NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 14, 2013

Towle Silver hidden from the enemy during WWII

As I See It
Joe Callahan

---- — Of all of the many industries native to Newbury-port, probably none was more well known nationally and even internationally than the Towle Silver Manufacturing Company. Organized in the 1880s and for decades one of the city’s most successful businesses, it normally employed several hundred persons. The products were always of superior quality and the workers highly skilled.

Over the years many special pieces were fashioned to be presented to people of fame including Queen Elizabeth of England, Pope John Paul II and Sir Winston Churchill, among others.

I recently came across information about two Towle Silver collections and how they were prevented from getting into the hands of the enemy during World War II. In December of 1946, Towle received a letter from a Mr. and Mrs. W.C. Tong, an American couple then living in Auburndale, telling their joy in hosting their family Christmas dinner at a table adorned with their Towle Silver place settings that had been a wedding gift.

It seems that the Tongs were living in the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The Japanese invasion of the Philippines followed shortly thereafter, and the Tongs were forced to leave their home and all their possessions, including their silver, behind as they were marched off to a concentration camp where they were held until February of 1945 when they were released by American soldiers.

Returning to the Philippines after the war ended, Mr. Tong found out that a friend of his had taken the silver collection and wrapped it up and buried it so the Japanese would not find it. He and his friend went to the site of the burial and found the silver in good condition and needing only a good polishing. Mr. Tong forwarded the silver to their new home in Auburndale and they used it for the first time in many years at that happy Christmas of 1946.

A couple of months later another letter was received. This was from a Mr. G.W. Dishon, who was an affiliate of the United Shoe Machinery Company and lived in Paris at the outbreak of the war and at the time Germany took over Paris. Mr. Dishon owned a large quantity of Towle products. Not knowing what the future would be, he wisely placed his Towle collection in a concrete vault in his home. They remained there from 1940 until Aug. 25, 1944, when Paris was liberated. Mr. Dishon returned to his home after the liberation and found his house completely destroyed. After days of digging through the rubble, he too was happy to find the concrete vault undamaged and his prized Towle collection also undamaged inside.

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Joe Callahan is a former fire chief of Salisbury who is interested in historical accounts of the area.