Ray Duckler: Former governor Keyes portrait to finally hang at State House

Last modified: 12/4/2012 8:02:34 AM
Move over, Rodney Dangerfield.

Henry Keyes doesn’t get any respect, either.

At least until now.

The former governor has erroneous information listed about him in an official government website. No one pronounces his name properly, saying the word that means something that fits into a lock, not the word that rhymes with “lies.”

Once, a photo supposedly of him, hanging in the State House, fell off the Wall of Governors, breaking the frame.

And in a nugget of news that came to light last summer, about that photo we just mentioned, the one that fell off the wall, the one with the information below it, telling us that Keyes served as New Hampshire’s governor from 1917 to 1919 and was in the U.S. Senate from ’19 to ’37.

It wasn’t Keyes.

It was someone else, someone named Jacob Hart Ela.


That changes Wednesday, when a new portrait of Keyes, painted by Bath artist Craig Pursley through a private fundraising effort, will fill the empty space now evident on the second-floor wall.

“There seems to be a jinx on this poor guy,” said Dean Dexter of Penacook, who served three terms in the state Legislature and whose passion for history cracked picture-gate wide open. “The state website says he was ill for the last year of his governorship and he had to have a guy named Jesse Barton, the president of the Senate, perform his duties as governor. That was not true at all. Every time you turned around, there was something wrong with this poor guy’s legacy.”

The truth sheds greatness on Keyes. And it’s not as though the man who hung in Keyes’s place for seven years was chopped liver, either.

Ela was great, too.

First, though, Keyes.

He graduated from Harvard in 1887 and lived in North Haverhill, at the Pine Groves Farm. Or, simply, The Farm.

There, Keyes cut wood and raised prize-winning holsteins, brought to this country by him personally from Europe. Known as a man’s man, someone with great breeding who didn’t mind getting his hands dirty, Keyes’s work ethic and low-key personality helped him gain respect from voters in elections for governor and U.S. Senator.

His granddaughter, Frances Keyes Keidel, lives in Pennsylvania, but still owns The Farm and comes back often, including each summer. She never met her grandfather, but she knows what he did.

She knows he was instrumental in funding the war effort in Europe during World War I, and she knows he helped improve the Boston and Maine Railroad. She knows he helped build the Supreme Court building in Washington and the Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Bridge, and she knows he expanded the White Mountain National Forest and was a champion of farm and agricultural legislation in a state that depended on it.

And she knows the moral fiber of the man, too.

“We felt his presence strongly at The Farm because he was so revered,” Keidel said by phone. “Very gentle, caring, not your typical politician of today. He was humble and modest. One of the things my father respected about my grandfather was he treated all people equally, whether you were the man who worked in the carriage house or you were a senator.”

Dexter’s grandmother knew Henry Keyes’s wife, author Frances Parkinson Keyes. Dexter says, “He was not a flamboyant guy. He was a quiet person, a great athlete at Harvard. He didn’t do a lot of public speaking, and he was criticized for being too low key. He wasn’t an earth-shaking personality, but he was very steady.”

Enter Russell Bastedo of Dublin, an affable man with a deep, raspy laugh, known by friends as Rusty.

In 2005, the then-state curator found an old photo, enhanced with charcoal and pencil, in the basement of the Legislative Office Building.

A brass plaque was attached. It read, “Gift of Henry W. Keyes.”

“He was listed in a history of New Hampshire and they had a picture of him as governor,” said Bastedo, referring to Keyes. “He looked much younger than he did in the portrait, but I knew that in his last term in Washington he’d been ill. There had been questions about the costume he was wearing; it looked kind of old fashioned.

“But I thought the aging process had treated him poorly and he had grown a small beard and I couldn’t argue with the brass plaque that said that’s who it was.”

Which is why the photo ended up on the Governor’s Wall, between Roland Spaulding, governor from 1915 to ’16, and John Bartlett, 1919 to ’20. They both appear serious and stuffy. Down the hall a few feet, above the heater, is Vesta Roy, governor from 1982 to ’83 and the first female Republican governor in U.S. history.

She’s wearing a pink blazer and white shirt, with a dragonfly pin on her left lapel. She’s also smiling, no doubt aware of the mistake made in 2005.

She witnessed the day seven years ago, when Dexter walked down the hallway, after meeting with his friend, Secretary of State Bill Gardner, and glanced at the picture of the man with the strange looking suit and a beard. He knew right away.

“I went over to Bill and said that is not Keyes,” Dexter said. “We climbed up on a bench and pulled the thing off the wall to see if anything was on the back. Then we put it back up.”

Then came the research, the process by which Ela was identified and his story told. Turns out, Ela was appointed a U.S. marshal by President Lincoln in 1861, and six years later he blasted President Andrew Johnson for his mistreatment of southern states during the Reconstruction Era.

Keidel’s name surfaced as well, as a granddaughter of Keyes’s who owned The Farm and still spent plenty of time there. Keidel had known something was wrong, saying, “I Googled my grandfather a number of years ago and up came that picture of the wrong person. I didn’t give it much more thought. I didn’t make the connection that it was hanging at the State House, and where do you go when you see something wrong on Google?”

In this case, Dexter. He went to the farm, showed Keidel photos of Ela and received a letter from her, formally documenting to state officials that the man who’d hung around the State House for so long was not her grandfather.

Nationally known artist Craig Pursley completed the picture. Commissioned to paint Keyes for a fee that no one will reveal, his work is featured in the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Ronald Reagan Library.

And, in two days, the State House, on a wall with a picture hook, two stern-looking men and a smiling woman down the hall.

“This feels like the biggest deal to me,” Pursley said.

He’ll be at the presentation, as will Keidel, Dexter, Gov. John Lynch and all members of the new Legislature, there to be sworn in.

And Bastedo? The person whose discovery ultimately led to a changing of the guard of sorts in the State House?

“Will I be there on Wednesday?” Bastedo, obviously stunned, asked before releasing his deep laugh. “No one has contacted me. I knew the committee wanted to get a new portrait painted, but I didn’t know it had been painted or that it would be unveiled.

“But I’m a former state employee, so why should I be notified?”

Henry Keyes and Rodney Dangerfield know the feeling well.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Mild and partly sunny. High 42, low 28. Katie Nudd, 7, of Boscawen draws the day. A10

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