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.)

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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!

Mothers, verified and otherwise

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This gallery contains 10 photos.

In honor of Mother’s Day, all the mothers in my mother’s line whose photos I could find in the family collection, though the documentation on some of them is pretty scanty. See notes! Married names are in parentheses. Ann (or … Continue reading

Who are all these people again?

If you’ve just recently joined us (ME) here at this blog, here’s a fresh introduction to the folks whose lives I’ve been researching, as well as few I plan to talk about soon.

All of these people are related to me through my mother’s father, Malcolm MacGregor Jameson, known to me as “Grandpa Mac” and to others in the family as MacGregor. He didn’t talk much about his family and the relationship I had to him and my grandmother wasn’t a close one. So some of this stuff I’m learning is very new to me.

On Mac’s dad’s side is my great-great-grandfather Joe Lee Jameson, a Texas bureaucrat who had been bookkeeper at an insane asylum, the State Revenue Agent of Texas, endorser for an adding machine, and had recently become an oil company executive when he died of typhoid fever at the age of thirty-four. He was married to Amaryllis Routh Jameson (whose later married name was Ward and who took the nickname “Jamie”), and at least half the stuff I know about this family comes from her scrapbooks, so she is my hero.

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Joe Lee Jameson, looking very important

They had three children,* all born in Texas:

The eldest, Malcolm Routh Jameson (my great-grandfather), also died relatively young, in his fifties. He had been a Naval officer during WWI and later in life became a science-fiction writer. I’ve built a web site for him and I’ll sometimes call him MRJ for short.

The second child was Vida Jameson (or “Vida I” because MRJ named his daughter after her). She died when she was just five. *There were also twin boys in the family who were born and died (or else were stillborn) in 1901. They’re the ones with unsettling little angel baby jpegs on their Ancestry.com profiles (no, I don’t know who put them there).

A year after the twins, and two years after Vida’s death, House Baker Jameson (named for his father’s mentor, Colonel Edward M. House), was born. He became an actor and worked on stage, radio, TV and film from the 1930s into the late 60s. His first wife was Edith (Edie) Taliaferro, a stage actress who had been a child star and who also had appeared in a handful of silent films, only one of which survives. After she died, House remarried, to actress and dancer Liz Mears. (And while he’s not a blood relative, I’ll tell you about her dad sometime, because… well, you’ll see.)

MRJ was the only one of his siblings to have children of his own: my Grandpa Mac (the second born), and Vida Jameson (aka Vida II), who as a young adult became friends with some Golden Age sci-fi writers her father knew, and eventually published stories of her own.

Vida and Mac’s mother was my great-grandmother Mary MacGregor Jameson (I grew up hearing her referred to as “Nana”), who first met MRJ when they were kids, when both his family and hers were living in the administrative staff quarters of the Southwestern Insane Asylum in San Antonio, Texas, around 1897. If you’re following along, you’ll remember my great-great-grandfather Joe Lee Jameson was the bookkeeper; my other great-great grandfather was the superintendent.

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MRJ and Nana (Mary), 1920s: “Of course we’re crazy about each other. We met at the insane asylum!”

Like MRJ, Mary was the only one of her siblings to have children. She was the second of five sisters, the four others being:

  • Anna MacGregor Collins, the oldest, who was the family archivist and genealogist, and whom I have to thank for saving a lot of this stuff.
  • Helen MacGregor, who never married and became a schoolteacher (oh, but she left some compelling stuff).
  • Margaret MacGregor Morgan, who moved to New York City in the 1930s. Still trying to figure out her story.
  • Kathryn MacGregor Burgess, who along with her sister Anna married military officers stationed in the Philippines.

The MacGregor sisters’ parents (see how I pivoted and am now going backward through the generations of my Grandpa Mac’s mother’s line?), were my great-great grandfather Dr. William Wallace MacGregor, a physician and surgeon, and Anna Jones MacGregor, my great-great grandmother (whose birth was celebrated in this lovely letter).

Beyond this generation and going backward, Anna Jones’s line is the most well-documented—most of the material I have from the 1880s and earlier is from her side, and she and some of her daughters claimed DAR membership based on her ancestors (the Moores, the Markses, and the Meriwethers). We’ve already had a glimpse of Anna’s maternal relatives, and there are some letters from her father and his people too.

I’ve also started to find out a little more about Dr. MacGregor’s family, who I think came over to the US from Glasgow, Scotland, around 1850. I have a few scraps (and I mean, literally, scraps) from that side.

And then, jumping ahead about a century (oh, the whiplash!), I have some stuff that provides some interesting glimpses of my mother’s very early childhood in New York, when she and my grandmother lived with MRJ and Nana while Grandpa Mac was off in the Pacific in WWII.

I’ve set up a category list in the sidebar to be a sort of index, so feel free to click on those names (or places or details) to see where else they come up. And I’ll be updating the family tree info when I get a chance. Until then, consider this your cheat sheet. Any questions?

Three years later…

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Three years later, about 90% of the contents of the Trunk (and its related boxes) are finally here in Chicago after schlepping them back from New Mexico after the holidays. There are far more scrapbooks than I remember. There are a few things I hadn’t seen before. It’s all still blowing my mind.

It may be just as well that it’s taken this long to get everything here (and to get to everything), especially the scrapbooks, since over the past few years iPhone cameras have become even better at capturing images of things that are too unwieldy and fragile to go on flatbed scanners, and there are now plenty of scanning apps too. The lighting on the spread above (from one of Ammie’s aka Jamie’s scrapbooks) could be better, but it’s high-res enough to zoom in and read everything. I’ve been saving most of the scrapbook digitizing for later, though—just organizing all the photos has had to come first.

Here’s what the front room of our apartment looked like this weekend:

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I set up some extra tables. The gray boxes behind the chair are the archival boxes where photos, letters, and various ephemera are filed, most of them in plastic envelopes. So far I’ve filled six of those boxes. Some of the duplicates can go into albums, the nicer photos will eventually be flatbed-scanned for posterity, and for now I’m just taking iPhone shots of anything that I want to study closer (i.e., snapshots) or anything else that looks interesting. You’ll see. (Oh, you’ll see.)

I’ll also be uploading photos to this album on Flickr. Not much there now, and some of it is from 2012, but check back in the next month or two—I’ll be uploading much more (I’ve had an account there for years, and it’s the easiest way to share). And if you look in the corner of this site, there should be an email signup option where you’ll be notified whenever I update.

Sign up now! Our ancestors are standing by!

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Drifting back

It’s been a few months. Ahem.

This summer I found myself focusing more on researching the Jamesons in the 1930s and 1940s, which included a couple of excursions to old New York City and Brooklyn addresses, and lots of letter-reading. I do have a few things to show for all this, including some location photos, which I’ll post sometime in the new year.

I also put up a site dedicated to Malcolm Jameson’s sci-fi career, which is pretty bare-bones now but I’ll add photos and scans when I get a chance. Some material will likely be cross-posted here.

Additionally I’m thinking of moving this blog to a subdirectory on wendymcclure.net and cross-posting some of the entries on my personal site. I’ve been treating this blog as a private site, but I haven’t sensed a lot of family interest, so I might as well open it up to the public and to search engines.

It’s entirely possible that I’m the only one interested in these old photos, but I can’t help wanting to share them. Why is that? I think maybe it’s because my whole life I had only the faintest notion that these people existed, these great-great grandparents in Texas and all their children, and now so much has surfaced to show me who they were and how they lived that I have to put it all together; I have to affirm that they were real.

My dad came for Thanksgiving and brought back some more photos from the big stash in Albuquerque. The first thing I did was search for a photo I’d seen last December. I remember it as being so dreamlike and strange that as time went on this past year I wasn’t sure it really existed.

But here it is: my great-great grandparents and their children in a boat, in 1897, staring out at us from across the water.

Isn’t it amazing? How could I not post it?

 

Fond Memories of the Southwestern Insane Asylum

You’ll remember from the last post that Joe Lee’s resume included a stint as bookkeeper and steward at the Southwestern Insane Asylum in San Antonio in the 1890s. For some of that time he worked under the administration of Dr. William Wallace MacGregor, who took the role of superintendent in 1896. This was nearly twenty years before Joe Lee’s oldest son, Malcolm, would marry one of Dr. MacGregor’s daughters, Mary. In the intervening years, both families moved several times around southern Texas, and I have to wonder if they remained acquainted all that time, but perhaps they really bonded during the time they lived together in the insane asylum.

That’s right, they lived in the insane aslyum. This one here:

I don’t know if any of the family are in this picture. Someone took the time to pencil the name of the place on the back and you’d think he/or she would also mention any known people in the photo. I think it’s possible that Joe Lee is in the group standing off to the left (maybe the guy holding his hat?), and I suppose one of the whiskered gents could be Dr. MacGregor, though I’m less familiar with how he looks to be able to recognize him at this distance.

None of the children shown appear to be quite the right age/sex for the Jameson or MacGregor kids in the 1890s—if this photo is even from that decade. The buildings and grounds look pretty new, which makes me think it was taken not long after the asylum opened in 1892. There are a couple of infants in the picture, and if this was the early 1890s, Malcolm or Vida could be one of those, but who knows; it’s only a guess.

I do find it a little hard to imagine how the children lived there, especially in the case of the MacGregors, because by 1896, when Dr. MacG. became superintendent, there were already four girls in the family. But according to this page about the institution’s history, the asylum “was a self-contained living environment. Crops and livestock were raised on the grounds… A large lake provided fishing and recreational activities for the patients. All staff members lived on the grounds and had to obtain permission to leave.”

So I suppose the children were there, and from the above it doesn’t sound like it was the worst place for a few families to live. It was considered a state-of-the art facility at the time, built in the stately architectural style that reflected 19th-century ideals about asylums.

We found the postcard above wrapped in a note in Amaryllis Jameson’s handwriting:

The center part in picture is the administration building—on second floor to right as you look at it was the apartment of Dr. and Mrs. MacGregor. They had a suite of several rooms. On the third floor on left side front was our suite of two large rooms and bath. The officers dining room was on second floor back where we all ate—the kitchen in basement. On first floor was the large recreation room and Joe Lee and (I) learned to dance there by french harp music—we all had some good times there.

The two wings were patient wards—the females to right—males left.

Whether or not my great-grandparents met as children at the Southwestern Insane Asylum is a Question Worth Investigating. But if there’s one thing we do know, it’s that my great-great grandparents learned to dance there.