The Post published a touching article on Sunday about the eventful past of the Belin family, which owned the grand Evermay estate from the 1920s until this year. It was initiated by the journalist’s desire to tell the story of Harry Belin, who, faced with a massive real estate tax and maintenance bill, was forced to sell his family’s jewel. But in catching up with Harry, the writer, Ian Shapira, found a man excavating fascinating stories of the family’s past.
The weather for Peter Belin’s flight home from Europe was largely serene. It was early in May 1937, and as touchdown in New Jersey approached, the recent Yale graduate snapped photos of the airport’s three-story hangar, the ground crew, and the stark, oval shadow of his mode of transportation, the Hindenburg zeppelin.
Moments later, after the crew flung down the landing ropes, an explosion rocked the Hindenburg’s rear. Peter grabbed his things — his datebook, his camera — and leapt from the doomed craft. He survived the 30-foot plunge…“He landed on a sandbank!?” Harry marveled, standing amid his basement archives, after finding a family letter. “I never heard about the sandbank.”
Having a father dramatically survive the Hindenburg disaster is just the start. Later Shapira writes that Harry’s grandfather bought a ticket on the Titanic before changing plans.
Digging through the family archives, now relocated to his Montgomery County home, Harry also discovered that both his father and grandfather were spies, to boot:
Harry saw for the first time a certificate that read in bold, cursive lettering: “F. L. Belin Honorably Served The United States of America As a Member of The Office of Strategic Services.” The award was signed in blue ink by William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the founder and director of the OSS, the nation’s first intelligence agency and precursor to the CIA.
Some might view the story of an heir who got to walk away from a money pit with $22 million hardly worth a care, particularly in this environment of foreclosures and massive joblessness. But it takes a particularly hard-hearted soul not to feel some sadness for Harry as he disinterred the ashes of his fore-bearers from their brick tomb at the estate he could no longer afford to keep in the family.
GM hopes the new owners of the estate are as good stewards as the Belin family was. And that means, at the very least, welcoming in the neighborhood, from time to time, to enjoy this amazing property.