For five summers, a cliff-top idyll at Woods Hole, at the south-western corner of Cape Cod, MA, was where young Whitney spent his summers, grappling with the currents ripping through the Elizabeth Islands as he learned to sail in Buzzards Bay.
His parents met in Washington, fell in love in Beijing and married in Geneva, and his father survived the Great War but died in Paris, just three weeks after the Armistice, from Spanish Flu. Yet most of Chapter One plays out in New York State…
Tonight, I shall be at a dinner at New York’s India House, remembering the co-founding member of the club who died 100 years ago today – Willard Dickerman Straight.
On this special day, I’ve been re-reading some of the research notes I’ve made in Cornell University’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. Among many treasures, it holds the personal correspondence between Whitney Straight’s parents, Willard and Dorothy.
On the door of my study is an old American road sign, directing drivers to a small town down the road named Whitney. Insert a comma, and ‘WHITNEY STRAIGHT, AHEAD’ is my direction of travel.
This isn’t where I write – though I wish it were. It’s the place Georges Clemenceau retired to after losing the French presidential elections of 1919. It’s in St-Vincent-sur-Jard, about 30km down the Atlantic coast from Les Sables d’Olonne.