Posts made in January 24th, 2011

Love Letters, Chapter 6

Author Janet Dunning’s extraordinary glimpse into “the life Van Duyn”

New here? Start from the beginning….

I’m back! As promised, I have much to share about my Love Letters story. As you recall from my last post, the Van Duyns of Syracuse, New York were a prominent family known for three generations of physicians: Dr. John S. Van Duyn (1843-1934), Dr. Edward S. Van Duyn (1872-1955), and Dr. John J. Van Duyn (1905-1986). The set of love letters that I purchased on ebay were addressed to the youngest of the Dr. Van Duyns, a well known surgeon who was living and practicing in Duluth, Minnesota at the time. (Why? I’ll get to that in a bit.)

Ruth Ives, the author of the letters, was living in White Plains, New York at the time she sent the letters to Dr. John Van Duyn in September of 1949. She’d grown up in White Plains originally, but had spent the previous several years as a faculty member at Syracuse University, which is, presumably, where she met Dr. Van Duyn (also a faculty member there).

My obvious question was (still), did John and Ruth ever get married?

In Ruth’s second letter, she gives a hint that, if they were to get married, this would not be John’s first marriage. She says, “Sunday must have been very difficult for you without the kids; I thought about you lots.” I wondered who his first wife was, who the children were, and what they were all doing living in Duluth, Minnesota in 1949.

I started Googling.

On the front page of the Society section of the December 22, 1935 issue of the Syracuse Herald, the headline reads:

Young Syracuse Physician Marries Daughter of David M. Dunning, Jr. of Auburn

…Dr. Van Duyn 2d Takes Bride in Home Ceremony
…Member of Widely-Known Syracuse Family Marries Janet H. Dunning
…Rev. Dr. Charles F. Thwing, President of Western Reserve University Officiates

One of the most important of the weddings of the holiday season was that of Miss Janet Hutchinson Dunning, daughter of David Montgomery Dunning, Jr., of Auburn, to Dr. John Van Duyn, 2nd, son of Dr. and Mrs. Edward S. Van Duyn of James Street, which was solemnized Saturday afternoon at 4 o’clock at the home of the bride’s grandfather, David Montgomery Dunning, in Auburn.

The Rev. Dr. Charles Franklin Thwing, president emeritus of Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, and an uncle of the bride, read the service. Mrs. Charles Kruger of East Orange, N.J. attended the bride as matron of honor, and Miss Constance Van Duyn of Syracuse, sister of the bridegroom, was maid of honor.

Now that I had a name, Janet H. Dunning, I was able to do some more Googling. It turns out, Janet H. Dunning (aka Janet Van Duyn), is a published author. I found her biography in a 2002 publication titled Contemporary Authors (Publisher: Tom Gale):

Family: Born September 23, 1910, in Auburn, NY; daughter of David Montgomery and Ruth (Bartlett) Dunning; married John Van Duyn (a surgeon), December, 1935 (divorced, 1949); two daughters. Education: Vassar College, A.B., 1932. Politics: “Registered independent.” Religion: “Also independent.” Memberships: British Museum, Egypt Exploration Society (London, England), Browning Institute (Florence, Italy). Addresses: Home: 135 Lyons Plain Rd., Weston, CT 06883.

Writer, beginning 1968. Janet Van Duyn told CA: “I have done some teaching of English and writing. I have done library work (research), storytelling in the New York Public Library (my first job). I stayed cooped up in many types of worthy offices until the children grew up, but I confess I never really enjoyed any job until I was able to pursue my interests in research and writing. That has all happened recently.”

I Married Them (humorous novel), Howell, Soskin, 1945.
The Egyptians (for young people), McGraw, 1970.
The Greeks (for young people), McGraw, 1972.
Builders on the Desert (children’s history), Messner, 1973.

Looking over the list of Ms. Van Duyn’s published works, I wondered about the title of the first book on the list, I Married Them. I wondered if it was, by any chance, a reference to life with the Van Duyn family in Syracuse. On a whim, I did a quick search for the novel, and found a rare copy for sale on ebay. I paid $1.00 for it, plus shipping.

I can truly say, without a doubt, that this $1.00 was the best investment I’ve ever made in my entire life. This book was such a great read! It was published in 1945, ten years after Janet Dunning’s marriage to Dr. John Van Duyn, and four years prior to the couple’s divorce. Although the first page claims that the book is a work of fiction and that “while certain aspects of its background and its characters are drawn from experience, it’s not intended as a factual or biographical report in any sense”, it’s clear to even the casual observer that this is a page-by-page account of daily life with the eccentric Van Duyn family.

I should make it clear that this book isn’t a slam to the Van Duyns by any means… at least that’s not how I perceived it. (In fact, they remind me a lot of my own family.) Instead, Janet Van Duyn is a very talented and witty author who is spot-on at character development and actually made me LOL at several points during the book.

I Married Them tells the story of the “MacLean” (Van Duyn) family of “Parthia” (Syracuse), New York, who lives in a Greek-revival style mansion on the corner of “East Hall Street” (James Street) and “Sullivan Hill” (North McBride Street). The “MacLeans” were a prominent family with three generations of physicians, starting with “Gramp” (John Van Duyn, 1st), his son “Doctor Mac” (Edward S. Van Duyn), and his grandson “George” (John Van Duyn, 2nd). The novel is told from the point of view of “Janet” (Janet Dunning), the new/young wife of Dr. George MacLean who moves in with the family and lives at the mansion after the couple is married. Also living at the house with them are “Pim” (the Van Duyn’s youngest daughter Constance, mentioned in the wedding announcement above… Janet’s maid of honor), “Aunt Grace” (not sure exactly who this is, but she’s a semi-permanent boarder/artist who comes and goes during the story), and “Brunch” the dog (who’s real name is Ted-dee-boop and even makes his own appearance on the Society pages in a photo with Constance at a dog show for the local Kennel Association. See below).

Constance Van Duyn with Ted-dee-boop
CAPTION: “Among the dogs and exhibitors to take part in the show at the Coliseum next Sunday are: Miss Constance Van Duyn of 607 James Street with the chow, “Ted-dee-boop, upper left…”

I have much more to share about this novel in my next post (including photos of the real life mansion and some my favorite LOL moments in the book), as well as news from one of the Van Duyn’s daughters who knew Ruth Ives and has agreed to answer my questions!

Stay tuned…

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