• svanderschaaff

Surviving The War But Not Spanish Flu

Connecting the clues at library across the street


The library across the street from The Judge’s House is The Louis T. Graves Memorial Library. I can see the red brick building from my bedroom window. When we first moved into the house and didn’t have our Wi-Fi installed, we would sit in the dining room and catch the signal from the building, hoping the library gods would not look unfavorably on our temporary squatting.


Memorial buildings are fragile things, in a way, when the generation of people that understands the namesake die off. Who was Louis T. Graves?




I learned that Louis was the son of Abbott Fuller Graves, the artist who trained in Boston and Paris and who eventually made his home in Kennebunkport, building a prairie style house reminiscent of the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. Graves painted luscious florals and is well known for capturing the gardens and doorways of the area. He was also a member of the academy of arts and letters, an accomplishment that makes me think that while is not well known now, he was respected in his own time.






Louis, after whom the library is named, was his son. The father renovated the red brick building and donated it to the town of Kennebunkport--so we would remember who Louis was and what he loved--books.


The link between this red brick library and The Judge’s house, however, is not just the WIFI signal I can hop onto—it’s the friendship between Abbott Graves and The Judge, erudite men with big-city educations and ties, who had a love of books, concern for the town of Kennebunkport, and mutual understanding of loss.


Louis T. Graves was 22 when he died. Before he fell ill, he lived in Washington, DC, pursuing his ambition to be a writer and working at The Washington Evening Star newspaper. The Spanish Flu had just hit the city. According to one website, between Oct. 1918 and Feb. 1919 more than 30,000 Washington residents got the virus and 3,000 died.


Mrs. Abbott Graves was called to Washington by the illness of her son Louis who is engaged in newspaper work there.


This quote was pulled from a local paper by the historian Joyce Butler, an ominous clue to the fate that would befall Louis.




His death was announced in the newspaper he worked for.


It's a twist of fate that Louis fought in WWI, returning safety home only to die from the flu the war helped spread. He was bookish and quiet, working once as the private secretary for Booth Tarkington (the famous author who lived on the same street in KPT) and for a time had a job in Boston with a bookseller that went by the name Little, Brown and Company, which now, of course, is owned by a conglomerate.



The Judge lost his brother, a promising artist, when he drowned in a river at age 30. He then lost his daughter, Pauline, months after she starred in a Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta—a new mother and wife of only a few years. He may have been well positioned to comfort Abbott Graves, as men of that era did in their way, through this mutual understanding of grief.


Butler writes that Abbott Graves was heartbroken after his son’s death, a loss that coincided with his daughter’s marriage and departure from the family home.


He wrote to a friend, “If we had our lives to live over, the stork would make regular trips as long as possible.”


Perhaps as a commitment to his friend and his friend's loss, The Judge served as president of the library from its dedication to Louis T. Graves until his own death in 1941.


While this story is melancholy, there’s an interesting romantic note to end with. At the dedication ceremony for the library in July 1921 a certain May Atkins is responsible for the decorations.


By fall, this May Atkins would become the second Mrs. Luques, marrying The Judge in October 1921.


*While the newspaper I include here states his death was from pneumonia, other accounts explain that this followed his illness with flu.


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