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These letters are primarily from Madeleine Edison Sloane to her husband, John Eyre Sloane, but there also letters to John from Mina Miller Edison and Thomas Edison (Ted) Sloane. The thirty-four letters, which cover the period February 28-March 31, were all written while Madeleine and her children were vacationing at Seminole Lodge, the Edison family's winter in Fort Myers, Florida. Her two oldest sons, Ted and Jack, traveled to Florida with their grandparents in early February, while Madeleine and Peter arrived on March 1one day before Peter's third birthday and three days before Ted's tenth birthday.
Included are numerous references to the Florida land boom, which began in the early 1920s, and its impact on Fort Myers and surrounding communities. Madeleine's concerns about noise, overcrowding, and overdevelopment; her father's disdain for the "stock brokers and gamblers" behind the boom, and her mother's contempt for the ostentatiousness of the nouveau riche are among the topics mentioned in the letters. There are also remarks about Edison Park, a residential community across the street from Seminole Lodge that opened in 1926, and the Celotex Co., a corporation founded in 1925 that was draining the swampland on the south shore of Lake Okeechobee and planting sugar cane to obtain raw materials for the manufacture of insulating building board.
The letters are replete with comments about the various residents and visitors whom Madeleine encountered in Florida. For example, she derisively characterized rubber manufacturer Harvey Firestone as a "very tiresome" man who was "simply hanging on to Mr. Ford's coat tails and follow[ing] him around to lick his boots on all occasions." Madeleine had a more favorable reaction toward James (Jimmie) Newton, the young entrepreneur who was developing Edison Park. The son of physician Robley Newton, who became Thomas Edison's Florida doctor, Jimmie would later write a book about his friendship with the Edison, Ford, and Firestone families. The letters also contain an account of a visit to the home of Madeleine's childhood friend Elmina Ambrose, who was living with her husband Alfred Mosher Tilden in Winter Haven, a community about 125 miles northeast of Fort Myers. A relative of presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden, Alfred was managing an orange grove while also serving as secretary-treasurer of the Haven Villa Corp.one of the many real estate companies established during the boom. Madeleine regarded him as her "favorite husband" among all her friends' husbands.
Other friends and acquaintances mentioned in the letters include Elmina's siblings Charlotte, Edna, and Harrison, who were also living in Winter Haven; nineteen-year-old Robert C. (Bob) Halgrim, a companion of the Sloane children who would later become director of the Edison-Ford Winter Estates; Philadelphia advertising executive Eugene McGuckin and his sister Mary Barrett; and St. Louis real estate agent and builder Isaac Thompson Cook, who was involved with the Celotex Co. and the development of the town of Clewiston. In addition, there are comments, mostly of a negative character, about Helen Joy Lee, the divorced daughter of automobile manufacturer Henry Bourne Joy, whom Madeleine suspected of wanting to seduce her husband.
Other topics discussed in the letters include Thomas Edison's rubber experiments, his recurring stomach problems, Madeleine's dislike of traveling with her father and mother, an occurrence of smallpox in Fort Myers, the Sloanes' interest in purchasing property in Llewellyn Park, New Jersey; an accident involving John Edison (Jack) Sloane, and a visit to the town of Palm Beach. Courtesy of David E. E. Sloane.