Portrait of Helen Swain As A Young Girl

When my grandmother was about four, the Boston artist, Marie Danforth Page painted her.

Here is the resulting portrait. I’m sorry it’s a low res reproduction. (Bad light and an early digital camera.) I’ll try to get a better one soon. In the meantime…

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nanas-portrait-low-res

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The Photo Albums from Clarence Rodgers Burgin’s Youth

I mentioned that the early Burgins took few photographs, but by the time my grandfather, Clarence Rodgers Burgin was in knee pants, that had changed. These are some of the pictures of his youth and very early adulthood.

I’ve erred way on the side of inclusion.

There’s a spirit here, a mood, a sense of life as their family lived it, that comes through in a wonderful way when you just see them all in series.

c-rodgers-burgin-photos-from-youth-00189

OK, Have fun. (They seem to have.)

 

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An Early Biography of Clarence Burgin

The biographical article below, which I found only recently, has done much – in my mind – to shed light on the early life of my great-grandfather, Clarence Burgin.

Clarence Burgin’s father, Thomas, was an upholsterer, and his father before him, John, was at first a gold wire drawer (I still have to look that one up), and later a victualer.

He was the first person in his family to be born in this country. I strongly doubt he started life with much money, but he seems to have had hustle, and in America, that counts for a lot…

 

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Clarence Burgin, c.1910

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The original:

biographical-review-containing-life-sketches-of-leading-citizens-of-norfolk-county-massachusetts-p14

 

Biographical review, containing life sketches of leading citizens of Norfolk County, Massachusetts

by Biographical Review Publishing Company, Boston, 1898

https://archive.org/details/biographicalrevinc1898biog

CLARENCE BURGIN, a prominent and able young business man of Quincy, Mass., and the treasurer of the Quincy Savings Bank, was born October 27, 1865, in Rutland, Vt. He is the son of Mr. Thomas Burgin and Mrs. Jane Scudder Burgin, both of London, England. In 1870 the family moved from Rutland to Springfield, Mass.

 

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A Few 19th Century Burgin Photographic Portraits

There are only a handful of extant photographs of the first and second generations of the Burgin family in America, as they would have appeared in the late 19th century. These shown below are all the ones I know about.

Perhaps, given their somewhat limited financial means, Thomas and Jane Burgin and their children viewed formal portraiture as a rare luxury, and personal photography as little more than a curiosity– a technical and possibly expensive hobby.

All that would change, though, in fairly short order.

By the time Clarence Burgin and Minnie Morton Rodgers had been married a decade, in the early days of the 20th century, the family was using cameras with a vengeance: amply documenting adolescent acrobatics on the lawn, picnics, neighborhood friends, and camping trips. Who would’ve thought? Burgins as early adopters!

In a week or so, I’ll have a post devoted to those albums. For now, though, the first few portraits…

 

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Clockwise from left, the immigrants Thomas and Jane Skudder Burgin, (probably) Clarence Burgin as a youth, Minnie Morton Rodgers in her wedding gown, and lastly, Minnie Morton Rodgers, much as my grandfather would’ve known her growing up…  He once told me he would playfully take her hand and invoking a popular dance at the time, ask, “Minnie won’t you shimmy with me?” He loved the story.

 

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“Everybody’s June:” Martina Louise Brandegee Lawrence

There is a great phrase, “keeping a person’s memory green.” It’s basically an expression for the never-ending process of telling stories about a person who has died, talking about the things they believed in, using the funny expressions they liked, more or less just passing on a little of what made them them. Whatever may happen after we die, if people are keeping our memory green, our spirit lives on.

I asked Lee Albright to compose a small piece about her mother, Martina Louise Brandegee Lawrence, because in her everyday conversation and comments, Lee has devoted an enormous part of her life energy to keeping her mother’s memory green… She didn’t send me a finished piece of writing, but  rather a series of notes.

The following is a compilation that I cobbled together from those notes. When I showed it to her, she said it didn’t sound like her voice, but to “leave it in.” Take that as a caveat of sorts.

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Langdon, you asked me to put together some thoughts and memories of my mother and so I shall… reminding you that these thoughts are simply my experiences and remembrances and are perhaps different from those of my brothers or others who knew my mother well.

Father told me in 1994, half a year before he died, when we were at the Dark Harbor church, that it was there, at age five, that he spotted her. She was also age five.  He said “She had a big white straw hat, and I thought she was beautiful.”  Father was envious of Mother’s French governess.  He thought it must be wonderful to have an in-house tutor and would come by to talk French. “Le petit Garcon Lawrence, il est merveilleux.”

Mother’s early life was spent at home with governesses and tutors.  School began for her at Winsor at age 11 or 12, in 5th or 6th grade.

Of all her friends, Betty Bartlett McAndrew and Mabel Thayer Storey were the two whom I would come to know the best. Mother asked Betty to be my godmother, but it was Mabel, or “Aunt Mabel,” who later became a wonderful, lifelong friend of mine, and in 1968 I asked her to be [my daughter] Martina’s godmother. Jean Sears Alexander was another very close friend, and became my brother Jimmy’s godmother.

Mother was, according to Aunt Mabel, a very bright, fun-loving child who laughed and enjoyed friendships, parties and life. She was the “apple of her father’s eye.”

Stories of her childhood… At age twelve, my mother spent a winter in Egypt on a cultural trip with her parents. And she told me that her father always insisted on tipping the hotel staff individually because otherwise the major domo would keep the whole amount. For some reason, this made a huge impression on me. I remember her telling us about the time Uncle Langdon, her brother with whom she was very close growing up, rowed the French governess to Gull Rock, leaving her there as the tide rose! She also used to tell us about the butler in Dark Harbor who each morning, when Granny and Grandfather Brandegee were in Europe, would swim over to Seven Hundred Acre Island and back, and serve the children luncheon in a wet bathing suit.

As a teenager she loved skating, and there is a wonderful photo of Mother at The Country Club in Brookline with friends.  I think when it came to school she was “over lessoned,” as she would always relent whenever we refused our own lessons (alas!).  She had always had a rigorous program, and was therefore more forgiving to us when we wanted to hang out. She used to tell me “the mistakes I make you won’t make and the ones you make your children won’t make.”

She spent her junior year with her parents in New York city, and attended the Chapin School. She loved it! She said it was her best year of school. She wanted to go to college, and was accepted to Radcliffe for the fall of 1923 or 1924, but it was not to be.

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John Langdon Brandegee

John Langdon Brandegee, Martina Louise Brandegee Lawrence’s brother, died December 4, 1964, at the age of 56. He left no children, and a year and a half later, my father— rather than continuing the then-five generation tradition of first-born sons being named James Lawrence— gave me his uncle’s name, Langdon, instead. He wanted to ensure that the memory of the man would live on.

Langdon Brandegee was an enigmatic individual who I suspect was poorly understood by most of those around him, throughout his life. His sister was the exception to this; she probably understood him better than anyone. The two were very close.

 

John Langdon Brandegee (the girl in the pictures is his sister, Martina Louise Brandegee)

 

My father has described him as an unusually shrewd judge of character, which in turn led him to be distrustful of many, but also to hold enormous love and affection for a lucky few. I have heard some beautiful stories over the years of the goodness he could show people when he had decided they were “all right.”

His career of choice was finance, specifically the management of the large fortune left him and his sister, and he succeeded by almost any measure that could be applied. Under his canny eye, the money with which he had been entrusted was protected and indeed grew significantly.

I wish I could have had the chance to meet him, and talk a little. One of the things I would like to ask him is, if he had his life to live over again, would he choose a different career? Would he live where he lived, and do what he did, or would he make a break with the past and try something completely new?

He once told my father when they were talking about my father’s future life as a doctor, to get out of America, go to Africa, and practice bush medicine. That comment speaks volumes.

He died alone at his home in Jamaica Plain. I’ve wondered about the time leading up to his death. What had life become for him? What was he thinking? How did he depart this world? What had he learned, and where might his soul, if indeed any of us have souls, have traveled next?

There may be some clues to at least the first two of these questions in his will. In that document, he left one quarter of his considerable estate to the American Leprosy Foundation, three quarters to Deerfield Academy, honoring an old promise, and his furniture to his niece and nephews.

 

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John Langdon Brandegee