Antheil’s boyhood in Trenton

Some memories from George:

It was right about this time, incidentally, that a big scare swept over that section of the environs of Trenton, New Jersey. It even had the police upon the trail because, as it was discovered, everybody’s telephone wires over a considerable number of blocks was being regularly and systematically tapped. It was suspected that a gang of modern burglars were at work preparing the locality for a series of snatches.

All this, however, was no mistery to us. We were doing the wire tapping ourselves. Dick White had gotten an amateur telephone set at Christmas and the headphones thereof served most admirably for all and sundry wiretapping purposes.

I had gotten the idea by watching a telephone linesman working upon the telephone pole just in back of our back yard.


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We boys now went camping, setting up our tent near the edge of a lake not very far away from Trenton.[i] How we ever managed to get our parents to consent to this I cannot imagine – unless they wanted to get rid of us. Boys of thirteen can be pests I suppose. However, I remember that mother was nevertheless ever in dither about me; she tells me today that she never knew what I was about to do next.

One day, for instance, she caught me up upon the second storey roof of the house. I had manufactured for myself a pair of bat-like wings which I had now strapped onto my arms and legs; I was just about to jump down imagining that I would then sail gracefully over the treetops and alight gently in a nearby vacant lot.

Actually I would have plummeted down into the gardem below and probably broken my fool young neck.

It has never pre-occurred to me that any single one of my revolutionary or inventive ideas when put to the test might actually not work.

[i] The earliest surviving letter by George is in fact a postcard he sent to his parents from the Y.M.C.A. Camp in Allentown, NJ, June 30th, 1912. It reads: “Feeling fine. Obeying instructions with good results. We had a fine meal today (..) I am practicing swimming a low pool hardly up to my neck. Camping is just fine! Had lots of fun from 5 o’clock am to 8 o’clock P.M. We go to bed very early. Don’t worry. Your loving son / George Antheil.” During the same summer Stanley Hart, Christopher Messerschmitt and Dick White camped near the Yardley Bridge, up the Delaware River, as the Trenton Troop n. 8 of the Boy Scouts, at “Cosey Camp”. The Trenton Evening Times informs us: “The day was spent practicing Boy Scout maneuvers and games were enjoyed” (Scouts in Camp, June 3rd, 1912). In a later document (1925) Antheil certified “Camping with the Trenton Y.M.C.A. 1913-1919.” He wrote so to Mrs. Bok, his Philadelphian patroness, in 1925: “Since I was eleven I have gone every year to the Y.M.C.A. camp up near Frenchtown on the Delaware. I was a good baseball player. I have been very popular with the fellows in Trenton, of the class out of which I have come.” (Letter, to Mrs. Bok, July 9th, 1925, LC)