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About This Project

Holly Hazard
John Williamson home Samplecase 1918.JPG

I never knew my great-grandfather, John Adoniram Briggs. He died two years before I was born. But he was a strong presence in my life.

My grandmother, Marion Briggs Dolan, divorced when my mom was young and she, and my mother, Betty Ann, lived many years in the big, beautiful Victorian home on Main Street in Earlville New York.

My great-grandfather was President of the local bank and the school board (and handed both my mom and dad their high school diplomas.) He and my great-grandmother, Susan Broad Briggs, raised three girls and a boy at the turn of the 20th century. He also worked for The Osborne Art Calendar Company. He tacked up huge posters of trains, yellowed and torn by the time I saw them, high on the walls of the gigantic white barn behind the house. The Osborne Company was emblazoned at the bottom of each. I now know these were samples of my great grandfather's wares. I didn't realize then how important The Osborne Company was to my family, and especially my great-grandfather.

During a visit to my brother, I stumbled upon a trove of letters my great-grandmother saved (she saved everything from rubber bands to wrapping paper.) I discovered hundreds of letters from my great-grandfather written from 1909 to the late 1940s. Most of them were written from 1920 on, when the four Briggs children were off to college, to 1940, when their own kids reached adulthood. I also discovered the world of a travelling salesman. The Osborne Company published calendars with hunting scenes or pretty girls, letter openers, pens and other items for banks and other businesses to give to customers. My great-grandfather spent his life driving from Corning to Geneva to Cooperstown to Binghamton, calling on business owners to buy. And every week, sometimes two or three times, he wrote home.

I also have many letters just between the four siblings. They squabbled and gossiped and gave advice to each other just as today we might pick up a phone or text. Through this time, my grandmother married a dashing, wild and unstable, but very successful, New York reporter survived having a gun pushed into his chest in the Bahamas while investigating a story of rum smuggling, conned his way onto a yacht and spent the evening with Gloria Swanson and Joe Kennedy, quit his job and moved to Hollywood to become a screen writer. My grandmother returned home after putting her 6 year old child (my mother) on a bus, alone, from Santa Monica to Syracuse. Another daughter, my beloved aunt Lou, married an alcoholic and closeted gay man, who became Art Director for the Avon Company. Another daughter died at age 40 with two small children left behind. My great Uncle Frank attended Dartmouth, became a reporter and moved to Cleveland, his wife’s hometown.

Through all this my great-grandfather wrote home about the hotel expenses, disappointing sales (I'm anxious to read about his success selling calendars during the Great Depression), terrible food, his aching feet or back, and when he'd next be home.

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