Of calendars Sunday, Aug 9 2015 

I was struck the other day by the relative significance of dates: in part how what may be a very important date for us may be an ordinary day for others, but also how even a day that has attained a solemn timelessness was once just an ordinary day….and may become so once more. All is vanity.

This line of thought was raised by looking at some construction photos taken on November 11th, 1915 here in Connecticut, on a somewhat rural but rather important (to the people of Hartford, Ct) construction site.  11-11. A fairly young group of men, many of whom would go elsewhere in about eighteen months time, largely halting construction.

Already a great conflagration burned in Europe. But it was not yet a matter of remembrance. And no one knew that it would become something so terrible; there may have been a rumour or two, but nothing to be believed, not yet. It probably wasn’t a topic of great concern at the work site, any more than the wars of today are. The likely topic was the job for the day and how best to wrap it up to wait out the winter.

For me, November 11th is Armistice Day.* It is likely a working day, an ordinary day, but still the grave yawns for me, if only for a glimpse at the strike of 11. For the men in the photograph, Armistice Day wasn’t even an idea. The dates and the monuments of our lives, in their great solemnity, are creations. We remember for a time, but there are few dates that can remain for generations, which is perhaps as it should be. Men lived before us, men will live after us. It is not the dates that remain forever, nor the names, nor yet the places; but the spirit and the life. The hate and the love, the joy and the sorrow.

*It is Armistice Day.

Approaches to History Thursday, Jun 18 2015 

We are used to Twitter updates on events now, I found this review of an historic event rather interesting and horrifying. It is much more real, in the 21st century way, than it would be as a dry summary. Somebody did quite a bit of work to piece it together.


No huffing and puffing allowed Thursday, May 28 2015 

Amazing what we will do! Moving the Gay Head lighthouse http://vineyardgazette.com/moving-back-gay-head-light

With live cam!

Historical Excerpts Wednesday, Dec 3 2014 

A random division back to 1880 and William Webster Ellsworth, with his young family, living in New York City:

“Street cars, with horses straining at their collars when the car was crowded, ran down Madison Avenue, and some of them turned the corner at Astor Place and stopped at Broadway, directly in front of my office at 743. Omnibuses lumbered down Broadway, with straw on the floor in winter, very unsanitary but some of us are still alive. The driver, always red-faced and looking like a character in Dickens, sat high up, outside, and you handed him money; if you needed change, he gave it to you in envelopes, marked 10, 25, 50 cents, and $1, through a little hole that was just behind him. It was not expected that you would require more than a dollar; buses were not for millionaires. You tore open the envelope and dropped a nickel into a lighted box which the driver could look down on. You passed up money for ladies and handed them the envelope and then dropped in their nickel. A strap ran from the door around the driver’s foot and when you wanted to get out you pulled the strap and he lifted his foot so that you could open the door. Horse cars had conductors however.”

A far cry from Uber!

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)

What is that little building? Thursday, Oct 2 2014 

It is likely obvious to most of my readers 🙂 but it occurred to me that some might be intrigued by the little building with its lovely diamond paned casements in the previous post.  An awfully fancy tool shed! For it is a tool shed these days and potting shed. But actually it is the Little Kitchen, a peculiarly Esperanza (Esperanzonian?) term.  Built in the late 1880’s (its windows match the diamond panes found elsewhere from that period, notably the Butler’s Pantry) it was a summer kitchen. Now, the main kitchen was used as well since the cook was usually cooking for around ten people; but the Little Kitchen was used for making jams, jellies, preserves, etc.  Anything that would tie up the main cook stove all day long.  With a massive vegetable garden and orchard, it is probable that it was in use almost daily throughout the summer.

It is a remarkably well built structure, we did have to square it up a few years back, but otherwise!

June 22, 1900 Saturday, Jun 21 2014 

From the Guest book on June 22, 1900:


“Fond memory brings the light of other days around me.”

The next visitor on the page was Mabel Hyde Kittredge. She was an author of various housekeeping texts, she was probably a guest of Fannie Smith (who also wrote a book on that theme) rather than WWE, though his knowledge of publishing was likely welcome. She was also one of the founders of the hot school lunch program in NYC, so something of an activist as well.


May 1857 Sunday, Jun 15 2014 

From Julie to Morris, excerpts from a typical letter, bouncing from the practical to the philosophical:

“I think the twentieth of June very early for our projected trip, but if you say so I will be in readiness. I have a very pretty traveling dress in process of completion, it will be done next week and my traveling hat. And by the way don’t dare to come on without a box of powdered sassafras to make gumbo. I must have some. I expect to go out on horseback next week with Jamie Smith to make myself certain that I can acquit myself creditably before I shall have the pleasure of riding with My Lord. There is a chill in the air yet but it is getting tolerably warm and pleasant, still velvets are not at all uncomfortable.


I almost wish you would not stop at Brockport but I shan’t say much about it. I feel in a desperate hurry to see you. Remember you have been gone since last October, which is not a short time, at least to me, but I know man’s love and woman’s love are very different. I found that out long ago but I have not got quite reconciled to the fact yet. Man’s love is of his life a thing apart, tis woman’s whole existence.

Good night. I can print better than you. But you are my darling all the same.”

New Orleans to Hartford Wednesday, Jun 4 2014 

(a non gardening post for once!, looking back before Esperanza was created here)

Morris, Julie’s husband, spent most of the winter, and sometimes year, in New Orleans. How did he go back and forth to Hartford? In the early years of the 1840’s and into the 1850’s, he had to take the long route by ship up and around the coast, unless he wished to go by overland stage: uncomfortable and long.  He may also have taken a riverboat as far up the Ohio as possible, then connected to overland stage-routes, as his business did have offshoots in the Kentucky/Ohio/Tennessee region.

However, in 1855 a rail line to Cairo was completed.   It was now possible to travel by train on the Illinois Central to Chicago or on the Ohio and Mississippi to Cincinnati.  From both cities rail lines had been built that connected to New York during the 1850’s.  Judging by comments in his letters, Morris regarded the trip back to New York/Hartford as a matter simply of catching a boat to Cairo and hopping on a train. Nor was Morris alone in this view, business traffic from New Orleans and the Mississippi were solidly tied into the northern system of railroads constructed during the 1850’s.  This traffic was going around the south on both sides and the great coastal cities of the south were no longer stopping points.  Cairo, Cincinnati, St Louis, and Chicago however, those were the new stopping points….  Something that became rather important in the following decade…

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?!

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