Framing Levi Morton in Rhinecliff

Portrait of Levi P. Morton by George Hughes

Portrait of Levi P. Morton by George Hughes

Despite his illustrious past, not many people really know much about Levi P. Morton. That will change on Saturday, May 16, when the Morton Memorial Library and Community House in Rhinecliff will honor their namesake (on his birthday) with a unique fundraising event. “Morton Framed” will begin at 5:30 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres and a wine bar (offering a special Levi P. Morton cocktail) accompanied by the Bard String Duo.

Following the cocktail hour will be a series of thought-provoking skits written and performed by local authors on the topic of Levi P. Morton. The catch? Only one of the stories will be true; the audience will be invited to decide which one. According to Morton Library trustee Molly O’Gorman, the skits will be done in the spirit of the NPR radio show Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me, in which a panel of smart and funny people determine which news event set out as real really is.

“Morton Framed” will conclude with an auction of artist-created frames, each a one-of-a-kind work reflecting the aesthetics of its creator. Rhinebeck resident Danny Shanahan, for example, best-known as a cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine, has contributed a dogs-and-cats-themed frame. Betsy Jacaruso’s frame will likely reflect the luminous watercolor landscapes for which she’s known, and artist Grace Gunning has made a copper frame not unlike the copper reliquary boxes that she makes using 19th-century machinery. Richard W. Prouse, a Rhinebeck resident and Broadway set painter, portrait artist and muralist, created a decorative frame painted in blue with gold leaf, and paper artist Ramon Lascano made a frame covered with topographical maps.


Additional artists who have contributed frames for the auction include Michele Stopford, Jeep Johnson, Joseph Maresca, Todd Young, Susan Fowler-Gallagher, Chad Kleitsch and Ruby Palmer. Two of the frames will also have a prize hidden behind them, said O’Gorman, adding extra incentive to bidders.

The authors presenting skits are Mark Burns, Jack Kelly, Guillermo Fesser and Teresa Link. Burns is a scholar of vice presidential history, the author of Short but Sweet: The 45-Day Vice Presidency of William R. King. He’s currently working on A Pair of Levis: The Incredibly Durable Friendship between Morton and Strauss, due out this fall.
Teresa (Tess) Link has a background in acting and is the author of Denting the Bosch, billed as “a novel of marriage, friendship and expensive household appliances.” She serves as head of the Friends of the Library committee at the Morton Library.

Guillermo Fesser is a Spanish journalist well-known in his country for his radio talk show, Gomaespuma, which was on the air for 25 years and had more than a million listeners. He lives with his family in Rhinebeck, where he broadcasts weekly stories about life in small-town America to Onda Cero Radio in Spain, writes for the Sunday magazine of El País and blogs for The Huffington Post.

Jack Kelly is a journalist, historian and author of five novels. His latest book is Band of Giants: The Amateur Soldiers Who Won America’s Independence, about the Revolutionary War. He lives in Milan and is currently working on a spiritual history of the Erie Canal.

The cost for the evening, all-inclusive, is $20. Proceeds benefit the library.


“Morton Framed,” Saturday, May 16, 5:30 p.m., $20, Morton Memorial Library & Community House, 82 Kelly Street, Rhinecliff; (845) 876-2903,

Here’s the answer to the mystery:

The illustrious Levi P. Morton

Despite his long list of accomplishments, not many people really know much about Levi P. Morton. That changed last Saturday, May 16, when the Morton Memorial Library and Community House in Rhinecliff honored their namesake with a mystery theater/art auction benefit. For those who could not attend and unravel the mystery for themselves, here is the lowdown on Levi P. Morton, as promised in our last edition of Almanac Weekly.
Levi Parsons Morton (1824-1920) was an American businessman, banker, diplomat and statesman. Born in Vermont, he rose from a Horatio Alger-style childhood to become governor of New York, congressman from New York City and the 22nd vice president of our country, serving under president Benjamin Harrison. (He later declined the vice presidency in 1880, which would have put him and not Chester A. Arthur in the presidency after the assassination of James Garfield.) Instead, Morton accepted a position as ambassador to France, where according to the New York Public Library archives, Morton and second wife Anna remodeled their residence using their own money and set a standard for culture and style at the American legation (an early “Camelot,” perhaps?).
While in France, on behalf of the US, Morton accepted Bartholdi’s statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, into which he is said to have driven the ceremonial first rivet (see above illustration). In his later years Morton divided his time between homes in New York City and Rhinecliff, where he was living when he passed away at age 96 on the same date that he was born: May 16.