Elizabeth and Bob Danforth
Elizabeth Danforth with Bob Danforth, Interviewed by Ros Brady
At the “Chalet”
Huletts Landing, N. Y.
August 1, 2011
Ros Brady: This is Ros Brady and I’m interviewing Elizabeth Danforth and her son Bob Danforth, who is
my second cousin. So Elizabeth is actually my first cousin once removed. So, Elizabeth, tell me how you first got introduced to this whole part of the woods up at Lake George?
Elizabeth Danforth: Well, it was the summer we were engaged and we were invited up to visit Aunty
Belle. So we came to New York on the train and had lunch with Frank’s parents. And then drove up to
Ridgefield and spent the night with Aunt Emmy and Nick, Bea, and Zim — for dinner came. And then
we put Aunt Emmy’s maids on the train to come up to help. And then we all drove up in Frank’s father’s
car. And we stopped in Williamstown to have lunch and then came over. Somebody else must have
picked them up because we didn’t have any room in the car. But anyway I probably had four or five
days here with Aunty Belle and the whole crowd.
RB: Aunty Belle and whole crowd being –
ED: Aunt Emmy and Frank’s parents and Frank and me.
RB: Okay, alright. So how long of a trip was that for most people coming up here in 1944, would you
ED: It was kind of an all day deal, I think, I can’t remember. It seemed to me thinking back on it we
probably left right after breakfast and stopped in Williamstown and had lunch and then it’s, what, a
couple of hours over from Williamstown?
ED: And then that afternoon Elizabeth had just come over to get the children. And was staying down at
Forest Ledge. They came rushing up to see us. And I remember Richard sitting on Liz’s lap (???) asking
lots of questions.
Bob Danforth: Ros, do you think it’s picking it up?
RB: I don’t know, let’s see… Let’s check.
BD: Yeah, you might just want to sit next to her.
RB: Yeah, or maybe we should all get into a little –
BD: I’ll move this out of the way and you can –
RB: Okay, Elizabeth, so it took you quite, well, it took you quite awhile to drive up here all the way from
New York and picking up the maids or dropping them off at the train. And when you got here, ah, Liza
came up here from Forest Ledge, which is the house down the hill. And she was your…
ED: Frank’s first cousin.
RB: Okay, Frank’s first cousin. And she had –
ED: She had just come back from England –
RB: Back from England.
ED: to get the children who had been here during the war.
ED: They had been here three or four years with their grandmother and she’d first started out in New
York with them. George and Aunt Betty went to Nova Scotia to pick them up of f a boat. They’d come
over with somebody, family, someone from the family brought them over.
ED: And they brought them back to New York and then she decided when Betsey Anne was old enough
to go to first grade or kindergarten they were better off in Nantucket. So she spent the winter in
Nantucket and the children went to school there. Betsey Anne went to school there but Richard was too
young to go to school.
RB: Okay and were talking about my great grandmother Danforth, right? No.
ED: We’re talking about Aunt Betty. Aunt Betty, Elizabeth’s mother.
RB: Okay, Elizabeth’s mother. And she’s in Hamlet Summers, I think, they interviewed her Elizabeth
ED: Probably. She was at Forest Ledge and she and George, cause George of course was Elizabeth’s
twin, felt responsible so they went to get the children to take care of them and she had them for at least
three years, maybe longer.
RB: Yeah. So were those the only family that were ever around?
ED: No, no, no. Everybody else was here. We had dinner – we had cocktails at Forest Ledge one night.
We had dinner at Ferncliff one night with Uncle Howard. And I don’t know whether it was that year or
whether it was the next year down there at the dinner table that the phone rang and it was for Nat. And
she came back and said that she had a friend who was going to be in the neighborhood and would like to
come and see her. And that was Put.
RB: Oh! That’s –
ED: His mother lived somewhere in the Adirondacks, in this part of the world.
ED: And so he was there and he wanted to come see her and Uncle Howard looked very skeptical of this
RB: Yes… Well, was Aunt Nat in Random at the time?
ED: No, she was just living at Forest Ledge, Ferncliff for the summer.
RB: Ferncliff… And so was Mother, my mother, in Bittersweet at the time?
ED: Yes, no. I think your mother was in Canada with your father and the older two, Ginnie and Mac.
And left you at home with a nanny, I guess, of some sort.
ED: And the first time I saw you, you were in the sandbox under that big tree.
ED: And you were probably not a year old or maybe just a year. 1944 you were a year old, I guess.
RB: I remember loving that sandbox, that was fun. (Laughs). It was fun.
ED: I didn’t see them. They didn’t come back before I left. So I didn’t meet you mother until she came
to our wedding.
RB: So what were your first impressions of coming up here?
ED: It was perfectly, gorgeously beautiful.
ED: I mean I hadn’t been to this part of the States, I mean, I’d been to New York City but I’d never been to
this part. And Frank loved it so, of course, so we had to climb or hike up High Rocks.
ED: Of course things were very much more rigid.
ED: Formal. And the first sound you heard early in the morning were two sounds. Rhonda (?) was in
the kitchen grinding coffee with the grinder and Peetra was pushing the carpet sweeper up and down.
RB: Oh (laughs). The two people who came to help with the Chalet.
ED: (laughs) Imagine!
RB: And they’d cook three meals a day for everybody who was here.
ED: Breakfast was very formal. Everybody had to appear at the same time and Frank, he was expected
to wear a jacket.
RB: Whoa – to breakfast!?
ED: To breakfast, yes. He came down without a jacket one morning and his mother corrected him.
ED: So, anyway, it was very formal. They passed at tray of juice first around the table. Then they came
with a tray of either cold or hot cereals. And then they came with the platter of either eggs or bacon or
whatever and a few fresh blueberry muffins.
RB: Oh, my goodness!
ED: Yeah, something like that in the morning. And then everybody went swimming about 11:30, 11:00 –
not before 11:00 – went swimming but you’d have to be back her by twelve for lunch.
ED: Dressed again! (laughs)
RB: Oh, my goodness…
ED: And lunch was also very – I don’t understand how Aunty Belle stay so slim. She must have had a
very strange metabolism because she ate enormous amounts of food. They had a real dinner everyday at
noon. You know, a roast and vegetables and dessert and stuff. And they’d repeat it at night.
RB: Whoa. A full dinner at night, too?
ED: A full dinner at night, too. With cocktails served on the porch at about 5:30 so you had to get out of
swimming and come up.
RB: So how often would you and Frank come up, then?
ED: We were here that year and then the next summer his parents went to, we went with them to
Edgartown to the Charlotte (?) Inn for a week or something.
ED: And then we moved back to Connecticut and we would come for just a short visit with Aunty Belle.
And I can remember bringing Frank and Chappy once with Aunty Belle. Before that they assumed we
should leave them at home.
ED: With the baby nurse we had back when they were born. But I kind of resented that because I
thought they needed to be here, too.
RB: Of course! Times have changed.
ED: Times have changed. And so we did that. We came most years until then a little bit later, after your
house, Bittersweet was for rent. Frank’s mother rented it for a couple of weeks. We would come for one
week with her and then Leonie’s family would come the second week.
RB: And that was from Emily Kimball, right? When Emily Kimball owned it?
ED: No, that’s when your mother owned it.
RB: Oh, my mother owned it.
ED: And that was much later on. And Aunty Belle was over here and I can remember once we were
staying at Bittersweet and we had the invitation to come for dinner. And our boys were getting kind of
big. They weren’t just babies anymore and we all came over and she said, “I didn’t know we were going
to have all these strange gentlemen for dinner!” (Laughs) She’s gotten a wee bit vague.
RB: This is Aunty Belle? Oh, dear.
Bob Danforth: Strange men for dinner? That’s lovely…
ED: One other time we came. We were invited by Aunty Belle to come visit. It was the summer my
mother died, which was what, 1945. And, ah, we came up right after at that.
BD: No, that would have been ’65.
ED: ’65 I meant. 1965, yeah. We came up right after that and, ah, because we’d been invited to come for
a week, long-weekend, or something with the children. She was out working in the garden, picking peas
or something when we got here late in the afternoon. She looked perfectly startled to see us. She forgot, I
bet. Peetra came running out saying, “It’s alright, it’s alright. We know they’re coming!” (laughter)
RB: Things were compos mentis. They were taking care of the kitchen, taking care of the meals.
ED: We did stay at Forest Ledge one summer for a week when my boys were maybe one and three.
ED: Just by ourselves. We visited Marybelle and Louis in Ferncliff a few times.
ED: So we were here every year until Frank decided that we better raise chickens in Connecticut. Then
we had a few years of not being able to get away. And then after Mother died and we moved to
Kentucky, we came every year after that. 1945 on.
ED: ’65! Sorry.
BD: That’s okay.
ED: We’ve been here every year since that.
RB: Yeah. Wow. That’s great.
So did you and Frank do any camping or hunting? Or was there no time for that?
ED: We always had to go up Black, of course.
RB: Oh, yeah.
ED: We didn’t do any camping. But he loved boats terribly. He loved Aunty Belle’s old rowboat. And
got very frustrated if the boys couldn’t make it go straight. (Laughter) He couldn’t understand why.
And then he loved his canoe. His father bought him an Old Towne canoe the year that he graduated
from Williams because he went on a canoe trip with a friend to Maine.
ED: And it’s still here. It’s the one we use.
RB: Yeah. Good.
So, Elizabeth, what about your background? You grew up in Kentucky.
ED: I grew up in Kentucky.
RB: And you’re a child of, your father was a senator.
ED: Later on. He was in the House of Representatives from 1948 to 1950. And then elected to the Senate.
When he was elected to Congress he was the baby congressman. He was elected to fill out a term when
he was 28 years old, which I think is the earliest age you can be. And then we were in Washington. Then
the sessions were, one year you’d be there from January to March and then the next year January to May.
So it was part-time. We lived in a family kind of hotel, which is where one of the Senate office buildings
is now, called Congress Hall Hotel. It had lawns around it and tricycle paths. And they put people with
little children on the second floor so we could play together and ride roller – we practically roller-skated
up and down the corridors, we certainly rode tri-cycles.
RB: Oh, that sounds like it would be fun.
ED: Such fun! Lots of fun. And it was the sort of place where you had meals included. Some of the time
I had meals with my parents and other times… I didn’t respond terribly well to the babysitting situation
that they found so Belle Jackson came with us from our house in Kentucky to stay with me that last year I
was there that long, before I was further along in school. And we had a wonderful time. Some of the
time I ate meals with her down with the maids, I think.
RB: Belle Jackson was a –
ED: She came to work at my family’s house when Mother was a little girl. And she was there until I was
in college and basically cooked and everything but they brought her with us to Washington because it
was much more fun that way.
RB: Yeah. And your maiden name and your father’s name?
ED: Chapman. He was Virgil Chapman.
RB: And do you remember anything significant that comes to mind about what he was concerned about
at the time? Probably you were pretty young.
ED: He worked very hard on the Pure Food and Drug Act. He was chairman of that committee. And
that was one of the most interesting parts. He ended up, by the time he died, he was on the Armed
Services Committee and they had met to talk about the Draft Law, until about two or three o’clock in the
morning. He left the Capitol, picked up his car in the garage, and drove down the hill from the Capitol
and a truck came through a red light and hit him. He was operated early the next morning at Bethesda
by a surgeon who was visiting from Austria who was there, a specialist in lung surgery. But his heart
RB: Oh, oh…
ED: So he was pretty young.
RD: He would have been fifty-one.
RB: That’s very young, very young.
Well, you were speaking earlier too about being up here and the little house that’s down the way from
the Chalet holding my grandfather’s generator. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
It probably wasn’t working!
ED: Well, we had electricity by then.
RB: That’s true!
ED: Aunty Belle got her first electric refrigerator while I was here for that visit. Aunt Emmy gave her
one as a present and she didn’t want it.
RB: Oh, really!?
ED: She like icehouses. And Frank’s father thought the ice in the icehouse made much better drinks. He
liked to make drinks to take on picnics, martinis in a milk can.
He had a milk can and he would very ceremoniously get the ice from the icehouse to make his drinks and
take them on the picnic with us. And there is a cute picture that I saw this morning, I’ll show you later,
that is something that Lee Ann found, of the cocktail party on the Chalet porch with Frank’s father with
two cocktail shakers, one in each hand!
RB: Oh, my goodness.
ED: I’m sure your mother is there.
RB: I seem to remember there were days like that up here.
ED: Trump and Leonie were in that picture. It might be about 19….I’ve forgotten now but I’ll go look.
But, anyway, early days. 1947 or something like that. Nat without Put so I think it was before Put.
RB: Now, Bob, do you want to chime in about your experience at Lake George? You don’t want to?
RD: No, I want to hear what my mother has to say.
RB: Oh, okay.
RB: Well, we could talk about this dining room for instance. It’s got lots of paintings of Emmy’s. And
over the fireplace is the ornament of the house, “To the Guest doth Frequent It.”
ED: And I think the pictures are lovely that Emmy did. Apparently she quit painting when she had
children because she thought she was supposed to be just a mother and not paint anymore.
RB: Oh, really?
RD: That’s amazing.
RB: That is amazing.
ED: That’s what I was told, that she quit painting, which is really sad.
RB: Yeah. That is.
Aunt Emmy didn’t do these? Just the lake ones?
ED: These were Aunt Emmy’s too but that I am not sure about.
RD: Yeah, I am pretty sure that is one of Aunt Emmy’s.
ED: I think it is, too. I think it must be.
RD: They all are.
ED: I think they all are.
RB: They are on designs and they are little scenes of the lake and there’s a scene of the Chalet in
ED: They are lovely pictures.
RB: and of Psyche and of a little sailboat, like a little dinghy.
All right, well thank you very much, Elizabeth.
ED: Thank you.
That was as painful as I thought it would be.
RB: Oh, sorry.
RD: Gosh, Mom, is was so interesting.
RB: It was! Really interesting!