placed our towels on the warm cement and tested the water. It
was very inviting. Otto dove right in. Then I went in carefully--descending
the ladder. The water was divine. It was crystal clear, very cold,
and extremely well worth the descent from the ladder. We quickly
got accustomed to swimming, diving, and playing with the water
toys Margit had given us. She also gave us our first cowboy hats--which
we were wearing when we entered the pool gate. They were red.
We didn't want to leave the pool, but the weather was getting
cooler and the sun was settling. We returned to the little guest
house where we changed for dinner. My parents stayed at the larger
guest house on Tammany Hill. My father, Count Ernest Szechenyi,
who was the lucky and privileged employee of the Countess, met
us before dinner at Tammany.
Mrs. Unrue, a darling, kind, capable woman who
baked absolutely the best bread I have ever eaten to this day,
waited for Margit to arrive. The Countess arrived in a 1954
green Chevrolet. When Margit came, the adults conversed and
drank scotch and sodas, while my brother and I had some of that
great crystal cool water. I still remember what we ate for dinner:
steak, scalloped potatoes, and peas. The steak was so huge that
my mother had to cut it up before we could eat it. But, we would
never begin eating until after the Countess had the first morsel.
There was a beautiful western painting of horses on the dining
COUNTESS MARGIT BESSENYEY MUST BE REMEMBERED
NOT ONLY AS THE COUNTESS OF THE BEAUTIFUL BITTERROOT VALLEY
BUT AS THE ONLY QUEEN OF WESTERN MONTANA.
For my brother Otto and me, 1954 was a time of
innocence. The Bitterroot Stock Farm seemed infinitely large
to two young boys! Crossing the many clear, rapidly gushing
creeks was remarkable. Seeing the noble, majestic Hungarian
thoroughbreds was truly and positively unforgettable! There
were also many, many Hereford cattle and sheep.
One day I can vividly remember going up Tammany
Lane with my brother--perched two stories high on a hay wagon
guided by a true, honest cowboy named Vernon Jenkins. Of, course
Otto and I were wearing our red cowboy hats and were armed with
our play-belt pistols. The view from the Tammany Hill guest
house was spectacular! One could see Blodgett Canyon, and several
times there were rainbows in the canyon area. The forested,
granite Bitterroots to the west seemed high and mighty. To the
right of the Countess's guest house facing west was the Fullerton
House, which still exists today.
At this time I would like to ask Mrs. Theo Fullerton
to stand up, and I want to personally thank her and her family
for their graciousness and loving kindness to our family.There
was a hole on the east side of Mrs. Fullerton's fence through
which Otto, the dogs, and I could communicate with the Fullertons.
We traversed this path many times on our way to a sandbox. There
we were met by Mr. THEO FULLERTON who was in the United States
Navy and served last in Okinawa, Japan. We were spoiled by the
Fullertons as we played and had a great time with their sons,
BUTCH, DOUG, NICK and DAVE. We had many friendly exchanges in
and out of that sandbox. I also remember the great bath tubs
in the guest house. They were formidable, to say the least!
I heard my father say that they were his favorite bathtubs.
In truth I had seen them earlier in Chester, NH at the house
of descendants of the Vanderbilt family. So, I guess the Vanderbilts
had been responsible for transplanting that style of tub to
Our family spent the entire summer in Hamilton
and finally left from the local train station. Margit kindly
took us down to the station in her l954 Chevy. I was so impressed
by that car. The front window had a dividing horizontal bar.
I was terribly proud to be tall enough to see through that windshield
very well! The (to me) enormous blue-white Northern Pacific
RR train stopped at the Hamilton Depot and my mother, Otto and
I sadly said our temporary goodbyes.
Margit was the daughter of COUNT ANTHONY SIGRAY
and HARRIET DALY. Harriet, or Hattie, was the daughter of MARCUS
DALY. Margit, a direct heir to the Daly mansion and to the Bitterroot
Stock Farm, bought out her relatives and became the sole owner.
Margit escaped from Hungry at the end of World War II. Because
her mother was an American, Margit was allowed to enter the
USA soon after her escape. Some time later, she learned that
the U. S. Cavalry was going to disband its horses-including
the Hungarian ones captured in Europe. Margit arranged to buy
eight lovely mares and this is how the Hungarian Horses wound
up in Hamilton, Montana. Margit became an active and supportive
member of the Hamilton community. She gave land to the humane
society and organized the Bitterroot Trail Ride on the Bitterroot
Margit knew me before I knew her. I say this because
Margit played an integral part in my family's successful escape
from Communist Hungary shortly before I was born. Margit had
been my mother's best friend in their youthful years in Hungary.
Like my father, Margit had always loved horses.
My father was the epitome of the equestrian, having
grown up on horseback and having served as a Hungarian Hussar
Officer. He was a member of the HONOR GUARD of Hungary's Regent,
Admiral Horthy. Margit employed my father not only because of
her long-time friendship with my parents but also because of
his expertise with horses. I recall the day we drove up to one
of the Hungarian horses on the hill in Chapman's Landing-Margit's
farm on the Potomac--located in Maryland. To my greatest amazement,
the horse stood at rigid attention until the Hungarian hymnus
was finished being sung.
My father fought in the last cavalry charge on
the Russian front, and was captured near the Don River in Ukraine,
along with l0,000 other prisoners of whom only 100 were eventually
released. They were transported back to a prison camp in Eastern
Hungary. The family heard about his presence there and Irma,
his sister, camouflaged as a peasant, went near the camp and
saw him alive inside the fence. My mother made and sent him
his favorite chocolate cake to let him know that she knew where
he was. In answer to my Mother's and Otto's prayers, about a
year later my father was finally released from the Communist
political prison. After a difficult journey, he made it to Budapest
for a very happy reunion with our family. Later my father was
exuberant to know that my mother was expecting her second child
My parents were under constant surveillance by
the AVO, the Hungarian Communist secret police. Knowing the
serious danger of being imprisoned again, my parents decided
on a plan to escape from the country. They staged an argument
on the street in front of their apartment - for the benefit
of the secret police--and went their separate ways.
My mother and little Otto left by a hired car
while my father, faking tuberculosis and pulmonary coughing,
took a train. Using fake papers, they were able to cross the
border to Bratislava, Czechoslovakia from where they planned
to make their clandestine entry into Austria. A hired guide
led them towards the nearby border at night while being pursued
by the secret police. Watchtowers and border guards were everywhere.
They would shoot immediately if they detected anyone trying
to cross that border. My parents' guide was shot in the back
and killed-right in front of them.
On the other side of a very tall barbed-wire fence
there was a huge, ferocious-looking German Shepherd dog. Had
he barked, it could have meant the end for all of them. Our
family prayed the Rosary, and then my father climbed over the
fence. Instead of attacking him, the German Shepard quietly
licked his feet.Then my father knew it would be safe for my
mother and Otto to quickly follow him over the fence into Austria.
I was in my mother's womb at that time and she later gave me
the middle name of Gulliver, for Gulliver's Travels.
Our family sought refuge in a nunnery only to
be surrounded and captured by Russian soldiers. You see, after
WW II, Austria was divided into the American, British, French,
and Russian zones. My mother was,understandably, desperate,
when she found out that my father was scheduled to be returned
to Communist Hungary, probably to face a death sentence by hanging.
Fortunately, she was able to contact the Americans
in Vienna. CLAIBORNE PELL, a Senator from Rhode Island, worked
for the C.I.C. (Central Intelligence Corps) there. He personally
knew Countess Gladys Vanderbilt Szechenyi from Newport, RI.
When he heard about my family, he entered the Russian zone to
meet them. He soon returned with a case of champagne for the
Russian guards. While the guards were all in a drunken stupor,
Claiborne Pell helped my family escape to the American zone.
Margit was the distant financial sponsor of that campaign-she
was the one who had bought the champagne!
Our family found refuge in the house of distant
relatives in Salzburg where I was born on May 21, 1948. An American
Army doctor had warned my mother that either she, or the baby
would probably not survive. A C-section saved both of our lives,
but my mother later developed a systemic blood infection that
affected her entire body. Word of this got to Margit here in
Hamilton, and she immediately sent my mother some life-saving
antibiotics. This was quite a feat, since antibiotics had just
recently been introduced for medicinal use.
After a brief stay in Belgium, our family immigrated
to the US. Margit eventually hired my father to help her take
care of her horses. His expertise was very useful not only in
handling the horses, but in training and riding them as well.
He rode Margit's horses in competitions and won her a first
prize in an obstacle course event in New Jersey. Later he was
also in charge of several horses Margit kept on her estate in
I will always remember Margit with immense respect,
love, and gratitude. She saved my family's lives and the lives
of the Hungarian horses. She was a true American. She believed
in the sanctity of life and in Jeffersonian democracy. She detested
Communism and all forms of totalitarianism, despotism, and slavery.
I cherish her memory as the tremendous supporter
and benefactor of our family that she was during many years.
As a true friend she is, indeed, unforgettable.