Death in Brooklyn

SpencerTraskAtYaddo4MSo here’s how prominent Wall Street financier Spencer Trask and his wife Katrina  lost their children: Alanson, their first son died in Brooklyn at the age of five of meningitis where first come the fevers,  then the chills and mental changes. Five years is a pretty long time to get used to someone and really grow to love them.

Spencer brought his artistic wife to Saratoga Springs in hopes of starting afresh. The couple had a daughter Christina who named their new home Yaddo and for the next few years they fixed the place up and then had another son, Spencer Jr.

220px-Katrina_Trask00Katrina caught diphtheria. Skin turns blue, coughing and drooling ensue, breathing becomes labored and bloody-watery drainage pours forth from the nose. Christina and Spencer Jr. were brought in to say their goodbyes to mommy, but mommy recovered only after giving the disease to both of her children who died a few days later.

How does one recover from this? Can someone tell me? I suppose suicide is too easy an escape. The Trasks had generous spirits, but I fear I’d have no spirit left at all.

Spencer  financed other people’s dreams. In an era of low and dirty business practices it seems Spencer was more interested in the arts and immortalizing his wife in great works of stained glass. How did he handle the constant fragmenting of his little family?

Katrina created poetry and novels forgotten today as is the very existence of children who hadn’t had time to leave much of a mark on the world. She had created them, too. She was the consummate nurturer who couldn’t protect her own children. She spoke to the spirit world and it told her to give everything to artists.

And so after the final death of a newborn son the Trasks decided that all that they had must belong to the world. Everything slips so easily through the fingers like the shadows of children lounging at your feet or playing in the yard. Roses succumb as do people to disease brought by the touches of invisible winds. Poetry is spoken between husband and wife and then one stormy night Spencer, the builder of dreams is beckoned to the city, his train crashes as he’s shaving and he slits his own throat with the razor.


Mansions for artists, children for couples, trains for rushing onward in a life that rarely lets you enjoy anything for too long–but do enjoy it. The children getting too close on a sticky day, the spouse who in all of the little ways builds a life with you despite your utter lack of gratitude for the fact that your spouse is still among the living. Most creations are never  immortalized in a great museum, but only in the collective whisper of all creation that reminds us when shadows pass over the foliage that life can be fleetingly lovely and terribly, tragically short.

Getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden–Buck Crenshaw


courtesy of Bennington Museum

Who doesn’t like solid rooms, good cigars and suits that fit as they should? Who doesn’t like coming home to a flowering cottage garden with white hydrangeas lining the drive and roses over the door? Your wife appears in the latest fashion with well fed kids in tow and your money has given them music lessons, good schools and the admiration of all the people in town who thought you ugly, small and powerless.


Wouldn’t it be easy to imagine that you deserved such things? A comfortable living. Yes, after all Buck’s been through, this time of plenty seems a blessing from the God he’s virtually ignored since that silly conversion experience melting away in the fog of memory. And doesn’t he buy art that speaks to the beauty of creation? Doesn’t he serve on the church board and fund the stained glass windows being installed?


You know where this is going, don’t you? Buck is a man of integrity, but not perfect and this romantic interlude with money–no–with the power money gives to lull a person into a pretty reverie must come to an end when the markets crash. Is he bad because he worked hard for what he’s got? No. Is he naive to think that success in banking doesn’t come at someone’s expense sometimes? People need bankers, don’t they?