In June of 1996 the first Margaret Sutton Day was held in Coudersport PA by the Potter County Educational Council in conjunction with Adelphia Communications, at that time the third largest cable company in the country and headquartered in Coudersport. I did not attend this event because I couldn't get away from work, but many members of the Judy Bolton Society and the Phantom Friends did, even though Margaret herself was not in attendance.
The main event was a reenactment of Judy and Peter's 'rainbow' wedding on the lawns of the Judge Lewis house, the Victorian mansion used in the books as the Farringdon-Pett mansion. This was the 50th Anniversary of the wedding which took place in the 1946 book The Rainbow Riddle.
Reverend Bob Merten, Margaret Sutton's friend and personal assistant to John Rigas, the billionaire CEO of Adelphia Communications, officiated at the ceremony. A cast of local young people played Judy and Peter and the members of the bridal party, and the bridesmaids wore gowns representing the colors of the rainbow, as did Judy's bridesmaids in the book.
This was a significant and well-attended event. Judy Bolton had by now become a civic pride icon in Potter County. The annual Judy Bolton Day weekends held in October were reported on in the local newspapers and radio stations; the mural depicting Judy Bolton characters, settings, and the books themselves had been painted in the Austin school cafeteria via a state grant; and all the county students had been reading the Judy Bolton books as part of their curriculum for several years now. The beautiful mountainous and forested Potter County had been known for decades as God's Country. Now it was also being called 'Judy Bolton Country'.
A similar event was planned for the following year and it was hoped that Margaret herself could come to town to speak. She had come a couple years before to speak at the Austin School (Austin being Roulsville), when the mural had been completed. At the time, the mid-nineties, Margaret was living in a nursery home at nearby Williamsport PA, a couple hours drive away. Reverend Merten and several of the fans visited her there on a regular basis. It was not known if her children, all grown adults who lived at various places around the country, attended to her there. When she came to speak at the school, Adelphia was in charge of it.
Thus, we were happily surprised to hear the following spring of 1997 that Margaret Sutton Day would again be held in June and that Margaret herself would be there to speak at the Senior Citizen Center, accompanied by one of her children. We all looked forward to this because we did not know any of the family.
What a surprise we were in for!
When we met in Coudersport that June of 1997 Margaret Sutton was indeed there, accompanied by her family member. This person's attitude toward us fans was bossy, rude, and obviously with the notion that we were were somehow using Margaret to our advantage. We were told to stay away from Margaret, not to sit at table with her, not to take photos of her while she was drinking (water!). Some of us were also accused of being in cahoots with John Rigas of Adelphia, who had been forbidden by this person to attend any of the events even though his company was helping to sponsor them. Also we learned that Reverend Merten was banned from attending because it was believed that he had been trying to get Margaret to marry him so that he could get control of her copyrights (Judy Bolton and others) for Adelphia.
This was all pretty shocking to us and some of us did not take kindly to this rude treatment and the accusations. We had been good friends to Margaret, promoted the Judy Bolton books at our own expense, and had no iterest in making money from it. Margaret herself did not seem to be aware of any of this going on. She was into her nineties by then and we did not have the close access to her we used to have to quiz her about it. It was like she was being guarded!
We didn't know what her family had heard to give them such ideas. It was true that Adelphia had been looking into making Judy Bolton movies for their cable system, or so they had told us. We had put together two complete sets of Judy Bolton books for Mr. Rigas and his daughter, who ran a family entertainment company in New York City. They received these books at our expense and at that time it was very expensive to put together complete sets of the Judy Bolton books.
We had no one to ask 'What happened?" for we did not see Mr. Rigas that weekend. We did see Reverend Merten, however. He came to visit us at the hotel and showed us the typed letter he had received accusing him of trying to marry Margaret in order to control her copyrights and forbidding him to see her again. He was very upset about it and even he did not know how any of this had come about. All we could figure is that someone had told family members that Adelphia was trying to exploit Margaret, and they had acted upon it by forbidding the company access to her.
This development soured several of the fans in attendance to Judy Bolton collecting, and a couple did not come back ever again. Imagine being bitched at and accused of wrongdoing in front of everyone attending. We had done nothing but positive things for both Judy Bolton and Margaret Sutton, and it cost us money - we did not profit. We donated over 300 Judy Bolton books to the county schools and library so that the students could read them in class and at home. We got the first two and last two Judys back in print by hooking Margaret up with Applewood Books, and supplying them with the books to copy. Thus the Judy Bolton books were back in the bookstores all over the country, Borders and Barnes and Noble among them. This paved the way for the complete series being reprinted recently by Applewood Books.
The whole thing was very annoying, but most of us managed to ignore it as well as we could and enjoy ourselves anyway. More about this memorable weekend in part 3 of this series of posts...
|The Judge Lewis house in Coudersport, better known to Judy Bolton fans|
as the Farringdon-Pett mansion. It is here that the 50th Anniversary of Judy's
wedding was celebrated. The waterway in the front is the very beginnings of
the Allegheny River.
Click HERE for Part 3