Henry Sleeper

Henry Davis Sleeper, the youngest of three sons of Major Jacob Henry Sleeper and Maria (Westcott) Sleeper, was born at Boston, Massachusetts, on 27 March 1878, to a family of secure means. His father served with distinction in the Civil War, and his grandfather was one of the founders of Boston University. He is said to have been tutored at home on account of his frail health, and no trace of any formal education has been found. A tradition that he studied architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris is not supported by that institution's records; whether he studied elsewhere in Europe remains to be demonstrated.

In his early years he summered with his family at Marblehead. On 13 August 1907, he purchased the land on Eastern Point in Gloucester where Beauport stands. He began its construction in the fall of that year, occupied it by 12 May 1908 when Andrew was his first houseguest, and expanded it continuously until his death.

"Introduction", Beauport Chronicle. The Intimate Letters of Henry Davis Sleeper to Abram Piatt Andrew, Jr. 1906-1915. Edited by E. Parker Hayden, Jr. and Andrew Gray. Boston: Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. 1991.

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[On 17 August 1915,] Andrew embarked for the United States on a month's visit. At stake was the prospect of independent funding for his nascent ambulance service, and its eventual liberation from the control of the American Hospital in Paris. Instrumental in the eventual accomplishment of both objectives, Sleeper assumed full responsibility for raising funds in the United States, and began a voluminous stenographic correspondence. These letters, together with many of Andrew's replies, are preserved in the archives of the American Field Service, and are central to its early history.

"Afterword," Beauport Chronicle. The Intimate Letters of Henry Davis Sleeper to Abram Piatt Andrew, Jr. 1906-1915. Edited by E. Parker Hayden, Jr. and Andrew Gray. Boston: Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. 1991.

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But Andrew saw something that no one at that time could visualize. He saw Americans sharing hardships, danger, mixing with the soldiers at the front. He knew what a link that would be between America and France. He would not be rebuffed, and found his way to French Headquarters, where he had a friend, Gabriel Puaux. He pleaded with him of the great morale effect of having these Americans at the front and finally got permission to go to Commandant de Montravel, then stationed in the east. Here again he had to use the force of his argument that he wasn't interested simply in getting a few men at the front, but that its importance lay in that it would attract more and more American youths to come to France. He won his point, and the Service aux Armées de l'Ambulance Américaine became a reality.

"And in early 1915, with this settled, funds had to be gotten, so he went about it in his direct way---got on a steamer and went to Harry Sleeper and imbued him, a willing friend, with his vision of what America could do---so much so that Harry dedicated his life for those years to a magnificent accomplishment of financial and recruiting organization.

Steve Galatti, quoted in George Rock, "Between the Wars", History of the American Field Service, 1920-1955.

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You will have got by now a notice of the work I have been at day & night this past week -- organizing the lecture Jack [Hammond] is to give -- getting all the patronesses -- & selling 125 tickets at $3.00 each, before these notices were even posted!

Yr. mother gave $100.00 & C.B. [Cecilia Beaux] the same (bless them!) & Mrs. Patch has guaranteed the same amount giving $50.00 outright. C.S.S. [Caroline Sidney Sinkler] I hope will do something nice -- & so will several others. If Jack's lecture is over-subscribed within a few days I will arrange for a repetition. He can only seat 200 -- so you will doubtless receive the $1,100 by cable before this letter.

I thought it would please you , so have worked hard & shamelessly!

Letter from Harry Sleeper to Piatt Andrew, dated 1 July 1915. In Beauport Chronicle. The Intimate Letters of Henry Davis Sleeper to Abram Piatt Andrew, Jr. 1906-1915. Edited by E. Parker Hayden, Jr. and Andrew Gray. Boston: Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. 1991.

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In May 1915 there were three sections of 20 ambulances each working on different sectors of the front in France under the direction of Colonel Andrew, Inspector General, and Stephen Galatti, Assistant Inspector. The U.S. representative was Henry Davis Sleeper, who conducted an office in Boston to solicit funds and volunteers. He was so successful that the American Field Service was operating 1,220 donated ambulances organized as 31 sections serving 66 French divisions when it was taken over by the U.S. Army in late 1917.

George Rock, "Between the Wars", History of the American Field Service, 1920-1955.

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For the past nine months Mr. Sleeper has made Rue Raynouard his life. He has in truth become almost an inseparable part of it. He has made the management of the place his personal business. The trials and tribulations of those who have come here he has made his own too. If difficulties could be straightened out, Mr. Sleeper was the man who could straighten them.

You might not, at first, guess this, for Mr. Sleeper was very idle. You might find him at most hours of the day moving around with in the clubrooms, apparently with nothing more to do than the men with whom he was talking. But somehow if you mentioned to him some difficulty that you couldn't untangle he would tell you he'd look into it ; and probably the next noon would casually tell you that he had fixed it up, and if you ran along down there here you wouldn't have any more trouble. Where he got the time for all these things, nobody knows. But he got it. That is Mr. Sleeper's secret.

Since the large number of men have been staying at Rue Raynouard, Mr. Sleeper has continued his series of ever-new surprises. Little did you expect when you wandered in one night from the theatre to find the dining room thrown open, and an after-the-theatre feed spread out upon the tables --- the like of which might not be found elsewhere in Paris for love or money. So great a success was this innovation that Mr. Sleeper has since made it almost a regular institution. On April fifth he again outdid himself by arranging a dance --- another immense success. Perhaps on this night you wondered, along about twelve o'clock, how you were ever going to get that lady home. If you went upstairs to scan the supposedly empty street in hopes of seeing some belated bandit come chugging along, you found yourself facing a street-full of taxis. They had been corralled by Mr. Sleeper --- and no one to this day knows how he did it!

Robert A. Donaldson, "Rue Raynouard and Mr. Sleeper", AFS Bulletin, April 16, 1919.

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In the autumn of 1918, Sleeper went to Paris, where he became director of American Field Service headquarters at 21 Rue Raynouard in Passy. After the armistice, he remained in Paris to assist Andrew in reconstituting the Service as a scholarship program for the exchange of students between French and American universities. The two men returned in mid-1919 to Gloucester, where Andrew set about editing the official History of the American Field Service in France, published in three volumes the following year. To a reticent but heartfelt Introduction describing his own contribution to the establishment of the Service, Sleeper prefixed another slightly-altered quotation from Emerson's "Friendship" (see Letter 46): "The root of the plant is not unsightly to science, though for chaplet and festoon we cut the stem short."

Sleeper's and Andrew's paths diverged widely after the war. Andrew reentered politics, and Sleeper became absorbed with his profession. Their correspondence was reduced to typewritten notes, pertaining mainly to the scholarship program, but there is no evidence that their neighborly relations were less cordial.

"Afterword," Beauport Chronicle. The Intimate Letters of Henry Davis Sleeper to Abram Piatt Andrew, Jr. 1906-1915. Edited by E. Parker Hayden, Jr. and Andrew Gray. Boston: Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. 1991.

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Sleeper's interest in the decorative arts was well established before World War 1. He served as Director of Museum of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (1911-13), and as a founding member and trustee of the Shirley-Eustis House Association (1913), and actively participated in the reconstruction of the Church of Our Lady of Good Voyage in Gloucester (1915). After the war, he embarked on a career as an interior designer and decorator. He maintained offices in Boston, describing his business as "English and French Interiors --- 17th and 18th Century American Paneling." He executed commissions for clients including F. Frazier Jelke, Henry Francis du Pont and R. T. Vanderbilt in the East, and in Hollywood, John Mack Brown and Fredric March. He served as a trustee of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and a member of the Visiting Committee for Decorative Arts at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where his collection of Paul Revere silver is housed. Four months before his death, he was elected an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects, as a "collector of Americana and protector of the culture of early America."
Henry Sleeper died in Boston on 22 September 1914, at the age of fifty-six, and was buried in his family's plot at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. He never married. After his death, Beauport was sold to Mrs. Charles E. F. McCann of New York, a daughter of F. W. Woolworth. It was given by her children in 1942 to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, which maintains it as a house museum today.

"Introduction", Beauport Chronicle. The Intimate Letters of Henry Davis Sleeper to Abram Piatt Andrew, Jr. 1906-1915. Edited by E. Parker Hayden, Jr. and Andrew Gray. Boston: Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. 1991.

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Isabella Gardner remained comparatively inconspicuous between the months after her return from Europe in 1906 and the breaking of the notorious customs affair in August, 1908. She was observed by Town Topics --- first decorously attending lectures on the "Art of Poetry" during Lent in 1907; then judging the dancing at the "All Fool's Day Festival" at the Women's Athletic Club for the benefit of the George Junior Republic. In December, she was in her box at the San Carlo Opera on opening night, the Bellamy Storers being her guests.

A new young man, Henry Davis Sleeper, wrote that Mrs. Gardner asked him to tea with the San Carlo Opera Company. The cast were "somewhat less interesting than cattle," he said. "They didn't sing" ---the only music being provided by Clayton Johns and Proctor, who "tried the piano." A lady from the opera company looked at her watch.

"I have an hour and three quarters yet," she said, "and I wish to have all these pictures explained to me." Sleeper was asked to show her around --- an assignment which rather floored him, although he had just embarked upon a career of interior decorator, his own Gloucester home to be the future "Beauport," a museum.

Chapter 25, Louise Hall Tharp. Mrs. Jack. A Biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner. Boston: Little Brown. 1965.

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Other close friends included the New Haven lawyer George Dudley Seymour, and the young Harvard professor of economics A. Piatt Andrew, who started the summer colony in Gloucester where Beaux built her cottage "Green Alley." She was acquainted with scores, perhaps hundreds, of the socially and culturally prominent.

Sarah Burns. "Under the Skin: Reconsidering Cecilia Beaux and John Singer Sargent". The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Volume CXXIV, No. 3 (July 2000)

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As Tara Tappert has detailed, Beaux liked the company of men and enjoyed the attention they paid her. She cultivated other women's husbands, notably Richard Watson Gilder, hobnobbed with confirmed bachelors such as T. Alexander Harrison and George Dudley Seymour, and accepted the adoration of much younger men: A. Piatt Andrew, Henry Davis Sleeper, and -- probably her great love and greatest disappointment -- the illustrator Thornton Oakley (see Leibold fig. 5).

When Beaux was in her mid-fifties, she was courted by the New York businessman John Wilkie, who dubbed her the "Queen of Hearts." Beaux seems to have reveled in this "Queenly" role, never happier than when standing surrounded by "admiring eyes and bending over heads." Numerous photographs in the Beaux albums bear witness to the power of her charm. One is an interior at "Red Roof," A. Piatt Andrews's Gloucester summer home. Beaux sits in by the hearth in a Windsor chair, with four handsome young men grouped around her (fig. 6). In another photograph, she holds the ends of a bear leash attached to collars worn by A. Piatt Andrew and another young man, kneeling before her like trophies of the goddess's hunt (fig. 7).

Sarah Burns. "Under the Skin: Reconsidering Cecilia Beaux and John Singer Sargent". The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Volume CXXIV, No. 3 (July 2000)


Sleeper-McCann House

A fantasy house perched on the rocks overlooking Gloucester Harbor, Beauport was built by Henry Davis Sleeper (1878-1934), a prominent collector and interior designer of the 1920s and 1930s. Construction began in 1907 for a modest summer retreat, which Sleeper designed in collaboration with a local architect, Halfdan M. Hanson. Over the next 27 years, the house evolved into a gabled and turreted labyrinth of some 40 rooms filled with vast collections of American and European objects, arranged by Sleeper into compositions of color, light, and evocative meaning.

Sleeper sought to preserve endangered architectural features and often incorporated paneling from derelict New England houses into his rooms. In this he typified a growing national interest in collecting tangible relics of the colonial past. Inspired by both the 1876 Centennial celebration and a rejection of an increasingly mechanized society, Americans began looking back to the Colonial era as a simpler, more honest time. Antiquarians often use objects to interpret the past, but rarely has anyone displayed historical collections with the decorative genius shown by Sleeper at Beauport.

As Beauport grew so did Sleeper's reputation as a designer. He was commissioned to design house interiors both by prominent Gloucester residents and subsequently by Hollywood celebrities like John Mack Brown, Joan Crawford, and Fredric March. Henry Francis du Pont was so impressed by Beauport that he asked Sleeper to design his family's summer home on Long Island. This house, Chestertown, led in turn to the creation of Winterthur, now the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum of American decorative arts near Wilmington, Delaware.

After Sleeper's death, Beauport was purchased by Charles and Helena McCann, who transformed the China Jade Room into a Chippendale parlor and brought their holding s of Chinese export porcelain to the house. Recognizing the importance of Sleeper's singular achievement, they preserved intact nearly all of his decorative screens and arrangements of objects. In 1942 the McCann heirs gave Beauport to SPNEA as a museum for the benefit of the public.

Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA)

Founded in 1910, SPNEA owns and operates 34 house museums and study properties throughout New England. Its collections include an extraordinary range of furnishings, decorative arts, and historic photographs and images documenting 350 years of history and domestic life in New England. SPNEA also offers educational programs, conserves historic buildings and fine furniture, conducts research, administers preservation easements, and provides preservation services. A non-profit, tax-exempt institution, SPNEA is supported by grants, income from endowment, and membership, which is open to all. SPNEA's headquarters are located at 141 Cambridge Street, Boston, MA, 02114 (617) 227-3956.

Directions, Schedule, and Admissions

The Sleeper-McCann House
75 Eastern Point Boulevard
Gloucester, Massachusetts 01930
(978) 283-0800

Route 95/128 North to end; follow sign for East Gloucester 1.5 miles to Eastern Point Boulevard; follow .5 mile to Beauport. Note: Eastern Point Boulevard is a private road open to Beauport visitors during museum hours only.

Mid-May to mid-September, Mon. through Fri., 10-4. Mid-September to mid-October, Mon. through Fri., 10-4 and Sat., Sun., 1-4. Closed Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day. Tours on hour; also on half-hour July and August; last tour at 4.

Admission $5.00; senior citizens $4.50; children 6-12 $2.50; SPNEA members and town residents free. For information on group rates, educational programs, and special events, call (978) 283-0800.

Gloucester Home Page .

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Beauport and Red Roof

"Introduction." Beauport Chronicle. The Intimate Letters of Henry Davis Sleeper to Abram Piatt Andrew, Jr. 1906-1915. Edited by E. Parker Hayden, Jr. and Andrew Gray. Boston: Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. 1991.

As for Andrew's ready response to Steeper's offer of friendship, his avocation is architecture and interior design, In Sleeper, he encounters for the first time an interest in and devotion to the art of decoration even deeper and more intense than his own. We see in these letters the role that Andrew plays in the astonishing outburst of Steeper's creativity that is to become Beauport: a role not merely of a catalyst, but even in directing Steeper's attention to the possibilities of the Cogswell house" (Letter 23), whose paneling will become the focus of Beauport's first rooms.

The letters also give us a glimpse of the evolution of the little enclave that Sleeper and his friends fashioned for themselves on Eastern Point --- a microcosm of the Edwardian era in America. This period is conventionally dismissed by historians as one of political and social innocence, characterized by conspicuous consumption on the part of the rich, pervasive class snobbery, and absurdly ornamental women's' hats. Evidence for such contentions may be found, if sought, in these pages. But the era also represents the last of an intact civilization, soon to be damaged irreparably by World War I and never to be replaced by anything of comparable quality. We cannot have the likes of Sleeper and Andrew in our midst today. In their awareness of the distinction between the permanent and the ephemeral, their devotion to ritual and decorum, their capacity for self-dramatization, and in all that they demand of themselves they speak to us through these letters of something we have lost.

Chapter 25, Louise Hall Tharp. Mrs. Jack. A Biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner. Boston: Little Brown. 1965.

Five years had gone by before Andrew invited Mrs. Gardner to visit his summer home, "Red Roof" --- a most unusual house which he had built for himself at Eastern Point, overlooking Gloucester Harbor

Mrs. Gardner had a great curiosity about Eastern Point --- a rocky peninsula covered with cat-brier, blueberries and a few wild cherry trees. The place had recently been taken over by young or youngish maiden ladies, all suitably chaperoned by one or more parents --- and by bachelors similarly chaperoned. Cecelia Beaux had been the first comer, building a cottage and then a studio. Her handsome, meticulously finished portraits were in great demand.

Next to Miss Beaux lived Miss Joanna Davidge, who, during the winter, directed a select school for young ladies in Richmond, Virginia. Miss Davidge was artistic to the extent of having a plaster cast of a Raphael bas-relief Madonna set into the wall over her fireplace and sundry wood-carvings, trophies of foreign travel, made into cupboard doors and a headboard for her bed. She adored cat-brier, which seemed to represent unspoiled natural beauty to her, thorns and all, so she refused to have it rooted out, except to make a narrow path to her door. Joanna, closely guarded by her widowed mother, was the most maidenly of the ladies --- yet not without hope of matrimony.

A. Piatt Andrew lived next door to Miss Davidge under his "Red Roof" --- nearer the mainland than Miss Davidge and Miss Beaux, and with one more maiden lady beyond him. She was Miss Caroline Sinkler, whose fiancé had been killed in a carriage accident on the eve of their marriage. He had already signed the papers, leaving her his money, and hers was the most impressive house on the point, so far. Among her servants was a small, uniformed boy, a "Buttons." She entertained with formality, wearing a hat in her own home when she gave a ladies' luncheon; her hats fuchsia, violet or purple --- fantastic and famous.

Harry Sleeper, whom Mrs. Gardner already knew fairly well, lived just beyond. He had decorated Miss Sinkler's house; her dining room with a real trellis covered with artificial roses on the wall; her drawing room painted pale pink, deepening to rose with a red carpet. Harry was sweet, gentle, affectionate. He was devoted to his mother, who protected him from the ladies when he feared they had designs on his celibacy. Still more was he the devoted slave to Piatt.

Intensely sensitive to the atmosphere of a place, Isabella Gardner could not help but be depressed by Red Roof when the all-too-frequent fog came rolling in over Gloucester harbor. Her room, always afterward so called, was up a narrow staircase and connected with a room for Ella, her maid. Dark red walls, a large crucifix hanging over the bed and small windows, fogbound, were not conducive to gaiety.

A. Piatt Andrew had an organ installed in the passage between the living room and a recently added study. Here, Isabella sat on the couch (with a bearskin and two leopard skins on it) to listen to his music. She was probably unaware of a hidden space above the books --- too low to stand up in but equipped with mattress and coyers where some of Andrew's guests could listen in still greater comfort. She had seen the Brittany bed in the living room but that there was a small hole over it, perhaps no one had told her. The sound of organ music could be heard the better through the hole---and was it just a coincidence that a person in the hidden alcove above could look down through it? Gossip had it that often all the guests were men, their pastimes peculiar. Yet all the ladies on Eastern Point were fascinated by Piatt and one especially keen observer thought that Miss Beaux was "sweet on him."

When the fog lifted and the sun came out, the whole atmosphere at Red Roof changed. Gloucester harbor sparkled bright and blue. Isabella's spirits lifted, macabre impressions vanished, and Isabella went out on a stone seat to be photographed with Piatt --- or "A," as she liked to call him, referring to herself as "Y," amused to find herself at the opposite end of the alphabet.