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Peak Experience

Once upon a time, so long ago that my daughter Cora was still known as Cornelia, we took a family trip to the Adirondack Mountains of New York. We were visiting relatives, of course -- why else does anyone travel? I remember sitting on the front porch of Uncle Ken's house, with little Cornelia on my lap, pointing to a distant, misty mountain suspended on the horizon. It was Mount Marcy, the highest peak in the range, I believe. "Cornelia," I whispered to her. "That mountain has something to do with you, and I can't for the life of me remember what."

It came back to me later, browsing through a family history my mother had compiled. Mount Marcy is named for William L. Marcy, who was governor of New York from 1833 to 1839. My Cornelia was named for my mother's aunt, Cornelia Randall Holland, who was known as Nini. Nini, in turn, was named for her aunt, Cornelia Marcy Randall. "The single most-photographed ugly woman in the history of the world," my mother sputtered while sorting out boxes of old photographs in her aunt's estate. Cornelia Marcy Randall was named for Gov. Marcy's wife -- whose name, oddly enough -- was Cornelia.

I knew there was a connection of some kind. Mrs. Marcy was Cornelia Marcy Randall's godmother, and had presented her with a silver cup in 1847. Somewhere, we have a hastily written letter in which Gov. Marcy thanks my mother's great-great grandfather for giving shelter to Mrs. Marcy in some time of distress. We have no clue as to what Mrs. Marcy's distress entailed, or why she should have fetched up on the Randall doorstep in Manhattan in 1841.

Well, the plot has thickened. Just last week my gentleman friend and I were pursuing our mutual hobby -- genealogy --down the back roads of suburban Albany, N.Y. a booklet caught my eye in the Guilderland Town Hall. "Says here, there's a Benjamin Knower House in town. That's a name that belongs to my mother's family." Actually, at least eight Benjamin Knowers hang on my mother's family tree. Aunt Nini pronounced the name "Noah." Now I wish I'd listened to her stories more carefully. One of the Benjamins was in the Revolutionary War, and possibly the War of 1812. According to the booklet, this Benjamin Knower was a maker of waterproof hats who did quite well for himself, eventually becoming a bank president and state treasurer. Obviously no relation of mine, I thought to myself as we headed down the Altamount Road in search of the place. And there it was, a very handsome house with a historical marker out front:


Cornelia Marcy Randall and Cornelia Randall Holland, 1899



Well. I had no idea. Cornelia Marcy was a cousin all along. Her aunt Mary -- Benjamin's sister -- married a gentleman named Randall, and became the mother of Cornelia Marcy Randall, who became the aunt of Cornelia Randall Holland, who was the proud great-great aunt of Cornelia Van Hazinga, and lived long enough to know my Cora as a toddler -- when she still liked to be called Cornelia. The silver Cornelia cup is engraved, "CKR to CMR" and "CMR to CRH." When my Cora was christened, Nini had asked me to have it engraved again, "CRH to CVH," but no jeweler I took the cup to would undertake the job. Engraving is done my machines now, they all said, and the cup is too delicate to risk machine engraving. I think I'll have to try again, perhaps someone in Boston still does that kind of work by hand. It's just too much history to let slip through our fingers.


"A View from the Porch"

column by Emily Van Hazinga

Published in the Fitchburg-Leominster Sentinel & Enterprise May 21, 2000