Friday, November 21, 2008

Right on the money:
a literary relay race

While Malcolm was musing on Garry Trudeau's creation, Lacey Davenport, it provoked a series of connections.

Garry Trudeau, a native New Yorker, was raised in the gorgeous small town of Saranac Lake, in the Adirondacks, and not far from the more-famed, and more-populated Lake Placid. Norman Crampton listed Saranac Lake as the nicest small town in New York State, and the eleventh in the entire nation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has it among its "Dozen Distinctive Destinations".

In 1876, Trudeau's great-grandfather, Dr Edward Livingston Trudeau settled there, looking for the clear air to mitigate his own tuberculosis. Dr Edward then established the Adirondack Cottage Sanitorium (which, as the Trudeau Institute, remains something of a Trudeau family firm ever since). Earlier this year, the US Post Office celebrated him on a stamp as one of its "Distinguished Americans".

One of the earlier arrivals at Trudeau's sanitorium, presumably by the recently-opened -- and magnificently named -- Chateaugay railroad, was Robert Louis Stevenson. The cottage where RLS stayed in 1887-8 has been a museum since 1916: there is a plaque there to Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, and a couple of Borglum's less-monumental works (including a portrait of Trudeau) in the neighbourhood.

RLS's removal from Bournemouth to Saranac Lake provoked a split with W.E.Henley, over a misunderstanding about Fanny Stevenson's reworking of a story. This was all part of a period of crisis in RLS's life: his father, Thomas Stevenson was recently dead, and RLS conceived a scheme to move to Ireland, where he would be murdered, to draw attention to the Irish problem. While at Saranac Lake, RLS wrote an extraordinary article, Confessions of a Unionist, arguing against Irish Home Rule: this went unpublished until 1921. After the stay at Saranac Lake, the Stevenson menage chartered a yacht and sailed for the Pacific Islands.

Samuel Clemens ("Mark Twain") arrived on holiday in 1901, not for treatment, but still struggling with depression after the death of his favoured daughter, Susy. While in town, Twain knocked off a Conan Doyle pastiche, A Double-Barreled Detective Story. Malcolm, no great admirer of the Sherlock Holmes "canon", regards Twain and Michael Dibden's Jack-the-Ripper piece, above their progenitor's. Twain's rental continues to trade on the connection, as "Camp Mark Twain".

The town of Saranac Lake, largely constructed of the local timber, suffered a number of major fires (one of which destroyed Dr Edward's library containing personally-autographed RLS texts). The result was frequent changes in local attractions: one of which was the Pontiac Theatre, where Al Jolson serenaded.

Apart from Cal Coolidge, a notable visitor was Jack Moran (a.k.a. "Legs" Diamond) the Manhattan bootlegger (right), who came up-state to see his tubercular brother, Eddie. He might have had other, more businesslike reasons: under prohibition, the main route from Canada to New York City came through the Adirondacks and Saranac Lake.

Albert Einstein had been a regular visitor to the US after 1921, mainly to Princeton and the Pasadena Institute. After 1932, and the rise to power of Hitler, he made it permanent. Although basing himself at Princeton, he rented 75 Glenwood Road, and then one of the six cottages at the Knollwood Club, Shingle Bay, on Lower Saranac Lake. It was there Einstein heard of the bombing of Hiroshima, and gave his radio interview a few days later: "Woe is me!". Around the same time, Bela Bartók, suffering from the leukemia which killed him later in 1945, stayed in the neighbourhood.

There is one further connection Malcolm cannot ignore. Dr Edward's son, who shared his father's name, and so was known as "Ned", married Chicago-born Hazel Martyn, "the most beautiful girl in the Mid-West", and daughter of the Vice-President of the Union Stockyards. Ned was tubercular, and died just months after their 1903 wedding. The widow, Hazel Martyn Trudeau, had previously met the painter John Lavery: they married in 1909.

And so, until the innovation of the Euro, Gary Trudeau's great-aunt, in various denominations, was Ireland's favourite portrait-girl:

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