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Finding Wharton Esherick’s House (Before GPS!)

March 23, 2017

If you’ve ever had trouble finding the Wharton Esherick Museum, you are not alone! Making your way to the Studio has always been a bit of an adventure, as captured in this wonderful open house invitation from Esherick’s early career. The invite rests unfolded in our collection now, but if you look closely you can make out the creases and begin to imagine opening the invitation to discover the delightful map inside.

Open studio invitation designed by Esherick

The invite is likely from the early 1920’s, well before Esherick constructed his “castle on a hill,” the building which is now our Museum. We should imagine instead, visitors arriving at the farmhouse property just down the hill (known as Sunekrest) with Esherick’s work on display in the barn, which he used as his studio in these early days. Surely not by accident, Esherick’s open studio was scheduled to  coincide with his wife Letty’s peony garden coming into bloom. Esherick even carved flowers on his invitation that dance around his artwork list.


Esherick’s map of the route from Paoli to Sunekrest in the early 1920’s.

Esherick began his mapped route with the Paoli train station.

Made up of three woodcut blocks, the most exceptional part of Esherick’s invite is the map. The route from the Paoli train station to Sunekrest is articulated with fun and functional detail, including the two freight lines and two streams crossed on the way. If you’re using this map to find us today be warned that a few things have changed! Route 202 and 76 were yet to be, of course, and the northernmost freight line (on the right in our view) is now the Chester Valley Trail.  Another significant difference is the existence (or disappearance) of Ashenfelter Road. The farmhouse had stood at the corner of Ashenfelter and Diamond Rock Road (which Esherick efficiently denotes here with a diamond shape).  In fact, when the Esherick’s bought the property the barn was on one side of Ashenfelter Road, the farmhouse on the other.

Diamond Rock Rd. and Sunekrest are both cleverly designated by Esherick. The octagonal schoolhouse on Diamond Rock Rd. is also depicted.

Over time, the roadway coming up the hill was redesigned and this end of Ashenfelter Road was no longer used. The current driveway to Sunekrest and a path through the woods beyond the farmhouse is all that’s left of the old roadway.

Just above the aerial view map, Esherick has illustrated a cross cut view of the Great Chester Valley, with Paoli on the left and Sunekrest, designated by the rising sun symbol, on the right. This sun symbol also adorns the farmhouse itself. Esherick carved this symbol into the shutters, hammered into the copper hearth, and even added it to the chimney and the doorknocker – wonderful early examples of an artist whose creativity could not be contained!

Ashenfelter Rd. and the Esherick’s farmhouse, Sunekrest (note the sun symbol on the chimney).

Next time you’re on your way to visit us, keep Esherick’s map in mind and you’ll start to piece together the landscape of the past. An invitation like this leaves little doubt that the adventure to find Wharton Esherick’s house has always been worth the trip!

If you are looking for directions to the Wharton Esherick Museum that are a little more up-to-date you can always find them here!

Post written by Visitor Experience and Program Specialist, Katie Wynne.




Black History Month Spotlight: Jean Toomer

February 13, 2017
Jean Toomer in New York, 1934. Photo by Marjorie Content.

Jean Toomer in New York, 1934. Photo by Marjorie Content.

In an earlier post we highlighted the achievements of Marjorie Content (photographer, friend, and client of Wharton’s) in which we made brief mention of her husband, Jean Toomer. After the recent reemergence of Toomer’s “prohibition briefcase” in our museum collection during off-season cleaning we felt compelled to revisit this connection!

Jean Toomer (1894-1967) was a leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance. His most well-known work, Cane, is a collection of thematically linked character sketches, prose poetry and short stories revolving around the complexity of African American life from North to South. Published in 1923, Cane received critical acclaim and is now considered a classic of Modernist literary experimentation. Interestingly to those of us following the Esherick thread, Toomer listed Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio among his influences (Sherwood Anderson and Esherick were longtime friends).

Esherick's copy of Cane, published in 1923.

Esherick’s copy of Cane, published in 1923.

Snooping though the shelves in Esherick’s bedroom one can find two copies of Cane – the 1923 edition and a 1969 reprint that revived interest in Toomer’s lyrical vignettes. In both copies Esherick had stuffed newspaper clippings about Toomer highlighting the re-release of his most famous work. Esherick had come to know Jean Toomer through Marjorie Content who married Toomer in 1934.

We should note that the complex nature of highlighting Jean Toomer for Black History Month is not lost on us. Toomer, who was multiracial, resisted being categorized as an African-American author and was determined to transcend these definitions. He considered himself the personification of the “New American,” neither black nor white, and was far more concerned with achieving internal spiritual harmony. This spiritual journey eventually led him to join the Quakers.

Toomer's Mill House Pamphlets feature an Esherick woodcut on the cover.

Toomer’s Mill House Pamphlets features an Esherick woodcut on the cover.

The Toomers had moved to Mill House, a farm on the outskirts of Doylestown, within a year or so of their marriage and joined the Quakers soon thereafter. Esherick was enlisted to help convert a barn on the property into their home, with Esherick and Content working together on the project. Toomer’s interests had shifted by this time in his life, and he was withdrawing from the public eye. Toomer and Content began a philosophical press from their home, Mill House Press, to publish his writings and ruminations on the nature of humankind. These pamphlets, which feature a woodcut of a waterwheel by Esherick on the cover, are also marked by Toomer’s return to his “full” name – Nathan Jean Toomer, signifying to many the departure from his earlier work. (It’s worth noting his name was actually Nathan Eugene Pinchback Toomer – so he had plenty to pick from.)

Toomer's "prohibition briefcase" hides two large flasks for smuggling liquor inside.

Toomer’s “prohibition briefcase” hides two large flasks for smuggling liquor inside.

Toomer’s later booklets, from the 1940’s, focus heavily on his interpretations of Quaker faith and worship. Esherick had several of Toomer’s publications from this period on his shelves as well, warmly inscribed “to the one and only Wharton” or “From one old salt to another, Jean.” How Esherick came to own Toomer’s leather briefcase remains a bit of a mystery. However, it certainly highlights the unusual path that Toomer’s life took. After all, these Quaker pamphlets are a long way from the raucous and roaring 1920’s when Toomer was breaking ground with his experimental prose.





Check out our March 2013 blog post for more info on Marjorie Content and her connection to Wharton Esherick.

More information on Jean Toomer can be found at


Post written by Visitor Experience and Program Specialist, Katie Wynne.


Philly Touch Tours Training: Developing Tours for Visitors with Vision Loss

January 23, 2017
Testing our verbal description skills at the Penn Museum.

Testing our verbal description skills at the Penn Museum.

At the Wharton Esherick Museum we encourage you to reach out and feel the edge of the Drop Leaf Desk or the elegant post of the Spiral Library Ladder.  The connection that happens through touch is unique. We regularly see our guests’ faces light up when they can feel and experience Wharton’s forms for themselves, bringing them closer to understanding his creative brilliance.

Well, this isn’t a new policy, so why am I waxing poetic about the power of the kinesthetic experience? Last month a small group of staff and docents from the Wharton Esherick Museum participated in Accessibility Training with Philly Touch Tours and the experience was unforgettable – and it made total sense with what we value here at WEM.

As stated on their website, Philly Touch Tours provides accessibility consulting, sensitivity training and instructional workshops for cultural and educational institutions and inclusive, sensory tours and experiences for people with vision loss in and around the Philadelphia area. Our training took place at the Penn Museum led by the refreshingly good-humored and authentic Philly Touch Tours staff (Trish Maunder, Austin Seraphin and Katherine Allen) and their wonderful volunteers.

Philly Touch Tours Co-founders Trish and Austin leading the training.

Philly Touch Tours Co-founders Trish and Austin leading the training.

Essentially, training with the Philly Touch Tour group gave us the tools and the foundation for envisioning a Touch Tour here at the Wharton Esherick Museum.  Our training included a discussion on sensitivity (everything from verbal, body language and other etiquette, to misconceptions and stereotypes) and then shifted into Sighted Guide and description techniques.  There are more steps to go, but we are now on a path towards offering tours designed for visitors with vision loss.

In the final stage of the training we headed to the Egyptian Gallery, donning goggles designed to simulate a variety of vision conditions, and help us stay focused on our sense of touch and on the cues from our Sighted Guides. We explored hieroglyphs and cartouches with our fingers and trying to keep up with the brilliant docents. The exercise was humbling and I felt keenly aware of how much I default to my sense of vision and shortchange the rest.  Sight is fast information (or at least it can be), but a Touch Tour doesn’t work that way. We covered four objects in two hours, just four, and that was enough- the process was so engrossing.

Getting a sense of volume!

Getting a sense of volume!

I was also struck by the value of physical memory, which Trish Maunder (Creative Director and co-founder of Philly Touch Tours) drew our attention to. The volumes I was experiencing (or hugging as it were!) had become connected to my own scale and existence in the world, making it memorable in a more immediate way. The training was a reminder in the importance of tactile experiences and the transformational potential they can have. It was a reminder of the strengths of what we have to share at the Esherick Museum and how to build upon them. It was a reminder to give artworks the time and meditation they deserve.

Wharton Esherick Museum Curator, Laura Heemer, embracing the experience!

Wharton Esherick Museum Curator, Laura Heemer, embracing the experience!

Foremost, the training was a lesson in the power of diversity to enrich all of our experiences. All of us at WEM are excited to create a universally accessible environment and share Wharton’s work with as many people as possible, in as immersive a way as possible.  As Philly Touch Tours likes to say “Seeing might be believing, but when you touch, you know!”


Post written by Visitor Experience and Program Specialist, Katie Wynne.

A Closer Look at the Holiday Notecards

November 20, 2016

We  can’t imagine talking about the holiday season without talking about traditions, and here at the museum we have a few of our own. The staff office will soon be twinkling under the glow of Christmas lights, Wharton’s leather Santa decoration will hang by the kitchen door, and our museum store shelves will be stocked once again with our holiday notecard packets. Each packet of cards holds some combination of three of the following five woodcut prints, and what’s uniquely wonderful about them (aside from being beautifully crafted) is that each is a window into Esherick’s story. So whether they are on your wish list or not, we thought they deserved a closer look!

Christmas Snows, 1923, woodcut print by Wharton Esherick

Christmas Snows (Dorothy Cantrell’s House), 1923, woodcut print by Wharton Esherick

Three of the prints are from 1923 – Christmas Snows, December and January. Stylistically, they belong together. Each depicts a snowy scene, though Christmas Snows feels more like a blizzard! The sky is made up of countless stippled marks and fine lines which sweep diagonally across the image. The house is defined with a fury of diagonal sweeps as well (which also cross in front of the trees) masterfully setting the house beyond the storm, hiding it in the swells and gusts. Thank goodness for warm fireplaces! The full title of this print is actually Christmas Snows (Dorothy Cantrell’s House). We hope to one day find the exact location, which we suspect would have been close to Wharton’s own home.

"January", 1923, woodcut print by Wharton Esherick

“January”, 1923, wood engraving by Wharton Esherick

Sometimes called January- Blankets of Snow, this print depicts a calm hillside (also somewhere near Wharton’s home though we can’t say where for sure). Wharton was often capturing the changing landscape around his farm from season to season, titling prints after the various month (possibly with hopes of publishing a calendar). In January one can spot a house, or maybe two, in the distance at the edge of the field, that perhaps the lone figure is returning to. With a wonderfully economic use of line Wharton achieves the voluminous quality of the snow covering the fence which leads our gaze out over the hillside.
These prints represent some of Wharton’s earliest recognition and success as an artist. January was among one of Wharton’s prints published in The Century Magazine around this time, which would have been distributed nationwide. His woodcut prints were also published in other magazines of the period such as The Dial, The Forum, The New Republic and Vanity Fair.

"December", 1923, woodcut print by Wharton Esherick

“December”, 1923, woodcut print by Wharton Esherick

December portrays another snowy day – (those blankets of snow really lend themselves to woodcut grooves!) but in this case a house with snowfall softly covering the steps, brush and branches fills the picture plane. It’s Wharton’s own home, the 19th century farmhouse which he and Letty purchased to begin their life together, and which they lovingly named “Sunekrest.” In 1923, when this print was made, the family was still young, Mary was all of seven and Ruth still a baby (and Peter a few years away!)


"Winter Play", 1928, wood engraving print by Wharton Esherick

“Winter Play”, 1928, wood engraving by Wharton Esherick

Flash forward five years and we see Ruth depicted in Winter Play, sledding down Diamond Rock Hill Road. Ruth would later recall the thrilling ride, including the little “ski jumps” made along the road by shallow trenches intended to divert rainwater, and of course, the long hike back. In the image we can see that Wharton’s style has evolved, moving closer to abstraction and further from the more traditional, representational techniques – really pushing the potential of the high contrast medium.

"Alabama Magnolia", 1929, wood engraving by Wharton Esherick

“Alabama Magnolia”, 1929, wood engraving by Wharton Esherick

Alabama Magnolia, completed the following year, is part of a series of Alabama Tree prints conceived during Wharton’s second trip to Fairhope, Alabama in 1929-1930. (Incidentally, Wharton also worked on a series of animal garden sculptures during this trip, in collaboration with the Alabama-based potter, Peter McAdam. Wharton and Peter’s Winnie-the-Pooh is one wonderful example of their creative partnership.)

Cast aluminum version of Winnie (Winnie-the-Pooh) watches the seasons come and go. The original ceramic Pooh was a collaboration between Wharton Esherick and Peter McAdam in 1930.

The cast aluminum version of “Winnie-the-Pooh” (ceramic original by Wharton Esherick and Peter McAdam, 1930) watches the seasons come and go! 

Always a fan of trees, Wharton spent time on this trip sketching the trees of the region, including live oaks and pines, and the quintessential hanging Spanish moss. Working from these sketches, Wharton carved the blocks when he returned home to his studio. This print, as well as Winter Play and January, are actually wood engravings (the carving is done on the end grain) which allows for finer lines when carving. In Alabama Magnolia, Wharton continues with the bolder, more modern style we see in Winter Play, detailing the closest of the magnolia tree’s showy leaves, and leaving the rest silhouetted in the background. And of course, any Esherick fans down south know that wreaths made from magnolia leaves are a staple of Southern holiday decor, and make a fine edition to our notecard pack!



Post written by Visitor Experience and Program Specialist, Katie Wynne.

Wharton at the World’s Fair

November 9, 2016
The Trylon and Perisphere at the center of the 1939-40 New York World's Fair. Image source: New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York World's Fair 1939-1940 Records.

The Trylon and Perisphere at the center of the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair.
Image source: New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York World’s Fair 1939-1940 Records.

Few events leave such a legacy of wonder and spectacle on the national psyche as a World’s Fair. A beacon of hope and potential, 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair undoubtedly left its mark on America and we are excited to highlight Wharton’s contribution to this iconic exposition in this month’s post. To say the fair was expansive would be an understatement. Pavilions sprawled across Flushing Meadows Corona Park covering over 1,200 acres, effectively erecting a temporary city dedicated to the future. Nestled in between the Great Depression and the start of World War II, the fair was themed “The World of Tomorrow” and trumpeted the promise and potential of American ingenuity.

A map of the fair - "America at Home" can be seen next to the information booth (owl icon) circled here in red.

A map of the fair – “America at Home” can be seen next to the information booth (owl icon) circled here in red.

The fair included themed zones and attractions too numerous to list here, including everything from international exhibits at the ‘Lagoon of Nations’ to American industry giants like General Motors and RCA. Over 44 million visitors would attend, marveling at the Trylon and Perisphere (the great spire and orb at the fair center) and all the wonders of technology that surrounded them.

However, it soon became apparent that for all the electricity and aerodynamic cars the fair offered, it neglected to represent the future of domestic spaces. What would our daily lives look like? The “America at Home” pavilion, added to the 1940 season would correct that – and that’s where Wharton comes in!

Photo by Richard Garrison

“A Pennsylvania Hill House” included architecture by George Howe and furnishings by Wharton Esherick.  Photo by Richard Garrison.

A total of 16 architects and designers were commissioned for this exhibit, each producing a distinct room. One such architect was George Howe, who took the opportunity to collaborate with Wharton. (Perhaps Howe’s most well-known building is the PSFS – Philadelphia Saving Fund Society, the first International style skyscraper in the U.S.) For the fair, Howe designed the surrounding structure, while Wharton created a room display both modernist and rugged, which they called “A Pennsylvania Hill House.”

Blueprint illustrating Howe and Esherick's floor plans.

Blueprint illustrating Howe and Esherick’s floor plans.

The display included some particularly iconic pieces, many of which you see on our tour here at the museum – the oak spiral stairs, the Curtis Bok sofa (now in Wharton’s bedroom) and the cherry walls that now surround the dining room, to name just a few. One of Wharton’s newest designs on display at the fair was a five-sided hickory table with black phenol top and a set of chairs derived from his earlier hammer handle designs. These marked a new direction in Wharton’s work, shifting from expressionist lines to lighter, curving forms. As a whole, Wharton’s arrangement was strikingly theatrical, especially when compared to the neighboring rooms. The images that remain reveal a layered, textural space heightened by dramatic light and shadow, and a sense for the warmth and emotional richness possible in design.

Wharton also took the opportunity to include other artist’s work (June Groff and Hannah Fischer are among the names that may be familiar to Esherick fans) and books on consignment from the Centaur Book Shop. A price list Wharton submitted to the fair provides us with a thorough inventory of the room – notably, Sock, the wooden dog footstool which Wharton made for his daughter Ruth on her eleventh birthday, was “Not for Sale.”

Price list for the "Pennsylvania Hill House".

Price list for the “Pennsylvania Hill House”.

The World’s Fair was the first exhibition of Wharton’s work to reach a national and international audience, and seems to have been well received (although the advent of WWII turned America’s focus on things other than art buying). In a letter to Wharton from the America at Home Publicity Director, Lousie V. Sloane, she remarked that, “The ‘Pennsylvania Hill House’ is a very popular room with visitors… and the stairway continues to bring forth exclamations, questions and comments from those who go through the building.” (Sounds pretty familiar to those of us introducing the spiral stairs to visitors today!) Elizabeth Rae Boykin, writing for the Philidelphia Bulliten in 1940, noted how the room recalled Pennsylvania’s “pioneer tradition that translates well into a modern idiom.” It certainly seems to have stood apart in its simultaneous representation of a rugged past and a modernist future, asserting the enduring relevance of the handmade.

Howe and Esherick featured alongside contemporaries from "America at Home".

Howe and Esherick featured alongside contemporaries from “America At Home” in the New York Herald Tribune.



Check out these sites for more information about the 1939-1940 World’s Fair:


Post written by Visitor Experience and Program Specialist, Katie Wynne.






The Annual Members’ Party

October 25, 2016
A great turnout at the 2016 Members' Party.

A great turnout at the 2016 Members’ Party.

Last month the tents went up, we brought out the tablecloths and packed Horseshoe Trail with the cars of museum friends, family and docents as we hosted our Annual Members’ Party! This event is held each September, but the excitement around it extends far beyond, and for good reason. It is often mentioned to new visitors as the one day a year they can go inside the 1956 Workshop designed by Louis Kahn (and that is worth it!) – but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a gathering of old and new friends, a chance to reconnect with the community Wharton’s work has inspired and we thought this was a good time to shed a little light on where this party has been and where it’s going!

Miriam Philips and guests in 1987.

Miriam Philips and guests in 1987.

First of all, this party goes waaay back.  Basically, the museum was incorporated in 1972 and we’ve been partying ever since.  Of course things have changed over time – looking back through our photos it seems we’ve tried facing the chairs in every possible direction, to say nothing of the polyester plaid pants.  More substantially, the Members’ Party has come to serve as the opening reception and award ceremony for the Annual Woodworking Competition, hosted in our Visitor Center exhibition space.

Established in 1994 (thanks to Morton Weiss – a founding member of the museum who both conceived of the event and provided the funds) the goal of the competition has always been to encourage imaginative works that merge the sculptural and the functional. The theme this year was frames, and our exhibiting artists did not disappoint! The pieces on view achieve a range of styles from the delicate to the hearty with exceptional skill. This component of the afternoon is a wonderful opportunity for our museum community to meet with artists and support ongoing woodwork and design.

Our Board President, Larry Liss, enjoying the exhibition.

Our Board President, Larry Liss, enjoying the exhibition.

Members present at the party also cast their votes for the frame most deserving of the Member’s Choice Award, while the jury deliberates who gets First (the Dr. Henry Jordan Best in Show), Second, Third and the Horace Hartshaw Award (an award for best High School entry named after the last apprentice to work under Wharton). You can view a full gallery of the exhibition on our facebook page.

John Schmidt, Wharton's friend and collaborator.

Expert cabinetmaker, John Schmidt, Wharton’s friend and collaborator.


The day’s program also includes a guest speaker, and we’ve had many brilliant ones over the years – check out our previous blog post “Wharton to Wendell” for Wendell Castle’s remarks at the 1992 Members’ Party. This year Mark Sfirri (renowned woodworker, teacher and Esherick scholar) shared with us his recent research on John Schmidt, the cabinetmaker who was such an integral part of Wharton’s studio.  Mark had established correspondence with Schmidt’s granddaughter, Margie Cooke, who was graciously able to provide photos of Schmidt – and who we were happy to have in attendance at the party!

Mark Sfirri sharing images from Cinagro.

Mark Sfirri sharing childhood images of Ruth from Cinagro.




Mark also took this opportunity to flip through a yearbook entitled Cinagro from the Marietta School of Organic Education, the progressive school which served as the impetus for the Esherick’s first trip to Farihope, Alabama, a trip which certainly changed the course of their lives. Cinagro (organic spelled backwards) will also now be part of the museum’s collection – thanks Mark!

Margie Washington volunteering at the auction tent.

Margie Washington volunteering at the auction tent.


The newest edition to the party program, put into full force this year, was the silent auction. With over twenty items and gift packages donated from artists, local museums, art organizations, restaurants and more the auction proved a great success. This year’s hot item was a beautiful slab of walnut donated by Hearne Hardwoods. Fundraising activities like these are exceedingly important in helping us steward this treasured place.

This year’s party was distinct in that it was dedicated to Ruth Esherick Bascom, Wharton’s daughter and co-founder of the Museum, who passed away in 2015. Mansfield “Bob” Bascom, Ruth’s husband and Museum co-founder, closed the event this year by sharing a few warm stories in her honor. A bulletin board on display collected photos of Ruth brought by friends over the course of the day allowing everyone to share their fond memories. Bob also announced the official donation to the museum of a number of Wharton’s sculptures that have been in Bob and Ruth’s personal collection. To end the evening friends of the Bascoms were invited in for beer and chocolate cake, Ruth’s favorite way to celebrate.

In recent years invitation to the party has been extended to include non-members as we strive to share the site with a broader audience and ensure the support we need as a donor-dependent organization! Naturally, our members are our greatest ambassadors, and Wharton’s legacy is expanded through your passion and commitment to sharing in our mission.

Old and new friends meet on the lawn.

Old and new friends meet on the museum lawn.

This event has been growing and changing to meet the needs of the Wharton Esherick Museum and its community since its inception, but one goal remains the same – to share in the joy of Wharton’s work and the exceptional people that have been drawn together by it. Join the party!

You can learn more about the benefits of becoming a member by clicking here.



Post written by Visitor Experience and Program Specialist, Katie Wynne.

A Late Summer Honeymoon Cruise

September 1, 2016

The beautifully illustrated cover page of Wharton and Letty’s honeymoon journal.

As another summer gives way to the crisp fall air, we can imagine it feels a bit like the departure date of Wharton and Letty’s honeymoon over 100 years ago.  The couple set sail from Ventnor City, NJ on the nearly three week cruise and (fortunately for us!) the happy memories of this adventure were not lost with the passage of time.  Wharton, in true captain’s fashion, kept a daily log of the journey, which we’re excited to highlight in this month’s blog post.  His chosen title, “The Log of the Cruise of the Wiwurna III: or (In Better Words) That Honeymoon”, should leave no doubt of the good humor and adventurous spirit detailed within!

Wharton Harris Esherick and Leticia Aloysius Nofer were married in Philadelphia on September 13th 1912.  Raised in differing religions (Wharton’s family were Episcopalians, while Letty’s were Catholic) meant a church ceremony was out of the question, and the couple instead turned to a friend of both families, Judge J. Willis Martin, to help them tie the knot.  It was also thanks to Judge Martin, who offered the couple the use of his motorsailer for a honeymoon cruise, that the couple would have many more knots to tie in the weeks ahead!

honeymoon map

Map of places the Eshericks went ashore. Click to enlarge

Flying the Ventnor Yacht Club flag, the Wiwurna III was a “38 foot hunting cabin motor boat, run with a 12 H.P. Hall engine” and “sails with 425 square feet of canvas.” It was equipped with a cabin, toilet and washroom with electricity and carried both a rowboat and a 16 foot canoe.  The first few days aboard ship were spent puttering around the Jersey coast, getting used to the new accommodations, after which Wharton and Letty set out for New York.  Wharton details their route, passing by Seaside Park, Asbury Park, sailing around Sandy Hook, through Swash Channel, into Kill van Kull and dropping anchor at Sailor’s Snug Harbor on the north shore of Staten Island.  Hopefully the sites on land were nicer than the harbor, for this stopping point did not get a resounding endorsement from Wharton.  Rather he called it “the dirtiest and noisiest place we could be, trains ran across our stern, while tugs and liners chased under our bow.”

Wharton, Letty and the Cuskadens on an excursion up the Hudson River.

Once in New York they spent several days enjoying the company of friends and family (though they always returned to the ship at night!)  They visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art with friends, Mr. and Mrs. Cuskaden, ate dinner in Chinatown with Uncle Millard, and took in a few plays, notably seeing George Arliss in Disraeli.  The Cuskadens even joined Wharton and Letty for an excursion up the Hudson, spending a night aboard with the newlyweds.  Wharton’s awe at the natural beauty of this region is palpable – “…that beautiful river of Hennrick [Henry] Hudson’s discovery flowing through great cuts, making high walls on either side; and immense woods reaching out above it all.  Large palisades making the trains that run along their base seem like toys, and our little craft must have looked like a dot to these great rocks and mountains of ages. Man is only a speck to these wonders.”

It is commentaries like these from Wharton that are the most delightful as a reader returning to these pages.  During a stop in Barnegat, New Jersey, Wharton delights in the laid back store owner, too comfortable at the local hotel bar to assist Wharton in buying ice, preferring to give Wharton the key and let him get it himself. Wharton is left wondering (surely with a smile) – “is that honesty or laziness?”

On another early night in their trip, the couple awoke to the US Life Saving Service coming to offer them help (though they were not actually in any trouble).  The “rescuers” were quite surprised to see Letty poke her head out at the commotion, to which the Captain remarked “that fellow don’t need no help, he’s having a fine time – he’s got a girl on board.”

Wharton and Letty being “rescued” by the U.S. Life Saving Service.

Not every couple would have been well-suited for such a rugged outing, a trip in many ways full of duties and hard work.  However, Letty was spirited and unconventional (it is said that while other girls still played with dolls, she played with engines) and Wharton’s familiarity with sailing is apparent from page one.  The log is peppered with nautical lingo (with references to the jib, aft sail, tenders, and such) and titles (Wharton as Skipper and Letty The Mate and Chief Engineer!).  Indeed, a good portion of Wharton’s log aptly details (as it should) the wind, weather and tides and how they used these to get where they were going!

Drying out after the storm.

Drying out after the storm.

Wharton spent his fair share of time on the water as a youth.  His parents owned a beach house in Longport, NJ where the Esherick boys taught themselves to sail, even spending one entire summer aboard ship.  This experience must have come in handy when Wharton and Letty found themselves in a powerful storm.  Making their way back down the Jersey coast from New York, Wharton recounts how the boat was “taking big breaks and poundings like a fighter, and sticking her nose out for more, many times rolling over to put the port holes under.” They managed to battle their way through gale force winds and rain and tuck into a cove south of Barnegat, New Jersey to wait out the storm.

Crabbing near Cape May, NJ.

Thankfully, not all of their time aboard the Wiwurna III was as harrowing as those stormy nights! Wharton and Letty straightened up, dried out and headed for Cape May, crabbing off the boat, and visiting the summer resorts on shore.  The last few days of the honeymoon were spent making a leisurely push up the Delaware River, undoubtedly knowing that, with the cool October air, their trip would have to come to an end.  In fact, their last night was spent covering up with “all blankets, sweaters and rugs” – they had held out as long as they could!

Letty bound the journal with linen cord and whittled sticks, so that the book could be hung like a nautical chart.


That last day, October 2nd, just shy of three weeks, Wharton and Letty “hauled out for the winter” at the Philadelphia Yacht Club in Essington, PA.  Upon returning home, Wharton copied the log in ink and lovingly brought the stories to life with snapshots and illustrations.  Letty then created a canvas cover for the pages, using linen cord and whittled sticks to bind the book, lending it a resemblance to a nautical chart and preserving it for future adventurers.




Post written by Visitor Experience and Program Specialist, Katie Wynne.