Mary Hempstead (1908-1983) « Michael Byers

Mary Hempstead (1908-1983)

wife to Alan Barber
office manager, Lightning Creek excavation

Mary Hempstead, later Mary Barber, would suffer from delusions from around the age of 18, when she moved from Scranton, Pennsylvania to join her brother Hollis Hempstead in the Boston area. Admired for her great beauty, Mary Hempstead is known to have associated with the boxer and future statesman Edward Howe and to have, briefly, been connected with Scotty MacAllister, one of the founders of the Napoleon Club. Later she would accompany Alan Barber to Flagstaff, Arizona, where Barber had been hired to assist on the Planet X search at Lowell Observatory; she would marry Alan Barber in March of 1929. During 1929 she worked for a time assisting Felix DuPrie on the Lightning Creek excavation as both office manager and occasional pit-worker. A good friend of Clyde Tombaugh, Mary was repeatedly institutionalized over the course of her life, but newer treatments, including improved drugs and more effective therapies, eased her suffering as she grew older.

She was beginning to lose her mind, but as that summer was the first time it had ever happened she did not recognize the symptoms of it.  Instead she felt herself to be held within the thrall of a mysterious suggestibility.  The air beyond the dying lawn, changeable marine air, was filled with a yellow light at sunset, a light so palpable it seemed to be always on the verge of coalescing into something material—always on the verge but never quite.  Like an infection this sensation of immanence moved outward into the world at large so that the lawn began to hold some shimmering potential; then the two cinnamon Airedales, Reggie and Cal, began to seem on the cusp of some transformation, their sinuous bodies as they moved across the darkened twilight grass seeming almost, but not quite, to trace a meaningful pattern.  The trees with their irregular shaggy crowns stirred their upper branches with what seemed, almost, a legible intent.  It was here in the MacAllister’s house that the tusk began to grow, a little nub at first and then longer and longer, and at first it seemed she was only pretending to herself, that she could stop pretending whenever she liked.  It seemed, in its way, a game.  But then she could not make it go away.