Cover image for Song of Haiti : the lives of Dr. Larimer and Gwen Mellon at Albert Schweitzer Hospital of Deschapelles
Song of Haiti : the lives of Dr. Larimer and Gwen Mellon at Albert Schweitzer Hospital of Deschapelles
Paris, Barry.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : PublicAffairs, [2000]

Physical Description:
xii, 344 pages : illustrations, map, portraits ; 25 cm
General Note:
Map on lining papers.
Reading Level:
1110 Lexile.
Corporate Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
R154.M53 P37 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
R154.M53 P37 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Larimer Mellon was the youngest son of Paul Mellon, renowned Pittsburgh financier, and seemed destined for a life of high finance and high society. Instead, he went to med-school and, upon graduating, moved with his wife Gwen to Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere. In one of the most isolated and impoverished areas of the country they built a hospital, and for the rest of his life Larry Mellon served as a physician there. To this day, Gwen Mellon remains at the hospital and in Haiti. Song of Haiti is a beautifully written look at the passion that drove this couple, and that inspired them to leave behind a world of almost unfathomable wealth and luxury and devote their lives to the poorest of the poor in a country far from home.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Paris' heartwarming but realistic book is almost as much about Haiti as about the Mellons and their hospital. Larry and Gwen Mellon each came from a wealthy background but were capable of living in both the richest and the most poverty-stricken environments. Larry was an idealist and a worker. After a varied business experience and a gratifying stint as a rancher, he had learned of Albert Schweitzer, whom he looked on as a mentor for the rest of his life, and decided to pursue a medical career. Gwen was the administrator and diplomat of the pair. The hospital they built cost $3.5 million, with most of the money coming from the Mellons. Since Larry was in the final years of his medical education in the mid-1950s, Gwen supervised construction of the buildings pretty much by herself. After the hospital opened, Larry spent much of his time in the field, and Gwen ran its daily affairs. Paris also describes Haitians and Haitian living conditions, and the book's many informal photos add to it well. --William Beatty

Publisher's Weekly Review

No one ever expected the youngest son of financier William Mellon to establish and manage a hospital in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. But that is exactly what William Larimer (Larry) Mellon Jr. did during the last 35 years of his life (he attended medical school in his 40s). In this double biography, ParisÄwho himself makes a surprising turn from Hollywood biography (Audrey Hepburn, Garbo, etc.)Ä beautifully, if somewhat uncritically tells the story of Larry, his second wife, Gwen, and their hospital in Haiti. Taking a page from the Mellons' lifelong passion for music, Paris organizes the entire book, from its "Overture" to its "Finale," around a musical theme. Drawing on extensive interviews with GwenÄwho, now in her 80s, has been running the hospital since her husband's death in 1989Äas well as on Larry's private journals and his correspondence with Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Paris crafts a moving and largely sympathetic portrait. He also traces the history of the vast array of community development projects the Mellons initiated, arguing that the couple dedicated their uncommon lives and fortune to Schweitzer's motto "Help life where you find it." Along the way he provides plenty of relevant photos and helpful background: a history of Haiti, the story of the Mellon dynasty and an assessment of voodooÄhe calls it "a largely positive force with no particular agenda and without the proselytizing (or televangelical abuses) of Christianity." Inspirational and dramatic, this book fills in a long-forgotten gap in the history of both American philanthropy and compassionate humanity. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

As in his other acclaimed biographies (Garbo, Audrey Hepburn), Paris captures the passion of lives well lived. In what is essentially a love story about Larimer and Gwen Mellon, he tells of the couple's transition from the world of high finance (Larimer was the youngest son of banker William Mellon) to service as healthcare providers in one of the "neediest spots" in the world. Inspired by the medical missionary work of Albert Schweitzer in Africa, the Mellons made a mid-life decision to devote their energies to building a hospital and serving the poor in Haiti's Artibonite Valley. Larry, who graduated from medical school in his mid-forties and served in Haiti until his death, is presented as a reflective renegade; Gwen, now in her eighties and still working in Haiti, is seen as a feisty Mother Teresa. After three years of researching private journals and unpublished correspondence and conducting extensive interviews, Paris has written a definitive exploration of the Mellons' impact not only on the episodic healthcare of Haiti but on tropical medicine research and public sanitation reforms. This is not just a biography but a gem of medical anthropological literature. Recommended for all collections in public and academic libraries alike.DRebecca Cress-Ingebo, Fordham Health Sciences Lib., Wright State Univ., Dayton (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Andante Princes and Paupers William Larimer Mellon Jr. was heir to part of a great family fortune that then rivaled, and now dwarfs, that of the Rockefellers. I was born in opulence, Larry would say. His branch of the clan was not ostentatious--few Mellons were or are--but "There were times when I felt ashamed to be from a family that was known only for wealth."     His great-grandfather, Judge Tom Mellon (1813-1908), founded the family's banking empire, with assets valued at about $56 billion today. His brilliant grand-uncle, Andrew W. Mellon (1855-1937), developed the Aluminum Corporation of America (Alcoa) and served as secretary of the treasury under Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. Larry's father, William Larimer "W. L." Mellon Sr., was cofounder and president of Gulf Oil Corporation, where Larry was expected to take his own rightful place one day.     "Idle rich" was an oxymoron in this family's lexicon. W. L. Sr. (1868-1949), unlike other such scions, had not been raised to loll about but to learn about, and actively advance, the whole spectrum of Mellon concerns. At age nine, W. L.'s assignment was to stand by the side of a turnpike in western Pennsylvania's Ligonier Valley to record the number and nature of horse-drawn commercial loads passing by, then relay that information to the Mellons' competitive haulers. Before and during his adolescence, it was also W. L.'s job to peddle the produce from his grandfather's estate--spring rhubarb, summer tomatoes, fall sweet corn. Nothing so delighted old Judge Mellon, the grandson said years later, as "the sight of me, the donkey and the produce-laden wagon, setting off for some market I had found for myself, most likely down on [Pittsburgh's] Penn Avenue."     At fifteen, W. L. spent the first of several hot, buggy summers in Bismarck, N.D., helping plow a thousand acres of winter wheat with no more technical assistance than a team of oxen. Two years later, in 1885, he mastered and installed a tricky new thing called electricity in his grandfather's house, no mean feat for a seventeen-year-old. His additional areas of expertise came to include coal, steel, railroads, lumber, and, above all, oil.     Until the late 1890s, notes one Mellon chronicler, David Koskoff, "oil country" meant western Pennsylvania, "where pure green oil literally oozed from the rocks and stream beds." Long before the riches beneath Texas and Oklahoma were known, America's oil-rush epicenter was the Keystone State, home to such boomtowns as Petrolia, Wellsville, and Oil City, and nobody was more adept than W. L. Mellon at persuading dubious farmers to lease drilling rights on their land. If oil were struck, the farmer got a one-eighth share of the profits; if not, the Mellons took the loss.     W. L.'s wells more often hit than missed. He made a great deal of money for his family from exploration and drilling, but there the profit stopped to his annoyance. The price he and other wildcatters got for their crude oil was dictated by Standard Oil Co., the one (and virtually only) big buyer, in control of most pipelines and refineries. John D. Rockefeller's monopoly would soon come in for a challenge from W. L. Mellon, twenty-three, who steered his family's operation through the creation of its own small but effective pipeline, 200 railroad tank-car force, and refinery. By 1895, the Mellons were sufficiently serious competitors to be disposed of the way shrewd entrepreneurs like best: Standard Oil bought them out.     They didn't stay out for long. New Mellon oil interests, including J. M. Guffey Petroleum, were gradually obtained and, in 1907, reorganized into an expanded corporate entity called the Gulf Oil Company. A. W. Mellon was president, soon succeeded by W. L., who ran it with fabulous profitability for the next four decades.     His family's enterprises embraced Alcoa, Union Trust and Mellon National Bank, Koppers, Standard Steel Car, Monongahela River Consolidated Coal & Coke Co., Pittsburgh Coal, and Mellon Securities, plus assorted utility companies and huge tracts of real estate--combined resources of enormous industrial power and importance to America. But the single biggest element of the empire was Gulf Oil, and W. L. Mellon was the one who built it.     "It is very hard for me to be patient with incompetents," W. L. once said, yet by all accounts he was kind and generous. A contemporary reporter called him "pleasant personally, but not particularly stimulating and with no distinguishing traits to lift him above the average."     Not so, his wife.     Mary "May" Taylor Mellon was the daughter of a Scottish civil engineer who worked throughout the British Isles surveying railroads and, in America, was a bookkeeper and manual laborer, laying asphalt sidewalks in Brooklyn, before his eventual success in a Wall Street brokerage firm. Matthew Taylor shared his eccentric devotions to astronomy, poetry, botany, magic, and especially music with his children. May emerged with the most sensitive refinement. She loathed any display of wealth, declining even to wear jewelry, and evidenced a wit largely lacking in her in-laws.     In 1896, May Taylor and W. L. Mellon were married in Florida, and a trainload of Mellons showed up for the event. As they disembarked, W. L. identified them for his bride by their beloved initials: "There's T. A., that's A. W...." and so on. According to family legend, when ancient Grandma Sarah Jane, Judge Tom's wife, stepped down onto the platform, May could not resist asking W. L., "Who is that--B. C.?"     Once married, May Taylor Mellon ("M. T.," a posthumous trust fund would list her) shunned society and devoted herself to family, Presbyterian church activities, and music. She bore W. L. four children: Matthew in 1897, Rachel in 1899, and Peggy in 1901--the three they had planned--plus William Larimer Jr., "Larry," the surprise, who debuted June 26, 1910, nearly a decade later.     His mother said that "when she first came to Pittsburgh, it was a great hardship to be among the Mellons," Larry told a family biographer, Burton Hersh. "She meant they weren't very `couth' people [and] didn't have the kind of manners her mother and father had." He remembered his grandfather, James Ross "J. R." Mellon, once asking him, "Do you ever covet anything?" Larry couldn't come up with anything. "I only covet one thing," said J. R., "whenever I pass a big pile o' manure."     "That's how they were," Larry concluded. "They spoke like farmers." May didn't like it, "but she was loyal, she'd signed up. Father told me once, `I've been lucky, my wife never interfered in my affairs. I couldn't have taken that.'"     Larry called his mother "the great spiritual force in my life" and identified with her alienation more than any of his siblings did. "To be thrust into a pompous atmosphere was difficult for her," said Larry, who had the same difficulty. "I felt more at home with chambermaids than with my own group. Wealth really can't work for you. Either you get a cockeyed notion of your own importance or you get an inferiority complex. I guess [the latter] is what I had. Once I got the idea that dollars were foolish, the people chasing them seemed foolish."     There was no shortage of chambermaids or dollar-chasers at Ben Elm, the family manse in Pittsburgh's tree-sheltered Squirrel Hill section. That huge homestead bustled with life. The Mellons' more idyllic residence was in Beaumaris, Ontario, where "Big Pa"--as W. L.'s children called him--owned Squirrel Island on beautiful Lake Muskoka, plus the smaller Blueberry Island and a portion of the mainland, all of it perfect for summer fishing and fall hunting. As the family grew, so did its boat fleet for excursions to the upper lake and picnics on Blueberry Island (whence everyone always returned with blue teeth). W. L. and the older children were vacationing in Beaumaris in 1910 while May was delivering in Pittsburgh. It was a jubilant day when she arrived to unveil baby Larimer and join them for the rest of the summer.     Back at Ben Elm, the Mellon children adapted to their nurses and governesses and the rigorous ways their father structured their lives. Most of every Sabbath, for example, was spent in Sunday school. "There was no escape," said Larry's brother, Matthew. "We were locked in closets and spanked with hairbrushes when we offended the code, yet we knew intuitively that our parents loved us and were doing it all for our good, which reminds me of an old hymn we sang down at the Presbyterian Church: `Trust and obey, there's no other way.'"     W. L. was a busy and important man, imbued with more moneymaking than parenting skills. Old Judge Tom might have had his grandson in mind when he wrote late in life: "As a general rule parents, especially such as are in easy circumstances or engaged in extensive enterprises, hold their children at too great a distance from them."     Big Pa was an aloof and austere father. But May's warm, caring nature provided the balance. As her father had done with her, she imbued her own children with humanist compassion and a deep feeling for the arts.     "Larry used to tell me about being on the family yacht as a little boy, which he really didn't like much, except when his mother would cradle him in her arms and sing to him," says Bill Dunn, a close friend of later years, "or when he was lulled to sleep by the crew members' singing belowdecks at night. Those were precious times for him, and the source of his love of music."     May was also the source of Larry's gentleness and sense of responsibility to help others. Larry called her "a pacifist, anything to avoid a row" and remembered her putting in long hours at the Home for Crippled Children and the Women's Exchange.     "Their relationship was very affectionate," says his sister Rachel, ten years older, who celebrated her 100th birthday in 1999. "Mother became ill after she had Larimer, but she just adored him. She would have her breakfast in bed, Larry would get in, and she'd give him little `birdie bites' of toast. She was just crazy about him."     Rachel remembered their mother as constantly bedridden: We always traveled with a nurse and never knew exactly what her illness was. She never complained, but she had such awful pain and went to so many different doctors. I went to New York with her to a hospital where they thought it was cancer and operated, but it did no good. Then we went to Philadelphia and they operated again. Finally, another Philadelphia doctor said it was a certain nerve in her back. He practiced on animals for months, examining all the nerves in their spines until he found the right one, cut it a little and found that it deadened the animal's leg. It was very scary. If there had been one slip, she might never have walked again. But Mother was desperate. We all were. So she had this procedure, and he told her, "Be careful, because you won't have much feeling--don't lean against a radiator." But he found the right nerve. It was the first time that had ever been done, and it worked.     By that time, May's beloved baby was a feisty adolescent. At twelve, Larry loathed the dance classes he was forced to attend, especially the preparations when "Mother would straighten out my jacket and jam the stiff collar into my neck. I wasn't too faithful to dancing school. I used to escape by the fire escape which, at the bottom, had about a ten-foot drop to the street."     At Pittsburgh's Shady Side Academy, he once asked a girl to meet him by a pond. When she said another boy had asked her first, Larry plotted to ruin his rival. On a school typewriter, he and a friend pecked out a note to the girl's parents full of scurrilous reasons why the other boy was not to be trusted with their daughter. Of course the authorship was discovered (the typewriter had a telltale broken key), and Larry and his pal were both expelled for a week.     "I always felt kind of sorry for Larry as a boy," Rachel said, "because Father was in the process of retiring then and didn't seem to have much time for him. He and Mother had a yacht, the Vagabondia , in Florida and went down there every year. Sometimes they'd take us, but often Larry would have to stay home for school, and I'd be home too because I was the older one out of school and wasn't married yet. We'd be the only two left behind [unless] Mother would call and say, `Bring Larry down for Easter.' Then we'd come, and on the steamer Larry and Matthew would hide awful things in my stateroom, maybe dangle a crab over my bed. They had fun with me."     For Big Pa, the highlight of nautical life in Florida was deep-sea fishing and harpooning the occasional sting ray. The Mellons also loved side-trip river cruises to explore the tidelands and to blast alligators at will. "It was," Matthew wrote, "a wonderful world of unrestricted slaughter without a thought to disturb our consciences. The oil wells were gushing over in Texas, and we could keep every penny they made because nasty things like income taxes had not yet been thought of and capitalist was a proud name, and not, as now, a dirty word."     Now and then, a moment of excitement leavened the leisure, such as the time a wave washed the Vagabondia's corpulent cook overboard in shark-infested waters on a 1926 cruise to Venezuela. A lifeboat reached the cook just ahead of a shark. Otherwise, Larry spent most of his shipboard time that trip studying Spanish. His gift for languages was remarkable. He learned French from his Swiss governess. At Choate, the exclusive boarding school in Wallingford, Connecticut, he picked up Portuguese from a Brazilian friend. In adulthood, he added Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, and Creole to his linguistic arsenal--all self-taught or privately tutored, similar to the way he mastered an amazing variety of musical instruments. Larry always learned and fared better on his own than in a formal classroom situation.     "He could play any instrument he picked up," recalled George Lockhardt, a lifelong friend, and later financial handler, who roomed with him for two years at Choate. "Our room was on the third floor of a building near the chapel, and Larry liked to sit out on the roof there, strumming his guitar." Newt Chapin, another good friend from Choate, says his interests were almost exclusively in music: "He belonged to the orchestra, the jazz band, the [concert] band, and the banjo club. He often strolled around with his ukelele, playing and singing `Mon Bleu Heaven.'"     Choate's 1928 yearbook reveals that Larry, at seventeen, was five feet nine inches tall and weighed 145 pounds. The maxim beneath his graduation picture is: "Beware the fury of a patient man." That seems to have had its origin in a campus musicale at which Larry was playing bass viol: a string broke, provoking a major tantrum. "He busted up his bass, made it into matchwood," says Chapin. "He had a bad temper then."     Evidently, both the fiddle and the fiddler were a little high-strung. As a private person rather than performing artiste , Larry was moody, Chapin remembers, but also "charming, with a wonderful mind and great charisma. Everybody liked him. He had the most winning smile and personality when you and he were getting along. But if he took a dislike to someone, he could be very arbitrary."     He could also be unlawful, in nonobservance of Prohibition. The Mellons were not heavy drinkers, but they regularly enjoyed a cocktail or two in the evening and, like millions of other Americans, would not be deprived by the 19th Amendment. At their separate prep schools, both Larry and a cousin Ned Mellon, rigged up stills. According to Ned, Larry's operation was the better of the two--until tragically terminated by an explosion.     With or without moonshine, W. L. Mellon Jr. was not a happy preppie, as another, perhaps symbolic, incident suggests: One day, fooling around outdoors instead of studying, he threw a rope over a high tree branch and almost accidentally hanged himself before managing to pull up and out of the noose. Another time, he impulsively decided to chuck Choate and took off, AWOL, for home. He got to Pittsburgh fine that night, but Big Pa issued a stern reprimand, spun him around and sped him back to Connecticut the next morning.     All in all, Larimer finished prep school feeling as ambivalent as when he began. He tried to put his finger on it in an introspective little essay, "Farewell to Choate": Now that there's but a single week of school left, the thought of parting does grow a bit harder. Perhaps the old sixth Former who described to me the lump of affection which swelled his throat during the last week of his school days wasn't just lying after all. I [have] turned out to be one of those persons who either like a thing or dislike a thing. There's no halfway in anything with me. [But] what is my feeling for Choate? I can't seem to decide. God knows I've had my troubles here ... I never minded being on "pro" [probation], nor did I mind paying for the windows I smashed. What I did mind was having to row in a shell all afternoon. Athletics--God, how I hate them.... In spite of all that, I might have cultivated a real love for this place if it hadn't been for that damned chapel every evening with its clanking bells. Still, the old place [has] been my home for five years and there's something I do love about it anyway. Maybe it's just the fields. I don't know. Perhaps I shall someday.     The course had been charted for Larry Mellon, who had little to say in the matter. He was now accepted into Princeton. It was assumed he would enter the banking business or join one of the companies Mellon Bank owned, the thought of which depressed him. "In those days," he said, "everyone wanted to be a bond salesman and belong to the right clubs. That was the limit of their ambition." His own ambitions were, in fact, nonexistent. Certainly, he exhibited no special interest in medicine or the Caribbean, except as a family playground aboard the Vagabondia . The Mellons did not always go ashore on their tropical cruises and seldom mixed with the natives when they did. Least of all were they curious about the natives on western Hispaniola, citizens of the first and poorest black republic in the world. * * * In the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, the most exciting time of year is Ra-Ra, a wild pre-Mardi Gras festival when the streets are filled with noisy parades of young celebrants, many dressed as Haiti's aboriginal Arawak Indians in pink feathers and long white hemp braids, brandishing homemade bows and arrows as they sing and dance through the city.     Haiti's friendly, docile Arawaks were mostly slaughtered by the Spanish crews of Christopher Columbus, who "discovered" that unfortunate island on December 6, 1492. The surviving natives had been polished off by disease and brutal servitude when France took possession of western Hispaniola in 1697 and stepped up the importation of slaves from Benin, the Congo, Dahomey, and Guinea in staggering numbers. African forced labor would make the colony fabulously profitable through the eighteenth century.     Such was French greed at its peak that, by 1791, there were 500,000 slaves in Haiti, eleven blacks for every European. The situation was ripe for insurrection and a long, bloody independence struggle led by the great freedom fighter, Toussaint L'Ouverture. Despite concerted international efforts to suppress it, history's first successful slave revolt finally triumphed in 1804 under Jean-Jacques Dessalines and was secured by Henri Christophe. The latter renamed himself King Henri I (his daughters became Princess Athénaire and Princess Améthyste), but royally failed to improve the lot of his subjects.     Certainly, he got no help from the young United States of America, which repaid the favor of French help in its own revolution by joining France's furious effort to quash Haiti's. The American government, moreover, was opposed to the thought--let alone reality--of a nearby black republic. Fearing similar slave revolts, the United States refused to recognize Haiti until 1862, when the island struck Abraham Lincoln as a potential dumping-ground for freed slaves. Liberia was recognized the same year for much the same reason.     Racked by poverty, internal power struggles, black-mulatto racial strife, and disputes with neighboring Santo Domingo nineteenth-century Haiti was bankrupt by the twentieth and had no choice but to accept a U.S. Customs receivership forced upon it in 1905. Direct American rule began in 1915 after Haitian President Vilbrun Sam had his heart torn out by an angry mob--an act that sufficiently appalled Woodrow Wilson to send in American marines to occupy the country and calm its political tumult. Haiti's parliament was disbanded for refusing to accept a new U.S. corporate-designed constitution. U.S. troops organized a plebiscite in which that constitution was ratified by a 99.9 percent majority (of the 5 percent of Haitians who voted).     The marines were commanded, and Haiti ruled, by fierce Gen. Smedley Butler throughout the "Cacos War" of 1918-1922, a long and hopeless guerrilla struggle against Yankee occupation.     However brutal and self-serving, U.S. military domination of Haiti brought relative stability to the hemisphere's most densely populated nation and was regarded by whites as a humanitarian mission. The marines and the few Americans back home who cared were shocked by Haiti's squalor and even more repelled by its superstitious religion, voodoo, mocked and misunderstood in North America and Europe.     Contrary to frightened foreign impressions and Hollywood depictions, Haitian voodoo wasn't and isn't concerned with sticking pins in dolls to destroy enemies, but rather with a lofty set of beliefs in African spirits called loas , who can be summoned when needed and who rule daily life as well as death. Among voodoo's phenomena is the belief in zombies--"work-slaves"--raised up from their tombs by houngauns , the voodoo priests. Many Haitians live better dead than alive: Relatives often spend a year's income to erect huge, heavy tombstones over their loved ones' graves to prevent them from being dug up and turned into zombies. Sometimes the deceased are seated at tables with cigarettes or food and allowed to decompose a bit before burial so they will be less appealing candidates for zombification.     But voodoo and its magic permeate life more often in light-hearted than in morbid ways, as in Africa, whence Haitian culture springs. Dr. Albert Schweitzer provided a fine illustration from his medical mission in Gabon: There was a lumberman with a glass eye who had supervision over many local workers. One day he had to leave for a week and when he returned, he discovered his office and compound in utter confusion. When he had to leave again, he took out his glass eye and put it on his desk. He told his workers, "I shall be watching you while I am gone." Sure enough, when he returned, everything was in perfect order. However, the next time, when he tried that trick, utter confusion. What had happened? Why had the eye failed? One of the workers had taken the lumberman's hat and put it over the glass eye. He had discovered what we already knew, that in Africa, every magic has a countermagic.     Haitian voodoo is "Africa reblended": the spiritual practices of Congo, Dahomey, and Yorubaland merged with Christian beliefs and the social turbulence of the New World. It is less a religion than a pervasive way of life, cleverly grafted onto French Catholicism and Caribbean conditions. Its earthy mysticism is as impenetrable to the outside world today as it was to the French colonials. Voodoo was the only thing that couldn't be beaten or stolen from the slaves over the centuries.     The restlessness of slave and Arawak spirits is palpable in today's Haitians, especially at Ra-Ra time, as they revel, with a tinge of anger, in the full-moon shadows of breadfruit trees descended from those brought by Capt. Cook from the South Seas. Ancient yearnings and injustices remain.     Not until Franklin Roosevelt's administration in 1934 was Haiti's government restored to the Haitians, but during and after that decade of Depression, the country slid further downhill. Deeper poverty brought deeper political corruption and deeper cynicism among the peasantry. It was also a time of economic crisis in the United States, of course. There, nobody in or out of Larimer Mellon's family was worried about Haiti. * * * Just shy of his 19th birthday, Larry self-published a thin volume called Tales, Verses, and Essays through the Princeton Press. He had no illusions about its literary quality and said so in his foreword: "Herein is to be found the writing of a schoolboy during a period of six long monotonous years--five spent at Choate and one at Princeton. Although the faults in the earlier compositions especially are both obvious and numerous, the work has been left entirely untouched and unsupplemented. [This collection] has been published purely out of vanity, the desire to display in print the fruit of my literary labors."     The tales were humorous parables, precocious juvenilia. Best of them was "Pipa de Arcilla": Even before I was old enough to be able to enjoy her, still there seemed to be a bond between us, which ... I can in no wise account for. But am I to blame for not knowing the roots of the matter? For not understanding the lure which she always had for me, for being so jealous at seeing her with another man, for being willing to throw aside my honor and good reputation when she but got near enough to intoxicate me with the aroma of her warm breath? ... My father had adopted her immediately upon the death of his best friend ... I shall never forget the day she came to live with us: I was 91/2 years old. How wonderful we all thought it that father should consent to take her into his keeping ... As we came rushing out to meet her, he lifted her high into the air for us all to admire. Mother was the least enthusiastic over the new arrival . . . I now have reason to believe that she hated her from the very moment when she first saw her. But in spite of this hate, oddly enough, we lived peacefully together for years. It was not until I had reached my fifteenth birthday that the discovery was made ... On this festive occasion, what violent passion seized me! ... My brain suddenly overflowed with lustful and licentious thoughts which centered about this legal addition to our household. I determined to put her to the use for which she was made, and satisfy myself with her once and for all ... I waited impatiently until I was quite sure no one was stirring, until it seemed as if everyone must be asleep. Then it was that I crept noiselessly toward the room--her room, purposing in my heart to conquer her unsuspecting and defenseless ... I crept on until I reached the very doorway of her room, then softly I turned the knob and gently pushed the door open wide enough to allow myself a full view of her as she lay there motionless with not so much as a single cover to conceal her smooth curves from the downy moonbeams.... In another moment, I had entered, closed and locked the door behind me, and tiptoed over to where she lay. Even as I pressed my feverish lips to hers, she appeared to sleep on, or be impassive to my invasion.... But wait!--did not I hear mother step outside the door? ... Oh, God! What was I to do? She would find out everything. Then her voice rang out sharply from behind the door, "Lirro, tu estás fumando addentro?" [Larry, are you smoking in there?] It was all over.... In English, this little clay pipe loses all her feminine charm and becomes nothing more than a cold, neuter it .... As soon as I had unlocked the door, Mother ran in and seized her. Now her fingers closed tight around her neck. Then, she dashed her to the hearth. As I looked sorrowfully down, I saw there at my feet father's pipa de arcilla smashed to a thousand bits.     His poetry included three sonnets, an "Invocation to Venus" (translated from Lucretius' De Rerum Natura ), and miscellaneous amusing doggerel, such as: On New Year's Eve in '28-- I never shall forget that date-- Not only 'cause we stayed up late But after quite a long debate On why she shouldn't hesitate My brain has tried to cogitate On what could make it fluctuate Much more than when I osculate ...     Later, the teenaged poet put a more melancholy meditation into a more polished verse titled "Life": Confucius has ended his lecture; The heathen were crowding the door But yet one decrepit old female Still mirrored the prayer-holey floor. As soon as the audience vanished She hastened her steps to his side To finally reach the conclusion Her own feeble brain had denied. Croaked she, "What's this life that we're living?" Oh genius that gasped not for breath, Thou answered as true as man's knowledge: "That predicament preceding death."     Larry's essays contained no more or less wisdom than could be expected of any late adolescent but there were samples of his wry humor. "On Babies" addressed the way grown males approached infants: "if the man be young, he will walk on his hands and knees, growl like a bear, stand on his head, or possibly resort to tossing the child high into the air and catching it just as it is about to strike the ground--any one of which is most alarming to the baby and serves only to terrorize it to the bawling point . (Apologies to the reader, young mothers, and pharmaceutical technicians.)" In "Popular Fallacy," he ruminated on punctuality: The United States of America would be better off if she had never entered the [first] world war at all, and a gentleman would avoid ever so much embarrassment by simply not going to a banquet in lieu of presenting himself tardy.... Likewise, cutting chapel at Choate and [hoping to be] overlooked is far wiser than entering after the service has begun, which is as good as confessing one's sin before the entire congregation. This should be published [nationally] to eradicate the popular fallacy "Better Late Than Never." His final essay, "On Beauty," was deeply serious: No sooner are we born upon this earth, where evolution is proclaimed material creator and God proclaimed master of intellects, than we become aware ... that we are living in an atmosphere of mystery and that we are by no means able to find out the "truth" of even the most familiar matter.... Let us consider the wide range of beauty that we receive through the eye alone. Probably the earliest form is scenic beauty ... [Other beauty] comes to us through the ear. Since the world was first created, there has been the dismal drum of dreary rain, the roar of angry waves, the echoing voice of thunder and the shrill whistle of midnight wind. Wordsworth speaks of his delight in streams as "beauty born of murmuring sound." And who is there who has not been aware of beauty in a loving voice? ... Next to the human voice in expressing sentiment comes the violin.... Beauty is inherent in nature; realized through man, and explained through God.      Larry was reunited at Princeton with his Choate friend Newt Chapin, who remembers Larry describing his brief time there as "a fiasco." Seventy years later, Chapin disagreed: "A year that produced this little book should not be called a fiasco."     Latimer Mellon was a reflective renegade, a sensitive misfit, no better suited to college than prep school. One year in the Ivy League was enough. "I didn't know what I wanted," he said years later, "but I knew I wouldn't get it at Princeton." (Continues...) Copyright (c) 2000 Barry Paris. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Overturep. 1
Chapter 1 Andante: Princes and Paupersp. 3
Chapter 2 Allegro Vivace Homes on the Rangep. 33
Chapter 3 Largo Road to Damascusp. 63
Chapter 4 Presto Miracle-Workingp. 113
Chapter 5 Moderato: """"Go to the People""""p. 173
Chapter 6 Scherzo: Mon Pays Est L'Haïti""""

p. 223

Chapter 7 Adagio: """"When the Roll is Called Up Yonder""""p. 259
Chapter 8 Finale: Reverence for Lifep. 301
Acknowledgmentsp. 325
Notesp. 329
Bibliographyp. 337
Photo Creditsp. 339
Indexp. 341