A 'Swenglish' journey through family photos, notes and postcards
from the early 20th century.


‘The Secret Garden’ in Pleasantville N.Y.

Follow-up of the serendipitous story mentioned in yesterday’s post (Sepia Saturday 25 Jan 2014).

A few months ago, in September 2013, I received an unexpected email with some photos attached, in response to a blog post I had written about a year earlier (4 Sept 2012 - Summer in Pleasantville, 1933).

The sender of the email was a young woman of Swedish descent herself, now living in Pleasantville, N.Y. The reason she wrote was that she was able to provide some evidence to support my guess about the location of two photos I believed must be from the Manville estate Hi-Esmaro in Pleasantville. (Which in turn also confirms that the boys in one of those photos from 1933 – see below – must be Gustaf and Folke Bernadotte, sons of Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte and his wife Estelle Manville-Bernadotte. Gerda was working for the Bernadotte family at that point in time, either as housekeeper or lady’s maid, or some position like that.)

Here is an abridged version of her email + my translation:

Jag bor i Foxwood, Pleasantville, New York. Jag och min 6-åriga dotter brukar promenera mycket i trakten och vi har ett favoritställe. Det är en gräsmatta med gamla murar runt. Det känns som en hemlig trädgård och man kan liksom känna att det måste varit en fin plats för länge sen. Jag har frågat grannar osv om de vet om det legat ett hus där förr, och den gröna ytan varit en trädgård, men ingen har vetat någonting. Jag har kollat i gamla böcker om Pleasantville och så fann jag Din blogg och de fantastiska fotona på din släkting. Jag tror att "vår" hemliga trädgård kan vara den som är på dina foton!

Hi, I live in Foxwood, Pleasantville, New York. My 6-year-old daughter and I have a favourite place that we often walk by. It’s a big lawn surrounded by old walls. It feels a bit like a secret garden and you can sense that it must have been a beautiful place a long time ago. I have asked people about it but no one seemed to know anything about it. So I looked in old books about Pleasantville, and then I also found your blog and the photos of your relative. I think our secret garden is the one in your photos!

image (2)
“The entrance to the garden from the bottom of the hill.”


image (3)

▲ “The lighter rectangle in the lawn may show the remnants of an old pond.” ▼

1933 Gerda    boys_0002-002

1933 Gerda    boys_0002-003

▲ Enlarged detail of the right-hand corner of the wall, compare Sofia’s photo below ▼

image (8)

The wall surrounding the whole estate is still there as well:

image (4)

▲Sofias’s photo above; below an old photo found online (also included in my Summer in Pleasantville 1933 post)▼


I still don’t know when exactly Gerda started working for Estelle Manville-Bernadotte – if it was after her marriage to Folke Bernadotte (Dec 1, 1928), or before. The only piece of fragile evidence I have that it might have been even before, is an old (American) newspaper/magazine clip about the Manville-Bernadotte wedding, kept by Gerda through the years.

Bernadotte marriage_0001-001Bernadotte marriage_0002-001

The wedding between Estelle Romaine Manville and Folke Bernadotte, Count of Wisborg, took place on Dec 1, 1928, in the rather small Episcopal Church of St. John in Pleasantville. Only 250 guests attended the wedding service, but more than 1500 people were invited to the reception held at the Manville estate, Hi-Esmaro. This was the first time in history a member of a European royal family married on U.S. soil. The wedding expenses totaled $ 1.5 million.

Folke Bernadotte was assassinated on duty in Jerusalem for the United Nations mediating team in 1948, 53 years old.

Estelle, only 44 years old when her husband died, became a leading figure in the International Red Cross, and in the Swedish Girl Scouts movement. She did not get remarried until 1973 (to Carl-Eric Ekstrand); which was the same year that my great-aunt Gerda died. (Gerda lived to be nearly 92 years old, and she remained with Estelle Bernadotte long past normal retirement age.)

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