‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 7’ by a Correspondent in New York (1 April, 1882)

The following is part of a series of articles on the condition of the United States of America for working class Scottish immigrants. One of the core tenants of The People’s Journal was to encourage self-improvement for the working classes. For these reason the paper would regularly promote emigration and provide news  and publish correspondence from the major destination of Scots in the period (the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). Here the discussion focuses on literature and a visit to Niagara falls.

Literature—Extravagance—Amusements—

Barnum’s Show—Visit to Niagara

                If there is one thing above another in which you far excel the Yankees it is in literature. We have two or three good magazines and a few good newspapers, but, generally speaking, the American press is very frivolous. The one half is taken up with politics, and the other half with anything that is horrible, sensational, or laughable. But what must I say in speaking of periodicals? All I have seen are of the Jack Sheppard and Claude Duval kind. But such stuff pleases the readers, and, I suppose, pays the publishers. But the literature of America wants the backbone of the literature of Great Britain. But we must not lay all this to the blame of Brother Jonathan himself. We must remember the heterogeneous mass of people there are in this country. The cosmopolitan character of nationalities which are represented in America may be gathered from the fact that over fifty different kinds, embracing every land and clime in Europe—Asia, Africa, and Australasia—landed in New York last year. So that in printing matter there are lots of different tastes to be considered.

There is one class besides the Chinese who are held in low estimation in America—viz., the poor darkie. As far as I have ever seen there is nothing but his colour (a thing he cannot help) to mark him out as not being in most respects the equal of his brother of the North. Not long ago ta conductor of a street car was fined for turning one out of his car merely because his skin was black, and there is a manager of a theatre going to appear as defendant in a case where he turned one out of his place of amusement. There was a Yankee who was going a-fishing and took a young ebony along with him. On crossing a very dangerous ferry the young darkie fell overboard. The Yank instantly sprang after him. Both were nearly drowned before they were got on board the boat again, and the rest of the white passengers began to remonstrate with the white man for being so foolish as to risk his life for a negro. He replied—“I didn’t care a cuss for the darned black whelp, but he had all the bait in his pocket.

I think it was Geordie the Third that said, “Sailors earned their money like horses and spent it like asses.” I think this may apply very well to Americans generally, for they win good wages by working hard, and they are not slow in spending them. It is quite a common thing for a young man to take his sweetheart or a married man to take his wife out on Sunday in a vehicle and drive her all round the town, and in winter the wife or sweetheart thinks herself slighted if she is not taken out sleigh riding. Why, this very day (second day of the year) I saw dozens and dozens of working men with their wives and sweethearts sleigh riding, and very expensive riding it is too. It is a very poor working man’s house that has not either an organ or piano in it, and almost every one has got a sewing machine. Then as to theatres, circuses, wild beast shows, and such like, they must be patronised. Some of these shows are of great magnitude, and can only pay in large places, but this does not hinder the people who live in smaller places from seeing them, for they will lose a day’s wages, pay railway fare, and all incidental expenses to see them. The great showman Barnum consolidated with another large show last year, and went round the country. Among other large places he visited Syracuse. At that time I was working 27 miles off, but the workmen where I was resolved to take a day and go to see the show, and I was as stupid as to follow suit. This cost each of us two and a half dollars for wages, one half dollar for railway fare (special train for the occasion), one half dollar for admission to the show, one half dollar for dinner and tea—total, four dollars or sixteen shillings and eightpence to see a circus and wild beast show. I have said that the shows are of great size here. On that occasion there were fifteen thousand people under one canvas roof. They performed in three rings at the same time. To show the extent of their menagerie they had twenty-one elephants, one of them a baby a few months old. Everything belonging to this exhibition was on the same scale. This beats your Wombwell of your Newsome, doesn’t it?

Then we have all sorts of pic-nics. Every church, every school, every trade, every organisation, every order has its pic-nic—sometimes one mile out of town, sometimes a hundred miles off. A favourite railway trip or pic-nic from Rochester is to the farfamed Falls of Niagara. It is betwixt 80 or 90 miles to go by Lake Ontario, and about 100 miles to go by way of Buffalo. Having heard so much about the Fails I went to see them, and I must say at the first sight I was a little disappointed. Had I never heard, read, or seem views of the great cataract and come upon it unaware that there was such a thing in the country I might have been more struck with its grandeur; but no doubt it is a majestic sight. When you land at the depot you have about half a mile to walk to the Suspension Bridge. From the depot to the falls there is nothing but hotels; you are not required to walk if you are willing and able to pay for a cab, for there are dozens and dozens of cabmen waiting each train coming in. But it is a common saying that a Niagara cabman has no conscience. On the American side the ground is all fenced in wherever a view of the falls can be obtained, and you have to pay to get into this enclosure before you can se them (the almighty dollar again). On going to the Suspension Bridge they charge you 25 cents for walking across. When you get to the centre of this splendid structure you get your first view of this wonder of nature, which is about a quarter of a mile higher up the river. When you get to the end of the Bridge you are in Canada. Going up the Canadian side towards the falls there is nothing but hotels, some of them beautiful edifices. Coming up to within a few yards of the Falls you can feast your eyes on one of the most sublime sights to be seen in the known world. We went and stood so close that we got ourselves wet with spray that rose from the bottom caused by the great depth the water has to fall. I believe you can for a consideration get a waterproof suit and a guide to go below and walk betwixt the rock and the falling water, but as it looked a dangerous proceeding we did not attempt it.

Hearing before we started that hotel charges were dear at Niagara, we, along with hundreds of others, took the necessaries of life along with us, and sat down on a green knoll, and had our dinner in the Dominion of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria. Before leaving we went to have another and last look at the imposing sight. Some way or other there seemed to be a fascination among our party to stop and look, the same as we could not comprehend what we were looking at, and wondering where such a tremendous volume of water came from that was rushing with such tumultuous haste over this gigantic precipice, seething and boiling below, hurrying along with violence and rapidity.

“But [ineligible] can tether time nor tide,

The hour approaches we [ineligible] side,

But upon the Bridge we turned

To take a last fond look,” &c.

and [ineligible] our way to the depot to go because—

“Where each took of his [ineligible]-veral way,

[Ineligible]-lved to come some ither day.”

Correspondent.

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