Sunday, October 30, 2011


Sophie with Sophie May
Ten days ago, my husband’s sister-in-law Sophie R. Chetwynd died after an extended illness. Her death has disrupted our lives, which are usually far from tranquil with everyday activities and events, but this sort of thing always prompts some thinking on our loved ones and on the life-changing events of our lives - births, deaths, and marriages. I thought I’d write a few words in tribute to this remarkable woman.

Sophie was one of the most creative persons I have ever had the pleasure to know. I have been endowed with more than my fair share of creativity, but compared to Sophie, my ability resembles that of a single-celled organism. Sophie sewed, sculpted, painted, and worked in charcoal. No doubt, she engaged in other arts and crafts. Over twenty-five years ago, she learned how to create Faberge-style decorative eggs, and in this art, she became nationally renowned. Besides creating the eggs, she taught thousands of classes in her basement several times a week, helping others develop the skill and art, several of whom are carrying on her tradition and classes.

Despite bouts of broken bones, diabetes, and several kinds of cancer, all of which but the last she defeated through sheer stubbornness and a positive attitude, Sophie persevered through thick and thin. She always looked for (and often found) the bright lining behind often ominous clouds. When she couldn’t find a bright lining, she made one.

With mighty social zeal, Sophie’s ego was never dominant in any of the civic positions she held. Whether she presided over the Greenwood Junior Women’s Club or the New England Egg Art Guild, was a matron of the Order of the Eastern Star, or was treasurer for the Stoneham Arts and Crafts Guild, she did the work because it needed to be done, never for self-aggrandizement. It didn’t matter whether or not she could afford it, if anyone came to her for help, she extended a hand and gave what she could, in time, effort, thought, materials.

She made so many friends that their visits became overwhelming during extended stays in the hospital. Two weeks before she died, she had eighteen visitors in her room at the nearby nursing facility over the course of one afternoon, prompting her daughter to email everyone to give her mother a chance to get some rest. Even when she was harder to visit at in-town Boston hospitals, the nurses always remarked that they had never before had a patient with so many visitors.

Sophie was married to my husband Phillip’s brother Bill, and they had a single child, Lauralyn. Some years later, Sophie and Bill divorced. Bill remarried, but the dedication of Bill and Sophie both to cooperate in raising their daughter resulted in a strong and devoted friendship among Bill, his second wife Joan, and Sophie.

Sophie’s house became Party Central for all of the big Chetwynd parties. An only child with no living relations, the Chetwynd family became Sophie’s only family. Divorce or no divorce, she became a sister to all of us as much as she would have been by blood. Nothing made her happier than to have her house bursting at the seams with friends and relations. (Believe me, it did burst at the seams!)

Besides the parties, she was famous for her meatballs and stuffed shells. Although she took her meatball recipe with her, Lauralyn has informed me that she has not only the stuffed-shell recipe, but knows its secret ingredient as well.

Sophie's "Lilies of the Valley" after Faberge
Lauralyn grew up to become a professional audiologist, and two years ago married Charlie. They welcomed little Sophie May into the world in early May this year, an event which Sophie anticipated with great delight. Sophie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January this year, and given about six months to live. Had she followed the doctor’s schedule, and had little Sophie May followed her doctor’s schedule, grandmother and granddaughter would probably have passed each other without meeting. But little Sophie was born a month premature, and big Sophie, true to form, refused to pay attention to the doctor, surpassing her deadline by about four months. Little Sophie grew up enough to recognize her devoted grandmother with big smiles, and big Sophie had six months to glow in the light of her grandchild and spoil her thoroughly.

Sophie Chetwynd has sojourned to a better place, forever removed from illness, pain and troubles. No doubt, she has already inventoried the egg-decoration stocks in Heaven and has signed up half the angelic populace for classes. I plan to sign up when I get there.

"It's my passion to take one source of life [an egg] and create something else," Sophie said in a Boston Magazine article in April 2009. This quote reveals much about Sophie besides egg art.  She always saw the future as an egg: full of potential.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Tecumseh, from life, artist unknown
One hundred and ninety-eight years ago this week, during the War of 1812, Tecumseh’s warriors and their British allies met defeat by American forces under William Henry Harrison (future president) at the frontier Battle of  the Thames, north of Lake Erie near present-day Chatham, Ontario.

During this battle, Tecumseh had taken over leadership of the British, Canadian and Indian forces, the British commander being weak-willed and unwilling to stand against Harrison’s Kentuckians, who numbered more than twice those of Tecumseh. He situated the men in the best defensive position he could find.  Harrison’s forces crashed into the British line, routing them entirely, but the Indians under Tecumseh, engaged with the Americans, pushed back and forth, forcing the fight into a swamp. Many men on both sides hear Tecumseh’s voice thunder over the din, and saw him, as he exhorted his forces to hold, wounded over and over. By twilight, he was gone. In the night, the Indians slipped away quietly, taking the body of their great leader with them.

Tecumseh was born a Shawnee in March of 1768 near present-day Dayton, OH. His name was actually Tecumtha, meaning “panther lying in wait,” but whites mispronounced it, interpreting this name to mean “shooting star.” Either meaning applied to Tecumseh, a dynamic man who became the definitive leader of his people.

Tecumseh’s father Puckeshinwa was a Shawnee war chief born in Florida, and his mother Methoataske was probably a Creek from eastern Alabama, illustrating the Shawnee penchant to roam. Shawnees migrated incessantly in small groups, settling here among the Miamis, there among the Chickasaw, then moving on, making it difficult for whites to see them as a single nation. No doubt, this nomadic predilection, giving the Shawnee a strong bond with dozens of tribes from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes, figured largely in Tecumseh’s ability to unite the many nations to defend their territories.

Such defense has a long history, dating to the first days of European exploration and colonization. During the French and Indian War, native tribes banded together with French allies in an effort to stop the migration of English settlers into Indian territories.

Soon after, Joseph Brant, an Iroquois who had been educated by white settlers, had a similar idea, to unite the native nations into a solid political unit to protect native homelands against sale to and settlement by white pioneers. He almost achieved his goal during the American Revolution when he united the seven Iroquois tribes into a single nation and won several concessions for recognition of the Iroquois as a nation by the new United States on their traditional homeland within New York State. But it all turned to ash when most of his people sided with the British. The Iroquois lost their political clout when the British lost the war.

“The long, confused wanderings, marked by numerous alliances with other tribes and constant guerrilla warfare against advancing whites, had made the Shawnees more conscious than most natives of the similarity and urgency of the racial struggles being waged against the settlers on many fronts.” (1)

Tecumseh, a product of this period of constant conflict, continued this idea of unity among the native tribes and nations. He was a Shawnee, but his vision encompassed all Native Americans.

"Where today are the Pequot?” Tecumseh asked in 1811. “Where are the Narragansett, the Mochican, the Pocanet, and other powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and oppression of the white man ... Sleep not longer, O Choctaws and Chickasaws ... Will not the bones of our dead be plowed up, and their graves turned into plowed fields?" (2)

Primarily because of broken treaties, he became dreaded for his prowess in leading the Indians against white encroachment on Indian lands, and news of his death in October, 1813, was cause for great exultation throughout the frontier communities.

Benson John Lossing's depiction, 1868
As much as whites had feared this powerful Shawnee war chief, many recognized his greatness as a leader. Gen. William Henry Harrison, reporting to Washington after the Battle of the Thames, described Tecumseh as “one of those uncommon geniuses, which spring up occasionally to produce revolutions and overturn the established order of things.  If it were not for the vicinity of the United States, he would perhaps be the founder of an Empire that would rival in glory that of Mexico or Peru.” (3)

“He was a brilliant orator and warrior and a brave and distinguished patriot of his people. He was learned and wise, and was noted, even among his white enemies, for his integrity and humanity.” (4)

With the death of Tecumseh, that shining star, Native Americans throughout the continent lost not only their greatest patriot, but also all hope for a sovereign nation separate from the encroaching United States.

1. The Patriot Chiefs: A Chronicle of American Indian Leadership by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., New York: The Viking Press, 1961.  p. 138

2. "Poetry and Oratory,"The Portable North American Indian Reader by Frederick Turner III, Penguin Book, 1973. pp. 246–247

3. The Patriot Chiefs: A Chronicle of American Indian Leadership by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., New York: The Viking Press, 1961.  p. 131

4. The Patriot Chiefs: A Chronicle of American Indian Leadership by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., New York: The Viking Press, 1961.  p. 132

Tecumseh, Wikipedia

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Daniel Boone, 1820
On September 26, 1820, intrepid frontiersman Daniel Boone died, a few weeks short of his 86th birthday. He had spent a lifetime exploring the frontier west of the Appalachians.  The myth and legend surrounding this American icon grew rampant even in his lifetime.

The sixth of eleven children, Boone was born in 1734 in Berks County, PA, near present-day Reading. He spent his early days learning to hunt and fish from both white neighbors and friendly natives, and soon mastered musket, rifle, bow and arrow, and knife. Some of his many siblings and cousins married their Lincoln neighbors, the same family from which our 16th president descended.

In 1750, young Boone’s family pulled up stakes and followed the Conestoga wagons south and west through the Shenandoah Valley, and settled in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina. In this forested, mountainous environment, Boone soon became famous for his skill as a hunter and woodsman.

After several excursions on his own, Boone began promoting the rich wilderness west of the Appalachians, organizing and leading expeditions through the Cumberland Gap to settle the fertile valley of the Kentucky River.  He took his own family there in the 1770s, establishing Fort Boonesboro, which became a primary gateway for westbound pioneers.

One of the new settlers with wanderlust who accompanied Boone on one of these expeditions was Abraham Lincoln, grandfather of President Lincoln.  Abraham’s family, equally restless, had followed Boone’s family south in 1768 and settled in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  Young Lincoln accompanied Boone two or three times before moving his wife and children to Kentucky in 1785.

Boone became a captain during the American Revolution, his militia patrolling the west against British-fostered Indian predations on white frontier communities, from western Virginia north to Ohio. Later in the war, he was made a lieutenant colonel. He led military expeditions against British outposts well after the official end of the American Revolution, counteracting British and Indian actions that did not let up after the surrender at Yorktown in 1781 and the treaties between Great Britain and the United States in 1784.

Much of the Boone mystique is fiction, but much of it is true. A certain John Filson published “The Discovery, Settlement And present State of Kentucke in 1784, with a dramatically enhanced section about Daniel Boone’s exploits.  All exaggeration aside, however, Boone was a dynamic leader and explorer, and an unparalleled marksman, deeply devoted to the solitude of the wilderness he roamed. His exploits were remarkable, considering the dangers of the times and places he frequented, far from civilization.  Boone’s adventures influenced James Fenimore Cooper in writing “The Last of the Mohicans;” no doubt, many other writers were similarly inspired.

Even more remarkable is the fact that despite his dangerous profession, he not only attained considerable seniority, but also remained physically active well into his old age.  He was the prototype for the strong pioneering spirit of the American West so embedded in our American culture.

Boone preferred the wilderness to the budding settlements in whose founding he was so instrumental. Although he often served as a civic leader in several communities where he lived over the years, he always ended up moving further west. He ultimately retired, if such a concept could be applied to such an individual, at his son’s home in Missouri.  Retirement did not suit this trailblazer, however, who trekked in 1816 at age 81 with a hunting expedition to the Yellowstone River, which feeds into the upper reaches of the Missouri River in Idaho and Montana. Four years later, back in Missouri, he died of natural causes at his son’s home near present-day Defiance, MO.

Do you think that Daniel Boone has found sufficient elbow room in the afterlife? Or do you suppose he is still blazing trail?


“Daniel Boone” by Arthur Guiterman, poet (1871-1943) “The Saturday Evening Post” v. 196 No.32, February 9, 1924.

Boone portrait painted by Chester Harding in 1820.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


This month in 19th Century American history features many events of significance in the heritage of African Americans.

On September 15, 1830, the first Negro Convention of Free Men convened in Philadelphia, PA, with a mission to identify problems to the black race in the United States and to establish practical measures to counter them.  Five days later, this convention voted to boycott the products of slave labor. Conventions like this continued nearly annually through 1864, then irregularly after that. In 1853, Frederick Douglass presided over the convention. The following year, Martin R. Delaney, editor of the anti-slavery paper The North Star, presided.

Initially, the convention developed as a platform from which to contest the American Colonization Society, a white organization founded in Washington, DC, whose mission was to relocate black slaves to a new colony in Africa. (This was partially effected, the end result of which was the establishment of the Republic of Liberia in 1847.) These black abolitionists believed that the motive behind the ACS was to cleanse the United States of the black race, to make the nation all white.  Although the black caucus was divided over overseas colonization vs. domestic integration, many black leaders remained firm in their belief that the black race had earned its right to remain on American soil. Over time, many who had supported colonization joined the home-soil movement.

Another purpose of these conventions was to develop practical strategies to improve the lot of the black race in America. The leaders promoted the establishment of economic, educational, social, political, and cultural institutions to provide the black man with tools with which he could prosper, and ultimately to prove to the American white man that he was capable of managing his own life and affairs, with an eye toward recognition as a citizen and all of the rights and responsibilities which that entailed.

On September 20, 1850, the slave trade was abolished in Washington, DC.  The institution continued within the city limits, but the buying and selling of slaves there was over. Perhaps Lincoln’s unsuccessful legislative effort in 1849 (when he was a US Representative in Congress), which proposed to end slavery in the District of Columbia with monetary recompense to slaveholders, served as fodder for this partial act a year and a half later. In 1862, Lincoln, as President, signed into law another bill which effected the results he had promoted in 1849. The 1862 law abolished slavery in DC, paying District slave owners for their investment.

On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued the final draft of his Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves within the rebelling states, a military measure which Lincoln hoped would undercut morale among Southern troops. It also gave black Americans the opportunity to fight directly for their own freedom.  After the Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863, more than 200,000 blacks enlisted and fought for the Union, constituting about 10 percent of the Union army.

Ultimately, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which eliminated slavery, was approved by Congress in January 1865 and ratified by three-quarters of the States by December 1865, with complete ratification by 1870.

After the Civil War, these National Black Conventions remained true to the interests of African Americans, the platforms changing to reflect emerging issues for blacks in America, including Reconstruction, the labor movement, and civil rights.

Other notable 19th Century September events in African American history:
Frederick Douglass
9/3/1838     Frederick Douglass, disguised as a sailor, escapes slavery.

9/13/1886     Alain Locke is born in Philadelphia, PA. The first black Rhodes scholar, he becomes a writer and philosopher, and is called the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance.”

9/21/1872     John Henry Conyers of South Carolina is the first black student admitted to Annapolis Naval Academy.

9/23/1863     Mary Church Terrell, a black educator and activist is born in Memphis, TN. In 1896, she becomes the first president of the newly formed National Association of Colored Women. In 1904, she attends the International Congress of Women, the only black in attendance, and as the guest speaker, gives her address in English, French, and German.

9/24/1825     Frances Ellen Watkins Harper is born in Baltimore, MD. A black writer and feminist, she introduces the tradition of African American protest poetry.

9/27/1817     Hiram Rhodes Revels is born in Fayetteville, NC. He becomes the first black US Senator in 1869, representing Mississippi and serving one term. (The first black US Representative, Joseph Hayne Rainey, representing South Carolina and serving five terms, was born in June 1832.)


- James Monroe Whitfield’s America and Other Poems (1853)

- “Africans in America”

- Abraham Lincoln: A History John G. Nicolay and John Hay (New York: The Century Co., 1890)

- The Frederick Douglas Encyclopedia, Julius E. Thompson, James L. Conyers, Jr., and Nancy J. Dawson (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2010)



This engraving from the April 30, 1853, edition of the Illustrated News shows the congregation of Cincinnati's African Church.  (From the collections of the Library of Congress)

"The Emancipation Proclamation" U.S. History Online Textbook   

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Yes, I know, I've neglected my blog recently. I've been quite busy (as if no one else is!). September is always crazy around here, and we don't have time to go to the bathroom. But I want to settle down and get back to regular posts. I do enjoy researching and writing them.

This message will be followed very quickly by my latest post. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Unlike Tornado Alley in the nation’s mid-West, New England is fortunate to suffer only rarely from tornados of magnitude.  Every year, funnel clouds are sighted across the region, with little or no destruction reported.  We are not immune to tornados, however, as we fell victim this past May to two or three of these destructive storms that rampaged through our back yards.

The unsettled and unusual weather patterns reported in New England for July 1890, posted in last week’s blog (snow and hail in Calais, ME), spawned a deadly tornado six days later, 121 years ago today, which roared across northeastern Massachusetts, killing eight persons in Lawrence, MA.

First touchdown was in Fiskdale, MA, 63 miles SW of Lawrence a few minutes before 8 am. Traveling about one mile per minute, the storm next came to earth for three minutes in North Billerica, 12 miles SW of Lawrence, unroofing some buildings and breaking trees. Now it bore down on Lawrence.

The storm system crossed the Merrimack River into Lawrence a few minutes after 9 am, accompanied by a 20-minute deluge, which flooded the streets.  It hopped across the river again and ripped into North Andover, passed over Haverhill, and was reported again about 9:30 am in Newburyport, 17 miles NE of Lawrence. Witnesses in Newburyport stated that the funnel cloud descended and rose several times, but did not touch the earth, before it moved out to sea.

The Lawrence damage, along the line of the tornado’s destruction, included an orchard, the Cricket Club (an enclosed playing field), three houses demolished and many damaged on Emmet Street (one turned upside-down on its foundation), and a grove of trees leveled.  Here the path was about an eighth of a mile long and several hundred yards wide.

After Emmet Street, the whirlwind lifted for another eighth of a mile, sparing a heavily settled section, before touching down again.  Here, it threw down the roof and steeple of the Catholic church, demolished a house, and ripped into a railroad bridge, killing two persons.

It raised for a moment, then came down again into a thickly settled area west of Union Park. At full force, it rampaged down Springfield Street, taking out houses on either side, ripped across Union Park and into some houses beyond, leaving behind ruin over half a mile long and three hundred yards wide.  Several residents lost their lives.

Still traveling in a northeasterly direction, the funnel descended again in neighboring North Andover, wrecking houses, uprooting trees, and killing one more person.

The casualties from this storm number 8 persons killed and over 50 injured, half of those severely so.

Eye-witnesses made several detailed descriptions of the tornado to the “Boston Herald,” the “Boston Globe,” and to meteorological agents investigating the damage.  Here are excerpts of six such statements from the “Annals” (see Sources, below):

Mr. Porter of the Glen Paper Co. said, “… a big brindle cloud … came up in the west about 9 o’clock.  … it made a leap aloft, like a giant jumper, and came tearing down from the hills at the rate of 60 or 70 miles an hour. The noise of its approach could be heard for a mile or more … like the noise of artillery in battle. In the center the cloud was jet black, then came a ring of smoky brass color, and outside of all was a fringe of dull gray that spread out and wrapped the whole sky in a fog-like shade …”

“Mr. Peter Holt … said it appeared to him as if two clouds were chasing each other around a circle.”

Timothy O’Connor stated: “It came like a dense cloud and was whirling over and over like billows of the ocean.”

James Henderson, a local merchant making deliveries, stated that he had just cut a piece of meat and was carrying it to the house at 101 Springfield Street when the storm struck: “ … the first thing I knew the wind struck the horse and me … I let go of the horse, and horse and cart were carried clear off the ground. … the horse was dropped near me, and all of the cart except the forewheels carried about a hundred yards away.”

Destruction along Springfield Street
From Joseph Waters, who was at the Lotus family house on Merrimac Street: “… a tenement house … had been picked up bodily from its foundations and dashed to fragments in the street … For a distance of 500 feet Merrimac Street was strewn with wreckage and broken limbs of trees.”

Mrs. Lizzie Holdsworth of Springfield Street reported in the “Boston Herald” that her house exploded. She was cooking in the kitchen when the storm struck. “Suddenly I heard a terrific noise and the breaking of glass behind me. Turning around I saw that the blinds and windows had been blown out. … I heard one crash and that was all. When I came to I was lying in the ruins.” Investigators reported that many of the destroyed homes showed the walls having fallen outward, as opposed to inward, as one might suppose would happen in this kind of wind.

Let’s hope that Mother Nature continues to keep New England on the outer fringes of her tornado target.

“Investigations of the New England Meteorological Society for the Year 1890,” published in the “Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College,” Edward C. Pickering, Director, Vol. XXXI, Part I (Cambridge, MA: William H. Wheeler, Printer, 1892)

Saturday, July 23, 2011


It may cool you off a little, as we wallow in the current swelter, to think about the snow that fell in Calais, Maine, on July 20, 1890.

From the report “Observations of the New England Meteorological Society in the Year 1890,” published in the “Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College,” New England in July had below-average temperatures and precipitation. The report describes a severe drought and extreme ranges in temperature for that month.

“Frosts occurred in all the northern states [Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont] on July 10-12 and 19-23, and at Calais, Me., during the progress of a hailstorm on July 20, snow fell to an appreciable depth.” The report does not specify how appreciable a depth, but the fact that it accumulated enough to have any depth before melting must mean that the region was suffering a cold snap.

This is quintessential New England. If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute: it will change.

The current heat wave may compare (in recent memory) to New England’s summer of 1988. My husband and I were living on the third (top) floor of an old apartment building with no air conditioning in Woburn, MA. Because we were newly enlisted in Civil War reenacting, I spent most evenings after work sewing uniforms for us, jackets and trousers made of heavy wool. Day after day, week after week, temperatures soared into the nineties and above. It was too hot to sleep anyway, so I sewed. Every night (sometimes after midnight), once I heard the radio state that the night’s temperature in Boston had dropped to 80 degrees, it was finally cool enough for me to shower and go to bed, falling asleep before I got too hot again.

That summer was so hot for so long that the Woburn Public Library closed its doors, something that it had never done since it was built in 1881. The building is an old stone affair, built in the traditional style of public buildings of the late 19th Century. The stones do much to regulate heating and cooling in such buildings. That year, the stones absorbed the incessant heat and conducted it into the building, making the environment within unbearable for several weeks.

The children of my brother-in-law planned a 70th birthday party for their father that summer, and it was held one evening on the (also non-air-conditioned) second floor of a local function hall. Huge fans provided only the illusion of relief as they moved the blistering air around the room.  The heat encouraged silliness among the guests (what else could one do? complain?), supplemented of course by a modicum of alcoholic abandon.  We were moved to determine how many helium balloons were needed to lift an empty beer can.

We collected a number of the balloons decorating the room and began tying them to a can.  Three or four might do the trick.  But, no.  We added a few more balloons, to no avail.  Then more.  Finally, a dozen and a half balloons later, the empty can lifted tenuously into the air, and drifted across the hall in the breeze of the fans, to much sodden cheering by the perpetrators.

Snow and hail from Calais would have spoiled all that fun.

Photos courtesy of:
NOAA  (snowflake)

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Mary Lincoln "Peggy" Beckwith
On July 10, 1975, thirty-six years ago this week, Mary Lincoln “Peggy” Beckwith, Abraham Lincoln's only great-granddaughter, died in the hospital at Rutland, VT, age 76. When her younger brother Robert “Bud” Todd Lincoln Beckwith died ten years later, Abraham Lincoln’s direct bloodline came to an end.  Neither Peggy nor Bud had children to continue the line.

Peggy was born on August 22, 1898, to Jessie Harlan Lincoln Beckwith.  Her mother Jessie was the youngest of the three children of Robert Todd and Mary Harlan Lincoln, son and daughter-in-law of President Abraham Lincoln.  Jessie’s older siblings were Mary “Mamie” and Abraham “Jack.”

Mamie grew up and married Charles Isham, and had a son named Abraham Lincoln Isham. Although “Linc” married, he and his wife had no children. He died in 1971.

Jack, 16, died of blood poisoning in 1890, leaving no progeny.

Jessie married three times, first eloping with Warren Wallace Beckwith in Mount Pleasant, IA, where they lived. The marriage lasted ten years and resulted in three pregnancies. Jessie had Peggy in 1898; a still-born child in 1901, and Bud in 1904.  Neither Jessie’s second marriage to Frank Edward Johnson in 1915 nor third marriage to Robert John Randolph in 1926 produced children.

Peggy and Bud (who later preferred “Bob”) spent summers with their mother at Hildene, the estate that their grandfather Robert Todd Lincoln built in 1905 in Manchester, VT. Their father traveled extensively, absent from the household most of the time.  After Warren’s and Jessie’s divorce in 1907, when Peggy was only eight, Peggy never saw her father again. Grandfather Robert provided a father figure to Peggy and Bud, and both grandparents spoiled them lavishly. Peggy learned to play and love golf from her grandfather, and as a young woman participated in several women’s tournaments. Reports have it that she was a good player.

Jessie lived for a while in Washington, DC. While there, she sent Peggy to an esteemed private school there, a futile effort to instill in her daughter some of the social graces. Peggy had inherited her mother’s stubborn independence, however, and refused to submit to these norms. High society interested her not one whit. She was not cut out to be a social butterfly. She found much more stimulation in intellectual pursuits and the fine arts, in outdoors sports which included hiking, canoeing, fishing, and hunting, and, later, in aviation and farming. Although modern scholars have labeled her an eccentric recluse, Vermonters showed more than average tolerance for odd individuals, viewing Peggy as strong-willed and independent, which she indeed was.

(One magazine article states that Peggy spent many years in her late teens and early twenties in Provincetown, RI, where she became interested in painting and photography, but I can find no such place on any map. I don’t know if the author meant Providence, RI, or Provincetown, MA.)

Peggy with one of her airplanes
In the late 1920s, Peggy learned to fly airplanes, swept up in the new aviation craze that Lindberg’s trans-Atlantic flight and the exploits of Amelia Earhart spawned. Peggy had an airstrip built in the meadowlands at Hildene, and also assisted the Equinox Hotel in Manchester to develop a private airstrip for their flying clientele. Her first airplane was a Gypsy Moth, followed by a Fleet Model 1, then a Travelair, each plane successively larger.

Some time in the late 1930s or early 1940s, Peggy quit flying. Local legend has it that Grandmother Mary Harlan, who disapproved of the whole endeavor, bribed Peggy with $10,000 to stop this foolishness. How much truth there is in the legend is not clear. Mary Harlan died in 1937, and Peggy bought her last plane some time in the late 1930s. What is clear is that Peggy’s flying (along with her other unusual interests) defied the standards that the rest of the family held about how a lady should behave, to say nothing of the great-granddaughter of President Abraham Lincoln.

Robert Todd Lincoln’s widow, Grandmother Mary Harlan Lincoln, in preparing her will, left Hildene to her daughter Mamie (Peggy’s aunt), with granddaughter Peggy next in succession. Aunt Mamie died in 1938, only a year and a half after Mary Harlan died; thus Peggy inherited the estate. The will stipulated that if Peggy did not have children, the estate was to be left to the Church of Christ, Scientist, upon Peggy’s death.

Peggy settled quickly into life at Hildene. It had been more home to her than anywhere else. She studied farming and raising cattle, and began oil painting and sculpture. She lived there the rest of her life, amply provided for by her grandfather’s industry and success in the railroad business.

She remains something of an enigma. She never married, prompting some to believe that she was a lesbian. By some accounts, she was a recluse; by other accounts, she was involved in local civic activities. She was decidedly most comfortable surrounded by animals, and adopted many as pets, including native wildlife like raccoons, which had full run of the house. Although she managed Hildene as an active and successful dairy farm, and had more than passing interests in the new fields of ecology and preservation farming, she did little to maintain the house itself, and it was a shambles when she died.

Peggy’s cousin Linc was involved in founding the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, VT. Peggy helped to organize the Center's art shows, in some of which she included her own artwork.

Peggy (center left) at submarine christening
Despite her disdain for high society, Peggy did happily accept an invitation in 1960 to christen the nuclear submarine U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, NH. She actually dressed up, very nicely and appropriately, in a blue and white polka-dot dress, even donning white gloves, a string of pearls, and a hat. She had experienced enough of the world to know that her signature dungarees would be out of place at such a function.

Upon Peggy’s death, Hildene and all of its effects went to her brother Bud, who recognized certain responsibilities and met a high civic standard in dealing with the vast mess.  He spent much of his remaining decade, despite his advancing years and compromised health, sorting out Hildene, his cousin Linc’s family memorabilia, and his own possessions.  He made significant donations to the Smithsonian Institution, released for publication hitherto hidden papers about the insanity trial of President Lincoln’s wife Mary, and otherwise made thoughtful and responsible decisions to make sure that the collection of Lincoln artifacts accumulated over a century or more were handled and distributed appropriately and with respect to the Lincoln legacy.

The Christian Science Church had no interest in managing real estate, so they put Hildene on the market. Defying the interests of a prominent developer, who wanted to raze Hildene for a subdivision, a group of Peggy’s friends organized The Friends of Hildene to rescue the site.  After two and a half years of negotiations, during which time the church reduced its asking price by 60 percent, an anonymous donor provided the monies in full. Hildene was saved. The Friends of Hildene restored the estate and grounds and maintain it today for visitors interested in this latter chapter of Lincoln lore.

Honoring her will, Peggy’s friends cast her ashes from the lookout near the gardens. Clearly, her spirit still roams her beloved Hildene.
Hildene, in Manchester, VT, 2009
There is not a wealth of information immediately available about Peggy Beckwith, as if she continues to maintain her privacy from beyond the grave. Hildene probably has the most information available about her, artifacts, artwork, papers, photographs, and so forth. One room in the estate is devoted to display her interests, hobbies, and activities.

Hildene, The Friends of Hildene  If you are in southern Vermont, be sure to visit Hildene for an informal visit into the lives of Lincoln’s descendants. The grounds and gardens are as beautiful as the house itself, which has been restored to its original, unpretentious elegance.

- King, C. J. Four Marys and a Jessie: The Story of the Lincoln Women (Manchester, VT: Friends of Hildene, Inc.) 2005.
- Connie Jo King, "Her Middle Name Was Lincoln: The Life of Mary Lincoln "Peggy" Beckwith," Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts, 1995.
- Beschloss, Michael “Last of the LincolnsThe New Yorker, February 28, 1994.
- Lachman, Charles The Last Lincolns: The Rise & Fall of a Great American Family, (Union Square Press) 2008.
- Randall, Ruth Painter Lincoln’s Sons (Boston, Toronto: Little, Brown and Company) 1955.
- Neely, Mark E., Jr., and Harold Holzer The Lincoln Family Album (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press) 1990.
- Goff, John S. Robert Todd Lincoln: A Man In His Own Right (Manchester, VT: Friends of Hildene, Inc.) 1969.
- Top photo of Peggy: courtesy of Wikipedia
- Photo of Peggy with her airplane: courtesy of Hildene
- Photo of Peggy at submarine christening party: courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions .
- Photo of Hildene by
Sharon Wood of Claremont, NH.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Bennington Flag
A number of notable Americans (famous and infamous), American institutions, and American icons have been born or established on the Fourth of July.

1776    The United States of America, with the approval of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress

1802   Official opening of the United States Military Academy at West Point

1804   Nathaniel Hawthorne, author, Salem, MA, born as Nathaniel Hathorne, adding the “w” when he became published to create a professional distance. A few of his best-known works include the novels “The Scarlet Letter” and “The House of the Seven Gables,” and the short-story collection “Twice-Told Tales.”

1819    Edward Robinson Squibb, American pharmaceutical manufacturer, founder of E. R. Squibb and Sons, born in Wilmington, DE

Stephen Foster
1826   Stephen Foster, songwriter and composer, born in Lawrenceville, PA, became known as the “father of American music” with such pieces as “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” “Beautiful Dreamer,” and “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair.”

1847    James Anthony Bailey, born in Detroit, MI, circus impresario and creator of the modern circus. His circus merged with P. T. Barnum’s Circus, and later merged with the Ringling Brothers’ Circus to form what we know today as Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus,

1848   The Washington Monument, the cornerstone of which was laid this day in Washington, DC

1867    Stephen Tyng Mather, born in San Francisco, CA, American industrialist and conservationist, organizer and first director of the National Park Service

Henrietta Swan Leavitt
1868   Henrietta Swan Leavitt, born in Lancaster, MA, American astronomer who started out at the Harvard College Observatory in 1893 as a human ‘computer’ to measure and catalog the brightness of stars. Her subsequent work broke ground for Edwin Hubble’s accomplishments.

1872    John Calvin Coolidge, Jr., 30th President, born in Plymouth, VT, known as “Silent Cal” for his taciturnity, is the only president born on Independence Day.

1878    George M. Cohan, born in Providence, RI, performer, entertainer. Cohan’s baptismal certificate - the only written record of his birth - states his birthday as July 3rd, but his vaudevillian, variety-show touring family always insisted that his birthday was Independence Day, marketing the boy with the patriotism thus engendered.

1880   George Mullin, born in Toledo, OH, history-making baseball pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, known for his fastball, pitched a no-hitter on the Fourth of July in 1912

1880   Patrick “Frisco” Rooney, Jr., born in New York City, vaudevillian dancer and actor in an Irish family of performers, called himself the first “jazz” dancer. He started dancing with his wife, then with his son Pat III, evolving from clog dancing to tap dancing.  W. C. Fields stated that “if you didn’t hear the taps, you would think [Rooney] was floating … “ Mickey Rooney is not related to Pat Rooney: Mickey, born Joseph Yule, took the name because of the fame of the Rooney family in the 1930s.

1881    Tuskegee Normal School (later Tuskegee Institute, today Tuskegee University) opened in Tuskegee, Alabama, the culmination of a dream of Lewis Adams, a former slave, and George W. Campbell, a former slaveholder, both men committed to the education of blacks.

Rube Goldberg cartoon
1883   Rube Goldberg, born in San Francisco, CA, satirical cartoonist who depicted easy tasks as ridiculously complicated as commentary on political issues of the day. A “Rube Goldberg machine” refers to a situation which resembles the contraptions in his cartoons.  Goldberg was also a sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor.

1895   “America the Beautiful” was first published by Katharine Lee Bates of Falmouth, MA, professor of English literature at Wellesley

1898   John “Johnny” Lee, Jr., African American actor who played Calhoun in “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” and is also known as the voice of Brer Rabbit in Disney’s “Song of the South.” Some records state that he was born in Missouri, others state his birthplace as Los Angeles, CA.

1902   Meyer Lansky, Polish immigrant who became the American crime syndicate chief known as “Mob’s Accountant” whose gambling empire stretched from Saratoga, NY, to Miami, FL, and west to Council Bluffs, IA, and Las Vegas, NV, from the 1930s through the 1950s, then lying low - his financial interests having failed - until his death in 1983.

1902   George Murphy, American actor/dancer and politician, born in New Haven, CT, who appeared in many big-budget musicals in the 1930s and 1940s. He was director of entertainment for the presidential inaugurations in 1952, 1956, and 1960. Entering politics in 1953, he became a US Senator in 1964, paving the actor-to-politician road for Reagan and others.

1905   Lionel Mordecai Trilling, American literary critic, author, and teacher, born in Queens, New York City. He taught at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Hunter College, Columbia University, and Harvard University, and was a member of “The New York Intellectuals,” a group of American writers and literary critics based in New York City.

Mitch Miller
1911    Mitchell “Mitch” William Miller, born in Rochester NY, of “Sing along with Mitch” fame, a musician, singer, conductor, record producer, “arts and repertoire” man, and record company executive. Although heavily parodied, he was one of the most influential figures in American popular music during the 1950s and 1960s, and launched the careers of many famous singers. He and his wife were married for 65 years; she died in 2000, and he died last year at age 99.

1918    Abigail Van Buren, the pen name of Pauline Esther (nee Friedman) Phillips, “Dear Abby” columnist, and her identical twin sister Esther Pauline (nee Friedman)Lederer, who used the pen name Ann Landers, also an advice columnist, born in Sioux City, IA

1924   Eva Marie Saint, Newark NJ, actress whose career has spanned seven decades, winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for “On The Waterfront” and starred in Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.”

1927    Neil Simon, playwright and screenwriter, born in The Bronx, NY, whose work is evergreen on the world’s stages. He has received four Academy Awards, three Tony Awards, two Emmy Awards, and the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well as numerous other awards for his work.

George Steinbrenner
1930   George Steinbrenner, principal owner and managing partner of the NY Yankees, with entrepreneurial interests in the Great Lakes shipping industry. His 37-year ownership of the New York Yankees was the oldest in the baseball club’s history.

1943   Geraldo Rivera, broadcast journalist as well as an attorney, writer, war correspondent, and talk show host, born in Brooklyn, NY, sometimes associated with sensationalist news reporting. He’s been married five times, and engages in competition sailing.

1959   The 49-star United States flag was first flown over Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA, representing the addition of the State of Alaska, which was formally granted statehood on January 3, 1959. The stars were arranged in 7 even rows of 7 stars each. This model was used for only one year, when the 50-star flag was introduced on July 4, 1960.

1960   The 50-star United States flag was first flown over Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA, representing the addition of the State of Hawaii, which was formally granted statehood on August 21, 1959. Our current flag, it is our 27th flag, and ten presidents have served under it.  Its star pattern shows five rows of six stars each and four rows of five stars each.

Koko and her kitten
1971    Koko, the gorilla, born at the San Francisco Zoo, has learned to use American Sign Language and understands over 1000 words in ASL and over 2000 words in spoken English. Using sign language, Koko asked for a pet cat in 1984. She picked a gray male Manx kitten from an abandoned litter and named it “All Ball.” She signed her grief when the kitten was accidentally killed. The next year, she chose two more Manx kittens and named them “Lipstick” and “Smokey,” and cares for them.

Besides finding the basic facts at multitudinous “this day in history” sites, the information and photos for this post were found at Wikipedia, with the exception of the image of Koko, found at