Where’s Whistler?

When James Whistler was larking about town with a sketch pad, drawing caricatures, sketching a fire in the rectory roof, skating and coasting with friends, where did the Whistlers live in Pomfret, Conn.?

For a short few years in high school the boys, James and his youner brother William, went to the Christ Church Hall School, run by Dr. Roswell Park, then the Rector of Christ Church, and the Whistlers lived nearby —  on that much every source seems to agree. Biographers tend to put the family in part of an old and drafty farmhouse and leave it at that.

Among Pomfret locals and historians, consensus has the Whistlers downtown on “the Street,” the town’s strip of grand old buildings downtown, among churches and estates.

In “Folklore and Firesides of Pomfret,” Susan Jewett Griggs writes in 1950 that the Whistlers lived in “the house used today as the Catholic Rectory.” The Rev. David M. Carter, rector of Christ Church today, told me that though the Catholic Church has moved since Whistler’s day, he believes today’s rectory may be the same.

My uncle believes the Whistlers lived in one of two houses across the street from it, and the librarian at the Pomfret library believes the Whistlers’ house is now one of the buildings at the Rectory School, which covers a long sweep of the Street across from Christ Church.

The church itself is newer than the Whistlers’ time, and they would not have seen this old stone building, its Tiffany windows or the woodcarving by Charles Wiggins, who made a “Walrus and the Carpenter” coffee table for my grandparents. But they would have seen the cemetery. The burial ground goes back to the early days of the church.

I first saw that cemetery, to remember it, when I was eight years old, leaving a service to the ringing sound of When the Saints Go Marching In, a striding top-of-the-lungs tribute that managed to sound glad and grieving, Protestant and mischievious all at once.

My Abbott grandparents are buried here. In my search for the Whistlers, I came here to see them, and I thought of that day and what I remember of my father’s father’s memorial.