Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Holiday Letter Circa 1921

The other day I received a phone call from my first cousin Mary Lou Egan Gilman. She was in Tucson for a quick visit. Mary Lou's father (Patrick) and my father (Joseph) were brothers. We have known each other all of our lives and it is Mary Lou and her older sister Bridgie who have researched a lot of our family's history and they even organized the 2006 1st Cousins' Reunion which took place in Great Falls, Montana. While visiting with Mary Lou she mentioned that she has all of the holiday cards that I sent over the past 30 years. Amazing! After Mary Lou left I got to thinking about our paternal grandmother - Mary Ann Ryan Eagen. I wondered if she ever wrote holiday letters. So today I thought I would share with you what I think she may have written in her 1921 Christmas letter. (I chose 1921, as this is the only group photo we have of all 13 Eagen/Egan children.) I hope you will read on...
Enjoy a larger version of the photo by clicking on it!
December 1921

Happy Holidays,

As you can see by the enclosed photo all the children are still here with us in Denton, MT. This has been a pretty busy year for me with the new baby. I think you know William was born October 13, 1920. Can you believe that Martin and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary this past August 20th and Baby Billy turned one on October 13, 1921? Since Billy was #13 ( I am considering it a lucky number) and I turned 42 this past May...I think Billy may be our last.  I know when Lester Holt, the US Census taker, was here on January 17, 1920, (Joe and Mary's 2nd birthday) I was just barely pregnant with Billy. I think Mr. Holt would have fainted had he realized that come October there was going to be another Eagen to add to the 69 Main Avenue Eagen residence.

Though the war has now been over since late 1918 the economy is still not good, it seems like another depression. I am sure you realize that when the war started the money which had been invested in the railroad business was diverted to the war effort. Actually the last big project that Martin worked on was putting together several segments of the railroad between Arrow Creek and the Hoosac Tunnel. That project was only about 15 miles from Denton. Martin turned 50 this year, amazing he has been building railroads, in fact managing the business, since 1888 and he has seen a lot what with building lines across the Dakotas and then into Montana. Of course when his brother Jim died in 1911, Martin was really on his own here in Montana. He helped bring the railroad to a lot of the state...Great Falls, Augusta, Lewistown. We were thinking that things might get a bit better when Governor Dixon took office in January of this year. Do you know of Governor Dixon? His full name is Joseph Moore Dixon. He had been a US Senator representing Montana, but then he ran for governor. He is only the 7th governor of Montana. We are hopeful that he will be able to enact some of his reform proposals. Perhaps with a new governor and our new President Warren Harding there really will be a "return to normalcy." At any rate, I was excited to vote for the first time last November and appreciated that Mr. Harding was in favor of women's suffrage and all the children marveled at listening to his inauguration speech over the radio this past March!

Enough about the economy and politics. We now have eight boys (John, Pat, Mart, Jim, Dan, Tom, Joe and Bill), one shy of a baseball team! The older boys, John and Pat (and even Mart) enjoy following the news about Babe Ruth and his home runs, even though the Yankees lost the World Series. Maybe they will do better when the Yankees open their new stadium in the Bronx. Someone told the boys that the Yankees purchased 20 acres in the Bronx for their new stadium. They are also fascinated by all the talk of air travel and learning about the 1st US transcontinental air mail flight this past February. Most of our mail comes in by rail, it is hard to imagine the mail being flown across the country.

I haven't mentioned the girls yet. Margaret, our oldest, turned 19 this year. She has been such a big help to me with the baby and of course, the twins...Joe and Mary. Ann (17) and Ellen (14) enjoy spending time with Margaret. Imagine having three teen-age daughters in the house. Little Vera (6) and Mary (3) are in awe of their older sisters.  

John (18), our oldest son, is working as a farm hand. That is why in this photo he is standing behind Pat. When he came home from work we were trying to organize the kids for this photo and he didn't have time to change out of his overalls, so he picked up the baby and ducked behind Pat!

I realize I should stop here and get this letter ready to mail. Also, it is almost time to start dinner. We will have a quiet Christmas holiday.  We continue to offer prayers for the wounded war veterans and hope that the New Year will bring good news on the economic front.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

Martin, Mary Ann (Mame), Margaret, John, Ann, Pat, Ellen, Mart, James, Daniel, Vera, Tom, Joe, Mary and Bill

P.S. I hope you like the photo. I also managed to get a copy of the 1920 Census Report(see below)...look at all of our names on there. You can click on either image and they will get larger. 
1920 US Census Denton, MT


Tough Times Test the Bonds Between a Town and Its Railroad

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Anonymous said...

Judy, what a wonderful letter. It says so much to us today.

The issues of the day seem like they are the same today and yet, put in context it shows our little concerns are not new or different through time. It reminds us in some ways, not take things now so seriously.

The letter and the photo also reminds me we are not here for long. All those young faces in the photo lived their lives and are gone. It got me to thinking of my grandparents and others who are now gone. It's all very precious.

Thank you for posting it. It's very moving.

Judy Helfand said...

When I first started to write this I didn't know how to handle it, but then it occurred to me to investigate the 1920-21 historical details for both Montana and the US. You are correct...we are still discussing the same issues. Amazing. As I mentioned, I have my cousin to thank for supplying the information about my grandfather and the history of the railroad in that part of the country.

Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Darren Bond said...

What a haunting letter. Thanks for sharing it.

Judy Helfand said...

I appreciate your thoughts. It is a little haunting, particularly if you read the December 2009 NY Times article that is linked at the bottom of the post. I never knew my grandparents; however, my cousins have tried to trace a lot of the railroad history.
I tried to write this based on how I imagine my grandmother might have written about her life in 1921.

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