Hometown History #113: Tops at Taps


Franklin-born Herbert Stewart is one of those people who became a legend in his own time. Born on December 30, 1883, the youngest of six children, Stewart was among the small graduating class of 1905 at Franklin High School and, as was once common, shortly thereafter, took the hand of a classmate in marriage, one Goldie Pansy Usher.

His bugling career actually began in 1903, when he participated in the town’s first Memorial Day parade – also marching in parades in Norfolk and Bellingham. A year later he joined the T.M. Turner Camp of [Union] Veterans, becoming its primary musician and eventually its commander. [All of this was many years before there was an Armistice Day/Veteran’s Day!]

From there on, bugling formed a part of his life and the life of Franklin.

When he wasn’t bugling, he initially worked for his father, who had a trucking company. Then he took a job as a printer in Attleboro, followed by work for the railroad, likely the New York, New Haven, and Hartford.

In 1921, he launched his own business in Franklin, Stewart Press and also served as a notary public and a clerk to the Franklin Board of Selectmen. He operated Stewart Press until December of 1975, when he suffered what was described as a mild stroke.

But though he closed the business at that point and became a resident of the Sheldonville Nursing Home, he didn’t give up on bugling and, indeed, could be seen on warm days practicing his bugle on the grounds of the Nursing Home. 

He was recognized in 1967 by the Veteran’s Administration and President Lyndon Johnson for this unmatched Memorial Day record. President Ford added his own letter of recognition a few years later.  Stewart was a marshal of the 1976 Bicentennial Parade, riding in an open car and receiving the cheers of Franklin residents. But it wasn’t just Franklin, Bellingham, and Norfolk that benefited from his skill and willingness to share it. For instance, at one point he was invited to perform at Cathedral of the Pines in New Hampshire, itself a memorial to a US airman who died in World War II.

It is unclear when he blew his last note of taps but the Social Security Administration notes that he passed in December of 1980, at 96 years and 11 months. Stewart’s wife predeceased him in 1954. The couple had two daughters and two sons.

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