Bishop: Reject Jew Pond
Thursday, February 16, 2012
MONT VERNON – The newly installed head of the state’s largest Catholic diocese has joined Jewish leaders in urging voters to reject the name Jew Pond for the tiny, historic body of water at George O. Carleton Park off Grand Hill Road.
Bishop Peter A. Libasci, who in December succeeded John McCormack as leader of the Manchester diocese said, in a letter to The Cabinet, he “involuntarily bristled” upon hearing the phrase when it came up at his recent meeting with members of the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire.
“I hope and pray that the citizens of Mont Vernon vote to change the name,” Libasci wrote. “It is a small pond, but anti-Semitism is a big deal.”
Local discussion on the potentially offensive nature of the name Jew Pond, which is rooted in the half-acre pond’s early-20th-century heyday as part of the old Grand Hill Hotel resort, surfaced a year and a half ago when town health officer Rich Masters closed the swampy waterway during an algae bloom.
The issue is expected to draw spirited, possibly lengthy, comments at the March 13 Town Meeting, where voters will choose whether to keep the name or change it to “Grand Hill Pond” as part of Article 12 on the 2012 Town warrant.
There’s even a good chance that the wording of the question itself – which states, “To see if the Town will vote to petition the United States Geographic Survey to rename Jew Pond to Grand Hill Pond” – will be debated, as many in town have said if the name is ever changed, it should become “Carleton Pond” in honor of the family whose patriarch, George O. Carleton, donated the land that includes the pond to the town 40 years ago.
The decision to specify Grand Hill Pond as the alternate name, rather than Carleton Pond or other aforementioned names like Frog Pond, Spring Pond and Lake Serene, was made by a consensus of the selectmen’s office, board Chairman Jack Esposito said Monday night.
“I thought it would probably be Carleton Pond, but we ended up choosing Grand Hill,” he said following the public hearing on the proposed warrant. Selectmen indicated the town received emails with suggestions, ranging from keeping Jew Pond to proposing Grand Hill and other names.
The responsibility for making an official name change rests with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Board on Geographic Names, representatives of which have indicated they would most likely support the wishes of the town and plan to proceed accordingly after the March 13 vote.
Selectmen in September affirmed the town’s desire to retain the name, citing its place in town history in rejecting Masters’ proposal to change it to Frog Pond. Masters said he wrote the proposal to the USGS’ Board of Names after a number of residents reacted to realizing Jew Pond was its official name.
“A lot of people cringed when it was publicized. I didn’t think it was a very good name, and figured maybe I should go about trying to change it,” Masters said at the time.
Initially, the state accepted Masters’ suggestion of Frog Pond, but members of the Carleton family objected, telling officials that if the name is changed, it should be “Carleton Pond” in honor of George O. Carleton.
Meanwhile, frustration is growing among Jewish Federation leaders over what they feel is a weak response on the issue from Town Hall, a longtime Federation associate and advocate and Jewish historian said.
“People are more disturbed because the town isn’t giving this much attention,” Dr. David Stahl said Monday. But the issue over the name, which he called “sort of tasteless,” should nevertheless be kept in perspective. “It’s not something I will live or die over … it disturbs me much more when I hear a friend tell me she was talking with someone who used the term, ‘Jew him down,’” a derogatory phrase suggesting one is driving a hard bargain.
Stahl panned selectmen for suggesting the name should stand because of its place in town history. “It’s not historic at all,” he said. “If anything, it’s associated with a very brief period in the 1920s.”
The pond indeed rode a societal roller-coaster, along with its Grand Hill Hotel, in the 20s. For most of its life, owner George E. Bates posted signs and included in advertisements advising “Hebrew patronage not desired.”
Briefly, from 1927-29, though, guests were overwhelmingly Jewish – when Boston-area brothers Nymen H. and Myer Z. Kolodny and Maine hotelier J. M. Levenson ran it after purchasing it from Bates.
Late last year, town resident Katelyn Ann Dobbs, a University of New Hampshire-Manchester student and aspiring filmmaker, produced “The Story Behind Jew Pond,” a documentary that traces the landmark’s backstory and features interviews with key town officials and historians.
Dobbs will be at Town Meeting, she said, and hopes to be able to film some of the Jew Pond discussion to supplement her documentary. She has received several calls about the film lately, most recently from N.H. Public Radio requesting an interview, which was aired Monday.
“A lot of people are talking about it. I’ll be very interested to hear what people have to say,” she said.
In Dobbs’ documentary, Federation executive director K. Jeff Fladen said the fact “Jew” is used as an adjective, similar to obviously derogatory inferences like “Jew lawyer” or “Jew politician,” is the reason it’s deemed offensive. “If the name was “Jewish Pond,” we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” Fladen said.
In his letter, Bishop Libasci agreed. “It is different than the use of the word ‘Jewish’ or ‘Christian’ because it is added as a stinging barb, the way that a bigot in private company would mention a ‘Jew lawyer’ or ‘Jew doctor,” he wrote. “You just absolutely know it’s meant to convey some measure of contempt.”
Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or firstname.lastname@example.org.