by Anne Motto, Curator of Collections
December 6, 2022
MCHS is phenomenally lucky to have 59 letters written to Augustus “Gus” Crane, Jr. by his father, Augustus Crane, Sr., and sister, Mary, when he was away at military school in Worcester, MA. Providing a highly detailed view of life at Acorn Hall between April 1868 and June 1870 – a particularly momentous time for the Crane family – the letters have only one drawback: they are absurdly hard to read. Deciphering Mr. Crane’s and Mary’s—shall we call it distinctive?—handwriting requires lots of patience, practice, and occasionally, staring cross-eyed in hopes of an epiphany. Transcribing the letters afforded the opportunity to increase their accessibilities for generations of MCHS staff and volunteers to come, and more importantly, to carefully mine their contents for information regarding both family life and development of the property that enriches our understanding of Acorn Hall’s history.
As they are in the Cranes’ own words, the letters offer some of the only insight into their personalities, pastimes, and relationships. With them we know who Mary chose to be her bridesmaids, that youngest brother Benjamin could be forgetful about mailing letters, that he might have gotten that from his mother, and that Mr. Crane took great interest in both his gentleman’s farm and his elder son’s education.
They also inform us of details that would have never otherwise been recorded such as the planned itinerary of Mary’s November 1869 wedding and her 1868 trip to St. Augustine, FL. They note the exact date of the earliest known photograph of the Crane residence (March 17, 1870), mention the existence of an ice house (completed Spring 1870) and greenhouse on the grounds, and perhaps most excitingly, verify that the Cranes enlarged the Hall with the eastern wing and tower in Spring/Summer 1860. All hail Gus Crane for preserving this gold mine!
While he could hardly have chosen a better timeframe from which to save letters for posterity, the window of clarity it brings is unfortunately brief. They sadly far outnumber all the rest of the Crane letters in MCHS archives combined, which only makes these letters even more precious.