Title: Letter written by Elmer Underwood to his parents
Date: July - August 13, 1897
Credit Line: Museum purchase
Accession Number: 2004.0009.0001
Inscriptions:Aug, 13 1897
Dear Father and Mother=
It is not to be hoped that you will forgive my neglect, and I am ashamed of having waited so long before writing, but Jennie has written of your departure, how lonesome she is, and that you got safely back to the land of the free, etc. I am like John, a little sorry that Father wouldn’t share the sickness on the sea, and contribute something to that whale.
If you feel as glad to get home as I would if I could go home now, you are happier than two clams. But I am glad to get continual news from London telling me that my dear ones are well and happy and Jennie writes of all the cute things the babies are doing. Oh, wouldn’t I like to step in and
see them all. Don’t think I will strike out for a trip like this very soon again when I get back. But I have not had a bad go of it thus far, and have made quite a lot of nice photographs. Maybe this trip will evolve another book. Have had enough experience already to fill a few pages. You know when I left London I had a Russian companion who was coming home to Petersburg. The fellow couldn’t speak a word of English, and so I studied Russian all the way, and in the three days journey by train I got my tongue split up into three different parts and I surprised Mr. Fried with considerable “Russky”. When he met me at the station I was able to greet him with [”Katwashusdorova”?](”How do you do” in Russian). We then proceeded to hire one of the funny little cabs ([Ischwashtchiks?]) to take us to his office nearly two miles from the station, and there being no regulated tariff for cab hire as there is in good old England and in civilized New York and other places, we had to make a “dicker” - excuse the American word. By the way, that was wrong, for in New York the cabbies know how to extort large sums and they are not properly controled [sic] either. But to hire an Ischwaschtchick in this country we go at it in this way: We always find the Ischwaschtchick or coachman asleep in his box (and they drive the funniest little cabs with a high wooden arch over the horse’s neck). So we call out very loudly “Ischwaschtchick!” and he wakes up and stretches himself, turns about, and we say “Wasilii Ostrow, perve linea zorak-chest Seradnia Prospect dom ciem, skulka! He says, “Adin Rouble [pietiset?]
[Ropaek?].” We say, “Niet, Niet,” and offer him chest grivena Ropaek [crossed out] (60 Kopaks), and start quickly to walk away. He makes us another offer, and we call out again “Niet” and just before we get out of hearing distance he calls out his acceptance and our first offer by saying “peshallsty.” We walk back and get in and tell him “posscurray” which means for him to go like the wind, but he don’t always do it unless we add a few [Ropekhs?] to the price. But I have learned a lot of queer lessons in Russian, and have begun to find out their ways so that I am now quite at home and get about almost like and old inhabitant. now. [crossed out]
I had to wait for days and weeks to get my photographic permits through. The reddest kind of tape has to be gone through for any privilege, and one permit has not yet come to hand although I made application for it 3 or 4 weeks ago. I must have this permit from the Minister of the interior before I can go south and make any headway photographing. The American Consul
General says that it is as sure as death to come, and I think perhaps it is as far ahead. The country is slow in most respects and the best people take life easy - much easier than I know how to. I found Mr. Fried’s folks well and living in a suburban place in the pine woods for the summer. I have a boy or a helper who speaks only German and Russian, and I am obliged to talk [Inüttef?] which is good practice for me. After making a good many of the principal scenes in Petersburg I took a field trip into Finland, first to Viborg, then up the famous Saima ship canal which pauses through a series of lakes much like the Scotch scenery, though less hilly , to Rättijärva. Everybody talks Finnish and Swedish or one or the other, or a mixture of both in about equal quantities, but I didn’t master their language but took a good many pretty little scenes on the way. Chartered a little steamer as far up as Rättijärva for my own use and could go wherever I liked. From the post village of Rättijärva we took tickets on a “dilligence” which brought us (Mr. Fried went with me) to the famous Cascade or Rapids of Imatra, which is the Niagara Whirlpool Rapids of Finland. There we got some pretty scenes. On Sunday we went some Eighteen miles into the country (part of the way by Ischwashtchick and part of the way by boat to a Finnish church called Ruokolaks Church on Lake Saima. There we found the primitive Fins. I carried my camera and a few plates with me and took a few shots as the church and congregation on account of curiosity assembled around my camera to watch the little machine instead of going into church, much to the annoyance of the good pastor, and so I closed up the queer apparatus, and the people became more
devout, and I think, the preacher soon had a fair congregation again although a lot of them followed us as far as the lake. Had no idea of being so wicked when I started for church, but got into the trap and innocently couldn’t help myself. We got away from those parts on (Monday afternoon and came down the lakes again to Viborg . From there I returned a day later than Mr. Fried to Petersburg to meet the German Emperor who was coming on a visit to the czar. I managed to get both of them in front of my camera two or three times, and the result is that I have their pictures as well as the pictures of the two Empresses. Tomorrow or Monday I go to Helsingfors, Finland, and up to a pretty place called Villman-Strandx, Helsingfors is whereour general agent for Finland makes his headquarters. After that I go to Viborg again to do a little more photographing and to visit my friend Mr. Frisk,who used to be the secretary for the Russian Consul in London. Then I must come back here to meet
President Felix Faure of France who is to be the guest of Nicholas II for two or three days, and then I will go to Moscow, Nishni-novgorod, Kazan, Kief, Odessa, Warsaw, etc., cities in South of Russia, but I may not have nearly enough time for all I have laid out. Under any circumstances I don’t propose to stay in the country for more than two months longer. When I first came there was hardly an hour of darkness in the twenty-four hours, but the days are rapidly shortening, and now we have several hours of quite respectable night.
Today was a holiday, and all the shops were closed. The great patriarchs and officials of the churches marched with gold banners , lamps, etc. to the Neva River and baptized the River, but I haven’t been able yet to find out clearly the significance of the occasion although I photographed it. Oh, I forgot to tell you that the Czar had the finest illuminations illuminations in the grounds of Peterhof Palace (his summer residence across the bay) for the benefit of the German Emperor and the rest of us. When you see the photographs of the fountains and grounds that I have taken about that palace, and think that the fountains at night all reflected different colors, you will say “how splendid” as I did. But you are tired by this time and I will let up, and please don’t forget to write me in care of W.A. Fried, Wasili, Ostrow, Middle Prospect, House 7, Quarter 12, St. Petersburg, Russia, and it will be forwarded to me. I want to hear how you found everybody at home, and something about your journey, and that you are well, and about all the rest. Love to Nathan and [Onlie?], etc. Your son Elmer.
Description: Letter written by Elmer Underwood to his parents, dated Aug. 13, 1897