Alfred Duryee Guion – The Beginning (5) – Childhood Memories

This is a continuation of the Reminiscences of my Grandpa, Alfred Duryee Guion, as he was growing up in Mount Vernon, New York during the 1880s and 1890s.

ADG - Lincoln Ave, House

Going back to my boyhood days in the Lincoln Avenue house there are a few vivid recollections that have lasted through the years. One is seeing a Sunday newspaper with a glaring front page in color (not common in those days) showing an ironclad battleship being blown to bits, pieces of steel and bodies exploding in all directions, picturing the destruction of a Russian battleship at Port Arthur by the Japanese. The defeat of the sprawling Russian nation by little Japan established the latter as a world power. The newspaper, I recall, was The American, a Hearst newspaper, which with the evening Journal, was abhorred by the better class of Americans as reeking with “yellow journalism”. My father, who felt intensely on most topics and was usually either all for or all against anything, was a bitter critic of the Hearst papers and I was surprised to see a copy of the American in our house.

AD Guion - self-portrait @ 1896

Another exciting time I recall was the announcement of the blowing up and sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine by the Spanish in Havana, Cuba harbor,   the declaration of war against Spain and the slogan “Remember the Maine”, Teddy Roosevelt Rough Riders, the charge up San Juan Hill, the destruction of the Spanish fleet and Dewey’s victory in Manila Bay, culminating in a stupendous triumphal parade in New York for this great national hero. “You may fire when ready, Gridley”. My whole family went. We had secured seats in a wood reviewing stand erected on Fifth Avenue. The city was thronged with people, much like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Somewhere, somehow, in the seething, pushing crowd I got separated from my parents. As I searched in vain here and there for them I realized that I was lost. I almost panicked but had sense enough to realize my folks would go home by way of the Grand Central Station (that was the old station, not the present structure)
(This was written in 1960) so with fear and wildly beating heart I got there somehow and there at last I found them.

Incidentally, it is interesting to recall the method of handling incoming passenger trains at Grand Central Station in those days. There really were “brakemen” on the railroads then. An incoming train, when it reached the switching area in the station yard, would be dispatched from the locomotive at exactly the right instant. The locomotive would immediately speed up and before the train could follow on the same track, and alert tower man would throw the switch and the train would glide off to another track. Naturally the speed of the train at this breaking point had to be carefully judged, because if to slow, it’s momentum would not be enough to carry it to the passenger unloading platform some distance ahead, and if too fast, it would be brought to too sudden a stop by hitting the big bumper at the station end of the track. So each brakeman would rush to the car platform and by alternately turning and releasing the brake wheels which manually controlled the brake shoes, the train, in a series of jerky movements, was finally brought to a halt at the platform. It was remarkable how few poor landings there were under the circumstances. On getting off and walking to the end of the platform, one was besieged by scores of “hansom cab” drivers, each carrying his whip and soliciting  “fares” to various parts of the city, and all adding to the chorus of ” cab, cab, cab”. The din and excitement of it all made one realized he had finally arrived somewhere.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue Grandpa’s Reminiscences.The story of his early memories, his marriage, the birth of his children and the death of his wife will continue each weekend. At appropriate, chronological times, I will also include early memories that I have recorded with my father, Lad, and his siblings.

On Monday, I’ll begin posting a week of letters written in 1942. Both Lad and Dan have been drafted into the Army, Ced is still working in Anchorage, Alaska, and Dick and Dave are home in Trumbull with Grandpa.

Judy Guion 


8 thoughts on “Alfred Duryee Guion – The Beginning (5) – Childhood Memories

  1. Mrs. P says:

    Great reminiscing!

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