Stop… Rewind…

Letter from KCB, Berlin to brother, October 23, 1894

Back in my post Paris, I mentioned two letters KCB wrote to family in Berlin. I had these two letters inventoried on my pink inventory sheets but hadn’t transcribed or photocopied them on previous trips to the Library of Congress.

Well I rectified this situation during my August 2019 trip. Getting a copy of these two letters was the number one item on my to-do list. The first letter is dated October 23, 1894 to “My dear brother.” KCB is writing to her brother William Waller Carson in Knoxville, Tennessee.


October 23rd 1894

My dear brother,

We reached here last night after spending two days in Cologne. We stopped off there thinking we would take a little trip up the Rhine.

But funding it would add considerably to our expenses, we gave it up. We enjoyed the stay in Cologne however very [illegible]. It is one of the most attractive places we have seen the Cathedral there is said to be the most perfect specimen of architecture (Gothic) in the world. And is very beautiful. It has 5000 spires, the two tallest being the tallest in the world. The pillars, four in number, supporting these spires each measure thirty-two yards around. They are inside the Cathedral as are numbers of smaller ones. There are some noted works of art there too, specially the windows the treasury contained silver and gold images and precious stones and many so called relics. Such as links from the chain of St. Peter, thorns from the Saviors crown the bones of the Magi etc. The priest who admitted us was not above accepting a tip! 

We were much interested in the fortifications. There were the remains of the old Roman wall and gateway. Built 65 years after Christ. It is carefully protected, being enclosed and propped up where it is falling then there were portions of the wall and several gateways and watch towers, belonging to the middle ages. About nine hundred years after Christ. The gateways were in a beautiful state of preservation and very massive and handsome. After the Franco German war the city sold most of the wall with the ground stood on to build more modern defenses. These last are still kept up, and consist of deep [illegible] walled up with massive brick work and [illegible] breastworks already practically useless. I should think and although they were well beyond the city when built. The city has extended far beyond them now as well as having taken in several small towns.

It seems queer to see soldiers everywhere. Those in Germany and specially Belgium are manly fine looking fellows. The French soldiers did lot impress us that way. Clifton returned a few moments ago from the Embassy and brought your letter endorsing Dr. Dabneys. We have fully decided to keep Carson with us and I expect will take Mr. Boggs. He will be here to see us this evening and I will keep my letter open to let you know our decision.

I am so sorry your eyes are giving you so much trouble. Don’t tax them to write to me but get Rachel or Katie to write sometimes. I will write to Rachel next time. We have all been sick with bad colds. But are getting over them now. We expect to leave day after tomorrow morning and spent that night at Königsburg. We are due then in Petersburg about midday of the 27th. WE will be nearly two days and a night on the train after we leave Königsburg. Great love to you all.

Your loving sister


October 24th 1894

Last night Mr. Boggs called. We were very pleased with him. He has a slight hesitation in his speech however, which is quite serious in teaching children. They so easily contract such habits. We have decided however to take him if his terms suit. He did not know last night what he would charge. He will follow us as soon as we get settled in St. Petersburg. The hotel [piece of paper missing] are so great that we do not feel able to take him as long as we are in a hotel. But we will get into our own establishment as soon as possible.

A great deal of love to each one of you.

Your devoted sister

Katherine C. Breckinridge

As with many of her letters home to family, she shared her sightseeing experiences and her impressions of the European cultures she experienced. The Cathedral in Cologne is referenced in this letter. And the Roman Wall.

Something I can’t figure out is her reference to seeing “soldiers everywhere.” Was it normal in late 19th century Europe to see soldiers everywhere in uniform? Was there a conflict going on that I missed?

We also get a glimpse of their plans for Carson’s education. They are looking for a tutor and her brother recommends a Dr. Dabneys while KCB and CRB seem to be leaning toward a Mr. Boggs. The Breckinridges appear to have been a close knit family of five (eventually six) and KCB says “We have fully decided to keep Carson with us.” Which is interesting because later (after they get to Russia) Carson is sent to school in Central Europe. Hopefully in future letters, KCB will provide some more specifics on Carson’s education and their decisions regarding the education of Carson (and Mary) at boarding school in Central Europe.

The second letter dated October 24, 1894 and address to Florence is similar in content to the first letter.


October 24th 1894

My dear Florence,

We reached here night before last. After staying two days at Cologne. We stopped over there thinking we might take a little trip up the Rhine. Mr. White, Clifton’s predecessor, wanted to meet him at Frankfort. But we found it would add so much to our expenses, which are running up very high that we give it up. We enjoyed our stay in Cologne however we were pleasantly surprised in the place. It is one of the prettiest places and in better condition than almost any we have seen.

Traveling anywhere we have been is extremely tiresome. Except that one is interested in looking out of windows. Very few of the cars have any heat at all [illegible] is getting pretty cold in this climate. The seats all have backs nearly straight up and down and each seat divided off from the next. Then the seats in front of you are too far off to prop your feet on. Altogether you lounge under difficulties. The compartments seat from five to eight persons and we have always except once for a few hours had one to ourselves which is pleasant. We have very little trouble about our baggage. At one place in Belgium where Carson and I concluded they spoke patois because we could not make either our French or German understood. There was some delay. Clifton has his official papers from Washington and a passport in German but the officials could not make anything of either for a while. Finally they let us go without disturbing our baggage.

We were so sorry we could see so little of Paris. They weather was very bad and all of us had severe colds. Mary was quite sick with hers for three days. Then I was obligated to do some shopping. We take lunch today at the Ambassadors. I wish we didn’t for I would much rather see something of Berlin. We have so little time here. I want to get my table linen bedding and china here if I can. We are informed that everything is high and unsatisfactory in St. Petersburg.

We leave tomorrow morning. Will stop tomorrow night at Königburg to break the trip. Leave Königsburg the next morning and reach St. Petersburg the following morning at about eleven. I believe. We will stay at the hotel a few days until we can locate ourselves permanently.

St Petersburg

October 29th 1894

You see my dear I did not finish my letter in Berlin. We had a very tiresome trip from Königsburg here. They did not get our dispatch at the frontier to reserve our sleeping car compartments so we had a most tiresome night. We felt quite independent as long as we had only French and Germans to deal with but when we struck the Russian it took our breath away so to speak. 

Here nearly every body but the lowest class speak French and German and many speak English. Our quarters at the hotel are quite elegant. They were reserved for us by some of the Legation. They cost 2500 a day not including meals!

We move this afternoon into some that cost 1500. These being cheapest we can get that include a parlor which is necessary as the hotel does not provide any. We will get into our own establishment as speedily as possible. They tell us it is almost impossible to find anything furnished so it will probably be a month before we can find a suitable appartment and get it furnished enough to move in. They say the Russians take their time about filling orders. And about every third day is a religious holiday when they won’t work at all and all the stores close up. All this is very discouraging and it will be hard at first to make two ends meet.

When I have more time I will write you of some of the curious ways and customs here. The Secretary of Legation and his wife have been exceedingly kind and I think we will find them congenial and pleasant friends. The military attaché and his wife have been kind also but they are [rip in paper] foreign to suit my taste. By the way she is Judith Waller’s step daughter.

I have not heard a word from your household since we left New York. I fully expected letters here and was greatly disappointed. I trust that the precious baby is quite strong again now the summer is past. You must show him my picture and teach him to call my name and write me all about him. It is snowing hard but not as cold as I expected to find it.

Kisses to you all.

Your devoted sister KCB

This letter is addressed to Florence. I think she is writing to Florence Carson, Joseph Carson’s wife. Joseph is the oldest of KCB’s brothers and he lives with his wife and children in Coahoma County, Mississippi on a plantation the family refers to as Oasis.

In this letter Mr. White is mentioned and wants to meet the Breckinridges in Frankfort. Andrew White was the outgoing Minister to Russia from the United States. My guess is that he wanted to talk with Clifton and fill him in his new job. As with so many of KCB’s letter, money is a ongoing topic. In both Berlin letters, she explains that the trip down the Rhine to meet White in Frankfort would add too much to their expenses.

KCB’s discussion about train travel in Europe is fascinating. I don’t remember these details from my previous review of these letters. Her comment “very few of the cars have any heat at all” makes me assume that she was used to riding in heated train cars in the United States. KCB would have traveled on lots of trains in the US – traveling between Arkansas and DC and her aunt’s house outside New York City.

The Ambassador KCB refers to in this letter is Theodore Runyon. As with most of her letters from the trip over, KCB would like to spend more time in the different places and do more sightseeing. And shopping… She wants to purchase her linens, bedding, and china in Germany because she’s been told they are too expensive and not the best quality in St. Petersburg.

The latter part of the October 24 letter from Berlin is actually an addendum from St. Petersburg dated October 29. On the last leg of their journey to St Petersburg, you can see from KCB’s letters that she felt she is getting more and more removed from America. The language barrier becomes more and more challenging as they travel further east. But she seems relieved when she writes “here nearly every body but the lowest class speak French and German and many speak English.”

Now back to the Russia letters…

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