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HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM LESLIE H NICHOL
The above picture and caption are from an ad campaign by Progressive Insurance which just tickles me: I love the idea of sorting through old family photographs and finding a picture of Great-Uncle Louie with his lover, or spinster Aunt Tillie dressed in very mannish garb. Here at my house, we do have lots of family photos and other memorabilia but to date, I haven’t found a picture of Great-Uncle Louie. Still, there is one man about whom I have a few suspicions.
Solomon Townsend Nicoll was born in 1813, son of Edward Holland Nicoll and Mary Townsend Nicoll. He’s my great-great grandfather. For years, his portrait hung in our dining room but the whole family believed that the man in the painting was his father, Edward Holland.
A few years ago, my parents made a gift of the painting to the Smith College Museum of Art, in honor of my sister, a graduate of the Class of 1983. When the museum received the painting, they had it cleaned and conserved. It was a revelation. Suddenly, the dreary old guy with the orange complexion was revealed to be a handsome young man. It was obvious that this was not Edward Holland, who at the time the painting was done (1848) would have been 64. Instead, we learned that this was his son, Solomon!
What a fine and dandy man he was! Things we had never noticed before became obvious: his pinky ring and gold stickpin; his brocade vest peeking out from beneath his jacket. I love the curl of his hair in front of his ear, the cleft in his chin, and his pink cheeks. He has definite Nicoll features that I see in myself and my son, including full lips and a very long, straight nose.
The Nicoll’s weren’t shy about documenting their achievements and accomplishments, but somehow, Solomon managed to fly below the radar. Very little is known about him—he is described as a “successful East India merchant” who lived in New York City and then Bayside, Queens. Where did he go to school? Good question! In fact, when he died in 1864, he didn’t even merit an obituary in the New York Times, which was very unusual for my family, especially in that day and age.
He commissioned this portrait for himself in 1848. At that time he was 35 years old and still single. He married his cousin, Charlotte Ann Nicoll in 1851. A marriage of convenience? He was 38 and she was 24. He did attend to his fatherly duties and sired six children in ten years (children 4 and 5 were twins). He died in 1864 at the age of 50. No one knows how or why he died. In fact, I was the one who tracked down the year of his death in the archives of the St. Nicholas Society, held in the collection of New York papers at Cornell University.
His wife never remarried. She raised her six children with the help of various servants and governesses; all of them lived to adulthood. The three girls were quite predictable, marrying well and living good society lives in New York. The boys all went into law. My great-grandfather, DeLancey Nicoll, had a successful law practice and a short term as District Attorney for the city of New York. An interesting historical tidbit: he was asked to defend Henry Ford, the automobile manufacturer, in Sapiro v. Ford, which is considered the first hate speech case to come to trial in US history—the year was 1925. Depending on which version of history you read, there are two outcomes: my great-grandfather turned down the case because he refused to defend an anti-semite. Or, Henry Ford refused to hire my great-grandfather because he was a chain smoker. Not surprisingly, I prefer the former!
The most tragic end came to Edward Holland Nicoll, who was named after his grandfather. Unlike his father, who was not memorialized in the New York Times, Edward merited both an obituary and a lurid front page headline, after he was killed in an automobile accident. I suppose, in 1915, car accidents were still front page news.
Advent Calendar Giveaway!
My writing pen name, E. N. Holland is taken from my ancestor, Edward Holland Nicoll. The Vintage series of books was inspired by my love of old photographs and pictures. In the spirit of the season, one lucky winner can claim a copy of Hidden Conflict: Tales from Lost Voices in Battle (which includes a short novel by E. N. Holland) or Poisoned Ivy by Scot D. Ryersson, the first book in the Vintage series. Just leave a comment here, indicating which book you prefer and in what ebook format (PDF, HTML, prc, epub, or lit). Winners will be announced on Christmas day.
(You can learn more about each book at http://www.bcpinepress.com)
Thanks for reading and happy holidays to all!
The BONUS BUMPER PRIZE QUESTION (don’t answer this – just save them up for Christmas Eve.)
15. What is another name for Hanukah? (No one right answer here, I’ll accept the variations)