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Monday, July 15, 2013

Pickwick Club Dissolves!

Not Schoolbook History, Not Mr. Wells’s History, but History Nevertheless Dept.: The Ridgefield (Conn.) High School Class of 1973 had its 40th-anniversary reunion last weekend, which I attended with trepidation and emerged from unexpectedly delighted. That particular corner of suburbia inspired some close and enduring friendships, and it was fascinating not only to see (and enjoy) those that persist but also to provoke some new ones. My own corner of the room included a group of iconoclasts whose unusual mode of dress and behavior back in high school provoked someone else to ask, “What are you, some kind of club?” “Yes,” one of us responded. “The Pickwick Club.” Having styled ourselves as a phony club, it only followed that we should concoct a phony history, and we wrote some articles about it that were published by the Ridgefield Press. You can find others in the series here, here, and here. The newspaper’s editor, who was very much in on the joke, opined that anybody who was fooled by the pieces deserved to be.


(The following history of the Pickwick Club was written by David Lawrence. The club disbanded on Labor Day.)

George Gordon, Moisha Fish, Jack O'Diamonds,
Milo Wumbek, and Ned Seagoon.
Photo by Jos. Hartmann
IN 1863, CHARLES DICKENS published his novel The Pickwick Papers, following the exploits of Mr. Samuel Pickwick, a benevolent old man who advocated bachelorhood as a way of life. In 1895, Mr. Jack O’Diamonds of Redding instituted, with friends, a local “chapter,” as he put it, of the “Pickwick Club.” In his memoirs, he wrote that the club was designed “. . . to further the philosofy (sic) and outlook of Mr. Pickwick, in which members shall recognize the disadvantages of emotional involvement with (women).”

A Hartmann photo taken at what was probably their first official meeting shows the
original members, who, in addition to Mr. O’Diamonds, were George Gordon, Milo Wumbek, Ned Seagoon, and Moisha R. Fish, Sr., whose great-grandson, until very recently, was still a member.

The club had a very colorful, however vague, history; according to Mr. O’Diamonds’ records, his fellow charter members were from Ridgefield, with the exception of Seagoon, who was also from Redding. Soon afterward a Mr. Douglas Argus, from Wilton, joined, only to succumb to cirrhosis of the liver during a “Pickwick picnic.”

The membership slowly grew, with social outings continually planned and executed by the “Official Staff,” a group upon which the records do not elaborate. We find an interesting entry for April 3, 1912, when Mr. Fish was “released from ... membership and severely reprimanded. Cause: marriage.”

Two of the more famous members were the Wally Brothers, Bob and Hymie, vaudevillian comics gone into retirement and living in Redding. They died in 1946 and 1953, respectively.

Another historical sidenote was an altercation with a Chinese immigrant named Ah Pong, who formed an ‘inscrutable” vendetta against Mr. Gordon. Mr. Pong came to an untimely death in 1910, cause unknown; meanwhile Mr. Gordon was released from the club when it was discovered that he had been courting a young lady; it was theorized that the Ah Pong difficulty was due to a “love triangle.”

Mr. Fish’s son, Roderick, joined at this time; he was dismissed soon afterward. In 1923 “Slim” Lundgren joined the ranks. He was a Canadian bush pilot living in Wilton and a good friend of Wumbek. Mr. O’Diamonds’ records end on July 30, 1925, with the entry: “Pickwicks to visit London in August . . . Lundgren on mission to Australia . . . ” It was reported on Aug. 3 that he had been killed in a skirmish with some unsuspecting soldiers of His Majesty’s Armed Forces.

Mr. Wumbek began a diary in 1929. where his first entry concerned the effects on the club of the Great Depression: “Consistently poor reports from the stock market; have proposed trip to Wall Street . . . ” It was at this time that Mr. Seagoon, who confessed to having been secretly married, took his own life.

Mr. Lewis Fish, son of Roderick, joined in 1931, at which point the roster included O’Diamonds, Wumbek, the Wallys, and Fish. A recruiting drive was attempted that fall and membership stayed in the family; Mr. Gordon’s son, Noël, joined, bringing with him his cousin Sydney Alison. The two were released five years later “for reasons immoral.”

Mr. Wumbek also notes the declination of an invitation by the now-ex-member L. Fish to attend his wedding. The club was interviewed by the New York Times on December 14, 1936; they complained bitterly of the poor interest in the club’s “aesthetics and social design.” Soon afterward five new members were admitted.

The club began meeting at Mr. Wumbek’s home on Florida Road, and in 1942 sponsored their own Victory Garden and Tin Drive. At the same time, three of the new Pickwickians went off to war. Although Wumbek and O’Diamonds expressed an interest as well, they were considered “too old . . . for active service.” After noting that “with due hesitation, Mr. Moisha Fish, Jr., was initiated,” the Wumbek diary ends. Further volumes were unavailable.

Mr. O’Diamonds was interviewed shortly before his death in 1967 by this reporter, and he said that through the 1950s the club passed into doldrums. In 1960, Mr. Fish was married, and Wumbek, an invalid, reportedly spat on him during the reception. Following Mr. O’Diamonds’ death, his estate was put up for auction, when it was discovered that the seven ladies claiming property were various wives of his, kept secret from not only the club, but also each other.

Mr. Wumbek, the sole member, left an interesting document before he moved in 1968. He bemoaned the so-called “sexual revolution” and called for recognition of the virtues of the club. Leaving a copy of the club’s charter enclosed, he left a stipulation that membership would be open for five years, “until Labor Day of 1973,” when the documents were to be “left to my good friend Mr. D. Lawrence.”

Mr. Wumbek sent a letter to this reporter last year, asking about the state of the club; there had been no response to solicitations, so he was informed of this in person at his home in Orlando, Florida, where he now lives at age 97. He visited Ridgefield recently to formally dissolve the club, and start work on a series of memoirs.

– Ridgefield (Conn.) Press, 4 October 1973

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