The MacGregor sisters and the mystery of Minera, Texas

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Anna MacGregor, Helen MacGregor, and Mary MacGregor (second, third, and fifth from left), in front of Minera, Texas post office, early 1900s.

So you remember this photo from this entry a couple months back on the MacGregor sisters, right? These were my great-grandmother Mary and her sisters; Mary would eventually marry into the Jameson family. The sisters and their parents lived in Laredo, Texas, on the Mexico border. And, as I figured out from studying the photo above closely, a couple of the sisters sometimes visited a nearby coal mining town called Minera,Texas. When you click on the photo and view it at full size you can just make out the name of the town on the sign to the right.

I didn’t know why the girls were in Minera. In the photo albums I have, which I believe belonged to Anna and Mary, there are several photos taken there. Here’s another one:

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Anna MacGregor, second from left, Minera, Texas. Others in photo not known, though the man to right of Anna may have come from nearby Fort McIntosh. (He also looks like he could be the young man in the previous photo)

I had the vague notion that the girls and their friends went there on occasional jaunts, based on pictures like the one below, where the place seems like a playground to them.

But I’ve found enough bits and pieces to make me wonder if one or both of the girls lived at Minera. Or at least stayed there sometimes, in order to teach school.

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Anna at far left, Mary far right.

The key piece of information comes from Helen, the third oldest of the MacGregor sisters (after Anna and Mary). Helen’s papers include a brief autobiographical account of her childhood and teaching career, in which she mentions spending four years after college teaching at the school at Dolores, another small mining town outside of Laredo.

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Dolores Mine (image from Google Books)

In the 1910 census, all the sisters were living at home: Helen was 17 and still a student, but Mary, 20, and Anna, 22, were listed as public school teachers. Going by the clothing, the photos don’t appear to be taken later than 1910, and could have been a few years earlier. If Helen taught school at Dolores during her early twenties, isn’t it possible that one or both of her sisters did the same thing, a few years earlier, in Minera?

I went back to those old photo albums and found these:

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Those look like students all right!

I forgot these were in one of the albums.  I hadn’t photographed every picture in there—I’d mostly been looking at the snapshots of the sisters, taking cameraphone pictures of them so I could get a closer look and make out who was who. But that meant I’d stopped looking in the albums and was missing the wider context.

In the same album pages are more pictures of what could be Minera:

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Minera no longer exists. A 1940s article called The Life and Times of Minera, Texasapparently written by a descendant of one of the mine supervisors, seems to be the most detailed account of the place. It says that Minera was 25 miles from Laredo at the end of a branch railroad line, and that the trip took the better part of a day (in 1895 at least). The article mentions that the superintendent and his wife lived in a “comfortable, roomy stone house” with a broad, flat roof, and that the wife’s presence “made it agreeable for two young ladies to come out from Laredo and conduct a school for the children of the miners.”

A number of the photos that appear alongside the mine pictures show a stone house with a flat roof. Could it be the superintendent’s house? It doesn’t seem to be the MacGregor place (which had a shadier yard and was more clearly in town, with the Laredo post office building visible across the street.)

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Anna (I think, at far right) and friends on roof of mystery building. Fits description of Minera supervisor’s house, the roof of which was said to have been used as an observation deck to see across to the Mexico side of the Rio Grande.

Anna shows up most often in the photos; not sure if that means they were her pictures, perhaps recording her experience at the mine. My theory is that one or both of the sisters and possibly other young women lived at the supervisor’s house during the school year as guest-boarders under the watch of the supervisor’s wife. Helen, on the other hand, describes the Dolores mine as being near her home—it was a shorter distance, closer to ten miles—and by the time she would have been old enough to teach (1911 or so?) the trains were likely faster. Another possibility is that the sisters frequently visited a friend who taught at Minera, but the number of photos—and the fact that Anna and Mary were listed on the census as teachers at around the same time—makes me think otherwise.

Anna, who would later travel to in the Philippines and have her wedding there, strikes me as the adventurous one, the sort who would get a kick out of teaching in a mining camp. According to The Life and Times of Minera, in the early days (before 1900), dances were held in the schoolhouse every Saturday night, “which generally ended in a tequila-inspired brawl during early dawn. On Sundays they held cock-fights, and every payday nearly everybody got drunk at the cantina.” Nice! In the later years, though, the residents were ordered “to refrain from sticking knives into each other at Saturday night bailies in the schoolhouse.” Oh well, Anna and Mary look like they could make their own fun.

Minera was abandoned around 1915 after flooding in the mine shafts forced the mining operations to move further inland from the river. It’s listed as a ghost town in some guides. Somehow it still shows up on Google maps. Dolores isn’t marked, but the maps I found show it was in the area in the right-hand corner of the page, beneath Highway 255.
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The Life and Times ends with a last look from 1945:

“…the old stone walls of the superintendent’s house furnish a shelter to countless bats … The well-preserved cement floors are barely discernible beneath the blown dry earth that is gradually covering them over, and in another generation there probably will be no witness remaining who remembers the gayety and excitement that once was Minera, Texas…”

UPDATE:  A number of newspaper items confirm that indeed Anna and Mary taught school at Minera.

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EVEN MORE Joe Lee in the White City

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Ferris Wheel stereoscope image (found for sale online)

Maybe it’s because it’s summer, but I wish there were enough stuff in these scrapbooks to let me blog about the World’s Columbian Exposition for about ten more weeks, because jeezle pete, I really love old world’s fairs. Two summers ago I was working on the first draft of a children’s novel set at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, which had the same grand Ferris wheel (the first ever, you know) from the 1893 fair. I stared at pictures of that thing so I could write the scene when the kids in my book see it for the first time. It’s even on the cover of the book (and yes, I know it wasn’t that close to the waterfront), and it turns out my great-great grandfather had been on it in Chicago. I mean, so had a lot of people, but still!

Anyway, when we last left Joe Lee Jameson, he was wandering daily around the fair and the Midway Plaisiance, sending postcards and checking his mail at the Texas building in hopes of getting a letter from his wife, Ammie. He was also most likely having a complete blast.

Where did he stay? Making an educated guess, based on this pasted-in bit in Ammie’s scrapbook:

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The Stamford

This picture is only a couple of inches square, small enough to have been clipped out of a sheet of letterhead or a brochure. The buildings looked pretty Chicagoish to me and when you zoom in on the image you can see “Chicago” in the engraver’s signature. You can also see, on the teeny tiny banners atop the building, the words The Stamford. I did some searching and sure enough, the Hotel Stamford, on Michigan Avenue at Thirteenth Street, is listed in a 1893 Chicago guidebook. You can see it in this birds-eye-view here (it’s marked with a “5”). Rates were $2.50 to $5 a night, or about $60 to $130 in today’s money. For comparison’s sake, the famous Palmer House hotel had rates of $3 to $15 dollars per night, so the Stamford was probably a mid-price kind of place.

From the Stamford it would have been just a couple blocks’ walk to the elevated train (what’s now the Green Line) going south to the Exposition grounds at Jackson Park. About a mile to the north of the hotel was—is!—the Auditorium theatre, where Joe Lee apparently caught a show.

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Auditorium theater program, in Ammie’s scrapbook

The show Joe Lee saw was America, a “grand historical spectacle” produced in honor of the Exposition. Going by the program and the little bit I’ve read about historical spectaclesAmerica appears to have been a plotless but extravagant maelstrom of dance, pageantry, and stagecraft, with performers playing allegorical figures such as “Progress,” “Liberty,” and “Bigotry” (just try to imagine the costume for that last one). There might also have been dancers portraying “Whitney’s Cotton Gin” and “Morse’s Electric Telegraph” in the Grand Ballet of American Inventions. (I would have liked to have seen that.)

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Poster of Imre Kiralfy’s AMERICA (found online), featuring a whole lot of costumed performers standing in rows & stuff.

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Click to see the whole program

The program has all kinds of curious tidbits, such as a note strongly recommending that patrons, “especially the ladies,” leave their seats and socialize during the intermission. There’s also this handy description of the air conditioning system:

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“Pardon me, but will you kindly explain how is it so delightfully cool in this establishment?”

“The cooling and ventilating apparatus used for the Auditorium is extremely simple,” it begins. You can click on the pic to read the whole explanation, which involves a ten-foot-diameter fan, a shower of brine, and oh, just 40,000 pounds of ice per day.

But back to Joe Lee, who was still writing home:

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Sweetheart:—I have just taken a stroll on the roof of the Manufacturer’s Bdg. It is the finest view that I have ever seen. Yours, Joe Lee Jameson.

Here was his view, or at least one of the views that was possible from the top of the massive building:

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(photo from Wikipedia)

The building Joe Lee was on is featured in the postcard below, which he sent later that day. He’d finally gotten a letter from Ammie. He was also ready to come home:

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Sweetheart:—Yours of the 18th is rec’d. I see the handwriting on the wall. We are all going dead broke. When that occurs, which will be very soon, we will pack our Saratogas for Texas. Why you can’t breathe at Jackson Park without first dropping a nickle in the slot. Look out for us anytime. Yours, Joe Lee.

No idea if “the handwriting on the wall” referred to running out of cash or something in Ammie’s letter. Either way, Joe Lee and his traveling companions were getting sick of spending nickels. It was time to return to normal life. You know, at the insane asylum.

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(And maybe you’re wondering what that was like, living on the grounds of a nineteenth-century state-of-the-art mental institution? Ammie’s scrapbooks have some clues, and I’ll get into those sometime this summer, so stick around.)

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!

Keeping up with the Joneses, Part 1: Charles Jones

Oh, those Joneses, with their ubiquitous surname and their tendency to disperse all over the damn place. I’m trying to find out more about Anna Jones’s father Charles Jones (my 3rd great-grandfather) and his sprawl of siblings with whom he exchanged letters in the 1850s and 1860s. I have about a dozen of these letters (saved by Charles’s granddaughter, good old Anna Collins), and at the moment they are the strongest evidence I have that these Joneses ever existed.

But let’s start with Charles. Here’s one of a few portraits I have of him:

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Charles Jones, father of Anna Jones, grandfather of Mary and the other MacGregor sisters, and great-grandfather to my grandpa Mac (Got it?).

And here’s what I’m pretty sure is his grave, as it appears on Find A Grave:

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Charles Jones, born in Claremont N.H. Jan. 31, 1820, died in Montgomery, Texas, Sept. 29, 1871 (Photo by findagrave.com user Janet Beltram)

Man, that headstone is a genealogists’ dream. Except I also can’t help but stare at that empty space at the bottom of the stone and think about WHAT MORE COULD HAVE GONE THERE. Like the cause of Charles’s death, or why he came down to Texas in the first place, neither of which I know. But I am fairly certain that this Charles Jones is our Charles Jones based on a few bits of evidence:

One is his Dartmouth diploma, which we somehow managed to keep all these years:

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“Carolum Jones” graduated from “Collegii Dartmuthensis” in “millesimo octigentesimo quingentesimo secundo.”

Once I figured out that he graduated in 1852 (the internet is nothing if not a giant decoder ring for old documents in Latin!), a couple of Dartmouth alumni directories found in Google Books turned up short bios of Charles that matched the headstone as well as other scraps of family info I have. And then everything corroborated with the census information for his family. In 1870, his wife and three daughters were living in Montgomery, Texas, with Charles, a lawyer, listed as head of household, but he’s not in the 1880 census—by then his widow and the girls were living in Corpus Christi.

I don’t think he fought in the Civil War: he would have been in his 40s then, and there’s no indication from his grave that he was a veteran, but who knows. (Looking up Civil War stuff is still overwhelming, with no Sam-Waterston-narrating-Ken-Burns-documentary voice to talk me through it.)  But apparently at least one of his brothers fought on the Confederate side.

Which brings me to these siblings: between the letters and the scanty information I’ve found on Ancestry, I’ve managed to identify these possible brothers and sisters of Charles Jones:

William, who lived in Boston

Ezra, an Episcopal clergyman

Lucius, aka, L.H., also a clergyman, and later chaplain with a Confederate brigade that fought in New Mexico (where he was wounded in battle and later died of his injuries)

Alonzo, a railroad ticket agent in Boston

Sarah, who wound up in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Anna (YET ANOTHER ANNA), who I found census records listed as Sarah’s sister

So that is seven Joneses. Kind of a lot of Joneses! And from what I’ve glanced so far in the online research, quite a range of ages. Are they really all from the same parents? I haven’t found a family tree on Ancestry or elsewhere that lists more than two of them together, though going this far back it’s probably easy to lose track of ancestor siblings who didn’t have descendants of their own.

But I also have letters from some of the siblings, and I’m hoping that in transcribing them (oh, the 19th-century handwriting) I can find details to link them to online records, and find evidence of their relationships to one another. I’m hoping as well that somewhere in the few boxes left back in Albuquerque, Anna Collins drew up or found a Jones family tree while doing her DAR genealogy, but until I can get the hell back there in November, I’ll plug away on going the letters, in all their spidery-script glory, and will periodically post a transcription for us to pore over obsessively.

Sound like fun? I’ll try to get one up next week, then maybe switch to posting stuff from the Jameson side for awhile. Until then, keep jonesing. (SEE WHAT I DID THERE)

Starting points: the brief life of Maggie Jones

I was just beginning to compose this post this morning when I realized I’d accidentally hit Publish at some point instead of Save Draft. It wasn’t a big deal, of course… I just changed it back to draft mode and it had only been online for a few minutes. By then, though, it had gone out to as a “New Post” email to the subscription list. Anyone who saw it would saw just the post title and these four images below, in the same order they appear now.

But as it happens, these photos tell almost all the story I have about Maggie L. Jones, who is my third great-aunt:

Anna's sister. Reverse side of card says

Maggie Jones, born around 1866 in Corpus Christi , Texas

Maggie was Anna Jones’s sister. According to census records, she was born around 1866 in Corpus Christi, the youngest of three—Anna, who was about four years older, followed by Harriet, aka “Hattie,” and then Maggie. I assume Maggie is short for Margaret, since she has an aunt Margaret on her mother’s side, and Hattie seems to have been similarly named-after someone on that side.

I found the photo before I saw the census records. So I found out from Anna herself—well, her note—that she’d had a sister.

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Reverse side of photo. Anna’s handwriting; “My sister Maggie.”

A few months later I found out what happened to her, by way of a funeral notice in a scrapbook that Anna had put together later in life—the scrapbook appears to be from the 1920s, and there’s a single spread of pages plastered with obituaries and funeral notices of family members across the years, a sort of paper graveyard.

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Note: M.A. Sinckler is Mary Ann Moore, apparently widowed and remarried by 1884.

And there you’ll find Maggie, who died of scarlet fever at the age of 18.
AIMG_7632 few more details: She’d died shortly after starting school in Laredo. As to which school—maybe it was the Laredo Seminary, which later became as The Holding Institute? The school seems to have served many purposes, but this marker indicates that it had opened as a boarding school for women in 1880. Anna was attending Wellesley around this time, and I think that she and Hattie later taught school in Corpus Christi, so it’s possible that Maggie was attending school to become a teacher as well… or a missionary? There were several teachers and clergy on the Jones side of the family, so either vocation seems possible. 

UPDATE: It turns out she was enrolled at the Normal Institute in Huntsville.

Other little details to be gleaned: Maggie was staying in Laredo with her aunt Margaret on her mother’s side, who was married to William Headen. Only one sister is mentioned as arriving with their mother to be by Maggie’s bedside—maybe that was Hattie, since Anna may have been up at school in Boston. And I wonder how much it cost to have a funeral train?

I found an abstract for a memorial piece published about her in the Corpus Christi Caller a week or so after her death. I hope to get the article soon. Also hope to find out where her grave is. And why she went to school. And why did she go to Laredo instead of Wellesley like her sister? And when did her father die?  And what was her life like, there in another century, on the edge of Texas and the ocean?

A day in New York in 1932

I came across this photo of my great-grandparents while sorting through the trunk stuff. This is an incredibly cool photo, for more than one reason.

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3rd from left: Mary “Nana” MacGregor Jameson. 4th from left (behind Nana): Malcolm Routh Jameson. 5th from left: Edith Taliaferro Jameson. Far right: Vida Jameson. Likely New York, possibly August 1932. Taken by House Jameson?

For one thing, it’s the only photo I’ve ever found that shows my great-great-uncle House’s wife, Edie, in the company of the other Jamesons. You’ll remember Malcolm, Mary, and Vida Jameson from the last two posts, when they were in D.C.; here, Vida is a teenager. You might also recall that in 1930 Malcolm and Mary and their kids were living in the same building on east 48th Street as House and Edie. Despite this, though the two brothers (Malcolm and House) with their respective spouses/families always seemed to be in different worlds. At times this was literally true—in the 1930s House and Edie were touring Australia and the US with a theatre company for months at a time, Then House’s radio and stage work in New York likely came with its own unique lifestyle, whereas in 1930 Malcolm was a salesman with the International Correspondence Schools. In some of the extended group family photos of the Jamesons in the 30s and 40s, House shows up, but never Edie. But here she is, with her brother-in-law and sister-in-law and niece (and some other unknown folks) on a rooftop in what looks to be New York City.

My guess is that House was taking the photo, which is why he doesn’t appear in it. I also can’t help but wonder if they’re all on the roof of their building on 48th Street. But—and this is the other cool thing about the photo—I figured out from looking at the photo closely (which meant scanning it, since it’s only three by four inches) that I could make a pretty good guess as to the exact day it was taken.  Continue reading

The Jamesons go to Washington (Part 2)

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Mary MacGregor Jameson and baby Vida, circa 1917 (Evidently they took close-ups of the baby once in a while.)

Just a little more background on last week’s photos of Malcolm, Mary, and little Vida in Washington DC. Vida had been born in September 1916 in Houston, and in November Malcolm was called to Washington to work as a Naval draftsman, and the family seems to have moved with him.

One of the photos from last week provides a clue about where they lived:

vidababy4 Look closely and you’ll see the word “Fifth floor” scrawled at the top. Look even more closely and you can just make out the word “Ventosa” over the building’s doorway.

I don’t know if I would have known to look if the note on the back of the photo hadn’t urged me:

IMG_7973“Vida in front of the house / See name over door,” it says, in what I think is Mary’s handwriting. So I looked up Ventosa and here’s what I found, from a 1907 newspaper:

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Rooms of good size! Modern plumbing! Speedy elevators!

According to this ad, the Ventosa apartments each had two rooms, bath, kitchenette, and long-distance telephone service. Notice also the line about the building being “Opposite and Fronting United States Capitol and Its Beautiful Park.” That was no exaggeration—B Street is now Constitution Avenue, and if you look at where it intersects Northwest 1st street on a DC map you’ll see it’s kitty-corner from the main Capitol grounds. The place where the Ventosa stood is now part of the extended grounds (the building was torn down in the 1930s).

I don’t have this address for the Jamesons in any records (they would move on to Virginia by the 1920 census), but I’ll keep an eye out for it. I was hoping it would be on Malcolm’s 1917 passport application, but no dice—it just mentions he lives in DC.

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If they really did live at the Ventosa, with the Capitol dome right across the street, it might have felt very familiar to Malcolm, who for a few years in childhood had lived right across the street from the Texas capitol in Austin.

At any rate the family seemed very proud to be there, if the baby pictures of Vida are any indication. (I made a collage of them for fun). And as for why they all look like hostage photos, my guess is they had didn’t have unlimited film—or, for that matter, unlimited time outside with a tiny baby in winter. The easiest thing was probably to get in as much of the scenery as possible and the baby.