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A R T S & C U LT U R E

Rooms View with a

Seeing Victorian-era Boston through Queer Eyes By

Meghan Gelardi Holmes

As you wind your way up the staircase of the Gibson House Mu- he published in 1899. The book and its companion, Among French seum, you leave behind the public spaces of this elegant Back Bay Inns, were modestly successful. townhouse and enter the family’s private quarters. The third floor The specific nature of Charlie’s travels seem to have garnered was formerly the master bedroom suite – two separate bedrooms plenty of attention back home, as they were conducted in the comlinked by a shared bathroom, as was common in wealthy 19th-cen- pany of a self-styled noble with several decades on Charlie. Letters tury homes – of Charles Hammond Gibson, Sr. and Rosamond War- from contemporaries tell us that the arrangement, which included ren Gibson, from their marriage in 1871 until Charles’ death in 1916. the two men sharing a bed, scandalized Boston society. Although we What used to be Charles Gibson, Sr.’s bedroom is now the Red don’t have any of Charlie’s own correspondence from that time peStudy. It’s an apt name. The carpet is crimson; the walls and drapes riod, his poetry suggests that he had fallen in love with the Count de a rust-red. The room is packed tightly with furniture: armchairs – Mauny. also red – by the small fireplace, a desk, and several tables. Even a sofa When Charlie returned to Boston in 1902, he moved into rented is tucked in. In the years following Charles, Sr.’s death, this room be- rooms rather than returning home. He did not follow his father into came the domain of Charles Hammond Gibson, Jr. Known by his business (Charles, Sr. was a cotton broker), but instead focused his family as “Charlie,” he was the second of efforts on writing. He also held a handful Charles’ and Rosamond’s three children, of volunteer positions, including with the Charlie was part of this rich born in 1874. We can learn much about Boston Parks and Recreation CommisCharlie simply by looking at the objects sion. When Charles, Sr. died in 1916, he tradition of women and gay that fill this brooding, close space: his left more money to his daughters, Mary books on the desk, with several ashtrays Ethel and Rosamond, than to Charlie. men who preserved many of nearby; his portable projector on the cenThis was a sore spot for Charlie for the the historic homes in the ter table; framed letters from American rest of his life. Whether the apparent esand British notables, thanking him for his trangement between father and son was United States today. thoughtful words; a memento from the ultimately due to Charlie’s sexuality or just Revolutionary War. different personalities and priorities, we Charlie’s story is both at the heart of the Museum – he was, after cannot know for sure. In fact, it is unlikely that Charlie would have all, its first curator – and shrouded in some mystery, as his status as a thought about his sexuality as such; the term homosexual was only lifelong bachelor provoked some rumor and conjecture over the years. coined in 1868 and the concept of a fixed definition of gay sexual If there was one thing Charlie would have wanted us to know identity did not gain popularity until well into the 20th century. The about him, it was that he was a writer and poet. In 1906, he published life of gay men in Victorian Boston was often lived in the margins. The Spirit of Love and Other Poems, followed closely by The Wounded Despite his fraught family relationships, Charlie was passionate Eros, a collection of sonnets. Although these are his only published about his family’s history. He wanted everyone to know that he devolumes of poetry, he was a prolific writer throughout his life. The scended from an illustrious family with important ties to Boston hisMuseum’s archives are filled with drafts of poetry, travel lectures, odes tory. He was particularly proud of their Revolutionary-era connections. to various dignitaries, and even song lyrics. One great-uncle, William Dawes, rode with Paul Revere, and another, Charlie’s writing career started in the 1890s when he was a young Dr. Joseph Warren, was considered the hero of the Battle of Bunker man. After a year as an architecture student at MIT, he departed for Hill. Charlie kept mementos of this history with him throughout his Europe, as was typical of many men of his social class. During his life. The Museum’s archives contain a detailed genealogy, prepared by travels – funded through an allowance sent by his parents – he Charlie himself, which traces the Gibson and Hammond families amassed material for a travelogue, Two Gentlemen of Touraine, which from England through to Charlie’s own generation. 116 | Boston Pride 2018

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