In 1872 John B. Clarke was 52 years old. He was the proprietor and editor of the Manchester Mirror and American newspaper, which had the largest circulation in New England outside of Boston.
He was greatly influential as an opinion maker and Republican pundit.
After more than 20 years of hard work building his publishing business, John was feeling both physical and mental strain. His doctors recommended that he take a few months off and do what other Americans of wealth did in the 19th Century – take an extended European trip.
He embarked on a grand tour of Great Britain, France and Germany. When he returned, he was careful to pace himself in order to maintain his health. For relaxation, he spent time at his country home in Warner.
Any mention of John Clarke's 1872 European voyage in print was brief and his wife Susan Greeley Moulton is not mentioned. It is likely that she did not accompany him abroad, as she suffered from a chronic illness that caused her to be anemic and frail.
The new slower pace of life that John Clarke had espoused did not prevent him from writing his typical politically-charged editorials that were as sharp in tone as any today. For example, on December 1, 1880 he expressed, "The Democratic press is now engaged in a grand chorus for civil service reform, which I think, if made a part of the law of the land, would cripple the Republicans so as to give the Confederates another chance four years hence."
Susan Clarke was well loved in the community and spent her time doing good works. In 1875 she cofounded the Manchester Women's Aid and Relief Society, one of the first social service organizations in the city. John Clarke supported this effort wholeheartedly. He published this notice in the Mirror and American in January 1875, "The matter of organizing a society of women for the relief of the poor in this city, as our readers know, has occupied the thoughts of many charitable people for a considerable time."
The article, along with a letter sent to religious societies in the city, invited anyone interested to a meeting "…to take immediate steps to organize a Women's Aid and Relief Society to look after the wants of the poor…and in all possible ways relieve their distress and improve their conditions…"
When Susan died in 1885 at the age of 66 her obituary read, "For the poor and needy she was always solicitous, and her charities were distributed quietly and without ostentation. She gave and she helped from her heart, and was a most self-sacrificing person, continually seeking to promote the welfare of others. It amounted to almost a passion with her to strive to make others happy."
John B. Clarke died on October 29, 1891, at the age of 71 of a heart ailment. His funeral was held at the Franklin Street Congregational Church where he had worshipped for many years. On an easel at the head of the casket was displayed a mirror decorated with flowers, with the word "Mirror" spelled out at the top with beautiful "immortelle" (Helichrysum) blooms.
His friend of 30 years and employee of 19 years, Henry M. Putney, wrote a moving tribute to John B. Clarke published in Mirror and Farmer weekly on November 5, 1891. Henry wrote, "His death is my irreparable loss, and a great grief oppresses me…" He recounted how kind and generous John Clarke had been to his employees. Many had worked for John for a long time.
Henry told how John, although gravely ill, had called for him to visit at his home, where he gave Henry an article that he thought he would like to read. "It was a little thing," Henry wrote, "but it revealed John B. Clarke as he had been revealed to me for so many years." Henry explained that John never did anything "just a little" and always looked on the positive side of life, and to him Manchester was "…the best town on earth!"
After John Clarke's death, his second wife Olive Rand Clarke and sons Arthur E. Clark and William C. Clarke continued operating the Mirror publishing business.
Next Week: A Valley Cemetery Story – William C. Clarke, Mayor of Manchester.
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org