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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I'm seeing Ingrid Bergman, or maybe Barbara Stanwyck - forget the Victorian dress though; this is 1940s film noir if I ever saw it.  H.S., played by, I dunno, Robert Mitchum.  Standing on the chilly wharf, just before dawn (in black-and-white, of course), a cool farewell, and then - H.S. disappears!  A year later, the heartbroken appeal:
H.S., who disappeared from S.H., ME., August, 1883 - Everybody believes you dead, except me, the friend who parted from you that Saturday morning on the wharf so coldly, yet felt so differently; return to those who love you; words cannot tell how they suffer; most keenly the one who deems you living; there are things worse than death; if near come to me; if far write; you know my name; it has not changed.  Care of room 21, St. Cloud Building, Washington, D.C.
What's amazing here is that a person who said goodbye, presumably, somewhere in Maine ("ME") is now using a New York newspaper to find H.S., but directing him to write her (I've arbitrarily picked the sexes here) in Washington, DC!  That's quite a journey.  It says something about this paper's wide circulation.  Do you all think that the "ME" stands for Maine?  It's confusing; I can't find a coastal town in Maine with the initials S.H. (closest I found was Spruce Head Island), and it does seem rather coincidental that a person named H.S. left a place called S.H., doesn't it?  And since the first line of personal ads are always capitalized, I suppose it's possible that the "ME" is really just "me," and the S.H. is the author's initials...

I am now even more confused than I was before.

In any event, it's quite a little saga, isn't it?  S.H. is departing on a ship, perhaps off to catch a great white whale, or on a trading vessel headed for Europe, but when the ship returned, S.H. was gone!  Everyone thinks him dead, but our author, remembering her cold farewell, believes that he has faked his death in order to escape their unhappy marriage.

Desperate, guilty, and lonely, the author  of this ad - who never remarried - reaches out, using a paper which is read across the United States and parts of Western Europe, in the vain hope that S.H. might see it and return.  Oh the romance!  Oh the agony!

I'm getting carried away again, aren't I?  Still, it really would make for a great movie, wouldn't it?  Or at least a novel.  Maybe if this whole PhD thing doesn't work out I can start writing screenplays.  Or Harlequin romances (which, actually?  I think would be an awesome job).  Since the market for history PhDs is a little weak, I probably should keep my options open...

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2010 Pam Epstein


Meredith Duran February 9, 2010 at 10:42 AM  

Ah, I interpreted it differently! She is still unwed -- this is why she is saying her name has not changed. And she *helped* him fake his death, saw him off from the pier that morning in 1883 with a "cold" expression because she was determined to be "strong" for him in his hour of need (he had come to her asking her this favor, and she could not deny him). But now, having seen the terrible fallout from his disappearance, she is regretting having helped him run off... And she is still in love with him.

Or some such story! It's a totally fascinating advertisement, though...

Meredith Duran February 9, 2010 at 10:45 AM  

Just one more thought! The author of the advertisement, trying to convince him to return, writes, "There are things worse than death." I wonder if the person she seeks disappeared because someone was determined to kill him?

Okay, will force my brain away from this mystery now.

Pam February 9, 2010 at 11:19 AM  

Meredith - I thought they were unmarried too, but the part where she says return to THOSE who love you made me think there might be children involved? Still, lovers split asunder, much more romantic. I took the "things worse than death" as meaning: being without you is worse than death. But your version is much spicier!!

Bianca C February 9, 2010 at 6:57 PM  

These ads always inspire my creativity too. You have a wealth of material here, perhaps historical romance novels are in your future! Though I am thinking more Jane Plaidy and less like something that might have a Fabio cover. :-)

You could write a whole series of stories or books that start with an ad that could be the beginning, OR the end of the story. :-)

Haha, can't wait to read them!

ImplausibleYarn February 11, 2010 at 7:56 PM  

Or Southwest Harbor, Maine. That whole area has an interesting history.

Pam February 12, 2010 at 7:54 AM  

I'm not familiar with that area - I will check it out! Thank you!!

brappy February 14, 2010 at 3:53 AM  

I think the best question - was 'ME' a common abbreviation for Maine in the nineteenth century? That, I don't know. Maybe it's Southampton in England?

Interesting description, though.

Pam February 14, 2010 at 8:17 AM  

brappy - good point! I actually thought I mentioned that too, but looking back I guess not.

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