For the second time in recent memory, I'm going to write two entries in one day. Early this morning, I wrote that I was on my way to the birthplace of John Greenleaf Whittier--a museum, which happens to also be my own birthplace, as his younger brother, Mathew Franklin Whittier. I wasn't sure what to expect, because the Whittier lore (with which I'm quite familiar) is either disparaging or neglectful of Mathew, being quite distorted; and the view of the famous poet is rather fairy-dusted (as was his own view of life, and of his own family background). Since I had written three times (i.e., at intervals) and not received an answer, I decided to visit "incognito," just as Mathew would sometimes do. But I didn't know whether there would be a number of people taking a guided tour, or, whether I would meet Gus, the long-time caretaker, whom my researcher had met earlier. All accounts of him, including from my researcher, were very positive. I was just hoping I wouldn't be found out.
I was going to be quite early, so I stopped by Greenwood Cemetery, where Mathew's soul-mate and first wife, Abby, is buried, along with their children and her older brother, Francis. Francis, for historians, was "Tim" in the "Enoch Timbertoes" series of letters. I wanted to get photographs I had neglected to shoot on my first visit, for my sequel. I had shot video with my cell phone, but that is not so suitable to take sharp stills from. I parked near the rear of the cemetery, to get a shot of what might have once been a road running along behind, which I had remembered through a past-life waking vision. But I couldn't get out of the car, because a yellow mongrel dog was circling the car and barking angrily! Finally, I opened it a crack, and tried to establish some friendly rapport with it--which I was immediately successful in doing. It ran around to the passenger side, and I lost sight of it. After a pause, I cautiously eased myself out, but I never saw it again. It was as though it had disappeared.
I got my shots of the road, and of the place near the back of the cemetery where I believe Abby's grave was originally placed, when this was still only a burial ground. About that time, when I was seated in the car (it was drizzling), a wild turkey came nonchalantly sauntering out of the trees (where I believe the road once was), and slowly made its way to the front of the cemetery. Following it from some distance behind, I saw it walk within, say, 15 or 20 feet of Abby's tombstone, and then amble over to one of the two entrances. As I approached that entrance, I couldn't find any sign of it. I walked to the entrance, itself, looked across the road, up and down the road, and all around--it, too, had seemingly disappeared.
Then I sighted a man and woman doing some work on the grounds. I asked them how common it was for turkeys to walk through the place, and they said it was quite common, as also with deer. So this wasn't a rare occurrence. Nor did the turkey stop and sit in front of Abby's tombstone, as I was half expecting. Still, I report these things as possible signs of spirit cognizance of my presence, there. I did get some new evidence, which I haven't completely processed, yet. But if I am not mistaken, I have proof that the oldest graves--from the days when it was a burial ground, before it was officially made a cemetery--were moved up to the front. Near Abby's tombstone, in the same row up at the front, is what I believe was the very first person to be buried in that burial ground. If I am right about who this is, it is very unlikely that this boy was buried in a row right up with the other graves. His body was almost certainly moved there. That means my memory, which matches an original placement of Abby's grave in the back-center, would be plausible.(1)
Then I drove over to the Whittier farm, where Mathew grew up. After I had taken some replacement shots outside, Gus, the caretaker, called out to me, offering to let me photograph inside. But I wanted to take the entire tour. I was the only person who showed up, and I ended up having a personal conversation with Gus for something like 2-3 hours. He explained every artifact, related numerous historical stories, and permitted me carte blanche for photography. We hit it off very well, indeed. Of course I didn't tell him who I was, or who I believed myself to be. I learned that he is Catholic, which might account for his not responding to my e-mails (Catholics are concerned about offending the Church, or going against the advice of their priest--I ran across this problem with one of the "subjects" in my documentary, as well, who suddenly stopped cooperating).
So I had to walk a very fine line, in terms of admitting how much I knew of John Greenleaf Whittier's history. He began to notice, and remarked on it--I started to say that I "knew a little," realized it was dishonest, and revised it to say that I had studied "quite a bit, actually." But fortunately, he didn't question beyond that. Obviously, I didn't have to feign my interest in the history or the objects. I even shared a story that Mathew had written about his uncle (as a story I thought might be about him), and Gus confirmed that it would have been consistent with his character. The story I found, had Uncle Moses capturing a fly in the house, and setting it free outdoors without killing it. Gus told me that when Uncle Moses would take the boys fishing in the creek, they would throw back their catch. This was something that never seemed quite right to me, when I read about him taking them fishing. Now I understand.
There was much, much more. But you may be wanting to know what my subjective reaction was when I got inside the house. Now, you know, if you have read this blog, that I am always conservative in my reporting of these things. When I don't feel much of anything, I say so. This was the case at the cemetery. I felt a little more, perhaps, at what I believe to be the original site of her grave, than at the place where they have moved it to. (Abby has told me that there are only a couple of shards of her bones, left at the new site.)
But when I entered the house, it hit me like an emotional, intuitive ton of bricks. It wasn't a negative, fearful, or oppressive feeling. It was one of familiarity. Unfortunately (i.e., from the research point of view), I had to turn my attention toward getting to know Gus, and conversing with him. For the first 10 minutes or so, I would say, this was difficult, because my deep feelings kept clamoring for attention. Finally, they seemed to be submerged in the conversation, and it sort of leveled-out to a "dull roar." I don't know what would have happened had I had the opportunity to sit quietly and just open up to my feelings, in that first ten minutes.
The interior of the house was small--much smaller than I imagined it, from photographs (most of which are taken with a wide-angle lens, making interiors look bigger and outdoor landmarks seem farther apart). It was worn, and home-like, and familiar, and that feeling hung on me like a cloak, or rather like a thick blanket, I should say. I knew it, intuitively. And indeed, Gus told me that Mathew's daughter went to great pains, when the house came back under the control of a Whittier-related organization, to collect and bring back as many of the original artifacts as possible. (They never speak of her as Mathew's daughter--always, she is the "poet's niece.") Chairs, a spinning wheel, kitchen implements, a cradle, and much more were original to the house. And to the matter of the cradle--nothing. I didn't feel anything, but I did notice that one corner of it had apparently been gnawed by a teething child. Mathew? I would guess. But no memories, except feeling drawn to the teething marks; and no sense of ever having been in it, no matter how hard I tried to generate it. Because it is said to have been used for every child in the family, and hence it would have to have been Mathew's, as well. I think if I ever remembered that, I would suddenly be a different person entirely, and it would be a very jolting experience. I just think it's entirely blocked, because it's too foreign.(2)
In my first book, I take a very dim view of John Greenleaf Whittier; whereas, in the eyes of the people who maintain his legacy, he was practically a saint. And I want to say that Gus is rather saintly, in his own right. His love for John Greenleaf Whittier has made him shine. I felt acutely guilty, and dishonest, sitting there, despite the fact that, as said, I was not feigning my interest, nor my appreciation. I signed my own name (rather sloppily) in the guestbook, introduced myself with my first name, and didn't reveal everything I knew.
What I have repeatedly said in my book, is that, reflecting Mathew's own emotions and perceptions, I felt confused about John Greenleaf Whittier. Today, I would say he was a brilliant person with an almost superhuman talent for writing spell-binding ballads; but that he probably had Asberger's Syndrome, and that he was "approximating" life when it came to human emotions. That includes his expression of Quaker faith, and religion. He was constantly acting "as if." It is this, I believe, which caused him to so assiduously avoid his fans, not Quaker modesty, nor simply that he was a private person, as his admirers interpret. It was painful and bothersome to be playing this role continually for all these people. Now, if this were understood by the people who so deeply admire him, I think it would be devastating. Far be it from me to knock the props out from under people's admiration. And yet, I felt that I had to get to the bottom of the thing in my book, for two reasons--firstly, my research, and secondly, for Mathew. For myself as Mathew, because to this day, in this incarnation, he has/I have remained deeply confused about this person who he grew up admiring more than any of his fans ever did. Mathew, in short, was the first to go through this painful process. The matter wasn't really resolved when I incarnated, in this life--it remained part of my "unfinished business."
As for the way Mathew was presented in the tour, I found essentially what I expected. The only things conveyed about Mathew were that his brother, not liking his own middle name, "Greenleaf," proposed that the new baby be named "Peachleaf." Gus seemed to find this quite amusing, and when he pointed out Mathew's young portrait, he again referred to him as "Peachleaf." And he also repeated the stubbornly and gleefully reported claim that Mathew was called "Frank" at home. This, I believe, is simply false--he may have been referred to, in the third person, as "Franklin" but not directly addressed that way. He would never have been called "Frank," for the simple reason that he was named in respectful admiration for Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was not a sort of mythical person to them, as he is to us, today--he had died a mere 22 years before Mathew's birth. Calling Mathew "Frank" would have been an expression of disrespect for that admired public figure (and I do have evidence that Mathew admired him). For the matter of that, I think John Greenleaf was referred to in the third person as "Greenleaf" by the family, as a formality, but not addressed that way directly. There is an example, which I didn't cite to Gus, in this regard: when John Greenleaf (as I call him in my book) was supposed to be hoeing in the garden, his father saw that he was daydreaming. His father (also named John) admonished him, "That's enough for stand now, John." If this is a direct quote, then we have the father calling the son "John" when addressing him directly. It's pretty strong evidence.
And as I pointed out in my book, since when would a father, who has a son named after him, call him by his middle name, "Greenleaf," when he could call him by their proudly shared name, "John"?
Gus also told the story of how John Greenleaf had to come back to the farm to run it, when Mathew married a non-Quaker (Abby). But I think he had the dates a little off. If my memory of our discussion serves, he had John Greenleaf coming home in 1833; but Mathew didn't marry until August of 1836. What was going on, according to my research, is that Mathew was working as a newspaper man in New York City from late 1829 to end 1832; next, he was ghost-writing a book during 1833, which could have brought him home to Haverhill. He went back to New York to work on another paper (launched by the same editor) in 1834, where he remained until August of 1835, when a cholera epidemic was raging in New York City. But he was coming home to help with each harvest, for a week or two (longer before his father died, when probably there were more crops to bring in). Mathew never gets credit for helping with the farm in the Whittier lore, but my research indicates that he did so, while simultaneously trying to launch his career in New York.(3)
As regards Mathew's marriage to Abby, Gus added, if I remember correctly, "He had three wives." I don't think he said, "He married three times," though he could have. But then again, Gus is Catholic, and one interpretation would be about as bad as the other... What they don't know is the nature of his relationship with Abby, his soul-mate; nor that he was pressured (if not tricked) into his second marriage a year after Abby's death, by his family (probably, his mother), who arranged it through the Nova Scotia branch of the Whittiers. His third marriage came about through a family connection with his friend, Charles Ilsley, as a result of Mathew having adopted a practical philosophy of life in 1858, after having been blacklisted when his authorship of "Ethan Spike" was made public the previous year. The second, arranged marriage was a disaster because they had almost nothing in common (I think she was actually picked to keep him in line); while the third was, apparently, a practical arrangement which was far more emotionally poisonous than Mathew realized. This is only scratching the surface; but it is hardly as one might assume, hearing that he married three times.
My answer would be, he was only married once, to his true love; but then his mother tricked him into marrying someone who would make him behave, and later in life he fooled himself by marrying someone on a practical basis--someone whose version of "practicality" verged on the Machiavellian, unknown to him.
That was all Gus had to say about Mathew. But he had given me permission to photograph anything in the house, and I took him at his word and photographed the copy of the young portrait of Mathew, which I will probably insert into the sequel, comparing it to the copied daguerreotype which I believe is also Mathew, which I purchased online some months ago.
Of course, I would love to have been able to share the fact that there may actually be a young photograph of Mathew, and many other things, with Gus. At least I was able to share the gist of the story which I believe is about Uncle Moses.
I think Gus is a wonderful fellow. I enjoyed my visit with him immensely, and felt that we established a friendship. Sad, that I couldn't be 100% above-board with him, and had to remain incognito. Sad that if I were to reveal myself completely, as I longed to do, that probably I would either frighten him, or displease him. Sad that my view of his hero is unflattering in certain respects. Especially the latter. I still feel that guilt deep within myself--Mathew's own guilt--of ever doubting his own brother.
I have drawn this analogy, and I'll use it, again. Have you watched the sitcom, "Big Bang Theory"? And if so, have you seen Sheldon try to approximate human sympathy and empathy? What I've concluded, is that John Greenleaf Whittier was like that; only, because he had gotten roped into the Abolitionist movement by his association with William Lloyd Garrison--who launched his editorial career--and because he had been talked into writing the poem, "Snow-Bound," creating an idealized version of his own family--and because people took it literally, so that he had to maintain this ruse all his life--he had to adopt the role of a sort of American literary saint. And all this tied in with the Quakerism of his upbringing, and especially as the children were indoctrinated into it by their mother. So he was playing a role, constantly and continually, from the time that he became famous for "Snow-Bound," and the same goes for his earlier Abolition work.
This would be rank heresy to those who deeply admire the historical John Greenleaf Whittier. And it is not my place to bash their hero. I got myself clear--in other words, I did my own past-life therapy regarding this issue--and I also provided evidence that my emotional past-life impressions were substantially correct. I had to accomplish that, as part of showing that my memories were real.
But shoving my conclusions down anyone's throat is a different kettle of fish. I heard someone use that expression, "kettle of fish" yesterday, here in Portland. It seems to me you don't hear it much in the South, where I've lived most of my adult life. I have always liked it.
It's nice to be home.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
1) A little research indicates that this is young Moses Elliot (spelled with only one "t" on the stone, but cited in the historical descriptions as "Elliott"), the first person ever interred in the burial ground, which was "at that time a pasture owned by his father Ephraim Elliott." But are we to believe that East Broadway, the main thoroughfare, was built directly alongside this first grave in a pasture, and that subsequent graves were placed in a tight, straight row alongside it? Given the Victorian preference for family plot placement--a pleasant, secluded spot where family members could visit from time-to-time--I think it's far more likely that these oldest graves were moved up to the front in a row near the highway, to make room, when it officially became Greenwood Cemetery around 1850. This particular stone, carved (as I believe) in slate, but irregular in shape, is probably a replacement which is made to look old. Unless slate lasts much better than traditional granite or granite composite, it is far too clear to go back to 1785. By comparison, what is probably the original stone for Mathew and Abby's first child, 11-year-old Joseph, which lies leaning at a 45-degree angle near Abby's stone, is barely readable, and it only goes back to 1838. On the other hand, the lettering on the stone for Abby's brother, who died the same year, is quite sharp. This suggests that only little Joseph's stone is original, while the others have been replaced; and that they all were moved.
2) As I was proofing this in the wee hours of the following morning, I got the further brief hit that Mathew found it very confining, and didn't like it. Of course this is generic, and not useful as evidence. I continue to feel it may have been he who teethed on the corner, and that this was a matter of some embarrassment, being pointed out by his family to guests, etc.
3) One short story which I strongly suspect was written by Mathew, to the extent it was inspired by his own life (as most of his stories were) suggests that when they were working together on the farm, as adults, Mathew felt that he was by far the better manager; but that John Greenleaf, being the older son, was officially in charge. The story, signed "Anon," appears in the Dec. 30, 1848 edition of the Boston "Weekly Museum." If this story is indeed Mathew's, he has taken the extra step of deliberately disguising its autobiographical content by assuming the part of a hired hand named John, one of several who work for a "Mr. Butler." John is the only efficient one of the bunch, who turns the farm around as he "manages from below." I am reasonably certain this is his work, by style, by subject-matter, and by the fact that Mathew had a very strong presence in this newspaper from its inception in mid-1848. However, I listed it in my archives in the "possible" category.
I find, two days after my visit, that my feelings, and memories of my visit with Gus, continue to loom large. There have been no flashbacks, per se; but I feel as though some part of me is still there. I can't recall any relevant dreams; still, it seems as if some door was opened a crack, which has yet to fully close. It is all I can do not to try to share historical material from my own personal treasures with Gus; but for obvious reasons, I talk myself out of it, because one piece of evidence leads to another, and not all of it would be welcome. If only I could tell him, for example, that it was Mathew who wrote Mark Twain's controversial speech for John Greenleaf's 70th birthday celebration, in Boston. This is something Gus has recently written about, for their newsletter. He also mentioned it during our conversation, and he was surprised that I knew about it. In hindsight, it's amazing to me that I was so deep under cover, that I didn't blurt out the rest of what I knew. As I have said, however, this was second-nature to Mathew, who appears to have spent years under cover as an abolitionist agent for Garrison.
Music opening this page: "Friendly Man," by the Free Design,
from the album, "One by One"