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Is this a good spot to be excited about something? I mean, this was just SO cool to discover I have to share. I used to write newspaper columns about this sort of thing.
So I'm working on page 666 and 667 of the Roosevelt papers, series 1, letters and related materials, puzzling over what the heck is that word and this word and what is Teddy being invited to and it occurs to me that we have a Date on the letter, May 1, 1901, when (indecipherable squiggle) is required by law to start and it is clear from the letter that Teddy is being invited to be at that, whatever it is.
The person who did the first try at transcribing this guessed it was signed by someone named Mark Williams.
Nice guess. I agreed at first. Cursive writing will fool you. But I got curious: What was this letter about?
OK, in 1901 Teddy was an important guy and his whereabouts were often in the press. He would only be invited to important things. What was happening on May 1 in 1901 that he would be at?
Well, in 1901 he was Vice President of the US.
NYTimesMachine finds that, on May 2, 1901, there was a story about the opening of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo the previous day.
Buffalo? That letter was written by a guy in Buffalo.
Google the address 1168 Delaware Ave., Buffalo NY.
Wow--historic stuff! In 1901 it is the residence of John G. Milburn, president of the board of directors of the Pan-American Exposition of '01. (Indecipherable squiggle) starts with what looks like a cursive capital E, or at least John Milburn's version of one.
So the president of the Exposition is asking the vice president of the US to come help kick off the festivities. And, yes, if you ponder the signature on the letter that is a capital G. in the middle, which makes the rest of the signature make sense as John G. Milburn.
It gets better.
Roosevelt isn't mentioned in the news account in the NY Times. He wasn't particularly excited about being Vice President, it seems, so even though Milburn said his attendance was critical and would be the key to the festival's success, he apparently didn't go, or if he did the Times ignored him? Hard to believe.
Who did go? President McKinley, in September. He stayed with the Milburns and on Sept. 6 he was shot at the Exposition and taken -- yup -- to the Milburn house. The Milburns moved elsewhere and McKinley lingered there in their house until the 14th when he died. His funeral was held there on the 16.
At which point the Milburns got their house back and Teddy became President.
The house went through the usual devolution of stately homes of the Victorian period, passing through various owners and being turned into apartments and finally demolition in 1957.
There's a marker at the curb, but I've been tingling for the last hour at all the connections in this one simple letter.
I have been going through similar discoveries over and over as I research names and words - down the rabbit hole of newspapers, records and investigation of context - uncovering many fascinating things.
One long puzzlement over a word in elegant but cribbed handwriting lead me to read about an amazing man: Henry W. Furniss, TR's ambassador to Haiti: an African-American physician, diplomat and scholar - and so successful in his post that Taft refused to allow him to resign it.
But there are discoveries like this almost every day. It's simply engrossing.
What a great find! If you have the URL handy, do you mind sharing a link to the page that referenced Furniss? We'd love to share his story on By the People's Twitter account so more people know about it!
By the People Community Manager
Yes, certainly - I managed to track it down again!
Here is the link to the first page of the letter from the collection. It is a document of its time, and certainly its observations on race are of a piece with that.
And here is a reference page outside the collection with a good summary of the amazing accomplishments of Mr. Furniss: