These posts are presented as a serialization that is best appreciated by starting with the first post HERE. You can then proceed in order by clicking on the HERE links shown in red at the bottom of every post.

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Click HERE to see what the Wisconsin Historical Society has to say about “An American Downton Abbey.” You can also read about our inclusion in the society's 2010 publication, "Wisconsin's Own: Twenty Remarkable Homes," by clicking on the book's cover on the right below.

Jen Zettel's story for Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers generated a huge increase in page views! See what she wrote and follow the links to view clips of the interview HERE.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Six Degrees of Separation

S. F. Shattuck, the son of Kimberly-Clark founder F. C. Shattuck, was the original owner of the Pilgrim, a steel-hulled cruiser constructed in 1940 by the Burger Boat Company of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. After service in the Coast Guard patrolling the Great Lakes during World War II, Shattuck increased its size from 65 to 75 feet. The Pilgrim continues to sail the Great Lakes with a new owner, its hull now painted a luxurious dark green as shown in the above YouTube link. It's the first in a regatta of Burger boats filmed in the Caribbean, which is ironic given that neither Shattuck who named her, nor his son F. S. Shattuck who inherited her, took the Pilgrim much beyond either Lake Winnebago or winter storage in Sturgeon Bay.


At the end of our cross-country road trip we returned home to northern California, and except for the death of Dad’s Aunt Fan a year later in 1963, followed two years after that by Aunt Nell's death, Neenah had very little apparent presence in our lives. Ten years later, however, Neenah became all encompassing when Dad packed us up yet again, only this time to live there in the house he always thought of as home. In doing so we entered a world and way of life that was completely and utterly foreign to everyone but Dad - and beyond anything we could afford to replicate. Through the doors of this house we became part of a private museum that had been maintained by a staff of eight, with every drawer, cupboard and closet filled with some tantalizing piece of our family history, a history inextricably woven into the life and identity of the surrounding city as well as the state, with threads of this private genealogy winding their way into the homes and lives of people throughout this country and in fact almost every nation in the world.

For in spite of its relative isolation and forgettable small town America size, Neenah’s presence was of global significance, being at that time first and foremost the birthplace and international headquarters of
Kimberly-Clark Corporation, one of the largest paper manufacturers on earth, a company whose disposable and sanitary paper products had transformed the lives of women around the globe and had introduced the word "Kleenex" into the lexicon of the English language - a company whose founders included Dad’s grandfather, Havilah Babcock, the man who built the house we were expected to make our home, a man whose life would alter how we appeared to others and what they believed us to be no matter what we said or did.

And while little more than an inconsequential mill town, the international success of Neenah's industry firmly established the unshakable conviction among residents that this was - per capita - the richest city in the United States, an unsubstantiated but reasonable assertion sustained by the indisputable fact that the fabric of life here included limousines, exclusive country clubs, elaborate formal gardens, debutante balls, regattas, travel in private train cars, and at one point or another a healthy sampling of nearly every type of exotic luxury vehicle, from limousines by
Isotta Fraschini, Minerva and Rolls-Royce, to custom-built race cars by Farrari and at least one Lamborghini.

Ladened on top of all this must be added the state’s first indoor tennis court, thoroughbred horses living in air conditioned stables, private planes, a steady stream of yachts and steel-hulled cruisers, a private squash court and a private bowling alley, at least one ballroom worthy of the name, art collections that included samplings of everything from a sketch by Da Vinci to the works of
David Salle, and all this backed up by a small battalion of cooks, maids, laundresses, governesses, tutors, nurses, cleaning women, uniformed chauffeurs, gardeners, yard men and at various times even one or two butlers - all in a town with a population of less than 10,000 for most of its history, surrounded by farm fields and dairies, the nearest major urban center one hundred miles distant.

Aunt Fan's and Uncle Harry's house shortly after it was built in 1904 by Frank and Helen Hawks.  Among the children on the grass terrace are several of the Hawks children, including Hollywood legend Howard Hawks, about eight years of age, standing on the left and wearing a cap.

Presiding over this secluded cache of astonishing industrial wealth was a discrete collection of intermarried families that for many years numbered no more than a tidy baker’s dozen, and who like Kimberly-Clark connected Neenah to the outside world in a way that to this day beggars the imagination. For through these intermarried families Neenah was directly linked to presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, as well as Broadway legends Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne, tennis greats Bobby Riggs and Pancho Gonzales, American saint Mother Seton, and no less Hollywood luminaries than Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, Sonja Henie, Martha Raye, Joan Crawford, Bing Crosby, and Betty Hutton.

The architect of the Pentagon, Edwin Bergstrom, grew up a block away from our house, as did film director
Howard Hawks, who’s iconic work contributed “His Girl Friday,” “Scarface,” “To Have And To Have Not,” “Bringing Up Baby,” “Sergeant York,” and “The Big Sleep” to the golden age of Hollywood. Pulitzer Prize winning author, Edna Ferber, best known for "Showboat," "Stage Door," and "Dinner at Eight," even wrote a thinly veiled novel about Neenah, called "Come and Get It," the film version being directed by Hawks until fired at Ferber’s insistence (for adding his own stories of Neenah to her material). In this same vein and with direct connections to Neenah is Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Charles Shepard, who exposed the corruption of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Completing the circle is Palm Beach socialite Jimmy Kimberly, whose third, much younger, and astonishingly beautiful wife Jacqui achieved national notoriety as the lesbian correspondent in the divorce of Roxanne and Peter Pulitzer, whose grandfather established the coveted prize that Ferber and Shepard won.

Sibelius, Grieg, John Philip Sousa, Broadway composer Meredith Wilson, Van Cliburn, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, Carl Sandberg, Norman Mailer, James Michener, Alex Haley and Harriet Beecher Stowe also need to be added to the list, as does Kaiser Wilhelm, King Hussain and Queen Noor of Jordan, "Patsy" Cornwallis-West (mistress of King Edward VII), Lord Henry Holland of London's baronial Holland House, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, philanthropist Otto Kahn, and millionaire playboy
Tommy Manville, whose thirteen marriages to eleven women ended up in the Guinness Book of World Records and earned him a reference in the Irving Berlin song, “What Chance Have I With Love?” Rounding out the list are no lesser lights than Jackie Onassis, Averell and Pamela Harriman (she the former daughter-in-law of Winston Churchill and widow of Broadway producer Leland Hayword)Brigadier General Billy Mitchell (generally considered to be the father of the U.S. Air Force), billionaire and presidential wannabe Ross Perot, Count Bassie, Sammy Davis Jr., Alexander Calder, Salvadore Dali and Pierre Lorrilard IV, the tobacco heir credited with introducing the tuxedo to American society.

All this in far less than six degrees of separation.

CHAPTER I continues HERE


  1. Growing up with you and Grandma, I remember hearing stories about most of these people but what is our relation to Sonia Hennie and Ginger Rodgers? Is that just through Howard Hawks? And you've got me intrigued about Jimmy's lesbian 3rd wife and her involvement in the divorce of the Pulitzers. Elaborate here or send me an email with details!

    1. Gretchen, Ginger Rogers, Sonia Hennie and all the other Hollywood bombshells were all in Jimmy Kimberly's stable of "houseguest" who stayed with him down the street here in Neenah (in the house where Larry and Pat Wirth live now). So they were the girlfriends of your third cousin twice removed. I suspect Jimmy's open door to Hollywood was through Hawks (who thought he was a cousin but wasn't) or through his real third cousin (on his mother's side) Carol Lombard. Both are pretty likely candidates. As for Jacqui, click on "Roxanne and Peter Pulitzer" highlighted above in red for a link to the 1982 story that appeared in "People" magazine. See? I was thinking of you!

  2. I stayed up very late last night reading your blog. I stumbled upon it yesterday while investigating some genealogy. I was born and raised in Neenah and over a process came to be transplanted in Oregon. We too are connected thru a couple of different threads of separation. My people come thru the downstairs though. My maternal grandfather was a first cousin to Alfred Otto Richard Erdmann, who served the Misses Babcock as their chauffeur during the 30's and into the 40's.
    The other connection is through my maternal grandmother. Her brother-in-law was Benjamin Maschmann who was the minister for the First Presbyterian Church in Neenah during the 20's.
    I grew up going to Riverside park for the 4th of July, on hot summer evenings to listen to the community band, and for Sunday drives down your street hearing the stories that my parents knew of our own royal families, that had lived in those beautiful houses. The pride that a commoner feels in their reigning families was alive and well in my youth.
    The connections are not as glamorous as what I would have hoped for as a young girl, but none the less thrilling to find now as an old girl.
    Your writing is wonderful to read. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I look forward to the next episode, and thankfully it will happen more quickly than the British episodes.

    1. Katie, thank you for your note. If we're thinking of the same person I think he went by Otto. The confusion on my part is that the sisters' last driver was named Alfred and was a retired fire chief, and the previous driver was named Otto! I have not heard of Rev. Maschmann but I'll look that up too. And I thoroughly understand your feelings, as you can guess from my later posts, as we were not raised to the life that Neenah knew, so we were very much thrown into the deep end of the pool - just as it was being drained! I find just as happy connections with distant cousins as I do with the people who worked for my aunts as they are equally important to making life happen, just as I can't get by without my plumber, electrician and carpenter. We're having the roof redone at the moment and the workmen have become trusted friends. I don't know how we'll get on when they finish! For Neenah lovers the posts are a little off in left field right now, but in another two weeks I'll be up to our arrival in town and after that I'll be following the research I did in reading old family letters, and the newspapers and interviewing my relatives about the history they remembered. I hope you'll find it very interesting.