Lakeport resident to be featured in exhibit
Most people know diners as a place to get a quick, inexpensive and satisfying meal. For Ken "Spider" Osgood, he stepped into a diner for a job. What he found was celebrity and romance.
In 1945, at the age of 16, Osgood took a job as the short-order cook at the Shore Diner, located where the Burger King on Union Ave. currently sits. The diner, as well as Osgood, will be featured in the Laconia Historical and Museum Society's new exhibit about diners in Laconia, entitled "May I Take Your Order?" The exhibit, on display at the public library, will open on Oct. 25.
The Shore Diner was a fine place, Osgood recalls, a Worcester Diner with marble floors, marble counter, and a Wurlitzer jukebox. At its height, the place could seat 100 people, with only one cook on duty. Osgood's shift was from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., six nights per week.
At the time, there were only a few places in town to get food, especially late. When movies, plays, or dances would get out, those who weren't ready for bed would flock to the diners. "And they'd all come in at the same time."
There were 18 stools at the counter, and Osgood would be responsible for waiting on those customers as well as preparing their orders. He would also cook for the rest of the patrons, of course. "You had to do a lot," he said. Not that he minded it. He found a way to incorporate his own style, and to work really fast, which made the job fun. "I did it in a way that made it easy. If you enjoy doing it, it's not work." The speed with which Ken completed his tasks, and the way in which he would work on two or more tasks at once, earned him the nickname "Spider."
Brenda Osgood, his wife, met her future husband when she was working as a waitress at Paul's Diner, where Ken worked after he left the Shore Diner. Paul's Diner is now known as the Paugus Diner.
According to Brenda, Ken's personality, charm and energy were unavoidable. On top of his usual duties, Brenda said Ken developed a repertoire of tricks to delight the customers. He would throw a spoon into a customer's shirt pocket, or could slide a cup of coffee down the length of the counter, with it coming to rest precisely in front of the intended customer. No sooner would a customer put a cigarette in his mouth than Ken would strike a match and light it, sometimes without even turning his head away from the stove. "He was the show — they didn't really come to eat… He was amazing." With so much to do, Ken didn't have time to write anything down. He kept all the orders in his head, and could recall them when it came time to ring up the customers.
"Spider's" antics drew quite a crowd, and the attention of some notable customers. With the Gilford Playhouse in the vicinity, Ken served some stars of the stage at the Shore Diner. Vincent Price came one night, and ordered a cheeseburger and a cup of coffee. He recalls that diner was so packed that the movie and television star couldn't find a place to sit, and had to eat standing up.
Another star of the screen, Marilyn Maxwell, was so taken by Ken's performance that she asked for his autograph. Other stars of the era that ate Ken's food include Cesar Romero and Faye Emerson.
It wasn't only the movie stars that garnered Ken's attention. What made diner life great was the regular customers, the ones for whom Ken would have their coffee on the counter before they could sit on the stool. Not only did he know how they took their coffee, he also knew what time of the evening the regulars would come through the door. When asked what he liked about diners, Ken said, "You knew the people. It was a place to congregate."
Brenda said diners bring back a simpler, more care-free time, when all one needed for a night out was "a cup of joe, a nice meal, and chit-chat."
Burgers and coffee, clams and scallops on blue plates, "We sold it all," said Ken. When he started, a cup of coffee costed a nickel, and a quarter bought a hamburger. When the price of coffee went up to a dime, said Ken, "boy, did they holler and scream."
Somewhere along the way, Ken also engaged in a brief career as an amateur flyweight boxer, competing in the Golden Gloves program.
Unfortunately or not, the golden age of diners came to a conclusion, and Ken learned the craft of clock repair, the line of work that his father was in. Ken keeps himself "as busy as I want to be" with the business, which includes in-house repair, house calls, and antique clock retail. "As long as it has to do with time, and I've got it, I'll do it."
The "May I Take Your Order?" exhibit will include images and artifacts from the Shore Diner, Paul's Diner, Dearborn's Diner, Bill's Diner, Laconia Diner, and Seymour's Diner. The exhibit is sponsored by the Red Arrow Diner and the Common Man family of restaurants. The exhibit opening celebration will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 25 at the library.