Tag Archives: The Life of Mrs. George S. Patton

The North Shore: Home of the Ayers and the Pattons

Made up of villages so small one doesn’t realize when one ends and the next begins, Massachusetts’ North Shore (and environs) was the home of the Ayers beginning in the eighteen-fifties.

Frederick Ayer moved from Syracuse, NY, to Lowell, MA, to join his brother in the patent medicine business and eventually became a major player in the textile industry along the Merrimack River. As his family grew, he built homes in Lowell, Pride’s Crossing, and Boston, creating a bond with the area that would last for generations.

The Pattons eventually settled in South Hamilton at Green Meadows, three miles from Beatrice’s brothers Chilly and Fred at Juniper Ridge and Ledyard Farm, respectively, and eight miles from her sister Kay at Avalon in Pride’s Crossing.

The North Shore is a great place to visit, and what’s more fun than visiting the places one has read (or written) about? Make sure to take along a copy of Lady of the Army: The Life of Mrs. George S. Patton to learn more about the Pattons’ connections to these beautiful places.

General George S. Patton Jr. was viewed by “his townspeople, neighbors and friends” as a “true gentleman, affable, warm-hearted, cheery in his greetings, popular with everyone.” Beatrice was equally loved in South Hamilton; the chief of police said she was “always law-abiding” with a pleasant word for everyone, while the owner of the local diner called her one of the best and often joined her fishing for pickerel in the Ipswich River at the back of Green Meadows. –Lady of the Army: The Life of Mrs. George S. Patton

South Hamilton

Green Meadows

Patton Homestead (Green Meadows) – 650 Asbury Street, South Hamilton

Purchased by the Pattons in 1927 so Beatrice would be surrounded by family when it was time for George to go to war, Green Meadows was home to the Patton family until about ten years ago. It is now open for tours, still filled with the spoils of war George sent home. Walk to the back of the property for a beautiful view of the Ipswich River, or join the Patton Homestead for movie or music night. In the backyard, near the cannon George sent home from North Africa, is Beatrice’s (unofficial) place of burial. Reservations are necessary for tours, but the grounds are open free-of-charge from sunrise to sunset.

Patton Park – Asbury St & MA-1A, South Hamilton

In 1946, the Myopia Hunt Club donated a piece of land along Route 1A to create Patton Park, and in 1947 Beatrice had a 67,000 pound Sherman tank donated from the Army. The tank proudly sits in Patton Park to this day, together with an artillery gun and two Liberty Road Markers in honor of the 83rd Division of the Third Army and the 4th Armored Division.

Sherman Tank in Patton Park
Polo game at Myopia

Myopia Club – 435 Bay Road, South Hamilton

Pick up a picnic at Appleton Farms a few miles up the road and head to Gibney Field on Sunday afternoons for an exciting game of polo with one of the oldest polo and hunt clubs in the country. The Pattons and Ayers were longstanding and enthusiastic members, and Beatrice died in 1953 not long after setting out on the hunt, across the road on Ledyard Farm.

Wenham Museum – 132 Main Street, Wenham

In charge of the Patton archives and the Patton tours at Green Meadows, the Wenham Museum focuses, among many other things, on the equine traditions of the North Shore. If you are hungry, try the steak tips at Post Hamilton, located in the old South Hamilton Post Office. Built in 1924, it isn’t hard to imagine Beatrice picking up her mail there and sending hundreds of letters to her husband during WWII.

Saddles shown at the Wenham Museum


View from Ocean Lawn

Coolidge Reservation – 15 Coolidge Point, Manchester-by-the-Sea

About a twenty-minute walk from the parking lot, Coolidge Reservation offers unparalleled views of Massachusetts Bay and the North Shore. The Ocean Lawn once housed the home of the Coolidge family—the foundation of the house can still be seen—and is reminiscent of the views the Ayers would have enjoyed from their country home Avalon.

Saint John’s Episcopal Church – 705 Hale Street, Beverly Farms

Built in 1902, St. John’s was the place of many Ayer and Patton family events, from Beatrice and George’s wedding in 1910—the area’s first military nuptials in decades—to Beatrice’s funeral in 1953.

St John's
The station as it appears now

Pride’s Crossing Station – 590 Hale Street, Beverly

Right across the road that lead to Avalon, Pride’s Crossing station was where Cadet Patton often arrived to visit his betrothed. It is now home to Pride’s Crossing Confections, a heavenly aroma of homemade chocolate filling the air.

Plum Cove – Route 127, Gloucester

Grab a lobster roll at the Blue Collar Lobster Company before taking the scenic route to Eastern Point Lighthouse. You will pass Plum Cove along the way, the location where Beatrice and George saved three boys from drowning during a sudden gale in August 1923.

Plum Cove


When and If in the harbor

When and If – 10 Blaney Street, Salem

“When the war is over, and if I live through it, Bea and I are going to sail her around the world.” The Pattons never had the chance to sail their 63-foot schooner built in 1938 around the world, but her current owners are working hard toward that goal. The When and If can be found in Salem Harbor during the summer (and Key West during the winter), available for sunset sails and private charters.


Frederick Fanning Ayer House – 357 Pawtucket Street, Lowell

Now an apartment complex with renovated condominiums, the house was once the home of Frederick Ayer and his family. Part of the Spindle City Exploration route, a plaque near the front door reads: “Frederick Ayer joined his brother, the patent medicine manufacturer J. C. Ayer, in Lowell. In time he managed to gain control of several companies and in the 1870s built this magnificent Second Empire style house to reflect his new position and wealth. Beatrice Ayer, the wife of General Patton, was born here.”

Outside view of the Frederick Fanning Ayer House
The clocktower of the Ayer Mill

Ayer Mill – 67 Kirk Street, Lowell

At one point one of the largest mills in the world—a part of the American Woolen Company—the Ayer Mill was completed in 1910 and measured close to half-a-mile long. The Ayer Clock, with a face just six inches smaller than Big Ben, still towers over Lawrence, and was recently restored with the help of the Wood and Ayer families, as was the building, which are now offices and residences. If you want to learn the history of the mills along the Merrimack River, check out the Boott Cotton Mills Museum.

Lowell Cemetery – 77 Knapp Avenue, Lowell

Frederick Ayer (1822 – 1918) is buried underneath the tallest monument of the cemetery, together with his wives—Cornelia Wheaton (1835 – 1878) and Ellen Barrows Banning (1853 – 1918)—son, daughter, and son-in-law—Charles Fanning Ayer (1865 – 1956), Katharine Ayer Merrill (1890 – 1981) and Keith Merrill (1887 – 1958). Just a few paces away stands the Ayer Lion, marking the J.C. Ayer lot, where Frederick’s brother James is buried with his family.

Frederick Ayer monument at Lowell Cemetery


Shawsheen Village building

Shawsheen Village Historic District – 342 North Main Street, Andover

William Wood—president of the American Woolen Company and Frederick Ayer’s son-in-law—began purchasing property in Frye Village in the twenties. He turned the area into a self-sufficient town to house the managers and office employees of the American Woolen Company. Download the Virtual Andover app and step back into time as you explore the history of Shawsheen Village and the American Woolen Company.


Drumlin Farm – 208 South Great Road, Lincoln

After her marriage to Donald Gordon in 1900, Louise Ayer Gordon Hatheway, Beatrice’s sister, began purchasing land in Lincoln. Ahead of her time with a focus on organic and sustainable food, Louise wanted Drumlin Farm to be “a place to help educate the public, especially children, about the source of their food as well as the wonders of the natural world.” She left Drumlin Farm, totaling 232 acres, to the Massachusetts Audubon Society which continues to run it as part animal refuge, part organic farm, and part livestock operation.

Cows at Drumlin Farm


Outside view of the Tiffany Mansion

Tiffany – Ayer Mansion – 395 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

The Ayer Mansion was unusually progressive when it was commissioned by Frederick and Ellie Banning, and its white-marbled exterior with colorful mosaics and stained glass windows still stands out among the red brick townhouses prevalent along Commonwealth Avenue. Completed in 1902, it was the home where George admitted to Beatrice that he loved her, and where she went on hunger strike to convince her father to let her marry the only man she ever loved. Tours are no longer offered since the house has been put up for sale, but just walking past the last fully Tiffany designed house in the world is worth it.

Hatch Shell – 47 David G Mugar Way, Boston

Created by famed sculptor James Earle Fraser with the input of Beatrice, this statue—a copy of the one at West Point—was unveiled in 1953 along the Charles River Esplanade where George gave his first speech upon his return from WWII on June 7, 1945.

Patton statue at the Hatch Shell

Other places of interest

Flowers in the garden at Long Hill

Long Hill – 576 Essex Street, Beverly

Once the home of the Sedgwick family, Long Hill’s beauty lies in its exquisite gardens surrounded by acres of woodland. The gardens and home are open from April until October.

Castle Hill on the Crane Estate – 290 Argilla Road, Ipswich

The majestic estate of the Crane family, with a lawn leading to the ocean and spectacular views of the Ipswich River, is reminiscent of Avalon. Make sure to drive down to Crane Beach for a refreshing walk along the water.

The lawn at Castle Hill

Stevens-Coolidge House & Gardens – 153 Chickering Road, North Andover

This gentleman’s farm was once the summer home of Helen Stevens and John Gardner Coolidge, a nephew to Isabella Stewart Gardner. The gardens and home are open from May until October.

AnnTiques – 47 South Main Street, Ipswich

Just one example of the exquisite antique shops dotting the area; another recommendation is David Neligan Antiques. Make sure to check opening times or call ahead to make sure you don’t end up in front of a locked door.

Antique offerings
The hotel

Briar Barn Inn101 Main Street, Rowley

My favorite spot to stay in the area, Briar Barn Inn not only offers exceptional service and beautiful rooms with fireplaces, but also one of the best restaurants around. Other good places to eat are the Clam Box of Ipswich and the Boat House Grille.

Snippet: The Pattons on D-Day

On June 6, 1944, as the cross-channel invasion of France was underway, all five members of the Patton family sat huddled around the radio.

The Pattons’ eldest daughter Bee listened in Washington, hoping “dad is on the way to get Johnny [her husband] out of prison camp,” while her sister and mother listened at the family home in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

Ruth Ellen knew her husband was in Italy with the 69th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, but Beatrice hadn’t heard from George in weeks. His letter urging her not to “get excited when the whistle blows” because he wasn’t “in the opening kick off” wouldn’t arrive for weeks.

George (IV) listened at West Point, hoping his father was in on the fight because he knew it was “hell to be on the side lines” for him.

However, General Patton found himself sitting in a trailer on the British coast—he wouldn’t make it to France with the Third Army until about a month later—writing his son a heartfelt letter on the attributes of leadership.

Continue reading in Lady of the Army: The Life of Mrs. George S. Patton.

Letter and pictures courtesy of the Library of Congress – Patton Papers.

Snippet: Like birds on a telegraph wire

A gentle knock on the hotel room door awoke Second Lieutenant and Mrs. Patton, who had been married for less than twenty-four hours. In walked Ellen Banning Ayer, the bride’s mother, carrying a rose, followed by the bride’s brothers and sisters carrying the breakfast tray.

The seven Ayer siblings—the first four from the union of Frederick Ayer (1822-1918) and Cornelia Wheaton (1835-1878), and the last three from the union of Frederick and Ellen “Ellie” Banning (1853-1918)—were so devoted to each other that Ellie accused them “of behaving at parties like birds on a telegraph wire.”

George Patton knew that when he married Beatrice Ayer, he married all members of her close-knit family. He loved her parents and siblings “as though they were the nearest people on earth to me,” secure in the knowledge that his wife and children would be well-taken care of when he went to war. Not only did the Ayers influence and support him throughout all the ups and downs of his career, they always brought out the best in him.

Ellen Wheaton Ayer Wood (1859 – 1951)

Ellen was a free-spirited woman who spent six months studying at Les Ruches, a young ladies’ school in Fontainebleau founded by Marie Souvestre—she later founded the Allenswood Academy in England and became a great influence on Eleanor Roosevelt. She continued her education at Radcliffe College, but nursing her mother through her final illness scarred the eighteen-year-old Ellen for life.

Left with a delicate constitution but blessed with the heart of a lion, Ellen married William Wood, a dashing man who transformed her father’s company into the premier textile factory in the world. She survived one tragedy after another—her mother’s illness, the death of two of her four children, and the suicide of her husband—becoming a valuable source of comfort to her sister when Beatrice lost both their parents in the span of one month in 1918 and her husband in 1945.

James “Jamie” Cook Ayer (1862 – 1939)

Jamie was the only Ayer who left the North Shore area, moving to New York after graduating from Harvard to pursue a career in medicine. He was a well-respected surgeon at Bellevue Hospital until management passed him over for a promotion, which should have been his based on seniority. He was never the same after he lost the lawsuit against his former employer, despite continuing to run a successful private practice and becoming quite “distinguished as a painter.”

Married to May Hancock Boyd in 1907, Jamie enjoyed an active life sailing and hunting. He frequently hosted his brother-in-law at Shadowland, his Long Island estate, during the 1910s and 1920s when George participated in the local horse races. Dedicated to his family, Jamie traveled wherever someone needed him, whether Egypt in 1897 or England in 1922.

Charles “Chilly” Fanning Ayer (1865 – 1956)

Chilly was a quiet and sensible man who enjoyed the simple life of sitting around the fireplace telling stories. Even though he wanted to go into forestry, he attended Harvard and followed his father into business. A prominent industrialist in the textile and mining business who also ran the family trust with his brother Fred, Chilly was known to be extremely honest and upstanding.

Married to Sara Theodora Ilsley in 1904, the Ayers divided their time between a townhouse on Boston’s Back Bay and Juniper Ridge, their country estate in South Hamilton, where they were prominent members of the Myopia Hunt Club. Chilly was master of the hunt for several years, and both his wife and daughters, who enjoyed being taught by Uncle George, were notable riders. During WWII, Chilly often lent Beatrice a helping hand in South Hamilton and offered an eyewitness account of life on the homefront to George.

Louise Raynor Ayer (1876 – 1955)

Louise never outgrew the shyness caused by the loss of her mother when she was just two years old, and she always preferred a life of simplicity. When she married Donald Gordon—who met Louise tutoring her brother Fred while working his way through Harvard Law School—she settled at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Widowed and left with two young children, she married Conrad Hatheway in 1925, only to be widowed again twelve years later.

Strong of character and sensible like all the Ayers, Louise was the only one of Cornelia’s children still living at home when Beatrice was born, and she became a devoted sister and friend for life. Louise spent most of her time on her farm, educating children about nature and focusing on organic and sustainable food. She left Drumlin Farm to the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which continues to run it to this day.

Beatrice Banning Ayer (1886 – 1953)

Frederick “Fred” Ayer (Jr.) (1888 – 1969)

With a long, illustrious list of directorships across various industries and a manager of the Ayers’ trust and the Pattons’ finances, the Harvard graduate was president of Beverly Hospital. As honest as his brother and as courageous as his brother-in-law, Fred was an accomplished equestrian who didn’t shy away from risking life and limb on the polo and hunting field. He married Hilda Proctor Rice, an equally fierce equestrian who never had any problems standing up to her brother-in-law whenever he behaved outrageously.

Not only was he Beatrice’s “joy and delight,” Fred was one of the few people George trusted implicitly and one of his closest friends. Besides his wife, his brother-in-law was the one George asked to come to Heidelberg after his accident in December 1945 and the only other family member present at his funeral. One of the few entrusted with George’s papers, Fred spent many evenings at Green Meadows—the Pattons’ home in South Hamilton, MA, within riding distance of all the siblings—helping Beatrice transcribe the thousands of letters and diary entries.

Katharine “Kay” Ayer (1890 – 1981)

Fun-loving and fashionable Kay was a willing accomplish throughout the Pattons’ courtship and a frequent guest at Army posts until she married Keith Merrill at the outbreak of WWI. She was as helpful to her husband’s career in the Foreign Service as her sister was to George’s in the Army. A graduate of the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY, Kay was always socially engaged—for one, she was a founder of the Planned Parenthood Association of Washington.

A great source of strength to Beatrice and her daughters—especially Little Bee when her husband became a POW—Kay was the glue who held the family together. She took over Avalon, the family estate in Pride’s Crossing, MA, when Frederick and Ellie died, and her home in Washington, DC, became a home away from home for Beatrice during WWII. After George’s death, Keith helped organize his brother-in-law’s papers and helped Beatrice fight the proposed (second) move of the General’s grave at the Luxembourg American Cemetery.

Pictures taken from the following sources (in order): Before the Colors Fade, Andover Center for History and Culture, Memories of an Unplanned Life, The Button Box, Find a Grave, Private Album, Light and Life.

When (the war is over,) and If (I survive.)

After crossing the Pacific Ocean twice in a schooner—from Los Angeles to Hawaii and back, in 1935 and 1937, respectively—the Pattons were convinced they wanted to circumnavigate the globe one day. They sold the Arcturus but vowed to build their own schooner, keeping detailed notes in a little book titled “When and If we ever build a boat.”

They didn’t plan to execute the blueprint for their ideal schooner anytime soon, but fate intervened on July 25, 1937. Just a few weeks after the Arcturus’s final crossing—in which they got caught in a violent storm that delayed their arrival over two weeks—George suffered a severe fracture of his right leg while out riding with Beatrice, his daughter, and son-in-law at Green Meadows, their home in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

Since doing nothing was “tiresome” for George, Beatrice looked for ways to keep him busy. With only his mind to keep him occupied, now was as good a time as any to commission their dream schooner. Inspired by the Arcturus’s beauty and maneuverability, she contacted its designer, John Alden, one of America’s premier naval architects and the owner of the Alden Design Offices in Boston.

Born in Troy, New York, on January 24, 1884, Alden spent his childhood summers at Sakonnet, Rhode Island. He enjoyed being on the water from a young age, blessed with an inherent knowledge of boats and an uncanny ability to handle them. After a move to Boston in his teens, he forewent an education at MIT and instead taught himself naval architecture. After several stints with local design offices, Alden ventured out on his own in 1909. His first few years in business were a struggle, but he was determined to make a success of the Alden Design Offices.

Colonel Patton could appreciate a man who focused on a singular goal, as well as one who was courageous and adventurous. Alden’s most significant design influence was his ordeal aboard the Fame in 1907. He offered to sail the schooner from Halifax to Boston after its crew was quarantined with smallpox, and he offered to do it with a skeleton crew in the dead of winter. The trip almost ended in disaster, but it made Alden aware of two things: his schooners had to be able to be sailed singlehanded, and he always prioritized seaworthiness over speed.

Instead of meeting with the Pattons in his office as he was wont to do with new clients, Alden traveled to Green Meadows to meet with them. He was particularly impressed with their knowledge and carefully noted their three requirements: a beautiful schooner fast enough for Beatrice to race, sturdy enough to sail the world, and maneuverable enough to be operated by one person. By the end of their meeting, Alden had made an initial sketch, which he passed on to his draftsmen in Boston.

On January 26, 1938, George signed a contract with F. F. Pendleton in Wiscasset, Maine, to build the When and If. His close friend Gordon Prince helped him decide on the name during one of the many evenings he spent at Green Meadows, keeping his friend company throughout his rehabilitation. Talking about the future, George said it no longer was a question of “When and If we build a boat,” but “When the war is over, and If I live through it, Bea and I are going to sail her around the world.”

Drawings of the When and If.
John G. Alden, Inc. from John G. Alden and His Yacht Designs by Robert W. Carrick and Richard Henderson.

Beatrice had been right; the When and If brought her husband purpose during the darkest hours of his convalescence. He stayed in close contact with the individual artisans who were building the When and If up in Maine, bitterly complaining to Clifford Swaine, who drew the lines of design number 669, that he had recently been passed over twice for promotion and if it were to happen a third time, he was going to resign the Army and sail his new boat around Cape Horn to Catalina Island, where he spent his childhood summers.

George was involved with every aspect of his schooner’s completion. He even designed the When and If’s private signal (an identifying flag present on all big yachts) using red, blue, and yellow, the colors of the Tank Corps as chosen by his soldiers in 1917 at its inception. He was so proud of the work that he told Beatrice to go see her in Maine in August 1938 because “if you wait too long she will be all planked and you wont know how well she is built.”

The When and If took about a year to construct and was rigged by Joe Ekeland, a master captain and a lifelong friend of the Pattons who had sailed with them to and from Hawaii. When she launched on February 6, 1939, she measured sixty-three-and-a-half feet, weighed thirty tons, and could sail up to 228 miles per day under the right conditions, with an auxiliary diesel engine for emergencies. She was constructed “like a tank,” with a double hull of mahogany over cedar and enough space below deck to sleep thirteen people comfortably.

The When and If out on the water in 2018.
The When and If in 2018

After sailing the When and If from Maine to its home at the Manchester Yacht Club, the Pattons made their first extensive trip on June 28, 1939, sailing to Norfolk, Virginia. However, their enjoyment was short-lived, and when the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, George put his precious baby in storage as a precaution. All he could think of were the events of May 1940, when any British vessel worthy of crossing the North Sea was asked to help evacuate the over 330,000 stranded British and French troops on the beaches of Dunkirk.

He referenced his schooner in several letters during the war, most often when he feared being sent home, and he expected his wife to be putting the When and If into commission sooner than expected. His fears never became a reality, and Beatrice didn’t have to refit her until June 1945, when General Patton returned home for a war bond-selling tour. Unfortunately, the little sailing they had time for during his month-long stay also was his last.

Newspaper article showing Beatrice and her daughter out on the water.
An article pasted in one of Beatrice’s scrapbooks at the Library of Congress.

Beatrice had always been a natural on the water and a highly experienced sailor who participated in many races along the North Shore and in Hawaii. While the When and If might have stood as a beacon of unfulfilled dreams, Beatrice was out on the water as often as possible, going on long-distance sails with friends and family and teaching her grandchildren to sail along the rocky Manchester Bay. She shared responsibility for the When and If with her brother Frederick “Fred” Ayer, who inherited the schooner when Beatrice passed away in 1953.

When Frederick Ayer passed away in 1972, everyone agreed to donate the schooner to the Landmark School in Beverly to be used in a program for dyslexic children. Eighteen years later, she broke free from her mooring during a gale and crashed into the rocks prevalent along the North Shore. The insurance company deemed the When and If a total loss, but a private investor purchased and lovingly restored her. Her current owners are working hard to make the Pattons’ dream of sailing her around the world come true, raising money through sunset sails and private charters in Key West during wintertime and Salem during summertime.

Spotlight: The Ayer-Tiffany Mansion on Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue

It was said that men who came face-to-face with the Tiffany Chapel at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (a.k.a. the World’s Columbian Exposition) doffed their hats in reverence. Whether the chapel’s mosaic columns and stained glass windows had that effect on Frederick Ayer is unknown, but his wife Ellie–a famed horticulturalist in the Boston area–undoubtedly would have been equally impressed with Tiffany’s ability to showcase the diverse flora of the United States in a vase. The Magnolia Vase, also shown at the World’s Columbian Exposition, depicted pinecones and needles to symbolize the North and East, cacti to symbolize the Southwest, and magnolias to symbolize the South and West.

When the Ayers moved from Lowell to Boston at the turn of the century, they commissioned Alfred John Manning and Louis Comfort Tiffany to build their dream home at 395 Commonwealth Avenue. Neither Frederick nor Ellie “made any pretense of being ‘Proper Bostonians,’” and the five-story mansion was a slap in the face of the Boston Brahmins, the traditional upper class who ruled Commonwealth Avenue. The home was “unusually progressive for turn-of-the-century Boston,” not surprising since Frederick’s “thoughts were always of the future.” Commissioning Manning and Tiffany to build an Art Nouveau-influenced home inspired by the family’s recent travels to Europe and the Orient came as easy to him as investing in Alexander Bell’s telephone and the New York subway.

The Ayer-Tiffany Mansion lies west of Massachusetts Avenue, and its white-marbled exterior with colorful mosaics and stained glass windows still stands out among the red brick townhouses prevalent along Commonwealth Avenue. Tiffany specified almost every detail of the house, from walls to light fixtures, and even designed custom furniture. His favorite motif throughout the house was the lotus, a detail that blended well with the Ayers’ exotic decorations they brought back from their grand tour. Ellie’s style and personality were reflected throughout the house, nowhere more so than in the foyer staircase, which doubled as a stage. The wall was a mosaic trompe l’oeil of an ancient Greek temple, the columns “composed of semi-transparent glass backed by gold foil.”

Forty-three years later–on the day General Patton returned victorious from the war in Europe and Boston welcomed him as a hero–Beatrice Ayer Patton’s mind filled with memories as the motorcade drove by 395 Commonwealth Avenue. Her family had sold the home a long time ago, but the memories remained: the living room with the grand piano she played with remarkable skill; the foyer, which acted like a stage; the library where George had finally admitted his love; and the third-floor bedroom in which she had locked herself when her father was reluctant to give his permission to marry.

Snippet – A Magical Place Called Avalon

Thirty miles from Boston, in the Pride’s Crossing section of Beverly, stood the Ayer family’s majestic country home. Avalon was a magical place along the rocky Massachusetts’ North Shore George Patton described as “almost more beautiful than it is possible to imagine.” Completed in 1906 in a mere eight months, Avalon was named after the little town on Catalina Island, California, and the mythological place where King Arthur’s legendary sword, Excalibur, was forged.

The entrance foyer of Avalon – Beverly Public Library

The ten thousand square foot Renaissance Revival mansion featured a three-story main building flanked by two-story wings. The elliptical hallway was three stories high with a striking spiral staircase, its black-and-white marbled tiles leading to the living room which faced the ocean and measured 65ft in length and 30ft in width. A mezzanine gallery, where musicians would play regular afternoon concerts and dances, flanked the walls of the living room which contained a fireplace big enough to roast an ox. There was a library with “handsomely finished bookcases… their shelves filled with numerous rare volumes” and a room for flower arranging which included a trash-chute leading down to the basement for dead flowers.

The grounds were designed by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted and included a rose garden, two greenhouses, three vegetable gardens, a garage, and stables. Avalon’s most striking feature was the terrace which ran from one side of the building to the other, flanked on either side by covered verandas. When the living room windows were opened, guests were treated to unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean, which could be reached by walking down the terrace’s set of stairs and down the grassy hill.

A Garden Party at Avalon – Banning Family Collection of Photographs at the Huntington Library

In the summer of 1909, Beatrice and her family would be on the terrace breathing in the salty air when they noticed a horse approach in the distance. It was a beautiful white charger, the kind of horse the cavalry would ride into battle, mounted by Second Lieutenant George S. Patton Jr. Already a master horseman who often advised Beatrice on her riding skills, he rode up the twenty-six steps to the terrace, stopped in front of his sweetheart, and doffed his cap as he made his horse bow in front of her. 

Family holidays were spent at Avalon, where Uncle George and his brother-in-law Keith Merrill enjoyed setting off fireworks on July 4. George’s first attempt at teaching his daughter Ruth Ellen to swim was at Avalon when she was four years old. He threw her into Salem Harbor, exclaiming to an enraged Beatrice that “all little animals” swim naturally. It soon became obvious that his daughter was one little animal who did not swim naturally, so he was obliged to jump after her, ruining his new flannel pants, a horror he lamented for years to come. He repeated his performance a few years later when he threw four-year-old George into the water in front of the shocked Merrills, but his son calmly swam to shore, having learned to swim while in Hawaii.

Rear view of Avalon – Beverly Public Library.

General Patton’s Poetry “To Beatrice”

George Patton considered himself to “have a hell of a memory for poetry and war.” An astute student of military history, he could also conjure up a poem appropriate to any situation. Raised on the verses of Kipling and Homer, during times of war when he couldn’t sleep, George liked to pick up the pen and write poetry to cheer and inspire himself. Many a letter to Beatrice during the Mexican Punitive Expedition and WWI included a sheet of poetry, imploring her not to lose it as “they may be priceless some day.”

In 1919, Beatrice tested that premise and sent a compilation of her husband’s poems to a publisher. She prefaced the work with a disclaimer from the anonymous author: “These rhymes were written (over a period of years) for his own amusement by a man who having seen something of war is more impressed with the manly virtues it engenders than with the necessary and much exaggerated horrors attendant upon it. They are offered to the public in the hope that they may counteract to a degree the melancholy viewpoint so freely expatiated upon by most writers.”

George’s vivid imagery describing both the horrors and glories of war were not appreciated in 1919 and Beatrice’s proposal was rejected, but all that changed during WWII when General Patton gained fame and reporters clamored for any piece of information they could get on him. Beatrice took advantage of the opportunity and renewed her effort to publish George’s work, knowing how much it would mean to him. She couldn’t believe her luck when Woman’s Home Companion paid $50 in October 1943 to print “God of Battles,” followed by Cosmopolitan in early 1945, which published “Fear.”

Collier’s, however, declined to print “The Song of the Bayonet,” explaining to Beatrice that “nothing more should be printed that will revive the “Old Blood and Guts” legend.” Yet there was a more sensitive side to George which was reserved just for Beatrice.

"To Beatrice" 
(Written during the Mexican Punitive Expedition in October 1916.)

Oh! loveliest of women,
What ere I gain or do,
Is naught if in achieving,
I bring not joy to you.

I know I often grieve you,
All earthly folk are frail,
But if this grief I knowing wrought,
My life’s desire would fail.

The mandates of stern duty,
Oft takes us far apart,
But space is impotent to check,
The heart which calls to heart.
Perhaps by future hidden,
Some greatness waits in store,
If so, the hope your praise to gain,
Shall make my efforts more.

For victory apart from you,
Would be an empty gain,
A laurel crown you could not share,
Would be reward in vain.

You are my inspiration,
Light of my brain and soul,
Your guiding love by night or day,
Will keep my valor whole.

"To Your Picture" 
(Written "To a picture just received from Beatrice" in France on June 25, 1918.)

Your picture here before me shows too well,
The sweetness which I know is latent there,
The pleading torment of your laughing eyes,
The maddening rapture of your glorious hair.

Shown without color, flat, and without breath
Your subtle charm yet gives the picture life,
And makes the cardboard throb and thrill again
With those dear passions which are yours - my wife.

Though distance parts us with the heaving sea.
And Time essays to dull your face and form.
The last is impotent to blind my eyes.
And your dear self shines clear through the storm.

Though I have naught of you but thoughts to cheer
Your spirit aides me in the throbbing strife.
And aught I do I do for you alone;
You, my one love, my body and my life. 

"The Vision" 
(Written in Colonia Dublan, Mexico, in January 1917.)

Fiercely the squadron followed,
Trampling the withered grass,
And I heard the clatter as men went down,
And the hiss of the shots that pass.

And then one came before its sound,
I fell for an endless way,
Till a mighty calm engulfed me,
And I woke to a clearer day.

The dust no longer choked me;
The charge seethed far ahead.
A limp form lay beneath my mare;
Its face was mine and - - dead.

I looked at the thing which I had been; —
The blood oozed from its face —
At the sword I had known so well to use,
Now limp in death’s embrace.

I thought complacently of fame,
And how I had broken the foe;
But then I thought with gripping pain,
Of those I loved - - their woe.

As I mused the miles had vanished;
I stood in my childhood’s home,
While she I loved stood near me;
Yet knew not I had come.

I tried to speak and warn her,
But only my dogs could hear,
They sought to lick my viewless hands,
Then howling fled in fear.

I saw the smile upon her lips,
While the flowers bloomed beside;
I could not bear that she should hear,
That I had really died.

My thirst for glory faded then,
Before unselfish love;
I prayed to live for her - - not fame,
They say my stunned mare moved.

Her struggles caught a searcher’s eye;
They carried me away,
And when I woke days later,
T’was near my love I lay.

"Rubber Shoes" 
(Written in Champlieu, France, on November 26, 1917, after finding Beatrice's shoes hiding in the car he had shipped over from the US.)

While searching in my motor car
To get a can of grease
I came upon some rubber shoes
The shoes of Beatrice.

You who have never met her
Of course can hardly know
The train of deep emotions
Those rubbers set aglow.

For gazing on them brought to mind
The picture of her feet
And dainty legs in stockings trim
Duck walking up the street.

The memory of her cunningness
And of her crooked tooth
The tragic thought that far from her
I’d passed the half our youth.

So picking up the grease can
I sadly turned aside 
And jammed a hub cap full of goo
My woeful thoughts to hide.