You Would Think You Was In A Palace

An absolutely terrific letter from 1883, lots of great historical references. Read it for yourself:

Saturday Jan. 6th 1883

Dear Sheri ???

I guess you have given up all thoughts of ever hearing from me, you must forgive me for not writing before. I have thought of writing forty or more time when we were coming down here but I though I would wait till we got down here so I would have more to write about and when we got down here I soon commenced going to school and then I didn't find any time to do any thing.

I received a letter from Hattie as soon as we got down here and a postal yesterday asking if I was dead or alive the reason I didn't write.

We left Newark that same night that I was to your house for Syracuse. I told you there that Ma was going to carry a live rooster on the cars didn't I? Well, she was bound she would and so she did. I told her I wouldn't take of it a minute not even when she got her ticket. I was in a perfect fret all the time till we got on the boar. I was so afraid the shang-hai would squawk or get away from her, but I guess no one suspected what it was. We got to Syracuse about 8 or 9 o'clock and we ????? to the depot till about twelve o'clock before our folks came after us. They had just come from Oswego. I tell you wasn't I sleepy.

Nothing happened of much account as I can remember down to New York unless I mention that one of our horses fell in the canal and came fully near being drowned, we thought it was dead once but it came out all right after a while.

The first Sunday in New York was Thanksgiving. I went to Talmage's church in the evening it was decorated lovely, I just wish you could see it you would think you was in a palace. The organ in it is perfectly grand it is played by a middle aged man and a man plays on a silver horn at the same time. The sermon was good, the subject was "Hagar in the wilderness."

A few days after Thanksgiving we went to the "Erie Basin" Brooklyn to tie up for the winter and about two days after than I went to school, a girl on a boat in "Atlantic Basin" came and stayed two days with me she has been to school here before. I got acquainted with her about give years ago when I went to school in New Jersey her name is Ella Bawless(?).

I  have a nice little walk only a mile and over. The school is number 27 Nelson Street, there is only about thirty two teachers and only about 200 (?) scholars in it, how is that for a school and the rooms are all partitioned off by sliding glass doors. The principal's name is "Mr. Weed" he is just as nice and pleasant and sociable as he can be, my teacher's name is Mrs. Lyons, she is nice too.

I was first put in the first class, first division that is the highest class next to the graduation class. He told me I might go in that but I told him I would rather not go quite so high than to go in that class and possibly be put back. Emma Allen goes to this same school she was in the same one that I spoke to you about that I got acquainted with at Lockport. I would like to have you get acquainted with her she is a sweet girl. I have got acquainted with a girl on a boar where we lay (?) they have a piano on the boat, she is a splendid player and singer, she has taken singing lessons of ???? masters and received a salary for singing in the choir well, she and ??? and Jared ???? crossed the ferry and got to the elevated railroad to go to 14th to see if we could get a piano small enough to get in our cabin but we couldn't find any any where. Once place we went into where Nora (Nora Vandover (?)) got hers. They made them there but the did't have any on hand of the small ones, so we all went to Bunnell's museum where they have curiosities, we saw the ???asian girl and two albinos, and the giants Mr. and Mrs. Bates. It was perfectly comical to see them. They were about 8 feet tall, but the most interesting to me of all the curiosities was a little boy about a foot high, he was ten years old and weighed 5 pounds, he talked and acted like a little child 2 years old. He was just as cute as he could be.

At the stage performances Dr. Lynn (?) cut a live man's head arm and leg off and put them on again and I saw it done. He invited any man out of the audience to come up on the stage and he would to do the same thing to them. Two men went up but when the man came up to them to cut off his arm they backed out frightened, one of the men that came up was a doctor. The arm and leg that Dr. Lynn cut off from the man (that he had a purpose for it) he placed the arm in one man's lap and the leg in the other man's lap (the ones that came upon the stage) they were about frightened to death. There lay the leg with the leg of the pants on it and his arm with the sleeve on it. Besides this I saw a living head, you could see all around it and under it that it was not on a body it was suspended in air. When the manager asked it to tell who I was I said "I am Rourah (?) , the Roman Mystery."

Well, I guess I have written enough on this subject, the last two were some sort of tricks I guess. Though well got up for I don't see how under the ??? they were down as the were both life size and alive. I don't believe have written about these in a way so you can understand it. (enough on this subject)

What did you get for Christmas? I got

Found in an extremely worn copy of "Money in the Garden: A Vegetable Manual" by P.T. Quinn. Published by The Tribune Association, 1872.

-Click to enlarge photos-


  1. "How under the sun they were done", I think, indeed. And the girl has taken singing lessons from Italian masters. Great letter! :-)

  2. What a great letter. How sad that you don't have all of it so don't know who wrote it.
    It sounded as though they were possibly travelling by the Erie Canal at least some of the way.

  3. To fill in the question marks: "we staid [stayed] to the depot" I think.

  4. If you Google No. 27 Nelson Street Brooklyn, NY, you will see that there is still a school there!! The Agnes Y. Humphrey School.

    A mural on the school says it depicts the history of Red Hook, which I think is a part of Brooklyn. Erie Basin is part of Red Hook I think. Doesn't it sound like she and others were living on boats?
    Just fascinating!

  5. Zann -

    If you notice, I bolded and linked a few of the phrases in the letter which lead to some addition interesting reading. One of the links was to that school.

  6. Oh, wonderful! I clicked on the letters and read them in the original. I will go back and look at your links.

  7. I think the salutation is "Dear Skin(?) Sister Jennie." I am in love with this letter!

  8. I think the salutation might be "Dear Skin(?) Sister Jennie." I am in love with this letter; it's fabulous!

  9. Wonderful letter, thank you so much!

  10. The salutation can't be "skin sister." Besides the obvious anachronism, f you look at how she writes the word "Newark," you can see she forms her K very differently from her H. I'm confident that the two middle words of the salutation both begin with "Sh" but after that it's hard to say. I'm guessing there's a personal term of endearment here, some kind of inside joke between them.

    She has thought about writing "forty-eleven" times. Common expression.

    I would say the girl from Atlantic Basin she met in New Jersey five years ago is Ella Lawless. The initial letter of the surname follows a traditional construction, with a very feminine hand. The letter B has a very different construction, and while it's possible that she really put her own twist on a B, it's far more likely that she writes an L with a feminine flourish of curls. (You can see the same construction of L on the name of Dr. Lynn in the paragraph about the magic tricks).

    Wonderful, wonderful find!

  11. The incompleteness of the letter leads one to believe it was probably left in the book by the sender, and then forgotten, thus never finished.

    But, it could also have been left in the book by the recipient, with at least one page lost over time.

    Either way, I love the glimpse into the past provided by this letter.

  12. This is terrific. I agree with mejaka, that the salutation is an inside joke. I read it as "Dear Shin Shister," a lisp-y way to pronounce the phrase "sin sister." As in "my sister in sin," and who knows what that meant between them!

  13. The murals on that school (at 27 Nelson Street) are marvelous - thanks for linking to street view!