Two Society Photos…


I think of myself as a sort of an amused amateur taxonomist of class, as I am of biology. You don’t have to be a snob to be interested in class; despite Americans’ common nervousness about the subject, it exists, like evolution, whether you deny it or not. Someone who stands a little outside the lines, as Geoffrey Household observed in his suspense novel Watcher in the Shadows back in (I think– the computer is not in the library) 1961 may be able to get the most fun out of it…

Instance: while digging through my Bakewell material in anticipation of the imminent visit of his biographer, I came upon the following portrait of the old adventure priest by the studio (“House”) of Bachrach, THE photographer of the old families of America and other worthies. Given its age it may well be by Fabian himself.

No shock– the Bakewells were “rahther grahnd” in the words of Betsy’s old friend Joanie van Ness. His great aunt several times removed was Lucy, Audubon’s wife. He first went shooting as a child in a mule drawn wagon, with servants, on an estate in Missouri where he was born, and kept the Social Register beside his Alpine Journals, breviary, and Colt Officer’s model.

What amuses me is that a second Bachrach hangs on my wall: a childhood photo of Betsy Huntington taken around 1940; that is, also back when the studio was not general knowledge (now it has a Wiki).

Betsy was a Huntington and a Trumbull, born in China, raised by ancient parents (or their surrogates– “Mother wrote a poem about me at four, then sent me away and I didn’t see her again til I was eight”– only a slight exaggeration).

One grandfather was a colonel in the Marines and kept fighting cocks and blood horses, but her father the bishop was rather left- wing and bohemian despite his office; Bets herself blew a shocking inheritance to smithereens in two years, and was kicked out of her “good” college for general rowdiness. She then put herself through BU Journalism school, and worked hard all her life, never having much in the way of financial security. The only snobberies she had were almost comical, against the smug; she called Boston Brahmins “that Puritan commercial money”, and once said that her ancestors were “Connecticut Valley farmers, soldiers, and Anglican divines, who all said ‘ain’t’ and told their dogs to ‘charge’ * until after the Second World War.”

I see her sitting on a fence rail with John Davila at the Datil Rodeo back in 84, critiquing equine confirmation, while John’s then- wife Becky nudges me and says: “Two horseback aristocrats, a redneck Spanish rodeo cowboy and a Lady from New England, half smashed and talking horses– and they don’t have a pot to piss in between them!”

I’m not sure she had much more in common with Andy Bakewell, but they both did have their Bachrachs, and old farms somewhere in their pasts.

* “Charge” = “Down charge” = “Lie DOWN while I re- CHARGE my muzzle loader.”

1 thought on “Two Society Photos…”

  1. I just got around to reading this post Steve. Beautifully rendered observations on the subtle nature and effects of class in America. Mannerisims and attitutes inherited from high class ancestors seem to be a kind of regressive trait – though you can often observe the residual effects generations later.


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