“Love, your sister Alice”
Inspirations for programs come from numerous sources; a friend’s suggestion, heavy research, a site’s themes and missions, the imagination, periods of desperation, and far too many time, the need to fill an organization’s need to fill an interpretive calendar.
However, there are many occasions when something just falls into one’s lap at the most unexpected moment.
I have had the unique experience of being hospitalized twice since September for heart issues. My body decided on September 10th to gift me with a severe heart attach requiring the installation of two stints in my arteries. Through the entire episode I was witness, and participant, to umpteen new experiences that offered me themes for programs, talks, and writings. Some have already been put to paper and social media. The second ‘cardiac event’ this past week again placed me as the receiver of new materials for my personal journals and possible future programs, mostly about myself, my new life, and the great person’ who worked so diligently on a stranger to save my life.
But, and added gift was given me by the Head Nurse on my floor.
It seems that when I am asked my profession it draws a great deal of interest from the person interviewing me and those who happen to hear my response. I suppose few hospitals have a specialist in costumed historic interpretation answer the inquiry, “ What do you do for a living?”. The response is often the same, “ What is that?”, “Do you mean like Williamsburg?”, “Oh I love those programs!”, “ I love history, can I tell you about…”, and further interesting remarks that divert the stress of the moment and allow the gathered a moment to better know each other.
This past week, after I had been ensconced in my hospital room, attached to the requisite battery of monitoring equipment, safely tucked in, the Head Nurse came in and sat by my bed and asked if we could talk about something she found. I was very pleased to have the diversion.
She and her husband had purchased a home in Fort Collins, Colorado that was built in 1901 and that they were rehabbing and restoring. In the process they had found an old letter in the wall behind the mantle as they had revamped the fireplace. She said it was not very interesting but would I look at it and give some suggestions on how they might display it?
I told her I was very interested.
The next morning she brought in a small envelope, opened and covered in a spot or two of mold and discoloration. Inside were three lined sheets of text from a lady to her sister.
Dated January 10th, 1914 the contents were a wealth of information and excitement to an old bed ridden historian.
The author described how the snows in Fort Collins had stopped and topped over three feet, but the streets were finally cleared and people were able to go about. She expressed how she was concerned that she might have to move to Oklahoma to be with her husband if he found regular work as there was nothing in Colorado for him. She also told how she was losing boarders as “they have gone off with the militia to deal with the miners’ unions in the South of the state.” She was having to decide whether she would hold their rooms or let them out to others. She then continued with the hope that here sister’s family would have a good new year with the closing, “Love, your sister, Alice.”
A number of aspects of the missive excited me; the weather report, the financial situation of her family, the action of taking in borders, the coincidence that I have a sister named Alice, and the mention of the “militia” going to deal with the miners’ unions.
The last is especially important to Colorado and American labor history.
Beginning in September of 1913 and continuing beyond December 1914 the strike, organized by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) targeted the coal mining companies of Colorado including the Rockerfeller owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Company and the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company.
The strike had nearly crippled parts of the U.S. Economy, especially in the West. This strike, the one which the lady’s borders had gone as “militia” (Colorado National Guard) to deal with would culminate in the Ludlow Massacre in April of 1914. There the Colorado National Guard and the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company’s camp guards attacked the striking miners and their families in a tent city the miners had established. The reported casualties exceeded over two dozen people, including women and children, two women and eleven children found asphyxiated and burned to death in a ‘cellar’ under one tent. The repercussions of this attack was a retaliatory action by armed miners who for the ten days following the massacre attacked numerous mines and skirmishing with the Colorado National Guard that resulted in a reported 199 lives.
It was described as the “deadliest strike in the history of the United States.” (Thomas G. Andrews).
The resultant congressional investigation was influential in establishing the child labor laws and the eight hour work day.
Ironically, the Ludlow site, today a ghost town and granite monument, is owned by the UMWA.
And so, to me, the little letter with its three pristine pages of clean crisp script, is an insight to one of the famous labor conflicts in U.S. History.
It certainly offers a number of interpretive moments for the future.
When she returned, I explained to the owner how to best preserve the letter and the envelope. I also speculated it had never been mailed as it had no stamp or post mark, and more than likely fallen through a crack on top of the mantle and is was awaiting a stamp and the postman.
We spoke as to whether either of us thought it might have been rewritten once the loss was discovered, or whether a later letter covered more or different news. Dis the wife join her husband in Oklahoma, did she let the rooms to others, or did she find that some of her “militia” borders not return?
Inspiration, it comes from so many sources, some as simple as a letter signed,
“Love, your sister Alice”.
John C.F. Luzader
Vice President of Program