Ever since I was a young girl, I've been intrigued by the wealthy Weston family from Skowhegan, Maine (they played some part in funding the Mayflower). Though they aren't blood relatives, their lives are woven tightly into the fabric of my family history. The story, if I remember the facts correctly, goes something like this…
Several generations ago, a man named Increase Sumner Weston moved from Skowhegan, Maine, to Bunker Hill, Illinois. He and his wife, Caroline Neal Jewett Weston, took in a suffering, orphaned Irish girl, Mary Taigh, to be their maid. She was loved by the family, and eventually inherited some of the Weston's wealth when they passed.
Mary Taigh, her life now transformed from maidservant to wealthy, independent single woman, grew up. She, in turn, took on an orphan named Luther Mason for a chauffeur, and eventually adopted him. When Mary passed away, she left everything to her adopted chauffeur, Luther. He married a woman named Clara Whitfield, who just happened to be my grandmother's aunt.
Clara and Luther never had kids, and instead traveled the world in the early 1900s. They drove through Mexico on dirt roads. They shipped their car overseas and spent six months driving around, doing The Grand Tour of Europe. Later on, they took their nieces and nephews and then great nieces and nephews (including my mom) all over the United States on highly educational camping adventures in an airstream trailer.
Throughout their travels, Clara and Luther took countless photographs and slides, some of which we still have. Though I never got to meet them, I feel a kinship with them and their travel and photo-loving lifestyle.
I knew as soon as Lian and my camping trip became a reality that I wanted to visit Skowhegan to see if I could find out more about the Westons—maybe we'd head to a cemetery and check out their graves? So, I did a bit of googling and discovered a small history museum there, and it happens to have an entire collection about the Weston!
We stopped by the history museum on our drive from Acadia back home to Vermont. The museum itself was fairly run-of-the-mill, though we did learn some interesting things, such as the origin of "pop goes the weasel" and "sleep tight." We also got to see crazy pictures of logjams on the Kennebec river, during which men lost limbs or drowned, unable to fight back up through the layers of logs if they accidentally fell in.
A strange artifact at the museum was one of Dr. Conant's "steam bath cabinets." Folks would strip down, sit inside of a wooden box, and have their bodies steamed in clouds of vapor. Then, they'd get rubbed down with a special-formula curative liniment... which happened to be laced with opium, hence its wild popularity.
Purity! Vitality! Power!
THE GREAT HEALTH
RESTORER & LIFE PRESERVER
COMPOUND VAPOR BATH.
For public and private disposal and no family should be without this great protector, and no town or city
should be without a public place for the administration of this combination of remedies.
Dr. S. F. CONANT
But far more interesting to me than the steam bath and the log jam photos was the entire back room which was devoted to Weston stuff. Lian and I were led into the room, introduced to two women who worked there, and given white gloves to wear. For the next hour or so, I sifted happily through through binder after binder of letters, photographs, and notes.
Lian and I read letters to and from Increase, while he was living in Bunker Hill!
We saw notes written about Increase by Weston historians. They talked about how little is known about him, since he moved away to Illinois. The crazy thing is that we inherited a box of Increase and Caroline's journals, letters, and newspaper clippings from my grandmother! How cool would it be to bring the box to the museum and help fill in the gaps?
I could have stayed for many more hours at the museum, but eventually Lian and I packed up and continued the long drive back to Vermont. Someday I'll come back with my family, and bring that box of Weston stuff!