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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Talk about a rendezvous, folks; this one is the real deal.

It reads: "The lady who made the acquaintance of a gentleman on Christmas evening, and parted company with him on Monday following, at 5 o'clock, corner of Canal street and Broadway, taking a stage down Broadway, and did not meet him on Friday, will please address W.W. Wilson, Broadway Post office."

I know! For your information, I looked it up, and the Christmas evening he refers to was on a Tuesday, which means these two were, apparently, holed up for about a week. You know, it's no surprise whatsoever that people were having extramarital sex back in the day. But I still have trouble wrapping my mind around a one-night stand in the 1860s, much less one that lasted a week. I suppose it's possible she was a prostitute, of course, but if so that would have been one very, very expensive engagement (hey, it's like Pretty Woman!). I also love how he says they made each other's "acquaintance." Okay, sure. That's one way of putting it.

I don't see ones like this too often, but I do wonder when reading this or similar ads if using the terms "lady" and "gentleman" were just conventions, or if the people involved actually did see themselves that way. Good middle-class Victorians simply did not do this sort of thing, and if she was a prostitute, she most definitely was not a lady! The fact that she failed to show up for their next meeting is even more awesome. This woman - I like her. I'll bet she squeezed his hand (no kissing in public, of course) when they said good-bye, promised to meet him again in just a few days, gave him a devastating smile - and then never looked back.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2009 Pam Epstein


Matt June 21, 2009 at 2:46 PM  

Hmmm... I wonder if we can be sure there WAS sex involved. An alternative narrative: Two lonely people meet on Christmas eve, listening to carolers in Union Square. They realize that neither has anyone with whom to spend the holiday. He lives alone in a rambling townhouse west of the park; she is a young woman who, for some reason, is stuck in New York without a place to stay.

So the gentleman, being a gentleman, offers her the hospitality of his home for the holiday. He asks his housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, to make up a room for her, and they spend the week celebrating the birth of the Saviour and participating in charity works in the city.

Feeling herself attracted to her chaste benefactor, she decides to discretely return to her studies at Vassar college on the Monday morning, and thus escape what could have been an awkward situation...

Pam June 21, 2009 at 5:12 PM  

Aw, that's very sweet. But I'm going to stick with my version.

Anonymous June 22, 2009 at 1:07 PM  

wow. christmas man is publicly alleging that she had an anonymous sex bender with him (in the 1800s, that meant a woman subsequently starves to death or has to be a prostitute), and then that she rode off towards 5-points, the bar and whorehouse part of town. he is an off-the-rails stalker control freak or trick-gone-wrong. she's an unlucky barmaid trapped for a WEEK in an apartment with someone to whom her reputation (aka survival) is wholly irrelevant. nice read, future dead hitchhikers.

Pam June 22, 2009 at 1:27 PM  

@Anonymous - wow you are so much more cynical than I! You might be right, but I don't know that off-the-rails stalker control freak is the only possibility here.

Future dead hitchhikers? Am I missing something?

Anonymous June 22, 2009 at 5:34 PM  

mostly teasing you guys...but in 1860, as a fact of sociology, your interpretation couldn't mean anything but the life-threatening ruin of that woman. surely, the most likely interp'n of the ad is that they met at christmas, did not spend days together, but rather the last time they met was at canal and broadway. no dramatics, just funny semantics. (but ahem, what's cynical about history and fact? am i the only person who doesn't make passes at people in rose-colored glasses? i'll shut up...shouldn't be snarky on your site, since the ads you have up are so lovely and fun!

Pam June 22, 2009 at 6:02 PM  

No, snark away, I get very defensive of my ads is all but I can always use constructive criticism.

Honestly if I was using this ad in my research I would be looking at it much more seriously and probably coming to the same conclusions as you. But it's much more entertaining to write about them this way - what's so cool and appealing about the ads is how open they are to interpretation if you DON'T have to be an academic about it. So here's where I get to play.

Anonymous June 30, 2009 at 3:05 PM  

@Anonymous "but in 1860, as a fact of sociology, your interpretation couldn't mean anything but the life-threatening ruin of that woman. " Unless, of course, she was a very discreet widow.

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