This oral history interview is a project of the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The legal rights of this material remain with the Outrigger Canoe Club. Anyone wishing to reproduce it or quote at length from it should contact the Historical Committee of the Outrigger Canoe Club. The reader should be aware that an oral history document portrays information as recalled by the interviewee. Because of the spontaneous nature of this kind of document, it may contain statements and impressions that are not factual.
Interview by Kenneth J. Pratt
February 7, 1980
J. Atherton Gilman, Jr. (JAG) was born in Honolulu (Waikiki) on October 24, 1891. He went East to school in 1908 after his freshman year at Punahou. He was a Punahou student 1902-08. Just prior to going to Harvard University he had a year at Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. He played three years of football for Harvard and in 1915 was chosen by Walter Camp as an All-American tackle. He served two years in the Army on the Mexican border. After his return to Honolulu he worked for Schuman Carriage Company for many years and retired in 1958. He has been a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club since 1908. He was married in 1920 to Louise Taylor. He has four children: Barbara Gilman Engelhard, Patricia Gilman Greenwell, Lois Gilman Schuster, and J. Atherton Gilman III. His interests are sports.
KJP: This is an interview with J. Atherton Gilman, Jr. who has been a member of the Outrigger Canoe Club since 1908. He also attended Punahou several years through his freshman year, 1907-08. This interview is being conducted on February 7, 1980, at the home of Atherton Gilman, 12-A Kailua Road. The interviewer is Ken Pratt representing the Outrigger Canoe Club Oral History Committee.
KJP: Atherton, before we get into your early days at the Outrigger Canoe Club could you tell us something about yourself?
JAG: I was born on Waikiki Beach at the present location of the Halekulani Hotel in 1891. My family lived there in an old house belonging to my grandmother Brown. In 1902 my father built a large house up at the very head of Keeaumoku Street, I believe the only house of any size in that area in those days. We lived there until 1904 when we built a new house on the present Halekulani property. We lived there until 1908. So — in 1908 the family sent me to the mainland to school. My family had relatives in Cambridge, Massachusetts — so I stayed there for a few weeks and then went to a. little private school out in Concord, Massachusetts. From there I went to another private school known as Rockridge in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts. From there I went for a year to Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and I was beginning to get interested in athletics — chiefly football. In those days, as they do today, the colleges had scouts out for athletes.
KJP: Oh, yes
JAG: And, it appears I had been spotted as a possibility.
KJP: That’s great.
JAG: So, in 1911 I think, I was asked to go up to a boys’ summer camp in New Hampshire as a. counselor to teach about fifty young boys how to handle themselves in the water and how to swim, This was at no cost to me — in. fact I think I was paid $200 for the job.
KJP: Hah, that’s great!
JAG: During that time various men connected with Harvard visited the camp, always talking Harvard and football to me. I had left home in 1908 with the understanding that when the time cane I would be given an appointment to West Point by Kuhio who was at that time our delegate to Congress.
KJP: Oh, yes, Prince Kuhio
JAG: Uh — however, talk of football and Harvard put West Point out of the question. I played football at Harvard and coached somewhat there with Dr. Paul Withington, (Note: Withington was from Hawaii.)
KJP: Now, was?
JAG: I played football for Harvard for three years and in 1915 was chosen by Walter Camp as an All-American tackle.
KJP: That’s terrific!
JAG: This was before the West really knew very much about the American game of football. Today, of course, Eastern football is known as the Ivy League.
KJP: Oh, yes.
JAG: That is, I refer to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Dartmouth, Columbia. The Ivy League team of today would get killed during the first quarter if they played against a modern middle West or a good Western college team.
KJP: Hah, hah.
JAG: Of course — uh — the game in my time — that is up to 1915 was very different from the game today. That change came about because of the change in the shape of the football.
KJP: I didn’t realize that.
JAG: Today you can almost pass the football the way you’d throw a baseball. But in my time, with the comparatively round ball, you could only make what they called a flat-hand or lobbing pass.
KJP: More like a volleyball then? Well, I’ll be darned.
JAG: Yes, so that that forward pass, as you know, is a terrific and dangerous thing in football today. It can change the game in a second from black to white or vice versa. The real reason why the Ivy League teams cannot compete with the Western teams today is because the Ivy League people — colleges — will not pay and their curriculum is too strict. If a star football player, from California or Notre Dame or what-not was expelled for academic reasons today the professor might be fired too.
KJP: Hah, hah, that’s pretty good, say, what did you weigh when you were playing on the Harvard football team?
JAG: I weighed about 187 as a tackle. In those days it was generally understood that 195 pounds or over would be too slow.
KJP: I see.
JAG: And inactive. There was no such thing as the super-men that you see today that are as quick as cats and weigh 235 or 260 pounds.
KJP: So your lines would average maybe 185 or l80, maybe?
KJP: That’s interesting – I didn’t realize that.
JAG: That is the situation as it exists today.
KJP: Now, as I recall you’re the only legitimate All-American first team player that ever came out of the islands. Is that correct or am I missing somebody?
JAG: Originally Walter Camp was one—the only selector of an All-American football team. Uh — that continued up until approximately 1916 and then the sportswriters got into it.
KJP: Oh, yes.
JAG: And, getting to the All-American side of it, in later years –Wedemeyer.
KJP: Oh, squirming Herman —
KJP: St. Mary’s — right?
JAG: Yes, St. Mary’s. He was chosen by the newspaper people as an All-American player.
KJP: Paul Withington never made the first team, did he?
KJP: I remember Admiral (Gordon Paiea) Chung-Hoon made All-American mention, I think, on the third team or something like that, when he was at Annapolis.
JAG: Speaking of Annapolis, in 1916 I was hired by the Naval Academy to coach their line.
JAG: So I went down there for the fall period and worked under Jonas Ingram — later an Admiral in the U.S. Navy and quite a very well known character throughout the Navy.
KJP: I recall reading about him.
JAG: So …..
KJP: How about the equipment during those days? A lot different from the modern equipment, wasn’t it?
JAG: The equipment, the clothing — with the exception of shoes -practically the same as is used today.
KJP: Is that right?
JAG: But today — uh — it seems a very light shoe without the heavy spikes and weight is used.
KJP: Looking at some of the old Punahou School football team pictures you see nose guards being used. When did that go out of style? They didn’t use nose guards at Harvard, did they?
JAG: Uh — Harvard started a very rough way of playing. The defensive line man was taught to charge with his hands, elbows stiff aiming at a man’s head – preferably his face — because of the punishing effect.
KJP: Ah, yes.
JAG: To push him out of the way. Eventually, that style of play led to a ruling whereby you were not allowed to hit a man with your hands above the shoulders — I believe.
JAG: Some might be interested in this. You’ve all known the name Glen Warner — connected with football.
KJP: Oh, sure.
JAG: And Little League and. so forth. In 1916 when I was coaching at the Naval Academy we had a game against Pittsburgh – Glen Warner was the football coach at Pittsburgh at that time. The game was at the Naval Academy at Annapolis. Well, all right after 1916 I came home. The U.S. got into the war– I went to an Officers Training Camp — served two years with the old 25th U.S. Infantry — colored in Nogales on the Mexican border. It was there I met my wife — got out of the army — came home and went to work for the Dillingham interest and finally Schuman Carriage Company, from which I retired in 1958.
KJP: Well, that’s interesting — the administrative capacity, I imagine?
JAG: I was a heavy truck man.
KJP: Oh, is that right? Sold a lot to the plantations, I imagine, at that time?
JAG: I designed quite a bit of the heavy hauling equipment for sugar and pineapples.
KJP: Ah, yes. Well, you re-used the Outrigger Canoe at that time, I guess?
JAG: Now, to get down to the origin and early days of the Outrigger Club.
KJP: Ah, yes.
JAG: The Hustace family lived in a large house — Diamond Head side of the Moana Hotel. There were five sons in the family and other young boys in the beach area used to collect at the Hustace family to plan the doings for the day. I believe it was, in late 1907 possibly early 1908; that we were all sitting on the Hustace stone wall when Alexander Hume Ford came walking down the beach, dressed in the old style two-piece bathing suit. He came up and talked to us boys and explained that he wanted to learn to ride a surfboard. He entertained us with telling us stories of his travels in the southern islands. Many of them should not be told to young boys, but we did enjoy them. We took Ford out and tried to teach him to ride a board but he was too old to learn. But he was very game and took many a ducking and swallowed a lot of water. In later years he got a man (George Freeth) to stand in the water under his surfboard outside of the old Seaside Hotel in what was known then as the Cornucopia Surf.
KJP: Ah – yes.
JAG: Ford took a position on the board and someone snapped a picture as the wave hit the board.
KJP: Hah, hah.
JAG: So Ford got a picture of himself on a surfboard.
KJP: Surfing in on a wave, huh?
JAG: The only giveaway was that we in the know, could see two hands holding the board.
KJP: Hah, hah – that’s pretty good.
JAG: But Ford had those scratched off.
JAG: So Ford started talking about a boys club on the beach to perpetuate surfriding. To start with he naturally went to the boys on the beach. The boys on the beach objected to any off-the-beach boys becoming members. They were referred to as the Mauka Boys. The beach boys did not want any Mauka Boys, friendly as they right be, as members of the club.
KJP: Those from Punahou, Manoa and up in that area huh?
JAG: However that of course, was unreasonable and could not last.
KJP: How about Pete Young –was he a Mauka Boy?
JAG: Pete Young an exceptionally close friend, of myself and Harry Steiner was considered a Mauka Boy. However: this restriction never did become really effective.
KJP: Now you mention the Hustace home there. Was that on the side of the lagoon closer to the Moana — closer to the Moana Hotel?
JAG: The Hustace house was on the Diamond Head side of the Moana Hotel, there being a rather large vacant lot between the Hustace house and the hotel at that time. Ford, of course: knew that if the Outrigger Club was going to grow it would have to have membership, so he started a drive for membership and the club was formally organized I believe in April 1908.
KJP: It was 1908, I’ve forgotten what month.
JAG: — with the help of some of the larger organizations in town.
KJP: Castle and Cooke being one, maybe?
JAG: Oh, yes.
KJP: They gave financial help I imagine.
JAG: A lease was made for the original Outrigger grounds from, I believe, the Queen Emma Estate(2)
KJP: Was Ford able to get a reasonable price on that?
JAG: That I wouldn’t know. But at that time the zoo out at the end of the old Kaimuki car line was closing up –and the county offered to give the Outrigger Club two grass shacks . . .
KJP: Ah, yes.
JAG: . . . that they had out there. We got together and arranged to borrow a stretch-out lumber wagon from Lewers and Cooke and went out to the Kaimuki Zoo, loaded up at least one grass shack and brought it into the Outrigger Club. As to early facilities at the Outrigger Club, there was no such thing until this grass shack was brought in. Now, against my better judgment, I will tell you of the first use of the grass shack.
JAG: The only facility owned by the Outrigger Club. It did not take us young boys long to notice that older boys–perhaps men.–took girls into the grass shacks, for some reason or other —
KJP: Hah, hah.
JAG: One of the Hustace boys brought over a very long length of hose which we connected up to a nearby faucet and put a sprinkler on the other and of the hose which we tied up into the ceiling of the grass shack — and at the proper time the faucet was turned on.
KJP: Hah, hah.
JAG: They came out of the shack on the run
KJP: Hah, hah — you guys were rascals then, huh?
JAG: Is this getting too long?
KJP: No — no. This is very interesting, Say incidentally, where was this zoo up in Kaimuki?
JAG: At the very end of the old car line — you go out to Kaimuki on the main road — You get up to what I’d call “the top of hill” and then you start going downhill in what you call Waialae.
KJP: Would that be about where the Kaimuki Theatre is now?
JAG: Yes, exactly!
KJP: I see, I see. Well that’s interesting. So you had a pretty long haul in taking that shack down. Now, did they have any showers, lockers and things like that?
JAG: I don’t know much about that – as I said, I left the Islands in September, 1908.
KJP: So you were only a member a short time then? That would only be about five months. It’s hard to remember, way back then, — that’s a long time ago.
JAG: Yes. I recollect that some of us saw no point in joining the Outrigger Club because we already had better facilities on the beach of our own.
KJP: I see, I see. Right in the Hustace home.
JAG: Our own homes.
KJP: Oh, your own homes. That’s right, you lived right on the beach at that time — right.
JAG: Steiner was on the beach.
KJP: So actually — you and Harry and some of the others were not too active in the club — your facilities were better — no you changed at home. etc. Did you surf a lot in those days?
KJP: The old redwood was an 80 or 90 pounder in those days?
JAG: Ah — as to surfing I can remember back and I’d say to about 1904 or 1905 when there was only one man on Waikiki Beach that could stand up on a surfboard,
KJP: I’ll be darned.
JAG: And that was a man known as Dudie Miller.
KJP: Ah yes, he was quite a member of Hui Nalu in later years, wasn’t he — he was very active.
JAG: He did have to do with Hui Nalu. So that none of the older Hawaiians that operated the canoes professionally or took care of tourists on the beach could ride a surfboard.
KJP: Fmm. — that’s interesting.
JAG: I don’t believe that the old Hawaiians at any time, in the past rode the waves on a surfboard as we consider surfing today. How I’m not referring to Sunset Beach or the Pipeline or the North Shore. Those waves, of course, are in the extreme. But there seems to be no evidence of a Hawaiian really riding a surfboard on a fairly sizeable wave. I have seen prints that have been made. In one case the surfboard is on the back of the wave instead of the front.
KJP: Ah — yes. But doesn’t Bishop Museum have huge board that King Kamehameha used to use.
JAG: I believe those huge boards — one or two presently at the Bishop –Museum were used on very small waves — but perhaps more for travelling — looking for squid — or something of that nature.
KJP: I see.
JAG: Your knowledgeable surf rider of today will tell you that one of these great big boards, such as you see out in the Museum, and I believe made of heavy koa wood, could not be handled on any kind of a sizable wave.
KJP: Yes right.
JAG: Possibly on very small waves — otherwise they just dive and head for the bottom.
KJP: Now you mentioned canoes. Were they taking tourists out in canoes pretty regularly way back then? 1908?
KJP: Just like now? Probably not as many canoes then — but they were doing that, I guess.
JAG: Yes, uh — In 1910 when Harry Steiner and I were both home from school in the East, we did quite a business with taking tourists out surfriding at a dollar a piece.
KJP: Did the beach boys object to this competition?
JAG: The only other one that was in the business at the time was Dudie Miller.
KJP: I see.
JAG: Dudie was the czar as far as the Hawaiian beach boys were concerned.
KJP: I see, Was Duke Kahanamoku very much in evidence at this time was or didn’t he come into the forefront until after . . .
JAG: I can remember back — oh let’s see – going back to 1908, or thereabouts, when we’d be surfriding and come in by the old Moana Hotel where there was a raft out about 100 yards from shore. We very often used to race from that raft to shore. Duke, at that time, was not outstanding, although he was there. It wasn’t until later years when Duke became fast and made some .phenomenal times down here — and eventually had to be taken to the Mainland in connection with trials for an Olympic Team.
KJP: In 1912.
JAG: About 1912.
KJP: Right. That was his first Olympics.
JAG: Yes. The people on the Mainland would not believe the times were reported down here for. Duke.
KJP: I recall that the Outrigger had a championship football team in 1920. Were you a member of this team?
JAG: I was not a member of the Outrigger Club football team. But I was playing for “Scotty” (G. W.) Schuman’s Town Team at that time. Paul Withington was coaching the Outrigger football team.
KJP: Ah yes.
JAG: And they had been selected to play against Nevada University.
KJP: Ah yes.
JAG: Captained by one named Bradshaw. Paul Withington came to me and asked me if I would play for the Outrigger Club in that game. I said “Yes I would”. I went to Herman Clark a well known football player in those days . . .
KJP: Oh sure, I remember him.
KJP: I remember him.
JAG: And said to Herman “You put on your football suit and wear a big overcoat or something over it so nobody can see the football suit and you he there on the sidelines when the game starts. If I give you the signals you are to come into that game and play guard regardless of what anybody says”.
KJP: Hah, hah.
JAG: Well, the game went on — uh — Paul Withington and I were in the Outrigger line and Bradshaw was a squirmer as Wedemeyer was in later years.
KJP: Ah, yes.
JAG: But, I was in pretty good shape myself in those day and what I always considered a lateral run, was my meat — I caught Bradshaw for many losses which bothered him considerably.
KJP: You were playing tackle then, right?
JAG: Yes. Toward the end of the game Nevada had the line with first down at about our ten yard line. Bradshaw was so mad he was bound to put that ball over Withington and myself.
KJP: Hah, hah.
JAG: He tried it four times and never gained an inch. I believe that Bradshaw was the father or uncle or some connection of the present . . .
KJP: Of the Pittsburgh team wasn’t he?
JAG: Yes, I think so — I’m not sure of that but I think so.
KJP: That’s, interesting.
JAG: So the score wound up — I believe 20 to 19. (Actually 0-0)
KJP: Who won?
JAG: No it was a tie game we did not get beaten.
KJP: Did Herman play?
JAG: No, Herman didn’t come into the game.
KJP: Was he ready — and waiting?
JAG: A little off track but it’s interesting few people know about it. Way back Scotty Schuman brought the Green Bay Packers professional football team down here to play.
KJP: During the twenties?
JAG: Yes, sometime during the twenties. Danny Wise and Johnny Kerr -Johnny Kerr is now living up in Kamuela — were playing for the Kamehameha football team in those days, There was a pass combination Wise to Johnny Kerr.
KJP: I remember that well.
JAG: Well, the game started — Green Bay kicked off to Kamehameha –Kamehameha had a. fourth down on their own five or ten yard line. Instead of kicking the ball Johnny Wise shot a pass to Johnny Kerr and he was gone for a touchdown
KJP: Hah, hah,
JAG: The crowd went crazy. There we were six points — whatever it was – ahead of the Green Bay Packers! The following year Schuman brought the Detroit Lions down to play.
KJP: To play the Town Team?
JAG: Yea, and the University. I went down to the locker room to look the Detroit Lions over. That’s when I began to first realize the size of the men that were available. A 187 pounder didn’t stand knee high to those people.
KJP: All over 200 pound, eh?
JAG: Yeh, well let’s see, does that about cover things?
KJP: Well, Atherton, an behalf of the Outrigger Canoe Club I’d like to thank you for the help you’ve given to the Club over the years.
JAG: You’re entirely welcome.
KJP: And your cooperation in making this Oral History possible, Many, many thanks.
JAG: You’re entirely welcome. Uh, I think. . .
KJP: Say, Atherton, here I’ve already thanked you for your spiel -but I forgot to ask you a question. Ah, how about the canoes in 1904 and 1905 — did they have any racing canoes in those days?
JAG: Sometime about 1904 or five Kuhio brought a long canoe out from his boathouse on the beach by the name of A (ah), a big capital A. Unlike the common painting of a canoe which was black with orange gunwales, this canoe was black with a white gunwale. But, it was the only thing it those days that you could call a racing canoe. In order to compete against that canoe, which in later years I believe had been loaned I believe to the Outrigger Club. But anyway, (Dr. Alford) Wall had a racing canoe built up on Hawaii’ and shipped it down here to Honolulu to his place on the beach in the present Ft. DeRussy area. I believe, as I had said, that was the first polished koa canoe that I know of. Of course they’re common today. That canoe got the name of Hanakeoki. It was at one time owned by the Outrigger Club. It then got into the hands of Herbert Dowsett who had the canoe relined on the inside, a very fancy job — a wonderful job but it did make the canoe rather heavy. That canoe today belongs to the Makaha Surf Club.
KJP: Oh yes.
JAG: So it is the oldest and the original racing canoe.
KJP: I see. Now — somewhere along the line instead of A the boys at the Club call it Aa. How do you think this happened?
JAG: I know nothing about that — how – when–excepting that I’ve heard it referred to as the Aa.
KJP: But the correct name to A?
JAG: Originally it was the A.
KJP: Now, how about the name Hanakeoki — how did that originate?
JAG: I wouldn’t know — excepting that I believe it has to do with the name George Carter who was Governor at that time.
KJP: Keoki being Hawaiian for George? I see. Well that’s extremely interesting, and thanks again – I really appreciate that.
JAG: Now, I mentioned that Herbert Dowsett had the Hanakeoki relined–that was a mistake — he eventually had possession of the A which he renovated and. had relined and that canoe is today in the Bishop Museum.
KJP: Ah, yes.
JAG: The real Hanakeoki is now owned by the Makaha Surfing Club.
KJP: And used by them for surfing, I guess — or canoe racing maybe?
JAG: For racing.
KJP: Oh sure, of course. Well, that’s interesting — it’s nice to hear
JAG: Wonderful — the inlaying of the new koa and so forth — is a wonderful job — a beautiful thing to look at.
KJP: Uh, huh – great. You’ve seen the canoe of course?
JAG: Oh, yea.
KJP: Well that’s interesting to hear about canoeing in the early days you didn’t do an awful lot of racing back then — in 1904 — there weren’t enough canoes.
JAG: I have a 14 carat gold Hawaiian coat of arms – inlaid. I correct myself — I haven’t got it now because I gave it to my daughter and she lost it. That coat of arms was first prize for six-paddle Hawaiian canoe race — Waikiki Regatta — 1906.
KJP: Do you recall who was on the team?
JAG: I remember Kenneth Brown, my cousin, was steersman. “Zen”(Vincent) Genoves was in that boat — the older of the Melanphy (Edmond) brothers was in that boat — can’t remember the others.
KJP: Now the race was right at Waikiki?
JAG: In those days we raced from the Moana Hotel down to one buoy in the channel outside of what’s today the Halekulani Hotel.
KJP: Oh, yes.
JAG: There would only be three or four canoes in the race in those days, but they all had to turn one buoy which sometimes got to be quite exciting.
KJP: Hah, hah, hah. Smashups now and then, huh? Now, in those days they had a lot of coral peaks in Popular Surf on the way down — you had to watch those too, didn’t you? Remember those coral peaks in Popular Surf? They were finally blown out in the late fifties or the late fifties.
JAG: I wouldn’t know about that. That was after my time.
KJP: Probably had a good steersman and he followed the right course.
JAG: Uh, in the old days there were two surfing locations in Waikiki three to be correct. One was the regular Canoe Surf, the other was the Queen’s Surf, and the third was the high waves outside of Castle’s place.
KJP: Castle Surf right.
JAG: Those waves only came up when the surf was running high.
KJP: All, yes.
JAG: I remember Duke Kahanamoku going out here — hut few of the other surfers had the nerve to do it.
KJP: You remember Duke got into Ripley’s Believe it or Not, having ridden a wave, I think, over a mile long? From Zero Break into . . .
JAG: You could do that today — coming along the surf in the different places. Depending on how the surf is running.
KJP: It would have to be big surf, of course, to –
JAG: Not necessarily.
KJP: Did I ask you how Cornucopia got its name? I don’t think I did?
KJP: What was that? How did that originate?
JAG: Well in the days when the Cornucopia ice cream cone came out -- we had started surfing outside of the old Seaside Hotel where the waves were very small — the water was very shallow — it WAS really the place for beginners. But the waves there seemed to come together in strange directions, forming at one place a point — which point you might say has to do with the point of a Cornucopia ice cream cone.
KJP: Hah, hah – that’s interesting.
JAG: So, the location became known as the Cornucopia Surf.
KJP: Isn’t that interesting? I’ll be darned. Then Queen’s Surf was . . .
JAG: Now Queen’s Surf was only for surfboards — never for Queen’s Surf waves I would say — slightly faster than regular Canoe Surf. It is a little stronger wave — it builds up a little higher.
KJP: Ah, yes.
JAG: There was a time in the old days when we always came down a wave straight — there was no sliding, as it is known today.
KJP: Go straight in?
JAG: And the customary belief was if you slid sideways on the wave you didn’t have the nerve to take it straight.
KJP: Hah, that’s interesting.
JAG: That came up in connection with the Queen’s Surf — where, as I have said, the waves are a little faster — a little steeper than the regular Canoe Surf.
KJP: Oh yes.
JAG: Then, of course, Castle had to come in. Duke was a great surfer in the old days — the first one, I believe, to go out and use the Castle’s Surf.
KJP: Is that right? This, would have been around 1908, maybe.
KJP: Duke was a great man. Well, again thank you very much. If we think of something more maybe we can get another story going. Many thanks, Atherton.
JAG: Things come to mind — I think of a lot of things — little by little they come out.
KJP: Ah, that’s great.