Part 1 in a 3-part story
By Gus Widmayer
SHIRLEY — For millennia, men have mused over music made by women.
They have wondered, who are these sirens, these maids and matrons of song who — like that charismatic piper — take us away from our cares and lead us to strange, daring, emotional places.
I will tell you a story about a woman who enchanted the minds of men using the soft stricken chords of the harp and pianoforte. Her magical glissando continues to draw them down the Groton Road and into Shirley where she lives in a beguiling bastion of strings and keys and harmonious texture.
I myself ventured down this path following the call of the 10th muse and live to tell my tale:
Nancy Walton (Flindell) Peters was born in Summit, N.J., to Edwin Frederick Flindell III and Katharine Reid (Darby). Edwin Flindell, (1901-1979), began his life at Newark, N.J., the only son, middle child, and namesake of his father Edwin Jr., the elder having been born in England and immigrated to Australia before settling in the United States.
With primogeniture operative in Great Britain, the best option for a fourth son was to go his own way. Edwin Jr., the grandfather, became a cattle rancher in Australia and eloped with a doctor’s daughter by the name of Ellen Spurge. Grandfather Flindell, (ca. 1870-1938), was a vocalist by hobby with a beautiful baritone voice, one in the long line of musicians from this family.
Upon reaching our shores, Mr. Flindell opened a hugely successful fire reinsurance agency at No. 80 Maiden Lane in Manhattan, N.Y., aptly named Flindell & Company. He liked to listen to “The Met” on radio every weekend. During Prohibition, Mr. Flindell had the good sense and forethought to buy out the wine cellar of the Waldorf Astoria. His personal collection held some stellar labels and years. Nancy’s father worked for a time at Yorkshire Insurance before taking over the reins of Flindell & Company from his father, where both men worked for the remainder of their professional lives.
As a young girl, my host recalled, Nancy held a bank cheque in her hands drawn on Lloyds of London in the amount of one million dollars. Lloyds trusted her father sufficiently to address the cheque to him personally as settlement for a claim, which he dutifully passed along to his client. Edwin Flindell III was a Dartmouth graduate who enjoyed playing violin. In retirement, he moved with his wife to Peterborough, N.H. There were two sisters to round out Edwin’s family; Lee (Flindell) Claren was a singer who studied in Paris. His second sister Elsa (Flindell) Ahrens was a Juilliard-instructed pianist.
Nancy’s mother, born at Harrisburg, Penn., a pianist in her own right, mastered several of the textually difficult Chopin preludes at the young age of 12 years. Katharine was the second of two children of John Darby and Caroline (Carpenter). John Darby of Elizabethtown, N.J., was a mechanical man, an engineer and inventor. He held several patents on wide ranging contrivances such as a permanent wave hairstyling device. He once was invited to France to speak on his inventions. In his turn, John was the son of Benjamin, (1829-1918), and Caroline (Collier) Darby. He is a graduate of the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. John enjoyed painting in watercolor and built and kept a summer residence along that famous loop at the corner of Bridge Street and Stage Harbor Road in Chatham on Cape Cod.
Nancy remembered her maternal grandfather as a “wonderful, charming man who played games and read to his grandchildren. He was one of those gentle souls who would not charge for services if a customer were in dire economic straits.”
Mrs. Darby, Caroline Louise (Carpenter), was a descendant of Francis Scott Key. She died when Nancy was a small child.
The Carpenters were out of Liberty, N.Y., with a line back to Runnymede, Md. I was fortunate in that my host showed me an early grandfather clock from the factory of James Wilson, Dublin, Ireland, that had been passed down to her from Mr. Carpenter’s house. The clock came along with several ancient letters, one of which indicated that this weighty timepiece traveled on the back of a mule that summarily died from the weight of it. The clock had been gifted long ago to honor the birth of a child.