Porter Square


The North Cambridge neighborhood known today as Porter Square takes its name from Zachariah B. Porter, a highly successful innkeeper once described as “a host no one could excel and very few could match.” Porter’s Hotel was demolished long ago to make way for new developments and his large cattle stockyards are now occupied by houses and business blocks. However, Porter’s name persists throughout the square.

Zachariah B. Porter, “Old Zach” as his patrons and friends called him, was born in 1797 in Vermont. In the early 1830s, Porter managed the Cattle Fair Hotel, a large hotel near the Brighton Stockyards. Brighton was, at the time, an important center of commerce for New England’s livestock industry and droves of cattle, sheep and pigs were brought down from Maine, New Hampshire and elsewhere to be slaughtered and sold. Porter remained in Brighton until 1837, when a falling out with the Cattle Fair’s owner, John Bennett, led him to a new business venture across the Charles River in Cambridge. Porter and his business partners – Colonel George Meacham and carriage manufacturer Ebenezer Kimball – purchased a recently foreclosed stockyard, slaughterhouse and hotel that had been constructed in 1931 by Sylvester Edson. The Cattle Market Hotel’s new owners would rename the business Porter’s Hotel, and under their watch it would become a Cambridge landmark.


Porter’s Hotel

The hotel, a drab-colored, three-story wooden structure with a row of gabled Lutheran windows projecting out from its sloped roof, stood at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Upland Road. The surrounding stockyards occupied seventeen and a half acres and stretched all the way north to today’s Creighton Street. Cattlemen from as far away as Michigan would bring their droves to Porter’s before selling them in the Boston markets. In 1843, the Fitchburg Railroad was built through Porter Square, allowing even greater numbers of stock animals to be brought to market. Porter capitalized on the growing cattle trade and catered to the drovers’ needs – boarding cattle in the yards for free and offering discounted meals (drovers often ate for twenty-five cents while other patrons might pay a dollar or more for the same fare). Porter’s legendary hospitality quickly attracted the attention of well-to-do Cantabrigians and Harvard students, who were served side-by-side with the visiting cattlemen. People of all stripes appreciated the hotel’s beautifully decorated dancing hall, fresh cuts of beef and athletic contests and Porter’s became a fixture of the Cambridge community for generations.


The Porterhouse Steak at Peter Luger Steakhouse in Brooklyn

How famous was Porter’s Hotel? So famous it may have left a permanent mark on the American menu. Although competing legends exist, one theory asserts that the popular porterhouse steak may be named for the North Cambridge tavern and its beloved host. The porterhouse, a thick cut of beef with a T-shaped bone dividing a New York Strip Steak (also known as a top loin) and a large tenderloin filet, may have been first served at the hotel sometime after the Civil War, according to a report from one of Porter’s former cooks. Skeptics have pointed out that Old Zach’s establishment was always referred to as “Porter’s Hotel” and never “Porter’s House.” In the 1800s, many taverns did bill themselves as “porter-houses” after the dark, malty porter beers they served. Two such establishments – one in Manhattan and the other in Georgia – claim to have invented the porterhouse steak. Sandusky, Ohio also claims to be the steak’s birthplace. The story goes that, while on a 1842 tour of America, author Charles Dickens spent an extended stay at the Porter House, a Sandusky hotel. Later in his trip, in Buffalo, N. Y., Dickens requested “a steak like you get at the Porter house in Sandusky.” Dickens’ Buffalo innkeeper wrote Sandusky for the recipe and later advertised that his establishment sold a “Porter-house steak like Charles Dickens likes.” An 1842 register from the Sandusky Porter House bears Charles Dickens’ signature, but his thoughts on the steak (and what it was called) were not recorded.

Zachariah Porter died in 1864 and was buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Following his death, the hotel was leased to Amos Pike, who continued to operate an inn on the premises. The neighboring cattle markets were closed in 1871, but the hotel persisted with a succession of proprietors at the helm. By 1901, the tavern had come under the management of Edwin I. D. Houck, who had occasional run-ins with the law over illegal stores of liquor kept at the hotel. Houck disappeared one night in August 1901 and his wife Cora became the hotel’s new proprietor. The Cambridge papers at the time reported that “domestic infelicity is attributed to his sudden disappearance,” suggesting that he may have run out on his wife and skipped town. In 1903, Caroline Porter, Old Zach’s daughter, sold the property to real estate managers William F. Brooks and James J. Conley, who already owned much of the land in the surrounding area. Under Brooks and Conley, the hotel was mostly unsuccessful and in 1907, they moved the building to the back of the lot so that a more modern business block could be put up on the corner. The hotel was converted into apartments, which proved to be an unpopular venture. By 1909, Brooks and Conley had demolished the historic inn and built a large garage in its place.


Adjutant General Josiah Porter

Many turn-of-the-century articles eulogizing Zachariah Porter and his famous hotel also make mention of his son Josiah. Born in 1830, Josiah was a Harvard graduate and led a decorated military career. He served as Captain of the Massachusetts 1st Battery during the Civil War and later as Colonel of the 22nd Regiment of the New York National Guard. In 1886, he was appointed Adjutant-General of New York (the state’s highest military office). He died on December 14th, 1894 after suffering a stroke while aboard the Third Avenue elevated train in Manhattan. He was buried near his father in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. In 1902, the 22nd Regiment honored his memory with a statue in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. The inscription reads: “erected by the National Guard of New York in appreciation of his fidelity as a patriot, his qualities as a soldier and his services on behalf of the National Guard.”


Gift of the Wind

Today, Porter Square’s most eye-catching feature is Gift of the Wind, a large-scale steel sculpture set nearly fifty feet in the air. The sculpture, three red, balloon-like wings which flip in the wind and rotate around their aluminum base, is located just outside the Porter Square MBTA station and across the street from the former location of Porter’s Hotel. It is one of the most recognizable pieces in the MBTA’s art collection and was commissioned as part of the “Arts on the Line” initiative in 1985. Its sculptor is Susumu Shingu, an Osaka-born artist who has created large, kinetic installations for public spaces around the world. The Boston area is home to two other Shingu works: Echo of the Waves, a marine life-inspired piece outside the New England Aquarium, and Wind Traveller in Eastport Park.


Inman Square

The Inman Square neighborhood is named for a notable British loyalist. The incredibly wealthy Ralph Inman owned a vast estate that stretched across much of today’s Cambridgeport area where he threw lavish parties for the colonial high society. When revolution broke out, Inman fled to Boston, abandoning both his property and wife in Cambridge. After the war, he returned home to reclaim and rebuild his life there.

Ralph Inman was born in 1713, most likely near Burrington, England where his brother Rev. George Inman served as a clergyman. Ralph became a successful merchant, importing textiles, pottery, glass, beer and wine to the American colonies. In 1746, the 33-year-old Ralph married the 19-year-old Susannah Speakman at King’s Chapel in Boston. Susannah was the daughter of William Speakman, a prominent Boston landowner and a warden of King’s Chapel, and his wife Hannah Hackeril Speakman, both born in England. Ralph and Susannah were very close with Susannah’s twin sister Hannah and her husband John Rowe, a Boston merchant for whom Rowe’s Wharf is named. Much of what we know about the Inman family was written down in John Rowe’s diary or is provided in letters between the Inmans and Rowes. Also surviving are portraits of Ralph and Susannah by the artist Robert Feke. The two paintings were left to Hannah Rowe who willed them to the Inmans’ granddaughter Hannah Rowe Linzee Armory. They were owned by many subsequent generations of descendants until 2004, when they were given to the Harvard Art Museums. Susannah died in 1761 at age 34.

Ralph Inman, painted by Robert Feke in 1748

Ralph and Susannah had three children survive to adulthood. Their daughter Sarah “Sallie” Inman died unmarried in 1773, predeceasing both her parents. Their two other children, George and Susannah “Sukey” were both involved with the British war effort. Sukey married a British Navy captain named John Linzee in 1772 and sailed for England soon after the wedding. The wedding itself was a grand affair, held in Ralph’s large home near today’s Cambridge City Hall (on what is now Inman Street). He threw a similarly extravagant party earlier that year to celebrate George’s graduation from Harvard College. According to John Rowe, the graduation bash was attended by 347 guests, with 210 seated around one massive table. The attendees included the Governor and Lieutenant Governor of the colony and many other “gentlemen and ladies of character and reputation.” The event held such notoriety that a 1906 anniversary pageant included the party among its scenes of life in eighteenth-century Cambridge. The Linzees returned to Boston with their infant son Samuel in 1775, only days before the beginning of the American Revolution at Concord’s North Bridge on April 19th. Captain Linzee was given command of the Falcon and fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill. As a British Naval family, the Linzees led a nomadic life, as demonstrated by the birth records of their ten children. Sukey went with her husband as the revolutionary battlefront moved south. She gave birth to their third child (their second child, Hannah, was born soon after their return to Boston) during a 1777 naval battle on the Delaware. Unfortunately, this child did not survive the delivery. Her next daughter, Susannah, was born in Barbados, then a British colony, in 1779. By 1783, the Linzees had returned to Plymouth, England where Sukey delivered four more children. Two more, Mary and George were born in Boston, Mass. in 1789 and 1792. Sukey died in Boston in 1792 and John in Milton, Mass. in 1798.

Susannah Speakman Inman, painted by Robert Feke in 1748

With the colony erupting into war, George Inman became an enlisted soldier in the British army, a decision to which his father objected. During the Battle of Bunker Hill, George served in the Light Company of the 4th (also known as the King’s Own Regiment) under the command of his friend Captain William Glanville Evelyn. The following year, George sailed for New York aboard Captain Linzee’s Falcon. He was present for the Battle of Long Island, in which the British forces were victorious, and participated in the capture of five American officers prior to the battle. He continued on to the Battles of Fort Washington, Trenton and Princeton before wintering with the rest of his regiment in Perth Amboy, N. J. In the spring, George sailed for Virginia and fought in the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown. He spent his second winter as a British infantryman in Philadelphia where he met his soon-to-be wife Mary Badger. The couple married in April 1778. He served in the Battle of Monmouth that June, but a long illness kept him away from the war for the remainder of the year. Now a Lieutenant, George was sent to England in December 1779 as an army recruiter. In England, he and his wife visited several friends and relatives who had sought refuge from the revolution. The American Revolution came to an end while the Inmans were abroad. They spent the next several years moving around England and Ireland before sailing across the Atlantic again in April 1788, this time headed for the British colony on Grenada. While aboard the ship to Grenada, George and the rest of his family became very ill. On land again, most of the Inmans recovered however George and his son John did not. Both men died sometime in early 1789.

For ten years after his wife Susannah’s death, Ralph Inman remained a widow. He was remarried in 1771 to Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith, who had been widowed twice herself. She and her first husband, a Scotsman named Thomas Campbell, had both been successful in the merchant trade and Elizabeth had used the profits made selling millinery goods to purchase several properties in Boston. The death of her second husband, James Smith (they married when Elizabeth was 34 and Smith 72) in 1760 greatly increased her already considerable wealth and she inherited several additional properties, including a sugar refinery in Boston and Brush Hill, Smith’s country estate in Milton. Following Smith’s death, Elizabeth returned to her native Scotland, where the Murray family could trace its root back to the Norman Conquest. During her stay in Scotland, her affairs in Massachusetts were poorly managed and when she returned home to Boston she began the work of righting her finances. She reacquainted herself with Ralph Inman, whom she had known since her early days as a merchant and shopkeeper. They had been business associates as well as friends and he was a frequent dinner guest during her marriage to Smith. In September of 1771, Elizabeth and Ralph married at King’s Chapel, a move intended to benefit both parties financially. Their marriage included an unusual prenuptial agreement, giving Elizabeth the right to keep her estate intact and gift or will it away according to her desires. In turn, Ralph would receive income from his wife’s properties during their marriage.

Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith Inman, painted by John Singleton Copley in 1769

Elizabeth and her husband were separated at the outset of the American Revolution. Just before the war began, Ralph travelled to Boston to visit with his recently arrived daughter and son-in-law. The rebel army quickly set into Cambridge and it was decided that Ralph would remain in Boston rather than risk a trip home. The Inmans had been friends of the American Major General Israel Putnam and he made sure Elizabeth was well-treated in the occupied city. During the Battle of Bunker Hill, General Putnam dedicated a small guard, including his son Daniel, to patrol the Inman property and protect Elizabeth and her young nephew and nieces (living with her at the time). Elizabeth would later relocate her family to the Brush Hill estate in Milton. With the Inman property vacated, General Putnam made the house his headquarters and had barracks erected on the grounds. The war eventually marched away from Cambridge and the Inmans were some of the few loyalist families who were able to reclaim their property and status in the new American nation. Elizabeth’s estate was still quite substantial at the time of her death in 1785. Despite their prenuptial agreement, there were several disputes over her will with Ralph and George Inman on one side and Elizabeth’s nieces and nephews (she had no children of her own, but helped raise her brother’s after he fled to England) on the other. The feud reached a pitch with Ralph and his allies defaming Elizabeth as a “deceitful woman” who had given her husband “ill treatment” in life. While the estate was eventually settled, the bitter feelings lasted for decades.


The Inman House, before 1907

Ralph Inman died in July 1788. His son George had no surviving male heirs, and the estate passed to George’s four daughters, who sold the Cambridge property to Leonard Jarvis. The estate, which in Inman’s time had included half of Cambridgeport, running east to Lafayette Square and north to the Somerville line, passed to Jonathan Loring Austin in 1801. Austin had the estate divided up into lots with the Inman home occupying a lot bordered by Massachusetts Avenue, Harvard Street, Austin Street and Bigelow Street (near today’s Cambridge City Hall). This reduced parcel was purchased by Benjamin Bigelow, a merchant and politician, who occupied half the house while his daughter and son-in-law, Deborah and Isaiah Bangs, lived in the other. Following Bigelow’s death, the home was sold to Samuel Allen and following Allen’s death it was sold again to real estate developer Albert Vinal who relocated the home to the corner of Brookline and Auburn Streets, south of Massachusetts Avenue. At its new location, the Inman home was divided into units and developed a reputation as a slummy, “third-rate” tenement building. The house is no longer there, a modern apartment building stands in its place. On Inman Street, a stone tablet marking the original location reads, “in 1775, General Putnam had his headquarters in the house which stood here.”


Inman Square, c. 1905-1915

The intersection of Cambridge, Beacon and Hampshire Streets has not always been known as Inman Square, nor has the Tory’s namesake gone without challenge. Prior to 1876, the neighborhood was known as Atwood’s Corner, presumably after James Atwood, a ship chandler (one who supplies oil, rope and other essential goods to sailors) from Chatham, Mass. who moved to the area around 1842. Atwood made his home at the corner of Hampshire and Beacon and was one of the area’s only residents for some years. James ran a grocery store, the Atwood stand, in the square which helped associate the man’s name with that of the corner. Although the intersection is best known as Inman Square, an official plaque bears the name of David I. Calnan. Calnan, a US Navy ensign, died in battle in 1944 in Naples, Italy at the age of 23. He had grown up in the neighborhood and in 1945, it was proposed that the square be renamed in his honor. Only a few years earlier, an unsuccessful attempt was made to rename the square after Cambridge Councillor Edward J. Sennott, who had died unexpectedly in 1933 and had been a lifelong resident of the city. Sennott Park, at the corner of Broadway and Norfolk, was named instead.

The Death of Holland Bennett

Part 1: The Life of Silas Holland

In Part 1, I wrote about the life of Silas Holland, for whom Holland St. in Somerville is named. Part 2 describes the unexpected death of Silas’ grandson Holland Bennett. While on vacation in Italy, Holland disappeared without explanation. He was never heard from again and his body was never found. The story became international news, appearing on the front page of papers around the world. Several explanations were posited, one eventually became conventionally true. The whole story, however, can never be known.


Front page headline from The New York Times, June 12th, 1909

In May of 1909, Holland Bennett, a twenty-seven-year-old lawyer, wed Lucetta Averill Upham. Both bride and groom came from well-to-do Cantabrigian families – Holland’s father was President of the Cambridge Electric Light Company and Fresh Pond Ice Company while Lucetta’s was City Auditor. Holland and his bride had known each other since a young age, growing up together on Linnaean St. in the Avon Hill neighborhood. Both families were part of a closely knit community and for many years, the neighborhood children held an annual fundraiser in the Bennetts’ living room for the nearby Avon Home, a charitable organization for children in need. Their relationship continued into college, with both attending school nearby at Harvard and Radcliffe. The couple’s many long ties were well reflected in their wedding, with siblings, childhood friends and others from their university days standing at their sides. The ceremony was presided over by the Reverend Edward S. Drown (ironic, given Holland’s eventual fate) and was described in The Boston Globe as “one of the most brilliant of the season.” To celebrate their nuptials, the couple planned a three-month European voyage, it would be their only trip together as husband and wife.

After their wedding, the Bennetts set sail for Italy. In Naples, the newlyweds stayed at the brand new Hotel Excelsior. Constructed the year before, the fashionable Belle Epoque hotel boasted crystal chandeliers, elegant marble floors and a prime location overlooking the gulf. Holland and his wife took short trips to nearby Pompei, Sorrento and Capri. While aboard the ferry to Capri, the Bennetts made the acquaintance of William Sallmon, a Yale professor on his way home from China. He would later recount the saga to the press in New York, who incorrectly recorded his name as “Sallman.” Enjoying each other’s company, the trio drove together to Anacapri at the island’s center where they parted ways. By coincidence, Holland, Lucetta and Prof. Sallmon were reunited in the galleries of the Vatican in Rome. That evening, Holland shared with Sallmon that their restful Mediterranean  honeymoon was intended to have medicinal effects. Some years before their wedding, Holland had developed a stomach ailment serious enough to require multiple surgeries. It was hoped that a break from the stress of school and career would spur a recovery. In Rome, however, Holland seemed to be waning. The next morning, at Sallmon’s suggestion, the Bennetts agreed to cut their original trip short – forgoing their plans in Venice and Switzerland – and instead follow the professor through Florence, Pisa and Genoa to Naples and eventually home across the Atlantic.


The Hotel Excelsior in Naples, c. 1908

By most accounts, the steamship Berlin left Genoa on the morning of Thursday, June 10th, 1909. The ship, built in 1908, was to stop in Naples before making its first return trip to the United States. Holland and Lucetta met for lunch in the early afternoon and were seen strolling the decks arm in arm. The timeline of what happened next differs depending on the source, but what seems generally agreed upon is that Lucetta accompanied a group of American women to the ship’s saloon while Holland went above deck for a smoke. Sometime that evening, possibly before dinner possibly as late as midnight, Lucetta left the saloon in search of Holland. When she was unable to locate him, she took the news that her husband had gone missing straight to the captain.

Initially, the Berlin’s Captain Langreuter, with his twenty-six years of experience at sea, doubted that a man could jump or fall from the deck unnoticed. He organized a thorough search, examining every cabin and area of the ship from bow to stern and from the uppermost decks down to the cargo hold. Langreuter also retraced the path from Genoa, sweeping the sea’s surface with a searchlight for several miles. He suggested, however, that there would be very little chance of recovering a fully-clothed body at sea. His death unconfirmed in the search, it was thought that Holland may still be alive, disguised aboard the ship, and hoping to escape unnoticed into Naples. Guards and officials scanned the face of every man leaving the Berlin and kept watch over all decks on the chance that Holland snuck away over the side (similar methods of surveillance were employed when the ship next docked at Gibraltar). While no motive for escape was ever put forward, some employees held onto a belief that Holland had jumped ship and swam to the island of Caprera (off the coast of Sardinia, hundreds of miles from Naples). Even assuming the newspapers misreported the island’s name and that the crew actually believed Holland swam to Capri, which the Berlin probably passed in close proximity as it entered the Bay of Naples, it seems highly unlikely that Holland would engineer his honeymoon with an ulterior motive to exchange a comfortable life in America for one of an anonymous Italian vagabond. Given his reported poor health, it also seems unlikely that he was physically capable of making the swim. Lucetta kept faith that a body may be found on the Berlin and when it arrived in New York City it was given a final search.


S. S. Berlin

Captain Langreuter thought Holland was hiding, the police in Naples thought he had been kidnapped. Neapolitan authorities searched buildings near the harbor and the involvement of the Neapolitan Camorra, a centuries-old criminal organization analogous to the Sicilian mafia, was suspected. The Camorra effectively ran Naples with many politicians and public officials firmly in their orbit. Two theories quickly formed. The first was that Camorra associates had snuck their way onto the ship and murdered the wealthy American for any petty cash and jewelry he had on him. Then, it was supposed that the men dumped the body overboard and either swam to shore unnoticed in the night or exited disguised when the ship arrived at port. The second theory, favored by the police, was that Holland was kidnapped by Camorra gangsters and would be returned for a hefty ransom. The Camorra theories may have been attempts to link Holland’s disappearance to another breaking story at the time. That same week, a wave of arrests were made in Ohio. The apprehended were members of the Society of the Banana, a criminal organization with ties to Naples. It was suggested in some places that Holland was murdered in a revenge plot against the United States or kidnapped as a bargaining chip. Holland’s family in Cambridge doubted the validity of these Camorra theories and, after searching the Neapolitan slums and the Berlin without turning up any leads, the police also ruled out gang involvement. In 1911, forty Camorra members were put on trial in Italy. Gennaro Abbatemaggio, a Camorrist turned police informant, became a leading figure of the proceedings and listed several ill deeds allegedly performed by his former cohorts. Among the crimes listed was the robbery and murder of Holland Bennett. Abbatemaggio was said to be unfaltering on the stand, delivering consistent testimonies. Whether his stories came from memory, imagination or were supplied by the prosecution was left somewhat in question. When news of the trial reached Cambridge, the Bennett family reaffirmed their skepticism in the local press.


Members of the Neapolitan Camorra on trial in 1911

If foul play could be ruled out, then it seemed increasingly likely that Holland’s death was a suicide – an answer which satisfied the police but not the man’s widow, nor his family in Cambridge nor many who met him aboard the steamer. It may seem unlikely that a man with Holland’s wealth and prospects would choose to end his life during an idyllic honeymoon along the Tuscan coast. However, the interiors of Holland’s mind are wholly unknown to us and the gleaming surface of his life may have obscured insurmountable anxieties submerged deep below. Many firsthand accounts suggest that Holland’s final days were joyful, with other passengers describing his light-hearted nature. Postcards which arrived home from Rome and Florence depicted a cheerful trip and contained anticipation for the upcoming school year at Harvard. But, other accounts describe a young man in dire health exhibiting increasingly erratic behavior. According to Prof. Sallmon, Holland grew more dejected throughout their time together. In Genoa, he was diagnosed with acute melancholia – characterized by a gloomy, depressive state – and he told his wife he believed his condition to be incurable. Two further anecdotes (which are difficult to place in the timeline and possibly conflict with other descriptions) indicate a harried mental state. Prof. Sallmon related to The Boston Globe that while aboard the Berlin, Holland “attempted to crawl through the porthole of his cabin and after a little while ran from the cabin” while Lucetta reported  that Holland “suddenly left her in their cabin and that she had been unable to find him in any of the general rooms or on any of the decks.” Trying to determine a motive, police questioned Lucetta about any fights they may have had that day. Unable to stomach the thought, she broke down and wept, leaving the question unanswered.

Many close to Holland chose to believe his death had been accidental – that he had suffered a seizure while above deck, tumbled over the railing and drown in the sea. Reports from Prof. Sallmon, Lucetta and Holland’s family make this theory seem the most likely. Holland had been dogged by health problems since at least 1906, when he underwent a major surgical stomach operation. His recovery was slow and he developed signs of nervous hysteria and vertigo. While his trip was intended to spur recover, Holland continued to flag in Italy and sought medical advice from an American consul in Pisa. Learning that the nearest sanitarium capable of sufficiently treating him was in Switzerland, Lucetta decided to return Holland to his doctors’ care in the United States. According to Prof. Sallmon’s report to the Boston Evening Transcript, Holland’s health took a sharp turn while on course for Naples. In the early evening, Holland found Sallmon in his cabin and requested accompaniment to the ship’s surgeon. Sallmon needed a minute to gather his belongings and upon emerging could not locate his friend, the implication being that he plummeted to his death in the short time it took Sallmon to get ready. It came to light only afterwards that Holland had suffered a similar attack in Cambridge and had been found unconscious in the street. He kept the information secret from his friends and family, consulting only with a physician. Holland’s father Josiah Quincy Bennett attested that accidental death was the only possible solution in the Cambridge Chronicle and Whitman Bennett threatened legal action against the North German Lloyd company (which operated the steamship) for not taking sufficient measure to monitor his brother’s health.

“My son must have fallen overboard on the night on which his absence was first noticed. He could not have committed suicide, nor could he have been killed or kidnapped by the Black Hand. I have always been thoroughly intimate with my son’s affairs. In them was nothing to cause his to commit suicide. He was abroad on his wedding trip. His affairs had been left in the best of shape; there was nothing on his mind even to worry him. I know he never had any trouble or even in the slightest way came in contact with any Black Hand societies. He never had anything to to do with the arrest of any members of that society in Ohio, as has been intimated, or anywhere else.”

-Josiah Quincy Bennett in the Cambridge Chronicle, June 19th, 1909

None of the reporters covering the story (and there were several – articles appeared on the cover of The New York Times, The Boston Globe and regional papers across the country) seemed to suspect Holland’s wife of murder. However, in the age of Lifetime television, Star Magazine and Gone Girl, it feels impossible not to wonder if this was a honeymoon homicide. Money seems to be the obvious motive here and the Bennett family had considerable wealth. After his death, Lucetta received Holland’s entire estate of $5,000 (comparable to about $750,000 today). This is no small sum, but if money was her only motivator, it does seem like she stood to make a lot more if her husband, a young lawyer, had survived to have a lengthy and successful career. Lucetta, whose parents lived down the street from Holland’s, came from money herself and may not have been too interested in her husband’s wealth. Perhaps even more telling of her innocence is the close relationship she maintained with the Bennett family. The Bennetts and Uphams were united in their grief and Holland’s brother Whitman was with Lucetta’s parents when they met her at the docks in New York City. Upon returning to Cambridge, she moved into what would have been their marital home, around the corner from her parents and in-laws. For several years she continued to be a member of the Avon Club, an organization through which the Bennetts, Uphams and other families in the neighborhood held charitable fundraisers. Six years after the incident, in February 1916, she remarried – to Harry Peabody, an insurance man. After the wedding, still a young woman at 31, she began life with her second husband in Wellesley Hills.


The Yale Foreign Missionary Society in China. Prof. Sallmon is the man holding a hat in the front row.

While researching this article, I grew suspicious of Professor Sallmon, the mysterious stranger who coincidentally enters the story at multiple points. Sallmon’s account informed much of the press coverage and helps establish the severity and urgency of Holland’s illness. It includes private encounters that cannot be confirmed or denied by other parties and places Sallmon and Holland together minutes before the latter’s death. If Sallmon was Holland’s killer, it seems plausible that he could use what he had learned of Holland to fabricate a believable story of accidental death. Truthfully, my theory may be been based on a hundred-year-old typo: the newspapers universally and incorrectly refer to the professor by the name “Sallman.” Finding no evidence of a Yale-affiliated William Sallman, I began to suspect that the man the Bennetts met in Capri was some roguish conman or imposter. In reality, William Sallmon was a benign divinity professor returning home from China, where he had spent a year running the Yale Foreign Missionary Society. Several sources mention his time at both Yale and in Minnesota where he served briefly as President of Carleton College. Years after the incident on the Berlin, Sallmon moved to Chula Vista, Calif. where he became a leading figure in the early days of the state’s avocado industry. Perhaps the erroneous name should not be attributed to the press, but to the man with whom they spoke. Imagine that the real Professor William Sallmon meets a charismatic psychopath enroute to America. That man later adopts Sallmon’s identity, misspelling the name “Sallman”, and meets the Bennetts at Capri. Perhaps spotting an easy mark in the sickly rich man, perhaps jealously obsessed with this happy young couple, perhaps falling delusionally in love with Lucetta, Holland or both, “Sallman” stalks them to Rome. While in Rome, he ingratiates himself to the newlyweds, gains their confidence and convinces them to follow him to Florence, Genoa, Naples and eventually New York. At sea, he finds himself alone with Holland and murders him (as intended or in an escalating confrontation). Before the boat reaches New York, “Sallman” concocts a story and relays it to the reporters. He escapes to adopt a new persona, or to live as “Sallman” without the real professor’s knowledge. The theory is obviously unlikely, however it is not impossible.

None of the theories are entirely impossible. The historic record, based on incomplete testimonies, perceptions and hearsay, fails to construct an exact, accurate account. Instead, it offers a pointillist array of data points and facts from which a likely, agreed upon truth can be discerned. Over time, the hundred years between now and then, the image fades. Fewer sources exist today to shade and color our understanding of the information. When accounts conflict, we are left unable to reconcile the facts and must concede that aspects and angles of this story cannot be defined. Ultimately, only one person could possible know what happened aboard that ship, and even Holland Bennett may have missed out on the full picture of his death as it developed around him.

The F. H. Newton Company

DSCN0962The F. H. Newton Company was founded in 1915 by Frederic Huntington Newton of West Roxbury. The company manufactured doors and door frames, windows, medicine cabinets, porch rails and other woodworked architectural features. While its main offices were located near Boston’s Haymarket, at the corner of Portland St. and Sudbury St., the company’s workshop and warehouse buildings can still be found on Cameron Ave. along the border of Somerville and Cambridge.

Frederic Newton was born in Roxbury in 1865. He had light brown hair, hazel eyes and a prominent nose. His parents, Robert and Bridget Newton, were Irish immigrants and had lived for a time in Canada, where they delivered Frederic’s older brother John. In 1892, Frederic, about age 27, was married to Frances Haigh, herself born in England but raised in the United States. Frederic and Frances had three children: Elliott, Philip and Dorothy. Their first child, Elliott Haigh Newton was born in 1893, but died three years later from diphtheria, a leading cause of childhood death in the US before widespread immunizations became available in the 1920s. In 1907, The Newtons donated a stained glass window, Christ and the Children, to Emmanuel Episcopal Church in West Roxbury in Elliott’s memory. Today, it is among the oldest windows in the church. Frederic and Frances died months apart in 1950 – he went first in April, with his wife following in August. Services for both were held at Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Philip took over the business after his father’s death, retiring in 1962.

An advertisement in the 1918 Boston Register and Business Directory

Fires were a typical occurrence in the early 1900’s and the F. H. Newton warehouses were the site of two widely reported fires. The first, in 1917, drew fire engines from Somerville, Cambridge and Arlington and took over an hour and a half to put out. The fire, likely started by a workman’s discarded cigar, caused an estimated $20,000 in damages. It threatened nearby houses as well as the neighboring M. R. Carr Jewelry Manufacturing company but was extinguished before it could spread. Fire broke out again in 1930, this time costing $100,000 in damages and taking the life of a Cambridge fireman. While fighting the blaze, Thomas J. King collapsed from exhaustion and suffered a brain contusion in the fall. He was taken to Cambridge City Hospital but did not survive his injuries. King was 54 at the time of his death and had been a Cambridge firefighter for 24 years. Another man, a spectator who was struck by a falling timber, was also taken to Cambridge City Hospital. The burning warehouse gave off sparks and embers that were carried by the winds to nearby rooftops. Fire spread to several homes in the neighborhood across Cameron Ave. as well as a passing freight car – tying up street and train traffic and adding to the firefighters work. Drifting embers even ignited a Cambridge fire engine that had reported to the scene, necessitating that the firemen turn their hoses upon their own vehicle.

Fire at the F. H. Newton Co. plant on Cameron Ave., Sept. 1930

The F. H. Newton Company has a predecessor in the Jackson and Newton Company, whose warehouse was located across town on McGrath Highway. The company was founded in 1894 and named for Frederic Newton and his business partner Henry Webster Jackson. Jackson’s father Jacob gave his occupation as “moulder” and seems to have passed along the woodworking trade to his son. Henry Jackson’s son, Ernest Webster Jackson also entered the business (joining in 1915). Although Frederic left the company in 1915, his brother-in-law James R. Haigh continued on with the business and in 1928 led the firm in a merger with two other corporations. The newly formed Brockway-Smith-Haigh-Lovell Company took up offices in Charlestown and continues on today as BROSCO (Brockway-Smith Company) in Wilmington, Mass. The F. H. Newton Company did not enjoy the same longevity, however. In 1964, following an apparent bankruptcy, its remaining inventory was sold off at a public auction.

The Jackson and Newton Door and Sash Manufacturing Co. on McGrath Highway. The F. H. Newton company occupied this space from 1905 to 1926, when it relocated to Medford. (Photo taken in 1990)