This Was Then: Art and Edna

Lovers? Kin? We may never know.

Art Smith and Edna Claghorn of Vineyard Haven, 1912. —Courtesy Chris Baer

Groceryman Art Smith (1867-1952) put the first “S” in S.B.S.: Smith, Bodfish & Swift, still Vineyard Haven’s revered grain store. Or half of an “S,” anyway, since Art’s lifelong business partner was also his twin brother Bert Smith. “Soak ‘Em, Beat ‘Em, and Skin ‘Em,’ we used to call it,” remembered Vineyard Haven resident Stan Lair. “Art and Bert. They both worked in S.B.S., which was right there on Main Street, next to the theater. And as far as I can remember that’s all either one of them did all their lives.”

The Smith brothers were previously partners in the Look, Smith & Co. grocery at the top of Union Street, and S.B.S. was born in 1910 from their merger with two other popular Vineyard Haven groceries, Bodfish & Call and Swift Brothers. By 1921, S.B.S. had a branch grocery in Edgartown, and they also ran a hay, grain, and feed store on Water Street. Art’s wife died young of heart disease, and he spent the majority of his life as a widower with little social life outside the grocery.

Edna Claghorn, aged 29 in this photo, was Art and Bert’s longtime bookkeeper. Her Tisbury birth record lists her as “Ill” for “illegitimate,” the daughter of single mother Alveda Claghorn of Vineyard Haven. Alveda married a Mr. Harris when Edna was still very young, divorced him, then married retired postmaster Joseph Hollywood of Brockton. Hollywood has been sometimes credited as namesake of the famous Los Angeles film community of that name, although more popular competing legends exist. The Boston Globe claimed in a 1942 article that Mr. Hollywood “once associated in a plan to buy land in Southern California for an orange orchard and [his] name was subsequently given to the colony.”

But back to Art and Edna, and the provocative photo you see here. As far as we know for certain, their relationship was boss and employee, and later — posthumously — step-uncle and (late) step-niece (Art’s twin brother Bert married Edna’s mother after Edna’s death).

But they were both single, and alive (and clearly, enjoying themselves and each other) when this photo was taken, and any other relationships (secret lovers? biological father and daughter?) will have to remain as speculation in the minds of readers, and this writer. It seems like the makings of a good soap opera.

Edna died of kidney disease five years after this photo was taken, in 1917, at the age of 34. Her stepfather Mr. Hollywood died three months later. Alveda began her third marriage a couple of years later, wedding Art’s twin Bert.

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