Carole Owens: BSF caught in tangled web

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<em>This is the second part of a two-part series on the early years of what became DeSisto School in Stockbridge. The first part, which ran on Friday, concluded with the Berkshire Cottage having evolved into Bonnie Brier on its way to becoming De Sisto. Part two covers the busy years of 1934 through 1937.<em/>

STOCKBRIDGE — On August 21, 1934, the Berkshire Evening Eagle reported, "Horse Show Ring Made Amphi-theater for Festival Opening at Hanna Farm."The Berkshire Symphonic Festival (BSF) was held at Bonnie Brier the first two years of its exist-ence, 1934 and 1935. As the BSF Board began planning the 1936 festival, rumors reached Chair Gertrude Robinson Smith that the Hanna farm had been sold. She asked Winnie Davis (Mrs. Bruce) Crane and George Edman, editor of the Berkshire Evening Eagle, to inquire if the new owner would allow BSF to continue to use the horse ring for the concerts.

The reply was positive, but the price was 700 times what BSF paid previously — from $1 to$700. In addition, neither parking nor food concessions would be allowed. It was impossible for the BSF to meet those conditions so it had no place for the 1936 concert series.

BSF's assets, 800 painted benches, a stage with shell, fencing, and ticket booths.were stored in the barn at Bonnie Brier. The new owner delivered the coup de gras: move them immediately. Those assets became a liability. BSF had nowhere to put them, and while it had 213 subscribers, 86 more than last year, it had no money to move them.

The new owner's demands were a shock. Who was he and why was he behaving this way? The answer exposed one of the biggest swindles in Berkshire history.On Feb. 15, 1936, Laura R. Wilson executrix of the estate of Molly C. Hanna. sold Bonnie Brier to G. Dudley Rogers of Cleveland for $62,000. The terms of the purchase were $31,000 down, $10,000 due on May 15, 1936 and $21,000 due on Nov. 15, 1936.

On Sept. 15, 1936, before the $21,000 was due, Rogers sold Bonnie Brier to Catherine J. Gregg. On the same day, Gregg sold part of the property to Elisabeth Tyler (Mrs. Otto) Miller sole heiress to the Tyler Manufacturing Company of Cleveland, maker of steel wire and other steel products for a whopping $112,000 (a $50,000 profit).

Eight days later, Gregg sold the remaining piece of the Hanna property to Mary Parsons and the other trustees of the John Parsons estate trust for $6,500, $2,000 on Dec. 1, 1937 and nine monthly payments of $500 each.

On May 1,1937 Parsons gave Gregg a 2/10 share in the property in lieu of payment, and on May 11, 1937, Parsons sold the land to Mrs. Miller. The original acreage of the Hanna farm was again intact.

In 1942, Catharine J. Gregg was charged with embezzling$50,000 from Mrs. Miller, the difference between what Rogers paid for the Hanna property, and what Gregg charged Miller. The unraveling was damning; Gregg hadno choice but to plead guilty.

Miller employed Gregg as an assistant. In January 1936 Miller instructed Gregg topurchase the Hanna property for her. Gregg and Rogers were cousins. Armed withthe knowledge that Miller wanted the property, Gregg instructed Rogers to purchase it and sell a portion to Parson's.

Initially, Parsons' purchase may have been arm's length but as a matter of law when Gregg took a 2/10 share of the land in lieu of payment, they became partners. Therefore they were partners when it was sold to Miller.

While Gregg was making all these arrangements, she told Miller she was unsuccessful in her attempts to buy the Hanna property. Gregg told Miller she had the property for $112,000 only when the cousins could pocket $50,000.

Payment for the purchase was structured so the cousins only needed $41,000. Where did Gregg get the $41,000? She stole it from Miller. Beginning in 1935 property valued at $36,000 including a $2,500 gold toilet seat disappeared. The convicted thief was another cousin of Gregg's.

It was Gregg through Rogers who asked for the $700. In her unprincipled pursuit of money, Gregg also denied BSF in hope of running the food and parking concessions herself for personal profit. Gregg was so plausible that during the same period she succeeded in contracting with BSF to produce the concert program for 1936; with typical Gregg shenanigans, she had a scheme to net another $5,000.     

Eventually things were sorted out. Gregg was jailed, Miller had clear title to Bonnie Brier, and became an enthusiastic supporter of BSF. BSF approached Margaret Vanderbilt and the1936 concerts were held at Holmwood (Fox Hollow today) Serge Koussevitzky conducting. The following year and ever after BSF found its home at Tanglewood. Edman correctly predicted that no one would ever again call it the Berkshire Symphonic Festival when they could just call it Tanglewood.

<em>A Berkshire writer and historian, Carole Owens is a regular Eagle contributor.<em/>


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