As we continue to recognize the forty-fifth anniversary of the Greenwich Library Oral History Project, we thought it fitting to reach into our archives for a heartwarming story about a World War I soldier's return. The interview we draw on is A Doctor’s Daughter, narrated by Alexandra Clarke Spann (1903-1977). Published as a hardcover “red book” in 1985, the contents draw on four separate interviews, telling the story of what it was like, growing up in Greenwich in the early days of the twentieth century, the daughter of an esteemed Greenwich physician.
There are many interesting and colorful anecdotes presented in the interview but none so engaging as the World War I story Ms. Spann narrates—and that retelling is the incident our volunteer turned to. We went back to the book, and the following is what we found.
Well into the interview Alexandra Clarke Spann is asked about “dramatic incidents” she remembers from her life. She responds:
|The Havemeyer Building on Greenwich Ave., once the Havemeyer School|
“Well I think the most dramatic was during World War I. One of our favorite mail carriers was Johnny Lockhart, whose brother was in a division in Europe that was almost completely annihilated. Johnny got word that his brother had been killed. The town loved Johnny so much, and they knew his brother, so they were planning a memorial service. I was just big enough to carry a small flag over my shoulder in a flag drill, which you don’t hear of anymore. They sang “America,” they prayed, they did all the loving things you’re supposed to, and almost finished—when the doors on the colonnade to Havemeyer School opened, and the captain stepped it.”
Interviewer: “The captain?”
Spann: “He [Colonel Charles E. Lockhart] was a captain [colonel] in the regiment. Dead silence. You could feel it. It pressed on you. Then all pandemonium let loose. People shouted, stamped, whistled, threw their hats up in the air. Even the flags went up. It was absolutely the most dramatic thing I think I ever lived through.”
Interviewer: “How did you feel?”
Spann: “We all cried.”
Interviewer: “You cried?”
Spann: “Absolutely unashamed, men and women both.”
Interviewer: “Did he know that this was his funeral service?”
Spann: “No, he didn’t. Somebody told him there was a meeting in the Havemeyer Building, to go see what was going on. He just walked in cold.”
Interviewer: “That’s a truly dramatic incident.”
Spann: “I think it’s the most dramatic one in my whole life.”
Without further comment or explanation, Ms. Spann goes on to tell about Boss Tweed’s property on Milbank Avenue. But it’s the story of Captain Lockhart’s miraculous return to life that lingers.
This long ago tale about a beloved soldier brought back to a hometown in the midst of honoring him seems worthy of remembering on this holiday meant for reflection.
The red book, A Doctor’s Daughter(1985), narrated by Alexandra Clarke Spann, can be found in the circulating collection on the Oral History Project kiosk on the first floor. Additionally, a copy of the interview can be found in the OHP collection in the local history reference area on the first floor. Library patrons may also read the interview at the OHP office on the lower level of the library.