Hobcaw House Guest Books Part 1
by Tom Russo
To Our Guests
A happy host awaits your meeting
He welcomes you with cordial greeting
In Hobcaw Guest Book inscribe your name
For Hobcaw seeks no greater fame
Than in fond memory to be kept
By friends who beneath the roof have slept.
This welcome rhyme is the first entry in the 1911 – 1923 Hobcaw House Guest Book. This guest book represents one of seven known guest books that survived fire, time and perhaps even the misplacement of records. They say much about the many guests who found their way to Hobcaw Barony. Two represent Bernard Baruch’s Scotland residence. It is not known if the 1911 Guest Book is the first that was kept, or if others preceded the 1911 book but were lost in the 1929 fire.
Hobcaw Barony, purchased by Baruch in 1905, served as his “country home.” His purchase came during a period when groups of wealthy Northerners sought hunting retreats in the South, particularly in Georgia and South Carolina. But Bernard Baruch’s choice of a family retreat departed from the norm, and guest book signatures show that indeed family, extended family and close friends were among Hobcaw’s many visitors in the first decade of the twentieth century.
For example, among the many entries, in addition to those of family members, is that of Dick Lydon, a high school chum of Bernard who was a frequent visitor. A New York Supreme Court Justice, Lydon was visiting Hobcaw on December 29, 1929, when the Old Relic burned down.
A Guest Book entry includes the guest’s signature, the date of the visit and an occasional comment in the Remarks column. Guest’s comments are always of a personal nature. Today, those comments, or graphics, give us a glimpse into a guest’s Hobcaw experience and, at times, reveal something about how that guest was viewed by others. For example, Albert Wittson, M.D. wrote in 1916, “the old pill pusher,” in reference to his reputation for dispensing medications for the ills his patients complained about. On February 21, 1916, Louis Aston Knight wrote, “I feel like a Hobcaw oyster,” more than likely referring to the fine hospitality and variety of seafood served up from Hobcaw waters. Of course, many guests bestow accolades upon their gracious, charming host…the Baron of Hobcaw!
Louis Aston Knight
While family members’ signatures are recurring, it is interesting to track the entries of friends, acquaintances and business associates, and by browsing through several years a researcher can see the frequency of selected individuals’ visits. Ironically, in Baruch’s published works, including his autobiographies, personal friends are unlikely to get a mention, yet in the Guest Book, their signatures can be frequent. The “old pill pusher” is an example whose recorded visits number at least six between 1911 and 1918.
Hobcaw Barony’s Guest Book Research Committee has begun to study in earnest the connection between Baruch and his visitors in an attempt to answer the questions, “What drew these individuals together?” and, “What were the common interests of Baruch and his guests?“ While transcription and interpretation of guest book signatures is a tedious process, much has been learned about the first couple of decades from 1912 through 1919 and the end of World War I.
The books reveal a transition from family and close friends to prominent political figures, as well as to those who must be understood in the context of politics and governance of the period, both nationally and within the state of South Carolina. As Baruch’s circle of influence expanded from New York to Washington, D.C. and he transitioned from Wall Street speculator to public servant, guests included artists, aristocrats, politicians, journalists and celebrities.
In Part 2 we will explore how the Hobcaw Barony guest list included visitors from selected Southern states and even international guests such as Estelle Romaine Manville, Countess of Wisborg.