The Thousand Quilt

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“The bundle — the great bundle — was her work! She advanced into the room and began carefully to unroll it. It was the turn of the minister’s wife to be paralyzed. She pushed forward a chair, and the child sat down in it.

“‘It’s my Thousand Quilt that I’m making for Aunt Livia,’ explained Rebecca Mary. ‘It’s most done. There’s a thousand pieces in it, and I’m on the nine hundred and ninety-oneth. I thought poberly you’d have some work, so I brought mine.’

“‘Yes, I see…’ The minister’s wife stood looking down at the tight little red figure among the gorgeous waves of the Thousand Quilt. They eddied and surged around it in dizzy reds and purples and greens.”

— Illustration by Elizabeth Shippen Green for “The Thousand Quilt” by Annie Hamilton Donnell in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, December 1904

Now I Understand

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So, three years ago, thanks to Jay Cornell, I saw this illustration by J.C. Leyendecker which appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post of June 3, 1905. But I had no idea what was going on. From the magazine’s cover, it appeared to be illustrating a short story entitled “A State of Mind” by Robert W. Chambers, but I couldn’t find that story in any collection of Chambers’  work. (And a copy of the magazine I found on eBay was $25, which was too steep just to satisfy my curiosity.)

But yesterday, another eminent scholar, Bruce Townley, mentioned Chambers and I was inspired to search again, and by gosh there it was, “A State of Mind,” Chapter 14 in a book by Chambers called The Adventures of a Modest Man (1911). However, the answer wasn’t in Chapter 14. It was in Chapter 15, “Flotsam and Jetsam.”

Two men, Ellis and Jones, have made camp on a ridge after a day of fishing. Earlier in the day, they had been fishing upstream on property belonging to Vassar College, where young women were staging a tableaux from Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin, in full costume with a boat drawn by swans, on a lake dammed especially for such outdoor theatricals.

Back at the campsite, the men observe that a distant storm is swelling the streams on either side and their ridge becomes an island surrounded by torrents. Up at Vassar’s summer camp, the dam bursts, and…

“…Ellis caught sight of something in midstream bearing down on them in a smother of foam – an enormous lizard-like creature floundering throat-deep in the flood… the scaled claws churned the shallows; a spasm shook the head; the jaws gaped. ‘Help!’ said a very sweet and frightened voice.”

The creature is Fafnir the Dragon in papiermâché, and inside is Miss Molly Sandys of Vassar. A moment later, the swan boat also appears in the torrent, carrying one Rhine-maiden (Professor Rawson), one of the two swans, and Lohengrin, actually a young woman named Helen clad in armor; they are brought to safety on dry land as well.

Ellis, who is actually James Lowell Ellis, a famous young artist, falls instantly in love with Molly in the dragon costume, reassures her that all will be well, and there you have the moment captured by the illustration.

Flagg

Simon 1

Illustrations by James Montgomery Flagg for Simon the Jester (1910) by William J. Locke

Simon 2

Simon 3Simon 4aSimon 5aSimon 6Simon 8Simon 9Simon 10Simon 11Simon 12

I apologize for the shadows; the alternative was to crack the binding while scanning or razor out the illustrations, and I didn’t wish to do either.