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"Once, when he was partially relieved by the opiate,
I slept, while Claude watched..."
- Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain: A Biography
The man who spent the last years of Samuel Clemens's life as one of his closest personal aides was his butler, Claude. Claude has remained a shadowy figure in Twain studies--perhaps because of the discretion often required from a man who serves in such a close capacity to someone famous. Even Claude's last name has remaine elusive for many years. Claude is mentioned frequently in Clemens's letters and in biographies written by others--always without a surname identification. Hamlin Hill in God's Fool identified Claude as "Claude Benchotte." (1) Hill's identification was most likely based on misinterpreting a handwritten "u" for a handwritten "n." Other scholars have assumed Hill got it right and followed suit. While recently probing 1910 and 1920 census records, the spelling errors have come to light and it is now possible to shed more light on the elusive Claude Beuchotte.
According to Jean Paul Beuchotte, a great great nephew and family genealogy researcher, Claude Joseph Beuchotte was the son of Albert Beuchotte and Jeanne Eugenie Mazoyer. The couple had four children: Francois born June 26, 1871; Claude Joseph, born March 19, 1877; Jeanne Alphonsine, born September 2, 1882 and Marguerite born March 29, 1885. All were born in Chaudenay, Saone et Loire (zip code 71150) France. (2)
When or how Claude first came into the employment of the Clemens household has not yet been determined. However, in her memoir A Lifetime with Mark Twain, housekeeper Katy Leary tells of an incident involving Claude while the Clemens family was living at Riverdale-on-the-Hudson in New York. The family lived there from October 1901 through July 1903. Leary recalls an incident involving Henry H. Rogers and Dr. Clarence Rice playing a practical joke on Clemens by advertising for the return of a lost umbrella belonging to Mark Twain:
You should have seen the kinds of umbrellas that was sent! The awfullest-lookin' things you ever seen! Dozens and dozens of them! So Mr. Rogers had a big box made to put 'em in. A great big box, it was, and crammed full of them awful-lookin' old umbrellas. Such things! Well, when that big box was crammed full, they sent it up to Mr. Clemens to Riverdale and the express not paid! When Mr. Clemens seen that great box and the express not paid, he thought it must be somethin' wonderful, so he paid all the charges on it quick, and then he got Claude to open the box; but when he seen that great box full of them terrible umbrellas! Well, he gave just one look -- and Claude (he was the butler then; French, he was -- and very good) told me he couldn't really bear to repeat what Mr. Clemens said when he saw them umbrellas! I guess he did some talking that time! (3)
In 1908 when Clemens moved into Stormfield, his new home in Redding, Connecticut, Claude was a member of the household staff. In his biography, Albert Bigelow Paine writes:
It was three months from the day of arrival in Redding that some guests came to Stormfield without invitation -- two burglars, who were carrying off some bundles of silver when they were discovered. Claude, the butler, fired a pistol after them to hasten their departure, and Clemens, wakened by the shots, thought the family was opening champagne and went to sleep again. (4)
The Stormfield burglary occurred in September 1908 and was reported in the New York Times on September 19.
Additional insight into Claude's role in the household at Stormfield is provided by Karen Lystra in her book Dangerous Intimacy: The Untold Story of Mark Twain's Final Years. Lystra documents Claude's disagreements with Clemens's personal secretary Isabel Lyon. Shortly after the Stormfield burglary, Claude resigned because he could no longer tolerate working with Isabel Lyon. (5) However, as conditions within the Clemens household at Stormfield continued to deteriorate and as Lyon lost stature (and was eventually fired), Claude returned in the spring of 1909 with the understanding he would never have to answer to Lyon again. Lyon was later fired in mid-April 1909.
On October 6, 1909, Clemens's daughter Clara married Ossip Gabrilowitsch at Stormfield. Katy Leary recalls:
I worked all the morning and I was looking after everything and everybody was calling me this way and that. I didn't know who was there, hardly. They got me down into the kitchen, just as the wedding was about to begin, and Claude -- the butler -- was hopping around like a crazy man! He got awful mad at me because I asked him for something to drink. I was so dead beat, you see, I thought maybe if I had a glass of wine it might brace me up a bit for the ceremony, But he was so upset himself, he went right off the hammer -- but anyway, he gave it to me after an awful lot of fuss, and it bucked me up. (6)
In 1909, Thomas Edison filmed footage of Clemens and his two daughters Clara and Jean at Stormfield.
An, as yet, unidentified butler makes a brief appearance.
Special thanks to Kent Rasmussen for providing the freeze frame from the Edison film.
On Christmas Eve 1909, Clemens's youngest daughter Jean accidentally drowned in a bathtub at Stormfield. Claude was no doubt involved in helping Clemens cope with the tragedy. Shortly after Jean's death, Albert Bigelow Paine made arrangements for Clemens and Claude to travel to Bermuda where Clemens could recuperate from his grief. In his biography, Paine quotes from several letters Clemens wrote wherein he mentioned Claude:
He reached Bermuda on the 7th of January, 1910, and on the 11th he wrote:
Claude comes to Bay House twice a day to see if I need any service. He is invaluable.
A few days later he wrote:
I had a letter from Clara this morning. She is solicitous & wants me well & watchfully taken care of. My, my, she ought to see Helen & her parents & Claude administer that trust. (7)
On January 29, 1910 Clemens wrote to Elizabeth Wallace:
I have Claude, best of butlers, valets and everything else, with me. He lives at the Hamilton House, but is in close touch with me by telephone and bicycle.(8)
On February 5th he wrote:
Yesterday Mr. Allen took us on an excursion in Mr. Hamilton's big motor-boat. Present: Mrs. Allen, Mr. & Mrs. & Miss Sloane, Helen, Mildred Howells, Claude, & me. Several hours' swift skimming over ravishing blue seas, a brilliant sun; also a couple of hours of picnicking & lazying under the cedars in a secluded place. (9)
Clemens's health began to deteriorate in April 1910 and Paine, concerned for Clemens's welfare, traveled to Bermuda. On April 12, 1910, Clemens, Claude and Paine boarded the Oceana to begin the return trip back stateside. Paine wrote in part:
As long as I remember anything I shall remember the forty-eight hours of that homeward voyage. It was a brief two days as time is measured; but as time is lived it has taken its place among those unmeasured periods by the side of which even years do not count. At first he seemed quite his natural self, and asked for a catalogue of the ship's library, and selected some memoirs of the Countess of Cardigan for his reading. He asked also for the second volume of Carlyle's French Revolution, which he had with him. But we ran immediately into the more humid, more oppressive air of the Gulf Stream, and his breathing became at first difficult, then next to impossible. There were two large port-holes which I opened; but presently he suggested that it would be better outside. It was only a step to the main-deck, and no passengers were there. I had a steamer-chair brought, and with Claude supported him to it and bundled him with rugs; but it had grown damp and chilly, and his breathing did not improve. It seemed to me that the end might come at any moment, and this thought was in his mind, too, for once in the effort for breath he managed to say:
"I am going -- I shall be gone in a moment."
Somehow those two days and nights went by. Once, when he was partially relieved by the opiate, I slept, while Claude watched, and again, in the fading end of the last night, when we had passed at length into the cold, bracing northern air, and breath had come back to him, and with it sleep.(10)
The last known photos of Samuel Clemens as he and his party arrived home from Bermuda. The identities of the men in the photos with Clemens remain unknown.
It is possible one of them may be Claude Beuchotte.
On April 14, 1910 Paine and Beuchotte returned from Bermuda with Clemens. When they arrived at Stormfield, they carried him upstairs to his bedroom. He died on April 21. The New York Times reported that Claude accompanied family members to Clemens's funeral in Elmira, New York.
After the funeral in Elmira, Claude and Katy Leary returned to Stormfield with Clara and her husband Ossip Gabrilowitsch. On May 3, 1910 the census taker visited Stormfield and recorded the members in residence. Ossip Gabrilowitsch was listed as head of the household with Clara Gabrilowitsch, his wife. Ten additional servants and workers including Katy Leary and Claude Beuchotte are included in the household. Claude Beuchotte's name was recorded as "Claude Buchott". He was listed as an "alien" -- not yet a naturalized American citizen. The staff remained at Stormfield until August when Clara's daughter Nina was born. Nina was Mark Twain's first and only grandchild.
When Clara and Ossip departed the United States for Europe, Katy Leary relocated to New York City and opened a boarding house at West 97th street. Claude would list Leary's address as his own permanent residence for many years. After becoming a naturalized U. S. citizen, Claude registered for the draft in World War I. The following information was provided on his draft registration card:
Claude Joseph Beuchotte
Permanent home address: 36 West 97th, New York, NY
Birthdate: March 19, 1877
naturalized U.S. citizen
self-employed hotel keeper
Place of employment: Center St, Fairhaven, Bristol, Mass
Nearest relative: Mrs. Alfred Beuchotte, Chaudenay, Saône et Loire, France
moderate height and build
brown hair and eyes
signed 9/9/1917 in Fairhaven, Mass (11)
The 1920 U. S. census listed Claude as a boarder in Katy Leary's household. The 1920 census taker spelled his name "Beuchotte" -- the first correct spelling of his name in U. S. census records.
After Samuel Clemens's death, Claude was employed by the family of the late Henry H. Rogers to help oversee the family's Tabitha Inn at Fairhaven, Massachusetts where he worked for the next eighteen years.
This ad for the Tabitha Inn appeared in the Automobile Blue Book for both 1917 and 1918.
Special thanks to Kevin Bochynski for providing these ads.
A number of newspaper clippings located at the Millicent
Library in Fairhaven provide insight into Claude's employment there. The
clippings from an unidentified newspaper read as follows:
March 18, 1927 - Claude J. Beuchotte, proprietor of the Tabitha Inn, arrived in Fairhaven this week from southern France where he has been spending three months with his mother. He will reopen the Tabitha Inn on April 8 and is looking forward to a very busy season.
October 21, 1927 - The Tabitha Inn, one of the show places of the town and a unit in the civic center constructed by the late Henry H. Rogers, has been sold to Mrs. Olive Barbier by Colonel Henry H. Rogers, son of the original owner. Mrs. Barbier, who has been employed in an executive capacity at the inn for the last six years, will continue in the same position. Claude J. Beuchotte, manager of the house for 16 years, will be retained in the same capacity.
The inn, erected in 1904, has 38 guest rooms.
December 9, 1927 -The Tabitha Inn closed its doors to the public Friday night. The manager, Miss Aline Barbier, and her assistant, Claude J. Beuchotte, will stay in town for about two weeks to put the place in order and close it for the Winter.
According to Mr. Beuchotte, a number of regular Winter patrons have decided to go South for the season and the management could not take the risk of keeping the house open for transients during the Winter which follows on the heels of a very poor hotel Summer.
November 1, 1929 - The sale of the Tabitha Inn is expected to be formally completed today. The new owner, Barney Zeitz, has announced plans to increase the capacity of the house by making some changes in the rooms formerly reserved for servants and using them as guest rooms.
Miss Aline Barbier who is relinquishing control, plans to return to France this Winter and spend the season with her mother. Claude Beuchotte, manager of the house for 18 years, will become associated with another hotel.(12)
Clues regarding Claude's places of employment after he left his position with the Tabitha Inn can be found in ads placed in the New York Times during the 1930s and 1940s for resorts on Long Island, New York:
The above ad appeared June 9, 12, 16, 19 - 1932 in the New York Times
CEDAR BEACH INN, SOUTHOLD, L.I.
Lovely spot overlooking Peconic Bay. All im-
provements; excellent cuisine; all comforts;
golfing, boating, bathing available. Low
rates daily or weekly. C. J. Beuchotte, Prop.
The above ad appeared May 30, June 3, 8, 10, 13, 22, 24, July 6, 13, 15, 20, 22, 25, 27, 29, August 1 and 3 - 1934 in the New York Times.
SUNRISE INN, SOUTHOLD, L.I.
Overlooking Peconic Bay. Route 25 passes
door. C. J. Beuchotte. Prop. Phone 239.
The above ad appeared June 16 and 23, 1940 and June 15, 1941 in the New York Times.
SUNRISE INN - Southold, L.I.
overlooking Peconic Bay. All sports avail-
able; $18 to $20 weekly. C. J. Beuchotte.
After 1941, Claude Beuchotte disappears from published records.
The exact date and place of his death remain unknown at the present time.
Hill, Hamlin. God's Fool, (Harper and Row, 1973)
(2) I am indebted to Jean Paul Beuchotte for kindly sharing his genealogy research with me for this article on his great great uncle.
(3) Lawton, Mary. A Lifetime with Mark Twain; The Memories of Katy Leary, (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1925), p. 216-217.
(4) Paine, Albert Bigelow. Mark Twain: A Biography
(5) Lystra, Karen. Dangerous Intimacy: The Untold Story of Mark Twain's Final Years, (University of California Press, 2004), p. 153.
(6) Lawton, p. 312.
(7) Paine, Albert Bigelow. Mark Twain: A Biography
(8) Wallace, Elizabeth, Mark Twain and the Happy Island (twainquotes online edition: http://www.twainquotes.com/bermuda/ch13.html)
(9) Paine, Albert Bigelow. Mark Twain: A Biography. It should be noted that Clemens likely misspelled the name of the "Sloane" family. Further research indicates that the correct spelling may be "Sloan." The family included Robert Sage Sloan, his wife Ethel Donaldson Sloan, and their daughter Miss Ethel Donaldson Sloan. Robert Sage Sloan, a retired naval officer who lived in Long Island, NY, was the son of Senator George Beale Sloan of Oswego, NY. Several items given to Miss Ethel Sloan by Clemens on the Bermuda trip were featured in an online auction in April 2007.
(10) Paine, Albert Bigelow. Mark Twain: A Biography.
(11) Beuchotte's World War I draft registration card is available online from ancestry.com
(12) I am indebted to Carolyn Longworth at the Millicent Library for providing scans of the newspaper clippings.
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