Thursday, April 20, 2017

Untangling the Life of Xesia Y. Z.

Newspaper story about Xesia (1891) 

As a young journalist who covered the theater, Allan Forman hung around eavesdropping and hoping for a glimpse of the leading ladies.  

In 1886, Allan’s long edgy article, “Around the Stage Door, Men Who Haunt It and Girls Who Pass through It,” was syndicated widely in the U.S.

Surely he spoke from experience in describing the many ways that men made fools of themselves by fancying actresses and singers, married and unmarried.

 One that "knew" an actress --
sketch used in Allan's article

In 1900, he met and married his own actress, Xesia Yrsa Zephania Carlstedt. 

Really? you say.

Do you mean the Swedish-born Xesia Yrsa Zephania whose career never quite took off even though she acted in such memorable plays as “The Noble Son,” “The Pearl of Pekin,” and “The Corsair”? 

Do you mean Xesia Yrsa Zephania who inherited thousands of dollars from her former lover, a Swedish baron named Falkenberg to whom she was promised in marriage by her father, a consul general whose home was located next door to the baron’s castle?

The papers reported that she ran away to America to be free of entanglements. 

Cut to 1891.

“A Man About Town,” starring Xesia, has just flopped in out-of-town tryouts. The cast practically walked back to New York, critics say. Arriving home, the hapless Xesia received a thick envelope from a lawyer detailing the bequest of “the man who loved her so well and so unsuccessfully.” 

It was the baron. He left her $50,000!

She probably did receive the money, although some whispered that in fact the baron had rejected Xesia because she lacked aristocratic lineage.  

It’s not as if her family was undistinguished, however. Xesia’s father, Axel B. C. Carlstedt, descended from a long line of musicians and composers. The position of organist in the churches of Sodra Villie and Orsjo had been held by a member of the Carlstedt family for more than 130 years.

Axel emigrated from Sweden to the U. S. in 1872. 

Upon arriving, he moved to Massachusetts, studied at the New England Conservatory of Music, earned a doctorate, married an American woman, and eventually founded the South Side College of Music in Chicago.

Axel fathered 11 children. Some were born in Sweden during his first marriage but the details are hard to figure out.

What matters is that he went about naming them “in the most delightful way,” to quote Mary Poppins.

Since his own name began with the initials ABC, Axel continued the pattern with his children.


Axel Bernhard Conrad, Jr.

Dagobert Edvard Fritiof

                            Gustaf Harald Julius

Knut Leonard Maltidius

                             Nellie Olivia Pauline

                                           Quelie Rosalie Sophie

Theresa Urania Vilhelmina

                             and Xesia Yrsa Zephania.

The names of the last three children did not fit the alphabetical pattern but exceeded expectations for ingenuity. They were: 

              Aberta Agir Ostgota, Detolfta Johanna Marie, and Bror Tretton Methodius.                    

While Axel taught music and became a papa repeatedly, several of his children, including Xesia, gravitated toward music and theater. She toured the country drawing slight attention for her performances, for no Lillie Langtry was she.

Meanwhile, Allan ran his magazine, The Journalist, and wrote about everything. During the 1890s, he addressed “The Cigarette Question,” “The Ways of Blackmailers, a risky business that doesn’t always pay,” and “The Typewriter Question.”  

He also complained about “Eating to Honor Somebody”:

It always seems a trifle absurd to me, to call together a lot of men to eat in honor of somebody. The respect expressed by inducing dyspepsia may be genuine. Ovations and oysters, sympathy and soup, releves and roasts, enthusiasm and entrees, homage and hominy, compliments and champagne, may all go very well together but . . . I should prefer a sandwich and a cup of coffee in a quiet corner.

Allan did not hesitate to be honored with a
Chop Suey dinner, given by the Blue Pencil Club 

After their marriage, Xesia and Allan lived in Brooklyn until Allan’s father died in 1908. Then Allan retired and began a renovation and expansion of Nabichaugue, the family’s Long Island estate. He and Xesia lived there for the rest of their lives.

When Allan and Xesia renovated Nabichaugue before
World War I, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle ran a long story about it.

After Allan’s death in 1914 the Baroness, as she now started to call herself, drew quite a bit of publicity when she started farming at Nabichaugue to help the war effort.  

It may be a far cry from singing grand opera in the presence of cheering thousands to growing seed corn . . .  but it is understood that Mrs. Allan Forman of this place agrees that producing seed corn, when you hit it right, is fully as pleasant and almost as remunerative as appearing nightly in the footlights.

She was an acclaimed opera singer all along.

Xesia Y. Z. Carlstedt Forman;
passport photo, 1930s

See post April 20, 2017.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Harmony of the Chord that Follows

The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise
Giovanni di Paolo, 1445
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)

This came to me last week. Through all the poetry read and written, I’ve harbored the idea that it’s kind of immature to replay the first time I fell in love. After all, it was 43 years ago.

The revelation arrived as I was walking toward the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a bright morning, blue sky.

It was 1974 again and we were climbing the museum steps, two 16-year olds who had taken the train to Grand Central Terminal and walked 40 blocks up Fifth Avenue. Why the museum? Definitely my idea; probably because the Met was one of the places in the city where I felt truly comfortable without my parents around.

About a year earlier, my father had announced that my brother and I were getting soft growing up in the suburbs, and took us to Greenwich Village for the day. That would have been a cooler place to go but I did not remember how to navigate around Washington Square.

So now my soon-to-be boyfriend and I were buying tickets and climbing more steps to the second floor galleries because that was the way I knew. The Met had not yet built the additions that made it sprawl.

Walking and climbing; finally alone together.

In music, anticipation is defined as the sounding of a few notes to create dissonance before the harmony of the chord that follows.

In the case of my high school experience, there had been more than a year of missed cues and letdowns.

So, while The Date felt like destiny, it also felt fragile. In those days it was the nature of teenaged girls – helped along by large doses of Joni Mitchell – to believe that love won’t last.

And it did not, although I kept the memory.

But last week I let myself fully evoke that time, as far as it was possible to reach, and realized that the floaty swirliness I always feel in early April descends from that particular April.

It’s the world barely green and the boulders in Central Park still cold from the winter as you sit on them, talking.

It’s April 1974 and April 2017.

The Garden of the Tuileries on a Winter Afternoon
Camille Pissarro, 1899
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The Little Time Traveler

  Last fall, my adorable grandson, halfway between two and three years, was finally tall enough to look at the family pictures arranged on a...