Are you a Trotty Veck?
“Are you a Trotty Veck?” This was the question posed to readers of the first Trotty Veck Messages pamphlet, “Good Cheer.” These small booklets contained quotes, poetry, jokes, local sayings and more, intended to boost the spirits of their readers. Trotty Veck Messengers were described as people who, “having a wide vision and cheerful disposition themselves, have it in their hearts to give cheer and courage and inspiration to others.”
The publication was started in 1916 by two roommates at Trudeau Sanatorium, Seymour Eaton Jr., and Charles “Beanie” Swasey Barnet. When the pair complained of feeling down, Eaton’s father, who was an authority on publishing and advertising, suggested they write inspirational messages to one another. They turned this advice into a lifelong career.
Barnet and Eaton based their outlook on the character of Trotty Veck, found in Charles Dickens’ short story “The Chimes.” In the story, Trotty Veck delivered messages of good cheer to the townspeople, despite his own ill health. This philosophy, and the publication, were both great successes, and Eaton and Barnet sold 4,000 copies in the first year alone.
Seymour Eaton, sadly, died of TB in 1918, but Beanie Barnet continued the publication, publishing at least one edition a year. Over the course of 50 years, Barnet published 55 editions of the Trotty Veck Messages and sold 4 million copies that lifted spirits all across the world. The pamphlets were sent to U.S. troops in both world wars and the Korean War. The titles included “Good Words,” “Joy,” “Chuckles,” “Real Riches,” “Your Best,” “Happy Hearts” and more. Barnet eventually opened an office in town and hired staff to support the publication.
Barnet kept a scrapbook of quotes from many sources (which can be found in the Adirondack Room at the Saranac Lake Free Library today). These sources ranged from Shakespeare to Seneca to Thomas Paine, to unknown jokesters and riddlers. The first issue included a quote from a famous Saranac Lake visitor, Robert Louis Stevenson: “Only to trust and do our best, and wear as smiling a face as may be for others and ourselves.”
The Messages were intended to be sent near and far, to fellow patients, their family members and friends. They provided a way to connect and share joy, most often around the holidays with special “Christmas Greetings” wrappers. So many patients were facing an unknowable future, and finding a source of connection and optimism could literally be life-saving. Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau himself recognized the power of positive thinking and saw an optimistic outlook as an important component of the treatment offered to patients in Saranac Lake.
At the age of 54, Beanie Barnet married Elizabeth Widmer, a TB nurse, at William Morris’ Camp Intermission on Lake Colby. He lived out a long life in Saranac Lake. He died in 1977 at age 90. The optimism he instilled in others lives on.
In the midst of so much uncertainty and “social distance,” we recognize Barnet and Eaton’s wisdom in spreading a message of “Good Cheer” to your loved ones even while far away. We are happy to share that we have issued a reprint of the first issue of the Trotty Veck Messages. You can send a copy of Good Cheer to someone in need of “good tidings;” a friend, family member, or even yourself for just $5 (plus shipping) on our online store: www.historicsaranaclake.org/store/p200/Trotty_Veck%3A_Good_Cheer.
We hope you’ll consider making a small matching donation to support our work in the name of your friend as well. We will also be sharing digital versions of the first 10 editions of the Trotty Veck Messages on our website. We will share one a week at www.historicsaranaclake.org/trotty-veck, so be sure to check in at the end of each Letter from the Porch for the latest.
Today we ask — as Barnet and Eaton once did — will you be a Trotty Veck?
Amy Catania is executive director of Historic Saranac Lake, and Chessie Monks-Kelly is the group’s museum administrator.
1. Become a member of Historic Saranac Lake and support our ongoing work to preserve and present area history and architecture to build a stronger community: www.historicsaranaclake.org/store/p57/Membership_with_Historic_Saranac_Lake.
2. Learn more about the Trotty Veck Messages on our wiki: www.localwiki.org/hsl/Trotty_Veck_Messengers.