It's jacaranda time again, late this year, don't you think? I love those flowers with their mystical shade of lavender and blue, some still peeking out at certain elevations, others dropping their rich carpets on the road.
I cruised up to the Seabury Hall Craft Fair this year, in the late afternoon as usual, only to find the event drenched in a downpour. Artisans were scrambling to close their booths, so without any distractions, I had time to contemplate the twin reasons I like to go: the house and the garden.
The estate, Maunalei, built in 1928, was designed (with a lot of arm-twisting, I suspect) by Charles W. Dickey for the imperious Gail Baldwin, his cousin's wife. (Dickey was the son of Annie Alexander, the sister of Henry Perrine Baldwin's wife, Emily Alexander.)
Part Italianate (Dickey's contribution), part barn (Gail's nostalgia for Boston), the place never fails to intrigue me. It's unlike the rest of Dickey's oeuvre, and its immodest proportions are out of keeping with the self-effacing sensibility of the Baldwins, who built large but gracious, more livable homes.
The structure is perfect as an administration building, but as a dwelling? I don't get it. In a way, it's like Gail Baldwin herself, too angular, too severe, too striving, out of place in easygoing Hawaii.
Family members considered Gail a social climber and recoiled at her indulgences, one of which was a set of porcelain with plates that cost $100 apiece. Let's see, that was the equivalent of 10 weeks of backbreaking, 12-hour days sweating in the heat of the cane fields.
The landscaping, on the other hand, with its huge old jacarandas, I'm sure is the work of her husband, Will, a shy, thoughtful man, handsome, too, probably the least-known of the Baldwin brothers. Born in 1874, he was the third child and second son of Henry and Emily Baldwin.
William D. Baldwin went to Yale, then medical school at Johns Hopkins, where he met Gail, who had become a nurse. "My grandmother was not one to talk about the past. She never told me about her background, ever. Kept it secret completely," her granddaughter Emilou Young told me.
Gail presented herself as from an East Coast society background, when in fact, she was born in Savannah to a family of little means, orphaned at 9, and sent to live with her eldest sister in Boston.
The newlyweds moved to Honolulu, where Will opened a practice with Dr. James Judd, later chief of surgery at Queen's Hospital. After World War I ended, Dr. Will Baldwin set out with 19 Red Cross workers from Hawaii for Siberia.
He was one of two doctors in the contingent, assigned to the Vladivostok Hospital for Civilians in below-zero winter weather amid scenes of terrible suffering. It was a 300-bed refugee hospital made out of an old barracks, with an international staff. Every day, when the housekeeper arrived to clean Will's apartment, she kneeled down and kissed his feet in gratitude.
Refugees began arriving in Vladivostok, "half-naked and starving," in February 1919, including a "Train of Death" full of sick and dying Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war. "The sights were terrible - wretched emaciated creatures, simply caked in filth and absolutely starving," one volunteer wrote.
Typhus and dysentery were rampant among the prisoners, and the Red Cross volunteers jolted into high gear, bathing them, shaving them, cutting their hair, putting them into clean pajamas. The sick went into a makeshift hospital, the others back into cleaned-up cars. A fresh pajama supply from Hawaii Red Cross chapters carried such a powerful message of hope that some wept when they saw the emblem on the pocket.
Will returned to Maui in 1919 to a difficult marriage and the life of a gentleman farmer. He started the Haiku Farm in 1920 on property surrounding the old Baldwin house near the mill in Haiku, where I'm told remnants of the workers camp still exist. He was particularly interested in cultivating the avocado, but also grew mango, lychee and cashew trees and eventually added a poultry farm.
At the same time, while his brothers ran the Baldwin sugar plantations and ranch, Will upheld the family charities, taking on leadership of the Alexander Settlement, created in 1901 to benefit the children of immigrants, and Kula Sanatorium.
Will suffered from migraines, depression and, according to Young, nagging from his wife, who had "a very shrill voice." He kept the rambling old plantation manager's house in Haiku until his son married, commuting over from Olinda.
I fancy it was a refuge.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at email@example.com.