What I did on my summer vacation, 1860s

May 31, 2019

Susanna Newbould (1821-1882) was “Aunt Sue,” the popular editor of the popular puzzle column in Robert Merry’s Museum and contributor to various periodicals for children and for adults. While known for her puzzles (she also edited the puzzle column in Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet and her collections of puzzles for children were reprinted into the 1880s), Newbould also wrote lively letters published in various American periodicals.

So lively, in fact, that when the author of Haney’s Guide to Authorship wanted to include an example of the “off-hand, dashing style” often adopted by female writers, Newbould’s was one chosen; she was at the time contributing to Haney’s Journal.

It’s vintage Aunt Sue: casual, intimate. Newbould was married to a prosperous Brooklyn merchant and in the summer often spent weeks in the relative coolness of a house at the beach. The letter begins with a description of a children’s game—and of a young child’s amusing version of it. It ends with a vivid description of leisure moments at a beach resort. (Relaxed as they were, however, there’s still an attempt to ensure that nobody’s dancing on the Sabbath.)

I haven’t yet discovered when the letter was written. It doesn’t appear to have been published in Haney’s Journal. But it’s a look at what middle-class New Yorkers did on their summer vacations in the 1860s.


You want to know what I’ve been doing. Well, I’ve been to Long Branch; that is n’t much to tell of, but being there I went to a Clam-bake; that was splendid!

All day Friday the boys were building upon the beach a pyramid of dead trees, chips, brush, etc., until its altitude was imposing. Saturday, P. M., some of us buried beds of clams in the sand and piled brush and chips over them—about 9 P. M., we mustered our household, and walked or rode to the beach; the clam-fires were started—the moon shone—the waves washed merrily up beside us—the neighbors from far and near gathered on the bluff above us, and looked like a human fence against the moonlit sky. The kettle of coffee (milked and sweetened) was set upon the fire—the table (brought down by some of the men) spread with cups, etc.—But you need n’t think we sat round about it! no, indeed! We spread our shawls, cloaks, etc., on the sand, and made that our divan. When the clams were roasted, and the fires consequently pretty well burnt out, we started the bonfire, which lasted while we ate our supper. Did n’t it taste nice—not the bonfire, but the supper—a pailful of home-made bread and butter, delicious hot coffee, and the finest of roast clams. Afterwards, the men (farm hands) gathered up the debris, and we sang glees, choruses, etc., etc., till our beautiful bonfire was burnt out; then we went home and finished with a grand dance at the house. We had to hurry up “the Lancers,” so as not to trench upon Sunday morning.

At a quarter to twelve we all scattered like several Cinderellas; I didn’t see any glass slippers about next morning, so presume there was “nobody hurt.”

Then the sailing parties—the pic-nics—the cold chicken, and apple and blackberry pies under the spreading trees on the banks of “Pleasure Bay”—the crabbing parties—the riding to the crabbing-pond in the farm wagon, cushioned with straw; crinoline interdicted—the jolts, the small shrieks, “whose feet are these?”—the mud. “Get-t-ape”—“crack”—and down the little hill we go, over the rattlety-bang bridge—chunk-chunk-rattle-bangeety-bang—“ow—w—ch!” [“]Glorry-y-gl-orr-y-hal-ly-loo-woo-woo-woo-oo-oo-yah!” Oh! Oh! was n’t it fun? do n’t you wish you’d been there? Likewise, at the crab supper afterwards. I was.

Aunt Sue.

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