The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
A very jolly day...
Alright, I admit it. I often write about the Walcott family and why not? They are the best documented family of a Smithsonian Secretary in our collection—there are family letters to and from his children (Charles Doolittle, Jr., Sidney Stevens, Helen Breese, and Benjamin Stuart), formal and informal family photographs and, best of all, small, red leather-bound diaries kept Charles D. Walcott (fourth Secretary of the Smithsonian) that document his daily life as a scientist, administrator, father, and husband.
Pat Breen, a beloved volunteer with the Archives, brought these diaries and many other treasures to my attention years ago when she was helping to rehouse and preserve Walcott’s papers (read more about them here: Record Unit 7004). When she got to the diaries, she scanned through them to see what was entered on important dates—when he married, when his children were born, and on special holidays.
Entries on Christmas Eves, for example, suggest that the Walcotts decorated their tree, hung stockings, and set out packages the night before Christmas and not sooner. And then on the 25th….
Sun., Dec. 25, 1892 Christmas at 7 a.m. Helena (wife), Chas.Jr., Sidney—Mother and Josie (sister) all met in the sitting room and opened the Christmas pkgs.
Christmas 1894 A happy day at home with our children. At dinner—Mother Walcott, Josie, Helena, Chas. Jr. 5 yr 7 mos, Sidney 2 yr 2 mos, Helen Breese 4 mos 5 days. All happy and well.
Wed., Dec. 25, 1895 A happy Christmas Day. The Children enjoyed the tree & gifts. At 2 p.m. we dined. Mother, sister Josie, Charles, Sidney and Helen all well. Took a walk with Helena 4 to 5 & spent the evening quietly at home.
Christmas 1898 Stockings at 6 a.m., Tree 9 a.m., Church 11 a.m., Dinner 2 p.m. Telegram notifying us of the death of Helena’s father. She left with Mrs. Stevens at 7:20 for “Scaradoa” (illegible). Returned home from R.R. station tired and sleepy.
And this entry answers the question posed by the above photo of the family on Christmas Day, “where’s Charlie?” It is annotated on the back as “1907 or 1908?”:
Christmas 1907 Wish Charlie was here instead of Chicago. Stockings at 7:30 a.m. Christmas tree 10 a.m. Breese and Ethel Stevens & Ella came in… With Stuart called on several friends at eggnog party of Judge Maury.
Interestingly, after reading many entries a trend emerged indicating that as the children grew older the time for stockings and packages got later. One, and only one, entry records, “Boys up at 5” Later ones mark 7:30 and 9. Sound familiar?
Thank you, Pat Breen for telling me about the diaries. I had a jolly time reading them.