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Old letters of the Tucker family of Lockport and Niagara Falls indicate the affluence of early days in Niagara County, but also point out the instability of life in the early days of medical development.

These letters were detailed by Ann Marie Lingberry in a newsletter of the Niagara County Historical Society.

The story basically involves Elizabeth (Bessie) Tucker. The daughter of a successful lawyer, Henry C. Tucker, Bessie lived a privileged life.

Her letters home came during an extended trip to Europe and the Holy Land, lasting several months.

Apparently this was a common practice for the affluent young women of the day.

Bessie, when she was 21 years old, embarked on this "Grand Tour" with her friends, Anna and Mame Fargo, of New York City, and a Miss Robinson. The Fargo women were daughters of William G. Fargo, a co-founder of the Wells-Fargo Company. They left New York City in July of 1894 and traveled until March, when tragedy struck.

Before that, however, they seemed to be having a grand time on this grand tour. Bessie wrote at one point in a letter to her mother, "I had no idea that we would find Brussels such a charming city. The atmosphere is delightful after London, so clear and crisp and bright."

However, the coffee in Brussels left her with a bitter taste. She wrote, "the coffee, though, here is as bad as everything else is good. We simply cannot drink it so take instead hot milk. It tastes exactly like smoked fish and tobacco. It is the worst I ever tried to swallow."

Paris did seem to enthrall her. She called it the queen of the world and wrote of being in the fabulous city. "The very thought thrills my soul and when I take in little more of the realization I believe I will go mad!"

She was born in the LaSalle section of Niagara Falls in 1873, in a house that stood on Buffalo Avenue near where the north Grand Island bridges exist today. The family previously lived in Fredonia and Buffalo before moving to Niagara Falls in 1867.

When Bessie was 20, her father died and her mother took the family of two girls and four boys into a Spruce Street house in Lockport. In one letter, Bessie wrote of her hometown, "Dear snarly little Lockport. It will seem good to be in the boiling, scathing cauldron of its eternal gossip again."

She was also quite taken with Egypt, where the group arrived in February. She liked the "days of cloudless sunshine" and nights "dazzling with a moonlight that fairly hides the stars."

She said the group would be floating around the area of Italy and France, reaching Paris at the end of April, and planning to sail home in June.

But fate intervened. The girls left Jerusalem for Beirut, then on to Damascus, where Bessie became ill.

Two British doctors thought it merely a bad cold, but she kept getting worse. Finally she was diagnosed with small pox, a deadly disease in those days. Then pneumonia set in, and she died on March 6, 1895. She was quickly buried in Damascus.

Her friends wrote home that "it happened so suddenly that we are completely stunned." They added that everything that could be done was done but "God had other plans."

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com March 22, 2011