Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Rudolph Brunnow and the Myths about Him

Rudolph E. Brunnow
Appointed by the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association in 1913 as chairman of its path committee, a position he held until his death, Rudolph Brunnow built Acadia National Park's signature hiking trail, the Precipice Trail, on the east face of Champlain Mountain, as well as the challenging Orange and Black Path and the exciting Beehive Trail.*1

On the Precipice Trail
Despite Brunnow's achievements that have drawn hikers to the Park from far and wide, local storytellers appear determined to tell visitors three myths about the man, i.e., he was a German, he built his oceanfront home for his fiancé who perished on the Titanic, and he died from an accident on the Precipice. None is true.

Rudolph Ernest Brunnow (1859-1917) was born in Ann Arbor, MI, the only child of a German father and American mother. His father, Franz Friedrich Ernst Brunnow (1821-1891), left Berlin to become a professor of astronomy and the director of the observatory at the University of Michigan in 1854 and in 1857 married Rebecca Lloyd Tappan (1836-1893), the daughter of the president of the University of Michigan.

Educated in Europe, Rudolph taught at the University of Heidelberg between 1889 and 1904. In 1894 he married Marguerite Beckwith (1872-1907) in Lenox, MA and they went to live in Europe. After her death in Bonn, Germany, in 1907 he was left with five young children. He moved back to the United States to have his children educated as Americans and accepted a position at Princeton University, becoming a full professor of Semitic philology in 1908.

First summering in Bar Harbor with his children in 1909, he bought property along Schooner Head Road in 1910 and the next year started construction of the cottage he named Meadow Brook after the stream that flows nearby. He occupied it in 1914, having stayed at nearby Hare Forest cottage off Schooner Head Road between 1912 and July 1914 apparently to oversee its construction. His cottage, renamed High Seas by a subsequent owner, survived the fire of 1947 and is now owned by the Jackson Laboratory.

Meadow Brook
A Bar Harbor newspaper's obituary of Brunnow is the apparent origin of the fiancé myth and the German-by-birth claim. It stated he had a fiancé for whom he had built Meadow Brook and who had perished on the Titanic in 1912.*2  There is no evidence to corroborate the newspaper's fiancé claim. It is interesting to note the reported birth in Germany was apologetically corrected the next week by the newspaper to reflect his birth in Ann Arbor and U.S. citizenry.*3  It did not mention its fiancé claim.

Brunnow died of pneumonia in Bar Harbor on April 14, 1917. His children went to live with his mother-in-law, Margaretta F. Beckwith, in Philipstown, NY. He is buried in Princeton Cemetery in Princeton, NJ, next to his oldest son, Eric, who had died the year before from infantile paralysis while a freshman at Princeton.
Brunnow's grave
Brunnow's death was not the result of an accident on the Precipice. His brother-in-law, Edward P. Beckwith, however, had a serious accident on Champlain Mountain on October 28, 1916 while exploring for a new trail off the Orange and Black Path with Brunnow and three of Brunnow's children. Rocks gave way and Beckwith fell 20 feet. After a 4-hour rescue he was taken to the Bar Harbor hospital where it was determined he had injured his hip.*4  This is likely the accident our storytellers have confused in their tale of Brunnow's death.

Brunnow shines brightly in the trails history of Acadia NP. It serves no good purpose to perpetuate these myths.

* Footnotes:
1 Bar Harbor Record, April 9, 1913, p.5.
2 Bar Harbor Times, April 21, 1917, p.1.
3 Bar Harbor Times, April 28, 1917, p.3.
4 Bar Harbor Record, November 4, 1916, p.1.


  1. Thank you, thank you. So appreciate you clearing up these local legends.

  2. Hi Don, thanks for debunking the myth about the circumstances of Prof. Brunnow's death. Updated our blog post about Brunnow and the Orange & Black Path accordingly, and added a link to this blog post.

    Here's our updated post: www,acadiaonmymind.com/2014/06/orange-and-black-path-acadia-national-park/

  3. Is that your muse looking over Frenchman Bay?

    Thanks for another enlightening post.


  4. Rudolph Brunnow is my Great Grandfather, and I thank you for this post debunking several of the "myths" that surround him. I can tell you that his move back to America was at the request of his wife Marguerite Beckwith Brunnow as it was her desire to have the children educated in America. His wife was also a very close friend of Lena Evans, the sister of Titanic heroine Edith Course Evans; Edith was a close friend to Marguerite's sister Mary P. Beckwith (my great-great aunt) Edith visited with Rudolph and the children on numerous occasions, usually when my Aunt and Uncle Edward (mentioned in your article) visited - hence the origin of the myth. Rudolph's maternal ancestors are very prominent in early American History. The family lines include the Tappans, Livingstons, Broomes, and Lloyds to name a few.....his mothers full name was Rebecca Lloyd Livingston Tappan Brunnow. One of the contributing factors to Rudolph's death was the fact that he never quite got over the death of his eldest son Eric - it seems he just lost his drive and vigor after Eric died.

    Once again, Thank you for helping to clear up the myths and local folklore that surrounds my Great Grandfather.

    Julie O'Connell - granddaughter of Marguerite Brunnow Hoadley (the middle daughter)

  5. Thank you, Julie, for your wonderful comments. Your great grandfather was a remarkable man. I was quite taken by him and in fact visited Princeton Cemetery to pay my respects at his grave. I first wrote about him in my book, The Memorials of Acadia National Park. Although out of print, it might still be available at Sherman's Bookstore in Bar Harbor, ME and at libraries on Mount Desert Island. If that is not possible for you, I'd be happy to sent you via email what I wrote. Contact me at dplenah@gmail.com. Very best regards,
    Don Lenahan

    1. Don. Thank you for your very interesting article. I hope to get to the Princeton Cemetary to pay my respects to my Great Grandfather. I also hope to visit Mount Desert Island to see "Meadow Brook". Thank you again for your kindness. Susan Hoadley DeGeorge.

  6. I was just wondering how certain you are that the High Seas was first named meadow brook? I have read this on different sites, and had believed it to be true until the Mount Desert Islander did a short piece on him, which was published this past year but I don't recall which issue it was in. Like you, they said he did not have a wife to be coming over on the Titantic, and that he did not die as a result of a fall on the nearby trail, but than it stated that his estate, the High Seas, was never named Meadow Brook, as some claim, and that it was always known as High Seas. With so many different accounts out there, it is hard to sort out which is true and which is not, and since I do have an interest in the history of the park, it would be nice to get this nailed down.

  7. Thanks for your interest in my blog and the history of ANP. Regarding your question about Meadow Brook, I am 100% certain of its name. If you wish to confirm, I suggest you research the online data base of the Bar Harbor Times.

    1. I can say for certain that it was named Meadow Brook by my Great Grandfather. I hope to visit it and walk some of the trails in the Spring.