The Civil War is the subject of numerous exhibitions and special events these days as the country commemorates the war’s sesquicentennial. Most study the battles and politics, but one at the New York State Museum in Albany is focusing on how the war affected the relationship between two lovers.
“I Shall Think of You Often: The Civil War Story of Doctor and Mary Tarbell” opens today as part of “An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War,” a 7,000-square-foot exhibition that examines New York’s role in the war.
Doctor and Mary Tarbell were childhood sweethearts who got separated when Doctor Tarbell went off to war with the Union army. They kept up a regular correspondence until the doctor was captured and sent to a Confederate prison.
Mary heard nothing from him and didn’t even know he was alive until he was released in February 1865. The doctor wasted no time getting leave to go home and marry his true love.
The exhibition tells of their enduring relationship with letters, diaries, photographs and Mary’s wedding dress, giving a personal and emotional side to a period of history so often concerned with death and violence.
People often think Valentine’s Day is a modern invention, a diabolical conspiracy of florists and greeting card companies to suck money out of poor chumps who should be able to show their love without spending a dime. Actually, sending Valentines is older than modern commercialism.
The BBC reports that the first use of “Valentine” in the English language was in a letter dated 1477 from Margery Brews to her suitor John Paston.
Opening her letter to John with “Me ryght welebeloued Voluntyne”, the 17 year-old Margery shows some old-school teen angst by asking why he hasn’t written her recently. John, who was 33, had asked for her hand in marriage but didn’t get the dowry he wanted. The relationship between Margery’s father and John deteriorated and it looked like the marriage would never happen until the pair’s mothers intervened and saved the day. Love triumphed, something that didn’t happen as much as it should have in the 15th century.
To hear the whole letter read in Middle English, check out this link. It’s amazing just how much you can figure out.
The love note comes from a collection called the Paston letters. More than a thousand letters from this wealthy family dating from 1422 to 1509 survive and give an amazing insight into the life of the gentry in the decades before Henry VIII. They’re housed in the British Library in London. Watch the video below for a quick tour courtesy of Rick Steves.