Tag Archives: Wallingford Connecticut

Chair Drawings

On a 1985 visit to Whirlwind Hill, I needed a calming focus while I spent two weeks with my two young children and my wonderful, but very talkative mother. I decided to draw all the chairs in my parents’ house. I made a good start of it, but I didn’t get very far. Still, it was a good exercise in looking, and I came to appreciate the intricacy and the beauty and the history of this furniture.

The farmhouse living room was a hodgepodge of chairs, sofas, lamps, and tables – some antique, and some not. Above all, the space was comfortable and light – a perfect multi-purpose room. My parents’ living room was also spacious and bright, and some of the furniture in it came from the farm. Chairs were moved around to meet the demands of guests, Christmas trees, pets, and playing children. Below is a photo of the farmhouse living room in the 1950’s.

The farmhouse living room in the 1940's

The farmhouse living room in the 1940’s

Here are a few of the chairs I drew on that 1985 visit. My drawings were too big to scan, so I apologize for the quality of the photos.

The Fancy Chair

With their low pink seats and straight backs, this chair and its mate are rarely used for sitting. They flank the living room fireplace in a rather useless, but decorative manner.

"The Fancy Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Fancy Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

A Wooden Chair

This little wooden chair is also uncomfortable, but it holds a special place in Whirlwind Hill lore because it is very, very old. At least I think it is.

"The Little Wooden Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Little Wooden Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

The Low Rocking Chair

Now that I look at this drawing, I’m trying to place the chair but can’t remember seeing it lately. I’ll have to look next time I’m back on Whirlwind Hill.

"The Low Rocking Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Low Rocking Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

The Upholstered Rocker

I like to picture my mother rocking me in this chair when I was a baby on the farm. Did this really happen? I have a vague memory of her telling me that it did.

"The Upholstered Rocker," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Upholstered Rocker,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

Me as a baby on the farm with my Grandma Crump, my mother, and my Great-grandma Barton

Me as a baby on the farm with my Grandma Crump, my mother, and my Great-grandma Barton

The Chair with the Velvet Seat

For a long time this chair sat at the end of a long hallway leading to the bedrooms in my parents’ house. There was an oval mirror hanging above it and a long patterned runner on the floor. I did a linocut of this scene, and it’s now hanging in that same hallway.

"The Chair with the Velvet Seat," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Chair with the Velvet Seat,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

"Hallway," Carol Crump Bryner, linocut print, 1975

“Hallway,” Carol Crump Bryner, linocut print, 1975

The Queen Anne Chair

My mother was proud of this chair. It had a long history on the farm. My great-grandmother, Lydia Jane Hall, was photographed sitting elegantly on its seat. No one sits in it now, (it, too, is uncomfortable) but maybe someday one of my great-grandchildren will look at this photo of me and my great-aunt Hattie sitting on the chair and say, “That’s my great-grandmother Carol sitting in the Queen Anne Chair.”

"The Queen Anne Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Queen Anne Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

Lydia Jane Hall, around 1900

Lydia Jane Hall, around 1900

Aunt Hattie and Carol, Christmas, 1946

Aunt Hattie and Carol, Christmas, 1946

Drawing is way to explore and learn and really, really look. Painting seems to me to be a medium that brings objects and scenes to life. In my next post I’ll share a few of the many (I count close to one hundred) paintings I’ve done of chairs.

Hezekiah’s Chair

In preparation for a trip to France last fall, I looked at photo after photo of rental apartments with grand names – “River View,” Spectacular Dome des Invalides,” “Marais Glamour Studio.” But I kept thinking, “Where is the comfy chair?”

I’m like a dog or cat in my attachment to favorite chairs.

"Yoda on a Favorite Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1995

“Yoda on a Favorite Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1995

A good seat is important for so many activities – reading a book, knitting a scarf, chatting with a friend, drinking tea, eating a cookie, or writing in a journal.

"My Favorite Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1996

“My Favorite Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1996

It was hard for me to imagine spending a few weeks without an inviting place to sit. In the end it didn’t matter, because there was so much to see in Paris I spent very little time indoors sitting down.

The rarely used chair in our Paris apartment - the "River View" apartment.

The rarely used chair in our Paris apartment – the “River View” apartment.

Were my ancestors on Whirlwind Hill comfortable in their chairs? It’s hard to tell from old photos, since most of the pictures show serious men and women sitting still and stiff in straight-backed chairs.

William E. Hall as a young man

William E. Hall as a young man

Chairs have a human presence. With their arms and legs and seats and backs they seem like friends. So when my brother sent me a photo of an old chair he had recently found and purchased, I felt like I was meeting an ancestor for the first time.

Hezekiah Hall's chair

Hezekiah Hall’s chair

The chair belonged to Hezekiah Hall, one of several Hezekiah Halls who once lived in Wallingford. An inscription on a slat under the seat reads,


The inscription on Hezekiah's chair

The inscription on Hezekiah’s chair

A well-preserved relic it is. Although it doesn’t look very comfortable, it has a feeling of dignity and artistic delicacy.

I don’t know very much about the Hezekiah Hall who owned this chair. At some point in my blog research I came across a biography of him, but I haven’t been able to find it again. His chair will have to stand in for him as I search for more information. To me it looks like the chair of an important person. I’ll let you know.

I love to paint and draw chairs. The furniture on the farm and in my parents’ house was so eclectic that it inspired my choices in making art and in furnishing my house. I plan to share some of these paintings and drawings in the weeks to come.

"Northern Light #10," Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 38" x 30" 2001

“Northern Light #10,” Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 38″ x 30″ 2001

The Ground Shakes and the Sky Opens

Five years ago my husband Alex and I were in Connecticut to visit my father and brother. I was desperate to get to Portland, Oregon because my daughter was expecting baby number two within a week. The day we were to drive to the Hartford airport, the sky opened and dumped nearly two feet of drifting snow. My brother and my husband, both heroes, spent the morning snow blowing and shoveling the long driveway so we could get out to the road. In my haste to get going I slammed my husband’s finger in the car door. He good-naturedly gathered a baggie of snow, stuck his poor mangled finger in it and told my brother to drive on. We made our flight. The plane took off. The baby was born a week later.

Now we’re in Portland again, waiting for baby number three. In Connecticut this weekend the skies opened again, and although the thoughts of being snowed in with a cozy fire and a nice tumbler of scotch are appealing, I’m glad I’m here in Portland where we have had neither a blizzard nor an earthquake.

My phone was awake with messages this morning about the large and scary earthquake in Alaska. Everyone – even a neighbor who lived through the 1964 earthquake – said it was the scariest one ever. At least it had that effect in Anchorage. Snow seems tame and benign compared to rolling floors and swaying light fixtures. Our house sitter reported that all the pictures and paintings on our walls were askew. And, she said, “You have so many pictures!!”

I remember certain snowfalls and snowstorms from my childhood.  Some memories are vague and some so vivid.  Before I-91 went in, my mother and I walked one winter day from our house on East Center Street through the snow to the farm on Whirlwind Hill. The road was quiet and without passing cars. I picture the snow forts and snowmen we made in our yard on the days school was cancelled. My mother always said that the best thing ever was to ride in a horse-driven sleigh over snowy fields. And I’ve always loved seeing the dark branches of elms and oaks and the long sinews of stone walls etched against a stark white New England landscape.

So here are a few photos of snow in and around Wallingford and Whirlwind Hill. I’ve written this in haste, so excuse any typos or bad grammar. My mind is on snow as I write, and my memories wanted to be woken up. Hope all of you are safe and cozy. Remember – it’s still winter!!

Newspaper clipping about the 1888 blizzard.

Newspaper clipping about the 1888 blizzard.

The barnyard of the Hall farm on Whirlwind Hill after a snowstorm

The barnyard of the Hall farm on Whirlwind Hill after a snowstorm

Cows in snow, Hall farm on Whirlwind Hill

Cows in snow, Hall farm on Whirlwind Hill

After a snowstorm on Whirlwind Hill near the Hall barn.

After a snowstorm on Whirlwind Hill near the Hall barn.

Sue Collins and Carol Crump on a Radio Flyer.

Sue Collins and Carol Crump on a Radio Flyer.

Chris Heilman, Kirt Crump, and Francis Hall on Whirlwind Hill with coon dogs.

Chris Heilman, Kirt Crump, and Francis Hall on Whirlwind Hill with coon dogs.

The Great Tornado

Last summer I wrote about corn and watermelon pickles and shore cottages and my mother’s birthday. It was cheerful. Bringing up disaster in the middle of the “good old summertime,” however, is kind of a downer, but because this event was important in the history of Wallingford, Connecticut, I’m going to throw all caution to the wind (so to speak) and write about the 1878 storm that devastated my town.

It’s the nature of disaster to come unbidden and leave scars. One minute you’re fine, and the next, the roof blows off and the floor gives way – figuratively and literally. When the great tornado of 1878 struck Wallingford, Connecticut one hundred and thirty-seven years ago, it did its work quickly but left an enduring mark.

"Squall," Carol Crump Bryner, collage, 2005

“Squall,” Carol Crump Bryner, collage, 2005

My mother’s family has lived on Whirlwind Hill in East Wallingford since the early eighteenth century, so I was always aware that, even though we weren’t in a tornado state like Kansas, we weren’t exempt from whirlwinds. Starting in 1670, when the town was founded, tornados visited Wallingford five times. The tornado of 1878 killed thirty people, injured over thirty-five others, and did significant property damage.

“On the afternoon of Friday, August 9, 1878, we were an active and a prosperous people…Surely any visitor on that bright day would in his heart have said, ‘Here is a place beautiful in its valleys and hills, and blessed in its contented and joyous families.’ No words could have been more true. But Friday evening saw a far different sight, for we were soon to feel the breath of the Death Angel…About 6:15 p.m. black clouds met above Community Lake and swept eastward…The time from the formation of the cyclone until its destructive work in the village was completed, did not exceed one and a half minutes…Torrents of rain fell for ten or twelve minutes. Water came down in sheets.” — John B. Kendrick, “The History of the Wallingford Disaster”

The above quote, and the vignettes in the rest of this post are from a book owned by my great-grandfather, William E. Hall. I have a feeling that my lifelong fear of tornados came from my mother’s telling of these stories. She treasured this little book that John B. Kendrick wrote and published only a month after the cyclone hit Wallingford. In seventy-six written pages and eight engraved illustrations, Kendrick detailed the horror, hope, and occasional humor that followed in the wake of the tragedy.

Front cover of "History of the Wallingford Disaster," by John B. Kendrick, published in 1878 by The Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co., Hartford, Connecticut

Front cover of “History of the Wallingford Disaster,” by John B. Kendrick, published in 1878 by The Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co., Hartford, Connecticut

Because a reprint of “History of the Wallingford Disaster” is easily available online or through that bookseller whose name starts with ‘A,’ I’ll share with you just a few highlights from the book.

The storm wreaked the most havoc near what is now Colony Street on the west side of Wallingford. The Catholic church was destroyed, and the majority of the dead were Catholics. A Protestant deacon who was visiting from a nearby town the day following the tornado asked a bandaged victim;

“My poor fellow, how do you account for the fact that none but Catholics were killed yesterday?” Without hesitation, Pat replied: “Sure and it’s aisy enough accountin’ for that; the Catholics are ready to die any minute, but your folks ain’t good enough to go suddint like.”

"Catholic Church," illustration from "History of the Wallingford Disaster"

“Catholic Church,” illustration from “History of the Wallingford Disaster”

In the chapter called “The Destruction on the Plains,” Kendrick wrote;

“All the barns in this section [the plains] were torn to pieces, and no one can find out where the wind put the pieces. One man went eastward to find his cow, and met her coming back uninjured. He does not know which left the premises first, his cow or his barn.”

“One of the injured women, upon being asked how it seemed, replied: “I did not know whether to laugh or cry; the pigs were whirling round in the air, cows were flying as if they had wings, and doors and furniture went by us and over us like lightning.”

"On the Plains," illustration from History of the Wallingford Disaster"

“On the Plains,” illustration from History of the Wallingford Disaster”

On the hill, and on the east side of town, the destruction wasn’t as pervasive, but still costly.

“In William E. Hall’s [my great-grandfather’s] woods, fine large beech, white oak, and chestnut trees, lie upon the earth broken and shivered; one can plainly see the manner in which the wind twisted them from their stumps. They lie here in every direction but the northwest. In one place the trees lie across one another, pointing northeast and south. The storm here was too high to do much injury to small timber, but these six acres of heavy timber suffered injury to the amount of about one thousand dollars.”

"On the Hill," illustration from "History of the Wallingford Disaster"

“On the Hill,” illustration from “History of the Wallingford Disaster”

On the Sunday following the tornado the high estimate of visitors was 77,000 – the low estimate 22,000. The rapid spread of word about the disaster seems amazing to me in the days before social media. Extra trains were added to the line to accommodate the hoards, and one hundred and thirty-eight Wallingford men (my great-grandfather William included) were deputized as special constables to protect life and property.

“Wherever there is anything to be seen, there will people gather, why this is a fact is not for us to explain; but we all know and have felt this peculiar attraction. The wind with its strange and fatal violence had scarcely done its work on that sad Friday evening, when strangers began to appear into the desolated regions. On foot, in teams, by rail, they found access into the village and among the ruins.”

"John Simmons's House," illustration from "History of the Wallingford Disaster"

“John Simmons’s House,” illustration from “History of the Wallingford Disaster”

The most vivid description of the storm’s rage came from a fourteen year-old boy, Elbridge Doolittle, who watched it from the second story rear window of his Center Street house. His tale makes the storm seem like a living being – a giant Godzilla bearing down on the tiny creatures below.

“I saw the lightning flashing, and then heard a queer noise, and turned around and looked over to the lake, in which direction there was a rumbling and rolling noise. There was a crash, and then something shot up into the sky that looked like a cloud of smoke, and was so thick that I couldn’t see through it. There was an awful roar, and it came along about five rods, and then there were pieces of board and shingles and pieces of roof, I should think that were about [five feet square]. These I suppose came from Grasser’s shop. The tornado, or whatever you call it, was about as wide as a house is long, and kept whirling round and round, being a good deal bigger at the top than at the bottom. It swept along awfully fast and tapered down at the bottom like a balloon with a long tail stringing under it, out of which a stream of water kept running, just like it would out of a tunnel. The tail kept swinging and whipping around like a snake…When it got opposite our house the thing was terribly black and thick and was full of timbers, which kept turning end over end instead of spinning around like a top. It was full of limbs of trees too, and they looked like big kites with the leaves at the top, and the limbs or trunks hanging down like the tail to a kite. Every little while the stuff in the air would drop and another building would be picked up and thrown around. The tail kept dragging along the ground and all moved very rapidly, there being no stop until it reached the school-house. Then I thought it stopped for a second or two, as if the school house was too big for it, but it went up into the air, and the tail seemed to wind around the school-house, I could see it so plainly…I should think it took about three minutes for the whole thing to come from the lake to the school-house.”

"The Graded School House," illustration from "History of the Wallingford Disaster"

“The Graded School House,” illustration from “History of the Wallingford Disaster”

The loss of life and shelter was horrific, but in the end, people stepped up and helped each other. Storm clouds made way for blue sky. Friends and neighbors nursed the injured, buried and mourned the dead, and rebuilt homes, barns, schools, and churches to shelter the living. Kendrick prefaces his account of the tornado and its aftermath with words of hope and optimism;

“Many men and women of our day think and act as if the days of chivalry were past. It is a great mistake. The world is daily growing wiser and better, and with all the sadness and pain of this disaster, there have been many, very many, grand and noble deeds of self-denial and mercy which assure one that this is not a very bad world after all.” — John B. Kendrick – Preface to “History of the Wallingford Disaster.”

"Retreating Storm Clouds," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2015

“Retreating Storm Clouds,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2015


Update – Climbing the Three Notches

On a recent April Saturday afternoon I set out in the company of my brother Kirt, my cousin Dean, and Dean’s wife Jean, to climb the mountain ridge that we call the “Three Notches.” We wanted to follow the paths our ancestors used long ago, and we also hoped to find some marks left on a rock at the highest point of the ridge.

In a 1944 letter to his future wife Betty, my mother’s cousin, Austin Norton wrote:

“When I was a kid I used to be crazy to go out to Mother’s home [his mother was my great-aunt Ellen, my grandfather Ellsworth’s sister] and help them hay and milk. I would ride my bicycle out there every Saturday just to get in the way and watch. That must be a satisfying way of life, farming I mean…There is a range of hills beyond the farm which we love to climb for a picnic lunch…Our favorite spot on the range is called “Three Notches,” and on the highest notch, Mother’s dad [my great-grandfather William E. Hall] has his name chipped into the rock. That’s the highest point of land in Wallingford and you can see for miles around, Long Island Sound on one side and Hartford, the capital on the other.” – Austin Hart Norton

Since last March, when we first heard about the carving, my brother and I were, as Austin put it, “crazy” to go search for it. These mountains (which in Alaska would be called hills) are part of the trap-rock Metacomet Ridge that stretches from New Haven, Connecticut to the Vermont-Massachusetts border. We decided to start our hike at the south end of Fowler Mountain, just east of Whirlwind Hill, and follow the Mettabesett trail to the base of the first of the three peaks. When I asked my brother how far a walk this would be he said “Not that far.”

"Not that far!" - A view of the Three Notches and Fowler Mountain.

“Not that far!” – A view of the Three Notches and Fowler Mountain.

My brother had never climbed the “Three Notches.” He’d ridden a horse on Fowler Mountain back in the 1970’s when the old cabin used to be there. Dean had gone more recently, and agreed to guide us on this sunny, windy afternoon.

Determined to go on this hike despite a bad cold and a worse fear of ticks, I sprayed myself with a ridiculous amount of “Deep Woods Off” and hoped for the best. The trail, although steep and treacherous in places with loose rocks and branches hidden under deep layers of leaves, was wide and sun-dappled and easy to follow.

Starting up the trail

Starting up the trail

I was thrilled to come upon patch after patch of wildflowers.

First were the adder’s tongues –

Adder's tongue (or trout lily)

Adder’s tongue (or trout lily)

Then rue anemone and bloodroot –

Rue anemone

Rue anemone

And just as I was telling Jean about hepaticas and how hard they were to find these days, I looked down and saw a small army of the bright little flowers popping out from under brown leaves. Joy!



A cabin used to stand somewhere on the ridge of Fowler Mountain. My brother and Dean looked for signs of this former refuge, but there wasn’t enough time for a thorough search. This was proving to be a much longer walk than I had planned on, and “not that far” had begun to seem like wishful thinking. I could see on my phone map we were still a long way from the Three Notches.

But at the end of Fowler Mountain we came across an old marker for the George Washington Trail. Although the plaque itself was gone (most of the metal plaques on these markers have long ago been spirited away by vandals), the post was enough to show us the place where our first president and our early Hall ancestors crossed the Metacomet Ridge on their way from Wallingford to Durham. It ran perpendicular to our trail up the ridge, and someday we’d like to explore it more thoroughly.

George Washington Trail marker post

George Washington Trail marker post

Ahead of us was another steep incline, which I hoped was the ascent to the first notch, but in a “Bear Goes over the Mountain” scenario, we found yet an even steeper climb on the other side. I was ready to quit, but Dean prodded, “Come on Carol – It’s worth it.”

Getting closer

Getting closer

It WAS worth it. The view was spectacular. To our left we could see Whirlwind Hill and the view beyond to New Haven and Long Island Sound. To the right we looked at Meriden, Hartford, and on toward Massachusetts.

The view from the notch - looking toward Whirlwind Hill and beyond to Long Island Sound.

The view from the notch – looking toward Whirlwind Hill and beyond to Long Island Sound.

And then my brother said, “Here’s the name!” He found our treasure. On an outcropping of rock overlooking the Ulbrich Reservoir, were letters and numbers carved into the rock’s surface.

Kirt with the carved rock

Kirt with the carved rock

My great-grandfather’s name, W. E Hall,  was still there – a one-hundred and thirty-year-old memento of his wish to be immortalized on this spot. The carved date of 1874 indicates he was probably thirty-seven years old when he chipped away at the hard rock.

Set in stone

Set in stone

Happy and satisfied with our findings, we took photos of each other before beginning the long trek back to our car.

Kirt and Carol

Kirt and Carol

It was so quiet up there – a peaceful solitude that’s hard to find these days. We could understand why this spot was a favorite for our relatives, and we plan to go back whenever we can. It cheers me now to have a focus for those mountains beyond Whirlwind Hill. The distant view is more meaningful because of knowing where to look  – at a spot on that high windy rock where part of my family history is set in stone.

"The Three Notches,"  Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2014

“The Three Notches,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2014



Lydia Jane’s Birthday



My great-grandmother, Lydia Jane Hart Hall, was born in the Hart family homestead in Durham, Connecticut on March 22, 1841.

"The Original Hart Home," Mary E. Hart, oil on canvas, reproduced in black and white

“The Original Hart Home,” Mary E. Hart, oil on canvas, reproduced in black and white

Lydia has kept me company for the past few years as I immersed myself in her journals and in other stories about the farm on Whirlwind Hill. I have come to admire and love Lydia’s perceptive and quiet way of observing the world around her. To celebrate her birthday I’ll let the elegance of her own words speak for her.

The first piece is a 1912 letter she wrote to her mother, Lydia Reed Hart, who was unable to be with her daughter on her birthday. The second is her diary entry from her eightieth birthday on March 22, 1921.

When I refer to her in “On Whirlwind Hill,” I call her Lydia, but those closest to her called her Jane.

Lydia Jane Hart Hall with her first grandson, William Cannon, 1897

Lydia Jane Hart Hall with her first grandson, William Cannon, 1897

March 22, 1912

My dear Mother,

The twenty-second day of March, and you well know what happened seventy-one years ago. I think the blue birds are not singing as much this morning as Father said they were then. These years that have passed –  many seem short to both of us to look back, but long to look ahead.

The years of my childhood, the years spent with you and father, John and Walter, in the old home, are very very peasant to recall. Your tender watchful care, and all the years of my married life when we could have your presence with us, the many times your loving fingers have helped me over rough places. All these things and more than tongue can tell leads my heart to go out to you with much love and affection. I hope you are feeling well. I wanted to come and see you today, but couldn’t…

When it comes a little warmer and the traveling gets better, I am in hopes to come over and spend a night with you. Hope you will keep well and be careful not to fall. Keep warm. Hope you may not have any cold…

William joins with me in love to you. Also Ellsworth.

Your loving daughter,


March 22, 1921 – “Not quite as warm this morn. Bluebirds and robins singing. Spring is really here. The yards are looking green. This is my birthday. Eighty years have passed with its joys and sorrows. I have loved my home and my friends. My family with my husband, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are very near and dear to me. May God bless them and keep them.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Happy Birthday Lydia Jane!

"Bluebirds for Lydia Jane," Carol Crump Bryner, watercolor and gouache, 2015

“Bluebirds for Lydia Jane,” Carol Crump Bryner, watercolor and gouache, 2015

On Wednesday:  Spring Cleaning

Outbuildings #6 – A House for an Auto

OutuildingsMost of the real work on the farm happened in the barn, in the fields, and in the house. Some of the outbuildings were so specific in purpose that they were often hastily erected and as quickly abandoned when seasons or activities changed. Others had longer lives and a bigger presence. They were spread out around the property in an almost haphazard way. A few of them I remember from childhood, but others I know only from photos.


A House for an Auto

In the spring of 1921 my grandfather Ellsworth began to think about getting a car and building a garage for it. I think of this “auto” looking like the one Uncle Wiggly, “The Bunny Rabbit Gentleman,” drove in my mother’s favorite childhood book, “Uncle Wiggly’s Auto Sled.”

From "Uncle Wiggly's Auto Sled," written by Howard R. Garis, Illustrated by Lang Campbell, 1920

From “Uncle Wiggly’s Auto Sled,” written by Howard R. Garis, Illustrated by Lang Campbell, 1920

My great-grandmother Lydia recorded the progress of the garage and the auto.

Saturday, March 12, 1921 – “Ellsworth…is thinking of building a house for an auto when he gets one. Children all have hard colds. Agnes and Emily have one. They are all sneezing in concert.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Wednesday, March 16, 1921 – “Man came to show Ellsworth a Buick automobile.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Thursday, March 17, 1921 – “Nice day. Men busy carting dirt getting ready to build a garage opposite the horse barn at the top of the hill.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Friday, March 25, 1921 – “Ellsworth has a new automobile – came today.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Saturday, April 9, 1921 – “Agnes went out to take her lesson in the automobile this afternoon with Mr. Beaumont for teacher. Will have to give her several lessons. Am afraid they will have an accident someday, but hope not.” – Lydia Jane Hall

I don’t think that my grandmother, who was a very good driver, ever did have an accident in any automobile on the farm. She did almost all the driving. Her big black car fit perfectly into the garage, and we loved being asked to go along on her errands. We followed her into the dark muskiness of the garage, climbed onto the big back seat where, unencumbered by seat belts, we bounced up and down as the car traversed the East Wallingford hills, hoping to be bouncing up when we hit a big bump so our heads would touch the car ceiling.

"A Shed for a Car," Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 2013

“A Shed for a Car,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 2013

See also Outbuildings #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

On Monday:  March Window

Ghosts – Part II

Finding Cornelia

At the end of my Monday post – “Ghosts Part I” – I still hadn’t seen Cornelia’s headstone. I had found the two generations that preceded her on Whirlwind Hill. Under a long line of stones lay Asahel and Sarah Hall, their son Aaron (whose stone is missing) and his three wives Elizabeth, Sarah, and Annis, and Aaron and Elizabeth’s daughter Mary Hall. On the left is a small stone that I was unable to read. The only clue to its owner is that he or she died in 1798.

"Headstones," Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 2013

“Headstones,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 2013

My brother and I went back to the cemetery the day before I was to leave Connecticut, and almost immediately we found Cornelia. She’s buried next to her husband, my great-great grandfather Salmon Hall. Next to them are their three children who died young – Henry Griswold at two, Emily at seven, and Edgar at eighteen. The impact of seeing these names and dates “written in stone” is so much greater than just reading them as part of a family tree or genealogy. Even the placement and order of the stones tells stories about those buried beneath.

And yet, Cornelia remains a mystery to me. How did a young girl from Sheffield, Massachusetts meet and marry my Connecticut great-great grandfather? How did she adjust to life so far away from her family? Why did she make so many visits back to Sheffield. How long did that journey take in the mid-nineteenth century? And how, I wonder, did she cope with losing three of her seven children? Maybe the ritual of visiting the cemetery helped. I hope that for her the putting of an offering on a grave and the standing in silence in the presence of her ghosts, eased what must have been great loss.

Cornelia's Headstone

Cornelia’s Headstone

On Friday:  Ghosts – Part III – Halloween

Ghosts – Part I

Haunting the Cemetery

On my visit to Whirlwind Hill in October 2013 I spent more time with cemetery ghosts than I’d planned to. I had a “bee in my bonnet” and was drawn to the resting place of my early ancestors.

The sign at the entrance to the Center Street Cemetery in downtown Wallingford, Connecticut reads “Established in 1653.” Many of the oldest headstones, especially the ones prior to 1750, are themselves ghostly. The stones still mark the graves, but the inscriptions have been smoothed or crumbled by wind and rain.

Center Street Cemetery, Wallingford, Connecticut

Center Street Cemetery, Wallingford, Connecticut

The bee in my bonnet was my great-great grandmother Cornelia Andrews Hall. I wanted to find her grave. I’d seen her headstone during one of my online genealogy searches. A picture of the stone popped up on the “Find a Grave” website, and I wanted to see it for myself. My brother didn’t remember running across it at the cemetery, even though he worked for many years as the cemetery’s caretaker – roaming among the dead as he cut the grass and repaired the stones. So on a beautiful New England October afternoon last year he joined me in my search for Cornelia.

At this Halloween time of year the word ghost conjures images of spectral spirits rising from their resting places in dark and haunted burial grounds. Children wear white sheets over their heads and say boo. People pay money to visit fake haunted houses with creepy, scary, heart-stopping surprises.

But my brother and I were looking for a different kind of ghost – the kind listed in the dictionary definition as “a faint shadowy trace.” Since I started writing down Whirlwind Hill stories two years ago, shadowy traces of my ancestors have haunted me. Every time I find a piece of physical evidence of their presence on this earth I feel the power of life’s continuity. The inscriptions on the headstones prove that the person lived, died, and was mourned by family and friends.

My brother and I started at the far end of the cemetery where my great-grandparents, William and Lydia Hall are buried. We walked back and forth in this flat city-block field of stones, but when it came time to leave we had not found what we were looking for.

So the next morning, fortified by another peek at Cornelia’s grave on the website, I drove back into town by myself and began a more methodical wandering. As often happens when you’re looking for one thing, something even more significant appears. Suddenly I came face to face with my great-great-great-great grandfather Captain Asahel Hall and his wife Sarah. The beauty and grace of their headstones surprised me. Carved with skill and care, the inscriptions remain fairly clear and readable. Here was the first couple to live on the farm on Whirlwind Hill – two people I knew very little about, but who, in that moment, became ever so real to me.

Captain Asahel Hall

Captain Asahel Hall

Asahal’s inscription reads:  “In Memory of Capt Asahel Hall who Departed this Life November 11th AD 1799 in the 79th Year of his Age.”

Sarah Hall

Sarah Hall

Sarah’s reads:  “In Memory of Mrs. Sarah, consort of Capt. Asahel Hall died Feb 25th AD 1789 in her 70th year.”

On Wednesday:  Ghosts – Part II – Finding Cornelia

The Tree

"Tree," Carol Crump Bryner, woodcut

“Tree,” Carol Crump Bryner, woodcut

In October 2001, I traveled east to visit my parents. The trip I’d always taken for granted had, after 9/11, come to seem like a miracle. I got on the plane in Anchorage, and eventually got off in Hartford, but it wasn’t until we reached the reservoir and I could see the lights on Whirlwind Hill that I felt the enormous joy and relief of being back home.

After that visit I sent an article to a feature at the Meriden Record. The piece was printed in January 2002, and I’ll reprint it here. The newspaper titled it “And the Tree Lives On.”

“In early October, I made the long trip from my home in Anchorage, Alaska to my parents’ house in Wallingford, Connecticut. Although I haven’t lived in East Wallingford since 1967, I still feel most truly and securely at home there.

The farmland, which has been in our family since before the Revolutionary War, has stayed open and undeveloped. I feel lucky to be able to visit such a timeless treasure and grateful to my relatives for keeping it that way year after year. Each time I come home I walk down the lane and up the hill to sit under my favorite tree. It’s silent there and beautiful, and I’m cheered to see the tree still standing in glorious isolation.

On one of my visits, my aunt told me that when my uncle was a young boy helping his father on the farm, he asked to have a tree planted here. During the long days of summer work he wanted to have a shady spot to put the water jug. Since then the fields have been almost continuously farmed. It must be a nuisance to mow, plant, and harvest around the tree, especially now that water jugs stay cool on their own. The fact that the tree has endured comforted me as I sat under it on October 8, trying to find balance in increasingly unsettling times.

As an artist, I collect images that connect me to the people and places I love. This year when I visited, the tree was still dressed in fall leaves, but in a few months it will look like this photo I took in March, 1972 – an example of the stark, powerful New England landscape I miss when I’m living so far way from home.” – Carol Crump Bryner, October 2001

The Tree, 1972

The Tree, 1972

On Monday:  Time