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!

Rain check!

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My great-great grandfather was a liar in 1894

No lie, I was working on a post for this week and had compiled all the images for it this weekend. But I’m on a deadline for a short essay I’m writing (it’s a tiny deadline) and needed to work on that yesterday instead. So you’ll have to wait next week, when I go back over to the Jameson side of the family and piece together a story from Ammie’s scrapbook, one that is super FUN. Because after writing about people dying of scarlet fever and ironic Civil War wounds, it seemed time for a change.

It has a Chicago connection, and, if you like guessing, it takes place a year or so before Joe Lee’s apparent liar certification. (Which I also found in Ammie’s scrapbook. I guess Liar’s Club membership cards were a thing back in the day?)

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?

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?

 

The house in Austin: mystery solved

You may remember that I was a little obsessed with this house in Austin, where the Jameson family lived at the turn of the century:I knew that it wasn’t standing anymore but aside from another old photo which I’d found at the Austin History Center’s website, I couldn’t find out a thing about it. The history center has a number of historic building files and lets you search their archives by street address, but nothing came up for 1108 Colorado Street. There was a file, though, for 1104 Colorado, but the contents weren’t online. I was beginning to suspect that it was the file I was looking for, and when I finally emailed a librarian at the history center and showed him the old photo, he explained that at some point, a few years after my great-great grandparents moved out, the house had been moved down the block on logs.

I ordered photocopies of the house file contents, which included photos and ownership records. Sadly, there are no photos showing the actual house-moving, because how awesome would that have looked? But there was a copy of the photo above, showing the Jamesons, with their names listed on the reverse and everything. And then photos of the house at different angles:

Not sure when the above photo was taken, or whether the house was in its original or moved location (moved, I think). The diagram below seems to indicate that the one-story wing on the back was added later. Does that mean the house originally had just two big rooms on the first floor, and two on the second? What was it like when the Jamesons lived there?

(The little drawings of the bannister finial and the light fixture are a nice touch.)

The house, built in 1852, has come to be known as the Haynie-Cook House. Dr. Samuel Garner Haynie, who had been the mayor of Austin in 1850 and 1851 (and again  in ’63 and ’64), commissioned Abner Cook, a prominent Texas architect who worked on the interior of the 1852-3 state capitol and later built the Texas Governor’s Mansion, to build a residence on some land he owned across from the Capitol grounds.

Prior to that, Confederate general Albert Sidney Johnston had lived on the property, in a cottage Haynie had built around 1850. It’s possible he also lived for a short time in this new house Cook was building, as Joe Lee Jameson believed, even though it was being built for Haynie. Confused? I know I am. Suffice it to say Albert Sidney Johnston had at least been around.

The place cost between $7500 and $9000 to build, making it one of the most expensive houses in Austin. It turns out the Haynie family lived in the house for only a short time—if at all—before selling it to Abner Cook due to financial difficulties. So Cook moved into the house that he’d built and lived there with his family the rest of his life, with his widow remaining there until 1885. After that, the house was bought by another former Austin mayor, Leander Brown.

From there the ownership records get a little murky because they refer to lots, not house addresses—all I can tell is that the place passed through the hands of a few more people, described in the historical summary as real estate banker types, who may or may not have lived there. The occupancy record, compiled from old Austin directories, doesn’t list the Jameson family at all, although it shows a window of time from 1897 to 1902 in which “Not Sansom or Nalle” lived there—Sansoms being the residents previous to 1897, and Nalle as the owner in 1903. This corresponds roughly to when the Jamesons lived there. So while my great-great-grandparents appear by name in the oldest photo of the house in the history file, they never owned the place, and for some reason their residency was never reflected in the city directory.

I have a theory as to how the Jamesons wound up living there.  I can’t help but wonder if the house was something of a white elephant throughout its existence, starting with the original owner who couldn’t afford the place. Certainly it was considered an important house, but by the end of the 1800s, nearly fifty years after it had been built, would it have been considered outdated, perhaps difficult to heat, an impressive but impractical showplace? The well-to-do in Austin could build fashionable Victorians with more modern features (like kitchens and servants’ rooms, instead of outbuildings dating back to the slavery era), and the Haynie-Cook house may not have been able to serve the needs of an established wealthy family. But for the small family of a rising young bureaucrat who had been an aide in the newly elected governor’s campaign, and who had recently relocated from staff quarters in an asylum downstate, the house could have been a step up, and no doubt the location across from the Capitol building would have suited them well. Whoever owned the house at the time would have likely had influential connections to Texas politics; giving Joe Lee Jameson and his family the opportunity to live there could have been a reward for service and loyalty to the current administration. Perhaps also the Jamesons, or whoever arranged for them to live there, were doing the owners a favor by keeping the place occupied and maintained. In the letter Joe Lee wrote about the house, he seems to be proud of the history of the place but there’s no indication that any of it belongs to him.

About a decade after the family vacated the house (moving to Beaumont), the house was moved down the block by a new owner, and the owner’s sister, Fanny Andrews (aka “Miss Fanny”) opened a gift store on the first floor called “Ye Qualitye Shoppe” and then eventually moved in upstairs.

Miss Fanny (or is it Miss Fannye?) seemed to be a fixture in Austin—a longtime resident and one of the first women to attend UT.  She even had her own biography, a booklet of interviews she gave to a local historian in the late fifties, and I found a used copy for cheap in hopes that it would have another picture of the house. Sure enough, there was this photo from the 50s:

By this time the house had clearly seen better days. By Miss Fanny’s account, the place wasn’t in such great shape either back around 1910, after her brother had bought the house because “it was too good a house to waste” and moved it down the block to the lot he owned. “The house was terrible,” she was quoted as saying in her biography. “The colors in the house were terrible. One bedroom was red, one green, the west bathroom was red.” Miss Fanny fixed up the place and then opened the shop, which she ran for more than forty years until it closed in 1953. The house was demolished the same year as part of developments to the Capitol area.

Today the Westgate Tower at 1122 Colorado, completed in 1966, stands in its place.

I visited Austin this past April and one of the first things I did was to visit the historical marker for the house that stands in front of the building:

Despite all the development, I could still see the land ridge that ran beneath the whole block. And when I turned around and looked across the street, I could see what the view must have been from the front porch of the house at the time the Jamesons lived there. Except for the trees, it wouldn’t have been much different—the Capitol and the surrounding grounds.

For extra credit web fun:

This has been the deepest historical research I’ve done so far on a family history topic. It started with that one photo, and I suppose that image represents an anchor for me, a point in time that makes me want to find out more about everything that led up to it and everything that came after. That photo was meant to convey that the family had arrived; I have to wonder what it—and the house—meant to them after tragedy struck there not long afterwards. It’s one of those things I guess I’ll never know.

Joe Lee Jameson and the adding machine

Fellow descendants! Did you know our ancestor Joe Lee endorsed an adding machine in advertisements that appeared all over the country?

It’s true. Joe Lee loved the Locke Adder so much that he was moved to write an unsolicited letter to the manufacturers in Kensett, Iowa. Or maybe he didn’t love the Locke Adder but he wanted to help out an old friend, or else one of his government buddies helped him land an endorsement deal (I know, as if State Revenue Agent of Texas job was like being Brett Favre). We’ll probably never know what the circumstances were. We know only what he wrote:

When one cannot afford to pay several hundred dollars for an adding machine, the Locke Adder is a most satisfactory substitute.

It is a valuable aid to the busy accountant, and as this useful machine can be had for only $5.00, one should be in every business office.

Very respectfully, JOE LEE JAMESON (State Revenue Agent).

All that and a free descriptive booklet. He couldn’t have known that these would turn out to be his most immortal words. When I searched on Joe Lee’s name in Google Books, I wondered at first why so many of the results were in magazines like Pearson’s and Lippincott’s and Cosmopolitan—it was because they ran the ads that used his name.


According to the online articles I’ve read about the Locke Adder, it was a sort of miniature abscus, and though it was a very stylish-looking device, it wasn’t terribly user-friendly. I am definitely impressed with Joe Lee’s apparent ability to decipher the mind-boggling free descriptive booklet.

By all accounts the Locke Adder owed much of its success to its extensive marketing. I hope Joe Lee got his five dollars’ worth. Certainly it bought him, in the back pages of all these old magazines, a strange kind of afterlife…