Long distance relationship Tuesday, Apr 15 2014 

Julie and Morris had, for most of their marriage, a long distance relationship with the only contact through letters.  It wasn’t always easy.  Here is a passage from a letter in 1857:

“Now here I sit scribbling away against time and to what end, I cannot interest you, I cannot amuse you, I cannot comfort you. I need not advise you, and don’t you think I were as well in bed and asleep?

…You are maybe at church, maybe in Mollie’s room, maybe smoking with Mr. Allen, possibly in your room, perhaps writing to me. At any rate, Dear Morris, if there comes a bright dream of home to you tonight and pleasant looks from home faces, I shall be there, and you will see me.

I put your picture under my pillow the other night in the hope that I might dream of you. But instead I dreamed all night of getting a convict out of a prison dungeon and was horribly afraid of him after all, and so awoke dreadfully fatigued and miserably disappointed. I have had some pleasant dreams of you through this winter. I have seen you, talked with you and have waked with such fresh and real impressions of your presence, that I have gone joyfully all the day long.”

On sewing machines Tuesday, Apr 8 2014 

From a letter by Morris to Julie, March 1860:

“If you get the sewing machine, get one of Wheeler and Wilson’s, and have Susan (Julie’s maid and general helper) learn how to work it. Dear Julie, though it may be pleasant for you to work on the Sewing Machine, please do not do it very much, as it might make you lame, besides other casualties which I have heard sometimes have come to ladies from the use of the machine. Don’t laugh. I think it will be a good thing and an excellent arrangement for Susan. If she can perfect herself in the use of the machine, she will never come to want and will always have the means of obtaining an excellent living. I trust however, she will never see the necessity of going about for sewing or ever leave the house at 31 Chestnut Street (their home) except when we go to a larger and more pleasant house.”

A summer day at Ticonderoga, 1908 Monday, Mar 31 2014 

At the time, Fort Ticonderoga was a total ruin and not yet a park and very far from the meticulously restored set of buildings that it is today; however, it had become a stopping point for interested tourists in the Champlain/Hudson River valley.


The photographer is probably George Creevey. The woman sitting up is Lucy Ellsworth Creevey. I’d have to look in the log for trip to figure out who the other two people are.  They were taking a leisurely trip up the Hudson River, through Lake Champlain, the Richelieu River, and up to the Saguenay River in Quebec on their motor yacht, Mavourneen. Classic tourism of the time period.


Mystery dedications Tuesday, Mar 25 2014 

One of the more amusing points about having a massive library is stumbling across truly odd things, such as this:

Here is the dedication:

“To Alice: When the golden sun is setting and your life is free from care, When over a thousand things you are thinking, Will you some times think of me. There are few friends in this wide world that love is fond and true, But friend when you count them over place me among the few.”

A lovely dedication, yes? (aside from a ‘that’ which grammatically ought to be a ‘whose’)  Presumably on a book of poetry or maybe on a novel?  Er, no.

Rather it is found on the fly of: ‘The Legislative Manual for the State of New York. 1859’  A drier tome cannot be found, it is essentially an address book listing such gripping items as all the current postmasters for the state, population tables for towns, updates on law cases, and so forth.

Who was Alice? Furthermore, who wrote the dedication, and why? Were they copying it from something else in haste because they liked it? The cover of the book is stamped: H.R. Selden from A. Perry.  If A. Perry is Alice, why is the dedication on a book she gave?  Who is H.R. Selden?

The emotion is known, the reasons will be forever unknown.

140 Characters Saturday, Mar 22 2014 

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)


For the entertainment of the locals Wednesday, Mar 12 2014 

An excerpt from a letter dated 1857….’Plus ça change!’

Julie writing to Morris:

“These abominable people brought me a bill of eleven dollars for that good-for-nothing sewer down in Albany Street – which profits us not at all. Might as well not have any government as one which rules by oppression. I hate Hartford and there’s the end of it. It is a cold raw disagreeable stiff forlorn uncomfortable place and I wish I was out of it.”

She never did really get out of Hartford, living there every winter for the rest of her life, though there were a few trips to New Orleans after the Civil War.  But she did get out of it in the summer time finally.

They did not, by the way, live on or near Albany Street.  So the sewer really didn’t profit them.  Those who know the goings on around here will agree that the arguments haven’t changed much…

From a letter 1860 Wednesday, Feb 26 2014 

Still poking around in the volume of letters* between Julie and Morris in the late 1850’s and early 1860’s, mostly concerning parenting trials, i.e. four young daughters.  One would not know of the brewing national storm going solely on their letters.

Late winter 1860:

“In the morning the first I heard was an out-cry from Lottie, “I don’t want this old cradle! I want a bedstead and some candy!” As I had a bedstead in the house, I substituted the one for the other…and in about ten minutes she said, “I wish I had kept my cradle!”

Today I have been to church and Jamie Smith dined here, on soup, cold boiled chicken and pork, currant jelly, bottled cider, and Baked Alaska. Lucy is asleep. The other barbarians are down stairs. The room is cold, there is a hole you know in the window by the desk, and though there is a bright fire in the grate, I am none the warmer.”

*There are plenty of others, it’s just that’s the one on the desk.

Not related to Esperanza specifically Monday, Feb 17 2014 

Unrelated to the house, family, or gardening.

A Federal Holiday that really ought to have more thought given to it: George Washington’s Birthday

His Farewell Address, often commented on for the foreign relations aspect (perhaps an eighth of the length) but generally not read:



Winter 1859 Saturday, Feb 15 2014 

From a letter by Julie to Morris, she in Hartford with the girls and he in New Orleans:

‘I took a carriage Saturday, or a sleigh rather, and took the four young off shoots out sleighing upon which the ‘flambergasted’ young ladies took the opportunity to acquire the snuffles….

Lucy grows every minute, she looks like you I think….I hope you will enjoy member four (Lucy) next summer. Nellie (Helen)’s last mode of computation is ‘fourteen, nineteen, eleventeen!’..

The children have just come in from school wet above the knees, every article of dress saturated. They have been elegantly amusing themselves sliding, now they must be Redressed for school this afternoon, but by whom am I to be redressed for all this botheration. Verily I need patience.

I feel perfectly twisted out of my senses trying to write with so many children around me and talking in my ears, and I have to hurry lest Mr. King be gone….But good bye now My Boy. God keep you safely till May.”

Julie and Morris had four children: Fannie, Carlotta, Helen, and Lucy.  Lucy had been born in late 1858, Morris had stayed late that year but had had to leave for New Orleans when she was barely a week or two old.  Between late fall (anything from September to November) and May of every year, Julie had charge of all four children while Morris was in New Orleans overseeing the company’s branch there.  At the same time she was beginning to write short stories for publication.  Most of her letters to Morris naturally describe the daily small details of their lives in Hartford.

Reading lessons Monday, Feb 3 2014 

From a letter by Julie to Morris, winter of 1859

“The children have an hour’s reading every night, and I believe they will never forget these hours while they live. They are worth a great deal to them and they will thus be well started in what they ought to have read and prepared to keep up with literature of the day, beside which we read you know every morning in the Bible. We are now in first Samuel and tomorrow will read the fourteenth chapter, so you can follow us if you please, and wouldn’t that be pleasant? Will you. A chapter every morning is all we get through and the children are quite interested in the fights and squabbles of the old Israelites I assure you. What queer doings there were in those old days to be sure. If the chosen people went on at that rate I wonder what the heathen did.”

The girls (Fanny, Carlotta, Helen, Lucy) were all, except for Lucy who was then just a baby, in school as well.

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