Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Love Letters of Joseph Clements, Jr. and Bertha Platt

Happy Valentine's Day! This valentine comes from the newly-acquired Mynderse Collection.
"Never have I been so perfectly contented as I have been in your society. You have even caused me to turn from the ever practicable and dream of seeing new faces and new sights to-gether . . . So often have I wished for your companionship when I have heard splendid things said or seen funny things occur when others were there to see but who could not see." - Joseph Clements, Jr. to Bertha Platt, January 2, 1906.

In an apartment building at 22 Washington Avenue in 2005, building owner Marty Colangelo found two black tin cash boxes full of letters. The letters - approximately 250 - were written during the courtship of Bertha Platt and Joseph Clements, Jr. The two met in October of 1905 and soon began corresponding by mail. The first letter, dated November 24, 1905 and written from Joseph to "Miss Platt," was warm and polite. A month later, his letters had become lightly and humorously flirtatious; he drafted a mock contract regarding their plans to attend a New Year's dance. Very quickly, Bertha and Joe began to write each other almost daily, and the content of the letters rapidly shifted from flirtation to earnest declarations of caring. By spring, the couple was engaged.

Bertha was from a wealthy family, and Joseph was concerned that he would be able to provide a lifestyle for her that was was accustomed to. Bertha, on her part, reassured Joe of her love and her desire to be with him above all else. "I think I have seen the serious and all possible bad signs to getting married quickly," Joe writes on November 4, 1906. "And now, I don't see that anything could make me look terribly serious again. You see what annoyed me was that I could not give you all you had. Now I know and have known ever since your declaration that you'd go South with me that it was just me you wanted." As the year 1906 began to draw to a close, the letters made more frequent mention of the couple's impending marriage. "You and I, together!" Bertha wrote in mid-November. "Can you realize how fine it will be? I do want to help you, I do want to be everything to you - I do want that you may never be disappointed when you look to me."

After over a year of long-distance courtship, Bertha and Joe were married on January 12, 1907, in New Britain, Connecticut. They went on to live in Schenectady, where they had a son, McMillan, in 1909, and a daughter, Diantha, in 1918. The couple moved into 22 Washington Avenue, a property that Clements had purchased in 1909, in 1937. Joe died there in 1945; Bertha sold the property to Nicolas Colangelo in 1956. Bertha continued to live in the apartment until her death in 1960. The couple is buried at Fairview Cemetery in Princetown, their graves marked by a single stone, linked for eternity.

The letters that are left behind from their courtship serve not only as a rich document of their developing romance and commitment to one another, but also record Bertha and Joe's thoughts about events, document their activities, record impressions of the people in their lives, and serve as a window into social life and customs in the area at the turn of the century. The original letters are in the possession of Marty Colangelo. Elinore Schumacher, who lives in the building where the letters were found, worked to transcribe the letters and to conduct research about the couple. The transcribed letters and supporting information are available in the library.

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