The (all too brief) Life of
Evelyn Eco (née Goldstein)
The Early Years
Evelyn Octavia Goldstein was born to Reginault and Esther Goldtein at 11:43 pm on June 25, 1906 in New York City, only a few hours after deranged multimillionaire Harry Kendall Thaw killed architect Stanford White in front of hundreds of witnesses in Madison Square Garden. Reginault and Esther named their daughter after Evelyn Nesbit, the object of Thaw and White’s affections. Immediately wanting more of a life for their daughter than what they saw in the news, Reginault and Esther hopped on the first wagon headed west. When one of the wheels broke off the wagon and the one of horses pulled up lame, the Goldsteins decided to make that very street their home: Wakefield Avenue in Cleveland.
Evelyn’s early years were quiet ones. As Esther hardy hands shined shoes in Public Square and Reginault’s nimble fingers mended the hems of ladies dresses in the neighborhood—true gender-benders of their time—Evelyn was left in the care of neighbors. When she could walk, she often escaped the ministrations of her minders, skipping among the gravestones at the Fir Street Cemetery, making up stories about all those buried beneath the ballet shoes that she refused to take off. Tragedy struck in 1918 when a freak accident involving hot oil, a sewing machine, and gunpowder took the lives of Reginault and Esther. 12-year-old Evelyn escaped notice of the local orphanages by spinning a web of stories that convinced city officials that she lived with recluse spinster (and fictional) Aunts Ellen and Lillian, all the while determined to make it as big as her famous namesake.
An Unfortunate Courtship
Evelyn’s teenage years were spent selling pears in the neighborhood, scrapping up enough money to keep herself fed and work on her acting with disgraced Vaudeville star Rufio Madison. She would put on various voices as she sold her pears, delighting the crowds who purchased the fruit less for its quality and more for the entertainment value provided by Evelyn.
The day of her 18th birthday, she adopted an Irish brogue to sell the bushel, and attracted the attention of 20-year-old Elijah Guthrie Eco. The sparks were immediate and undeniable to onlookers who came to gawk at the two young loves who locked eyes and stayed motionless for 65 minutes. When the Constable recommended that they move on from the sidewalk, they did: straight to City Hall to be wed. Evelyn vowed to support Elijah’s ambitions as a brewer and Elijah promised to stand in the wings of all of Evelyn’s performances whenever she got up the nerve to audition for a role. Tragedy struck three weeks later when a freak accident involving beer hops, bleach, and an ill-placed ballet slipper claimed the life of young Elijah. The young Widow Eco was devastated.
A Legacy Preserved
As Elijah’s flame was doused, so too were Evelyn’s ambitions. She became a shut-in behind the closed doors of 6215 Wakefield Avenue. She spurned all well-meaning visitors and gentlemen callers. She would only open her door for the felines of the neighborhood. Cats for miles around seemed to know that Evelyn Eco would put out a treat for their sustenance, and there was never a day without furry friends gracing her doorstep. Neighbors overheard her calling all of them Lorraine, but giving them numbers, “Lorraine the 1st,” “Lorraine the 2nd,” and so on. Schoolchildren would walk quickly by her house, fearing the mystical powers present in a house they called, “Eco’s Feline Village.” Tragedy struck in 1928 when a freak accident involving cat hair, pesticide, and a rotten pear claimed the life of a 22-year-old Evelyn Eco. The day after her death, the cats stopped coming, but her legend lived on. With no more cats to be found, the neighborhood around her house came to be known simply as EcoVillage, a name that lives on today as a tribute to a woman with goals that were never fully realized.