Hervey White was born in 1866, on a south Iowa homestead near the Mississippi River. Known as the Old Miller Farm and purchased with money his mother had earned sewing, it was next door to his Aunt Mary and Uncle Barlow Chandler. Brother Berton was 11, his sister Alida Mary was 9.
In 1865 his father returned to Oswego, NY on leave from General Butler’s New Orleans campaign, impregnated his wife and returned to the war. Ailing and overworked, Martha Chandler White moved her 2 children to be near her sister and widowed father who had left New York State around the time of her marriage.
Hervey’s father was a charmer. Born in Livingston County, NY, he was part of one of the “miscellaneous-type families” that associated their background with Peregrine White of Mayflower renown. Son of a tavern keeper, he was apprenticed to a woolen manufacturer.
And thus he came to the Quaker Community, Moravia Village, where he eventually managed the woolen mill owned by Samuel Chandler. He wooed and wed his employer’s daughter. William Andrew White and Alida Martha Chandler married in 1852 at the Dutch Reform Church in Owasco. He became a shoemaker. In 1862, William Andrew mustered into the NY State Infantry. Stationed in the swamps, his health was broken for life by dysentery.
Hervey’s siblings were bitter towards their father, probably because he abandoned them. His mother died of colon cancer in 1870. Lightly looked after, Hervey’s early childhood was filled with adventure and discovery. There were bogeymen: the terrifying snake hanging in the dark basement, the graves he might sink into, the stream where he could drown. But he was largely undamaged emotionally.
There were cousins, farm animals, spelling bees, revival meetings, streams to follow and dreams to dream. First a local hired woman, then Aunt Mary mothered him. While his sister is sent to Michigan to be educated and his brother starts exploring cheap land to the west, Hervey, the wild child, healthy and smart, enjoyed existence.
His autobiography is purposely vague. He wrote it for money which was against his principles. And he liked maintaining an air of mystery. It is difficult to determine the sequence of his life. Hervey was a storyteller.
In 1879 brother Berton struck a land claim in north central Kansas. The White Family traveled by horse and wagon to a sod house on the prairie. The first scenes in the mud hut are of Alida Mary remaking a dress so that she can be presented at a dance in nearby Stockton. She would marry Charlie Smith, have 2 children, and keep moving west, to Colorado and Santa Barbara, California. Old William Andrew came and left, leaving a long record of trying to get more money from the government as a Civil War Veteran. Brother Burton raised cattle. Hervey kept house and cooked for the ranch hands.
A hard worker and poetic dreamer, Hervey wanted to be educated. One of his lifetime gifts was getting influential, often wealthy men interested in helping him. He attended Stockton Academy where he excelled. Immediately after graduation he began teaching at the Academy; students less than 2 years his junior. He entered the University of Kansas at Lawrence, and there was chosen to be a member of an archeological expedition into the northern Mexican mountains.
He signed on as a mineralogist, foregoing his study of literature for the lure of adventure. The Norwegian explorer and ethnographer Carl Lumholtz was funded by the American Museum of Natural History to ascertain whether or not indigenous people could still be found in the area. He was looking for the Tarahumara and the Tarascos; an amazing journey. Lumholtz wrote the two-volume Unknown Mexico (pub. 1902), which mentions that White found a mastadon tusk buried in the mud. Hervey slept in a cave with mummies, learned Spanish, rode donkeys through the mountains, cooked over open fires, and pined amorously for a comrade (possibly ficticious) named Jock, whom he had left in Lawrence. Not much interested in minerals, Hervey kept a journal replete with extensive descriptions of his feelings of love and longing, of the beauty and sensitivity of the Mexican workers, the romance of nymphs imagined in waterfalls. Nature, his old companion, is significantly anthropomorphized. Dismissed from the expedition (largely because he was not really a mineralogist) he returned to the University of Kansas.
He accomplished one of his early goals by getting accepted into Harvard. Ever romantic, he convinced a friend to take a small boat on the Neosho to the Kansas River, east to the Missouri, south on the Mississippi, the Gulf of Mexico and on to Boston. They would finance this journey selling needles to housewives along the rivers, and work as stewards on the ocean-going vessels. His friend almost immediately got violently sick and Hervey walked and rode the rails back to Aunt Mary in Iowa. He completed his applications and requests for financial aid to Harvard; received confirmation to begin his junior year.
On his way to Boston he met a wealthy man in Niagara Falls. The man wanted to give him money, but Hervey would only accept a loan although later it has become a gift. He worked, always. He waited tables, taught, lived very economically. His mentor at Harvard was Frank Bolles, secretary of the College. After graduation in 1894, he sailed steerage to Naples where he began a remarkable year of walking through Italy, sleeping outside and living on a pittance. From Italy he went to Chicago and Hull House. He was hired as first reference librarian at the newly founded John Crerar Library. At Hull House he met Ralph Whitehead and so began the story of Byrdcliffe, the Maverick and a large chapter in the history of Woodstock, New York.
A brilliant, hard working, generous, Quaker/Puritan, sexually inexperienced bisexual, Hervey was so loved and misunderstood that at one point in the history of the Maverick, he had a reputation as the “Jesus Christ of Woodstock.”
Not so to his wife.
Vivian Bevans: “The most beautiful woman at Byrdcliffe”
Vivian was studying at the Art Institute in Chicago when she met Whitehead who suggested she come to his new arts and crafts colony.
She was 21 years old.
The second youngest of 7 children born to Jane Arundel Murray and Homer Bevans, Vivi grew up in a flurry of artistic and intellectual engagement.
Her father, Homer, was an educator. Born just south of Lake Erie in central Ohio he came to Chicago with his family where he went to public schools, graduating from Cook County Normal School in 1869. The same year he started a lifetime career as school principal. In 1884 he was called to LaSalle School near Lincoln Park, and remained in the position for 24 years. At a meeting of peers, he is quoted as saying “I stand for the savage.” He loved the nature, this great earth was limitless in elemental forces, the sun, “the great chemist” as he called it, transformed the earth with living forces of beauty. Only man, the tenants of this fair garden were vile, ignorant and destructive. He would change all this by education. Homer died in 1905, the year Vivi and Hervey’s son Caleb was born.
Vivian’s mother lived until 1931. She came from a family with proud genealogy going back to medieval Scotland: lords and ladies of court, the outlaw Murray whose son became the High Sheriff of Selkirkshire in 1509.
Jane Arundel Murray’s father made a minor fortune in the railroads. From this family comes the name “Murray Hill” in NYC. Mamsey inherited money.
This money provided privilege. It was also a scourge for the family until it finally disappeared in alcohol and extravagant living. Mamsey was eccentric, intellectual, educated and loved.
Of the 7 children, the oldest died when she was 19, Homer played flute in city orchestras, married an artist and spend most of his adult life in Paris. Edna went to the University of Chicago.
Laura got her B.A. in botany at the University of Michigan, taught at Chicago Normal School, then homesteaded in the wilds of central Idaho with her husband Stude, a socialist. Tom Murray married Ann Fessendon Bradley who left him for Thorsten Veblen (a Maverick affair). He wandered around Greenwich Village and Paris wearing monk’s robes.
Vivian became a photographer’s model when she was 18. Irene married Woodstock actor Percy Vivian and lived in Hawaii.
They were remarkably beautiful and exotic. All but Laura were very dark-skinned and dark-eyed. There was something unspoken around race among the children of Jane Arundel and Homer. Caleb said it was “black Welsh.” Homer’s father Amos came from Canada, a small dark man who married a pale plump Scandinavian. His heritage is obscure. Some photos of Homer, Jr. look African. But the others look Romany. There was both a cover-up and a deeply conflicted lifetime bond among the siblings and cousins.
The early years at Byrdcliff were ecstatic and in constant flux. Hervey started as Whitehead’s main man, but could not function for long under orders. The place was abuzz with art, intrigue, idealism. Hervey does not mention Vivian until suddenly, they were to be married. Vivian said he married her to distract attention from a scandal he was involved in. She, meanwhile, had been in love with one of the instructors. However, within the world of Byrdcliffe and Woodstock, marrying Hervey assured her a place in it. Besides charismatic, Hervey had extensive connections. He created activity around him.
They married in New York City on Hervey’s 38th birthday. It was a bohemian, seat-of the-pants affair which suited them both. Their apartment became a meeting place. “We had Byrdcliffe in New York City” wrote Hervey. Vivian, now 23 and raised in affluence, bought a fur-lined coat with the money Whitehead had given her to start ceramics at Alfred College.
Within months, she became pregnant. She was sick. They kept moving from place to place. Hervey tried teaching school to make more money. Back and forth between his land at the Maverick and the City, one winter he describes only as a horrible nightmare. Caleb was born September 30, 1905. Dan came August 1, 1907. In later years, Vivian wrote to her brother Tom:
“I hear that Hervey has the reputation as the Jesus Christ of Woodstock. Jesus Christ, my ass. Where was Jesus Christ as he kicked me across the room when I was pregnant with Dan?”
Had she been unfaithful? Was Caleb not Hervey’s son? Or Dan? Did she challenge him regarding his sexuality?
The babies got measles. Caleb contracted diptheria and was put in a ward. When well enough to return home, the family lived under quarantine. Their best, most stable friends also had young children. The couple became isolated.
Mamsey, recently widowed, left Chicago and took an apartment in New York City.
She was loyal, and her daughter needed help. Within several months, Vivi returned to Chicago with her mother and the boys. Clarence Darrow divorced the couple. “My marriage was at an end,” Hervey writes, and he does not mention it again except for one longing little statement several years later; he was still hoping they might return.
The little boys he adored, the babies he had tended and cared for in one of his Maverick shacks with the chickens and the water buckets, were gone forever. “There is a freedom to losing everything,” he wrote. To the outward world he appeared to have let it go. He dove into welcoming all comers, opening his land and hospitality to artists and musicians, families and loners, and sometimes bums. He built houses for them. People who had known him when they were children still speak of how kind he was, how safe to be near. But the grief remained for a lifetime, and, in some way, set him apart.
Two tiny books of poetry remain as testimony.
Both written and hand printed in 1910, one is called New Songs for Old. The other is named In an Old Man’s Garden. It is printed in green ink and decorated with a red florette pattern. The cover page reads: “In an old man’s garden where the old man is maybe you and maybe me or maybe both of us are the garden things that mixed (blank space) anyway this book was written & printed by Hervey White at the Maverick Press Woodstock New York and may the Lord have mercy on his Soul.” Hervey was 44.
The Aftermath: Vivian
Vivian returned to her family home.
She married a French architect who helped develop the Chicago skyline. She raised the boys. Always in the arts, she got them bit parts as court pages in the film, The Dumb Girl of Portici, where Anna Pavlova dances to heaven. Vivian cared for her mother until her death, and likewise she cared for her cancer-ridden sister Laura. Her husband had suffered a stroke at 29, and as he got older became wheelchair-bound. She was known as a good sport, a trouper. Vivian was fun and she definitely held down the fort.
She collected Chinese artifacts, filled the house with thick velvet curtains, struggled with coal dust and gave in to alcohol. Teddy Saunders, impressionist artist, hung out in the kitchen cooking pots of food. Frying pans were turned upside down on the gas flames to burn out the dirt: “easier than scrubbing.” Rosicrucians, mediums, card players, roomers, neighbors, siblings wanting more money… the Perry Avenue House in Chicago was busy.
Bitter toward Hervey, she turned the boys against him: he had been mean to her, hurt her, was homosexual, lived like a tramp, etc. However, when she got word of his death in 1944 she wrote her brother Tom, “he was so much a part of the mountains, I cannot imagine Woodstock without him.”
Three years later she was killed by a streetcar.
Hervey’s Last House
An old man loves the sunshine.
And a bench by the garden gate.
There is little reason for hurry.
He has learned by this time to wait.
In all, ‘twas the hardest lesson
That ever the old man learned.
And now he holds it the dearest
Of all the wealth he has earned.
No: there is one thing dearer;
And that is his garden green,
Where the flowers are children’s faces.
And the one now his knees between
Is the sweetest of all his blessings,
So radiant it is, so mild,
He knows why the world’s religion
Is symbolized by a child.
And the old man’s fingers are fondling.
Not trembling, as it would seem,
Or if they do really tremble,
They tremble through love supreme.
It is not through weakness or failing.
Or through failures or struggles long sped
But through strength, that the old man’s fingers
Make tremble that wind flower’s head.
Strength of love comes from the centre,
The place whence all love winds blow.
Strength of the good accomplished
In the old man’s long ago.
For his manhood has got him a garden,
A garden where children play.
And the perfumes that fill his senses
Drive all of his sorrow’s away.
Perfumes of young love’s seeding.
Perfumes of toil tilled fields,
Perfumes of dusky harvests,
Rich with their yearly yields.
Harvests of children’s children,
For the gifts to our loved are more sweet
Than those that the gods of Heaven
Toss at our own poor feet.
So the old man sits in his garden,
And the sunshine is warm and good.
And the flowers nod and beckon,
And romp in sweet hardihood.
And the old man waits and listens,
With happy, tear dimmed eyes,
For the voices of Heaven’s children,
Choiring in Paradise.
(Hervey White, opening poem from In an Old Man’s Garden)
So Hervey gave himself to the world, and had a great time doing it. He lived according to his principles, espoused socialism, never sold out for money, kept his connection with working class people, disliked bankers and pretense.
He was courteous, kind, kept to himself emotionally and sexually. In later years when the mores of the country had changed enough that he could express his love for men, he experimented, if only a bit.
With the land he had bought in partnership with Fritz van der Loo, a sea captain and businessman, he created enormous positive energy. He would meet someone he liked and say, “move to the Maverick, we’ll build you a house.” The community flourished. The artists thrived. It was the 1920’s.
His first Maverick Festival combined spectacle, masquerade and musical extravaganza. It was to raise money for drilling a well. A resounding success, the festivals continued annually until 1931, when, bloated by popularity they got too rowdy and the police shut down the Festivals. He inspired and designed the Concert House which continues today. He initiated the Woodstock Theatre.
He never drove a car, but liked long road trips, adventure. In the early days, two adolescent town boys, Howard Barnes and Adolf Hecheroth were his chauffeurs. They traveled in old beater cars, slept out under the stars, cooked over campfires, poked around back roads. Hervey visited his sister and brother, aunt and uncle, his father in Santa Barbara, California.
He wrote and self-published many novels. He eschewed editing; would write a book, print it on his own press, bind it and toss it in a large wooden barrel with all the others. When he became older, and with money he got in advance for his autobiography, he started yet another colony on the ocean in south east Georgia.
In the 1930’s, his sons came to visit him. Hervey was so pleased and excited. Caleb came summer of 1935; Dan brought his wife summer of 1936. Both the young men were ambitious professionals.
Caleb got his doctorate in French and Spanish literature from the University of Chicago, traveled Europe, and was a codebreaker for the CIA.
Dan was an electrical engineer, active in think tanks during the early years of jet propulsion. He was hired for government projects in Maryland and Ohio. Both married twice. Caleb had no children. Dan had 2 girls.
Caleb was more reserved and consequent. He kept the surname Bevans. Dan chose to use White. He was enthusiastic, bombastic, and alcoholized. He loved the Maverick. He loved the smart, wild talk and promiscuity. He could make promises lightly. He would return. He would live there, continue the art colony.
Hervey, by this time around 75, tried to visit Dan in Buckrow Beach, Virginia. It was one of his last road trips back to Woodstock from the nascent colony in St. Mary’s, Georgia. In the rain, late at night, in an old beater car driven by one of the boys, he knocked on the door. His son was not at home.
It is unknown whether either son visited him again. In 1944, Hervey died. For some years he had chosen to live during the warm months in a shack of rough boards, no screens, and minimal furnishings. There was no electricity, no wires or phone, no running water. It was about 100 yards from the Maverick Horse, surrounded with myrtle and shaded by the woods. A tiny path led to the road. The house measured 6 x 9 feet; the cosmic proportion he preferred.
One spring, on returning from St. Mary’s, he walked in and saw a huge snake lying in his bed. Instinctively, he threw a can of caustic cleanser at it. This killed it. “You know,” he said to Alf Evers, “that fellow was lying on a mouse nest. All he was doing was helping me keep the place clean.” Even the dreaded serpent of his childhood had become a friend.
Three days before he died he saw Adolf Heckeroth, who may have helped Hervey keep his finances in order. By this time Adolf ran a successful plumbing business. He may also have promised Hervey to care for a plumber named Clarence who had been Hervey’s last traveling companion. In any event, Hervey wrote his will that day.
He made Adolf the executor and willed him the house and cultivated land in Georgia. Over 200 acres went to Howard Barnes, who actually spent time in St. Mary’s. His undivided half share of the Ostrander Farm, the Maverick, was willed to Dan. Caleb got 1/4th of the rights to the royalties from his books.
It is a strange will. Adolf and Howard and Dan were significantly enriched. Caleb was essentially disinherited.
Hervey was not about money. At one of the later Maverick Festivals, he sat by a cigar box with $1000 in it. This was noted by John Pascuitti, a long-time associate. John left briefly, returned and the money was gone. Hervey’s comment: “Oh well, somebody must have needed the money more than I do.”
Still, an odd will. It hurt Caleb a lot.
Dan went to Woodstock for the funeral. It was a grand affair. He said he would continue the Maverick exactly as Hervey did: no subdividing, low rents for artists. Fritz van der Loo’s son Kese was there; Kese and Kitty, his wife. He had inherited the other half of the Ostrander Farm, and also promised to keep his half of the land as Hervey had.
In the summer of 1945 Dan brought his wife Dorothy, my sister and myself to the Maverick where we lived in Karl Walters’ house with a great stone fireplace that opened on both kitchen and living room. A big tree grew from beneath the patio floor and on through the roof. My sister and I played in the streams and explored the land. I walked next door and stood in the shade, watching neighbor Raoul Hague chipping away at some enormous stone torso. I crossed the road by myself and visited Lucille Blanch whose house was full of dolls. My parents gravitated toward folks who drank and talked big ideas, swam naked in the quarry, espoused plans for the future.
One day, papa took me by the hand and walked me to Hervey’s last house; across the road, down the tiny myrtle path and into the shack. I was 5 years old.
It was a magical experience. Yes, someone truly good had been a part of my life. Someone who loved the nature and lived without electricity or even running water. The feeling was sweet, simple, and connected. When I was old enough to leave home I would go there, live like my grandfather in a little house in the woods with paths connecting a creative community of people who did not lock their doors.
My next visit was summer 1957. Much or all of the Maverick had been subdivided and sold. Dan had held on to his undivided piece the longest, but his life descended into dysfunction. In summer 1953 his wife, Dorothy divorced him. Eight months later he married Marjorie Reid, his long-time secretary and one of his sex partners. They drove from Cleveland, Ohio to South Dakota where there was no waiting period for marriage. A hand-scrawled will gives her all his property. By January of 1956 he was dead of cyanide poisoning.
One of Hervey’s scientific companions on the Mexico journey wrote him in later years: “As I have told you before, White, you have been given a spark of the divine fire that we all worship. It may in time become a modest glow, perhaps, even a bonfire. Nevertheless, do you cherish it to the proof?”
He did. But unlike Whitehead who established Byrdcliffe as a trust, Hervey did not protect his creation. The Maverick, as he said when he named it, was the wild horse belonging to whoever could catch it.
The great energy that came out of the Maverick, the 40 years of undivided property with an owner who built people houses and charged minimum rents, the 15 years of Festivals, the Concert House which remains active today, The Theatre, the excellent painters, potters, writers, the long list of distinguished visitors… this energy took a blow with the loss of Hervey and the dividing of the land. But Spirit lives on.
In 1969 it returned as an enormous, highly-promoted outdoor concert. It became legendary. And from it arose “The Woodstock Nation:” people from all over the planet tasted the freedom of the maverick; the wild horse which chooses not to run with the herd.
Author’s note: The Eva Watson-Schütze photographs were found in 2002 in the attic of Vivian’s nephew’s house. His daughter, Laura Bradley Hoekstra gave all 22 original photos (many signed by Watson-Schütze) to Christie White Dauphin in 2004.
© 2012-2014 Christie White Dauphin (Hervey White’s granddaughter), except excerpt from “In an Old Man’s Garden” by Hervey White. All rights reserved.