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22 Aug 2012



Another View -- Dean Dexter: Who is the mystery man in the State House portrait?


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A photo of a man who was thought to be Governor Henry Keyes, who served as governor from 1917-1918, at the State House in Concord last week. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
Go to any bookstore in New Hampshire, and in the regional section one will find a ridiculous number of books about haunted places in the Granite State and throughout New England.

I think there are even stories suggesting New Hampshire’s capitol building in Concord is haunted by ghosts. Finished in 1819, it is the oldest statehouse in the nation in which the Legislature still sits in its original chambers, so it’s not surprising.

If there is ever a place that deserves to be haunted, it’s this one. The amount of nefarious deal-making and bargaining with the devil that has gone on here, just in my lifetime, has been enough to wake the dead, if not inspire them to actually get up and come over for a visit.

I have never encountered a ghost at the New Hampshire State House, at least that I know of, although I’ve run into my share of shady figures there. 

But while walking along the second floor of this grand old place toward the Senate chamber a month or so ago, I did not encounter a ghost, but instead came upon a mystery.

Here, I was startled to notice among the oil portraits of past governors, a framed picture that stood out. It was not a painting, as the others, but a photograph. Or was it a line drawing of pencil and charcoal? I had walked these halls for years and never noticed it.

A plaque indicated that this was the portrait of one Henry Wilder Keyes of North Haverhill, the state’s governor during World War I (1917-1919), and a three-term United States senator (1919-1937). But of course, this is not Keyes, I muttered (pronounced like skies, not keys).

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The portrait was removed Tuesday. See story by clicking here.)

The man was not in office that long ago, I thought. There are people alive today who have personal knowledge of Governor/Senator Keyes, including his grandchildren. 

A review of the Manual of the General Court (1917 edition), also known as the “Red Book,” published by the Secretary of State, has a portrait of Governor Keyes in his prime. There are also plenty of photographs on file in the Library of Congress and on the Congressional Biography Directory database showing the gracefully aging senator in later life.

If this is not Keyes, who is it?

Keyes’ granddaughter, Frances Parkinson Keyes Keidel, who divides her time between the handsome family estate, Pine Grove Farm in North Haverhill, and a residence in Devon, Pa., does not know. And neither does her cousin, Peter Keyes of Newbury, Vt., a retired history professor and antique book dealer.

“But this is certainly not my grandfather,” the granddaughter advises. Also, the garb of the man in the picture appears to be from another century.

What apparently has helped confuse state officials is a brass plaque on the frame inscribed, “Gift of Henry W. Keyes.”

Could it be Keyes’ father, a prominent builder of railroads in the state, or another important citizen a sentimental governor wanted to honor? Doesn’t look like Keyes’ father either, the grandchildren say. 

Whoever it is, Henry Wilder Keyes deserves better. A bank president and farmer, Keyes humbly served his hometown as selectman during his term as governor. He also raised prized blood stock, traveling to Europe in the 1900s, being one of the first to bring pure Holstein cattle to this country. The prize ribbons earned by these animals still dot the walls of the governor’s study, along with a framed vintage state flag, with an old version of the state seal, over the mantel.

At 40, Henry the bachelor farmer married a girl of 18, which in itself might be worthy of some kind of ribbon. The marriage was a success. Wife, Frances Parkinson Keyes (1885-1970), was a best-selling author of magazine articles and more than 50 books, mostly novels.

Members of the Keyes family are now thinking about commissioning a portrait of their grandfather, that he might be properly honored. Maybe they should also work on a way of honoring a celebrated former New Hampshire first lady as well.

As for the man in the bogus portrait? At the moment, he remains a mystery.

Dean Dexter of Meredith and Concord served three terms as a state representative and is a past Belknap County Commissioner.

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