Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Gordons of White Sulphur Springs, Part II

Taylor was the youngest of the Gordon children. He led both a charmed and tragic life.  His adventures began when John Ringling—of circus fame—came to town with his chauffeur, John Spencer. Spencer taught Gordon how to be a mechanic, which led to a job as chauffeur and mechanic for the president of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Taylor eventually worked as chef for Ringling and traveled with the circus. He quit that to take a very strange job with the federal government, escorting a mental patient to Barbados in the British West Indies. Everything was fine until they arrived in Barbados. The patient insisted that Gordon was the one with the mental illness, and Gordon himself very nearly ended up the inmate in the asylum. Gordon made a name for himself as a talented gospel singer and performed in a popular vaudeville act in the 1920s. He toured Europe with his singing group until the group disbanded, and then he appeared on Broadway in several productions. He also published an autobiography, Born To Be. But his career fell apart and during World War II, Gordon worked as a lathe operator at a B-29 factory in New Jersey. In 1947 he suffered a breakdown and spent twelve years in a mental hospital.

Gordon returned home to White Sulphur Springs in 1959, gave a few Montana concerts, and continued his writing, but his only other publication was a history of the Castle, a local landmark built by B. R. Sherman. Taylor Gordon died quietly in 1971. Unlike some other African American Montanans, Gordon did not experience much prejudice and discrimination growing up. Gordon wrote that although he knew his dark skin made him different, his childhood was very happy, and he was always free to associate with people of all nationalities, creeds, and colors. “The Race Question,” Gordon wrote in Born to Be, “has never been the big ghost in my life!”

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