November 11th, 1918 Tuesday, Nov 11 2014 

23 November 1918
La Neufor (near St. Menehould, France.)
My Dear Dad and All:
It seems strange to start a letter by naming a town, and stranger still this town, for this is where we started the great drive through the Argonne Forest to the Meuse, which we had crossed when the Boche quit.
…Since August 10th this regiment has slept under the open sky, right up until the 11th of November. On August 10th we went in on the Vesle River and scrapped there and to the Aisne. As soon as the Aisne was reached we came here, or rather to Givry in trucks, and started the greatest forest fighting in history.
…We have not had the publicity or the limelight of some others but Gen’l Pershing has said, “there is no better in the army and none that can be banked on to accomplish its task as well as the 77th.” That’s praise enough for us, and history will tell the story someday.
…Sept. 20th at 5 A.M. was the start of the attack with artillery. Lordy! How they did roar….The Argonne is as thick a woods as you have ever seen; steep ravines covered with thick underbrush, and it was defended by the 120th division Landwehr troops, who had been in these same woods for eighteen months. They were a first-class division, and made up of woodsmen who knew every path and trick in those damnable woods…
I’ll never go into the woods again or underbrush without my heart in my throat. It was literally impossible to discover a machine gun nest except by the sudden cutting down of yourself or someone else. The manual says that machine gun nests shall be destroyed by ‘flank attacks and by the use of hand and rifle grenades and the 37 mm. gun” Oh Jay! The man or board who wrote that knows nothing. Did he ever try to throw a ball and have his arm caught by brush? Or fire a rifle grenade which would be stopped by woods in ten feet? Or pull the lanyard on a 37mm gun knowing that the shell would explode as soon as it left the muzzle? You can bet something he wasn’t thinking of the Argonne. ‘Use your auxiliary arms” Another joke. The arms you used were your own and twenty-two days of hand to hand fighting was what we got. The regiment got just that and ended up with the brilliant and expensive taking of St. Juvin and Hill 182. That was in the open, wide open, and it was this that carried men forward who were so worn and weary that they would sleep when halted under the heaviest kind of shell fire. It was the relief after being stifled by underbrush and woods that made us take that hill and carried two and part of another battalion against three regiments of Germans – youngsters this time of a Guard Division – and we licked them to a standstill. Two regiments of Hell’s children counter-attacked…and they were literally beaten to death, those that didn’t get by as prisoners.
I’ll never forget the days of October 10th and 14th. It took twelve of my best friends in the regiment that one afternoon of the 14th, but they died the most glorious death in the world and we mourn them not….
…As for staying in the army, no. I’ve done enough. I’m tired, so damned tired I’ll never get rested it seems to me. Personally, the war has brought me knowledge of men and things, what they think even without their speaking. It has brought me a greater love for my country, it has brought me the satisfaction of doing my job well, and Dad, I’m through.
Will see you soon
Your affectionate son,
(Captain Bradford Ellsworth, Intelligence Officer, 306th Regiment, 77th Infantry Division)

Bzzzzz Sunday, Jul 27 2014 

There is one problem with New England summers…as illustrated in the guestbook from 1878!

Love Letters Thursday, May 15 2014 

Because I was looking for a random letter between Julie and Morris* and this one caught my eye.

April, 1857 from Julie to Morris:

“I have been today, in consequence of lighting by chance upon one of those interminable yellow letters, comparing the present with the past, and cannot help wondering if we are really the two beings who wrote thus to each other. Now Dearest, I see you as I saw you then though a haze of uncertainties, when I never thought to look upon your face again. I have today lived over the days when I wrote those letters at the table in my little room, and so on to the time of your coming, when (how I can’t now conceive) the object of your visit never occurred to me, the Sunday Evening on the sofa, and so on to the Tuesday evening, and so on to the night in Syracuse, and so on to the winter in New Orleans, the first parting, the utter sinking of heart I felt aboard ship and so till little Fanny’s breath touched my cheek, and so on through all our sad partings and joyful meetings, the happy days, the evening amusements, the concerts, the operas, the book-talks, the love and joy and peace, which has filled all our days and nights, and I can’t help believing that we have had full our share of life’s pleasures since we spent that first day together in the parlor of the Graham house so long ago.

….I wish to say this now because I should not like to say it only on paper, but you will never, never know how dearly I love you.

I did not intend to write such a letter but what is writ is writ. I can’t say now as I used to do, ‘you have no power over me’; now you have all the power, I have none, I am all yours.”


*We have lots of letters between other people, it is just these are conveniently transcribed and printed up….

**Twitter lacks somewhat, does it not?!

On Age Tuesday, Apr 22 2014 

I was perusing some photos on the internet the other day of Los Angeles at the turn of the last century.  Of course, for all intents and purposes, LA didn’t exist.  It is always a little disconcerting to consider cities of that sort.  To realize that this house existed as Esperanza before several of the major cities in the U.S. were anything more than waystops on the map.

Having lived in the UK for a few years, and for one year in a building built in the 1600’s, the discrepancy is even more apparent.  When the streets existed before this continent was known to Europeans?  It permanently warps what is or is not considered history. At the same time, the comparison can hide just how much have things have changed.  Esperanza existed 130 years ago, but it was a very different Esperanza in some respects.  In others not.  Recognizing the correct balance between the changed/unchanged and should change/should not change…That is the challenge.

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.”

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)


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.

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.

Mystery Man Tuesday, Feb 4 2014 

For family members, I’d love some help with the ID of this distinguished looking chap.  It is not George Creevey.  The girl is Eileen Creevey (Hall), so the date is 1916-1920 ish. (update, almost certainly 1916)  The location is somewhere around here.

For everyone else, any guesses on the car or rifle would be nice!


It is an oddly fascinating photo, I find at least.

On education and reading Friday, Jul 12 2013 

From Fanny Morris Smith’s recollection of her grandmother Charlotte Calkins (Julie’s mother), born 1804-died 1874 in the mid 1860’s.
“There was no regular schooling on the frontier, but grandmother educated herself. She used to amuse herself learning poetry by heart as she lay waiting to die. I heard her repeat Pope’s poem on death to herself. Her beautiful voice and grandfather’s flute were a source of constant pleasure to the two throughout their long married life. One by one every good novel as it appeared in the golden Victorian Age, was bought and read aloud in the evening, by the light of an oil lamp, at first; then as the years went on a very expensive liquid known as ‘fluid’ and finally kerosene.”

Somehow, I just don’t see many people memorizing Pope’s poetry while ill. Charlotte died after a long illness, probably a series of strokes. She spent most of her life in upstate New York.

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