• The magnificent mystery of Violet Maya Neill

    By Jon Guthrie


    The Del Monte Hotel—a hostelry for the wealthy and well-known—had gathered into its numerous transport mechanisms a pair of drays, those lumbering carriages (fashioned after Russian wagons) with multiple rows of seats set into them. There was always room for a considerable assemblage aboard a dray, everyone eager for sightseeing and revelry.

    A few weeks earlier, two of those new-fangled, twelve-passenger electric omnibuses had arrived from back east and were immediately readied for transporting passengers from the Del Monte to Monterey and Pacific Grove. According to the Del Monte’s publicity department: “The machines are the very latest thing in their class, handsome in appearance, of high power, and capable of considerable speed. They will run from del Monte through Monterey and Pacific grove to one of the new roads recently built by the company.”

    Advertisements placed in the Pacific Grove and Monterey newspapers invited day-guests to the Del Monte to enjoy the hostelry’s “world famous” spa, dipping into the spa’s hot tub, then cold tub, before relaxing on padded tables to await the pleasure of a massage. A quiet stroll along the trail to the lake was suggested in a Del Monte brochure as a pleasant follow-up.

    Also on that day, newspapers headlined a truly amazing athletic upset: the Monterey Lawn Tennis team beating a team visiting from Santa Cruz, in a shut-out played at Del Monte. Del Monte’s media spokesperson also announced that the hotel was preparing for the “Month of Sports.” Competitions that would include golf, tennis, bolos (outdoor duck pen bowing), badminton, and walking-running events (for both men and women) were to be conducted on hotel grounds. Guest reservations, according to the spokesperson, were cited as: “already pouring in.”

    Evening meals required ties-and-tails, women attired in swirling gowns, and were served in the Del Monte’s spacious dining parlor (following cocktails). Included for that evening’s table were broccoli soup, iced oysters, chicken Kiev, potatoes au gratin, simmered asparagus beneath cheese, and a silken mousse topped with whipped cream and a cherry. This epicurean fare would be available at 5:30

    … according to the Del Monte’s gaily-embossed menu-of-the-day.

    Such refinements beckoned a plethora of visitors to the Del Monte—including kings and queens, counts and countesses, dukes and duchesses, princesses and princes, business moguls and sea captains. President William McKinley lodged at the Del Monte during his visit to the peninsula. Sir Harry Lauder had checked in—several times—as had singer Yvette Guilbert and actress Sarah Bernhardt.

    Every patron knew that a Del Monte tenure would involve at least a modicum of good times. For instance, a Shakespearian reading was planned for that afternoon. After dinner entertainment would be vaudeville, followed by an uproarious olio. Indeed, so exciting was a Del Monte stay that among its guests were those who maintained almost-permanent habitation there, occupying a suite or apartment—so elegant these accommodations featured velvet carpet.

    Mr. James Neill, a widely-known and much-respected mining engineer, was just such a semi-permanent resident. Mr. Neill, having accepted a contract that would take him into the surrounding mountains in search of ore deposits, often traveled with his family, at least with his daughter, Violet Maya, age 27.

    In 1909, the young Miss Neill was listed as a socialite in San Francisco and Pasadena (her birthplace), as well as by the Del Monte and Pacific Grove cliques. Monterey, no. Monterey was too much the coarse, working-class community to afford the young woman much pleasure of the appropriate sort. Violet also spent little time with her father. She preferred Del Monte entertainments … carriage trips, tours aboard one of the new electric omnibuses, spa massages, croquet and badminton games, and formal dinners to roughing it with dad in the wilds of coastal California. Violet would have especially enjoyed the dinner (she was fond of oysters) to be served Saturday evening, June 18, 1909.

    Unfortunately, Violet was too ill to dine.

    Violet had been ailing for at least three months with a stubborn and mysterious affliction (that would today be diagnosed as pulmonary tuberculosis). During this time, the young lady had been—as described by her doctor, Del Monte’s house-physician—”suffering patiently”. Never mind the constant presence of a hired companion and the delicious, high-calorie foods provided at the hotel, Miss Neill reported that she was lonely, and she seemed to be gradually wasting away.

    On Thursday, June 16, she took a turn for the worse.

    Violet’s physician was perplexed. He wrote: “My patient’s affliction is one with which medical science has never been able to combat successfully,” and instructed that her parents be summoned. Both Mr. and Mrs. Neill—Mrs. Anne Neill traveled by train from Pasadena, Mr. James Neill returned from the hills of Monterey County—stood by Violet’s bedside as the young lady succumbed. The recorded time of her death was a few minutes past midnight, Sunday, June 19.

    The Monterey New Era, always a taciturn news source, somewhat jealous of the social success of nearby Pacific Grove, scarcely mentioned the demise, saying only that the victim’s death had occurred several weeks after she was stricken by a “violent ailment, from which she had suffered horribly.”

    However, Beneath a headline that read “Miss Violet Neill Dies at Del Monte”, the Pacific Grove Review lamented the passing of this spirited, but gracious young woman. “This girl,” attested the editor, “was one of the most popular society girls anywhere.”

    The editor might have added: “especially Pacific Grove”, the community she frequently roamed, the community in which she attended Chautauqua events, and the community where she assisted with such activities as the “Feast of Lanterns” and “Flag Day” celebrations.

    Although the editor did not specifically mention his action, his comments indicate that he attended Miss Neill’s Peninsula funeral, and to his funerary remarks he attached a disclaimer: “The burial services will be held at Pasadena, where the remains were taken yesterday.”

    The editor allegedly had stood near the depot to watch the train huff away with the late Violet Neill lying at rest inside her coffin within a box car.



    posted to Cedar Street Times on February 27, 2009

    Topics: Uncategorized


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