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March 28, 2016

Our newest blogpost is written by a guest blogger Linda Granfield. It is published with her permission and that of the Guelph Historical Society (Guelph, Ontario, Canada). The article first appeared in Historic Guelph, vol. LIII. 2014-2015.

Linda Granfield, a native of Melrose, Massachusetts, is the award-winning author of 30 history books for adults and young readers; John McCrae is the subject of two of those titles. She holds degrees from Northeastern University and the University of Toronto; Linda lives in Toronto, Canada. She invites anyone with further information about the Packard family of Brooklyn to contact her via her website:

Figure 1: "Penance" hand-written on "Alderley" stationary. Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - McCrae House (M1999.6.1)

John McCrae and the Mysterious Miss Packard

by Linda Granfield

“Alderley/Kennebunkport, Maine”

So reads the blue-inked letterhead on a piece of stationery carefully preserved in “Poems”, a richly-bound book in the Guelph Museums’ collection. The name of the author of the book, John McCrae, is stamped in gold, like the title.1 Below the letterhead is McCrae’s poem “Penance”, hand-written by the poet himself, apparently based on recall. A verse is missing and different word choices are captured on the notepaper version than are seen in later published examples. While the textual differences are interesting and worthy of further study, it was the “Alderley” address that first captured my interest and led me to the book’s “publisher” E.H.P.-Miss Elizabeth Hutchinson Packard.

As I had spent many a childhood, week-long, family summer holiday on the beaches of southern Maine, I was familiar with Wells, York, Ogunquit, and Kennebunkport. “K’port,” as it is known to locals, is familiar to many today as the site of the presidential Bush family’s compound; however, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Kennebunkport was well-known as the summer playground of the wealthy who traveled there from New York, Boston, Pittsburgh and other large, unbearably hot cities on the American East Coast.

The Cape Arundel part of Kennebunkport still features rocky shores and spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean, and it was such vistas and cool breezes that led to the building of “cottages” on the land rising above the shore. American architects such as John Calvin Stevens2 were engaged to design and build shingle-style homes with rugged stone fireplaces, large porches, superb cross-ventilation and plenty of room for boat-storage, horse stalls, and quarters for the servants who accompanied their employers on their annual trips to the Maine coast.

Figure 2: John McCrae and Ethel Halsey at the front door of “Alderley,” 1903. Photo courtesy of David Gardner-Medwin.

Figure 3: The same spot at the front door of “Alderley”  in 2010. Photo courtesy of Linda Granfield.

Clearly, given his hand-written poem on the “Alderley” notepaper, John McCrae had visited Kennebunkport. The questions remained: with whom was he spending time, and was the cottage known as “Alderley” still standing? Biographer Dianne Graves mentioned McCrae’s visit to friends who “had invited him to join them for a week in September [1903].”3 Unfortunately, the friends were not named. Sir Andrew Macphail noted that among McCrae’s “diversions” was “one visit to the Packards in Maine... ”4 I considered this information a significant breakthrough.

The clues “September 1903” and “the Packards” led me to no further satisfaction after a visit to Kennebunkport in 2009; a town librarian, however, offered to relay my questions to a local historian, Joyce Butler. Ms. Butler has written extensively about Kennebunkport through the ages and noted that “the town had a strong summer newspaper, The Wave, from 1887 to 1908 (published cottage lists and news items about owners).... ”5 Tandem research done between two strangers (Ms. Butler and me) resulted in the location of “Alderley” in 2010. A copy of a photograph in the Guelph Museums’ collections showing John McCrae reading on a porch was sent to Maine with the hope that the decorative porch trim would prove a match to the current cottage Ms. Butler saw on Old Fort Avenue -- and it did. Also, the cottage had been built for “Edwin Packard of Brooklyn, New York.”6 Another score, and another important lead.

Few residents of Brooklyn Heights in 1900 would not have known about the Packards and their magnificent home at the corner of Henry and Joralemon streets. The society and business pages of The Brooklyn Eagle, the local newspaper, regularly recorded the lives of those who lived within the solid walls of Number 241. The Packards were listed in the social register, The Brooklyn Blue Book, and the family’s three daughters, Mildred, Elizabeth, and Clara made their well-noted debuts.7

Edwin Packard, a direct descendant of John Alden of the Mayflower and Captain Samuel Packard who immigrated to the United States from Ipswich, England in the Diligence in 1638,  was born in 1841 in Roxbury, Massachusetts.8 By the 1860s, Packard was a linen buyer for the hugely successful A.T. Stewart & Co, a ground-breaking department (“dry goods”) store located on Broadway, near Grace Church, in New York City.9 In order to keep Alexander Turney Stewart’s internationally-known “Marble Palace” filled with the top-of-the-line goods required by his wealthy New York customers, buyers like Edwin Packard made business trips to Europe. One voyage, in 1865, had Packard traveling back to New York from Liverpool when sailing was once again safe after the American Civil War had ended.10

In April 1868, Edwin married Julia, the daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth Hutchinson of Brooklyn. Samuel had “amassed an ample fortune”11 through his own dry goods company, Wickhams & Hutchinson, located on Pearl Street in 1830s New York. He was also interested in the municipal government in Brooklyn, though “not a politician.”12 Other positions held by Samuel Hutchinson included Director in the American Exchange National Bank, Trustee in the Atlantic Mutual Marine Insurance Company and Vice President and Director in the Metropolitan Glass Insurance Company.13 Julia gave birth to six children, four daughters and two sons. Sadly, neither Norman (b. 1874) nor Edwin (b. 1877) survived past 14 months of age.14

Figure 4: "Alderley"as shown in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 17, 1901. Credit: Public Domain.

Figure 5: Alderley/Braemar, 2010. The oeil-de-boeuf window and the enclosed porch were not the part of the original design. Photo courtesy of Linda Granfield.

Elizabeth Hutchinson Packard, the third daughter, was born July 10, 1872 in Bridge of Allan, Scotland.15 The family was in Scotland with Edwin while he purchased linen for Stewart’s. Bridge of Allan, three miles north of Stirling, had an early history in textile manufacturing and copper mining. Local mineral springs, however, led to development as a spa destination for travelers, the Packards among them.16 In October that year, at the age of three months, Elizabeth “Bessie” Packard made her first journey, home to America.17 The next month, in Guelph, Ontario, John was born to David and Janet McCrae. No one could have foreseen that 25 years later, the lives of these two infants would intertwine.

During the 1870s and until about 1882, the Packard family lived at 102 Montague Street, Brooklyn, in a brownstone house that in 1875 was assessed at the then-considerable value of $25,000.18 By 1880, the family had endured the deaths of their two baby sons and a four-year-old daughter. Edwin was listed as a “retired linen importer”, aged only 39.19

In 1882, he was elected the President of the Kings County Republican General Committee after he “pledged to bring about harmony in the party and was not a factionist.”20 The Brooklyn Eagle called him “a Republican of the ‘regular’ stamp, but of great independence of thought and convictions.”21 He, along with Theodore Roosevelt, was one of the delegates at-large from New York to attend the Republican National Convention in Chicago for the presidential election in 1884.22 The Republicans supported James G. Blaine (Edwin Packard was not a Blaine fan23) who was defeated by Democrat Grover Cleveland. In fact, Edwin “bolted the ticket and supported Cleveland.”24

Figure 6: John McCrae, in 1903, reading The Master of Ballantrae on the Arderley porch. Note the shape of the porch trim here and in the 2010 front entry image. Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - McCrae House (M1968X.436.3).

By 1885, the Packard family had moved to 241 Henry Street, a grand home built for them, a mansion that more than adequately reflected the business successes of Edwin Packard. From his nearby Remsen Street office, he sold new-build homes on Garfield Place, near Prospect Park, Brooklyn.25 He was the president of the Franklin Trust Company, and later of the New York Guaranty and Indemnity Company. He was a director of the Franklin Safe Deposit Company, the American Writing Paper Company, the Fajardo Sugar Company, and the Brooklyn YMCA.26 Amazingly, given the amount of time each of these positions would have demanded of him, Edwin Packard was also a member of the New York Chamber of Commerce and served for a time as a civil service commissioner.

Edwin Packard, with his wife Julia, also found time to attend their children’s school performances. During the commencement exercises marking her graduation from Mrs. Robert Goodwin’s school on Montague Street, nearly 16-year-old Bessie acted in “an amusing farce, ‘No Cure, No Pay,’” in which she played “Aunt Maria Midget-a little hard of hearing.”27

Bessie continued her education at Miss Porter’s School, in Farmington, Connecticut.28 While young women were expected to leave Miss Porter’s capable of heading their own households, they were also schooled in Latin, modern languages, the sciences, history and geography. Drawing and music lessons and daily physical exercise, which included horseback riding that Elizabeth Packard adored, were also prescribed by founder Sarah Porter.29

Figure 7: Elizabeth Packard riding side-saddle. McCrae is accompanying her in this photograph believed taken at Alderley in Kennebunkport, Maine, 1903. Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - McCrae House (M1999.7.1).

During the 1890s, Elizabeth Packard, as well as her sister Mildred, appeared often in newspaper articles relating details about brilliant society balls and the composition of wedding parties in Brooklyn. Lavish descriptions of the locales fill paragraphs in each article: rooms with gilded columns are full of sparkling incandescent lights, jardinieres of roses and lilies, laurel and rose wreaths, and musicians hidden behind "a huge screen of white and pink azaleas". 30 Many a Brooklyn wedding featured one or more of the Packard sisters among the bridesmaids.

More serious matters, like settlement work, support for education, women’s suffrage and free trade, however, were also part of the Misses Packards’ world. In April 1894, Bessie, in the absence of the president of the Brooklyn Civitas Club, presided over a club meeting where the speaker, the local Register of Arrears, Frederick W. Hinrichs, spoke of free trade and also about the vote for women, who at that time were still disenfranchised:

He [Hinrichs] said there was no logical reason why woman [sic] should not stand in the same relation to the Government as man, and he gave her some qualified compliments upon her brain power. “To my mind there is no great difference between men and women intellectually,” he said. They say women have limitations, but even that may be doubted. They also say women do not care anything about suffrage and public rights... Take up some book on the subject [democracy] and do some thinking. Reach a conclusion and then speak heroically upon it and convince your fellow-women... 31

By the summer of 1897, Elizabeth Hutchinson Packard emerged as a young woman, talented in music, trained in many areas, well-travelled, and considerate of the needs of those less fortunate than herself. Philanthropy was always a part of the Packard family schedule; Julia Packard was a patroness of events that raised funds in aid of the Brooklyn Home for Aged Men, for example. At 25, Bessie was taken on-staff to nurse ailing Baltimore children over the summer at the Robert Garrett Children’s Sanatorium in Mt. Airy, Maryland. As it happened, a certain young Canadian, John McCrae, was working there, too.

Figure 8: The Packard family home, 241 Henry Street, Brooklyn, New York. Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library - Brooklyn Collection.

McCrae was a medical school student at the University of Toronto. He had completed three years of his studies and went to Maryland before beginning his final year in the university medical program.32 While neither Packard nor McCrae letters remarking upon their meeting at Mt. Airy exist, photographs in McCrae’s scrapbook albums place the two there among others on staff. The images, blue-tinged due to the chemicals used in photodeveloping, show “Miss Packard” sitting on the porch of the staff quarters with other nurses, and Bessie tempting a dog named “Christopher” with a treat. Given that John had been a member of the Varsity Glee Club and Bessie was a member of the Brooklyn Amateur Musical Club one can easily imagine singing was a shared interest, as well as horse-back riding and reading. Both were raised in the Presbyterian faith; Bessie taught Sunday School at the First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn.33 Elizabeth’s birth in Scotland mirrored McCrae’s own family heritage there. And it was during the same summer that “Alderley” was being built in Kennebunkport, Maine.34

Figure 9: Miss Packard and "Christopher" at Robert Garrett Children's Sanatorium, Mt. Airy, Maryland, 1897. Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - McCrae House, (M1968X.44931).

After the sanatorium work in Maryland, McCrae returned to Toronto and graduated from medical school in early 1898. Within two years he was serving with the British artillery in the South African War. Elizabeth Packard, meanwhile, had returned to her life in Brooklyn Heights, New York. Few details are known of this time in her life.

Serendipity, or careful planning, was to put John McCrae and Bessie Packard in the same place again, in 1900. This time, they were in Montreal, where Dr. McCrae had a private medical practice, and was a medical school professor at McGill University. He served at more than one Montreal hospital. Also at McGill was Dr. John Taylor Halsey, who taught pharmacology in the medical school from 1900 until 1904 when he left Montreal to take a position at Tulane University in New Orleans.35

Mrs. John T. Halsey was the former Mildred W. Packard, older sister of Elizabeth. The marriage took place at the Packard home in November 189936 and their first child was expected a year later. Although Bessie nursed children in Maryland, there is no evidence of her having received formal nurses’ training at any time. Given her experience, however, it can be assumed that with Mildred’s coming confinement, Bessie’s presence in Montreal would have been needed and appreciated. Ethel Mildred Halsey was born on November 22, 1900 in Montreal; her first home was on Durocher Street, mere blocks from Dr. McCrae’s apartment on Metcalfe Street. It is difficult to believe that the Halsey family, including Bessie, did not welcome the chance to share time and recollections with John McCrae. It is no surprise that McCrae was invited to enjoy the sunshine and surf at “Alderley” in 1903, the year before the Halseys permanently moved to New Orleans.

Figure 10: Miss Packard (right) as Robert Garrett  Children's Sanatorium, Mt. Airy, Maryland, 1897. Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - McCrae House (M1968X.44931).

Two photographs donated to the Guelph Museums-McCrae House by members of the Packard family show their “Aunt Bessie” riding side-saddle in Maine with John McCrae also on horseback as summer ended and autumn’s crispness meant the cottage had to be closed for the winter. He wrote two poems on the letterhead -- and she kept the copies for the rest of her life.

After that week with the Packards, McCrae returned to Montreal and Bessie was once more in Brooklyn. There is nothing extant to prove that the two friends stayed in touch by letter, further visits, or even via that wonderful gadget, the telephone.

John McCrae’s life after 1903 is well-documented: his dedication to his field of pathology; his teaching; his poetry contributions to various publications; his co-authorship of a major medical text; his rejected marriage proposal to his brother Tom’s sister-in-law, Nona Gwyn. And, in 1914, the beginning of his service as a doctor in the First World War.

Bessie’s life after 1903 continued to be one dedicated to philanthropic work and family duty. Following the marriage of her sister Clara to Harold Sterling Gladwin in 1908,37 Bessie remained in the Henry Street home with her parents. Her list of associations for the rest of her life included the YWCA, the Colony, Cosmopolitan, Women’s National Republican, and City Garden clubs, as well as the National Society of Colonial Dames. In a family photograph taken in about 1911, “Aunt Bessie” stands in the centre, surrounded by nieces and nephews; she never married. In 1912, Bessie spent four months visiting Italy. Her life was full and busy.

Figure 11: Dr. John McCrae at Robert Garrett Children's Sanatorium, Mt. Airy, Maryland, 1897. Photo courtesy of Guelph Museums - McCrae House (M1968X.44931).

John McCrae was in France in 1915, but the United States would not send troops into war for two more years. Edwin Packard had purchased “Welwood,” a country home in Bernardsville, New Jersey, from the Squibb family of pharmaceutical fame: the Packards renamed the house “Woodcote.” Still an important part of her parents’ daily lives, Bessie spent part of her summers in the beautiful fieldstone house built in 1765 by the Kirkpatrick family.38 Mine Brook was nearby; apple orchards and acres of pastureland made it a peaceful place for the Packards to escape the pollution of New York City and where Bessie could ride her horses for hours. In about 1915, Bessie’s father gave the title to “Woodcote” to her.39

“In Flanders Fields,” the famous poem by John McCrae, was written and published in that same year; there is no evidence regarding Elizabeth Packard’s knowledge of the poem at that time. So vast was the reproduction of McCrae’s poem, it is difficult to believe Bessie didn’t read it and think of her friend.

When the United States entered the Great War in 1917, Edwin and Julia Packard donated an ambulance for American field service in France.40 In Bernardsville, Bessie served as the head of the “Farmerettes,” a group that raised crops during the war. (She was also active in the work of the Visiting Nurse Association in that community.)41 The Civitas Club of Brooklyn supported the Women’s Overseas Hospital during the war.42 The members of the Cosmopolitan Club “had many members in uniform, raised money for Belgian Relief and for the purchase of an ambulance in Italy, and installed machines that every week knitted hundreds of pairs of socks for the [American] troops.”43 In October 1917, Bessie and Julia were wearing “Vote No” badges at a public meeting held under the auspices of the Brooklyn Auxiliary of the State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage.44

January 1918 brought the world news of John McCrae’s death in France. Meningitis and pneumonia had overwhelmed him in just a few days and he was buried in Wimereux, along the English Channel. Did Bessie read of McCrae’s passing while sitting in the warmth of Henry Street? Did the Packards reminisce about the time spent in Kennebunkport, at the cottage they’d later sold?45 We do not know; what we do know is that Bessie Packard read Sir Andrew Macphail’s 1919 book about John McCrae and had multiple copies. She took the poetry pages from the Macphail book, the hand-written poems, a photograph of McCrae and his signature and had them bound for a private volume. Inside the brown leather and grass-cloth cover are embossed the initials “E.H.P.”46 One hopes Bessie found some consolation in this personal and obviously meaningful book. Were the other handwritten poems included some that McCrae had recited and/or mailed to her? The question remains -- why did Elizabeth Packard feel so strongly about the loss? Had they corresponded during the war? There would have been plenty to share; for instance, Dr. Halsey served with the U.S. Army in the Medical Reserve Corps.47

Even greater losses occurred at 241 Henry Street during 1921. In April, Edwin Packard, 80, died of influenza. In June, 79-year-old Julia Hutchinson Packard passed away. Both parents were buried in the family plot at Green-Wood Cemetery, and by the year’s end sanctuary lights had been donated in their honour by the family to the First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn.48 In February 1922, it was reported that the Packard mansion “one of the show places of the Heights section” had been purchased by the African Inland Mission for use as local headquarters “after structural alterations to the interior of the home have been completed.”49 In just over a year, Elizabeth Packard and her sisters lost both parents and the family home.

Bessie moved into a Manhattan apartment, shared with a relative, and continued to live in Bernardsville, as well. She traveled extensively in the 1920s, to Italy, Egypt, and France; one wonders if a visit to McCrae’s grave in Wimereux was ever on a trip’s agenda. In 1930, Bessie sold “Woodcote” to Chauncey McPherson, a member of the American fencing team in the 1924 Olympic Games.50 It was time for a fresh start; Bessie bought property in Southwest Harbor, on Mount Desert Island, Maine and built a summer retreat, called “The Kedge,” in 1931.51

During the economic depression that gripped the world during the 1930s, Elizabeth Packard appears to have managed her funds well; she continued her philanthropy and her travel. And it is during the same period that the McCrae family once more appears in Bessie’s life. It is unknown when John’s sister, Geills McCrae Kilgour, met Elizabeth Packard, however, Bessie was certainly a part of Geills and James Kilgour’s children’s lives as they grew older. Society notices in The Winnipeg Tribune track Bessie’s visits to Manitoba in the 1930s. But how did Bessie know John McCrae’s sister and her family to such an extent that she could regularly schedule visits? Again, there is nothing extant in either family’s surviving records that entirely explains the relationship, its beginning, or its longevity.

Figure 12: The Packard family, circa 1911. Elizabeth is in the centre, behind Edwin and Julia. Sister Clara is seated on the right.; sister Mildred, on the left. Dr. John Halsey (left) and Harold Gladwin (right). Photo courtesy of Noel Barnes Williams.

After Geills Kilgour’s death in March 1933 (her husband James had passed away in 1931) Bessie was a December guest of the Misses Margaret and Katharine Kilgour in their Kingsway, Winnipeg family home for six weeks after which time she left to spend the rest of the winter in Santa Barbara, California, at the home of her sister Clara Gladwin.52 Such a lengthy visit with the young nieces of John McCrae, over the busy Christmas and New Year’s period, suggests a close relationship with Miss Packard.53 Again, what was the nature of that family connection so long after John McCrae’s death?

Margaret Kilgour married architect Robert Gardner-Medwin in Winnipeg in 1935. Elizabeth Packard and her sister Mildred Halsey traveled to England in 1936, and Katharine Kilgour married Dr. Donald Dennison Campbell in England in 1937.54 Had the visits with the McCrae family ended?

As the Second World War began, Margaret Gardner-Medwin and her son David moved temporarily from England to Canada for safety. In 2010, David recalled meeting “Miss Packard (as she was always called) only once”55 during those war years:

My mother Margaret took me and my younger brother to stay for a summer holiday at Miss Packard’s house in Maine -- a large house on the shore... I remember being taken out for trips on her very large varnished motorboat and fishing for flounders. The boat was in command of “Captain Kenny [Kenney]” -- I think her handyman who wore a peaked cap and probably acted also as her chauffeur. He had a family of young children of about my age -- we used to play with them.... My other main memory is of getting into a hornet’s nest in the garden, with unpleasant results. Miss Packard I remember only as a nice old lady who wore a hat.56

The boat David recalled was the gleaming, 35-foot Elco cruisette Bessie bought at the 1933 National Motorboat Show in New York.57 David’s guess was that his grandmother Geills “met [Miss Packard] through Jack [John McCrae] and had visited her in the Kennebunkport days. He also offered that “Miss Packard featured occasionally in Geills Kilgour’s letters to her mother” but that there had been “no useful clues” found there.58 Alas.

Bessie’s summer sojourns to Maine during the Second World War were balanced by work done back in New York City. Once again, the Cosmopolitan Club was answering the call for aid: the members established a War Relief Committee, operated a workroom that produced thousands of garments, planted a Victory Garden, sold war bonds, sponsored weekly parties for service members, and provided classes in “first aid, home nursing, and nutrition.” 59 As well, Bessie worked with the Red Cross during the war. It is safe to assume that she was involved when, during the war, her niece Ethel Halsey Blum, chaired the Brooklyn chapter of “Bundles for Britain” and the Brooklyn Prisoner of War Packaging Center, “one of five Red Cross groups that  shipped over two million food packages to American prisoners of war in Europe and the Far East.”60

Figure 13: "Captain" Felto

Comments / 1 comments

I have a letter from Theodore Roosevelt addressed to Edwin Packard at the Henry Street address. Would be glad to share if interested.
April 8, 2018, 5:39 pm  

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