It’s deep summer right now, time for vacations filled with sunlit adventures and good company in beautiful locations. Doesn’t that sound like…a photo shoot? And do you know who wants to see your vacation photos? Almost no one. It’s true. No one really wants to see your perfect view, your perfect child, your perfect flower, or any artsy low tide beauty shots from your recent trip. So dull.
Instead I share the strange tale of Elizabeth and Simeon Palmer, uncovered during a vacation stroll through the local cemetery on an overcast day.
Here are the headstones of Elizabeth and Lidia Palmer, side by side. Lidia, identified as “Wife of Simeon Palmer”, died in 1753. Elizabeth, who died in 1776, is remembered with the more ambiguous inscription “In memory of Elizabeth, who should have been the wife of Mr. Simeon Palmer.” What could this mean? Had Simeon pined so for the one that got away that he erected this memorial to her memory? Or could this be an instance of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” preserved for eternity by her loyal friends? As you can imagine, I was excited to find out all I could about this circa 1760 soap opera. The curtain was finally being raised on our flinty New England forebears!
In fact, Elizabeth really was Simeon’s wife. The two married in 1753 after Lidia’s death, and soon had a child. Just one little hiccup in their young relationship: Simeon began eating cats. He is said to have suffered sunstroke sometime around 1750 “which left him mildly insane and he adopted the views of his minister on cats and insisted on his family using them for food.” The minister in question is the influential Rev. Richard Billings, leader of the first church in Little Compton, RI, who “had one idiosyncrasy…; he firmly believed in cats as an article of diet, and fatted them for the purpose.”
So, to recap: Simeon lost it, started eating cats, and made everyone around him eat cats too. Is it any wonder that Elizabeth decided to live separately from her betrothed? They remained married, and one account reports that Elizabeth visited her husband once a week to collect, wash, and return his laundry for the remainder of her life – twenty three long years. Her thanks for this loyalty? A permanent, public declaration that she had failed him as a wife.
I think there’s a lesson in this for all of us.
Photos: my own