The photograph above could fool you. The assembled crowd in the picture is decked out in turn-of-the-century garb but the year is actually 1955. It was Rotary International’s Golden Anniversary, and these are the Milford Rotarians donning the garments and mustachios of the “Gay Nineties.”
The 1950s and ‘60s were perhaps the pinnacle of service clubs in America. Lions, Rotary, Kawanis, and Elks could boast of booming membership rolls, and indeed, many of Milford’s political and business leaders of the era are in evidence here. Certainly, the ambition of the “Gay Nineties Revue” held on March 31, 1955, was an indication of the Rotary club’s standing in town. More than 400 tickets were sold for the show held in the Milford Town Hall auditorium including those to the (then all-male) Rotarians and their wives (known as Rotary-Annes). The Silverthroats, a barbershop quartet, lockstepped on stage while crooning “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and the Rotary’s glee club belted out the club song, R-O-T-A-R-Y. 10-year-old “virtuoso” Robert Wetherbee sang and played the piano. Magician “Bourdini of Boston,” novelty musical humorist George Gillette, and a female tapdancing pair from Manchester also highlighted the bill.
But it was Ted Langdell who brought down the house. “Capitalizing on his unmeasurable weight,” according to the Milford Cabinet, “New England’s Largest Rotarian” bounded on stage in a powder blue Lord Fauntleroy suit with short pants, a straw hat, and an oversized lunch basket as he sang “School Days” while the crowd laughed themselves silly. One audience member called the revue simply “the funniest show I’ve ever seen,” but it also had a serious purpose — helping to fulfill the Rotarian pledge of “Service Above Self” as proceeds went to polio victims at Crotched Mountain.