Civil War Brought Back to Life in Letters


Last evening was the Opening to the exhibit at the History Center of Tompkins County of the letters and local Civil War artifacts which provided the documentary basis to Dear Friend Amelia. It has been a long time since I’ve seen so many people crowded in the exhibition hall in the Gateway Center on State Street.

Mary Jordan and Joyce Hatch, co-authors, signed and sold copies of their new book and I found myself drawn to photographs, canteens, postage stamps, costumes, recruitment posters and so much more.

Then I saw in the glass-covered display table something really remarkable. September 6th, 1950, Doctor Tarbell and his bride Mary ate dinner and spent the night at the Cayuga Lake Inn at Sheldrake. The menu for that day and the bill of receipt; a keepsake of this special day just one year before Tarbell left with Company D of the 109th.

Sheldrake Point is still one of the most beautiful sites on Cayuga Lake. The remnants this history have been under my feet before along the shore. It’s a special place where you can find Sheldrake stones; ones wornsmooth and round by the currents but with have holes in them. Larger than a bead, they can be strung on a leather string for a necklace from here. Seeing Mary Tarbell’s brown best dress on a mannequin next to the class from this wedding date of 1850 gave me chills.

The letters of Tarbell and other companions of Private John Tidd are all on display for public viewing. The incredible script used by John Tidd in his letters to Miss Amelia Haskell requires close examination.  

Overheard at the opening reception:

“A real tearjerker. I didn’t expect the ending.”

“Really, a very compelling story.”

“So romantic, and such a sad ending.”

Clearly many of those attending the reception have read the book already and found it moving. See how the material artefacts made this history fresh and real. Don’t miss this exhibit in Ithaca!

And the Kitchen Theatre is doing an adaptation, The Secret Room, tonight and tomorrow!

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Filed under History, Non-Fiction New Releases

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