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Many of us have heard of the great English
poet and writer, Rudyard Kipling, but fewer know of his visit
to the City of Beaver in 1889, and fewer yet know that the reason
for his visit stretched back to a chance meeting in India.
Kipling, was born in Bombay, India in 1865
and held many fond recollections of his short childhood spent
there. These were happy times filled with vivid memories of his
Indian nanny showing him the wonders of the bustling market places
and filling his quiet time with Indian nursery rhymes and stories.
This blissful innocence was to end at the age of five when his
parents decided that both he and his sister were to be sent off
to a boarding school in England to begin their education. The
next six years were filled with misery for the young man as he
was badly treated. In 1871, his parents removed him from boarding
school and sent him to school at the United Services College in
Devon, England, where he flourished.
In 1881, he returned to his parent's home
in LaHore, India which is now in present day Pakistan, where he
began working as an assistant newspaper editor for a small publication
named the Pioneer. In 1887 the Pioneer transferred Kipling to
Alhallabad where he was to make his Beaver Connection. That connection
was Mrs. Edmonia "Ted" Hill, the wife of Professor S.
A. Hill who taught Physical Science at Muir College in Alhallabad.
Mrs. Hill, a former Beaver resident, was the eldest daughter of
Methodist Reverend R.T. Taylor, then President of the local Beaver
College and Musical Institution. Prior to her Marriage to Professor
Hill, Edmonia had also worked at the college as a Latin teacher,
librarian, gymnastics teacher and editor of the college newspaper.
Described as a lively lady about thirty years old with a plump face, snub nose and dark curls, Mrs. Hill was introduced to Kipling at the dinner party of a Mr. Allen, a neighbor of the Hills, who also happened to be the proprietor of the newspaper where Kipling worked. As their friendship grew, Edmonia, eight years older than he, was to become Kipling's closest confidante, friend and sometimes collaborator who made criticisms and suggested characters for some of his stories. In fact, the two grew so close that during the period of 1887 to 1889, Kipling became a paying guest at "Belvedere", the Hills' home in Alhallabad. Many scholars agree that Kipling was in love with her, but though she felt a deep personal affection for him and enjoyed his attentions, Edmonia remained faithful to her marriage and the two shared a long friendship. In his book, Rudyard Kipling, author Martin Fido describes Kipling's attentions as follows:
"Certainly, this pretty lively, dark-haired young American from Beaver, Pennsylvania, was the married woman to whom young Rudyard paid the most assiduous attention during his last few years in India. And she determined the time of his leaving the country."
In March of 1889, Mrs. Hill was recovering from a life threatening case of meningitis and decided to visit her family in Beaver to aid her recovery. Upon hearing the news, Kipling helped the Hills formulate their travel plans and then decided to leave India in company with them so that he would be able to see some of the world on his way to England. He was also to help cover his expenses by writing some features for the Pioneer about his travels. It was agreed that when they reached America and went their separate ways, that he would eventually visit Edmonia at her parent's home in Beaver. Kipling boarded ship with the Hills, leaving Calcutta in March of 1889 and visited Rangoon, Singapore, Hong-Kong, Japan and finally the United States where the parties separated. Several months later, they were to be re-united in Beaver. In a letter to friends as published in the Atlantic Monthly, Edmonia tells of Kipling's arrival in Beaver and describes his accommodations in the college dormitory which once stood across the street from the Taylor home (the Taylor's home is now the present day Fort McIntosh Club):
"Mr. Kipling has arrived after his
Western tour, where he had many experiences, novel and trying.
He seems very happy to be once more with his Anglo-Indian friends,
for he has been lonely without letters from his home people. He
is settled in the rooms at the College, where he has a living
room with open fireplace, a spacious bedroom and bath. There is
a couch, where I think he spends most of his time, smoking, reading,
and meditating, but not doing much writing. He is absorbing the
experiences which are so different in Pennsylvania surroundings
from his Lahore days."
Many years later, residents remembered that to celebrate Kipling's arrival as well as that of his daughter and son-in-law, Dr. Taylor threw a grand party that featured caterers from Pittsburgh and rows of Japanese lanterns that lined the trees from the college all of the way to Third Street. Although there would be no liquor or dancing in that strict Methodist setting, the town buzzed with good conversation, music and food. It is said that Edmonia appeared in a dress made for her in India that was trimmed on the bodice and skirt with panels of embroidery that shone with the wings of beetles sewn into the fabric.
As he settled into the quiet life of Beaver,
the scenery reminded him of England with the gently rolling countryside
and small industries dotting the landscape. In his book, From
Sea to Sea: Letters of Travel, in which Kipling chronicled his
adventures in America, he devoted a chapter to Beaver, giving
it the fictitious name of "Musquash" and even changed
the location from the Ohio River to the Monongahela River. His
writings sometimes were charged with a streak of sarcasm, so he
used a pseudonym in this case to be careful not to offend his
former hosts. In any event, he described Beaver this way:
"....I arrived at the infinite peace of the tiny township of Musquash on the Monongahela River. The clang and tumult of Chicago belonged to another world. Imagine a rolling, wooded landscape, under softest of blue skies, dotted at three-mile intervals with fat little, quiet little villages, or aggressive little manufacturing towns that the trees and the folds of the hills mercifully prevented from betraying their presence. The golden-rod blazed in the pastures against the green of the mulleins, and the cows picked their way home through the twisted paths between the blackberry bushes. All summer was on the orchards, and the apples such apples as we dream of when we eat the woolly imitations of Kashmir- were ripe and toothsome. It was good to lie in a hammock with half-shut eyes, and, in the utter stillness, to hear the apples dropping from the trees, and the tinkle of the cowbells as the cows walked statelily down the main road of the village. Everybody in that restful place seemed to have just as much as he wanted: a house with all comfortable appliances, a big or little verandah wherein to spend the day, a neatly shaved garden with a wild wealth of flowers, some cows, and an orchard. Everybody knew everybody else intimately, and what they did not know, the local daily paper- a daily for a village of twelve hundred people! supplied. There was a court-house where justice was done, and a jail where some most enviable prisoners lived, and there were four or five churches of four or five denomination. Also it was impossible to buy openly any liquor in that little paradise. But and this is a serious but- you could by procuring a medical certificate get strong drinks from the chemist.... "
Kipling goes on to mention meeting a minister who had lost his family, his church, his livelihood and eventually even his mind as a result of the Johnstown flood of May 31, 1889, which occurred a month or so prior to his arrival in Beaver. Apparently, the image was so impressed on his mind that when Kipling later wrote Captains Courageous, he modeled one of his characters after that minister.
We don't have a lot of information about
how he spent his actual time in Beaver, but Sally Kenah, writing
for the Beaver Falls News Tribune, interviewed several local Beaver
residents who were young people at the time of Kipling's visit.
One of the stories gives a bit more detail to Kipling's last line
about procuring strong drinks from the chemist. The article mentions
that Kipling became friends with Hugo Andriessen, the local druggist
and that he would be found every morning sitting in front of the
store in Dr. Taylor's carriage dressed in his white India suit
and pith helmet while sipping some of the druggist's famous "soda
water". Mr. Frank Johnson, the college janitor was tasked
with driving Kipling and was also responsible for his general
care. Johnson was the person who introduced him to the Wheeling
cigars which he smoked with great enthusiasm and also served him
breakfast in bed.
Kenah relates another story that shows us
a bit of Kipling's peculiar nature. Badminton had become a popular
game around Beaver at the time, and some believe that Kipling
had introduced the popular Indian game to his young friends. One
evening a game of badminton that Kipling was playing with Caroline
and Julia Taylor and another young lady named Lida Dravo was interrupted
by a rainstorm. Grabbing an umbrella, Kipling graciously offered
to walk Lida to her home at River Road and Dravo Avenue through
the raindrops and growing darkness. Sharing the same umbrella,
the two got as far as the (old county) jail, when Kipling suddenly
stopped, said, "Here", thrust the umbrella into a startled
Lida's hands and walked off into the rain without explanation.
Despite his eccentricities, Kipling tried
to blend into the quiet life at Beaver, and spent his time with
carriage rides, picnics, dinners, walks along the river, boating
on the Ohio and visits with the local townspeople. While filling
his leisure time about Beaver, one young lady in particular was
normally to be seen in his company.
Rudyard Kipling was to eventually fall in
love with Caroline Taylor, the younger sister of Edmonia Hill.
Most accounts describe her as "pretty", but in his book,
The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Pinney documents this description
of Caroline years afterward by Kipling's sister, Trix: "plump
and plain....with none of her sister's charm, a snub nosed girl
with a cottage loaf figure." The term "cottage loaf"
refers to a type of bread made like a snowman where the bottom
is larger than the top, creating a pear shape body. Although his
sister painted a very unflattering portrait of Caroline, it would
appear that Kipling did not share her view.
Kipling's feelings, apparently shared by Caroline, would result in an "understanding" between the two. Some controversy exists as to whether or not this was a formal engagement, but many scholars suggest that their relationship fell somewhere in between. However, in reading some of his letters to Caroline, there can be no doubt that Kipling was in love with her as he talks of planning a life together and in another, Kipling told her that he loved her several times. In a letter to friends reprinted in her 1936 Atlantic Monthly article "The Young Kipling", Edmonia tells of Kipling painting a set of plates with verses and fruit that were intended for Caroline or "Carrie" as they affectionately called her:
"I've been painting a set of dessert
plates with a design of our wild flowers to take back to India.
One day Mr. Kipling, who has seemed unusually preoccupied, demanded
china and paint. We wondered what project was being evolved in
that fertile brain and now we know, for he has put upon six fruit
plates some clever verses, about ten lines each, which he painted
directly on the china without any notes. His subjects are Plums,
Peach, Berries, Watermelon, Apples, Grapes. I'll copy the verses
soon. They are rather badly painted in dark blue, as he was not
accustomed to china paints and did not know how to use the turpentine.
We tried to help, but he was too speedy for us."
In an interesting side note, the dishes still exist and can be found in the Kipling Collection at the Library of Congress.
Kipling's stay with the Taylor family only
lasted a few weeks, and he was off to see other American cities
prior to re-joining the Hills in New York for the sea voyage to
England. As the time of her family visit was finally coming to
a close, Edmonia wrote this excerpt in her diary which was reprinted
in her Atlantic Monthly article:
"The time has arrived for another parting, as A.'s (her husband Aleck Hill) leave is nearly up. R. K. will meet us in New York, to sail with us on the City of Berlin. We shall leave him in London to achieve his world-wide fame, as he is sure to do. ........He behaved quite decently while at Beaver, for when he felt grumpy he kept it to himself. The servants were puzzled by him, especially when he demanded that the barber shave him in bed. He swapped stories with our Senator (Matthew Stanley Quay) and townfolk, arousing interest wherever he went."
When Kipling and the Hills left on their return journey in late September of 1889 he to England and they via London and on to India, Caroline accompanied them with the ultimate aim of visiting India with her sister. Despite writing each other faithfully, Kipling's ardor eventually cooled and their "engagement" was to end in early 1890 while he was living in England. One unforeseen consequence of this breakup was that his relationship with Edmonia was to become more distant and strained than in the past, and although their correspondence would continue until his death, the old familiarity would be gone.
In retrospect, Kipling's trip to Beaver that had begun with such high hopes, was to end on a bittersweet note as this was to be his only visit to the town that had so captured his imagination, and it would also be the last time that he would set his eyes upon the two women who had so inspired his heart.
Hill, Edmonia, 'The Young Kipling" Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 157 ( April, 1936).
Kenah, Sally, "Come With Me To....Musquash, Pa.", Beaver Falls News Tribune, February, 1951. Copies are in the Kipling file at the Beaver County Genealogy and History Center as well as the Beaver Area Heritage Museum.
From Sea to Sea: Letters of Travel, By Rudyard Kipling. Harvard: Doubleday, 1907. Pgs. 154 166.
Rudyard Kipling, Son of Empire By Nella Braddy. New York: Julian Messner, Inc. 1949.
Rudyard Kipling, By Martin Fido. Hamlyn, 1974.
Rudyard Kipling By John Innes Mackintosh
Steward. Dodd, Mead 1966.
The Letters of Rudyard Kipling. 3 Vols. Edited by Thomas Pinney. Iowa City: University Of Iowa Press, 1990.
The Life of Rudyard Kipling, By Charles Carrington. Doubleday, 1955.