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The Crimson Letter. Douglass Shand-Tucci. Steven H. The New York Rangers. John Halligan. Continue shopping. Item s unavailable for purchase. By the time Carl Van Vechten was born in , the family name was fast becoming one of the most important in the burgeoning state of Iowa. Known as the Parlor City because of its reputation for being a well-ordered and respectable community, Cedar Rapids was booming.
Although founded in the s, its real genesis moment came in , when the arrival of the railroad transformed what had been a small town of just a few hundred people into an important player in the industrialization of Iowa farming. By the s large grain-processing and meatpacking firms, including Quaker Oats in , had set up in Cedar Rapids, transporting produce to Chicago and beyond in enormous quantities.
The town boasted around ten thousand inhabitants when Charles and Ada arrived with the children; by the end of the century it was more than double that figure, making it one of the largest settlements in Iowa and one of the fastest-growing communities in the Midwest. For industrious men like the Van Vechten brothers, Cedar Rapids held glittering prospects. Throughout that time he strived hard to maintain a leading presence in the community. The fabric of civic life in Cedar Rapids was sewn together by voluntary associations of spirited individuals committed to the service of God and country, and Charles was involved in many of them; he sat as chairman of the cabinet at the First Universalist Church of Cedar Rapids and was a Mason, a Rotarian, and a member of the Knights Templar.
Emma, their daughter, was thirteen when Carl was born; their son Ralph, already a strapping specimen of all-American masculinity, was nearly eighteen. Ada was besotted with her little boy, whom she regarded as a gift from the heavens. At thirty-nine she savored the pleasures of motherhood that she had been too anxious and inexperienced to enjoy with her first children.
She studied him diligently as his personality developed, noting his burgeoning talents, the flourishing of his soft, cherubic features, and the joy that he brought her. At eighteen months she sat him alone before the camera, posed on a crushed velvet armchair, wearing a black dress with a white lace collar, wisps of his long hair falling over his ears. He was a gorgeous, fat-cheeked baby with brown eyes like little pools of melted chocolate; it is easy to see why Ada found him so adorable. Other members of the family joined Ada in her efforts to make Carl feel precious and worthy of singular attention.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, and at first Charlie wrote charming letters about all the marvelous things that Santa might bring and how lucky Carl was to have been born a beautiful baby boy in the United States at a time of peace and plenty. But each year it became harder to find homespun wisdom worth committing to paper. Fearful that Carl might feel hurt or rejected, Ada could not bear the idea that her brother should stop the letters, so Charlie was compelled to continue the tradition.
The family began each day at a. The surrounding Iowan countryside offered a rural paradise for curious children. But beyond that no suburbs, only the Corn Belt: fields and open meadows, lightly pocked by a scattering of small farmsteads among a flourish of brooks, maples, willows, and wildflowers.
Old family photographs, some taken by Van Vechten himself, capture long summer days at Indian Creek, five or so miles from town, where he spent hours observing the wildlife, swimming in the warm, glistening waters, and camping out with his brother.
It would be hard to imagine a more indulged child in the state of Iowa. Van Vechten admitted he had probably been spoiled rotten as a boy. His idea of playing with other children was bossing them around, and delayed gratification was an entirely alien concept to him. The obsessiveness that began to exhibit itself around the age of twelve almost certainly is. Roy was a studious young man, a bespectacled teenage oologist whose idea of a fun weekend was shinning up trees to study the nesting patterns of the eastern meadowlark.
Taking just one egg from a nest, he maintained, was pointless. Only by taking a clutch—that is, the entire contents of a nest—could one hope to learn anything of value. Often the need to own and control the beautiful things in his orbit was so insistent it overruled all appeals to both heart and head, even when it risked hurting those who loved him the most.
A half century of ardent collecting began with those clutches of eggs. Anything elaborate and exquisite, anything new or novel he scooped into his embrace, as man and boy. Even when he could not justify the expense, he spent extravagantly on the latest things: a Victrola phonograph; a sharp new suit; a sleek portable typewriter. During one of his trips to Europe just prior to the First World War, he procured an object apparently unfamiliar to Americans at the time, a timepiece that instead of resting in a pocket was attached to a dainty leather bracelet and worn around the wrist.
Returning from another overseas vacation some years later, he disembarked his ship surrounded by porters hauling his twenty-five pieces of luggage onto the dockside, the spoils of a frenzied shopping tour of the markets and department stores of Paris and London. Guided by the same acquisitiveness, as a child he gathered a peculiar menagerie of pets: pigeons, thrushes, field mice, canaries, pigs, turtles, chameleons, and, so he claimed as an adult, even an alligator all passed through his protection at one point or another.
None of them survived long, and when they died, he was never very bothered. In fact, even the deaths of family members troubled him relatively little as a boy. The passing of his grandmothers, both of whom lived in Cedar Rapids, one of them in his home, caused him no great anguish, and the same was seemingly true when his cousin Roy died tragically young and in blackly ironic circumstances, in an elevator accident in a hospital where he was receiving treatment for an illness.
It was not until the age of twenty-five when his mother died that Van Vechten endured the common experiences of bereavement. Convert currency. Add to Basket. Book Description Farrar Straus Giroux , Condition: New. Publisher overstock, may contain remainder mark on edge. Seller Inventory B. More information about this seller Contact this seller.