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Theodore Roosevelt's Lost Love

February 14, 1884 should have been among the happiest times in Theodore Roosevelt’s life. Two days earlier, his beloved wife Alice (pictured below) gave birth to their first child. By all accounts, Roosevelt was madly in love. He waxed poetic about Alice in his diary on a regular basis and was thrilled to start a family. The New York state legislature was in session when she gave birth, so Roosevelt was working out of town and received word of his new daughter by telegram.

The excitement didn’t last long—he got another telegram the next day, informing him that his wife had taken a turn for the worse.

It turned out Alice had kidney failure, then called Bright’s Disease, which had been hidden by the pregnancy. By the time Roosevelt was able to reach her side, Alice was semi-comatose. She died in his arms a few hours later.

While Alice was slipping away, her mother-in-law languished a few bedrooms down. Martha “Mittie” Roosevelt, Teddy’s mother, died of typhoid fever several hours before Alice passed. She was just 48. Roosevelt marked the day in his diary with a big “X,” noting, “The light has gone out of my life.” A double funeral was held for the women, with the baby’s christening the day after.

Devastated, the future president gave his sister temporary custody of the baby, who was named after her mother. Roosevelt decided not to seek reelection, and moved to the Dakota territories to take up cattle ranching.

Roosevelt struggled to make a go of it out West, but moved back to New York on a more permanent basis when a blizzard killed his entire herd during the winter of 1886-1887. He regained custody of his daughter when he returned, but refused to discuss her mother ever again

Though he may not have gotten over Alice's death, Roosevelt did remarry in 1886. He and second wife Edith Carow had five children together. Teddy also got back into politics, campaigning for Benjamin Harrison in 1888 before being appointed to the U.S. Civil Service Commission. After that, of course, he became governor of New York, Vice President, and President. Despite his happy, prosperous life after Alice, when Roosevelt sat down to write his 1913 autobiography, he found it was still too painful to look back on her tragic death—there's not a single mention of her in the entire book.

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Courtesy of Freeman's
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History
For Sale: More Than 150 Items of Victorian Mourning Art, Clothing, and Jewelry
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Courtesy of Freeman's

Funeral fashion hasn't always been reserved for memorial services, judging from a massive memento mori auction that's being billed as perhaps the largest collection of mourning art ever offered for sale. Spotted by Atlas Obscura and sponsored by Philadelphia-based Freeman’s auction house, the online sale—which kicks off on Wednesday, November 15—features more than 150 works from a renowned private collection, ranging from clothing and jewelry to artworks.

During the Victorian era, people paid tribute to their loved ones by wearing black mourning garb and symbolic accessories. (The latter often featured jet or real locks of hair, according to a 2008 article published in the academic journal Omega.) They also commissioned death-themed artworks and objects, including paintings, as exhibited by Angus Trumble's 2007 book Love & Death: Art in the Age of Queen Victoria.

These items have long since fallen out of fashion, but some historic preservationists amassed their own macabre private collections. Anita Schorsch, who’s arguably the most famous collector of memento mori, used her historic treasures to launch the Museum of Mourning Art back in 1990. Located in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, the museum is—as its name suggests—the only institution in the nation devoted exclusively to mourning art. The museum has been closed since Schorsch's death in 2015, and the items featured in Freeman's auction are from her collection.

Check out some of its memento mori below, or view the online catalogue here.

Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Courtesy OF Freeman's


Hairwork shroud pin, 19th century, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's


18th century iron and brass cemetery padlock from London, England, part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017
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History
Abraham Lincoln Letter About Slavery Could Fetch $700,000 at Auction
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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, in which future president Abraham Lincoln spent seven debates discussing the issue of slavery with incumbent U.S. senator Stephen Douglas, paved the way for Lincoln’s eventual ascent to the presidency. Now part of that history can be yours, as the AP reports.

A signed letter from Lincoln to his friend Henry Asbury dated July 31, 1858 explores the “Freeport Question” he would later pose to Douglas during the debates, forcing the senator to publicly choose between two contrasting views related to slavery’s expansion in U.S. territories: whether it should be up to the people or the courts to decide where slavery was legal. (Douglas supported the popular choice argument, but that position was directly counter to the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.)

The first page of a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry Asbury
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

In the letter, Lincoln was responding to advice Asbury had sent him on preparing for his next debate with Douglas. Asbury essentially framed the Freeport Question for the politician. In his reply, Lincoln wrote that it was a great question, but would be difficult to get Douglas to answer:

"You shall have hard work to get him directly to the point whether a territorial Legislature has or has not the power to exclude slavery. But if you succeed in bringing him to it, though he will be compelled to say it possesses no such power; he will instantly take ground that slavery can not actually exist in the territories, unless the people desire it, and so give it protective territorial legislation."

Asbury's influence didn't end with the debates. A founder of Illinois's Republican Party, he was the first to suggest that Lincoln should run for president in 1860, and secured him the support of the local party.

The letter, valued at $500,000 to $700,000, is up for sale as part of a books and manuscripts auction that Christie’s will hold on December 5.

[h/t Associated Press]

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