Monday January 17, 2011

If you lived in Pittsfield in 1916 and you didn't take an interest in the presidential election between incumbent Democrat Woodrow Wilson and Republican nominee Charles Evan Hughes, you really weren't trying.

The election had several elements that intrigued Pittsfield voters, who were aware in many circles that we were incredibly close to providing the widower Wilson with his next first lady.

Pittsfield resident Mary Hulbert Peck, divorced wife of powerful manufacturing figure Thomas D. Peck, was on the receiving end of some steamy letters from Wilson, whose wife died in 1914. Mary Peck was good friends with the Wilsons, but the president turned his attention to his friend's ex-wife in a serious way heading into the campaign of 1916.

Hughes also had Pittsfield ties. His father, a Baptist minister from upstate New York, had preached many times in the city. And Hughes himself even made an unscheduled campaign whistle stop one night at the train station.

The "sleepy candidate" was coaxed to come out and take a bow -- and he did so on a platform in back of the train -- "in his pajamas and raincoat."

The romance, however, between Wilson and Peck -- the letters, at least -- were no secret in the city and began to spread from ocean to ocean. All the fuss did cause friction within the Wilson campaign.

And while what went on behind those closed doors is lost to history, Mary Peck was less than pleased when Wilson announced his intentions to marry another widow -- Mrs.


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Norman Gault --before the start of the campaign.

Peck was said to have been collecting lace for what she thought would be her wedding dress. In the end, she ended up being laced with frustration.