0.8  Seven secrets

Many of the facts about Lorca’s time in Vermont are now in the public sphere, but there are multiple other aspects of the story that have never been explored. For example, the seven secrets listed below illustrate the complexity of the social environment in which the events at Lake Eden unfolded. The full context of these secrets and their significance to the larger story will be discussed in the chapters that follow.

1. Federico García Lorca was gay.
This fact is no longer a secret of course, but at the time, only Lorca’s lovers and a few of his closest, most trusted friends knew that he was homosexual. Others may have suspected, but Lorca had learned from an early age to conceal the true objects of his affections. For decades after his death, Lorca’s family and literary executors continued to discourage any discussion of his homosexuality and to deny scholars access to archival materials that might have suggested otherwise.1 However tolerant they may have been as individuals, they feared that public acknowledgement of Lorca’s “problem” would irreparably damage his literary reputation, especially in deeply conservative, Catholic Spain.

2. Philip Cummings was gay.
Cummings did not acknowledge his homosexuality even to himself until the age of 30, but he had been aware of and acted on his attraction to other men from a much younger age. Uninterested in being a pioneer, he bowed to social conventions and married a wealthy and accomplished young woman at age 32, fathered two daughters, and presented himself as a family man to the world, while living a secret, double life that included long-term relationships with other men. He was very skillful at hiding his true sexual orientation, so much so that biographers Ian Gibson and Leslie Stainton, both of whom spent many hours with Cummings, never suspected that he was gay.

3. Lorca and Cummings were lovers.
At Lake Eden, Lorca and Cummings continued the sexual relationship they had begun in Spain the summer before. In later years, Cummings could not resist dropping hints about this facet of their mutual attraction to a few select researchers, including Kessel Schwartz and Daniel Eisenberg, but he had no wish for the information to become public. Only at age 79, when he was long retired and his wife had been dead for two years, did Cummings finally tell the full story to poet Dionisio Cañas.

4. By 1929, Harry Cummings was no longer a successful, well-respected businessman.
Harry Cummings, Philip’s father, was once widely admired in his hometown of Hardwick, Vermont, for his business acumen and civic leadership. But through a series of disastrous business decisions in the mid-1920s, Harry managed to deplete not only his own family’s resources, but also those of many friends and associates. He and his wife were forced to sell their home and move in with Harry’s brother George, relying on George’s generosity to stay afloat. Harry’s reversal-of-fortune was common knowledge in Hardwick, but Philip Cummings shared only his father’s rosier past with Lorca.

5. Harry Cummings suffered from tertiary syphilis.
There is no indication that anyone except Harry’s brother George was aware of this sad secret—including Harry himself—but it explains both Harry’s increasingly odd behavior and his premature death in 1934 at the Vermont State Hospital. His official cause of death was listed as “general paralysis of the insane,” a coded term for the debilitating, tertiary stage of syphilis used by doctors in that era to spare the families of the afflicted (of which there were many) from scandal.

6. The Tyler sisters may have actually been mother and daughter.
Elizabeth and Dorothea Tyler were genteel, well-educated schoolteachers living near Lake Eden whose intelligence and independence greatly impressed Lorca. Although they called themselves sisters, various clues suggest that Elizabeth was actually Dorothea’s mother: (1) Elizabeth was 21 years older than Dorothea, but both routinely gave false ages to census workers to reduce their age gap. (2) The two lived together almost continuously from the time of Dorothea’s birth and neither ever married. (3) If Dorothea actually were Elizabeth’s much younger sister, their mother would have been 45 years old when Dorothea was born, after a fourteen-year gap with no children. This timing is not impossible, but was highly uncommon for well-educated women in the late 1800s.2

7. Frank Ruggles knew something that Cummings wanted to stay secret.
Ruggles, a West Point cadet home on leave with his family in Eden Mills in the summer of 1929, went on several hikes with Lorca and Cummings around Lake Eden. (In his August 1929 journal, Cummings referred to Ruggles as “the Soldier” and praised his “good West Point stride.” He never used Ruggles’s actual name, but revealed his identity when asked by scholar Daniel Eisenberg decades later.3) Exactly what Ruggles knew is still a mystery, but the fact that it worried Cummings is apparent from his later behavior. Whenever anyone asked him about Ruggles, he invariably replied that Ruggles had been killed in World War II. This was patently untrue, but it successfully stopped researchers from making any further inquiries. In reality, Major General John Frank Ruggles (1908-1999) retired from the Army as a highly decorated commanding officer in 1966 and lived until the age of 91.

Frank Ruggles circa 1929, 1941, and 1961

Frank Ruggles circa 1929, 1941, and 1961

This post marks the end of the introduction. Additional content may be added to the site when the manuscript is completed.

1 Daniel Eisenberg, “Lorca and censorship: The gay artist made heterosexual,” Angélica [Lucena, Spain], 2 (1991), 121-45. For an online version of this article, click here.

2 Jenny Bourne Wahl, “New results on the decline in household fertility in the United States from 1750 to 1900,” in Long-Term Factors in American Economic Growth, ed. Stanley L. Engerman and Robert E. Gallman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 391-439.

3 Philip Cummings, “August in Eden” in: Federico García Lorca, Songs, translated by Philip Cummings with the assistance of Federico García Lorca, edited and introduced by Daniel Eisenberg (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1976), 146-149.


Copyright © 2020  Patricia A. Billingsley  |  All rights reserved

10 comments to “0.8  Seven secrets”
  1. Interesting intro. During my year in Vermont, I thought I got to every corner but I’ve never heard of Lake Eden. I plan a trip to Barcelona in Oct. I will read more of your blog before I go.

  2. Thanks, Julie. Lake Eden and Eden Mills are in the northern part of Lamoille County, about 20 miles from the Canadian border. I look forward to your continued feedback!

  3. I finally had the chance to read the first posts one right after the other. This is wonderful!

    I am dazzled at how incisively you have selected from the vast materials to spotlight the key players and circumstances.

    Your writing style seems effortless and illuminates each point, while carrying the tale. From the complexities you create clarity.

    Congratulations! More, please!

  4. Extremamente interessante sua pesquisa. Eu li as duas biografias do Ian Gibson sobre o Lorca e também vi o documentário com o depoimento do Cummings. Fiquei intrigado com a visita do poeta a Vermont e desconfiei do possível affair.
    O trabalho foi finalizado? Um livro será publicado?
    Saudações do Brasil!

    • Muito obrigado pelo seu comentário, Lima. Meu livro ainda não está completo, mas estou fazendo um bom progresso. Fico feliz em saber que você acha o assunto interessante!

  5. Hello Patricia,

    Thank you so much for doing this. I have always loved Lorca, and recently, in this Year of The Virus, have begun reading him again to keep my spirits up. (I am reading of book of new translations, published by Knopf.)
    It was delightful–and fascinating–to stumble upon this on-line, then to read this literary history.

    Thank you so much.



    • Thanks so much for your message, Brandon. I’m delighted that you came across the site and found it interesting! More to follow soon, I hope, though I’m finding it hard to focus on my writing during this crazy time.

      Best regards, Pat

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