Will H. Chandlee came from a family of precision creators. The Chandlees came from Ireland to Philadelphia in 1702, where Benjamin Chandlee became an apprentice to Abel Cottey, the first of the Six Quaker Clockmakers. Four generations later, Will arrived. Known familiarly as “Ana,” he is noted not for clocks or compasses, but for his illustrations.
Best known, perhaps, is his satirical 1936 New Deal book “Mother Goose in Washington: A Story of Old King Dole and His Humpty Dumpty Court.” He also started the art department of the Washington Star newspaper (his position was terminated after a contentious cartoon depicting a boy who looked like the owner of The Star “mixing it up” with one who looked like the owner of The Washington Post), taught at The Washington School of Art, and developed the first correspondence art school.
Privately, he was an illusionist (the project he and Houdini were developing was cut short by Houdini’s death), a self-proclaimed spiritualist, my great-great grandfather, and a poet. The poem below, which rests near my desk, is undeniably sad, a marked difference from the mischievous man who crafted that cartoon. It strikes me for its singular representation of his verse; I’ve never seen another one of his poems. But it’s more than that. Though many teenagers and adults will tell you they like writing poetry because it helps them express the emotions with which they feel burdened, that this was written out of love for his departed wife seems to me no less moving, no less original. For it alone survives as my sole insight into her, and to him in this moment of loss.
To my knowledge it was never published, and as I am incapable of its critique, I wonder if its power lies only in its family connection. Or, would it have even made it into Ka Wai Ola?
If death were all, then all of living sweet
Is but a mockery. The leaves that fall
Deck not the somber trappings of a pall
Nor rustle to the tread of dying feet.
These sleeping hills again will thrill to greet
Another springing when the south winds call.
I could not bear the burden of any thrall,
My daily cares, the jargon of the street,
The winter’s chill, the summer’s ardent heat
Did I not know that through the silent years
Thou watchest o’er my strivings and my fears
And hopeless grieving would my days complete;
My eyes be dim with unavailing tears.
—Will H. Chandlee