Letter of Herbert Welsh in 1934 with Introduction and Some Notes

Herbert Welsh was my great-great-uncle; he lived from 1851 to 1941 and was a very accomplished man in many ways. His interests and achievements included painting, writing, long-distance walking, and American Indian rights. One other aspect of his life that I hadn’t known about was that he was the co-founder of the Philadelphia branch of the Anti-Imperialist Society. I had never heard of this organization, but evidently it was a fairly high-profile group, counting among its members Mark Twain, with whom Uncle Herbert corresponded.

The papers of Herbert Welsh are accessible at the Pennsylvania Historical Society in Philadelphia. Uncle Herbert also is the subject or author of several books, including The New Gentleman of the Road, Phila. 1921. A book about his work is The Indian Rights Association: The Herbert Welsh Years, 1882-1904, by William T. Hagan, published in 1985.

In doing family history research, I found a letter written by Uncle Herbert to my grandmother, Mary Lowber Sailer, in 1934. The handwriting, although quite well preserved, is very difficult to decipher in places. Rather than continue to struggle with it, I decided to transcribe what I could definitely make out. Even with the blanks, it offers a rather interesting, if puzzling, window into a short time in the later years of a remarkable man. Here is the text of the letter, as well as I could read it:

Cedar Lodge, In The Green Mountains Riverton, Vermont July 19, Thursday, 1934

My Very Dear Mamie:

Your most interesting and welcome letter of June 18th — the date of the battle of Bunker Hill — many times read, reached me long ago. I thank you for it, and I regret that I did not answer it sooner. But, as you may imagine from all that you must have learned from Miss Whipple, dear ________, Dr. Burns, and possibly other informants of whose names I am still ignorant, it took me quite a long time to recover completely — mentally and physically — from the effects of my quite unexpected and nervously destructive experience. This consisted in (a) my kidnapping on the afternoon of Saturday May 7th at my house, 5335 Baynton Street, Germantown, and then (b) my incarceration in the “Lunatic Asylum,” euphemistically called: “Fairmount Farms,” 3727 Ridge Avenue, Roxborough, Phila. This was very deftly accomplished by my niece, your sister, Anne West Strawbridge, with the aid of the negro chauffeur Donner. Miss Strawbridge lured me from my home, first by telling me that “Dear Uncle Herbert” loves to be taken a short drive and brought back shortly to fulfill his promise to sup with Miss Welsh, at his house about 6:30 p.m. o’clock. The object of the drive was first to see a lovely little boarding house over hanging the banks of Wissahickon Creek, suitable for a brief rest and sketching.

Welcome of a number of beautiful young ladies and _________ of the romantic scenery for which those parks had been renowned for more than a century. As we entered the grounds of this asylum, we went and approached one of the many little cottages which belong to them a tall and picturesque looking young woman, Miss Walsh, Irish and called Catholic, arrayed in a scarlet and flimsy silk robe[?], smiling continuously, and moving us forward ________ _________ and guided us out to the portal of the cottage. I entered suspecting no ruse, but Miss Strawbridge remained outside. I glanced from one of the windows that looked out upon a narrow flight of wooden steps and was about to open the door that led to them with thought of _______ ________ possibilities, when an alert athletic young man (Warden Burnett), of brown eyes and resolute chin, pressed his chest against mine and shut the door, which fastened with a spring lock. I realized in an instant that I was trapped. My dear niece afterwards disappeared and I have not seen her since.

Five weeks elapsed from that moment during which as you may have learned from Miss Whipple, or Dr. Burns, or Dr. Tom _______, _______ _______ _______ _______ or Miss Eileen Lynch Reinhart any day recently, I have had many curious and some rather striking experiences. But then I must not ______ ______ to ______ sorry to say that ______ of them when the heat was great and my nerves[?] _____ at a low ebb _____ to me to presage physical discoloration. I tried to communicate with Miss Whipple her doctors but failed completely until Miss Whipple succeeded in locating the shell and carrying me at breakneck speed to this salubrious spot. Her ___ nervous strength was, for quite a time, much depleted. She is a great deal better now but is tempted all the while to overwork. She imagines that I need much more care than I really do. I sleep well and my appetite is excellent. I succeeded through her aid in getting off a telegram of congratulations to President von Hindenburg who as you know gave a ______ warning to assassin chancellor Hitler not to go too far in his slaughter of his storm troops opponents. . . .

I do considerable art work _____ _____ as in former years. Dorothy _____ and her children are at “______”. Herbert, Limia, and Fo____ are here also. I expect to remain here indefinitely. I want to stay all winter. I _____ the young people enjoy this society and seem to have their confidence. I wish Pen and Betty could come to see us or at least half the distance. I have at last _____ a fine new “Pontiac” car from Rob. Dorothy enjoys dining _______ of a culinary and _______ nature. I tried to see Bishop Davies when we were at Lenox[?] and came near doing so, but just failed. He was there and I communicated by phone. I would be glad to know where Va_____ is now. I am trying to arrange for a brief holiday trip to France[?] in August and September for Miss Ro__son, ___ Barnett and Dr. Burns. _____ is overworked and _____ _____ Va____ might like. All recent events considered to culminate[?] to this educational trip. Miss Whipple could plan the itinerary. I have good letters from your Aunt Fanny at Sunapee. Hoping to see you soon and that you may be able and willing to furnish me with some valuable clues to unravel the “Great Kidnapping and Incarceration Conspiracy” that will enable me to write a thrilling _____ _____.

I remain Your affectionate Uncle Herbert Welsh Mr. Joseph Sailer – My true love to Betty!

That was quite a letter of Uncle Herbert’s; I wish I could have figured out more of the missing words.  I did some quick research on the reference to Hitler’s slaughter of his opponents. Apparently, Hitler ordered a major purge of opposition leaders and others, which took place on or about June 30, 1934. According to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer, President Hindenburg warned Hitler on June 21 not to go too far with internal strife, or Hindenburg would declare martial law and turn the government over to the army. I’m not sure if this was the course of events Uncle Herbert was alluding to, but it sounds fairly close.

The Miss Whipple mentioned several times in the letter was Miss Dorothy Whipple, obviously a very good friend of Uncle Herbert’s.

One last note: I recently acquired a copy of a pamphlet published in Philadelphia in 1872 called Report of a Visit to the Sioux and Ponka Indians on the Missouri River, Made by Wm. Welsh, July, 1872. I had hoped this pamphlet would have some clear connection to Uncle Herbert, but it does not mention his name at all. Because it is by William Welsh and printed in Philadelphia, and because of Uncle Herbert’s strong connection to American Indian causes, I believe that this William Welsh is either Uncle Herbert’s brother or his uncle.