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Barbara Newhall Follett

Excerpted from
with permission from Stefan Cooke
Barbara Newhall Follett was born in Hanover, New Hampshire, on March 4, 1914 to Helen and Wilson Follett. In 1917 the family moved to Providence, RI and New Haven, CT before Wilson landed an editing job at Knopf Publishing New York.
Helen home-schooled Barbara believing she’d get a better education if free to explore her interests like reading and writing. A turning point for Barbara occurred when she was four and taught herself to touch type on her father’s typewriter. She received her own machine and was soon composing stories, editing them, and retyping final copies. By age six, she completed the 4500-word book The Life of the Spinning-Wheel, the Rocking Horse, and the Rabbit.
In the early years Barbara had few friends but her vivid imagination kept her company. She wrote about her imaginary world, Farksolia, and developed its language, Farksoo, complete with syntax and conjugated verbs. Her mother, Helen, stated Barbara invented her imaginary world to escape the adult world, with all its cruelty and violence.
Barbara also wanted freedom and independence, themes that persisted throughout her life. In The House Without Windows and Eepersip’s Life There, Eepersip, the main character, runs away from home and lives happily in Nature. Barbara revised that book over the summer of 1923, but it went up in flames when their home burned. Her father, Wilson, encouraged her to rewrite it and Knopf published it in January, 1927. The first printing of 2500 had sold out before the publication date, and a second printing was immediately ordered. The book was warmly reviewed by New York Times, the Saturday Review of Literature, and The American Girl, amongst many others. The book was also published in England and a Dutch translation appeared in The Netherlands.
But, Barbara did not rest on her laurels. In the summer of 1927, her fascination with pirates and the sea saw her sailing to Nova Scotia writing her second book for Knopf. The Voyage of the Norman D. was published in May, 1928. She was fourteen.
Barbara’s literary future seemed secure but she was devastated when Wilson abandoned the family. His desertion was a terrible blow but Barbara’s passion for life flared and she persuaded her mother to embark on a sea adventure. With one suitcase, two portable typewriters and little money, they sailed the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal to Tahiti, Fiji, the Tonga Islands, Samoa, and finally Honolulu. There they secured passage on the Vigilant, where Barbara fell in love with the second mate, Edward Anderson.
It was terribly hard for Barbara to leave Anderson after their week together. Barbara enrolled in college in Pasadena while Helen returned to Honolulu to write about their time at sea, Magic Portholes. Barbara hated school and ran away to San Francisco. She was found and Alice Russell looked after her. When Barbara left California, Alice and Anderson became her two most important correspondents.
Her parents fought for custody but the court left the decision to Barbara who chose Helen over her father. His disdain for Anderson was a contributing factor. Meanwhile, the stock market was crashing and it was the dawn of the Great Depression.
Barbara worked writing novel synopses and editing manuscripts. She also learned shorthand and worked as a secretary. Meanwhile, Anderson signed on for a four-month return sailing job that took him to Alaska. Alone again, Barbara met her husband, Nick Rogers.
Barbara quit her job and travelled extensively with Nick in New England and Spain where, to avoid scandal, they pretended to be married. Barbara took copious notes about their travels to France, Switzerland and Germany where they met up with Helen and Sabra, Barbara’s sister. Barbara and Nick returned from their trip and moved to Boston where they were married. Barbara worked as a secretary while Nick worked for Polaroid.
Barbara reunited with her father after he and Helen divorced. Barbara developed a fond interest in interpretive dance while Nick’s job kept him increasingly busy and traveling. Cracks in their marriage developed when Nick insisted that Barbara earn money and forego creative writing. It was so troublesome that Barbara took a summer vacation without him. Later on, Barbara injured her leg and was unable to dance. Then Nick turned her world upside down by demanding a divorce. Barbara suspected he was with an acquaintance named Anne Bradley. Shocked and bewildered, Barbara sought medical attention and was prescribed medication.
On December 7, 1939, after an argument with Nick, Barbara left their apartment with about thirty dollars and a notebook, and no one knows where she went. Two weeks later, Nick reported her missing. This isn’t surprising given that Barbara was a strong, independent woman but it made Helen suspicious of Nick.
After a threatening letter from Helen, Nick hired a private investigator and the police sent out the following bulletin:
Brookline. 139 4-22-40 3:38PM McCracken Missing from Brookline
since Dec. 7, 1939, Barbara Rogers, married, Age 26, 5-7, 125, fair
complexion, black eyebrows, brown eyes, dark auburn hair worn in
a long bob, left shoulder slightly higher than right. Occasionally
wears horn rimmed glasses.
Helen also mounted an extensive search, but nothing came from these efforts. It appears all records concerning the search for Barbara were lost or destroyed. It’s not hard to imagine that if Barbara wanted to disappear, no one would do a better job. She was never found.
However, it is suspected that the human remains found by Squam Lake, one of Barbara’s favorite places, could have been her. Despite strong evidence that the remains might be Barbara, authorities attributed them to another woman. In a strange twist befitting a story-teller like Barbara, all the recovered remains have since disappeared.
Barbara escaped many intolerable situations. She escaped when she persuaded her mother to go to sea. She escaped by running away to San Francisco. She escaped Anderson by eloping with Nick. Sadly, that relationship dissolved and while she tried to save her marriage, she couldn’t, so she escaped again.
Did Barbara reunite with Anderson?
Did she adopt a new name and take off on her grandest adventure?
Did Nick kill her?
Did she commit suicide?
Did she overdose on prescribed medicine?
How does a prolific writer walk away without leaving a note?
How does such a caring person knowingly be so cruel and not tell anyone?
Barbara Follett
With Wilson Follett, ca. 1918
Publicity photo for "The House Without Windows", 1926
Barbara with Alice Dyar Russell, in Pasadena, California, March 1930
Last known photograph of
Barbara Follett
Aboard the Vigilant, 1929
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