The Wedding Clothes of my Great-Grandparents, William and Nellie Means

2016. The wedding attire of my great-grandparents William and Nellie Means are displayed at the Gates House, Machiasport, Maine in an impressive collection of antique wedding clothes.

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William and Nellie were married July 1, 1880. They had 4 children: Otis, Harriet, William, Elsie. Harriet is my grandmother.

William and Nellie celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary July 1st, 1905 reported in the Bangor Daily News on July 5th. “The celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. W. G. Means, held at their elegant home on Broadway, Saturday evening, July 1st was an exceedingly enjoyable occasion for all. The house was tastily decorated throughout with roses, ferns, wreaths and Madeira vines hung in arches and along the banisters and alcoves, interwoven with pinks and flowers of varied tint and hue.

Two hundred invitations were responded to and by as many friends, who appeared and heartily greeted the happy couple in a decidedly informal way. The bride and groom of twenty five years ago, received in their wedding suits, which had been meticulously preserved. The silk poplin, pearl colored dress, and white gloves of the bride and conventional black suit of the groom caused much merriment by reason of the antiquated style of the garments.”

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When I was growing up, I loved to explore the attic and open the trunk that held William and Nellie’s wedding clothes. Later in my mother’s life, she would ask me to bring them to her for she could no longer get upstairs, little less the attic.

I laid the precious clothes across her lap. “Why is there a safety pin in the back of Nellie’s dress?” I asked.

Mom smiled, her eyes danced. “Bob and I wore these clothes for an 8th grade play. I had to use a safety pin to keep the dress on. It was the last time the dress was worn.”

Bob is my mother’s brother, born a year before she was. They started school together (Mom was four years old) and both graduated from Machias High School in 1936. Mom was 16 years old.

 

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Health advice, Politics, Prohibition and the KKK

Letter from Grace Means. July 1924.

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William has been diagnosed with angina pectoris and barely avoided a trip to the hospital in Portland. In response to his letter, Grace dishes out advice on health, diet, and reduction of stress, especially that caused by William’s worries about his daughters, Harriet (my grandmother) and Elsie.

We can’t see far ahead but I believe I’m safe in predicting that Hattie’s days will soon brighten! The children will soon be a help – and Elsie will have her boy to comfort her. Don’t let family cares disturb the hours that should be rest and recouperation for you.” 

Grace reports that her health problems are receding due to a rigorous health regime. She eats no meat, just fish, no potato, no white bread, no cereal, no sugar … “I was starch poisoned… I’ll get to normal on a very comfortable toboggan – It is a necessary treatment! ” 

She is busy and working with a photographer to reproduce the ancestors portraits for William and his family. She will send them soon. Grace has no way of knowing at the time that 92 years later (or perhaps she does), this collection would be in the possession of William’s great-granddaughter who is busy preserving them in 2016.

The Means family have been proud Protestants and Masons for generations. Grace expounds on the political scene. The governor of Maine isn’t acting like a true Republican.“I tho’t we had a Republican governor! What a waste of genius for a bright man to be with such a bunch!” 

Grace writes that Maine US Representative Pattangall is taking NY by storm. He lost a bid for the Maine governorship in 1924 to Republican Owen Brewster who was supported by the KKK. Pattangall’s speeches at the Democratic convention that year proposed inserting an anti-Klan plank into the party platform, despite the presence of an estimated 300 Klansmen in the hall. The attempt was met with vehement hissing and booing of Klansmen along with fist fights, chair tossing, and destruction of convention decorations. The plank was voted down, and with it the potential presidential candidacy of Catholic Al Smith. In 1924, Pattangall was a Democrat and a son of Pembroke in Washington County,  known for his support of education and galvanizing the Republican party against the KKK. Perhaps at Grace’s urging, he will defect to the Republican party in 1926.

Grace is incensed at the politicians of the time, the Catholics and Christopher Columbus’ bogus claim at discovering America.

“… are they building another Ireland? They claim this is a Catholic country since Christopher Columbus discovered it – and I’m told the K.C. oath puts loyalty to Church before country! Christopher discovered San Domingo or San Salvador – but he never heard of the mainland and if he had – he was an Italian Jew – born in Genoa – sailing for the Catholic dynasty Isabella – Seif Ericsson and numerous French fishermen probably discovered our mainland long before Columbus. And, anyway they can’t call it a Catholic country – for Englishmen, Protestant and not a Catholic in the crowd, established the first surviving government and tho French Catholics fought 80 years they did not win it anyway from them.”

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Grace Adele Means

 

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Grace Means was the niece of my great grandfather William Gordon Means, the daughter of his elder sister Francis. But Grace was raised as his younger sister since her mother died “of a long illness” at the age of 27, not long after Grace was born. Grace finished school in Machias, lived in South Boston, then moved to New York City to work in the publishing establishments setting illustrations and photographs on the lithographic offset press. She never married and had no children. She became a long-term NYC resident, living in the precarious region between Manhattan and Harlem at 519 West 121st Street, but her family was that of William and Nellie in Downeast Maine. Grace regularly wrote letters to William, sent books for his library and grandchildren, photographs and descriptions of the ancestors as she remembered them.

In 1923, Grace wrote to wish William a happy 68th birthday. The family had fallen on harder times but she still sent him books.

“Yesterday I got off to you a box of books by parcel post insured. During the campaign RV Jollitt, (secy to WHH) who is a friend of Dr. Will Howe, Indiana University (and one of the authors), had several sets of these school readers sent him by Dr. Howe. After they were published by Scribners – the State declined to appropriate so they were not used. RVJ gave me a set I’ve just taken out of storage…so I’m sending a book for each grandchild. I leave it to you to perform a miracle because I’m one short of covering your 7…”

“The book containing the Canadian Captive is for you to keep with other family data to be handed on to coming generations! Thus we keep the fires burning…”

Grace had difficulty finding work and sold some furniture “to keep life supported.” She has been interviewed by Major General Harbord, Brigadier General John J Pershing’s understudy and now President of Radio Corporation of America. In the meantime, she was counting every dollar.

…“I had to use the Christmas check in spite of myself but it will go back as soon as I get busy – for I don’t want to add to your burdens. Our family has its troubles but we are strong and courageous, loyal to each other and have staunch old blood in our veins and we must show it by calmly meeting these trials as a part of the human heritage. It’s a long road that has no turns. Brighter days are ahead – We can’t always see the light but it shines somewhere and we’ll get a peep at it if we are patient and strong.” 

Two letters remain that Grace wrote to William Means. The letter below was mailed January 28, 1923. I hope it is legible here. Grace was frugal and used old paper folded in fourths, writing on each side and sometimes in the margins. And, the last pages were on tissue paper with writing on both sides.

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The Means and Getchell Families

Circa 1910. On the porch of the William Means home at the corner of Broadway and Gardner Avenue, Machias, Maine.

The family of my great-grand parents William and Nellie Means on the porch at 24 Broadway in Machias. L to R. Ethel Means (sitting, wife of their eldest son Otis) and children. Standing: William Means Sr. my great grandfather. Sitting: Nellie Means, my great-grandmother. Next to her, Nellie’s mother, Martha Jane Holmes Getchell (I have blankets, quilts and her embroidery in my home today), my great-great-grandmother. Far right, Nellie’s sisters Dora Getchell Dennison and Thirza Getchell Flynn. Thirza was a hat maker and owned a millinery shop in Machias. I do not know the identity of the woman in the front, it will take more research, but she sure looks like someone I would love to have known.

Home at Last: Tough Times Ahead

Summer of 1910. Home at last. Roque Bluffs, Maine. The family cottage Edgemere in the background. Left to Right: ??, Nellie Means, Zeke Johnson, Emma Perry (later wife of William Means Jr. “Billy”), Harriet Means Johnson, William Means Sr with grandson Warren, Ethel Means?, Billy Means with nephew. 

Harriet, Zeke, and their baby boy Warren, returned to Machias within weeks after Harriet’s last letter. It was a longer journey going back than coming out. Harriet was exhausted. She would never be strong again. Her little family made their lives in Machias but never established the hoped for business. They lived in a series of homes her father acquired as real estate acquisitions, moving often during the coming years. Harriet taught piano for inspiration and income. Zeke tinkered. He was a thinker, an inventor whose dreams remained elusive, just over the horizon. He harvested blueberries, saw the need for a faster way to remove leaves, and labored at designing and building a hand-powered winnowing machine for two years. Triumphant at last, his machine worked in the field splendidly. He had no money for a patent but began to construct more machines for sale only to find the following year that his design was stolen and patented by one of the local blueberry businesses. Eventually Zeke resigned himself to his fate and earned a meager living as a barber. They had no other children over the next nine years. Harriet had “women’s problems,” pain that came and went with her monthly cycle. Her heart defect further limited her activities. In late 1916, a new surgical procedure was available and she had an ovary removed that was covered in “cysts.” The doctor told her she would be unable to get pregnant ever again lacking an ovary. Considering their financial struggle, this was not unwelcome news. But, no one knew that the surgery would restore fertility, and that the one ovary left would happily kick into gear. Harriet soon discovered that she was pregnant and another son, named Robert Means Johnson in memory of his great grandfather Captain Robert Means Jr., was born in April 1918. The doctor advised her to nurse the baby to avoid another pregnancy, yet a year later Harriet was pregnant again. January 19th, 1920 she gave birth to a daughter, Louise Adele, their last child. Despite their limited resources, and little help from Zeke who remained aloof to their financial needs, Harriet had learned to get by. She took life as it came. She was happy.

Harriet’s brother William, known about town as Billy, finished high school the year she returned from the West Coast. After a long courtship, he married Emma Perry in 1918, the daughter of the shipping magnate George Perry and heiress to his home and fortune. It was a fine match for the Means family. Billy set about making a business that would keep Emma in the style to which she was accustomed. He opened the Phoenix Opera House in downtown Machias where live shows entertained crowds and ran silent movies in the early 20s. The second-floor hall had a seating capacity of 430, with 150 seats in the balcony. It was a profitable business. Commercial establishments occupied the ground floor, a barber shop and Western Union. The telephone company was located on the top floor. Billy and Emma lived in her father’s grand house on Court Street and had one daughter, Priscilla born in 1922.

Elsie completed grammar school the year her elder sister Harriet got married and went to Oregon. In 1912, she graduated from the Washington State Normal School in Machias and found employment as a teacher. Six years later, she married Carroll Gardner from Eastport, a marriage disputed by her father for Carroll came from a family of blacksmiths and had the unsavory reputation of a womanizer. They had one child, Charlie, born in 1919. Soon after his birth, Elsie went to live with her parents and stayed there to raise her child.

The prosperity enjoyed by the William Means family at the end of the 19th century, when lumber and shipping commerce was at its height, when oranges and exotic goods could be bought at the East India Tea Company in Machias, waned. As the years went by, the new century was not kind. The ports of Machias and near-by Bangor gave way those in the south that did not freeze in winter, Portland and Boston, or Saint John, Canada. As hard as William worked to ensure the security of his family, especially his grown daughters, the years had brought more burdens than blessings. His eldest son Otis had moved to Lynn, MA to support his family working as a clerk for General Electric Co. Later, he and his family lived in Newton, MA where he was employed as salesman and watchman.

By 1923, William and Nellie Means had their daughter Elsie and her son to support in their home on Broadway in Machias. Harriet and her three children lived close by in a duplex apartment on Court Street and depended on them too. Billy had married well but William worried how his son was making all that money. There were rumors that the Phoenix Opera House was a speak easy. Thanks to the temperance movement, the State of Maine had been dry for decades which led to a burgeoning business in the backwoods of Down East Maine. Well-hidden stills dotted the deep woods and hundreds of miles of shoreline ensured delivery of product to shoreline communities or Boston and New York. Billy was spending time in the woods and moved in hidden business circles. Times were changing.

And, there was William’s niece Grace to watch after…

 

Christmas Eve 1908

HARRIET’S BABY BOY ARRIVES AT LAST

After two days of hard labor, two doctors in attendance for the delivery, and an hour and a half of ether, Harriet and her baby lived. Thanks to the loving care of Mrs. May. Yet, there was still no letter from Mama…

I write to tell you the good long looked for news. Harriet’s baby boy has come and he is a fine big fellow, he weighs 10 ten pounds and looks like his Mama. She had a long hard labor from Dec 22 until Dec the 24th 11:30 P.M. It was a breach presentation and we had two Doctors. They were fine and had to do some hard work to save mother and child. When she was under the Ether and pains would come she would call for her mother.Mrs. May, letter to Harriet’s Aunt Thirza, December 25th, 1908.

Now don’t worry over your daughter, she is having as good care as if she was a Vanderbilt, nothing is left undone…I am very sorry Mrs. Means did not care to respond to my letter. She certainly is taking the hard view of Harriet’s family life. Give her my best wishes and tell her it’s not too late now to answer.Mrs. May, letter to Harriet’s father William. December 30th, 1908.

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Dora wrote to Harriet once again just after Christmas, while she waited. The news came before she finished the letter.

Wed. 9 PM

102 Union St.

Brewer Dec 30th, 1908

My dear Harriet,

The package containing the doily came last Saturday – and I remailed it to Thirza Monday morning. I have not heard from her this week. You did well to make it. It is very pretty and I think they will be pleased with it. This A.M. I rec’d a letter from Otis written last evening. I said it did not seem possible he had been home four days and was back at work again. He came down last Thursday night – he and Ethel. They met your Uncle Jim and Frank D in Boston station on their return home from Brockton where they had been called by the sudden death of their brother Will. The Sunday before a letter came from Rachel and Tom. He was in East Machias over Sunday and asked me if he did not get home on the midnight train Sat. to forward his mail to Machias Monday which I did. This letter from Rachel said Will had had a cough since last summer but kept at work up to Fri. night expecting to go to the store as usual on Sat. morning when he had a headache was weak and tired – felt he must stop work for a while. Tom wrote Rachel by return mail Tuesday night – he got the telegram from Rachel saying Will passed away last night. He was in Cherryfield. He telephoned me to meet him at Brewer Station with his suitcases packed with his best clothes. It was a great shock to us all. Allie talked to Frank and he came in the morning. Allie and I met Tom at midnight and went to Bangor station and she stayed with Tom until the train left which was late leaving at 1:40 A.M. It was a bitter cold night to walk home. Brother Hall came over to the house to stay with Katherine and Donald, they a bed and asleep. Wednesday I was not good for much. Thursday the funeral was at 2 P.M. in Brockton at 27 Glenwood Ave. Isn’t it too bad? Tom and Frank got home in Washington County at 6 A.M. 

I had kept Katherine out of the sitting room until Tom got here so he could see her when she got her Christmas presents. She had lots of things. Her best things were a Willow Rocking chair – a black board and desk combined. Then she had a book from Tom, “The Letters of Jennie Allen to her friend Miss Musgrove” by Grace Donworth of Machias, a pretty purse (Thirza), handkerchieves (Elsie and Otis – a pretty stitch copied from your mother), white linen hand bag from Mrs. McF. And, Thirza sent Tom a book of poems by Fanny J Moon – Ella Gilson’s father, you remember. Otis spoke of you and how much he missed you and how hard they tried to enjoy themselves. He said he and Ethel sent you a white sack for the baby. He had not heard from you but when you are able to, I know he will be glad to hear from you. You know blood is thicker than water and there must naturally be a longing for you – and as they had not heard lately how you are he said his mother and father were worrying a good deal knowing what you have to go through. I forgot to say we planned a Christmas dinner – had invited Frank and family and Mr. and Mrs. McF – so we had them. They all said the turkey and fixings were fine. Just wish you could have been there too. Sunday night Tom left on 8 o’clock train for Brockton. Have not heard from him but may in the morning. What is to be done with Will’s stone? 

Thursday noon Dec 31st

How you have suffered. I am so relieved that you came through and have such a good woman to care for you. Mrs. May’s letter came this morning. I was all a tremble when I saw a strange hand writing for I knew the worst was over. And after I had read it twice through I laid down on the couch and had a good cry for joy. Now I hope I can settle down to work and not worry as I have – and I shall hope and pray you may recover in time, not too soon, and be strong and better than ever before. I can’t stop to write more but will write to Mrs. May soon. She has probably written in the same mail mine was sent in and your mother and father know that their child is living – such a large baby boy – and your husband too, I hope now to getting his much needed rest and will not over much get sick too. With love to you all from your affectionate Aunt Dora

Best wishes for a bright and Happy New Year. Lovingly, Aunt Dora

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The last day of the year, the day that Dora finished her letter to Harriet, a letter arrived for William in Machias. He saw the familiar return address of his daughter and different hand writing. His hands shook as he opened the letter written on official stationary of the railroad.

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Form 2551

SOUTHERN PACIFIC COMPANY

Office of Agent

Portland, Oregon Dec 25, 1908

Mr. W. G. Means

Dear Friend: – 

At last I can write you the good news that you are grandpa to a fine big ten pound boy. He was born last night at 11:30 P.M. Harriet was a very very sick girl being sick since the 22nd at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon until last night. I never left her and gave her every care as if she was my own. We had two Doctors and she was under Ether for nearly one hour and half. It was such a large child and had to be taken with instruments. She had to have eight stitches taken. Now I am telling you this just as I would want to know if I was far from my dear girl at a time like this. A trained nurse will be here to relieve me for a time until I get rest but I will take care of her and do all as I told you I would some time ago. Mr. J. and Harriet are both delighted with the baby and Harriet says to tell you it looks just like Otis her brother. She was very fond of the little remembrances she received from her brother and sister. I will write you often while she is in bed to let you know how she is doing. 

With lots of love from her to you all. I remain ever wishing you all a Merry Xmas and Happy New Year. I will write to her Aunt Dora today.

Your friend,

Mrs. J.L. May

564 Union Ave N.

Portland, Oregon

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The same day, a letter arrived for Harriet’s Aunt Dora, for Mrs. May knew that Dora had been in constant contact with her niece. She must have a word to say.

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Form 2551

SOUTHERN PACIFIC COMPANY

Office of Agent

Portland, Oregon Dec 25, 1908

Mrs. T. S. Dennison

Dear Friend: –

I write to tell you the good long looked for news. Harriet’s baby boy has come and he is a fine big fellow, he weighs 10 ten pounds and looks like his Mama. She had a long hard labor from Dec 22 until Dec the 24th 11:30 P.M. It was a breach presentation and we had two Doctors. They were fine and had to do some hard work to save mother and child. She had to have eight stitches but unless something unforeseen sets in I think she will get along nicely. When she was under the Ether and pains would come she would call for her mother. She is having good care as if she were my own. I want to tell you that your dear good letters and little remembrances have helped her wonderfully and I am so glad you have been so thoughtful, among strangers and in her condition it has been very hard at times. We all make mistakes and do foolish things many times during a life time but when we do we all get punished in some way and what’s the sense of holding grudges. Life is too short to let anything come in and break the sweetest and most sacred tie a Mother’s love. I hope through your influence you will get Mrs. Means to look at Harriet’s little love match in a different light than she does now. Mr. Johnson is far from being rich, but he has good habits and he is so good and kind to Harriet and he works as hard as if he were an old man. There’s more more things in this world than being peeved. Well, dear friend, I feel as if I know you so I just write as if we were old friends. I wrote to Mr. Means as he always answers my letters. 

Wishing you and your a Happy New Year. I am Your Friend.

Mrs. J.L. May

564 Union Ave N.

Portland, Oregon

Excuse this but I am so very tired. I Have been up with Harriet since the 22nd and will stay till she is well as can help them save this much for the Doctor bills will be quite high. 

William received a second letter from Mrs. May the following week.

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Form 2551

SOUTHERN PACIFIC COMPANY

Office of Agent

Portland, Oregon Dec 30, 1908

Dear Friend: – 

Your letter to your daughter was received this A.M. and the enclosed $ found her getting along as well as could be expected after having such a very hard time. She will have to be in bed two weeks longer on account of so many stitches being taken. The baby is doing fine and he is such a fine baby. He has lovely large eyes and they are blue. I have not been home for over a week and I have hardly left them for a min. I sleep in a lounge in the room with baby and Mama so I can tend them. Baby has had a cold and not rested very good nights so far but now he will have plenty to eat. I think he will be better by New Years. They have named him Warren Gordon Johnson. I think the name very pretty. Now don’t worry over your daughter, she is having as good care as if she was a Vanderbilt, nothing is left undone. As a rule at my home has a big time at Xmas but this year I was down here and my children did not have any Xmas but we will celebrate later. I will try and stay the time she is in bed and a few days after she is up. She is extremely weak and I think your letter helped her as she has not cryed since she read it. All the time she was under the Ether she called for her mother. I am very sorry Mrs. Means did not care to respond to my letter. She certainly is taking the hard view of Harriet’s family life. Give her my best wishes and tell her it’s not too late now to answer. 

Wishing you a Happy New Year and thanking you from your daughter for the present. I am Your Friend.

Mrs. J.L. May

Nine days after her baby was born, Harriet wrote to her father, the last letter sent from Oregon. The doctors had discovered the reason for Harriet’s “weakness” that beset her since she was a child. She had a severe heart murmur. Harriet and Zeke desperately wanted to go home. They were homesick. Scared. Harriet had been determined to have the baby on their own, unable to face her mother. But, nothing would stand in their way now.

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Form 2551

SOUTHERN PACIFIC COMPANY

Office of Agent

Portland, Oregon Jan 2nd, 1909

My dear Father: – 

I have been looking for a letter from some of you at home all the week but you may have written and I will hope to hear soon.

First I must tell you the baby has a dimple in the right cheek just like mine and when he laughs he looks exactly like Otis. He grows like everything but it takes all my time to care for him, beside Zeke helps me too all he can. He is sound asleep now and looks so plump in the face I only wish you could see him. I am all alone tonight as Zeke went to work again at 7 P.M. as the days go by I think more of coming East and oh! if I only had wings it wouldn’t take long tonight for me to see you and Mama. Since my illness – not being strong – it seems to me I have been more homesick than ever and Zeke is just as homesick as I am. You see we have had such hard luck here that I don’t want to stay any longer than I can help it and if we only had money enough, the baby, Zeke and I would light out tomorrow. 

It is like this Papa. Zeke worries all the time about me because I am not strong and am practically alone so much that he knows I cannot be happy out here away from you all. And we think more of each other – if such a thing were possible – and Zeke wants to do what is best for me and for both of us in the end. I know he would do anything to make things easy for me but you see this past year has taught us both more than we could have been told in ten yrs. of advice and experience. It has been a great thing for us. Zeke and I have decided to come back to Maine as soon as possible for it certainly seems the wisest course. Zeke’s Father has written him that he will do anything he can to help him and if he wants to go into a business of some kind he would sell out his property there in Machias. We have tho’t of Penn Longfellow’s coal business. Has anyone taken it yet? Surely that ought to make a good living if properly conducted and $1000.00 ought to cover the expenses at the start. You see a man who always works for somebody else never gets ahead and Zeke says he will not waste the best part of his life doing that way. Couldn’t you think up some business that would make a living for us? Of course Zeke would be willing to go to Bangor or Portland if there is nothing at home and perhaps with his Father’s help he might go in some business and the baby and I could stay home with you (for Zeke would want to pay board for me. that is if you would take it) until he got started. 

There is no one I have met here that I care anything about and I would give more to be able to run in and see Gram and Aunt Thirza and be home with Mama than all this West put together. I have felt this way ever since I got here but I wasn’t going to hurt the baby’s disposition by mourning all the time about it. I kept cheerful but Zeke knows and realizes what I have gone through with and we can see it will cost us no more to live in Maine than here. And anyway Zeke ought to be able to do as well as he has here in the past few mos. He knows we are indebted to you for what furniture we have here and we will never forget your kindness and hope after we get back it will not be long before it can be paid back. We figured up today what it would cost to come home and with selling out what we have here we find would have $150.00, enough for our tickets first class, but would need $50.00 more to be sure and have enough for meals, birth etc. Could you possibly loan Zeke $50.00 with interest so I could come home right away? You see it has scared us by seeing what the Drs. charged when I was sick and if the baby or I was sick again it would be far cheaper in Maine than here. This building is going to be sold in a month or so, the owner came and informed me today, which means we have to move soon and I want to move only the once if I am going to Maine in a short time. Zeke is paying up my bills so we can leave here as soon as I hear from you as to your advice and approval and if you could loan us $50.00. I know, so does Zeke, what it means to ask you and how we wish there was some other way but I know I can get well far quicker by being home than being so far away and worrying all the time. I don’t get anytime to write anyone since Baby came for when eve. comes I am ready to go to bed as soon as I get everything done for the night. The baby is very healthy and by having Zeke help me I think we could manage to keep him well – alright – on such a long trip. The cars are nice and warm and there are few changes to be made. I do hope you can write us something encouraging that Zeke can do there for I am desperately homesick and want to come as soon as I can. Zeke plans to stop off at Portland, Me. to see if at the Depot they have any railroad work for him and I thought I could come home or stop and see Aunt Dora for a few days and rest up then Zeke could join me there. I only wish a month from tonight I would be home. They are cutting down forces at the freight office and Zeke may be out of work any day now. Well! I must stop as it’s long past my bedtime and I’m very tired. The baby seems pretty heavy when I have to handle him a lot but he is so sweet, I love him more than I can tell you. Goodnight Father dear and may this find you well and happy. Don’t mention to anyone we think of coming back yet. Much love to all from Zeke and I.  

Your aff. Daughter, 

Harriet

Nellie’s Sister Dora Pleads: Please Write to Your Daughter

In one letter [Harriet] said “getting only one letter from Mother has been more of a grief than all the hardships endured” – and added – “In case anything happens to me before I could see her I want you to know Aunt Dora how I feel. I can’t ever feel hard towards her or anyone of my relations and I can’t see how she can forget me entirely.”

Letter to Nellie from Dora, November 1908

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Portland, Oregon

464 1/2 Union Ave. North

Sunday Eve Oct. 11, 1908

My dear Father,

Your letter was much appreciated and also the papers you have sent so regularly each week and I look forward to their coming now. I think the same amount of sickness has gone all over the country for when your letter came Zeke and I both had terrible colds and Mrs. May has been in bed with one also. Mine has hung on and I still have it but it is wholly in my head and nose so it is not dangerous. Last night it rained here for the first time for wks. and from now I think the weather will be more settled. Fri. night about 5 o’clock Zeke awoke with a terrible cramp which kept growing worse and nothing I could seem to give him helped him at all so I called in Dr. Marcellus. He happened to be home at supper so it did not take him long to get here. He found that Zeke’s cold had settled in his bowels and he advised him to stay in bed that night and dose up. I phoned to Mrs. May and she had Mr. May call up Mr. Merrimaw so they put a man in Zeke’s place that night. By taking medicine every half hour he was better yesterday so he slept all day, and last night he was determined to go to work again. The Railroad pays his Dr. bill, medicine furnished to a man so he was lucky that it was no loss that way. I think being careful he will be alright now but there is a lot of Dysentery here and I was afraid to run any risk. 

Machias has certainly lost many this fall and very sudden deaths too. I think it makes everyone feel blue to be where so many are sick and it causes one to think more seriously about it. I am glad you are all well at home and do hope this winter will be mild so you may all enjoy good health. Except for this cold I remain about the same and manage to keep busy at sewing or housework what time I am able. 

I finished one nice puff about a wk. ago and where I did it all alone I felt real proud of my job. Mrs. May comes down often and is as good as gold and she is so motherly as well as tho’tful she is a great help to me. I smiled when I read in your letter for me not to turn Democrat for I must have mixed up what I said so you tho’t Mrs. May was Democrat. They are strong Rep. but I had heard so much talk that I got mixed up. I do hope Taft will win and I feel sure he will. Bryan is certainly not fit for President.

It gets dark by 6 o’clock here now and if I didn’t go to bed early the eves would seem pretty long, as it is I get a little lonesome sometimes. Today has been dull, cloudy and I have imagined you at home with a fire in the library. I have seen very few fireplaces out here and I think it is because most everyone runs a coal fire in stoves as many people have no furnaces. We have nice little coal stove which will heat up our rooms finely. Several mornings since I have had a cold I have stayed in bed until Zeke has come home and he has started a good fire which takes the chill off. We buy coal by the sack at 60¢ and kindling – it is not expensive for there is a coal and wood yard just below here. 

Mr. Collings, Otto’s Father, called one A. M this wk. when he was over to visit Mrs. Grable. He tries so hard to be nice to Zeke, I think because we were used so by Otto and Mattie. Otto is in Seattle and they will move there soon he told us.

Tues. noon

I got so far with your letter Sun. night when Mrs. May and Doc came (that is her youngest boy Dewey) and when they went I was too tired to finish. If I don’t go up to see Mrs. May every day she thinks I may be sick so down she comes or sends someone. I shall miss her after next wk. for she is going to Nevada to stay until Thanksgiving with her oldest sister in Nevada. Her youngest sister has gone there to be confined next month from Oklahoma and Mrs. May is going to be with her. She will take Doc with her and go by the way of Salt Lake City coming back by way of San Francisco. It will be a nice trip for her and where she gets passes all the way it will not cost her anything. 

Zeke is feeling better now and I think we will both be alright now. We have saved quite a little from our grocery bill this month by taking advantage of Sat. Special Sales and we will save from $5 to $8 by it. Hereafter, we will buy down town all we can now that we are getting a good start. Mr. Merrimaw told Mr. May a few days ago that Zeke was doing fine work and as long as he wanted to stay with the S.P. he could do so for they liked him. I was very glad when Mr. May told me for although times are better now it would not be very nice to be out of work. 

Aunt Dora wrote me a nice letter about 2 wks. ago and I was very much pleased to think she wrote. I am going to ans. soon but I am so slow about writing. She told me all about her visit down home and many little things interesting to me that I hadn’t heard before. Yesterday the Jan. sample copy of the Musician came and the Union came. Where I had not seen the Musician this yr. I enjoyed reading it also the home news. I was surprised at Eudora McCabe’s death also Mr. Pen Longfellow. It must have been very sudden. I have wondered what has been done with McCabe’s shoe store and who is running it now?

It was nice Mama could be with Mrs. Burnham at the cottage for a few days. It must be getting  dreary out there now and look fallish and cold. I have a souvenir card of the cottage which I enjoy looking at and showing to my friends here but I only wish I had some picture of home. I never had even a snapshot and I can only tell people about it and I try and tell Mrs. May how it looks. She does or has done such beautiful paintings and is a natural born artist. She says she is going to do a panel of Mt. Hood for me to send you and Mama sometime in the future.

Time flys so it doesn’t seem possible next June will end Wms. schooldays at Machias and it makes me feel sad to think about it. I do hope he will be ambitious to at least get a Business College Course. I think he will make such a practical business, a great deal like you if he only realizes his chance. Zeke mourns so much that his Father didn’t do for him as you have done by we children for he is so eager to make the most of his time. I encourage him and tell him it is not too late now and he has plenty of time. The West has certainly great opportunities if one can only stick long enough. 

I really don’t have any news to write you Papa but just that I appreciate all you do for me and your tho’tfullness and when I get to going about more I shall have more news to write about. I cut some colored paper dolls out of a magazine which I am going to send Elsie to take over to Doris Harmon sometime. She is just the age to enjoy them.

I will close now hoping to hear you are all well when this reaches you. It is cloudy and will rain here today. I hope Mama will write too. I miss her letters so much. Much love to all and best wishes.

Your aff. Daughter

Harriet

Remember me to Grace, Aunt Thirza, Aunt Nell, Carrie.

•••••••

The next month, Dora wrote to her sister Nellie. She had one objective. Please write to your daughter Harriet. It was all too common that the outcome of childbirth was not a healthy mother and child. If birthing didn’t kill the mother, childbed fever loomed. Harriet might not live. Nellie was a fine Christian woman, loving in her own way, a good wife to William and had raised their children with care. But Nellie had a hardness about her, a cold distance to separate herself from emotional pain that she used for discipline, her own and her family. Harriet had written to Dora that her mother’s one letter to her had broken her heart. She must be strong for childbirth. Didn’t Nellie know that? Withdrawing a mother’s love now might be the end for Dora’s beloved niece. At the risk of raising Nellie’s ire, she must attempt to intervene before it was too late.

••••••

Brewer Nov 27th 1908

My dear Nellie: –

I have wanted to write to you for weeks but there is so much to take the time every day and evenings so that I do not stop long enough. I heard Will when he came in last night and spoke to him so he would know I was awake – told him I had the alarm clock set and should be up at half past five and have some breakfast for him so I called him at quarter of six. I hated to for he was sleeping soundly. There was not much time to talk – he said he could have got something over at the station just as well and not have me get up so early. And I said, “Why Will, don’t you suppose I would want to do that much for you? I always get Mr. Benner’s breakfasts.” And he replied, “Well I don’t know perhaps you would have to bother more for him than for me.” No matter what time anyone leaves this house if it is to take a three o’clock train in the morning I am always up. The trains all leave so early from Bangor mornings it is hard for these traveling men. I am going around “Robinsons barn” as usual. Of course I asked him about how you all spent the day yesterday – how Mother seemed and you and Thirza. Then I asked when he had heard from Hattie last – and he told me and I said I had a letter and he said yes Nellie said you did and Thirza had one – then I said, “Will, has Nellie written to Hattie yet?” He said I don’t think so. I next asked is Nellie put out with me for writing to Hattie? He said I don’t know that she is. That was all there was time to say and he was gone. I feel now as I did the day Hattie left – that she did a great wrong to you all – but – for all that she is your child and my niece – no matter how much she made us all suffer. In one letter she said “getting only one letter from her Mother has been more of a grief to her than all the hardships she had endured” – and added – “In case anything happens to me before I could see her I want you to know Aunt Dora how I feel. I can’t ever feel hard towards her or anyone of my relations and I can’t see how she can forget me entirely.” I had already written that in a reply letter to her. That – I missed her so every day – and that – I loved her. I always did and always should. It never did anyone any harm to tell them you love them. It is understood in one’s own family that we love each other without saying so I know but – in this case I wanted her to know that – I still love her. It would do no good to her for to me to repeat what I wrote her at the time. She went away – she knows all that – but I long for that child and I always shall. I can’t help feeling that way. She is ours just the same. If she should not live, I shall feel better to know from her that she had received my kind letter and I had had her reply. And if she comes out all right – as I hope she will — she will not be harmed by the kindness I have shown her, after all she made me suffer with you and us all. We are not the only ones who have had to suffer by the willfulness others. The best way it seems to me is to make the best of whatever comes. I do try, always have. 

It is getting late nearly 7 o’clock and I want to go out to mail this so I must close. Jim went to Aroostock County last Mon. P.M. and will be home on the late train tomorrow night from Eastport. Katherine and I took dinner with Mrs. McFarland yesterday. We were invited down to Allies and to Mrs. Halls too. I shall be glad to see you when you can come up or to hear from you. 

Love to you all, 

Dora