100 years ago, a Tivoli girl

And a mystery on the shores of Farm Pond.


This week, we expand Chris Baer’s “This was Then” column.

“Come! Come! Tivoli Girl, dance the hours away —

Come! Come! Tivoli Girl, don’t you hear the music play?
If you’ll be my pal in the summertime down beside the ocean blue,

When the snow flies, Tivoli Girl, I’ll be dreaming of you …”

— “Tivoli Girl,” Will Hardy, 1917

Will Hardy was king of the Tivoli. As band leader and musical director of the popular dance hall in Oak Bluffs (located where the police station is today), his six-piece orchestra from Worcester was a fixture of the Oak Bluffs music scene every summer from 1915 until 1931. Hardy wrote and performed original songs like “Dear Old Martha’s Vineyard” (1915), “Here Comes the ‘Sankaty’ with My Best Girl on Board” (1917) (“We met last summer at the old ‘Pawnee,’ the old ‘Pawnee’; We danced together at the ‘Tivoli’ …”), and arguably his most popular song, the waltz “Tivoli Girl” (1917).

While Hardy was the public face of the Tivoli, the back of the house was run by the Tivoli’s proprietor (and Hardy’s boss), Ray Wells of Falmouth. Wells was Falmouth’s longtime fire chief and a Teaticket insurance agent, but he spent his summers in Oak Bluffs, managing the Tivoli.

On the morning of Thursday, July 27, 1916, while passing Farm Pond, Mr. Wells stopped to investigate a “bundle” floating in about two feet of water, which had been observed by passersby for several days. It was the decomposing body of a 36-year-old woman dressed only in her undergarments, wearing one shoe. Her name was written on the waistband of her underwear: Miss Henrietta McLeod of Milton. An autopsy revealed that she was missing her front upper and lower teeth — believed to have been knocked out — and that her lungs were empty of water, suggesting that drowning may not have been the cause of death. It would later be learned that she was missing a gold ring. A murder investigation began, led by State Police Inspector Thomas Dexter.

Miss McLeod had last been seen on Sunday morning, July 9, wearing a black skirt and a colorful Panama hat, carrying a parasol. A Nova Scotia native, McLeod had been hired as a live-in “nurse girl” for a Swedish dentist and professor, Dr. Sverker Luttropp of Boston, providing both meals and childcare for his family. Two weeks after she was hired, the Luttropp family traveled to their summer home in Oak Bluffs, where Mrs. Luttropp’s mother, Maria Silvia Bettencourt, lived. Unfortunately Miss McLeod was not a good cook, and the night before her disappearance she was fired. The following morning she packed her wicker valise and leather bag and set off for the ferry with a train ticket to Boston and three dollars, but instead of boarding the steamer, two milkmen saw her turn toward Circuit Avenue to buy something to eat at William Ripley’s lunch cart. After that, the trail went cold. The Boston Post reported, “Officer Dexter believes that she was enticed away from the dock by some shady characters, who loiter about that section, to some lonely place and slain.”

Wells’ discovery was in a remote, heavily wooded section of Farm Pond, far from any houses. After an initial unsuccessful police search of the area, the authorities put slides in the motion picture houses around the Island to announce an emergency Boy Scout meeting. Thirty scouts turned out the next day to systematically search the woods, and almost immediately the boys discovered more clues near the edge of the pond: Miss McLeod’s other shoe; her skirt, hanging from a tree; a pile of leaves used as a bed and showing signs of a struggle; a second makeshift bed laid out from the contents of her valise; and a letter addressed to McLeod bearing a Boston postmark, torn into pieces too small to read.

Although her family in Milton emphatically believed that Henrietta had been murdered, the Luttropp family suggested that she had committed suicide, as she “acted in a peculiar manner” at times and seemed somewhat “dazed” on the morning she left. On the third day after Wells’ discovery, the police declared the McLeod case a suicide and closed it. The Boston Post reported, “It is believed that while temporarily deranged she tore off her skirts and leaped into the pond.” Neither the gold ring nor the contents of the letter were ever recovered.

Chris Baer teaches photography and graphic design at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He’s been collecting vintage photographs for many years.