Wednesday, August 30, 2006

8/30/06- We Meet At Last

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of going on a bus trip that was sponsored by the Herkimer County Historical Society to the sites in Cortland and South Otselic, NY that related to the Gillette Murder Case. It was another major event in the American Tragedy Centennial Year and it is the last one for the next three months until the Ilion Little Theater Club begins the performance run of "Chester and Grace" and the unveiling of the historic marker in front of the 1834 Jail on November 18.

And as you can see, I finally did meet Grace Brown. In a manner of speaking, of course.

Our first stop was to the Cortland County Historical Society where we met Joseph Brownell, the author of "Adirondack Tragedy. " I did get a chance to meet him, got his autograph, and told him about this site. He was very nice and he really knew a lot about the case, most notably about Grace. I learned a lot from him.

After the lecture at the Historical Society, the director came with us on a driving tour of the sites in Cortland. We drove past Grace's boarding house as well as her sister Ada Hawley's house where she stayed when she first arrived in Cortland in late 1904. We also went past Chester's boarding house and the former Gillette Skirt Factory building, which has been a furniture and appliance store for years. I got some good shots of the building. We did not go in the building, but I guess that will be for another time.

After lunch, we drove through DeRuyter, where Chester and Grace caught the train for their trip to the Adirondacks, and arrived at Grace's home in South Otselic, now owned by Robert and Diane Timm. The road that leads up to the farm has since been renamed "Grace Brown Lane" in honor of the house's former occupant. The view from the farm house was the same as I remember from the "Murder in the Adirondacks" book and the house itself was beautiful, despite the fact that the house was being remodeled at the time.

While I was at the house, I started feeling Grace's presence, especially when I passed one of the apple trees on the property. I remembered a photo in "Murder in the Adirondacks" in which a 16-year-old Grace was standing in front of an apple tree. At that point, it all started coming back to me that I was on sacred ground.

Finally we arrived at Valley View Cemetery, located right in town. We had to ascend a flight of moss-covered stairs and walked through the cemetery until we finally got to the Brown family plot and sure enough, there she was. I was actually at the grave that I had only seen in photos before this trip.

We also saw Ada Hawley's grave, which was directly across from Grace's family. We also saw the graves of her best friend/teacher Maude Crumb as well as the grave of her husband, Dr. J. Mott Crumb who represented the Brown family as a witness to Chester's execution in 1908.

Then while the rest of the group went to a peach festival that the town invited us to, I spent an extra twenty minutes or so with Grace in the cemetery. I took a rubbing of the grave that took up about ten minutes or so. I also talked to her a little bit and I may have even cried a little. I guess that once you get to know someone (even someone who's been dead for 100 years), they become a part of you. And I have gotten to know Grace quite well over the course of a year. Of course what was said will remain between myself and Grace.

Before I left, I laid down the flowers that I bought for her before I caught the bus. This time, I delivered them myself and I took a couple more photos of the grave before I said goodbye to her. Hopefully, I will go back there someday and see her again.

All in all, the trip was a bit of a soul-searching experience for me, not to mention that it will be very helpful in finding information so that I can start my book. As a result of everything that has happened, I now believe that me finding out about this case was not an accident. It was fate that led me to the Gillette case and it looks like I am here to stay for the time being.

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