Chicago - Marshall Field's And The Tribune
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
OF course we visited Marshall Field's. The very obliging gentleman who 'showed us about the inconceivably enormous buildings, rushing from floor to floor, poking in and out through mysterious, baffling doors and passageways, now in the public part of the store where goods are sold, now behind the scenes where they are made — this gentleman seemed to have the whole place in his head—almost as great a feat as knowing the whole world by heart.
"How much time can you spare?" he asked as we set out from the top floor, where he had shown us a huge recreation room, gymnasium, and dining room, all for the use of the employees.
"How long should it take?"
"It can be done in two hours," he said, "if we keep moving all the time."
"All right," I said—and we did keep moving. Through great rooms full of trunks, of brass beds, through vast galleries of furniture, through restaurants, grilles, afternoon tea rooms, rooms full of curtains and coverings and cushions and corsets and waists and hats and carpets and rugs and linoleum and lamps and toys and stationery and silver, and Heaven only knows what else, over miles and miles of pleasant, soft, green car-pet, I trotted along beside the amazing man who not only knew the way, but seemed even to know the clerks. Part of the time I tried to look about me at the phantasmagoria of things with which civilization has en-cumbered the human race; part of the time I listened to our cicerone; part of the time I walked blindly, scribbling notes, while my companion guided my steps..
Here are some of the notes:
Ten thousand employees in retail store Choral society, two hundred members, made up of sales-people Twelve baseball teams in retail store; twelve in wholesale; play during season, and, finally, for championship cup, on "Marshall Field Day" Lectures on various topics, fabrics, etc., for employees, also for outsiders : women's clubs, etc. Employees' lunch : soup, meat, vegetables, etc., sixteen cents Largest retail custom dressmaking business in the country -Largest business in ready-made apparel Largest retail millinery business-Largest retail shoe business-Largest branch of Chicago public library (for employees) Largest postal sub-station in Chicago— Largest—largest—largest!
Now and then when something interested me particularly we would pause and catch our breath. Once we stopped for two or three minutes in a fine schoolroom, where some stock-boys and stock-girls were having a lesson in fractions—"to fit them for better positions." Again we paused in a children's playroom, where mothers left their youngsters while they went to do their shopping, and where certain youngsters, thus deposited, were having a gorgeous time, sliding down things, and running around other things, and crawling over and under still other things. Still again we paused at the telephone switchboard—a switchboard large enough to take care of the entire business of a city of the size of Springfield, the capital of Illinois. And still again we paused at the postal sub-station, where fifty to sixty thousand dollars' worth of stamps are sold in a year, and which does as great a postal business, in the holiday season, as the whole city of Milwaukee does at the same period.
At one time we would be walking through a great shirt factory, set off in one corner of that endless building, all unknown to the shoppers who never get behind the scenes ; then we would pop out again into the dressed-up part of the store, just as one goes from the kitchen and the pantry of a house into the formality of dining room and drawing room. And as we appeared thus, and our guide was recognized as the assistant manager of all that kingdom, with its population of ten thousand, saleswomen would rise suddenly from seats, little gossiping groups would disperse quickly, and floor men, who had been talking with saleswomen, would begin to occupy themselves with other matters.. I remember coming upon a "silence room" for saleswomen —a large, dark, quiet chamber, in which was an attend-ant; also a saleswoman who was restlessly resting by rocking herself in a chair. And as we moved through the store we kept taking off our hats as we went behind the scenes, and putting them on as we emerged into the public parts. Never before had I realized how much of a department store is a world unseen by shoppers. At one point, in that hidden world, a vast number of women were sewing upon dresses. I had hardly time to look upon this picture when, rushing through a little door, in pursuit of my active guide, I found myself in a maze of glass, and long-piled carpets, and mahogany, and electric light, and pretty frocks, disposed about on forms. Also disposed about were many "perfect thirty-sixes," with piles of taffy-colored hair, doing the "debutante slouch" in their trim black costumes, so slinky and alluring. Here I had a strong impulse to halt, to pause and examine the carpets and woodwork, and one thing and another. But no! Our guardian had a professional pride in getting us through the store within two hours, according to his promise. I would gladly have allowed him an extra ten minutes if I could have spent it in that place, but on we went—my companion and I dragging behind a little and looking back-ward at the Lorelei—I remember that, because I ran into a man and knocked my hat off.
At last we came to the information bureau, and as there was a particularly attractive young person behind the desk, it occurred to me that this would be a fine time to get a little information.
"I wonder if I can stump that sinuous sibyl," I said. "Try it," said our conductor.
So I went over to her and asked : "How large is this store, please?"
"You mean the building?"
"There is fifty acres of floor space under this roof," she said. "There are sixteen floors: thirteen stories rising two hundred and fifty-eight feet above the street, and three basements, extending forty-three and a half feet below. The building takes up one entire block. The new building devoted exclusively to men's goods is just across Washington Street. That building is—"
"Thank you very much," I said. "That 's all I want to know about that. Can you tell me the population of Chicago ?"
"Two million three hundred and eighty-eight thou-sand five hundred," she said glibly, showing me her pretty teeth.
Then I racked my brains for a difficult question. "Now," I said, "will you please tell me where Charles Towne was born ?"
"Do you mean Charles A. Towne, the lawyer ; Charles Wayland Towne, the author; or Charles Hanson Towne, the poet?" she demanded.
I managed to say that I meant the poet Towne.
"He was born in Louisville, Kentucky," she informed me sweetly. She even gave me the date of his birth, too, but as the poet is a friend of mine, I will suppress that.
"Is that all?" she inquired presently, seeing that I was merely gazing at her.
"Yes, you adorable creature." The first word of that sentence is all that I really uttered. I only thought the rest.
"Very well," she replied, shutting the book in which she had looked up the Townes.
"Thanks very much," I said.
"Don't mention it," said she—and went about her business in a way that sent me about mine.
Aside from its vastness and the variety of its activities, two things about Marshall Field's store interested me particularly. One is the attitude maintained by the company with regard to claims made in the advertising of "sales.." When there is a "sale" at Field's comparisons of values are not made. It may be said that certain articles are cheap at the price at which they are being offered, but it is never put in the form : "Was $5. Now $2.50." Field's does not believe in that.
"We take the position," an official explained to me, "that things are worth what they will bring. For in-stance, if some manufacturer has made too many over-coats, and we are able to get them at a bargain, or if there is a mild winter and overcoats do not sell well, we may place on sale a lot of coats which were meant to be sold at $40, but which we are willing to sell at $22.50.
In such a case we never advertise `Worth $40. We just point out that these are exceptionally good coats for the money. And, when we say that, it is invariably true. This advertising is not so sensational as it could be made, of course, but we think that in the long run it teaches people to rely upon us."
Another thing which interested me in Field's was the appearance of the saleswomen. They do not look like New York saleswomen. In the aggregate they look happier, simpler, and more natural. I saw no women behind the counters there who had the haughty, indifferent bearing, the nose-in-the-air, to which the New York shopper is accustomed. Among these women, no less than among the rich, the Chicago spirit seemed to show itself. It is everywhere, that spirit. I admit that, perhaps, it does not go with omnipresent taxicabs. I admit that there are more effete cities than Chicago. The East is full of them. But that any city in the country has more sterling simplicity, greater freedom from sham and affectation among all classes, more vigorous cultivation, or more well-bred wealth, I respectfully beg to doubt.
No, I have not forgotten Boston and Philadelphia.
With its floor of big steel plates, its towering presses, vast and incomprehensible, and its grimy men in overalls, the pressroom struck me as resembling nothing so much as the engine room of an ocean liner.
The color presses were already roaring, shedding streams of printed paper like swift waterfalls, down which shot an endless chain of Mona Lisas—for the Mona Lisa took the whole front page of the "Tribune" colored supplement that week. At the bottom, where the "folder" put the central creases in them, the paper torrents narrowed to a disappearing point, giving the illusion of a subterranean river, vanishing beneath the floor. But the river did n't vanish. It was caught, and measured, and folded, and cut, and counted by machinery, as swift, as eye-defying, as a moving picture; machinery which miraculously converted a cataract into prim piles of Sunday newspapers, which were, in turn, gathered up and rushed away to the mailing room—whither, presently, we followed.
In the mailing room I made the acquaintance of a machine with which, if it had not been so busy, I should have liked to shake hands, and sit down somewhere for a quiet chat. For it was a machine possessed of the Chicago spirit: modest, businesslike, effective, and highly intelligent. I did not interrupt it, but watched it at its work. And this is what it did : It took Sunday papers, one by one, from a great pile which was handed to it every now and then, folded them neatly, wrapped them in manila paper, sealed them up with mucilage, squeezed them, so that the seal would hold, addressed them to out-of-town subscribers and dropped them into a mail sack. There was a man who hovered about, acting as a sort of valet to this highly capable machine, but all he had to do was to bring it more newspapers from time to time, and to take away the mail bags when they were full, or when the machine had finished with all the subscribers in one town, and began on another. Nor did it fail to serve notice of each such change. Every time it started in on a new town it dipped its thumb in some red ink, and made a dab on the wrapper of the first paper, so that its valet—poor human thing—would know enough to furnish a new mail bag. I noted the name to which one red-dabbed paper was addressed: E. J. Henry, Bosco, Wis., and I wondered if Mr. Henry had ever wondered what made that florid mark.
It was near midnight then. All Bosco was asleep. Was Mr. Henry dreaming? And however wonderful his dream, could it surpass, in wonder, this gigantic organization which, for a tiny sum, tells him, daily, everything that happens everywhere?
Think of the men and the machines that work for Mr. E. J. Henry, resident of Bosco, in the Badger State ! Think of the lumbermen who cut the logs; of the East-ern rivers down which those logs float; of the great pulp mills which convert them into paper. Think of the railroad trains which bring that paper to Chicago. Think of the factories which. build presses for the ultimate defacement of that paper; and the other factories which make the ink. Think of the reporters working everywhere ! Think of the men who laid the wires with which the world is webbed, that news may fly; and the men who sit at the ends of those wires, in all parts of the globe, ticking out the story of the day to the "Tribune" office in Chicago, where it is received by other men, who give it to the editors, who prepare it for the linotypers, who set it for the stereotypers, who make it into plates for the presses, which print it upon the paper, which is folded, addressed, and dropped into a mail bag, which is rushed off in a motor through the midnight streets and put aboard a train, which carries it to Bosco, where it is taken by the postman and delivered at the residence of Mr. E. J. Henry, who, after tearing the manila wrap-per, opening the paper, and glancing through it, remarks: "Pshaw ! There 's no news today !" and, forth-with, rising from the breakfast table, takes up an old pair of shoes, wraps them in his copy of the Chicago "Tribune," tucks them under his arm and takes them down to the cobbler to be half-soled.
Sic transit gloria!
Upstairs, on the roof of the "Tribune" Building, in a kind of deck-house, is a club, made up of members of the staff, and here, through the courtesy of some of the editors, my companion and I were invited to have supper. When I had eaten my fill, I had a happy thought. Here, at my mercy, were a lot of men who were engaged in the business of sending out reporters to molest the world for interviews. I decided to turn the tables and, then and there, interview them—all of them. And I did it. And they took it very well.
I had heard that the "Column"—that sometimes, if not always, humorous newspaper department, which now abounds throughout the country, threatening to be-come a pestilence--originated with the "Tribune." I asked about that, and in return received, from several sources, the history of "Columns," as recollected by these men.
Probably the first regular humorous column in the country—certainly the first to attract any considerable attention,—was conducted for the "Tribune" by Henry Ten Eyck White, familiarly known as "Butch" White. It started about 1885, under the heading, "Lakeside Musings." After running this column for some five years, White gave it up, and it was taken over, under the same heading, by Eugene Field, who made it even better known than it had been before.
Field had started as a "columnist" on the Denver "Tribune," where he had run his "Tribune Primer"; later he had been brought to Chicago by Melville E. Stone (now general manager of the Associated Press) and Victor F. Lawson, who had together established the Chicago "Daily News," of which Mr. Lawson is the present editor and publisher. Field's column in the "News" was known as "Sharps and Flats." In it appeared his free translations of the Odes of Horace, and much of his best known verse. Also he printed gossip of the stage and of literary matters-the latter being gathered by him at the meetings of a little club, "The Bibliophiles," composed of prominent Chicagoans. This club used to meet in the famous old McClurg book-store.
In 1890 George Ade came from Indiana, and after having been a reporter on the Chicago "Record" for one year, started his famous "Stories of the Street and Town," under which heading much of his best early work appeared. This department was illustrated by John T. McCutcheon, another Indiana boy. At about this time, Roswell Field, a brother of Eugene, was con-ducting a column called "Lights and Shadows" in the Chicago "Evening Post," in which paper Finley Peter Dunne was also beginning his "Dooleys." Dunne was born in Chicago and was a reporter on several Chicago papers before he found his level. He got the idea for "Dooley" from Jim McGarry, who had a saloon opposite-the "Tribune" building, and employed a bartender named Casey, who was a foil for him. McGarry was described to me by a "Tribune" man who knew him, as "a crusty old cuss."
After some years Dunne left the "Post" and became editor of the Chicago "Journal," to which paper came (from Vermont by way of Duluth) Bert Leston Taylor. Taylor ran a department on the "Journal" which was called "A Little About Everything," and one of his "contribs" was a young insurance man, Franklin P. Adams. Later, when Taylor left the "Journal" to take a position on the "Tribune," Adams left the insurance business and went at "columning" in earnest, replacing Taylor on the "Journal." Some years since Adams migrated to the metropolis, where he now conducts a column called "The Conning Tower" in the New York "Tribune."
Taylor, in the meantime, had started his famous column known as "A Line-o'-Type or Two." This he ran for three years, after which he moved to New York and became editor of "Puck." Before Taylor left the "Tribune," Wilbur D. Nesbit, who had been running a column which he signed "Josh Wink," in the Baltimore "American," came to Chicago and started a column called "The Top o' the Morning," which, for a time, alternated with Taylor's "Line-o'-Type." Later Nesbit moved over to the "Post," where he conducted a department called "The Innocent Bystander," leaving the "Tribune," for a time, without a "column."
In the next few years two other "columns" started in Chicago, "Alternating Currents," conducted by S. E. Kiser, for the "Record-Herald," and "In the Wake of the News," which was started in the "Tribune" by the late "Hughey" Keough, who is still remembered as an exceptionally gifted man. When Keough died, Hugh S. Fullerton ran the column for a time, after which it was taken up by R. W. Lardner, who, I believe, continues to conduct it, although he has recently written baseball stories which have been published in "The Saturday Evening Post," and have attracted much attention. Kiser also continues his column in the "Record-Herald." Another column, which started a year or so ago is "Breakfast Food" in the Chicago "Examiner," con-ducted by George Phair, formerly of Milwaukee.
The Chicago "Tribune" now has two "columns," for, five years since, it recaptured Bert Leston Taylor, and brought him back to revive his "Line-o'-Type." He has been there ever since, and, so far as I know "columns," his is the best in the United States. It has been widely imitated, as has also been the work of the "Tribune's" famous cartoonist, John T. McCutcheon. But some-thing that a "Tribune" man said to me of McCutcheon, is no less true, I think, of Taylor: "They can imitate his style, but they cannot imitate his mind."