Category Archives: Dave’s Family

The Story of Azor

How did the Azor books come to be?

The Story of Azor—How the people of Marblehead inspired Maude Crowley to publish five book about a boy growing up in a time long past. (Photo by Lynne Jastremski DeGrandpre)

How the Town of Marblehead and its people inspired my mother, Maude Crowley, to produce this treasured series that illuminates a child’s life in a time long past. I have the inside story and would be willing to produce a small book that reveals the author’s background and what it took to have the five books published by Oxford University Press. Plus, I have loads of press and radio interviews, high quality photos, and the original watercolor illustrations by Marblehead artist Ingrid Selmer-Larsen that were intended to go in the series.

“I just treasure them and it took me a long time to get not only mine, but my mother’s, as well, due to the book search and time,” writes Lynne Jastremski DeGrandpre who took this wonderful photo of the five books that my mother published between 1948 and 1960.

“I grew up in Marblehead in the ’70s. Your mom’s Azor series had a place of honor on my bookshelf, and I enjoyed walking the same streets as Azor and his friends. I now read the books to my girls, who enjoy recreating the same adventures when we go back to M’head each summer,” another Azor fan emailed me.

Dave in the summer of 1945

Dave at six at Grace Oliver’s Beach, Marblehead. (Photo by Therese Mitchell)

If you would like a book that gives the origin of the Azor stories and includes the unpublished artwork, I’ll go ahead with the project over the winter and spring. It’ll be available at reasonable cost in print and electronic form. Be sure to add your comments and suggestions to this post, Email me or check it out in the Azor of Marblehead group on Facebook.

Teddy Roosevelt’s Road

Dave grandfather (fourth from left) with officials at a job site.

Dave’s grandfather (second from right) with contractors at a job site around 1915.

Hans R. Jacobsen, my grandfather, was a civil engineer who arrived from Norway in 1902 at age 26, and helped to build New York’s first subway line. When an inaugural train went through in October, 1904 he rode in the first car. He married my grandmother, a Danish immigrant, in 1906 and after other building projects bought a civil engineering business in 1909 in Oyster Bay on the north shore of Long Island. My mother, his first child, was three, and his second daughter, my aunt Therese, was an infant when they moved to Oyster Bay.

The family joined the Christ Episcopal Church where he met Emlen Roosevelt, a New York banker, who owned property bordering Sagamore Hill, the estate of his famous cousin Theodore Roosevelt.  Grandfather rebuilt a road on Emlen’s estate and supplied other engineering advice. When Theodore returned in June 1910 from a hunting trip in Africa, the people of Oyster Bay prepared an elaborate welcome which Grandfather described:

…the day he arrived was sunny and the people in a festive mood, as the train from New York came to a stop. The committee and nearly everyone present knew Teddy personally or had seen him many times. He shook hands all around and briskly, with a grin on his face, was escorted to the platform erected for the occasion and began his speech: “Fellow Oysters, large and small….” He related some of his African experiences; then, after shaking more hands, he left for Sagamore Hill, about 3 miles distant.

Sometime later…

An automobile stopped outside our home in Oyster Bay; in it was Colonel Roosevelt, as the former president preferred to be called, Mrs. [Edith] Roosevelt and the youngest sons Archibald and Quentin. My wife was inside at the time, but soon came out on the porch, where she found Mrs. Roosevelt eagerly conversing with our three-year-old daughter. I was not at home but after a few complimentary remarks about our daughter, Mrs. Roosevelt asked my wife if I could arrange to be at Sagamore Hill, at 10 AM the following morning, to discuss with the Colonel the building of a new road to Sagamore Hill.

…He greeting me most affably and mentioned the fact that I had done some engineering work very satisfactorily for his cousin Emlen; then he stated that the present dirt road was not fit for automobile traffic, and new modern road must be built.

Roosevelt in his study at Oyster Bay around the time of the road building project

Roosevelt in his library at Oyster Bay around the time of the road building project.

Roosevelt took a keen interest in the project and treated Grandfather with great cordiality. He even interrupted an intense political discussion in February, 1912 about his Bull Moose candidacy, to consult with him on the road work.

Any construction project generates friction. Here’s how Grandfather recalled the Colonel’s reaction to problem with the delivery of materials.

We were sitting in his study discussing the delay, and I told him that the stone had been ordered a long time ahead; it was unfortunate, I said, that the weather should interfere and cause delay, a matter that was beyond our control. However, I was not able to pacify the Colonel as easily as that. He thought differently:  “If a man in my regiment in Cuba had accidentally shot another soldier and advance the excuse, [that] he did not know the rifle was loaded, we would have had the man court-martialed!” The Colonel’s anger did not last long. He followed me to the door; we shook hands as usual, and I departed. Mrs. Roosevelt who was admired by all and whom I often met, and spoke with, had heard of my little encounter with the Colonel; and she apologized to me later and regretted what her husband had said. I told her I did not mind at all.

The road was finished by the time my grandfather left Oyster Bay in June 1913 to return to New York for more subway construction, but not before he and Roosevelt became better acquainted through several tours of Sagamore Hill and long walks on the roads in the vicinity of their homes. In 1915 and 1918, Roosevelt wrote appreciative letters to Grandfather thanking him for the road and for inquiries about his health. In the 1918 letter he sent his love to my mother. In 1912 when he completed the road, my grandfather was thirty-six, Roosevelt was fifty-four, and my mother was five.

Dave grandfather in the 1950s when he wrote about the road he built for Teddy Roosevelt.

Dave grandfather in the 1950s when he wrote about the road he built for Teddy Roosevelt.

Grandfather followed the remainder of Roosevelt’s career in the newspapers and saved the issue when the former president died on January 6, 1919. I have them in front of me, along with the two letters, as I write.

Next week: Dave flunks out of college.

Writers in the Family

Azor, published in 1948

Azor, published in 1948

I’ve got to credit my mother, Maude Crowley, for setting me on the path to becoming a writer. Not only did she insist that my childhood speech be perfect in grammar and syntax, but she wrote five children’s books. The Azor series, published between 1948 and 1955, featured the exploits of a Marblehead boy much like me and his friends who were based on my pals Chris and Erik Brown.  My father, Joe Crowley, a Boston newspaper editor, was also an expert in spelling and grammar. He reinforced my mother’s teaching and corrected me on anything she missed, which wasn’t much.

My mother and her sister Therese had graduate degrees in journalism from Columbia University in New York.  Both worked as reporters in New York, and Therese co-wrote a study of laundry workers there. In 1931 she married a young reporter for the New York World, Joe Mitchell, who became a celebrated writer for the New Yorker. Disdaining celebrities, he wrote with compassion about obscure and eccentric New Yorkers, turning them into memorable characters. “Joseph Mitchell transformed journalism into art,” wrote Newsweek in its 1992 review of Up in the Old Hotel, a long-awaited collection of his work.

Nora Mitchell (age 6) and Dave (age 7) in Marblehead. Therese Mitchell photo.

Nora Mitchell (age 6) and Dave (age 7) in Marblehead in 1946. Therese Mitchell photo.

I saw my uncle at least twice a year during our family visits to New York and when he came to Marblehead with Therese and my cousins Nora and Elizabeth.  We last met in New York in 1993, just after the publication of Up in the Old Hotel.  Joe was gloomy as he often was, and as we walked the back streets around the Fulton Fish Market he said, “You know, David, there just aren’t any people left in New York like the ones I wrote about.”

Before he died in 1996 he had agreed to a film based on his work. Joe Gould’s Secret appeared in 2000 and featured Stanley Tucci as Mitchell and Ian Holm as Gould, a literate and cultured inhabitant of Greenwich Village who lived like a derelict.  On February 11, 2013, The New Yorker published “Street Life” a fragment of Joe’s unfinished memoir, discovered by Thomas Kunkel who is writing his biography.

Therese who died in 1980 was a professional photographer, and in 2002 my cousin Nora published a collection of her mother’s photos from New York in the 1930s along with quotes her father’s books.  In her introduction, Nora wrote,

…I read them [reissues of Joe’s books] closely for the first time in years, with my mother’s pictures freshly in my mind, I was overcome by the traces of each in the other. The words and music were such perfect companions that putting them together became an almost obsessive exercise. As I watched them watching the men on lunch break and the shoeshine boys and the unemployed men at Union Square and the waiter writing the day’s menu on the restaurant window, they were resurrected. (©The Recorder, The Journal of the American Irish Historical Society, Spring 2002)

Jospeph Mitchell tells Dave's daughter Hanna a about the South Street Seaport in New York

Joe Mitchell and Dave’s daughter Hanna at the South Street Seaport in 1976

Some people, like Nora, who don’t write often for publication, have no trouble expressing themselves when they speak of people they love.  I can say the same about my daughter Hanna who reached the difficult decision in 2001 to send my special-needs granddaughter to a boarding school:

It was as if somebody pumped oxygen into her finally and all of the other children as well and she felt comfortable to be what she is…When it came time for my husband and I to leave, we looked around for her to say, “good-bye.” We finally found her surrounded by a group of boys and girls, who were all talking, laughing and having fun. We did not want to break up the party, so we stood back, watched, and cried in happiness over this vision of her contentment. Finally, one kid noticed us and poked her to let her know that her parents were standing by. She extracted herself and ran over and we let her know we were leaving and she gave us both big hugs. My husband and I cried, but she did not. She said, “Mom, don’t worry about me, I’ll do great!” And, she is. (© Woodbury Reports, Inc “Was It The Right Decision?” Hanna Ryan, April 2001)

Next week: Dave’s grandfather and Theodore Roosevelt