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Chapter XII

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 over.”

Letter from 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.

Letter (partial) from Teddy about life in Laurel Heights Sanitarium, March 6, 1927.

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 constantly.

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.

Letter from 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.”

Dear Cecil,

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.

E.W.Boulton painting from brochure of exhibit at Pedersen Gallery, Lambertville, NJ, circa 1990s. Courtesy of Roy Pederson. Portrait of 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 little girl.

When Agnes was in Reno for divorce, at The Old House, July 2, 1929.
Jim Delaney with Oona. Shane with Mrs. Clark.
Shane, Oona and half-sister Barbara.
Shane, Aunt Cecil, Jim Delaney, Oona and Mrs. Clark, 1927.
The Old 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.

  Chapter XIII

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