Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Multifaceted Mr. Bigelow

Poultney Bigelow's and his wife's graves in 2009 - Lucey Bowen

                                                Friday, May 13, 1938
Dear Carl,
      I stopped to see Poultney Bigelow.[1] He lives in a curious old Victorian House near the river and has a nice view. He says he made the terrace out of the blue stone left down on the wharf. His Grandfather made his fortune in blue stone. Old Asa Bigelow had a quarry and shipped the stone down the Hudson. His son was John who became Ambassador to France and Poultney was brought up most in Europe and roomed with the Kaiser. He has written a few books none of which I understand are any  good. He has statues of many of his friends including the Kaiser adorning the driveway, which leads around his house. He also has shells sticking up here and there along the drive their noses pointed to the heavens and painted white and blue.
      He remembers that his father said he was a young boy when Lafayette came up the Hudson and stopped at Livingston Manor. There was much festivity, which his Father could see across the river. His Grandfather rowed across and shook hands with Lafayette. Poultney said that Washington had held Washington Irving in his arms when he was a baby and that Washington Irving had held him (Poultney) in his arms when he was a baby. "That makes an apostolic succession, does it not ?" he said.
      He is a nut on people doing things for themselves, making their own things and going mm back to the old days when people made their own clothes and food etc and there have been times when he tried this very much at his place. His first wife was screwy and I believe left him. His second wife was an Englishwoman and managed to make him conform more or less. When she died he had a villager make a long basket and for a long time he kept the basket in the garden where he could see his wife out of the window. They say he finally buried her in the garden. You could kid the hell of him. Why not do a profile of him as an example of Hudson River Valley screwiness for the New Yorker and than put it in the book as a chapter. He talked along at random and it was hard to pin him down. He claims that Washington was visiting his father’s place when he wrote Rip Van Winkle and that he never saw the Catskill etc. where it is all supposed to have happened until years later. He is nuts about Bancroft’s History of the United States. He said in the old days people RR and the fact that there is no place to land have made it almost impossible to do it these days and it is a great tragedy that you can’t swim in the river any more since the sewers and ships make the water so dirty. He said people worked blue stone on shares and that a man could work five or six hours and get a goodly sum for what he quarried. A dollar a day was good pay. Their place used to be about 1500 acres and old Asa also had a gristmill. The people in the great estates are mostly gone he said. What are left have a terrible time with taxes and the fact that their places get robbed by men who walk the tracks and many of them had had to fence off their places from the tracks thus cutting themselves off more from the river. He talked along about the large number of firkins of butter shipped down to New York. The hemlocks have all been ripped from the forests and the bark ripped off for tanning and then just left there.

[1] The marvelously eccentric Poultney Bigelow was a world traveler and prolific writer.

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