‘An ornament to the city’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The third and final entry in the Regina Shober Gray[1] diary on the death of her sister Lizzie[2] turns from private grief to the public response to the news.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Wednesday, 13 December 1865: We think now that Lizzie began weeks ago to realize or at least to fear her sickness was a mortal one. While we continued to hope her exhaustion was largely due to nervous depression and would pass off with the nausea, she was sadly conscious of the inward sapping of the springs of life, and her thoughts instinctively dwelt upon ideas of death & burial. She roused from a doze some weeks since, and said “I have had a vision – you will laugh at me, and say it was a dream – but I saw Wesley & Joseph” (my brother’s two men-servants) “come along the entry and into the room with the tressels which were used for John,[3] and set them down here, saying, ‘They must be ready for Miss Lizzie.’”

“Oh, honey,” said Sallie [Shober],[4] who was with her, “of course it was a dream, you are so restless & feverish.”

“No,” she persisted, “it was a vision, a warning! I saw & heard them.”

She said once, “Oh, do not let any one say a discouraging word to me; if they do I am doomed!”

She talked about keeping flowers always on the tomb – and always associated her sickness with John’s – saying “[Do] not let me know the day of the month – nor when November comes in – and don’t anyone speak of anniversaries,” meaning of course that of our brother’s death.

“It’s Sunday morning, is’n’t it? And just one year since we lost our darling.”

Yet, though even the days of the week were never mentioned before her she said, on Sunday before her death (after 2 days of incessant wandering talk) quite rationally, “It’s Sunday morning, is’n’t it? And just one year since we lost our darling.”

It was long before the church bells rang – there was nothing outwardly to suggest the idea – [it] was just the preternaturally sharpened perception or intuition, which frequently comes to those who are standing so close on the borders of the spiritual world; and it was just one year! Again, when Dr. E[vans] told Mary [Shober][5] he wanted to call in Dr. Norris, she begged him not to, it would agitate Lizzie so – but he felt it necessary & she acceded. The conversation took place in a low voice, yards away from her room – yet soon after, she looked up, startled, & said “What is Dr. Norris sitting here for?”

“Why, he isn’t here, darling!”

“Yes, he is – I see him here beside me – and what’s more there is a consultation of physicians in the next room; I hear them talking about me.”

On Wed’y before her death, she said with a sudden surprise, “What did I come back here for, after I died last Sunday?”

“Darling, you did not die then, you were very sick, but God spared you to us.”

“But I did die & you are all dead & buried – all but me & Sam [Shober].”[6]

And then after a pause, as if to rally from the conscious confusion of ideas – she looked beseechingly at Moll with “Oh, honey, when I am so near gone again, don’t recall me!” As if she knew that our aching yearning hearts could not consent to release her, and had weighed down the spirit-wings once more to earth, though so nearly plumed for their heavenward flight.

“Oh, honey, when I am so near gone again, don’t recall me!”

Her death was a great surprise & shock to outside friends, who had like herself been absent from the city all summer, and had hardly time to know she was sick, when they heard of her death. Expressions of regret & sympathy pour in, even from comparative strangers – her personal friends, who depended upon her affectionate sympathy, & consulted her taste & judgment, are overwhelmed with grief. It is astonishing even to us, to find how many had learned to depend upon her warm, sympathetic nature, and now feel that her loss darkens all future on earth.

Even gentlemen who scarcely knew her deplore the loss of her bright, cheery presence and handsome person: “[It] did a man good to pass her in the street.”

“[She] was an ornament to the city, with her queenly presence & winning, friendly ways,” &c &c.

To us, her sisters, she was our pride & darling, the light & centre of our home to the girls in Philad[elphia] – to me, the special companion sister of my whole life, the playmate of my childhood, the confidante of youth, the regular weekly correspondent of nearly 22 years of married life. How utterly it overwhelmed me on Monday to address my letter to Mary, and realize in all its desolation – that never again should I write the old familiar address, or welcome the old familiar writing in return. And of all those years of correspondence I have nothing left – they were family letters – full of private and often distressing matters – and we made it a rule on both sides to burn them all.

I did not intend to come home with [her son] Frank – and it is a great grief to me that I had to do so. But my husband was so unhappy & anxious at the idea of my returning alone (as I did last year – and meant to do now) that I could not feel it right, knowing how much such anxieties wear upon & exhaust him, to impose them upon him – so I left those dear sorrowing sisters in their darkened home, on Saturday, Dec. 9th, and came with my aching heart home – and feel it some compensation for my great sacrifice, to know how greatly it has relieved my husband’s mind, to have me safe home from my winter journey.

[So] many lawless, brutal men are about, and such dangerous things [are] constantly taking place.

It was no unwillingness to spare me longer to them – but the dread of my unprotected journey, if I gave up Frank’s escort, while so many lawless, brutal men are about, and such dangerous things [are] constantly taking place. And in truth when we anchored in [the] East River for 4 hours in a thick driving snowstorm, with every chance of putting back to New York at day light, where we must have passed the whole of Sunday, I felt very thankful that Frank was with me.

But, oh, I was not ready to leave them so soon – with that vacant place – and not even me to fill it. It seemed more than I could bear, to come away so hurriedly. God be with them. He only can comfort them. He has comforted and blessed us all, in the testimony she bore during her last 3 days of life, to his grace and love supporting and consoling her through all the mortal agony of her dark path down into the shadow of death. Therefore, though “we have been sorely tried,” as she herself said, we will praise His holy name. Though He slay our dearest hopes, yet will we trust Him, for “He giveth His beloved sleep,” and they rest from their labours, enfolded in His love forevermore. – Amen.


[1] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80. Entry from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] Elizabeth Kearney Shober (1821–1865).

[3] Their elder brother John Bedford Shober (1814–1864).

[4] Their youngest sister Sarah Morris Shober (1825–1917).

[5] Their elder sister Mary Morris Shober (1816–1873), often Moll or M.M.S. in the diary.

[6] Their younger brother Samuel Lieberkuhn Shober (1828–1902).

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

3 thoughts on “‘An ornament to the city’

  1. This diary is so touching and such an interesting historical and personal account of the times. I know I have missed many entries. Is the entirety of the diary (or at least the excerpts that have been transcribed on Vita Brevis) collected in one place to be read together?

  2. I have been writing about the diary since January 2015(!), so if you click on my name at the top of the page you will find all of my published blog posts. The first time I wrote about the Gray diary was in this post: https://vita-brevis.org/2015/01/whats-in-a-name-2/.

    I’ve taken a variety of approaches to the text; there are a number of series touching on different aspects of the work. As I hope to publish the Civil War diary first, I have tended to focus on 1860-65, but all years (1860-84) are likely represented somewhere in the blog.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.