Did John Avery McIlhenny save the life of Theodore Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War of 1898? According to a book written by Jerry Rothfeder, the author stated that the story told by John may or may not be true, for it was rumored that McIlhenny was somewhat prone to exaggerate.
John was one of Lt. Col. Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders.” He fought alongside TR who courageously and victoriously led his 1st U.S. Cavalry in the battle of Kettle Hill, San Juan, Cuba. It was stated that McIlhenny, during a skirmish, supposedly pushed Roosevelt out of the way of a sniper’s bullet and covered TR’s body with his own. It was also noted that John and the Colonel became lifelong friends, and that McIlhenny was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant for “gallantry in service.”
After being exalted as a national hero, Roosevelt became President of the USA in 1901, and was re-elected in 1904. Some of the following interesting information was extracted from a historical article written by LSU Assistant History Professor Richard Collins in 1971. In the year 1914, while Roosevelt was making a barnstorming political drive through South Louisiana, running for President on the Progressive “Bull Moose” ticket, he had New Iberia in mind as his destination. Before TR and his automobile riding entourage reached the city limits, he was met by 400 New Iberians on horseback wearing red bandanas — the Rough Riders symbol.
New Iberia Mayor Alphe Fontelieu, leader of the riders, welcomed the distinguished visitors, and said, “Colonel, we have a horse for you and wish you to take command of our troop.” Roosevelt was delighted as he led the horsemen into town, to the roaring excitement of a record turnout of citizens. Collins stated, “To add even more tone to the ceremony, three little girls in patriotic dresses were put at the head of the line; and, as the Times-Picayune reporter described it, the town was filled with visitors attracted by excursions, and when Roosevelt appeared there was virtually no space left.” The report stated that some estimated the attendance to be around 15,000. “There were so many in attendance that TR had to address the throngs in sections. He received his most enthusiastic applause when he concluded in French.” Roosevelt’s special train made whistle stops at towns all along the way as he returned to New Orleans.
(I would certainly like to know the names of the three little girls who led the parade. Perhaps some reader of this column might know. If so, I’d appreciate your contacting me. It may be well to mention here, that since TR and John were good friends, the President did visit him at Avery Island in 1907.)
Our daughter, Rose Anne, who has been very active as a stage designer for theatrical performances in the Berkeley, Calif., area, sent me copies of several pages from one of her reference books. I found the information, which involved Weeks Hall, very interesting, and felt I should share some of this with you. The book written by Mary Henderson, is a biography of Jo Mielziner (1901-1976) “a most highly acclaimed scenic and lighting designer of the American theatre of the twentieth century.”
The author stated: “His perfectly realized visual interpretations of such landmark works as ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ ‘Death of a Salesman,’ ‘Winterset,’ ‘Guys and Dolls,’ ‘Carousel,’ and ‘Gypsy,’ have made it almost impossible for other theatrical designers to avoid imitations.” (But, in spite of all of Mielziner’s expertise in this highly sophisticated field, it’s interesting that he prevailed upon Weeks Hall of the Shadows for assistance on the set for “The Wisteria Tree” (1950), a Chekhov play Broadway production starring Helen Hayes.)
Here’s more of what Henderson wrote: “Jo had high hopes for the next production he was scheduled to design in league with Leland Howard, Josh Logan, Lucinda Ballard, and a cast that included Helen Hayes. — To get the right feeling placing the action on a plantation in postbellum Louisiana, Logan and Jo visited Weeks Hall, a friend from Jo’s school days at the Pennsylvania Academy, who was living in an unchanged antebellum mansion not far from New Orleans. The place, called The Shadows On The Teche was a vine-covered prototype for Jo’s design, which reeked of Southern decay. — To emphasize the general decay, Jo filled it with broken lattices, water stained walls and ceiling, and other telling details.”
Henderson stated that even though Hayes turned in a good performance the show eventually failed — representing one of the few flops in Helen Hayes’ career. I feel reasonably sure that Hall, who was well-versed in scenic technology, was both delighted and flattered that Broadway, New York, came to Main St., New Iberia, for his advice on scenery for a major Broadway production. A wide-angle lens photo of “The Wisteria Tree” stage scene appeared in the book.
Attending St. Mary Landmarks’ annual meetings in Franklin have always been highlights for Helen and me. On May 6, we enjoyed another get-together with dear friends, shared news, and I learned a lot about the goings-on in my old home town. Craig Landry, who has been a dedicated 33 year caretaker and tour guide of the historic Grevemberg home, will leave in September to take over another precious antebellum home, Shadowlawn, on Main St., Franklin, as tour guide. He will be replaced by his sister, Peggy Landry, at the Grevemberg home.
Shadowlawn, all of its contents, and a good amount of money, were inherited by Landmarks from its owner, Dr. Mildred Christian, who passed away some time back. The home is presently being refurbished.
The efficient Pam Daniels of Patterson was re-elected to serve Landmarks for another year. She and her husband, Dr. Walter Daniels, have been very active in Rotary on a local and international level. Their works have been so recognized that they were publicized on a full page in the May issue of the “Rotarian,” the organization’s international magazine. Their lovely antebellum home, Idlewild, was given good mention.
There’s a lot more to report, but unfortunately, I’ve run out of space.
MORRIS RAPHAEL is a local author and retired engineer.