A Traveler's Notes: Destination New York 1856 Part IV

New York City
Monday, March 12.-The newspapers, this morning, are full of accounts of Bill Poole's funeral, and articles on its political bearing. It appears that, of late years, emigrants from various nations, instead of mixing and becoming amalgamated with the great mass of Americans, have been banding together for political purposes; and as they speedily acquire the rights of citizenship, they use these rights favorably for their old, and unfavorably for their new, country. It is to oppose this foreign feeling that the Know-nothings contend; and Bill Poole, the representative champion of American Rowdyism, having met his death at the hands of the Irish brigade, his public funeral yesterday was intended as a great demonstration in favor of the American principle. Some idea of the extent of the procession may be formed from the statement, that it took forty minutes to pass the St Nicholas hotel. Most men of sense were sadly grieved at this display of honor done to a wretched bully, buried with a publicity and a pomp which America has never accorded to any of her heroes.

Wet and snowy all day. New York streets are the perfection of discomfort in such weather. There is no attempt to clean them. The snow, shoveled off the foot-walks, accumulates in the street. In some of the side streets, its surface was several feet higher than the paths. The constant traffic on Broadway cut it up and prevented it accumulating there to such an extent, but the slush from the melting snow made it almost impossible to cross the street dry-shod. In violent contrast to the out-of-door cold and discomfort are the heated rooms. The transition from the one to the other must be very trying for the health.

We dined at the St Nicholas. Every dinner there is a source of fresh wonder and interest. In the evening, we went to the Academy of Music to hear Madame Maretzek in "Lucia di Lammermuir." It is a very beautiful house, painted from roof to floor with the universal white zinc paint, and gilded. The seats have iron frames, and are roomy and comfortable. There was a good audience, but we were not much impressed with the assemblage of beauty. The performance was fair. It was over by the early hour of half-past ten, and we sat for half an hour after supper in one of the drawing-rooms, planning our future route, watching the coming and going in the rooms and corridors, and marveling very much at hotel-life in America.

Tuesday, March 13. To-day, notwithstanding that it snowed and hailed, and so made walking very disagreeable, we strolled round by the East river wharves. These are busy spots. Piers run out into the river, and vessels lie alongside them, as well as along the shore. Every spot is made available. We saw many fine vessels and clipper ships. One needs to come down to the river quays to see the greatness of New York.

We went out to make calls from eight to ten. Apart from railways, on which Americans are always ready to speak, the war and slavery are our chief topics. We had some discussion on this last subject to-night. Without upholding slavery, one friend believes the slaves are happier in their present condition than they would be if they were free. The United States will not tolerate a black republic as a neighbor; and as there is a strong belief that whites and blacks will not live together as citizens, the only way to preserve the country from a civil war, and probably to avoid the ultimate extermination of the blacks, is to keep them as they are. This gentleman also put the question thus: The WORLD cannot do without cotton. Cotton cannot be raised without slave-labor. Therefore, it is a less evil and a less misery that the blacks, who are accustomed to nothing else, should be slaves, than that the world should starve for want of cotton garments. Probably both my friend's major and minor propositions are incorrect. Perhaps the world could do without cotton, and perhaps cotton could be raised without slave-labor; but whether or no, that does not alter the broad principle, that all men are equal in God's sight, and that freedom, by right, belongs to the black as well as to the white. Every one tells us that when we go to the south, we shall see the blacks so contented and happy that we shall alter our opinions of slavery altogether.

Wednesday, March 14. One of many new acquaintances made to-day, invited us to his house this evening, and handed a card inscribed:

Wednesday Evenings during March
From 8 till 11.

00 E. 00th St.

This is a most excellent plan, to confine the reception to stated nights and stated hours.

Donning the proper costume, we got into a carriage, and about half-past nine reached "00 E. 00 St." The servant who admitted us pronounced the words, "Second storey, back room," which we were at a loss to comprehend at first; but presuming we were to go there, we went, and found it was a parlor where we might deposit our cloaks and hats, the ladies finding similar accommodation in "second storey, front room." Having once more descended, we were met at the door of the reception-room by our friend, and presented to the hostess. Having paid our respects to her, we passed on. The rooms were three in number en suite, and they were full. In the furthest were refreshments. By far the majority of guests were ladies, and some of them were very pretty, and all well dressed. Our friend said there was one very clever lady there, to whom he must introduce us, and presently we were in the midst of a lively conversation with the versatile and agreeable Miss Lynch. She, in turn, introduced us to others, with whom this casual acquaintance ripened into a valued friendship.

Our new friends know Miss Warner, the Elizabeth Wetheral of "Queechy" and "The Wide, Wide World" fame. As any particulars of favorite authors are welcome, may I not mention that Miss Warner is not young? She is tall and thin, and very peculiar-looking very good, which you can see in her face. They have known adversity. "Dollars and Cents," "My Brother's Keeper," are by a younger sister.

The room is thinning, for there is a wedding to-night, to which a number of the guests are going. It is customary, it seems, to marry in the evening, at six or eight o'clock, and then to receive half the night after. We could not find out if the bride and bridegroom staid out the reception.

We were glad to have had this opportunity of seeing something of New York fashionable life. There were no books or drawings in the rooms that I could see, with the exception of one large portfolio on a stand, which I did not get an opportunity of examining. The chief amusement was looking at and talking to people. A gentleman played seemingly very well upon the piano, but the hum of voices drowned the music; which want of appreciation of his endeavors must have been the reverse of gratifying to the performer.

Thursday, March 15. Raining hard all morning and most of the day, so that it was very unpleasant walking about. Inquiring about the products of the Southern States, I find them to be pretty much these: Maryland, chiefly tobacco; Virginia, the same; Kentucky, tobacco, grain, horses, and stock; Tennessee, hemp and tobacco, and a little cotton; North Carolina, rice, turpentine; South Carolina, rice and cotton; Georgia, cotton; Alabama, cotton; Mississippi, cotton; Florida, sugar and a little cotton; Louisiana, sugar and cotton; Arkansas, cotton; Texas, sugar and cotton.

At dinner, in Fifth Avenue, to-day, the war, the Emperor's death, music, American artists, spiritualism, formed subjects for lively and sustained conversation. Our host had resided long in the East, and he had "been in Spain and Italy." Our hostess, too, had visited the continent of Europe and England. It was no wonder the hours flew fast.

Friday, March 16. The exhibition of the American Academy of Fine Arts is in a temporary gallery nearly opposite our hotel. We saw it under the disadvantage of bad light, nevertheless were much pleased with the tout-ensemble. Although told that landscape is the forte of American artists, there is in this exhibition, as in our own, a great preponderance of portraits, few of which, however, struck me as fine. Of figure pieces or historical subjects there are few. Three landscapes by Church particularly pleased us. Two of them belonged to friends of ours, and we had afterwards opportunities of seeing them again, when restored to their places on the private walls. They were all of tropical scenes. One called "La Magdalena" represented a broad piece of river, with the rich tangled vegetation of the tropics hanging over its banks; hills of peculiar long straight mound-like outline occupied the middle distance, while lofty peaked mountains shut in the back-ground. The color-rich tropical hues, full of sun, and heat, and light; the smooth dark water in the fore-ground broken up by the ridgy back of a crocodile just appearing above the surface. The other two subjects are similar. The scenery represents the character of that of central America. There are a few more good landscapes, some exhibiting the glories of the far-famed Indian summer.

Exploring up and down the North river, or Hudson, we found the scene bustling and interesting in the extreme. All down the shore on this river, as on the East river or Sound, piers area run out into the water, by the sides of which lie steamers for all ports on and up the Hudson. They might be counted, I suppose, by hundreds. They bring hay, corn, flour, and all sorts of country produce. Down on the river side the stir and bustle is much greater than it is up in the town. The wholesale grocery and provision stores are situated in this locality, and seem to do an immense business. It is when one sees those parts of a town that a correct idea is obtained of the extent and variety of its sources of wealth.

The scene on the river is very exciting. There are steamers arriving from and departing for Jersey city every two or three minutes. To-day the atmosphere was clear, and we saw across to the other side without interruption. There are houses on the New Jersey shore, down at the water side, but the ground rises immediately, and forms a sort of cliff or bluff, which is covered with wood. Along the edge of this high ground, and overlooking the water, are some pretty houses. Far up the river, the high hills known as the Palisades seem like a curtain drawn across the landscape. They are broken by a narrow gorge, through which the waters of the river find their way from "the Highlands of the Hudson."

At these quays, horse-power is employed to load and unload the boats. A triangle is erected, and ropes passed over a pulley at the top, and another at the bottom, and a horse harnessed to one end. When the bales are fastened to the other end, the horse walks off, and the weight is speedily raised. This seems to be a rapid and effective mode of getting on with the unloading, where there are no steam or hydraulic cranes.

Went to Wood, Tomlinson, & Co.'s to see some American-built carriages and light wagons. The latter are remarkably handsome vehicles. A four-wheeled one to carry two, worth $175, or 35, was so light that I could lift it with ease, and push it along with one hand. The wheels are made of hickory, which is a heavy wood, but so tough that they can be made very light; about one-fourth, if not less than that, of our English wheels.

In the room in which we dined to-day I counted upwards of forty waiters. There would probably be as many in the other dining-room, besides those in the tea-room. The crowds of visitors who arrive and depart every day is perfectly astounding. It soon sickens one, this sort of life.

Saturday, March 17.-The barber's shop is an indispensable adjunct to every American hotel. Indeed, the delight the natives seem to take in being in the barber's hands, appears to be a characteristic of our transatlantic brethren. I determined to indulge in the whole process in all its luxury, and resigned myself into the hands of one of the assistants in "Phalon's Hair-dressing Saloon." Some twenty persons can be attended to here at once, and the room is fitted up in the most gorgeous style. The floor is a mosaic of black and white marble. The walls are lined with mirrors, the divisions of the glass and frame being gilded. The apparatus is of silver. The chairs are most luxurious great arm-chairs, with a rest for the head and another for the feet, at an angle, the ease of which is perfect. Placed in one of these chairs, I went through the pleasing process of hair-cutting, and was then transferred to a seat opposite a fountain, edged round with porcelain basins. Then, from a bottle, the operator poured upon my head some stuff which was more cooling than odorous. This he worked up into a great lather, and then directed on my pate a jet first of hot water and next of cold, the contrast of which tingled to my very toes. Having dried my hair with numerous towels, he returned me to my first most easy seat, and finished me up with grease, scent, and pale rum, concluding the luxurious operation with a demand for half a dollar. Many a time after, when we arrived wearied and begrimed with dust and smoke from a long journey, did a hot-bath and the barber refit us, and put us in condition to make more use of our time, than but for their aid an exhausted physique would have permitted.

It is St Patrick's day, and an Irish procession was expected. Lest there should be an emeute, the National Guard was out. Some soldiers of the 7th and 12th regiments were in the hall of St Nicholas, and we saw them in small parties at the corners of most of the streets. Their uniform is a small peaked glazed cap, and a long light-blue greatcoat; what was under we could not see. Each had a bayonet, but they did not seem to have guns. There has, I believe, been no procession, at least we have heard nothing of it. The weather has been unpropitious. It snowed during the night, and this morning there were from four to six inches of snow on the ground. It has rained all day, and the slush and water is ankle-deep. Such streets!

The corridor of the St Nicholas is a magnificent lounge, and to-night it is cool, which is rare and refreshing, for usually the halls and rooms are heated to a high temperature by steam. The drawing-room doors open into this corridor, and as usually they are not closed, it is very amusing to watch the groups within, as well as those one meets in the promenade.

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: A Traveler's Notes: Destination New York  1856 Part IV
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: America by river and rail; or, Notes by the way on the New World and its people. By Wiliam Ferguson, F.L.S.London, J. Nisbet and co., 1856.
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