Can a Book Be a Vacation?
Take one with Holly Weiss in 1920’s Eagles Mere in the new book,
A review by Betsy Rider
Four years ago, Holly Weiss, a music teacher and former opera singer, stayed at the Crestmont in Eagles Mere. She was captivated by the peaceful ambiance of today’s Inn and by the rich history of the founder and previous owners. So she wrote a book about them, filling out the known facts with fictionalized motivations and relationships.
After briefly sketching the Native American legend about the creation of the unique spring-fed lake from the tears of the mourning Great Spirit, Weiss re-creates the inspiration of William Warner, a visitor from Germantown who saw a challenge in the cyclone ravaged hill-top overlooking the crystal clear lake. Warner, who was driven by a need for excellence in all his endeavors, planned the Crestmont and hired two hundred carpenters to complete it in a year’s time. It was to be the very best in accommodations and in service. His staff was trained to anticipate every need and whim of the guests. His memory of the desires of the previous years’ visitors never failed to impress one and all.
According to Weiss’ fictionalized time-line, when Warner’s health deteriorated slightly more than a decade after the opening, his daughter, Margaret Woods and her husband, William, continued his legacy of outstanding hospitality. When Margaret Woods died in 1941, her daughter, Peg Dickerson, ran it until her health gave out, thus seeing it through three generations of the same family. It was sold in 1977 to a couple who replaced the “Great House” with condominiums.
But I get ahead of myself. The owning and running of the legendary Crestmont is only the background for a moving story of Gracie Antes, a young girl trying to find her place in the world outside her repressive family upbringing in Moravian Bethlehem. She could sing. She knew it, even if nobody else did. But she needed money to follow her dream of singing in the Vaudeville circuit. So she answered an ad for summer employment at the Crestmont in Eagles Mere. She left her home and didn’t tell anyone she was still alive for a month and even then she didn’t tell them where she was working.
Gracie grew from a shy, young dreamer with a pocket full of words she needed to look up and a notebook nowhere near full of the names of the friends she made, to an assured young woman who found her family and place in Eagles Mere, where she discovered singing was only one of her many talents.
Even more compelling for me was the character development of Margaret Woods, who was drowning in her father’s legacy of outstanding service to their clientele. She never took time for herself and didn’t discover until long after his death that her father had found a retreat in an attic hideaway. That he needed respite from his responsibilities too. When a mistake made by Gracie sends her into a debilitating depression, she barely copes until her family and a favorite older employee gradually help her recover her former energy.
The book is filled with just enough other characters to welcome you into their world: PT, the young manager of the Inn’s bowling alley (and all around go-fer) who escapes his murky past by pouring himself into his piano jazz; Dorothy, a teacher who leaves her classroom to wait on the pampered rich and oversee the young staff; Bessie, an angry housemaid who hides her hurt under her anger; Mrs. Cunningham, an elderly blind lady who needs Gracie’s help and care while providing love and understanding in return; and the most famous guest, Rosa Ponselle, an opera singer who also takes Gracie under her wing.
The author has researched her material with the same kind of thorough care that the legendary Inn provided. Her knowledge of the American culture of the “Roaring Twenties” serves her well. She liberally sprinkles references to neighboring towns and events. Her pace is leisurely and her characters lovable. Readers will feel refreshed after their vacation, reading “Crestmont.”
You can meet the author, Holly Weiss, from 5 to 6:30, First Friday, July 2, at Otto’s in downtown Williamsport. She will also be signing her books Saturday from 11 to 12:30 at the Laporte Historical Society and both Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 at the Eagles Mere Bookstore.