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Valentine

Abraham Van Wycke’s letter spoke of the love he and Mary shared, contrary to what she said. Photo from The Huntington Town Clerk’s Archives

Huntington was once the setting of a stone-cold rejection.

Abraham Van Wycke, now long buried in his family plot in the cemetery behind the Huntington Town historian’s office, once had his then-beating heart broken when he received a brutal note reminiscent of a Dear John letter in 1819 from a woman named Mary.

Van Wycke, age 21 at the time, was taken with Mary, last name unknown, describing her “electric kisses” and “nectarious lips.” But she wrote him out of her future in one short, blunt letter and he, in response, drafted a letter he never sent back.

Huntington Town Archivist Antonia S. Mattheou discovered the letters — which are now in Huntington Town Hall’s historical archives — years ago, but she was unable to discover any more information about the elusive Mary or her relatives who disapproved of Van Wycke.

“I have for a long time suspected that my mother, from the coldness of her manner toward you, would not be pleased with you as her son-in-law,” Mary wrote. “This suspicion is now confirmed. Your visits at our house have been frequent this winter; they have been remarked by mother and uncle … that they would not sanction any such attachment. This is a good reason and the best I have to offer to justify the resolution which I have seriously and solemnly taken never to look upon you as my future husband.”

Van Wycke found this hard to believe, and said she once told him she would no longer care about what her mother and friends thought, that she would let them “think what they pleased of it.” He used her own words against her, after she described her previous declaration of love for him as an “unthinking confession.”

“Did you not immediately, after your unthinking confession, present me with your hand and an electric kiss from your nectarious lips, as a pledge of your engagement and constancy? Yes, and what did you say? That you [were] satisfied and happy and would have made the confession before, but fearing the displeasure of your mother had acted the reverse of your inclinations, but had decidedly come to the conclusion to make the confession? … Does this prove that the confession was unthinking or inconsiderate?”

Mary listed other reasons she thought Van Wycke was not suitable for marriage, including his health and financial stature.

The tombstone in Huntington where Abraham Van Wycke is buried. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
The tombstone in Huntington where Abraham Van Wycke is buried. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

“You are not in a situation to marry and support me in the style of ease and comfort in which I am at present living under the roof,” she said. “You are not in good health, your constitution has been impaired by that most dreadful of all maladies, the consumption, from which I fear you are not entirely recovered.”

Mary pleaded to “be forgotten” or only seen as a friend and accused him of assuming too much of their relationship. She said her utterances of attachment did not equal “a promise to be your wife.”

Van Wycke found flaws in that reasoning, asking when he would have reasonably inferred that she was not interested.

“Sure it was not when you were caressing me with repeated anticipations of future felicity! Which inspired me with enthusiasm,” he said. “Nor was it at those times when you were placing electric kisses on my lips and face which are … never to be wiped away by a female! Was this unthinking? Was it not voluntarily granted? The unthinking confession, how was it?”

Van Wycke talked of conversations in which Mary had supposedly given full acknowledgement of desiring a life with him.

“We were talking of domestic happiness, to which I remarked that I never expected to know domestic happiness, to which you readily replied that it was and had been your wish to make me happy. Was this unthinking or involuntary on your part? Ask your conscience!”

Mary begged Van Wycke not to respond to her letter, as she felt there was no point: “Let me desire you also never to renew the subject of this letter you have before you now, the candid and full expression of my sentiments and feelings which makes it wholly unnecessary to discuss in private conversation,” she said.

Mary signed the letter “With due respect, your well-wisher,” and thus ended the last contact she ever had with Van Wycke.

Although Van Wycke ultimately did not send his response, he had originally intended to ignore her request for silence.

“Willingly would I comply with your requests in not answering your epistle, but my feelings prompt me to this act, and moreover … to present (together with your conscience) a memorial of your conduct to me,” he wrote.

Van Wycke died an unmarried man at age 51, on June 24, 1849. He foreshadowed his fate in his letter when he said, “This disappointment leads me to form a new system for my future life.”

Jon Cryer and Molly Ringwald in a scene from ‘Pretty in Pink.’ Photo from Fathom Events

The 1980s teen classic “Pretty in Pink” turns 30 this year and Fathom Events and Paramount Pictures invite you to celebrate the cult film’s 30th anniversary when it returns to 575 select cinemas nationwide for a special two-day event on Sunday, Feb. 14 and Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

John Hughes’ romantic comedy-drama film about love and social cliques in 1980s American high schools first arrived in theaters on Feb. 28, 1986, and secured the No. 22 spot on that year’s list of highest box-office earners by grossing $40.5 million over its 14-week run.

“It is exciting to celebrate 30 years of Pretty in Pink by showing it back in movie theaters for Valentine’s Day,” John Rubey, the CEO of Fathom Events, said in a statement. “Many from this generation have never seen it on the big screen and now they have two very special chances.”

Featuring outstanding performances by Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Jon Cryer, James Spader, Harry Dean Stanton and Annie Potts plus a phenomenal rock soundtrack, “Pretty in Pink” is a funny and bittersweet love story that stands the test of time.

In our neck of the woods, screenings will be held at Island 16, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville; AMC Loews Stony Brook 17, 2196 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook; and Farmingdale Multiplex 1001 Broadhollow Road, Farmingdale.

Tickets are available online at www.FathomEvents.com and at participating theater box offices.

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Valentine postcard sent in 1909 from Canada to East Setauket and rerouted to Brooklyn. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The tradition of sending messages, gifts and expressions of love on Valentine’s Day goes back to at least the 15th century.

In 1477, in Britain, John Paston wrote to his future wife, “Unto my ryght wele belovyd Voluntyn – John Paston Squyer.”

The celebration of Feb. 14 began as an ancient Roman ceremony called the Feast of the Lupercalia, held each year on the eve of Feb. 15. It was on the eve of the Feast of the Lupercalia in the year 270 that Valentinus, a Roman priest, was executed.

According to a 1493 article in the Nuremberg Chronicle, “Valentinus was said to have performed valiant service in assisting Christian Martyrs during their persecution under Emperor Claudius II.”

Giving aid and comfort to Christians at that time was considered a crime, and for his actions, Valentinus was clubbed, stoned and beheaded. The Roman pagan festivals were spread all over the world as the Romans conquered various lands.

It is thought that when the early Christian church reorganized the calendar of festival, they substituted the names of Christian Saints for the pagan names and allocated Feb. 14 to St. Valentine. By the 17th century, Valentine’s Day was well established as an occasion for sending cards, notes or drawings to loved ones.

An early British Valentine dated 1684 was signed by Edward Sangon, Tower Hill, London.

“Good morrow Vallentine, God send you ever to keep your promise and bee constant ever.”

In America, the earliest known valentines date to the middle of the 18th century. These handmade greetings were often very artistically done and included a heart or a lover’s knot. Like letters of the period they were folded, sealed and addressed without the use of an envelope. Until the 1840s, the postal rate was determined by the distance to be traveled and the number of sheets included, so an envelope would have doubled the cost.

In 1840, Nichols Smith Hawkins of Stony Brook sent a valentine to his cousin Mary Cordelia Bayles. The original does not exist, but her reply, written two days after Valentine’s Day, says a great deal.

“I now take this opportunity to write a few lines to you to let you know that I received your letter last evening. I was very happy to hear from you and to hear that you hadent forgot me and thought enough of me to send me a Valentine. I havent got anything now to present to you but I will not forget you as quick as I can make it conveinant I will get something for you to remember me by. You wrote that you wanted me to make you happy by becoming yourn. I should like to comfort you but I must say that I cannot for particular reasons. It isn’t because I don’t respect you nor do I think that I ever shall find anyone that will do any better by me. I sincerely think that you will do as well by me as anyone. I am very sorry to hear that it would make you the most miserable wretch on earth if I refused you for I cannot give you any encouragement. I beg to be excused for keeping you in suspense so long and then deny you. Believe me my friend I wouldn’t if I thought of denying you of my heart and hand. I think just as much of you now as ever I did. I cannot forget a one that I do so highly respect. You will think it very strange then why I do refuse you. I will tell you although I am very sorry to say so it is on the account of the family. They do oppose me very much. They say so much that I half to refuse you. It is all on their account that I do refuse so good an offer.”

Four days later, Mary again replied to a letter from Nichols.

“Dear Cousin – I received your letter yesterday morning. I was very sorry to hear that you was so troubled in mind. I don’t doubt but what you do feel very bad for I think that I can judge you by my own feelings but we must get reconciled to our fate … Keep your mind from it as much as you can and be cheerful for I must tell you as I have told you before that I cannot relieve you by becoming your bride, therefore I beg and entreat on you not to think of me anymore as a companion through life for if you make yourself unhappy by it, you will make me the most miserable creature in the world to think that I made you so unhappy.“

At least two other letters, written the following year, were sent to Nichols from Mary. The letters continued to express the friendship that existed between them. The story does not end at this point. Mary’s father died in 1836 and her mother in 1838, and it is possible that she lived for a time with her aunt Elizabeth and uncle William Hawkins — Nichols’ parents.

Whatever the circumstances that brought them together, their love for each other continued to bloom.

On Feb. 11, 1849, Nichols Smith Hawkins, age 34 married Mary Cordelia Bayles, age 27. Nichols and Mary raised three children who lived beyond childhood — two others died in 1865 within a month.

Nichols was a farmer and the family lived in Stony Brook. Mary died in 1888 at the age of 66 and Nichols died in 1903, at the age of 88. They are buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Stony Brook.

Valentines became fancier and more elaborate through the second half of the 19th century. After 1850 the valentine slowly became a more general greeting rather than a message sent to just one special person.

The advent of the picture postal card in 1907, which allowed messages to be written on one half of the side reserved for the address, started a national craze that saw every holiday become a reason for sending a postcard and Valentine’s Day the occasion for a flood of one cent expressions of love.

Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society.