Londonderry Plays Ball

March 13, 2024 – by Sandy Dahlfred

As I write this, we’re counting down the days until baseball season. I’m not a sports fan, but as a history buff, I enjoy learning about the sports figures who hail from our town. Our most recent baseball hero, and one that I imagine most of us know of, is Brian Wilson. Brian grew up in Londonderry and graduated from Londonderry High School in 2000. Although he was offered a contract by the Cleveland Indians, he decided to attend Louisiana State University instead, and was drafted into the MLB in 2003. He began his career in the majors in 2006, pitching for the San Francisco Giants. He was known for his beard, his mohawk and his orange cleats. He had elbow surgery in 2012, which prevented him from taking part in the World Series that the Giants won that year. (As an aside, I was in San Francisco when that Series was played. It was fun to vicariously participate in the local fans’ excitement.) After his surgery, Wilson moved to Los Angeles to play for the Dodgers. His last season was in 2014 and he’s now retired from baseball.

Probably the most well-known ball player associated with our town is Dominick DiMaggio, who spent his entire career playing for the Boston Red Sox, from 1940 to 1953. Dom was born and grew up in San Francisco (there’s that city again!) but lived in Londonderry for a few years in the late 1970s/early 1980s. He began his professional ball career in 1937, playing for the minor league San Francisco Seals, after which he was signed by the Sox. Dom’s famous brother, Joe DiMaggio, played for our archrival, the New York Yankees, but despite this, Dom and Joe were close and supported each other, always giving credit to the other’s abilities and even providing tips. In a 1940 series, for example, after Joe suggested that center fielder Dom move back a little because the ball carried well in that part of Yankee Stadium, Dom caught a fly ball hit by none other than Joe himself! By the time he lived here in town, Dom was long-retired from sports, but owned several businesses and served as a trustee at St. Anselm’s College. He left Londonderry in 1981, and died in Massachusetts in 1992.

Another local who garnered much attention in the early 2000s was Red Sox outfielder George “Duffy” Lewis. Duffy didn’t actually live in town, but does now reside here, i.e., he’s buried in Holy Cross Cemetery. Duffy spent his major league career, from 1910 until 1921, playing for the Sox, the Yankees, and the Washington Senators. He was a Sox player in 1912 when the team moved to Fenway Park, which featured a 10-foot high mound in front of left field, now the site of the Green Monster. Lewis did so much practicing on this mound that it became known as “Duffy’s Cliff.”  (The mound was removed during renovations of the park in 1934.) Guess where Duffy was born? That’s right – good old San Francisco! After his baseball career, Duffy and his wife, Eleanor, retired to Salem, New Hampshire, where he died in 1979. So why, pray tell, was there a bunch of hoopla about him in the local news in 2000? Well, it turns out that this well-known ball player’s grave was unmarked. Local columnist John Clayton brought this sad state of affairs to the public’s attention when he wrote an article about it for the Manchester Union Leader. After that, donations poured in, including a sizeable one from the Red Sox, and a nice black granite monument was erected for Lewis.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another ball player from our community, George “Lefty” Tyler, who was born in Derry. Lefty’s career spanned the period from 1910 to 1921. He played for the Red Sox before they were the Red Sox! In fact, the team was known back then as the Boston Doves, and later, the Boston Braves. Lefty was traded in 1918 to the Chicago Cubs, where he was the winning pitcher in Game Two of the World Series (lost, of course, to the Red Sox that year!)

Photo credits: Brian Wilson: by Thephatphilmz (own work), Sept 25, 2011. George Duffy: This work is from the Harris & Ewing collection at the Library of Congress. According to the library, there are no known copyright restrictions on the use of this work. Dom DiMaggio: This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published in the United States between 1927 and 1977, inclusive, without a copyright notice. Lefty Tyler: This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1927, and if not then due to lack of notice or renewal.

From the “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” Files

October 22, 2023 – by Sandy Dahlfred

Historical tidbits from Londonderry, in no particular order:

From the Derry News, March 25, 1881:

Gabriel Barr courted Rachel Wilson for 40 years but died unmarried. The problem? It seems that one of the lovebirds lived in the West Parish, the other in the East, and they couldn’t agree on which church to attend after the wedding.

From the Independent Democrat, May 12, 1870:

One day Mr. J.E. Kendall stopped along the side of the road in Londonderry to pick some mayflowers. Upon returning to his wagon, he found that a 4 and a half foot black snake was “gracefully winding itself up his leg like the stripes on a barber‘s pole.”

From the Derry News, March 25, 1881:

Until it was formally abolished, the Londonderry Fair occurred every year on the third Tuesday of October. The local farm boys, having completed the harvest, got together with every “scallawag” within a 50-mile radius and spent the week “running and swapping old horses, imbibing New England rum and its kindred abominations, eating gingerbread, and witnessing fiddling and dancing.”

From the Derry News, November 18, 1881:

The “meanest man alive” has been identified as a Londonderry resident who cut every branch off of a shade tree in one of the town’s cemeteries, leaving it “bare as a pole.” It was reported that he would be brought to justice.

From the Derry News, January 14, 1881:

A severe snowstorm dumped so much snow on the town that “short men” were advised to wear stovepipe hats, high-heeled boots, or “other signals of distress to indicate where they may be found in case of disappearance.”

From the Boston Globe, Aug 20, 1978:

Gregg Zilenski of Londonderry broke a world record by playing 171 straight hours of pinball.

From the Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics, June 13, 1868:

Every year at Town Meeting a Londonderry doctor requested insertion of an article that would allow him to be interred on the town common. Although usually voted down, one year the article passed, but with the stipulation that the burial occur forthwith, requiring the doctor to be immediately executed. Needless to say, the execution didn’t happen and the doctor kept mum at future meetings.

From the Boston Globe, December 7, 1892:

Lithia Springs Water Company of Londonderry had to print a disclaimer when a “A Liar Abroad” proclaimed that the company’s spring had been pumped dry.

From the Boston Herald, July 30, 1925:

In 1925 a “Canadian vagrant” named Peter LeBlum broke into the home of Londonderry resident George Blodgett, took a nap on the couch, and was preparing a meal for himself when the homeowner returned.

From the Boston Globe, June 28, 1939:

“Middled-aged people” who wished to avoid the Independence Day noise were invited to come to Sunset Farm in Londonderry where they could enjoy peace, quiet and good food.

From the Boston Herald, October 5, 1899:

This last item didn’t happen in Londonderry but involved a crime so heinous that it just had to be included. It seems that four Suncook boardinghouse keepers were arrested for using OLEOMARGARINE instead of butter. (Author’s Note: I hope they all rotted in jail.)

Lights in the Sky

May 31, 2023 — by Sandy Dahlfred

In February of 1991, the Londonderry Historical Society hosted a “UFO Info Night” in the High School cafeteria. The guest speaker was Cheryl Powell, a local resident and member of the Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON, an organization made up of civilian volunteers who study UFO sightings. During the early nineties, so many sightings were being reported that MUFON considered the state of a New Hampshire a “hotspot.” To understand the background of the phenomenon, we need to go back several decades to the 1960s, when the Space Race between the United States and Russia reached its peak.

In April of 1961, Russia put the very first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space. America responded less than a month later by launching the first pilot-controlled space flight. The pilot in question was none other than Derry’s own Alan Shepard, no doubt instilling into our local residents more than the usual amount of pride and interest in the subject. Each year of the decade brought a new achievement in the space program, culminating in the first human moon walk on July 20, 1969. With so much focus on the heavens, is it any wonder that reports of UFOs also reached a high point during the sixties?

Also in 1961, one of the nation’s most well-known and bizarre UFO stories came out of our state, that of the alleged abduction by aliens of Portsmouth residents Betty and Barney Hill. The Hills were traveling home from a vacation in Canada via a rural road in the White Mountains when they stopped to observe a strange light in the sky. After returning to their travels, they realized that they’d “lost” a couple of hours. Subsequent hypnosis of both individuals revealed extraordinary accounts of having been brought aboard a spaceship and subjected to medical examinations. In 1965, the “Exeter Incident” garnered much local and national attention. Although it was a teenaged hitchhiker who reported seeing a completely silent, 90-foot diameter object hovering over a farmhouse in the nearby town of Kensington in the middle of the night, the incident acquired credibility when two police officers also reported seeing the craft. Books have been written about both of these events.

Londonderry, itself, has had its share of sightings. In August of 1966, several residents observed a large red orb hovering in the area of routes 93 and 102. The object made no sound, and all of the witnesses, including a police officer, described the very same details. Some people observed the craft for a full 20 minutes. Witnesses included a Derry News reporter and several motorists who’d stopped on the side of the road to view the spectacle. One member of that group said that the thing “traveled up and down and across the sky in a crazy pattern.” In 1988, several witnesses reported a UFO in the sand pits near the airport. Although a report of an “object in the sky near the airport” shouldn’t raise any eyebrows, witnesses who lived nearby said that they know what an airplane looks like, thank you very much, but this was something different. Further investigation revealed that this was not an isolated incident. As the sightings became public, more people came out of the woodwork to admit that they, too, had seen “strange objects” in that same area. Witnesses to these phenomena always describe the objects as having lights and moving at unusually fast or slow speeds. Whether round, triangular, oval, or cylindrical, the entities consistently have two things in common – lights and silence.

The UFO craze seems to have simmered down, but in fact, sightings haven’t stopped. A 2014 WMUR news article stated that several reports, most anonymous, are investigated each month in the Granite State. It’s interesting to note that in the sixties, a UFO observer’s experience practically guaranteed him celebrity status, but by the eighties it was more of an embarrassment, thus accounting for the anonymous reports. Some attribute this change in attitude to the fact that the U.S. Air Force discontinued its study of UFOs, ending their “Blue Book” project in 1969. If the Government isn’t taking these things seriously, should we? MUFON, however, still exists, and you can report a UFO sighting on their website,, or, if you’re a real UFO enthusiast, you can even join their ranks.

From the Derry News, February 27, 1991

Fourth of July – We Deserve to Celebrate!

July 2, 2021 — by Sandy Dahlfred

A Farmer’s Cabinet article of April 2, 1875, reported that the New England Historic Genealogical Society had acknowledged receipt of a donation from the town of Londonderry that included “eighteen bullets cast during the Revolution, 1774-1783, being a part of the town stock of Londonderry, and kept in the town chest to the present time; also a cup made from wood taken from the house of Gen. George Reid of Londonderry, a famous officer in the Revolutionary War.” Being a long-time member of the NEHGS as well as a Londonderry resident, this article prompted me to look further into the town’s role in achieving our country’s independence.

What I learned is that Londonderry played a significant part in the Revolutionary War. The town was overwhelmingly pro-independence, with a full 96% of men signing the “Association Test,” a document declaring an individual’s support for the patriotic cause. In addition to dozens of fighting men, Londonderry contributed two generals, John Stark and the above-mentioned George Reid, and it’s even rumored that the first act of defiance that precipitated the war actually took place here rather than in in Lexington, Massachusetts! In January of 1769, a group of British Army deserters – of which there were many – was living in Londonderry. Their presence was reported to the royal authorities, possibly by a local spy, and they were rounded up and marched out of town. At that point, eleven Londonderry men intercepted the Redcoats in the nearby town of Atkinson and forced them to free the prisoners, resulting in quite a shock to the British soldiers who’d been thwarted by, in their view, a bunch of undisciplined rubes! If you’d like to learn more about this event, read the story The Londonderry Riot in Richard Holmes’ excellent book, Nutfield Rambles.

But, back to the donations…

From its very inception, Londonderry kept on hand “one barrel of good powder, 200 weight of bullets, and 300 flints for every 60 listed soldiers” as charged by the Province of New Hampshire in 1718. Although this ammunition was initially kept in the event of an attack by Natives, at the time of the Revolution, some of the stock was being distributed to men who were “willing to go against the enemy” and who promised “not to waste any.” Recipients needed to have their own guns in good working order, as well as twenty of their own bullets. No doubt the stash needed to be replenished due to the existing hostilities, and the town hung onto the remaining bullets until they were donated to the Society.

(Old) Londonderry-born George Reid, born in 1733, was the son of James and Mary Reid, some of the first settlers of the town. When the Revolution began, Reid was in command of a company of minutemen under General Stark. He quickly moved up the Army ranks to become general and served for the entire war, beginning with the battle of Bunker Hill in June of 1775. In 1786, General Reid was tasked with helping to quell a rebellion that had arisen regarding the use of paper currency. Because of his part in what became known as the “Exeter Rebellion,” he received death threats through anonymous letters, and was even accosted by an angry crowd that surrounded his Londonderry home. Though well-armed, Reid was able to talk the mob into disbursing. No guns were fired and no one was injured. General Reid, along with his wife, Mary Woodburn, raised five children on their farm here in town. The wooden cup mentioned in the article no doubt came from that place.

I contacted the folks at NEHGS and learned that, sadly, the donated items are no longer housed there. They were deaccessioned in January of 1962 when the organization moved from Ashburton Place in Boston to its current location on Newbury Street. No record of their whereabouts exists.