The entries here from the Weygandt diary for Christmas 1881 offer an interesting glimpse into holiday customs and basic family dynamics, which don’t change much over time, as well as some of the hard facts of life during the Gilded Age.
The Weygandt family’s large home on Tulpehocken Street was one of the major gathering spots for both Lucy and Cornelius’s families on the holidays. In the year described here, Lucy’s older unmarried brother Pliny Valerian Thomas (1831-1889) and sister Rachel Davis Thomas (1825-1888) came from Chester County to join them along with her 15-year-old niece “Bessie” (Elizabeth Denny) Culbertson (1865-1900) from West Philadelphia. The Oberholtzers, from Chester County, were relatives too. “Mrs. Oberholtzer” was Sarah Lewis (Vickers) Oberholtzer (1841-1930)http://https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sara_Louisa_Oberholtzer, whose mother was Lucy’s first cousin. Sarah Oberholtzer was writer and poet as well as activist in women’s issues. Her teenage son, Ellis P. (1868-1936), whom Weygandt refers to, later became a well-known historian, earning his PhD the University of Pennsylvania in 1893 and following a career path similar to “Cornie” Weygandt, starting out as newspaper writer.
The “Mrs. Nichols” Weygandt mentions is Martha A. Nichols, who lived at 125 W. Walnut Lane. Martha’s husband, George, who was a bookkeeper for the banking firm of E.W. Clark & Son, died in March of 1881. One of the principals of the firm, Edward White Clark, was a Unitarian and lived in Germantown at “Cloverly,” the corner of School House Lane and Wissahickon Avenue. The death must have been sudden and left Martha and her four teenage children in a precarious financial situation. Though the Nichols probably lived a relatively comfortable middle-class life for the period, in the era before pension plans and social security, the early death of the income earner in a family could easily place a family in precarious circumstances.
The reference to Prang’s Christmas cards refers to Louis Prang http://blog.nyhistory.org/prang/ who is often called the father of the American Christmas card. Prang, who was based in Boston, began started producing Christmas cards in 1875 and in 1880 started a design contest for the cards that lasted for four years. The “Christmas pieces” Weygandt purchased would have been from the first year of the competition. The artist, Ellen Thayer Fisher, http://http://viola.bz/botanical-paintings-of-ellen-thayer-fisher/ lived in New York and was known for her botanical painting.
Saturday, December 24, 1881
…The weather beautifully clear, this morning; and cold. Thermometer at 26. To town by the 8½ train. Rode down to bank; wishing to get there soon. Called on Gibson, Shaw & Co., and saw Mr. Shaw, in relation to cutting off a portion of the length of our new chandelier – seven inches. He contends to do it, today, although he says that his people are excessively busy, on account of Christmas. … Comegys & Watson came to see Patterson, by appointment, today; in relation to taking measures to facilitate the repeal of U.S. taxation on bank deposits and capital. Shortly after they had gone, W.D. Kelley came in, and had a talk with Patterson upon the same business. Kelley is to have $2,000., today, from Drexel, as a loan, for his services as agent for the banks, in the business. If the repeal of the tax is accomplished, he is to receive a round some from the banks and bankers – say $10,000. or $20,000. I had cold slaw and cold roast beef for dinner; both dressed by myself in a salad mixture. … Went out shopping, in the afternoon; mostly for confectionery; and was obliged to wait a good while (at Whitman’s & Knappel’s) to secure what I required. Back again to bank for my parcels, and then home by the 5½ train. Pliny came out, this evening, to remain over Christmas with us. We had some whist; five games, in which the rubber was won by Pliny & Rachel from Lucy and me.
Sunday, December 25, 1881
Went to bed quite late last night; and did not feel like rising early this morning; especially as I was obliged to get up again, shortly after going to bed, to put hot salt bags on my face which was very painful from neuralgia. I was up a good while, before the pain was moderated sufficiently for me to get to sleep, again. Lucy and Sophie to church in the morning. After they had gone, I got out the two water colors, which I brought home, on Thursday last, and hung them in the spare room – for a surprise for Lucy. They are “Christmas pieces,” painted as competitions for Prang’s Christmas cards, by Mrs. Ellen Thayer Fisher, more than a year ago. I have had them lying at bank more about a year, and had them framed only a short time since by Earle. They look very pretty, in their new places, on the wall of our spare room. Rachel thinks them pretty too. I had Pliny and Corney to look at them as soon as they were hung. Lucy came home from church with Sophie; and began to scold me, at once, for not having hung the evergreens in the dining room, while she was at church. She changed her note, when she got up stairs, and saw the water colors; and felt rather ashamed of her scold of me, who had been busy to please her while she was away. I told her she was served quite right for her crossness. We had roast beef and vegetables for dinner; our own garden spinach among the vegetables. Took my bath, shortly after three o’clock; and dressed and shaved immediately afterwards. While I was shaving Mrs. Oberholtzer and her two boys, Ellis & Vickers, were driven to our place, by Lawrence, whom we has sent to the Depot to meet them, with our wagon. They are to make a short visit at our house. I spent the rest of the day, principally, in entertaining Mrs. O. She has improved. I presume from the travel: having been out West, as far as Denver & Colorado Springs; and also to Boston and vicinity, to visit Whittier & Longfellow. She too has drunk of the “Castalian fountain”! And she thinks herself a poetess! She has brought another volume of poems (her own), for Lucy to read. I believe this was, however at Lucy’s request. A former volume of her poems was very amusing to me, from its many effusions of bathos: and I remember one or two evenings spent in reading aloud selections, which were found very funny by Lucy, Rachel & Mrs. Nichols. Her husband is, perhaps, largely responsible for her conceit; as he spoils her by his absurd estimate of her ability. He looks like the figure head of a vessel; having a most stolid, inexpressive countenance. The elder boy, Ellis, has an oddly sly looking face; and is fond, it is said, of going off by himself to Quaker meeting, on First Day. He is probably a born Quaker. The younger boy is good looking and lively; and a good laugher. The father is a Lutheran and attends a church of that seat.
Monday, December 26, 1881
Today is a holiday – for the observance of Christmas, which comes this year on Sunday. Our bank closed. I went to town by the 8½. train; and to Helmbold’s, to see Aunt Mary, to learn by what train she was coming out to us this morning. And I found, that she was not coming at all; having received and accepted an invitation from Henry Kellogg, after she had invited herself to come to us on Christmas, and suggested that we should give her champagne on the occasion. I told her to come, of course, and agreed to the “liquor.” I feel quite disgusted with her conduct; and am conscious that she tried to make use of us, when she and no invitation elsewhere. She says now, that she will come out to see us on Friday next. I came home in the 9.55 train, and found Pliny, Sophie, Corney & Ellis O. deep in playing “Go Bang,” on a kind of checker board. Lucy took Mrs. O. and Vickers out, to call on Mrs. Ross at a boarding house in Germantown. They came back in time for dinner; Lucy first, having left Sally and her son with Mrs. R. I saw Lucy, standing a long time at our gate, talking to Mrs. Nichols, who would not come in. She found Mrs. N. in good spirits, upon her Christmas presents. Mrs. N. had received $1,000. from E.W. Clark & Co. and $300. from her Unitarian Church. Both tributes to her deceased husband; who was a clerk for Clarks, and did a great deal of work for the church. I am very glad her good fortune. She has abundant need of money. She has also received many other smaller gifts and kind remembrances. We had a large table for our Christmas dinner. Our guests were Pliny Thomas and Mrs. Oberholtzer and her two boys. We had a roast turkey and a pair of roast ducks, oyster sauce for the turkey, vegetables, cold slaw, pear cider; and Darlington pudding, mince piece, fruit, nuts and raisins, coffee, etc. Lucy being unable to get her cooking brandy to burn, around the pudding, I was obliged to produce some of my old Scotch whisky, which flame up fiercely enough, and burned up most of the holly sprigs, which decorated the pudding. I ate rather too much; and felt uncomfortable on account of doing so. Talked awhile, in the library, with Mrs. O., after dinner; and then to the dining room, and wrote out Saturday’s diary. Bessie Culbertson came out, just before tea; and remains overnight with us, by invitation. Her twin brothers, Harry & Morgan, were also invited but were unable to come, on account of a prior engagement. Bess makes an additional person at our supper table. We had pickled oysters for supper tonight; and also last night. And I ate some preserved Canton ginger on both nights. I am fond of it. Had a little headache and slight neuralgia, his evening, which I spent in the library, reading the Decr. Number of the Nineteenth Century. The children and grown folks, too, played games in the parlor. After the rest had gone to bed, Lucy, Mrs. Oberholtzer and I sat up quite late in the library, talking. To bed about twelve.