Biographical Information:

Dates: 1845-1918Dates in Ridgefield:
fiction, mysteries, magazine publishingfounder of the original Life Magazine, publisher, illustrator, architect
John Ames Mitchell was a Renaissance man who kept to himself but influenced many. A Harvard educated architect who studied at the Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris, Mr. Mitchell founded the original Life Magazine in 1883. Much more like today's New Yorker than the Life of the later 20th Century, Mitchell's magazine discovered and encouraged many fine writers and artists at the turn of the 20th Century, such as Charles Dana Gibson, the illustrator who created the Gibson Girl. It covered the literary scene as well as political and social issues. He and Horace Greeley of The New York Herald Tribune founded the Fresh Air Fund, which for many years operated the Life Fresh Air camp for city kids on the site of today's Branchville School. Mr. Mitchell wrote a half-dozen novels, the most famous of which, Amos Judd, was made into the 1922 silent film, The Young Rajah, starring Rudolph Valentino. Life was purchased in 1936 by another Ridgefielder, Henry Luce, who turned it into a picture magazine. The headquarters of Mitchell's Life is now The Herald Square Hotel in New York, a gift to Mitchell from Charles Dana Gibson in appreciation of the publisher’s having seen and developed his potential as an artist. The hotel is operated by Abraham Puchall, whose Ridgefield home was the carriage house of Mitchell's West Lane estate. Clearly, Mr. Puchall has more than a passing interest in the man, and has spent countless hours researching Mr. Mitchell, joined by Nadine Charlesen, an artist and teacher. "Mitchell, the man, is very difficult to discover," Ms. Charlesen told The Ridgefield Press in the early 1990s. "He did no self-advertising. He was very humble." Yet, added Mr. Puchall, he was "a man who planted many seeds." He loved cherubs, using them in his writing and as a symbol for his magazine -- Gibson had noted sculptor Philip Martiny create a cherubic Winged Life over the main entrance to the Life building. To him, Mr. Puchall said, the cupid personified a cheerful but unrelenting guide to truths about human nature and the creative spirit. Mr. Mitchell died in 1918 and is buried in Ridgefield Cemetery. Windover, his estate, was subdivided years ago, but the main house is still on West Lane.
Titles:Amos Judd, 1895The Pines of Lory, 1901Drowsy, 1917
--Sources: Notable Ridgefielders–Jack Sanders; The Bookman: A Review of Books and Life, Sept. 1918-Feb. 1919; www.artoftheprint.com