Historic research is full of surprises. In the course of tracking down facts, often more facts are discovered, which sometimes greatly exceed the original facts that set off the initial search. In this case, I was intrigued by comments Homer’s niece and Silverton Country Historical Society (SCHS) benefactor Mrs. Nancy Havens Rose (right), made in a 2009 “Living History” video produced by Carolyn Hutton for the SCHS. This was the tale of how her mother, Mary Delle Davenport (1885-1965), was invited by her brother Homer to go to Europe on one of his lecture tours. However, she apparently contracted scarlet fever and had to stay behind in New York City, in the brownstone home of Homer’s mysterious girlfriend, Zadah Howard Reakirt, and her young son Robert Hastings Reakirt, who was similarly afflicted.
In 1907 after years in an unhappy marriage, Homer and his wife Daisy agreed to a separation. Eventually this led to Homer filing for divorce, and a budding romance with Mrs. Reakirt—a divorcee “of means” that shared Homer’s interest in art and Arabian horses—ensued. It was after this period that the story Nancy recounted of the missed European trip had to occur. I myself had not found anything in the material I have examined, so I was left to examine the facts, as slim as they were. Mary Delle’s trip East and her stay with Zadah were strong clues, as they indicated a period between 1908 to 1911.
She also mentioned a “Western Trip with Colonel Roosevelt,” in which Homer and his father, T.W. Davenport were on. That is a different, yet exciting story in its own right, and occurred in August and September of 1910. One of Homer’s other sisters, Adelaide Davenport Armstrong, alludes to this trip in her outline of Homer’s biography, that she started, but never finished. In it she notes cryptically: “Traveling West with the Roosevelt party – The Cheyenne ‘Round Up’ – On to Oregon.”
In researching this trip, I found other clues within the Roosevelt archives. Of importance to this subject, is from the book “Impressions of Theodore Roosevelt,” a biography of the Colonel by Lawrence F. Abbott, and written in 1922. In the third chapter, he recounts Roosevelt’s return to the United States after more than a year abroad. T.R. went first to Africa on safari, then on an extended lecture tour of Europe, before returning to his home at Oyster Bay. In it, Abbott recounts how he and T.R. attended a shipboard “Chalk Talk” by Davenport, (see below).
But when did Homer leave? This bit of information’s arrival like much in the Davenport saga, was of the serendipitous nature. I had talked to Ms. Sieglinde Smith at one of my lectures, and gave her my card. In the course of her own research, she forwarded me an obscure reference to Davenport she had found, that filled in that gap somewhat. It was from The Pacific Coast Architect, a professional journal targeting Northwest architects, dated April, 1911. Under the heading “Address of E. M. Lazarus Before Portland Architectural Club,” Mr. Lazarus recounts meeting up with Davenport at sea the previous year.
What follows are these two published accounts, that while not specific on where Davenport went on his lecture tour, both nevertheless offer an interesting glimpse of Davenport’s character as reported from several different sources: A prominent Portland, Oregon architect, a journalist-turned presidential biographer and the Ex-president himself! And, even more additional information has turned up to add yet another angle to this twisted tale, of an Arabian horse nature.
The Pacific Coast Architect
Volume 1 / Number 1 / April, 1911
Address of E. M. Lazarus Before Portland Architectural Club
Mr. President and Gentlemen or, rather, Chere Colleagues: I thank you for the honor of calling on me for a traveler’s tale, and were I skilled in the art of oratory or could command Dickens’ gift of telling a tale, I should feel more at case in the limelight of this platform. As it is, you will have to make amends accordingly … Sailing from New York late in May last, I crossed over with a fellow Oregonian. Homer Davenport, whose love of Oregon, and Silverton in particular, has been instrumental in heralding its fame from the land of where rolls the Oregon to the Bedouin tribes in far Arabia. For where his cartoons are known and admired, so is his love for his home town.
Davenport’s versatility is remarkable. In mid-ocean he invariably spent two or more hours every day making cartoons in the salon, and on a certain eventful day lost his purse containing all his available cash. A few hours later, on hunting him up, I found him finishing a pen and ink sketch in which he was the central figure with beads of perspiration dropping from his brow, the captain standing at his side gesticulating his inability to account for his loss, and with the salon steward standing by with an expression vacant as atmosphere, eyeing the flight of the purse, to which Davenport had affixed a pair of wings, as it vanished in the distance; a cartoon that was afterwards auctioned off at the end of the voyage for the Seaman’s Mission for a good round sum.
Davenport and I were determined to go to Epsom Downs to see the Derby run, where a vast concourse of approximately 260,000 persons had assembled to see the race. We reached London at 3 o’clock on the morning of the race, and were up at 8 o’clock hunting for seats on a coach bound for Epsom Downs. The journey to the track and the track itself was a sight never to be forgotten. The endless string of vehicles on the high road to the course, the costers and their diminutive donkeys and carts, with their wives and sweethearts mingling with the more pretentious equipages, enlivening the time with passages of their Cockney wit with their fellow travelers was a great sight, as was the gamins of the gutter, turning handsprings from mile end to mile end to the old refrain:
The Epsom races have begun.
Now is the time to have some fun;
Throw out your moldy coppers —
And throw them out we did. With a vengeance.
Edgar Marks Lazarus (1868-1939) was a Portland, Oregon architect, who designed numerous public and private structures throughout the state. One of his more famous buildings is the Vista House (right), at Crown Point, overlooking the Columbia River Gorge. Edward Teague of the University of Oregon has studied his life extensively, and has quite a bit of background on him. And like Homer Davenport, Mr. Lazarus was an avid fan of horse racing.
Besides the trip to the Epsom Downs Derby, the only other media reference to Davenport in Europe was a brief notice in the London Times of June 8, 1910, about a dinner of the London Poets Club, where Sir Owen Seaman gave a talk on the power of parody. At this time, Sir Owen was editor of the British satirical journal “Punch.” Two days later Davenport boarded the S.S. Kaiserin Auguste Victoria in Southampton, and sailed back to New York. Also on that same ship, was Ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, returning to the United States after over a year aboard. This included an extended African safari and lecture tour of Europe. That portion of the trip was documented in part by Lawrence F. Abbott in his previously mentioned Roosevelt biography.
Impressions of Theodore Roosevelt by Lawrence F. Abbott, 1922
Chapter III – The Progressive Party
When Roosevelt emerged from the African wilderness in March, 1910, I met him at Khartum in the desert on the edge of the jungle, fifteen hundred miles up the river Nile from Cairo … In this vein Roosevelt said to me: “My political career is ended. No man in American public life has ever reached the crest of the wave as I appear to have done without the wave’s breaking and engulfing him. Remember Dewey.”
In reply I told him I did not think the two cases were at all parallel; that the American people knew him, Roosevelt, after thirty years of trial in the whitest kind of light; that his acts, achievements, and character were tested and understood; and that the people had taken him into their confidence and affection permanently, for better or for worse. On the other hand, I argued that Dewey had suddenly been seized upon as a kind of idol by the American people, not because they knew him very well, but because of one great dramatic episode; and that when he did something which they disliked they discarded him, although unjustly, without any wrench or sense of personal loss. “No,” insisted Roosevelt, “I am going down like Dewey.” More than once during our journey through Europe he referred to this assumed parallel in his career and that of the hero of the Naval Battle at Manila.
“Remember Dewey” became almost a slogan or shibboleth in our political conversations, although Roosevelt used it not loosely but very seriously.
Coming back on the steamer from Southampton to New York in June of that year, the usual entertainment given in the saloon, for the benefit of some seamen’s fund or other, took the form of a “chalk talk” by the late Homer Davenport, then one of the foremost of American newspaper cartoonists. The passenger list of the ship was a very large one, many people choosing this particular steamer because Roosevelt was on it, and the saloon on the evening when Davenport spoke was crowded to its extreme capacity. Davenport’s “chalk talks” consisted of a series of stories, usually humorous, each one being illustrated by a picture or a portrait which he rapidly drew with black crayon on a very large-sized pad of brown paper placed on an easel in sight of the audience. On this particular evening the last story which he told was one about Admiral Dewey. The story, somewhat condensed, ran about as follows:
“At the time when Admiral Dewey was being bitterly attacked in the newspapers, and criticized throughout the country because of the disposition which he made of the house presented to him in honor of his victory at Manila, I published in one of the newspapers a cartoon in his defense, (‘Lest We Forget’ left – click for detail). I thought the Admiral was most outrageously treated, and I rather laid myself out to make the cartoon a striking and effective one. A few days after it was published a friend of mine who knew Dewey met me on the street in New York and said: “Dewey has seen your cartoon and wants to see you. Will you go over to Washington?” “Sure,” I replied. We went over, and my friend took me to the Admiral’s house.
“We entered the drawing room; I was presented to Mrs. Dewey; and just as the Admiral came forward to give me his hand, he burst into tears and threw himself upon a sofa in a paroxysm of weeping. Mrs. Dewey apologized and said: “You must excuse the Admiral, Mr. Davenport. He has been wrought almost to a pitch of nervous prostration by the unjust attacks made upon him. We had decided to go to Europe, never to set foot on American soil again, and had actually packed our trunks when we saw your cartoon. It was the first ray of light, and made us change our minds, and we have decided to remain in America, although some of our trunks are still upstairs just as we packed them for our departure.”
Davenport thereupon rapidly sketched a portrait of Admiral Dewey and his talk or lecture was finished. There were calls for Mr. Roosevelt. He rose:
“Mr. Davenport,” said he, “may I ask if the story you have just related of Admiral Dewey is accurate in all its details, or have you taken the pardonable liberty of an artist and put in a little color?”
“No,” answered Davenport, “the incident is just as I related it, in every detail.”
Whereupon Mr. Roosevelt paid an eloquent tribute to Dewey, defending him from the attacks that had been made upon him, and, after thanking Davenport, sat down. I happened to be next to him, and immediately on taking his seat he turned to me, and—recalling the numerous times in the month or two preceding in which he had remarked that he was ”going down like Dewey”—said, sotto voce, “Lawrence, they may treat me like Dewey, but I’ll tell you one thing, I shall neither weep nor shall I go to Europe!”
Unhappily first the country and then the Government did treat him like Dewey, but he neither wept nor did he abandon his country. He did not even show resentment or disappointment, but kept up his fight to the very end, in the greatest good spirits. His buoyancy, his capacity to rise superior to all external disappointments, was, I think, one of his greatest qualities.
What is interesting about this exchange, that occurred at sea on or about June 15, 1910, was that it foreshadows T.R.’s 1912 Progressive Party candidacy. This campaign actually started two months later, with an extended trip through numerous Western states in late August and early September. This trip was seen by many as The Colonel “testing the waters” for what became known as the Bull Moose campaign. It included an embedded journalist under contract to the Publisher’s Press—a news service not unlike, and apparently in competition with—the Associated Press. This journalist was Homer Davenport, late of Silverton. And according to Nancy Rose, the journalist’s father was along as well! But that is another story…