Personal Letters, Books, Diaries and More from Michael Brown Rare Books
By Michael Stillman
Michael Brown Rare Books of Philadelphia has issued its Catalogue 38 of Printed and Manuscript Americana. It offers a wide variety of interesting and uncommon items, including books, maps, trade catalogues, timetables, court cases, broadsides, diaries, letters, and other manuscript items. Anyone with an interest in printed and written Americana will find much of interest between the covers of this catalogue.
We will focus on the handwritten, family manuscripts, as I find these to be the most fascinating items, though there is much more in the catalogue. Harriet Ketchum kept a diary from 1890-1894, and it tells of a life that was far from easy. Harriet had grown up in Ohio and Illinois, where she was married in 1856. By the 1880s, she and her husband were moving back and forth between Kansas and the Indian Territory (later Oklahoma). Along the way, they had eleven children, five of whom died in childhood. The diary begins with the family moving back from Oklahoma to Kansas, and with the disinterment of "little Stella." Buried a year and five months earlier, they were bringing her remains along with them. Death was a way of life in those times. Much space is devoted to the death of their son Lark, at twenty-two, the only male child to make it to adulthood. Lark had been married only three weeks when he died. A sad father-son conversation once reality has sunk in is relayed. When the father tells his son that he doesn't have long to live, Lark calls for his wife Carrie and his siblings. According to the diary, "he says I would love to live but if I can't call Carrie, I want to bid her good by and all of them, she was in the kitchen as she could not stay by him without crying, she came to him and kissed him..." His final words are, "Good bye my darling wife Car..." It's hard to imagine the sadness that hung over most families in those days when few could avoid the tragedy of the death of children. During those times that death is not at hand, life is still a struggle for this midwestern farming family. While the diary ends in 1894, Harriet lived until 1910, when she passed away at age 71. Item 46 is this poignant diary. $850.
If the Ketchums had a hard life, it was a seeming picnic compared to a couple of years in the life of Noyes Moulton. Moulton was a Mainer who, in 1898, at the age of 46, took off for Alaska during the gold rush. It was a good thing he came from Maine, as it evidently better prepared him for the extreme cold that would overcome many of his colleagues. Item 68 is a collection of seven letters Moulton wrote to his daughter in 1898-99. The spring finds Boulton hauling his ton of supplies, enough to last a year, over a 5,000 foot glacier at the start of the long inland journey to the gold fields. The weather is cold, but often he and his companions are forced to haul at night, the sun on the white snow blistering their faces and blinding their eyes. But the optimistic Moulton tells his daughter not to get discouraged, because "I hope to be able to come back in a year or two and have a nice comfortable home for you an easy life..."