My great, great grand aunt, Anna McCurdy, was from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, just like the rest of the McCurdys and the Scotts–I am a McCurdy Scott. In June, 1875, Anna McCurdy married George Upton, who was from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Anna moved to Gloucester with George, and in so doing left behind her widowed father and five younger siblings.
My grandparents, Janet and Andrew, have been reading the letters that were sent between Gloucester and Gettysburg that year. This is Anna’s Christmas letter to her father, dated December 17th, 1875. As it happens, December 17th, 2008, was just about when I started thinking of Christmas presents this year. Another interesting similarity between Anna and me is that we generally begin each paragraph with “I”. Apples, trees. Self-centered Christmas apples, self-centered Christmas trees.
I aim to preserve original punctuation.
My dear Pa,
I am sending you a Christmas box [ed: my grandmother guesses this was by dray or train to Boston, then on a steamer to Philadelphia or Baltimore, and then another day train to Gettysburg] hoping that it may give you all as much pleasure to receive it as it has given me to prepare it.
I only wish that it was twenty tims as valuable as it is, but we have done our best this year. The shirts (red flannel anti Rheumatism) for yourself I know will be useful and the red silk hankerchief, sham, finger sponges from the sea &c may be acceptable also. Charley [ed: Anna's litte brother] will need the Enxesis and white silk hankerchief when he is going to a party or a concert; the delicate fragrance of Enxesis is very delightful I think–the bottle of bath powder he may like too but I can’t vouch for its worth as I can for the shaving soap–it is through George’s, not my own experience however–I am sending Mollie [Anna's eldest little sister] my damask silk knowing that she can make a beautiful dress of it sometime and have given hats to her and Puss [Anna's youngest sister] because they are the two who never had satisfactory ones, to my knowledge.
The young ladies in Boston seem to be wearing white or very light hats this winter and I met two very stylish girls from Phila. when we were at Cousin John’s on Thansgiving and both of theirs were much whiter than the one I have had made for Mollie. The white plume on it was never worn an hour but the wing was in my wedding hat–I suppose I ought to have kept all these little knick-knacks to remember the event but as I have George himself it doesn’t matter so much.
I would rather that you tell that girls not to open the box I am sending to Julia Jacobs [a childhood friend]–it contains pressed ferns, two little finger sponges like yours and some sea mosses very much like those George gave me when I was at home–these articles are easily soiled and broken and the girls can see them at Jules’s sometime.
The vase is for Sarah McPherson [another friend] and the stockings for the old family piece [ed: oh man, I am embarrassed, but let's be fair: "old family piece" is a...servant]. Lillie’s [another sister] box contains collar and cuffs white tie trimmed with lace and a pair of kid gloves which I bought in Boston and wore only once–they will come good next summer–Ginnie’s [sister] slate colored kid gloves and scarlet necktie I thought would suit her taste and I did not forget to send the inevitable bottle of perfumery for each of them.
The bundles of miscellaneous articles, calico dresses, chemise, dancers skirts, apron, hood &c which I sent to Lillie and Ginnie I thought would be useful although they are not very handsome. And now comes Puss. I want her to write and tell me how she likes her hat, cosy and blue waist.
The toaster you will find very convenient to broil a little steak as well as for bread. You just take off one of the griddles and hold it over the top of the stove. I put in some nutmegs & tea to fill up the little spaces thinking they could be more useful than wads of paper… The pressed ferns and sea fan (Fan Gorgan) are for Mollie. I suppose you have rec’d [sic] the half barrel of mackerel which George sent you.
The barrel of mackerel (salted? Oh let’s hope salted) did indeed make it to Pennsylvania, although it took three weeks. In a letter to the Gettysburg side of the family, George advocated said mackerel and wrote,
Anna and I do have very cosy breakfasts off of it occasionally–I mean cosy always and mack’l occasionally.
[Ed: all images are from the archive of the Denver Public Library, available in the "History of the American West" collection of the Library of Congress's American Memory database.]