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A young heiress! A suave French pilot! Intrigue! Romance! Plot twists! But wait, didn’t you say that title of this book was How To Fly? Yes I did, and I hope you’ll find this one of the most exciting stories on this website.
How To Fly (1917), by Captain D. Gordon E. Re Vley, is an introductory treatise on how to fly an airplane, written in those heady early days of powered flight, just fourteen years after the Wright Brothers’ inaugural flight at Kitty Hawk. In 1917, World War I was still raging in Europe, and famous fighter aces such as Eddie Rickenbacker and “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen engaged in dogfights over Belgium and France. Pilots in the early days of flight had much the same acclaim and allure as astronauts did in the early days of the Space Age.
How To Fly is a small book with flexible covers, fitting easily into a shirt pocket. Re Vley surely did not intend for his book to be a pilot’s sole source of instruction; perhaps he thought publishing the book would gain him a clientele of wealthy students? Early aviation manuals such as this are in demand by collectors, and so a copy of How To Fly can be hard to find.
Enough about the book! What about the intrigue and the young heiress?! In September 1918, Captain Re Vley met 22-year-old Adele Dorothy Callaghan. On her mother’s side, Adele was part of an important Italian-American family in San Francisco. Her aunt Adelina was married to Egisto Palmieri, the first Italian-American state senator in California. Another aunt, Erminia, was married to Ettore Patrizi, publisher of L’Italia, the largest Italian-language newspaper in the western United States. And her grandmother, Annie Cuneo, was the first woman in the United States to serve on the Board of Directors of a major bank.
Re Vley also had an interesting background. Born in France but raised in England, he became a pilot and rose to the rank of Captain in the British Aviation Corps. He went to California on furlough, and was engaged in experimental aviation work for the US Government. Between his investments and his service pay he was quite well off, and had recently started an airplane manufacturing company.
On 10 October 1918, Re Vley and Callaghan eloped, and were married in Hollister, California. After the wedding, they toured several grand houses in San Mateo, and after Adele indicated the one she liked best, Re Vley purchased it. In the meantime, they secured a flat in the Marble Crest Apartments at 845 Bush St. in San Francisco.
And then one fateful day in early January 1919, Re Vley went out for a walk. While he was out, Adele “thought it would be perfectly lovely,” as she later explained to a judge, “to examine her husband’s luggage and have a peek at some of the strange things that men carry about with them.” What she found in his suitcase shocked her to the core: her husband was not French, he was Russian. His name was not Re Vley, it was Edelman. No, he never was a member of the British Aviation Corps, he wasn’t rich, he didn’t own an airplane manufacturing business, and he hadn’t bought her that mansion in San Mateo. And worst of all, in August 1917, her husband had been arrested for luring a sixteen-year-old girl to his apartment and assaulting her, for which he was tried and convicted, and spent nine months in San Quentin prison. Everything he had told her was a lie.
One can only imagine the scene when “Captain” Re Vley/Edelman returned from his stroll. When the shouting was over, Adele left her husband and sued for annulment, which was granted on 2 April. As you can see in the images below, the local papers delighted in reporting the saga. The day following the annulment, the Oakland Tribune quoted Adele as saying “When a terribly handsome French aviator comes a-wooing, and telling fairy stories, count ten before eloping with him.” What a shame that Adele hadn’t read the San Francisco Examiner article on 20 September 1917—a year and a half earlier—when Re Vley (“also known as Captain Edelman”) had been outed as an impostor by the British Consul General and arrested for assault.
By January 1920, eight months later, Adele Callaghan had married Arthur Cornelius Crowley (1895-1941), and this marriage stuck. Adele outlived her second husband by forty-eight years, passing away in June 1989 at the age of 93. Adele and Arthur are buried in the Palmieri family crypt at the Italian Cemetery in Colma.
After the annulment, Re Vley/Edelman vanishes from history. Who knows what other unsuspecting damsels may have been entrapped by “the dashing young officer”?
In 1905, workers in Monterey, California cut down a dead oak tree and tossed it into Monterey Bay. Perhaps they did not know that it was the most famous tree in the city’s history.
Three centuries before, on 3 December 1602, the expedition of Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno landed at the mouth of a creek in Monterey Bay. Vizcaíno’s mission was to locate safe harbors that the Spanish galleons could use on their voyages back from the Philippines, and this bay looked superb. The expedition’s chronicler, a Carmelite friar named Antonio de la Ascensión, celebrated Mass under the limbs of a large oak tree that stood near the creek. In his report, Vizcaíno noted the tree as an excellent landmark for future Spanish explorers.
Despite Vizcaíno’s glowing report, many decades would pass before the next expedition to Monterey, that of Gaspar de Portolá in 1769. Spain was now anxious to establish outposts in California before the empires of Russia and England could do the same. After many hardships, Portolá arrived overland on 24 May 1770. Junípero Serra sailed into Monterey Bay the following week, on 3 June 1770, and said Mass under Vizcaíno’s oak tree.
The oak tree was damaged by lightning in 1840 but remained otherwise healthy until 1903, when workmen repairing a culvert accidentally introduced salt water to the roots. The tree died the next year. (Our book’s foreword instead blames the tree’s illness on damage from engraving beetles, which are a type of bark beetle.) Let us charitably assume that those who cut down the tree in 1905 and unceremoniously threw it into the bay were ignorant of what the tree meant to the city.
Fortunately, Ramón Mestres, the pastor of Monterey’s Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo, heard what had happened and had the tree pulled from the water. With financial assistance from civic leader and philanthropist Harry Ashland Greene, the remains of the trunk were preserved with creosote and erected behind the cathedral. Greene also commissioned local craftsmen to make several chairs out of its branches, two of which he donated to the local parlor of the Native Sons of the Golden West. One of the chairs was exhibited along with other Monterey products at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915. The oak trunk remained on display at the Cathedral, along with a marble plaque, for many years until it deteriorated beyond repair. Several fragments of the tree are now preserved in local museums.
At this point, enter James A. Murray (1840-1921), a wealthy entrepreneur. According to his biographer Bill Farley, Murray was a “western iconoclast, a pioneering and dominating spirit, more comfortable in saloons than board rooms, who fought for wealth and mother country to his last breath.” Murray had made his first fortune in the mines of Montana, and proceeded to make further fortunes with investments across the United States. He established a second home in Monterey in 1904, and quickly took a keen interest in local history. Murray owned one of the three paintings by Léon Trousset depicting Junípero Serra’s first Mass beneath the famous oak tree. In 1908, to commemorate the lost tree, Murray commissioned sculptor Douglas Tilden to carve a tall granite Celtic cross with bas-relief portraits of Serra and Mission Carmel. The cross was erected near the original site of the tree and is now California Historical Landmark #128. (The Celtic design was a nod to Murray’s homeland of Ireland, where he feverishly supported the expulsion of the British and creation of an independent Irish republic.)
In 1949, the California Centennials Commission unveiled another historical marker a few yards away from the granite cross, this one commemorating Portolá’s founding of the Monterey Presidio in 1770.
With all that as backstory, let us turn to today’s book, The Passing of an Oak. In 1909, Mary Murray, James’s wife, commissioned Paul Elder & Company to publish Mary Spence’s short poem about the Vizcaíno-Serra Oak. It is an elegant but slim volume: just seven stanzas of poetry, one stanza per page, in simple blue paper wraps. Remarkably, only twelve copies were printed, an almost comically small press run. Elder’s books were typeset by hand, and this was a lot of trouble to go to for just twelve copies. Surely it took longer to set the type than to print the twelve copies! If Mrs. Murray felt so strongly about printing Mrs. Sullivan’s poem and honoring her husband’s philanthropy, why did she print so few?
It’s unknown whether Murray first saw Spence’s poem and decided to publish it, or Spence wrote the poem upon commission from Murray. In any case, Mary Murray and Mary Spence must have been acquainted, and were perhaps even good friends. As you will read below, poet Mary Spence married well, and was ensconced in Monterey’s upper-crust society. The Murrays often vacationed in Monterey before moving there, and were donors to the local arts scene.
Mary Spence was born Mary Teresa Sullivan in San Francisco in 1863. Her father was Irish immigrant “Big John” Sullivan (1824-1882), who was a member of the pioneer Stephens-Townsend-Murphy party of 1844, the first wagon train to cross the Sierra Nevada during the expansion of the American West. He later was one of the five co-founders of the Hibernia Bank of San Francisco. Mary received a private education from a French governess, and later attended the College of Notre Dame in San Jose. In 1886 Mary married Rudolph B. Spence (1858-1913) of Monterey. Rudolph’s Scottish grandfather David Spence had married into Monterey’s Estrada clan, owners of the extensive Rancho Llano de Buena Vista, a large Mexican land grant in the Salinas valley. In due course Rudolph inherited a portion of the rancho. Mary did not pursue a literary career, content with occasional short poems, fables, parodies, and book reviews under different pen names. She died in San Francisco in 1920 and is buried next to her husband in the Monterey City Cemetery.
The landscape where the oak once stood has been much altered since the late 1880s and does not resemble the period photographs shown here. The granite cross is located at the corner of Pacific St. and Artillery St. in Monterey (see annotated photograph below). There is no parking of any kind at that intersection, but turn right onto Artillery and then right again on Corporal Ewing and you will find a small parking lot. It’s also an easy walk from other historic buildings nearby, such as the Custom House (where the United States flag was first raised over California in 1846) and California’s first theater, at the corner of Pacific and Scott.
In 2015, a mural was unveiled along the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail, depicting the oak as it was thought to look in Vizcaíno’s day. While the mural and the oak tree site are only about 50 yards apart as the crow flies, there is no direct way to get from one to the other: you must walk the long way around via Scott St.
The final poet that Ella Sterling Cummins profiles in her curious but informative 1893 review of Californian writers, The Story of the Files, is a young Italian immigrant:
Among the volumes of verse published in California none have so pathetic [i.e. emotional] a history as those written by Lorenzo Sosso. Born in Italy, young Sosso came when but a child with his parents to California, and soon forgot his native language. But the spirit of genius burned on through years of poverty and menial labor. In intervals of work poems came crowding into his brain, almost faster than he could write them. Night study brought familiarity with classic myths and the meters of the poets. His savings of years published a volume before he was twenty years of age. It contained many ideas and graceful lines, but of this edition he did not sell a copy.
Cummins goes on to describe several more of Sosso’s failed publications, and then, worst of all, his employment at the Post Office: “here he became part of the machine, and has been so busily employed that in the time that has since elapsed he has written not one word. But he has evidently been thinking, and, when a few more years have passed over his head, may speak again.”
That same year, Lorenzo Sosso married Emma Henley, and by 1895 they two children, so it is perhaps unsurprising that he took a job in “the machine” to support his family. As Cummins surmised, Sosso had indeed been thinking, though it took a decade to achieve results. in 1902 Elder & Shepard published Sosso’s In the Realms of Gold, a 171-page volume containing 114 poems written between 1891 and 1901. The dedication, to his wife Emma, would touch the heart of any romantic:
To her whose faith is still secure
Through all incertitudes of life,
The many days of joy, the few
Joyless, since she is joy thereof;
To her, the purest of the pure,
To her, the truest of the true,
The mother wedded in the wife,
I dedicate this book with love.
Paul Elder published a fair amount of original literature and poetry, but almost all of it was of poor quality, and Sosso is no exception: his verses are not memorable. There are some sparks that exhort the reader to a greater good, such as in his poem “The Socialist”:
While I hear the wailing
Of the wronged and weak
Are the words you speak:
Where there is oppression
Manhood must resist;
Therefore this confession—
I’m a Socialist!
Every back we lighten
Of its burdens sore,
Every home we brighten
Helps us more and more:
O the millions living
Toiling in the night!
O the task of giving
To such millions light!
Sadly, Sosso’s wife Emma died in 1914, at the age of 53. Sosso never remarried, and died in Marin County on 2 November 1967 at the age of 98.
In the Realms of Gold was issued in a limited edition of 500 copies, printed on non-watermarked laid paper by the Murdock Press. The cover artwork is not signed but is undoubtedly by Morgan Shepard, who probably also designed the tomoye on the title page. The frontispiece, a single leaf on coated stock, is a signed portrait of Sosso. On the title page, Elder is still calling himself “D. P. Elder.” There is no colophon.
What is there to talk about except the one thing we are all thinking about–the war? … I profoundly believe that if the world is to be saved at all, it is to be saved by putting into practise some things which have long been called impractical. The world has been wrecked on the hard rocks of the “practical;” it is time to patch up the old vessel and put to open sea, on the boundless, fathomless, untried waters of the ideal.
On 13 July 1917, the University Club of San Francisco invited Mr. Stockton Axson to speak at a dinner reception for summer session faculty of the University of California. He was Professor of English at the Rice Institute (now Rice University) in Houston, Texas, but that was perhaps not the most notable thing about Axson. The most notable thing was that his brother-in-law was the President of the United States.
Isaac Stockton Keith Axson II (who always went by Stockton) was born on 15 June 1867 in Rome, Georgia, the son of Rev Samuel Edward Axson and his wife Margaret Jane Hoyt. It was a troubled childhood–his mother died in childbirth and his father committed suicide–and he struggled throughout his life with mental health. Stockton was still in high school when a graduate student in political science named Woodrow Wilson began courting Stockton’s sister Ellen. They married in 1885, and Stockton and Woodrow soon became close friends.
Wilson, who became President of Princeton University before moving into politics, helped Stockton get a job at Princeton. Axson published little but was popular as an undergraduate lecturer in English literature.
In conjunction with the publication, in sixty-nine volumes, of The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, the Princeton Legacy Library occasionally issues supplementary volumes about Wilson’s thought or actions. In 1993 they published “Brother Woodrow,” the previously unpublished recollections of the brother-in-law who knew Wilson intimately for forty years and was as deeply devoted to him as he was often puzzled by his behavior. The editors write:
This memoir of Woodrow Wilson is a long-neglected treasure, full of the candid and perceptive observations of Wilson’s brother-in-law and close friend, Stockton Axson. A charming and talented scholar of English literature, Axson became one of the few people in whom the reticent Wilson confided freely. Axson and Wilson met in 1884, when Wilson was courting Axson’s sister Ellen, while Axson was still a school boy. The friendship of the two men ended only with the president’s death in 1924. Axson’s fondness for his mentor, “Brother Woodrow,” pervades this account, but he is frank in his analysis of Wilson’s flaws. As one of only a few personal memoirs of Wilson, this book offers a uniquely intimate view of the “human side” of the introverted president–and a sensitive evocation of the social life of a bygone era.
Axson begins with memories of Wilson’s father and of Wilson’s life as a young man, including his engagement and marriage to Ellen Axson and his early teaching posts. Wilson taught for twelve years at Princeton University before his accession to its presidency, and Axson also taught there during this period. After Wilson began his stormy career as president of Princeton, Axson’s bachelor quarters were often a meeting place for the “Wilson faction.” His lucid analysis of Wilson’s successes and failures as Princeton’s president is one of the highlights of the book–and probably the best record of these years of Wilson’s life.
The book ends with a look behind the scenes of Wilson’s career as governor of New Jersey and president of the United States, and an analysis of the growing complexity of his personality. “It is Uncle Joseph [Wilson’s father] in him,” observed one relative of Wilson’s seeming rigidity. From the standpoint of a loving family member, Axson offers a penetrating but sympathetic report on how Wilson changed as he bore the terrible burdens of World War I and its aftermath.
Stockton Axson moved from Princeton to Rice in 1913. Excepting a two-year stint as national secretary of the American Red Cross, he remained at Rice until his death on 26 February 1935.
The book is a thin volume: only twelve pages of text, though there are almost as many blank leaves at the back as there are printed ones in the front. It is bound in brown cloth over boards, and issued with a delicate glassine dustjacket. For this title Elder used high quality Italian laid paper with a “Tuscany” watermark. The book was issued in October 1917, and may have been a vanity publication.