My heart skipped a beat when I opened my email on an otherwise ordinary morning in winter 2013. This reaction was not caused by a love letter from an old boyfriend or by an advertisement for a vitamin that would change my life. What stimulated my emotional response was the name of the sender—“Henry Pickering Walker.” Henry Pickering Walker was James Walker’s only brother, and, by the time I received this email, I had known him on paper for almost a year. When you write about people long dead, they may live in your imagination, but you don’t expect to hear from them through the internet. But there it was, the familiar name in my inbox. I eagerly opened the email, still half expecting to receive a message from James’s brother. Instead, I read the following words: “The Admiral [John Grimes Walker] was my great grandfather. His middle child and second oldest son was Henry Pickering Walker. My father was Henry Pickering Walker, Jr., until his father’s death, at which time he dropped the ‘Jr.’ Then, I came along, he named me Henry Pickering, Jr.”
Thus began my acquaintance with Henry “Bud” Walker, who would generously share information, photographs, and insights that were essential to my understanding of the “the war between the Walkers.” Lynn Thomas Guidetti, a Walker relative whom I found online, had made this connection possible and also helped me meet Elizabeth Walker Davis, the namesake of her mother, who was Nina and James Walker’s only daughter. Elizabeth was a priceless resource who answered my questions, shared reminiscences, sent me photos, and, most importantly, gave me her autobiography. I later searched for and met Priscilla Walker Shows, daughter of John Grahame Walker, Nina and James’s oldest son. Through Priscilla, I was able to find Herbert Wood Walker, another heart-skipping namesake, in this case, of his father, Nina and James’s youngest son. Herb introduced me to his sister, Anne Cox Walker. These three Walker descendants graciously let me have their portions of Nina’s autobiography, which I had not previously known existed. Amazingly, I was able to communicate with children of all of Nina and James’s offspring, except for Serrell, who had no children.
Without a doubt, I obtained information from descendants I could not have found elsewhere. However, possibly even more rewarding to me was the thrill of making contact with the Walkers’ living blood relatives. How fortunate I am to have had that opportunity! All families have tales to tell. The family story of the Walker’s divorce became part of me in a very real way. Over five intensive years of research, I learned the most intimate details of Nina and James’s lives together and apart. I ardently attempted to inhabit their minds while writing Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness. Meeting Walker descendants, even virtually, was almost like finding long-lost relatives of my own. My heart always skipped that beat whenever I encountered their names in my inbox.
—Jean Elson, author of Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness: A Notorious Divorce in Early Twentieth-Century America