April 30, 2019

A lifetime of wanderlust

Lucretia Bingham ’64 recalls her inspiring grandfather and growing up on a remote island in her forthcoming memoir
by Allyson Irish

As a young girl, Lucretia Bingham ’64 recalls visiting her father at the family’s opulent Miami mansion Sweet Way, built by her great-grandmother Anna Olivia Tiffany (yes, that Tiffany).

Bingham and her younger brother—along with 28 cousins—visited often. With so many grandkids, her grandparents had few opportunities for one-on-one time, save for a quick pat on the head. That is mostly what Bingham remembers of her grandfather, famed explorer and Yale professor Hiram Bingham III, Andover Class of 1894.

“He was a grand old gentleman,” Bingham says. “And he became kind of a mythic figure in my life.”

The elder Bingham was the first to bring to the world’s attention the majesty of Machu Picchu in Peru through a series of expeditions and excavations from 1911 to 1915. He went on to become a professor of Latin American history, lieutenant governor and governor of Connecticut, and then a U.S. senator.

Hiram Bingham, Class of 1894, with two of his seven sons. Lucretia’s father is on the right.

Hiram Bingham was, and still is, an inspiration to his granddaughter who followed in his footsteps by attending Abbot Academy and then exploring the world as a travel writer. In recent years, Bingham has worked as an eco-tour guide with Connecticut Audubon leading four trips to Peru escorting groups along the same routes traveled by her grandfather more than a century ago.

Returning to her past also has inspired Bingham’s writing including her forthcoming memoir, A Far Place, which details her unorthodox upbringing in the remote Abaco Islands area of the Bahamas.

After divorcing her husband (Lucretia’s biological father), Bingham’s mother remarried in 1953, purchased a boat, filled it with canned goods, goats and other farm animals, and sailed away to a new life with her children in a village accessible only by boat.

Her mother was summarily disowned by her family. Yet Bingham describes her Bahamian childhood as “fun and adventure-filled, if sometimes outright terrifying.”

“We spent lots of time looking for treasure,” Bingham recalls. “It was a wonderfully rich experience.” But it was also physically demanding, with family members required to spend as many as three to four hours a day digging fields or chopping grass with machetes.

The freedom of Bingham’s Swiss Family Robinson‑like childhood could not have been more opposite of the Abbot Academy she entered in 1960. It was a school culture that she describes as “a throwback to Dickensian times.”

Though she had wonderful teachers at Abbot, Bingham struggled with the restrictive rules and eagerly moved on to a much more liberal community at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. There she studied drama and writing, later pursuing a short-lived career in acting. “I had a small part in the movie Seizure by Oliver Stone,” Bingham says. “It was an absolutely horrible movie. I got killed in the first clip.”

Lucretia Bingham with her brother Russell after climbing Huayno Picchyu overlooking Machu Picchu.

Nowadays, life has quieted down. After spending a peripatetic lifetime traveling and writing about her excursions, she is happily settled in Westbrook, Conn., where she continues to pursue creative endeavors such as painting and photography, passions that she documents regularly on Instagram.

She is also getting used to her latest role: grandmother. With 10 grandchildren, several of whom live nearby, Bingham is often called on to babysit. Unlike her reserved relationship with her own grandfather, Bingham has a much more loving bond with her kin and ponders what they will think of her once grown.

“I know they will remember ‘pretending’ with Nonna, and they know that I write books,” Bingham says. “I have a feeling they will be intrigued.”

Categories: Alumni, Magazine Online

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