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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Summer in the City
kudos a column of books, living history, and gallimaufry
by Marie J. Kuda
2000-07-07

This article shared 1280 times since Fri Jul 7, 2000
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About this time of year, after sweating through the Pride Parade and multiplying my normal monthly human contacts by an x-factor of 100, I begin fantasizing about cool mountain forests, running streams or even oceans.

My first "live-in lover" back in the early 1960s was from South Dakota and at least once a year for the eight years we were together we would visit the "Pa-Ha-Sa-Pa" the Black Hills area sacred to the Lacotah Sioux. It was there that I developed a taste for deep forests, quiet mountain meadows, and few people. It was so beautiful you almost didn't mind the occasional tourists headed for spots like Deadwood and Mt. Rushmore. I liked Deadwood, even visited Calamity Jane's grave in Mt. Moriah Cemetery. I still think she was a dyke. The gold found in Deadwood Gulch in 1876 sealed the fate of the Native Americans in the area.

Years later, another young lady accompanied me to the Hills and I photographed her holding a gay lib flag in front of the presidential stone visages on Rushmore. Now the Hills are thicker than ever with tourists; Ziolkowski's unfinished stone monument to Sitting Bull purports to be the "Indians" answer to Borglum's scarring of the hills. In a state that has under a million people, the beauty still lingers.

Escapes

In 1978-'79 I spent several months in San Francisco house-sitting for my cousin, an anthropologist, who was on sabbatical. Within an hour or two we could be in Muir Woods with the great sequoias or the vineyards of wine country. Or drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin headlands and stare out at the Pacific Ocean from on top of deserted concrete pillboxes—the coastal fortifications from our last great war. The headlands were declared a national park by Tricky Dick Nixon—a good deed—may he be rewarded in whatever beyond he haunts. Of course, 1978 was not a good year for escape. It was the year that Dan White, ex-cop and ex-city Supervisor, murdered Mayor Moscone and gay Supervisor Harvey Milk.

In the ensuing years, through the kindness of friends, I have been able to walk along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Key West, Florida and Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts— more trendy-gay than escapist. We did get to take a boat from Glouscester out among the amazing Humpback whales while visiting Cape Ann. And Door County in Wisconsin was great at end of season. One October we saw Salmon spawning in the shallows at Sister Bay and millions of lady-bugs massing in the forest.

Maine Beckons

But now I have the urge to go to Maine. Not for the trees or the ocean, but because so many women-loving-women chose to call it home. The fact that Maine is the only New England state without a gay-rights law does not deter me from wanting to walk where they walked and see what they saw. ( Maine's proposed gay-rights bill goes to voters for a referendum in November. According to the Bangor Daily News Gov. Angus King says he will sign the bill if it passes. )

Sarah Orne Jewett , the venerable nineteenth century "regional" novelist and short-story writer of Deephaven and Country of the Pointed Firs wrote some of her best work about women of Maine. She was born and raised in South Berwick, was a mentor to Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Willa Cather, and shared a "Boston Marriage" with Annie Fields for 30 years. Her family home in South Berwick, Maine and the houses in York Harbor that were settings for some of her best works are preserved for visitors.

Marguerite Yourcenar was the first woman writer ever to be inducted into the prestigious Academie Francais. Her Memoirs of Hadrian was a re-creation of the life of the bisexual Roman Emperor who after losing his young lover Antinous in a drowning accident glorified him with monuments and athletic games. Marguerite met Grace Frick in a Paris bar in 1937; they moved to the U.S. after the German occupation in 1940. They discovered Mount Desert Island, Maine, in 1942 and lived together in a comfortable home they named Petite Plaisance until Grace's death in 1979. Marguerite kept Grace's room as it had been, but sold her piano because looking at it every day caused her too much pain. She then took another companion 40 years her junior who also pre-deceased her—all three are buried in the Somesville cemetery.

Mary Drier, labor reformer, suffrage pioneer, founder in 1903 of the Women's Trade Union League ( WTUL ) , who also served on the National Board of the YWCA, died at her Southwest Harbor home of 35 years in 1963 —11 years after she lost her partner of 47 years, activist Frances Kellor.

My personal hero, Rachel Carson, lived in Boothbay, Maine, and strolled the tide-pools as she drew inspiration and strength for her books on the sea and her magnum opus, the ecological alert, Silent Spring. Her friend and muse, Dorothy Freeman, summered nearby and for the rest of the year ( from 1952 until Carson's death in 1964 ) they exchanged intimate letters, later published by Freeman's daughter.

Berenice Abbott was a renowned photographer famous in the straight world for saving the work of pioneer Eugene Atget, and her association with Man Ray. Her photographs of Paris lesbians in the 1920's have become contemporary icons. She is said to have been lovers with Elizabeth McCausland, who wrote an introduction to her work and to whose memory Abbott dedicated the collection of her photographs published in 1970. I only recently found that Abbott had done a book called A Portrait of Maine ( Macmillian, 1968 ) , and I am anxious to see the Maine she preserved.

In July of 1933, after Lorena Hickok gave up her job as Associated Press wire service reporter, she and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt escaped for a "honeymoon" to Quebec and the Gaspe Peninsula. Returning, ER drove her little blue convertible across the Canadian border into Maine at Presque Isle where she and Lorena were met with an unexpected parade of well-wishers. ER and Hick then stole a few days to themselves staying at the home of an actress friend of Hick's near Skowhegan, Maine, before ER had to return to the Roosevelt compound at Campobello and what would become a dozen years of duties as a President's wife.

Among the numbers of female-couples ER included in her friendship circle were New Deal maven Molly Dewson, head of the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee and her partner Evanston, Illinois-born harvester heiress Polly Porter. Molly and Polly would be life-partners from 1913 until their deaths in the 1960s. Dewson and Porter had a co-op apartment in Greenwich Village, across the hall from two other of ER's favorites Marion Dickerman and Nan Cook. From reports the whole building was filled with a few singles but mostly pairs of women. Porter and Dewson also had a home, Moss Acre, in Castine, Maine, where ER occasionally joined them over the years.

Before I get too many years older, I would like to tread in the footsteps of these exemplary women—staring out to sea in Maine, preferably hand in hand with a beloved, much as women-loving women have done since at least the late-1800s.


This article shared 1280 times since Fri Jul 7, 2000
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