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The belief that Ellis was a chronic alcoholic stems from his having been characterized as an unfortunate "slave of drink" in a florid magazine article published four years after his death. That concept has been repeated--and indeed embellished--hundreds of times, continuing to this day. A family letter verifies that Ellis used alcohol at some point after his discharge from West Point. How much is immaterial, since any amount  of drinking was behavior that his temperance father likely would have abhorred and been concerned about. This letter, which is the only known contemporaneous document referring to Ellis's use of alcohol, was cited in the 1960s as proof of his alcoholism as well as of family strife. However, there is a difference between experimentation with alcohol and lifelong addiction. No contemporaneous documentation that Ellis's youthful drinking ballooned into lifelong addiction has been found. While he was alive, no charge of alcoholism was made by people who actually worked with Ellis or knew him socially.
   The author of the posthumous article was an architect and, for a time, a close personal friend of Ellis after he returned to Rochester from the Midwest. It is important to understand that the article, whose general tone can best be described as melodramatic, also contained other verifiably false as well as demeaning or condescending misleading statements about Ellis that have led researchers down the wrong path for over a century--including me initially. Entries over several years in a diary kept by the sister of the article's author, who knew Ellis socially, frequently mention him. They portray him in a manner that is significantly at odds with the characterization of him in the article later written by her brother. Later entries in the same diary lead to the conclusion that the friendship between the author, his sister and Ellis waned a few years before the latter's death. We are left to wonder why the posthumous article, whose entirety has been paraphrased by so many other writers, made so many misleading statements. The documented facts of Ellis's biography and the nationally recognized magnitude of his achievements as an architectural designer, perspectivist, and painter belie the denigrating characterization of him as a chronic, irresponsible alcoholic bypassed by fame. Quite the contrary: the documented facts of Ellis's life tell a vastly different story.

This was written in 2009 and reflects research based on sources that were available to me up to that time. New information recently available has caused me to modify my conclusion stated above. The modification will be included in a new post I am now preparing whose title is Mrs. Harvey Ellis.  
Eileen Manning Michels
November 15, 2010

....find details in Reconfiguring Harvey Ellis

....look for forthcoming posts

Reconfiguring Harvey Ellis
Beaver's Pond Press (Minneapolis, Minn.:: 2004)
9 x 12 hard cover, 364 pages, 245 b&w and 45 color illustrations, $70
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© Eileen Manning Michels 2009