Alexander County

1940 It Happened in Cairo

Arranged for Publication by Anne West 1940

Chapter IX


Probably Maud's name was never mentioned more in Cairo homes when she lived there in the 80's and 90's than it has been during the months since her diary has been published. For weeks and weeks now she has crept into conversations over the bridge tables, on the golf links, in the barber chairs . . . yes, even over fried mush breakfasts in the negro cabins. Family albums, paintings, old trunks, and musty bundles of letters have come down out of attics and tower rooms. Everybody is trying to clear the cobwebs away from his memories of Maud and her friends.

This form of activity was greatly heightened during the first days of last December, when preparations were being made for the "Maud Tea," an affair which brought people from miles around to Cairo for the afternoon. The following account of the tea appeared in the Cairo Evening Citizen of Dec. 8, 1939.

The home of Mr. and Mrs. A. E. Rust, 703 Walnut Street, and the former home of Maud Rittenhouse Mayne who wrote the six journals which comprise one of today's best sellers, Maud, was the scene of a "Maud Tea" given Thursday afternoon (December 7) by the ladies of the Guild Auxiliary of the Church of the Redeemer.

Guests were greeted at the door by Miss Lillian Schutter (Mrs. Selden Fisher). In the receiving line at the door of the parlor were Mama Rittenhouse (Mrs. A. E. Rust), Maud (Mrs. E. W. Fairbairn), Elmer (Miss Flora Schutter), Edith, Maud's cousin of whom she was very fond (Miss Ruth Wallbaum), Eugene Ellis (Mrs. Richard Dennison), William Williamson (Mrs. V. T. Reese), and Grandma Arter (Mrs. G. L. Hagen). Among the other characters represented were Misses Daisy, Alice and Vesta Halliday, Lizzie Shields, Eva Shepard, Wint Dunning, Nellie Gilbert, Mary Baker, and Corrine Cheek.

The ladies were dressed in beautiful dresses of the period, rich satins, brocades, laces and heavy linen with full skirts and bustles, tight bodices and tiny waists. Those representing men were dressed in tuxedos and high hats.

In a room opposite the parlor were exhibited pictures of Maud's family and acquaintances. Among them were Pearl Lancaster; Mary and Lizzie Wood; a family picture of Mr. and Mrs. Rittenhouse, Maud and her four brothers; her beloved teachers Miss Ford, Anna and Mollie Riley; Walter Wood; Mayor and Mrs. John M. Lansden; and most important, a picture of Elmer Comings. A drawing of Venus de Milo made by Maud in 1885 and paintings by her pupils, Mrs. John Frey, Miss Margaret Lansden and Mrs. Pearl Halley Nelon were also shown.

A painting by Maud's teacher in St. Louis, which had been purchased by Elmer and presented to Maud but later given to his father to be sold to replace money Elmer embezzled, was recently found in a storeroom of the old New York Store.

Guests were entertained during the afternoon by a fine program, including a reading "Order for a Picture" given by Miss Alice Reed, "Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight" by Mrs. John M. Dill, and old-fashioned songs by Miss Ruth Wallbaum and Miss Hattie Eisenberg.

On a beautiful carved marble table was found a red plush family album and beside it a number of fringed Christmas cards as mentioned by Maud in her Journal.

Guests having any breath left after ohing and ahing over the colorful costumes and precious old treasures exhibited ventured up the narrow stairs leading from the second floor to the tower room where Maud had her studio.

Refreshments of tea and delicious old-fashioned orange pudding were served in the dining room. The tea and coffee were poured from lovely old silver pots by Mrs. B. S. Hutcheson and Mrs. Louise Hilleary.

Guests hesitated to leave the picturesque old house where hospitality of the 80's and an air of gay comraderie prevailed. During the afternoon several of the characters rode through the streets in a surrey belonging to Miss Alice Reed and driven by a negro coachman, and called at the home of Wood Rittenhouse, brother of Maud, who is confined to his home by illness."

When Maud lived in the Rittenhouse home on the corner of Seventh and Walnut it was a fifteen-room house. Today the imposing red brick structure has ten rooms, two baths, two large halls, big porches, and a fence running around the yard, with a gate reminiscent of the one Maud used to swing on with her beaus. The house is now owned and lived in by the A. E. Rust family, whose prominence and hospitality have made them practically as much a part of Cairo life today as the Rittenhouse family was in its time. (The present writer lived there with the Rust family for almost two years - until June, 1939 occupying an upstairs room and hearing stories of how a certain "Maud Rittenhouse" had sat there and penned a girlhood diary.)

A very peculiar coincidence makes it seem that Maud has never really left the house. For Miss Margaret Rust, one of the daughters, is art supervisor in the Cairo public schools and gives lessons from her studio in the tower room, even as did Maud. Just as in the 1880's, when Maud's paintings decorated the parlor walls, the house furnishings today are enriched with Margaret's paintings. And the same windows that gave light to Maud as she sat painting hatbands, satin neckties, cups and saucers, find Margaret at work over easel and palette.

Persons who climbed up the narrow stairs to the tower room last December 7 must have looked down on a Cairo not too different from Maud's own. Landmarks haven't changed so much. It's just that the spaces between them have grown up.

The End

Return to the Foreward

Extracted 25 Aug 2018 by Norma Hass from It Happened in Cairo, arranged by Anne West, published in 1940.

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