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Falling In

Last weekend we had guests so I cleaned up the back room and put all the family papers away in the closets. There is a lot of stuff – letters, postcards, photographs. This stuff tells lots of different stories. I can trace families or individuals. I can trace business transactions or birthdays. I can string together a line of unpaid bills or read the heartbroken account of the end of a long love affair. All these stories are illustrated by innumerable photographs of dinner parties and porch parties and hikes and tennis games and travels. When I start to work on the material, I get lost. I love it when I’m there, but when I’m not there the knowledge that all that stuff is up in my closets makes me anxious. I have to figure out a way to make it okay to fall in. It seems overly indulgent navel gazing to just look at my family stuff. How do I make it something more than just genealogy or family story-telling? Or is it okay if that’s what it is?  I don’t quite know where to place myself in relation to the things and the stories that ooze out of them. Am I an archivist, whose job it is to describe, count, and place in acid-free folders? Am I an historian, whose job it is to place these people, many of whom I actually knew and some of whom I love dearly, in a cultural context? Is it my job to write down the stories so the rest of my family knows them? Is it my job to make a new narrative out of the stuff? I just don’t know. I do know that I have fun when I fall into the material. Hours go by. Time stops. It’s full and rich and textured and real, but that isn’t quite right.  It isn’t complete; it can never tell the truth.   And I miss the people who made these things very much. I want them to be here to answer my questions. “Were you really a spy?”  “What was biking through Bavaria in 1924 like?”  But the questions I have I probably could not have asked or I probably would have when I had a chance. I just don’t know. Today I miss not having the chance.

Cyrus J. Lawrence – Art Collector – Random Notes

Cyrus J. Lawrence’s collection was dispersed by his family after his death.  I have a copy of the sale catalogue somewhere.  The Daumier below, now in the Walter’s Gallery, Baltimore, is mentioned in the article announcing the sale.

Cyrus J. Lawrence collections of Daumiers given to the New York Public Library, July 5, 1908

Announcement of sale of collection, NYT Jan 2, 1910

Sale of art collection, NYT Jan 21, 1910

Barye Bronzes bought by Brooklyn Museum, NYT, Jan 23, 1910

Here is a link to the Brooklyn Museum page about the collection

This link will take you to the Walters Gallery, Baltimore and the Daumier that once belonged to Lawrence.

AND, thanks to Google Books and the Princeton University Libraries, here is the auction catalogue

Uncle Darius: Darius W. Lawrence (b. d. 1885)

Lawrence Webster found Uncle Darius by searching the NYT archives.   We didn’t know anything about him from family stories.  This account of his suicide, apparently from dispair and delerium tremmens, suggests why.  As dypsomania is a family challenge, we thought it might be enlightening to make a link to this article, “Suicide in a Hospital,” NYT, April 4, 1885.

Darius was the brother of Richard H. and Cyrus J. Lawrence, founding members of Lawrence & Sons, Stocks and Bonds, Wall St.  He was the uncle of Mary Say Lawrence Webster.  From Aileen Webster Payne, Mary’s daughter, I  heard lots of stories of “Uncle Dick,” but none of Uncle Darius.  

More on Uncle Dick later (although now I’m uncertain which Richard H. Lawrence is Uncle Dick — there were two in two successive generations). 


Henry C. Lawrence, Collector of Medieval Art

Here is information about Henry C. Lawrence’s collection of medieval art.   He is particularly important for collecting 12th and 13th century stained glass from the area to the north and east of Paris.  When his collection was sold after his death in 1919 much was purchased by Raymond Pitcairn of Bryn Athyn, PA, and is now on exhibit in the Glencairn Museum.  Other pieces are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art at both the main building on Fifth Avenue and at The Cloisters Museum in upper Manhattan. 

Henry C. Lawrence was born June 13, 1859, in NYC to Cyrus J. Lawrence and Emily Hoe Lawrence.  He was the brother of Mary Say Lawrence Webster.  He died 1919 at the age of sixty.  Educated in France, Lawrence returned to New York City and joined his father’s firm, Cyrus Lawrence & Sons, Stocks and Bonds, 16 Wall Street.   The firm was founded in 1864. 

Here are some links and some articles:

Announcement of Henry C. Lawrence’s death, .NYT Sept 4, 1919

Notice of the sale of Lawrence’s collection along with a description of his home in NY.  NYT  Jan. 2, 1921.

News report of the sale. NYT March 6, 1921.  Note that the article is written by Asa Steele (any relation to Zulma Steele of Byrdcliffe?)

Glencairn Museum – the stained glass panel at the top of this page, the Soissons King, was from the Lawrence collection.  Glencairn is the home of Raymond Pitcairn.

Portsmouth Abbey School  - stained glass in their chapel from the Lawrence collection –


Hayward, Jane. et al. Radiance and Reflection: Medieval Art from the Raymond Pitcairn Collection. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1982. (research and bibliography by Mary Prevo ;-)  For information on panels of stained glass purchased from the Lawrence collection by Raymond Pitcairn.


Elephants in Africa

Gumma said that one of Papsi’s brothers — Erich, I think — I’ll look in the files to find out for sure — had difficulty establishing himself.  Gumma remembers that he and his family went to South Africa to start a plantation in the bush.  Her uncle went on a hunting trip and was gone for a couple of weeks.  When he returned he found his house had been flattened and his entire family killed by stampeding elephants.  Gumma told this story one evening at dinner in Woodstock as a sort of “you-think-you-have-it-hard” object lesson story.  An interesting sidelight that I recall was her off-hand mention that this uncle needed to petition Papsi for money and tension about the money and who had access to it.  It had to do with Papsi being executor of his step-mother’s will and how the estate was doled out among the heirs.  Gumma was foggy about the particulars — but it strikes me that a little investigation might find the basis for this fable about money, family, inheritances, and tragedy.   I wish I could remember the circumstances of Gumma’s telling the story more precisely, but I can’t. 



I found this card with my grandmother’s handwriting  in a stack of photographs from the 1980s — Woodstock, NY to Anna Maria, FL.  The green 3 x 5″ card with loopy handwriting, is typical of Gioja’s filing.   What these particular odds and ends had in common, I do not know.  The card seems an appropriate image for the top post of this blog.

I am Gioja’s eldest grandchild.  My mother and father, George and Audrey Prevo, died young and my grandparents, Gioja and her husband, Benjamin Webster, sheltered me for much of my childhood.  As their generation aged and passed away, I came to be responsible for papers and photographs.  Now boxes filled with these documents fill my upstairs back room waiting for a day when I get away from my everyday responsibilities.  I rummage through them one day, carefully order and label another, I find nuggets that fill in the stories of our family.  I find mysteries that will never be solved.  And once in a while I find heartbreak.  The families included are Lawrence, Webster, Risse, and Stallforth.  When I find something particular to share, I put it here.  If you are curious about the scope of the archive, see:  If you are curious what it is like to work on these things, see:

Why Cookie House?  That was the name of my great aunt’s house on Byrdcliffe in Woodstock, NY.  It was a place of fun and rules where all of us visited often as children.  Later my sister and aunt lived there.  Many of the documents now in my upstairs room spent much of the twentieth century in the Cookie House barn.  I wanted to pick a name that would remind my family of family  – cozy and cranky.

Please comment or ask questions.  Each time someone leaves a thought I am propelled back upstairs to work and to wonder.

Mary Prevo

Adie (Estebena Risse)

Adie was Estebena Risse, our great, great aunt.  She was Anita Risse’s sister – twin, I believe.  She brought up Gumma and Dita after their mother died.  They called her ‘Adie Dear,’  and she had been an intimate member of their household since their births.  Both Adie and her sister died of stomach cancer not too far apart from each other.  Anita died in 1917 while the family was living on Staten Island and Papsi was working on Wall Street.  Adi died in about 1924-7 in San Remo, Italy, where there was a cancer specialist who had attended Anita as well before World War I.  Gumma remembered visiting Adie in San Remo with Papsi when Adie was dying.  I know from letters that the photo of Adie in the carriage was taken by Papsi on an outing during a visit to her in 1924.  The girls were then living with family in Berlin and Papsi was travelling all over Europe meeting politictians and business men and bankers about the Dawes plan to alter the reparations due to the allies according to the Treaty of Versailles.  Gumma and Dita did get a visit with Adie in San Remo before she died.  Gumma remembered the very, very steep hills of San Remo, which sits on the Mediterranean coast below the Alps and not far from France. 


It was through Adi and her interests in the arts that the family came to Woodstock in the summer of 1917 and stayed on Byrdcliffe, first in Carniola, the Cricket, and then in HiLoHa which Papsi eventually bought.


At about the same time – I don’t have the exact dates in my head – but there are lots of letters from then – Papsi was arrested as a German spy and put in a camp for enemy aliens in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.


This was an event of which Dita, in particular, was absolutely ashamed.  So it hardly ever got mentioned.  He was cleared and released, but his office mate was not.  Apparently he and a group of German nationals were renting the same office suite in downtown NY and all were scooped up.  The roundup was the result of a German spy being arrested in England.  The charges were related to passing money to Germany and to factory workers in the US and in Mexico to stage uprisings and slow-downs and since Papsi’s business then was to foster German-American business relations you can understand how he would become implicated.  If you have access to the New York Times archive you can search by his name and find the articles about it all. 


The sad thing from a personal point of view is that the girls lost their mother and then they lost their father.  Adie was the person who was with them through all of this.  She was also responsible for Papsi’s early release — she kept petioning the US government for him.  The arguments were based on his dual citizenship — he was a Mexican national, not a German national; on the plight of his family — recently widowed and two little children, etc. . .


Adie was also a sculptor.  We have a variety of bronze and plaster medallion portraits of family members.  I also have a photographic portfolio of her work, some of which was included in an exhibition of  “American Sculptresses” in NYC in the teens.  Her name was mispelled in the catalog “Russe”.

The Risse women included several artists:  Adie, sculpture; Lia printmaking and photography.  I wonder if they were ever called, “les soeurs”?

Documents in Mary’s Archive

It occurs to me that I have a lot of information about the family in my head to go along with all the letters and photographs that I have snagged from the various house cleanings out that I have helped with over the years. I’ve been snagging things for years. And Gumma snagged things before me and Dita before her and Aileen was a squirrel and Gumma and Lawrence agreed to send me photos and papers – so my upstairs if full of stuff. This falls into three broad catagories:

  1. Stallforth-Risse family photos and letters
    1. Letters from 1911 to about 1922 exchanged between Papsi, Anita, Adi, and their families – especially the Risse sisters – and there were lots.
    2. Family photographs and studio portraits taken in New York, Europe, and Woodstock from 1900 on (including Brady NY studio and Watson-Schutze)
    3. Photographs and movies from between WWl and WWII – mostly before 1930 when Gumma and Papi married.
    4. Photographs of Stallforth family in Germany and Mexico from 1870 or earlier
    5. Photographs of Risse family in Germany from 1870s
    6. Lia Risse’s work prints and glass negatives from 1890-1910
  2. B.L.Websters in Woodstock and New York from 1920s to 1980s
    1. Images from Ben and Aileen’s childhood in New York, Woodstock and Europe (trips)
    2. Studio portraits
    3. Ben young professional life (very few)
    4. Family photos from 1933 birth of Audrey through 1990 (Gumma’s pictures of family including many grandchildren in Woodstock, Maine, Wyoming, New York City, and Florida – also some European trips. These need to be sorted through and given to the various cousins.
  3. Webster forbears from Aileen’s squirreling which include letters and images from Websters, Wilburs, and to a lesser extent Lawrences.
    1. This includes letters, photographs, wills and business papers from the Wilburs (1840’s 1880s)
    2. Letters from the young adulthood of Albert Lowry Webster (Yale class of 1879)
    3. Letters and pictures from the young adulthood of Aileen Webster Payne
    4. Pictures from the young adulthood of Benjamin Lawrence Webster

So Lawrence, as a librarian, what’s the first step. Sorting and labeling- putting in boxes with general descriptions of contents. This will require buying lots of archive boxes and folders.

Am I right?


Stallforth Family Chronology 1912-1941

Timeline for Stallforth Risse Saga


Bernhard Stallforth born 1842 in Hertford, Germany; died 1893 in Chicago, IL


1910-1920 Mexican Revolution

Stallforth Family in Mexico from 1870-1912 – Alberto (Papsi’s brother) was there through the 1920s. 


1912    (May 20)  letter from Anita to Papsi from The Miramar, Santa Barbara, CA
1912    Female members of the Stallforth family to Santa Barbara, CA
1912    Federico to NYC and Europe

1912    Federico Stallforth (Papsi) kidnapped and held for ransom by Pancho Villa

1912    (March 31) Birth of Gioja Stallforth, El Paso, Tx

1912    (sometime after March 31) Papsi released and in El Paso.


1914    Esterbano M. Russe (sic) exhibits a frame of medals at the Gorham Galleries, Fifth Avenue, NYC, as part of the exhibition, “Exhibition of Original Sculpture by American Women.”  May 4-30th, 1914.


1916    (Feb 25) Papsi refuses to testify before the Grand Jury in the matter of Franz von Rintelen, then being held in a prison camp in England.  Other names involved @ to NYT of that date:  David Lamar, Hugo Schmidt, George Plochmann (Treasurer of the Transatlantic Trust), Steinberger, and Stein.  The article refers to “one of General Fransicso Villa’s New York agents.” (Papsi?)


1916,   (Feb 26) Papsi released from the Tombs for $5,000 bail after being placed there the previous Thursday for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating the matter of money deposited by German spy, Franz von Rintelen, in the Transatlantic Trust Company for the purposes of stopping shipments of arms to the allies, fomenting labor unrest in munitions plants, and damaging US-Mexican relations.  Papsi invoked the fifth and was jailed for contempt. Released on a writ of habeus corpus until March 3. NYT of that date.

1917 (Jan. 26)  Death of Anita Stallforth in Staten Island, NY of stomach cancer

1917 (Apr 6)  US declares war on Germany – enters WWI

1917 (Apr 29) Papsi released from the enemy internment camp on Ellis Island where he had been kept since the US declaration of war. NYT Apr 29, 1917.

1917 (Dec 5)  Stallforth Brothers of Parral, Mexico blacklisted under the US Trading with the Enemies Act.  NYT Dec 5, 1917.

1920 (Summer) Adie in Woodstock Post card from Nonni


1924 (Feb 26) Adie is in New York City 19 West  54th Street (Postcard from Lia).

1924 Stallforth girls in Berlin; Papsi travelling for Dawes Plan; Adie in San Remo undergoing treatment for stomach cancer

1924-7? Death of Adie in San Remo. 

1928 @ to NYT of 12/9/1928 F. Stallforth has just returned from a two month study of economic conditions in Europe for Harris, Forbes.


1930 Gioja marries Benjamin Lawrence Webster in NYC

1938, Sept 23 – Papsi mentioned in bankruptcy notice in NYT of that date

1941, April 13 – Papsi off to negotiate with Axis powers for boats of Denmark, Italy, and Germany then in American ports.  “Hopes to conclude business in Lisbon,”  NYT of that date.

Gumma Said

Gumma said that when she was born her mother held her up in the rain (does it ever rain in El Paso, Texas?) and named her Gioja. This was just one of the many ways she was different from her very extraordinary sister, Dita. Her sister, Anita Estebana Cecilia etc., had seven names, seven attendant godmothers, a fancy christening (in a Catholic Church?), and a party (in Germany or Mexico?).  Gumma was simply, Gioja.

Like most of Gumma’s stories, it is simple and wonderful, but requires credulity, or you end up with too many questions, like:
1. Does it rain in Texas?
2. Why GioJa (the variant of Italian Gioia – joy) also found in Portuguese.
3. Why Italian and not to Spanish?
4. Why not ever have a big christening later after the chaos of their flight from the Mexican Revolution – say in Santa Barbara, Staten Island, Germany with the rest of the family?
5. Was the family Catholic?  We certainly weren’t anything in particular when I heard the story.  Which was probably prompted by my questions about names, godparents, and church.
6. And, finally, why did she always set herself up as different from her sister? The two girls were known as, “les soeurs” by doting aunts and grandmothers — again with a language shift — French instead of native German.

Well, I am Gioja’s granddaughter, Mary, and I have gazillion letters most of them written around 1912 when Gioja was born. The letters were exchanged among her mother (Anita Risse Stallforth), her father (Federico Stallforth), her sisters (Estebena, Cecelia, etc.), and other family members.

Gioja, her mother, Aunt Estbena (Adie), and her sister, Dita, moved from El Paso, Texas, to Santa Barbara, CA, and then on to Staten Island, NY, with various trips to Europe and various visits from father, Federico or Papsi.

This is the story I am going to follow on this blog for the time being. I am joined by my sister, Simrat, and my aunt, Gioja’s youngest daughter, Lawrence.


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