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Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman, 23 February 1885

My dear Walt

I have had such hard work for the last six weeks that I have hardly had time to answre the regular business letters but to day thought I would "drop you a line" at any rate—

Just now I am having rather a bad time in keeping up the water—so large a portion of the people let the water run to prevent freezing of the pipes—and our city—being so hilly that I cannot keep the water on the high points—still unless we have more than another week of this extremely cold weather we shall get through all right.1

We talk of you often and wonder how you get on if you have anything like as bad a winter as we have  I hope you take it easy and get on without much trouble. I have not been able to get out as much this season as usual—we have had the cold so long and so bad that I was forced to keep in doors to a great extent.

I saw by yesterday's paper that Kingsley,2 of Brooklyn, had given up—poor fellow, all his keen striving and jobbing and talk is over forever  He would have been happier, I think had he remained more like he was when he first came to Brooklyn—

I mail you to-day a little picture of a new stand pipe tower that I am going to build this next year3—we have let the work and shall commence on it as soon as the weather will let us. The design has been cut and changed—and re-made, till I got it to look as I thought it ought. The young man that made it has good taste and I think when finished it will look as well as anything of the kind in the country. The total cost will be about eighty thousand dollars complete. Let me know Walt how it looks to you please—All the lower part is to be of granite—and above that brick work—of the best bricks and workmanship. There will be nothing particularly grand about it except its proportions—That is I hav'nt attempted to make any wonderfully fine carving or anything of that kind  I shall be terribly disappointed if it fails to look well when built as I have carried out several things in opposition to the opinions of fellows who have the reputation of knowing all about such things—Well in a year from now, if we all live, we will know how it will be

Walt, if you have a copy of your "Author's Edition" of your book that you can send me I would esteem it a great favor if you will write in it "A. J. Chaphe,4 from the Author" and send it to me. Chaphe intends to get all your books as soon as he can get a little money ahead—but I would like to give him this one  He has read all my copies—and is interested in them to a great extent.

Hat and Jess keep pretty well and we all get on in the regular old way

A few weeks ago Willard Arnold5 called at my office—he was in St Louis a week—with one of the dramatic Companies  I saw him often—did'nt go to the play but had him down to the house. Willard is in many respects the same as when a boy—he asked all about you—and well remembered many of the walks we all used to take on Sundays years and years ago.

A few days ago I had a letter from Bill De Voe,6 who is now located at Springfield, this state. Bill sent me a young mocking bird—his home is at a small town on the red-river in La. but he is running a surveyor's office at Springfield

I dont know whether I shall be able to get East this spring or not but I intend to make the effort. I feel the need of a vacation badly. I note what a terrible disaster you had in Philadelphia a few days since7—in some way it seemed to me the most heart rending of anything of the kind I ever read about. I suppose because it was a family dwelling perhaps. All send love to you dear Walt.

Aff., Jeff


  • 1. Jeff had been concerned with the recurring problem of water waste since 1876. From January 8 to 13, 1884, the city suffered a five-day water shortage because of open faucets. To stop the practice, Jeff instituted house-to-house inspections and advocated universal metering. [back]
  • 2. See the letter from Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walt Whitman of December 28, 1863. William C. Kingsley died in Brooklyn on February 21. He had worked with Jeff in Brooklyn, and later, in partnership with Colonel Abner C. Keeney, supervised the construction of the East River or Brooklyn Bridge. This engineering feat required fourteen years of work (1869-83) and was completed only after some loss of life, much political bickering, and enormous expenditures of capital and labor. Jeff echoes the popular view that this project exhausted Kingsley and perhaps destroyed him. [back]
  • 3. Standpipe No. 2, the "Red Tower" at Blair and Bissell streets, was authorized by the city council on June 10, 1884. Construction began in June 1885 and was substantially completed by March 1886. Jeff probably refers to a drawing of the water tower by its designer, William S. Eames, at that time deputy commissioner of public buildings. [back]
  • 4. Andrew J. Chaphe was the chief engineer of the pumping department at the St. Louis Water Works. Twice Jeff singled him out for praise in the official reports to the Board of Water Commissioners (1875 and 1876). [back]
  • 5. Unidentified. [back]
  • 6. William Devoe was a carpenter. See the letter from Thomas Jefferson Whitman to Walter Whitman, Sr., Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, George Washington Whitman, Andrew Jackson Whitman, Hannah Louisa Whitman, and Edward Whitman of March 14, 1848. [back]
  • 7. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch carried the following headline on February 21: "An entire Philadelphia family perishes in a burning dwelling." The fire began in the home of John A. King, 1539 Pine Street, and eventually destroyed three houses and killed five people, including a nine-year-old boy. [back]
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