Skip to main content

Anna M. Kerr to Walt Whitman, 30 December 1887

 loc.02591.001_large.jpg Dear Mr Whitman

Many years have rolled by since I last shook hands with you on Fulton st​ Brooklyn.1 I can see you now as you looked then tall and hearty—in a grey woolen shirt, turned down collar—bare bronzed neck—bearded face crowned with a soft broad brimmed slouched hat—a supple active form holding a heart wide awake for whatever might betide sunshine or storm!—


In those days I scribbled sometimes for the Eagle over which you presided. I loved to work what good I could for the Sunday School of Old St Ann's for its missions and our City's poor—you were always ready to aid in such good work—

I was young then, and light hearted—I am a Widow now with a son 27, and two daughters younger, Edith and Anna;2 Anna has been two years a student of Ellocution​ with Gabriel Harrison,3 whom doubtless you will remember  loc.02591.003_large.jpg she has been invited to recite at an entertainment given by "Winchester Post," at their annual installation of officers Jan. 5th4

She will recite the first time for her your poem "The dirge of the two Veterans" musical accompaniment by F Ritter,5 she will be accompanied on the Organ by Professor Raphael Navarro an old Brooklynite.6

She is now in the parlor rehearsing the piece with her sister. Ah dear old friend as I hear from her young lips those soul stirring words of yours my heart strings thrill—the last years are back again fresh and green and I feel old things are  loc.02591.004_large.jpg best. I hear again the clear ring of your voice, and feel the warm clasp of your true hand.

I feel ere the shadows of Evening close around, as if, I must write to you, if only, to say God Bless you, and your dear ones,—and give to you and them a happy most happy New Year.

My children join me in love and good wishes.

Sincerely yours Mrs Anna M Kerr

P.S. "The dirge of the two Veterans is the title.

Anna M. Kerr (died 1920) was a Brooklyn-born church-worker and social activist from a prominent Quaker family. Throughout her life, Kerr was a member of numerous charitable, religious, and social organizations such as the Women's Club of Brooklyn as well as the local Junior Missionary Society or the Asylum Society. Her death was covered by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which remembered her as "artistic, musical and [with] a personality of winning charm" (5 January, 1920, 3).


  • 1. Fulton Street was not only home to the landing of the Brooklyn ferry but also to the offices of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. [back]
  • 2. Her obituary in the Daily Eagle surprisingly only mentions two siblings as surviving relatives, suggesting that her children might have died before her. [back]
  • 3. According to the Brooklyn City Directory (1863), Gabriel Harrison was a photographer at 73 Fulton Avenue. He was a friend of Whitman's and took the daguerreotypes that Whitman used for the engraved portrait of himself that appeared in the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass. In addition to being an award-winning daguerreotypist, Harrison was also a writer, actor, painter, and stage manager, and he remained for Whitman one of the true artisan-heroes of the era. [back]
  • 4. The installation of the newly elected officers of Winchester Post No. 179, G. A. R., took place in the Conservatory of Music on Fulton Street. [back]
  • 5. Frédéric Louis Ritter, composer and professor at Vassar College (see the letter from Whitman to John Burroughs of February 21, 1880) composed a setting for "Dirge for Two Veterans." Kenneth P. Neilson, in The World of Walt Whitman Music: A Bibliographical Study (1963), lists only one work by Ritter. [back]
  • 6. Probably organist Rafael Navarro, the teacher of well-known Brooklyn hymnist John Hyatt Brewer (1856–1931). [back]
Back to top