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Gentle Voice

Famous author rests in Johnstown Cemetery

August 17, 2008
By RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald

Buried in Johnstown, popular novelist Grace Livingston Hill is still in print and still selling well, although she died in 1947.

The Web site www.gracelivingstonhill.com lists 116 titles to her credit, 100 by major publishers like J.B. Lippincott and Harper & Brothers. Her 1916 "A Voice in the Wilderness" had a frontispiece illustrated by Norman Rockwell. And several of her books were made into movies, including "Marriage in Transit" starring Carole Lombard. More than a million copies of her work were published in her lifetime and even more after her death.

Grace Livingston Hill was born in 1865 in Wellsville, Allegany County, one of the parishes her father had as a Presbyterian pastor. According to Fulton County Historian Peter Betz, she was buried in the Johnstown Cemetery in the Livingston Family plot, although she spent much of her life in Pennsylvania.

Article Photos

Photo contributed
From Lewis G. Decker’s “Images of America: Johnstown” book: “This oil painting by E.L. Henry shows Main Street in Johnstown in the Civil War period with the Johnstown and Gloversville stage pulling in. The backgrond shows Elizabeth Cady Stanton greeting Miss Livingston from the doorway of the old Cady home on the corner of Market and West Main Street.

Her parents, the Rev. and Mrs. Charles Livingston, settled several parishes in the east and had lived at the former Livingston mansion at the intersection of North Perry Street and Maple Avenue, a vacant lot belonging to Milligan & Higgins (not "Mulligan Higgins" as printed in Lewis G. Decker's "Images of America: Johnstown").

"It was a sanitarium in the 1960s," Johnstown Historian Noel Levee said.

Decker's book refers to it as "a convalescent home run by Mrs. F. Maynard."

"We have shelves full of her books at the museum," Levee said. "Hill came from the Livingston Family that traces back to Col. James Livingston who was the father-in-law of Judge Cady [Elizabeth Cady Stanton's father]."

In 1892 Grace Livingston married a minister, Thomas Franklin Hill, who died in 1899, shortly after fathering two children. A struggling writer with two children to support, in 1908 Hill was urged by her publisher to attempt a historical novel, and her father's sister, Margaret Livingston Murray of Johnstown supplied part of the plot, based on characters and traditions in the Livingston family according to the www.gracelivingstonhill.com Web site.

Edward L. Henry, an artist from Johnstown who married a Livingston cousin supplied the illustrations for her first novel, "Marcia Schuyler," which was a great success and began a series of historical romances.

According to the E.L. Henry Web site:

Grace Livingston Hill's "Marcia Schuyler" was published in February 1908 by J.B. Lippincott Co. and became her first big success as an author.

Its story of a substitute bride comes from her family history. A friend of Hill's suggested a period novel and her family shared a bit of the bride's tale, which intrigued her. She made a visit to her aunt's home in New York for details.

Margaret Livingston Murray, Grace's aunt, was born in 1810. She was one of the earliest women's rights leaders in America. Her home in New York City became the center of a group of people that included Dr. Henry Ward Beecher, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Chester A. Arthur.

The story continues in two more books.

All three books were illustrated by Henry, who was married to Grace Livingston Hill's cousin, Frances Livingston Wells, in Johnstown by Grace's father.

"At her family's urging, Grace asked Cousin Edward to help illustrate her 1908 book, 'Marcia Schuyler,'" according to the Web site. "He offered a number of his existing works he felt would fit the book's period and story. Six paintings can be found within its pages. Henry's work was also used for the sequels 'Phoebe Deane' and Miranda.'"

Henry's painting of a stage coach arriving on Main Street, Johnstown in 1862 at the Cady home appears in Decker's book and "shows Elizabeth Cady Stanton greeting Miss Livingston from the doorway of the old Cady home, on the corner of Market and West Main Street."

Levee said Henry did portraits of Johnson Hall at the request of Rose Knox, who made a lithograph of the painting available through the Knox Gelatine Co.

"The Witness," published 1917, became Hill's best-selling title. John Wanamaker of Wanamaker Department Stores gave away thousands of the books as gifts., according to the Hill Web site.

At age 81, Hill gave an interview written by James M. Neville for the "Sunday Bulletin."

As quoted in Hill's grandson, Robert Munce's, biography, Hill's writing came "simply by noting some incident around her home, in the street."

"'Anything starts me off,' she continued. 'But the magic way to get a story going is simply to sit down at the typewriter and just go ahead.'"

Where she is buried in the Livingston lot of the Johnstown Cemetery there is a bronze plaque stating, "Nationally known - Nationally read - Nationally esteemed."

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at ga@leaderherald.com.

 
 

 

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