Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Harpo Marx Stayed (and Spoke) Here

Many of us know that Groucho Marx lived in a home on Lincoln Road in Thomaston for several years, but did you know that Harpo Marx also lived in Great Neck for a short time?
According to a September 26, 1930 Great Neck News article, Arthur Adolph Marx, better known as Harpo Marx, thought he had rented the Great Neck home of Major Henry Holthusen in the summer of 1930, only to discover that Mrs. Holthusen had not been made aware of this arrangement.  Being a good sport, and understanding that her husband had promised the house to the illustrious Mr. Marx, Mrs. Holthusen apparently allowed Harpo to stay on for at least a month.  It should come as no surprise that the elder Marx Brother, Harpo, would want to summer in the same town as his younger brother, Groucho.  The Brothers Marx and their families were known to socialize together.

As with many old Great Neck News articles, "Presenting Arthur Marx," by Kay Mott, was written in a lighthearted tone, playing up the idea that Great Neck had become the home and meeting place of many rich and famous people - actors, producers, writers, Vaudevillians, politicians, merchants, financiers, and investors.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

We Owe You: One Horse - the Great Neck Library Board of Trustees, circa 1941-46

The Local History Room recently added to its collection the library's oldest existing records - Board of Trustees minutes, correspondence, and ledgers from 1894 to 1949. 
Previously, these documents had been kept in the library's safe, but it was thought they'd be better preserved, and more accessible to the public, if they were kept in the Local History Room, where they are now stored in a fireproof cabinet.  As we reviewed these materials for description, we came across some interesting documents that shed light on just how much Great Neck, and the library, have changed over the years.  For instance, a page at the beginning of the January 1941 - November 1946 board journal is entitled "List of Loans to the Great Neck Library."  In addition to some furniture and artwork, including a painting by the famous artist Childe Hassam, lent by one Robert Tarleton, this document notes that Mrs. Roswell Eldridge* once lent the library a horse.  You may wonder what the library needed a horse for in the 1940's - hauling, plowing, teaching kids about life on the farm?  Your guess is as good as ours.  Of course, it is possible, even probable, that Mrs. Eldridge lent the library the kind of horse that the American Heritage Dictionary describes as "a frame or device, usually with four legs, used for supporting or holding," but we prefer to imagine a large equine mammal grazing and frolicking on the grounds of the old Great Neck Library at 14 Arrandale Avenue.
This first page of the January 1941 - November 1946 Library Board journal lists "Loans to the Great Neck Library."  Note that there is no record indicating that the library ever returned the horse lent to it by Mrs. Eldridge.
One of the few pictures we have of Louise Skidmore Udall Eldridge.
* Louise Skidmore Udall Eldridge probably played the single greatest role in shaping modern Great Neck.  She came from two old, established families of Great Neck and Long Island, the Udalls and the Skidmores.  After her husband Roswell died, Mrs. Eldridge became mayor of the Village of Saddle Rock.  At the time, she was the first female mayor of a village in the State of New York.  She served as mayor from 1926 until her death in 1947.  Mrs. Eldridge was tremendously active in, and important to, the civic and community development and improvement of the Great Neck peninsula.  She was a dynamic, driving force in the founding, early administration, and trusteeship of the Great Neck Library, the Great Neck Park District, the Great Neck Schools, the Village of Saddle Rock, local health services organizations, and the Great Neck Society for Social and Educational Advancement.  Her desire and commitment to helping provide Great Neck with all the services and amenities that a modern community could need seemed to know no bounds.  Before and during her mayoralty of Saddle Rock, she served as an officer on the boards of numerous governmental, charity, and municipal organizations.  She donated funds, land, and endowments to numerous municipal and charitable groups, both public and private, and was thus instrumental in the development of both government and non-government services and infrastructure on the Great Neck peninsula.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Welcome to the Great Neck Library's Local History Blog

As we add new and interesting materials to the Local History Collection at the library, we will post entries on this blog about them.  For instance . . .

Pursuant to a patron request for information on an old Kings Point estate, we discovered that Hamilton Easter Field (1873–1922), a prominent artist, patron of the arts, gallery owner, arts publisher, and supporter of early American modernism, once lived in Great Neck.  Hamilton Easter Field lived with his parents and his brother, Herbert Haviland Field, in a large, waterfront estate called Ardsley (possibly spelled Ardesley), which sat at the end of Red Brook Road.  The family lived at Ardsley between the 1890’s and 1910’s (we have yet to determine exact dates for their residence in Great Neck).  Hamilton's parents, Aaron Field and Lydia Seaman Haviland Field were prominent Quakers.  Aaron Field could trace his family tree in the New World back to Robert Field, who came from York England to Massachusetts in 1630.  Works by Hamilton Easter Field are in the collection of The Brooklyn Museum (see 2nd link below). The Hamilton Easter Field Art Foundation Collection, which contains works created and collected by Mr. Field, is kept at The Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine (see 1st link below).  Hamilton Easter Field is perhaps best remembered today as an early supporter of the American modernist movement.  He wrote extensively about the movement, collected the work of other early American modernists, showed their work, arranged shows for them, and generally helped them out, finding them work and patrons, and even housing and feeding them.

The Hamilton Easter Field Art Foundation Collection at The Portland Museum of Art

Hamilton Easter Field works in the Brooklyn Museum 

Hamilton Easter Field, Self-Portrait, circa 1898, oil on panel, 24" x 18", in the The Hamilton Easter Field Art Foundation Collection, Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine.