The NYPL is a peaceful oasis in a crazy, busy city. Driving about Manhattan is enough to bring on either: a) road rage; or b) an anxiety attack. After surviving the traffic jams into the city and finally finding an over-priced parking garage, I walked down 41st street, fearing for my life at the street corners; one step off the curb and I would be clipped by a yellow taxi cab racing through the intersections at 100 miles per hour.
But once off the street and through the doors of the majestic library, the stress melted away, I was transformed, transfixed; no more anxiety for me, the only thoughts I had were elation over what I might discovery in the book-lined rooms.
My first stop was the manuscript division. Here there were two boxes waiting for me from the Poultney Bigelow collection, containing over 5,000 letters of correspondence between Poultney Bigelow and numerous dignitaries or celebrities (these two boxes are a small snippet of the overall collection of more than 10,000 documents and diaries; this man saved everything!). I was hoping to find letters written by Ella Durant Rose to Poultney to verify my suspicion that they once were in love with each other.
I was delighted to find a few letters from Ella to Poultney written while they were both in their 80s. "I remember a time," she said, "when I found favor in your eyes and delight when your letters reached me."
I also discovered that Lillian Tiffany, a early-20th century artist, may have been married to to Ella's son Durant Rose, Poultney's godson. I found several letters from Lillian to Poultney dated in the 1940s. In the letters, she mentions how busy Durant is at his job in Washington D.C. Eureka! I thought, I had been wondering why, when I was looking through Ella's letters at the Syracuse University Library, Poultney jokingly refers to her as Lillian Tiffany Rose. I suspect that Lillian was Ella's daughter-in-law.
And then I found a letter addressed to Poultney from William West Durant dated 1932 (William:age 83). William must have pulled out the old guestbook from Pine Knot (now housed at the Adirondack Museum) and saw the artwork Poultney sketched inside the pages while visiting the Durant's Adirondack home in 1878. William reminisces a bit and then adds, "I am poor but in good health and not unhappy." This confirms what many of his biographers state, he was not a bitter man in his old age, and remained dignified.
After browsing through Poultney's letters I was off to the genealogy division to look through the three volumes of Durant Family documents. There I read heart-breaking letters from Ella and her mother Hannah to Dr. Durant while he was building the Transcontinental Line, begging him to come visit them in England.
In one touching letter dated February 1869, Ella, age 16, tells her 'Papa': "Saturday, knowing it was your birthday, I placed a chair opposite dear Mamma for you and placed flowers on your plate, though you could not be there,... as we are very lonely without you: we heard that on the celebration of the 4th of July the road is to be opened to California. Is that true dear Papa?"
These letters, a relic of past days when people took the time to write to each other instead of just popping off emails, hold small clues for me to grasp while I am writing my story. After reading this letter from Ella I realized my own version of her relationship with her father was too formal, for example, addressing him as 'father' instead of 'Papa'. But how was I to know? Where I can't find information, I am filling in the blanks.
Now, if I could just get over the fact that my editor emailed to tell me he is doing a full scale assault on my manuscript. "I like how it reads,....don't start fretting," he said to me, via email. Really?
I think I will go back to my research.......