Dr. Hugh Kinghorn, Part IV
From the Annual Report of the Stevenson Society of America for 1945 by its president, Dr. Hugh Kinghorn:
“Our Annual Open Air Meeting was held at the Stevenson Cottage on Aug. 19, 1944. A large number of people were present, and the weather was fine. The guest speaker was Reverend Aaron Maddox, of Faust, N.Y. …The address was a masterly one, and he described Stevenson as chivalrous, kind and courteous; as a man who suffered terribly, but recovered at intervals to write, inspiringly. He mentioned the fact that during the author’s sojourn at the Baker cottage–now the Stevenson Cottage, he wrote The Master of Ballantrae, A Christmas Sermon, The Lantern Bearers, Pulvis et Umbra, Gentlemen, A Chapter on Dreams and Beggars.
“I regret to announce that on Jan. 7, 1945, Mrs. J. Bourke Cockran, former Anne Louise Ide, daughter of the late Henry Clay Ide, died in New York City. She was married to Mr. Cockran, the eloquent member of the House of Representatives on Nov. 18, 1906. Before her marriage to Mr. Cockran, Miss Ide was noted in her own right. When her father was U.S. Land Commissioner of Samoa, Robert Louis Stevenson learned that her birthday was Christmas Day, and observed that he could give her a birthday that she could properly celebrate. This was in the year 1891 and Stevenson was then living in Samoa. Miss Ide was approaching her 13th birthday. Stevenson deeded to her his birthday, as of November 13th and stipulated that it be used ‘with moderation and humanity,’ to have and to hold, and to enjoy.”
Mrs. Anne Louise Ide Cockran is known among Stevenson fan clubs to this day as the “Birthday Girl.” Fate, she felt, had cheated her out of a birthday and “chivalrous” RLS agreed. To compensate, he used the legal training he had acquired at Edinburgh University to transfer to Miss Anne Louise his own birthday, Nov. 13, so that she could celebrate accordingly.
This cute little human-interest story was popular and spread far and wide. It even made it to the desk of two U.S. presidents. Kinghorn went on to say “from that date, she observed Nov. 13 as her birthday, and this continued practically to the time of her death. I have mentioned Mrs. Cockran’s death, as she was always a generous contributor to our Society, and was a very noted person associated with Robert Louis Stevenson.”
Cockran is one of at least two dozen members from the Stevenson Society’s early days who had personally known the invalid author from Scotland when he was alive in his emaciated flesh. Today the deed or “Will” as it has come to be called is in the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where Anne Ide was born and raised. Mrs. J. Bourke Cockran was featured in a previous article of this series.
Kinghorn continued his presidential address with a familiar refrain: “You will see from the appearance of the cottage that it is sadly in need of repair. We still have a debt of about $687.00 … Mrs. Charles H. Griffith, who was custodian of the Cottage and of the Stevenson relics for many years, was unable to return to us this summer … I mention with great gratitude and thanks the devoted service which Mrs. Griffith gave to us. We were sorry to lose her services, but she now resides in Connecticut, and is of course unable to take care of the Cottage.” Declining health was given elsewhere as the reason behind her departure.
Kinghorn continued: “I am glad to say that Mr. and Mrs. Grinnel now reside permanently in the Cottage …We are indeed fortunate in having Mr. and Mrs. Grinnel as custodians of the Stevenson Cottage, which is now open to the public from 10:00 to 12:00, and from 2:00 to 5:00 daily.” Meanwhile, another year passed.
From the Annual Report of the Stevenson Society of America for 1946 by Kinghorn: “Our annual open air meeting was held on the lawn of the Stevenson Cottage on Aug. 25, 1945. As usual, a large number of people were present, and the weather was fine. The guest speaker was Rev. Ernest b. Mounsey, Rector of the Church of St. Luke, the Beloved Physician in Saranac Lake. He gave a delightful and scholarly address. Among other things he said:
“‘It has been written, let us now praise famous men. Most certainly, let us praise famous men, as I suppose people have done since self-consciousness became a distinguished feature of human life. In so doing we elevate ourselves, for the praise of famous men is our tribute to their qualities of character and work that we recognize as being of permanent significance in the world.
“Further, in speaking of Stevenson he said, ‘Robert Louis Stevenson lived in this cottage, then known as the Baker Cottage … One is thankful that though this community has become a modern town, the Cottage has not changed. Around this place Stevenson loved to stroll and ramble. He loved these surrounding forests, and his great desire was to be undisturbed by callers. He rolled his own cigarettes and smoked incessantly, and every whiff of smoke evolved a scene for a book.’
“Mr. Mounsey painted a picture of the poet and his life in detail to his listeners, and told them that many critics felt that Stevenson’s essays will outlive his poems and novels, because, although they are little known, they are characteristically philosophic.
“During the past year we have been fortunate in obtaining the skates Stevenson used while he was here during the winter of 1887-88. They were sent to us through Miss Margery Douglass of the Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.
“You will see by a look at the Cottage that it is still sadly in need of repairs. We keep it up as best we can with the small amount of money we have, and every year we try to reduce our debt of about $687, by a small amount.”
Another year went by, capped off by another annual meeting of the Stevenson Society of America, presided over by the ever-present Kinghorn, the glue holding it all together. The guest speaker that July 26 was the Reverend Alvin b. Gurly, pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Saranac Lake. His theme was A Child’s Garden of Verses and Kinghorn provided only a minimal review of it: “He gave a thoughtful and interesting talk, which measured up to the high standard we have always had at these meetings.”
Kinghorn reserved most of his report to report and provide commentary on some bad but inevitable news: “I have to report with great regret the death of Lloyd Osbourne, the stepson of Robert Louis Stevenson. He died at the age of 79. He was the first to hear the story of Treasure Island.”
An obituary about Osbourne states that “when he was living in Saranac Lake, he collaborated with Stevenson on the writing of a book which they called The Wrong Box. From the success of this venture the two men joined forces and wrote other books which proved as popular as those which had made Stevenson famous.
“In February 1917, Mr. Osbourne returned to Saranac Lake with his sister, Mrs. Isobel Field. It was soon after the founding of the Stevenson Society had its first meeting in October 1916. Both Mr. Osbourne and his sister retained a personal interest in the organization and contributed many historic relics to the Society for the museum at the Stevenson Cottage. Mr. Osbourne had been making his home in Glendale, California, with his sister when he became ill.”
In the meantime, Kinghorn was having a problem finding reliable resident curators for their shrine. The Grinnels only lasted one season and disappeared. The Stevenson Society and their little museum were entering a stage of vulnerability while a new RLS attraction was preparing to open its doors in Monterey, California, the “Robert Louis Stevenson House,” and they were on the hunt for artifacts.