The Unexplained: What happened to Connie?

Connie Converse made her only recording in her apartment and in a friend’s kitchen.

Connie wrote letters to her family members. She packed up her Volkswagen Beetle and took off. She was never seen again.

Only a few people have probably ever heard of Elizabeth Eaton Converse, Michigan, last known address.  She had come to call herself Connie.  She was born in New Hampshire in 1924.  Her father was a Baptist minister and her household during her growing-up years was strict.  Her parents had some basic musical ability like a lot of pastor and wife teams.

Connie, smart and studious, was valedictorian of her class, also winning many academic awards.  Because of this, she got a scholarship to Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts.

I had a high school friend whose mother went to Mount Holyoke in about the same time frame.  I have begun to wonder if she knew Connie Converse.

Connie left Mount Holyoke before getting a degree, as she was drawn to the allure of New York City.  It beckoned. She survived with nonspectacular jobs and found residences in Greenwich Village, The Flatiron District, and Harlem.

Sara Marie Hogg

She had her trusty guitar with her and entertained herself in lonely hours by writing her own music and practicing performing it.  She had also taken up smoking and drinking, which shocked her father and he never would accept what music and New York was doing to his overachieving and brilliant daughter.  Her own parents would have no talk of her music or her music life.

They totally rejected it.

As time went on, Connie practiced enough to become comfortable performing her work in front of a few friends.  They encouraged her.  She knew she was no great singer, but her music had a mesmerizing quality.  There was something thought-provoking and atmospheric there.

While in New York she made many futile attempts to sell her music to publishing companies—to no avail.  Still she had small successes.  In 1954 she performed one of her songs on The Morning Show with Walter Cronkite.  She had a good friend, Gene Deitch, who was a successful graphic designer.  He had the sense and foresight to record her work on reel to reel tapes, or there would be no record of her work at all.  It was he who arranged the TV show with Walter Cronkite.

Connie grew further frustrated with her music and she packed up her Volkswagen Beetle and moved to be closer to her brother in Michigan.  He was a professor of political science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  Not long after she arrived in Michigan, Connie got a good job—one she really liked.  She started as a secretary and eventually became a writer and managing editor for the Journal of Conflict and Resolution.  This was around 1963 and it seems that she put down her music at this same time, as far as we know.

Around 1973 Connie was suffering from burn-out.  She was depressed.  The Journal was being auctioned off and it moved to Yale University—she was helpless to do anything.  Friends took up a collection to send her on a trip to the British Isles.

The sixth-month trip did not really seem to help.  Going on a trip to Alaska with her mother, after that, was a big mistake.  Who knows what words were said on the trip or what happened, but there was still family tension about some of the life choices Connie had made.  Needing some female surgery at this same time did not help matters.

In August of 1974, Connie wrote letters to her family members and her dearest friends.  She stated that she needed to go off by herself for a while.  Perhaps all of us have felt that way at times.  She asked them not to interfere.  She also gave a friend enough money to make sure her health insurance was kept paid up for several months in her absence.  She packed up her Volkswagen Beetle and took off.

She was never to be seen again.

This is a sad, sad tale.  Who is Connie Converse and why should we care?  In the 1950s, Connie Converse started a new genre of music:  The singer-songwriter category.  It became a category of its own.

In 2004, her music came to the surface with the location of Gene Deitch’s reel to reel recordings in Prague, where he had moved.  Some of the songs got some air-play.  Interested people began tracking down anything they could find about Connie.  She became a hot topic.  More recordings were found in a filing cabinet in Ann Arbor.  Documentaries were made about Connie, her music, and her life.  Important musicians started covering her songs.  Her work was favorably reviewed.

Years after Connie’s disappearance, Connie’s family members hired a private detective to try to find her.  They had discovered that similar names had popped up in various phone books around the USA.

The detective emphasized that even if he found her if she did not want to “be found,” that was her right as an adult.  A family member felt that she was so depressed that she had driven her Volkswagen into a body of water—that it was planned.

It sounds plausible but that would make many other things surrounding the disappearance not add up.  It seems like if she planned it would be foolproof, because of her degree of intelligence.

What happened to Connie Converse?  She was a woman who made a great contribution to the Mid-Twentieth Century Music world, then vanished into thin air.

–SMH

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of the New Orleans mystery, Gris Gris. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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