Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mary "Queen" Mellen Palmer, born March 26, 1850



"Any beauty we have once felt is ours always - and nothing can take it from us, so long as we can think. This is an eternal Now- and is a joy forever. "  
~ Mary "Queen" Mellen Palmer, August 1889
Mary Lincoln Mellen was born in Prestonburg, Kentucky on March 26, 1850. She was the only child of Isabelle and William Proctor Mellen. She was called by her nickname, "Queen".

Her mother died when she was four years old. She was raised by her maternal grandmother, Charlotte Clark of Cincinnati, and attended the Cincinnati Institute for Young Ladies.  Her father,a lawyer, later married his sister-in-law, Ellen Clark. Ellen and William had six more children. Queen was well-educated and was known for her beautiful voice.

She was 11 years old when the Civil War began.

During the Civil War, while Queen and her grandmother made bandages for wounded Union soldiers, her father worked for the Secretary of the Treasury, handling the confiscated cotton trade. When agents under him succumbed to bribery, William Proctor Mellen was libeled and slandered. He resigned from his government post and moved his growing family to Flushing, New York, where he took up private practice as a lawyer. 

William Jackson Palmer
She met General William Jackson Palmer, a civil war veteran and engineer, in 1869, while she and her father were on a train going to see the West.  Palmer was on a business trip. He would later write that it was love at first sight.  He was 32 years old at the time. Queen seems to have been somewhat in awe of the great man, continually addressing him as "General."  Finally, he felt compelled to write her:
St. Louis April 16, 1869
"I note that you persist in calling me by the rank I had before I was promoted to the noble grade of American citizen...General indeed."
Queen and her General became engaged just a few weeks after their first meeting. Marriage had to wait until completion of the Kansas Pacific line all the way to Denver.  In the meantime, General Palmer returned west to oversee the thousands of details involved in the laying of rails. Nearly every day - whether in the field, in his office at Fort Sheridan, or traveling by horseback, stage or train - he managed to dash off a few lines to Queen in  New York. One of these letters was addressed "To The Queen of Roses," another "To The Queen of Hearts."


Queen was 20 years old when they were married on November 8, 1870 in Flushing, New York. Her father later became a partner in Palmer's railroad business.

On their 3-month honeymoon in England, Palmer saw narrow gauge railroading in operation and realized the advantages for use on his own line.  The trip was as much a business venture as a honeymoon, with the General and his associate Dr. Bell constantly engaged in money-raising efforts on behalf of the newly-formed North and South Railroad, later known as the D. & R.G. Queen quickly made friends, filling her days with shopping and visits to art galleries, her nights with singing, dancing, the opera, and a card game called Besique. 

In 1871, Palmer acquired 10,000 acres of land east of the former Colorado territorial capital, Colorado City. He called his new community Colorado Springs. Saloons and gambling houses were not welcome in Colorado Springs, and if one wanted alcohol, they had to travel to the more unruly Colorado City to get it. Production or sale of alcohol was illegal in Colorado Springs until 1933, when Prohibition was lifted nationally.

Queen Palmer, at age twenty-one, opened the first public school in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in November, 1871. School was held in a three room house she rented on Cascade Avenue. 

At the end of 1871, the Mellen family moved out from Flushing, New York. Since the great house at Glen Eyrie was not quite finished, 58-year-old William Mellen, his 35-year-old wife Ellen, and their six boisterous children were put up temporarily at the drafty inn in Manitou. By early February, 1872, the house at Glen Eyrie was nearing completion, so the Palmers and the Mellen family moved in. The second floor was set aside for the Mellens, with a room for the boys and another for the girls, a large school room and space for a live-in teacher.

Glen Eyrie
Glen Eyrie (Eagle's Nest) near Colorado Springs was built in the northwest foothills, north of the Garden of the Gods rock formations.  

In March of 1872, the General, Queen and Rose Kingsley left by train to meet the U.S. Minister to Mexico, General Rosecrans, at San Francisco. There they took the ship Alaska south along the coast to Manzanillo. Aboard ship, Palmer taught the two ladies how to handle a gun. A stranger offered his assistance. He turned out to be Porfirio Diaz, who was returning to Mexico to start a revolution. His friendship may have saved their lives on the road from the coast to Mexico City. Several times their coach was threatened by the local ladrones. On one occasion, the rebel Pronunciados confiscated their weapons, all except for the pistols Queen and Rose had hidden beneath their dresses. The trip was hard on Queen, who was pregnant at the time and suffering from morning sickness.

After more than a month on the road, the party reached Mexico City, where the General left the ladies at the Hotel Iturbides, while he rode north with his engineers to survey the route of his proposed railroad. In his absence, Queen and Rose went sightseeing with an old German priest (the past confessor to Emperor Maximilian), and made friends among government officials and the staff of foreign embassies. Queen would later confide that the three months she spent in Mexico were among the happiest of her life.

Portrait of Queen taken in Mexico
General William and Queen Palmers eventually had three children: Elsie, born in 1872, Dorothy, born in 1880 and Marjory, born in 1881.

On their return to the U.S., the party traveled up the east coast to New York City. There, Rose Kingsley left for England, the General rushed off to Colorado, and the pregnant Queen settled in with friends to have her baby. A frail little girl was born to her on October 30, 1872. As with her later children, Queen left her baby nameless for several months, until finally deciding to call her "Elsie." Queen herself remained unwell, and this worried the General who had returned to Mexico to confer with Rosecrans.

In June, 1873, the General and Queen returned to what he hoped would be their "Constant honeymoon" at Glen Eyrie. They brought west with them his Quaker mother, Matilda, as well as Queen's grandmother Charlotte Clarke. Mrs. Clarke barely survived the trip. She died just a few weeks later, and was buried under a granite stone in the Glen.  In November of 1873, William Mellen died, after having received from the General a promise to rear and care for the numerous Mellen children as his own.

The nine years that Queen spent at Glen Eyrie were anything but the tranquil honeymoon her husband had envisioned. The General was constantly called away on railroad business and, when at home, his time was often taken up by business associates, visiting friends, and of course the Mellen children, with whom he explored Queen's Canyon and to whom he supplied a menagerie of pets and ponies.  Queen's refuge from all these comings and goings was in some quiet corner of the Glen where she could settle down to read, or in her spacious study on the third floor, "where she gathered books, heard musicians and never permitted any but an invited friend to enter."

Besides hosting the General's dinner parties and looking after their daughter Elsie, Queen continued to be actively engaged in the area's social life.  Queen also served as a trustee for the Library Association.

Whenever possible, the General took Queen along on his business trips. In February of 1875, he needed to raise additional capital for the Denver & Rio Grande in Europe, so he and Queen set off together for Paris.

Back in Colorado, trouble was brewing with the Santa Fe Railroad. By 1877, a mining boom had hit the Leadville area, and both the Santa Fe and the Denver & Rio Grande wanted to build a railroad there through the Royal Gorge. A dramatic railroad war ensued. Men were armed and placed in forts in the Gorge. There were threats on the General's life and on the lives of his family. The General moved the Mellens back to the great house, and had a schoolhouse built so the children could go to school within the safety of the Glen. He also had a tunnel dug from the house to the stable so the horses could be reached in case of emergency. Each morning, his servant Old George would tuck an extra pistol into the General's saddlebag, and each evening the family would watch by the windows for his safe return from town.
William Jackson Palmer in Colorado

In 1880, at the age of 30, Queen suffered a mild heart attack.  She was pregnant at the time and, later that same year, she gave birth to her second daughter. The baby remained nameless for several months. Finally, in March of 1881, the General sent a telegram from New York saying that he needed a name to insert in a property deed. Queen promptly wired back: "Dorothy is her name." On his return home, the happy General named a waterfall in Queen's Canyon in the baby's honor, calling it "Dorothy Falls."

In the fall of 1881, the great house in Glen Eyrie was scheduled for remodeling. The General took this opportunity to move the Mellens to England so that the three boys might attend Oxford. He also took Queen and the girls along. Queen was pregnant again and, on November 12, she gave birth to a third baby girl, whom she named "Marjory".

In New York, the General managed to retain his position as President of the Denver & Rio Grande.  He made a fourth trip to Mexico, where he tracked the progress of his railroad line finally being built north from Mexico City and south from Laredo. On his way back to England he stopped off to bring his mother with him and, in the late spring of 1883, Queen and the girls returned with them to the remodeled house at Glen Eyrie.

Back in the thin high-altitude air of Colorado, Queen began to experience chest pains and a general sleeplessness. These were attributed to a faulty valve in her heart, a condition similar to that which had killed her mother Isabelle some thirty years before. It soon became clear to Queen that she must return to sea level. She put off her departure for more than a year, living quietly with her three girls in the Glen; but finally, in the summer of 1884, she began a 10-year quest for health.  After traveling to the eastern United States, Queen and her three girls moved to England and the manor house of Ightham Mote in April of 1887. They were to stay there for three years.  At the Mote, Queen found the setting for which by nature she seemed most inclined: "The world of books and music and flowers, the company of people whose tastes were much like her own." To the Mote came her friends from London: Alma Strettell, Ellen Timp, the Jamesons, bringing with them the likes of Oscar Wilde, George Meredith and the painter John Singer Sargent. Sargent would later paint a portrait of Elsie called "Young Lady in White."

Portrait of Elsie Palmer by John Singer Sargent, "Young Lady in White"
Once or twice a year, the General would come for extended visits.  Elsie would later recall that his visits were eagerly awaited events, though his coming inevitably disorganized the quiet routine of their lives.

Queen's heart condition continued to trouble her. Fearing that her time with the girls was drawing short, she began to counsel them through a series of endearing in-house letters. In 1886, she wrote a short note instructing them not only to be generous, but also to learn to accept the generosity of others. "Search for the truth," she wrote, "be kind, be kind because kindness may always help out someone who is suffering. I am always with you, waiting for you. Mutterlain."


In March of 1889, Queen joined a couple of friends on a trip to France and Italy. The trio left London on March 8 and journeyed to Paris, Marseilles and Nice before arriving in Italy eight days later. Queen was not in the best of health, needing to be carried up any flights of stairs in a specially-built chair. Italy, however. seemed to revive her.
"I must begin my day's account by saying that I am almost wild with delight!!! A new hunger is discovered in me - by myself! Which has been gradual - ever since I left Nice - it has reached its climax in this great beautiful Florence. -I do not mean to grow too entusiastic in these little notes of daily doings - but I really could not write a word of facts until I had said just this much - let me say it once more - I am almost wild with the joy of living and seeing and - in this air - Saturated with the beauty of past and present! Art has a new meaning to me...I write, become calm...but I wish-wish-wish I had my Elsie and some archetectural help."
After her return to England, the home at Ightham Mote was sold, and Queen and her daughters moved Losely Park. Losely Park was an Elizabethan Castle, originally the home of the More-Molyneux family. Queen and her girls stayed there for three years, until the U.S. financial panic of 1893 forced the General to ask her to move back into the cheaper dwelling of Oak Cottage.

Queen died on December 28, 1894, at the age of 44. On learning of Queen's worsening condition, General Palmer had immediately set sail from America to be by her side. His ship, however arrived too late. He and his three daughters returned to Colorado, bringing with them Queen's ashes, which were placed on the fireplace mantle in the Tower Room at Glen Eyrie.

William Jackson Palmer died in 1909.  1910, Queen's ashes were placed by her husband's grave in Evergreen Cemetery, Colorado Springs.
Grave of Queen Palmer

Queen Palmer Elementary School in Colorado Springs is named in honor of Mary Mellen Palmer.

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