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“Revising the Civil War”: A Distinctive Collections Subject Guide

U.S. Army frock coat of Major General Sherman, 1864.


This week brings the next event in The Albert Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest at Villanova University’s six-part series on “Revisionist History”: Revising the Civil War. The series brings together national and local experts to explore how today’s events compel us to re-examine critical periods in American and global history. Lepage Center director Jason Steinhauer says the goal of the series “is to show how revision is critical to all historical scholarship, and how new events and new sources continually challenge us to re-think what we know about the past.”

Here at Falvey Memorial Library we are continually bringing new sources and new scholarship to our community. We digitize new items each week for the Digital Library from our own Distinctive Collections as well as partner institutions. We want to share our enthusiasm for “Revisionist History” and this week’s event by inviting you to dig into some of our Civil War-era sources.

One of our most prominent items is the U.S. army frock coat of General William Tecumseh Sherman, on (mostly) permanent display in our Special Collections Rare Book Room. The coat is an eye-catching treasure, and it can easily be used to open a dialogue on how we remember and learn about the Civil War. It is relevant to the discussion of what has been traditionally collected, or not collected, by libraries, archives, and museums, as well as the recent debates surrounding public monuments of Confederate generals. Who have been the writers and preservers of history? What were their motives? Sherman’s coat has been part of our collection for nearly 100 years. In more recent years, part of our mission has included an ongoing effort to identify and acquire materials that relate to under-represented groups in order to diversify the collection and share a more inclusive history.

Here are some additional Digital Library sources from 19th-century America and the Civil War:


Sherman Thackara Collection

The coat is part of this collection, donated by the family of General Sherman’s daughter Eleanor, who lived in Rosemont and attended St. Thomas of Villanova church. The correspondence in this collection contains courtship letters exchanged between Eleanor Sherman and Alexander M. Thackara, and letters from Eleanor to her father, frequently referencing public events and personalities, as well as many local individuals, events, and institutions of Philadelphia and the Main Line in the 1880’s and 1890’s. A unique part of the collection is A. M. Thackara’s correspondence, photographs, and memorabilia relating to his years at Annapolis up until his marriage. Here can be found an unusual first-hand picture of Navy life in the post-Civil War period.

Dime Novel and Popular Literature Collection

This unique and distinct category of literature was the main popular reading matter for average readers, both adult and juvenile, during the Civil War and up through the early 20th century. Separate from strictly “news”-oriented newspapers of the day, these materials were created for and read by a mass audience and can be a useful source reflective of the cultural outlook of the period. Here is a search of “Civil War and Dime Novel” in the Digital Library.

Newspaper Collection

This collection contains hundreds of national and regional newspaper titles. Some of the more relevant titles for this time period with more than one issue include: New-York Weekly Tribune (New York, select issues from 1852); The Citizen (Irish newspaper published in New York, issues date between 1854-1856); Olive Branch (Doyletown, Norristown, 1842-1859); National Defender (Norristown, Pa, issues currently range from 1856-1876, with current ongoing digitization of later years); I.C.B.U. Journal (Philadelphia, Irish Catholic Benevolent Union, issues range from 1883-1900); Weekly Wayne Gazette from one of our newest digital partnerships (Wayne, issues from 1871-1872); and of course our own college newspaper The Villanovan begins in 1893.

Humbert Collection

This is the personal paper collection of Augustus Humbert which includes correspondence and orders related to the hunt for the assassin of President Lincoln – John Wilkes Booth – and the failed assassin of Secretary of State Seward – Lewis Payne; Confederate States of America currency; and his Pennsylvania Officer’s State Militia certificate.

John F. Ballier Papers

This collection from the German Society of Pennsylvania includes the Scrapbook of John F. Ballier, circa 1831-1889.  It includes numerous documents from Ballier’s service in the Civil War, including correspondence, military orders and newspaper clippings, as well as memorabilia going back to his apprenticeship as a baker in Aurich (Vaihingen), Wurttemberg, and related to his activities in Philadelphia during the rest of his life, including significant German-American festivities such as the Humboldt centennial in 1869, the Friedensfest in 1871, and the unveiling of the Schiller statue in Fairmount Park in 1886. Included is a manuscript note in the hand of Abraham Lincoln, dated 25 March 1863, addressed to Pennsylvania Governor A. G. Curtin, concerning Ballier’s being allowed to resume his commission.  Also includes an early day edition of the newspaper – Evening Star – April 15, 1865, prior to the announcement of the assassination of Lincoln.

William C. White Letters

William C. White was an Irish Catholic Union soldier from Philadelphia. White began his Civil War service as a volunteer with the 69th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers on August 19, 1861 and served in some of the bloodiest and most important battles of the War – Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. This collection contains letters from White to his parents in Philadelphia, recounting his experiences during the war.

Robert M. O’Reilly Papers

Robert Maitland O’Reilly (1845-1912) was the 20th Surgeon General of the United States Army serving from September 7, 1902 to January 14, 1909. O’Reilly served a long military medical career beginning as a medical cadet in August 1862 during the Civil War. This collection includes correspondence, military paperwork, personal papers, and ephemera. The majority of the collection is correspondence between O’Reilly and his family and friends, the bulk being letters sent to his mother, Ellen O’Reilly, and his sister Mary O’Reilly between 1864 and 1900. The letters that O’Reilly sent in 1864 document his service during the Civil War when he was stationed in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Autographs of C.S.A. prisoners taken during the Civil War and held at Johnsons Island.

This manuscript contains signatures of American Confederate prisoners of war held at the Johnson’s Island prison in Lake Erie. It is part of a collection of papers of Eleanor C. Donnelly, 1838-1917, a figure on the Philadelphia literary scene. She was known as “The Poet of the Pure Soul” and was a contributor to numerous Catholic magazines and newspapers.

Candle-lightin’ time / by Paul Laurence Dunbar; illustrated with photographs by the Hampton Institute Camera Club and decorations by Margaret Armstrong

Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1872 to parents who had been enslaved in Kentucky. He became one of the first influential black poets in American literature and was internationally acclaimed for his dialectic verse. Included in this volume is the poem, “When Dey Listed Colored Soldiers,” with photographs accompanying each page of poetry.


“Revising the Civil War” will take place Wednesday evening, October 30 at 7-8:30 p.m. in Driscoll Auditorium. For panelists and more information:

Stay tuned for our next post on “Revising the Cold War” and come see our table at that event for some selected sources from Distinctive Collections!


The Dog Days of Summer

The sunny, sultry days of July and August are often referred to as the “dog days” of summer. Ancient civilizations noticed what they thought was a correlation between the hottest days of summer and the heliacal (or, at sunrise) rising of the star Sirius in the constellation known as Canis Major (the “Big Dog”). Although Sirius does not actually have an effect on the temperature, its heliacal rising does coincide with some of the hottest days of summer in many parts of the northern hemisphere. “Canicular days” (from the Latin word for dog) made their first appearance in print in English in 1398. The Old Farmer’s Almanac puts the timing of the Dog Days as July 3 through August 11.

As we sweat our way through the dog days of summer, here is a selection of dog images from our collections!

From the Photo Album of Laird C. Robinson of Philadelphia, 1904:

Photo: Man with hunting rifle and dog Photo: The Whole Family and the Dog


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Letters from the Past

Posted for Marjorie L. Haines, Digital Library Intern, Spring 2015

Transcribing historical letters has been one of the most fascinating and enjoyable tasks required in my work with special collections. It generally requires reading personal correspondences from the past and diving into the history of the authors. Imagine a librarian, 100 years from now, reading your descriptive emails home to your parents, your embarrassing facebook messages to your friends, or even those angry texts sent to an ex-lover. What sort of telling anecdotes could be gleaned from your supposedly private conversations?

My first assigned letters to read at Villanova University were those sent from Eleanor M.S. Thackara (“Ellie”) to her father, William T. Sherman [;;]. In her correspondence, Ellie updates her Papa on such events as her recent visit to her mother and the welfare of her own baby. Most prominently seen in this trio of letters, however, are Eleanor and her husband’s plans to move to a new house. It is a costly venture….for which Ellie requests her father’s funding. The manipulation incorporated into these letters strongly reminisces of a child’s request for money from their parents in the modern age. Ellie begins her letters with expressions of adoration for the new residence, which she claims to be both aesthetic and practical in location; she convinces her father that this place is the best option, and what father would not want the best for his daughter? Next, she laments the costs involved with the move and references an offer of financial aid previously made by her father. She does not merely suggest he uphold his promise, but very considerately acknowledges that he may not have the funds or desire to assist in the manner which she proposes. Of course this thoughtfulness would inspire likewise kindness. After receiving confirmation of her father’s agreement to send funds, Ellie requests further finances, by describing her concern that she will have to sell some of her Government Bonds in order to furnish the new home. William must have felt compelled to take care of his darling daughter, based on her response. When it comes to heartfelt thanks, Eleanor excels in expressing herself.

“You will just fix us nicely by sending the surplus check each month. Many thanks. What would we do without our father & friends especially the former.” (Letter, To: “My dear Papa” (William T. Sherman) From: Ellie, October 3, 1881, Back.)

It seems some interactions transcend time.

Letter, To: “My dear Papa” (William T. Sherman) From: Ellie, October 3, 1881, Back

Letter, To: “My dear Papa” (William T. Sherman) From: Ellie, October 3, 1881, Back


Available for proofreading: History of Orrin Pierce

orrinOur latest proofreading project comes from the Sherman Thackara Collection: a Sunday School reader called History of Orrin Pierce, published in 1847 by the American Sunday-School Union (an organization which still exists today under the name InFaith).

The book tells the story of a young boy named Orrin Pierce, and being a Sunday School reader, it frequently uses the events of his life to teach religious lessons.  The volume contains many drawings, some of which have been hand-colored by a previous owner in our copy.

If you want to help preserve this vintage book in electronic format, you can join in at the project page. To learn more about the proofreading process, see this earlier post.  This is a short one, so join in now — it won’t be around for long!


The unexpected delights of old letters

I always love looking through the various letters that we’ve digitized because I always find something interesting and/or exciting about these snapshots of life in a time gone by. Today’s historical encounter: Nellie Bly. She was a late-19th/early-20th-century reporter, best known for going undercover to expose the awful conditions of insane asylums and travelling around the world to recreate Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days and attempt to beat Phileas Fogg’s 80-day record.

So when I found a reference to Nellie Bly in a letter while researching a separate blog post, I was quite excited. In the snippet of letter posted below, Ellie Sherman Thackara writes to her father: “Too bad about Miss Bisland’s being beaten, but Nellie Bly’s friends are rejoicing.” (In Nellie’s around-the-world adventure, she was actually competing against another reporter, Elizabeth Bisland.)

This one-line snippet is the only mention of Bly in the letter—just a quick remark on current events that Ellie included in a letter to her father. And that’s another interesting thing: this really was a current event, hot off the presses. Ellie’s letter is dated only Jan. 25th, no year, but an archivist later added an uncertain “[1890?]” at the top of the letter. In fact, this casual mention of Nellie Bly beating “Miss Bisland” gives a remarkably specific timeframe for the letter: Nellie Bly returned to Hoboken, NJ (her original point-of-departure) on January 25, 1890 at 3:51pm. The very same day that Ellie’s letter is dated! From this, we can imagine that Ellie read the news in an evening paper and was still thinking of it while composing a letter to her father later that same evening.

This letter is part of the Sherman-Thackara Collection. You can find more letters throughout our Digital Library Collections—and do let us know if you find anything exciting!


Her Semester Abroad: Ellie Thackara’s Jaunt in the Dominion of Canada

Posted by: Jean Turner, Digital Library Intern Spring 2011

You may think you have nothing in common with Eleanor Mary Sherman Thackara, the 19th century daughter of the famed General Tecumseh Sherman on whom the Digital Library has many records, but let me ask you this: Have you gone abroad?  When I first sat down to read “A Summer Jaunt in the Dominion of Canada,” Ellie’s published accounts of her traveling in Canada, I admittedly worried I might not be able to relate to someone from such a different time and position.  But traveling has been the only time I have ever had the self-discipline to maintain a thorough journal.  So, while my day-to-day life will depend upon memories, my trips to Italy and Southeast Asia and my time on a small sailboat in the Caribbean are documented in well-weathered notebooks on my shelves.  Quite surprisingly, Ellie’s passages printed in The New York Ledger, like mine, regale the readers with asides about local history, imaginative descriptions of the landscapes, and many anecdotes of the interesting and unique people she meets along the way.  If you’re a student hoping to go abroad, a traveler with journals and memories of your own, or just a student of human nature read on!

In Ellie’s first installation she remembers remarking to a landlady that her “object in coming so far, aside from all the joy of beautiful scenery, was an interest in these foreign parts, their people, and their history.”   She proves this love for history by retelling tales of local importance for many of her destinations, whether it was the long-ago residence of a French martial city and convent or a famed Indian council attended by Champlain and Lescarbot in 1603.  Her satisfaction upon matching these facts to buildings and valleys is much like my own pride at recognizing a piece of history in front of my own eyes, and I don’t think Ellie and I are alone.

In an age where social networking allows us to share our traveling pictures with anyone and everyone, we might overlook Ellie’s attempts to put all of the beautiful sights she encounters into words.  Yes, she was prosperous enough to have several photographs taken and included in her accounts.  Despite this trailblazing technology, she further honors the uniqueness of each of her experiences by attempting to keep the scenery alive with her own pen.  From the decks of one boat, Ellie wrote, “The moon is a russet orange, from which the great bear must have had a bite, and long lines of clouds streak its face.  It is close upon our stern horizon, and before many moments will go down into the liquid darkness.”  Unable to snap a picture of every gorgeous sight she sees, Ellie includes many descriptive passages in her account to remind herself and share with others the landscapes one sees while traveling in Canada.

A look at several scenes Ellie came across.

It wouldn’t be a travel journal, at least it wouldn’t be like mine, without a cast of kooky characters that one meets along the way.  Ellie’s three pieces include tales of a guide who answered every question with his two-word vocabulary, “Yish, um,” and “Naw, um,” a Scotch-faced steward aboard one of her ships with an interesting “checkered double-visored cap” and lastly a “most artistic tramp” that she finds lying on a hillside as she disembarks from a boat.  Travelers everywhere meet those who wish to play a trick on tourists and this self-proclaimed blind man was such a person.  But after his farce was exposed and they knew they had been fooled, the newcomers begged for a photograph of the actor with his bald head and tattered garments “stuffed here and there with straw.”  As he knelt for them he dramatically exclaimed, “My name is George, G-O-R-G.  You are quite welcome.”

A look at the beggar George!

Not all of our travel memories are destined for publication or kept in the holdings of Villanova’s or any other university’s special collections, but it’s likely that they contain similar stories to those you’ll find if you read more of Eleanor Mary Sherman Thackara’s accounts.  After all, aren’t many of our reasons for traveling, whether for school or vacation or adventure, also the joy of beautiful scenery and an interest in foreign places and their people?  Read some more of Ellie’s accounts or explore the pictures in any of her three articles, all named A Summer Jaunt in the Dominion of Canada, found in the Sherman Thackara Collection of Villanova University’s Digital Library.

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Shakespearian “Sex in the City”, 19th century edition.

Posted for David Burke:

Within the large assortment of letters and photographs comprising the Digital Library’s Sherman-Thackara collection is an untitled draft of a play written by Eleanor Sherman Thackara (the daughter of Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman).  It features four characters, each named after a heroine from one of Shakespeare’s plays: Rosalind (As You Like It), Desdemona (Othello), Katherine (Taming of the Shrew), and Viola (Twelfth Night).  They have been moved to nineteenth century New York and given prominent careers, but their dialogue frequently quotes actual lines from Shakespeare’s plays.  And they spend the time discussing romantic relationships—in short, a Shakespearian Sex in the City in the nineteenth century.

In terms of what American society was like at the time, Thackara’s imagination is quite radical.  First, the characters are not just housewives but have full-fledged careers, including a lawyer and stock broker.  Furthermore, the discussion the characters have comes out of Desdemona’s desire to divorce her husband—still a rare and scandalous event for the time.  Furthermore, she wants the divorce because her husband (Othello, of course) keeps losing large amounts of money through bad investments and refuses to help with the child-rearing.  Viola, on the other hand, takes great pride in having remained single, exclaiming, “What fools you women are to marry!”

The play ends with the women citing lines extolling the virtues of love, seeming to end on a happy note—though it is not clear Desdemona has agreed to call off the divorce (or even if the play is definitively finished).  The draft is hand-written, and there is no evidence the play was ever performed.  But written on the last page, Eleanor wrote a final, hopeful message, “May be.”


More Heavenly Than Pure Love

Posted for Marylyle McCue, Digital Library Intern, 2010.

Detail from A.M. Thackara’s Letterhead.

The Sherman Thackara Collection is comprised of private letters, photographs and other documents belonging to General William Tecumseh Sherman and his family. Three entire boxes contain the love letters of Eleanor Mary Sherman Thackara, one of the four daughters of General Sherman and his wife Ellen Ewing Sherman. Eleanor (aka Ellie) and Alexander Montgomery Thackara (aka A.M. or Mont) kept up a passionate correspondence for many years both before and after they were wed on May 5th, 1880. The letters range in date from 1879-1897. Mrs. Thackara is believed to have donated these letters to Villanova some time around 1897.

Recently I had the pleasure of transcribing several of Mont’s letters to Ellie, as well as to read many of the letters written by Ellie to Mont. One consideration when reading someone else’s letters is that over time you come to recognize the author’s idiosyncrasies and the letters become much easier to read, as if they were written in the hand of an old friend. Certain letters may be a struggle to read until one has become more familiar with the process and with the author’s handwriting, while others may just be a lost cause. Reading letters in a digital format presents different advantages and disadvantages in comparison to reading them in person. In person, one can hold the work in their hands (or gloves) and look closely, perhaps even using a magnifying device. Of course, the archives may not be within a close distance, they may not be open during convenient hours, require an appointment or have room for only a few researchers on any given day. Though one cannot physically examine a digital document, image correction can be used to make it more readable. Contrast, brightness and sharpness can be adjusted to make an image more legible than it would be in person. They can also be printed and written on when otherwise, at best, they would need to be photocopied by a librarian or at worst the researcher would have to make painstaking notes. Barring an Internet outage or major site upgrade, digital library images are available to you in your home or office 24 hours a day. As a countermeasure, when there was a delay in the project due to a site upgrade for the Villanova Digital Library, I saved a stockpile of digital letters as PDF images to my computer to prevent any further delays. It is certainly not an exaggeration to say that digital collections have forever changed the face of historic research.

Business card from Tiffany’s with Miss Sherman’s (possibly Ellie’s) ring size written on back.

One popular misconception about the Victorians is that their personal lives were devoid of romance or passion. On the contrary, during this period the notion of marrying for love became common and accepted in middle and upper class society. The Victorians were simply very private about their personal lives and extremely careful of when, where or in front of whom this side of them was displayed. A person would share their most personal feelings, fears and desires only with their beloved. However, it was understood that physical consummation of this passion would only be acceptable within the boundaries of marriage. The written word was then the most common and effective way to express these powerful emotions.

There are countless examples of the devotion and sheer adoration that this couple felt for one another throughout their letters. Only a few examples can be shared in this post, but they offer a glimpse of the letters’ contents along with a few recurring themes common in love letters of the time. In one note, Mont wonders to his sweetheart if she can imagine anything “more heavenly than pure love” and how those who have never felt it cannot truly conceive of it.

“My Little Darling- Oh! You know so well that every day my love for you is growing stronger. Every day you become more dear.” A detail from one of Mont’s letters to Ellie.

Like other Victorian lovers, Mont and Ellie were also very careful to keep their correspondence private. Ellie writes, “Today I put one of your dear letters into the book and its clasp that locked them from all but myself.” There are many instances where they have referred indirectly to events as if to protect those secrets from even the most prying of eyes. For instance in one letter, Mont alludes to a disagreement involving other unnamed parties that has upset Ellie greatly and he attempts to console her. He generously offers:

“I do not think it strange that you should wait to tell me of your troubles. Don’t you think that I have shown myself to be a friend that would sympathize with you. where in the beast dislikes fire, who knows my affection for her will never hesitate. I hope you call on me in any trouble that may arise, Oh! That I could do something believe this […] happens, that I could take to burden myself. Is there anything that I can do?”

Another example shows Mont simply wondering what important and mysterious matter Ellie plans to discuss with him that evening that she would not write to him in a letter. He ponders, “I am prepared for a serious talk my Darling on what subject I cannot fancy, still I will soon find out.” It is also likely that there could have even been some letters deemed too personal for donation.

Another notable convention present in love letters of the period is “testing,” where one lover ensures the devotion of the other through self-deprecation, admitting to or attempting to provoke jealousy. The author seeks a response assuring them of the other’s love and faithfulness, as well as of their own good qualities. Mont and Ellie often tease one another about trying the other’s patience, while also offering reassurance to the other. Each also claims to fear that they are completely unworthy of the other, as well as revealing a hope that the relationship will improve their own individual characters. Ellie refers to herself as “a good for nothing little body” and looks to Mont to dispel her fears that another lady will catch his fancy. Mont attempts to ease them in one note where he has “not seen any of the young ladies of this place yet, nor have I any desire to see them. All I want is to see you again.” Mont himself reveals, however, a terror that when their wedding day arrives, though he finds that he loves Ellie more than before, she will discover that she does not love him at all. A man of this time period and society would likely have had few, if any, outlets for expressing insecurities other than to his beloved.

The Victorian masculine ideal was strength tempered by gentlemanly restraint while the feminine ideal called for “piety, purity, submission and domesticity” [Welter, pp. 151–174]. Evidence of period gender roles and expectations are apparent throughout both Mont and Ellie’s letters. Mont repeatedly describes Ellie as “pure” and lauds her for her piety. He also refers to “how happy I will be to know that a darling little soul will look up to me for […] protection and how proud I will be to protect her from any harm.” Ellie in turn writes of, “how happy I shall be in waiting upon you caring for you, learning better + better to anticipate your wishes and to please you.” Each vows to take care of the other, albeit in gender appropriate ways. Mont wants to shelter his “timid little one” from the wider world, while Ellie wants to nurture her “spoiled boy Mont” inside the confines of their household.

Mont and Ellie’s letters provide a variety of possibilities for research regarding the mid- to late 19th century United States, including topics such as correspondence, courtship, marriage, and gender roles. Judging by the fact that they had a long and happy marriage, Mont appears to have kept true to his promises of eternal love to Ellie:

“You can always feel certain that during the time we will have to pass before the spring and forever after, that I will have towards you the same undying affections and imperishable love that I have now.”

Further Reading:

Bederman, Gail. Manliness & Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Lystra, Karen. Searching the Heart: Women, Men, and Romantic Love in Nineteenth-century America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Welter, Barbara. “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820–1860.” American Quarterly, 18.2 (1966): 151–174.

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Words, words, words

One of the most fun aspects of transcribing letters is getting a glimpse of a different time period with its different manners, customs, and turns of phrase—not to mention different styles of penmanship! I recently transcribed a letter from Philemon “Cump” Sherman to Eleanor “Ellie” Sherman Thackara, in which Cump asks Ellie’s advice about the area around the Adirondack Mountains. (Read the letter here.) Ellie had written an article about a trip to the Adirondacks and Cump wanted to know about the navigability of the lakes and rivers of the area.

Two words in this letter caught my interest, and I do love looking things up in the OED and other logophile sources, so I am sharing my findings below.

his nibs

Near the beginning of the letter, Cump refers to the plans of “his nibs,” a word that—according to the Oxford English Dictionary—originally referred to the person in question or the person being alluded to, but which later became an ironic method of referring to a person in authority, often with the “implication that the person referred to has an excessive sense of his or her own importance.” Used with a possessive such as his or her, nibs acts as a mock title, in the style of references to members of the British aristocracy (e.g., “his lordship”).

In concluding the letter, Cump writes: “The gyascutus is rejoicing as the time to go home approaches.”


The gyascutus is a “fearsome critter” from Anglo-American folklore. The Encyclopedia Brittanica describes the gyascutus as “an imaginary, large, four-legged beast with legs on one side longer than those on the other, for walking on hillsides.” The Wikipedia entry gives several variant names for the creature and further notes that the animal is unable to stand on level ground due to the uneven length of its legs.


Santa comes to town

Posted for Susan Ottignon:

The customary ‘Dear Santa’ letters, written by children every December 24th on Christmas Eve, is a time honored tradition. I encountered 3 such letters, from Mont and Ellie Thackara’s children, when I started transcription work for the Digital Library.


In child-like cursive writing the letters to Santa, by each Thackara child, were penned with unique salutations to the ‘Jolly Old Man,’ and included spelling errors that endear us more to these letters We read from Eleanor’s letter “My dear Santa-Clause,” her brother, Sherman wrote, “Dear St Nick,” with the youngest sibling, Lex ,penned “Santy.” The boys knew Santa’s ‘address’ which they either included in the body of the letter or addressed it directly to him. Santa address, according to Lex, was “Master Santy Clause Up the chimney.” Sherman boldly demanded of St Nick, “Unhitch your horses from the North Pole.”

The ‘wish lists’ penned to Santa by Eleanor, Sherman and Alexander (“Lex) Thackara reflect each child’s deepest longings and are shared by today’s children whether one has been ‘naughty or nice.’ Such things as “a pair of skates and a little iron and iron holder” requested by Eleanor. Sherman wanted Santa to “bring me a sled.” Lex was ‘all boy” when he wrote, “Please bring me a rifle a pen-knife and a kodact.” My guess for Lex’s wish was for a Kodak camera available since 1888.

Dear Santy

Alongside the Santa’s letter, tradition beckons children to hang stockings for him to fill with gifts and sweets. The stocking is mentioned in 2 of the letters. Eleanor plainly states:

“. . . fill my stocking full to the brim I am going to hang up an
extra stocking and please fill it to”

Sherman notes his behavior as a good reason for his filled stocking.

“Please fill my stockings very full and do not think me a greedy boy.”

While working on these letters, I marveled over the simplicity of the times and experienced a child’s excitement in the penned letter to Santa on Christmas Eve. I enjoyed transcribing these pieces and many other of the Thackara correspondence. With over a thousand pieces in need of transcription the Sherman-Thackara Collection in the Digital Library has reassured me there many more items to still transcribe.

Dear Santa

Here is a link to the Finding Aid for this part of the Sherman-Thackara Collection.

Alex., Sherman & Eleanor S. Thackara to A. M. & E. S. Thackara (parents)
Corresp., 1892-1897, (including 3 letters to Santa Claus):
William T. Sherman Thackara, (1887 – 1983)
Eleanor Sherman Thackara Cauldwell, (1880s? – ?)
Alexander Montgomery Thackara, Jr., (d. December 27, 1921):

Letter, To: “Dear Papa and Mama” (Ellie and A. M. Thackara) From: “Lex” (A. M. Thackara, Jr.), Christmas 1893.
Xmas blessing to parents by Alex

Letter, To: “My dear Father” (A. M. Thackara) From: “Eleanor” (Eleanor Thackara Cauldwell), Christmas 1893.
Xmas bear story Eleanor

Letter, To: “Santa Claus” From: “Eleanor” (Eleanor Thackara Cauldwell), [December, 1895?].

Letter, To: “Dear Father” (A. M. Thackara) From: “Sherman” (William T. Sherman Thackara), December 1896. Xmas Blessing Sherman

Letter, To: “Santy” From: “Your loving friend Lex” (A. M. Thackara, Jr.), December, [1886?].

Letter, To: “St. Nick” From: “Sherman” (William T. Sherman Thackara), December 20, 1896.


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Last Modified: December 3, 2009

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