A ‘lovable ghost’
By the late Bill McLaughlin, reprinted from July 1977:
“Robert Louis Stevenson was a beautiful writer–a powerful writer. I think he was a gentle person and I’m sure he must have loved children a great deal to have created Treasure Island which will live forever.”
Sheree Neece is getting her message across to 50 elementary school children the best way she knows how. By sitting down with them and reading excerpts from Stevenson’s novels, acting out cameo scenes, taking time out for treasure hunts and making the author come alive in the very setting he occupied in Saranac Lake in 1887.
Sheree is an art major at Rutgers University in New Jersey and an active assistant for Mrs. John F. Delahant, curator of the Robert Louis Stevenson Cottage for the past 25 years.
“I am perplexed and puzzled why this historic cottage with its tremendous collection of Stevenson’s personal belongings lapses into limbo so easily once the summer is over and the visitors have gone. It’s too bad the cottage isn’t haunted because I’m sure Robert Louis Stevenson would be an absolutely priceless and lovable ghost. I can shut my eyes with the youngsters and we can see him in front of us. He is not only alive with the traditions of the cottage but he is equally alive through pages that reveal the inner man not only as a literary giant but human to a fault and full of love for his own family.
“The youngsters are enchanted with his works. When we read bits of ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’ they sense the sinister character of the villain. They begin to understand conflict within and what a split personality really is. Kids are astute readers of basic human nature at that age. We laugh a lot and try to solve things through the application of art and descriptive writing after we study characterization.
“When these children go home, they probably ask their parents about Robert Louis Stevenson. And they want answers. If the parents don’t know the answers, they will look them up, ask the library or search out on their own.
“This gradually develops a community-wide interest and I’m sure that once it becomes firmly established, the cottage will grow and become the tremendous asset it should be.
“I’m glad they didn’t move the cottage downtown as was once suggested,” Miss Neece said (Under Village of Saranac Lake ownership, in 1957, a plan had been devised to actually relocate the Stevenson Cottage to a once vacant lot on Church Street Ext., for better access by tourists.) “When Stevenson looked out the windows here or walked to Moody Pond with his skates over his shoulder, he was seeing the same things from the same angles we see today–the river, Baker Mountain, and the fields and forest around us. The evening silhouette of the surrounding hills is identical even today. This is reality. Situated downtown, the cottage would lack the very quality that makes it unique.
“I feel that the village is a little remiss in not having many, many directional signs to find us. Signs with a pirate ship or Long John Silver pointing the way here.
“I would like to see souvenir ‘pieces-of-eight,’ with Stevenson’s likeness on one side and the cottage on the other. They could be given to children for good luck tokens. Tourists and visitors could buy them for Saranac Lake remembrances. I hate to see these opportunities lost because this place needs money and the money is right here in front of us.
“I’m sure that Tony Anderson, who loves Saranac Lake more than anyone, could get one of the Stevenson movies here every summer for a fund-raising program. A Robert Louis Stevenson Day in the village could stimulate great interest.
“A statewide effort to put this shrine on the map as the venerable place it is could be generated easily if we would all work together.”
Sheree Neece is involved in a labor of love at the Stevenson Cottage. The Title 1 summer program with museum visits by the children are a part of the social studies program. The four-week schedule also includes math and science but Sheree is solidly oriented in the art phase. She is strong on museum application and it all goes together here.
She is enjoying the experience in Saranac Lake. Gradually, she has attained a new perspective in both her own field and in promotional problems relating to historic shrines.
She will move on to Canada’s McGill University in the fall to pursue elementary and special education in art and history.
“I will take a great part of Saranac Lake with me,” she said. “Sometimes I just stand on the porch of the cottage or read the bronze markers with Stevenson’s words reflecting the great sincerity of the man. The charm, romantic quality and fascination of Stevenson’s character is visibly etched in the artifacts we can see and touch.
“If we could somehow have a commemorative stamp of the author’s shrine introduced by the postal department, it would mean international recognition at a time when it is most needed. Somewhere along the line, an opportunity will come to elevate this cottage to a very lofty plane. I hope that the opportunity isn’t missed.
“Right now the cottage needs physical care. It needs a new roof, plumbing, painting and especially it needs those all important signs telling people how to get here.
“The cottage is owned by the Stevenson Society of America. When I read back on the history of this organization and the national and international enthusiasm it generated in the 1920s, I am almost in tears to find it hasn’t been possible to keep that momentum going.
“The stories that Mrs. Delahant has told me about the love her husband had for this place makes me doubly conscious of the reverence and affection people have had and may still have for Robert Louis Stevenson if we can rekindle it in Saranac Lake.
“I think that without the Delahant family, the cottage would have drifted much farther away from the consciousness of Saranac Lake citizens than it has.
“They struggle and fight for its existence. It needs that kind of love and attention. If we recall that some of the country’s most renowned and illustrious men of letters and patrons of the arts came here time after time to venerate Stevenson through the cottage, we can see the potential and the course we must take.
“I’m certain that the citizens of Saranac Lake are as fully aware as I am that an active campaign must be inaugurated to insure that the Robert Louis Stevenson Cottage takes wing towards a golden future.”