In Walter's footsteps - onto dry land
Following in the Footsteps of Walter Mitchell – New York
I am still trying to find out a bit more about the Hudson, the ship that Walter travelled over on and what conditions were like on ships taking immigrants over to America in the 1860s.
I am hoping to interview the Captain of the Queen Mary 2 on my own Atlantic crossing to New York, as he might know a bit about the history of ships that crossed the Atlantic. The Queen Mary 2 now is the only way to do a non-stop crossing and so it is the closest experience I can get to Walter’s.
New York in 1867
At the moment I have no idea where the Hudson docked. In my last blog I was able to describe what my great-grandfather’s experience might have been like thanks to the transcription of Mormon letters and diaries describing a journey in the same ship with the same captain just three years before my great-grandfather set out. That voyage docked at Castle Gardens but at present I have no way of knowing if my great-grandfather Walter’s landing was at the same place. I will continue to search.
So, now I am trying to find out what New York was like in July 1867. My great-grandfather doesn’t write much about his experiences there. The only references he makes to New York are “I only remained for a few weeks and thence made my way to Catlin Centre”.
But he also writes of his experience in a New York bar.
He writes: “Should you patronize a drinking saloon as I did in New York for brandy having a had a very nasty touch of diarrhea (sic) you ask for simply brandy drinks and the bottle and glasses are invariably put before you to help yourself – almost all Yankees chew smoke, the latter religion I strictly believe in.”
Apart from those two mentions he says nothing of his stay in New York.
The only clue I have to where he possibly stayed is the mention of an address to be used for letters to be sent to him. They were to be addressed to ‘Care of Mrs Trundy, 989 2nd Avenue, New York.’ So, I presume he stayed there when he first arrived or at the very least had made friends with Mrs Trundy.
To my delight I discovered that Mark Twain, that wonderful author of Huckleberry Finn and so much more, was in the city in the spring and summer of 1867, the months before my great-grandfather arrived. So his words have given me an insight into New York of that period.
He wrote in an article for the Alta California, a San Francisco newspaper.
June 5th, 1867.
EDITORS ALTA: I have at last, after several months' experience, made up my mind that it is a splendid desert - a domed and steepled solitude, where the stranger is lonely in the midst of a million of his race. A man walks his tedious miles through the same interminable street every day, elbowing his way through a buzzing multitude of men, yet never seeing a familiar face, and never seeing a strange one the second time. He visits a friend once - it is a day's journey - and then stays away from that time forward till that friend cools to a mere acquaintance, and finally to a stranger. So there is little sociability, and, consequently, there is little cordiality. Every man seems to feel that he has got the duties of two lifetimes to accomplish in one, and so he rushes, rushes, rushes, and never has time to be companionable - never has any time at his disposal to fool away on matters which do not involve dollars and duty and business.
All this has a tendency to make the city-bred man impatient of interruption, suspicious of strangers, and fearful of being bored, and his business interfered with. The natural result is, that the striking want of heartiness observable here, some times even among old friends, degenerates into something which is hardly even chilly politeness towards strangers.
There is something about this ceaseless buzz, and hurry, and bustle, that keeps a stranger in a state of unwholesome excitement all the time, and makes him restless and uneasy, and saps from him all capacity to enjoy anything or take a strong interest in any matter whatever - a something which impels him to try to do everything, and yet permits him to do nothing. He is a boy in a candy-shop - could choose quickly if there were but one kind of candy, but is hopelessly undetermined in the midst of a hundred kinds. A stranger feels unsatisfied, here, a good part of the time. He starts to a library; changes, and moves toward a theatre; changes again and thinks he will visit a friend; goes within a biscuit-toss of a picture-gallery, a billiard-room, a beer cellar and a circus, in succession, and finally drifts home and to bed, without having really done anything or gone anywhere. He don't go anywhere because he can't go everywhere, I suppose. This fidgety, feverish restlessness will drive a man crazy, after a while, or kill him. It kills a good many dozens now - by suicide. I have got to get out of it.
There is one thing very sure - I can't keep my temper in New York. The cars and carriages always come along and get in the way just as I want to cross a street, and if there is any thing that can make a man soar into flights of sublimity in the matter of profanity, it is that. You know that, yourself. However, I must be accurate - I must speak truth, and say there is one thing that is more annoying. That is to go down West Tenth street hunting for the Art building, No. 51. You are tired, and your feet are hot and swollen, and you wouldn't start, only you calculate that it cannot be more than two blocks away, and you almost feel a genuine desire to go and see the picture on exhibition without once changing your mind. Very well. You come to No. 7; and directly you come to 142! You stare a minute, and then step back and start over again - but it isn't any use - when you are least expecting it, comes that unaccountable jump. You cross over, and find Nos. 18, 20, 22, and then perhaps you jump to 376! Your gall begins to rise. You go on. You get on a trail, at last, the figures leading by regular approaches up toward 51 - but when you have walked four blocks they start at 49 and begin to run the other way! You are perspiring and furious by this time, but you keep desperately on, and speculate on new and complicated forms of profanity. Well, I intended, when I started out, to give my views of the pleasant side of New York, but I perceive that I have wandered into the wrong vein, and so I will stop short and give it up until I find myself in a more fortunate humor.”
It’s a terrific description. I wanted to see if I could find a picture or description of 2nd Avenue in 1867 but I forgot how in America streets have numbers that go into the thousands! So the search came back with loads of apartments/flats for sale at 1867 2nd Avenue!
And then I found a photograph of 2nd Avenue in 1861 – I am sure that five years later it would have been far more developed.
Mark Twain also writes about hotels – maybe Walter stayed in an hotel, after all, I know from the ship’s manifest that he travelled 2nd class, so he might have had the money for an hotel.
New York has inaugurated a new fashion in the way of hotels - at least, it is new for America. She has adopted the European system: Room in the house and eat where you please. If you choose to eat in the hotel, very well. Ring for a servant, specify the dishes you want for breakfast, and by the time you are washed and dressed it will be on the table. And in the cheerfulest breakfast room you can imagine, too. Not a great public square in the second story, with an army of hyenas camped around you, grinding bones and clattering spoons and forks, but an elegant little apartment, richly furnished, glistening with burnished silver-ware and bright warm colors, a few little round tables clad in snowy cloths and garnished like a jeweller's window, and every thing quiet, and genteel and orderly. And you are on the main floor, too, and close to beautiful plate-glass windows, only one pane to the whole side of the house, (I stretched it a little, then,) and you can read your paper and sip your coffee and look out at the fellows caught far from home in the rain, and enjoy it ever so much !
That is the style. It is costly, but it is comfortable - prodigiously comfortable. The great caravan hotels do an immense transient business (try to get a room at one of them if you doubt it,) but when a man of good sound judgment gets ready to settle down and live and be happy, he goes to one of the dozen little palaces kept on the European plan."
Mark Twain didn’t think much of the New York manners – what he describes sounds awfully like the London tube today!
"THE SEX IN NEW YORK
EDITORS ALTA: They do not treat women with as much deference in New York as we of the provinces think they ought. This is painfully apparent in the street-cars. Authority winks at the overloading of the cars - authority being paid for so winking, in political influence, possibly, for I cannot bring myself to think that any other species of bribery would be entertained for a moment - authority, I say, winks at this outrage, and permits one car to do the work of at least two, instead of compelling the companies to double the number of their cars, and permits them, also, to cruelly over-work their horses, too, of course, in the face of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The result of this over-crowding is to set the people back a long stride toward semi-civilization. What I mean by that dreadful assertion is, that the over-crowding of the cars has impelled men to adopt the rule of hanging on to a seat when they get it, though twenty beautiful women came in and stood in their midst. That is going back toward original barbarism, I take it. A car's proper cargo should be twenty-two inside and three upon each plat form - twenty-eight-and no crowding. I have seen fifty-six persons on a car, here, but a large portion of them were hanging on by the teeth. Some of the men inside had to go four or five miles, and naturally enough did not like to give up their seats and stand in a packed mass of humanity all that distance. So, when a lady got in, no man offered her a seat - no man dreamt of doing such a thing. No citizen, I mean. Occasionally I have seen a man, under such circumstances, get up and give his place to a lady, but the act betrayed, like spoken words, that he was from the provinces. I have seen negroes sitting stuck up comfortably in a car, and lovely young white ladies standing up before them, block after block, clinging to the leather supports that depended from the roof. And then I wanted a contraband for breakfast.
In other cities men make way for women to their own discomfort, but complain that they get no thanks for it - not even a smile or a bow - but they don't make way here. I suppose the sex in New York have learned by hard experience how to value a concession from a strange gentleman. They thank one in unmistakable terms for such a kindness, even at the risk of being called on for a "personal interview" through the Herald's "Personals" the next day for it. A lady must not so far forget herself as to "kindly notice" a human puppy in a street car here if she does not want to figure in the "Personals."
I am particularly interested in what Mark Twain wrote about the ‘cars’ because building them became part of my great-grandfather’s work while he was in the States. He writes that in August 1869 he has a position at superintendent to the Worcester Horse Car Railroad Company. More of that in a later blog.
If you want to read more of Mark Twain’s fabulous letters then go to http://www.twainquotes.com/
Walter Mitchell left New York in the summer of 1867 and travelled 300 miles north to Catlin Centre in Chemung County and then on to Havana.
Hard as I tried I couldn’t find Havana in New York State when I searched on Google maps. But after hours of hunting, my research revealed that Havana had changed its name and was now known as Montour Falls. So my next blog will be about his adventures in New York State.