On Monday the great-grandchildren of Bascom Clarke came to Madison to walk through the house that he had once lived in, and enjoy the beach and park that is named in his honor. Under sunny skies, and with a refreshing summer breeze, the past came alive as the Clarkes talked and smiled about the famous Madisonian that is a proud part of their family tree. Even though Bascom Clarke was a man they had only seen in pictures, they spoke of him fondly, as if he might have been among those at a recent family reunion.
Bascom Clarke’s Spaight Street Home
Helena Clarke Froidevaux and her husband Pascal from France, along with Peg and Liz Glynn of Minnesota walked up the steps of the historic house on Spaight Street where Bascom Clarke once lived. Bascom had the Queen Anne Victorian with Arts and Crafts elements built in 1899. As we stood on the porch Helena told of how one of the upstairs windows had been once used by Bascom in an attempt to keep the police and doctors away. Bascom was dealing with a contagious disease that doctors at the time felt should be quarantined. The elderly but determined Bascom felt differently. So with a rifle aimed out the window he let it be known that he was staying in his home.
The Three Great Grand-Children Hold Hands On Bascom Clarke’s Front Porch. From left to right, Pascal Froidevaux, Liz Glynn, Helen Froidevaux, And Peg Glynn
Those were the types of stories that James and myself were treated to as we walked with Bascom’s relatives along the isthmus. Helena had contacted me after finding a story about her great-grandfather on my blog. When discovering they were coming to Madison for a reunion, we were more than happy to make sure they were able to see the old house, and make sure Madison was a wonderful memory for them. Since they all speak French, and Helena has lived in France for decades, James and I put the French flag up at our home to welcome them. I must say that small act did provide warm smiles as they pulled up in the cars. It allowed for us all to feel like we knew each other, though we had only conversed on the internet.
Bascom Clarke’s life was truly one huge adventure. Though there were plenty of pitfalls and pain, his grit and determination paved the way for much success. After the Civil War and deadly malaria Clarke was left orphaned at the age of twelve. He became a man in Indiana, and later moved to Madison. His business ventures included organizing the Union Transfer and Storage Company, helping establish the Dane County Telephone Company, and starting “The American Thresherman”.
Perhaps the best thing that Bascom ever did was marry Mahettie Belle Watkins. She was known to all as Belle. The most wonderful of all the stories I heard from the Clarkes centered on Belle, and her most gracious character.
Mahettie Belle Watkins Clarke
The Clarkes had a cook named Augusta, though she was fondly referred to as ‘Gustie’. Each evening she would serve the meal prepared for Bascom and Belle. But later in the evening when it came time for ‘Gustie’ to eat it was Belle who would serve the cook, and then often sit alongside her at the family table and chat about the events of the day. It made for a perfect story as we all gathered in the dining room of the old Clarke home. “Gustie’ would go to work for Belle La Follette in later years, as the La Follette’s and Clarkes were close friends.
The Clarkes strolled the B.B. Clarke Beach and park. The new park benches were a pleasant place to spend some time after all the walking. As children frolicked in the lake, and a small family shared lunch on a blanket, the Clarke stories and memories kept being told and smiled about. As I looked at them I knew they would share this day over and over as the years rolled along. That is the great part about such days. They really never end.
It is hard to say if the Clarkes will again find their way back to the places in Madison that Bascom once roamed. I doubt it will happen. But for one afternoon the great grand-children had a chance to look about the place Bascom called home. They are now more able to reflect on his face and attach more of a story to him and the time he lived. For families and lovers of history that is priceless.
A family reunion is a time to remember that although you may feel close to your neighbors and friends, there is nothing quite like family.