Orville Hungerford came to Jefferson County from Farmingham, (now Bristol) Conn., in 1804 at 14 years of age with his father, Timothy, and fam…
WATERTOWN — As far as birth announcements go, it was a special delivery.
On Sunday, Sept. 13, the Watertown Daily Times published a paid advertisement on Page B1. The 14-by-9½-inch color drawing may have left many people scratching their heads, not only because of its size and purpose, but because of its dark undertones. A woman, her face obscured, holds a newborn, who has a symbol etched into his blanket. Behind them, a gentleman looks upon the woman and child with penetrating, white eyes. In the background two portraits have a conversation:
“Orville, is that our newest family member?”
“Dear Betsey, it’s Preston James Hawk Hungerford.”
The man and woman in the foreground fill in the rest. Preston weighs 7.4 pounds and is 20¼ inches long.
Above the two portraits there’s a phrase, written in Hebrew. There’s a clock on the fireplace mantel. At the bottom of the ad there’s a Watertown street address, no explanation. All of those elements have a special meaning to those who purchased the ad. The drawing itself was created by a well-known comic book and graphic novel artist.
There’s a reason why Preston is making such a grand entrance. It’s part of a multi-faceted plan, the introduction, to laud Orville Hungerford, 1790-1851, a Watertown pioneer and philanthropist. He was a two-term United States Representative for the 19th District in New York, and a prominent local merchant, banker, industrialist, Freemason and railroad president.
The Hungerford world tree comprises tens of thousands of individuals who lived (or are living) in the U.S., England, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other countries.
“The Hungerfords have been sort of silent in New York,” said Andre J. Hungerford, an attorney based in Portland, Maine, who also is licensed to practice in Massachusetts. “We’ve sort of been underground, and we thought, why not present this fabulous story of Orville Hungerford, who made the money, put it into the community and saved the community by bringing the railroad to Watertown.”
Planned are renovations to Orville’s mausoleum at Brookside Cemetery, a graphic novel and an exhibit about Orville next year in Watertown at the Jefferson County Historical Society.
“We were honored to receive the phone call and having A.J. wanting to use our museum for this,” said Francee Calarco, immediate past president of the JCHS. “The size and scope of this exhibit sounds like it’s more than we could ever have expected, to host something like this.”
The exhibit is scheduled to be curated by an Ohio woman who has extensive experience working in large and small museums in the U.S. and U.K. and who has curated numerous fine art and historic exhibits.
“The museum show is going to be pretty cool,” said Mr. Hungerford. “It’s going to be a world-class event with a top team of 40 different people. We’re talking everyone from the caterers, to the people working on the mausoleum.”
The Gothic style mausoleum, a popular stop on the annual JCHS cemetery tour, features towers, spires, buttresses, pointed arches, and stained glass windows. GYMO Architecture, Engineering and Land Surveying completed a restoration proposal in August. Mr. Hungerford estimates the renovation will cost approximately $50,000.
Orville Hungerford died on April 6, 1851 and was initially buried on the former Sawyer Farm in the Town of Watertown. The Hungerford mausoleum was commissioned in 1854 by Orville’s son, Richard Esselstyne. Orville Hungerford was reinterred in the mausoleum in 1860.
“Orville Hungerford the first, not his son or his grandson, set the pace for many people in the Hungerford family for 170 years,” Mr. Hungerford said. “We still set below him. We still talk about him and we’ve got all his stuff, and we all say, ‘What would Orville do?’ Orville is the central figure of the family. Since the 1800s to this day, he’s had a huge influence on the family, a lasting influence.”
Orville Hungerford is Andre J. Hungerford’s great uncle x4. “He is the brother of my great grandfather, times-four, Timothy Hungerford II,” Mr. Hungerford said.
Andre is the mysterious man with white eyes in the Sept. 13 birth announcement. The woman is his girlfriend, Lori Sylvester, holding their son, Preston.
The birth announcement’s artwork was created by Andrea R. Mutti, a native of Italy who now resides in Florida. He’s illustrated “Batman” and “Batwoman” titles for DC Comics. He’s also illustrated several titles for Marvel and for Dark Horse Comics, titles such as “Star Wars,” “Conan” and “Tomb Raider.”
Mr. Mutti has an interest in U.S. history. His graphic novel “Rebels: A Well-Regulated Militia,” written by Brian Wood, is set in 1775 during the American Revolution.
He said that he and Mr. Hungerford came up with the theme of the birth announcement.
“It has a Gothic vibe,” Mr. Mutti said. “It’s a mystery. Who’s the man? Who’s the girl?”
“The Hungerfords are a very Gothic family to this day,” Mr. Hungerford said.
Richard W. Hungerford Jr., Omaha, Neb., and a direct descendent of Gen. Solon Dexter Hungerford of Adams, is coordinating a large part of the exhibit project. Andre brought the idea to him of a “comic book-museum show mash-up.”
Andre Hungerford was inspired to combine the graphic novel and exhibit ideas in 2015 when he attended the Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton Luncheon in New York City to benefit the New York Historical Society. Special guests were Lin-Manuel Miranda and author Ron Chernow. Mr. Hungerford talked to both.
Mr. Miranda turned Mr. Chernow’s biography on Alexander Hamilton into a blockbuster Broadway show.
“It was Lin who inspired the idea of mashing up a comic book with a historical figure in the context of a museum show,” Mr. Hungerford said.
The exhibit will be held at the Jefferson County Historical Society, 228 Washington St. Jabez Foster and his wife, Hannah, once owned an opulent Georgian style mansion on the property, now the Paddock Mansion.
Ms. Calarco at the JCHS is the contact person with the Hungerford family for the exhibit. She said the society’s board believes a scheduled construction project at the Paddock Mansion, which will include a new roof and the installation of an elevator, will be near-finished or finished by the time the exhibit is held. It’s now scheduled for next September.
Ms. Calarco said it’s important for the society to mark a legacy such as the one left by the Hungerfords.
“Orville Hungerford did so much for Jefferson County,” Ms. Calarco said. “This family has just kept its legacy alive. To revisit it at the museum is so exciting for us. This is what we’re all about. It seems sometimes you get dragged down by fundraising and keeping the museum going and then we’re gifted with an event like this. Everybody on the board is super excited.”
Mr. Mutti has done the artwork for the 22-page graphic novel to accompany the planned JCHS exhibit on Orville Hungerford. The colorist for the publication was Michael C. Garland and the lettering was done by Deron Bennet.
Pages of the graphic novel will be enlarged, wall-size, by Duggal Visual Solutions of New York City for the exhibit.
“In between the pages, we have a large archive of items,” Mr. Hungerford said. “A bunch of them belonged to Orville Hungerford.’’
Those items range from his cane to photographs and his letters.
Even though the artwork for the graphic novel has been finished, a writer for it has yet to be selected.
“We want to give the team a little more gender balance,” Mr. Hungerford said. “We’re going to hire a female to write it. There’s very few female comic writers. I have a list of several we’re going to contact.”
Ware Petznick, executive director of the Shaker Historical Society in Shaker Heights, Ohio, is the curator for the exhibit. She knows Mr. Hungerford through their mutual association with the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Both are graduates of the university.
“I’ve known A.J. for a long time,” Ms. Petznick said. “He’d talk about his Hungerford ancestry, his family. He told me over one conversation that the family has a database, and that’s fascinating.”
Ms. Petznick is also a historian. Her experience in the field includes being curator of collections at the McFaddin-Ward House in Beaumont, Texas. She has experience working in large and small museums in the U.S. and England. She was happy to take on the project when Mr. Hungerford suggested it.
“He’s such a good representative of an old New England family that after the (American) Revolution, there was a great wave of settlement where people in New England started to move west, to the frontier, Ms. Petznick said. “Many people might not think of Watertown as the frontier, but when Orville’s dad, Timothy, moved his family from Connecticut there, it very much was the frontier. There wasn’t much there.”
The more she found out about Orville, the more she relished the project.
“He was a man before his time, and I became more and more fascinated by him and how he conducted his life as well as his business interests,” Ms. Petznick said. “He was a man of principles. He didn’t pursue politics to the point where his actions to get further in politics could have meant harming his constituents, which in today’s climate, I find fascinating.”
Ms. Petznick said the graphic novel will be the “showpiece” of the exhibit.
“It’s a visual celebration,” she said. “Part of the aim is to make history accessible, not just for kids, but people of all ages. Andrea’s amazing images charting the life of Orville will be a major part of the exhibit.”
She added that the Hungerford family has a good collection of artifacts.
“There’s a lot of good stuff for people to look at,” she said. “That was another fascinating layer of design for this exhibit. What is great about the Hungerford estate across the country is that the archive is so backed up with a lot of objects that the family is willing to loan.”
Mr. Hungerford said his family are mainly Protestant, but there are also Catholic and Jewish family members. The Hebrew writing in the birth announcement translates to, “Heal the world.”
“That just symbolizes that the Hungerfords were there to do good and heal the world, which was actually Orville’s whole thing,” Mr. Hungerford said. “That’s been the ethos of the family.”
The address at the bottom of the ad, 336 Washington St., refers to Orville’s residence. He began construction of his “dream home” in 1823. The home, made out of native limestone and containing 10 fireplaces, became the largest residence in Watertown.
The house stayed in the Hungerford family until 1956, when it was purchased by John R. Burns. To save it from the wrecking ball, he had every block numbered and then reassembled it at 315 Flower Avenue West.
The symbol on the baby blanket is a Masonic symbol, the Eye of Providence. Orville made several business connections by being a Mason.
“That means use networks, use people,” Mr. Hungerford said.
The clock, seen on the fireplace mantel, is important to the family.
“We don’t know what happened to the clock,” Mr. Hungerford said. “The clock signifies that you only have so much time in life. You’ve got to get stuff done and that time is all we have.”