Letters from homeNov 4th, 2009 | By Leonard Legends & Legacies | Category: Legends & Legacies, Real People, Real Stories
When was the last time you sent or received a hand-written letter from a friend or relative? “Hand-written” rules out the annual word-processed Christmas “here’s my life in pastel colors” letter. “Letter” rules out the thank you note or get well card, although I can see either of those becoming an heirloom down the line.
No, I mean an honest-to-goodness, pass it around the coffee clatch letter from home? I’m ashamed to admit it’s been years. But a recently discovered letter, mailed in 1889, just might inspire me to write a few of my own. To wit…
My g-g-grandfather Uncle Dan Leonard, wrote an eight page letter to his aunt in 1889. Eight pages! To an aunt! That letter turned up in his brother’s Bible, so we know it was passed around the family long after it was sent. His brother Isaac saw fit to immortalize it in a book he knew would be kept. Perhaps best of all, it was mailed from Leonard, Iowa, a post office named for Uncle Dan and housed in a neighbor’s home just two miles to the south.
The salutation reads simply, “Dear Aunt.” Uncle Dan had three aunts, but the presumption is that he was writing to his Aunt Luzanna, who stayed in Pennsylvania with her aging mother when most of the family moved west to Ohio. He regrets that enough time has passed that it’s unlikely his aunt will ever get to visit him in his new Iowa home. So he sent pictures and rather verbose description of the property. (The pictures, apparently, have been misplaced.)
None of that would have been particularly remarkable, if not for the fact that the house he described in 1889 is still standing and occupied 120 years later. Uncle Dan commissioned a painting of the place ten years after he sent the letter. Side-by-side comparisons show how little it has actually changed.
As an extra-special treat to my family, Uncle Dan described the HUGE stone slab at the base of the front porch.
“If you look closely, you will see Mrs. Dan Leonard standing on a rock (sitting to the front and right of it in the painting) 9 inches thick, 8′ long and about 4′ wide, the largest stone in South Western Iowa and on said rock is inscribed as follows: Daniel and Jane Leonard 1856 (the year Dan and Jane settled in that very spot).”
That rock appears to be granite, and it’s still in place. It’s been a source of great curiosity in my family. My parents and I often wondered if there might be a time capsule of some sort underneath. We’ve offered, more than once, to pay the current owner for the stone and whatever may lie underneath, but to date, no deal. Below is a little closer look.
The letter goes on to describe a picture of the original log cabin that “was the finest residence for twelve years on a stretch of land 16 miles long and eight miles wide.” That picture was also a commissioned painting, drawn from the pioneer couple’s own memories.
This post is getting a tad long, so I’ll save more on that painting for next week. That, and Uncle Dan’s description of the poor souls passing along the trail in front of his house, dragging their meager possessions back from failed settlement attempts to the south and west in Kansas.
Your assignment, between now and next week… Go write a letter!