First Traveling Experiences
( Originally Published 1903 )
I HADN'T been many days in Chicago when I began to feel homesick. I found it rather lonesome when I returned to my litttle lodging in the evening and found none there to greet me, and it was very different from the home life to which I had been accustomed. The long boarding-house table at which I ate my dinner was different, too, from the cheery supper table at home, and there was often a lump in my throat as I thought of the family in Mattoon. When I finished dinner I usually took a walk about the city, and when I tired of walking I returned to the little room and sat down to read. But reading, also, seemed somehow different. The very silence round about me became oppressive. The street in which I lived was a very quiet place, and in the evening the house was absolutely silent ; at first I thought the silence would help me in my reading; but I found that it got on my nerves and became intolerable. I would then go out and wander about the streets for the sake of the animation, the crowds, and the lights ; or perhaps I would pay twenty-five cents to sit in the gallery of a theatre, if there was some famous actor playing in the city.
I was rather shy during those first weeks in the city, and I looked, even younger than my age. I spoke to no one, and no one spoke to me. I suppose it was risky for me to wander about Chicago streets at night, but I came to no harm. I had no idea of the evil all about me, and I had no suspicion that any one would care to harm me. By observing the passing show I learned many interesting things about city life, and the training was of value to me when I began to travel over the earth.
Even now I cannot think of those lonely evenings in my Chicago lodging without a touch of the old terror. I see myself sitting under the gaslight, with a book in my hand. I start with the story, but presently the book rests in my lap. I begin to think of the folks at home, and what they are doing at this hour. Presently the silence is too much' for me. I take my hat and go out. In every city there are thousands of young fellows today who find, as I found every evening, the silence and loneliness intolerable. They wander out in search of excitement and a change, and too often they end in disgrace where they only meant to be amused. If some of our rich men had a fuller appreciation of the needs of these young men, they would contribute more liberally to the work of the Young Men's Christian Association and other organizations, which aim to keep the fellows out of mischief.
After a few weeks the summer passed, and mother suggested that I had better return home and begin school with the fall term. I replied that I didn't like to give up my position, now that I was getting fairly started, and explained that I was doing some studying in my spare hours, and that I intended to continue my education. This satisfied mother, and she consented that I should remain. I was glad, for I had hardly begun to work out my ambition as yet, and it would be too bad to go home after only three months' experience in the city.
In October the first of the concerts of the Chicago Orchestra was announced to take place at the Auditorium, and I heard that there would be two concerts each week until the following spring. I had long heard of this famous organization, and it seemed to me that nothing could be finer than to listen to such excel-lent music every week. The admission fee, however, was more than I could afford to pay at every concert, and it occurred to me that I might be able to work my way in to hear the music. I went to see the manager, and was told that if I was willing to rent opera-glasses to the audience, he would be glad to pass me in, and pay me ten cents commission on each glass that I rented. This seemed a very liberal proposition, and I accepted at once.
The concerts were a boon to me in more ways than one. The music was a revelation ; better than any I had ever heard before. They lessened the number of lonesome evenings I had to spend in my room, and I was always glad when Friday and Saturday arrived. I was interested, too, in watching the crowds of concert-goers, many of whom I learned to know by sight. For a few weeks I rented the opera-glasses, and evidently my work was pleasing to the authorities, for when the grand opera company arrived from New York for a season of four weeks, I was placed in charge of one of the check-rooms. From seven-thirty to eight-fifteen each evening I took charge of the hats and coats of the assembling audience, and when the opera was over I gave them out again. Another boy was with me in the room, and after the crowd was seated he was willing that I should go inside and hear the music. This was a great delight to me. The singers ranked among the best in the world, and in their repertoire were the greatest operas ever written, so that before the close of the season I had listened to the best of music for thirty nights, and I had made a beginning in my musical education.
Earning Some Extra Money
The check-room was profitable, too. I earned about a dollar at each performance, and at the end of the season I had saved twenty-five dollars through this extra night-work. This money I deposited in a savings' bank. I didn't know that I would need it for any particular purpose, but I knew that I would feel more comfortable with a little something to fall back upon in case of illness or an ccident. Certainly I had no idea that this nest-egg would be the means of my visiting Europe later on, and if any one had told me that in six months I would be in London, I would have told them they were vastly, mistaken, for nothing at that time was farther from my mind.
My work as office-boy was of the simplest nature, and I had a great deal of time during the day when there was nothing at all for me to do. Then I would sit and make plans for the future, and in the end I concluded that there was no prospect of advancement for me in that position. Probably my wages would be increased from fifteen to twenty dollars a month at Christmas time, but that was scarcely worth working for.
As the winter passed my discontent increased. I began to wonder if there wasn't something else I would rather be than an office-boy, and gradually it came to me that one of the most interesting professions in the world is that of a reporter on a newspaper. The more I thought of it the better I liked the idea, and I at once began to draw books from the public library on the subject of journalism and how to succeed therein. The men in the office had often told me that I appeared to have a gift for writing, and my letters home had frequently been printed in the town paper. So probably I had a little talent for the work to begin with. I determined to seek an opening on one of the Chicago dailies, and for some time I occupied my noon hour with calls upon the various editors. If I failed to secure an audience on my first visit I went again, and continued to go until I saw the editor himself and stated the object of my visit. I was usually received as an unconscious humorist, and perhaps it wasn't strange that the editors laughed. When they heard that I was only sixteen they usually told me to wait a few years before beginning newspaper work, and none of them found it possible to give me a trial.
There was one editor upon whom I looked as a sort of friend. He always checked his hat and coat at my window at the Auditorium, and he sometimes stopped to exchange a few pleasant words with me. So when all the others had refused to encourage me I went to him. " Well," he said, after I had explained my desire, " what have you got to write about? " I confessed that I didn't have anything in particular, but I told him I could find something if he would give me a trial. His reply was very straight and to the point. " You'd better find some-thing first," he said, " and we'll see later on about the position."
At last I understood that in order to write, it is first necessary to have some-thing to say, and I began to wonder what I could do and where I could go to find something to write about. Then I noticed glowing reports in the newspapers of the coming Queen's Jubilee in London, and it occurred to me that if I could cross the ocean, and witness that celebration, I would probably find something worth writing about, and in that way I could get the start which I wanted in newspaper work. Other persons had traveled abroad and sent letters to the papers, so why shouldn't I do the same? It was a rapturous moment for me when I reached this decision. I felt instinctively that I had hit at last upon the very thing to do, and I began forthwith to make my plans.
Planning a Trip Abroad
Of course it wouldn't be an easy thing to reach London from Chicago. I had only twenty-five dollars in the bank, and that would scarcely more than pay my expenses to New York, so I must find some means of working my way. Perhaps, I thought, I could work my way from Chicago to Buffalo on one of the lake steamers, and once in Buffalo it would be a simple matter to reach New York. I had no conception of the great area of New York State, and I thought that since Buffalo and the nation's metropolis were in the same State, they must naturally be near to each other. If it cost very much to pay my carfare to the seaport, I planned to walk the distance. Had I known that it is four hundred and fifty miles, I would have arranged a different plan. Once in New York, I was sure I would have no difficulty in securing a position of some sort on one of the steamers going to England, and once on the other side, I would send articles to the editors, and they would send me large checks in payment, and after that it would all be smooth sailing.
When I had the trip planned in this fashion, I went round again to see the editors and tell them all about it. I also requested them to sign contracts with me for articles to be sent from the other side, and suggested that I would be very glad to have them pay some money in advance on account. The editors didn't receive my announcement with as much enthusiasm as I expected to see. Most of them, in fact, advised me to give up the plan altogether, and none of them were willing to make a contract for articles to be sent. They said they were afraid that I wouldn't be able to reach London unless I had more money with which to start, and when I mentioned that I expected to see Mr. Gladstone and Queen Victoria on the other side, they said frankly that there was no use trying it.
Finally I called upon Mr. Kohlsaat of the Times-Herald, who had first advised me to find something to write about. He, too, was doubtful whether I would reach England, but he said that if I was determined to go, he would secure me a pass over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad as far east as Philadelphia. This offer was the first encouragement I had received, and I determined that nothing should keep me from now carrying out my plan.
I had purposely delayed writing home about the trip, and when I finally informed mother of what I expected to do, she was naturally opposed to the plan. She even said that if I persisted they would send for me to come home. I had expected this opposition, and set to work to overcome it. Every day I sent a letter telling of what I expected to do, and how sure I was of doing it. I said that I couldn't be happy unless I was permitted to make the effort, and at last I received a reply saying that I could go. My persistence had had the desired effect. I have never received a letter which made me more happy, for by this time I could think of nothing but my trip, and it was intolerable that anything should keep me from going.
I lost no time in starting from Chicago. The few belongings I wanted to take with me I packed in a shirt-box which was given me at a furnishing store, and with this and one other package I began an eight-months' trip. I included among the necessary articles my little coffee-pot and the alcohol lamp which I had used in my light-housekeeping, and they were of service throughout the trip.
It was a beautiful day in May when I started on my travels, and less than a year since I had first left home. I had learned much that was helpful during those months in Chicago, and I felt more sure of myself than when I arrived in that city. I started now on my trip to Europe, full of hope, ambition and determination to succeed. No one thought I would be able to accomplish my plans, and this fact in itself spurred me on to persevere. I must leave nothing undone to reach England.
A New Idea
As the limited train sped eastward and I sat very still in my seat, with my face pressed up against the window, a new idea entered my mind. I read again the conditions on the back of my railway pass, and saw that they provided for a stop-over at Washington. I decided that it would pay me to take advantage of the privilege and make an effort to see the President and Mrs. McKinley. If I were going to England to see Mr. Gladstone and the Queen, it would be well to start out by seeing the President of the United States. So when the train pulled into Washington the next day, I gathered up my box and my bundle and left my traveling acquaintances. They laughed when I told them that I was stopping off to see the President, but by this time I was above such slight discouragements. I checked my luggage at the station and started for the White House without delay, stop-ping en route to engage a lodging for the night. When I reached the Executive Mansion I gazed upon the beautiful structure with considerable awe. The fact that Jackson and Lincoln and so many others of my heroes had lived in that building was almost enough to deter me from entering. It seemed like sacred ground.
But the men at the door looked very business-like, and not at all scared, and I decided to go in. They stopped me, of course, and inquired the nature of my business, and I told them I wanted to see Mr. Porter, the Secretary to the President, about whom I had read in the papers. I was allowed to go upstairs to the waiting-room, and there I encountered an august official, as broad as he was tall, and very pompous and severe in manner. He demanded whom I wanted to see, and I told him I desired to talk with Mr. Porter. He looked at me with a ludicrous expression on his face. " Don't you know that this ain't no time to see Mr. Porter, child?" he asked. I told him I was sorry if this was a busy day, but that I would sit down and wait.
There were about fifty other persons waiting in the room to see the President or his secretary. Many of them were office-seekers, men and women who had come from every corner of the country to beg an appointment from the Executive. I hadn't been long seated when I saw Mr. Porter come out of his office to speak to some one. I knew him at once from the pictures I had seen published, and when he had finished his conversation, I walked up to him boldly and stated my desire. I told him something of the trip upon which I had started, and he appeared to be much interested. " It's impossible, though," he said, " for you to see the President now. All of these people have been waiting for some time, and I could hardly take you in before them. But if you are willing to wait until four o'clock, when the office will be closed, I will try and arrange it for you." So I sat down again. At four o'clock the doors were closed, the office-seekers filed out, and I was soon the only person left.
With the President of the United States
Mr. Porter appeared in a short time and asked me to follow him. " I think the President will see you now," he said, in his pleasant way, " and you are more likely to have a good visit with him now than in the busy part of the day." I followed him through several rooms, feeling just a little nervous, for I had never before had audience with a person of such importance. After we had passed through several apartments we reached what was evidently Mr. McKinley's private office, and I was disappointed when I didn't see the President anywhere about. But the secretary reassured me. " Never mind," he said, " we won't stop now. He's probably in the sitting-room. Come along."
We passed through another series of rooms and entered the private apartments of the White House. We seated ourselves for a moment, and Mr. Porter ascertained that the President was changing his coat and would be out shortly. While we were sitting there Mrs. McKinley entered the room, and I was thus afforded the unexpected pleasure of an introduction to her. I was delighted with the President's wife. She was greatly interested in hearing of my plan, and I thought it would be impossible for any one to be more pleasing. The President soon emerged from his room and I was presented. Mr. Porter told him what I had started out to do and he seemed to take a real interest in the plan. He encouraged me very much by what he said. " You have the right color of hair," he remarked, " and I'm sure you'll get along all right. Just keep your wits about you and don't get into bad company and you'll succeed."
Mr. McKinley talked with me for some time, giving me words of advice, and I was delighted with this encouragement from such a man as he. Most Americans know of President McKinley's impressive personality, and it is not to be wondered at that I was pleased with my reception.
I enjoyed what seemed to me a good visit with Mr. and Mrs. McKinley, and when I left I thanked them from the bottom of my heart for their kindness. They said they wished there was more that they could do to help me on my way. After I had taken my departure 'I walked down Pennsylvania Avenue as if I were walking on air. It seemed to me then that the success of my venture was virtually assured, and that if the President and his wife had been so kind, every other person would treat me likewise.
I remained in Washington over night, and early the next morning I left for Philadelphia, where I had planned to spend a few hours in sightseeing. When I arrived in the Quaker City I went at once to see Independence Hall, only to find it " closed for repairs," which had been its regular condition for a considerable period. It was a disappointment not to see the interior of this historic building, but I knew that I was but one of many thousands who had been through this experience. I went down the water-front, hoping to find a boat which would take me to New York, for my railway pass wasn't good for the rest of my trip. I wanted to save every cent possible, and I hoped that the fare by water would be cheaper than by rail. But there were no passenger steamers, and I couldn't prevail upon the captain of a freighter to let me go with him. So I purchased a ticket by rail, and so reduced my slender sum of money by two dollars and a half.
It was a short journey to New York. The train sped across the Jersey meadows, and just as the twilight deepened into night I arrived at Jersey City and saw the towers and spires of the metropolis across the river. Then, for the first time, a fear that everything might not turn out as I hoped crept into my heart, for it isn't a pleasant experience to land in a great city alone and at night, particularly when you are only sixteen years old.