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On the Tarbell Trail - Printable Version

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RE: On the Tarbell Trail - Rob Wick - 08-27-2013 07:38 PM

Today reminded me of just exactly why I love the work I'm doing now.

Anyone who has studied the Wilma Minor affair (where the Atlantic Monthly, under the editorship of Ellery Sedgwick, published forged letters between Ann Rutledge and Lincoln) knows that Tarbell had originally said she believed the letters to be genuine. However, if one looked in her papers at Allegheny College you could never prove it, simply because there are very few letters between her and Sedgwick (or anyone else for that matter where Minor is concerned). I personally don't want to believe that Tarbell would have destroyed any letters, but she made a carbon of just about every letter she ever wrote, and saved even the most mundane ones to her, such as one from a home economics group that wanted her to participate in a poll that asked several famous people what they liked to put on their salad (she replied in a letter, the carbon of which she kept, that she had nothing to offer them).

Following a hunch, I contacted the Massachusetts Historical Society where Sedgwick's papers are housed. I originally asked for the complete files on Minor as not only will the story play a major part in my Tarbell book, but it also will be a huge part of my Sandburg book. I assumed that the files might cost me a couple hundred dollars, which, while not really affordable, would be much cheaper than flying out to Boston (and less stressful, since I hate flying). My jaw dropped when I found out it would cost not a couple of hundred dollars but a COUPLE OF THOUSAND DOLLARS to get the entire file copied as there are around 2,000 papers in the file. Needless to say, I demurred.

I then asked for just the Sandburg and Tarbell files, which will only cost me $25.

Today I received the letters, and I have to say that not only did it show that indeed Tarbell believed the Minor forgeries to be genuine, it gave me an interesting insight into her mindset, especially where Ann Rutledge is concerned. Take, for example, this passage in a letter written on October 19, 1928 from Tarbell to Sedgwick which Sedgwick bracketed.

My faith is strong that you have an amazing set of true Lincoln documents--the most extraordinary that have come to us in many, many years. We have never had any such direct proof of the amazing power of affection and tenderness in the man as in these marked passages to Ann. They marvelously conform [confirm?] what many of us have read between the lines. As for those that would not believe unless they had it down in writing, the [Worthington C.] Fords and [Senator Albert J.] Beveridges, here you have it.

Thirteen days later Tarbell wrote Sedgwick another letter that portends second thoughts in Tarbell's mind.

My desire that the material be genuine might influence my judgement, but certainly there is no question which I have raised so far that you have not been able to answer satisfactorily.

Of course we know how it all turned out.


RE: On the Tarbell Trail - LincolnMan - 08-27-2013 08:11 PM

Great post Rob. Thanks for posting it.

RE: On the Tarbell Trail - Rob Wick - 09-02-2013 12:57 PM

After burning through four cases of paper and literally over 100 (I've seriously lost count) printer ink cartridges, I have finally succeeded in running out all the papers of Ida Tarbell that I have. There will be a few more to run out once Allegheny College posts them to their website, but I've got everything I need to get started.

Just to give you all an idea of the bulk of the material, these are the files for Tarbell's autobiography All in the Day's Work. These do not include her final manuscript, which would be another 600 or so pages. Given that I have two copies (the original and a reprint) of that book, I don't plan to print it out.

[Image: gou6.jpg]

So now it comes time for me to leave this forum temporarily as the real work now begins. I will return on occasion (like when I finally get a contract) but for the next few months my comments here will be few and far between. Wish me luck!


RE: On the Tarbell Trail - Gene C - 09-02-2013 01:18 PM

Good Luck!

RE: On the Tarbell Trail - Joe Di Cola - 09-02-2013 02:58 PM


All the best as you start the writing process. You research has been prodigious and I hope bears all of the fruits you anticipate. Thanks for the posting on the Minor matter; it was most interesting. I look forward to seeing you in October at Springfield.

Good luck with everything,


RE: On the Tarbell Trail - L Verge - 09-02-2013 06:02 PM

Your next phase will likely be the most frustrating when you have to determine what to put in and what to leave out. Here's to success.

RE: On the Tarbell Trail - Rob Wick - 09-30-2013 07:46 PM

The first draft of the sample chapter has been written!!!! At 60 pages it's a tad wordy, but I figure two or three merciless revisions and I should probably have it up to 70. Smile

Seriously, it's amazing how having a heart attack and quadruple bypass focuses the mind.


RE: On the Tarbell Trail - RJNorton - 10-01-2013 05:37 AM

We all wish you the best of luck, Rob.

RE: On the Tarbell Trail - Gene C - 10-01-2013 12:16 PM

Happy 50th Birthday Rob Wick

Look foreword to meeting you and your wife next week. The past year has been an eventful one for you, glad you made it through!

Gene C

(09-30-2013 07:46 PM)Rob Wick Wrote:  Seriously, it's amazing how having a heart attack and quadruple bypass focuses the mind.

For the time being, I think I prefer to stay unfocused Smile

RE: On the Tarbell Trail - Rob Wick - 10-01-2013 01:13 PM

Thanks Gene! I truly appreciate it.

We also are looking forward to meeting everyone next week. The only one who won't like it is Droopy, the basset, who will have to go to the kennel while we're gone.


RE: On the Tarbell Trail - Rob Wick - 11-18-2013 01:53 PM

I'll trade you a Lincoln Steffens and a William Allen White for your Tarbell.


RE: On the Tarbell Trail - Rob Wick - 01-18-2014 11:21 PM

Popped back in for a minute just to let everyone know that in the midst of rejection, I did get one important yes--Kathleen Brady, author of the best book out there on Tarbell, has graciously consented to write the foreword for my book. This is wonderful news and just the tonic I needed. Back to work!


RE: On the Tarbell Trail - Gene C - 01-19-2014 12:48 AM

That is good news! Congratulations!

RE: On the Tarbell Trail - RJNorton - 01-19-2014 05:41 AM

That's wonderful, Rob.

RE: On the Tarbell Trail - Anita - 01-19-2014 03:42 PM

Thanks to you I read Kathleen Brady's "Ida Tarbell: Portrait of a Muckraker". How exciting that she has agreed to write the foreword to your book.