Update: A Gift of Poetry

[This week I inherited a box of old books from my father as he is preparing to move to a new house.  My wife made the selection from his book shelves, choosing antique editions of classic literature, most of which had been my mother’s.  When I returned home she handed me a beautiful forest green copy of poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  I instantly recognized it from its place on the shelf during my childhood and remembered using it for a project in a high school music class.

"Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow with Numerous Illustrations"

“Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow with Numerous Illustrations”

Then she opened the front cover where I saw it was not just my mother’s book, it was signed by “Josephine Forest”, her mother and my grandmother.  On a page by the table of contents it was also signed by “Miss Flossie Jenkins”, my grandmother’s mother.

Josephine Wright

Josephine Wright

Then she turned the page for a third signature, “Miss Minnie F. Le Craw”.  So this was Minnie’s book, presumably given to her daughter, Flossie, then my grandmother, Josephine, then my mother, Nancy, and now I have it to one day pass on to my daughters.  Who knew Longfellow would inspire six generations?

Miss Minnie F. Le Craw

Miss Minnie F. Le Craw

But there was more.  On the page after Minnie’s signature was the note that must have accompanied the book when it was given to her as a gift: “Miss Minnie Le Craw, with friendship of F. M. J 1885″  That would be Frank Jenkins, her future beau and husband. In 1885 she would have been 18 years old, living in Mount Carmel, where their romance was beginning as teenagers.

"Miss Minnie Le Craw, with friendship of F. W. J."

“Miss Minnie Le Craw, with friendship of F. M. J.”

The book was published in 1885 by Houghton Mifflin and Company / The Riverside Press of Boston.  It is a beautiful book with an intricate cover, gold gilt edge, and hundreds of poems, many illustrated.  She must have taken it on her journeys as she moved around the country, even as a substantial book in size compared to her petite diary and small Bible.

So where did Frank Jenkins acquire a recently published edition of Longfellow’s poetry in the mid-1880s smalltown?  Was there a store selling books near Mount Carmel?  Did he have to order it?  Did he travel to a larger city, maybe Cincinnati?

More importantly, for what occasion did Frank give this book to Minnie?  She had moved to Mount Carmel in 1883 as a 16-year-old, probably meeting Frank at that time and beginning their relationship before she moved to Waveland in 1886.  Was this book a birthday or Christmas present?  Or was it a gift before she left with her sister’s family to move across the state?  We know Minnie loved to read. Several times she quoted poetry in her diary entries.  And she celebrated Longfellow’s birthday with an assignment for her students. This was probably a very special book for her.

The book provides one final clue.  Inside the back cover is a quote written in Minnie’s handwriting that I have not been able to find in the book or anywhere else:

“In anyany (sic) weather, rain or shine a heart shall be a Valentine.”

]

Saturday, September 29

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Our Harvest House Gathering has been an entire success throughout.  It was a cool day but everyone seemed to enjoy it very much.  I ate dinner with a party of merry girls & had a nice time.  Miss Tillie & her sister came home with us.

 

[Editor's Note: I am not sure what the Harvest House Gathering was, but it sounds like a big seasonal church picnic.  Although her contribution of a cushion to the "fancy fair department" signals there may have been more to it.  Were there donations or items for sale as a fundraiser?

Web searches for "Harvest House Gathering" do not return anything.  I wonder if it could have even been a small Chautaqua type event?]

Thursday, September 27

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I went to Mr. McCampbell’s last night & we all went up to Waveland to practice for next Sat.

We had a pleasant ride & found all well at the parsonage.

 

[Editor's Note: They are preparing for a harvest event, probably at the church.  What are the practicing?  Choir?

This is the only reference in the diary to the parsonage, which is where I assume she lived while in Waveland.  We don't know for sure where the Presbyterian parsonage was at that time.  Her wedding reception two years later would be held at the parsonage, as mentioned on the invitation sent out by Emma.]

Tuesday, September 25

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This has been a long, tiresome day but a pleasant one.  Nearly the entire neighborhood went to Indianapolis.  We saw the candidate for the presidency, went through the Blind Asylum & the State House — I also went shopping.  Rec’d a letter from F.

[Editor’s Note:  This is one of my favorite diary entries.  I am amazed at the thought of the entire neighborhood, including the school, taking a field trip to Indianapolis.   I am sure this was a major event for a community back in that time requiring a significant undertaking to travel.  It is possible that was the only time many of those families ever went to the big city.

In 1888 Benjamin Harrison was running for President.  He had been nominated earlier that summer at the Republican Convention, back when the candidates were actually chosen by the delegates at the event after many rounds of voting and back room negotiations.  He had not been a leading candidate going into the election season, but was considered the least objectionable to various factions and therefore most winnable.  Not one of the more famous presidents, he was caught in a highly political time, with a change of controlling party in Congress at midterm elections, and senators and congressmen focused on getting re-elected instead of working together.  Sound familiar?  I recommend Charles Calhoun’s biography on Harrison to learn more.

In 1888, the custom was for the candidates not to actively campaign.  That was the job of their supporters.  Harrison conducted what was called a “front porch campaign”, giving speeches and making appearances at his house in Indianapolis. There was even a more than 10-foot tall ball with campaign slogans that a supporter rolled from Maryland to his house that summer.  I don’t know if it had arrived by September 25, but if it had Minnie and the folks most certainly would have seen it.

This all just piques my interest more.  How frequently did Harrison make  speeches as crowds gathered?  Did he individually greet every visitor or were there too many?  Were there other activities at the house or nearby for visitors?  Did local proprietors cater to campaign visitors with food or lodging?  Was it common for schools or small communities to even make such field trips to see the candidate? Was there anything special about September 25?

The Benjamin Harrison house is today a museum in Indianapolis.  I contacted the curator at the museum with these questions and she is researching to see what she can find out.  She said he made more than 80 impromptu speeches from June through November there.

The Blind Asylum was an imposing structure downtown and the State Capitol had just been completed that year after 10 years of construction.  Both were on a list of attractions to see when visiting the 1890 state fair, so they were the common for visitors of that era.

Indianapolis Blind Asylum

Indiana State Capitol

I wonder where she went shopping?

But mostly I wonder how big a deal this was for the community.  Did they travel specifically to meet the presidential candidate?  Was this a once-in-a-lifetime trip for some people, or was it common to travel to Indianapolis from time to time for everyone?  With the railroad it may not have been that difficult to travel.  Regardless, I imagine this trip was talked about in the community for years to come.]

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