The Weirs Times Mount Washington Special Edition
Around the Cracker Barrel - The Selected Works of Ed Allard
QUITE often, when strolling down the new
alleyway past the empty windows of the closed 0"Shea's
store, I peek in at the empty spaces and wonder if the
ghosts of times past roam the lonely aisles or sit on
the stairs and swap tales of the old days.
The story of O'Shea's is woven firmly into
the fabric of Laconia's history and hundreds of old customers
mourned its passing.
The end of the log drive marked the beginning
of the spring spree for lumberjacks who came roaring out
of the north country to board the train heading for Laconia.
With the lonely hard days in the woods behind them and
a pocket bulging with back pay, they scrambled aboard
and whooped it up as the coaches rattled over the rails.
Disembarking, many of them headed for O'Shea's to leave
a few dollars with Dennis O'Shea and Aunt Kit before heading
for the flesh pots and saloons on Mill Street. A descendent
of one of the old-time bartenders once told me that his
ancestor made a fortune by sticking his thumb in the measuring
cup as he drew whiskey from the barrel. They say that
he had the cleanest thumb in town.
A few days later, the celebrants would show
up at O'Shea's again, haggard with hangovers, sporting
bruised knuckles and bloodshot eyes, to claim their money
and spend it on clothing needed for the long
The store had a reputation as a good place
to work. There was a rumor that once you went to work
there you were all set for as long as you wished to stay.
It may have been true; I went to work there as a temporary
employee, hired only for the Christmas season, and was
there for twenty two years. I must admit; I still miss
the old place.
There was always an undercurrent of mischievousness
flowing quietly under the circumspect exterior. One day
one of the employees showed up with a gadget he had picked
up in a joke shop. Designed to be attached to the underside
of a toilet seat, it burst into fiendish cackles of laughter
when sat upon. While others played lookout, the prankster
entered the ladies room and fastened it in place.
It so happened that during this period of
time there had been a number of false bomb scares in town,
leaving everyone a little jittery.
As we went about our duties one of the group
kept an eye on the rest room corridor and when one of
the salesladies was seen heading for it we were alerted.
Pretending to be busy, we watched and waited. Suddenly
the restroom door burst open and a terrified saleslady
ran into the hallway screeching, "A bomb! There's
a bomb under the seat!"
We headed her off before she got on to the
main floor to panic the customers. It took us about five
minutes of fervent explaining to convince her that the
object that she had spotted was not about to blow us all
into kingdom come. It took somewhat longer to get back
into her good graces.
The pneumatic cash system was always good
for a prank, especially in the old store where the office
was in an open balcony. A feather from a feather duster
could be carefully placed in the carrier so that when
opened it would spring out at a startled cashier. The
screech sometimes made customers forget what they were
shopping for. It was also possible to create the same
result by filling the canister with cigarette smoke. Deceased
insects and spiders also were known to take the ride.
I may have told it before. If I did, here
it is again. I still guffaw whenever I remember it. Duke,
manager of the shoe department, was a master practical
joker and he had just hired a young fellow to work with
him. The new clerk was a shy, bashful lad, eager to make
The newcomer was working in the storeroom
when a little old lady in her eighties came in and informed
Duke that she was looking for a pair of sensible shoes.
Duke showed her to a seat and informed her that his assistant
would help her. He also told her that the boy was very
deaf but that he needed the job to help his widowed mother.
"We want to keep him. Just speak real loud and everything
will be all right."
He then ducked into the storeroom and said
to the boy, "There's an elderly lady out there looking
for shoes and I'm going to let you wait on her.
She's a nice lady and a good customer. She's
very deaf but too proud to wear a hearing aid but as long
as you holler everything will be fine."
The clerk approached her timidly and shouted,
"Can I help you?"
"I want a pair of soft leather shoes!"
she shouted back.
Customers turned to see what was going on
as the two yelled back and forth for several minutes.
Finally, in exasperation, the old lady waggled
her finger in his face and yelled, "You don't have
to holler at me! I ain't deef!"
"Neither am I!" shouted the clerk,
"but the boss told me you are!"
"And he told me you are," replied
the elderly customer.
As the light dawned, both of them headed
for the storeroom to confront Duke. They were too late.
Duke had departed for what was to be a long but happy