Though I study early 19th-century American children’s literature and culture, I can’t resist children’s culture from other time periods. Electa Gertrude (“Lecta”) Kidner was my great-grandmother, born in Ohio in 1880. For Christmas in 1894, her sister gave her a small autograph album. “Dear Friends,” Lecta wrote on page three, “What ever you Write in my Album Write sonething [sic] that is good and true”; and some of the sentiments left by her friends are rather charming.

They’re much shorter than the sentiments copied out in Phebe Adams’ autograph book from the 1830s and 1840s. The pages in that album are about 8 inches by 7 inches, which is a lot more real estate to cover than in Lecta’s tiny book; Phebe’s acquaintances copied long poems and parts of essays.

They’re also more elegant than those I and my friends left in autograph books and school year books. Autograph books go through trends, and I think we were trying for “memorably funny.” Most of Lecta’s friends went for “gravely sweet.”

Of course, not everyone did:

Essa B.:
When you fall
Down and skin
Your knee just
Jump up and think
Of me.

Grace W., 1895:
Forget you no, I never will,
As long as I can whistle.
I would as soon forget to cry,
When I steped [sic] on a thistle.

But most are earnest:

Lulu P., 1895:
I write not here for fancy,
I write not here for fame.
I write to be remembered,
And thus inscribe my name.

Florence W, 1895:
Some love one and
Some love two.
I love one ^and^ that is you. [Florence left out the “and” and had to add it.]

Jennettie K., 1895:
When in my Grave I lonely sleep
And the willows over ^me^ weep
Tis then dear Friend and not before that I shall think of thee no more.

Madge and Lolla apparently read the same poet:

Madge A., 1895:
Remember me early
Remember me late
Remember me on your wedding day
And send me a piece of orange Cake.

Lolla C., 1895:
Remember me ever
Remember me long
Remember me Lecta
When I am gone.

And Bertha just got right to the point:

Bertha C., 1895:
May the wing of your happiness never lose a feather.

Anyone who’s tried to heat with a fire in an old fireplace knows just how much heat goes into the room and how much goes right up the chimney. (Yes, there were holes in the floor around the legs of the radiators; and, yes, I could see through them into the garage below my apartment; and, yes, the landlord did inform me that the reason the heat was turned off during the day was because no one was in the building during the day—which he explained at 1 p.m. as we stood in my apartment, with the man in the apartment next door watching a loud action movie and the students upstairs having some sort of stomp party, none of us apparently being actually in the building in the middle of the day … But I digress.)

In the early 1870s, Scribner’s had a recurring column called “Back Log Studies,” a “back log” being the large log at the back of the fireplace that was the basis of a good fire. Earlier “Studies” often had a political slant, but in early 1872, a number of the pieces were written by Charles Dudley Warner, who linked them in an ongoing philosophical discussion.

Warner’s first “Study” begins with a discussion of birch logs and open fires that explores the practical aspects of birch as firewood and brushes against a theme pursued by a number of writers. His gentle remonstrance against heated buildings is in keeping with a number of writers of the time, who contrasted the romance of wide-open fireplaces with the supposed bleak practicality of metal stoves. As inhabitants valued being warm(er) in the winter over watching flames leaping up the chimney, more than one writer complained that much was being lost. (Anyone romanticizing the use of open fireplaces to warm a house should read Our Own Snug Fireside, by Jane C. Nylander, especially pages 74-81. Actually, you should read the book anyway. Really!)

It was ever thus. In his Recollections of a Life Time, Samuel Griswold Goodrich (born in 1793) recalled indifference to the temperatures of winter in the very early 1800s: “Oh! those beautiful winters, which would drive me shivering to the fireside now …. One thing strikes me now with wonder, and that is, the general indifference, in those days, to the intensity of winter. No doubt, as I have said before, the climate was then more severe; but be that as it may, people seemed to suffer less from it than at the present day. Nobody thought of staying at home from church because of the extremity of the weather. We had no thermometers, it is true, to frighten us with the revelation that it was twenty-five degrees below zero. The habits of the people were simple and hardy, and there were few defences against the assaults of the seasons. The houses were not tight; we had no stoves, no Lehigh or Lackawanna coal; yet we lived, and comfortably too; nay, we even changed burly winter into a season of enjoyment.” (volume 1, p. 133) He then tells the story of a controversy when it was decided to put stoves into a local church: the Sunday after the stoves were installed, the most vehement member of the “Anti-stove Party” ostentatiously fainted due to the overwhelming heat of the stoves—and was chagrined to learn that the they hadn’t even been lit.

Warner couches his protest in a romanticized view of Puritan New England, with church-goers warmed by religion instead of coal. The whole piece is gently unfocused, drifting from an examination of birch in culture to wood as metaphor and the yearly transition from autumn to winter. (The rest of his cogitations will remain in Scribner’s.)

from “Back Log Studies—Renewed,” by Charles Dudley Warner (from Scribner’s Monthly, February 1872; pp. 434-435)

The log was white birch. The beautiful satin bark at once kindled into a soft, pure, but brilliant flame, something like that of naphtha. There is no other wood flame so rich, and it leaps up in a joyous, spiritual way, as if glad to burn for the sake of burning. Burning like a clear oil, it has none of the heaviness and fatness of the pine and the balsam. Woodsmen are at a loss to account for its intense and yet chaste flame, since the bark has no oily appearance. The heat from it is fierce and the light dazzling. It flares up eagerly like young love, and then dies away; the wood does not keep up the promise of the bark. The woodsmen, it is proper to say, have not considered it in its relation to young love. In the remote settlements the pine-knot is still the torch of courtship; it endures to sit-up by. The birch-bark has alliances with the world of sentiment and of letters. The most poetical reputation of the North American Indian floats in a canoe made of it; his picture-writing was inscribed on it. It is the paper that nature furnishes for lovers in the wilderness, who are enabled to convey a delicate sentiment by its use which is expressed neither in their ideas nor chirography. It is inadequate for legal parchment, but does very well for deeds of love, which are not meant usually to give a perfect title. With care it may be split into sheets as thin as the Chinese paper. It is so beautiful to handle that it is a pity civilization cannot make more use of it. But fancy articles manufactured from it are very much like all ornamental work made of nature’s perishable seeds, leaves, cones, and dry twigs—exquisite while the pretty fingers are fashioning them, but soon growing shabby and cheap to the eye. And yet there is a pathos in “dried things,” whether they are displayed as ornaments in some secluded home, or hidden religiously in bureau-drawers where profane eyes cannot see how white ties are growing yellow and ink is fading from treasured letters, amid a faint and discouraging perfume of ancient rose-leaves.

The birch log holds out very well while it is green, but has not substance enough for a back-log when dry. Seasoning green timber or men is always an experiment. A man may do very well in a simple, let us say, country, or back-woods line of life, who would come to nothing in a more complicated civilization. City life is a severe trial. One man is struck with a dry-rot; another develops season-cracks; another shrinks and swells with every change of circumstance. Prosperity is said to be more trying than adversity, a theory which most people are willing to accept without trial; but few men stand the drying out of the natural sap of their greenness in the artificial heat of city life. This, be it noticed, is nothing against the drying and seasoning process; character must be put into the crucible some time, and why not in this world? A man who cannot stand seasoning will not have a high market value in any part of the universe. It is creditable to the race, that so many men and women bravely jump into the furnace of prosperity and expose themselves to the drying influences of city life.

The first fire that is lighted on the hearth in the autumn seems to bring out the cold weather. Deceived by the placid appearance of the dying year, the softness of the sky, and the warm color of foliage, we have been shivering about for days without exactly comprehending what was the matter. The open fire at once sets up a standard of comparison. We find that the advance guards of winter are besieging the house. The cold rushes in at every crack of door and window, apparently signaled by the flame to invade the house and fill it with chilly drafts and sarcasms on what we call the temperate zone. It needs a roaring fire to beat back the enemy; a feeble one is only an invitation to the most insulting demonstrations. Our pious New England ancestors were philosophers in their way. It was not simply owing to grace that they sat for hours in their barn-like meeting-houses during the winter Sundays, the thermometer many degrees below freezing, with no fire, except the zeal in their own hearts—a congregation of red noses and bright eyes. It was no wonder that the minister in the pulpit warmed up to his subject, cried aloud, used hot words, spoke a good deal of the hot place and the Person whose presence was a burning shame, hammered the desk as if he expected to drive his text through a two-inch plank, and heated himself by all allowable ecclesiastic gymnastics. A few of their followers in our day seem to forget that our modern churches are heated by furnaces and supplied with gas. In the old days it would have been thought unphilosophic as well as effeminate to warm the meeting-houses artificially. In one house I knew, at least, when it was proposed to introduce a stove to take a little of the chill from the Sunday services, the deacons protested against the innovation. They said that the stove might benefit those who sat close to it, but it would drive all the cold air to the other parts of the church and freeze the people to death; it was cold enough now around the edges. Blessed days of ignorance and upright living! Sturdy men who served God by resolutely sitting out the icy hours of service, amid the rattling of windows and the carousal of winter in the high wind-swept galleries! Patient women, waiting in the chilly house for consumption to pick out his victims, and replace the color of youth and the flush of devotion with the hectic of disease! At least you did not doze and droop in our over-heated edifices, and die of vitiated air, and disregard of the simplest conditions of organized life. It is fortunate that each generation does not comprehend its own ignorance. We are thus enabled to call our ancestors barbarous. It is something also that each age has its choice of the death it will die. Our generation is most ingenious. From our public assembly-rooms and houses we have almost succeeded in excluding pure air. It took the race ages to build dwellings that would keep out rain; it has taken longer to build houses air-tight, but we are on the eve of success. We are only foiled by the ill-fitting, insincere work of the builders, who build for a day and charge for all time.

Ah, fame! So fleeting. One day you’re toasted; the next day, you’re toast. And later generations have to turn to Wikipedia to find out who you were. Such is life.

Joseph Jefferson (1829-1905) was one of the most popular actors in 19th-century America. Specializing in comedy, he acted with many of the prominent actors of the time. His Autobiography of Joseph Jefferson is a lively account of the travails of early American theater. Bouncing across the Illinois prairie in wagons; acting in a “pork-house,” accompanied by the squeals of the pigs banished from their quarters; hoisting the canvas scenery as a sail to speed their flatboat upriver; setting William Macready’s wig on fire—Jefferson could tell a good story, and his autobiography has plenty of entertainment value. (And a cameo by Abraham Lincoln.)

It’s also a cautionary tale about the fragility of fame. Jefferson refers to numerous actors by name without discussing them or their performances. His 19th-century readers no doubt knew what they were known for; his 21st-century readers, not so much. They’re names now, associated, perhaps, with a play or two, but it’s difficult to get a sense of how they were as actors. Unless your medium creates something tangible, an artist’s work can vanish with the artist, and later generations won’t know who you were.

More cheerful is this tiny bit of story about Jefferson showing bank clerks who he was. Now, we can pull out a photo identification card or passport to prove who we are, but in 19th-century America that wasn’t an option. (Well, the passport was, but there was no photo on it—just a description of the individual. They’re rather an entertaining read.) Yet, in this tiny drama, Jefferson is expected to show identity.

He does so creatively. He could have shown one of the carte de visites of himself as an actor, but instead he identifies himself via his art. Rip Van Winkle was probably Jefferson’s most popular role, and luckily it provided a line he could use to excellent effect. (If you’d like to see him in action, archive.org has a video originally shot in 1896.)

The piece in the Western Rural retells the story and goes on to suggest how other (temporarily) famous actors could identify themselves. To non-historians, the actors are simply names, their lines a collection of words. Except, of course, for Edwin Forrest, whose ginned-up feud with William Macready provided one of the weirder incidences of violence in 19th-century America. The lines were no doubt well-known, but they’re nowhere near as good or as appropriate to the occasion as Jefferson’s.

Did this little incident happen? Who knows. Urban legend or not, it’s a good story, and sometimes that’s the most important thing.

“A Good Hint for Actors” (from Western Rural 7 January 1871; p. 10)

It is said that Joe Jefferson went into a New York bank for the purpose of getting the money on a check drawn to his order, and was informed by the cashier that the check could not be cashed without identification of the gentleman presenting it. Most of the clerks recognized the famous actor, of course, but it was as much as their place was worth to acknowledge it. At last, Jefferson turned to the teller, and said in the tones of Rip Van Winkle, “If my little dog Schnider were here, he would know me.” The effect was electrical, and the check was immediately honored.

Apropos of this story, the suggestion has been made that if the following actors find themselves in a similar predicament, Mr. Owens need only lay down his check and say, “Jess so, Judge;” Lucille Western might cry, “O God! O God! me che-ild, me che-ildren;” Pauline Markham might put her foot on the counter; and Edwin Forrest need only rush into the bank, seize the teller by the throat, and yell “Liar and slave!” No doubt the money would be instantly forthcoming.

The year is waking up in latitude 39. Warmth is here (this week), and the curtains are pulled further to keep the light of dawn from fading the books. The great piles of snow from the last two snowstorms have dwindled to nubs of winter in corners of parking lots.

Charles Dudley Warner kept track of 19th-century signs of spring: birds, caterpillars, seed catalogs. It’s filled with details and pithy bits of humor, as Warner reminds us that “it is the early worms that get eaten,” describing a warbler as having “a great deal of sing in him for his size,” comparing an illustration of the new ideal in tomatoes to the inflamed stomach of the alcoholic as shown by temperance lecturers.

Warner was a man of his century, and the essay is sprinkled with slurs. But it’s also full of the seasonal markers of early spring in the 19th century, some of which haven’t changed in the 21st. Seed catalogs still appear in mailboxes, little frogs sing, birds announce the dawn in increasing volume, anglers get ready, and the human heart stirs at the resurrection of life after the iron hardness of winter.


“A Spring Carol,” by Charles Dudley Warner (from The Independent [New York, New York] 16 March 1871; p. 1)

The year is waking up in latitude forty-one. It came in with the Forty-second Congress. The day after, as I was going to church, I met a butterfly in the lenten condition of humiliation—in fact, a caterpillar—out on the flagging, looking for spring; going from the church, showing that, whatever he may ultimately be converted into, he had at present no religious instincts except humility. He may come to something by Easter, but I doubt it; for there were some blue jays waiting for him on a neighboring tree, and it is the early worms that get eaten. All the reformers and harbingers of a new movement have rough treatment. The jays themselves had been out in a snow-storm the night before—what is called in the country a “sugar-snow,” which comes lightly and goes quickly, and is held as an indication that the sap has started in the sugar-maple.

On the second of March a dozen blue-birds spent the day near our house (in the suburbs of Hartford), diving about in the trees, running over the lawn to look for worms, and keeping up a good deal of chattering, with now and then some delicious notes; but they were in an undecided state of mind. I heard them all about in the fields that day—a day of serene sunshine; and their vivacious chatter, mingled with the noise of carpenters’ hammers on new buildings, made spring almost real. This hammer sound in spring reminds you, if you are country born, of the echoing sound of the ax in the woods in the first genial days when the snow begins to melt and settle and the buds are swollen. The sly chipmunk, whose tracks you have seen on the snow, will cautiously peer out at the chopper. There is nothing quite so delicious as this beginning of things. On the fifth of March there were several brown warblers about, a little bunch of feathers, whitey-brown on the breast, not larger than a canary, but with a great deal of sing in him for his size. I think they came without their wives, as some birds have a way of doing; or, probably, they do not marry till later. And they liked to sit on the tips of the highest twigs and sing several bars, of half-a-dozen sweet notes and a cricket-like trill, and then dive sideways, on slant wing, to another perch, scattering broken music through the air. It was a contrast to the harsh screaming and scolding of the blue jays—different ways of spending Sunday.

That same morning a large bird, that I took for a species of wood-pecker, perched himself upon a big chestnut tree, not to peck, but to observe; and he staid [sic] in the high trees all day, taking note of the signs of the sky and of the temperature, and apparently making up his mind whether it would do to bring his family. That night an owl, of the agitating, screeching sort, kept up a whir-r-r till quite late, which set off all the dogs in the neighborhood, until summer itself seemed to have come, with its night-noises. But the owl cannot make spring; nothing can really be done till the frogs wake up. I suppose the frog, like most wiseacres, has got up his reputation for sagacity by waiting for a certainty before he opens his mouth. The next day there was a cold rain, very encouraging to the ground, which had not yet parted with all its frost, but disapproved of by the birds. It put the blue jays in a dreadful temper. But one can forgive the elegant fellows anything, if they will only stay. There are a couple of them now hopping about on the lawn, glancing from tree to tree! The aristocratic top-knot, the pure blue of back and wings tipped with white! Alas! that such beauties should be such scolds.

But there are not the only signs of spring. The catalogues of the seedsmen and the nurserymen have been arriving for several days. They wake up before the frogs. Bless the nurserymen! They have little patches of ground somewhere, I suppose, with things growing in them; but what they principally raise is expectations. There is no literature so pleasing as theirs. What bloom, what color, what size, what fragrance in it! What a world of sweetness and light! “Very double (sort of Mormons, probably),[”] “very pink,” “free bloomers,” “large trusses of intense scarlet,” “delicate fragrance, ” “white throat, purple lip,” “bright dazzling crimson,” “rich blush,” “Madame Charles Wood, brilliant red changint to rose“ (she started a rose according to the catalogue), “red, tipped with gold,” “dark rose carmine,” “Clematis Louise, white black eye” (from Japan, one white and one black probably), “continuing to flower” (in the catalogue), “easily cultivated,” “suffused with orange and streaked with violet,” “immense bloomer,” “baby boy—scarlet, white eye” (poor kind of Injun), “Christabel, rosy pink, very dwarf” (alas!), “little dear—delicate rose, with white spots,” “Maid of Kent, richest shade of pink,” “Seedy cConstance Grosvenor, rich orange, scarlet nosegay,” “Sophia Dumaresque, zone of a brilliant scarlet,” “salmon red midrib,” convey a faint idea. It is enough to set one crazy. And the best of it is that it can all be sent by mail, whether you receive it or not. And you can read for nothing. I enjoy the society of the “Baltimore Belle, pale blush, nearly white, and one of the best.” What a fuchsia that is! Almost five inches long, and dreadfully double. A person would not want more than one such fuchsia. And when we come to the early vegetables, the mind, edged on by the appetite, gives way in a flood of sensations. A photograph of a section of the Trophy tomato, covering a broad page. I mistook it at first for a view of the moon, and thought we had got exalted out of horticulture into astronomy. Heaven seems within reach, with one of these catalogues. This plate looks a little, however, like those awful pictures that used to be exhibited by temperance lecturers, called “views of a drunkard’s stomach.” I don’t say this to injure this tomato, which is no doubt the best, being the latest; but I think this specimen is rather enlarged and inflamed. Specimens are apt to be, in catalogues. But, after all, I wouldn’t give up the spring catalogues. They fill these dull days—which will come to check the advance of the best drilled spring—with color, odor, and the most delightful anticipations.

The brooks have got free, for another thing, and begun that purling noise which is one of the most pleasing sounds of the reviving year. It sends a thrill through the nerves of the trout-fisher, who begins to get his tackle in order. One would think that the softening influence of the season would have a contrary effect on man; but he shows his delight in it by a desire to kill something. The young trout are leaping unsuspiciously in the remote pools; but shy by what Mr. Darwin would call inherited instinct, based on experience of danger to their tribe. It might comfort them to know that in this state the legislature has given them a month’s respite this year. They have the law on their side till April Fool’s Day. And we, who make the laws for women as well as fish, call this generosity. But trout-fishing comes very near to being a virtue. We cannot yet walk on the spongy grass by the brook-side; but it will very soon be firm, green, and full of the odor of spring, strewn with cowslips, and fringed with the budding willow. In woods and on sunny slopes there is already a new stir. The sap has begun to go up the tree-trunks; though the buds, at the moment I write, have not heard of it, and still keep their varnish on. Under the leaves the arbutus is very restless, the buds already getting color. These shy plants and the birds have most faith in spring; men and women begin unconsciously to show it, as yet, only by increased carelessness about leaving the house-doors open.

But it is coming. We have felt the breath of it in the south wind. The sun mounts higher day by day, and goes to a rosier setting. The spring poems begin to appear in the newspaper corners. The editors are always first to scent a change. Winter will return to the charge again and again; but will always be discomfited, the rent clouds showing after each struggle wider patches of deeper blue. It cannot be long not to spring bonnets, when Lent gives way to the gay colors of fashion, tempered by religious experiences; and the manly mind comes to that season of confidence in Nature when blacking stays on boots. It is coming. Every root in the soil feels it. The wind at night has changed its tune. The rain is not hostile, like that of autumn; but every shower opens new avenues to the spring. In all mysterious ways the new life is stirring. The resurrection is at hand, and the Easter hymn.

Winter is … not yet over yet here, where we’re each minute expecting a snow storm. It’s easier now: Central heating, fleece-lined boots, well-stocked pantry and freezer and refrigerator, warm car, good blades on the windshield wipers (and retirement meaning that I don’t actually have to go anywhere).

Things were a bit different in the 19th century. Damp clothing often stayed that ways; wet feet could drop your body temperature. Liquids in a glass container could freeze and break it. Bedrooms were often icy, and chilly beds felt damp.

But a good snowstorm can still stop a city (um, sorry) cold. Thirty inches of snow, and Philadelphia called out the folks with suvs to help medical personnel get to the hospital in 1996. (Fortunately it melted pretty quick, blurred by a shallow layer of fog.) Snow rarely breaks the flow of Minneapolis, but snow removal can definitely ruin the paths for pedestrians, the plows raising new mountains where we’d carved paths through the earlier mounds.

Starting on January 5, New York City experienced an enormous snowstorm in 1856. Fortunately for us, William Hoyt Coleman was there to record the experience of a 19th-century blizzard.

Willie Coleman was a popular subscriber to Robert Merry’s Museum. Born in 1839 or 1840, he began to write to the Museum’s popular letters column in 1851. His last letter appeared in 1864, after he’d worked as a nurse in the Civil War hospital in the Patent Office in Washington, DC, and taken a tour of the American Midwest. Later in life he edited a newspaper, wrote columns about gardening, and worked as an editor for The Country Gentleman. He also contributed to numerous periodicals.

Here he’s detailing for us what it was like to be in New York City during a 19th-century blizzard. Willie was always a lively writer deft with words; now he describes the screaming winds and reminds us how difficult it could be to stay warm in an immense cold. Willie’s letter was printed in the Museum as an article separate from the letters column; he contributed more than one article to the magazine and became friends with the editor.

A couple notes: The “omnibus-sleighrides” are mentioned by George Templeton Strong in his diary; he describes the “great crowded sleigh-caravans that have taken the place of the omnibi [omnibuses]” on the major roads. [George Templeton Strong. The Diary of George Templeton Strong, ed. Allan Nevins and Milton Halsey Thomas. New York: Macmillan, 1952; vol 2: 251] The “Brooklyn philosopher” was E. Meriam, whose New-York Almanac and Weather Book, for 1857 (New York: Mason Brothers) was published in 1856.


“Willie H. Coleman’s Letter” by William Hoyt Coleman (from Robert Merry’s Museum, March 1856; pp. 81-83

New York, Jan. 9, 1856.

Mr. Merry:—I did intend to say a few words on a different theme, but the great snow-storm which has set New York crazy, precludes the possibility of so doing, as every idea on any other subject is most effectually “snowed under.” Therefore I shall resign my pen to the leading topic of the day, allowing it to bore you with whatever may chance to fall from its nib.

I like dearly to be out in a snow-storm. Let the wind blow as keenly as it may, and the driving flakes pour down, it suits me all the better. Accordingly, on Saturday, towards evening, when the storm had well set in, I sallied forth, “armed and equipped as the weather directs,” resolved to brave the wintry perils I might chance to meet. But alas, for my determination, I had scarcely gone three yards, when my onward progress was arrested by an insidious bit of ice, concealed from view by a treacherous coating of snow. I slipped—staggered forward—cast my arms above me in wild despair, and fell—fell with a crash upon the pavement, simultaneously wounded in body and mind. I arose a “sadder but a wiser” boy, and thenceforward took more heed to my steps. However it availed me but little. Again and again did I suddenly discover myself on the cold ground, until disheartened at my misfortunes, I retraced my steps homeward, when, unwarned by experience, I humbly bent my knee in suppliance to the Ice-King, on precisely the same spot which had been the scene of my first exploit. This was too much. I reached home, and with aching limbs sought my bed, hoping to obtain some rest.

But the storm was now raging so violently, that it was almost impossible to sleep. The shrieking blast swept wildly through the streets, whirling the snow in blinding clouds, heaping it up in huge masses, and playing all manner of fantastic tricks. It roared around snug dwellings, and down the chimneys, as if enraged at not gaining admittance; then it died away into a gentle moan, a soft whisper; then suddenly it roused itself and swept on with ten-fold vehemence. In the midst of the wild uproar, the hoarse clangor of the fire-bell boomed forth upon the air, its tones sounding strangely in accordance with the mad elements which ruled the sky.

At last I sank into an uneasy slumber, pursued even in my dreams by relentless fate. I thought I was being ground to atoms between two mill-stones made of ice, while a grinning fiend stood by, watching my writhings with demoniac satisfaction. Then the scene changed, and I found myself on a bed of ice, surrounded by mocking imps, who were rubbing my mangled body with a mixture of salt and snow, occasionally varying the operation, by pouring in a little vinegar. So passed the night. At last morning dawned. I arose and looked out. The tempest was over and gone, but its effects remained. Great drifts of snow lay along the street, blocking up the sidewalks and doorways, and shrouding the basements in total darkness. No trace of vehicle or human footstep was visible, and the white cloud-offspring lay in a broad unbroken sheet, beautiful to behold. However, it is impossible for New York to remain snowed up for any great length of time, and consequently the Shovel Brigade were soon out in full force, ready to clear the walks at (un)reasonable prices. It was quite a good day’s work to remove some of the drifts, and in many streets they were left as the wind had placed them.

Towards noon, I went out to observe the state of the city under its snowy covering. Broadway was as I have never seen it before. Immense snow-mounds lined each side-walk, between which ran narrow winding footpaths, scarce wide enough to admit of persons passing one another. But few sleighs were out on the usually well thronged thoroughfare, and, indeed, the whole scene appeared much more appropriate for a country village than for the largest city of the Union.

Having satisfied my curiosity, I was about returning, when just as I passed the New York Hotel, I suddenly felt a heavy pressure overhead, and immediately was enveloped in total darkness. Yielding to the force of circumstances, I sank to the ground, but recovering my energy I struggled upwards, blindly groping about me, and soon emerged into daylight, when I discovered that I had been pelted with a snowball of nature’s own making, from the roof above. Had this been all, I should not have cared, but, Mr. Merry, have you ever experienced that delightful sensation produced by a rivulet of melted snow trickling gently down your back? If you have, pity me.

Well, the snow-storm has been with us nearly a week, and has been productive of many a scene of mirth and jollity, as well as of want and sorrow. I might, if I chose, describe the incidents of the carnival which has reigned throughout the town, and especially in Broadway. I might mention the odd pranks and queer doings of different folks, or expatiate upon the miseries of omnibus-sleighrides, but this has been done and overdone so thoroughly by the newspapers, that I refrain.

But there is one thing I must speak of, and that is, the intense cold. Here we are, shivering over grates and furnaces, the water-pipes frozen up, ditto gas, mercury gone to parts unknown, or supposed to have done so, as nothing is seen of it, and everybody looking blue and frostbitten. The only person who seems to be in his element (if I can so call it) is the Brooklyn philosopher, who daily informs the public that it is extremely cold, gives a memorandum of the temperature of the preceding day, together with how the cold cycle progresses, and other valuable bits of knowledge, all of which said public knew perfectly before. However, if he enjoys the fun it is no affair of mine.

There, I think I have trespassed on your time and patience sufficiently for the present, so I will bring this letter to a close.

Yours truly,
Willie H. Coleman.

Early American works for children had, of course, a lot of advice for readers: moral advice (help the less fortunate) and practical advice (how to make a bed in the hayloft). In its 102 years, Youth’s Companion advised readers on just about everything (don’t go to the theater; choose friends wisely; be humble; bundle up when you go outside). As blunt is its advice on getting through winter with health intact—more complicated in the 19th century than it (usually) is today, when we can just turn up the heat at home.

Much of the advice is based on avoiding cold places (don’t ride or sleep near an open window; don’t sit against chilly cushions) or staying warm (keep your feet dry; cover your face when walking in extreme cold). Other bits seem less focused on avoiding chill, but avoiding discomfort (don’t wear new shoes). Either way, it’s a vivid reminder of the difficulties of staying warm in a world made not really all that cozy by fire.

“Rules for Winter” (from The Youth’s Companion, January 3, 1861; p. 4)

Never go to bed with cold or damp feet.

In going into a colder air, keep the mouth resolutely closed, that by compelling the air to pass circuitously th[r]ough the nose and head, it may become warmed before it reaches the lungs, and thus prevent those shocks and sudden chills which frequently end in pleurisy, pneumonia and other serious forms of disease.

Never sleep with the head in the draft of an open door or window.

Let more covering be on the lower limbs than on the body. Have an extra covering within easy reach in case of a sudden and great change of weather during the night.

Never ride near the open window of a vehicle for a single half-minute especially if it have been preceded by a walk; valuable lives have thus been lost, or good health permanently destroyed.

Never put on a new boot or shoe in beginning a journey.

Never wear India-rubber in cold, dry weather.

If compelled to face a bitter cold wind, throw a silk handkerchief over the face; its agency is wonderful in modifying the cold.

Those who are easily chilled on going out of doors, should have some cotton batting attached to the vest or other garment, so as to protect the space between the shoulder-blades behind, the lungs being attached to the body at that point, a little there is worth five times the amount over the chest in front.

Never sit for more than five minutes at a time with the back against the fire or stove.

Avoid sitting against the cushions in the backs of pews in churches; if the uncovered board feels cold, sit erect without touching it.

Never begin a journey until breakfast has been eaten.

Oh, Charlotte Temple. One of the earliest American bestsellers (200+ editions in its first 100 years), it’s— How to describe it? At the time, it was romantic and tragic and deliciously sentimental. Now, it’s melodramatic and overly moral and has a rating just under 3 at Goodreads. (For the uninitiated, that’s … not the greatest rating.)

Charlotte was first published in London in 1791 and had its glamor period after it was published in the U.S. in 1794. Susanna Rowson wrote novels (10), plays (6), and poems (4 collections), but Charlotte was the most popular. Charlotte Temple, age 15, is seduced by Montraville, a British officer who persuades her to follow him to America, where he is tricked by a friend into abandoning her and then marries another. In proper 18th-century fashion, Charlotte dies after giving birth to her illegitimate daughter, Montraville regrets his actions for the rest of his life, and the woman who helped Montraville in his seduction of Charlotte is cast out by her husband to die miserably. I mean, how can you resist a story like that?

Few could in the intervening years. Yes, the book is filled with little sermons by the author, the characters speak in paragraphs, and there’s more swooning than we’re accustomed to. But Montraville is less a paper-thin villain than a man who can be persuaded to do what he’s already inclined to do; and Charlotte— Okay: she’s slightly pathetic and a little bit of an idiot, but aren’t a lot of young teens? And Rowson lampshades the melodrama: “ ‘Bless my heart,’ cries my young, volatile reader, ‘I shall never have patience to get through these volumes, there are so many ahs! and ohs! so much fainting, tears, and distress, I am sick to death of the subject.’ ”

But this tiny morsel (under 200 pages) of melodrama had many fans. Still, it was surprising to see the book’s title pop up during a recent search of a database. This weird little piece starts as a diatribe against sensational novels and ends as a saunter through nostalgia. We get glimpses of other enthusiastic readers as landmarks in the novel are described by someone who expects that we remember that two English towns are mentioned “in the early scenes of the novel.” Charlotte Temple deserved to be destroyed, but it’s pretty clear that “H****” has a nostalgic fondness for it.

Not so, The Monk, which is long and so overwrought that the pages almost glow in the dark; it’s the novel that emblemizes the sensational novel, and I remember it as a dandy read. Eliza Wharton is The Coquette; or, The History of Elia Wharton, by Hannah Webster Foster, based on a real-life incident not that dissimilar from the one in Charlotte Temple and published in 1797. Charles Robert Maturin wrote Bertram; or, The Castle of St. Aldobrand, a verse play. The Gamesters; or, Ruins of Innocence, by Caroline Matilda Thayer, is studded with poetry and sermonizing and a lot of purple prose, with people on their deathbeds “dropping into eternity” or “sweetly languishing into life” (after “lingering a few days in interesting insanity”). All of them should be approached with caution.

Some notes: The tombstone pictured does not appear to be the same photographed for the piece on Charlotte Temple at wikipedia. Phineas T. Barnum’s American Museum included a variety of exhibits of whatever caught Barnum’s interest or that might sell tickets to an enthusiastic public. (Also, this is an example of why researchers should always find the original piece: the reprinted version I found first is missing the long bits on The Monk and Bertram.)

“Charlotte Temple,” by H. (from The Portsmouth Journal [Portsmouth, New Hampshire] 26 March 1864; p. 2)

New York, March 21, 1864.

To the Editors of the Portsmouth Journal,—

No work, the product of the last century, ever had so extensive, so universal a reading, it might be said, probably, as the old novel of “Charlotte Temple;” more, however, from the want of better works in light literature, it can readily be imagined, than its literary merits, or any moral influence it was likely to impart to its readers. Another reason, perhaps, for its being so generally read, was that its scenes were laid in the midst of the Revolution, during the period the British had possession of N. York. Whatever may have been the cause, it would have been difficult to find, from the time of its publication at the close of the last, through the first quarter of the present century, any one not familiar with the tale. Mrs. Rowson, the authoress, who, it used to be said, was “Charlotte Temple’s orphan,” kept a boarding school for young ladies somewhere in Massachusetts, and among her pupils were several young ladies of Portsmouth. I have a distinct impression among the recollections of my childhood, of the elegant penmanship of a series of letters that had been written to a female friend at home, by one of these young ladies, whose children still reside in your city.

“Charlotte Temple” was, it may be, among the least objectionable of a class of writings almost as widely known and read in former years, that wherever they exist, should be destroyed. I refer to such works as “The Monk,” and its sequel, “The Abbess,” “The Gamesters,” “Eliza Wharton,” and others that might be named, all more or less pernicious in their tendency. It is difficult at this day, to conceive how such books, so revolting in incident, so coarse in detail, and, in most instances, destitute of any literary merit, could have been tolerated by any people not devoid of taste or moral principle. It is a matter of little surprise, that, with such compositions to corrupt the taste, if not the moral principles of the young, added to a class of romances dealing largely in the supernatural—for the reason, probably, that the writers had not the ability to make natural incidents features of striking interest—so strong a prejudice one existed against all works of fiction, and which is not extinct even at the present day. Of these pernicious works, that in which the most ability was displayed, as every one knows who is familiar with them, was “The Monk,” by M. G. Lewis. A lady who had spent some years of her earlier life at Savannah-la-Mar, once told me that in a beautiful grove, near her residence, where she often reitred for reading, Lewis had written the largest proportion of his most noted production, that gave to him the sobriquet of “Monk Lewis.” I was glad to learn from the same source, that in his after life, in writing to a friend who had resided with him in the West Indies, he used this language: “You refer to a work that has given me a wide spread and most unenviable notoriety. I regard that product of my pen as the great error of my life, and one for which, of all others, I need most to be forgiven.” It is a happy event to a writer, however small or great the talent he may possess, to be able to look back on what he has written, that others will read, and find

“Not one line, dying, he would wish to blot.”

Another instance of perverted talent, is Maturin’s tragedy of “Bertram,” written about the same period that Lewis’s writings appeared, for which the author, a clergyman, was, as he certainly deserved to be, excommunicated from the ministry of the Church of England. It is the plot and incident, not the language, that make the drama objectionable. Scattered throught [sic] it are such gems as this, that, when once read, live in the memory forever:

“They said her cheek of youth was beautiful,
’Till withering sorrow blanched the bright rose there;
And I have heard men say her form was fair,
But grief did lay his icy finger on it,
And chill’d it to a cold and joyless statue.”

On one of the few occasions it has ever been enacted within my memory, even the fine acting of the Kembles could not avert the weight of gloom and depression its scenes of misery throw around the minds of an audience.

Notwithstanding the novel of “Charlotte Temple” purports to be “a tale of truth,” I had been accustomed to regard its unfortunate heroine a mere ccreation of the author’s fancy; but on emigrating to this city, where the chief scenes of the narrative are laid, I found it to be the impression of some of the older inhabitants, from what they had learned of others who were living at the time the events are said to have transpired, that the principal incidents of the story were founded on fact. There have always been, indeed, from the days of the Revolution, certain localities, only one of which now survives, that tradition has connected with Charlotte’s history; and which would seem to render the matter conclusive, an ancient tomb-stone in Trinity churchyard, bears her name in full.

In Franklin Square, near the establishment of the Messrs. Harper, is an ancient building, long kept as a hotel, where Charlotte is said to have been taken on her first arrival in New York. In former years, when occupied as a hotel, it ws one of the finest of the antique mansions of the city, but in adapting it to business purposes latterly, it has been sadly shorn of its good looks. Over the spacious entrance entrance on Pearl street, in massive ornamental ironwork, was the British coat-of-arms, that had been permitted to survive the Revolution. At one period it was an English public house, and at that time I passed an evening there with a friend, a native of London, listening to an amateur performance of old English melodies.—During the pauses in the music, while sitting in one of the deep window-seats, we amused ourselves by reproducing imagined by-gone scenes in the spacious apartment; fancying, among others, that Charlotte and Montraville had sat together in the same position we were occupying, while a group of red-coated British officers, in a more distant portion of the room, were discussing the possibilities of suppressing the American rebellion.—It happened very curiously, that among some papers my friend had received that evening by a steamer’s mail, the first from which he removed the wrapper, was a Portsmouth (England) paper, nd among its advertisements was one of a female seminary at Chichester. Both these places are mentioned, you may remember, in the early scenes of the novel, and it was among the pupils of such an institution at the latter place, that Charlotte is first introduced to the reader.

Thirty to forty years ago, the house still existed, in Hubert street, where, according to tradition, Charlotte resided after leaving the hotel. When the city ended at City Hall Park, as it did in the days of the Revolution, the location was, as stated in the tale, “a few miles from the city.”—A lady once told me that she visited it, in her schooling days, during the war of 1812. It was one of two cottages, built in the English style of anti-Revolutionary [sic] period, with alcoves, overgrown with woodbine, enclosing the rear entrances. Pretty garden spots, with summer houses were attached to each dwelling; the gardens divided by a moss-covered fence, of moderate height, admitting of neighborly intercourse. My informant remarked that her visit to the place at that early period of her life, greatly increased her faith in a tale over which she had shed so many sympathetic tears.

The legend next traces Charlotte to the place where she is said to have died, the “Old Tree House,” at the corner of Pell street and the Bowery; one of the most familiar landmarks, until the past year, to New Yorkers, in that part of the city. Like the Shakespeare House in Stratford-upon-Avon, it had been patched and repaired until there was hardly any thing left of the original but the old framework. Had its demolition been more generally known at the time of its occurence, much of its materials would have been carried off for preservation by curiosity-hunters. It is rather a matter of surprise that Barnum did not secure enough of the relics to reconstruct the old [e]difice, in miniature, in one of the rooms of his museum; a rare curiosity it would have proved both to strangers and citizens, for who is there that has not heard of Charlotte Temple? In the days when people travelled by coach to and from Boston, it was the place where passengers went to book their names, and the sign, “Boston Stage House,” nailed against the old tree at the corner, remained there until within a dozen years past.—Time came when the tree ceased, from age, to put forth its leaves in the spring, and then at a later day, was blown down in a storm, but a portion of the stump was elevated upon a post, and the sign-board transferred to the side of the building, where it held its position to the last. A porter house has been kept there for many years past and latterly, since the Jews have taken such entire possession of the neighborhood, it was, apparently, rather a low resort; but in time past it was a respectable, orderly place of the kind, where people dropped in to refresh themselves with a glass of ale, while reading the newspaper furnished for their accommodation. At that period it had many a respectable visitor among its occasional patrons, who were attracted thither by its associations with the old novel they had read in their earlier days.

From this point we pass to the old grave in Trinity church yard. It is not far from the railing on Broadway, and about midway between the church and the beautiful monument erected by Trinity corporation to the memory of the Revolutionary martyrs who died in the old Sugar House Prison. The brown stone slab that covers the grave, of which the following is a diagram:

is evidently, from its worn appearance, though unmutilated, and the inscription remaining quite legible, among the oldest memorials in that portion of the ground. Beneath the name, “CHARLOTTE TEMPLE,” is a cavity in the stone, in the form of a heart if I remember correctly, that may, at a former day, have contained some further inscription on slate, as on many of the old-fashioned tomb-stones. It is said in the story that she was buried in “a churchyard at the outskirts of the city.” At the close of the last century, when Broadway ended below the Park in a country road, Trinity churchyard was “at the outskirts of the city.”

H****.

Snowballs, 1837

February 4, 2022

In January 1837, the editor of Parley’s Magazine—William Andrus Alcott—explored for young readers the delights and dangers of various winter sports. Having exhorted them to be cautious while skating, he turned to the subject of snowball fights.

Here, however, Alcott cannot seem to focus on cautions. While he couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for sleighing, he apparently had a soft spot for throwing snowballs. “Don’t throw iceballs,” he cautions again and again (and who can blame him?), but— Well, it’s that “but” that keeps popping up over and over. “Don’t get angry with each other,” he says (and who can blame him?), but—

But, bring on those snowballs, and bring on that snow. William Alcott will meet you outside, ready to do battle.

“Snowballing” (from Parley’s Magazine January 1837; pp. 10-12)

boys in old-fashioned clothing throw snowballs at each other

Now comes the season for snowballing! and a pleasant season it is, too, for boys. How they love to see the snow descend in big flakes, as Autumn begins to fade, and Winter to resume her sway! How many a time, while yet a boy, have I watched the flakes as they became thicker and thicker, and fell faster and faster, anxious to know whether there would be enough of the fleecy mass to make it good snowballing. And even now, old as I am, hardly any thing rouses pleasanter recollections and gives me, for a few moments, more pleasurable feelings than the thick, fast-falling flakes of snow, when their first appearance betokens winter. Yes, old as I am, were it not for the fear of being laughed at—for we old people hate, above almost all things to have people laugh at us—i am not certain that I should not sometimes rush into the street and clap my hands and skip about with joy, as I used to do, and ask the first boy that came along, whether he thought it would be good snowballing!

There are some old people, I know, who grudge the time we spend, while boys, in snowballing. But such people, I sometimes think, have forgotten that they themselves once loved this very fun, as well as we. They have forgotten that they once delighted to skip, and romp, and frolic, and play. They have forgotten that they were once young.

Let us not bear any ill will against such persons, even if they should chance to be our own parents, or grandparents, or teachers. Let us remember that we too, may live to be old; and that if we do, our memories may also fail us, good as they seem to be just now. Should such a thing happen, and should we ever forget that we were once fond of fun and sport—that we, too, were once young—we shall not like to be hated for it. Nor shall we deserve it. We shall deserve pity and compassion, rather than hatred or ill will.

Parents and teachers sometimes tell us; “O, I can’t bear to have you engage in snowballing; I am afraid you will get hurt.” And is there not danger of it? I have seen many a boy sadly injured during this sport; and one boy whom I knew came very near losing his right eye. But the fault, in this case, was not in the snowball itself, so much as in the boy that threw it. The fault was that the snowball was made too hard! I [a]m very much opposed to hard snowballs. I know, indeed, that you can throw them far better, and that they do far greater execution. But ah, boys, it is better to have them a little softer and lighter than to put out an eye. The eye is too valuable, and too costly, and too difficult to be replaced. And if replaced by a glass eye, as is sometimes done now a days, it is never, as you know, so good to see with as the old one.

Make it a rule, therefore, to have your snowballs as soft as you can and yet be able to throw them. If you do this, you will hardly ever injure the eyes of your companions or endanger your own. If you do this, you will not have it to think of all your life-time that you put out such or such a boy’s eye.

“But I am afraid you will break the windows!” says some of our dear friends. Well, there is danger of that, I confess, if we are not careful. But this danger, too, may be avoided. It is not quite so likely to happen if you do not make your balls very hard. But it need never happen; for you can go far away from any houses or windows, when you snowball; and it is your duty to do so. I am grieved when I see boys or girls snowballing in the neighborhood of glass windows. Why will they do it? The world is wide enough.

Some parents and teachers are afraid you will quarrel, if you snowball; and so am I. So often have I seen boys get into a passion by means of this sport, that I am sometimes tempted to denounce it, altogether. And yet it need not be so. Boys might throw snowballs as well as play at anything else, without ever losing their temper, if they would[.] And I have known some who did so. Angry feelings are much less apt to arise when the snowballs are not very hard.

Henry Langton loved snowballing as well as any of you; and it was his fortune sometimes to play with boys who were unfair. But Henry would never allow himself to get angry, in the least. Do you ask, how he could help it? Why he would keep his temper under. When the bad feelings began to arise, he would put them down. And if he found they were getting the mastery over him, he would leave the sport and go quite away.

Here I shall be told, I suppose, that all boys cannot govern themselves as well as Henry probably could. But, depend upon it, no boy knows how much he can do, in this respect, till he has tried, and done his best. Govern yourself, and keep down the bad feelings once, and you can, the next time, do it much easier; the next time easier still; and so on.

I have occasionally seen boys throw snowballs at a mark. This is the best sport. Go far away from any houses, or stores, or shops, or barn-yards—where you might frighten or disturb the cattle or horses or sheep—and set up your mark, and choose your men, and then fire away. In doing this, if you keep your temper, no mischief will ensue. The stake you throw at has no eyes, nor windows; nor has it the power of speech, to enable it to complain if you happen to make your snowballs a little too hard. Leave snowballing each other—so I say—nd learn to be satisfied with throwing your balls at a mark.

So much, my young friends, for snowballing. When I began, I did not think to give you a long lecture, and lo! here are more than two pages! But what can I omit? If I knew, I would strike it out. But let it go; if you find the story too long, you can stop in the middle of it.

Okay, this is the first piece I’ve read that encourages readers who are bored to stop reading in the middle. Of course, this advice is at the end, when the bored reader has suffered on and on, but still … It takes a courageous author to invite the reader to quit reading if they’re not enjoying it. Notice that I haven’t done it.

“Peter Parley” was— Oh, how to describe him? He was a character created by Samuel Griswold Goodrich, appearing first in 1827 in Tales of Peter Parley About America. A literary reflection of a man Goodrich had known growing up in Ridgefield, Connecticut, in his first book Parley taught young readers about American history, including the American Revolution, in which Parley had participated. Parley was hugely popular, educating several generations. By the time Goodrich killed him off (really!) in 1839, Parley had introduced readers to natural history, world geography, world history, and metaphysics.

He also had become probably the first brand name in American culture. Parley’s name appeared on books Goodrich didn’t write and at least one reward of merit. And he had edited a children’s magazine—Parley’s Magazine—that explored just about every topic possible and was densely illustrated for the time. Editors of the magazine appear to have taken on Parley’s persona, speaking in his voice. (I will spare you the hours-long lecture on how that worked in early-American periodicals for children, but it’s really kind of interesting. See, it allowed editors to make a close connection with readers, that— Oh, yeah: sleighing.)

In 1837, that editor was William Andrus Alcott (and, yes, he was the second cousin once removed of Louisa May Alcott, her father being William’s second cousin). He kept up the Parley brand, illustrating where he could and adding a touch of moral commentary to every subject possible.

The illustrations were the problem. While today we expect to see illustrations created specifically for an article or a story that’s already written, in the 19th century it wasn’t the norm. Woodcuts and wood engravings were expensive to produce and so were later used—sometimes altered—to illustrate other publications.

This meant that whole articles were written around an interesting engraving someone had found at the printer’s. Which appears to be what happened in 1837, when a nice, large illustration of a sleigh ride appeared as the frontispiece for the first issue in January. The engraving appears to be by Alexander Anderson, a prominent wood engraver who provided the illustrations in a number of works for children, including The Ladder of Learning. Here, Alcott wrote what’s basically a riff on winter sports enjoyed by boys—from sleighing to skating, to coasting (in other words, riding a sled), to sliding on a patch of ice. In the process, he covers the price of hiring a sleigh, why you couldn’t coast in Boston, the dangers of skating, and how the horses pulling the sleigh should be treated. Educational at the time, and even more valuable to later generations interested in everyday life in 19th-century America. (I mean, did you know that about riding your sled in Boston? because I didn’t.)

“About Sleighing” (from Parley’s Magazine January 1837; pp. 8-10)

an enormous sleigh drawn by six horses

Now comes the season of sleighing. How the bells jingle! And how swiftly the loaded sleigh glides over the hard snow path!

There goes a load of thirty or forty boys, on a pleasure excursion. See the engraving on the second page of this number. It is a holiday; and they have obtained the consent of their parents and teachers to go a sleighing. So they have hired a gentleman to go with one of those large omnibuses—as they might be called—which run between Boston and Roxbury, and will hold a whole school at a time, and carry them to Dedham and back. They pay him out of their pocket money, twenty-five cents a piece. It is a large price; but the drivers of sleighs always expect large prices when people ride for pleasure.

Perhaps it is more for the health of these boys as well as for their profit, to take a ride, with a careful driver, than it would be to stay at home, and lounge about, and eat confectionaries or fruits half the time. Do you say they might just as well spend the time in skating or coasting, and spare the poor horses?

They might skate, I grant; or if they have no skates, they might slide; but as to coasting, Boston is not a very good place for that. There are few hills; and where we find any, it is commonly difficult to use them. It often happens that in order to coast you must endanger the life or limbs of people. I have seen many a person knocked down and more or less injured by boys who were coasting. Besides, this coasting in the street gets the path very slippery, and exposes people to the danger of falls, when nothing touches them. And more than all this, it is against the law.

And as to the horses; why, if well used, they suffer very little. I know, very well, that there are drivers who are careless, and some who are cruel. But I hope the number of either sort is very small.

Careless drivers will sometimes allow their horses to stand in the cold, after they have been perspiring freely, and without a blanket. This is quite a mistake. They also sometimes guide them to a part of the street where the sleigh runs harder than in other places, and compel them to use their strength without any necessity. They will also suffer the harness to rub or chafe them.

Cruel drivers will often whip their horses when there is no need of it; and sometimes get angry and beat them, in a way which they themselves are afterward sorry for. They will also drive them too swiftly, when they take it in their heads to do so.

But I still say that, if horses have good care taken of them, they do not suffer much, on an ordinary pleasure excursion, in sleighing. In fact, I have seen some horses that appeared to enjoy the sport almost as much as the riders.

“Then you are quite in favor of sleigh-riding for pleasure, are you not?” Not exactly that either. I only say, it is not so very bad, if it is properly managed, as is sometimes pretended. It is the abuse of it, which is so very blameworthy. I do not recommend it after all. It has its disadvantages, its evils, and its dangers.

I never ride in a sleigh for mere pleasure, myself. Nay more; I never did, when I was a boy. I thought it better to skate or slide. I think so still. I know there are dangers attendant on this sport. Boys sometimes catch sad falls on the ice, in learning to skate. They also sometimes skate over deep water where there are what are called breathing holes in the ice, into which they fall, and are perhaps drowned. They also venture on the ice after a thaw had commenced, when it begins to be tender or rotten, and in these cases, too, they sometimes break through, and, if they do not get drowned, catch cold and have a fever.

I have seen and known and heard of so many accidents which happened to boys while skating or sliding, that, in closing this article, I must beg every one who reads it, to beware. Venture not over deep water at all; whether the ice is strong or weak. Go to some place—there are usually enough such places—where the water is well known to be shallow. But avoid getting your feet wet, even if there is no danger of drowning. It is not a small evil to have a course of fever or a tedious rheumatism.

(If there are only 30 boys in that sleigh, with each boy paying twenty-five cents, that would be $7.50, which would be the equivalent of $174 in 2020. Still pretty inexpensive, actually.)

Cave; pirate; treasure: words that fire the imagination, especially when put together.

Now, add ghosts, and you have the “singular infatuation” of Hiram Marble, who spent 17 years putting all those words together. He bought the land on which the treasure was supposed to be buried; he tunneled through rock; he built a house there for his family; he listened to ghosts.

Literally. Marble took advice from spiritualist mediums supposedly channeling the spirits of—among others—the pirate who died when the treasure was buried. And when Hiram died, his son took up the quest for the next 12 years.

The pirate was Thomas Veale, who, according to an early historian, died near what is now Lynn, Massachusetts. He and his pirate buddies buried their treasure near Dungeon Rock. Eventually, the others were arrested, but Veale hid at the rock, where he lived in a cave until an earthquake collapsed the cave’s mouth in 1658. (For more information, see “Dungeon Rock in Lynn, Massachusetts,” by Rebecca Beatrice Brooks.)

It’s a pretty great story, and after it was published in 1829, attempts were made to find the treasure—all unsuccessful. That, however, didn’t dissuade Hiram Marble, who in 1851 applied to excavate:

“Dungeon Rock—More Money Digging” (reprinted in Salem Register [Salem, Massachusetts] 12 May 1851; p. 2)

A petition has been presented to the Mayor and Aldermen of Lynn, for leave to make excavations at Dungeon Rock, so called, in this city.—The petitioner is a stranger in Lynn, and makes this application, as we understand it, for the sake of employing some leisure time, and to gratify a laudable curiosity. He desires, if possible, to find the entrance to the “Pirate’s Cave,” to which, as our readers are aware, a popular legend is attached, to the effect that a free booter once lived there, and there was buried with his treasures, by the falling of a portion of the rock during the great earthquake of 1658. The whole of the story may be found in Lewis’s History of Lynn. A number of vain attempts have been made to blow up this rock, and disclose the bones of the pirate and his buried treasures; and this gentleman petitions for leave to do the same thing—we hope with better success, though we regret that this noble specimen of Nature’s handiwork should be marred by fruitless endeavors to accomplish an object which offers so little encouragement of ultimate success.—Bay State.

History of Lynn was written by Alonzo Lewis and published in 1829. Where Lewis got his information is still unclear, but certainly he inspired Hiram Marble, who dug at the Rock until his death in 1868. He and his apparent obsession provided occasional “clickbait”-type stories in newspapers for many years.

Captain Kidd was temporarily added to the mix—along with mention of concern about Marble’s intense focus:

“ ‘Captain Kidd’s Treasure.’ ” (from Massachusetts Spy [Worcester, Massachusetts] 13 September 1854; p. 1)

We see it stated that a man named Hiram Marble is engaged in re-opening the so-called “Dungeon Rock,” in Lynn, which once contained a cave inhabited by pirates. The cave was a resort for pirates as early as 1658, but the band were all captured and caried to England by a cruiser, except one Thomas Veal, who continued to live there until the great earthquake, which closed up the cave, and buried its occupant. We believe Mr. Marble is the same gentleman who was engaged in blasting the rock the summer before last, and had already made quite a hole, when his labors were interfered with by some over-anxious friends, who were disposed (rumor said) to question his sanity. He is impressed with the notion that the earthquake which buried up Mr. Pirate Veal, also buried up sundry bulks of treasure with him, which is not at all likely. It seems, however, that he has resumed operations, and has penetrated the rock about fifty feet, bringing to light several implements, among them a hammer and an ancient sword.

A few years after Marble began his quest, spiritualism had become part of the conversation. Spiritualism was then a new belief system, developing rapidly after the Fox sisters of New York claimed to have made contact with a spirit in 1848. The rappings of spirits at the sisters’ seances appeared to prove their existence, and the sisters became a sensation. Marble’s belief in spirits was a feature of almost every article about the project. One popular piece was reprinted in newspapers outside Massachusetts; it originated in a paper not currently available:

“Dungeon Rock” (from the Salem Register [Salem, Massachusetts] 16 June 1856; p. 1)

Mr. Marble, who has for the last five years been at work at Dungeon Rock, in this city, with the hope of discovering the pirate’s cave, is still progressing in his enterprise. On a visit to the place, a few days since, we found that a considerable advancement had been made “into the bowels of the earth.” Mr. Marble has also commenced the erection of a large stone house, which, when completed, will add greatly to his comfort and to the facilities for his operations, and also to the attractions of the place.

Mr. Marble is a believer in spiritualism, and conducts his operations under the care and directions of the “spirits,” according to manifestations made at the rock and elsewhere. The most frequent communications purport to come from Thomas Veal, the pirate who once made the cave his home. Veal was the one who, as tradition has it, was imprisoned in the cave by an earthquake, which closed the entrance, which circumstance gave to the place the name of “Dungeon Rock.” Another spirit calls himself the “Red Man,” an Indian, and also appears much interested in Mr. Marble’s enterprise.

We mentioned, a year or two since, that an old cutlas [sic] had been found in the rock. Since that time, a very ancient looking dagger was found imbedded in the earth and stones outside of the rock.

Whether Mr. Marble will succeed in finding the original cave, remains to be proved. The “spirits,” we are informed, promise that an important “change” will occur in about six weeks. A cave will have been made, however, by the explorations of Mr. Marble, which will be one of the greatest curiosities in the country. He commenced at the side of the solid rock, proceeding horizontally about fifteen feet, then going down about twenty feet, and then forward again about twenty or thirty feet; and this cave, thus made, is ten or twelve feet wide. As an evidence of faith in an idea, and perseverance in its pursuit, Mr. Marble’s cave is wonderful, and almost equal to the practical faith of Christopher Columbus. We hope he may be as successful in discovering what he started for.

The vicinity of Dungeon Rock is one that in future years will attract crowds of visitors.—There is already an excellent carriage road to the rock. When the house is completed, and accommodations furnished for visitors, it will be an attractive place of resort; and the proprietor will find the great outlay he has made a profitable investment, whether he shall find the pirate’s cave or not. We advise all who have not yet seen the cave which Mr. Marble has made, to visit it. It is well worth seeing.—Lynn News.

Marble was still digging in 1858 when the Boston Saturday Evening Gazette visited—digging and creating a tourist attraction. “B. P. S.” gets a little amused that Marble was taking advice from spiritualist mediums and puns cheerfully on Marble’s last name. He also muses on Marble’s apparent obsession and just whether or not Marble is insane. His description of entering the cave is vivid.

“A Late Visit to Dungeon Rock,” by B. P. S. (from Boston Saturday Evening Gazette [Boston, Massachusetts] 25 September 1858; p. 1)

Our readers have probably all heard of Dungeon Rock, in Lynn. It is an historical place, and is associated traditionally with deeds of violence, ending with an accommodating earthquake that swallowed up the scene and the actors, as the blue fire in Don Giovanni devours the gay deceiver. Tradition and history both locate a cave at what is now called Dungeon Rock, about two miles north from Lynn Common. Saugus River, which is about two miles from the Rock, was a celebrated place for pirates. it was wild and secluded, and in what is still called Pirate’s Glen they could remain in security until they chose to push forth on their lawless cruisings on the deep; though what they found to plunder in the days of limited commerce is a matter for wonder, and the doubt comes in whether the pirates really made enough by their operations to pay for the risk they ran in pursuing what was deemed by the king’s cruisers an illegitimate business; and, indeed, it has been ever regarded, by all but those engaged in it, that cutting people’s throats and robbing their vessels was anything but an honest calling. These buccaniers, [sic] so the story runs, were at last interrupted by a king’s vessel, and all but one were taken, who fled to Dungeon Rock, a cave upon which had been long a place of resort for the pirates, and there remained hidden, until as intimated, in 1658, or thereabouts, the great earthquake split the rock that formed the roof nd entrance to the cave, tumbled it over upon the unfortunate rascal hidden within it, and buried him and his treasures in a very unceremonious but effectual manner. The pirate’s name was Veale, and it was supposed that he was most decidedly done, so far as this world’s affairs went. Tradition likewise gave the lurking pirate a female companion, who was occasionally seen, but who disappeared altogether from the time of the earthquake, and it was supposed that she had shared his fate.

The pirate and his wealth remained as they were for nearly two centuries, when cupidity moved men to try to penetrate to the interior of the cave. Several attempts were made, but they were ineffectual. Among others Jesse Hutchinson devoted considerable time to blasting operations, but gave it up as a hopeless thing. About eight years ago Mr. Hiram Marble, of Worcester, who was then foreman of the Marquet Iron Works, Lake Superior, met with a young man—till that time unknown to him—one of a class then springing into existence, who are most awake when fast asleep and see best with their eyes shut, called “trance mediums,” who informed him that his services were required in a very wild locality, where he was to dig for hidden treasure. The name of the place was not mentioned, but a description of it was given. Mr. Marble was a strong man, a clear-headed calculating Yankee, and as such “wild goose speculation” did not commend itself with a promise of paying, he laughed at it. But Mr. Marble reckoned without his host in supposing he could whistle the matter down the wind. From that time he was besieged wherever he went. He found “mediums” everywhere, and everywhere he received the same intimation, backed now by definiteness regarding location and actual drawings of the spot—that his services were wanted at “Dungeon Rock,” in Lynn, where the “spirits” hd work for him to do in digging for the treasure in the cave. He had never heard of the spot until his attention was thus called to it. Mr. Marble’s story presents a most wonderful chain of corroborative incidents leading to his mission. At last, from derision and disregard, he began to look seriously upon it. The leading spirit among the “influences” that were operating upon Mr. M., was Veale himself who it appeared still entertained a regard for the old spot, and was as anxious that his plunder should be found in the cave as he was two hundred years before in hiding it. Thomas Veale, intent constantly upon revealing, was ever present to speak to him through the mouths of seers, through the tipping of tables, through the pattering of the raps through the mysterious postal arrangement that individuals maintain between this world and the next. At last he went down to Dungeon Rock and there found everything as it had been explained to him verbully [sic] and by diagrams. He resisted no longer, but applied to the Selectmen of Lynn for permission to dig for the cave. Those excellent people did not believe in the traditions of their fathers, and were disposed to pour cold water upon his enthusiasm, by laughing at the supposition of his finding a cave there. “Very well,” said Marble, good naturedly, “if I can’t find a cave there, I’ll make one.” This was in 1852.

The spot where he was to begin, designated by the invisible agencies, was what seemed the most impracticable of any. It was about midway of the opening made by the earthquake, and he was directed to begin upon the flat surface of the rock which inclined at an angle of about fifty degrees—a wall of solid porphyry, peculiar to Lynn, as hard as flint—and his very first efforts were attended with such difficulty that anything but a Marble man must have caved in and given up the cave in despair. The rock was so hard that the drills employed blunted up almost like lead, and the nearest forge was a mile from the rock. But he persevered, and in a little while a forge of his own enabled him to temper his own irons. Step by step he fought the hardest resistance, when sickness and exhausted means did what porphyry couldn’t do, and for a while he abandoned his work. He was impelled to embark in it again, however, as he had begun, and since then, with the assistance of his son, and occasionally others, Mr. Marble has been doing what he told the Selectman he would do—he has made a cave in Dungeon Rock.

With a friend, we the other day took a jaunt to the strange scene, that we had previiously visited. We found that a very good carriage road had been constructed all the way from Lynn to the rock, mostly by Mr. Marble. It literally “winds” through the wildest scenery imaginable, revealing considerable tact in engineering, as all of its various turnings have an eye to avoid some steep ascent or with some equally reasonable design. As we approached the precincts of Veale we were welcomed by a salute of cow bells! The laugh comes in here; but we challenge the rarest family of campanologists in creation to equal the melody of those twenty cow bells in combination, swinging with the easy grazing action of the kine, and chiming with a strange and sweet intonation. We could not help stopping to listen, delighted, but laughed nevertheless at our own enthusiasm. The immediate approach to the Rock is through a wood as wild as if it had but just emerged from chaos and were astonished at finding itself existing, but very pleasant withal about it. After zig-zagging some quarter of a mile through the woods, and “wiring in and wiring out” like a ship beating to windward, or a politician, we arrived at the base of the Rock, where Mr. Marble and his family live, the hill rising a hundred feet or so above this point, the hill rising a hundred feet or so above this point, the rock forming the summit. The house is small but comfortable, and here the “Excavator” lives, and though not surrounded by luxuries he is never out of Veale, for he is waited on by that spirit with commendable attention, who, in connection with many other invisibles, still hold control at Dungeon Rock.

The Rock is accessible by a flight of rough steep steps, and its summit presents a view of sea and shore that it were worth coming a dozen miles to look at. The hill is not so high as Mount Washington, but it is far more easy to climb. Mr. Marble lighted his lamp, bidding us to follow and fear no danger. We entered the fissure between the two masses of rock, and the mouth of Mr. Marble’s cave was before us, opening darkly to the depths below. He disappeared and we followed, clinging tenaciously to a rude banister, and feeling our steps along, conscious of a damp and slimy surrounding, and a smell of old charges that lingered there still, like the ghosts of former violence, or the half-effaced chalk marks on a tavern door. Down we went into the dampness and the darkness, following the dim and uncertain light, that was anything but a lamp to our feet, and flickered along the damp and powder-marked wall, casting fantastic shadows around, and dimly disclosing as weird and mystical a scene as could be well imagined. There had been a rain the night previous, and the water was oozing through crevices in the rock, and occasionally dropping upon us as we stood beneath the stony ceiling. Down the dark flight of steps and a shelving plane we went, the tortuous and uncertain way, groping along in the obscurity, and at last stood in the very inner chamber of the Dungeon Rock, seventy feet from the entrance and forty from the surface! This chamber is capable of holding a dozen persons comfortably, and is about eight feet high. We could speak now, for till then we had not said anything, except to give a precautionary word now and then. The voice gave back a hollow sound, and fancy might impute its reverberations to the superintending agencies, whose province we were invading. A witchy spell seemed upon all the party, and the fancy took free scope and indulged in all sorts of mystical conjurations in keeping with the place; but one thought prevailed in our mind—wonder at the persistence that had wrought this work through the discouragements awaiting on an unpopular cause, poverty sickness and isolation,—and the thought became almost admiration for one who, though perhaps deluded, had thus steadily struggled through seven long years for a purpose, and was not yet discouraged from pursuing it, confident of its favorable result. Nothing can shake his faith. Even when, after drilling a whole day in the solid rock, a blast fails to start more than a hat full of chips, it does not discourage him. He has met too many such difficulties and overcome them to be discouraged now. He goes on, grain by grain, in his work of excavation, not knowing whether a day, a week, a year, or ten years, will bring him to what he seeks. He knows he shall find it, he says, for in everything, thus far, the “spirits” have been true to him.

We stood in the midst of his work and heard him tell his story. He is not a madman nor a visionist, but retains all the shrewdness of the Yankee that he brought there with him. His mission has become as real to him as Dungeon Rock itself, and he is bound to put it through. He is directed just where to place his drills in order to secure good blasts, and just when to do it, which goes to show that the “spirits” are very practical, and so he drills away and fires away, sinking his shaft by the easy blows that are said to kill the what’s-his-name. He has been informed that he is but a few feet from what was the entrance of the cave. Here he is to find a fountain of water. Beyond this are two other chambers, in one of which he will find the Veale bones, and what were that gentleman’s “valooables,” as Capt. Cuttle might call them. All this he told the visitor with as much coolness as though he were giving the history of some respectable church, of course without insisting on any one’s believing it. There is strong evidence of the rock’s having fallen, in the fact that around the entire cave, a little above the line he has reached, there is a crevice, indicating that formerly there might have been a space between them, and the crushed appearance of the rock in various directions denotes a concussion at some time.

Coming out of the cave, the sun seemed to shine with a new cheerfulness in contrast with the gloom we had left, and we stood upon the top of the rock with a feeling of relief.

“Pleasantly shone the setting sun
Over the town of Lynn,” Mass.,

and the sea appeared more bright and beautiful than ever as it stretched away in the distance. On this summit we thought it possible that the pirates might once have stood and watched previous to preying—looking perhaps after the eastern coasters or the Halifax and Boston packets. Back of us it seemed an interminable wood. We were then invited to visit “Union Rock,” on a hill adjacent to Dungeon Rock. We accordingly went thither, and saw a great geological curiosity—a boulder, weighing a couple of hundred tons, more or less, divided in the middle by a straight line, one side of which was all white and the other all black, without the least admixture. It corresponds, in character, we were informed, with no stones this side of “North somewhere,” and upon one side a Connecticut professor had engraved with a cold chisel “U. R.,” which he explained to mean Union Rock.

We returned with Mr. Marble, and spent the remainder of the time at his house, listening to his recitals, one of which very much amused us. When he had succeeded in making his cave an object of curiosity, and there seemed a possibility of his receiving something out of it in return for his labor, he was waited upon by a delegation of spiritualists, who, with a coolness that surpassed by several degrees the temperature of iced lemonade, presented him with a bond to sign, by which he was to agree to transfer to a circle of beneficents all his right in the premises, to “religiously account” for all moneys he might receive, and pay them over to the circle aforesaid, and, in short, cut himself off from all interest or expectancy in the matter! This was modest, considering he had paid out something like four thousand dollars of his own for twenty-four acres of rocks, and for his improvements, and these beneficents had kept carefully aloof from him up to this period. He accordingly told them that he would take time to consider of it, and has been considering about it ever since, with a strong probability that he shall not accede to terms that, according to his feeble judgment, are, like the handle of a jug, somewhat on one side. He has had to encounter all sorts of difficulty from treacherous friends and open foes, and fraud, threats, coaxing and command have been resorted to to drive him from his post, but Marble is like rock. He has his family with him, a devoted wife, a son and daughter, and a circle of friends who visit him by hundreds in the warm weather, and he don’t want to move. Pic-nics make Dungeon Rock their point of gathering, and the solitary place has become quite an animated scene. Mr. Marble wants a hotel, and is determined to build one; but he needs aid. There seems to be a fine opportunity for such an establishment, as there is a constant increase of the number of visitors. We feel confident that he will succeed in getting it, for the one who could overcome Dungeon Rock must o’ermaster all other difficulties.

We were shown three paintings at Mr. Marble’s house—one of a very amiable looking pirate, brandishing a formidable “billy,” and two ladies, the heroines of a very weak and trashy romance, said to be a history of the cave when it was the home of the pirates; also an old broken sword, a dagger of a very primitive pattern, a razor knife, and a pair of foreign looking scissors, all found in the cave, the whole forming quite a museum of curiosities.

There is a prophecy that when the cave is opened there will be another earthquake in Lynn, but not like that which “settled the hash” of poor Veale. It will be a sort of mental throe, on the establishment of the truth of the spiritualistic claim.

We left Mr. Marble with the impression that we had seen many crazier men than he beyond the shadow of Dungeon Rock, who were counted sane; and whether he finds a cave or not he has laid the foundation of a fortune in the cavern he has made, for it must become a curiosity that will attract thousands yearly to visit it. Mr. M. politely and cheerfully exhibits it to all visitors and leaves the matter of remuneration to their generosity—if they choose to give him anything, well; if not, just as well. Many distinguished persons have been to see Dungeon Rock, among whom were Lord Napier and the Turkish admiral.

If any one chooses to do as we did, visit the wild retreat of the pirates, they will find that they have not made a bad investment of time and money. A ride over the Saugus road, and an examination of that wonderful mystery of science, the Saugus Railroad, which we crossed by some strange continuity of accident about five times in going as many miles, would well repay the effort. The ride is a very fine one, requiring but about an hour to accomplish it. We have got so full of Marble that we have sung “I dreamt I dwelt in Marble halls” ever since.

(“I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls” is from a song in The Bohemian Girl, an opera by Michael William Balfe that premiered in 1843; the song was extremely popular in the 19th century.)

Hiram hadn’t found the treasure he originally sought when he died in 1868. His son, Edward, carried on until he died in 1880. “They … never discovered anything,” Edward’s obituary states, “beyond a few old coins, probably hidden by mischief-lovers”. (“Mortuary Notice: Edward D. Marble” (from New Hampshire Sentinel [Keene, New Hampshire] 29 January 1880; p. 2)

Still … Cave; pirate; treasure; ghosts. An engaging combination in the 19th century—and, I have to admit, in the 21st.