Monday, October 30, 2017

“What cannot be said will be wept.”

Saturday, October 28, 2017
At 12:26 a.m. on the date listed above something of a miracle occurred and I have Facebook to thank for it. I was sent a messenger request by a lovely individual named James Maxwell. I was not familiar with the name nor will you be, however, in one single message to me this person changed all of our lives in ways I can only imagine. The gist, ironic I know, of the message, was about a photograph and more importantly what was on the back of that photograph. James asked me how familiar I was with Agnes Moorehead's handwriting and my answer was I know it as well as I know my own. I have to admit I was so curious about why my knowledge of her handwriting was being sought out so I read on. He wrote to me the story of the photograph or should I say rather he told me the story of what was on the back of the photograph.

February 13, 1937
A photograph of a woman named Lillian Palma Westrum Keyes was taken at some point before this date and was given as a gift to someone. What makes this date so special you ask? This is the date that Lillian Palma Westrum Keyes took her own life. There is an obituary from a local newspaper glued on the bottom of a letter and above the letter dated February 13. 1937 is another little snippet from a newspaper. But what really makes this letter priceless is the person who composed it. I'll get to that in a minute. The letter is gut-wrenching and actually made me weep when I read it. Anyone who knows me well knows I'm not given to shedding tears easily but this letter broke my heart. Here it is:

"Lillian Keyes"
 And so the days go by, dawn after nights mooned(?). 
And endless futile lie - Time doesn't heal the wound. 
My aching lips can know no rest from your last kiss; The pillowed sanctuary of your breast I miss.
 But more than ecstasy of flesh I miss your soul; Divinely fragile mesh that held us whole! 
And so the days go by. There is no cure; I do not live, I do not die_ 
I just endure.
Lillian was my dearest, sweetest girlfriend I ever knew or had.

October 29, 2017
I began on this date to really scrutinize this letter because, like James, I wanted to be absolutely certain of what I was looking at. I began with the signature. For those who don't know it our handwriting is as fluid as we choose to make it. It can be small and neat one day then wild and loopy the next. But like tells, things that let us know we're being bluffed or things we do absentmindedly, the signature tends to be fairly similar if you have samples taken from the same period of time. I have those samples. Handwriting in the form of signatures on photographs, letters, school books and 1 Christmas card.
As I began looking at the handwriting I zeroed in on the things that have remained constant in Agnes' cursive writing, her odd combination of cursive and printing, writing from the 60's and 70's, and what things I could identify that were consistent.

October 30, 2017
The very first item on the menu is her signature during the 1930's specifically. Before she began to sign large numbers of autograph's Agnes had maintained the same style of handwriting she doubtless learned as a girl. Penmanship was actually a subject taught in schools and you were graded on the shapes as well as the consistency of your handwriting.

Signature 1:
This signature comes from a photo taken about 1931 or 1932:

This signature that contains only the first name is taken from the letter which is dated 1937:

What stands out the most immediately is something you'll only notice if you enlarge the signature. There is always a gap between the Ag and the nes. During this period she did not join her g and her n ever. The second most noticeable thing is the gap at the top of the g and again during this period, it was standard in every signature I've been able to find that is from the 1930's. The third attribute is the shape of the e you'll see that they are pretty much identical. The top signature is signed with a much heavier pen but the main body of the n is nearly identical and while the beginning loop of the n on the lower signature is longer she had a great deal more room and the same is true of the tail of the s. I believe without reservation that these two signatures are from the same person.

The letter D:
The first capital D comes from the a letter written by Agnes in the 1960's:

The second capital D comes from the letter:

Aside from the obvious flourish in the top signature the three D's are unique in shape. They are all nearly identical from the beginning of the D to the bottom drop of the D and if the flourish were added to the tail they would be exactly the same. Given that the first is written as a thank you note to a fan and the bottom in an anguished post-mortem letter the lack of follow through on the tail of the D is understandable.

The small letter m and the small letter y:
The first example is also from the 60's letter:

The second is from the letter:

The interior of the two-letter m's are so similar that it would be highly unlikely that they were not written by the same individual. Again the top is formal and the bottom is not. The lead into the m is longer but the letter flows exactly the same way both ending in the unique pointed second peak. The y's are slanted slightly differently but the loops are very similar and I believe the bottom tail of the y in the 1937 letter does continue across but it is very faded.

The long story short is that this letter was written by Agnes Moorehead. What makes is so unique is the content. 

“Someone, I tell you, in another time will remember us.” 
There is not a single person who has followed the life and career of Agnes Moorehead who has not at one time or another been involved in a discussion about her sexuality. My mind is drawn right back to the interview that author Boze Hadleigh did with Agnes Moorehead where she specifically talks about the emotional level of the love between two women and she says that this kind of love was almost a spiritual experience.

"But more than ecstasy of flesh I miss your soul; Divinely fragile mesh that held us whole!"
That's exactly the sentiment that she communicated to Hadleigh. The connection between two women who loved one another was a joining of the souls a connection across time or distance.

“You came and I was longing for you.
You cooled a heart that burned with desire.” 
What is unclear but is something both James and I are attempting to figure out is how Agnes came to know Lillian. Lillian was from a small town in Minnesota but there are some circumstances in her life that could have afforded more than one opportunity for her to have met Agnes. These are the circumstances:
1. Lillian was married to bandleader Ray Keyes. Keyes fronted a band called Ray Keyes Dixieland Band. While he played primarily, apparently, in the Midwest he may have been on the same circuit as Phil Baker's radio tour which Agnes participated in. Baker's radio shows went all over America and notably landed in two of the larger towns close to Ray Keyes circuit about the same time.
2. Lillian worked in a restaurant in this small town and could have met her at any given time during said tour.
3. Lillian's mother was from Wisconsin and her hometown is about halfway between Reedsburg and Soldier's Grove. Their paths could have crossed at any point during Agnes' parents two separate stays in Reedsburg and it likely would have happened on a journey from Soldier's Grove to Reedsburg.

There are any number of plausible explanations trust me I've lived them. I had a 20-year long relationship with a woman that I met after I came to Arizona. This was someone so far off my beaten trail that if this were me and nobody understood all of the little things that happened in my life to lead me to that relationship there would be no understanding of how I got from Flagstaff to Page from a suburb of Washington D.C. None of us know where Agnes traveled specifically except for those items that made the paper IE Phil Baker's tour or any other number of articles about her going here or there. I have offered 3 viable explanations but it could have just been literally by chance and we will never fully grasp that unless some other document like this comes to light.

What is certain is the level of passion both emotional and physical conveyed in the letter. Another certainty is we know that Agnes had previously written an emotional letter to her sister while grieving her death in 1929. This is what she did when she was emotionally distraught and like the letter to her sister discovered by chance in an old ADA notebook, this too was a letter of grieving for a loved one discovered by chance. 

“Love is a cunning weaver of fantasies and fables.” 
I have no doubt that this letter will bring the trolls and the naysayers out of the woodwork. If you choose not to believe it that is your right and you're welcome to it. I, on the other hand, choose to believe it. Agnes was a beautiful woman what person, male or female, in their right mind could look at her and not fall in love with her. She was ethereal, outrageous, witty, sensual, strong, fragile, talented, opinionated and above all human. This letter is the deepest connection to her real self outside of the letter to her sister and it kicks open a door to reveal a woman who was passionate in every sense of the word. Keep in mind at this point in her life Agnes was young and as we all know we do things in our youth that we would never consider doing as we age. This is the woman whose picture hangs on the wall of my bedroom. This is the woman whose photograph sits next to a picture of my mother on my dresser. What this is not is the caftan-wearing flamboyant woman we watched on the small screen as young people. This woman is human. She's coming down from that castle we've had her in for years and she's showing us that she had a heart and soul as great as the universe. She's showing us that she loved unabashedly. She is showing us her heartbreak and grief. A grief she likely felt twice as strong as it should've been because her sister had committed suicide by poison as well. If she shut down emotionally I guarantee you this would be the reason why. You cannot lose two people whom you love so fiercely to the same thing and not be terrified to open yourself up to love again.  She became so private because she couldn't afford to have any of this come out not if she intended to stay financially independent. She became a series of fantasies and fables. But just look at her now and how stunning she is inside and out! She has finally blossomed for everyone to see.

Lillian Palma Westrum Keyes

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