More on Malcolm Cowley's Belsano home
"...But always it was their real home."
Malcolm Cowley from The Pyre
This page by Michael Cowley, cousin* of Malcolm Cowley
This is the house where Malcom Cowley was to be born in 1898. Today it has a historical marker in front of it to that effect.
I stopped there in 1999 and would hardly have recognized the place, as the porch had been enclosed and stuccoed over, changing the appearance quite a bit.
Dr. David Cowley (left) and his wife Margaret Mowry (right below) spent their summers here with their five children, William, Margaret (Tanny) Henry, Lidie, and David, Jr. (my grandfather).
At the time of the elder Doctor's death in 1886, the house passed to the possession of the oldest son, Dr. William Cowley (Malcolm's father) who also had begun a medical partnership with his father in his Pittsburgh homeopathic practice. Originally, I believe the house came into the Cowley family through Dr. David's wife Margaret Mowry's mother's family, the Greys or perhaps the Duncans. Margaret Mowry's oldest sister, Elizibetth Grey Mowry married Thomas Duncan. On an old map of Blacklick Township (see inset at left) the name Duncan appears at the area where the White Mill/Cowley house stands.
It was the place of at least one family wedding, on Aug 10, 1898. Here the younger of the the two daughters, Eliza (Lidie) Cowley married the Rev. Ernest Stebbing. Here (left) she is in her wedding dress.
I can imagine that there was a large family gathering for the wedding that August, but they must have all dispersed soon after. Malcolm Cowley was born 14 days later and his father, Dr. Will, would no doubt have wanted to be on hand to help with the delivery, if not do it himself. However, the story goes that he left his full-term wife in the care of his maiden sister, Margaret, while he took off down south to bid a final goodbye to his baby brother, David Jr. (then age 22), who was reportedly mortally wounded and deathly ill from his battles in the Spanish-American War.
Either David Jr. was not as badly wounded as reported, or Dr. Will saved his younger brother from death with homeopathy, brotherly love, and close one-on-one medical attention. At any case, the younger brother lived on. Below he is seen as he was two years later, in 1900.
However, going to rescue his younger
brother meant that Dr. Will was not present for his son's birth
on August 24, 1898. Here is how Malcolm,
at age 85, tells the story of his birth in Belsano, as
recorded by own son, Robert, in the magazine
ROBERT COWLEY: I find it somehow fitting that you, of all people, were born in the country. You arrived in the summer of the Spanish-American War, didn't you?
MALCOLM COWLEY: Yes, I was born August 24, 1898, in a farmhouse near Belsano, Pennsylvania.
The town was 70 miles from Pittsburgh, where my father was a doctor.That first experience with the country was almost your last, as I remember.
My mother was alone because my father had been summoned down to Norfolk, Virginia, where his younger brother was supposed to be dying of camp fever. He recovered. So Mother, alone in the big house except for my Aunt Margaretvirgin and slightly crippledwas in labor for two days. Tanny, as we called my aunt, became so terrified that she shut herself in a closet. Finally, my mother's moans attracted somebody passing on the road in a horse and buggythere was no telephone at the time. He drove to the nearest mining camp and came back with the company doctor, who arrived during a thunderstorm and saved two lives.
The picture at right is of "Aunt Tanny," not looking too scared or crippled before the photographer. Other photos do show her standing in quite an awkard manner due to her crippled hip.
Malcolm returned to the Belsano Cowley house all the summers of his childhood, many times in his youth to visit his parents, and in older age to take care of business or revisit the past. Belsano and Cambria County was the basis of his country-boy life, and the spiritual home of his poetic heart. He wrote and referred many times to the area as home and praised what it gave him"shapes of his childhood, patterns of his growth." So it is said: you can take the boy out of the country, but can't take the country out of the boy. "I suppose I want a world like Cambria County when I was a boythinly settled, full of big woods, and trout in little streams..." (letter to Betty Cox - 1960).
I hope these pictures of the Belsano Cowley house and some the Cowleys who enjoyed it have helped give you a feel for the place Belsano held in Malcolm's life. Of the house being sold out of the Cowley family, he wrote in the poem The Pyre:
"Our summer home" his mother called it,
but always it was their real home.
Belsano has much to be proud of in the place it played in the life of its most famous native son, Malcolm Cowley, and the Cowley family.
Michael K. Cowley
*Michael writes: "Though...I did grow up referring to him as 'Uncle Malcolm,' technically he was my first cousin once removed. Very minor in literary terms, but geneologists do jump at such stuff.
© Jon Kennedy 2001