Saturday, May 25, 2013

"To shoot at a duck or two . . ."

         Jim Hogg had bought the old plantation in Brazoria County because he thought there was oil under it, but the land also fulfilled his lifelong dream of a country home. He lavished his new oil wealth on the house, the furniture, the gardens, the crops, the livestock. And he wanted his family around him to enjoy it all. To entice Ima to leave New York and come to Texas for a holiday in the country, Ima’s father enlisted her elder brother’s help. In late November 1902 Will wrote to her:
         Prepare to become a comfortably rich woman. Your land at Columbia has healthy prospects of proving gusher territory. Drilling near there, adjoining your estate, is progressing rapidly and James Stephen “would not be surprised to see ‘em gush by Christmas.” Don’t begin to spend money on your prospects, just now.
          We are expecting you at the “Varner” for Christmas week. The boys and I will try to make life tiresome for you. Father has his heart set on your coming, and you know when “Jym” is sot something is bound to give away. You will be permitted to shoot at a duck or two in the company of your three brothers, that is if you be good and proper-like. (Which reminds me to have Miles send your sidesaddle down there. Will write to him now.) Then too your business interests require your presence in the vicinity of the oil fields (to be) and I as you legal adviser and attorney in fact command you to leave at a proper time that you may lead the procession.
         Father invited Vivian to join you there & she may do so.
         The boys complain of no letter from you. You must write to them regularly. With much love and a few kisses

         Ima Hogg, we know, was a skilled horsewoman. But shooting ducks? Who knew?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"Down on the old plantation!"

In 1902 J. S. Hogg’s oil interests were paying off. On November 26, the day before Thanksgiving, he wrote to Ima that he had sold his interest in the Texas Oil and Fuel Company for $35,750. These 1902 dollars would be worth nearly 25 times that today. 
Time for Thanksgiving, indeed.

He wanted his family to spend the Christmas holidays at “The Varner,” the old plantation in Brazoria County he had made into a showplace. He wrote to Ima in New York:
         I am anxious to have you spend Christmas with our boys. Your influence over them, by reason of their deep love for you, is potent and far-reaching. You have always exercised a fine control over Will. As to Mike and Tom, you know well, how they idolize you, and yield to your will, sometimes, with boyish reluctance, but at all times with manly fortitude, when the issue is made. . . .Your opportunity to influence them could not be greater than on a Christmas outing with them – down on the Old Plantation! Hunting down there is fine for the boys, and it may not be unattractive to you. I have the house comfortably furnished, and plenty of room. With an excellent, large hack and team, and saddle horses and dogs and guns and “plenty to eat” there could be no reason we shall not have a fine time down there for a week or so. Nothing would please the boys more than this; and you see it would open their young hearts as wide as the Ocean’s bosom to receive the good sentiments to be strewn there by you – and me! Of course, if you so desire, you could have some “chum” with you. And probably a “house party” might be allowed also. But as to this, we can talk later. Friends at Houston would like to give you a party before your return to NY. And then, possibly we could find time, before you go back, to attend the Governor’s Inaugural Ball early in January. Really I think we can spend a few weeks together very pleasantly. How does this strike you? Write candidly, as usual.
                                             Lovingly, Your Father,
                                             J. S. Hogg

         But Ima needed time to think this over. New York City was full of exciting things--and one of them may have been the young man named R. W. Alexander. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Shocking Murder Tale

When Ima returned to New York in the fall of 1902 she had to change her residence: During the summer, Mrs. Greene, the headmistress of Ima’s boarding school, had developed “distressing heart trouble,” and died. As Ima wrote years later, “So I found a school quite different and more convenient, the Comstock School, 20th & W. 40th St.” The school, described as a “Family and Day School for Girls” at 32 West 40th Street, was run by Miss Lydia Day, “a delightful and cultured lady.” 
         But the Comstock School and Miss Day, Ima soon discovered, were connected to a shocking murder: Ten years earlier, in 1892, New York newspapers had covered the sensational trial of Carlyle W. Harris, a young man accused of killing Helen Potts--who was then a student at the Comstock School under Miss Day’s administration. The lurid story behind this murder had fascinated readers in New York for weeks. In January 1891 Helen Potts, a nineteen-year-old student (described as “a brunette beauty”) was found dead in her room at the Comstock School (described as “an elite finishing school”). She had died from an overdose of morphine given her by a medical student who turned out to be her husband. Carlyle Harris and Helen Potts had been secretly married the year before, and she became pregnant. She then had, as the newspapers put it delicately, “an operation” (read abortion), and enrolled in the Comstock School. But her husband wanted to be rid of her, and gave her a “lethal dose of morphine.” He was tried and convicted, and was executed for murder at Sing Sing prison in 1893.
         In October 1902, Ima, newly enrolled at the Comstock School, heard this story and was evidently disturbed by it. Both her father and her brother Will wrote to her about it.  Will advised her, “If you are uncomfortable & wish to move for such cause, why, go to Miss Day and talk plainly to her.”  
         Apparently Miss Day dealt with Ima’s concerns. Ima stayed at the school, and she and Miss day became good friends. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

A New York Romance?

In Ima’s letter about knee breeches she had also mentioned politics. What she said prompted a response from her father:
         By all means, my daughter, keep up interest in politics. Understand well the principles on which your rights are based, and stand by them. In politics, as in all the affairs of man, woman, indirectly or intentionally, certainly wields great influence—when she is posted! Know your lesson—your duty—and you can lead or teach others. . . . And when you go to preside in that house you seem so busily planning, you will be the pleasant, intelligent, autocrat whose sway must be felt far beyond the domestic circle and the culinary department.—What house is that anyway? And why is this your last opera season in NY? When you write again, please tell me if there are any innuendos in these queer expressions!
         If she did, her letter has not been located, leaving a mystery.

         It is possible that Ima’s reference to  “planning a house” may have had something to do with a romantic attachment she kept secret from her family. In New York she was seeing a young man named R. W. Alexander, but she obviously did not tell her father about him. Was she in love with him? Were they planning to marry? R. W. Alexander wrote to Ima on June 6, 1902 that he was  “delighted . . . that you say ‘yes’ to my invitation for a honeymoon trip Monday after dark. . . . Try to be ready about nine for I will call at about seven forty.”  Was this merely lighthearted banter, or was it serious?  No one knows.
         Ima came home to Texas a few days later and spent the summer there. But R.W. Alexander wrote to her, anticipating her return to New York for the winter theater season, with stars such as Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. In September 1902 Ima set out again for New York. She would spend another year studying at the National Conservatory of Music.

And she would see more of  R.W. Alexander.