Mason celebrates 250 years: The legend of Bronson Potter

  • —Courtesy photo

  • Bonson Potter’s gravestone depicts famous flight; flag honors Vietnam veteran. John Poltrack photo John M Poltrack—Courtesy photo

Published: 8/13/2018 7:14:16 PM

I was told this story soon after we moved to Mason in 1971.  In the almost a half-century since then I have forgotten who told the tale, and I may well have forgotten other details or added my own embellishments. This is mythology, not history...

The tale concerned a notable Mason citizen, but I think the main reason I remembered the tale is that I was familiar with its locale.

Claus Gelotte's camera store on Boston's Boylston Street was the epitome of Old Boston. Narrow, high ceilings, dark polished wood, glass-topped counters and impeccably dressed salesmen who could discuss with clients, in hushed tones, often with European accents, the latest photographic developments. It was a place patronized by Proper Bostonians.

Now imagine the entrance into these hallowed premises of a rough NH woodsman - booted, lumberman's jacket, bearded and rather disheveled - who sets cash on the counter and demands Polaroid's latest and fanciest instant camera.

For the many too young to remember, this instant camera was one of the wonders of its age.  As soon as the picture was taken the camera ejected a packet which in effect contained a complete developing lab.  After a suitable delay, around a minute if memory serves, the camera would "beep" to indicate that development had completed and one could peel off the instant photograph, discarding the rest of the packet.

Using a toolkit from his pocket our woodsman proceeded to disassemble the camera, scattering pieces across the counter-top.  Finally, with an "Aha!", he pocketed one piece and exited, leaving behind consternation and the savaged remains of a once expensive camera.

Next he walked to a nearby prestigious law firm and engaged their services to sue Polaroid for infringement of his patent on the piezoelectric "beeper" he had found in the Polaroid camera.  It was said that he was a difficult client - impossible to contact except when, at times of his own choosing, he would reappear at the firm's office to demand an instant update on the suit's progress.

The woodsman was Bronson Potter and he won his suit against Polaroid - they had indeed used his patented beeper without paying him royalties. It was said that Polaroid's payments funded Bronson's land acquisitions in Mason - almost 600 acres which he willed to Mason for conservation.

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