Harlan Berkley Peabody Jr. ’50, a literary scholar and one-time professor of comparative literature and ancient Greek at Bowdoin, died on February 22, 2009, at home in Auburn, New Hampshire.
He was born in Providence, R.I., on January 3, 1929, and prepared for college at Classical High School in Providence, R.I., where he graduated summa cum laude. He graduated from Bowdoin magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, was a James Bowdoin Scholar, winner of the Nathaniel Goold Prize and the Sewall Greek Prize, and gave a commencement address in Latin. He earned a master’s degree in 1953 and doctorate in 1961 in comparative literature from Harvard University. His dissertation on Hesiod’s Works and Days was awarded the 1961 Monograph Prize in the Humanities by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He expanded this work under the title, The Winged Word, published by SUNY Albany Press in 1975. He was hired as a teaching fellow at Bowdoin in 1953 and as an instructor the following year. He went on to teach at Moorhead State College in Minnesota and the State University of New York at Albany. He served as assistant to Maine’s Pulitzer prize-winning poet Robert P. Tristram Coffin, and later wrote the retrospective bibliographic essay of the poet’s works for PMLA (the journal of the Modern Language Association). In addition to his academic pursuits, the arts were prominent in his life. He was a professional organist and choir director for more than 60 years, performing recitals and concerts throughout New England. He was a member of the Boston and Merrimac Chapters of the American Guild of Organists and ranked nationally in Guild competitions early in his career. He wrote choral compositions and served as chapel organist as a student at Bowdoin and as organist at churches throughout New England. His organ music was broadcast over WESX in Salem. In the 1970s, he performed all of Rheinberger’s then-obscure pieces for organ over a series of years and helped to popularize the German composer. He played harpsichord and celesta with the Fargo-Moorhead Symphonia. He also was an accomplished painter and member of the Copley Society of Boston. He designed wallpaper and hand-painted it in several family houses. A lifelong interest in architecture manifested itself in his staunch support of historic preservation. In 1957, he and his wife moved to Salem, Mass., to serve as resident curators of an ancestral home, the Peirce-Nichols House, then owned by the Essex Institute. He was a member of the George Peabody House Museum, the Peabody Historical Society and Brooksby Farm, the Essex Institute (now Peabody- Essex Museum), the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Historic New England, North Bennet Street School, the Wentworth-Gardner & Tobias Lear Houses Association of Portsmouth, N.H., the American Philological Association, the Nathaniel Hawthorne Society, the Middleton Historical Society, the Hartwell Family Association, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, the New England Hosta Societ and the Salem Athenaeum. In the early 1990s, he realized a life-long dream by purchasing and restoring the Philip T. Clark, a 42-foot wooden liberty launch assigned to the aircraft carrier Leyte, which served in World War II in the Pacific. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Joanna Nichols Taylor Peabody; three daughters, Sarah Ropes Turnbaugh, Persis Elizabeth Robbins, and Dr. Mary Foster Richards; two sons, Moses Peabody and Samuel Richardson Peabody; and five grandchildren.