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New Year's Calls by Joseph Barker

Omaha resident Joseph Barker described his New Year's Day activities in an 1869 letter to his parents in England: "On new year's day I went out calling with Frank Murphy, Al Patrick, Dr. Caufman, Mr. Saunders & Dr. Pinney. It had snowed some inches the night previous so we had a nice sleigh & drove round and called on nearly all our friends and acquaintances. We started about half past eleven and made forty calls by half past five . . . .

"All the town was out calling, and there were a many very handsome & some very expensive tables. One lady's table, Mrs. Jack Morrow's, cost over $500. He has made a fortune on the [Union Pacific] Road & has just bought Ruben Wood's house for $16,000 & furnished it at an expense of $6,000 and is determined to make a sensation. We all went to see it." Barker noted that the Morrows served a large variety of refreshments to callers: "large & splendid iced cakes, pyramids of fruit & confectionery, ice cream, boned turkey, chicken salads, ham, buffalo tongues, jellies & everything. On a splendid walnut side board . . . was champaign, egg nogg, claret, sherry, brandy & whiskey & cigars. Hot coffee & hot oysters were brought in on silver plated salvers."

During the afternoon Barker and his party called on a former territorial governor, Alvin Saunders. "His is a splendid house on the top of Farnam Street. The hall opens into a large conservatory with a lot of fine plants & some few flowers. From that into a large parlour then with folding doors into another large drawing room and out of that into a large dining room. All the rooms have fine plate glass French windows, mirrors from the top of the room to the floor, heavy gilt cornices, fine carpets, pictures and furniture. The Gov. & Mrs. Saunders received us, showed us through the house."

Barker admitted the fatigue produced by a long day of social calls: "We were dressed in our best evening dress & had to take off our overcoats & put them on until we were tired. I, we, hardly did more than just bite at any house, at lots of houses took nothing. The sight of so much seemed to satisfy us." He ended his New Year's Day with a supper of hot oysters and "music & a little dancing" at the home of friends, noting, "I left about twelve quite tired."

(December 2003)



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