Ursula’s Excellent Adventure (Part 2)

Ursula Cheshire at Chateau Cabrieres

Ursula on the Grand Front Terrace at Château Cabrières, France (Photo published in “Themis” of Zeta Tau Alpha)

Last week, I posted part one of Ursula’s European adventure—written by Ursula, herself! Here’s part two, a richly detailed account of studying and living at famous opera singer Emma Calvé’s castle in southern France. Ursula’s travelogue was originally published in her sorority’s quarterly journal, Themis of Zeta Tau Alpha, in March 1925.

[Part two]
Studying and Traveling Abroad
By Ursula Claire Cheshire

“Château de Cabrières, the home of Mme. Calvé, is in the southern part of France, on one of the highest peaks of the Cevene mountains, miles away from any real city. The castle is old Roman style with large round towers, and dates back to the year 1050 A.D. Huge iron gates are at the entrance of the grounds, which are surrounded by thick stone walls, while at the entrance of the château there are two ancient iron bolted doors, one leading into an open court and the other into the hallway.

Château Cabrières

Château Cabrières

The rooms of the château are all exquisitely furnished with things from all parts of the globe. Three rooms appealed to me particularly. First the ancient guard room (now used for the dining room) with its original stone floor, ceiling and fireplace; next the salon with its large carved furniture, and then the Louis XIV bedroom with its heavily handcarved Louis XIV bed.

The castle was an ideal place to study. There was nothing near to bother us. There was nothing near to hear us. We could sing to the many mountain peaks on all sides, with only the sheep on the hillside, or the oxen in the valley, to hear the echoes of our voices.

Jean Henri Fabre

French naturalist Jean Henri Fabre

Yet sometimes this tranquility was broken, for we had guests from near and far—musicians, artists and even reporters. When from our heights we would see an auto turn off the main highway below and start to climb the mountain road, that was our signal to prepare for company. Also at different times we would give concerts in the near-by towns, which necessitated short trips, and again our studies would be put aside for a while. One very interesting program was given at Rodez, the capitol of the department of Aveyron, to raise funds for a monument to the great French naturalist, Henri Fabre.

bon_bonsI will never forget my first soirée at the château. Guests came from all around to give us a fête, bringing with them pastries, bonbons, wine and champagne, and a grand feast was spread. The evening was spent in dancing and singing and I had a rather interesting time trying to converse with our guests with my then small French vocabulary.”

To be continued…


Ursula’s Excellent Adventure (Part 1)

Among the many reasons I love working on this blog is the rush of excitement that comes when I discover a hidden “gem” that I know will enrich the treasure box that is Ursula’s story.

Ursula Cheshire at Chateau Cabrieres

Ursula on the Grand Front Terrace at Château Cabrières, France (Photo published in “Themis” of Zeta Tau Alpha)

I experienced such a moment after finishing my May 19 post on Ursula’s time studying at opera star Emma Calvé’s castle in southern France.

At that time, I decided to cast one more line of inquiry into the “intergoogle,” not expecting much in return. I was curious to see if there were any written accounts by one of Madame Calvé’s other “young songbirds” of that period—perhaps in the memoirs of someone who found later fame.

Lo and behold, my search returned a result that indicated Ursula, herself, had written a report of studying with Madame Calvé and traveling abroad! It was published in her sorority’s quarterly journal, Themis of Zeta Tau Alpha. I couldn’t believe my luck!

I clicked on the link, but was frustrated to find that I couldn’t access the journal online. I dug around a little more and found that there was one available copy of the journal—in a library storage facility located at the University of Michigan. So, I contacted my local public library and arranged to receive a digital copy of the report via interlibrary loan.

A couple days later and voilà!—a digital scan of the article appeared in my e-mail inbox. My heartbeat quickened as I clicked on the PDF. And then there they were: Ursula’s own words, painting a vivid portrait of her glorious time in France and beyond. I was elated, and felt almost like I was being reunited with a long-lost friend.

Studying and Traveling Abroad, By Ursula Cheshire

Ursula’s account of her European travels appeared in the March 1925 issue of “Themis,” Zeta Tau Alpha’s quarterly journal

I will post Ursula’s story in three parts, with part one (below) covering her departure from the United States and arrival in France, and her experience of Paris before journeying south; part two (next Tuesday—special edition of Mystery Dancer!) describing her time studying at Château Cabrières; and part three (another special edition, on June 30), covering her European travels with Mme. Calvé and the other “songbirds.” Enjoy!

[Part one]
Studying and Traveling Abroad
By Ursula Claire Cheshire

 “Last May, after the closing of college at Berkeley, I left California, accompanied by my mother, to study with Mme. Emma Calvé in her castle in France.

Zeta sisters and friends bid us bon voyage as our train left the Oakland station and after a very enjoyable trip across the continent and a two weeks visit in New York, we found ourselves sailing out of New York harbor. As our steamer passed the Statue of Liberty my thoughts began to wander, and I wondered what my new life in the old world held for me.

Cherbourg, where we disembarked, was the first little French city to come before my eyes, and I remember how quaint I thought it was. There is a high stone wall at the waterfront with a straight line of French shops rising behind it, while the harbor was filled with small sailboats. Sitting on the wall or leaning over it were any number of French lads watching our steamer come in, and the streets were filled with two-wheeled carts, pulled by the horse, the oxen or the peasant.

After a long ride on the small French train with its many compartments, through the beautiful open country of Normandy with its fields of wheat and red poppies, we arrived at Paris to the ‘toots’ of taxi horns—and I thought ‘so this is Paris,’ as many others have thought before me. The buildings are not high like our American skyscrapers but what they lack in height they make up for in beauty, for they are all decorated.

The Parisian life is very gay and the shops and cafés hold much interest for the visitor, while even more alluring are such places as the Louvre with its galleries of art, Notre Dame with its rose windows, Eiffel Tower, the Triumphal Arch, and the Champ Elyseés. I loved Paris, its beauty and its life, and I hated to leave it, but it was necessary to go to Cabrières to study.”

To be continued…

All in the Family

Nine-year-old Ursula and her mother, Clara Uphoff Cheshire, in front of their LA home. I love Clara's dress!

Nine-year-old Ursula and her mother, Clara Uphoff Cheshire, in front of their LA home. I love Clara’s dress!

Tucked between the album’s pages, I found several loose photographs from around the same time, all stamped “SEP 10 1911” on the back (which probably means they were processed, not necessarily taken, on that day). It looks like they may chronicle a multigenerational family gathering over at least a couple of days.

Matilda Denzer Uphoff, Ursula's maternal grandmother. Check out the fancy rope work on her dress.

Matilda Denzer Uphoff, Ursula’s maternal grandmother. Check out the fancy rope work on her dress.

I see 9-year-old Ursula and her mother, Clara, in two of the photos, but who are all the other people? Only Ursula’s maternal grandmother, Matilda Uphoff, is identified on the back of the photo of her standing outside at the Cheshires’ house. I’ve been doing a bit of detective work, and I think I know who everyone is in this collection of photos, except for, in the photo below, the woman at the back resting her chin on her hand, and the ghostly young girl at the far right!

I found my first clue to the identity of some of these folks in an item published in the “Society” column of the Los Angeles Times. Dated the same day as the photos, it read: “Mrs. Cheshire Entertains. Mrs. A.D. Cheshire of No. 1422 Malvern avenue [sic] entertained fifty guests Wednesday evening in honor of her mother, Mrs H. Uphoff, and her sisters, Miss Mathilde Uphoff and Mrs. C.R. Pemby, all of San Francisco.

A family gathering in Los Angeles in 1911

A family gathering in Los Angeles in 1911

I’m not sure at whose house they are gathered, as it is not the Cheshires’ Malvern Avenue home, but it may belong to the chin-in-hand lady, perhaps a family friend. Based on subsequent research described below, I believe this photo features (left to right) Ursula, Clara, Ursula’s Aunt Jeannette, little cousin Marion, unknown (chin-in-hand lady), Aunt Mathilde, Grandmother Matilda, unknown ghostly girl, and father Alfred. At first I thought Alfred was Ursula’s grandfather Herman Uphoff, but then I remembered he died in 1909, and on closer inspection, this man’s nose and hairline look a lot like Alfred’s as depicted in much earlier photos. He would have been 58 at this time.

Through scouring various resources provided by Ancestry.com, including U.S. Census reports, California Death Index, Find a Grave Index and city directories, I have pieced together a narrative of Ursula’s immediate and extended family at that time, which helped me further figure out who was whom. It goes like this:

In September 1911 (the time the photos were most likely taken), Clara Uphoff Cheshire was 39, married to 58-year-old Alfred Cheshire, and mother to Ursula. Her father, Herman, had died two years earlier, and her widowed mother, Matilda (who lived to age 84), was 62 years old.  Clara’s siblings (Ursula’s aunts and uncle) were as follows:

  • 38-year-old widower Charles, a miner and father of 3-year-old Marion;
  • Mathilde, a single, 32-year-old public school teacher;
  • 31-year-old Jeannette, married to Charles R. Temby by October 1908, and mother to her first child, 16-month-old Randall, who must have been taking a nap when this photo was snapped! (Notice the LA Times misspelled Jeannette’s last name as “Pemby” in the above-mentioned news item);
  • Emma, 27, a single bookkeeper working in a physician’s office (who, apparently, did not come to LA for this family visit)

I believe the photo below depicts (left to right), Matilda, the matriarch of the family; Jeannette with her brother Charles’s daughter Marion on her shoulders (“Playing Horse”); and Mathilde. It took me a little while to decide which woman was Ursula’s Aunt Mathilde and which was Aunt Jeannette. I think it more likely that Jeannette is on the left because a) she looks more harried and physically more likely to have had a baby just over a year before than the more fresh-faced, small-wasted woman on the right; and b) when I blow up the photo, I can just barely make out a shape that looks like a ring on her “wedding” finger.

"Playing Horses": Ursula's grandmother, aunts and cousin

“Playing Horses”: Ursula’s grandmother, aunts and cousin

I think the little girl is Ursula’s cousin Marion, because she looks about 3 years old—the right age for her at that time—and because her father, Charles, was working as a miner and living in Nevada around that time. Since his wife, Grace Key, had died in 1909, possibly from complications of childbirth (as Marion had just been born in 1908), I imagine he left his daughter to the care of her aunts or grandparents while he was off making a living.

A family gathering in Los Angeles in 1911

A family gathering in Los Angeles in 1911

Back to the photo taken on the front porch…Notice that Aunt Mathilde is perusing what possibly could be a photo album, and it makes me wonder… is she is looking at some of the very same family pictures I have in this velvet-covered antique photo album (which, by the way, belonged to Ursula’s mother)? There’s that thread again, stretching from 1911 nearly 103 years to 2014. I can’t wait to see what I discover next!