Famed Poet and Author Called Fenton Home in The 1800s
"The Blind Bard of Michigan" rests in Oakwood Cemetery, where a History Walk will take place Sept. 10.
One of my most prized possessions is a copy of Ruth Anne Silbar’s book, "A Time to Remember, Fenton 1834 to Now". It’s a wonderful book detailing Fenton history. The “now” is 1976, when the book ends.
A former coworker had a copy that was so worn, the pages were continuously falling out. Another was purchased for me online, but I had to leave it when I left the company. That’s why I was thrilled to find the book, which was even signed by the author, at a yard sale last summer. The $75 price tag gave me pause for a moment, but after giving it a little thought, I knew I had to have this priceless piece of local history.
Today, I enjoy pulling the book out from time to time and doing a little reading. As a member of Fenton’s Oakwood Cemetery Board, I have been going through the pages to learn a bit more about Fenton notables, who may be resting in Oakwood Cemetery so that I can find their markers before an important event next month.
On Sept. 10, from 1-5 p.m., an Oakwood Cemetery History Walk will take place. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. During the history walk, actors and historians will introduce visitors to Oakwood Cemetery’s 163 Civil War veterans. There will be tours and re-enactments during this activity that is free to the public.
As I was leafing through the pages recently, I chose a chapter that I had not yet read, called “The Blind Bard of Michigan.” She does rest in Oakwood Cemetery in a grave marked “Ida Glenwood, Blind Bard.”
This amazing woman lived in Fenton during the latter part of the 19th Century. She was widely known as a poet and the author of romantic novels such as “Lily Pearl,” “The Mistress of Rosedale,” and “The Fatal Secret,” to name just a few.
When I read the start of her “Lily Pearl’ chapter called Midnight at Cliff House, my first thought was that this woman was not only a wonderful writer, but an artist with words, painting the picture for her readers even though she herself could not see.
Glenwood wrote: “It was a dismal night out upon the ocean where the huge billows tossed high their foaming crests, or dashed with maddening fury upon the rocky shore as if unwilling longer to submit to the powers that shut them in; while ever and anon the deep-mouthed thunder answered back through the darkness "thus far shalt thou go, and no farther."
Then ran the echoes along the shore and up the ragged cliff on whose summit one feeble ray of light struggled through the narrow crevice of a curtained window out into the midnight gloom. The howling winds made sad music through the long corridors and curious wrought lattice work that partially enclosed it; slamming the heavy iron gate that had broken loose from its fastenings and kept swaying to and fro upon its rusty hinges, wakening by its unusual noise the huge watch dog in his kennel, who growled menacingly at being disturbed at such a late hour …”
This famous Fenton writer and poet certainly had a way with words.
According to Silbar, Ida Glenwood’s real name was Cynthia Roberts Gorton, born in Massachusetts in 1826. Her eyesight began to fail at an early age. She married Fred Gorton when she was 21 years old and six years later, after a serious illness, she was rendered totally blind.
That obviously did not prevent her from writing. She was also known to recite some of her works and poetry at many public gatherings. In addition to writing novels, she is reported to have lectured a great deal while at the same time contributing serials, stories and poems to the Christian Herald and other papers.
Ida Glenwood, which was her pen name, became an expert with the typewriter and was said to be the first person in Fenton to own one.
Silbar’s description of this lady is telling. She wrote, “Her narratives contain all the emotional devices over which readers of that era laughed and cried. Cruel parents, lost children, romantic meetings and harrowing experiences on land and sea, were the ingredients used by the woman, who, as she remarked in one of her prefaces, wrote in greater darkness than even the darkest moments of her characters.”
Upon reading that, I could not help but think that things haven’t changed that much since Glenwood’s day.
Although I’m going to enjoy learning about the Civil War veterans during the Oakwood Cemetery History Walk … I am definitely going to make it a point to visit her marker and humbly pay my respects to “The Blind Bard of Michigan.”