Caroline Thomas Harnsberger

Gazette Article by: Jane Lord
Appeared in the Gazette: Summer 1997

A Winnetka resident for more than 50 years, she wore numerous hats—musician, anthologist, writer, lecturer, Mark Twain authority, painter, golfer, and music shop owner.

Harnsberger was born in 1902 and grew up in Broadview, Ohio, on the outskirts of Columbus. A talented violinist, she studied at the Julliard School of Music in New York for three years, then spent a year at the Conservatoire de Paris. While abroad she married Audley Harnsberger, an engineer with Pure Oil Company. In 1926 they settled in Winnetka, raised three children, and lived here until the early 1980s when Mrs. Harnsberger moved to her native Ohio after her husband died. She lived there until her death at age 89 in 1991.

Harnsberger’s father introduced her as a child to Mark Twain’s wit and wisdom, and her avid interest in him continued throughout her life. In the early 1940s she traveled to Hollywood to meet Twain’s daughter, Clara. The two women became friends and corresponded for 20 years. Harnsberger read all of Twain’s 52 books but had trouble locating specific quotes. She therefore began the task of indexing his bon mots, a project that led to the compilation of her first book, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips, published in 1947. During the next three decades she wrote six other books about Twain and was a script consultant for television and stage productions about the humorist. Excelling at indexing, she once said, “A book without an index is like soup without salt—no good.”

One project often led her to another. After the success of her first book, Harnsberger’s publisher urged her to put together a book of Abraham Lincoln quotations. She also wrote the first biography of Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft, published the year he vied with Dwight D. Eisenhower for the presidential nomination. She later spent weeks at the Library of Congress researching American presidents for her Treasury of Presidential Quotations, which became a Literary Guild bonus book. Harnsberger also managed to meet George Bernard Shaw, the reclusive 92-year-old playwright, at his English country home, proclaiming him “the wit of our generation.” After Shaw’s death, Harnsberger obtained the rights for a book in which she compiled his quotations. Advocating that humor was vital to one’s well being, she once said, “A sense of humor is a sense of proportion.”

In the mid 1960s Harnsberger became the proprietor of Music in Northfield, a store where she sold stringed instruments and sheet music and repaired violins and guitars.

Caroline Harnsberger’s eclectic interests drew on her many talents, continually challenged her to try new things, and led to amazing achievements. At age 59 she earned her flying license, copiloted her husband’s plane, and wrote Pilot’s Ready Reference, a best-selling book with 12 editions.

In 1977 Harnsberger’s twelfth book was published. Winnetka: The Biography of a Village chronicles the community’s past and is used as a resource by students, historians, and residents who want to learn about Winnetka history.

The interests and talents of this renaissance woman enriched the lives of family, friends, and a broader community that is still drawing on her rich legacy.

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