The Disturbed

Sean and or Adlai Stevenson, United Nations, 1962

The books

My grandmother had a true talent for interesting stories about people in her family. They first came to Virginia in 1608 and, according to Grandma, did wonderful and horrible things. She had stories about her own life homesteading with her mother in Aspen. For example, for her 16th birthday, she asked the local cowboys to make a floor for their dirt floor cabin. She also had a family bible with notes on the side and in the margins. I took the information from this and other family books and attempted to make sense of it with a diagram family tree. It quickly became a tangle of fishing lines as the Virginia branch enjoyed marrying cousins. 

The 9 foot diagram

Detail

In my search for images of people in the chart, I found an image of President Chester Arthur's wife, Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur, and was amazed at the resemblance to my mother, 100 years later. This also happened with an image of my great-grandfather when he was 18. I compared the images in Photoshop to determine if the facial structure was similar, or I was nuts. This led to a disturbing hobby of replacing a relative with me. I have one rule; I can only use an image of a relative. This is an ongoing project with new additions periodically. I can’t explain the psychosis here, but I’m sure it points to some form of madness.

Below: The disturbing project

Below: the book version in process

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

The Still Room of Quiet

I like to think of the 1950s and early 60s as some kind of wonderful “Pleasantville” experience. I imagine I’d wear my letterman’s jacket, do well in school, and come home in time for cookies, milk, and an early bedtime. It would all be so well ordered and clear. Recently, I found a box of slides at my grandparents’ house. I sent it out to be digitized and was rather alarmed when I looked at them on screen. They must have been taken around 1963. There is an image of President Kennedy’s funeral on the television. Some of the photos are at my great grandparents’ anniversary party. Others are at an unknown social event.

The upside is the television tray usage. I still have those TV trays. I use them at home, but didn’t realize they were appropriate for a party. Now I see how handy they can be. The downside is the subtext in every image of restrained frustration. Nobody looks comfortable. Everyone looks like they could use a stiff martini. I imagine the polite chatter, “Bob, how’s your golf game these days,” “Betty, I loved the coffee cake,” “Could you be more proud of Sherman, valedictorian?” But I’ve seen enough movies to know that everyone goes home drinks too much, cries, and screams. I hope. Otherwise there’s a whole lot o’ suppressed issues here.

This is a glimpse into the reality of the late 1950s. There was no room for differences or individuality. God forbid someone was African-American, Asian, gay, or just a little odd. Somehow this seems obvious on an episode of American Experience, but these slides made it real for me. It clarified why, several years later, my parents dropped out and moved to the Haight. And why there was so much tension between my parents and my grandparents, and I was somewhere in the middle.

 

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.

The New Page of the Odd Hobby

You spoke and I listened. By popular demand, I've added a new section at the Cabin, The History of Me. It's an ongoing project of my disturbing hobby, the ever growing family tree and images me replacing relatives.

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Dynasty

Several readers have sent me notes asking for a family history post. So, I'm heading way, way back for this one to 1295 AD. The story of my 17th grandmother and 17th grandfather is filled with soap opera drama.

Isabella de Capet of France, also known as the she-wolf of France, was the only surviving daughter of Philip IV, King of France (16th grandfather). She was engaged to King Edward II of England as a child to cement a treaty between England and France.

The fun begins when she marries Edward II. It seems that he enjoys the company of young men, his "favorite" when they married, Piers Gaveston. Obviously this can cause discord in a marriage. Gaveston ends up being captured and executed by angry Barons who weren't too keen on Edward's policies and unorthodox arrangement. After a failed campaign to conquer the Scots, Edward was even more unpopular.

Now, he took up with a new favorite, Hugh de Spencer (yet another 17th grandfather). For several years, Edward and de Spencer imprisoned and executed enemies, confiscated lands from the barons, and punished extended family members and courtiers. Eventually, Edward and de Spencer confiscated all of Isabella's lands and imprisoned her. This was a good sign to Isabella that the marriage wasn't really working well.

Isabella returned to France and began an affair with Sir Roger Mortimer (18th grandfather). Together, they raised an army and returned to England to dethrone Edward II. Edward and de Spencer fled London, but were captured by Isabella and Mortimer's forces. She had de Spencer hanged, castrated, disemboweled, drawn and quartered. She was very mad. Edward was forced to abdicate the crown to his son, Edward III (16th grandfather).

Now, the story gets confusing. The official story was that Edward II fell and died while imprisoned. Rumors spread that Isabella had him murdered with, sorry for the graphic part here, a red hot poker put up his rectum. Recently historians have argued that evidence points to Edward escaping and living the rest of his life as a hermit.

Isabella and Mortimer now thought they had it all wrapped up. Edward III was too young to rule, so they were ruling England, making lots of money, and everything seemed swell. But when Isabella became pregnant with Mortimer's child, which would have created a new heir, Edward III was pissed. So he raided their castle, captured Mortimer and had him executed, even after Isabella begged for his life saying, "Fair son, have pity on gentle Mortimer!"

Edward III took on his role as King of England and exiled his mother to Norfolk. She lived well, as one of the richest women in England and died at 62. She was buried with Edward II's heart. This is real life, and so much more exciting than Game of Thrones.

Isabella de Capet of France, played by Aure Atika, World Without End
Inspection of Piers Gaveston's head
Execution of Hugh de Spencer
Isabella and Roger Mortimer
Isabella accepts Edward II's crown
Edward II, played by Blake Ritson, World Without End
King Edward II, played by Ben Chaplin, World Without End

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

The Ballad of the Hermetically Sealed House Trapped in Time

After my grandparents passed away, we cleaned up their house, fixed the heater, bought new beds and linens, and left. The plan was to visit as a family every month or so. But everyone gets busy and the months pass. My sister, Heather, moved to Hawaii. This made get-togethers even harder. We still manage to get together as a group each July 4th. It's odd to open the door and find the hermetically sealed house, virtually unchanged since my grandmother redecorated in the late 1960s. We've considered splitting up the furniture, art, and objects, but there's so much we have no idea where to start. And my grandmother's style ran toward the western Victorian genre. I've considered bringing one of the sofa sets, marble topped tables, and Victorian gas lamps home, but I think I would have an odd result. At best, the design would have the feeling of the Haunted Mansion, at worst, Liberace.

We still find odd items in the drawers. I found a huge set of 35mm slides last weekend, and a really groovy napkin thingamajig. I remember this napkin set from our ranch. It was in the guesthouse bathroom and went with the red, white, and blue Americana wallpaper. We never used them because they seemed so fancy. I look at this now, and try do determine the rationale. Someone made the decision to green light this design. I try to imagine the meeting; “I’m seeing an oddly drawn guest towel set based on the menu of a Victorian bath house. But make sure it’s wonky.” In any event, I like these along with the ancient packages of Dixie cups.

Leaving My Behind in the Past

I’ve been thinking about the lyrics to the B-52s song, The Detour Thru Your Mind: I need to leave my past behind. I need to leave my behind in the past. Whenever I work on my historical self-portrait project, I think, “I have to stop this. It’s disturbing and points to insanity. I need to leave the past and move into the 21st century.” Then, I find a new technique to simulate photo grain in 1916 and start again. Some of you may be saying, “This is the most vain thing I have ever seen. How could someone be so self-absorbed?” Others might say, “Sad. Very sad when I mind is lost.”

You know how trans-gendered people feel like they are in the wrong body? I feel like I’m in the wrong time. Working on these images is a small attempt to place myself back in the right temporal place. Of course, I only use family photos. Otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense. I don’t want a different family. And, frankly, it looks fun to spend life summering in Newport and doing the European tour for four months each year, or running for president, or starting an artist colony in Big Sur during the depression. So, for your enjoyment, like watching a reality show when someone slowly goes mad, here is the latest batch.

The Odd and the Ugly

As someone who needs organization, I spend an inordinate amount of free time collecting family photos, labeling and cataloguing them. I’m fortunate that I have a wide network that can send me a photo of a painting in a hall, or I can track down distant uncles, aunts, and cousins on the Library of Congress website. When I post about someone in the family, I try to find the flattering image. But there is a collection of the weird that I keep hidden. Like Diane Arbus images, these photographs seem to be of marginalized subjects.

There are odd out of place outfits, such as Hallie Erminie Rives Wheeler in full kimono. I find the painting of Constance and Maud Rives to be quite odd. Whose idea was it to dress them as Little Bo Peep? I have a macabre image of William Fontaine Maury in open casket. Why did my grandmother save this? It’s very “The Others.” What's with the cow? Was this the last prized possession after the Civil War? There is a strange photo of my mother and aunt with the poodle. Why did nobody say, “Mary Kay, you look like Sybil.” Most disturbing, though, and my favorite is an image of my sister, brother, and me in bizarre masks. What I want to know is where is that clown mask now? It’s the scariest mask known to man. I’d like to use it when I drive to meet with clients.

The Danger of Beauty

I’ve been working on a lecture for the AIGA Pivot Conference in Phoenix this week. I’m scheduled to talk about the history of AIGA, which is kind of like a lecture about the history of the United Auto Workers. So I’m working doubly hard to find great images. And now I have them. Charles Dana Gibson was one of the founders in 1914. Charles Dana Gibson is know for creating the “Gibson” girl. He based this illustration on my grandmother’s great-cousin Irene, who was his wife.

This led me to think about all the amazing stories I’ve heard about the women in my family. For instance, one of the earliest distant grandmothers to come to America was Cicely Reynolds, who arrived in 1610 abroad the Swan when she was 14. She was married five times and is credited as bringing “flirting” to the new world. There seems to be a very strong gene that runs along the maternal line. The women all look alike, going back generations. They all seem to be rather intelligent and witty, and dangerously beautiful. Since this is my blog, I can indulge myself and talk about this.

The latest addition is my niece Izabelle. She’s only thirteen, but 5’9” and beautiful. I’ve recommended that my brother and sister-in-law build a closet model on the closet in Carrie, but they are too nice. Like generations before, she will likely break many hearts.

Pistol Packin' Mama

Every family has tales of courage and great achievements. Mine is no different. But it’s interesting that everyone ignores the bad. If you spend time at a Thanksgiving with us, you will hear about my grandmother shooting the biggest bear in Colorado, how Rev. Henry Fry introduced the Emancipation Bill in Virginia in 1785, and how John Christian Bullitt created the city charter for Philadelphia. You won’t hear stories about Captain William Tucker's retaliation for the 1622 Jamestown Indian massacre. He negotiated a peace treaty and then poisoned the liquor at the treaty celebration. This killed about 200 Powhatan Indians. Nobody uses this as a nighttime story.

One of my favorite ancestors is Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks.

Lucy was born in Albemarle County, Virginia in 1752. In his book Lewis and Clark: Partners in Discovery, John Bakeless, describes Lucy as “a Virginia lady of the patrician breed, a benevolent family autocrat, with a character so sharp and definite that her twentieth-century descendents still refer to her as Grandma Marks.” The stories, filtered down to me are about her intellect and undaunted courage. She owned a large library, which was unusual for a woman at that time. She was an herb doctor which was probably better than doctors who believed in "bleeding.". And she was tough. Supposedly, during the Revolutionary War, she saved the plantation by wielding a rifle and driving away a party of drunken British soldiers. And, like my grandmother and her bear story, she was a great marks-woman. A tale often told is about a group of men who left Locus Hill on a deer hunt. They returned at the end of the day empty handed and exhausted. Fortunately, while they stalked the woods, Lucy shot a large buck in her front yard, and it was dressed and cooked when they returned.

Lucy’s life was filled with war, deaths, marriages, and scandal. Her son, Meriwether Lewis died, supposedly, from suicide. Until her death she maintained that he had been murdered. As an aside, most of the family continues to believe in the foul-play theory. John Hastings Marks, another son, died at a “retreat” for the mentally ill. Even after these deaths, and the deaths of her two husbands, Lucy continued to ride horseback, serve as an herb doctor, and run the farm. She was 85 when she died in 1837. Her stories have become part of the family yarn. Strangely, there are quite a few stories that involve women and guns. Hmmm.

Many thanks to Christine Adreae’s website on Lucy Merwiether Marks

Family tree courtesy of Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies © 2009 Jefferson LibraryMonticello

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.

Finding Robert E. Lee

When I went to Virginia last year for a series of speaking engagements, I spent half a day at the Virginia Historical Society. Half a day was far from enough time. I could have spent a week looking through documents and images. On one hand, walking through the exhibitions was exhilarating. On the other, it was incredibly frustrating. At each turn, I found an object or a painting of a family member or distant relative. That was the fun part. The downside was that I was alone, and it seemed odd to gasp, then grab a nearby person and say, “That thar, why that’s my great-grandpappy.” So I went about this incredible discovery with only the guards to keep me company.

I feel amazingly lucky to have so much of my family’s history intact and easy to access. I’m also glad to know that my grandmother wasn’t totally loony and making up stories. My great-great grandmother, Ocatvia Mildred White, was General Robert E. Lee’s first or second cousin. I’m not sure which since the intermarrying tended to create a tangled mess of fishing lines. My grandmother was quite proud that her Grandmama Octavia was General Lee's god-daughter. Now I won’t go into a lengthy historical review of General Lee’s biography, but he seemed to be rather an upstanding man. One of my favorite images from the VHS is this photograph of General Lee after the Civil War. It was taken in 1869, when Lee was president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia. It’s an arresting and haunting image, with a composition that highlights a sense of isolation. It doesn’t feel heroic like other Lee images; it’s a quiet surrender.

Small Treasures

One of the most difficult tasks is to go through a family member’s things after they’ve died. After my father died, we did this so my brother and his family could take over his house. At first, it’s gut wrenching, and I wanted to keep everything for sentimental reasons. “But that was Dad’s rubber-band,” I would argue. After a few days, something else clicked in and the dumpster began to fill up. This was after we’d been told by several thrift shops to stop bring clothing from the 1970s. Fortunately, my sister gave the bulk of my father’s wardrobe to a friend who was the bartender at a groovy bar. Unfortunately, my brother had to stop going there because he thought it was creepy to see a young hipster behind the bar in Dad’s old striped shirts from Sears in 1975.

Books were the hardest to give away. Who knew that everyone was so picky? We called several used booksellers in Berkeley and San Francisco. They came out to the house, sifted through the hundreds of books and took three. Eventually we started throwing them away. I admit a book on Cobol (a computer language from 1959) is not a big draw. I did, however, save a wonderful assortment of ephemera. One of my favorite items is Kaiser Aluminum News III, from 1965. The drawings are by Saul Steinberg. Don Conover is listed as the art director. I don’t have any idea why my dad had this. Maybe he owned stock, but I don’t think he was interested in aluminum. There are some scary typographic choices (the bold Century Expanded and italic Optima), but each page is as incredible as the next.

Some day, after a few cocktails, I’ll do some drunk posting, and talk about the other “ephemera” we found.

The Circle of Life

I was looking through images on the Library of Congress site and came across a photo of a woman who looked remarkably like my mother. She was President Chester Arthur's wife, Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur, or "Nell". Herndon and Lewis are family names, so I did a little digging. You'll be surprised, but of course, she was part of the family. In the same vein, I found a photograph of my great grandfather who looked remarkably like me at the same age. If these people had such similar genes responsible for our appearance, how much of our behavior is tied to them? Does that mean I'm crazy because Meriwether Lewis was?

The Invention of Flirting in America

The women on my mother’s side of the family have always been attractive. This comes with a price (sanity). There is a long-standing tradition that a distant grandmother brought flirting to the New World. As it turns out, this story was correct. Cecily Reynolds came to Jamestown in 1610 aboard the Swan. Her uncle Captain William Pierce, with his wife Joan, served as chaperon on her voyage. At the age of 14, Cicely married Thomas Bailey. Unfortunately he soon dropped dead from malaria. She then quickly married Samuel Jordan.

The Jordans neighbors were John Rolfe, who had married Matoaka Pocahontas Powhatan. After her death, Rolfe married Capt. William Pierce’s daughter, Jane Pierce.

Cicely survived the Jamestown Massacre in 1622 by, as the story goes, standing firmly at her front door and refusing to move. The Powhatan Indians were impressed with her fortitude and beauty and let her live. That story seems a little far-fetched, but who knows? Soon after the Massacre, Samuel Jordan dropped dead, too. Now, this may seem too coincidental. One husband after another dies suddenly. Marrying Cicely may have seemed like a death sentence. But, in Jamestown death was common.

Within three or four days of Samuel Jordan's death, Cicely agreed to become the wife of Rev. Greville Pooley. She was pregnant with Samuel Jordan’s child, so she asked that the engagement be kept secret. However, Rev. Pooley was so impressed that he had won Cicely’s hand that he spread the word. Not a good move, now a furious Cicely refused to go through with the wedding. Rev. Pooley sought to hold her to her promise. William Farrar, the administrator of her late husband's estate defended her, causing the first breach of promise suit in America. Farrar then became husband three.

They were married for 10 years, and then in 1634, Farrar, surprisingly, died too.

Cicely Reynolds Bailey Jordan Farrar then married my distant grandfather, Peter Montague. Peter came to Jamestown in 1621 aboard the "Charles" at the age of 18. Peter and Cicely had seven children including Mary Montague, George Washington’s grandmother. This marriage lasted for 25 years until Peter Montague died in 1660.

Finally, at 59, Cicely Reynolds Bailey Jordan Farrar Montague married husband five, Thomas Parker. There were no children from this marriage, and Parker died three years later. Unfortunately, as was the case with many women, after this we lose records on Cicely. As a member of my mother’s family, I can surmise that, at this point, she had thick wavy white hair, a wry and dark sense of humor, and perfect grace.

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

Make Your Own Kind of Music

In 1968, my parents moved to a flat on Fell Street in San Francisco. This was the epicenter of the counter-culture movement. I was four, so I don’t know why we moved there. My parents were definitely anti-establishment, but were adamantly anti-drug use. The neighbors above us were band members from Big Brother and the Holding Company. We bought a big Victorian mahogany bed for my grandmother from one of the Grateful Dead guys. I went to concerts across the street in Golden Gate Park’s panhandle. I went to a volunteer co-op intercultural and interracial pre-school. After my father died, I inherited his Fillmore posters. He had them tacked up on the wall in his house with thumbtacks.

I rebelled. I didn’t get older and act out with loud music and anti-social behavior. I recall that I refused to wear jeans when I was five. I wore only khakis or trousers. I didn’t want long hair. I liked my grandfather’s clothes. And it only got worse as I grew older. By the time I was in high school, I was getting regular lectures from my parents about my bad attitude. I was told,  “Your are spending too much time on school activities. There is no need to be so conformist.”

My mother never made apologies about being non-traditional. She made it clear to us that they she was our mother, not our friend. But she was and continues to be endlessly kind. She taught me to value creativity, eccentricity, and beauty. She was direct and pointed out that she wasn’t the kind of mother who waited at home and made cookies. My friends had mothers who made fresh cookies, and insisted on being called by their first names. I’m glad I didn’t. My mother demands a level of respect that would make calling her “Sylvia” seem far too familiar.

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.