I arrived in New Jersey yesterday morning. After slowly maneuvering my way around the Newark airport and the surrounding turnpikes and toll roads, I found myself getting deeper and deeper into green woods and narrower roads. At some point I knew I took a wrong road and it wasn’t making sense anymore.
Why New Jersey? Because for decades, Daisy Bacon, editor of LOVE STORY MAGAZINE, wrote of a place called "Botts" in her journals. It appears for days at a time, when she thought of the man she spent over 10 years with and who apparently was the love of her life: Henry Wise Miller.
Botts was the baseline from which she thought of significant moments. "Enactment of Orson Wells Martian from 10/30/38. HW & Ford & I drove all the way in from Botts that night."
If I could ever figure out what Botts was, I knew I would have to go there.
For several months after obtaining Daisy’s papers, I looked without success. That she never bothered to mention exactly what it was didn't surprise me. Both Daisy and her half-sister Esther were cryptic writers in their journals, even writing in shorthand sometimes.
What the heck was a Botts? A town? A hotel? A lake? Then one day, while researching Miller, I found a blog that mentioned his name in a post on the history of a local chapel. I read that the area of Kinnelon, New Jersey, is where Henry had substantial property that he later donated to the Catholic Church before he died in 1954. There had been a chapel built in his memory, and later a larger church built, the Our Lady of the Magnificat, that was opened in 1962. The post mentioned that there were stone cottages on the property in which Henry stayed and displayed his substantial jade and silverware collections and fine art.
Stone cottages. I vaguely remember seeing a photo or two of stone buildings in Daisy’s collection. I meandered around on a Google map for a while. I found there was a Miller Road, where the church was located. Then, there it was: Botts Pond. Rather like a small lake than a pond, it lies adjacent to a wilderness area, off of Boonton Avenue.
Without a doubt, this was very strong -- maybe circumstantial, but still strong – evidence that this was where Daisy spent her time on the weekends. Where, thank god her sister noted dutifully in her journals “Daisy went to country for the weekend,” every Friday in her journal. LOVE STORY, the biggest selling pulp fiction magazine of its time, may have kept her busy during the week, but wild horses weren’t keeping her from Botts on the weekends.
I felt like I had hit the lottery. The trouble was, as I continued to research the area, nobody in Kinnelon that I talked to had ever heard of Botts Pond, even after I told them that it showed up on Google Maps. Neither historians, curators, or locals that had lived there for years knew of place, even after I gave them the description of the cross streets.
Yesterday morning, I drove up the street on which Google claimed that Bott’s Pond touched. if there is a pond there, it’s either dried up, or it’s well hidden behind gigantic mansions built in the past 20 years, with lawns and no trees surrounding them, an aberration in an area that is thick with foliage, pristine lakes and neatly decorated houses.
Later yesterday, I headed to the Kinnelon Library and looked up the local history (thanks to a local historian who I’m meeting later in the week). There was a Botts family there who lived adjacent to Henry’s property. Botts Pond may have been there when she was there, but the Botts she talks about are the houses and the memories she and Henry made in them and what she would rely on the rest of her life to keep her going. The Botts that she remembered was the area where Henry built his homes in the 1920s.
The stars are in my favor for my stay here. The historian for the church contacted me last week and we are sharing plenty of information. I have brought copies of some photos of Henry and Daisy in front of what appears to be the stone cottages. And, God willing, I’ll be taking a tour of the chapel and maybe even one of the cottages on Thursday.
I’m renting a cabin where I can type in the afternoons in a warm sun next to a little lake. It’s very rustic, but I love it. Thank you, Daisy, for leading me here. I hope I can return the favor.
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