Documents: An Illuminated Letter from George Bruestle
ON March 17, 2023
Transcribed by Mell Scalzi and Amy Kurtz Lansing
In 2019, the Lyme Historical Society Archives at the Florence Griswold Museum received three letters from George M. Bruestle (1871–1939) to his future wife Emma W. Thomsen (1871–1934). The couple spent the summer of 1900 apart, with Emma tending to the health of her sister Beth, perhaps in the Adirondacks—a deduction based on his reference to Emma possibly going “down” toward Jeffersonville, New York. Their separation gave him the opportunity to compose several beautiful missives that are embellished like the pages of a medieval manuscript. In this letter dated July 19, 1900, Bruestle reports on New York City’s hot weather and a trip to Coney Island, but also alludes to prior correspondence in which he had delivered “harsh” words to Emma. Was the lovely decoration of this letter an attempt at amends?
In August, Bruestle wrote to Emma during a sketching trip to Essex, Connecticut. The couple would marry in 1901. In 1905, they settled in a house Bruestle bought in the Hamburg section of Lyme to raise their son Bertram, an artist like his father.
Discover Bruestle’s letter:
July 19, 1900
My Dear Emma.
It was my intention as I told you the eve before you went away not to write many nor very lengthy letters, & it does seem that I am not living up to my promise. Since you have been so kind & have written so often & such nice letters I also must try to be good to you. Last Sunday morning your father called & spent an hour with us. In the afternoon after a long deliberation I decided to go to Coney Island. The heat there was terrific & it was packed with people both on the island as well as on the boat. I thought I would never get home. The heat these days is hardly bearable. Every evening when I get home I jump into the bath-tub & remain there for one hour; even there it is not any too cool, the water being so warm. In your last letter I see that you have a feeling of lonesomeness, & I thought you would, but I think by a good deal of will power. You must try to overcome this feeling so that when you come home you will be well & strong. Forget my words if they were harsh, but do not forget the essence of them. Perhaps when you have pondered over them long enough, you will feel that they were words that were well meant. There is no use hiding the candle under a bushel-basket. It is better to say cruel words that are well meant, than sugar-coated ones that are untrue. If you do not realize this now, you may later on in life. I have said enough to make you think & I trust also to make you act. You are a dear girl & have your faults as well as all of us but many of them are not so serious but what they can be remedied. Since you have gone I have not seen our 26th St friends. Tell Beth (who loves me) that I am a terribly bad man & that she must hate me. I do not know of ever having a dear young lady hate & the experience would be quite a novel one; but do not give her the impression that I do not like her. Lillie is always on the fence concerning me, she knows not whether to like me or not, but she is a dear girl & I am sorry I cannot see her.
Today my father leaves on Ontario Railroad for Liberty thence to Jeffersonville. If you happen down that way call on him at the Eagle Hotel, Chas. Homer prop.
I will now close this note with my best wishes that you spend a pleasant summer that Beth will become well & strong, & that you who have more leisure moments than I, will therefore write more nice letters than I.
Yours with sincere love, George
To view a video of Registrar Mell Scalzi talking about this letter and others in our collection, click here.
George Bruestle, Self Portrait “In My 25th Year”, 1895. Graphite on paper, 6 3/4 x 4 1/2 in. Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of the Estate of Mildred Bruestle, 1995.10
George Bruestle, Emma Thompsen Bruestle. Oil on wood, 15 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Cooley, 2005.4
George Bruestle, Hamburg Cove, n.d. Oil on canvas board, 7 1/2 x 9 1/2 in. Florence Griswold Museum, Matthew A. Baxter Bequest, 2022.22.14
The couple later lived in a home at the foot of Joshuatown Road in Lyme. Matilda Browne, Bruestle’s House, ca. 1919. Oil on wood, 11 1/4 x 15 1/4 in. Florence Griswold Museum, Matthew A. Baxter Bequest, 2022.22.2