Joe Lee in the White City!

So my great-great grandmother Jameson’s scrapbooks are pretty overwhelming to go through. Ammie (later known as “Jamie”) crammed them full of newsprint clippings, old railroad tickets, postcards, and party invitations, pasting in lengthy articles, one-line local news items, sentimental poems, pictures, quotations, telegrams, et cetera, turning the pages into dense crazy collages of 19th-century ephemera, often in no particular order. So it’s taken a while to find all the little stories that are told in the bits and pieces.

I was just looking through some photos I’d taken of the scrapbook pages a few months back, and noticed the series of postcards that Ammie’s husband Joe Lee sent her in 1893 from Chicago. Chicago! (For me that is HERE.) It would be three more generations before some of Joe Lee and Ammie’s descendants (my mom; me and my brother) would wind up living here. In 1893 the Jamesons were ensconced in Texas, and there was pretty much only one reason why any of them would visit Chicago at that time and I BET YOU CAN GUESS WHAT IT IS:

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OMG THE COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION!!!!! (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

YES. Only the freaking Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition (or “the 1893 World’s Fair,” if you want to be generic about it). Joe Lee was there, sending postcards home to Ammie. I went back into the scrapbook to look for more details. Evidently he went with some friends:

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“Just going to the world’s fair wtih my bros.”

In case you’re wondering: yes, that was Will Hogg, son of the then-current Texas Governor James Stephen Hogg (and, of course, sister of Ima). W. L. Barker Jr. was the son of Dr. Barker, the first superintendent of the Southwestern Insane Asylum where Joe Lee worked. Will Hogg would have been 18 at the time; W.L. Junior, whose father was born in 1852, couldn’t have been much older than 20 and was most likely in his teens as well. Joe Lee was about 24. Maybe he was a sort of chaperone, trusted to travel with the governor’s and the boss’s sons? Who knows. But it seems likely they were going up to Chicago to be part of a “Texas Day” celebration, which involved having the Texas building at the fair “thronged with Texas people.”

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Texas Day, September 16, 1893. (Click on photo to see a little more news text). Clipping from Amaryllis Jameson’s scrapbook.

Joe Lee’s postcards home apparently started two days later:

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“The greatest thing… that has ever been on earth.”

“Sweetheart:—The Fair is the greatest thing of the kind that has ever been on earth. It is impossible to see it all, but I am walking myself to death in order to see as much of it as possible. Am too tired tonight to write a letter. Joe Lee”

By the 19th, Joe Lee and the boys were hitting the Midway Plaisance, where all the “amusements” (i.e., the fun, exotic, and seedy attractions) could be found:

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“Sweetheart:—We spent to-day in the Midway Plaisance. We visited the Lapland Village, the Libbey Glass Works, the Javanese Village, Hagenbeck’s Menagerie and the Moorish Palace. Have been to the Texas Bldg every day for a letter, but have rec’d none. What is the matter? Yours, Jameson”

What was the matter indeed. Was there a bit of the silent treatment coming from San Antonio? Ammie would have been at home (and remember, home was staff quarters in the Southwestern Insane Asylum), with their toddler son (my great-grandfather) and two-month-old baby Vida. No way to know whether the new baby was the reason the rest of the family couldn’t go, or whether Joe Lee’s trip was part of some kind of official Texas muckety-muck business that didn’t include spouses. But the separation seems to have been on Joe Lee’s mind to some extent. When he wasn’t watching trained lion shows, admiring waxworks at the Moorish Place, and riding camels, that is.

Two and a half days later, still no letter from home, but Joe Lee has somehow managed to find things to do on the Midway:

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Sweetheart:—I have taken a camel ride in the Streets of Cairo, a round in the Ferris Wheel, a peep at the Children’s Nursery and kissed the Blarney Stone. I will go over to the Texas Bdg and get a letter from you—I hope. I have worn holes in my shoe soles. Yours, Joe Lee”

Holes in his shoe soles! At least we know he was probably thinking of the kids when he visited the nursery. And he did bring back proof of kissing “the Blarney Stone” at Lady Aberdeen’s Irish Village, a feat which reportedly required one to dangle bravely over the battlements atop the castle structure. The stone was a fake, alleged by some to be a chunk of paving block dug up from 57th Street, and I admit I really love the idea of my great-great grandfather kissing a piece of my home city.

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He kissed it all right

What else did Joe Lee do in Chicago? And did the poor guy ever get a message from home, or was he doomed to enjoy one of the most impressive and spectacular public events in in world history without a letter from his wife, with only a couple of his young and probably well-to-do Texas buddies for company? More next week!

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