(This is Part V of a five-part series. Read Part IV here. )
Even if the Will had been written in a moment of particular frustration and anger, and time had passed since 1907 when it was sent in the full haste of fury to Agnes; even if time had brought about a full healing of the husband, a fully realized relationship with a beloved first born, and a new home away from Nora; even if she knew she would carry her second pregnancy to a full term and had no expectation of dying, it was clear from the 1911 letters to her sister Agnes, that Anne did not want to be buried in Springfield, in the plot bought and owned by her mother-in-law.
“I want to be buried with my people, the Stuarts.” I thought it was the classic clash between mother and daughter-in-law.
But when I finally focused on the cemetery map, on the information about the plot that the St. Agnes Cemetery archivist had e-mailed me, I realized that there was another layer of conflict and tension between Anne and Nora, and Anne and other members of the Fitzgerald family: the Stuarts, not the Fitzgeralds, came from the more aristocratic end of town. The Fitzgeralds were nowhere near any kind of aristocracy hill, they were firmly in the reaches of a middle class that was just beginning to aspire to the professions. The Fitzgerald plot in Calvary showed a certain affluence, but without any influence on the social structure of the town, and in 1905, Springfield itself was a modest town rather than a bustling city. It was the capital of Illinois, but all industry and activity seemed to be focused on Chicago. A backwater, for a young woman raised in the greater capital of Albany, and the greater resort of Geneva, for a young woman who had tasted the kind of freedom and independence that life as an actress brings with it.
How much disapproval was Nora unable to hide?
The plot in Albany that held my grandmother was on ‘Founders Hill’; the Delehanty-Stuart family had been important enough in the mid 1850s to be one of a small and select group of families to contribute to the establishment of the Catholic Cemetery of St. Agnes, and had secured for themselves and their descendants a special corner of the land.
When my sister and I reached the cemetery and found the plot, it became even clearer. St. Agnes bore no resemblance at all to modest Calvary: the space was bigger, the monument was bigger, the placing of the monument was high up on a slope that allowed a full view of the landscape below; even the distance between the stone markers was greater. And there was the stone that bore my grandmother’s name: the only concession to the great love between my grandparents was that the stone proudly announced itself as that of Anne Stuart, wife of Robert Fitzgerald, 1878-1913.
Close to that stone is the stone marking the place where Robert Emmett Fitzgerald’s only sister, Marie, is buried. That was the other and longer lasting surprise of our visit. Marie married into the McHugh Stuart branch of the Delahanty-Stuart family. She married a cousin of Anne’s on her father’s side and bore two children.
When Anne died, however, she was a young woman of twenty-four, still unmarried, and she too had embraced an acting career. I did not realize all this until I returned to the Beinecke to continue searching and researching, and came across the letter Marie Fitzgerald wrote to Agnes Stuart on March 30, 1913, in which she describes in full detail the ordeal and the slow dying of Anne after giving birth to Monty.
“…I called up Mother [Nora] to ask about everyone – and she told me we had a new nephew born the day before – that both her and Anne were doing nicely – next day Monday – I had no word.
Tuesday I telephoned…again and Mother said Anne hadn’t felt so well but she believed it nothing serious…
Thursday a short note from Bob saying she was not getting along so well…when I got there on Sunday I was horrified to find that they were afraid our dear Anne was not going to live…
All Monday afternoon we stayed at the hospital…five o’clock she began to sink…at nearly twenty minutes to eight she slipped away…To tell you all the details would be endless – poor Bob how his heart is broken…
I went myself and got her the sweetest white mill dress all hand embroidered with darling little insets of duchess lace…lovely little satin underslip – then another lovely French lingerie princess slip – and her undergarments – dear little white kid pumps and silk stockings…
We had a lovely soft couch casket for her to lie on…Father Hickey said the Mass…we left on the 11.45 Alton Limited for Chicago then the Lake Shore to Albany…
your uncle Billy – Bob – Art and I went with our dear one – to take her back among her own people – to her beloved Albany…They laid her next to her dear mother and father…such a beautiful spot near her hills and the lovely Hudson she so loved….”
This letter was written in blue ink on five sheets of folded paper headed with the name of The Stratford Hotel in Chicago. On the second, third, and fifth front of the folded sheets there are splatters that look as though left from dried out drops of water on the blue ink: tears. Agnes’ tears.
It is clear from this letter that in 1913 there was a telephone in Nora’s house, and that Marie called her mother regularly. Why didn’t they call Agnes so she could rush to the bedside of her only sister? Could she not have made it by train from California during the days when the Fitzgeralds knew Anne was seriously sick, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday even? Even the Friday?
I plundered the correspondence in search of information about Agnes: who was this woman whose tears have permanently smudged the ink with which her sister’s death is described, who had kept every scrap of the past that she was able to keep, to pass on to my father -- who had in his turn kept it to be archived in the boxes I was looking at in greater wonderment every day?
From my father’s regular birthday letters, I discovered that Agnes’ birthday was in February, but not the day. I discovered that she had enlisted in the Navy in October 1918, and was discharged in November 1919. I learned that she worked for the Veterans Administration office in DC as a ledger accountant, although not when she started working for them, nor exactly when she left and retired on permanent disability. All I could piece together was that she was no longer working there when the US entered the War in 1941.
The reason Aunt Agnes was in California when Anne died in March of 1913 was that she had pelvic tuberculosis and had been operated on, and presumably was unable to make the long train trip to her sister in Springfield and with her sister’s body to Albany: I came across this fact in a report from the Medical Board of the Veterans Administration in 1935, that lists a whole range of ailments from which she suffered: “Pelvic examination revealed…the history of pelvic tuberculosis in which surgery was performed….” She wrote about it to my father:
“…it is one of Nature’s greatest ironies that I was deprived by TB from ever having (a baby). Born a strong baby, I was filled with TB germs by my wet nurse…the medics didn’t know enough to screen such nurses before giving them a healthy baby to nurse…” (April 1951, letter from Agnes to Robert).
In her last birthday letters to my father, on October 8 1969, she reiterated and amplified the story, writing as though she was beginning an autobiography:
“…I was born in a fine home, on the best part of our best residential street – State Street, a short block and a half from a beautiful park, and tragedy was given me early – a strong healthy baby, mother could not nurse me, didn’t want nor expect me – and there were no formulas in those days, so Kate Fardy, a wet nurse, who died of TB shortly after leaving us, filled me with TB germs with my first drop of milk, and they developed before I graduated….”
I calculated from keeping track of infrequent mentions, that Agnes was born in 1888, the same year as her sister-in-law Marie Fitzgerald, the girl who was seventeen and still living at home when Anne married her oldest brother and joined the Fitzgerald Springfield household, the young woman who composed the letter to Agnes after her sister died, the only Fitzgerald buried in the Stuart plot at the cemetery in Albany.
Agnes was ten years younger than Anne. Her mother was thirty-eight when she gave birth to her.
“…but my greater grief in life is towards my mother…who did not want me. She did not expect another child, and I was distinctly unwelcome. Everything was Anne until she went out to Springfield one winter, and when she returned to Albany, my mother apologized to me and said she had never realized what an unselfish and kind daughter I had been to her. So I can only feel sorry that her last days were conscience stricken about me. She walked on the roof at St. Peter’s (hospital) where I was at one time, and asked me to forgive her, which of course I did and have…” (undated letter from Agnes to Robert Fitzgerald).
“…she had not initiative, no mind or will of her own, she was dominated all her life by others thru her fears and scruples. She married my father against not only Grandfather’s advice, but her mother’s wishes…because he threatened to go to the devil if she didn’t and she was afraid she would be responsible for the loss of his soul. She abominated the sexual life, and was torn between feeling of sinfulness in living with him, and her fear of the responsibility if she didn’t…” (undated letter from Agnes to Robert Fitzgerald).
I have only one photograph of the Stuart family in my possession (above), and I finally pause to really look at it.
The family of four is standing at the foot of entrance stairs on what looks like the gravel driveway of a large house, looking into the camera. From the clothes, it is clear that the photograph is from the turn of the twentieth century: the two women, Anna Montague and Anne Stuart, are wearing white dresses that no longer have the rich elaborations and stultifying constrictions of Victorian apparatus for women, but are not yet the elegant clothes of the Edwardian period. The time must be around 1902 or 1903, and that tallies with the age of the girl Agnes, who is standing next to her poised sister, holding her hand or grasping at the bouquet of flowers Anne is holding -- but it is difficult to see what she is in fact holding, and the bouquet could resolve itself into a lap dog of some kind in a better resolution. The father, Thomas, is in shirtsleeves, more informally dressed than the rest of the family. He is holding a treat for the bull terrier in front of him, whose tail can almost be seen wagging.
Agnes is no older than thirteen, and her stance perhaps speaks merely to the gawkiness of prepubescent girlhood, although knowing she developed tuberculosis of the pelvis, I read it quite differently, and see in the forward thrust of the hip, in the slight twist of the hip, in the skinny shins, a whole future of discomfort and unease.
She is frowning against the sunlight, and the more revealing and illuminating detail to me is that she looks remarkably like her white haired mother. Anna Montague Stuart is standing on the far right, closest to the steps; her arms are held firmly against her sides, her hands are tightly clasped in front of the dark belt of her light dress, and the same frown has deepened into a permanent furrow on her forehead.
Among Agnes’ correspondence are her instructions for burial, written in 1967: she wants to be cremated, with no ceremony of any kind, and she wants her ashes to be scattered over the plot that has been allocated to her as an enlisted member of the US Navy. She is the only one of her generation who requests cremation. She does not consider burial in the Delehanty-Stuart plot at St.Agnes Cemetery, where her people are, where her sister is.