Vernon C. Norton Papers
Journalist and politician, of Pawtucket, R.I.
Size: 0.25 linear feet
Catalog number: MSS 593
Processed by: Rick Stattler, March 2000
©Rhode Island Historical Society
Vernon C. "Buddy" Norton (1904-1950) was born in Pawtucket, R.I., the son of Richard P. and Agnes Norton. He graduated from Providence College, and then joined the staff of the Pawtucket Times as a reporter in 1925. He became a close associate of longtime Pawtucket mayor Thomas McCoy. He later entered the employ of Walter O'Hara, a Pawtucket politician and newspaper publisher who financed the controversial Narragansett Race Track in 1937. Norton was influential in Democratic politics in Providence and Pawtucket on many levels, and also wrote for a wide variety of Rhode Island newspapers. As an official in the Office of Government Reports, he acted as a co-ordinator of many New Deal programs in Rhode Island. He also wrote a biography of Mayor McCoy. He enjoyed excellent health for most of his life, but suffered a nearly fatal case of undulate fever circa 1948 that came from drinking raw milk. He never fully recovered from this rare illness, and dedicated the last two years of his life to promoting legislation to regulate the sale of unpasteurized milk. He died of pneumonia in 1950.
Norton married Elizabeth McIntyre (1907-1994), and they had four children: Barrie M. Norton; Bruce G. Norton; Brenda L. (Norton) Lucas; and Blair (Norton) Simmons.
Chafee, Zechariah Jr. State House versus Pent House: Legal Problems of the Rhode Island Race-Track Row. Providence: Booke Shop, 1937.
Interview with Blair Simmons, March 22 2000
Obituary of Elizabeth "Betty" Norton, Providence Journal, June 18, 1994
"Vernon C. Norton Died in 46th Year," Providence Journal, April 19, 1950
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Scope and content:
In addition to his published biography of Mayor McCoy, Norton's other book project was a work titled "The Pay-Off: An Epic in Rhode Island Politics, or Eight Months with Walter O'Hara," describing the political conflict associated with the Narragansett Race Track from 1935 to 1938. Norton was personally acquainted with the major players in this controversy, and was also employed for eight months by O'Hara's newspaper, the Pawtucket Star-Tribune. "The Pay-Off" is his memoir of that period, written before 1941. It is dedicated "to Francis B. Condon, a Judge with Vision; Russell H. Handy, a Senator with Courage; Thomas P. McCoy, He Saw the Real Issue." Other frequently mentioned figures include Jesse H. Metcalf, Theodore Francis Green and Robert E. Quinn. Of particular interest is Chapter Five, which provides an insider's account of the famous "Bloodless Revolution" of 1935.
Unfortunately, both known copies of the typescript end in the midst of Chapter Nineteen, which drops the story on September 3 1937 just when O'Hara's clash with Governor Quinn is just coming to a head. The manuscript does not cover the period in October and November when martial law was declared, and the Rhode Island militia occupied the track. Norton never completed his draft, allegedly because "he became disgusted with O'Hara." What does survive is interesting enough to merit attention. One copy, a photocopy with page numbers, is in the R.I.H.S. Printed Collection. The copy in the Manuscripts Division is annotated in Norton's hand.
In addition to the draft of "The Pay-Off," this collection includes a letter dated 1941 discussing the typescript; a letter of condolence to Norton's widow dated 1950; and a letter discussing O'Hara and the disposition of Norton's papers in 1964. There are also copies of two obituaries of Norton.
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It appears that at least two carbon copies were made from the original typescript of this book. Carbon copy #1 received only minor revisions, and was numbered with a stamping device. A photocopy of this copy #1 was donated to the R.I.H.S. circa 1964. Records conflict as to whether public access was to be granted in 2000 or in 2065. Copy #2 was not numbered, but was heavily annotated in what Norton's daughter Blair Simmons asserts was his handwriting. This copy #2 was the property of Ms. Simmons, and was donated by her without any restriction to the R.I.H.S. in 2000, along with an obituary and two related letters. She also granted permission for the photocopy of copy #1 to be shared with the public as well. The present location of the original typescript and of copy #1 are unknown. The photocopy of copy #1 was transferred to the Printed Collection in 2000.
The 1964 letter from Nino Scotti to Clarkson Collins is official RIHS correspondence and was thus never accessioned. It seems to relate to the original gift of the photocopy. It contains interesting information about the book and about Walter O'Hara. Scotti was a volunteer at the R.I.H.S. at that time, and his father was the Norton family physician and a close family friend, which may explain how the connection for the original gift was made.
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Folder 1. "The Pay-Off," chapters 1-6
Folder 2. "The Pay-Off," chapters 7-12
Folder 3. "The Pay-Off," chapters 13-19
Folder 4. Miscellaneous:
Letter, Richard Arnzen to Vernon Norton, April 27, 1941
Letter, William D. Metz to Elizabeth Norton, May 13, 1950
Letter, Nino D.B. Scotti to Clarkson Collins re Norton, January 19 1964
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Condon, Francis B. (1891-1965)
“Eight Months with Walter E. O’Hara”
Green, Theodore Francis (1867-1966)
Handy, Russell H. (1882-1955)
Horse racing - Law and legislation - Rhode Island
Metcalf, Jesse H. (1860-1942)
McCoy, Thomas J. (1883-1945)
Narragansett Race Track (Pawtucket, R.I.)
Newspapers - Rhode Island
O'Hara, Walter E. (1897-1941)
Pawtucket, R.I. - Politics and government
“The Pay-Off: An Epic in Rhode Island Politics; or, Eight Months with Walter E. O’Hara”
Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)
Quinn, Robert E. (1894-1975)
Rhode Island - Politics and government
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