At the end of October, Margery moved into the Woodville
Studio with her father and mother. Winter was coming and the Merryall
house was not equipped for cold weather. Teddy was not feeling well at
this time and went with Cecil to the doctor. To everyone’s horror he was
diagnosed with tuberculosis. Margery tried to console her mother, but
her own fears overwhelmed her. She was already losing a close cousin,
Elizabeth Ashburner, to this dreadful disease. Teddy must get well...she
loved him so much, and he was such an important part of all their lives.
She wrote to Aggie to tell her the bad news. It was a depressing time
for the entire family.
In December Ted went to the hospital in New Haven,
waiting to be accepted into a sanitarium called Laurel Heights in
Shelton, Connecticut. This was the same place where O'Neill had been
when he dealt with tuberculosis.
Gene and Agnes were very attentive and sent many letters
to Teddy through the winter. Gene was distressed as he related the awful
fears that had come up for him when he had gone through this, years
before. His thoughts seemed to be more with himself than with Teddy as
he wrote of his own first weeks at the “San,” as he called it. “They are
the devil’s own for getting one at the bottom of depression,” his letter
described. “But never mind! After that it gets better and better until
you begin to find a new and interesting life going on around you. I
honestly didn’t mind my six months in the San…after the first one was
Gene to Teddy in hospital, December 20, 1926.
Ted knew Gene was trying to encourage him. This was fine
for Gene, but Ted could not be so optimistic. He was older and had
enjoyed an interesting life. Now he felt he was facing death. There
didn’t seem much hope of recovery.
Teddy about life in Laurel Heights Sanitarium, March 6,
Teddy wrote many letters to the family from Laurel
Heights as he grew weaker and weaker. Members of the family took turns
going down to see him as often as possible, but it was difficult finding
transportation. The letters became shorter and shorter, and it became
more apparent to all that he would soon succumb to the tuberculosis.
In 1927 Charles Lindbergh made history crossing the
Atlantic in a small plane. 1927 was also the year the O’Neills were
making history, and the year I was born in Merryall.
Agnes and Gene were still in Bermuda at Spithead when
Agnes had heard of her father’s illness. She was devastated and felt
extremely frustrated at being so far away from him. She wrote to him
About this same time Gene told Agnes of his infatuation
with Carlotta. When he had left Bermuda in October and gone to New York
for a month, he met her for a second time. He remembered Carlotta from
Belgrade Lakes. It was, as he put it, “the beginning of the end,” as he
was not able to put her out of his mind this time. When he returned to Spithead Aggie could sense his tension, though he declared he was happy
to be home.
When Gene talked about this to Agnes, he assured her it
was just a short infatuation and it was over. He wanted to be honest
with her, but Aggie felt there was more to the story. She was beside
herself with grief and pain. Her world was tumbling down around her.
Not wanting to burden her father with these troubles,
Agnes wrote a letter to Teddy of a strange experience she had.
Agnes to Teddy about Ghost, 1927.
Spithead had been built in the seventeen hundreds by a
Captain Hezekiah Frith, a privateer who made his fortune by taking
captive French and Spanish merchant ships. The house served not only as
a home for the family but also as a storehouse for the captured booty.
The O’Neills were aware of the ghost stories that had been handed down
for over a century by tenants who claimed to have seen the ghosts of
both Captain Hezekiah and his son, Hezekiah Jr., who had been killed by
lightening while out at sea on Granaway Deep. Was the ghost Aggie saw
and described in the letter to her father, a part of the Frith
legend…perhaps from a family captured by Hezekiah?
Teddy wrote a letter to Cecil asking her to send a word
to Aggie about the “dream happening.”
I wrote A. She had better write you about that dream
business. She might get in a nervous state. Will you write Mrs. Eakins (Thomas Eakins’ widow), 1729 Mt. Vernon St., a letter...I
will drop her a line or two but that can be all. Tell her what is
really the matter with me and that I am being taken care of. I am
much the same except it’s devilishly tiresome lying here. Give best
love to all. Thank B. Burton (Barbara) for letter.
In April, Agnes went home to see her father. The family
knew Teddy was dying. Toward the end of May they received the
heartbreaking news of his death. At the end of June, I was born to
Margery in Merryall.
In the fall of that year, mother Cecil and Margery, with
the new baby, moved from the Merryall house into Teddy’s studio-bungalow
in Woodville. It would be warm for the winter and they would be next
door to Margery's sister Barbara (Bobby) and Bobby's husband, Walter
Sheldon, and their four children. Bobby and Walter owned a farm up the
road and were a comfort to Budgie and grandmother Cecil. Family members
were all grieving deeply for Teddy. His spirit remained in their
memories, passed down to the rest of the family in the many paintings,
sketches and stories he left behind.
Roy Pederson produced an exhibit of Edward W. Boulton’s
work in October, 2001, held at the Pedersen Gallery in Lambertville, New
Jersey…seventy nine years after his first exhibit in 1922.
painting from brochure of exhibit at Pedersen Gallery,
Lambertville, NJ, circa 1990s. Courtesy of Roy Pederson.
Edward W. Boulton by daughter Cecil Boulton II, circa 1920s.
Mother Cecil, as well as mourning for Teddy, was deeply
concerned about Agnes and the letters she had received about her coping
with Gene's interest in Carlotta. All the sisters kept in touch with
Agnes while she was so distressed. Letters went back and forth daily. It
was a tense and trying time for everyone.
Before long, Margery received word from Aggie that Gene
had finally made up his mind to leave the family. Agnes had heard the
news, not from Gene, but on a cable sent to her from The New York
World asking her about numerous reports of a divorce between herself
and O'Neill. He had left Bermuda, planning to go back in a few weeks,
but changed his mind. Agnes said she went to New York to try to settle
the problem but nothing worked out. Brook Farm had been sold at a ten
thousand dollar loss, and Gene went to his lawyer to make a settlement
with Agnes. She realized it was all over, and went back to Bermuda. She
heard from the lawyer that Spithead was going to remain with her and she
would have a set sum of alimony each month until she remarried. Very
angry, Agnes wrote to Gene that she wasn't even divorced yet! She also
had the sad task of telling Shane that his father was not coming back.
Eventually, Agnes took Shane, Oona and Mrs. Clark back
to the United States where she opened The Old House on Herbertsville
Road and spent the remainder of her life based there. Shane, at nine,
was sent off to a private school in Lenox, Massachusetts. Young Barbara,
fourteen years old, moved between private schools in the winters and
living with Nanna and Budgie in the summers because Agnes spent much
time traveling and found it too difficult to keep Barbara with her.
There were one or two winters Barbara stayed in Woodville with her aunt
and grandmother for the full year and went to school in New Preston.
Oona, at age three, remained with her mother and Mrs. Clark.
During this time, Agnes had met James Delaney from
Albany, New York. Delaney had been political editor for The Albany
Times-Union and later went back to the city to freelance and work
part-time for The New York Sun. He came to stay at the house in
West Point Pleasant while Agnes went to Reno for the divorce from Gene.
Jimmy hoped she would marry him after she came back, but she refused
because it would cut off her alimony. Aggie left for Reno at the end of
March and stayed, ironically, at the Count of Monte Cristo Ranch. Monte
Cristo was also the name of the O'Neill home in New London, Connecticut.
Before Agnes left, she hired a nurse for Oona because
Mrs. Clark was not well. She also asked her sister Cecil to stay at the
house to help because she would be at least six months in Reno. It seems
hard to imagine the hurtful absence of her mother for a six month
period suffered by this three-year-old child. Oona would not know or
understand what was happening to her special little world...with her
mother gone for so long. This was a serious abandonment for such a
When Agnes was in Reno for
divorce, at The Old House, July 2, 1929.
Shane, Oona and half-sister
Cecil, Jim Delaney, Oona and Mrs. Clark, 1927.
House with dirt road in front, 1927.
Shane heard about the divorce from the other children at
his school. It was in the news before Agnes had a chance to tell him,
and he didn't completely understand what had happened. When Shane came
home in the late spring, it was to find his beloved Gaga (Mrs. Clark)
had died, and his mother still away. It seemed strange to the rest of
the family that no one had been able to go to the school to bring him
home or to tell Shane about Gaga's death. All of this, on top of his
father's disappearing from his life, made it an extremely sorrowful and
unhappy time for a little boy nine years old. Shane carried this
nightmare of abandonment with him for the rest of his life.