The Lady in the Attic

Introduction to the Brown Bag Letter 

I was always obsessedcropped-agnes-mckinley-bb-logo with “The Lady in the Attic” my entire childhood and I wanted to be just like her. I would crouch down next to the antique frame, and carefully study her simply designed dress, and admire her hauntingly beautiful eyes. I made a lot of my clothes in High School and even duplicated the blouse she has on in this portrait. Eventually, my parents told me that this beautiful woman was my Great-Great-Grand-mother, Agnes McKinley. Because of her, my P-Pop insisted that we were ancestors of President McKinley, but, truly, I think that was just family folklore.

When my Mom did genealogy studies, she found out that Agnes was not only “The Lady in the Attic” but possibly, “A Lady of the Night.” We have laughed many times about our Great-Great-Grandma, the family whore. This story makes our family history a little more colorful than we had thought. Well, maybe I’ll change my mind about  just like her!

p3 introMy obsession with antiquity has grown, as I have gotten older. I enjoy going to auctions for treasures, some of those treasures I share with others through resale, however, many of my greatest treasure finds become my own. One day, I acquired a box of old photos at an estate auction. That night, I sat in my chair and looked through the pictures with tears rolling down my cheeks. I silently asked, “Why do I have these pictures?” “Who is this person?” Unfortunately, their family no longer found them useful or interesting. Possibly, they couldn’t identify them either, thus my winning bid for the entire box for only one dollar.

In my hands was history forgotten, which made me even more curious about my own family history. I also thought to myself that these people could be my grandmother, aunt, uncle or friend.

p4 into lowerWhy “Brown Bag Letter” as a name you ask? I have in my possession a treasure, it is a ten page letter that has been passed down through my family. It was handwritten in pencil, on brown bag paper by “Aunt Mary” to my paternal Great Grand Father, George Bunting. George’s Aunt Mary was begging for mercy and help from him, either to send money or come and help save her family farm by working.  This letter is heart breaking to read and I consider it a great privilege to have it. This letter reminds me of just how fortunate we all are to be alive now. I am grateful for our family memories that are preserved as well as the history they represent.

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I have researched, simply by asking questions of family, friends and strangers. I have asked about families, and stories passed down. For the most part, the photo will not match the story, but I have tried to match the essence as I combined story and photo.  I feel that I have grown as a person as I have heard these personal histories and have become so grateful for those who have come before. There are stories that will shock you, bring smiles and laughter, and pride of heroes long gone. My “family” has grown through them, as I think the human story can be very similar.


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Many people have no family history to tell. Others choose not to share. It is my hope that this blog may help others to realize the importance of sharing the personal knowledge of grand-parents and other relatives, in order to preserve the memory of your family. I have often thought how my family so readily believed that Agnes was a Lady of the Night. It could be that it was just an awful, mean rumor. The lesson learned? Preserve the memory of your loved ones and tell their stories! As for my Great-Great-Grandmother Agnes? I still admire her. She reminds me of a time where women had to go to great lengths to feed and house their children. A time when women weren’t considered worthy of a career. Was she The Lady in the Attic, or Of the Night? Either way, she is my history. I’m proud to call her my ancestor. Her life must have been very hard, and I wish I could sit with her over a cup of coffee and hear more about her journey. She makes me grateful for women’s rights, for my loving husband, and for realizing just how fortunate I am that she lived.

There have been many times that my family and I have mused about my P-Pop’s stories. We  wished that we had listened closer, memorized & wrote down his tales. We have often said, “If only we could have him back for a day!” Some of the following stories will be from my own personal family history, others will be from those that I have heard along the way. They represent an “almost truth” as you know how stories go . . . remember, the photo is not the person of the story, but I hope the essence of that memory shared is represented well. Welcome to The Brown Bag Letter!


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