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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Zithers, Moscow Mules, and Bucky's Dome

As you might gather from reading my past posts on Emory Cook and his record label, Cook Labs, I am  exceedingly fond of the man behind such recordings as Kilts on Parade and Torchy Lullabies my Mother Sang Me. You also may have gathered that when perusing the Cook Labs Records, it's hard not to find some little tidbit that makes you chuckle, or, as is the case in this story, something seemingly inexplicable, yet intriguing and charming nonetheless.

I was digitizing my way through a folder of materials relating to Ruth Welcome, probably the most glamorous zither player I have ever encountered. (Also notable: her music. Turns out, the zither is seriously pleasant to listen to, and in Welcome's hands, one can hear why she was such a popular entertainer in dark and fancy restaurants. Sample her music here.)

Cook-041-16: Ruth Welcome. Cook Labs Records.
After several stylish publicity shots, I came across two photographs that hardly fit in with the contents of the file.

Cook-041-23 and Cook-041-24: Dome Restaurant, post-Hurricane Carol. Cook Labs Records.
 I can't say I was surprised by their presence--at this point, I've learned to let the whimsicality of Emory Cook wash over me--but really, what the heck is happening in these photos? I had no real way of knowing if they actually belonged in the folder at all, but like a good archivist, I left them where they were until I could figure out a better solution. My only clues as to the context of the photographs were that they were taken in front of a wrecked geodesic dome, and that geodesic domes were invented by Buckminster (Bucky") Fuller, a known associate of Emory Cook. There was an inscription on the verso of one of the photographs as well: "Joe- Dome Hurricane Carol 1954".

Half of archival work is making connections between materials. About a month after seeing these photographs, a colleague was flipping through the May 1955 issue of Cook's Audio Bucket newsletter that was sitting on my desk. I caught a glimpse of the instantly recognizable photograph--it accompanied an article titled "The Affair at Woods Hole..." Not only were the photographs directly connected to Ruth Welcome, here was an entire story detailing their context. It was like someone giving me an unexpected birthday present all wrapped up in a big, bright bow. The article is so wonderful, so Cook-ian, that I must present it in its entirety (click to enlarge).

Cook-015-04: Audio Bucket, May 1965, Vol. 1, No. 4. Cook Labs Records.

 This line is a personal favorite: "Poor Ruthie--such beautiful femininity, so innocent, so gentle with her zither,--was unprepared for its capacity for devastating a community, pitting neighbor against neighbor, provoking headlines so shocking as to push man-bite-dog into page two." And our man with the cup? He's holding up a Moscow mule, retrieved from the surviving bar. It's an appropriate cocktail for post-hurricane occasions, I think.

Intrigued by this story of a geodesic dome restaurant on Cape Cod nearly destroyed by a zither/hurricane, I did a little digging (Googling). As our article says, the structure was actually the Dome Restaurant, designed by Bucky Fuller himself. Built in 1954, it was looked upon with distaste by some of the residents of Woods Hole, who liked their wood-shingled cottages just fine, thankyouverymuch. Despite this resistance, it was a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. It was novel, swanky, and striking--imagine listening to the beautiful Ruth Welcome as you dined under the stars, or, during the day, looking out to a spectacular view of the sea. The style is long gone now, but the structure remains on its hilltop in Woods Hole, empty and derelict. There was talk of restoration in 2008, but it doesn't look like anything has happened yet.

This radio story on the history of the restaurant (including reminiscences of Ruth Welcome's performances) is worth a listen if you'd like to learn more.

Cecilia Peterson
Digitization Archivist
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

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