The Monster Kite of Spear Paine

Shortly after the 4th of July, 1895, young Harrington Spear Paine was preparing a colossal surprise for Silver Bay and Lake George: a kite fifteen feet tall, which he intended to fly, attach to a boat, and be pulled up or down the lake depending upon how the wind blew. A New York newspaper noted that Paine “expects to astonish the natives.”

His fascination with kites continued. In July of 1897, with two classmates from Princeton, he was experimenting at Silver Bay with tailless kites and also preparing to try “kite photography.”

The son of Silas and Mary Paine of Silver Bay, Spear Paine was enjoying the fruits of his father’s labors as a highly placed executive with Standard Oil. In the autumn, he would return to Princeton, where he dined with “The Navajos,” served as secretary and treasurer of the University Gun Club, was tapped for Cap & Gown as an upperclassman, and graduated in 1898. His classmates would later remember him for his “fine character, manliness, cheerfulness, generosity.”

Sagamore Regatta

Summering at Lake George in 1898, he competed in the Sagamore Regatta, taking first prize in the swimming race and Gentlemen’s Singles rowing, and second in the “Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Doubles.”

In the years that followed, Spear Paine remained active in Princeton alumni affairs, joined the University Club in New York City, the Amateur Billiards Club, and the Fox Hill Golf Club on Staten Island, and was “connected with Standard Oil.” He lived at New York’s Ansonia residential hotel, where the living quarters featured multiple bedrooms, parlors, libraries, formal dining rooms, high ceilings and bay windows with sweeping views north and south along Broadway. The hotel also had tearooms, restaurants, a grand ballroom, a Turkish bath and a lobby fountain with live seals.


At Silver Bay, Spear Paine enjoyed piloting his steam launch, the Oneita, and in all ways, it seems, he enjoyed the good life. However, it was a life cut short. In 1918, at the age of 42, he died suddenly at the Ansonia in New York City.

To honor Spear Paine’s memory, his parents established the Silver Bay School, a private boys school, with a gift of $100,000 in 1918. The school remained active until 1935 when the financial pressures of the Great Depression forced its closure.

But another legacy of Spear Paine lives on. When Mary Paine sold off the last of her Silver Bay property, she used the money to create the Harrington Spear Paine Foundation, which endows a Professorship in Religion at Princeton. (There had been at least one previous religious donation in Spear Paine’s name: In 1885, while living in Cleveland, Ohio, the nine-year-old lad donated $1 to support the Pacific voyages of the Morning Star missionary ship.)

Today, Princeton’s Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion is Elaine Pagels, a teacher, scholar and author of several books, and most notably an authority on the Gnostic Gospels.

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Note: The kite stories come from “At Placid Lake George” in The (New York) Press, July 7, 1895 and “Lake George Has a Rescue,” July 11, 1897 in The New York Herald.


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