SULLIVAN — Although explorer and adventurer Adm. Richard Byrd was an enigma to most of the world, he was not so to his family, according to his granddaughter, Eleanor “Lee” Byrd.
She will provide a glimpse of the man she knew as “Toddy” — as well as stories about the family’s Wickyup Lodge on Tunk Lake — in two talks Aug. 20 and Aug. 27 at 7 p.m.
The presentations at the Sorrento-Sullivan Recreation Center are being sponsored by the Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society.
“All the biographers out there never could get a grip on who he was as a person,” Eleanor said. “They often call him an enigma. But he really wasn’t. He kept things close to the vest outside of the family. That’s how it is in politics.”
Among his many adventures, Adm. Byrd, who died in 1957, headed three government-sponsored expeditions to the Antarctic and with three colleagues made the first flight over the South Pole.
Eleanor explained the motivation behind Byrd’s continual adventuring — he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“We’re loaded with it on this side of the family,” she said. “He had mountains of energy. He had to learn how to focus it. He could just drive in a single direction and go for it.”
Eleanor, an equestrian trainer and instructor with a summer home on Tunk Lake, spent her childhood summers in the Byrd family’s Wickyup Lodge.
Wckyup, a Native American term meaning “shelter in the forest,” was where Byrd planned three of his Antarctic expeditions, wrote what became the 1959 Antarctic Treaty and penned his book, “Alone.”
The lodge was intended to be the centerpiece of a summer colony planned by a group of businessmen. Development plans stopped during the stock market crash in 1929.
Adm. Byrd bought the 12,000-square-foot sprawling log home and 1,500 acres at auction in 1937.
Years later, the deed to the lodge came into the hands of William Berkley, who burned it down July 17, 1984, when Byrd family members challenged his plan to develop the land.
Berkley was convicted of arson with intent to collect on an $824,000 insurance policy he had taken out on the property just six days earlier.
Eleanor said her grandfather loved to take walks with the children one at a time so that they could converse.
She often rode on his shoulders during these walks as he pointed out frogs and other wildlife.
And although he was world renowned, when he was home, he was home, she said.
“He even said to my mother, ‘If you want to find out what I do, read my books.’”
Eleanor is writing a book about her grandparents, which she expects to finish in about a year.
She said it’s a love story detailing adventures most people are not aware of and is based on “very, very romantic” letters between her grandparents.
What: “Richard E. Byrd: The Hero and the Man”
Where: Talks at Sorrento-Sullivan Recreation Center
Who: Presentation by Eleanor Byrd, the admiral’s granddaughter
When: Wednesday, Aug. 20 and Wednesday, Aug. 27, 7 p.m.
Sponsor: The Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society