(In the Danvers Herald, 2/21/19)
(Author’s photo, February 2019)
At the fork of Water and South Liberty Streets in Danvers is a large statue of a man mounted upon a horse, one of only 10 equestrian statues in Massachusetts. Often misidentified as a military man, the statue is of eccentric millionaire William Penn Hussey (1846-1910).
The statue depicts Hussey riding on a white horse, which commemorates him leading a procession through the streets of Danvers that included a 1,000 horsemen honor guard in front of a crowd of 75,000 cheering spectators. He rode not as a conquering general but instead as a generous community benefactor chosen as grand marshal of Danvers’ 150th anniversary parade in 1902.
Penn Hussey was born in North Berwick, Maine in 1846 and was a cousin of poet John Greenleaf Whittier, another one-time Danvers resident. Hussey was a teenage prankster, and one Sunday morning on St. Patrick’s Day he painted the local minister’s horse green while the village was attending church.
He ran away from home as a teenager and went west, working odd jobs in the California mines. An Indianapolis newspaper that later profiled his rise from rags-to-riches described him having occupations such as “ranchman, brakeman, cowboy, hobo.” He moved to Danversport in 1874, and worked as a farmhand, an attendant at the state hospital, and then a coal distributor.
While working at Danvers State Hospital, Hussey cared for a patient from Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard. Later, the patient returned home and Hussey went with him to continue as his caretaker. While there, Hussey fell in love with the patient’s sister, Sarah Munroe. They married and returned to Danversport where he established a coal depot and distribution business.
(Pen-and-ink drawing of Penn Hussey along with his signature, from his company’s prospectus)
Later, Hussey put his mining experience and knowledge of the coal business into practice and founded a coal mine in Nova Scotia with his new (and wealthy) father-in-law. Hussey took out a loan to invest in the company, and travelled to Europe to convince wealthy financiers to invest in his project. While abroad, he addressed the House of Lords in London on the subject of his mine in Nova Scotia (which was then part of the British Empire). He succeeded in obtaining financial backing for his mine, and became a multimillionaire.
(Map of Hussey’s Broad Cove Mine, from his company’s prospectus)
Hussey and his wife lived in the large brick “Riverbank” estate on Water St. from 1883 until his death in 1910. Despite living in a lavish mansion, he was so proud of the white horse he owned that he once brought it into his stately living room to show guests. He also socialized with the elite of Europe, and his daughter Mary Elaine met her future husband in Paris at a gala given by the President of France for the visiting Shah of Persia.
(Riverbank in 1899, printed in Moynahan, Danvers, Massachusetts: A Resume of Her Past History and Future Progress)
(Riverbank in February, 2019. Author’s photo)
Penn Hussey was known locally for his philanthropy in providing coal to Danvers locals who could not afford to heat their homes, and he refused to collect debts on over 1,000 accounts of people who were unable to pay him back. Despite being a multimillionaire who could afford the finest private schools, he sent his son to Holten High School (the public high school in Danvers, the precursor to Danvers High).
Hussey’s philanthropy in sponsoring Danvers’ 150th celebration in 1902 was described in a Boston Globe article entitled “Spent Money Freely.” The town appropriated only a small sum of money for the events, so Hussey stepped in and bankrolled a large portion of the celebration. He furnished floats for each public school, so that all 1,500 Danvers schoolchildren could ride in the grand parade. He also provided horses and saddles for the parade, in addition to hiring several marching bands. He paid for a banquet at his mansion that fed over 1,000 people “in a royal manner,” as the Danvers Mirror (the precursor to the Danvers Herald) described it.
The 150th parade was six miles long, and took 2 hours to pass by. In addition to the 1,000 horsemen in the parade, there were over 100 floats, marching bands, military detachments, veterans of both the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, and members of local civic groups. Seventy-five thousand people swarmed into Danvers via steam train, streetcars, horse-drawn carriages, and bicycles to see the festivities. One train headed to Danvers that day was so crowded that there were even people on the roof.
Penn Hussey’s death in 1910 was announced with a front page article in the Boston Globe, and later his death was included in the Globe’s January 1, 1911 year-in-review article on the most significant events of 1910. Reportedly, he requested to be mummified and have his body placed standing up in a glass case on the front lawn of his Water St. mansion. Instead, he is buried in Hussey Circle at Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem.
(Boston Globe, April 27, 1910)
(Author’s photos, February 2019)
In 1913, Hussey’s son John Frederick Hussey commissioned George Thomas Brewster to sculpt a cast bronze statue of the philanthropist. The statue is of Penn Hussey wearing the uniform of a general in the Continental Army, the outfit he wore in the Danvers 150th parade as a patriotic homage. The statue’s head is turned to the east so that his likeness looks affectionately at his former Riverbank mansion across the street.
In 1925, Helen Keller met with Hussey’s son. He was so impressed with Keller’s plans for a New England Home for the Deaf that he sold the Riverbank estate to her organization for half its market price. He also gave $35,000 in trust to the Home for the Deaf to maintain the statue of Penn Hussey, with the stipulation that if the Home closed the statue and small park would be offered as a gift to the town. If the town were to refuse, the bronze statue would be melted down and the proceeds given to the public schools of North Berwick, Maine, Penn Hussey’s hometown.
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