gave me all the orders for what he needed to have done and so forth and all the new equipment, he didnít bother with me too much. I donít know how he got away with half of it, but he did. And, because even on the Vema, when the Vema would go into overhaul. I would go down, right down to the dock it was at, and sit with the pursers and whoever was in charge of the overhaul. And while I didnít know half of the things I was doing, I would have lots of advice. And which I would have to have with the skipper. And they would exactly instruct me on what to delete, what not to delete and so forth. But I donít profess to be a shipyard professional, but I did my best. And as far as anything else on the ship is concerned, I had no problem whatsoever. It was just the overhaul. Because with the overhaul, you can, you can get killed, you know that. You can --
Doel:Henry Kohler had mentioned how one needs to be extremely careful in managing these sorts of things or --
Doel:Or that one can be seriously --
Doel:-- overcharged, cheated.
Kesner:Of course. He overcharged a many a time. Well when they went into Brewerís we never had any problem.
Kesner:Brewerís Dry-dock. But some of the other, when weíd come down. One time we came down to Florida here, and oh, it was awful, terrible. But sometimes itís an emergency and it has to be done. And no matter where you are, you canít say Iím going to go a hundred miles up the ocean here until I come to a cheaper place, you know. It doesnít work that way. And we had a lot of -- I mean, when you did, when I did the purchasing for the ship when she came in. I had some work to do, let me tell you. I had pages like that. But when it came to dry-dock, I would turn the whole thing right over to Captain Kohler, and say, Iíll go with you if you want me to. But Iíd just as soon not. Because what do I know about overhaul, you know. And then one time or two, heíd say to me, you come with me. So we know what weíre doing down there too. And he said --
Doel:Thatís interesting. He wanted you to know.
Kesner:Know. Yes. So I said all right I will. And we did. And we went down. And I have many a picture taken with one of these hats on, you know.
Doel:The hard hats.
Kesner:Hard hats. Yes. But we had. It was an understanding, Captain Kohler was very, very, very strict in billing and pricing and figures. Oh many a time heíd come into my office and question me about something, you know. Iíd say sure, let me get my paperwork out and weíll go over it together, you know.
Doel:Right. And youíre moving a folder, like youíre doing that right now.
Kesner:Right. Yes. I donít know what this is. I had this folder and -- he was always satisfied. But he had to say, itís so cheaper up in Nova Scotia than it is down here. I canít figure it out. New York City, you know, Brewerís Dry-dock in Brooklyn. Oh. So. But we had. [Interruption to talk to someone]
Doel:Indeed. Weíve been. [Interruption to talk again] Weíve been talking for a good long time today.
Kesner:Yes, we have.
Why donít we bring this segment of the interview to a close? But before I do, let me thank you again for this long session. And as you know, you will be getting the transcript of this interview from Columbia University.
Session I | Session II