Going to the Dogs

I recently discovered the American Memory section of the Library of Congress. I was looking for an image of a wire-haired fox terrier and came upon an image of this ugly dog (above). I love this photo. It’s a horrible snarling little animal. As it happens, this dog Peachy, belonged to distant cousins, Mabel and Edith Taliaferro. Now, the even more shocking part; they were both actresses. Yes, I admit this. You may all recoil in horror and shame. Mabel was known as “America’s sweetheart” until Mary Pickford yanked that title from her hands. Edith was noted for her performance in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

This image was made in 1908. At that time, being an actress was one step above prostitution. I can’t imagine how this played out in my family. First, two actresses, then, they did film, not theater, and worse of all sins, they worked for a living. But the most important part of this discovery is the dog Peachy. Peachy is named after a distant grandmother, Susanna Peachey, who married Thomas Walker (father of Dr. Walker) around 1700. Since then, there have been may Peachy’s: Peachy Ridgeway Gilmer, Peachy Ridgeway Taliaferro, Peachy Walker Speed, Susan Peachy Bullitt, Susan Peachy Fry, and it goes on like that for a long time. Obviously, creative naming wasn’t a talent. This lack of ingenuity with naming talent extended to the dog here also.

For the sake of fairness, my family has a penchant for British sounding dog names: Winston, Dudley, George, Basil, Flynn, and Drusilla. We can't judge the past.

Mean Girl

Alice Roosevelt

I've been reading a book, Franklin and Lucy, about Franklin Roosevelt's many relationships with women including one of my grandmother's cousins Lucy Page Mercer Rutherfurd. In the course of the book, multiple family members keep popping up. Even the Roosevelts (Oyster Bay branch) were distant cousins. If my grandmother were still alive, I'd love to know if everyone knew they were related with all the complex interactions and connections. It's a tangled web, that points to a world with fifty people total.

Alice Roosevelt, Eleanor's cousin, and Teddy Roosevelt's daughter is one of the characters. She was married to Nicholas Longworth, another cousin. Between Longworth and Alice, I've discovered some wonderful quotes. I wish I were this quick on my feet. When insulted I tend to simply stammer and say, "uh, no." So enclosed today are some of these quotes that you may use whenever you need. And you can needlepoint a pillow, like everyone on the Upper East Side with Alice's most famous quote, “If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody come sit next to me.” 

One day, while lounging in a chair at the Capitol, another member of the House ran his hand over Nicholas Longworth's bald head and commented, "Nice and smooth. Feels just like my wife's bottom." Longworth felt his own head and returned an answer: "Yes, so it does.

When asked about his wild daughter, Alice, Teddy Roosevelt said, "I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both."

Alice Roosevelt Quotes:

“I have a simple philosophy: Fill what's empty. Empty what's full. Scratch where it itches.” 

“The secret to eternal youth is arrested development” 

 On a Washington senator was discovered to have been having an affair with a young woman less than half his age: "You can't make a soufflé rise twice."

On President Calvin Coolidge: "He looks as if he were weaned on a pickle"

On President William Taft : "He has so much brain and so little beauty."

On President Herbert Hoover: "The Hoover Vacuum Cleaner is more exciting than the president. But, of course, it's electric."

 On President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was "One-third sap and two-thirds Eleanor."

On President Teddy Roosevelt: “My father always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding, and the baby at every christening”

When President Lyndon B. Johnson proudly showed off an abdominal surgery scar Alice commented dryly, "Thank God it wasn't his prostate."

When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis married Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, Alice asked, "Hasn't anyone ever warned Jacqueline Kennedy about Greeks bearing gifts?"

The late Senator Joseph McCarthy once took the liberty of calling her by her first name. In response she looked at him icily and declared, "The policeman and the trash man may call me Alice; you.can.not."

Asked by a Ku Klux Klansman in full regalia to take his word for something, she refused, saying, "I never trust a man under sheets."

The Time Machine

Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Thomas Walker 1780

MOO recently did a survey on handwritten communication. It turns out that 56% never sent anything handwritten. Forty-one percent valued handwritten letters over digital, and fifty-one percent never threw out the handwritten notes. So we thought it was about time to print a batch of postcards with MOO. I like the MOO people; they understand paper and design. They make the beautiful, heavy, wonderful cards like the one in American Psycho.

Call me a materialist, but I like things. I like to keep things. I don't have a little box of websites, but I have one with letters, cards, and bits of paper.

Why do we care about these sheets of paper? They define us. They tell us who we are and where we came from. Not surprisingly, I have copies of many letters written by family members, the originals long ago donated. These letters tell me these things: work hard, be prudent, serve your country, and you'll never be as good as we were in the 18th century. They aren't beautiful. They don't have fabulous handwriting. But they have survived and have the power to help me determine who I am.

Dr. Thomas Walker to Elizabeth Thornton, 1780

When my distant grandfather, Dr. Thomas Walker, sent a letter and marriage agreement to his first wife's cousin, Elizabeth Thornton, I doubt he thought I would read it 240 years later. There is a note from Thomas Jefferson, appointing his guardian and father's best friend, Dr. Walker as a Captain during the Revolutionary War. Another letter serves as a legal document signed by Elizabeth Thornton's cousin, Meriwether Lewis and annotated by William Clark a year after Lewis was murdered or committed suicide. These items transcend their physical presence and describe the complexities of relationships that I could never find in a history book.

Mary Walker Cabell 1863

Mary Walker Cabell 1863

I find two letters rife with unstated content. In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, while her southern culture was collapsing, Mary Walker Cabell created a family tree to share with another cousin. There is something more here than a genealogical study. This is an attempt to capture Cabell's history and values and preserve them for others. She was raised in a world of privilege and her status in society was clear. Now, as this life disappeared, she used pen and paper to anchor herself to another time.

Hugh Walker Fry, application for pardon, 1865

The correspondence that carries the most emotional weight, however, is a note from Hugh Walker Fry in 1865. After the war, Confederate leaders and wealthy planters needed to apply for a pardon to restore their American citizenship. The letter itself is mostly boilerplate wording, but the exterior of the letter, addressed to "His Excellency Andy Johnson" is the most salient part. Andrew Johnson was the President of the United States. Did Fry intend "His excellency" as a slur or was he simply unaware of proper protocol when addressing the President? Again, his fortune was lost and way of life radically changed. What is left of this dramatic and intense experience is a piece of paper with three words.

These written letters may have seemed irrelevant, or simply part of everyday life, when created. But due to their intense personal connection and the evidence of the writer's own hand, they serve as a time machine.

Thomas Jefferson to Francis Walker Gilmer

Meriwether Lewis signature 1809

Meriwether Lewis letter annotated 1810

Declaration of Independence signatures, 1776

Benjamin Powell letter

Survey by George Washington, 1749

How to Behave when Facing Frustration

I’d like to believe that I am a product of both sides of my family. Which, coincidentally, supposedly mirrors the national character. Let me explain. My father’s side, Adams, is Massachusetts, Mayflower, Yankee stock. They are good at following Puritan ideas: working hard gets you closer to God, patience is a virtue, and we show God how pleased we are with Him by not procrastinating in our tasks. My mother’s side is Virginia, Jamestown, and southern gentry stock. They were good at living well, hosting parties, and maintaining the class structure.

I do fine hosting a barbeque and pool party, but I tend to be hard on myself and insist on working hard, being patient, and never procrastinating. When I’m frustrated, or concerned, I handle it, hopefully, with patience and fortitude. This, however, is wearing thin as I get older. When I’m missing critical content and a deadline is approaching, or driving behind someone who is texting and going 12 miles per hour, I’d like to pitch a fit. Not a good WASPy fit, as in, “Gosh darn. Well that’s just wrong,” said quietly, but like our example above. This woman missed her flight. I recommend this example for anyone when you don’t get your way.

Grandpappy Walker

Since it’s almost Independence Day, I decided to post about someone in my family who was involved with the revolution. Sure, there are the likely suspects: George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. And, they are indeed family members on either my mother of father’s side. But we all know those stories. One of my favorite distant grandfathers wasn’t as well known as the these others. Dr. Thomas Walker was born in 1715. He was Thomas Jefferson’s guardian, the first white man to explore Kentucky, and did a whole batch of impressive things.

But I like him because he risked everything for the revolution. By 1776, Dr. Walker was 61 years old and one of the wealthiest men in Virginia. He wasn’t a destitute revolutionary; he was firmly set as a member of the gentry. It would be as if a comfortable CEO of a Fortune 500 company decided to join a revolution today. Typically comfortable old white guys don’t do this. 

In 1781, British Colonel Banastre Tarleton marched on Charlottesville with the intent to capture then Governor, Thomas Jefferson. When the British Army reached the family estate, Castle Hill, my distant grandmother and Dr. Walker delayed them by preparing a fine breakfast. Legend has it they also supplied liquor. This gave the patriot Jack Jouett time to warn Governor Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia legislators of Tarleton's plan to capture them, and they escaped.

Just after the American Revolution, a traveling author visited Castle Hill and wrote an account of his interview with Dr. Thomas Walker:

"One day, in a chat, while each was delivering his sentiments of what would be the state of America a century hence, the old man [Walker], with great fire and spirit, declared his opinion that, 'The Americans would then reverence the resolution of their forefathers, and would eagerly impress an adequate idea of the sacred value of freedom in the minds of their children, that if, in any future ages they should be again called forth to revenge public injuries, to secure that freedom, they should adopt the same measures that secured it to their brave ancestors.'"

Thomas Anbury (Travels Through the Interior Parts of America, 1776-1781)

Castle Hill, Virginia

Castle Hill, Virginia

The Ghosts of Virginia

Last week, I traveled through North Carolina and Virginia. Part of this visit was for speaking engagements. I also wanted to do some family history scouting in Virginia. In the same way that people return to the county of their ancestors in Ireland, or the village in Italy, I wanted to visit my roots. The only experience I have of Virginia is either stories told by my grandmother, or history books. I expected that I would be a cousin to everyone I met on the street. Oddly, this wasn’t the case. As I was reminded, it’s not 1850. I was surprised to find many streets named after family members, and Colonial Williamsburg was like a family reunion. I had some of the best fried-chicken of my life. I met some remarkable people working incredibly hard for their community. And, I now know what Henrico and Albemarle counties look like.

My grandmother talked about Virginia in a poetic and tragic way. I assumed that it was because she was dramatic. But, I found myself feeling the same way. I felt a constant undercurrent of family history everywhere I went. I thought about the great achievements and terrible deeds committed. The entire time, I was aware that all of these people were gone, all of their accomplishments completed by the 18th century, and that the families had long ago dispersed. I definitely felt the ghosts of many of them at each stop. Whether it was Peter Meriwether Fry at the Jefferson Hotel, or Dr. Thomas Walker at Castle Hill, or Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, I could see their world through my eyes.

Robert Carter house

paint color detail, Colonial Williamsburg

There is more between the lines than leading

Today I’m in Richmond. I spent yesterday in Raleigh with the enormously generous and patient Denise Gonzales Crisp. I’m staying at The Jefferson Hotel. I was recommended to try another hotel that was less stodgy, but I’m, yes, stodgy. It suits me fine. I also decided to stay here because my grandmother’s Uncle Peter Meriwether Fry was the hotel’s long-time general manager from its opening in 1895.

Like most of the “official” information I have, there is no mention of anything salacious. In this instance, this could be true, as I never heard my grandmother say anything bad about her Uncle. And in Southern terms that would have been, “Well, I’d rather not say anything.” I have an old clipping from “Men of Mark in Virginia” published in 1908. It’s rather dry. But I like what is written between the lines.

The tone reads pleasantly and suggests a life of peace and harmony, but any of our lives could be rewritten in these terms. Clearly there was an issue of a lack of purpose, he tried agriculture and didn’t like that. He preferred to read about history, but was pressured to take on law, which was a common family profession. He dropped that and ended up in the family business as his father owned several resorts. It drives me mad that there is so little substance here. However, in the Jefferson’s little historical case, I found a nice portrait of his daughter at her Coming-Out party. Supposedly, he made a scrapbook at the Virginia Historical Society. That will be for my next visit.

The Jefferson Hotel, Richmond, Virginia

FRY, PETER MERIWETHER, was born in Richmond, Virginia, March 21, 1856. His parents were Col. William H. Fry and Jane Margaret (Watson) Fry. His ancestry begins with Joshua Fry, who was educated at Oxford University and settled in Essex county, Virginia, between 1710 and 1720. He filled many public offices; was master of the grammar school at William and Mary college; professor of mathematics; member of the house of burgesses, and presiding justice and county lieutenant of Albemarle. With Peter Jefferson, the father of Thomas Jefferson he made a most interesting map of Virginia. In 1754 he was commissioned by Governor Dinwiddie as colonel and commander-in-chief of the Virginia forces with George Washington as major and next in command. He was stricken with fever at Fort Cumberland, and Washington and the whole army attended the funeral. On a large oak tree Washington cut the following inscription which can be read to this day: " Under this oak tree lies the body of the good, the just and the noble Fry."

Rev. Henry Fry was the second son of Col. Joshua Fry, and the latter was father of Joshua Fry, the great grandfather of the subject of this sketch. His grandfather was Hugh W. Fry, who was in business for years in Richmond, was president of Hollywood cemetery company, and of the old Dominion Iron and Nail works, and had a share in other business enterprises. His father, Colonel William H. Fry, was in business in Richmond for years, was captain of the Richmond light infantry blues and colonel of the 1st Virginia regiment, and during the latter part of the war was stationed in Richmond in charge of Camp Lee. He owned an interest in several summer resorts, and was one of the best known men in Virginia.

Peter Meriwether Fry, the subject of this sketch, spent his time in early boyhood partly in the city and partly in the country. While he had no regular tasks, he would assist on the farm during the summer with many things. He had a private tutor until he entered the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical institute, where he was graduated in agriculture in 1876. Mr. Fry read a great deal of history and literature and put much time upon the study of law, but never graduated or practiced the profession.

He began the active work of life as chief clerk at the Alleghany Springs during the season of 1876, representing his father's interest, liked the hotel business and determined to make the work his profession. From 1876 to 1895 he was chief clerk at the Alleghany Springs and the Greenbrier White Sulphur Springs, and since 1895 he has been employed at the Jefferson Hotel the finest hotel in the South first as chief clerk for one year and afterwards as manager.

Mr. Fry is a member of the Hermitage Golf club, and president of the Richmond Chapter of the V. P. I. Alumni association. He has always been fond of athletic sports, preferably

base ball, but he has little time for such things at present.

In politics Mr. Fry, is a Democrat, who has never swerved from his party allegiance. In religious preferences he is a member of the Episcopal church. His advice to young men is never to keep so busy as not to have a little time each day for exercise in the open air.

On June 15, 1897, he married Miss Irene Virginia Hancock, and they have had three children all of whom are now (1907) living.

His address is the Jefferson Hotel, Corner Franklin, Jefferson and Main Streets, Richmond, Virginia.

Oh baby, when I look in your eyes I go crazy

Amelie Rives, Princess Troubetzkoy

One of the benefits of having a family obsessed with old family stories is, just that, many old family stories. My grandmother is from an ancient Virginia family and she often referred to cousins, aunts, and great-great grandparents in polite and obscure language. “Well,” she would say, in a very slow Virginia drawl, “she was a true beauty, and quite eccentric.” And that would be that. As I’ve looked deeper into some of these relatives, the truth is far more interesting.

For example, my grandmother’s cousin Amelie Rives' godfather was General Robert E. Lee and granddaughter of Senator William Cabell Rives. She was born at the end of the civil war and lived at Castle Hill, built by one of my distant grandfathers Dr. Thomas Walker, near Charlottesville. In 1888, she married John Armstrong “Archie” Chanler, grandson of John Jacob Astor. The marriage was a disaster with details including morphine addiction in France, affairs, and eventual madness. The Astor family claimed that Amelie drove Archie mad, my family claimed that he was already mad. Donna M. Lucey’s biography, Archie and Amelie, Love and Madness in the Gilded Age retells the story, albeit in a salacious way.

In the end, Archie descended into madness, including delusions that he could put himself into a sort of trance in which his face would somehow morph into the death mask of Napoleon. In the meantime, Amelie became the toast of European society, divorced Archie, and married Russian Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy, "an artist and an aristocrat," who possessed more glamour and panache than money. The two settled at the family home, Castle Hill and were together for the rest of their lives. The scandals continued, when Amelie began writing novels and plays including the shocking The Quick and the Dead?, an erotic story. However, as my grandmother said, “Why, she was such a fine beauty.”

Castle Hill, near Charlottesville, Virginia

Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy

Amelie Rives 1890

John Armstrong "Archie" Chanler

John Armstrong "Archie" Chanler as Napoleon's death mask, and riding

Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy

Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy by Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy c. 1890