Dear Folks, I received your letter yesterday and was more than glad to hear from you. I have been so lonesome lately that I don’t know what to do with myself.
Thus begins a letter from Harry Scott to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Martin Scott, dated May 22, 1904.
The Morrison County Historical Society recently received this heart-wrenching letter for the museum’s collection from Carol (Reed) and Roland Freeburg of Anoka, MN. According to Carol, it was Harry’s last letter. Tucked within the small envelope was another letter from Harry to his father, dated December 5, 1898, and three newspaper clippings announcing the death of Harry.
Upon reading these items, we realized there was an entire story contained within the envelope, which measures 6 1/2” x 3 3/4”. And that is the challenge for this edition of the MCHS newsletter: To write an article entirely from the contents of the envelope, without looking anything else up in our files. We want to show how little it takes to tell an interesting piece of Morrison County history and illustrate how to analyze what’s missing from the story.
Before launching into an analysis of the envelope’s contents, it might help to know that Martin Scott, Harry’s father, was owner of one of the brickyards in Little Falls. This bit of information is familiar to museum staff without having to look it up, which goes to show that acquired knowledge can be useful in furthering a story.
Harry’s 1898 letter to his father is typed on letterhead from the Springfield F&M Insurance Company of Springfield, Massachusetts. G. W. Massy was a local agent for this company, working out of Little Falls. From the letter, we find out that Harry is working for Massy. Here is the full text, with Harry’s typos:
We got your letter the other day and very glad to hear from you, Ma said if you couldn’t sell before spring she guessed that we would go back, but I guess she will change her mind before spring. I am working for Massy now and I get $3.00 a week, I don’t know how long I will have it. Jack Morrison has put up a skating rink and we are going to it tonight, 5¢ a skate. Mr. Massy is going away tonight and I am left to take care of the office untill [sic] he gets back. I took a picture of uncle Morrill and Frank, and it is pretty good, it is a snow scene out in the back part of our yard.
well I will close for this time [sic]
from your son Harry Scott, Little Falls Minn
It is apparent from this letter that Harry is in Little Falls, but where are his parents? If they were in town, there would be no need for a letter. Employment for Harry appears to be tentative. Jack Morrison’s skating rink sounds like a new venture in town, so we get a bit of business history with that. We also learn from the letter that Harry is interested in photography, having taken a photo in the back yard and giving his opinion of how it turned out. He’s got an uncle named Morrill, but who is Frank and what is his relationship to Harry?
Now, let’s look at the full text of the 1904 handwritten letter by Harry. It’s from Omaha, Nebraska, addressed to Mrs. Martin Scott of Little Falls, dated May 22.
I received your letter yesterday and was more than glad to hear from you. I have been so lonesome lately that I don’t know what to do with myself. I was wishing that you and Pa would sell your home in Little Falls and buy a place in Minneapolis and we would all live to-gether. Leo and I can get a good Job and pay the taxes and give you half or more of our wages which will buy clothes for all and keep the house going. Every time I would go up home I hated to leave and have lived away from home long enough now. I would come to Little Falls only I can’t get a job in the Glass business up there. It may seem like a very foolish Idea to make that change but I don’t thing it is. I was out to a park this afternoon and everything that I looked at made me lonesome, so I came back to my room and spent the rest of the day. I wrote to Louise last Friday saying that I would never be a Catholic, and have not heard from her yet, so I guess she has decided to cast me off. I wish she was a Protestant for she is as pure as an Angel and the best girl that I have ever seen. There are no news down here that I could tell you that would interest you so I had better close.
Wishing you all well and hoping we will all be united soon.
I am Your Son, H.G. Scott
712 So 16th St. Omaha, Neb.
An additional note in Harry’s hand appears at the bottom, starting with an unreadable word: “– soon and give my love to Lillie and all.”
This letter is striking in a number of ways. Harry refers to himself as lonesome twice in the letter. That word has become rare in our modern lexicon, although the feelings behind it remain in humanity’s psyche. Harry misses his parents so much that he is begging them to give up their Little Falls home so they can all live together in Minneapolis.
Adding to the lonesomeness is his break-up with his girlfriend Louise. While we don’t see religion, particularly between Christian-based ones, as a major barrier to relationships in the United States today, at the time of Harry’s letter, it was.
Harry also reveals that he is in the “Glass business,” but can’t find this sort of work in Little Falls. In looking at one of the obituaries included in the envelope, we find that “he was a worker in mosaics and art glass, and a very skilful [sic] one.” Harry wasn’t dealing in everyday plate or bottle glass, but in stained glass, which explains why his work prospects were limited in Little Falls, hence his relocation to Omaha.
This was the last letter Harry wrote to his parents, which is actually noted in one of his obituaries: “Martin Scott, when seen Wednesday evening stated that he thought his son had been taken very suddenly, as about eight days before his death the family received a letter from him to the effect that he was in excellent health.” The date of the obituaries is unknown, but we could find them easily using the date of the letter: May 22, 1904.
Harry was “21 years, 2 months, and 22 days” old. This information would help in gauging his birth date, which is not included in the obits. He was born in Little Falls and “raised at the home of his parents at the Brickyards.” This hints at Harry’s family connection to the brick manufacturing business.
Doing a bit of math, if Harry died 8 days after the receipt of his letter, depending on how long mail took to reach Little Falls from Omaha, we could estimate that he died around the end of May or beginning of June. Working back from this, he was likely born in February 1883.
The Scott family moved to Georgia for a time. While there, Harry almost died as a result of “malarial fever.” Because of his health, the Scotts moved back to Minnesota.
The longer obit continues on with some detail about his work: About five years ago he went to Minneapolis where he secured employment in an ornamental and leaded glass manufacturing establishment, and at the time of his death had risen to the position of assistant designer. He worked at his trade in Minneapolis and St. Paul and last fall secured a better position at Omaha and went there. Mr. Scott was a young man of excellent character and a painstaking and careful workman, so that his services were always in demand at good wages.
More math reveals that Harry was 16 when he began working at the stained glass company in Minneapolis. That would have been in about 1899. The typed letter in the envelope of Harry Scott items is dated 1898 and he is working with Massy in Little Falls, noting that he’s not sure how long he’ll have the job. Given the dates, it seems he must have moved on to the stained glass company shortly after writing the 1898 letter. With his expression of interest in photography in this letter, it is no surprise that he ended up in an artistic occupation.
Sadly, Harry Scott died of typhoid fever, with his family receiving the news of his illness the day before his death. “The parents think that the immediate cause of death was heart failure, as he was known to have a weak heart.” His father went to Omaha to retrieve his body, with the funeral performed at the “Methodist church” in Little Falls. He was buried in Oakland Cemetery in Little Falls.
There’s a significant amount of Harry’s life story condensed into one small envelope. Even so, questions remain. What was Mrs. Martin Scott’s first name? Who were Harry’s other siblings? (He was the youngest of Mr. and Mrs. Martin Scott according to one obit. His sister Lillie is mentioned on the envelope.) What became of the Catholic girl he was dating? How did she take the news of his death? Could the break-up have impacted the course of Harry’s illness? How common was it to send teenagers away from Morrison County to apprentice with a business? What was the typical age for starting work in the late 1800s and early 1900s? What was the exact date of Harry’s death? Did he die alone?
Engaging history can come in small packages and often raises more questions than it answers. What questions does Harry’s story bring to your mind? Could you fit your life story into a small envelope?
~ Mary Warner, MCHS Executive Director
This article was originally published in the Morrison County Historical Society’s newsletter, Vol. 29, No. 3, 2016.