Celebrating a Curious Character
West Windsor Devotes a Day to Honoring Daniel Cady ... Wait, Who?
Tony Pikramenos, librarian at the Mary Blood Library in Brownsville, Vt., receives applause after reciting a Daniel Cady poem during Daniel Cady Day at the library on June 1, 2014. A top hat brought by Adam Boyce, seated, who performed as Cady for the event, was passed around to speakers as they recited more poems. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Adam Boyce performs as the late poet Daniel L. Cady for the second annual Daniel Cady Day at the Mary Blood Library in Brownsville, Vt, on June 1, 2014. Boyce recited several Cady poems and answered questions about him during the event, sponsored by the library and the West Windsor Historical Society. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
A relief of Daniel Leavens Cady made by Vermont painter Robert Carsten is on display at the Mary Blood Library in Brownsville, Vt., on June 1, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Daniel Cady's mausoleum, which rests alone on top of a hill above West Windsor, Vt., was opened in honor of Daniel Cady Day on June 1, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »
Most small towns can be counted upon to have their own scribe, the person who records and commemorates its history, and West Windsor is no exception. For a time in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Daniel Leavens Cady, a lawyer who also wrote seven volumes of poetry, was widely known not only in West Windsor but throughout Vermont and New England.
Sadly, the author of the immortal poems Raising Squash in Vermont, Blasting Rocks in Vermont, Dipping Candles in Vermont, and Candidating in .... (a gold star for filling in the rest) has fallen through the cracks of literary history. It is perhaps a measure of his current obscurity that he has no Wikipedia page .
But Adam Boyce, also of West Windsor, is on a one-person campaign to resurrect the former Poet Laureate of the University of Vermont, the Bard of West Windsor.
Boyce, who is what you might call a literary re-enactor, appeared as Cady Sunday at Mary L. Blood Memorial Library in Brownsville, a handsome building built in 1900. There is a stuffed bear head on one wall and on top of a bookshelf an old drum with a sign that reads it was carried into battle in the Civil War.
Wearing a three-piece gray suit with a red bowtie and a matching red handkerchief, Boyce gave the audience a brief biography of Cady and read from some of Cady’s work. Boyce recalled being in his grandfather’s kitchen, hearing Cady’s poems being read on WDEV radio out of Waterbury, which is how he became acquainted with his work. People had also given him Cady’s books to read, and Boyce was able to acquaint himself with Cady’s life and poems.
“He sounded like an interesting person, and it kind of grew from there,” Boyce said. “I’d initially pitched the idea of doing a living history portrayal to the Vermont Historical Society, but they’re very big Robert Frost people and didn’t think he was worthy of consideration.”
If photographs are accurate, Cady was more portly than Boyce, and bore a considerable resemblance, as Boyce pointed out, to Oliver Hardy, of Laurel and Hardy, right down to the toothbrush mustache and slightly pursed lips. There is a large marble bas-relief of Cady, wearing a top hat and looking grave and distinguished, on a wall in the library.
It is the second year that the library has held a Daniel Cady Da y, said Jennifer Bodnar, one of the organizers. “It’s meant to be a little tongue in cheek,” she said.
The readers of the poems passed around a stovepipe hat that they wore while reading. The audience was perhaps 15 to 20 people. Since Cady published more than 600 poems, or what he called “pieces,” Boyce and other readers could only dip a toe into the collected works.
One of the poems Boyce read, A Vermont Breakfast, starts like this:
“When summer days speed up so fast
That August bumps September
You need a breakfast that will last
And, ‘less I disremember
There’s nothing `round the morning hour
With which a man can grapple
Like good salt pork, and plenty on’t
Enriched with good fried apple.”
By today’s standards, C ady’s verse is distinctly old-fashioned, even a little cumbersome. But, said Boyce, Cady was trying less for modern innovation, and more for preservation of “his heritage, preservation of cultural habits, practice and, of course, reliving some of his past.” This is why he wrote in sentimental dialect verse.
Cady was born in West Windsor and educated at a school in Brownsville, Kimball Union Academy in Meriden and Montpelier Seminary. He graduated from the University of Vermont and eventually practiced law in New York City. There’s no record of him having attended law school, but he did apprentice under a lawyer, Boyce said. He married a wealthy widow in 1912, promptly retired to Burlington and began writing poetry. He was awarded honorary degrees by Norwich University in Northfield and his alma mater.
There were rumors that he had a drinking problem, but that might be attributed, Boyce said, to an inner ear complaint that would have affected his balance and could have made him walk unevenly. It’s unclear what his fellow West Windsorites thought of him during his lifetime. A man who showed up once or twice a year in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce, as Cady did, might not have inspired much affection.
After his poems perhaps Cady’s greatest project was the design of the mausoleum in which he was laid to rest in 1934, at the top of Strawberry Hill in Brownsville.
Once upon a time, the mausoleum would have commanded a stellar view of both Mount Ascutney and the Connecticut River, prompting Cady to write in a 1931 letter that “People will have to look up to me whether they want to or not.”
Now the trees have grown up so much that they impede any views to the valley below, and conceal his mausoleum from view.
The mausoleum was made from Woodbury granite and carved in Barre. His sarcophagus was made from Ascutney Mountain granite and his casket from Florida cypress. It’s estimated to have cost around $38,000 which, in current dollars, would be close to $550,000, Boyce said.
There was one small hitch, though. When it came time to install Cady’s imposing sarcophagus, it didn’t fit through the door. This came after a futile attempt by the funeral motorcade to move it up the mountain during mud season. Cady’s sarcophagus ended being pulled up on a stone boat, said Boyce. And workers had to remove part of the roof to lower the sarcophagus into the mausoleum.
The lengthy plaque outside the mausoleum is written in Latin, which Cady studied and read.
“Apud West Windsorensem coloniam vidirimontanam ante diem vi idus Martias Anno Domini MDCCCLXI natus,” begins the plaque. In other words, he was born in West Windsor in March 1861.
Cady couldn’t resist the last word, even in death. At the bottom of the plaque, there are two lines written in English. They read: “If thou dost read the Latin Language, stay. If Mute return on some more scholar’d day.”
Nicola Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.