LIFE AT THE LYNDON HOUSE
Athens Historian Volume I (1996)
By Chick Hodgson
My grandfather, E.S. Lyndon, who later owned the Lyndon House, was brought up on a plantation before the War Between the States. On his eighth birthday he was given the most wonderful present of his entire life – an eight year old slave of his very own named Peter to be his playmate. From the first moment, Grandfather and little Peter adored each other, and Grandfather refused to be separated from him.
It was strictly against the law to educate a slave; but since Grandfather refused to let Peter leave his side, there was no way to educate Grandfather and Uncle Jack (A.J. Lyndon) without educating Peter, too. Besides, Peter was very bright and quite helpful as a study aide, drilling his master on the thornier aspects of a classical education.
Peter learned Latin and Greek right along with the others. Also, because it was customary for young men, when they completed their studies to polish themselves off further by making the “Grand Tour,” German, French and Italian were added to the general curriculum. This was also done to facilitate my grandfather’s future study of medicine in Europe.
Peter had a wonderful time taking the “Grand Tour.” With his young master he saw all the sights in Europe. Peter had the intelligence and the academic background to appreciate everything he saw.
When the “Grand Tour” came to its end, Grandfather remained in Germany for some years studying surgery and medicine. As usual, Peter also studied medicine – in German, and acted in his usual capacity as a drill instructor and study aide to his master. After Grandfather had completed his medical education, the War Between the States broke out, and they took the first boat home.
Grandfather immediately enlisted in the Confederate Army, and was stationed as a surgeon at Petersburg. Peter, of course, went with him. They were both in Petersburg until the end of the war.
There was no bloodier battle in the war than at Petersburg, and after the horror of the slaughter in the Crater, my grandfather vowed that after the war he would never practice medicine again. And he never did. His medical career ended with the fall of the Confederacy. Thereafter, he was a pharmacist, although he owned a plantation, a great deal of real estate and a foundry also.
I don’t know how Peter and my grandfather resolved the issue of freeing Peter from his onerous, despicable and unconscionable bondage, but the two men were together until my grandmother died in 1909 and Grandfather came to live with us in Atlanta.
My grandfather survived the war with his wealth fairly intact, which was unusual. In 1880, he bought the Lyndon House from Mrs. E. Ware and moved his family from Newnan to Athens. My grandfather’s brother, Uncle Jack, also lived in Athens. At that time, my mother, Moselle Lyndon, was 10 years old.
Shortly after Mother moved to Athens, some workmen had dug a large, deep hole in the back yard for a cistern. It had then started raining, and the men left, placing a wide plank across the hole, planning to return later. It kept on raining and a good deal of water collected in the bottom of the pit. Mother was strictly forbidden to go near it.
One afternoon, between the time the rain stopped and the workmen returned, two little girls, Annie and Hallie Hodgson, came over to play. Mother not only went near the hole, but boldly attempted to walk the plank. She promptly fell in; whereupon Annie and Hallie flung their arms upward in horror, and began shrieking wildly, “SAVE the child! SAVE the child! SAVE the child!”
Grandmother came on the run, and with great dispatch fished her daughter out. Mother, who had every expectation of being accorded the treatment of one raised from the dead, was astonished when Grandmother, right on the edge of the pit, walloped her within an inch of her life. I loved the story, and could almost see those little girls, arms flung upward, screeching “SAVE the child!” Never did it cross my mind that I would, many years later, marry their cousin in the next generation. I was overwhelmed when I met Cousin Annie, and talked to her about the episode. Hallie was not living by that time, but Cousin Annie gave me a replay, by throwing up her hands, and yelling “SAVE the child!” in as dramatic a manner as she did when Mother fell off the plank.
I don’t see how my grandfather and his brother Jack ever managed to keep track of whose children were whose. Half of Uncle Jack’s children were “Down Home” at Grandfather’s, and half of Grandfather’s children were “Up Home” at Uncle Jack’s, and all of them were thoroughly at home in both places.
Uncle Jack had three daughters, Clyde, Mary and Jane, and two sons, Ed (Ed 2) and Andrew. My grandfather had one daughter, my mother Moselle, and three sons, Lamar, Oscar and Ed (Ed 1). The two Ed Lyndons were the same age, were in the same class and when they went to the University, were in the same fraternity.
Mother and Clyde were inseparable, and both of them were either Up Home or Down Home. In their childhood years they were mostly Down Home at Grandfather’s, for Mother had a play-house out on the front lawn, with a real stained glass window in it. She was the envy of every little girl in Athens because of this luxurious possession, which was already there when Grandfather bought the house.
The rest of Grandfather’s immediate household consisted of Grandmother, her maiden sister Louisa, and her mother, for whom Grandfather had great love and admiration. Great-grandmother had been born Philadelphia Almeda Hampton, a cousin of Wade Hampton, and she was a very great lady.
In spite of Grandfather’s admiration for his mother-in-law, there was a time when their wills clashed violently, and they were definitely at odds with each other. Grandfather owned a plantation a little way out of town. One year he decreed the little boys would spend the following day picking cotton. It was high time, he said, that they learned what real work was like. Great-grandmother was outraged. “Well,” she said, “if you’re going to make those poor little souls work out in the cotton field, I’ll pick right along with them!”
Early the following morning three reluctant little boys set out for the cotton field. Immediately behind them marched Great-grandmother, her head held high, accompanied by three maids. One carried a rocking chair, one a pitcher of iced lemonade, and the third a large parasol and a palm leaf fan. It must have been the oddest and most incredible parade ever seen in any cotton field.
The movement of Great-grandmother and her entourage up and down the rows was like a Royal Progress. That is why she is my favorite ancestor. When you get the combination of a great lady and a real rip-snorter, what more could one possibly ask of an ancestor?
When the younger Lyndon children had tea parties, Mary, Uncle Jack’s daughter, always took charge, and served the refreshments. As the other children helped themselves, Mary was to admonish them to leave a portion “for old Mary the Cook.” Then she joined in as a member of the tea party with the rest of them. It never dawned on the other children what Mary was up to, and that she was getting a double share of food. She was a smart little girl and grew up to be the first Dean of Women at the University of Georgia.
Mother and most of her friends went to Madame Sosnowski’s Home School. Madame Sosnowski, a Polish aristocrat, came to Athens to take over as headmistress at Lucy Cobb, a private school for young ladies. Later, she resigned to start a school of her own, in a beautiful ante-bellum mansion. To assist her, she called in a relative, Miss Callie Sosnowski. Miss Callie was a martinet.
Mother had Miss Callie for history, and one day, when she had failed to study her lesson, she tried to bluff her way through. Miss Callie asked her to tell the class about what Mother called “some minor king.” Mother figured that one king was much like any other, and expatiated about the buildings erected during his reign, especially the many handsome churches.
There was a long silence, while Miss Callie looked over her glasses at the culprit. “My daughter,” she said, “your audacity deserves better success. He was one of the wickedest kings who ever lived. There was nothing but bloodshed and war during his entire reign!”
Mother abjectly resumed her seat. She knew that she hadn’t heard the last of the episode; and she hadn’t. Never again did she go to one of Miss Callie’s classes without studying her lesson.
By the time Mother graduated from Madame Sosnowski’s, it was apparent that she had an unusually beautiful voice, of amazing range, and Grandfather wanted to send her to be taught by the finest teacher in the country, Gerard Tierre, in New York City. But one did not simply pack a young lady off to New York: a proper school must be found, and the Van Norman Institute, a French school, was selected.
Mother entered as a special student, studying French, Italian and German, and taking up most of her time with her voice. Tierre was quite definitely training her voice for opera, and expected her to have no trouble getting into the Met. When Grandfather heard this he began to shout things like “over my dead body!”
Only one tale did Mother tell me of anything happening to upset her. During her last year at school, Mother had typhoid fever, and had to have her head shaved. Her father had a lovely wig made to order for her. It was becoming and she looked charming in it. But one breezy day she and the other young ladies were taking their walk down Riverside Drive when she met her undoing. She wore a large plumed hat, pinned securely to her wig, and a sudden gust of strong wind hit her, and blew the whole thing, hat and wig, off and away. Mother said she never felt so humiliated in all her life, as she scuttled down Riverside Drive, bald as an egg, in wild pursuit of her hat and wig. It was a full block before she managed to get her frenzied hands on it again.
All this time, Tierre had been trying to get Mother to audition for the met, and Grandfather had been indignantly refusing; so Mother returned home with no audition.
Grandfather soon found that he had a threat from a different source – suitors in general and my father in particular. Mother was very talented, very lovely, and very visible since her spectacular voice and superb vocal training won her the lead in almost every musical society presentation in Athens.
The first time my father came calling, Grandfather said, “Tom Burke is the finest young man who ever called in this house!” When it became evident, however, that Mother was beginning to think the same, he was not happy. He did not want to lose his only daughter. I am afraid he was a very selfish man. Much as he liked Tom Burke, he would not give his consent to marriage. Mother would not marry without his consent. There was a long, long stalemate. Mother and Daddy were determined to get married; but no consent was given by my grandfather, who didn’t want his daughter to ever marry and leave home.
At last, after years of waiting, the marriage stalemate was broken. Grandfather was taken ill one night, and was convinced he was dying. He gave his consent to the marriage. My Mother was 27 at the time.
My grandmother, who knew quite well that her husband was not dying, and who suspected he would cancel his consent as soon as he found out he would live, quickly wrote out an announcement of the engagement and had it published in the paper immediately. She was a very clever woman, and was tired of seeing her daughter wait so long to marry the man she wanted. Also the situation was embarrassing.
My grandfather quickly recovered his health; but the announcement in the paper, compounded by bevies of congratulatory ladies invading his abode, resulted in a profound state of dyspepsia for a considerable length of time.
I will say that he gave Mother a beautiful wedding. Her dress was made by a famous seamstress who lived, I believe, in Madison, and was noted for the dresses she made for the gentry. It was made of ivory slipper-satin with cascades of delicate lace figured with Lilies of the Valley. The train stood up in folds, and was a marvel of engineering, when one turned it inside out to behold the tapes which held the folds in place. She was attended by six bridesmaids, I believe, and I have a picture of the Lyndon House beautifully decorated for the reception. But my grandfather did not attend the wedding. He said he could not bear it. He rode in the carriage with his daughter to the church door, escorted her up the steps, and was driven back home to await the reception. Mother walked down the aisle alone.
Many years later, wearing Mother’s beautiful wedding dress, I came down the stairway on my father’s arm to my own wedding. On the landing, just before the turn of the stairs, he lifted my veil and kissed me. Fortunately, my veil hid the blur of tears that, for a moment, filled my eyes – tears of love and of pride that my father loved me enough to give me away to the bridegroom I had chosen, and of gratitude that I didn’t have to walk down the stairway alone.