The Other Book By Victor Elting
By Grace Elting Castle
Mention the name Victor Elting and most members of our large,
extended family will think of his book, Recollections of A Grandfather.
But Victor wrote another, lesser known, book--one of sadness, yet a book whose
every page exudes the love of a father for a lost son.
book, simply titled, John Elting, 1911-1941, was privately printed in
1942 as a tribute to Victor and Marie Winston Elting's son, who died when he
fell down an elevator shaft in Bombay, India on November 8, 1941. He was only 30
Some months ago, while surfing on Internet auction sites for
anything related to our family's history, I saw a book by Victor Elting
advertised. Thinking it was "Recollections.." I quickly clicked on the
description and found it was, instead, this book about John. Fortunately, I was
able to "rescue" the book, and when it arrived, I read this
explanation in the foreword, "...(This book) is offered as a printed word
which in the hands and on the shelves of John's family and friends may serve to
keep alive his memory, and by suggestion and reminder renew the joy which they
have had in his company. It will be given only to a few, whom he would have
wanted to possess it."
It's truly a mystery how such a book ended up on an Internet
auction site, but let's consider it a blessing, for it brings information to
those of us who never had the opportunity to know this fascinating young
adventurer, dreamer, writer---another of our Elting "cousins."
Victor recounted in the book how he and his wife thought to
name the baby boy born on June 18, 1911 in Winnetka, IL "Roelif" for
three generations of ancestors of that name, but finally thought better of the
plan, afraid of heaping a lifetime of spelling and pronunciation errors on the
child, Instead, they chose "John" to honor an old friend, and to honor
"the first American Elting, Jan."
This is the branch of the Elting family that has it's own Lake
Huron wilderness cabin near a place called "Elting Point" in Michigan.
The book is filled with tales from the family's wonderful adventures at the
camp. I believe the cabin remains in the possession of Victor's descendants to
Victor Elting was the patriarch of the family branch known in
those years as "The Chicago Eltings," and his family lived a life that
can only be described as "privileged"--an elegant home in one of the
most prestigious of Chicago's suburbs, fine Eastern schools (John attended
Hotchkiss, and then Princeton). But it's evident from the book that they were a
loving, active and adventuresome family, hit too often by tragedy.
Marie died unexpectedly while on a trip to Paris with John to
visit his brother, Winston, who was studying architecture in Paris. She is
buried in the Elting Burying Ground in New Paltz. Those who have visited there
will recognize the rock that Victor mentions thusly in his little book:
"...In one part (of the Elting Burying Ground) is a great
boulder, on the side of which is a bronze tablet inscribed, 'Family of Victor
Elting.' A simple headstone, flush with the sod, records John's mother,
"Marie Winston Elting, 1871-1932. Beside it is another, 'John Elting.
1911-1941.' The big rock was found by John and me on the mountain side one day
soon after his mother's death and laboriously transported by modern equipment to
be set up as the physical expression in the years to come of the unity of our
family and of our love of the countryside."
After graduating from Princeton, John worked for the League of
Nations in Washington; tried to pursue a career in the Foreign Service, but
"forgot" to master France when his father sent him to Paris to be
immersed in the language. According to Victor's writing, John "fell in with
an old schoolmate and his very attractive sister, and although they lived in
Dijon and made some effort to carry out the program, John was not altogether
true to the trust; and they had fun, mostly in English..."
Eventually John landed a job as an Associate Editor at Forbes
Magazine in New York City. Anyone with access to old issues of Forbes might want
to watch for John's articles. After that job, he worked for The National
Association of Manufacturers.
In May 1939, John married Sally Waters Richardson. The next
month he accepted a position at General Motors as special clerk in Institutional
Relations, then moved up to special clerk on the general manager's staff.
"On September sixteenth, 1940, John was called in by the head of the
Over-Seas Division and told that they wished to rebuild the magazine known as
'The General Motors' World," and he was asked to undertake the
editorship." Soon, there was an offer to transfer to Bombay, India for two
or three years, which John eagerly accepted.
On their way to India, John and Sally had a couple of days
before the S.S President Monroe was to sail, "so Katharine Hepburn, in her
generous and spirited way, turned over to them her brand new roadster, and they
drove up to Santa Barbara to see the Howard Eltings. There the last picture of
John was taken by "Uncle Howard."
Their fairy tale journey of six weeks took them "from
California to Honolulu, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore..." Just a
few weeks after their arrival in Bombay, returning home from a dinner party,
they found their building in a blackout, and "since the lift was not on the
ground floor, John ran up the stairs in search of it and on the second floor
found the door open, or at least was able to open it, which indicated the
presence of the lift. He stepped through and fell the two stories to the bottom
of the shaft."
John was buried in his beloved New Paltz, near the large
marking stone he had helped his father transport to the Elting Burying Ground.
The stone house in New Paltz was the scene of family
gatherings and Victor describes it: "On Huguenot Street in the small town
stands the old Bevier-Elting homestead, built in 1698 by a direct ancestor of
ours on my mother's side and a few years later sold by him to a direct Elting
ancestor. The title has never been out of the family. The charm of the old house
and its history caught John's imagination. Afterward (Marie's funeral day) he
and I worked out a plan under which we organized a trust under the New York law
to take over the house as an historic site. He became chairman of the Board of
Trustees, and as his interest developed worked hard with Jess DuBois and Jacob
Elting in raising funds for the preservation of the house. Before and after his
marriage he loved to go there, and the village was a real interest in his life.
For several years old fashioned Thanksgiving dinners (for) all our relatives
enlivened the old homestead, and it was John who gave them much of their
The "Finis" of this book is worth recalling in this
"There is no end to the story. It is all in the epic of
the years. The men of Athens lived and died, some young in battle, some old in
wisdom; but all sworn that the State of Athens should be better for their having
lived. There was something of the Athenian youth in John, and the world is
better for his having lived.
Who can say what lies in store for the future? It is the
spirit that lives on and gives the hope. To this spirit the dead and the living
make equal contribution. John has made his gift."
Yes, indeed. He made his gift in so many ways, but for our
Bevier-Elting Family Association, perhaps his greatest legacy is the work that
he did to help preserve the old stone house. We tend to think of those who came
before us as "older." Here is proof that it was a very young man who
recognized the importance of saving our beloved stone house and joined with
other relatives to make sure it happened.
I like to think that Victor would be pleased that his tribute
book was "rescued" so that new generations could "know"
John. I think that both he and John would be ecstatic to know that new
generations of an extended family love and care for their beloved old stone
house on Huguenot Street.