The Handmade Photograph


I am pleased to announce that I have a portfolio and interview in the new photography magazine called The Handmade Photograph.  The article is all about The Girl of My Dreams!  Please do check it out!   The top link is for my article and below is the website for the magazine.

September 1, 1862


Lizzie Borden

Sylvia’s Journals

Monday, September 1, 1862

Raining hard so we could not have our ride.  William went to New York, Mrs. Doringh went with him.

Tuesday, September 2, 1862

Went up to Nagate to tea with Mary Abby and Mr. Naylor.

Wednesday, September 3, 1862

Went down to see (…) for a little while.  Stayed at home in the evening.

Thursday, September 4, 1862

Went to see Mrs. Smith a little while in the evening.

Friday, September 5, 1862

Went out a little while in the morning.  We all took tea at Grandpa Bullock’s.

Saturday, September 6, 1862

Very boring Lizzie (…) dined with us.  Took a ride after tea with Mr. Naylor.  It was lovely by the water.

Sunday, September 7, 1862

William came in the morning.  Went to Church after tea went to the Willards, Fales, and Doringhs.


I love the fact that Sylvia wrote that boring Lizzie dined with them.  A Lizzie who was not boring was born a little more then two years prior to that date in Sylvia’s journal.  Lizzie Borden was tried and acquitted for the axe murders of her father and stepmother in Falls River, Massachusetts in 1892.  Falls River is just a hop, skip and jump from Bristol, Rhode Island.   Maybe Sylvia and Lizzie Borden crossed paths?  I wonder what Sylvia thought of this lurid tale in 1892?  

Lizzie Borden’s home is now a Bed and Breakfast/Museum.

Sylvia’s home is also a Bed/Museum too (but I think that the latter part is only for me).

The crime still remains unsolved.   As a 19th Century Detective who makes photographs, perhaps this will be my next case….

August 25, 1862


Princess Alice wearing earrings in the 1860’s.

Sylvia’s Journals

Monday, August 25, 1862

Took a most lovely ride with William up to Balletts farm, then up to (…) with Mr. & Mrs. Willard and William.  Had tea there.  Had my ears pinned, fainted dead away.

Tuesday, August 26, 1862

Madame went to Providence.  Went up to Mrs Smiths for tea.

Wednesday, August 27, 1862

Went in bathing with (…) and Tina.  Went up to the Union lake, rather a nice time.

Thursday, August 28, 1862

Caro and Mrs. Willard took tea and spent the evening with me.

Friday, August 29, 1862

Went out in the afternoon.  Spent the evening with Caro.

Saturday, August 30, 1862

Went up to see Mary Abby after her visit to New York.  William came in the cars.

Sunday, August 31, 1862

Went to Church in the morning.  Went up to see Grandpa in the evening and Mrs. Doringh.


When I looked up “ears pinned/19th century” the meaning was not what I expected.  In the 19th century it was used more as an euphemism for “being scolded or yelled at”.  I do not think in the context of her entry this is what she meant though. Sylvia is much more matter-of-fact in her writing.  I believe that she did indeed have her ears pierced, as we call the process today, and this is why she fainted dead away. 


Doll wearing earrings from the 1860’s- Ruby Lane Antiques

August 18, 1862


Newport, Rhode circa 1860’s

Sylvia’s Journals

Monday, August 18, 1862

Up to Providence with William.  How unreasonable he is at times, dear me.  No one understands me. He went away in the boat at 4 o’clock.

Tuesday, August 19, 1862

Sewing all day.  What delightful parents I have only I thing I enjoy having my room to myself. (?)  I wish she would stay (…).  Spent the evening at Tina Doringhs.

Wednesday, August 20, 1862

Mrs. Menten came up from Newport and spent the day.  Like her so much.

Thursday, August 21, 1862

Telegraphed to William about going to Newport but he could not go.  Madame (…) that I should not go, what a devil she is.

Friday, August 22, 1862

Dined with Cara and went on to the wharf to see the Regatta.  So disappointed about not going to Newport.

Saturday, August 23, 1862

Heard from William.  Went to Nagatt for tea.  To my delight on my return found Annie had not arrived.

Sunday, August 24, 1862

Went to Church in the morning with Mrs. Smith.  Went to the Willard’s in the evening.


This is the second time I have encountered a question mark written slightly above a passage in Sylvia’s journal.   As with the first incident, the passage is something that I immediately questioned upon reading it too.  When Sylvia writes that she has delightful parents, I thought ? and someone else thought ? too.  Has someone else read through her journals?  Did she do this.  The mystery is so curious.   I will never know the answer to this, but at least I am happy that whether Sylvia herself, or some unknown editor, has the same opinion as myself.

Now to Annie.  In 1886, three years after her sister Annie’s death at the age of forty, Sylvia sentimentalizes her sister in a heartbreakingly lovely way.  She saves pieces of wallpaper from her house, and writes on the reverse sides:  Kept because Annie saw the room last with it on.


Because Annie Saw The Room Last With It On © Stacy Renee Morrison

Relationships between sisters are always complicated, especially those sharing a room.  I know she loved Annie very much but she also liked having space to herself.  I understand this.  I love my sister very much and although I always had my own room, but my sister Caryn was a big soccer star and I have to admit when my parents would go to her weekly games, those few hours of alone time when it was just me and Duchie, our golden retriever, were heavenly.  


Me and Caryn circa 1983

August 11, 1862


Clouds at Colt State Park

Sylvia’s Journals

Monday, August 11, 1862

Went to bid Nellie and Mary Abby goodbye.  The girls came down in the evening.

Tuesday, August 11, 1862

Went up to Mrs. Doringh’s a little while. The (…) at Town Hall for which such great preparations had been made came off very well.

Wednesday, August 12, 1862

Went out in the morning a little while.  Dined at the Smith’s.  Went to the (…) in the evening.

Thursday, August 13, 1862

Did not go out all day.  Wrote to William.

Friday, August 14, 1862

Went up to Mrs. Smith’s to bid Mrs Poole and Miss Farley goodbye.  I wish could go away somewhere, dear me, everything goes wrong.

Saturday, August 15, 1862

To my delight Miss Annie went off and I can have my room to myself.  Took tea with Ruth.

Sunday, August 16, 1862

William came about 10.  We went to Church in the afternoon.  Went to walk with William after tea.


Sunset on the Narragansett


Sylvia wanted to be somewhere other than Bristol this week in 1862 and I was in Bristol, 152 years later, feeling quite the contrary, for I did not want to leave.  


On the boat to Prudence Island

The weather was beautiful and cool and every night we walked HJ to the water where he was a little frightened of the sound of the waves lapping against the rocks.  By the last night he was brave enough to step on a rock on the jetty where he kept his head high and happily sniffed the salty air.

From her journals, this week I learned that Sylvia and Annie shared a room.  What a fabulous little slice into her life.


Henry James in Sylvia’s house and maybe a ghost!


Mt. Hope Bridge from the ferry

***Photographs of Sylvia’s beloved Bristol and the water more than a century after the fact all made on my IPhone.

August 4, 1862


© Stanley Burns Collection

New York Times, August 5, 1862


ALLEN. — At Glen Cove, on Monday morning, Aug. 4, MARY D.H. ALLEN, of this City, relict of the late Major John M. Allen, of Texas, in the 48th year of her age.

Notice of funeral will be given.

BROWN. — Accidentally drowned, while bathing, at New-Canaan, Conn., on Saturday, Aug. 2, CHARLES W. BROWN, son of Truman B. and Eliza B. Brown, aged 18 years, 7 months and 10 days.

The friends of the family are respectfully invited to attend the funeral, from the residence of his parents, No. 227 Adelphi-st., Brooklyn, on Wednesday afternoon, at 3 o’clock.

CONRAD. — On Sunday, Aug. 3, BLANDINA TAPPAN CONRAD, widow of Henry Conrad, formerly of Kingston, Ulster County, N.Y., aged 75 years.

The relatives and friends of the family are invited to attend the funeral, at the residence of her son-in-law, Henry P. Marshall, No. 115 East 17th-st., this day, (Tuesday,) the 5th inst., at 3 1/2 o’clock P.M.

DANA. — In Stamford, Conn., on Friday, Aug. 1, Mrs. NANCY, widow of the late Samuel Dana, Esq., of Boston, aged 65 years.

GRAHAM. — In Brooklyn, on Saturday, Aug. 2, MARY BROWN, daughter of the late Wm. W. Graham.

The relatives and friends of the family are invited to attend her funeral, from her late residence, No. 54 Ryerson-st., Brooklyn, on Tuesday, the 5th inst., at 2 P.M., and from St. Mark’s Church, New-York, (10th-st. and 2d-av.,) at 4 P.M., without further invitation.

HUGHSON. — In this City, on Sunday, Aug. 3, at No. 255 West 22d-st., HELEN AUGUSTA, second daughter of Frederick and Anna J. Hughson, aged 5 years, 2 months and 10 days.

LEAVITT. — In this City, on Sunday, Aug. 3, ANGELICA P., widow of the late Jonathan Leavitt.

The friends of the family, and of her sons, Geo. A. Leavitt and Henry M. Leavitt, and of her son-in-law, W.A. Ransom, are invited to attend the funeral, from her late residence, No. 146 2d-av., this day, (Tuesday,) Aug. 5, at 2 o’clock.

LYND. — At St. Croix, West Indies, on Monday, June 9, WM. M. LYND, of County Tyrone, Ireland.

LACY. — In Beaufort, S.C., on Saturday, July 19, of typhoid fever, WILLIAM SEYMOUR LACY, eldest son of George W. and Elizabeth Lacy, a member of Company I, Sixth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, aged 18 years, 5 months and 5 days.

MEADE. — In Richmond, Va., on Sunday, June 29, CATHERINE VOSS, youngest daughter of Drayton G. and Annie B. Meade, and grand-daughter of the late Joseph Sands, Esq., of Brooklyn.

MELLICK. — At Fortress Monroe, Va., on Wednesday, July 30, of typhoid fever, Capt. SIMEON A. MELLICK, Troop B. First New-York Mounted Rifles, son of A.D. and Elizabeth D. Mellick, of Bergen Point, N.J.

The funeral services will take place from the house of his father, on Tuesday, Aug. 5, at 4 1/2 P.M. His relatives and friends are invited to attend the funeral, without further notice. The boats of the Central Railroad Company, Pier No. 2, North River, at 11:20 and 3:20 P.M. Those wishing to return to the City can do so by boat or by carriages that will be in attendance.

ROSE. — In Brooklyn, on Sunday morning, Aug. 3, suddenly, IDA LOUISA, youngest daughter of Thomas L. and Sarah A. Rose, aged 4 years, 6 months and 29 days.

The relatives and friends of the family are respectfully invited to attend the funeral, at the residence of her parents, No. 19 East Baltic-st., Brooklyn, on Tuesday, Aug. 5, at 2 P.M.

SMITH. — In this City, on Sunday, Aug. 3, HARRY B. SMITH, youngest son of Chancy and Hannah M. Smith, aged 6 months and 4 days.

The friends of the family are respectfully invited to attend the funeral, this (Tuesday) afternoon, at 3 o’clock, from the residence of his father, No. 120 East 46th-st., New-York.

STILES. — In Utica, N.Y., on Saturday, Aug. 2, Mr. ALEXANDER STILES, of Flushing, L.I., of heart disease, in the 62d year of his age.

The relatives and friends are invited to attend the funeral, at the M.E. Church, in Flushing, this (Tuesday) morning, at 10 1/2 o’clock, without further invitation. Persons from the City desiring to attend, may take the trains on the Flushing Railroad, connecting with the ferries from James-slip and 34th-st., at 9 o’clock.

TOWNSEND. — On Sunday morning, Aug. 3, LOUISA MICKLE, wife of Theodore Townsend, of Albany, in the 30th year of her age.

The friends of the family are respectfully invited to attend her funeral, from the residence of her father, S.H. Mickle, Bay Lawn, Flushing, Long Island, on Wednesday, at 12 1/2 o’clock P.M. Trains leave James-slip and 34th-st. ferries at 11 A.M.

TURNER. — In Newport, R.I., on Friday, Aug. 1, of fever contracted near Richmond, Va., Capt. THOMAS ELWYN TURNER, Fourth Infantry, United States Army, son of Capt. Thomas Turner, of the United States Navy, aged 25 years.

VAN ALLEN. — In this City, on Saturday evening, Aug. 2, Mrs. MARY VAN ALLEN, in the 87th year of her age.

Her friends, and those of her son, William Van Allen, are requested to attend her funeral, from her late residence, No. 82 Franklin-st., on Tuesday afternoon, at 3 o’clock, without further invitation.

WESLEY. — In White Plains, N.Y., ELWIN, youngest son of A.C. and Sarah E. Wesley, aged 1 year and 1 month.



I selected the obituaries from the week of August 5, 1862 because I thought it was the appropriate circumstance to reflect upon the Victorian Hair Jewelry class I took yesterday.  I enjoyed it immensely.  It was not so much what I produced in those 4 hours, but the inspiration it gave me for future work.  I did make some incredible loopy loops with horse’s hair and practiced making delicate little bows out of my own hair and that of a generous friend who cut off some of her beautiful locks for me to take to class.  I have always believed that someone else hair is a precious possession, deceased or not, and it means a great deal to have this physical marker that is so emblematic of who they are.

In the 19th century, the popularity of hair jewelry was due to the belief that when one wore the hair of the deceased, that person was still with them.  People not only wore the hair of the dead, but of those who would be absent from their lives for a long while.

Quite extraordinarily, hair lives on.  

Sylvia’s Journals

Monday, August 4, 1862

Extremely hot.  Went to Fall River to Carrie Dodge’s clam bake.  Had a splendid time. (TOM).

Tuesday, August 5, 1862

Hot.  Felt miserably all day. Went to ride twice.  Went up to the DeWolf farm in the evening to hear Mr. Hoffman Jelay on the piano.

Wednesday, August 6, 1862

Very warm.  William went off to Boston.  Came home at 7.  Went to the DeWolf farm to hear Hoffman play in the evening.

Thursday, August 7, 1862

Started for Newport at 7.  Arrived there about 10.  Had a very nice time.

Friday, August 8, 1862

Very warm.  Went out with William in the morning, up to Providence in the afternoon.  He went to New York.

Saturday, August 9, 1862

Went up to see Ruth.  Took tea with her.  Came home in a heavy shower.

Sunday, August 10, 1862

Went to Church in the morning, up to the Smith’s after tea and then to Mrs. Doringh’s.  Miss (…) a very interesting display of (…).

Sylvia’s Week

Simply stated, Sylvia had a nice week.  She seems balanced and at peace. This is all I want from her, so her words make me feel very happy this week.

July 28, 1862


"The Poor Girl Sank Down Lifeless on the Floor" W.T. Smedley, 1885

Sylvia’s Journals

Monday, July 28, 1862

Went up to Providence with Ma. Had my feet attended to.  It made me faint away, so I stayed all night.

Tuesday, July 29, 1862

Did a little shopping in the morning.  Went home in the afternoon train.

Wednesday, July 30, 1862

Wrote to William and heard from him.  Went out do some errands.  Mary Abbie came down to tea.

Thursday, July 31, 1862

Went up to the Smiths in the afternoon. What a silly girl Augusta Farley is.

Friday, August 1, 1862

William came in the heat.  Carrie Dodge spent the day with me.

Saturday, August 2, 1862

Went up to the “lake” at Cold Spring.  Had a very nice time.

Sunday, August 3, 1862

Went to Church in the morning.  Had a dreadful quarrel with William in the evening.



I am intrigued by Sylvia fainting one day and going shopping the next.  I am certainly guilty of romanticizing the 19th century faint.  It creates such a compelling mental picture that as I think about it, it is now inspiring an actual picture  I see a woman ensconced in yards of silk taffeta and lace, lying back on her recamier sofa, with a delicate gloved hand over her forehead, in quiet repose.

I have read about hysteria and 19th century nervous conditions in women.  The Yellow Wallpaper is one of my favorite books, but Sylvia’s entry made me think about fainting in a much more theoretical way.  What did fainting actually mean in the19th century? What inspired my curiosity was not the causes of why women fainted, but more profoundly, how did they even know to faint?

Why did women faint so often then and were able to shop the next day, such as Sylvia did, when fainting today is so rare that when it happens it is likely the result of a more serious medical condition, one that would make shopping the next day highly unlikely.

According to an article written by Juila Borossa on the Freud Museum Website:

As an illness, hysteria has had a long-standing association with the feminine. Although male sufferers were, at times, identified and discussed, it has primarily been seen as a women’s disorder. A key aspect of hysteria’s manifestation was that it involved the sufferer’s body, in a way that was changeable, and could not be put down to any tangible cause. Some of the classic symptoms of hysteria included: a feeling of suffocation, coughing, dramatic fits, paralysis of the limbs, fainting spells, but also sudden inability to speak, loss of hearing, forgetting one’s mother tongue, being proficient in languages that one did not know one knew, persistent vomiting and inability to take in food. In sum, it was a disease which appeared irrational, untrustworthy, and difficult to control.

According to the Regional Mental Health Care London Museum:image

Victorian society emphasized female purity and supported the ideal of the “true woman” as wife, mother, and keeper of the home. In Victorian society, the home was the basis of morality and a sanctuary free from the corruption of the city. As guardian of the home and family, women were believed to be more emotional, dependent, and gentle by nature. This perception of femininity led to the popular conclusion that women were more susceptible to disease and illness, and was a basis for the diagnosis of insanity in many female patients during the 19th century.

On the basis of Victorian gender distinctions, it was common for female patients to be diagnosed as suffering from hysteria. 19th century upper and middle class women were completely dependent on their husbands and fathers, and their lives revolved around their role as respectable daughter, housewife, and mother. With so little power, control, and independence, depression, anxiety, and stress were common among Victorian women struggling to cope with a static existence under the thumb of strict gender ideals and unyielding patriarchy. 

Cultural information and stories affect both the conscious and subconscious, so I am interested how the literature of the time period discussed women’s fainting.

Did Godey’s Lady’s book write about fainting?  How did the popular fiction represent this issue?  Did the publications that women were reading impact this issue?  Did women faint because they knew other women were fainting? This last question is my working hypothesis.

I was not surprised when I googled “explanation for women’s fainting in the 19th century” and discovered that someone else indeed was interested in the same questions that I am now exploring in this post. I am thrilled to find this fascinating article in the Nineteenth Century Scholarship Online (NINES) site that I am attaching the link to, as well as excerpting a passage from:

In 1899 Gwynn published an article in Cornhill magazine called “The Decay of Sensibility.” 1899 was the tail-end of the Victorian Era so this guy had some perspective on what had been happening during the time period. He defined “sensibility” as the rapturous, exaggerated joy the characters felt, their “copious tears,” hysterics, and fainting fits. His idea in this article was that women were fainting because their favorite heroines did. He credits the Brontë sisters with putting a stop to all that nonsense. He wrote, “It was only when woman herself took up the pen and began basely to open men’s eyes to a sense of the ludicrous in this particular situation [fainting all the time] that all these tender susceptibilities shriveled like a maidenhair fern exposed to an east wind, and man began to revise his position” (Gwynn 30). So, he thought that as female writers gained power and popularity they also had the cunning to put a stop to womankind’s hysterical antics.

Sylvia’s entry has inspired me to research the cause of fainting in the 19th century.  I want to strengthen my hypothesis.  However complex my new ideas on women’s fainting will become, I can promise you this, there will still be that romantic photograph made of Sylvia post-faint in Providence.  After all, this is coming from a woman that, while recovering from a respiratory infection, a friend remarked:

It looks like you are dying of consumption.

Gleefully, I smiled at her observation and took it as a compliment. After all, it is hard to kill 19th century romanticism for me.

July 21, 1862


Self Portrait after the Battle of Bull Run by Mathew Brady.

I was thrilled to find this article in the NYTimes archive on July 21, 1861, which discussed the importance of photography during the Civil War.  It is beautifully written.  I recently finished reading a new biography on Mathew Brady.  I was very keen on the story of how he wanted the press to believe that he photographed during the battles. There was no possible way at that time to actually capture the battles photographically.  The events were too quick for the slow process.  In order to “prove” to the world that he was there, he came home after a nightmarish journey from the aftermath of this surprising battle to his studio and made this portrait in the dusty coat he was wearing the whole time.  What does this photograph prove though?

Photography Phases

Photography came to us smilingly and trippingly, fragrant with meadows and beautiful with landscapes, seemingly the handmaid of Peace. She had a bucolic air. Vague rumor, it is true, stated that she was not quite the pastoral maid that the popular imagination painted her; that she used gun-cotton liberally in the making of her toilette, and indulged in vitreous acids and sulphuric mixtures with unbecoming freedom. But all such rumors floated unheeded by, or were but noticed to be stamped as slanders. Consequently, one may be pardoned for starting with surprise when she suddenly flashes from the clouds, helmeted, plumed, and be-belted, at once the Minerva and the Clio of the war.

Generals have taken her into their councils. She is employed to map out roads and lines where other hands fail. Our army has a corps of photographical engineers as well as topographical ones. Experiments upon the walls of forts with shot and shell, the damage done a vessel, the respective merits of military inventions, all these are recorded by the art with more of promptitude and fidelity that tongue or pen can achieve. It is even said that the passage of a cannonball through the air can be photographed — that the double-barreled lens of the sun battery shoots, as it were, the ferrigunous sphere as it flies. But this we mainly doubt For experience teaches that cannonballs, when they come into company, unlike model little boys, are heard and not seen.

Among the many sun-compellers Mr. BRADY deserves honorable recognition as having been the first to make Photography the Clio of the war. On the disastrous day of Bull Run he stood upon the field with camera and chemicals, and would have photographed the retreat, had it not been conducted with too much rapidity. And since, his artists have accompanied the army in nearly all its marches, planting their sun batteries by the side of our Generals’ more deathful ones, and “taking” towns and cities, forts and redans, with much less noise, and vastly more expedition. The result is a series of pictures christened “Incidents of the War,” and nearly as interesting as the war itself; for they constitute the history of it, and appeal directly to the great throbbing heart of the North. We have sent out our thousands to battle, and there is scarcely a hearth in the whole broad land that has not had its representative on each well-fought field. It was here that a son fleshed his maiden sword, here a father fell, here one brother won an epaulette, another an epitaph. Go into the Gallery when you may, and you will see crowds gathering around these pictures, some with tearful eyes, some with eyes that brim with pride, and all with swelling hearts. To one who has moved in the scenes represented, these pictures are pregnant with strange, sad reminiscences. The sun is a faithful limner, and omits not a stone nor a blade of grass in his subtle pencilings, and we can recognize every mound and every hillock; each has its own story, its own mournful significance. This clump of trees, for instance, whose trunks are scarred with shot like the faces of veterans, but whose leaves open themselves to this Summer as greenly and freshly as though the last year had not watered them with blood. You recognize the very sycamore to whose base a young Lieutenant had crawled to die. You knew him, when, a few seasons ago, as school-boys, you went nutting and bird-nesting together in the country. Poor boy! his own mother would not have known him when you saw him last, his broad brow cleft with a sabre stroke, his yellow hair clotted with blood, and the starry light faded from his blue eyes.

The minuteness with which even features are reproduced in these “Incidents.” is so remarkable that only the microscope can enable one to understand and appreciate it fully. Here, for instance, is a brigade of New-York Volunteers, drawn up on a photographic ground that your two hands’ breadth will cover. But watch the countenances of the group that bend over it, and you will see some maiden’s eye light up as she recognizes a lover among the many, some matron’s lip quiver as her eye detects the form and features of husband or son.

Another interest attaches to these pictures. There are many who must stand with their hands to the plow, the loom or the anvil, while their brothers go out to fight the battles of God. Up in the country starry names come flashing; names of men, who, a few months ago, were quietly sowing or reaping the harvest, dreamless of any greater glory or loftier ambition, but who have now suddenly flung the shuttle of their genius across the world and woofed future ages with the golden tissue of their fame. Of many of these men we have only heard, and with their faces and features we are as unacquainted as with the moon; to all intents and purposes, they are as brilliant but as distant from us as planets; it is a pleasure to have these planets photographed, and be upon whispering terms with the Generals who are now to the nation as gods.

The enterprise which begets these battle pictures is worthy of support as well as praise. Appealing as they do to the popular heart, they can scarcely fail of success. In one point of view their value can scarcely be overrated. They present a panorama of the war, faithful as is everything that comes from the studio of the Sun, that impartial artist, whose only study is truth. From these pictures the historian will gather material for his pages; for the embrasures of earthworks and the walls of fortresses will crumble and resolve themselves into dust, while the colors of their photographic counterparts will only have deepened and fastened with time. And here a wonder suggests itself, that the substance should fade and the shadow imperishably remain. Again we remark, should the enterprise of Mr. BRADY full to secure success amid the blare of trumpets and the beat of drums, it will surely be recognized when we shall have smoothed the wrinkles of war from our weary brows, and swept from them the crimson blossoms of battle, to bind them instead with the sweet silver lilies of peace.

Sylvia’s Journals

Monday, July 21, 1862

William went to Boston, came back at 4.  Went to ride in the evening.

Tuesday, July 22, 1862

Went off on a sailing party, gone all day.  We went up to Mrs. Doringh’s in the evening.

Wednesday, July 23, 1862

Felt miserably all day.  William went at 4 o’clock,  Went up to the Fales in the evening.

Thursday, July 24, 1862

Felt forlorn all day.  Miss Smith (…) me of her insulting calls.  I do wish I could go (…) and stay all summer.

Friday, July 25, 1862

Felt forlorn and blue all day.  I can’t help thinking of 4 years ago when… Julia gave her and from Jud.  I wonder how Anita could have so little feeling.

(I wish I could read this entry better.  I feel like she is saying something important about her relationship with Jud and I am missing it because her writing is too small and faded.)

Saturday, July 26, 1862

Mr. & Mrs, B went to Newport.  Went to Mrs. Doringh’s to a dinner party.

Sunday, July 27, 1862

Went to Church in the afternoon met William.  Went to walk in the afternoon.


My sad and forlorn Sylvia.  One must remember she is still but a young girl at the age of 21.  She is sad about Jud, sad about Anita…sad about the events going on in the world too, I must presume.  After all, this war led to the death of Jud.  One line from the article above gave me pause… 

Here, for instance, is a brigade of New-York Volunteers, drawn up on a photographic ground that your two hands’ breadth will cover.  But watch the countenances of the group that bend over it, and you will see some maiden’s eye light up as she recognizes a lover among the many…

Jud and William were in the 82nd NY Infantry Regiment.

Happy 21st Birthday Sylvia!


Sylvia’s Journals

Monday, July 14, 1862

Had two nice long letters from my dear Mrs. Brown and William called.  Went up to Anita’s a little while.

Tuesday, July 15, 1862

Went up to Mary Abbie’s a little while after tea.  The last day I shall be twenty.  Oh’ dear me, how time does fly.

Wednesday, July 16, 1862

My 21st birthday, how time does fly.  Went out a little while in the evening.

Thursday, July 17, 1862

Went up to the Smith’s for tea.

Friday, July 18, 1862

Heard from William.  Did not go out all day.

Saturday, July 19, 1862

William came at 4.  We went to the lake up at Cold Spring.

Sunday, July 20, 1862

Went to Church in the morning.


I only remember my 21st birthday from a photograph.  I have no idea where this photograph is, which I guess by definition, means it is lost.  

The photograph was most likely made by my mother.  My parents and sister came down to school to take me out to dinner for my birthday.  In the photograph I am in the bedroom of my first off-campus apartment which I shared with two roommates.  We lived on the third floor of a building that housed a very popular fraternity bar on the ground floor.  My favorite thing about the apartment was the neon “Old Queens Tavern” sign that would reflect into the living room.  The noise, especially on Thursdays at 4 am when they would load up the empty kegs onto an idling truck, was my least favorite part.

I painted the walls of my room a deep bright purple.  It matched the belly of my stuffed bat, which my high school boyfriend won for me on the boardwalk.  He was gone from my life at this point, but this stuffed animal would live with me for many years, well into my late 20’s, but now it is gone too.

To mask the blond wood of my bed, hoping to eventually paint it, I draped black fabric all around the headboard, affixing it with a large faux sunflower that I had bought at a fabric store. My bedding was black too.  The purple wall, sunflower and fabric, pillows and some of the flat sheet are visible in the photograph.  I had a black and white comforter with zig zag stripes.  It must be folded at down by the footboard because it is absent in the image.

The photograph is a horizontal and I am reclining on the bed, not exactly sitting but not fully lying either. It is a posture of calculated repose. I have my right arm draped around the bat and my legs are dangling off the left side of the bed.  The photograph is cropped at my shin.

I am wearing a moss green dress with small multi-colored stripes. The dress has two large patch pockets affixed on the front and a zipper with a large silver circle attached to it.  This dress had been a maxi dress and with a ruler, I carefully cut across one stripe to make it a mini dress.  When I think of this dress, I remember always wearing black knee socks with it, but in the picture I am wearing tights. 

My hair is dyed jet black.  My long hair is parted down the center.  The flash went off because my naturally pale skin is milky white and completely without texture. My eyes look very blue.  

I am not smiling, which I never did nor ever do, in photographs.  I am looking directly at the camera, but my expression is not serious.  My gaze is softer.  It looks as if I looking beyond the camera and the photographer into some mysterious space.  It is impossible to assay what I am thinking.  Did I join Sylvia in contemplating getting older, most assuredly, I suppose.  I probably even made some recognition of my last day of being twenty, because it seems like something I would do.  The photograph does not prove or dispel this though, it actually betrays because it speaks nothing on the nature of the occasion.

The photograph is gone. The black hair is gone too.  The same long locks  are now highlighted blond; batty is gone; the dress is long gone as well, most likely donated back to the Goodwill to promote good thrifting karma; the bed and bedding is gone; the purple walls were painted by my roommates before I even fully moved out, and Susie and Rob are gone too, or at least I assume they are.  The only thing that still exists is the room itself, looking substantially different, with the only constant being the “Old Queens” sign and the ghost of a 21 year old girl having a birthday.

July 7, 1862


Oh no, poor Sylvia needed her tooth filled this week!  I do not blame her for dreading the dentist.  Am I adding contemporary language to her dilemma? Were there even dentists in 1862?

This ambrotype, from 1860, is enough to send chills down the spine of those who fear the dentist.  I am okay with the dentist, it is the eye doctor that scares me.

Sylvia’s Journals

Monday, July 7, 1862

Went to ride a little while in the morning.  Mr. (…) went at 4. Went out after he left as (…).  I would not stay at home.

Tuesday, July 8, 1862

Very warm.  Busy all day.  Running to the dressmakers. Went to walk with the girls in the evening.

Wednesday, July 9, 1862

Anita invited (… ) to spend the day. I don’t enjoy being with her as I used to.  Went down to the Willard’s in the evening.

Thursday, July 10, 1862

Wrote to William.  Tina Doringh had accompany we girls (…) in her strange she doesn’t think of the (…). How I do dread tomorrow.

Friday, July 11, 1862

Went to Providence in the cars.  Had a tooth filled. Came home in the boat.

Saturday, July 12, 1862

Had a nice long letter from William. How I wish we could be together all  the time. Went to ride with the girls in Mr. Sherry’s wagon.

Sunday, July 13, 1862

Went to church in the morning.  Wrote to William. Walked down to the farm with the girls.  We sat (…) stops.


I found this great website which covers the history of American dentistry:

To summarize a few points:

Only 3 dental schools existed in the United States by the end of the Civil War. Many dental practitioners were barbers, blacksmiths and apothecaries. Solving tooth ailments was mostly an apprenticed craft and did not require medical training. In the 19th century there were no standards for infection control. In the 1860’s-1870’s, Joseph Lister advocated for disinfecting and sterilizing instruments and Listerine is actually named for him, although he did not invent it. Nitrous oxide for dental anesthesia was first introduced by Horace Wells in the 1840’s. The first dental drill appeared in the 1860’s, which means Sylvia may have been one of the first to have her teeth drilled!  Eek!  Ouch! I wonder if she had nitrous oxide? If so, I wonder if her return trip by boat was real or imaginary then?

And interestingly enough, with the study of skulls from the Civil War era, fillings at this time were made from gold foil, tin foil and gutta percha.

image19th century dental tools