08 Sep 2013

Manson Hale Whitlock, 1917-2013

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Manson H. Whitlock, proprietor of the last prominent typewriter repair and sales shop in the United States, and the last of Bethany, Connecticut’s renowned Whitlock brothers passed away August 28 at the age of 96.

His elder brother, Reverdy Whitlock (Yale 1936), known to generations of Yale students as the third-generation proprietor of the used book shop on Broadway, died in April of 2011 a little more than a month shy of 98.

The other two brothers, who managed the famous Whitlock Book Barn on the grounds of the former family dairy farm in Bethany, Everett and Gilbert, left us only slightly earlier: Everett in September 2003, aet. 91, and Gilbert in March of 2004, aet. 88.

The four Whitlock brothers represented, on the essential commercial fringe of University life, a kind of charming survival of indigenous local Yankeedom, preserving in their personalities, manners, and accents an otherwise long-vanished rural Connecticut.

All the Whitlock brothers were stubborn and opinionated, but formal in manner, and taciturn and restrained in speech. All of them were also careful and precise in business and notoriously thrifty. I can still remember Reverdy reaching into his pocket and taking out an old-fashioned farmer’s change purse when the store register came up short as he was making change for a book purchase. When he opened the clips on top, a moth flew out, and I’ve always suspected that all the buffaloes on the nickels inside blinked.

All the Whitlock brothers clearly experienced a characteristic kind of quiet glee in personally approximating so perfectly all the classic New England Yankee stereotypes.

At one time, Manson Whitlock probably owned the most lucrative, if not the most prestigious, of the Whitlock businesses. Before the personal computer came along, every Yale student had to own a typewriter and every typewriter, sooner or later, needed new ribbons, and occasional cleanings and repairs.

The Whitlocks were competitive, and I suspect the other brothers quietly gloated when technology rendered Manson’s formerly vibrant typewriter shop obsolescent. But Manson didn’t care. He had put away his competence decades earlier, and he stubbornly continued to open his shop every day and contently passed away his time repairing and maintaining individual specimens of his extensive store collection. Once in a blue moon, some superannuated fossil who had declined to change over to computers would show up for a typewriter servicing or repair. Even more occasionally, a collector would descend to conduct fierce negotiations with Manson over a particularly desirable early example. One thing never changed, Manson Whitlock’s typewriters, despite the changing times, did not get any cheaper.

And Yale and New Haven will never be the same without the Whitlock Brothers. Their passing from the local scene leaves the kind of painful gap that the vanishing of Yale fence along Chapel Street and the perishing of the stately elms overlooking the Old Campus and the Green once did. Some crucial and beloved landmarks have been lost.

Manson’s New York Times obituary.

Washington Post obituary.


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