‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 6.’ by a Correspondent in New York (11 March, 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 murders, executions, and funerals.

Murders, Executions, and Funerals.

                On Friday of last week there were no fewer than seven executions in different States—three of them coloured men and four whites. One of the latter has been eighteen months in jail, and received sentence of death three times for the same crime. These seven were all murderers—two of them were executed at St Louis, State of Missouri, and in that State two men are under sentence of death. Another was hung a week ago, and twenty-seven are awaiting trial for murder. The newspapers here give graphic, but disgusting, accounts of executions. Here are a few extracts given us of one that took place in New Jersey last week. We are told on the morning of the execution the culprit several times walked to the window of the jail, and looked out upon the crowd which began to gather in the muddy streets. It was a gaping, idle crowd of slatternly women, beer-soaked men, and a large number of children. In one obscure corner of the street was an old woman kneeling and praying with spirit—swaying her body back and forth, mumbling over prayers for the murderer. She remained in her praying attitude for upwards of an hour regardless of the cold rain which was falling. Then we are told of how, when the condemned man was brought out to the gallows, one of the jailers who had hold of his arms had over-stimulated himself for the ordeal, and began to show signs of toppling over, and had to let go his hold of the prisoner. Next, of how, when this poor wretch was hurled into eternity, of the bending of the knees, twitching of the fingers, contortions of the limbs and body; of how the doctors immediately seized his wrists,, and kept correct record of the dying man’s pulse until his heart cease to beat; of how when cut down the noose of the rope had to be cut, as it was so deeply imbedded in his muscular neck, and of the face turning black and livid, and other disgusting details. One would think we ought to have had our morbid curiosity fully gratified by this account of the last moments of this felon; but not so, for in two days after we read of how the body was taken to an undertaker’s shop, where a motley throng was assembled. It rained incessantly, but the crowd was not to be deterred from seeing the last act of this disgraceful spectacle played out. The pavement in front of the shop was blocked, and the crowd filled the roadway in a solid phalanx extending twenty or thirty yards up and down the street. The crowd was not made up of loafers, but of well-dressed, respectable-looking people, and there were quite as many women to be seen around as men. Two policemen stood guard at the door. They had orders not to admit any boy or girl under eighteen years of age. It is only charitable to suppose that those guardians of the peace were but poor judges of age, as droves of young girls of not more than fifteen or sixteen gained admission, and gazed curiously, though quite unconcernedly, on the ashen face of the dead man. Fathers and mothers, to their shame be it said, brought children of tender years to see the dead felon, with his unhappy wife and worse than fatherless children weeping and wailing around the head of the coffin. The face and chest of the dead were exposed to view, a section of the lid of the coffin being removed for that purpose. The body was attired in a black suit, and a white collar and necktie concealed the ugly mark left by the rope upon the neck. The widow, with her boy and girl children, sat at the head of the coffin moaning and sobbing piteously while the curious throng filed around the dead man, peering curiously at the ghastly face as they paused a moment or so in passing by.

When the funeral rites had been concluded, the clergyman called upon all those present to with draw save the widow and her children, that, free from observation, they might take a last look at the dead husband and father. The scene that ensued was very painful. The poor women broke down utterly, and had to be led away by her friends, while the little lad, as he kissed the cold cheek of his dead father, wailed piteously, “Oh, my father; oh, my father.” On the arrival of the funeral cortege at the burying-ground, notwithstanding the heavy rain and the fact that the ways were ankle deep in mud, the road was lined five or six deep with men, women, and children, who had been waiting for hours to see the body of the murderer carried to its last resting-place. When the coffin was removed from the hearse a disgraceful scene ensued. A crowd of some hundreds of men and women, many of the latter carrying babes in their arms, rushed helter-skelter over newly-made graves, kicking aside, as they strode recklessly over, planted flowers placed by loving hands over the graves of their beloved ones, and even when the coffin was lowered into the grave they hooted and yelled, and the boys raced around the grave as though the occasion was the visit of a circus, instead of the burial of a fellow creature. The grave was speedily filled up, the crowd rapidly dispersed, and within five minutes only two or three morbidly curious people, who had arrived late upon the scene, stood around the spot beneath which lay the dead murderer in his gaudy coffin with its inscription—“Martin Kankowsky, died January 6, 1882, aged 35 years.” Continue reading “‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 6.’ by a Correspondent in New York (11 March, 1882)”

‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 5.’ by a Correspondent in New York (4 March, 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 women in America and the culture of marriage and divorce.

“There is no want of public speakers amongst them. In what is called the Free Methodist Church there are any amount of orators. The minister of the congregation will speak for about half-an-hour. Then he leaves it to his flock to gay the rest. He no sooner sits down than one of the sisters gets up and rattles on until from the sheer want of breath (not of words) she sinks exhausted into her seat. She no sooner faints than up pops another sister and repeats the dose, and so on. A few Sundays ago I, along with some friends, went to a Temperance meeting to hear a celebrated sister, and I can assure you she was “boss” of that meeting.”

American “Ladies” and Divorces.

To the Editor of the People’s Journal.

                Sir,—I want to tell you now what I think of the women folk of this country. From the time the feminine gender of America can lisp the name of “pa” or “ma” they begin to learn to be pert, forward, impudent, and cute, with plenty of gab. It is said that the animals we get the hams from grow ugly as they grow old, and, so far as salt tongue is concerned, the same can be said about the American ladies, By-the-by, there are no women here; they are all ladies. In their homes they are, generally speaking, slovenly-looking, going about their household work dressed like a broom-handle with a mutch and nicht gown on. Out shopping, they are dressed from top to toe with Gainsborough hats, fur-trimmed dolmans, Berlin cloaks, neal [?] sacques, ulsterettes, buttoned-up kid boots, white gauntlets, lace veils, and a large display of candlestick-gold jewellery. There is no want of public speakers amongst them. In what is called the Free Methodist Church there are any amount of orators. The minister of the congregation will speak for about half-an-hour. Then he leaves it to his flock to gay the rest. He no sooner sits down than one of the sisters gets up and rattles on until from the sheer want of breath (not of words) she sinks exhausted into her seat. She no sooner faints than up pops another sister and repeats the dose, and so on. A few Sundays ago I, along with some friends, went to a Temperance meeting to hear a celebrated sister, and I can assure you she was “boss” of that meeting. She both started and ended the meeting herself. Some brothers tried to get in a few words, but it was no use. They would have required a sharp knife to “whyte” their words, and then watched for a chance to get them in edgeways. Here is an anecdote which illustrates their cuteness. A certain gentleman went home one night rather late and rather unsteady. His wife was in bed, and he, not wanting to let her know that he had been looking on the wine when it was red, quietly slipped off his clothes and as quietly slipped into bed and on purpose not to let her find any perfume he might have, he turned his back to her. She lay very quiet for a few minutes, but she could stand it no longer. So she bawls aloud—“John, you need not try to fool me, for you are drunk through and through.

I am sorry to say that I do not think the moral status of the people here is so high as that of the old country, more especially among married people. It is quite a common thing to hear of a married man eloping with another man’s wife or vice versa, or some deviation from rectitude regarding the marriage vows. The divorce courts are well patronised institutions here, so much so that lawyers advertise through the press where and when people will get divorces consummated on the shortest notice and the least expense. The New York Herald, one of the most respectable newspapers in America, is lying before me, and in it are no less than six advertisements from lawyers on this matter. Here is a copy of one which is a facsimile of the others. “Absolute divorces, quietly and speedily, without publicity—desertion, drunkenness, incompatibility, every known cause. Pay when divorced. Detectives furnished, always successful,—F.K., lawyer, 317 Broadway, New York.” AS I have said, there are six such advertisements in one newspaper, and I don’t think it says much for the honour of these lawyers to hold out such inducements for people to pluck themselves apart—those whom a higher Power hath united together. I hope your readers will not think that I have the least idea that this opinion applies to the ladies of America as a rule. God forbid. I believe there are plenty of decent, moral women in this country as well as in ever other; but what I do say is, that a great many irregularities go on here both by males and females. We have little need for this sin amongst us, for there is plenty of crime here without it. Continue reading “‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 5.’ by a Correspondent in New York (4 March, 1882)”