Gone

Our garden on East Austin Street is no stranger to theft. For two summers now someone has been cutting flowers for his or her private pleasure, including half a flourishing poppy with its blossoms neatly shaved off on one side. No doubt, the thief does not give much thought to the visual effect of this larceny, to the lost pleasure of everyone who passes by in the days that follow, or to the feelings of my wife, whose garden means a great deal to her.

But during Holy Week, garden theft was raised to a new level. Our statue of St. Francis was stolen. “Perhaps someone needed an Easter gift for his mother,” my wife said, without a trace of humor. I don’t know what home St. Francis has gone to, but his new owners should know something about him. The date on which his birth and death are remembered is October 4th, my wife’s birthday. She has been to Assisi to see where St. Francis lived and died. This statue was a gift to my wife from her mother. For 12 years, St. Francis has stood in our garden reminding our neighbors, friends and visitors of a gentle, forgiving man who loved nature.

St. Francis is most widely known, perhaps, by the prayer attributed to him, which in English begins:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.

I have no doubt St. Francis would forgive the person who stole his statue from our garden. I am not such a good sport, and it’s going to take some time.

Florence Short

Actress Florence Short visited Skaneateles at least twice, in 1917 and 1920, staying with her cousin, Letitia (Cornell) Herrling, the wife of Walter Herrling, our postmaster. Although the Skaneateles newspaper accounts do not make it clear whether Short stayed at the Herrling home in the village or at the Cornell/Herrling families’ Ramona Lodge on the lake, she was very much a star when she visited here and was “widely entertained in the village and in Syracuse.”

Born in 1889, Short appeared in 28 silent films between 1914 and 1924, and nine Broadway plays between 1913 and 1933. She was the daughter of actors Lew and Estelle Short, and sister to Gertrude and Antrim Short, actors as well. And she was a cousin to Blanche Sweet, a leading lady of the Silents.

Florence Short played supporting roles mainly, but she worked with some fascinating people. In 1917 and 1918, she made two films – When You and I Were Young and The Great Adventure – with Alice Guy, who came to New York City from France and was the first woman to direct feature films. Also in 1918, she played a spy, Madame Augusta Stephan, in The Eagle’s Eye, a serial filmed in Ithaca, N.Y., at the Wharton brothers’ studio. The 20 episodes included titles like “The Kaiser’s Death Messenger,” “The Invasion of Canada” and “The Great Hindu Conspiracy.”

In 1920, Short made three films with legendary director D.W. Griffith: The Idol Dancer, The Love Flower, and Way Down East. In 1921, she made two films – Woman’s Place and Lessons in Love – with actress Constance Talmadge. (Lessons in Love played at Legg Hall in August of 1921, and Short got top billing with Talmadge.) And in 1922, she made Silver Wings for a young director named Jack Ford, who became better known as John Ford.

Florence Short is perhaps best remembered as one of the first identifiable lesbian characters on screen: the “eccentric aunt’ to Lillian Gish in Griffith’s Way Down East. In the words of film historian Anthony Slide, “Her appearance, her demeanor, and the manner in which she fusses with Gish’s clothing scream lesbian.” Indeed, in the scenes in which Short’s character unbuttons Gish’s dress and then adjusts the bodice of its filmy replacement, Lillian Gish probably did not have to extend herself to appear flustered.

* * *

Images of Florence Short from The Enchanted Cottage (1924) and Way Down East (1920) from YouTube. Also,“Author and Actors Enjoy Rest at Skaneateles” Syracuse Post-Standard, September 12, 1917; “The Silent Closet” by Anthony Slide in Film Quarterly, Summer 1999.

Book Update

Many people have been kind enough to ask how the book is doing. Happily, we have sold 860 copies so far, and have 240 in store for the summer visitors. You can find it at the Creamery Museum on Hannum Street, at Creekside Books and Coffee and at Amazon.com. I am delighted to have readers in England, Italy, Japan and Mexico, as well as many states of the Union. Life is good.

Also, if you’re looking for a novel written in 1997 about a hapless librarian on the run from the mob, you can find my Having a Wonderful Time in a Kindle version.

Gene Sarazen

You may ask who the best golfer to ever play at the Skaneateles Country Club might be, and the answer is easy: Gene Sarazen.

Gene Sarazen (1902-1999) was one of the world’s top players in the 1920s and 1930s. He was the first to win the Grand Slam: the U.S. Open (1922, ‘32), the PGA Championship (1922, ’23, ’33), the British Open (1932) and The Masters (1935). Only four others have been able to do that: Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Sarazen was that good.

On Saturday morning, September 13, 1947, Sarazen came to Skaneateles with Bob Borth and Bob Bahr of General Electric; he had a long-standing relationship with GE, including golf outings with Charles Wilson (President/CEO) and Philip Reed (Chairman of the Board). Billie Richards, the SCC steward, made the arrangements for the game, and SCC pro Dick Govern rounded out the foursome.

Sarazen drew a gallery as word of his presence spread through the village, and by the final holes, he had a large and appreciative audience, including Hobart Weeks, the Club champion in 1931 and ‘33.  When the last ball went down, Sarazen had carded a 68, and Club pro Dick Govern had a 69.

Before retiring to the clubhouse for lunch with James Huxford, the Club’s president, Sarazen told reporters that Dick Govern had “as solid a game as he’d ever seen.”

Golf is clearly good for you. Gene Sarazen and Dick Govern both lived to be 97.