A childhood filled with despair

A few miles west of Stockbridge, an old English-style stone mansion bearing the name Linwood still nestles peacefully in a quiet valley beneath the Berkshire Hills. Once situated on a thousand-acre dairy farm overlooking the gentle Housatonic River, the five-storey dwelling, set amidst formal gardens and hedges, is now part of the magnificent Norman Lindsay Museum estate. At one time, it was the boyhood home of future scientist-astronaut Franklin Story Musgrave, born on 19 August 1935 to Marguerite (nee Swann) and Percy Musgrave, Jr.15

Musgrave's ancestry certainly laid an academic path for him to follow, boasting nine straight generations of doctors on his father's side. This included his paternal great-grandfather and great-uncle, both of whom were professors of surgery at Harvard. In addition, his paternal grandfather was a noted physician who studied the effects of troops' exposure to poison gas in the First World War. Story, who had three ancestors on the Mayflower, received his preferred first name from his mother's side of the family, which included such luminaries as Joseph Story, an early Supreme Court justice, and William Wetmore Story, an eminent 19th century sculptor.

Story Musgrave
F. Story Musgrave, MD, PhD.

Despite the cherished image of Rockwell's Stockbridge, it was never a place of peace or tranquillity for young Story and his older and younger brothers. Both parents were alcoholics, but while their mother's drinking merely caused her to slide into meekness and acquiescence, their father was often brutal towards the three boys. "I came from an extraordinarily dysfunctional family full of abuse and alcoholism. Dad was very violent, very harsh, exceedingly malicious.''16

They lived a life of isolation on the farm, and rarely had visitors: "They either weren't permitted, or didn't dare come into that environment." The unhappy situation would often cause young Story to flee his home by night, making his way into the embrace of a nearby forest, where he would lie on his back, look up, and marvel at the stars. He recalls doing this when aged only three, but the darkened forest held no fears for him. "Nature became my world. Even as a three-year-old I could go out in the forest at seven or eight o'clock at night. I was totally at home in the fields, the woods and the rivers from the earliest age. I was totally immersed in nature. Lying in a damp, cool, freshly ploughed field just after sunset, and looking out into the heavens - that became my world.

"It's hard to say what drives a three-year-old, but I think I had a sense that nature was my solace - a place in which there was beauty, in which there was order. My parents knew I was out there, but I always came back. Even on the darkest of nights I could never get lost. I would just feel the trunk of a tree and I could tell north or south by how it felt.''

He had to learn independence at an early age. ''By five or six I had built my own raft and I was on the rivers. And so I was, as Emerson would say, very self-reliant in terms of being out in nature, and that was very important. I learned things on the farm that I was to use later on. I drove tractors at the age of ten, and was soon fixing farm machinery, because I was in remote fields and if a tractor broke, I either had to walk home or fix it.'' In light of his later achievements, it is quite remarkable to note that Musgrave hardly read as a child. He would read books in school because it was required, but never outside the classroom.17

By the time he was ten years old, his mother had finally decided she could no longer tolerate her husband's ways, so while the other two boys stayed on the farm, she took Story and went to live in Boston. Later, they returned to live with relatives back in Stockbridge, and then moved on to other homes in Lee, Cheshire and Pittsfield.

Horrendous tragedy loomed large on both sides of the Musgrave family. Story's great-grandfather and grandfather had committed suicide, and both his parents would also take their own lives. His older brother, Percy III, later died in an aircraft accident while catapulting off a carrier in the Atlantic, and his younger brother Tom fatally shot himself. Through it all, Story's self-reliance was of crucial importance. ''You learn to associate with the good, and even though you suffer, you do get enough distance psychologically from what is going on in order to form your own ground. Those unbelievable tragedies are what built me. I look back on them as my Rock of Gibraltar, strangely enough.''

His fascination with repairing and running anything mechanical eventually led him to aeroplanes and visits to a neighbouring farm, where he learned to fly at the age of sixteen, albeit ''in a very informal kind of way. I drove them like I drove tractors, and then one day just leaped off!''

In 1947, Story began attending St. Mark's High School in Southborough, and here he became vitally interested in the science of biology through one of his teachers, Frederick Avis. He discovered an intrigue in researching the transplantation of fertilised eggs, and felt that in his own way he was part of a pioneering effort in this area of elementary biology. Despite this interest, he was still not driven to be more than just a competent scholar. At the age of seventeen he was badly injured in a car accident, which caused him to miss a substantial amount of vital pre-graduation exam schooling. Unfortunately, his school chose to make no allowance for this missed education, and so, with mixed feelings of regret and bitterness, he decided to move on and dropped out of high school. He joined the Marines and went off to Korea to expand his horizons.

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