Turkey Time

I have now finished the manuscript for Coming to Amerika and will be submitting it to the University of Kansas Press, which has expressed interest.  Keep your fingers crossed!

In reading over the letters I was able to vicariously participate in the major family celebrations centering around Thanksgiving, Christmas and July 4th.  As it is turkey time I want to share with you Thanksgiving on the Kansas Prairie in the 1890’s.  Wild turkeys were plentiful at the time and as my great-uncle Will wrote to his brother in Missouri, farmers would herd, pen up and fatten the turkeys for feasting.

“I wish you would [have] heard [herded] those wild turkeys and git them good and fat til I can come down but then I don’t know how long that would be. Maby [maybe] you would git tired of feeding them before that time.”

But even wild as they were, they could be tamed. My great-aunt Mary wrote about some wild turkeys that became pets and then nuisances:

“We had some queer pets this summer, three little Turkeys and they were so tame, could do any thing with them. Lena [another great-aunt] petted them so much they stayed right around the door, would sit in her lap and if we had any thing for them in our hands would all three eat right out of our hand at the same time. We still have them, three big cuss gobblers, they are cross to the chickens, but the worst is they don’t like to see strangers, especially children along the road, will run right up to them within three feet or so and strut and gobble and fly up around them, make a terrible fuss, and some time have followed people a long ways. They treat me the same way. I stay in the house so close they do not know me. Will have to sell them.”

The pictures below show my grandfather Louis (in a stylish bowler hat on the farm!) feeding two wild turkeys out of his hand and then two of the ornery gobblers.  Somebody got to eat them.  I suspect the family, having had them as pets, was reluctant to slaughter them themselves.  Besides they also had duck as an option for their Thanksgiving dinner.

IMG_5623Turkeys

Welcome to the Camellia House!

In my last blog I talked about The Drake Hotel where my mother worked as a hostess at the Camellia House, for her “a dream come true.”  She seated the likes of Clark Gable, Greta Carbo, Harold Lloyd and Joan Blondell.

Now welcome to the Camellia House, where I will be holding the book launch for Examined Lives on October 10th, World Mental Health Day, between 7 and 8:30. Fittingly enough there will be champagne and various savories and desserts.  Dress as you like, but this is your chance to dress to the 9’s if you so choose.

Please feel free to share this with family, significant others and friends.  For more information and to be placed on my contact list, they can use the contact form below or go to my blog at www.examininglives.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Drake Hotel

 

The Drake Hotel, named after John B. Drake and Tracey Corey Drake, the two brothers who built it on property purchased from Potter Palmer, opened its door on New Year’s Eve, 1920 to a party of some 2,000 of Chicago’s most distinguished citizens.  Standing at Lake Shore Drive and the north end of the Magnificent Mile, it formed a transition from the exclusive Gold Coast neighborhood and the nascent commercial district that eventually grew up around it and for which it set the tone.  It was one of the hotel bookends owned by the Drake brothers, the other being the Blackstone Hotel at the south end of the Magnificent Mile.

From the beginning it was the haunt of the powerful and famous.  A list of visitors would be a who’s who of the 20thcentury, including movie stars and heads of state.  Famously, the newlyweds Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio carved their initials, still preserved, on the bar of the Cape Cod Room.

It was and still is known for its Afternoon Teas in the elegant Palm Court (see pix above) and has its own special blend of tea for the occasion.

The Camellia House, where my mother served as hostess, seating the likes of Clark Gable and Greta Garbo, opened around 1940.  It is a relatively small room with an even smaller private dining room to one side, and a small stage where the likes of Frank Sinatra sang.  It has floor to ceiling mirrored pillars and large, crystal chandeliers.  It was designed by the famous Dorothy Draper, who managed to develop a thriving business after her husband ran off with another women the week of the Wall Street Crash.  Her specialty, which other interior designers had shied away from, was turning the public spaces of resort hotels from bland areas to walk through to luxurious surroundings to linger in.  Her dictum, reflecting her confidence was, “If it looks right, it is right.”

The entrance to the Camellia House up two short staircases directly opposite the front door.  There is a balcony area, now closed off, behind a clock where the paparazzi would congregate to take pictures of the celebrities making their way to dinner.

There is now Camellia Room where tea is served at Christmas, but that is not the real Camellia House.  That room, however, still exists, now called The Drake Room but alas they no longer serve dinner there!

 

How Do Old Family Letters Survive?

The flip answer is of course “very carefully.” But there is truth in that answer. If you think about it for a minute, for a family letter to even be written there had to be at least two people who were separated by enough distance to require written communication and who in fact wanted to communicate with each other. Today we routinely text or phone friends that we may actually be with shortly. Not so in the past.

This fact has led to some frustration in my research on Montgomery Ward.  He was never separated from his wife or daughter and not much given to writing personal letters in the first place.  So far I have only encountered one sent to a niece during a trip he and his wife took to Europe. It is a delightful, chatty letter revealing a great interest in seeing the sights and affection for this niece. I hope there are more such letters in the bowels of the Chicago History Museum.

Secondly, the people who are the recipients of the letters have to want to preserve them. My great-uncle John and his wife-to-be Lulu kept their letters to each other, but discussed in these self-same letters burning other letters to former love interests. These have obviously been lost to history.

Thirdly, once the original recipients have died, their survivors have to want to preserve them. Here as the letters pass down the generations are points where many are thrown out. Poor storage with possible insect, water and fire damage also take their toll.

So chances are that whatever survives is somewhat piecemeal. Of the hundreds of family letters which I have inherited I only have the (almost) complete correspondence between my grandfather Louis and grandmother Pearl in their courting days. So in this instance I can trace how they responded to each other’s feelings and concerns.

In other instances I unfortunately cannot. In writing Coming to Amerika,on which I am working now, I have letters of my great-great uncle Friedrich in Terryville, Connecticut to his relatives on the Plains of Kansas, but I do not have their responses. No one in Terryville saved the letters. The relatives in Kansas saved his even though they were written in Old German which they could not read. My grandfather Louis and my father saved them out of emotional attachment in the case of the former and an interest in genealogy in the latter. They have now been translated and once the book is finished, the letters and other documents will be donated to academic institutions to make sure they are preserved for the future.