Dillon Wallace: Our Dad
Ann Wallace McKendry
March 11, 2005
When we get together, my brother Dillon
and I often speak of how fortunate we are to have such warm memories of
our childhood. Now in our 80s we often hear from friends and acquaintances
tales of their exceedingly difficult growing-up years. We realize
what a special gift was our life with our close family life with our father
We lived in a big old house on nearly an
acre in Beacon, New York. The city is in the Hudson River Valley, lying
60 miles north of New York City. Our parents fell in love with the
big yard, the Norway maple trees, flowering bushes, fruit trees, when looking
to buy a home in the spring of 1921. And so the scene was set for
the next nearly 20 years.
The den in our house was our father’s workshop.
He did not need to go off to an office or a factory each day as our friends’
fathers did. The den was upstairs and off where noise of the household
did not disturb his work.
Even though the den was strictly off limits to all of us when he was at
work, he had told me I could come any time when I felt about to lose myself
in yet another of the temper tantrums I was prone to in my childhood.
Of course I recall none of what instigated these wild displays, but very
well I remember the immediate calm and solace sitting there in the den
created. Daddy would stop work, light his pipe, and sit and talk
The room had a wood stove that provided
a cozy atmosphere as well as warmth on cold wintry days. Often Mother,
Dillon and I were invited to join Daddy in his den to hear him read to
us the newest chapter of a book he was writing, or to read aloud some interesting
letters he had received. He had a large correspondence and always
answered letters from readers of his books and magazine articles.
My warm memory of the den, the mixture of books and lots of friendly clutter,
the nice old couch and our father’s big chair, are flavored with the pungency
of pipe smoke and the friendly crackle of the fire in the wood stove.
All that, plus the privilege I had been granted to invade it whenever life
became too much, spelled sanctuary for me.
With our parents we watched woodpeckers
and nuthatches at the feeder on the Hawthorne tree in winter, learned the
songs of the birds that arrived in spring to build their nests. We helped
in the big vegetable garden; together we gathered Baldwin apples from the
big tree in autumn. We spent hours in the swings our dad put up in
one of the big maples, built castles and villages in the big sandbox he
built for us.
I remember a hike we took, my father and
I, when I was seven or so. It was June24, his birthday. Mother
packed a thermos of potato salad for us and another of lemonade.
We walked up the trail on Mt. Beacon, found a spot in woods beside a tiny
brook. Daddy cooked brigand steak over a small fire, explaining about
the seventeen-year locusts, whose serenade surrounded us.
For several summers my parents and I took
the train to Culver, Indiana where Dad was Chief of the summer Woodcraft
Camp that was part of Culver Military Academy. Dillon was with us,
a tiny baby, the last summer we were there. Many of the young men
who served as camp counselors remained our dad’s close friends and came
to visit us in Beacon from time to time.
In later summers our father and mother
took us camping. We had no car, but traveled by train to the Adirondacks
or to Lake Champlain. We remember one camp on a lake
somewhere in the Adirondacks. Our family’s camp was set up in woods
along the shore, our blankets spread on fragrant evergreen boughs as was
the practice in the ‘20s, in the old Labrador tent. Our dad paddled
across the lake to Camp Pok-o’—moonshine, where he talked to groups of
boys about his Labrador adventures and demonstrate camp cooking as it had
been done in the bush.
Dillon Wallace loved working with boys;
he established the Boy Scout movement in Dutchess County and was himself
scoutmaster of Troop 1 In Beacon. We still hear occasionally from
one or another of those who were scouts in old Troop 1. Aside from
having valued their experiences in the Scout meetings and activities, they
tell of their treasured memories when they gathered on our front porch
to listen to tales of his Labrador adventures.
To help parents and leaders of youth secure
“books boys like best that are also best for boys,” the Boy Scouts of America
organized EVERY BOY’S LIBRARY. A number of Wallace’s books were a part
of this series, published by Grosset and Dunlap.
The edition proved highly popular as attested in a copy of a letter from
James E. West, then executive heading the BSA, appearing in the front of
my copy of that edition of Wallace’s Grit A- Plenty.
In the early 1930s our family for several
years spent the Memorial Day weekend, (“Decoration Day” then) at Treasure
Hill, a resort in Connecticut. Our family were guests of the proprietors.
Dillon Wallace as the weekend’s celebrity guest spoke evenings to those
gathered around the big fireplace, telling the stories of the 1903 Leonidas
Hubbard expedition, and of his journey in 1905. Sometimes he told
of his 1913 trip up the Beaver River when he and his friend Judge Malone
went with a memorial bronze plaque to place on the rock at the campsite
where Hubbard had died. But the canoe had overturned in fierce rapids
and the plaque was lost. They hiked overland to the rock. How
they chiseled into it the plaque’s inscription is well known.
On these occasions as on many others over
the years we had the opportunity to hear Dad tell of his adventures to
both impromptu and more formal gatherings of adults as well as youngsters.
His deep regard for his traveling companions and his close loyalty to Hubbard
were evident as he spoke; as we listened, we could feel their closeness.
Never was there mention of Mina Hubbard’s
expedition. We have learned, and old family correspondence confirms
that as Wallace planned his 1905 journey to complete Hubbard’s plan for
what they had set out to do in 1903, he never had an inkling of Mina’s
trip that she had taken great pains to keep secret. It was a complete surprise
to Wallace to discover that two expeditions were on board the ship in Halifax,
bound for the Labrador in 1905.
There must have been some talking among
close friends, and between the Hubbard and Wallace families when it became
known that there were two 1905 expeditions. But we as children and
adolescents in the ‘20s and ‘30s, as well as those listening to his lectures
and informal story telling, never heard of Mina’s venture. Thus we
have no first hand knowledge of the intense feelings our father must have
endured learning of Mina’s attitude, Elson’s decision to join her group,
and Mina’s perception that the two trips were a race, in competition with
one another. It was only years later---1969 or ‘70---when I had gone
in to the Seattle library, I browsed among books about Labrador.
To my amazement I discovered Mina Hubbard’s book, A Woman’s Way Through
Neither Mina, in her book, nor Wallace,
in The Long Labrador Trail, mentioned the other’s 1905 expedition.
Each expedition achieved its goal; both Dillon Wallace and Mina Hubbard
completed the whole journey each had planned from Northwest River to the
Hudson’s Bay Company’s George River Post at Ungava Bay.
Dillon Wallace was born in 1863, and grew
up in Ridgebury, a farming village in open country west of the Hudson River.
He took me there once; we visited old friends, Silas and Lina Brown.
We saw the church he had attended as a boy, walked by the one-room school
where he’d gone when not needed for farm chores. We saw the farmhouse
at the foot of the hill where his family had lived. Life had not
been easy there. First his mother, then his father had died while he and
his sister Annie were teenagers, leaving them to raise their little sister,
Working at a gristmill, Wallace spent spare
time learning telegraphy---Morse code---and as a result obtained work as
the telegrapher in a railroad tower in Massachusetts. Here he studied stenography
and in due course found work at the American Leather Co. in New York City.
He attended law school at night, and upon admission to the Bar he became
In 1900 Wallace married Jennie Currie.
Only three years later she died of “consumption” as tuberculosis was called.
Sorting through our parents’ papers a few years ago Dillon and I found
our father’s diary written during the painful years of Jennie’s slow death.
We understood then how his deep grief over her death had led him to eagerly
accept his friend Leonidas Hubbard’s invitation to join him in his Labrador
exploration in 1903.
Our dad’s growing up years, his Labrador
ventures, his life as writer, lecturer, his marriage to our mother, Leila
Greenwood Hinman, in 1917 led to the family life Dillon and I remember
as children. The years of the Great Depression in the ‘30s were a
challenge. Book royalties and lecture fees had been the family’s
main source of income. When money becomes scarce for buying food, people
do not buy books. Our father went to work for the WPA, heading the
Federal Writer’s Project for Dutchess County. At long tables in our
cellar, Mother made jams and jellies that she sold to a local mental institution.
Dillon and I sold eggs from our chickens and helped in the jam kitchen.
Dillon ran a newspaper route; I waited table and washed dishes at a boarding
house for school teachers.
In spite of all our efforts, by 1939 finances
had failed; we lost the house for taxes. Our dad’s health had been
failing as well, and on September 28 he died. His funeral service
filled the church to capacity with friends, relatives, admirers who came
from far and near. The many letters written to Mother contain a particularly
warm and moving one from Leonidas Hubbard’s family.
We look back on the hard times and the
joyous ones; the alchemy of time has for my brother and me done its work.
It has turned loss into a priceless possession: our memory of growing up
with our father, Dillon Wallace and with our mother in the big old house
at 101 Union Street.