Saturday, August 1, 2009

Charles Paul Littlepage

(Note: This is a l-l-l-on-n-n-g-g-g post under a new category pertaining to my family genealogy.)

I have recently come upon a trove of photographs and documents that relate to various limbs of my family tree. I am becoming increasingly fascinated by learning about my lineage in the process of going through these papers. I am finding many letters from the late 1800's and early 1900's, and I am carefully handling and transcribing them in order to protect their fragile nature.

I came upon a relative I only knew about in the sketchiest fashion. I am learning much more information about my mother's father's brother (my grand-uncle) Charles Paul Littlepage, born in 1884 in Guatemala where his father settled and began growing coffee after the Civil War rather than be a part of the Reconstruction efforts. Charles eventually began living and working in Honduras for the International Advertising Company. In August 1915, at the age of 31, he boarded the ship "Marowijne" to visit his family, but the vessel was engulfed by a massive hurricane and sank without a trace in the Gulf of Mexico.

What follows are two letters written to my grandfather, William Wallace Littlepage. The first was written by Charles in January of 1915, seven months before his death. It reveals him as a jaunty and spirited raconteur. The second letter is from his sister Louise in September 1915, a few weeks after Charles' disappearance. My heart cried when I read both the words and sorrowful tone of this letter, revealing the utter devastation to the family Charles' death wrought upon them. I decided this poignant piece of personal family history was worthy to be recorded and preserved in this manner.

1. First letter: Charles to Wallace, January 1915

Dear Wallace:-
I received yours of 12/16 on the 29th. ult. But for various and sundry reasons, mostly imaginary, I guess, have failed to answer so far. Suppose I have a beaut of a balling out coming from Neets and Lillian for not answering their letters which are now about a month old, but dammit, I never was strong on the epistolary stuff. O, lord, that reminds me, I’ve plumb forgotten to acknowledge Mildred’s card, a nice little HAND-WROTE gold edged affair, in which she broke the sad news. Wonder if it would work for me to pretend that I didn’t receive it. Say what in hell must I tell the kid, any way? A bunch of cheap bull about wishing them all kinds of happiness etc.? If I ever take the final plunge I’m going to take out an injunction prohibiting anybody from even mentioning the affair, and I bet that by doing so I’ll make my friends love me forever.

Now, let’s answer your questions. Didi is getting along pretty nicely, went over to the hospital last Sunday and found him sitting up, the first time in a little over two months, his wounds are pretty nearly healed up and he will soon be out again. Wallace, I surely would like to have you down here, it is some pretty country, and lord, man, I get horribly lonesome. I’ve no friends to bum with or talk to, and Preston, my boss or side-kick or partner, whatever you want to call him, sometimes runs me nearly nuts. He seems to take absolutely no pleasure in anything except business, and can’t talk on any subject two minutes unless he rings in some “shop”. It’s fierce. Christmas day he and I worked like the devil unpacking fifteen cases of goods because he fancied someone would want to get some photographic dope that he’d been expecting for a long time. I often feel like consigning he whole business to HELL and going home, but that would be the one most jackass of a thing to do for I don’t suppose there is much chance of a job there now.

No Wallace, I don’t think that the I/A Co. could use a sign man right now, it may need one later on, and if it does you can depend on me to put you next. The Co. at present is mostly on paper, has a charter from the Honduras government and all that sort of thing. Preston is President & Gen. Manager and I am Secy.-Treasurer but that is about all there is to it. We are going to publish R.R. Guides etc. Also a swell elegant edition of the local paper as our maiden effort, from which Preston expects to clean up a nice little pile of kale on the ads. The blooming thing is going to cost about 3000 perfectly good bucks in the U.S. so you can imagine it’s not a very snide affair. We just signed up a contract with the R.R. for advertising space in their cars, and while it’s a starter, it doesn’t amount to very much. The people in these countries don’t know what advertising is, that is, not as it’s known in the U.S., and they have to be educated up to it. As for myself, I do not pretend to know anything about it, I’m a railroad material man, so I just do what Preston tells me to do, and let it go at that. As for wall signs, “Coca Cola”, “Hanan Shoes” and that kind of stuff, I can’t recall having seen one in Honduras.

O say, I wanted to tell you about that trip to Lake Yojoa (no it’s not Russian, pronounced “Yo-ho-a”) and like to forget it. It’s about 50 miles from here, measured in miles, but in real distance it’s a hell of a lot further, take it from me, for it took us two and a half days riding to reach it. Man I’d have given three million dollars to have you and Prados along. It is supposed to be the crater of an extinct volcano, and durned if I don’t believe that theory, too. It’s about 3000 feet above the sea and jammed in between the mountains whose peaks are generally covered with clouds, and the scenery around there is something swell. The lake itself is supposed to measure about twelve by eighteen miles, and the water is so darn deep that it is blue. Dr. Bell, a man who knows every place in Honduras nearly, told me that he had let down a 1700 foot line and didn’t touch bottom! And say feller, that blooming lake was just lousy with ducks, and the only artillery in the bunch was two little .22 automatic pistols! Oi! Oi! Oi! We killed an iguana that measured 4 ft. 7 inches and weighed 12(?) (18?) pounds if I remember right. Some lizard, eh? We took along two pack mules to carry our dope, one loaded with Preston’s cameras and such and the other with our blankets eats and hammocks. Hammocks are indispensible when traveling in this country, for once you leave the bigger towns there are no hotels and mighty few of the houses have any beds in them. We spent one evening and pretty near all of the next day at the lake and had a gorgeous time, paddling around in some canoes we found there, and popping at the ducks etc, with those absurd little automatics. We slept in our hammocks right on the edge of the lake under a little boat shack, the first time I ever camped out in my life. It’s great doings.

Say did you ever imagine a machete being used as fishing tackle? I was told that this was the way that the Indians around there caught their fish, with a machete, but I promptly put that story down as a lie, but it’s not, for I saw it done with my own eyes. The night we slept at the lake I woke up at about two in the morning and saw an Indian walking along very quietly in the water about knee deep, with a big pine torch in one hand and his machete in the other. I wondered what the devil he was up to but pretty soon he stood perfectly still and peered into the water and then, - swish, he slashed into the water and pulled out a fish about eighteen inches long. Well, I take off my hat to a machete, and one who knows how he can use it for anything, from digging out a splinter in his toe to catching a mess of fish.

Look, I’ll have to saw this pretty quick, but I’m doing this and as I am alone in the house there’s nobody to talk shop to me tonight. O darn, I’m tired, so good night and GOOD LUCK to you Wallace, and write again

(Signed) Charles

2. Louise to Wallace, September 1915

My dear Wallace:-
Every time I address you as above, it reminds me that you are our only brother now. I sure do miss writing to Charlie and getting his letters. Isn’t it awful to think that he has been swept off the face of the earth, leaving no sign, nor word, just simply dropped out of existence. It is the strangest, and most awful and horrible accident ever. All those people so happy in their coming home, our brother among the number, and we so happy in looking for him, when suddenly, without warning, he is taken from us and we never will know the exact time nor place, and the date is merely guesswork.

It makes me so nervous to hear the waves dashing on the beach when the water is rough. And Mother says she has a chill when she hears the boats blowing, and it seems to me lately that the tugs are continually blowing. Poor mother, it just makes my heart ache to see her sitting in the chair at nights, with a far-off look, and when she raises her head if any of us speak to her, she has tears in her eyes. Her hair is almost snow white, and I can almost see it getting whiter. She is a true Christian, however, and is bearing up like a heroine. I wish I could do something to help her, to take her mind off her sorrows. It is dreadful to all of us to have lost Charlie but it is doubly hard to her, as he always was her darling. In fact, I guess we all loved him better than any of the rest of the family. As far back as I can remember, he was Father’s pet boy and companion, and most certainly he was Mother’s and mine. He had so many friends in this town, and they all come up to ask me for news or offer sympathy, and every time they do so, it opens the wound anew. It is awful. Five weeks tomorrow since he is gone, five of the longest weeks we have ever spent. But he is safe with Daddy, and I know Daddy was lonesome without any of his children. Also he will not have any more troubles of this world, and goodness knows the poor lad had his share and more.

Father Sweeney has been a perfect gem to us, writing nearly every day, long cheering, hopeful letters, and whenever he would read any ray of hopeful news, he would wire it to us. Mother appreciates his thoughtfulness so much.

Little Mildred Rea Shaw is to be christened tomorrow and Daday is going in to see his new grand daughter. Say, he has no little trouble, poor old fellow: Some years ago, when he came so near to failing, he had to mortgage his home to help him stay on his feet, and the mortgage is to be foreclosed and their home sold at public Auction on October 4th. Oh I feel so sorry for the old man. Of all the people he has helped, and now that he should have to lose his home. It is fierce. In addition to having three operations to pay for, he is now to lose his home. I hope he can make some arrangement to save it, but I do not see much chance. Think of al those poor girls, almost helpless. We nearly dropped dead when we saw the notice of the sale I the paper.

Father Helsinki is in Long Beach for a few days. He is very sick, and Laura said his voice is so weak he can hardly be heard saying Mass, and you remember what a terrible voice he had, we could hear him long before we could see him. This is a rough, topsy-turvy old world. I wonder if things will ever be right again? I hope things are brighter for you. I have about all I can manage, but in addition, I have been having terrible tooth ache for a week, one of my front teeth having a bad abcess. My face was pretty badly swollen, but it is a little better, however not well by any means.

I must get to work, now. Take care of yourself, but do write Mother often. Remember you are the only son she has, now. Lots of love from us all.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing these letters. They are indeed poignant. I put together a website a number of years ago including letters and photos from my great great grandfather, Caleb V. Littlepage. There are two scanned letters on the site from Charles Pearson Littlepage, who I think may be your great grandfather. They were written to Caleb’s widow in 1879. –Marilyn Slagle

John said...

Thank you for publishing this. My mom's side of family.

Lanny Ottosen said...

Interested in corresponding with any descendant of Caleb V. Littlepage