Saturday, 18 June 2011

1905-10-07 Saturday Musings

Saturday Musings Spectator October 07, 1905
 We have worked together away back in the ‘50’s, my old friend and I, setting bourgeois type at twenty cents a thousand on the old Rochester American. He could “stick type” with the best of them, and his “string” at the end of the week measured up among the highest; but imagine if you can the yards of bourgeois one would have to get up in a week, at the union price of twenty cents a thousand, to pay board and wear decent clothes. And then when pay day came we got half we earned in cash and the other half we had to trade out of the store that advertised. Many years later we met in a western city. The years had dealt gently with him. His clothes were good, of the latest pattern and most fashionable cut. His watch chain was the heaviest of the heavy, and as fine as the purest gold. It surpassed in richness the gold chain that the King hung about the neck of the young prophet Daniel. His diamond pin twinkled like the evening star in a summer sky. His shirt bosom was as white as an infant’s soul, but his voice was sad and sorrowful. His boots were highly polished, and casually glancing at him from the ground up, one would swear that life for him had been one sweet song. It was a pleasant meeting for both of us, for we had not met since the day we parted in Rochester in ’52, when the union made a demand for twenty-three cents a thousand and as a result of our pernicious activity, both of us lost our cases. Tom drifted westward and I turned my toes eastward. The war of 1861 came on. He enlisted in an Illinois regiment and I sought glory at the cannon’s mouth with an Ohio regiment. While in the army, Tom spent his leisure hours studying the fascinating game of poker, and by the end of the war he was an expert. No more type setting for him. He was a cool-headed fellow, gentlemanly in his habits, but a typical gambler of the higher class. We were sitting in the rotunda of the hotel, talking over old times. He had never married; the girl he loved in his youth turned him down and married a man that made life miserable for her. Poor Tom was in a reminiscent mood, and tapping his boot with his natty ivory-headed cane, slipped down in his chair to give the base of his spinal column a rest, pulled his hat over his eyes, and languidly talked of his past life. He had given up the printing business because of the slavish life of setting type in a morning newspaper office. There was an infatuation about cards that drew him on, and as he was alone in the world, crippled by a rebel bullet during the war, for which Uncle Sam allowed him a pension, it mattered little to him what avocation he followed. Naturally he drifted into the story of his life as a gambler.
        “Faro,” said he, “is a fascinating game. In all the games for gambling it has no equal. A man is a fool to play, but it catches the oldest of ‘em. The chances, on the closest calculations, are three to one on each play at the outset against the player, but I would rather run that chance than set twenty cent bourgeois as we did in Rochester. Occasionally the player strikes a winner, but we only win to lose. The most prosperous gamblers die in the gutter – unknown, forgotten and deserted. I wonder if fate has such luck in store for me! Luck only smiles on us for a brief season, and when fickle fortune deserts us, she never roosts over our doors again. Few of us are wise enough to save in luck in order to live in a rainy day. The pension Uncle Sam gives me and the soldiers’ home will always stand between me and a pauper’s home. But while we live, we live; and, after all, that is all there is in life. The hereafter is a chance, and the old man has put up the cards so well that nobody has called the turn. It’s a cat-hop at best. Gamblers are not utterly heartless. It makes my heart ache to see how many young men are drawn into the whirlpool and down to ruin. They begin betting on a game of baseball. They play the horses, and while they may make a killing now and then, the bookies generally get all the money there is in it. They get caught at a friendly game of draw, and in an evil hour try to even up on faro. They often win on the first venture, but it is a terrible success. They always pay one thousand per cent on the first winning, and often they pay life and blood in the investment. Some day there is a reckoning; they have tampered with their employer’s till or doctored the day book and ledger to cover a shortage in cash, and they skip out, leaving wife and family, or father and mother to bear the disgrace of a dishonest husband or son. The first winning opens a fascinating road to hell; builds up a barrier behind them which few ever climb over to reformation.
        “A little sentimental, ain’t I?” Let’s go and have something. You don’t drink? Good. Barkeep, give me a whiskey punch light. I’m blue today, Dick. Gambling and its attendant excitement burn all the stamina out of a man. I wish I had never touched a card. Better for me had I stuck to the cases, even though it was setting solid bourgeois at twenty cents a thousand. But I am a born gambler. It’s in me; it always was, even when we used to “jeff” for pennies in the old American office, and I’m in it till the deal is out. I hate to see young men of promise at a gaming table or in a pool room chasing the ponies. They have wives and mothers who love them; they have good situations, and employers who trust them; the day they set foot in a gambling room, their fate is sealed. I have a case in mind now of a young fellow who was agent for a prominent firm and commanded a salary of $5,000 a year. In traveling, he got lonely; he played poker for amusement when business was over. He fooled with the tiger and found himself torn to pieces. To boost up his courage he drank too much budge. Today he is an outcast – drunken, broken, deserted. Only one out of thousands of cases. His wife was brought down from comfort to poverty, and she died of a broken heart. I would advise every young man and old man never to cross the threshold of a gambling house. I have made big winnings and I have had big losings. I was broke and down, but I am up in funds again. If I owned a good country printing office and had a wife and children, you would never catch me gambling again. But I’m in it and will be there till the taps sound “Lights out!” Good-bye Dick. This reunion brings back old times in Rochester when we set solid bourgeois for twenty cents a thousand.
        On the morning of July, 7, 1859, John Mitchell was hanged in the jail yard in this city for the murder of Eileen Welch, a woman with whom he had been living. In January the couple came to this city from Toronto and secured lodgings in a tavern on York street. A few mornings after their arrival here, Mitchell and the woman had a row, and the wife of the tavern keeper and the servant girl heard screams and ran up to the room, where they found Mitchell and the woman struggling. Mitchell had cut the woman's throat from ear to ear with a razor, and she died within a few minutes. Mitchell came from Limerick, Ireland, where he had left a wife and children. He was arrested for the murder, and at the next assize court was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. A girl had been born to the unfortunate couple, and on the night before the execution Mitchell asked to see the child. For the first time since the murder, he displayed sorrow for his crime. The execution took place between seven and eight o'clock in the morning, and even at that early hour fully 3,000 people had gathered in the vicinity of the court house. The housetops were covered with a morbid crowd, anxious to get a glimpse of the allows. Only those on the housetops could see into the jail yard, and after the drop fell they could not see the victim. This was the first execution that had taken place in Hamilton for twenty years. During the months of May and June of that year, no less than seven men were executed for murders committed in this section of Canada.

        That Hamilton has had to fight for its existence from its incorporation down to the present is an old, old story. When the building of a line of railway from Niagara to the Detroit river was first conceived nearly 70 years ago, although it was Hamilton men and Hamilton money that worked up the plan, rival points did everything  to obstruct it, even going so far as to appeal to legislative influence to sidetrack the city. But the men who were laying the foundations of this great manufacturing center were not to be defeated in their purpose, and the Great Western was built on the original lines. It was the first great through line built in Canada, and it made money from the start. The city of Hamilton took stock and borrowed the money to pay for it, and it was not many years before the dividends were larger than the interest. In an evil hour, the city council disposed of the railway bonds to speculators, and sold them on credit and what power the city had in the board of directors was lost forever. The first move made by the Great Western to the injury of Hamilton was when the shops were transferred to London. Then the company struck a body blow at the wholesale grocery trade in this city by exorbitant freight charges. On all goods denominated general groceries the charges were as follows:
        From Hamilton to London, per 100 lbs..............................30c
        From Montreal to London, per 100 lbs..............................25c
        From Buffalo to London, per 100 lbs.................................15c
        Such discrimination substantially put Hamilton in a hole, and its wholesale merchants were unable to compete for the trade which rightfully belonged to them on the point of location. The trade of London was entirely lost to Hamilton, as very naturally its merchants would not stand for the increase in freight charges. In the old days of wagon roads, before the Great Western was built, Hamilton was the natural source of supply for the merchants of Western Canada,, and at almost any hour of the day, lines of loaded wagons, with merchandise of every description, headed out of the city in every direction. It was then that Hamilton was in its glory as the great wholesale center, and while no great fortunes were made – for men did not make great fortunes in those days – its merchants were as solid as the rock in our far-famed mountain heights. It is unfortunately true that Hamilton has got the worst of it from nearly every great enterprise it has brought into being. It is about time the city had cut its eye teeth. Even in the piping of natural gas into the city, the consumers must pay a higher price for it than do towns where longer miles have to be laid from the base of supplies. And so it is with all the blessings that our natural location have endowed the city with. The next thing some company of financiers will be getting a monopoly of the bay. 
That grand old man of the Salvation army, Gen Booth, prayed as follows the other day :
        And now, dear Lord, bless the reporters, whose nimble pens catch every word almost before it is uttered. Like Thyself, they are omnipresent and almost omnipotent. If we take the wings of the morning and fly off to the uttermost parts of the earth, they are there. They meet us in the jungles of Africa, they way lay us even on the Atlantic ocean, and when we tread the prairies of North America, behold! they are there. May their light and their goodness be equal to their power, and in the general assembly of heaven, let no reporter be excluded.

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