Category Archives: thanatos

v2.0 sent off to Blurb

Montparnasse56

I’ve been revising my cemeteries/graveyards book, yclept Remembered, and just sent it off to Blurb for a test print. It’s the first I’ve composed with InDesign (and yes, I DID finally solve the vexatious Adobe/Amazon snaggle, by getting my “subscription” via Adobe, a deal with Lucifer himself… but not without many calls to Customer Service and much grinding of back teeth). Remembered v2.0 can be downloaded (it’s a BIG file, a pdf of 150 pages) by any enthusiasts out there. I’m sure it will be further revised once I can see it in print, and in the light of future skulkings in graveyards.

Bancroft and Tyszkiewicz

For the last few days I’ve been transfixed by a skein of mysteries connected to a grave site in Père Lachaise:
Clara's tomb
The questions at issue have changed as I’ve excavated bits of fact and built new conjectures from successive discoveries, and I need to go beyond the summary I’ve been writing for the currently-under-development v2.0 of Remembered: a graveyard book v1.0. The actors in this particular drama are:

  • Clara Elizabeth Peabody Bancroft (1826-1882), the lady of the statue
  • Edward Payson Bancroft (1823-1865), her husband
  • Elizabeth Bancroft Tyszkiewicz (1857-1883), their daughter (also known as Klara Elżbieta Tyszkiewicz – Łohojska)
  • Count Benoit [Benedyk Henryk] Tyszkiewicz (1852-1935), husband of Elizabeth Bancroft Tyszkiewicz
  • their children Benedykt Jan Tyszkiewicz (1875-1948), Edward Tyszkiewicz (1880-1951), and Elizabeth Marie Tyszkiewicz Plater-Zybeck (1882-1969)
  • …and several other relatives of the above

The dates of death of the first three are the armature of the unfolding saga: it seems that Edward and Clara Bancroft were touring Europe in 1865, when Edward died in Naples (of what we don’t know, but he was subsequently interred in Mount Auburn cemetery). Clara herself was a wealthy widow when she died in Paris in 1882, and her daughter Elizabeth inherited a bundle but died in Switzerland in 1883, but (according to the plaque on Clara’s monument) her last wishes were that her mother’s tomb include a statue depicting her strewing roses:

Son gendre et ses petits enfants pour accomplir les dernières volontés de sa fille la comtesse Tyszkiewicz ont élevé ce monument témoignage d’un vieux souvenir

Her son-in-law and grandchildren, to fulfill the last wishes of her daughter the countess Tyszkiewicz, have raised this monument in witness of an old memory

The very opulence of the statue is reason enough to inquire further, but it’s as difficult to know where to start as when to stop the inquiry. Among the questions that arise (and that Google isn’t quite helpful enough with): how did Clara Peabody (a daughter of a mildly distinguished New Hampshire family) and Edward Bancroft (a very young Boston “broker”, possibly of stocks but maybe of Civil War-era cotton) meet and come to marry? What made the considerable fortune that Clara Bancroft inherited on her husband’s death? How did their daughter come to meet and subsequently marry a very young Polish count? Of what did the Countess Tyszkiewicz die (possibly TB? or some after-effects of the birth of her daughter?) and where is she buried? What happened afterwards in the lives of the Count and his children? How did the Count’s estates fare in the catastrophes of 20th century Poland?

As I’ve said in Remembered, this is all the stuff of a story that might be written by Somerset Maugham or Saki, and just the sort of digression that I’m susceptible to. Along the way I’ve been enticed into exploring the worlds of 19th century Polish nobility, Civil War banking in Boston, naval architecture (the Count commissioned the construction of a moderately famous yacht), sugar beets (the Count was evidently deeply involved in their cultivation on his estates in the 1890s), lawsuits (the three Tyszkiewicz children attempting unsuccessfully to get at the principal of their grandmother’s trust fund, of which they were the beneficiaries), and the online versions of the Almanach de Gotha. Each of those raises more questions than it answers, and a passage I read just this morning seems especially trenchant:

Archeology is always an encounter between a fixed past and a shifting present; we bring to it our fantasies, prejudices, and predilections—this year different from last year, next year different again. (Charlotte Higgins, New Yorker blog, 3 June 2016)

The trouble, or perhaps it’s the wonder, or the joy, is that pretty much each photograph in Remembered inspires or demands similar searchings and findings. That being the case, the revision of Remembered is proceeding more slowly than I’d wish.

Siblime and Ridiculous grade into each other

Lowell Cemetery

I spent the weekend in Massachusetts, much of the time skulking in graveyards with intent to depict. Lots of food for thought in my Flickr photostream, as I try to work out where this Remembered project is headed.

I visited the South Duxbury graveyard which was my own introduction to such spaces, probably before 1950.

Myles Standish grave

I remember that I was impressed that Myles Standish was an Ancestor, dead almost 300 years (at the time, he having died in 1656) but still alive and well to me because of the nearby Standish Monument, not half a mile from the place we spent summers in the 40s and 50s, and about the same distance from the site of his house on the shore. Of course there was a healthy dose of bogosity in the whole Longfellow-induced Standishmania thing, but I didn’t know that then.

I stopped to check on the house where I had summered and was astounded to find it gone, replaced by a town-owned park. The vastly ancient cedar tree on the shore is all that remains, and a herd of goats had been brought in to eradicate the infinitude of cat briars that infested the woods when I was last there, probably 8 years ago. It’s a lovely site, and far better that it’s a park than replaced by another of the mogul homes that have sprung up all over Duxbury. Still, it does put one through Changes (as they used to say) to find the world changed out from under. The tree as it was in 1947 is behind the Author:


early yoga

The passing of Billy the Painter

Obituaries are gold mines of socio-cultural Data, especially when one alters the focus from the facts presented about the deceased to the context in which he or she lived. I first started to accumulate Nova Scotia obituaries 35+ years ago, with an eye to demographic details (especially re: migration), and I regret that I was less than systematic in pursuit of these delicious data. My friend Carolyn Littlejohns forwarded this one, a gem of the genre from the Halifax Chronicle-Herald of Thursday Jan 31, replete with Canadianisms and Maritime syntax:


MacDONALD, William Alexander “Billy the Painter” – 88, 17 Sylvan Valley Rd., Antigonish Co., died Tuesday, January 29, 2008, in St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, Antigonish. Born in Antigonish, he was a son of the late James “Jim the Painter” and Jessie Ann (MacRae) MacDonald. Bill received his education at Morrison School, Antigonish, where he also enjoyed playing hockey. He joined the Canadian Army in 1939 and was stationed in Auld’s Cove, St. John’s and Botwood, N.L. In 1943 he went overseas and was seriously wounded in Falaise, France. Upon returning to Canada, Bill was employed as a painter. While painting the R.K. MacDonald Guest Home, the scaffolding collapsed which left him unable to walk. However, with grit and determination, he overcame this obstacle and walked again. He loved hunting, fishing, fly tying, horse racing and playing the bagpipes. He retired from the federal government after over 25 years of service. He was a member of Arras Branch No. 59, Royal Canadian Legion, Antigonish, the Antigonish Pipe Band and St. Ninian’s Parish. Bill will be very much missed by his family, Charlie the cat, and the “boys at the mall”. Surviving are his wife, the former Nan MacPherson; daughters, Barbara, Saudi Arabia; Alexina, Halifax; Lynn (Brian Quinlan), Scarborough, Ont.; son, John (Joy), Antigonish; grandchildren, Jessa, Alexander, Jade, Brooke; brothers, James, Antigonish; Jobie, North Grant, Antigonish Co.; Lewis, Clydesdale, Antigonish Co.; sisters, Mary LaBrosse, Antigonish; Roberta McFadden, Woburn, Mass.; Jessie Sears, Antigonish; a number of nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by sisters, Sarah Lonergan, Gertye MacPherson, Teresa DuFresne; two brothers in infancy. The family would like to give a thank you to the VON and the nurses at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital for their help and support. Visitation 2-4, 7-9 p.m. today in MacIsaac Funeral Home, 61 Pleasant St., Antigonish. Mass of Christian Burial will be Friday at 11 a.m. in St. Ninian’s Cathedral, Antigonish, Rev. Martin MacDougall presiding. Burial at a later date in St. Ninian’s Cemetery. Memorial donations to St. Ninian’s Restoration Fund. (source)

It’s all here: his sibling set stayed in Antigonish, except for a sister who escaped to the Boston States; his children left Antigonish (all but one) for various greener pastures. In an environment where there are scores of people named “William MacDonald” it’s common to have specifiers like “the Painter” (“the Dancer”, “the Piper”) added to make it quite clear which Billy is the focus of a story. If I had nothing else to do, I’d get out the box of collected obits and extract a few more stories…