Miriam Vedder

Vedder Yearbook

“What did you come to Silver Bay for?” one girl asked another on the last night of the conference. “I came,” said the other, “to see if Christianity had a left leg to stand on.” “What have you decided?” “That it is a regular centipede!” was the reply.

— Miriam Vedder, Wellesley, Class of 1916, in The North American Student, October, 1915

A YWCA Silver Bay conference attendee, Miriam Vedder hailed from Schenectady, N.Y., served as editor of the Wellesley College News and won its first [John] Masefield Prize for verse in 1916. She was also on the Wellesley archery team (far right, below), but it is her verse that interests me.

Vedder Archery

In 1920, she inadvertently became involved in a mystery that may have involved one of the most elusive figures of the early 20th century, Arthur Craven. That year, a young man named Dorian Hope persuaded G.P. Putnam’s Sons of New York and London to publish a volume of his poetry, Pearls and Pomegranates. When Miriam Vedder bought a copy, she discovered 26 of the poems were hers. She went to the publisher’s office in New York and, upon investigation, they found Vedder was correct and that the rest of the poems were by the late Augustin Lardy; “Dorian Hope” had obtained the dead man’s poems from his mother, unaware that Lardy had shared his poetry with Miss Vedder, and that her own poems she had sent to Lardy were shuffled in among the manuscripts. The publisher withdrew the book immediately; Dorian Hope was seen no more in New York, but soon after a young man going as Dorian Hope, and Sebastian Hope, was peddling forgeries of Oscar Wilde manuscripts in Paris and Amsterdam. Some biographers of Arthur Craven believe that Hope and Craven were one in the same.

Arthur Craven was a nephew of Oscar Wilde, who made a life out of getting into trouble and disappearing. In Paris, circa 1910-15, he made his way as a performance artist and a boxer, and during lectures would drink heavily, hurl abuse at his audience, take off all his clothes and moon the front row. Admirers of outrage were delighted. He was said to have disappeared at sea in 1918, but these later sightings in New York, Paris and Amsterdam kept people buzzing.

And so Miriam Vedder, Silver bay conference attendee, had a brush with fame and intrigue. On her own, in 1931 and ’32, she had 29 pieces published in The New Yorker. The poem below appeared in the September 17, 1932, issue:

“Horoscopes” – By Miriam Vedder, Wellesley Class of 1916.

I’ve high esteem for horoscopes
They give one such romantic hopes.
Mine said I’d meet a very fine
Young man in 1929,
And intimated wedding rings,
And other such inspiring things,
I waited for him all the year,
But that young man did not appear
Unless he was a tax-collector,
Or, possibly, the dog-inspector.

In 1930 speculation
Was to achieve the elevation
Of my depressed financial state.
But something might have sidetracked Fate
The stocks I bought that happy spring
Today are not worth anything.

A voyager upon the sea,
A traveller in wagons-lits,
I should, before the year was done,
Have been in 1931.
And yet, despite the friendly stars,
I only rode on trolley cars.

But though my fortunes have declined,
I’m vastly gratified to find
That 1932 should be
A most propitious year for me,
With riches knocking on my doors,
And sojourning on foreign shores,
And gentlemen of many nations
Offering fervent protestations.

For even though I seem to stay
At home in quite the usual way,
And no one names me as an heir,
And suitors are extremely rare,
It’s very comforting to know
That Heaven never planned things so!

* * *

Pearls and Pomegranates (1920) was withdrawn from publication, but is available today in reprint editions made from the few copies that survived. I would suggest that Miss Vedder’s later poetry in The New Yorker showed delightful improvement from her earlier efforts.

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J. Stitt Wilson

EPSON DSC picture

Jackson Stitt Wilson (1868-1942) was a speaker at the Silver Bay student conference of 1925 and most probably made his audience sit up and pay attention. He was an ardent Christian Socialist and served as the Socialist mayor of Berkeley, California, from 1911 to 1913.

After graduating from seminary at Northwestern, Wilson worked as a Methodist pastor and social worker in Chicago, and afterward said, “The injustices, misery, and wretchedness, and the unequal struggle of the workers against such frightful odds compelled me to study the underlying causes of this social agony, and I became a Socialist.”

From 1907, Wilson was a contributing editor to The Christian Socialist, a weekly newspaper which unified the Christian socialist wing of the Socialist Party of America.

In 1911, Wilson wrote, “If God is ever to wipe away the tears from the face of man, this age-long wrong [capitalism] must be overthrown. If the mission of Jesus is ever to get the upper hand in human affairs, the social revolution must come to pass… There is no deliverance for captives unless this social captivity is ended. There is no setting at liberty the people that are bruised unless this age-long bruising machinery is stopped. If we are ever to call the poor and the maimed and the halt to the banquet of creation, the program of the revolution must be inaugurated.”

* * *

Viola

On a completely irrelevant note, Wilson’s daughter Gladys, billed as Viola Barry, appeared in 29 silent films between 1911 and 1916.

The Reluctance of Jabes Pond

Today, Jabes Pond is thought of as a hikers’ destination, a quiet spot to kayak, and an early source of drinking water for the Silver Bay Association. But its past is not without some drama.

Game Protector

On October 16, 1932, on a chilly autumn day, Game Protector Paul DuCuennois was patrolling Jabes Pond when his canoe sprang a leak. He rose and tried to walk to the other end of the craft, perhaps to raise the leaky spot above the water, but the boat capsized and he tumbled into the pond. Although the young man was a strong swimmer, he apparently could not fight the sudden shock of the cold and the weight of his soaked clothing.

DuCuennois was just 21 years old. On the job for less than a year, he had already received threats from hunters, who found him overly conscientious, and so there were rumors of foul play. But two witnesses – Charles Foote and Wilson Putnam – came forward and said they had seen him capsize, although they were too far away to come to his aid. An autopsy would help to establish what had happened, but for that the coroner needed the body, and Jabes Pond seemed reluctant to let it go.

The day after the drowning was reported, 50 searchers and 350 spectators (it was a Sunday) hiked up the muddy, two-mile trail. Men in two rowboats attempted to locate the body using grappling hooks. Next came dynamite; the “powder man” said that a body usually rises six to ten hours after underwater blasting; that didn’t work either.

Stephen LaFort of Schnectady donned diving apparatus but found only 12 inches of mud and swirling silt on the pond’s bottom. In the days that followed, seven more rowboats were carried up the mountain, as were two outboard motors. A raft for the diver and his crew was built from lumber and oil drums, and a generator was brought up to power an underwater search light. After two weeks, everything had failed, and the work crews, who by now had built a camp to live in, tried to drain Jabes Pond. But it was not a bathtub.

The sages on the shore said the body was probably trapped under a ledge, or that the cold water had prevented the body from rising. At last, on the twenty-seventh day, Charles Foote, using a homemade contrivance of fish hooks attached to a window sash weight, felt a snag.  He had created the device to cope with the narrow gorges and crevices that make up the bottom of Jabes Pond, and indeed he had found the body in 80 feet of water.

The remains of Paul DuCuennois were brought to the surface and carried down the two-mile trail to the Swain undertaking parlors in North Creek. An autopsy was performed, and three doctors found no evidence of foul play. The young Game Protector was laid to rest at last.