Gilded Age Rascals of Prairie Ave, Part 1

By:  Laurie Toth



George Mortimer Pullman Jr and Walter Sanger Pullman were born on June 25, 1875, in the Gardner Hotel.  The hotel had just opened a few years earlier in 1872 and was known for its grandeur.  The twin boys were the third and fourth children of George and Harriet Pullman; joining their sisters, Florence born in 1868 and Harriet born in 1869.



Harriet’s journal entry for June 25th, notes she took ill and called for the Doctor.  Soon after the Doctor arrived, George Jr appeared weighing 8 pounds and Sanger at 9 pounds.



Their parents were not home often home.  George Pullman was often out east at his office in New York, Harriet was often traveling or sometimes at a Gilded Age spa.  Think of the movie “The Road to Wellville” to get an idea.



Through their letters to their parents during the years of 1886-1888 one see’s a very unique and privileged life, a life where they only had to ask to receive.  I sense a longing to have their parents’ home, most letters mention either missing their parents or hoping one or the other could be at their events.  Their only method of communication was writing letters.  So in my research, I have not seen any letters to the twins from their parents.  That makes it hard to know if any of their requests were granted, unless they mention it in a later letter to the parent.



It is unclear why George and Harriet decide to send their sons to the Pullman School, down in Pullman with the workers children.  But their letters to their parents in 1886-1888 were dated from Pullman, IL.  The letters are filled with stories of riding the train to school and back.  The things they saw as they traveled to school each day.  Many of the other activities they both enjoyed in Chicago.  The fall of 1888 would see them going off to Mrs. Fay’s School in Southborough, MA.



Some of the excerpts from the letters:


November 17, 1886


My Dear Mamma,


“Papa told us we could have a bowling Club and have 2 or 3 boys come in the evening and bowl with us, because he said that bowling will make us strong.”


“When we were going out on the train this morning and we were at Madison Park there was an old man went to get off when the train was going and he had a big cloth bag, he fell right on the track.  I hope he was not hurt.”


“Goodbye from you loving son, George M. Pullman Jr.”


*There is no further mention of the bowling club in their future letters, but since most of the boys in their social class were away at school it might not have happened.


January 12, 1887


Dear Papa,


I don’t think I have thanked you enough for the lovely present, we are having so much snow this winter that we can use it often.


Saturday night there was a rehearsal in our theater and Bruce Clark came over and kept a little restaurant and served the ladies and gentlemen for mama.


We are making a coasting hill of snow but wish you would have one built of wood for us because all the other boys have them.


In school this morning, Miss Silke, our drawing teach let us draw on our slate any figure we had a mind to make up, and I drew mine on paper after.  I drew it on my slate, and gave it to her, hope she likes it.


With lots of Love,

Your son George M. Pullman, Jr.


*Some things never change throughout history, when he mentions “because all the other boys have them.”


April 11, 1887


My Dear Mamma,


I thought I would write you a little letter before I went to school.


When you sent our checks for ten dollars you forgot to put the junior onto my name, but Aunt Mattie put it on.


George M. Pullman, Jr.


*$10.00 in 1887 is equivalent to about $300.00 in today’s money!  George was 11 years old in April of 1887.


April 25, 1887


My Dear Papa,


Friday was the last day of school for a week because we now have our spring vacation.  I had to have a piece to speak, so I learned a new on titled, “Betty and the Bear”.  It is a very funny piece and made the school laugh heartly.  I will be glad to speak it for you when you get home.


Last Saturday Alexandre, George and myself went to the Dime museum and a very nice time.


Dancing school closed Friday night with a very nice reception, the nicest Mr. Bournique has given to the children in a long time.  I had the pleasure of Madeleine’s society most of the evening.  I will send you one of the programs so you will see what it was.


The young men have not commenced the lawn tennis court yet, but I suppose they will very soon.  They have been measuring for it.  We wish they would get to work as we are interested in that.


W. Sanger Pullman


*Dime Museum was very popular with the working class, so rather surprising they were taken there.  The closest one to them would have been, 150 S. Clark (now 10 S. Clark).  Alexandre was a servant.


February 8, 1888


My Dear Mamma,


We have just come out on the train and the thermometer is ten or twelve below zero, but it is clear and bright.


We have lots of fun every evening, for Phil Sears has a toboggan slide and we hang lanterns on the hill and then we go up on the hill and slide away out into our lot.


We have not got a cent of money to spend, and we wish you would send us our allowance, because there are entertainments going on all the while and we can’t go to them because we haven’t any money.  You owe us two dollars apiece, but you had better send us three, so as to last us until you get home.  I wish you would send it as soon as possible.


We are going to get some big leather boots with brass tips, so that we can slide on Phil’s hill because I wear out so many shoes.


When the warmer weather comes, we are going to have a horse show over in the other lot; with our cutters instead of carts we can have a very fast race.


I am your loving son,

 George M. Pullman, Jr.


*$3.00 in 1887 was equivalent to $90.00 in today’s money.

*Phil Sears was born in 1874 and lived on Prairie Avenue until his father, Joseph Sears moved the family to Kenilworth, where he established a planned community in 1892.


February 14, 1888


My Dear Papa,


Today is a very gloomy and windy day and so it will be pretty hard to deliver Valentine’s this evening.  We have a very fine plan for doing so.  Phil Sears is going to hitch his pony up to his bobsled and we are going to have five bullseye lanterns and then when we come to the house, we will have our valentine for, we shut off our lanterns, run up, ring the bell and then run down, get in the cutter and ride off.


Now Papa, Sanger and I have been talking with Aunt Mattie and she tells us to go to you with our proposition.  It is this, we have just passed an examination and the whole class with three exceptions, has gone up into the fifth grade.  Our class has twenty-five scholars, unless Mr. Martin adds two or three more.  Now we want to know if we can’t give our class each a year’s subscription to the library.  Mrs. Jake(?) sells the school children tickets for one dollar a year.  We think that it will please the children and give them the same advantages that we have when the teacher asks us to look up anything as she often does.


Your son,

George M. Pullman, Jr.


*$1.00 in 1887 was $30.00 in today’s money that was being charged for a year’s pass to the library.



These letters show two grade school children who were normal, mischievous boys growing up in the Gilded Age.  They played games, went to parties and dances, and went to school.  They do not appear to have any idea of how much money they were asking for.  I often wonder what they could possibly spend it on.  They have gentle and generous hearts when it comes to others, the library tickets are one example.  There is no indication in any of their letters that their father agreed to their request.  I have to believe he did, since he gave them most of their requests in which he said Yes.


….coming soon – Part 2:  Adventures at Boarding School

Photos provided by The Chicago History Museum.