Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Grace Metalious - Part II

On December 27, 1946, in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, a twenty-year-old woman named Barbara Roberts murdered her father, Sylvester.  The Roberts family was prominent in New Hampshire politics -- it still is.  With the help of a younger brother, Barbara buried her father in a shallow grave in a sheep barn.  Some nine months later the body was discovered.  Barbara Roberts quickly confessed to murder.

As it turned out, though, there were fair reasons for her to have killed the bastard.  Her entirely believable accounts of being sexually abused by him over many years elicited a great amount of sympathy.  She was sentenced to but a single year in prison.

The central drama of Peyton Place is based on this incident.  Lucas Cross, the father, is depicted as an incorrigible drunk who habitually beats his wife and rapes his beautiful and lovely stepdaughter, Selena.  She becomes pregnant by him.  The town's good doctor, Matthew Swain -- against his principles, but full of a wonderfully touching sympathy for Selena -- secretly performs an illegal abortion.

Below is a picture of the actual grave of the real-life Sylvester Roberts.  It's in a cemetery in the village of Gilmanton Iron Works.

It's at the far end of a Roberts family plot.  I stood staring stupidly at this featureless area of grass.  An unmarked grave must be the ultimate retribution for black-sheepdom, a fervent gesture of disrespect, a silent declaration that one and one's time on earth brought such great shame as to make one unworthy of a slab of stone, unworthy, for eternity, of remembrance.
I come from a small town in Indiana. It's easy for me to imagine how the people of my hometown would have reacted to an outsider, such as a Grace Metalious, had she moved into our town, appropriated a story that involved a well-liked and respectable local family, and told it to the world. And, in the process, made a million bucks, and showed up in the center of town wearing a mink coat with nothing but skin beneath it -- as I was told Grace Metalious did in Gilmanton. No ... we wouldn't have liked her.

I understand why many in Gilmanton don't like her. But I'm not from Gilmanton. I have a really soft spot in my heart for Grace Metalious.