The first part of this series, A Twitchell Lake Love Story, can be found here.
On March 21 of 1908, Norman Sherry received an invitation from Lucretia Hayes:
“My dear Norman, thank you for your letter of yesterday. It was good to hear about your trip to Alaska. I would love to see the kodaks. I think I know the perfect time to view them. My family has summered on a lake in the Adirondacks called Twitchell for many years now. It is my favorite place in all the world. Could you arrange to visit me there? My parents can rent a cottage at Covey’s Inn where we stay. We will arrive there by Grand Central rail on Thursday, May fourteenth. Let me know if you could visit in May. Warmly, Lucretia Hayes” (This letter is constructed from entries in Norman’s Diary).
Plans were settled for Norman’s first visit to Twitchell Lake in the Adirondacks on Monday, May 18th. Norman took the early train from Albany to Utica, arriving at nearby Big Moose Station at 4:15 pm. The ride out to Twitchell Lake he described in non-flattering terms:
“Here a queer heavy buckboard like vehicle, over a new road, a place in it vile to be called a road & before 6 – about 2 ¼ miles reached end of Twitchell Lake, where boats ready to take us little way up lake to Covey’s Inn.” He was met there by Lucretia and Julia Michaels, her best friend and confidante. They canoed together to Covey’s Inn, Norman describing Twitchell in his Diary as “a pretty narrow lake.”
On Tuesday, Lucretia’s father Dr. Hayes took the three on a tramp to nearby Snake Pond, where he left them to boat about and fish for trout, each of them catching one. Back at the Inn they went canoeing and after supper Norman showed them photos from his recent Alaska trip. On Wednesday, Lucretia took Norman to nearby South Pond where they gathered “mayflowers,” the rare Trailing Arbutus which buds in May with a beautiful flower and a fragrant scent. Lucretia decorated Norman’s cottage with these flowers. And I must add here, I think something magical began to happen. That evening they gathered again in the Hayes cabin to play a card game called “500,” like Bridge.
Thursday started out as a quiet and peaceful Twitchell day but did not end up that way. Norman’s diary captured the drama of their afternoon tramp to East Pond, getting lost on their return and being unable to find Twitchell Lake with the compass. Lucretia later admitted to removing the metal hoops from her skirt and hanging them on a tree, as they were now in thick woods:
“Dr. Hayes halted us for the night, as it was growing dark; we had just passed thro’ swampy places & we stopped in drier place for the night. Fortunately he had matches & had fire started in no time, spite the wet. It rained hard till about 8:30 pm. We all took it very calmly, but how unexpectedly & quickly this occurred! Soon the stars came out. Made our fire larger & found no use for a rough lean-to we had made. Spent the time gathering wood & then drying of ourselves by the fire, where we had a log placed to sit on, near & under a large tree. How quiet are the woods at night! We talked of action in moving & decided to wait here awhile after light and see if guides can find us, when they search for us. How strange this condition of things! I came to my crisis of mind about 1 o’clock and about 2 I declared my love to Lucretia, her father lying dozing on other side of tree; My answer was ‘I can’t tell you yet.'”
This has to be the funniest marriage proposal I have ever heard described in words.
Friday had come but their “adventure” was far from over. Early in the morning they heard hollering but were unable to get through to the search party. Dr. Hayes decided it would be better to find the railroad tracks four miles to the northwest than to hit the narrow end of Twitchell Lake, already missed. A compass bearing for the railroad whistle they had heard during the night was set and “through swamps & over hills, up & down” they bushwhacked, striking the tracks by 8:30 am, 6 miles north of the Big Moose Station by the track marker. Flagging the next train, they phoned Earl Covey from Big Moose, learning of numerous search parties looking for them. They were back at the Inn by 10am for breakfast with relieved family and friends, “the first eaten in 21 hours. Yet hunger had hardly troubled any of us yet. Lucretia bore her part- just as cheerful & strong as a strong man could be.”
Saturday brought a sleepless night to Norman. Questions kept churning in his mind: Will Lucretia say yes? Will she keep me hanging? Did I make a mistake proposing when we were lost? Will her parents give their blessing? Am I going back into exile? His Sunday diary entry announced the unexpected answer:
“After breakfast, went 9:30 to the Hayes cottage as usual – Lucretia at once walked out a little south in the woods nearby – + – + – I did not know it was coming then, nor had dared hope so soon – but she gave me her answer – & we are engaged!… When I first saw her to-day Lucretia has given herself to me so sweetly, & it is yet as a dream. After supper canoeing to north end of Lake again – so perfectly calm, as we canoe back. Another game ‘500’ at the cottage & the most momentous day of my life – ‘our first day’- has ended.”
While Dr. Hayes immediately gave his blessing on the marriage, his wife Ellen withheld hers until evening. She may have asked her daughter privately if she really wanted to marry a businessman so many miles away. But after that, Norman was on “cloud nine,” crowning this, “first day!”
Norman Burt Sherry returned to Troy on Memorial Day, May 25th, a changed man. His diary literally bursts with a sense of gratitude and wonder about long-hoped-for love. First on his agenda was to share the news of “Lu and I” with a surprised circle of “friends and intimates,” including his Sherry & Co. staff and sales force.
On June 2nd, he took the train to NYC to pick out a diamond at Black, Starr & Frost – an early and prestigious jewelry store in the Diamond District, then owned by his Williams College buddy Clifford Black. They rarely missed a daily letter to each other and Norman proposed her birthday, September 26th, as their wedding day. A sampling of his diary remarks, with two key comments about his friend Agnes, documents the amazing change in Norman:
“May 26, I have come back to routine t-day, but as a new life in myself.
“June 18, A year ago t-day was Agnes’ wedding at Auburn-& the second time I met Lucretia. Oh how unforeseen then were the present happiness & prospects! It is all too wonderful to realize fully.
“July 8, resume office routine after four days with Lucretia… a great pride & satisfaction in her, & joy in her presence, & an ever-deepening love. What a gratitude to God swells up in my heart for his goodness to me in bringing us together.
“Aug 1, Chased postman up & got Lucretia’s letter 2:30.
“Aug 29, I went back to River St & the office to get Lucretia’s letter. Rest of Pm at home “fussing” & clearing up things; destroyed many letters, including Agnes’.”
Buffalo is 260 miles from Troy, which in 1908 was distant by a full night’s train ride. Before the wedding, Lu introduced Norman to her Buffalo on his four visits and Norman prepared Lu for her move to Troy on her one visit. These were important steps in knitting their lives and families together. For Norman, this included putting a diamond on Lu’s finger at her family summer residence; a “pre-wedding trip” to Niagara Falls; arranging their Twitchell photos in a scrapbook; planning wedding and honeymoon details; an engagement luncheon at the Raymond’s home in Lockport; canoeing up the Niagara River and then drifting back down; reading to each other on a hammock-couch; and Norman’s carrying Lu up the steps from the River to the house.
Lucretia’s visit to Troy was the first sight Norman’s circle of “friends and intimates” had of her. Norman took Lu on several carriage tours of the scenic farmland around Troy “on roads little traveled.” She got the insider’s tour of Sherry & Co., and they began to plan out their fifth-floor apartment in Troy’s grand downtown Caldwell House. Norman, of course, introduced Lu to his pastor and church, Miss Sherman confirming with him, “Lu is the one I saw in my vision!” And then there were their late-night visits on the Raymond veranda where Lucretia was staying.
The wedding day came on Lucretia’s birthday, September 23, 1908. The Troy Press ran the following notice: “The marriage of one of Troy’s young business men, Norman Burt Sherry, occurred to-day at noon at the Lewiston summer home of Dr. and Mrs. Francis Mason Hayes of Buffalo. The bride was their daughter, Miss Lucretia C. Hayes.” Their family and intimates all participated in their big day, led by Norman’s best man, Clifford Black. Norman summed it up this way:
“At 12:13 orchestra began Wedding March- Black soon rushed up for me, & I came out just as Lucretia came to head of landing- first I had seen her since last night. Down stairs the house was beautifully decorated, all doors & windows open & guests on all the wide porches as we went around outside to my place at north door of parlor. Dr. Fitch used the Presb. Book of Common Worship Marriage service we selected; it was simple & brief & very soon we were made man & wife; & I kissed Lucretia as Mrs. Sherry whom also I was the last to kiss, at the landing, as Lucretia Hayes. About 140 were present. Wedding breakfast was served immed. afterward- eighteen being at Bride’s table: It was beautiful around the summer home, so near the river.”
After a dinner by the Niagara Falls, they left for their honeymoon trip to Twitchell Lake Inn on one of those fancy sleeping cars the Grand Central Railroad had for special occasions, switching in Utica onto the Adirondack line north. From Norman’s Diary: “Tuesday, Sept. 27, 1908: Reached Big Moose Stat. 5:35 am where Ms. Covey was, to meet us as arranged. Almost four months to the day we are back to the scene from engagement, married…We reached Twitchell Lake Inn about 6:15 am & have the large cottage next hotel or West.” For the first few days, Norman recorded that “Lu & I” rested, took meals in, read, and wrote many thankyou notes. After that they took many pictures, boated, and fished, enjoyed Inn activities, and went on tramps to South Pond, Oswego Pond, Birch Pond, Big Moose Lake, Silver Lake, and Snake Pond.
And then there was a little incident in a canoe. From Norman’s Diary:
“Tuesday, Sept. 29: Lu & I took out a canoe; found quite a West wind blowing up the lake & paddled vigorously, both on right side, to swing it around into wind- it seemed hardly one minute since we left dock when began to tip & in another instant over we went into the Lake. My! but the thought of our position! Mr. Brown standing near dock saw us at once, & came out in a boat to which we clung, as I pulled the canoe & we, like drowned rats ran to the cottage for dry clothes. Mr. Brown recovered hats, mileage book &c floating; we both lost our glasses & I the Seal ring Lu gave me at our engagement. Lu laughed when she got in the water, while I was somewhat rattled. As we thought over all the circumstances…we felt it providential to occur when & where it did & it might have been a great deal worse.”
This funny story later was retold at all their family gatherings to roars of laughter. And I would add there is a gold ring still stuck in the muck off the Twitchell Inn dock, waiting for discovery by a futuristic metal detector. After Twitchell, Norman and Lu toured New England by rail and shared with each other their respective colleges, Williams and Smith, before returning to Troy.
Illustrations, from above: Twitchell Lake where Road from Big Moose comes in to lake, ca 1905; flowering Trailing Arbutus from a wildflower website; Cover of Norman Burt Sherry’s Excelsior Diary for 1908; Wedding Picture of Norman and Lucretia from Esther Sherry’s photo album- September, 1908.
Jim Fox says
Hoop skirts on a tramp?! A different era for sure. Your camp must be a treasure-trove of family memorabilia. We await subsequent chapters.