I subscribe to News from the Notch, an on-line newsletter from the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. A recent edition offered this congratulatory message, “Coolidge Foundation Trustee Emerita Mimi Baird has just released her book He Wanted the Moon about her father. The book received great coverage in our local papers this week. Congratulations, dear Mimi!”
And I did something I usually never do. I preordered the book from amazon. I met Mimi when I presented a program on Grace Coolidge at the University of Vermont. Later, Mimi and Cyndy Bittinger, former Executive Director of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation and an expert on Grace Coolidge, became alumnae initiates of Grace’s Pi Beta Phi chapter at the University of Vermont.
When I went to order the book, the first review was from Pat Conroy. I had that very day finished reading the Death of Santini (I started listening to it on a drive to and from Indianapolis. When I got home there were still 3 disks left. I tried to listen around the house, but that didn’t work for me, so I went to the library, checked out the book, and devoured the rest of it.) Conroy’s review of an unknown author speaks volumes, “He Wanted the Moon is one of the most disturbing and profoundly moving books I’ve read in years, and one of the great father-daughter books of our time. It will take its place as a classic in the literature of breakdown, alongside Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind and William Styron’s Darkness Visible. The brilliant Dr. Perry Baird’s memoir lets you see up close what it is like to go through the most manic phases of bipolar disorder—it is a nightmare, but this book is a damn wonder. Through it, Mimi Baird has finally given her father the credit he was due.”
Mimi’s father, Perry Cossart Baird, Jr., a native Texan, studied at Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas. He was a member of Alpha Tau Omega at both SMU and the University of Texas and he served as an officer of the Texas chapter. He graduated from the University of Texas with honors and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He attended Harvard Medical School and again graduated with honors.
He left Mimi’s life in 1944 when she was six-years-old. She and her younger sister attended her father’s funeral in 1959. His death was due to a seizure, likely caused by the prefrontal bilateral lobotomy he was subjected to a decade earlier. Between those years, Mimi had very little interaction with her father or his family. Due to her father’s manic depressive episodes, her mother was advised to divorce him. Divorce she did and she quickly remarried. No more was spoken of her father other than he was “ill” and was “away.”
Twenty years ago a box with a manuscript was sent to her from a Texas cousin. It was an accounting of her father’s life written during his hospitalizations. The pages were out of order and it took a great deal of effort to piece together. When she completed the puzzle, Mimi discovered what happened to her father. The primitive and cruel methods the mentally ill were subjected to in the 1940s and 1950s are described by the person who endured them. Her father had hoped that his manuscript, which he titled “Echoes from a Dungeon Cell,” would be published someday. Although it took more than half a century, his story has indeed come to life thanks to Mimi and Eve Claxton.
This is a story of a daughter’s discovery of her father’s life. It tells a story that is compelling, heartbreaking, and eye-opening. And it is a triumph in that Dr. Baird’s story is finally told, by the daughter he barely knew. Thank you Mimi for your efforts in making your father’s story a reality.
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2015. All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/