What a grand treat the Spectator is furnishing its readers in almost giving away that book of ancient songs, entitled Heart Songs! It is an almost priceless collection of the songs of better days, and takes the old-timers back half a century or more ago when the words and music were familiar in the home and in the concert hall. The songs written by Stephen C. Foster carry one back in memory to the days of Jenny Lind, Kate Hayes, the Black Swan and other noted singers who made the words and music famous by introducing them as encores. What pathos there was in the Old Folks at Home, Old Black Joe, My Old Kentucky Home, Old Dog Tray, as they came as an inspiration from the heart and pen of Stephen Foster! The songs were sung and whistled in the streets by staid old men and the schoolboy, and the programs of musical entertainments were not complete unless plentifully sprinkled with selections from the songwriters of the day. And, by the way, Hamilton can claim a distant relationship with the gifted Foster, for within the past couple of years, he had cousins living here who were to the mansion born, Poor Foster, like Edgar Allan Poe and other gifted songwriters by his genius, but his life was wasted by an appetite that has filled thousands of unnamed graves with men who seemed to be an inspiration while living. Hamilton has had its songwriters in earlier days whose names are even forgotten except by some old friend who now and then may recall them. Fifty and sixty years ago the songs of Foster were sung by every minstrel troupe – and there were real minstrels in those days, not vaudeville bawlers who do blackface stunts and call it minstrelsy – and they sound as sweetly today as we old stagers first heard them. Minstrelsy now and then are two different propositions. In the days of American slavery before the war, there was inspiration in the voices and the wild songs of the slaves at their religious gatherings, and these were incorporated into the songs of Foster and others, and at once became popular in the concert hall. It is probable that Foster wrote more songs and composed the music for them than did any songwriter of his day. It was not only in the negro dialect songs that he excelled, but Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming is a specimen in the higher lines. Minstrelsy and the writing of such songs as the slavery days suggested have become a lost art. There are but few on the minstrel stage now who belonged to the days when the Christys and Dan Rice and Dick Sitter drew crowded houses wherever they went.
In many of the early companies, the majority of the performers were printers who had good voices and could dance a jig; it paid better than setting type at $7 and $8 a week, and then there was the added charm of a wandering life. This Old Muser recalls the visit of a minstrel company at London, The Forest City, more than sixty-five years ago. There were only five in the company, and all of them were printers from Montreal. Charles Kidner, was then working on the Free Press in London, and as he had worked with that minstrel gang in Montreal, they sent him word to advertise them and make all arrangements for the concert. The aggregation could not afford the luxury of an advanced agent, and the musical typos had to depend on their old-time friends scattered here and there in country printing offices to do their advertising. Charlie Kidner wrote a high-sounding announcement and had it printed in the Free Press office, and this Old Muser being the ‘printer’s devil’ it devolved upon him to scatter the bills after working hours, for which Charlie promised him a free ticket to the show. London had no daily paper then, and during the afternoon before the concert Mr. Kidner employed the town bell-crier to go through the streets of London and announce the coming minstrels. In the second story of the Mechanics’ Institute there was a hall that would seat about 250 people and at one end of the hall was a platform about eighteen inches high. The hall was crowded as the price of admission was only a quarter of a dollar, so after the expenses of the hall were paid there was but little left to help the minstrels on their way to the next town. Mr. Kidner paid the printing bill and the bell-ringer’s fee to help his old friends out. There were five men in the company, dressed in black pants and white shirts, and each one played an instrument as well as doing a vocal part. There was a violin, a cello, a banjo, and the bones and tambouring. Camptown Races and many of the songs that are in the Spectator book of Heart Songs were then new, and those five minstrel printers gave a three hours’ entertainment that lives still the memory of this ancient Muser.
It is a dream to go through that book of Heart Songs for it takes the old-timer back to half a century and more ago when there was poetry in the souls of the writers, and it came gushing out into sweet melody that can never be forgotten. England, Ireland and Scotland are well-represented in the pages of the book, and it would be like writing a catalogue to give the titles and the writers. The Old Oaken Bucket, Home, Sweet Home, Widow Machree, the Low-Backed Car – what is the use of recalling the titles? Then there is a charm in the book for old soldiers who served during the American war of 1861-1865, for the well-remembered songs that cheered many a weary heart in camp and in the hospital. The old soldiers sing them at they gather at the camp fires at the annual reunions. Old Shady was one of the favourites, and it is especially so with the Muser, for we remember the author, Ben Hanoy, when he was a student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where we published a newspaper before and after the war. Ben went out in the first three month’s call, and then he joined the Presbyterian church and entered the ministry. His religion did not interfere with his genius as a song writer, especially war songs, for he was the author of quite a number. What old soldier can ever forget Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground? Many years the Thirteenth Royal Regiment had a spectacular play one night out in Dundurn park and Bandmaster Robinson had his band boys sing Tenting Tonight, and they did sing it with a spirit and the understanding of what it meant to the boys who sang it in camp and on the battlefield during the American war.
We could ramble on about that Spectator book of Heart Songs till we would weary the reader, and then never be able to give half an idea of what it contains. To be brief then: cut out six coupons from the daily Spectator and send them with 94 cents to the business office and get one of the books. If it has to go by mail to you, then the postage will have to be added. There are hours of solid pleasure between the covers of that book, and it will give your children a love for the songs and music that brightened your own lives in the days of your youth.
Why is it that when men are elected to public office, so many of them become champions of the liquor interest? We have known men with reputations of being members of the church and fair, average Christians who, when elected as aldermen, take up the cudgels in defense of the saloonkeeper and are ready to vote whatever legislation will lighten the burdens of that class. And the same is true in relation to pool rooms, picture shows and everything that may have a tendency to upset public morals. One would that Hamilton is really suffering for movie picture shows the way that public officials champion every demand to increase the number. And if a man wants a license to open a liquor store in a residence neighbourhood, the whole community is thrown into commotion in order that his request may be granted. Down in the East Hamilton district a man who had no special hankering after other work, and seeing the big profits in the sale of liquor, wanted to open a store and applied for license. The good people of that district, and especially the wives and mothers, became alarmed at what might result from a too convenient shop in which to buy liquor, and the heads of the large manufacturing plants in that neighbourhood all united in a protest against the license commissioners giving official sanction to the request of the applicant, and they had quite a time in heading off the danger. But the applicant was not going to lose the prize which he coveted of making money at the expense of the homes in that neighbourhood, so he withdrew the petition from the license commissioners of the city and changed his base to acquiring a shop license from the commissioners of the adjoining district for a house just outside the corporate limits of the city. Now the wives and mothers and the manufacturers and the respectable people of that district have to go through another slog to head off the enemy. Let us hope that for the sake of morality and decent citizenship that the license commissioners in the adjoining district will sit down promptly on the application. Drunkenness and immorality will thrive fast enough without having the sanction of men who are elevated in public office. Chief Smith, in his annual report, gives a gloomy picture of the increase of crime within the past three or four years. Young men and young girls are going the downward road by way of moving picture shows and dance halls and the good people in the churches are contributing $50,000 a year to convert the heathen.
The ancient Anglo-American hotel, that in its early days was one of the best-equipped hotels in Canada, is again passing through the deep waters of affliction. When it was built, nearly sixty years ago, Canada could not boast of many first-class hotels, and about the only one in Hamilton was the City hotel, kept originally by Thomas Davidson, and afterward by F. W. Fearman. The old stone building still stands on the southwest corner of James and Merrick streets. When it was originally built, hotel architecture was only a dream, therefore not much was spent on the interior fittings. Indeed about all that was apparently needed in a first-class hotel in those days was a comfortable dining-room and a very large barroom, as it was in the barroom where the patrons of the hotel spent the hours they had for leisure. But what the old City hotel lacked in the way of bedrooms and other luxuries, it had the reputation of setting one of the best tables of any hotel in Canada, and the traveling men of those days who had to spend their Sundays on the road away from home invariably made it a point to get to Hamilton, by steamboat or stage, on Saturday night, so as to get a few square meals. Thomas Davidson had his own gardens just outside of the city limits, and there was raised all of the vegetables, small fruits, chickens and eggs, and a pasture field where the best breed of cows was kept to furnish the cream, milk and butter for his tables. Hamilton was beginning to feel a little on the high-brow order about that time, for the old town was growing in population, and there must have been not less than fifteen thousand people, men, women and children, basking in the sunshine of the ancient mountain that had been left as a legacy to the town by the patriarchs who, with Noah, had escaped the floods. The City hotel could not be enlarged, and indeed, Mr. Davidson would not hear of such a thing : it was large enough for him, and if Hamilton wanted to put on airs and build a larger hotel, it could do it. The Hamilton business men of sixty years ago had large ideas of the future of the old town, and they looked forward to the time when it might have a population of fifty thousand. The Great Western railway had been opened for more than a year, and one express train a day ran to and from Niagara Falls to Detroit, and Hamilton was the headquarters of the road. Then they were talking about building a branch to connect Toronto with Hamilton. My, what great things were to be expected! But the fly in the ointment was the lack of hotel accommodation, and this must be furnished even if old Thomas Davidson did not take it. A company was formed and the present site of the Waldorf hotel was bought for a mere song, for lots on King street were not valued highly in those days, especially on the south side of the street and so far east from James. In the earlier days that lot was the circus grounds, and the frame buildings that were erected on it later were not profitable for renting purposes. However, the company was formed, the lot was bought, and in 1855, the cornerstone of the new hotel was laid with solemnity, and after a few bottles of champagne washed the cob webs out of the throats of the orators and those connected with the enterprise. With what interest Hamilton watched each layer of brick as it added to the growth of the structure, and when the final row was reached at the top, even us poor innocents, who never expected to have money enough to take a look-in at the new hotel, felt that we had a sort of proprietary interest in it. We have told before in these Musings with what great pomp and ceremony the new hotel was opened and therefore it is not necessary to go into details. It was christened the Anglo-American, and its first landlord belonged to a celebrated family of American hotelkeepers, and everything was in the highest style of luxury and comfort. Charles R. Coleman was the name of the first proprietor.
The Anglo-American was too big an undertaking for a city of less than 20,000 population. It was opened in the spring of 1856, and attending the inauguration came distinguished people from neighbouring towns in Canada and the United States. Although the rates were not high, the new hotel seemed to be a losing proposition from the start, notwithstanding the efforts of the businessmen of the city to help it along in the way of balls and dinner parties. Every society patronized it for its annual banquet, but all of no avail. After struggling along for three or four years, Mr. Coleman gave it up as a hopeless task and returned to the United States. The stockholders then interested a man named Kingsley, who was the proprietor of the Robinson Hall in London, to take charge of the hotel. Kingsley was a natural-born hotelman, and he took into the management with him a man named named Rice, the firm name being Rice and Kingsley. They struggled along with the management for a couple of years, but with indifferent success till finally the Prince of Wales visited Hamilton in 1860, when a grand ball was given in his honour. At that time Rice and Kingsley were head over ears in debt to almost every businessman in Hamilton, and largely to the grocers, the butchers and the dealers in all kinds of provisions. In the hope of getting their money, the storekeepers were liberal in advancing everything for the entertainment of the prince, and for the ball, it was a great financial success. The night of the ball, when Hamilton was tired out and in dreamland, Rice and Kingsley quietly folded their tents, like the Arab, and silently stole away, never again to enter the corporate limits. When the merchants presented themselves at the Anglo-American the next morning they almost fell upon the neck of each other and wept for the vanished stores they had so liberally furnished for the grand finale. This was failure number two.
By this time, the stockholders had become disgusted with their efforts with their efforts to keep hotel, and in the year 1861 they sold the property to the Wesleyan Methodist conference for a ladies’ college, for the mere bagatelle of $28,000, or $175 per front foot. For nearly thirty-five years the old hotel was opened as a college, and where was once the sound of revelry by night arose the voice of prayer and sacred song. The college had evidently served its day, and again the building was devoted to its original purpose. Mr. Gilkinson opened it as the Waldorf hotel about sixteen years ago, and for eight years or more consucted the business successfully. During his management it had a reputation as a first-class hotel, and it was told at the time of his retirement that he had made about $75,000 clear. Indeed, he was the first and only landlord that ever made the house pay. In order to encourage the opening of the hotel when Mr. Gilkinson came, the board of license commissioners granted him a license at the regular rate, thus saving him from having to pay a high premium toobtain the purchase of one from some man already licensed. This license is now valued as one of the assets of the Waldorf at $15,000. As stated in the outset of this bit of hotel history, the Waldorf is now passing through the deep waters of affliction, its present recognized landlord having turned its assets over to the creditors. During his eight years of management he claims to have lost about $ 50,000. Recently he bought a hotel at Chatham. What is to be the future of the ancient Anglo-American is what is worrying the enterprising citizens who bought the property with the intention of razing the old building and erecting in its place a hotel to meet the wants of this growing city. Till the future develops what is to come next, the history of the old Anglo-American hotel will be continued.