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Archive for April, 2010

Fonthill

Doylestown, Pa.

Henry Chapman Mercer home

“Fonthill”

84 South Pine Street

So I’m sitting in the vet’s office, waiting for my dog, Lucy, who’s in the back getting an X-ray. (Don’t worry – she’s okay.) And they only have two magazines to read – Parents and Bark. Since I’m not a parent (well, not of a child, at least), I pick up Bark and start thumbing through it. It’s one of those content-light glossies crammed with pictures of cute dogs, the kind that make you say “Aw-w-w” right out loud.

I get to an article called “A Dog’s Castle: Delightful Discovery in Doylestown,” and suddenly I’m interested enough to read more than the first paragraph. The story is about Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930), a rich guy who, in the 1910s, built a concrete castle for himself called Fonthill, which is today a big tourist draw in Doylestown. The author of the article talked about how cold the castle seemed to her, until she learned more about Mercer. “He may have been a bachelor and an eccentric,” Sally Silverman wrote,” “but he also was an avid dog lover and advocate for all creatures.” That’s when my gaydar started going off, so I read on: “Mercer was a private man and destroyed much of the personal information that might have given historians a window into his life…” Ding ding ding ding ding!

Fonthill is apparently something to see, with 44 rooms, 32 stairwells, 200 windows, and 18 fireplaces. It’s filled with pottery and tiles, which Mercer collected. It turns out that he was also an antiquarian and archaeologist, a founding member of the Bucks County Historical Society, and the founder of the Mercer Museum and the Moravian Tile Works, both also in Doylestown. When I got home from the vet, I tried to locate any source that suggested he was gay, but all I could find was a small reference to him in Will Fellows’ excellent book, A Passion to Preserve: Gay Men as Keepers of Culture.

Mercer deserves more study by gay scholars, although probably much of what we would have found useful was in those files he destroyed (as did so many other queer personages of the past). I did find a reference to his having come down with gonorrhea after a trip to Europe as a young man (and the suggestion that that was why he never married). If anyone has other information about Mercer, I’d love to hear about it.

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Here’s a cool story out of Kansas City, where the city’s museum is teaming with the county historical society and the University of Missouri-Kansas City library to begin collecting LGBT artifacts, documents, and oral histories. The new archive will fabulously be known as GLAMA – or Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America. Check out this story about it in the most recent issue of CAMP, K.C.’s queer publication. If you have stories or items related to LGBT history of mid-America, contact Stuart Hinds of the UMKC Miller Nichols Library at hindss@umkc.edu.

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Young Cole

New Haven, Conn.

Cole Porter residence

242 York Street

While an undergraduate at Yale University from 1909 to 1914, Cole Porter (1891-1964) lived at this location in a single room in Garland Lodging House, which is no longer extant. From his home in Indiana, young Cole arrived in New Haven with a wardrobe of checked suits, pink and yellow shirts, and salmon-colored ties, which he considered proper Ivy League attire but which made him stand out like the proverbial sore thumb.  Luckily, he also brought a battered upright piano. To win over his more genteel, upper-crust Yankee classmates, Porter composed and performed songs with droll, uniquely rhymed lyrics. His earliest known compositions for which he wrote both music and lyrics were “Bridget McGuire” and “When the Summer Moon Comes ‘Long.” He also wrote Yale-themed songs, like “Bull Dog” and “Bingo Eli Yale,” many of which included the names of the young men whose companionship he craved. His close and longtime friendship with actor Monty Woolley dated from their Yale days.

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Me (left) and Katie

In looking through some old photos, I found one of me and my partner Katie in 1992, when we were newly a couple and took our first trip together, to visit friends in L.A. Apparently, I was crazy for queer sites even then, as my friend snapped a shot of us paying homage to the cement hand- and footprints of Joan Crawford in the famous forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Click here for a guide to other stars’ signatures at Grauman’s.

I love playing bitches. There’s a lot of bitch in every woman – a lot in every man.”

-Joan Crawford

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Thanks to Steven Reigns of The Gay Rub, I had enough materials to go out into the field yesterday and do a rubbing of artist Andy Warhol’s tombstone. If you missed my post about Steven’s project, click here. Directly behind me in the photo is the grave of Andy’s parents.

And here’s what the decorations and mementos on Andy’s grave look like right now. In addition to the soup cans and Coke bottles, someone left an envelope of their writing at the side of the stone, and there’s a plastic egg for Easter, too. For more about Andy, see my earlier post.

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Sylvia Beach at her bookshop

Princeton, N.J.

Sylvia Beach grave

Princeton Cemetery

Greenview Avenue and Humbert Street

Born in Baltimore and raised in a Presbyterian parsonage in Bridgeton, N.J., Nancy Woodridge Beach changed her name to Sylvia when she was a teenager. While her minister father was associate pastor of the American Church in Paris from 1902-1905, young Sylvia determined that she would someday live in the French capital. During World War I, she and her sister took off for Europe to volunteer for the Red Cross, and Sylvia lived the rest of her life abroad.

Beach (1887-1962) is one of the best known of the American expatriates of the early 20th century, and the founder of the bookstore Shakespeare and Company. The store was the first English-language bookshop on Paris’ Left Bank, serving as a literary center, lending library, and publishing company for the years between the two wars, with such frequent visitors as Gertrude Stein, Natalie Barney, Andre Gide, Ezra Pound, and Bryher. Beach is remembered in the literary canon as the publisher of numerous editions of James Joyce’s Ulysses, which American presses considered too radical a text to publish. She immortalized her store and the expatriate literary circle in a memoir called Shakespeare and Company (1959).

Beach was a confirmed liberal and a woman with a strong anti-Fascist reputation. The Nazis closed her shop in 1941, and interned her for six months as an “enemy alien.” After the war, she did not reopen the shop, but continued to lend books from her apartment.

The love of Beach’s life was Adrienne Monnier, a Frenchwoman who owned a bookshop called La Maison des Amis des Livres (literally, the House of Friends of Books), directly across the street from Shakespeare and Company. Beach and Monnier lived together from 1920 to 1936, when Monnier’s affair with another women caused them to separate. Still (in true lesbian fashion), they remained friends until Monnier’s death in 1955, having dinner together most evenings. Though Beach lived most of her life abroad, she is buried in this Princeton cemetery with her family.

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