Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tales from the Vault #2

Marie Beale & Decatur House
This edition of Tales brings us to one of the most interesting of Kern County’s pioneer families. We have all heard of the remarkable stories about General Edward Fitzgerald Beale, Mexican/American War Hero, and friend of Kit Carson, gold smuggler, Indian Agent, and land holder. We have also heard as many stories about his son Truxtun Beale. The focus of this tale is on Marie Beale, Truxtun’s wife who was just as intriguing as her husband and her father-in-law.

Born about 1881, Marie Oge married Truxtun Beale on April 23, 1903. The only witnesses present were Marie’s mother and Truxtun’s sister. Soon after the wedding they set sail for Europe aboard the S.S. Kaiser Wilhelm II built in Stettin, Germany.[1] The Wilhelm II was seized April 6, 1917 by the United States Government after it entered the Great War. Some notable passengers on the same voyage were Fremont Older, the San Francisco reporter who exposed the corruption of Abe Ruef, and newspaper millionaire William Randolph Hearst.

Although Marie Beale married into one of America’s preeminent families, she too, came from a family with its own claims to historical fame. Philander Chase (December 14, 1775-September 20, 1852), founder of Kenyon College in 1824, was a great grandfather . Philander’s nephew, Salmon P. Chase, was a U.S. Senator, Governor of Ohio, U.S. Treasury Secretary (under Abraham Lincoln), and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

After Marie’s marriage to Truxtun, they moved into the historic Decatur House on Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. The Decatur House, built in 1818, was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe and was home to a variety of historical figures including Henry Clay, Martin Van Buren, and Edward Livingston. Edward F. Beale gained ownership of this magnificent abode in 1872 and soon remodeled it in Victorian Style.[2] Mary Beale (Truxtun’s mother) occupied the house after her husband’s death in 1893. At first, Marie and Truxtun lived part of the time in California (Tejon Ranch) and part of the time in Washington D.C. It seems, however, that her fondest moments were spent at the Decatur House. She shares those memories and its history in her book Decatur House and Its Inhabitants (1954).

Marie was the quintessential Washington socialite as she frequently entertained American Statesmen and foreign diplomats. Hers was one of two places to be in Washington D.C. She notes that "as in its first days, guests now came to only two places in La Fayette Square--the President's Mansion and Decatur House--which somehow symbolized the completion of a long cycle." [3] In 1938, Life magazine paid tribute to Marie Beale in the article "Life Goes to a Party with high Washington Society at Mrs. Truxtun Beale's historic Decatur House." The article included fourteen photographs of notable figures including the Belgian Ambassador, Mrs. Patrick J. Hurley, the Yugoslavian Minister, the German Ambassador, Lady Lindsay, Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers, the Rumanian Minister, and, of course, our esteemed hostess Marie Beale. The article noted that she was "one of Washington's topflight hostesses, has been giving her post-Diplomatic Reception party ever since the War. An affair so exclusive that even guest lists do not appear, it has never before been photographed." [4] The article goes on to note that the reception in question would quite possibly be the last, as she was looking to liquidate the estate.[5] This must of been bad news for those who attended her receptions.

Sadly, Marie Beale died in 1956 while visiting in Zurich, Switzerland. Thanks to her efforts she was able to get Decatur House to become a national shrine. It is managed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Of Decatur House, Marie had this to convey and is worth quoting at length:

Like a prim dowager, Decatur House serenely overlooks the park that grew up in its front yard, preserving unchanged its original simplicity. During more than 130 years of intimate connection with the main stream of American history Decatur House has been the inner sanctum of La Fayette Square. Few houses have witnessed such a panorama of events. Here the dying Decatur suffered out his last hours. Here foreign Ministers represented the power and policies of other nations. Henry Clay struggled here for the Good Neighbor Policy and the Presidency, attaining one but not the other. The "gorgeous hussy" Peggy Eaton quarrelled here with the wife of the Chief of Staff, and the astute Van Buren moved on to the White House and subsequent defeat. In this house the jurist Livingston had averted the first secession threat by South Carolina. The gaudy Gadsby lived here, the unimpeachable Dallas, and the benevolent Appleton. Two leaders of the Confederate cause, Cobb and Benjamin, walked these floors as they reached the most momentous decision of their lives, and renounced their country. After the interim of the Civil War years, a General and a President, Ulysses S. Grant, came here for friendship and counsel from General Beale, himself one of the architects of the American West, a "pioneer in the path of empire." Through the tumultuous period that followed, Truxtun Beale preserved the historic role of Decatur House in the life of Washington. Residents of Decatur House have occupied the Presidency and Vice Presidency; they have been Cabinet members, military leaders, Congressmen; they have been foreign diplomats and American envoys to other nations; the roster includes Confederate Statesmen, a jurist and an inn-keeper. By all of them Decatur House was valued, and perhaps beloved.[6]
This story and many others are waiting to be told. If you want to learn more about Marie Beale and the distinguished Beale Family, the Local History Room has many sources at your disposal. The original Marie Beale Papers are kept safe in the vault, however, there are copies to be found in the Vertical Files; just ask the librarian for access. There are also numerous files and books concerning the Beale family, all of which can be found in the Local History Room.
Come on down to the Jack Maguire Local History Room; you never know what you will discover!

--Chris Livingston

[1]The Bulletin, April 23, 1903.
[2]Decatur House on Lafayette Square, http://www.decaturhouse.org/people/ebeale.htm
[3] Marie Beale, Decatur House and Its Inhabitants, (Washington D.C.: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1954), 136.
[4] Life Goes to a Party," Life, January 3, 1938, p.58.
[5] ibid.
[6] Beale, 134.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Genealogy Bootcamp for Librarians

On June 26 I had the opportunity to attend a "Genealogy Bootcamp for Librarians." This was a free seminar that preceded the beginning of the Southern California Genealogical Societies Jamboree. It was a great experience. I am currently writing a review about it. When it is finished I will post it somewhere. I'll let you know.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

PC Reservation Software Part II

The library has put all of the public computers down on "Computer Maintenance" beginning today and lasts through Friday, perhaps even Saturday...or sooner...it depends. It is eerily quiet in the library today. I hope this is not a bad sign. It just goes to show how important computers are to the library.

So the question is popping in my mind about how to maximize the benefits of public computers in the library. So for the next few days I am tasking myself to brainstorm ideas about how to capitalize on having a somewhat "captive" audience in the library.

Friday, June 5, 2009

PC Reservation Software

Last Thursday (6/4/09) I received training on our new PC Reservation Software. I'm sure many of you have heard about it. Basically the patron comes in to use a computer, goes to the reservation terminal, scans their card, and gets a printed confirmation of the time and place when they can use the computer. I admit that there could be some problems at first, especially when patrons don't read the instructions thoroughly. But after we work the bugs out, I think our patrons are going to like the new system.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Marketing yourself and the Library

There is a great article over at Tame the Web about marketing yourself and your library. I bring this up because I am finding myself in the midst of having to market myself and my library. This is something that was not even a thought in my mind while I was in Library School. In fact, when I re-visited my alma matter's website, I was surprised to find that such a class was offered. Did they offer this when I attended?

That doesn't really matter now. What does matter is that I have to learn this as I go. I have already made a number of mistakes and I imagine there will be a few more as I go. I'm starting to see that one of the most important things to develop is your network. I was lucky to recently meet a community member with strong ties to the media. I think developing this kind of contact is key to your marketing program.

I'm still learning....I will report back as I learn so that I can share....

Monday, May 18, 2009

Computers and Library Cards

I was off this last weekend which was the first day for a new computer use policy implemented by my library. The old system was complicated to say the least. The way it worked was that patrons had three areas by which they could access an Internet computer. Down stairs we had fifteen minute terminals and upstairs there were one hour guest stations and one hour patron stations in the computer lab. At the fifteen minute and guest stations a library card was not needed. Needless to say, the system was often abused and often gridlocked.

The new system requires all patrons to have a library card or web surf card in order to access the Internet. This is in preparation of a new automated computer reservation service that is coming in June. So while I was sitting at the reference desk, which is near the former guest stations, I noticed something....it was abnormally peaceful. I am hoping that this is due to the new system. I guess a few more days will tell......

Friday, May 15, 2009


Wow! has it really been seven months since my last post? That's what I get for being busy. Well I plan to change that. No, not the busy part, rather, the not posting part.

So now I'm considering the role of social networking in libraries. As such I have started to use twitter and blogger (yes, I have yet another blog) at work. At my library I am noticing two distinct groups of users. On one hand we have the baby boomers and on the other we have what Guy Hamel calls "Generation F" aka the Facebook generation. With the baby boomers there seems to be some hesitancy in using the various social networking sites. Obviously, this is not the case for the Gen F'ers (no pun intended!).

So I guess the trick is to incorporate social networking in a way that will attract the boomers while at the same time keep the attention of the Gen F'ers. I'm have to give this more thought. Any ideas????