In part one I related the information provided by Bob Gurnsey, Lionel Atwill, the Sports Illustrated coverage of the first game and my wife’s intuition (assisted by a healthy dose of having lived in the area for 35+ years).
I was very hopeful that with information provided by one of the original creators and players of the game, it would be short work to locate the field. I expect that most people would think the same.
Unfortunately, such was not to be. The information I’d gathered so far was sufficient to get me into the general area, but not sufficient to find the exact spot.
I consulted with Bob Gurnsey once again. At about the same time I also received a reply from the Henniker Historical Society. Both sources were going to provide additional clues that would lead directly to the finding of the field – but not until after a whole lot of other clues had been hunted down!
Bob, who’d been pondering his memories of that first game had remembered that a local woodsman had been instrumental in finding the piece of land that had been used and he game me that gentleman’s name, although he could not provide contact information. (In order to retain that individual’s personal privacy, I will not be revealing his name here.)
Fortunately for me (and for all of us), the NH woodsman’s first AND last names were fairly unique. I immediately turned to google (hoping that my spellings were correct) and began paging through hits on the name. I didn’t find the Woodsman’s, but Bob had also mentioned the man’s wife’s nickname and I did find a telephone number belonging to a woman who might be the Woodsman’s wife.
When you’re engaging in historical research of events that are three decades old, you grab any straw that’s offered to you. I placed a telephone call to the number provided (hoping that it would be a current one) and reached an answering machine. I left a fairly detailed message explaining who I was and why I was calling.
Then I sat back and waited, hoping that A: it was in fact the Woodsman’s wife, B: that the message would be delivered and C:, they’d get back in touch with me.
Meanwhile – the Henniker Historical Society. One would think that an event as momentous as the first game of paintball ever played would have been covered in all of the local papers, that parades would be held on main street and that the event itself would be enshrined on marble tables hung over the entrance to Town Hall.
Well, maybe the event was important for paintballers, but it apparently didn’t raise a ripple so far as the everday happenings in Henniker were concerned.
The folks at the HHS were very interested in the fact that their town was the birthplace of a major international sport and were eager to help. Probing revealed that no one remembered the event off hand, other than as a rumor of a rumor of people playing army in the woods somewhere nearby.
HHS offered to research certain supposed facts for me: ownership of a ski resort/shop by Gurnsey or Gaines in the area; house locations owned under either name and to look through the local newspapers from the era to see if anything came up there.
Then they dropped a bombshell on me. “Oh, we’ve heard about that over the years, but everyone here is pretty sure that game took place in Weare.”
Weare is the town right down the road from Henniker (home of Adventure Games Paintball, one of the older continuously operating fields in the country).
I began to wonder: could it be possible that the AG field was one and the same with the first field?
Checking with AG’s owner, Alex (who checked with Paul Robito, former owner of the field) and they quickly disabused me of that possibility. But the thought and possibility remained that the history books were all wrong. Maybe everyone drove to the field through Henniker; maybe the field was just over the border and since one of the original three had lived in Henniker, that was the town given thirty years ago. (Conspiracy theorists: Maybe there was some deep dark secret about the original field, like aliens or secret FEMA bases, and the guys with the dark sunglasses MADE Sports Illustrated report the location as Henniker when it was really Weare. Hey – stranger things have happened in the world of historical research.)
Winter was now upon the land and, though my wife and I continued to drive the back roads of Henniker, hoping for a miracle or additional clues, nothing could be seen under the blanket of snow. Giant, uniquely shaped boulders were now nothing but round humps in the snow (and boy, could you see a lot of them when there’s no leaves on the trees!).
Then the Woodsman called.
Stay tuned for Part 3!