Discovering a Survival

I had forgotten how beautiful and tranquil Hollenback Cemetery is. Most of the burial grounds are on sloping hills or built, in the case of some mausoleums, into the hills. The Foster mausoleum is one such like this.

When I read about this event, I was put in touch with Kathleen Smith, a real "go-getter" of a lady, incredible energy and deep knowledge. We emailed and spoke telephonically throughout the week of September 2nd and reach conclusions as far as accomodations, travel, etc. are concerned. She provided transportation throughout my stay, all of which I am very grateful for.

Kathleen Smith
Shawnee Fort Chapter of
The Daughters of the American Revolution

On Saturday morning, September 10, 2016, the Shawnee Fort Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) honored Florence Foster Jenkins and her mother, Mary Hoaglund Foster for their work for the society, installing medallions onto their respective cenotaphs, Hollenback Cemetery in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. When they found out I was coming, they asked me to give a short speech about Mme Jenkins.

About 120 people came on a rather warm late morning day.

First, City Councilman Tony Brooks gave a brief speech welcoming us, telling us all what was about to happen. First on the agenda was the walk to the Foster mausoleum.

I met a number of very nice and friendly people, one of which was Janet Small, a distant cousin of Mme Jenkins.

Then, the journalist who wrote the article (which alerted me to the event) in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, Mary Therese Biebel, introduced herself with her husband, Mark Guydish (who also works for the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader)and interviewed me. She asked very good questions. I was also interviewed by a radio station.

Mary Therese Biebel and Mark Guydish

We all then walked to the Foster mausoleum, located on and built into a hill. Tony Brooks began the ceremony. All of this was filmed for The Vinnie Langdon Show.

Here is the draft of the speech I wanted to give:

Whenever I speak or write  about  one of the subjects we are honoring today, I always without fail, speak of her not simply by her first name, her last name but as Mme Jenkins.  It's because I've learned of all her wonderful contributions to charity and to the musical world of her era.  I made my documentary because I felt she no longer deserved the ridicule and derision she received throughout most of her life and after her passing. 

During the first two decades of her life, there were many negative and positive events that formed the phenomenon that we know today.  I theorize that she might not have been on the receiving end of affection and approval from her parents, that of sibling rivalry when Lilian Blanche was born, that of her becoming even more distance emotionally and physically from her parents, that of her discovery of the beauty of music and its becoming her mode of personal expression, that of eloping at the tender age of 14  and that of being diagnosed in her teenage years with a disease that dare not speak its name, syphilis, a disease primarily associated with women of the night.

From all these life experiences, she developed indomitable courage, steadfast determination and rock-solid confidence in herself, and at the same time, a generous sense of philanthropy.  She commissioned young composers and sculptors.  She provided employment for singers, instrumentalists, conductors, dancers, orchestras and actors.  She produced lavish entertainments for the public during the years of the Depression and both world wars.  She was one of the first producers of opera in English.  She thus made large contributions to charities such as  the Veterans' Mountain Camp, The Boy Scouts, the American and Italian Red Cross, the Actor's Fund.  There was even her own charity to provide flowers for ill members of her own club, The Verdi Club.

I believe from the bottom of my heart that Mme Jenkins, wherever she is, is beaming with pride and joy because of today's commemoration.  Let's put aside our laughter for a moment, let us realize what she actually and truly lived for and let us appreciate all that she gave those before and after us.  And let us make sure we remember not just her singing, but her gifts.

I was then interviewed for The Vinnie Langdon Show.

The final interview was with a family of three who are distantly related to Mme Jenkins. Below is Mr. Allan Cease. He is the grandson of the executrix of Mme Jenkins' estate, Ella Bulford Harvey. The next picture shows Christian Cease, their son and Lynne HessCease, his wife. She retained her maiden name and combined it with her husband's last name.

On the left is their son Christian Cease and on the right is Mrs. Lynne HessCease (she spells her married name slightly different). I was not able to hear what they were saying, but stood nearby.

Interview of the Cease family

I was standing on the other side of the path when Mrs. HesCease walked up to me and said, "We have movies of Jenkins." I became speechless, I couldn't close my mouth, unable to remove my hands from my face, I felt tears come to my eyes, I was dumbfounded, I was speechless.

In January of 2016, my friend Jeanne Ommerle and I made about 6 or 7 trips to the New York Public Library to look at a Verdi Club scrapbook that Kathleen Bayfield left to the library. Jeanne tirelessly read every single word and name into my laptop and then I would come home and transcribe her speaking. While reading three programs from the Verdi Club's Ball of the Silver Skylarks - the most lavish event of its season - she read the following texts:

December 14, 1934
Moving picture of Mme Florence Foster Jenkins' song recital in the Grand Ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel November 8

December, 1935
Verdi Club Musical and Dramatic Matinee
A moving picture of Mme Jenkins' concert given at the Ritz-Carlton October 30th will be shown. Come and see yourselves as you appear in a moving picture and bring your friends to hear one of the best programs of the winter.

Musical and Dramatic Afternoon
Friday, December 11, 1936, 2:00
Hotel Plaza
Operatic Program
A moving picture of Mme Jenkins' concert on October 29th showing the artists and audience will be presented.

When she read this, I was flabbergasted: to think that Mme Jenkins had the wherewithal to make movies of herself, but then again, I'm not surprised. That was immediately followed by a sad assumption they were lost or discarded as Mme Jenkins was by no means famous nor infamous when she passed on November 26, 1944. I relayed what I knew to Mrs. HessCease and then she told me that not only do they possess movies from 1934, 1935 and 1936, they have movies from 1937, 1938 and two from 1939.

After Tony Brooks' guided tour of the burial sites of women of historical significance, Kathleen, Tony and I went to dinner.

I will convey all that pertains to the movies on another page in the very near future. Stay tuned... or should I say in tune...