Blogging Along the Brandywine

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Monday evening, I stopped by the Sanderson Museum on my way
home from work to see what I could learn about historic snowstorms.  I found several old photos, even from
the “Blizzard of 1914.”

I found notes by Chris such as “A rare sight–never remember
such an early snow storm”, and diary entries from his mother Hanna like, “A
bitter cold day. My heart ached a lot when I looked out and saw that my
beautiful flowers were all frozen… Have just discovered that we are having
quite a snowstorm.”

But after collecting my research and creating the story
outline, I ended up with a much different story, one that has been growing in
my heart for quite some time.

For while the museum on Creek Road is named for Chris, the
more I read Hanna’s (1856-1943) diaries, the more I am intrigued by this dear
lady who was much beloved in the village.

Hanna, was the rock and abiding strength behind her son; the
one who got him off to his morning teaching assignments; the one who got him
off to his evening lectures or dance band dates; the one who worried until he
came home, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning; the one who cooked his
meals. And yes, perhaps even the reason for some of his quirky habits.

She once wrote about a day, April 15, 1865, when she was
lying on her living room sofa with, some “childish ailment.”

“ …[M]y father on returning from the village post office
excitedly told my mother something which caused her to cry out in distress many
times. I called to her to know what it all meant. She came into the room, tears
flowing down her face as she said ‘Lincoln was shot last night and is dead
now.’”

But what was even more noteworthy about this event was that
until her last year of life Hanna would lie on her sofa every April 15
commemorating that day.

One of the first people her son Chris called when she died
in his arms on Dec. 25, 1943, was his young friend Andy Wyeth, who came up to
their house in the village and sketched the scene. It would later become the
painting “Death on Christmas Morning” prominently featured at Wyeth’s 2006
retrospective “Memory and Magic” at the Philadelphia Art Museum.

While Hanna lived, Chris was a collector of historic
artifacts.

But after she died at the age of 87, leaving him a lost and
lonely 61-year old bachelor, his collecting turned into compulsive hoarding, so
much so that when he died in 1966 there remained only a path through waist-high
stacks of papers in his house. He could barely sleep on his bed with all the
other items competing for space.

Yes, I stopped by the Sanderson Museum on Monday ostensibly
to see what I might find about Chadds Ford snowstorms. But while there I
realized something much more important…

I really admired this woman behind the man, Hanna Carmack
Sanderson.

And if this snow ever melts, the once weedy
and austere yard of the Sanderson Museum will continue its transformation into
a Victorian garden of beauty, peace and delight as well as flowers—The Hanna
Sanderson Memorial Garden.

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About Sally Denk Hoey

Sally Denk Hoey, is a Gemini - one part music and one part history. She holds a masters degree cum laude from the School of Music at West Chester University. She taught 14 years in both public and private school. Her CD "Bard of the Brandywine" was critically received during her almost 30 years as a folk singer. She currently cantors masses at St Agnes Church in West Chester where she also performs with the select Motet Choir. A recognized historian, Sally serves as a judge-captain for the south-east Pennsylvania regionals of the National History Day Competition. She has served as president of the Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates as well as the Sanderson Museum in Chadds Ford where she now curates the violin collection. Sally re-enacted with the 43rd Regiment of Foot and the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment for 19 years where she interpreted the role of a campfollower at encampments in Valley Forge, Williamsburg, Va., Monmouth, N.J. and Lexington and Concord, Mass. Sally is married to her college classmate, Thomas Hoey, otherwise known as "Mr. Sousa.”

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