“My trunk has got stuck somewhere on the road.”

Lavinia Goodell, September 15, 1871

If you thought that lost and damaged luggage was a problem unique to air travel, you would be mistaken. In the 1800s, rail passengers encountered the same  difficulties. Lavinia Goodell had the misfortune of suffering both lost and damaged bags during her move to Wisconsin.

Stock photo of 1800s luggage

 In the fall of 1871, Lavinia left her New York City job at Harper’s Bazar  and moved to Janesville to help care for her aging parents. William and Clarissa Goodell had been living with their elder daughter, Maria Frost’s, family but when a change of employment required the Frosts to move out of Janesville, Lavinia made the decision to go to Wisconsin to live with her parents.

The Goodells were meticulous planners (at her father’s suggestion, Lavinia purchased travel insurance), and prior to departing New York, Lavinia wrote to give William and Clarissa the details of her journey, which included stops along the way to visit with friends and family:

I shall start Tuesday the 5th. My programme is to take the Hudson river boat Tuesday p.m. the 5th Sept; reach Canastota by Central Road, Wed. noon; stay there till the following Monday, Sept. 11th, then take noon train to Buffalo, getting there Monday night. Stay there over Tuesday; leaving early Wed. Sept. 13th. Reach Painesville Wed. evening. Stay over Thursday, leaving Friday morning; ride Friday, day and night, reaching Chicago Sat. morning and Janesville Sat. night, Sept. 16th.  

Janesville’s train depot

(The site of the former Janesville train station is one of the stops on our newly launched walking tours. Take a few minutes and check them out.)

Lavinia wrote to her parents again on September 10 from her relatives’ home in Canastota, New York:

The trunks were considerably mutilated…. I had to all unpack and have my trunks repaired…. Everything inside was safe and uninjured. I mean to have them checked from here to Painesville and then from there I shall have them with me the rest of the way…. I expect to leave Painesville Friday, about noon and travel all night, getting to Chicago Saturday morning and coming up to Janesville in the 10:00 a.m. train. … You needn’t expect to hear from me again until I get there.

Unfortunately, the elder Goodells did hear from Lavinia once more before she finally arrived in Janesville because, when she arrived in Painesville, Ohio, she discovered that the railroad had somehow managed to lose part of her luggage:

I am so sorry for your disappointment when you don’t find me at the depot tomorrow! I am scarcely less disappointed than you will be. I am well, and this miserable hindrance is all on account of one of my plaguey trunks which has got stuck somewhere on the road and hasn’t come up yet. I am so mad I don’t know what to do, and can sympathize with the ancients who used to rend their garments when misfortunes came upon them. I should relieve my feelings in the same way if I could afford it.

I can’t understand what the matter is. I checked the trunk to Buffalo and then to Painesville, and hold the latter check now. The large trunk – which contains my most valuable things – is there all safe, but what has become of the little one I don’t know. The R.R. folks have telegraphed back to have it looked up and forwarded. I shall have to stay till it comes…. You will know when I can come when you see me. I am so provoked & disappointed I don’t know what to do.

Lavinia closed out her letter to her parents by saying:

We do not have a followup letter to let us know whether the errant trunk ever arrived. However, we do know that Lavinia did eventually reach Janesville safely in September 1871. She lived there until late 1879 when she moved to Madison for two months and then went to Milwaukee to seek treatment for her advancing ovarian cancer. She died in Milwaukee on March 31, 1880.

Sources consulted: Lavinia Goodell’s letters to William and Clarissa Goodell (August 27, 1871;  September 10, 1871; September 15, 1871).

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