Thornton Chase: chapter 8 Chapter Eight

PUEBLO

      Thornton's wandering in the Colorado wilderness did not last for long. Two years after Annie divorced him, he was ready to try marriage again. On 6 May 1880 he married Eleanor Francesca Hockett Pervier at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Des Moines, Iowa. He probably met her through Mrs. Ella Sheldon, Eleanor's friend who lived in Pueblo, Colorado. Thornton worked for Mrs. Sheldon or her husband after the marriage and may have worked for them before as well. (Marcellus Sheldon, a prominent local politican and one of the city's wealthiest men, ran a lumberyard.)[1]

      It was the second marriage for both Eleanor and Thornton. Apparently it matched Thornton with a more compatible partner, even though his new wife was eleven years younger than he. Eleanor Francesca Hockett was born on 5 January 1858. In 1876 she lived in Prairie City, Iowa, then in Des Moines. Apparently in 1877 she went to Chicago to marry Edwin S. Pervier, who was "at the point of death." He died shortly thereafter--on 17 October 1877--of typhoid fever.[2] At age nineteen she was a widow.

      Eleanor returned to Des Moines. Probably at some point she went to Pueblo, Colorado, to visit Mrs. Sheldon, to stay with her, or to work for her, and thereby met Thornton. After she and Thornton were married, they traveled to Prairie City to visit her friends there, then settled in Pueblo.

      In 1880 Pueblo was a small but booming city of 5,500 people located at the edge of the Rocky Mountains, 112 miles south of Denver. Because of its distance from the mines, it was not a rough frontier town; rather, it was a marketing and manufacturing center, distributing goods from the mountains to the East and sending eastern goods into the mountains on its network of rail lines. In 1880 a telephone company was established, with fifty customers, for local calls only, and a gas company brought gaslight to the city. The previous year a horse car company (a company that provided public transportation using horse-drawn buses) had been established to provide public transportation; the fare was ten cents. A public library had existed for many years, and plans for a hospital had begun.[3]

      The Chases lived in the city for three years, Thornton holding various jobs; one was city editor for the Pueblo Republican.[4] He also earned money as an inventor. On 18 June 1881 Thornton filed an application for a patent for a "prospecting-tool for miners &c." The patent, number 252,184, was granted on 10 January 1882. As Chase explained in his description of the device, "The object of my invention is to furnish a hand-tool especially adapted to the use of prospectors, geologists, miners, and coal workers." It was a "combined pick and hammer" with a hook mounted in the base of the handle for use in mountain climbing and in prying rocks.[5] The Colorado Chieftain noted on 30 March 1882 that

Mr. J. B. T. Chase has received an offer of $10,000 from parties in Canada for the sale of his patent prospector's pick in that territory. He has not yet decided to sell, but has the matter under consideration. We most heartily congratulate him upon the prospective success of his invention, and believe that it is bound to become a necessity among miners before long. It is sure to greatly lessen the labor of the miner and prospector.[6]

It is not known whether Chase sold the rights to his pick or not, or whether he ever made any money from the invention.

      With a happy marriage and financial stability, Thornton's musical and literary talents underwent another flowering. The Chieftain, Pueblo's principal daily newspaper, provides most of the information about this period of Thornton's life. Not long after settling in Pueblo with his wife, Thornton was instrumental in organizing the Arion Club, Pueblo's first musical and dramatic society. He became its musical director and conductor; Eleanor sang in it.

      The club's first program took place on 17 May 1881; the second on 3 June. They were held in Pueblo's "opera house"; in the nineteenth century every American hamlet and town that aspired to any importance had an opera house, where local musical groups put on shows, traveling musicians and acting troupes performed for a few nights, and lecturers traveling the lecture circuit stopped to speak on every conceivable subject of popular interest. In a day before movie theaters, concert halls, and convention centers, opera houses were the places Americans went to be entertained. In the early and mid-nineteenth century, no sharp distinction between "popular" or "low brow" culture versus "high brow" culture was recognized; lectures, plays by Shakespeare, and operas in English translation were much more popular and familiar to urban Americans than they are today.[7]

      The Arion Club's concert contained a mixture of religious, "classical," and "popular" music that was typical of musical programs of the time.[8] Piano and violin solos by Mendelssohn and Gottschalk were performed. The Ave Maria was sung. Quartets performed Professor at Home, a light, humorous work, and Where Would I Be? A full chorus performed various pieces, including the very popular "Anvil Chorus" from Giuseppe Verdi's opera Il Trovatore. Chase himself sang in one quartet and two trios and directed the entire evening program as well. The newspaper gave the concert an excellent review even before the first performance:

The members of this musical society have been in constant rehearsal for several weeks past, and under the drilling of Mr. Chase, the musical director, have acquired a wonderful proficiency in their several parts. It is really a pleasure to listen to good music, and this company of ladies and gentlemen is fully capable of meeting the approbation of one and all. . . . We promise the people that they will listen to music that is superior to that of most troupes visiting this section of the world. The chorus singing is magnificent, and the soloists will acquit themselves with much credit. We have listened to several rehearsals and have no hesitancy in stating that the music to be rendered is all of a high order, and that the singing is first-class in every respect.[9]

      The concert was held as a benefit for the St. Peter's Episcopal Church. The review after the first performance was equally positive. In spite of inclement weather, the opera house was "jammed with one of the largest and most attentive audiences that has ever assembled in Pueblo." The quartet that sung The Professor at Home--Chase played the professor--had to sing the piece a second time as an encore. The newspaper concluded that "we trust Mr. Chase will remain with us and that this will not be the last concert given by the society under his able direction."[10] Such an enthusiastic reception was not guaranteed in nineteenth-century America, where audiences did not hesitate to throw objects ranging from eggs and vegetables to dead animals and chairs at the stage if they disliked a performance; hence, the positive review indicates that the performance was indeed a great success.[11]

      The Arion Club did not survive--its two shows lost too much money--but the club was not Thornton's last musical effort. On 29 October the "Social Musical and Dramatic Club" held a successful performance. The First Presbyterian Church subseqently arranged to have "Prof. Chase" lead them in an hour of gospel singing every Sunday afternoon.[12] On Christmas Day 1881, the cantata "Santa Claus" was performed at the opera house. The First Presbyterian Church Sunday school put on the show; Thornton Chase conducted and played Santa Claus, appropriately dressed.[13] A few days later a new musical society, the Philharmonic Musical and Dramatic Union, held its opening concert at the opera house. The concert, a medley of tunes by piano solos, trios, quartets, and a full chorus, was a success, although the newspaper's praises were more reserved when compared to its review of the Arion Club's June concert.[14]

      The musical society began to plan a far more ambitious program. On 17 February 1882 it performed the four-act comedy Esmeralda at the opera house, with costumes and accessories imported from New York, where the play had been a great success. Thornton played Mr. Elbert Rogers, the leading male role, and Eleanor played Esmeralda, Rogers's daughter. The storyline of the play--a family from the mountains of North Carolina finds ore on their farm, sells it for a very large sum of money, and goes to Paris to live--must have struck a chord among Pueblo's residents. The principal plot was a love story that was sentimental and Victorian: Esmeralda has fallen in love with Dave, the virtuous owner of a neighboring farm, but domineering Mrs. Rogers refuses to allow her daughter to marry him because he is poor. Dave follows the family to Paris but is unable to see Esmeralda, who, unaware that her love is nearby, nevertheless remains true to him, despite pressure from her mother to marry a rich French marquis. Then a letter arrives from North Carolina saying the ore was on Dave's farm all along and he is wealthy also. Mrs. Rogers drops her objection to the marriage; the two lovers are reunited, marry, and live happily ever after.[15]

      The Colorado Chieftain especially lauded Thornton Chase, whose "indefatigable energy" made the production possible, and noted that each member of the musical society was "deserving of exuberant praise." It expressed the hope that the society "may soon again favor our citizens with a rich treat of this character." Demand for the play was so great that a second performance was planned for 4 March, and on 2 March the musical troupe traveled to Colorado Springs to give a performance in that town's opera house as well.[16]

      In early April the Philharmonic and Dramatic Union put on Belshazzar, a five-act play about the Babylonian captivity of the Jews under Cyrus the Great. Performed for the benefit of the Ladies' Benevolent Union, the play received some notice in the paper, but the scantier coverage, compared to Esmeralda, suggests it was less successful. Another source notes that

the venture, though not a very great musical success, was for a first event fairly creditable; financially it was a dismal failure, and Mr. Benson, who acted as financier, found the account balanced with $160 in red ink. Cold weather, a small-pox scare and the rivalry of the opposition accounted for the small attendance.[17]

      Most likely Thornton Chase's involvement in music extended beyond the references that have been found in the newspapers; for example, he probably sang in one or more church choirs every Sunday, in addition to his activity in the various musical clubs. It is interesting to note that while the newspaper articles about his musical activities mention two churches, there is no reason to assume that he joined any particular church in Pueblo.

      Music was not the only outlet for Thornton's artistic talents. In 1882 he became a published poet. His poetry provides glimpses into his interests, his religious beliefs, and even into his personal life.

      Thornton's oldest known poem is "Decoration Day," published 21 May 1882 in the Colorado Chieftain and carried a week later by the Denver Inter-Ocean, a weekly literary and news magazine. Thornton wrote the work to commemorate the Civil War and read it "in a faultless manner" at Pueblo's annual Decoration Day (Memorial Day) commemoration. His was the third poem read at the commemoration; when finished he received "round after round of applause." The Inter-Ocean--not known for the rigor of its literary criticism--declared it "the best [poem] ever written on the subject."[18]

      Each of the twenty-three stanzas had six verses. The poem was notable for its appeal to the veterans of the war, its Victorian sentimentality, its reconciliation of the two sides, and its emphasis on the higher values brought out by the conflict. Pueblo, like most of Colorado, had been settled by Southerners as well as Northerners. Chase's poem viewed the war in a way that respected both sides:

Let the nation look and wonder,--
Peaceful flowers have hushed war's thunder
      Lulled the battle-hounds to sleep
While the Blue and Gray combining
Sympathetic garlands twinining
      Over mutual losses weep.

      In addition to emphasizing the values of love, peace, and sacrifice, the poem closed with an allusion to Christ and his sacrifice:

And the graves of those who suffered,
Are with floral tributes covered,
      Proving death's, not love's decease;
Brought by those who fought beside them,
Brought by those who once defied them,
      Friends and foes,--all friends in Peace.

Surely, He who died for mortals,
Looking down from Heavenly portals,
      From His throne in Paradise,
Smiles on this Commemoration,
Proof of true appreciation,
      Of the worth of sacrifice.

      Encouraged by success, Thornton published his second poem only a week later, in the 3 June 1882 issue of the Denver Inter-Ocean. "Sabbath bells" was a tribute to the wave of pealing church bells that sweeps across the United States, from Atlantic to Pacific, every Sunday morning. In his introduction to the poem, Chase noted that the wave of sound was "a note of triumph proclaiming the victory of a Christian Republic over ignorance and heathenism," suggesting that he still saw churches as extremely important institutions in American society. The poem even closes with an appeal for Coloradans to attend church:

Come, ye men of Colorado,
Come from every home and hamlet,
      Come from every gate and portal;
Leave your worldly thoughts behind you,
Break all worldly cares that bind you,
      Come and look on things immortal.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Do not linger, do not falter,
Gather here before the altar,
      Ask forgiveness for misdoing;
Humbly bow the knee in prayer,
Lowly bend and meekly there,
      Pardon ask, your vows renewing.

Rise then with gladdened faces,
Sing to God your heartfelt praises,
      Glorify His truth and power;
Listen to His servant's teaching,
Nought of ill, all good beseeching,
      Give to Him this Sabbath hour.[19]

      While the poem demonstrates a Christian piety typical of the day, it is noteworthy that no Christian theology is mentioned. Although Thornton refers to asking for forgiveness, he makes no specific reference to repentence; he mentions misdoings but not sins. He refers to God but not to Christ. Singing is an important aspect of the service. The church bells calling for worship of the Creator could be Catholic as easily as Protestant. Thus the poem hints that in 1882 Thornton's religiousness consisted not of adherence to a particular church or creed, but to basic Christian values.

      "Ring, Ring Ye Vibrant Swinging Bells," a poem he published at Christmastime 1882, is similar. Christ, of course, is mentioned, but not orthodox Protestant doctrines like sin and salvation. Rather, the Sermon on the Mount provides much of the language and imagery:

Blessed the rich, who scatter comforts round them,
Like as an oak which feeds the land with leaves;
Blessed the poor when human love has found them
Drying the tears of every one who grieves.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Blessed the faith which looks for life immortal;
Blessed the trust which clings to Him who died;
Blessed the soul to whom this life's the portal
Leading to Heaven's eternal Christmas tide.

The poem also refers to adoring Christ.[20]

      Not all of Thornton's poems treated religious themes. He also wrote about Colorado. "Voices of the Mountains," published in the Inter-Ocean on 5 August 1882, was "dedicated to the dauntless `old timers' of Colorado."[21] With three cantos of six or seven stanzas each, it was Thornton's most ambitious published work. The first canto offered a well-crafted description of nature in Colorado before the arrival of the Europeans:

The scream of the Eagle in sight of his prey,
Has hush'd the shrill chatter of Squirrels at play;
The rustle of Deer thro' the undergrowth hedges
The splash of the Beaver in pond-nurtured sedges,
Have followed the rattle of down-falling stones,
O'ertopped from peaks which have been their proud thrones;
And the sighing of winds thro' the tops of the spruces,
Has drowned in the roaring of watery sluices.

      Colorado's paradisiacal peace, however, was shattered by the advent of the prospectors and by their efforts to extract wealth from the ground:

      Chug! Chug! Chug! Chug!
Deep in the tunnels where powder has dug,
      With movement staccato,
      And style agitato,
The steam drills are playing a vigorous fugue;
      Drumming and battering,
      Piercing and shattering,
Adamant walls, which for ages have guarded,
Silvery treasures in hidden vaults hearded.

      The poem thus became a tribute to the taming and civilizing of the wilderness. The third canto focused more specifically on the prospector and on the prospector's steely determination to find silver and gold:

      In the shafted sunken room,
      Where the rocks the air entomb.
            And the glaring,
            Flick'ring, flaring,
      Lamp-light casts a yellow gloom;
In the sunless, low-arched halls,
Where the slimy moisture falls,
            Oozing, slipping,
            Trickling, dripping,
From the frowning, ragged walls;

      Deep in artificial caves,
      Where he deadly dangers braves,
            Striving, toiling,
            Nature foiling,
      Paths to wealth the miner paves;
Climbing where the beasts would quail,
Mounting thro' the cloudy vail,
            Conq'ring giant,
            Rocks defiant,
"KNOWING NO SUCH WORD AS FAIL."

      Thornton's poem was read widely and commented on in several newspapers. The Colorado Chieftain was unrestrained in its praise of a fellow citizen:

The poem which appeared in the last issue of the Denver Inter-Ocean. . . is a grand and sublime conception. Few men could grasp the subject and handle it with the clearness and force, and at the same time with the sweetness and brilliancy of wording that Mr. Chase has done, and he has truly earned the title of poet laureate of Colorado.[22]

      By late 1882 Thornton's life had achieved a significant sense of direction and success. He was successful in music and in poetry; he had a successful marriage; and he had been successful in earning a living. One scrap of evidence also suggests that, while living in Pueblo, Thornton underwent development in his religious thinking as well. In May 1902, writing a letter to `Abdu'l-Bahá, then head of the Bahá'í Faith, Thornton remarked that "for twenty years, and more, in poverty, in trial, in injustice, in comfort, in health, in all and greatly changing conditions, in sickness and sin and striving, I have felt that it was in God's Mercy that I was being fitted to be of some service here for Him."[23] Thornton Chase was a very precise writer; elsewhere in the same letter, when he mentioned another event in his life, he wrote "eight years" but scratched it out and replaced it with "seven years and more" because eight years had not yet elapsed. Thus, it seems a safe assumption that twenty years before May 1902--in 1881 or 1882, while living in Pueblo--Thornton felt some sort of intimation that God had some as yet unknown work for him. He must have wondered what that work would be, whether it would involve the talents that he had developed, and when it would come to him.

Footnotes

[1]Marriage certificate of J. B. T. Chase and Eleanor F. Pervier, 6 May 1880, in Mrs. Chase's application for veteran's widow's pension, United States government archives, Washington, D.C.; General Affidavit of Dora Kirkpatrick, 28 March 1916, application of Eleanor F. Chase for a veteran's widow's pension, United States Government Archives. Mr. Sheldon's life is extensively described in History of the Arkansas Valley, Colorado (Chicago: O. L. Baskin & Co., 1881) 811-13.

[2]George H. Tokuyama, registrar of the State of Hawaii, to the author, 6 April 1988, author's personal papers; General Affidavit of Dora Kirkpatrick, 15 January 1913, application of Eleanor F. Chase for a veteran's widow's pension, United States Government Archives; General Affidavit of Clayton C. Pervier, 24 March 1915, application of Eleanor F. Chase for a veteran's widow's pension, United States Government Archives.

[3]Frank Fossett, Colorado: Its Gold and Silver Mines, Farms and Stock Ranges, and Health and Pleasure Resorts. Tourist's Guide to the Rocky Mountains, 2d ed. (N.Y.: C. G. Crawford, 1880) 157. Isabel Stevenson Daney, Pueblo's First Cross (Denver: Big Mountain Press, 1966) 29-30.

[4]The Denver Inter-Ocean, 5.22 (10 June 1882): 395. (Copies of only a few issues of the Denver Inter-Ocean have survived. They may be found in the Colorado State Historical Society Library, Denver, Col., and the Denver Public Library.)

[5]Patent number 252,184 issued to James B. Thornton Chase of Pueblo, Colorado.

[6]The Colorado Chieftain, Thursday, 30 March 1882, p. 4, col. 4.

[7]The great popularity of Shakespeare and opera in America through the 1870s--and the reasons for their decline in popularity--are ably described in Lawrence W. Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1988), especially pages 3-5, 30-31.

[8]Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow 90-91; 104-9.

[9]The Colorado Chieftain, 3 June 1881, 4.

[10]The Colorado Chieftain, 4 June 1881, 4.

[11]Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow 26-28, 180.

[12]The Colorado Chieftain, 30 October 1881, 4; notes in Robert H. Stockman, Thornton Chase Research Notebook, p. 12.14, author's personal papers. The Colorado Chieftain, 4 Dec. 1881, 4, notes in Thornton Chase Research Notebook, p. 12.14A.

[13]The Colorado Chieftain, 26 Dec. 1881, 4.

[14]The Colorado Chieftain, 30 Dec. 1881, 4.

[15]The Colorado Chieftain, 16 Feb. 1882, 4.

[16]The Colorado Chieftain, 18 Feb. 1882, 4; 1 Mar. 1882, 4.

[17]Paul Porchea, The Musical History of Colorado (Denver: Charles Wesley, 1889) 128. Porchea apparently wrote the account from memory, and as a result it frequently contradicts facts given in contemporary newspaper accounts.

[18]The Colorado Chieftain, 21 May 1882, 4; The Denver Inter-Ocean, 27 May 1882, 352, 356.

[19]The Denver Inter-Ocean 5.21 (3 June 1882): 381.

[20]The Denver Inter-Ocean 5.51 (23 December 1882): 1.

[21]The Denver Inter-Ocean 5.30 (5 Aug. 1882): 1-2.

[22]The Colorado Chieftain, 10 Aug. 1882, 4, in Thornton Chase Research Notebook, p. 12.21-12.21A.

[23]Thornton Chase to `Abdu'l-Bahá (copy), 12 May 1902, 2, TC.
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