This is my May column for Southwest Senior, which arrived in today's mail:
Local authors, local books: Silver City’s Bear Mountain Lodge
By Bob Sanchez
Was she an heiress?
That’s what historian and writer Donna Eichstaedt wanted to know as she read the sign saying that Mrs. Myra McCormick was ill and the Bear Mountain Lodge near Silver City was closing. Perhaps the woman was related to the family of Cyrus McCormick of mechanical reaper fame. “We are always looking for interesting stories,” Eichstaedt told me, and she saw possibilities—New Mexico had often been a destination for heirs and heiresses back when such people were more common.
Had the answer been yes, the story would have developed differently. But Mrs. McCormick was no heiress, although she turned out to be an interesting woman in her own right. So Eichstaedt decided to write an article about the lodge anyway, and the article developed into a short book, Silver City’s Bear Mountain Lodge: The Untold Story. Seeing photos of Mrs. McCormick and the lodge “really got (Eichstaedt’s) adrenaline going” and inspired Eichstaedt to start writing.
Apparently, Myra McCormick was a “peculiar and caustic” character whose personality was forged in the Depression. During her research, Eichstaedt heard stories of McCormick doling out a single washcloth and a single towel per person for a guest’s entire stay at the lodge, and of a guest catching her pouring water from a dog’s dish into a pitcher meant for iced tea.
As it turned out, the original owners became the book’s primary focus. In the 1920s Juanita Franks and Walter Langer married and settled in New Mexico to run a home for disturbed boys, but their backgrounds were too different for them to stay married. After a stint back east, Juanita returned home to New Mexico, while Walter’s heart was on the east coast and in Europe. In time he became a renowned psychiatrist and a disciple of Sigmund Freud. As his contribution to the Allies in World War II, he wrote a secret report for the U.S. Government that analyzed Hitler’s psyche with remarkable accuracy. Once declassified in the early 1970s, the report became a best-selling book entitled The Mind of Adolf Hitler, which incidentally I remember reading. The divorce of Franks and Langer, Eichstaedt says, is a “classic example of how the power of history separates people.”
Juanita Franks tended the lodge for many years before selling it to Myra McCormick. Juanita lived to be 103, and a photo of her and the author grace the back cover. McCormick in turn left the lodge to the Nature Conservancy.
Eichstaedt has a real curiosity about New Mexico, which she conveys through her clear and entertaining writing. An assistant professor of history at Dona Ana Community College and a director of the Doña Ana County Historical Society, she earned her Ph.D. in history from Illinois State University. She had been dean of Lincoln College in Illinois before moving with her husband to Las Cruces since 1992.
Donna credits the Nature Conservancy for their support in her researching and writing the book. Her next project will be an article about the psychoanalyst Eduard Hitschmann, whom she describes as having been Sigmund Freud’s best friend.
Published in 2008 by Southwest Senior Books, Silver City’s Bear Mountain Lodge is out of print, but copies are available through Coas, Southwest Senior, or from the author. It’s well researched and well written, and a good addition to the library of any lover of New Mexican lore.
If you are a published local writer and would like me to review your book, mail a copy to:
P.O. Box 1053
Las Cruces, NM 88004
Attention: Bob Sanchez
Be sure to include your contact information.