Helen Hunt Jackson 1865


Author Of A Century Of Dishonor

Helen Hunt In Brattleboro.

People and Scenes of Twenty-five Years Ago Recalled.

It was about twenty years ago that I remember seeing Mrs. Hunt at the old Wesselhoeft Hotel in Brattleboro, Vt, though I had probably seen her earlier, as she, as well as my family, were in the habit of spending the autumn at this place.

In those days Brattleboro was a lively place when the leaves were falling, for it was a resort for many gay people, and the old hotel, that was built for a water-cure establishment, was the scene of private theatricals, tableaux, Jarley's wax-works, hops, and a starting point for picnic parties. I have a faint recollection of some of those gay affairs, probably because it was the first time in my life that I was permitted to be present at any such entertainments; but, although I remember many names and faces that were foremost in these gayeties, I do not remember that Mrs. Hunt took an active part in any of them. Partly from my own recollections, and partly from what I have since learned from my relatives in talking over the occurrences of that autumn, it seems that the New Yorkers must have taken the lead. Miss Kitty Parker, who had a superb voice, and who has since married an Englishman, was there with her sister, Mrs. Balestier, Mrs. Wells and the Misses Finn of New York. The Marquis de Podesta, attached to the Spanish Legation at Washington, was there with his wife, a beautiful American, and their children; some of the Willings of Philadelphia, Miss Mead, sister of Mrs. W. D. Howells, Capt. John Codman, Miss Fuller, niece of Margaret Fuller, and many others.

All these people seemed fond of the gay life of the hotel, but Mrs. Hunt rises before me as I remember her coming into the dining-room in a black gown, her arms filled with boughs of autumn leaves which she was particularly fond of gathering and pressing, having a special way of doing it. Making small articles of birch bark was also a favorite amusement of hers. She sat at one end of the dining table and my family at the other, and in my eyes she was very beautiful.

She had not then made the fame in literature that afterward became hers. In fact, I think she had only just then begun to write--I believe she was forty years old before she wrote a line--and I know from very good authority that just at this time of which I speak some of her work had been rejected by a leading paper, though afterward it was very glad to take it.

For myself, I do not remember hearing her speak, but I know women, who were not fond of her in the least, who testify to her brilliancy and originality in conversation. They say that she could not speak without saying something entirely different from what every other woman would have said.

* * * * * *

I never saw Mrs. Hunt after that autumn, but she remains one of my earliest recollections, and will always be associated in my memory with the rambling old Wesselhoeft Hotel, the gay people there, the autumn weather, and the brilliant foliage that is nowhere more beautiful than it is in Brattleboro.

There were two other women at the hotel for a few days, who, if they have not become as famous as Mrs. Hunt, have earned enviable reputations: One was Sallie Joy, who recited one evening, and who is now the Mrs. White who is the president of the New England Woman's Press Association. The other was Miss Helen Folsom, whose plain black gown I well remember, with a cross at her side, who devoted her large fortune and her energies to founding in this city the Sisterhood of St. John the Baptist, and who died some few years ago. Just previous to the time of which I write, her brother, Geo. W. Folsom, had married one of the beautiful Fuller sisters, nieces of margaret Fuller.

I have been in Brattleboro only once since that autumn, and found the place much changed. The old Wesselhoeft is a tenement house, and fashion moved away from that part of the town to a part that seemed far less attractive to the eyes. The old rambling walks by the stream of water, where seats were placed beneath the trees, were all destroyed to give place to factories of various kinds. Brattleboro was a popular resort with southerners before the war, but after the war they stayed away, and the place changed very much. What it is now socially I do not know, only it must still be beautiful; for no changes can destroy its natural beauties.

Vermont Phoenix, December 12, 1890.

Letter signed "Miss Palfrey" in the New York Star.


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