Los Angeles: 5 November 1882. Two Octavo bifoliums (ca. 20x12,5 cm). 7 pp. Black ink on lined laid paper, blind-stamped paper maker’s monogram in the left upper corner of each bifolium. With the original envelope, addressed to “Mrs. James F. Whitin, Whitinsville, Worcester Co., Mass.;” with a postage stamp and two postal stamps. Fold marks, but overall a very good letter.
Long content-rich original letter with an interesting account of Los Angeles, written by a member of a prominent New England family. The letter describes the first years of Los Angeles’ gradual transformation into a major American commercial centre and a world-class metropolis after the Southern Pacific Railroad had connected it to San Francisco in 1876. The first part of the letter is a description of the writer’s railroad travel to Los Angeles from Worcester, which “was no boys’ play;” the stops mentioned are Troy, Buffalo, Toledo, St. Louis, and Kansas City. The main part talks about Los Angeles’ cityscape and scenery, vividly describes Mission San Gabriel Arcángel and the bells of its church, mentions the capture of Los Angeles by John C. Fremont in August 1846, notes about the city’s “hum, noise & bustle,” his unsuccessful attempt to work on picking grapes, etc. The author talks a lot about his poor health – possibly, he was one of the Easterners who went to Los Angeles seeking a healthy climate and creating the so-called “Sick Rush” in the 1870s-1880s. Overall an interesting early letter about Los Angeles.
The letter is signed “William” and addressed to “Mrs. James F[letcher] Whitin” from Whitinsville (Patience Howard Whitin, née Saunders, 1818-1904). Two of her nephews (to be exact, the nephews of her husband) were named “William” - William Halliday Whitin (1841-1893) and William Whittlesey Abbott (1856-1899). The author of this letter was most likely William Whittlesey Abbott, then a 26-year old Yale graduate of 1877, who “pursued post-graduate work for a time” (Journal of Education. Vol. L, No. 6, August 17, 1899, p. 116). “He was for two years principal of the Spencer (N.Y.) Academy and Union school, after which he became principal of Naugatuck high school, where he stayed several years. From here he went to Great Barrington, Mass., and became superintendent of the schools in that town. He was a teacher of marked ability and a scholar of considerable attainment” (ibid.).
Excerpts from the letter (the spelling is original):
“Dear Aunt, Here we are in this pretty City of Oranges & Grapes with the Flies buzzing round my head. It is now 3 p.m. Thertr. in room stands 80 Farengheit[?] for comfort, pure dry air with no sticky feeling as in the East. <…>
To say that I was happy is not half I can express. Had Geo. or myself realized the magnitude of such a journey, we never would [seek?] California. Geo. is well and I have procured him a situation with a very nice man who has one of the finest Tobacco & Cigar store in the City. His peing is not much, being only $35 pr. month. It is better than nothing. We have a nice room near the Plaza or Square opposite to which is the old Cathedral or what they call the old Mission Church. Back of this Church is a high hill, where Fremont entered this old Spanish town by the river. He before they were aware of it outflanked the Spaniards and took possession of this hill mounting his cannon, raising the stars and stripes, in the meantime they were so frightened that they all fled to the old Mission Church for safety although at the same time Fremont’s cannon was pointing on the whole square. The earth marks are still visible. I have been in there & the view from this elevation is looking through a spy glass splendid. The City lays before you like a map while 12 miles distant is the coast range mountains.
This old Church, is it amusing to hear the bells. There is no time in any day of the week but you will hear them calling them for worship. There are three bells [a small sketch of the bells follows], one large one and two small ones. Sometimes they will ring the big one about a mint., then stop and ring one of the small ones, then stop and ring two small ones, then they will ring one small one & one large one, then again all of a sudden they will ring all three just as fast as they can pull the ropes.
It does not seam at all here like Sunday, most places of business is open just the same as on a week day. It was the same in St. Louis and Kansas City. George does not like this nor do I, as it makes no day of rest. Clerks have about 5 hours in the day. This City has all the hum, noise & bustle of a large New England City. Their are stores here in beautiful blocks of buildings. Their are more stores here than their are in Worcester and their are not more than three stores in Worcester that are larger than stores here. Houserents & storerents are enormous. Horse cars[?] are constantly running day and night. <…>
I have not felt so well since I arrived here as I did at home. I consulted the best M.D. here who informed me that I must content myself in keeping for one month <…> as quiet as possible. The journey he says has shock me all up, then their is this climatic change that is going on which is he says is the whole cause of these bad feelings. I hope this may be true. The Dr. here says after one month if I am no better go nearer to the coast and try for a while. If that does not answer go to the foothills.
I tried picking Grapes one day on a ranche 4 miles from here, had to give it up. Their is no harder work done here. The Dr. Caughed[?], he said Eastern people thought it was like gathering Eastern Grapes. They are on short stubs only 2 feet or more high and you have to bend over to the work. Such grapes I wish I could send you some. 1 ct. a lb at the ranche, 3 cts at the stores. Direct your letter when you write to Los Angeles <…> Wine of all kinds is from 15 cts to $1.00 pr. gall.”.
Price: $950.00 USD