Like everyone who will see this, I was born long after the Gilded Age ended. So how is it possible that I feel so nostalgic for these days of beauty and grace? I think I must be a ghost.

Today, I have for you pictures of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City at the turn of the century. There are also a few photos from the 1910s from a Senate inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic that was held at the hotel, and a couple of photos of women with their dogs from the first meeting of the American Pomeranian Club.

All photos courtesy the Library of Congress, except where marked.

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One hundred and five years ago tonight, on the first Christmas Eve of World War One, a curious thing happened.

World War One, or the Great War, began in 1914. Like other long conflicts in history, many soldiers had gone to the battlefields enthusiastically, believing the war would be brief. When the first wave of soldiers departed for the front in July 1914, many imagined they would return home in a month or two, flushed with victory. By December 1914, they had been thoroughly disillusioned. So many soldiers had perished on the battlefield already, and both sides now understood the war would be a prolonged death grapple, one in which they fervently believed their own army must triumph.

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This stray article was in a February 19, 1913 edition of The Times and Democrat, an Orangeburg, South Carolina daily paper. According to the article, Mr. J.A. Brown was seeking a divorce from his wife Lizzie for cruelty and desertion. The Browns were residents of DeKalb County, Georgia, where they lived on a 27-acre farm owned by Mrs. Brown.

He provided just one example of the cruelty to which his wife subjected him. Lizzie Brown had apparently become infuriated one evening and decided to punish her husband for his real or perceived offenses. She retrieved a long board which was enhanced with a large nail.

“Brown recites that the nail protruded through the board, and when he was struck by the board, the nail penetrated the flesh to the bone of his thigh. He adds that if he had not held his wife until he could get a chance to get away he believes he would have been more seriously injured.”

 

The couple married in 1908 and lived together until August 1911, when the spanking occurred. Mr. Brown hinted the domestic abuse incident was not unprecedented. “He claims she made married life impossible by a violent temper, and that she would fly into a frenzy without cause, and would curse and abuse him.” After the spanking, he told the court, Lizzie abandoned him.

I wonder what happened to this couple. There was more to this story, of that I am confident. I couldn’t find a follow-up article, but I doubt Mr. J.A. Brown’s troubles were over. Even though his wife had abandoned him, it sounded like the property where they lived belonged to her. Moreover, the publicity this story received would have made his life very difficult. Besides Orangeburg, the story ran in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Greenville (SC). In a very masculine society, as the south was in the 1910s, you can bet Mr. Brown was never allowed to put this incident entirely behind him.