Friday, October 15, 2010

the Lax cottage

"When Bob was living by himself at the cottage on Rock City Hill during the late 1930s, his older sister Gladys drove up to see him, taking supplies and checking his well-being.  She told him she’d had a dream the previous night that people from all around the world would someday come to visit this place.  They laughed about it, but he remembered because Gladio didn’t usually tell her dreams and it was such an unusual dream about such an unlikely place.  Nothing momentous had ever happened there, except a group of college boys and girls, mostly from Columbia University, had spent summer college-student time, drinking beer, writing novels (one took place entirely under water), building tree-houses, wandering the woods, and luxuriating in a free house, thanks to Lax’s brother-in-law Benji who probably didn’t give it a thought, except to pay fire insurance premiums.

"One of Bob’s Columbia pals wrote from New York, July 29, 1938: “Lax, you don’t write.  Sir, are you bogged up in your cabin?  Are you walled in, is there no mail service, is it eating and drinking and feasting all day, is it watching the birds fly about and no thought for friends?  Is it hatching some egg?” - concluding the letter, “Listen, if I find some guy with a car like Joe Roberts we both might come up to Olean this end of August, if you would say so, and if Benji and Gladio would not be awfully sore at putting up one guy twice in one summer” - signed “Merton".

"In 1948, The Seven Story Mountain was published and the public got a look at how time had been spent at that cabin, and to the astonishment of the author especially, the book made the best seller list, and exposed how college students spend their summer: drinking beer, writing novels, wandering in the woods, enjoying a free pad thanks to benevolent and caring relatives, while they wonder aloud about life and what they were going to do with it.  Nothing unusual except three of the guys turn out to be world-class writers: Robert Lax, Edward Rice, and Thomas Merton."  [Artist, Ad Reihnardt, also spent time at the cottage.]

excepted from an essay by Jack Kelly, “Robert Lax - Coming Home”
Last week I was in Olean NY, perusing the Lax archives at St. Bonaventure University.  I knew that the cottage was in disrepair and that the property had been sold.  But I also knew that it was high on a hill, that there was a radio tower on the property and that it was about 5 miles outside of Olean on the way to Rock City.  My sister was with me, and with our eyes on the radio towers we followed our noses and happened upon the cottage.  It was partially hidden from the road, heavily fortified with no trespassing signs and road blocks, but unmistakably, the Lax cottage.  Talk about a trip back in time.


  1. Looks like a beautiful place, still. Br. William, OSB

  2. Yes, other than the huge radio tower in the back yard that was rather distracting (but which also seemed kind of ominous), there was a quiet and peace about the place. A clear sign of abandonment (was this ominous too?), but the place looked like it could be renovated.

  3. It looks a bit scary. Wonder what it takes to get a house registered as a historic site? The only writer's house I've seen was the William Burroughs house in New Orleans which was being lived in, had a memorial plaque, and 2 attack dogs in the yard. I guess it takes some fans to get together: Robert E Howard's fans (the Conan the Barbarian creator) were successful in convincing the Texas town he was in to preserve his home but they had to put up the $.

    I think Jim Forest is in your neck of the woods now, maybe, northern New York?

  4. it occurs to me: the deceased Lax could be referred to as the Ex-Lax

    there is something about his poetry that's like taking an enema for the mind

  5. I think that it is the shadows that give it that slightly eery look, Marc.

    The present owners - the radio tower people, I presume - obviously know of the cottage's historic value, otherwise they probably would have torn it down. I noticed an old TV antenna on the roof as well. Also, the many roadblocks and no trespassing signs. In 1995 there was a Merton thing at St. Bonaventure's and they got permission from the owner to bus the attendees up there. However the people I met at St. B. were quite mum about giving any directions to the place, other than giving me the hint about the radio tower.

    Actually, now that I think about it, the radio tower seems really appropriate there, somehow.

    I'm not sure that the deceased Lax could be referred to as exLax. Ex is when one is divorced, no? However I do agree that his poetry simplifies things and clears the mind. I'm musing over how his poetry is similar to the teachings of Eckhart Tolle (I'm listening to a Tolle tape now) - how it points toward the gaps in thought.

  6. Yes, I knew that Jim Forest was in upstate NY now, but he's way over near Albany. Too far.

  7. Is the spirit of a place ominous or the spirit we bring to a place? I have found it both ways because just as God is alive in the world, other things are alive too, some good some not so good - if we are in tune with the spirit of things we sense this. You obviously are in tune.

    In light of what you have written, and he has written, Lax having a broadcast tower seems approprate.

    In Christ, Br. W. OSB

  8. Yeah, but I had no qualms about trespassing, Br. W. :-) ...

  9. Beth -

    This post is just great. I love the pics - and wish I was there.

    I have been a Robert Frost fan for many years. I visted his cabin in Ripton, Vermont many times - and everytime I am there I feel that Frost is still in the cabin - sitting in an old rocking chair with his wooden writing board - writing some famous poem. I am sure you feel the same way with Lax' cabin.

    Awesome to think Lax and Merton were writing here... there should be some kind of sign....

  10. I like your post & i will always be coming frequently to read more of your post.Thank you very much for your post once more.

  11. Been a while, miss your new postings. Insightful, thought ful and beautiful pictures.

    Pray all is well in your world.

    Br. W. OSB

  12. thanks for all of your comments, Br. W., Brian, and Ian. I'm lying low these days, don't have much to say or show. Actually, I think that there are a couple more photos I could put up ... maybe.

  13. I found a photo of Merton's Rosary Shack on flickr

  14. cool. Man, he was desperate for some solitude! It reminds me of child's clubhouse. I used to have one in a tree and when I was up there, no one could bother me. I'd take my little transistor radio up there after school.



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