Trotty Veck Messengers

I was cleaning out my craft room, which has been used as a sort of store room for everything for the last three years or so, and it was kind of a job.  I’m still not done. Too many distractions.
One distraction was a little pamphlet just the right size to fit in an envelope, published in 1918 or so.  It was called the Trotty Veck Messenger and was full of cheerful little quotes.  Inside the front cover it said this:

” “The publication of the Trotty Veck Messages was begun in 1916 by two young men — two messengers of cheer — who were obliged to live in the mountains but who believed that the only way to conquer mountains is to climb — and climb cheerfully.” ”

And then it said that the little booklet continued to be “published up in the mountains by the surviving one of the two young men.”

I had to know more.

In 1905 a young high school student named Charles Swasey Barnet dropped out of school. He was just about to embark on his senior year to graduate from Boston Latin, the oldest public high school in America, a prestigious institution boasting many influential graduates.  Elite young members of the Boston Brahmin with everything to look forward to went to Boston Latin.  In 1906 Barnet dropped out and went to New York state instead.  He was 18 years old and he was diagnosed with T.B.   He moved to a sanitorium in the Saranac Lake region of New York. There was not much hope that he would live.  Because he was from Boston, everybody called him Beanie.

At some point Seymour Eaton, Jr. was also diagnosed with T.B. and came to the sanitorium to live. The boys were room-mates.  Around the time they were 21 they started the Trotty Veck Messenger.

“When Beanie and Seymour complained of feeling down, Seymour’s father suggested they write inspirational messages to cheer each other up. Beanie and Seymour soon realized they could never pursue demanding careers, so the two decided to publish small chapbooks of these inspirational messages to cheer others and make money. Together they launched their Trotty Veck Messages series in 1916. A character in Charles Dickens’ short story “The Chimes,” Trotty Veck delivered messages of cheer to townsfolk, despite the frailties of his health. Barnet and Eaton fashioned themselves after Dickens’ character and became “Trotty Vecks.” ”

They collected quotes, arranged for publishing, set up an office, and then had to hire a secretary as Eaton was now bedridden, and Beanie could only manage the trip to the office once a week.They sold 4,000 copies of the first edition.  Over the years about four million booklets were sold, but Eaton had only been able to help for the first one or two (accounts vary, but I think he worked on two and possibly the third).  He died in 1918.

His father had died in 1916, suddenly collapsing of a heart attack in March.  That was Seymour Eaton, who had suggested the idea of writing encouraging notes.  Eaton Sr was widely known as creator of the Teddy Bear.  The stuffed animals were around before, but he coined the phrase and popularized it in a newspaper serial he first published under a pseudonym.  He also wrote popular stories about Teddy B and Teddy G, two anthropomorphic bears. He had published school textbooks, was a well known mover and shaker in the world of advertising.

When he died, in his fifties,  it left the family in somewhat straitened  circumstances.  That family consisted of the widow, three sons, and a ten year old daughter.  The widow turned their mansion into apartments to make ends meet.  My great grandmother did the same when her husband died suddenly in the forties.  I’m not sure that option hasn’t been zoned out of feasibility for widows today.

Barnet’s father was  a successful playwright and businessman.  His mother was one of the first graduates at Wesley. Both fathers were significant enough that they have Wikipedia bios.  The boys were well connected and no doubt had some help from their fathers in their endeavors, but they were expected to do what they could to earn their own way. 

Not long after young Eaton died,  Barnet’s health worsened, and he received bad news.  Doctors told him they found TB on one of his kidneys.  He traveled to Montreal where there was a specialist who he was told could help, possibly.  The specialist told him there was an operation, and he had performed it twice.  However, he warned, while one patient was cured, the other died.   Did he want to take a 50/50 chance?  He did.  He was a young man, still in his 20s. He’d seen his room-mate die, his room-mate’s father die.  He lived in a TB sanitarium, so he likely had seen many deaths.  It was the start of The Great War and likely his classmates he’d had to leave behind were dying- in fact, he had probably already outlived some friends who had expected to outlast him by decades, thanks to the war.

The operation was a success, and while his health was still fragile and he had to guard it, his TB was considered in arrested development. He moved out of the sanitarium but remained in the area for the rest of his life.

 

Barnet the younger continued publishing his collections of feel good quotes and sayings, gathered from the Bible, Shakespeare, local guides, friends, newspapers, and anywhere he could find them. He published them about once a year, usually in October.  It seems people often bought them to include in Christmas cards, and during The Great War, he heard from soldiers that they had been encouraged by the little booklets.

He married in 1940 when he was 54 years old.  His wife was a nurse who contracted TB and came to the same sanitarium.  She, too, was able to stop the progress of the disease and the two lived together for the next forty years, hosting many friends and publishing the booklets until the seventies, when optimism went out of style.   Barnet died, his wife by his side, at the age of 90.

 

More about TB here.

Websites that helped me find out more, or that distracted me from work I needed to be doing instead, depending on your POV:

https://localwiki.org/hsl/Trotty_Veck_Messengers

https://localwiki.org/hsl/Beanie_Barnet

https://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/opinion/columns/you-know-what-B-history-by-howard-riley/2018/06/the-trotty-veck-messengers-part-1-of-2/

https://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/opinion/columns/you-know-what-local-history-by-howard-riley/2018/06/the-beanie-barnet-trotty-veck-story-part-2/

More about the TB cure found in the mountains of upstate New York here. In 1875 a doctor diagnosed with TB moved with his family here to spend his remaining days.  His health improved. He expected to be dead in a few weeks, but he continued to live and improve.  He discovered that freshness air, rest, nourishing food and a peaceful, clean environment helped improve the prognosis for TB patients.  It was not a failsafe cure, but it was an immense improvement and for the next 75 years or so people flocked to the area to receive the rest cure.

See the comments here for information on Eaton’s widow turning the home he built into apartments (the property was called Ath Dara)

The boys understood something of self-promotion, probably thanks to their fathers.  They sent copies for review to all kind of publications.  The editor of The Indian Leader in March of 1917 reported positively on two copies that had been sent to him, and recommended that interested readers send twenty cents to the Trotty Veck Messenger to receive two booklets of their own.

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One Comment

  1. Andrea
    Posted August 9, 2019 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    That was so interesting! Thank you for sharing. It’s good to see you again in my blog feed. Who could fault you for needing a mental refresher in the midst of such a daunting task 😛

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