Blanche Townsend's postcard collection from her time in the Vaudeville circuit
Among the many cards my Aunt Blanche had, these 2 cards were always sort of on the side lines. I was too busy trying to figure out who the people were in the cabinet photo cards, that I left the regular postcards mostly un-researched.
George H Fitch postcard 1 front
George H Fitch postcard 1 back
George H Fitch postcard 2 front
George H Fitch postcard 2 back
Around the same time period that my great aunt received postcards from Mr. McGee, she also received 2 cards from a “George Fitch” who tells my aunt how he wished “they had her managing the wardrobe end of this company“. He also said “we are going to do our big battle scene next Sunday.” A separate card notes that the movie they are working on is “The Heart of MaryLand”.(a film that no longer exists) and that he is with Herbert Brenon working on that movie. 2 years ago when I started my research into George’s name, I thought he was just a unpopular technical director, who traveled to California to work on the silent film. I actually didn’t even know who Herbert Brenon was, so the postcard didn’t set off any whistles in my head. What was surprising to me, was that when I did dig deeper on Mr. Fitch, it turned out that he was actually a very talented well known writer of humorous articles and short stories during the early 1900’s.
George Helgesen Fitch was born on June 5, 1877 and was an American author, humorist, and journalist perhaps best known for his stories about fictional Siwash College.
Fitch graduated from Knox College in 1897. He worked as a reporter for a number of midwest newspapers including the Council Bluffs, IowaDaily Nonpareil and the Peoria, IllinoisHerald-Transcript. Eventually he became frequently published in national magazines, breaking in with his popular “Megaphone” series satirizing urban America. He also penned a syndicated column called “Vest Pocket Essays”. By 1910, Fitch not only was a respected writer and editor, he became a nationally syndicated columnist for George Matthew Adams‘ news service. He was elected as a Progressive Party candidate to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1912.
Knox, his alma mater, was the basis of a series of popular stories set at “Good Old Siwash College”. First appearing in the Saturday Evening Post in 1908, they focused on characters including football player Ole Skjarson and Petey Simmons, a coach who paid his “amateur” athletes as well as the fraternity Eta Bita Pie. The Siwash stories were the basis for the movie Those Were the Days! (1940) starring William Holden as Simmons, which was filmed on location at and around Knox College.
So, if he was an author and journalist, what was he doing working on a silent film with Herbert Brenon? I thought that maybe there was a mistake on my part, because being a technical director was not noted on any of his biographies. But low and behold, IMDB did note his name being attributed to a few silent films of that time, and the one blaring connection to the films made was, you got it, Herbert Brenon.
Those movies were:
1917 The Lone Wolf (Fitch as technical director) (Herbert Brenon as director)
IMBD did not attribute George Fitch to “The Heart of Maryland“. The movie was released in March 1915, and the postcards were written in November 1914. Maybe he was just tagging along for advice? Was he friends with Herbert Brenon? I do not know, but I will certainly continue my research on that in my next post about Herbert Brenon. (Yes, I have a card from him too!) The largest blaring question to me though is that if he was only on the side lines, why did he want Blanche to be a part of the wardrobe design, and why did he say “Our” big battle scene? Also, when did my great aunt work with George Fitch before? How did he know her work?
On further reading about Mr. Fitch, I stumbled across a book called “George Fitch a Memorial” published by Knox College, where many former friends and associates gush over Mr. Fitch’s personality, humor, and whit. The book was written after his death. I went ahead and read the 50 paged book and got a strong sense for who George Fitch was, and how he touched so many lives. A poem written in the booklet stood out at me the most:
By: Strickland Gillian
A good friend journeyed to a better place.
I smiled while yet the tears were on my face,
It would have pleased him (maybe did-who knows?)
To see me smile at his earthly-sojourn’s close.
He had so striven to teach the world to smile-
Should we forget, in such a little while?
The chiefest reason for the smile I gave
Was not alone that he would have me brave,
But that I reveled in the thought that he
Had known, in life, he had the love of me-
I had not waited till he went away
To say the kind things I with truth could say.
So I am glad-not that my friend is gone;
But that the earth he laughed and lived upon
Was my earth too; that I had closely known
And loved the lad, and that my love I’d shown.
Tears over his departure? Nay, a smile
That I had walked with him a little while.
You see, his friends and the community were so taken back by George’s death, because he died so young and at the beginning of this prime. He was only 38 years old when he died from appendicitis. He passed away on August 9, 1915 in Berkeley California, while visiting his sister, Miss R. Louise Fitch at college. His wife was with him at the time of his death. According to friends, he also had planned on visiting the Panama-Pacific exposition in San Francisco, as well as the American Press Humorists’ Association.
(An “ad” for the exposition is visible on the stamped section of the full postcards above.)
When I looked back to the dates on my aunt’s cards from Fitch, he had written her on November 16th and November 28, 1914. Just 9 short months before his untimely death. That discovery was probably the most jarring part of the research I did on these cards. Life is so short, and was even shorter in the early 1900’s.
I feel privileged to have these 2 cards in my possession, but I am most thankful that my great aunt, my great grandpop, my grandmom, and then my dad kept these cards for so many years in hopes that one day, someone could put a face and story to the names on these postcards.
Because like it or not, memories and stories fade away when there’s no one left to tell them. We should all make memories in people’s hearts, because your memories will be all that’s left of you when you’re gone.