APRIL 16, 1867.
NOTABLE THINGS IN ST. LOUIS
EDITORS ALTA: Well, I had to bid good-bye to St. Louis at last. I found it and left it the same happy, cheerful, contented old town - a town where the people are kind and polite, even to strangers - where you can go into a business house you never saw before and speak to a man you never heard of before, and get a perfectly civil answer. It reminded me of the Pacific Coast.
Of course I noticed some little unusual odds and ends of things that set me to thinking. I heard people say "prink" to express that they had been "fixing up ;" and heard them say they had been "peeking" through a crack, for instance, instead of "peeping;" and heard them say "cal'late" instead of "reckon" (which latter is a perfectly legitimate word, as the ALTA readers may see by reference to the 18th verse of the 8th chapter of Romans ;) and heard them say "I admire to do so and so," (which is barbarous;) and heard them say "bosket" for basket, and "gloss" for glass; and "be you goin' home" for "are you going home;~ and heard them say "she is quite pretty" when they meant "she is right pretty" - the one expressing perfection and the other merely a degree of excellence. I heard those and many other unhappy provincialisms which warned me that many New England people have gone westward and are going to mar the ancient purity of the Missourian dialect if somebody don't put a stop to it. But the funniest thing to me was to hear those same immigrants criticising our manner of speaking, and calling attention to what they honestly considered infelicities of language on our part. I couldn't stand that right well.
And I noticed and was glad to see that the Nicolson pavement was used a good deal in St. Louis.
And I also noticed that the ladies did not dress in full fashion - which is a thing that always distresses me. No woman can look as well out of the fashion as in it.
And I noticed that the children in St. Louis have thin legs as a general thing. You see they haven't any hills to climb.
And I noticed that few young men were bald-headed - which is not the case on the Pacific Coast.
And I noticed that whenever people hadn't anything to do, they washed their hands. They use a great deal of coal there, and the air is always filled with invisible coal-dust that soils every thing it touches.
And I noticed that flour was nineteen dollars a barrel.
And I observed that the political bitternesses engendered during the war are still about as strong as they ever were. Individual friends and whole families of old tried friends are widely separated yet - don't visit and don't hold any intercourse with each other. If you give a dinner party for either gentlemen or ladies, or both, it is much the best policy to invite Democrats only or Republicans only. Even Church congregations are organized, net on religious but on political bases; and the Creed begins, "I believe in Abraham Lincoln, the Martyr-President of the United States," or, "I believe in Jefferson Davis, the founder of the Confederate States of America." The genuine Creeds begin that way, although to keep up appearances they still go through the motions and use the ancient formula, "I believe in Jesus Christ," etc.
And one of the pleasantest things I noticed was, that those old-fashioned twilights still remain, and enrich all the landscape with a dreamy vagueness for two hours after the sun has gone down. It is such a pity they forgot to put in the twilight when they made the Pacific Coast. And it is another pity that they forgot to put in any splendid sunsets, too, when the country is so large, and there would have been such a fine opening for them.
UP THE MISSISSIPPI
I went up to Hannibal, Quincy and Keokuk, on the Upper Mississippi. The first and the last named are enjoying a sea son of rest, but not refreshment - the railroads have stricken them dead for a year or two, and I cannot help fearing for Quincy also, now that she is going to build a bridge and let her trade cross the Mississippi, and go through without stopping. St. Louis is doing the same, and somebody has got to suffer for it some day, no doubt.
The railroads have badly crippled the trade of the Keokuk packets, too. They used to go crowded with passengers and freight all the time, but they have room and to spare now. And they don't set a good table any more, either. They never did set a very good table, for that matter, but it was at least better than it is now. Their officers are princes, though.
HANNIBAL - BY A NATIVE HISTORIAN
Hannibal has had a hard time of it ever since I can recollect, and I was "raised" there. First, it had me for a citizen, but I was too young then to really hurt the place. Next, Jimmy Finn, the town drunkard, reformed, and that broke up the only saloon in the village. But the temperance people liked it; they were willing enough to sacrifice public prosperity to public morality. And 80 they made much of Jimmy Finn - dressed him up in new clothes, and had him out to breakfast and to dinner, and so forth, and showed him off as a great living curiosity - a shining example of the power of temperance doctrines when earnestly and eloquently set forth. Which was all very well, you know, and sounded well, and looked well in print, but Jimmy Finn couldn't stand it. He got remorseful about the loss of his liberty; and then he got melancholy from thinking about it so much; and after that, he got drunk. He got awfully drunk in the chief citizen's house, and the next morning that house was as if the swine had tarried in it. That outraged the temperance people and delighted the opposite faction. The former rallied and reformed Jim once more, but in an evil hour temptation came upon him, and he sold his body to a doctor for a quart of whiskey, and that ended all his earthly troubles. He drank it all at one sitting, and his soul went to its long account and his body went to Dr. Grant. This was another blow to Hannibal. Jimmy Finn had always kept the town in a sweat about something or other, and now it nearly died from utter inanition.
After this, Joe Dudding, a reckless speculator, started a weekly stage to the town of Florida, thirty miles away, where a couple of families were living, and Hannibal revived very perceptibly under this wild new sensation.
But then the scarlet fever came, and the hives, and between them they came near hiving all the children in the camp. And so Hannibal took another back-set. But pretty soon a weekly newspaper was started, which bred a fierce spirit of enterprise in the neighboring farmers, because when they had any small potatoes left over that they couldn't sell, they didn't throw them away as they used to do, but they took them to the editor and traded them off for subscriptions to his paper. But finally the potato-rot got him, and Hannibal was floored again.
However, somebody started a pork-house, and the little village showed signs of life once more. And then came the measles and blighted it. It stayed blighted a good while, too.
After a while they got to talking about building a plank road to New London, ten miles away, and after another while, they built it. This made business. Then they got excited and built a gravel road to Paris, 30 or 40 miles. More business. They got into a perfect frenzy and talked of a railroad - an actual rail road - a railroad 200 miles long - a railroad from Hannibal to St. Joseph! And behold, in the fullness of time - in ten or fifteen years - they built it.
A sure enough prosperity burst upon the community, now. Property went up. It was noted as a significant fact that instead of selling town-lots by the acre people began to sell them by the front foot. Hannibal grew fast - doubled its population in two years, started a daily paper or two, and came to be called a city - sent for a fire engine and had her out, bedecked with ribbons, on Fourth of July, but the engine-house burned down one night and destroyed her, which cast a gloom over the whole community. And they started militia companies, and Sons of Temperance and Cadets of Temperance. Hannibal always had a weakness for the Temperance cause. I joined the Cadets myself, although they didn't allow a boy to smoke, or drink or swear, but I thought I never could be truly happy till I wore one of those stunning red scarfs and walked in procession when a distinguished citizen died. I stood it four months, but never an infernal distinguished citizen died during the whole time; and when they finally pronounced old Dr. Norton convalescent (a man I had been depending on for seven or eight weeks,) I just drew out. I drew out in disgust, and pretty much all the distinguished citizens in the camp died within the next three weeks.
Well, Hannibal's prosperity seemed to be of a permanent nature, but St. Louis built the North Missouri Railroad and hurt her, and Quincy tapped the Hannibal and St. Joe in one or two places, which hurt her still worse, and then the war came, and the closing years of it almost finished her.
Now they are trying to build a branch railroad to some place in the interior they call Moberly, at a cost of half a million, and if that fails some of the citizens will move. They only talk Moberly now. The church members still talk about religion, but they mix up a good deal of Moberly in it. The young ladies talk fashion and Moberly, and the old ones talk of charity and temperance, piety, the grave, and Moberly. Hannibal will get Moberly, and it will save her. It will bring back the old prosperity. But won't they have to build another road to protect the Moberly? and another and another to protect each enterprise of the kind? A railroad is like a lie - you have to keep building to it to make it stand. A railroad is a ravenous destroyer of towns, unless those towns are put at the end of it and a sea beyond, so that you can't go further and find another terminus. And it is shaky trusting them, even then, for there is no telling what may be done with trestle-work. Which reminds me of
JIM TOWNSEND'S TUNNEL
He was a stockholder in the "Daly" mine, in Virginia City, and he heard that his Company had let a contract to run a tunnel two hundred and fifty feet to strike the ledge. He visited the premises, and found a man starting a tunnel in very near the top of a very sharp hill. He said:
"You're the man that's got the contract to run this tunnel, I reckon?"
"Two hundred and fifty feet, I hear?"
"Well, it's going to be a mighty troublesome tunnel - and expensive."
"Because you've got to build the last hundred and sixty five feet of it on trestle-work - it's only eighty-five feet through the hill!"
KEOKUK AND QUINCY
The ups and downs I have exaggerated a little in Hannibal's case will fit a good many towns in the Mississippi Valley, and Marysville and one or two others on the Pacific Coast. Keokuk, Iowa, was one of the most stirring and enterprising young cities in America seven years ago, but railroads and land speculations killed it in a single night, almost, and for six years it has been sleeping. It is reviving, now, though, and a new and vigorous prosperity is promised it. Its chances are more to be depended upon than Hannibal's, I think.
But Quincy is a wonderful place. It has always thrived - sometimes slowly and steadily, sometimes with a rush - but always making an unquestionable progress. It claims a population of 25,000 now, and it looks as if the claim were well founded. It is the second city of Illinois, in population, business, activity and enterprise, and high promise for the future. I have small faith in their project of bridging the Mississippi, but they ought to know their own business.
I spent a night at General Singleton's - one of the farmer princes of Illinois - he lives two miles from Quincy, in a very large and elegantly furnished house, and does an immense farming business and is very wealthy. He lights his house with gas made on the premises - made from the refuse of petroleum, by pressure. The apparatus could be stowed in a bath-room very conveniently. All you have to do is to pour a gallon or two of the petroleum into a brass cylinder and give a crank a couple of turns and the business is done for the next two days. He uses seventy burners in his house, and his gas bills are only a dollar and a quarter a week. I don't take any interest in prize bulls, astonishing jackasses and prodigious crops, but I took a strong fancy to that gas apparatus.
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