A friend trying to console me after my father’s death said that on the bright side I could now live a more independent life free of unnecessary attachments. But coming from a family that prides itself on clannish codependency the remark annoyed me. I knew the person meant well–all of that “when one door closes another opens” stuff. And the person was right in a way. Life went on.
Young Sam Morse wanted to be an artist and made money while attending Yale painting portraits. I think he was a bit of a looker. His father wanted him to go into bookselling, but you know kids–they want what they want. He painted, got married and had a few children.
Tragedy struck. While painting a commissioned work he received word –too late–that his beloved wife was ill and then dead.By the time he arrived home days later his wife had already been buried.
Sam was a sensitive and generous man. We can only imagine his grief and eventually his determination to invent a faster way to communicate across great distances.
“Samuel F.B. Morse, named professor of sculpture and painting at NYU in 1832, perfected his invention of the telegraph in the old University building. Morse’s first successful demonstration of the telegraph occurred in Washington Square on January 24, 1838. About ten miles of copper wire was coiled on drums in the laboratory of his aide and collaborator, Professor Lewis Gale, leading out into the square, and wrapping itself around several trees, before returning inside the University Building. Although Morse’s invention would not be practically implemented until 1844, the painter and scientist had started NYU’s long tradition of innovation.” NYU website
We never know where grief will lead us. We rarely consider when taking a picture or painting a portrait of a loved one that one day it will be all we have of them. Young Susan in the painting above grew up to marry a man with a sugar plantation in Puerto Rico. She grew increasingly unhappy and boarded a ship to return to her father only to be lost at sea.
First message via telegraph in the United States: “What hath God Wrought?”