Borodino Honey

In 1897, R.B. Leahy of Higginsville, Missouri, traveled across the U.S. by rail, passing through Washington D.C. and New York City, to visit with Gilbert M. Doolittle in Borodino. Mr. Leahy was the editor of The Progressive Bee-Keeper, and Mr. Doolittle was perhaps the most learned bee-keeper in the country. In New York, the traveler met his first challenge, writing “On arriving at the New York Central depot, I had but five minutes in which to purchase my ticket for Skaneateles. All the morning I had had some apprehension as to whether or not I would be able to pronounce the word so the ticket agent would understand me.”

Happily, Mr. Leahy survived this first test, and after transferring to “a little slow-poke railroad” at Skaneateles Junction, he found himself in Skaneateles proper. He had missed the coach to Borodino, but was told he could take the steamer to the Borodino landing, climb a considerable hill and then walk a mile to Borodino itself. And so he did.

In Borodino, Mr. Leahy had the good fortune to find Mrs. Doolittle, just come into the village for her mail, and she told him to “get right in the buggy” and drove him to his destination, “a beautiful place ornamented with hives of bees, trees, flowers, and all else that adds beauty and comfort to a home.”  Remembering his arrival, Leahy wrote, “Bro. Doolittle came out from among the bee hives, and extended me such a welcome that it made me feel thrice glad that I had come so far to see him.”

Gilbert M. Doolittle was the author of Scientific Queen-Rearing and a world-respected authority on bee culture. Leahy’s visit was as much a pilgrimage as an interview opportunity. The two men compared notes, including the trials of answering letters from would-be bee keepers. “It makes me very tired sometimes, but I try to answer all such letters,” Doolittle said. “We are here for the good we can do, and if we know something that will be useful to our fellow-men, we should impart that knowledge to them as long as health and strength will permit.”

“At a late hour,” Leahy writes, “Bro. Doolittle, lamp in hand, showed me up to bed. The room was a pleasant one, overlooking the bee yard, and through the open windows the fragrant air and the musical song of the bees came stealing in. I blew out the light, and sat down on the floor by one of the windows. Perhaps I sat there for an hour, enjoying the peaceful presence, and watching the stars twinkling between the leaves of the trees as the gentle wind swayed the branches to and fro.”

The following day was devoted to the bees, but before leaving, Leahy learned a bit more about his host. Three squirrels on the farm, who Doolittle referred to as “Daisy,” “Fawn” and “Gladstone,” came to the farm house each morning for breakfast, and were so gentle they would sit on Doolittle’s lap as he fed them. The afternoon of his departure, Leahy was given another ride in the Doolittle buggy, and caught the steamer at the Borodino landing. In closing, he wrote, “When the boat came along, I boarded her, and went back over the lake, while Doolittle went back over the hill. May we live to meet again by that beautiful lake — if not for his benefit, for mine.”

* * *

— From the April, May and June 1898 issues of The Progressive Bee-Keeper, written and edited by R.B. Leahy.

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