Long Distance Relationship, 19th Century Style

The heading to one of the letters, dated June 12, 1893.
Source: Special Collections. Elizabeth Chandler Papers.

It's 1891. Albert Hafner is about to move from Florida to Chicago for business. Before he leaves, he meets Bessie Chandler, and they become engaged. Albert moves to Chicago, leaving Bessie behind, and they write letters back and forth. Albert’s letters to Bessie have survived for over a hundred years to tell the story of their relationship and what it was like to live in Chicago from 1891 to 1899. Think about that the next time you delete an email.

Albert’s letters describe his visits to the 1893 World’s Fair; dealing with hard winters; living in boarding houses; his brother’s farm in Evanston; getting around Chicago on foot, bicycle and train; his various business ventures; his time in the military during the Spanish American War; and his amateur photography at the 1898 Battle of Virden, a bloody, Southern Illinois labor incident.

Albert stays in Chicago for nearly 10 years, writing to Bessie throughout. Then, in 1899, Bessie breaks the engagement. Albert regrets that he never felt financially stable enough to marry and support her. Then Albert is called back to Switzerland to visit his sick mother.

Fast forward 30 years, and we have letters Bessie wrote as she tried to find Albert again. She locates his nephew who confirms that Albert is living in Switzerland. He sends Bessie's letter to his Uncle Albert, but it’s unclear whether Albert and Bessie ever reconnect.

You can follow the story yourself. Visit Special Collections and view the Elizabeth Chandler Papers.

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