I'm very pleased to hear that professor emeritus Donald Ehresmann has recently purchased the Greek revival mansion at 1 Lane Road. The building had sat empty for many years and will take much TLC to restore it to its former elegance. The house was built in 1816 by wealthy merchant Alanson Tucker. In the 20th century this house played a part in one of the saddest stories in American history — the tragic life of Starr Faithfull.
Alanson and Eliza Thom Tucker had many children who gave them many grandchildren. Almost all of Tucker's descendents are recorded as becoming successful businessmen, lawyers or marrying into wealthy families. The rare exception seems to be Lucy MacGregor who married Rev. George Pierce of Milford around 1875. They had three children: a son, Starr, and two daughters, Alison Tucker and Helen MacGregor Pierce. In mid-life, George would give up the pulpit to become a capitalist and soon lost all of his money.
When Lucy died in the 1890s, young Helen was sent to Derry to live at the old Alanson Tucker mansion with her grandmother Elizabeth Tucker MacGregor. Helen remained there off and on until she married Frank Wyman in 1904. The couple had two daughters, Starr (born 1906) and Elizabeth Tucker (born 1911). Starr would be brought to Derry many times so she could learn the proud history of the Tucker and MacGregor families. She would be told how they were blood relatives of the town's founder, Rev. James MacGregor, and local general George Reid. In their living room in New Jersey they kept a side board made for Alanson Tucker in 1800. The Derry sleep-overs likely ended in 1910 when Uncle Edward MacGregor sold the Tucker Manse.
Helen and Frank Wyman divorced in 1924. She married Stanley Faithfull in 1925 and her daughters adopted their stepfather's last name. The Faithfulls had little money so the family had to frequently rely on the charity of Helen's wealthy relatives. The aunts and cousins all chipped in to allow the extremely gifted and precocious Starr Faithfull to attend the exclusive Rogers Hall Academy in Lowell, Mass.
When Starr was 11 years old, the family allowed her to go on outings with her middle-aged cousin Andrew Peters. He was a wealthy lawyer with a 3-year-old son named Alanson Tucker Peters. Cousin Andrew would later be elected mayor of Boston and a member of Congress. The family, however, did not know was that he was a pedophile who was breaking down Starr's resistance by getting her high on ether. This inhalant was known among addicts as "Creamy-Dreamy." This molestation went on for years and changed the personality of Starr Faithfull. The once bright, out-going child became reclusive and sullen. Soon after starting to meet with Peters, she began to be extremely modest and dressed like a boy to hide her femininity. After this phase passed, Starr began to deliberately disrespect the moral code of family.
Starr dropped out of Rogers Hall only two months before graduation and began to frequent the speakeasies of New York. Once the truth of Uncle Andrew's molestations became known, Starr's family was given hush money to protect his political career. Starr was placed under the care of a psychologist and sent on seven cruises to Europe. For the rest of her life Starr continued to abuse inhalants and hang out with the "fast" crowd. She had become the ultimate example of a 1920s flapper. To the world, she was a beautiful, stylish, modern woman who was constantly falling in and out of love. Her emotions were known to switch from depression one moment to exhilaration the next.
On June 8, 1931, Starr Faithfull's body was found washed up on a beach on Long Island. Newspapers all over the country carried front page stories of the death of the beautiful 25-year-old woman with the remarkable name. Many in East Derry clearly remember the precocious auburn-haired girl who only 20 years before had last visited the Tucker Manse. To this day the world has remained fascinated with Starr Faithfull. Was her death a suicide or a murder? The answer to that question has never been answered.
Among the non-fiction books dealing were her death are: "The Aspirin Age" by Morris Markey (1944); "The Girl on the Lonely Beach" by Fred Cook (1954); and "The Passing of Starr Faithfull" by Jonathan Goodman (1996). Her life has been the subject of fiction in a number of novels including: "Some Unknown Person" by Sandra Scoppettone (1977) and "The Memory Book of Starr Faithfull" by Gloria Vanderbilt (1994). On Broadway her life was dramatized in the play, "Courting Mae West" by Linda-Ann Loschiavo (2005).
In 1935, the famous American author John O'Hara wrote a novel on Starr but changed her name to Gloria to avoid being sued by the Faithfull family. In 1960, the novel was made into one of Hollywood's most famous films, "Butterfield 8." In this movie the Academy Award was given to Elizabeth Taylor for her portrayal of Starr Faithfull.
Now when you drive by the house at 1 Lane Road take the time to admire the architecture of the Alanson Tucker Manse, praise Dr. Ehresmann for his restoration and say a prayer that Starr Faithfull is now at peace — and that Mayor Andrew Peters is suffering the pains of eternal justice.
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Rick Holmes is the former town historian of Derry. His local history books are for sale at Mack's Apples, Depot Antiques, the Derry Municipal Building and the local libraries.