Some years ago, I visited with Emilie’s grandson Victor in his California home. I shared my research on the Baker and Loring families. He shared stories of his grandmother and of his childhood, including these memories from the spring of 1941, between Where Beauty Dwells and Stars in Your Eyes… just before World War II.
“In the spring of ’41, my mother took Val and I down to New York City on the train. To me, it was like going to the moon. I’d always heard about it.”
“We’d been confined to Maine, and then we’d go to New Hampshire by car–when we had a car–when we were little, to see the animal farm near Nashua. So there were three states I’d been in, and we went in the train from Boston down to New York City and stayed a week and saw the town.”
“We saw the Normandie and the Queen Mary, side by side, before they burned the Normandie. In fact, that happened later that year, maybe the next year. We weren’t in the war yet, and it was dangerous to be offshore because of the submarines.”
“And she took us to visit Mrs. Kerley… As I recall, she had a–kind of a New York accent.”
Mrs. Kerley was Emilie Loring’s good friend from childhood (See: High of Heart in Merry England). She lived on East 81st street, overlooking Central Park from the East. That February, she and other members of the Episcopal Actors’ Guild organized a bridge party in the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria to fund the Guild’s mission to feed and clothe the poor who came to its door. Do you remember the “Rescue Mission” in Hilltops Clear?
“Most of them never have had a chance. I admit they are not the sort who can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, but, give them a boost, and who knows but that a job, a few months in this grand country and a new deal would remake them?… What say, Gerard?”
“I think it’s keen. Give me a letter to the head of the Rescue Mission and I will go to New York tomorrow.” Hilltops Clear
Val remembered that trip to New York, too, and shared with me recently:
“I remember that we stayed at the Barbizon Plaza. It was the first time we had ever been anywhere, except Maine in the summer. It was quite an event. I can remember being in the elevator… It was paneled wood. I don’t know why it made such an impression. I think just because it was kind of a new experience. I was eleven at the time, and Vic must have been thirteen or fourteen.”
The Barbizon Plaza, on the northwest corner of Fifty-eighth Street and Sixth Avenue, declared itself “dedicated to the privileged attachment of the cultivated mind” with elegant lodgings for “those persons who always do things well.” Walls of glass block let in sunshine on the upper floors; piping hot meals were left each morning in a special cubicle built into each apartment’s door; and a stylish, Art Deco interior set a modern tone. No wonder it made an impression.
Emilie loved New York and mentioned it often in her books.
“Like it? I love it! It’s so big, so beautiful and – and- and so faulty… I like to be where there are many people. I would starve for companionship, not food, in the wilderness.” The Trail of Conflict
New York! The words were a magic carpet which transported her thousands of miles in the sob of a violin. To the martial blare of trumpets, the melody of strings, she slipped back into the world she had known all her life… They would have lunched at Pierre’s or Sherry’s or the Colony Club. She could smell the exotic scent of gardenias, the spiraling cigarette smoke. After that they would have made the round of the important galleries, making smart, more or less–generally less–intelligent criticisms of the paintings exhibited. Lighted Windows
“New York. You’re lucky. Divine place. I adore it! The lights. Music. Theaters. Churches. Pictures. Lectures. Shops. Contacts. There are always celebrities, living there or going through, who are doing big things.” Where Beauty Dwells
“You haven’t told me what New York shows you liked best last winter. I go over once or twice a month.” As Long As I Live
It’s a wonder that her grandchildren hadn’t been sooner, but then again, so much of what Emilie enjoyed there was for adults. New York also belonged especially to an earlier era in her life, when Beth Kerley’s father was still on the stage and when Emilie’s brother, Robert, produced plays for vaudeville and musical theater.
While her grandchildren vacationed in New York, Emilie gave interviews in Boston for the radio and newspapers. She had twenty novels in print, and she kept at it.
“I work steadily for four, five, sometimes six hours, starting always in the morning six days a week. After that, I’m only too glad to resume homemaking activities. Concocting a dessert, preparing a salad, even scrubbing Idaho potatoes for baking till they are clean and shining is a restful change from hours of mental concentration.”
Emilie Loring in an interview for “Good Morning Ladies” on WEEI radio
Life in the United States changed drastically in the following months. Pearl Harbor was attacked. The U.S. Coast Guard seized the SS Normandie, renamed it USS Lafayette, and began to outfit it for war. That’s when it burned, just as Victor remembered, and sank to the bottom of the harbor. Beth Kerley died a year after this visit, in 1942. Her husband lived three years longer, in their home overlooking Central Park.
Memories like these are poignant. We know what comes next, but they couldn’t at the time. How could the young boy who saw the SS Normandie and the Queen Mary on this trip to New York have known that he would wear an Army uniform by the end of World War II?