Travel Experiences in New York
( Originally Published 1903 )
I was at a loss where to sleep when I had crossed the ferry and stood amid the crowds in Cortlandt street. I knew nothing of New York, and when I spied a policeman I asked him for information. I explained that I would like to find a cheap boarding-place where I could stop for a few days, but the gentleman in uniform wasn't of any assistance. He said he did know a woman in Harlem who kept boarders, but I would have to go several miles to get there, and probably I would get lost on the way. I thanked him for what he hadn't done, and walked on up the street. I came into a brilliantly lighted thoroughfare where street cars were running, and I saw by the sign-post that this was the famous Broadway. On a corner I saw a drug-store, and I followed the usual American plan and went in to ask for direction. The clerk was very obliging. He gave me the address of an hotel near-by, where he said I could obtain a bed for twenty-five cents, and I was delighted at the prospect of a lodging at such a price.
The " hotel " wasn't exactly what I expected it would be like. I discovered that it was situated in the Bowery, and I had heard that this was a dreadful street. Its appearance, too, was far from good ; but it was too late to wander about in search of another place, as I was tired and ready for bed ; so I accepted the little partitioned room which was assigned to me, and forgot my troubles in sleep.
Alone in the Metropolis
The next day was Saturday, and I was awakened early in the morning by the traffic in the street without. I arose and hastily washed myself, and then went out to get some breakfast. I knew that this would be a busy, important day. I had reached New York and the next thing was to reach London, and I had no time to waste. I bought coffee and rolls for breakfast, and when the meal was finished I wandered down Broadway to the Battery, where I sat for a long time, watching the animated harbor scene. I never before had witnessed such a spectacle, and the longing to travel was kindled anew by the sight of so many great ships passing down the bay.
After a time I left the Battery and walked up Broadway, wandering aimlessly along, with no object in view, and wondering what I had better do next. For the first time I began to appreciate the true magnitude of this undertaking upon which I had launched myself. What if I couldn't work my way to England after all? What if I should find it necessary to return to Chicago and ask for my old position back again? I resolutely put these fears from me; it was impossible that I should fail after having gone this far.
Featured as the "Boy Reporter"
As I walked up the street I came to the City Hall Park, and beyond it, in Park Row, I saw the building of the New York World, with its great gilded dome. I remembered then that I had been advised to call upon the editor of this news-paper, and I decided to call at once. I entered the elevator, and was carried to. the eleventh floor, where I came to a door with the words upon it " Editorial Offices, Evening World, Positively No Admittance." But I walked right in. I had learned in Chicago that it doesn't pay to stop at too many signs, if you are really anxious to see an editor. Once inside, the editor was pointed out to me, and I lost no time in stating my business. I took a chair at his side, and taking it for granted that he was busy, I spoke rapidly and to the point. " I am going to Europe in a few days," I said, " and hoped that I could send you some articles from there while I am gone. I expect to interview Mr. Gladstone and the Queen and a great many other famous persons, and if you want anything in the way of such interviews, I hope you can tell me now, for probably I won't have time to call again before sailing."
The editor looked at me in astonishment. I think they are used to seeing all sorts of persons in the World office, but evidently I was a new sort. " Is that so? " he said, and I could see that he was interested. Then he asked me how I expected to reach London, and I told him it was my intention to work my passage across the Atlantic. He didn't stop to ask me any further questions. He pressed a button, called a reporter, and told him to " write that boy up." Then he called one of the artists and asked him to make a sketch of me. I was surprised, of course, at all this attention, for from the beginning it had seemed to me a very natural thing that I should start for Europe with twenty-five dollars. The reporter, whom I liked from the first, explained matters, " We're going to give you two columns on the front page," he said, " and that will be a great help to you." Then I understood that I was to have my name in the paper and began to tell the interviewer all about myself, while he listened attentively. After a while he stopped making notes. " Can you write as well as you can talk? " he inquired. " I always thought I could write much better," I replied. " Well," he said, " if that's the case, you'd better write your own story of what you expect to do."
At first I didn't grasp his meaning. " Me write it? " I asked. " Of course," said the reporter, " why not?" So I sat down at one of the little tables with a pile of yellow paper before me, and in an hour I had written a complete account of my first experiences and what I expected to do on the other side. While I was writing the artist made a sketch, and a couple of hours later, when I went out into City Hall Park, I heard a newsboy calling out " Extry paper, all about the World's boy reporter." I lost no time in getting a copy, and handed the boy a nickel in my lavish haste. There, on the front page, were the first two columns filled with the story of the trip I was going to take. There was also a double-column cut of me seated beside Mr.. Gladstone, interviewing him. I could hardly believe my eyes, for I had not expected such a flattering reception. I sat on a bench and read the article through three times, for it was my first appearance in type, and I was very proud of my effort.
In the Office of a Millionaire
When I went back to see the editor, he suggested that I should interview the Mayor of New York, which I did. When I went in on Monday morning he said that there was one man in New York whom he wanted me to see, and he said that if I was successful, he had no doubt but what I would see Mr. Gladstone or any one else in England. This man was Mr. Russell Sage. I said I would try to secure the interview, and went at once to Mr. Sage's office. When I opened the door of the outer room I found myself at once in a small, cage-like inclosure, with two doors and two windows opening from it. Both doors and windows were tightly shut, and none seemed to be about. I tapped on one of the windows, and said to the clerk who opened it that I would like to see Mr. Sage. When he learned that I was a reporter, he said that would be impossible, and closed the window with a bang.
I sat down and looked at my watch. I saw that it was about lunch time, and it occurred to me that Mr. Sage must soon be passing out. So I waited, and in about half an hour, a tall, gray, old gentleman walked out. I knew this must be the famous financier, so I stopped him and explained my desire for an interview. " I can't possibly see you now," he said, " but if you'll come tomorrow morning I will try and give you a few minutes."
I was on hand very early the next day, waiting for Mr. Sage to arrive, for I wanted him to see me as he passed into his office. He came soon after eight o'clock, and when he found me seated in the cage-like room he couldn't do other-wise than to invite me in. While the great man opened his mail and read the reports of Wall Street, I talked to him and asked him many questions. Among other things, I inquired what is the surest way of getting rich. " Why," said Mr. Sage, " save your money, of course. And when you get a little ahead, invest it in some good concern. I don't believe in speculating, for there are plenty of safe investments which will pay you a good return on your money."
I returned to the editor with this interview and he was greatly pleased with my success. When this had been printed, I wrote no more until the day I sailed, for it was necessary for me to find an opportunity to work my passage across the Atlantic. This proved to be a far more difficult task than I had anticipated. Day after day I tramped along the wharves of the North River, calling at every ship I could find, bound for any port in England, and offering to do any sort of work if the officers would only let me go. I offered to wash dishes or scrub the decks or peel vegetables, but somehow they had always some excuse to make. They said that I wasn't strong enough, or old enough, and that I was inexperienced. I knew, of course, that I wasn't very strong; but I was willing, and I was positive I could make myself useful on board ship in one way or another.
The days passed, and I met with no success in my effort to find work, and with each disappointment my discouragement grew. I almost wished that I had been content to remain in Chicago as an office-boy, for certainly it wasn't pleasant to be turned away from every ship with gruff words and ridicule.
At last I felt that I must end the suspense, and I determined to purchase a steerage ticket upon one of the fast liners going to Liverpool. I had earned a little money from the newspaper, and still had a little more than twenty-five dollars. If I bought this passage-ticket, I knew I would arrive in London without any money, but my chief desire at this time was to get started from New York, and I could trust to finding work of some sort when I reached the other side. It was on a Saturday morning that I reached this decision, and I knew that one of the Cunard steamers was to sail on this very day. I got my belongings together and hurried to the pier, where I arrived just in time to see the ship in midstream, headed down the bay. I was too late to go aboard, and stood there with a dazed feeling. It seemed that everything was against me, and that I was never, never, to get started for Europe.
A Cloud with a Silver Lining
But is was fortunate, after all, that I didn't succeed in getting aboard the Cunarder, for I saved my money and carried out my original plan of working my passage. I sat there on the pier for about an hour, during which I became more reconciled to my situation, and then I determined to try again to find a chance to work. I knew there would be no other fast ship which would reach London in time for the Jubilee, and that I had better try once more to find something to do on one of the freighters, of which several would be sailing on this very day.
I walked down West Street, and came shortly to the pier of the Atlantic Transport Line. I saw there a large freighter which was evidently making ready to sail, and I went on board to see the steward. I had some difficulty in finding him, and when I finally located him on deck I told him of the difficulty I had in getting work, and how much I desired to be in London in time for the Jubilee. He looked at me a moment and then said that perhaps he could use me as a pantry-boy, and that I had better go on board that evening, as the ship was to sail the next morning. This was joyful news, indeed. I had succeeded after all in getting something to do, and I was now assured that I would see England, whether I accomplished any of my other plans or not.
My last day in New York was a happy one. I called to see the friends I had made during my stay, and they were warm in their congratulations on my success in finding work. There was an article in my friendly newspaper stating that the " boy reporter " was about to leave for Europe to see Mr. Gladstone, and after many dark days the sun was shining for me again. I sent a long letter home, telling of my good fortune, for I knew that mother would be anxiously awaiting news of my departure. She had been delighted with my success in seeing the President and with my reception in New York, and she said in her letters that she was reconciled at last to my going so far from home. And though of course she worried somewhat during my absence, she never knew of the unpleasant experiences which befell me, and supposed that I had nothing but good luck, for, of course, I mentioned every encouraging incident which happened.
It was after dark when I boarded the ship which was to be my home for twelve days, and when I reported to the chief steward, he told me I had better go at once to bed and secure a good rest before beginning work the next day. I was shown to my sleeping place by old " Butch," the watchman, and I was disappointed at first in my surroundings. I was assigned to a small room, in the forward part of the ship, which I was to occupy jointly .with seven others. There were eight narrow bunks ranged about the walls of the room, and the one given me was short, as well as narrow. The quarters were crowded, to say the least, and I had difficulty in finding a place for my few belongings. I ended by stringing my band-box from the ceiling, and when I undressed I stuffed my clothing under the straw mattress for safety. I had caught a glimpse of one or two of my roommates, and I decided to keep all my belongings out of sight as much as possible.
I discovered that I needn't expect much sleep this first night.. My bunk was not only narrow, but is was too short for me to lie at full length, and I twisted and turned without being able to lose myself in sleep. Whenever I dozed I was sure to be awakened by some one of my roommates who had been celebrating his farewell night on shore, and who came on board in a noisy mood. So I lay awake most of the night, thinking of the days and nights to come.