Jesse Shepard was a renowned writer, musician, and composer who combined mystical spiritualism with his performances. His wide vocal range allowed him to sing with two "voices" at the same time. He’s remembered in San Diego, California, as the colorful eccentric who left behind the magnificent Villa Montezuma, which remains one of the city’s landmarks.
Shepard was born in Birkenhead, UK, but he grew up on the frontier plains of Illinois. At age thirteen he was taken under the wing of an older explorer, John C. Fremont (b. 1813), who had a habit of "adopting" young boys to accompany him on his expeditions. Shepard and Fremont were inseparable for two years in what historian Charley Shively called a "love relationship." Shepard showed "great affection" toward Fremont. (Picture: Lawrence Waldemar Tonner)
In 1868 Shepard gave a series of recitals on the east coast of the US, where he met poet Walt WHITMAN and they began a lifelong friendship and correspondence.
When he was twenty-one, Shepard returned to Europe to pursue his musical career. He became famous for his piano compositions and his versatile voice, entertaining the salons of Paris and royal courts throughout Europe. In 1871 he played for the tsar in St. Petersburg.
Jesse Shepard was a composer and pianist, who wrote under the pen name of Francis Grierson. In 1885, Shepard met Lawrence Waldemar Tonner, who became his lover and supporter for over 40 years. Lawrence was born into the Danish Royal family in Thistad, Denmark. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1870 and became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. in 1875, in Chicago, Illinois. Tonner was fluent in five languages and worked various jobs over the years depending on the travel schedule with his partner.
Shepard returned to the US in 1871, meeting with spiritualist Madame Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy. Blavatsky became uncomfortable with Shepard after she learned about his performances at Salle Koch, a St. Petersburg dance hall frequented by "dissipated characters of both sexes." Taking up residence in Chicago, Shepard gave "mysterious and completely unique" performances in candlelit rooms, "accompanied" by the spirits of past composers and pianists.
In 1885 Shepard met Lauritz "Lawrence" Waldemar Tonner (Oct. 15, 1861, Denmark - May 25, 1947), who became his lover, supporter, and companion for over forty years. They moved together to San Diego where they built Villa Montezuma. The house, complete with hidden chambers, colorful persian rugs, elaborate woodwork, and vivid stained glass windows, was fully restored in 1972. It is now said to be haunted by the ghosts of Shepard and one of his servants who committed suicide in the house.
After a couple of years in San Diego, Shepard embarked on a literary career under the pen name Francis Grierson. Several of the books he wrote continue to be well regarded and remain in print, including The Valley of The Shadows and Abraham Lincoln, The Practical Mystic.
In 1913 a New York Post reporter described Shepard "with lips and cheeks rouged and eyes darkened. His hair was arranged in careful disorder over his brow, his hands elaborately manicured and with many rings on his fingers; he wore a softly tinted, flowing cravat."
Perhaps in response to San Diego locals’ disapproval of the couple’s lifestyle, he and Tonner moved to Paris, but toward the end of Shepard’s life, they returned to California. On May 29, 1927, he gave what was billed as his last concert in Los Angeles. As he finished his piece, "an Oriental improvisation, Egyptian in character" he bowed his head in silence, as was his custom. After a few minutes, Tonner went up to Shepard and realized he had died at the keyboard.
Lauritz Waldemar Tonner, later known as Lawrence, was born into the Danish Royal family in Thistad, Denmark on the 15th day of October 1861. He emigrated to the U.S. through Glasgow, Scotland in July 1870 and became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. on the 14th of December 1875, in Chicago, Illinois. Tonner was fluent in five languages and worked various jobs over the years depending on the travel schedule with his partner Jesse Shepard. He worked as a manager, press secretary, interpreter, French teacher, and as a translator and aide for the Ex-President Herbert Hoover. Lauritz passed away on the 25th of May 1947 in Los Angeles, California.
Sometime in 1885, Lawrence W. Tonner met Jesse Shepard, a man some fifteen years older than himself. Lawrence became Shepard's devoted secretary and companion for over forty years. When Shepard was down on his luck in later years, Tonner supported him by giving French lessons or by working in a tailoring shop. A self-effacing man, Tonner's name seldom appeared in articles by or about Shepard and he did not even rate a listing in the San Diego City Directory during the years that he and Shepard lived in the Villa Montezuma.
Source: Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals by Stern, Keith
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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