We tend to think of tweets as a new idea; they are in some ways, but messages of great brevity aren’t new:

‘Item. Ranch house and contents burned last night. All safe. Don’t worry. Helen’

That, of course, was a telegram message.  Actually a fairly long one, sent from Vorden, Sacramento County, California to New York on November 18th, 1909.

The sender was Helen Adelaide Ellsworth van Loben Sels to her parents Helen and William Webster Ellsworth.  It was chased by both a postcard and a much longer letter of several pages.  The house in question was ‘the White Home’ the main house on their ranch.

She writes in her letter, “Dear Family don’t worry about me. I wanted thrills of course. It is hard luck but I never can say I’m not getting them. How those flames did lick things in, Glory! Nell was sleeping on the porch (outside) under me. If she hadn’t been there there might have been no more us. She was awakened by the crackling in the office, had time enough to run up to call me, and that’s all, and if the office door had been open there wouldn’t have been time for that. “life, Genevieve, is a dream, Genevieve” with some nightmare mixed in for good measure.

I’m considering whether to telegraph or not, and I’m going to, just so that you will be sure that I will always let you know when things happen. It is a satisfaction that goes both ways. Excuse its going C.O.D. but silver nor gold have I none, at present writing!”


(for the confusion of most of my readers, Helen A.E. van Loben Sels and her husband Maurits had a major ranch operation in the Sacramento valley, known as Amistad, the western counterpart to Esperanza and on a much bigger, more successful scale.  The ranch is still in operation as far as I know)