I’ve written extensively about my cousin, John Baxter Black,
who was a good friend and who influenced my interest in researching my family
history. John was born in Mansfield, OH in 1924 and he died there in 2014 at
the age of 90. From 1936, at the age of 12, to the week he died, John wrote a
journal chronicling his daily activities and thoughts.
|John Black circa 1954|
John left his journals to the New York Public Library, where
I’ve reviewed a very small sampling. The collection is extensive and the
process of transcribing pages from photos taken with my phone (the only method
allowed) is daunting, but rewarding. I’m glad to have access to them. His
diaries are dense, crowded with his tight, unique handwriting. I can read most
of John’s entries quickly and easily, but it could be a challenge for others. He
and I carried on written correspondence for 18 years, many of his letters being
handwritten, so I have evolved into an expert at interpreting his scrawl! He
wrote to me using a fountain pen in black ink, which matches these entries.
John comes alive for me in these entries. I read his words
and I can hear him speak. I picture him as he chronicles his observations and
personality studies, along with his own insecurities and worries.
|Peter Black circa 1954|
This short three-day excerpt from John’s diaries describes a
weekend visit that John and his brother Peter made to my grandparents’ house in
North Stonington, Connecticut. Over the weekend he encounters my mother, age
12, and her younger sisters, but they are not named in the entry other than
collectively. They were “all good.”
In 1954, at the time of these entries, John was 30 years old
and lived in an apartment at on East 67th Street in New York City,
just a few steps from Central Park. He was in the process of editing his one
and only novel, The Night the Americans
Came, which was published eight years later in London.
At this moment in time, he was reading two books that he had
purchased earlier in the month: The
Diaries of Virginia Woolf and Gwen Raverat’s memoir, Period Piece (Raverat, a wood engraver in England who died a few
years later, was Charles Darwin’s granddaughter).
One note: when John reached the end of a page, he would
continue at the top of the same page and sometimes on to other pages in the
diary. With this bit of context, the entries for those three days: