The Inquiring Mind of Paul Kramer

A Tribute to Paul Kramer, by Betty Coykendall, delivered at the Stanley-Whitman House Spring Symposium on June 1, 2019

We meet today to do two things –

   to try to enlighten all of you a bit about some regional history, and

   to pay tribute to Paul Kramer, who in the last decade of his life, added

            immeasurably to our knowledge of that local heritage.

Paul Kramer’s inquiring mind led him to investigate in depth such diverse topics as early medicine, photographers, shoemaking, old books, gravestone carvings, specific places such as Sleepy Hollow in Avon, and several local families.  He was a tireless researcher, always curious, always wanting to learn more and know as much as possible about a topic.  His enthusiasm for research and his delight at finding new pieces of information never ceased. Once he mastered a topic, if you asked him a question about it, his answer would never be merely one sentence, it would be a whole lecture.

He was compulsive – he wanted the answer to any question by the end of that day; and he was a bulldog about inquiries into a subject.   He would not quit until he found some answers.  However, in his private life, he was not a lover of bulldogs, but of golden retrievers.

.Paul's Dog Brady, a golden retriever

You all know that historical research is rather like a mystery – we look at a few known facts and try to put them together into something that makes sense. We often have to try to get insights from what we know, form a hypothesis, then try to discover more information from primary sources and see if that fits our guess.  Paul was exceptional at doing all of this, and he could see connections and make inferences faster than anyone I ever met.

He was noted for his hour-long telephone calls, which were never boring or mundane, always meaty.  He subjected both his familyand his friends to these calls.  For those of us doing historical research, he would call about some discovery he had made or have some theory to propose; and before the call was finished there would be three or four more places to look for more data, and his theory would usually hold up, rarely would it get shot to pieces.

Even though he lived in Avon, he decided about 2011 to become a volunteer in Farmington – which was our gain.  He started at the library, wanting to do some work with old books.  We put him onto the project of surveying the old library collection in the cases of the Farmington Room, and he did such a thorough and knowledgeable job that we asked him to analyze the Klauser photographs there as well. 

The resulting exhibit was his chance to meet some Farmingtonians with deep roots here (with Henry Mason).  Paul received no credit at all for all of this work, except our sincere thanks for the knowledge he created. 

Paul Kramer with Henry Mason
Paul Kramer with Henry Mason

He then came to this historic Stanley-Whitman House and joined our research team, and from then on we were the Fab Four.  He worked on the medical exhibit, the analysis of the Klauser collection here, the survey and encasement of the rare books here, the research into the Whitman-Farnam family, much of which was done at Yale, the current Memento Mori project, as well as numerous smaller research projects.

He also became an advisor to the Farmington Historical Society, and he used his expertise in old books to help them evaluate their collection.  One of the last things he did was to give Janice Riemer and me a lecture on the proper storage of the Society’s photographs, documents, and books.  He taught us all to appreciate archival boxes.

In addition to what he did for the library, the Stanley-Whitman House, and the Historical Society, he worked with several of us individually on side projects – with Charlie Leach on any medical  questions plus the current Farmington place names project, with Charlie and Jay Bombara on art and last year’s art exhibit, with Bill Hosley on the Shaw-Hudson House in Massachusetts, with Cliff Alderman and Jay on on-line auctions of local historical items, in order to try to acquire them and keep them in town; with Cliff on the Howes photographs; with Kate Rodgers on her Curtis genealogy; with Linda Chapron at the library book sale, evaluating special books, with Janet Conner on many of her research projects, with people at the Avon Library, working on their archives to tell stories about several Avon families, with the new owners of the Lodge on the history of their building, and with me on the Klauser photographs, the Farmington Gateway, the Lewis family, the Faces from the Past exhibit, and many other research inquiries. He would get excited and could not wait to educate us about people we had known very little about – like William Judd, Romulus Andrus, William S. Porter, and Gad Andrews.

Paul was tireless, persistent, and always trying to help.  I cite for you one personal example. I wanted to go to the state library to find evidence of the Lewis family’s tavern of the 1700s, but never could seem to find the time or energy to do it.  So he went on his own and got the staff there to find out where tavern licenses are located in their archives, which took the better part of two days, because it is not an easy thing to discover.  But he persisted, and they finally found them – yes, under travel -and he answered a vital question for us about when Phineas Lewis was licensed to have a tavern.Then Paul solved a problem we had about missing members of the Lewis family by locating them in Granby and going up there to get details about them.

Like all of us, Paul was not perfect.  He could be overwhelming at times. Sometimes during conversations it was hard to get a word in edgewise, and his brain often got way ahead of all the rest of us.  Every so often I would have to say “whoa” to him and remind him that other people were not as quick intellectually as he was.  But to his credit, he knew this about himself and tried hard to correct that tendency.

He was a most generous man – when he found a need, he would contribute whatever it took to fill that need – time, energy, brains, and/or money.  When he surveyed Solomon Whitman’s library here and found that copies of some of the books in the original collection were missing, he went out and found as many as he could, bought them, and gave them to the house.  He was the major personal donor to the effort to have the rare brander’s book at the library conserved,and he bought the Mark Root books that we returned to the library’s collection almost 200 years after Root had bought them from an earlier dissolving library.  Paul bought and donated to this house several items that enhanced the collection here, and when he found that the old and rare books here were not encapsulated, he bought clamshell boxes for about 50 of them. They now sit, protected, on the shelves downstairs.  He taught us to appreciate clamshell boxes too, and he taught me how to make the custom storage folders for really thin items.  He established a fund here for the conservation of archival materials that will be of long-term benefit to this museum.

He loved these seminars, he loved learning and mixing with other historians, and he loved the give-and-take of question & answer sessions.  He and Bill Hosley came to almost every one of the earlier seminars here.  So it is appropriate that today we hold one with Paul Kramer here in spirit and dedicate our efforts to this remarkable man.  If we lecturers are half as informative and enthusiastic as he was, it will be a success.  Let’s start by exploring the inquiring mind of Paul Kramer.

Paul worked on many projects that were either never published or not presented publicly.  Today we are going to discuss a few of these.  I will cover two of his unpublished works plus one that was published but completely unpublicized. 

The first one involves a rather famous man in the Hartford area, Dr. Eli Todd, a founder and the first director of the Retreat for the Insane, now the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital.  Eli Todd was a pioneer in the treatment of mental illness, but not much has ever been said about his personal life and his time here in medical practice in Farmington, except as it relates to Hospital Rock.  I’d like to talk a bit about Todd, and detail for you Paul’s discoveries about him.

As background, Eli Todd was born in New Haven in 1769, the son of Michael & Mary Todd.  He had an older step-brother, Michael, and two younger sisters, Polly & Eunice.  He was not quite 7 years old when his father died, and he was sent to live in East Guilford with a distant relative, the Rev. Jonathan Todd.  After three years there, he was sent to the Rev. Elizur Goodrich of Durham, a graduate and a fellow of Yale, who prepared Eli and many other young men for college.   At age 14, Eli started at Yale, his father’s alma mater; and in 1787, he graduated with honors.

He then went briefly to the West Indies to broaden his education 

Todd came back to New Haven and studied medicine with Dr. Ebenezer Beardsley for two years.  Then at age 21, he came to Farmington to practice medicine.  With all his connections to New Haven, why did he choose Farmington instead?   To try to answer that question, today I propose to you my “Paul Kramer theory.” It is one that Paul had not yet formed; but I have no doubt that he would have thought of it if he had only known about the Dickerman family.

Here is my genealogy chart of the pertinent members of this family.  

Dickerman-Todd Genealogy
Dickerman-Todd Genealogy

Look at the children of Abraham III; we are particularly interested in Mary and Joseph.  Mary Dickerman married Michael Todd, Jr., and they had four children, one of whom was another Michael, who was born in 1729.  This Michael #3 and his second wife Mary Rowe were the parents of our Dr. Eli and his two younger sisters.  Now look at Mary Dickerman Todd’s younger brother Joseph Dickerman.  He married Lois Perkins, and he was 39 years old when his first child – another Lois – was born in 1749.  Lois Dickerman and Michael Todd #3 were cousins, which makes Eli Todd her first cousin, once removed. He was 20 years younger than Lois, so Lois was 27 years old and unmarried when her cousin Michael died in 1776.  I would bet money that, as happened frequently in those days, Lois went to help Mary Rowe Todd with her young children for awhile after Michael Todd’s death. It was something that unmarried female relatives did then. 

Then in 1783, just when Eli was starting at Yale, Lois married Elnathan Whitman – of Farmington, and they lived in this house. So Eli had an older relative, one he probably regarded with affection, living right here.

This is a somewhat tenuous theory except for one more crucial fact – in 1798, after a few years here, Eli Todd bought his first Farmington house  – and guess where it was? – right next door to this one, where Lois lived. They had to have been close to each other. Thus I offer you my Paul Kramer theory of why Eli Todd came to Farmington – a happy relationship with a relative.  That house next door was his residence for over 20 years, until he moved to Hartford, and when he left he sold it to Asahel Thomson, his successor as the village doctor.

The house was later owned by Frederick Miles, who moved it to Main Street, enlarged it and changed it completely.  It now sits as 37 Main Street and looks like this.  Todd would never recognize it!

Todd House (enlarged by F. Miles) at 37 Main St.

So Eli Todd came here to practice medicine in 1790, and what did he do that was special during his 29 years in Farmington?   Only two years after his arrival, Dr. Theodore Wadsworth and he established the pest house at the famous Hospital Rock, for the treatment of smallpox.  That same year Todd & Wadsworth became charter members of the newly-formed Connecticut Medical Society, badly needed as a clearing-house, a way for doctors to share information about treatments of the horrible diseases then prevalent.  

Another two years later, in 1794, a man who had grown up in Farmington, Dr. Selah Gridley, also started practicing medicine here in town. Gridley only stayed one year before he moved to Castleton, Vermont, but apparently that was long enough to forge a professional friendship with Eli Todd.   And that Gridley-Todd connection is what led to the “Vermont papers of Eli Todd”, one of Paul Kramer’s unpublished projects.

In 2013, Cliff Alderman learned about the existence of some Todd papers at the University of Vermont.  He told Paul, who contacted the people there and arranged for them to scan the papers and send electronic copies to him, which they did, some 36 documents totaling about 75 pages. One of Todd’s sisters, Eunice, lived in Vermont and was married to a man who later became Governor of the state; so we expected that these papers would be personal letters from Todd to his sister, with news of Farmington – and we were absolutely wrong.  They are not that at all.

They are letters and notes describing medical cases – in effect, case studies of Todd’s, descriptions of the symptoms, diagnoses, treatments, and reactions of some of his patients, sadly many of them people who had died.  Most of the letters lack salutations, but we think they were written to Dr. Gridley, and at least one of them that doeshave a salutation, was written from Gridley to Todd.

There is another one that is from another doctor in Rhode Island to Todd, requesting information about Todd’s experience with spotted fever and its treatment, at which Todd had excelled.  A few of them have other kinds of information – there is one on indigestion, one on treatment of hernias, more responses to requests for information, and one in which he clearly writes that phlebotomy is useless, adding “blood cannot be lost without a reduction of strength”.  

The most telling one is this one which states his philosophy of what medical practice should be.  It says “The adage that it is practice only that makes perfect is perhaps strictly true if medicine is to be considered merely as an art.  But it is only by a long course of rigorous clinical observations of the various phenomena of life in health & disease with their relation to the properties of life & the agents which operate upon these properties that can [?afford sound?] principles of pathology & practice.”

Paul Kramer transcribed about half of these papers, despite Todd’s hard-to-read penmanship.  And with help from Charlie Leach, he interpreted the medical terms of that era and converted them into the best modern equivalents they could find. As a result of all this research, Paul also wrote a paper about Drs. Todd and Gridley, and I would like to read a bit from that paper, which has never been published (Read excerpts.) 

After he transcribed this first Todd Vermont paper, Paul also wrote his reaction to its content.  He stated “it is a case report on a 15-year-old Farmington girl that is as articulate, poignant, detailed, and heart-wrenching as you will find in medicine… I’ve never seen such a detailed description by an extraordinarily meticulous and articulate physician of how that suffering actually FELT – mind boggling”.

That’s the Todd Vermont papers story as it stands today. I intend to contact the University of Vermont and offer Paul’s transcriptions to them to go with the papers and ask them to give him the credit he deserves for doing that work.  But alas, the work is not finished – so if there is anyone with some medical knowledge and interest in historic medicine who would like to finish these transcriptions, I would be happy to give you the electronic copies of the rest of the papers and let you go to it.

As I said earlier, one of the first projects that Paul worked on was the collection of books from the old libraries in Farmington, which resides in the cases in the Farmington Room.  As a collector, he knew a great deal about how to find information about rare old books.  He surveyed and described over 500 books in these cases, and he found some rare and valuable ones. He found that there are eight truly rare books in the collection, each of which has only one other known copy.  One of them is one of the two oldest volumes in the collection – Sir Walter Raleigh’s discoursespublished in 1702.  This is the only known copy of this book in the United States; the other one is in France. The other oldest book here is the Book of Martyrs, also from 1702. 

Then Paul discovered that there are more modern books from famous people – one from Theodore Roosevelt, whose sister Anna (called Bamie) lived here at Oldgate; one from Booker T. Washington, who inscribed Mrs. Barney’s copy; and a copy of P.T. Barnum’s memoirs.   Then, to highlight local history, there is the exquisite and valuable early music book, “Select Harmony”, engraved by Joel Allen of Farmington in 1776 and printed in Cheshire.

While doing this inventory, Paul found that many things not in the original library collection had been added to the cases during the 1900s, including children’s books, like the Fairy Realm, illustrated by Gustave Dore, with many enchanting engravings, including this one of Little Red Riding Hood.  Also added to the case collection were small account books or diaries, like those ofDr. Asahel Thomson, who listed all the women for whom he delivered babies and when.

At the end of a year of work, Paul gave a public lecture about this collection to a full house, and he presented the library with a CD of his results.  So this project is well-documented, but it has never been publicized by the library. If you asked most people in this town, they would have no idea what is in those cases.  This collection is a local and regional treasure, and Paul educated us about it.

Back to his unpublished projects.  The second one that I would like to discuss is his survey of regional photographers.  He didn’t start out to do a survey, it just happened over the years, as he worked first on the photos of Karl Klauser, then the Howes brothers, then Frank Dorman, and finally William Allderige.  These local photographers cover a period from the mid-1800s to the 1930s.

First of all there was Karl Klauser – the music teacher at Miss Porter’s School from 1855 to1883, whose brother William, a professional photographer in New York, inspired Karl to become an avid and very skilled amateur photographer and then, after his retirement from Miss Porters, a pro, who took hundreds of images of this town in the 1880s and sold hundreds of them.  This house, the library, Miss Porter’s, and Hill-Stead all have extensive Klauser collections; and there have been several exhibits of his work over the years.  So one would think there is nothing left to discover about Klauser – not true, according to Paul Kramer.  Here’s one thing he found – the family’s personal photo album.

This album had sat for over 60 years in the collection here without being investigated, but Paul did it, and what he found makes us pretty certain that this was the personal family photo album of the Klauser family.  The content is quite personal, mostly family photos.  It has been closed up and not exposed to light or heat for years, so the quality of the photos is exceptional

This album led Paul to another discovery.  If you look at some of these photos, you will notice that some of the daughters look almost identical.  Paul’s other contribution was that, with the help of a one or two photos where they are identified, he managed to analyze their physical features, particularly the hairlines, chins, and ears, to differentiate them.  Here are some of Paul’s notes about how to tell them apart. Carolina, the oldest one, almost always has her hair up in a bun, has a pointed nose & dimples; Rosa, the 2ndoldest, has a widow’s peak; Arna, the 3rdoldest, has no distinguishing features, but is usually the one left over; Lily, 2 years younger than Arna, is taller, slim, had a cauliflower ear when young, and wears well-fitted white dresses; and Cora, the youngest one, has large hands.  Paul’s analysis helps when we look at a photo of just one of the girls with no name attached. 

Completely by chance, his work on photographers next took him to Massachusetts, where the original Howes brothers’ early 1900s photos of New England houses and their residents are stored.  Cliff Alderman and Paul went up there and found that these photos are identified only by town and 4-digit number; this one is #4211 from Farmington.  There are no street addresses, no names of families attached to them.  But Paul and Cliff were not daunted; they copied as many of the Farmington & Unionville ones as they could find, and then came home and tried to identify as many as they could.The one being shown now is 763 Farmington Ave, with D.Newton Barney in front of it.  Here is another one that is unidentified.  Unfortunately, because Cliff passed away soon after Paul, we do not yet have their computer files of these photos, but we are still trying to recover this work. Fortunately, I have found a list with the 4-digit numbers and identifying addresses; so if we have to, we can go up there again and copy them again.

Then Paul received a copy of some photos taken by Frank Dorman in the 1930s, photos of local houses and public buildings.  These were tiny 1.5×2” prints, owned by William Simonds of Unionville, Dorman’s grandson.  Paul copied the photos and identified quite a few of these structures, but that is all he had time to do.  I now show you two more of these.  Any help in identifying the rest of these photos would be welcome.

The last photo project he did was during the research for the art exhibit, when he went back in time again to study the work of William Allderige, another late-1800s photographer, a professional.  We knew that this man had a studio in New Britain and worked in Farmington as well, but did not know anything more about him.  So Paul investigated and put together a biography of Allderige.  This work was published as part of the art exhibit booklet; here it is, with a great photo of Allderige and his portable camera.

This is the sum of Paul’s investigations of local photographers, but to reiterate, he produced new information that enhances our understanding of the work of these men and our knowledge of our town.  Except for this booklet, most of what he did is still unpublished or unpublicized.

We hope to honor Paul’s efforts by keeping his information in public places.  Stanley-Whitman now holds his research files with the information about Klauser; and if we find the Howes photos and information, those will be given to the library.

Paul Kramer did many other scholarly projects, and we have put together a display of some of them for today.  We urge you to take a look at them at lunch time. They cover such things as early medicine, the footstones of Memento Mori cemetery, the size of people’s feet, the Lodge at 185 Main Street, and the books of Solomon Whitman’s personal library. You will see Paul’s unmistakable printing on some of these items, and we know that, if that printing is there, the topic was well-researched and the results are thorough and accurate.  It was the only way he ever did things, and we are the richer for it.  We owe an enormous debt to Paul Kramer’s inquiring mind, to his extensive research, and to his zeal for sharing his discoveries. 

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