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Friday, 09 September 2016 10:11
Yaddo’s ‘Ghost in the Garden Party’ September 18
SARATOGA SPRINGS — I arrived at the Yaddo Gardens, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Katrina Trask stood before me, in her garden, and invited me to walk with her. I had heard that the Yaddo Garden Association (YGA) was eager to promote their upcoming event – the ‘Ghosts in the Garden Party,’ on Sunday, September 18, from 3-6 p.m., but apparently they decided to pull out all the stops. “Come and see my roses, they are past the peak, of course, but still lovely,” Katrina said, on this late August afternoon. “When I first saw this land, in the 1870s, I knew it was special,” she continued. “But the garden, this was a project that I felt privileged to enjoy, enjoy in the design and making, and enjoying as a finished product for about 15 years.” Katrina passed in 1922, about 12 years after her husband and companion, Spencer Trask, perished in a train crash in 1909. “But most of all, I enjoy sharing the Gardens with generations that came after, and generations to come,” Katrina concluded, with a wisp of a serene smile. And share they shall. Katrina met me at the Yaddo Gardens to help YGA promote their event, in the manner that some rock stars appear on the radio to promote an upcoming concert. On September 18, she will meet with all attendees, along with Spencer and their special guest: Edgar Allan Poe. Mr. Poe will also discuss his feelings about this special place, and will have students from Schuylerville perform ‘The Raven.’ Mr. Poe himself will read ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’ As we walked, Katrina recounted a few things I already knew, but many more things were learned on this day. “The goal was for our visitors to experience the magic of inspiration,” looking me straight in the eye, “this is why we placed the poet’s bench here,” she pointed. Outside the formal garden, the bench is a place for poets, novelists, etc., to record their thoughts immediately after a garden stroll not unlike the one we were taking today. Who actually designed Yaddo Mansion? I asked. “We both did, Spencer and I,” she said, “The gardens also. Our interests, intellect and skills made us the perfect partnership. Spencer was the mathematician. Yaddo is perfect, from a geometric standpoint. Everything is laid out on a perfect East-West plain. I brought the spirituality, and the sensitivity to it, to the table. Today, you might call it ‘the woman’s touch,’ Katrina said, her back to me as she surveyed the rock garden area. But then she turned and faced me directly. Piercing dark blue eyes. She wanted my attention. She got it. “What you must understand, that all of this, Yaddo, is overlaid on the contrast of light and shadows - the experiencing of great disaster,” (like the burning of the original structure which led to the fireproof stone one that came after, and looms large when you visit today), “the experiencing of great tragedy,” (she had had four children, all of whom died in infancy or childhood), “and yet, despite all this, the inspiration to create something beautiful and wonderful, and hopefully eternal,” Katrina said, never breaking her gaze from me. “Your admission proceeds on Sunday, September 18, will help fund the Yaddo Garden Association’s activities, which are to continue Spencer’s and my goals,” Katrina concluded. I wanted to take some time to let that sink in. But I had so many other questions, and the lengthening shadows told me that our time was running short today. So I told her about my private tour of the Mansion in 2012. A bucket list item, in which myself, Mark Bolles and Lesley LeDuc (former Yaddo Marketing Director and now Yaddo Garden Association member) walked everywhere we wanted – sort of alone. We three went to places that no public tour in Yaddo’s history has ever gone. “I went into Katrina’s Tower,” I said. “Oh, really? Well, I certainly hope someone straightened up for your arrival!” she said with a rosy-cheeked, broad smile. But then she got me. “I have to admit, I straightened Katrina’s Tower up for you.” You mean... “Of course, I was there! Couldn’t you see me? I suppose you were not ready – well, you certainly are today!” she said, and suddenly – she was a younger woman. The woman that Spencer fell for. I also asked her about her health. In life, Katrina was never healthy. “It’s much more preferable to be a ghost, quite frankly,” she said. And then she was gone. But Katrina will be coming back, and soon. And she’ll be bringing friends.