We've mentioned Wightman's Diner in this space a few times over the years, most often in connection with its size. The South Attleboro eatery was made up of several streetcar-style diners put together, included a lounge and full-service restaurant, and advertised itself as "the world's largest diner."

Previous references spoke little about the food (Wightman's closed two years before I was born). That's an egregious oversight, as the food obviously was the main attraction for diners who flocked there from Providence, Boston and further points, but it's one that former North Attleboro resident John D. White has helped correct.

"I thought that some of your readers would like to see this 1940 menu," wrote White, a 1940 North Attleboro High School graduate now living in Mabank, Texas, in a note enclosed with a menu for Wightman's that gave its address as the "Boston Post Road," which we know today as Washington Street or Route 1.

"I bet that some of you have eaten there. I have!" adds White.

Would that Wightman's were open today… and that the prices were the same as in 1940.

White's souvenir menu was most likely for a Friday, as it leads with Sea Food Specials, including Wightman's Shore Dinner: Clam chowder, steamed clams and broth, lobster (broiled, cold boiled or lobster salad), drawn butter, french fries, dessert and coffee or tea. Price: $1.50.

A roast spring chicken dinner went for $1, a roast beef dinner for 85 cents, grilled swordfish for half a buck. Top it off with a slice of iced watermelon for a dime. Or with a slice of pie for the same price (coconut custard and other fancies went for 15 cents.)

More than 30 types of sandwiches were offered - sliced ham or American cheese for a dime, crab meat for a quarter, chicken for 30 cents - and topped out pricewise with "Wightman's Famous Open Club Sandwich" for 75 cents.

As for the quality, the motto on the menu brags "To Dine at Wightman's Is to Dine Well," and we would suspect that the world's biggest diner lived up to it as closely as other restaurants making similar claims.

The history of Wightman's in nutshell: The diner was founded by Elmer Wightman. Upon his premature death in 1936, his son John dropped out of college to run the place and maintained it as a popular dining destination until he went off to serve with the Navy in World War II. On his return, he found the business in decline, blamed in part on gas rationing that had discouraged diners from travel, and shut it in 1946, salvaging parts of it for Johnny's, a cafe he operated on Academy Street, Attleboro, until the mid-1950s. Wightman died in 2003 at age 87.

The memory of his diner lives on 63 years after its closing. And why not - there's no more winning gustatorial combination than large quarters with a big menu and small prices.

Woodstock revisited

"Gotcha!" was the message left on my voicemail by Dave Otto. And get me he did.

A recent column on the 40th anniversary of Woodstock cited "the sea of Bic lighters" during the Sly & the Family Stone performance as an unforgettable moment. Unmemorable would have been a better choice of adjective - as Otto points out, Bic lighters didn't come onto the market until 1973.

But objects that produced a tiny flame were held in the air by thousands (Google Woodstock images for proof). Matches? Zippos?

As for a historical flip side to the Woodstock coin, you could go back at least to 1801. That was the year a crowd of 20,000 (as opposed to half a million at Woodstock, but coming from a far less populous nation and without automobiles) descended on the fields of Cane Ridge, Ky., comported themselves in a manner that alarmed many neighbors and advanced a new movement, along with a new musical style.

But the "braying" by participants that outside observers complained about would more appropriately be called glossolalia, or talking in tongues. Cane Ridge was one of the first large camp meetings. It drew from several denominations, but in general had a Pentecostal flavor.

The meeting is considered a landmark event in the Second Great Awakening, a religious revival that coursed through the nation in the 19th century. Some observers say the movement was a reaction to a spiralling increase of out-of-wedlock births. Young people of the turn of that century seem to have at least a little in common with Woodstock nation.

The new music was camp meeting songs, sometimes composed spontaneously, characterized by repetition, call and response and other techniques to make it easy for the gathering to learn the song on the spot. Sometimes, a Wikipedia entry says, "the meeting dissolved into a 'singing-ecstasy' culminating in general hand-shaking."

MARK FLANAGAN (mflanagan@thesunchronicle.com) is Opinion Page editor of The Sun Chronicle. He can be reached at 508-236-0335.

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(1) comment


Whoa, I don't know about you - but I just totally lost my sense of what the heck I was reading. Once second it's about some restaurant that closed before I was even born (jeez, it closed freaking 60 years ago - is that really news?!) and then the next second it's about Woodstock and trying to figure out what the heck those hippies used to make the 'sea of light'. What a terrible article ...

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