A century ago, there was a bard of Wales named Rabel O'Fon. She was also an ordained Baptist minister famed for exceptional oratorical powers, and in the 1860s she journeyed to the American Midwest to preach in Welsh mining communities.
Rabel O'Fon met and married in Wisconsin a wagonmaker named Edward Davies who, with several brothers, had also emigrated from Wales - from a small farming village called Tregaron. They had two children: Annie, who died young; and Joseph Edward.
Joseph Edward Davies became a rich Washington lawyer, an intimate of Woodrow Wilson and FDR, and a controversial U.S. ambassador to Moscow in the late 1930s. Just before America's entry into the Second World War, Davies bought a lavish estate in Northwest Washington and called it "Tregaron."
Davies' descendants (he died in 1958) still own Tregaron and are negotiating with a developer who seeks to transform it into a housing project.
The story of the Davies family is deeply woven in the fabric of the nation's history and the history of this city. Joe Davies came up the hard way. His father and uncles ran a blacksmith shop and factory in Watertown, Wis. that made Conestoga wagons - the great covered wagons with curving wooden bodies that allowed them to float like boats across America's rivers on the way west.
His father died when he was only 12, and Joe's mother. Rahel O'Fon, took in washing. Family legend has it that when mother and son once made a trip to the old country. Rahel O'Fon's wealthy relatives offered to send the boy to Oxford Joe is said to have replied: "No, I am an American. I want to return home."
An uncle sent Joe to the University of Wisconsin, where he also took a law degree. There he met and married Mary Emlen Knight, the daughter of a Civil War colonel and member of a prominent Wisconsin family.
Joe Davies successfully practiced law in Watertown and then Madison. Then in 1912 came the turning point in his life. An acquaintance told him he really ought to come east and meet a man named Woodrow Wilson.
Davies was caught up in the excitement of Wilson's progressivism. Based in Chicago, he was Wilson's manager for the western United States in the successfully campaign of 1912. He wrote the legislation for and became the first chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, the element of Wilson's "New Freedom" program to regulate trusts and interstate trade.
In 1918 Davies returned to Wisconsin to run for the Senate in an effort to bolster Wilson's faltering position in the Senate, where opposition to the League of Nations idea was strong. Davies was defeated.
He returned to Washington as a lawyer, and in the years that followed he handled big accounts and became a millionaire.
His old friend from the Wilson days, Franklin D. Roosevelt, became president. In 1936 Roosevelt sent Davies to Moscow as ambassador, and during the war Davies spent much of his time as an envoy in Europe, seeking to keep the Soviets in the war.
For this effort, Davies was publicly criticized as pro-Russian. "The bogey of Communist dominance of the world is being subtly distilled as poison and circulated here," a news clip has him saying in a wartime speech." . . . As a matter of practical fact, anyone who knows his Europe knows that Scandinavia, the Baltic states, Rumania, Hungary and other countries of Europe would never accept Communism anyhow, no matter what happened."
In a move that profoundly affected the family, Davies in 1935 divorced his wife and married the dazzling and fabulously wealthy cereal heiress Marjorie Merriwether Post.
"It was sad," recalled Eleanor Ditzen, eldest of Davies's three daughters and eldest surviving family member, "I did not go to the wedding. I stayed with my mother and took care of her. My mother was an angel . . . My father and mother were absolutely devoted and it was a terrific shock but he fell madly in love with (Marjorie) and I don't blame him - she was a terrific gal."
Emlen Evers, Davies's youngest daughter, remembers Post as "the most glamorous, beatiful woman I've seen in my whole life. I've never seen a woman more like a queen, and yet a very earthy person."
Emlen Evers also believes that the many divorces in the family may have stemmed from that traumatic event, the divorce of her mother and father.
"With us (father) was very Victorian," she said. "We were brought up with the idea that divorce was something that would never happen. Then he did it! That's what started it all."
Eleanor and her first husband. Thomas P. Cheeseborough, were divorced. Her second husband, Sen. Millard Tydings, died in 1961 and she now lives here with her third husband, the Rev. Lowell R. Ditzen, former director of the National Presbyterian Center. Emlen lived for years in Europe with her first husband, Robert L. Grosjean, before they were divorced; she is now the wife of Walter Evers, a business consultant in Cleveland. Rahel was married to and divorced from Aldace Walker and then Gen. Burdette M. Fitch beforemarrying Washington attorney E. Fontaine Broun, her husband when she died last spring.
When Rahel died, her interest in Tregaron went to her daughters in Washington, Suzanne W. Wright and Jennifer Fitch Moleon. Along with Eleanor, Emlen and Rahel's two daughters, the owners of Tregaron today are Eleanor's two children, former U.S. Sen. Joseph Davies Tydings and his sister, Eleanor Tydings Schapiro.
For tax and other purposes, Davies willed Tregaron to his descendents in an enormously complex way - with different heirs owning different parts of the property and sharing other parts. The spouses of the owners are also involved to the extent that their signatures, too, are needed on any contract conveying the property. All this has made selling it all that much more difficult.
Although Davies bought Tregaron with his own money as a matter of pride, according to family members, his marriage to Marjorie Merriwether Post plunged the family into a new world of undreamed of wealth.
Rahel's daughter, Suzanne Wright, remembers that although she was raised as a normal middle class child, she often tasted this wealth as a little girl at her stepmother's estates: Mar-A-Lago at Palm Beach, and Top Ridge in the mountains of upstate New York; and on her yacht, the Sea Cloud.
"If it were under full sail it needed a crew of 70," recalled Wright. "It had a hospital on it, marble fireplaces, paintings . . ." At Top Ridge, she remembered that "You'd arrive by launch driven by someone in livery. There were masseurs-in-residence . . . It was absolutely splendid to be witness to that kind of life-style: wonderful picnics, fabulous guests . . . It is a bygone era . . ."
And Wright remembers Tregaron with its "masses of daffodils in the spring and masses of azaleas and a little babbling brook and arched bridges under which I'm sure trolls lived."
Her grandfather Davies, she said, "had a beautiful, wonderful, resonant speaking voice and great dark eyes that really looked at you - and through you. And he absolutely delighted in his grandchildren's abilities - however meager, such as playing a little ditty on the piano or reciting a bit of poetry.He himself could recite - (Browning), Shakespeare . . . Tennyson . . ."
Davies' grandchildren and two surviving daughters have wonderful memories of him: a short man who always somehow seemed tall . . . a man of tremendous personal presence and flair who dressed immaculately and would wear capes and top hats . . . who would drill them all with wisdom of the "If-a-thing-is worth-doing-it'-s worth-doing-well" variety . . . but who was also loving and gentle and helpful with them.
Jennifer Moleon, Rahel's second daughter shares these memories, but she theorized that Davies may have been over-protective in bringing up his three daughters.
"He never wanted them to worry," said Moleon. "He wanted them beautiful and vivacious - charming, beautiful women who could be very intelligent. But he didn't want them to work. (They) always assumed the men in the family would take care of them. My mother was president of the women's auxillary of the Washington Hospital Center; she could take care of a quarter of a million dollars (for the hospital), but she couldn't balance her own checking account."
"I was raised with a silver spoon; no doubt about it," said emlen Evers. She remembered that after college she wanted to study law but her father said, "Absolutely not. Not for a girl. It's too tough"
As for Eleanor, although she did not enter business or any profession, she has been active in Washington where she is known as a founder of the Washington Hospital Center. After Millard Tydings' 24-year U.S. Senate career ended in 1950, she became active herself in politics and once came close to receiving the Democratic nomination to run for the Senate from Maryland.
Both Eleanor and Emlen went to Vassar, Rahel had tuberculosis as a teen-ager and couldn't go to college, but was privately tutored. During their early years, the newspapers of the day seemed to follow every nuance of their social lives.
When Eleanor and her fist husband, Thomas P. Cheeseborough, were divorced in 1935, the newspapers reported it in detail, describing her as "one of the outstanding debutantes of the (1922) season." Eleanor then married Sen. Tydings, who adopted the children she and Cheeseborough had - Joe and Eleanor, or "Little El" as she is still called.
When Emlen married Grosjean, a Belgian she had met when her father was posted to Belgium as ambassador following his Moscow assignment, the wedding took place at Sen. Tyding's fabulous mansion. "Oakington," in Havre de Grace, Md., which is still in the family. The wedding received extensive news coverage.
Today the Tregaron heirs appear to live comfortably, although without the fabulous wealth of the past. The three daughters had incomes from their father's trust fund, but now the surviving two say that has dwindled, having been eaten into by the fees of lawyers and others.
Emlen Evers has a 28-year-old daughter living in New York City named Maria (Mia) Emlen Grosjean. She is single, writes poetry, is looking for a job in public relations, lives alone in a Manhattan apartment.
She says she believes in the simple life. She likes meeting people. After college, she went off to India to help the poor. Mia has the large green eyes and bushy dark eyebrows of the "black Welsh" line from which she springs. She has a marvellous fierce color portait of her great grandmother, Rahel O'Fon, on her apartment wall - and when she stands near it the similarity is striking: that intenseness, that energy . . . Mia even went back to Wales a few years ago to do research on her great grandmother. She has just returned from a recent visit to her father, a businessman in Belgium.
"Sadly, I don't expect anything from Tregaron," she said. "I say 'sadly' because I wish the whole thing could work out . . ."
Mia Emlen Grosjean, the younger generation of the Davies line - says she is wary of the kind of family life she knew. She talks of "survival" as a key goal in life. Survival and compassion.
"I've seen what it's like for women in my family to be dependent," she said. "I don't like it . . . If you're in a family like our family, the rest of the world is hidden. You're protected on all sides. Most families do that with their children, which I think is a disaster, because you don't know what's going on, because then you're raised with a lack of responsibility, with a very inbred notion of what's happening in the world . . ."
The phone rang in her apartment. It was her mother, Emlen Evers, calling from Cleveland to wish her happy birthday.
Mia listened, talked, listened. At one point she said, "Oh, I do not leave things all over the world, Mummy."