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Life Arts    H4'ed 9/30/18

An Era That Has Gone XI

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   3 comments, In Series: An Era That Has Gone
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Copyright 2018 by Peter Duveen. All rights reserved.

Early Autumn is an ideal season for lovers to tie the knot to a more permanent union. The stillness of the air, the glow of sunshine, which still retains its embracing warmth, the lush greenery, its characteristic hue betraying only a hint of changing colors sure to be manifest in the days to come. Valdemar and Herbert knew the families, which were both veritable fixtures of Bellport Long Island society, and chose to make the journey, whatever the cost in time and effort, feeling an obligation to the young lady, whom they had known so well as she grew from toddler to maturity. This was an important day for her. And the two men were like uncles, for she had known and loved both as almost blood relations. Thus, Val brought his wife, and the three clamored aboard a Long Island Railway car at Jamaica, New York, destined to make stops on Long Island's South Shore.

Christ Episcopal Church, Bellport, L.I.
Christ Episcopal Church, Bellport, L.I.
(Image by Peter Duveen)
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Eleanor, the bride, had lost her dad in recent memory, and was living with her mother and her mother's new husband, T. Mortimer Lloyd, a physician of some accomplishment and certainly of wealth. The groom was Theodore Everitt, son of John D. Everitt, a businessman who had carved out a career in finance and who was now heading up a New Jersey bank, along with fulfilling duties on the boards of a number of companies. Although hailing from Orange, New Jersey, the Fieldses maintained close ties to Bellport, where they summered every year.

Bellport being a quiet but festive community, family members drawn from the four quarters of the earth for the marriage ceremony there, along with the many guests who originally hailed from the enclave, found themselves in one another's company, and were generally quite happy to see each other. The attractiveness of the village as a summer resort was likely responsible for the vast chain of events that ultimately brought the suitor and the courted together.

After just short of an hour's train ride, the Henshaws disembarked and were greeted by a bevy of taxi drivers who had gathered at the station to take advantage of the expected throngs coming from the metropolitan area and beyond to be part of the festivities. A driver quickly huddled the Henshaws into his vehicle, and in five minutes they were dropped off at the gate of the church, where, in the embracing sunshine of the day, ribbons had been strung above a well-manicured, freshly cut lawn to mark off a path for the married-couple-to be, straight up to the church's entrance. This would afford our trio with a particularly close encounter with the celebrated pair as they passed with their bridal party.

The church itself was packed to capacity, while the substantial overflow of guests milling about the lawn consisted primarily of beautifully attired old-time church members, many of whom Valdemar and Herbert recognized as Sunday regulars, including some who were close neighbors of the Henshaws when they summered at Bellport years ago. Greetings and waves of recognition from afar were exchanged as the Henshaws took a place about fifty feet from the church's entrance. It was then that, like a north wind, the bridal party emerged from three luxurious automobiles and, somewhat clumsily but in good humor, began their trek to the altar. Unescorted and in her early twenties, the bride was the ideal complement to the soft breeze and sunshine that bathed the entire scene.

"Miss Field, it is no exaggeration to say, made an uncommonly distingue and charming bride, being a tall, graceful girl, and carrying herself with the utmost self-possession and without the least suggestion of self-consciousness," Herbert would later write in Brooklyn Life, describing the occasion.

Eleanor's bridal dress was made from a free-flowing, almost gossamer, white crepe, and bespeckled with pearls and crystals that glistened in the soft sunshine, followed by a long train of the same fabric lined with satin. A little girl kept the train from snagging on any intervening obstacles as the team trotted forward. Immediately following came the rest of the bridal party, each member of which was competitively decked out in splendor. The bridesmaid wore a gown of sea-green crepe with ostrich feathers at the borders, a cinnamon brown lace hat and slippers of brown satin. Her flowing garb was stunningly complemented by the bouquet of bright yellow roses she hugged closely while navigating the way to the church door. Friends of the groom, including the best man, were handsomely dressed, and the parading entourage, including the groom, his parents, and Eleanor's mother, were quickly swallowed into the church's entrance.

It then became a waiting game for those outside the church, but not a very long one. Only 40 minutes later, the party re-emerged, with rice being flung across the path of the newly wedded bride and groom as they almost danced to their motor car. The entire party of guests was not shewed away, but rather directed to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd--a beautiful edifice that once served as a school, but which the Lloyds had moved to the opposite side of the road and renovated into a sumptuous and roomy residence, without destroying the original character of the building. While conversing with fellow attendees of the celebratory gathering, the Henshaws dined on a delicious arrangement of lamb, potatoes and an assortment of vegetables, all cooked to perfection by a chef on the premises, with the assistance of four or five helpers. And by the time they paid their respects to the newly wedded couple and their parents, it was already time for the couple's departure.

The newlyweds boarded a rickety, barely seaworthy craft captained by a family friend who took them across a stretch of Long Island Sound, the waves lapping frantically against the boat's sides and splashing the couple's delightfully incongruous garb. Having survived this ordeal, the craft alternately approached and floated away from the dock where they were to disembark, in keeping with the humorous antics generally reserved as taunts to the newly married couple. Once on land, and anxious to make their departure after the arduous ordeal at sea, they quickly realized that the tires of the automobile that had been readied for their honeymoon excursion had been slashed, the "hump hump hump" of the wheels alternating with the customary cans clanking against the pavement as they attempted their escape to marital bliss.

Weddings such as these were important occasions for the tightly knit community of Bellport vacationers, many of whom hailed from Brooklyn. They were among the few occasions available for old friends to rub elbows in the midst of their very busy social and professional schedules.

Back in Brooklyn, the weather slowly, imperceptibly cooled, and as a few leaves on each tree seemed to pale or turn color, the signal was sent to the denizens of the Heights and environs that a new musical season was upon them. Brooklyn hosted a vibrant classical repertoire each year. It included performances of the Boston Symphony under famed conductor Serge Koussevitzky, and featuring such artists as pianist-composer Serge Rachmaninoff and violinist Yahudi Menuin, among many others whose names we would still recognize today as having achieved stellar accomplishments in their artistic disciplines and who would become fixtures of the concert circuit for decades to come. Several opera companies pitched their wares through the press. New York had its own symphony, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music was as well-stocked with a line-up of world-class performers for the season as any venue in Manhattan. This, together with the regular theater-going market, which had an ample number of venues in Brooklyn to suit their moderately well-to-do clientele, and one can grasp that the cultural scene in Brooklyn, if ebbing from the days when it was an independent city, was still vibrant.

The visual arts also have their showcases in the form of studios scattered among the various enclaves throughout the borough, and in numerous public or semi-public spaces where artists could display their works on a regular basis. The Brooklyn Museum served in this capacity, as did the Pratt Institute of Art, but more informal settings such as banks, restaurants and private clubs were engaged in similar efforts to afford artists with opportunities to broadcast their accomplishments. One of the more prominent of these settings, at least for the Brooklyn Heights crowd, was the Neighborhood Club's rooms, which aside from an exhibition space for paintings by contemporary artists, also served as a destination where speakers could pitch topics on the arts, philosophy, science, current events, or whatever struck the fancy of the managers. It was there that Cornelia was invited to attend a remarkable art exhibition, "Drawings of Christ."

Jean Parke, the artist/mystic, was touring the country with her show of pastels. The drawings were being displayed at the Neighborhood show as part of its seasonal inauguration of monthly shows, usually by local artists, but in this particular case, two prominent Heights residents were sponsoring the show. Mrs. R. Edson Doolittle was a lecturer on art, and her husband headed his own company in mass advertising and graphics. A member of the Church of the Neighbor, Mrs. Doolittle been attracted to the mystical nature of Jean Parke's works, which had begun to take shape on a Good Friday of two and a half years earlier. At first Parke's meditations were expressed in lines of poetry that quickly found a publisher. But it wasn't until August of that year that her first graphic representations took shape. There were seven drawings in all, but visitors to the exhibition at the Neighborhood Club would only see wisps or hints of a drawing, as if the image of Christ had made an apparition on the paper. Among those present for the opening of the show was the painter Robert Wickenden, who was particularly intrigued by the religious overtones of these drawings, which he likened to the studies made by Leonardo Da Vinci upon which were based the figures in Da Vinci's famous work, "The Last Supper."

Gazing meditatively at each rendering--for it was apparent they were created to provoke such a meditative mood--Cornelia was captivated by its ethereal content, but being hemmed in by a small gathering of art admirers; whenever her consciousness began to travel to another world and another time, she would be abruptly lurched back to reality by the remarks of another admirer of the works. One of these interrupters was Paolo Abbate, a sculptor from Torrington, Connecticut, who doubled as a Christian minister. The lean, dark-haired, bearded Italian cut a striking figure among those present. The Rev. Abbate was active in his artistic profession, having many installations around Connecticut and environs to his credit. He ran a painting school/art gathering place out of his home, and in his trips to New York, was said to rub elbows with the likes of famed operatic tenor Enrico Caruso. Headed into his 40th year on the planet, he had no trouble striking up a conversation with the attractive and talkative Cornelia, and shared his own thoughts about Parke's art work, no doubt in complimentary terms, as it reflected the religious overtones that resonated with one who, besides his activities in the art world, placed the appellation "Reverend" before his name. Among the other guests to view the exhibition were luminaries of the Church of the Neighbor, who were delighted to be hosting such a high-profile exhibition with spiritual overtones.

Parke had vowed to make a special appearance to explain her work, and true to her promise, she arrived promptly at the Neighborhood Club the following Monday evening. In a presentation, perhaps more brief than the expectant gathering would have hoped for, Parke spoke of the presence of "the Christ attribute of God," and how this attribute was the characteristic of all humanity, even those who think of themselves as sinners. Parke said she hoped people would recognize the "Christ" in themselves, and see it manifest in those around them. This was the sort of expressive vision of spirituality that Cornelia craved. She had been steeped in the Episcopal tradition from youth, but never quite embraced the organized approach to her relationship to God, which she thought should be a natural progression of the values she practiced in everyday life. Parke opened a new dimension for Cornelia, its lasting traces undoubtedly to be felt long after. Interestingly, Parke and her husband became better known as the parents of the star of stage and screen, Celeste Holm.

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Born in New York, March 14, 1949. Staff writer for the New York City Tribune, Economic Growth Report, Register-Star. Presently publish on OpEd News. Mr. Duveen heads up a project known as "The Museum of Brooklyn Art and Culture,' which explores (more...)

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