The Beginning – Reminiscences of Alfred D. Guion (15) – 1884 – 1964

The following memories are quotes from “Reminiscences of Alfred D.  Guion, written in 1960 while he was on a four-months “around the world” freighter trip.

            Alfred Duryee Guion

Also about this time I left the Smelting Company and took another stenographic job at a higher salary with the Estate of Collis P.  Huntington, one of the country’s great railroad builders.  His adopted son, Archer M.  Huntington, also a millionaire, used the office for his headquarters.  One day I was called into the manager’s private office and told that Archer M.  wanted me to go down that morning to the American Art Gallery’s auction sale and purchase, in my own name, a set of fine Sheraton chairs which were to be put up for sale, and for which purpose he gave me a thousand dollars in cash.  I had never had as much money as this in my possession nor indeed had I ever attended so glamorous an auction sale and felt the responsibility deeply.  I asked the office manager what I should do if the bidding should go higher but all he would say was: “You are to buy the furniture.”  I was still troubled in mind, and Mr. Archer having just come in, I decided in spite of the fact he was a very pompous individual not in the habit of discussing his business with clerks and in fact treating me and all my fellow employees as dirt beneath his feet, that I would do the unheard-of thing and approach him direct.  I told him I had been given a thousand dollars to buy the chairs and asked what I should do if I had to bid higher, a fatal error.  He glared at me and angrily replied, “Buy the furniture.”  And that was that.

On the way down to the auction gallery I decided to play it cagily and, as he didn’t want his name to appear in the transaction, I decided to let the low bidders and dealers, if there were any (there were), starte and when they had dropped out come in when there would be less competition.

When the set was put up for bids I followed this plan and joined in when it reached about $500.00.  Soon just a lady and myself were the sole bidders and every time one of us raised the amount by fifty dollars the other would immediately counter with another fifty.  We see-sawed back and forth until, with a firm voice and nonchalant air (I hope) but was dry mouth and butterflies in my stomach, I boldly said one thousand dollars and she promptly said “one thousand, fifty”.  I was over my head already and might as well sink as swim so I came right back with eleven hundred dollars.  She glared at me, threw up her hands and quit.  “Sold” said the auctioneer, “name please”.  After the sale was over I went up to the desk, lay down my thousand dollars in bills and told the cashier I’d send the balance later, which was all right with him.  As instructed, I gave him Mr. Huntington’s Fifth Avenue address where the chairs were to be delivered and returned to the office.  When I reported the price I had had to bid the office manager seemed not a bit concerned and I went back to my routine office work.

The following Saturday in my pay envelope was an additional two weeks salary “in advance” accompanied with a little note reading, “Mr. Huntington thinks you would do better elsewhere.”  I asked the manager the reason for my dismissal, pointing out I had never before been fired from a job, and while I didn’t doubt I could find other employment, it would help me if I knew what I had done wrong in this case to guard against making the same mistake again.  “Mr. Huntington thinks you would do better elsewhere” was the only answer I could get and to this day I don’t know why I was fired.

The N.Y. Times on the following day under “Auction News” contained an item which read: “Spirited bidding on a set of Sheraton furniture took place between Mr. A.D. Guion and Mrs. Vanderbilt.”

On Saturday, John Jackson Lewis arrives in San Francisco and continues the story of his Voyage to California in 1851.

On Sunday, I will continue the series on My Ancestors with an entry about grandpa, Alfred D.  Guion.

Judy Guion


The Beginning – Reminiscences of Alfred D. Guion (14) – 1884 – 1964

The following memories are quotes from “Reminiscences of Alfred D.  Guion, written in 1960 while he was on a four-months “around the world” freighter trip.

Alfred D.  Guion, hamming it up

          I was also actively interested in a dramatic society which every year, for a number of seasons, gave amateur plays in which I was frequently given the leading role.  In some of these plays an attractive young girl named Arla Peabody occasionally played parts.  She also sang in the choir and the more I saw of her, the better I liked her in a mild way.  She was modest and dignified but very popular with boys and girls alike.  She had big brown eyes, a sweet smile, full of life in a quiet way and kind to everybody.  I suppose I was starting to fall in love but had no realization of it at the time.

One of my fellow stenographers at American Smelting was an ambitious, enthusiastic person named Alfred Thieme,  who felt we both could improve our lot if we had a college education – an idea which I had secretly entertained but pushed aside as hopeless because I had not finished high school.  He was very urgent, however, wanting me to take a course with him at New York University leading to a B.C.S. (Bachelor of Commercial Science) degree.  The prospect was grim – 5 nights a week over a period of 3 years.  From then on I spent most of my leisure time studying to make up the necessary counts for college entrance, and in the fall of 1910 at the age of 26, I started in a very grueling 3-year grind.  During this time however, I organized a glee club and was a charter member of the new Greek letter fraternity which has now grown to be national in scope.  I graduated in the class of 1912 with my hard-earned B.C.S.

Going back now a few years, my father had been a very prominent Freemason, not only being Master of his Lodge but also the District Deputy Grand Master.  His friend and great admirer was the man who helped my mother in her financial and housing problems after my father’s death.  He, too, was an enthusiastic Mason and about the time I had reached the age of 21, he had been actively interested in starting a new Lodge in Mt Vernon, of which he was Master, and was strongly interested, principally because of my father, in having me the first man admitted to the new Lodge.  He hoped, of course, I would take the same interest in Masonic affairs and follow in my father’s footsteps, but the combination of church activities and later college commitments left little time for anything else.

Tomorrow I will conclude this week of excerpts from Reminiscences of Alfred D.  Guion. 

On Saturday, John Jackson Lewis arrives in San Francisco and continues the story of his Voyage to California in 1851.

On Sunday, I will continue the series on My Ancestors with an entry about grandpa, Alfred D.  Guion.

Judy Guion

The Beginning – Reminiscences of Alfred D. Guion (13) – 1884 – 1964

The following memories are quotes from “Reminiscences of Alfred D.  Guion, written in 1960 while he was on a four-months “around the world” freighter trip.


                  Alfred D.  Guion at the Dell Avenue house

How eager I was to do my job right!  How earnestly I strove to please my boss and carry out his orders better than anyone else.  I took great pride in my work and resolved to overlook no opportunity to get ahead.  Overtime was cheerfully given although we received no pay for it – only 50 cents supper money.  It bothered me because the clerks ahead of me knew more than I did.  I began to suspect that their education was broader than mine.  I attempted to compensate for this by getting the boss’s secretary, who was friendly toward me, to teach me shorthand.  Mistake #2.  I would have been much better off if I had paid for proper instruction at a shorthand school, as eventually I did that anyway, and it was doubly hard to unlearn what I had been taught wrongly, although with the best intentions in the world.  I learned from this that the cheapest is not always the best and realized the truth of my father’s frequent admonition: “What’s worth doing at all is worth doing well.”  However, I labored away faithfully at it until one day the boss consented to try me out.  I was slow but he was patient and not long afterwards he told me his friend in the big Mutual Life Insurance Company, across Nassau Street, needed a private secretary and he had recommended me.  Mr. Farley was quick-tempered and impatient with my shortcomings, but I gradually improved.  At that time, the big insurance companies, of which mine was one, were undergoing a severe investigation, in the prosecution of which Charles Evans Hughes made a name for himself.  Mr. Farley died and my next job was with American Smelting and Refining Company, Purchasing Dept., as a full-fledged stenographer.

Just about this time with much ado, the first subway in New York was opened and on opening day I rode it from Grand Central Depot to City Hall, the entire length.  I was unaware that I was going through my teenage problems stage.  As I look back I realize that while I was not a “goodie-goodie” person, I secretly aspired to lead a noble life.  I had a deep respect for womanhood.  I clipped out, and put in a scrapbook, inspirational articles and resolved each day to acquire some new item of knowledge.  How much my early church training had to do with all this I don’t know, but as I grew older I became more occupied in church activities, first as a choir boy, then a Crucifier, Director of a boy’s association called the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, then Superintendent of the Church School and finally as assistant to the minister at the Sunday morning church service as a Lay Reader.

Tomorrow and for the rest of the week, I will continue posting the stories about grandpa’s early life written in his own words. 

Judy Guion

The Beginning – Reminiscences of Alfred D. Guion (12) – 1884 – 1964

The following memories are quotes from “Reminiscences of Alfred D.  Guion, written in 1960 while he was on a four-months “around the world” freighter trip.

Alfred Duryee Guion

I was understandably quite proud of the gold medal awarded me and was bitterly disappointed when wearing it as a watch fob to a dance a few days later, it was either lost or stolen.  I suspected the latter because some of the folks from arrival school were also present and in spite of the thorough search of the dance Hall that night and subsequent ads in the local paper offering a reward for its return, nothing came of it.  I don’t think my name have yet been engraved on it.  Later, a vague rumor reached me that the boy who had lost out was seen wearing the metal but this was never verified.  To have achieved success in the field in which I never expected either by temperament or ability to shine and have nothing to prove that it wasn’t just a fantasy was deeply disappointing and to some extent illogically disgusted me with high school and everything connected with it.  Then too, I did not get top marks in all of my subjects, and this hurt my pride.  I was very good in English, History and German; so-so in Math; and terrible in drawing; fair in Biology.  Also I became more and more obsessed with the idea that my duty and responsibility was to get out and earn my own keep instead of continuing to be a burden financially to my mother; thus I would sooner be able to feel I was really helping to support my mother as it was my duty to do.

I had no one with whom I felt I could discuss so personal a matter (at times such as these a boy misses not having a father to advise him), so I finally put up to my mother the idea of quitting high school and going to work.  I wish now that she had said firmly, “No, finish high school first”, but instead she told me to do what I thought best.

One is sometimes asked: “what would you do differently if you had your life to do over again?”  And as I look back now this decision to quit school, an idea half-heartedly opposed by my school principal (or maybe I was convinced this was the right choice and I paid no heed to his advice), was mistake # 1, and a decision I was afterwards to regret.  So I quit school in my second year and, through a friend in the Church, started work as an office boy at $4.00 a week in a small insurance company in New York.  After paying for my railroad commutation ticket, car fare from Grand Central to the Nassau Street office and lunches, I don’t imagine my contribution was of material financial aid to the family but at least my conscience was satisfied and I WAS self-supporting.

Tomorrow and for the rest of the week, I’ll continue the story of my Grandfather in his own words.

Judy Guion

My Ancestors (30g) – Rev Elijah and Clara Maria de los Dolores de Beck Guion – 1870 – 1879

The following pictures of Rev Elijah Guion anad Clara Maria de los Dolores Marina de Beck were probably taken in San Francisco at some time between their arrival at the Presidio in 1870 and the Rev. Elijah’s death in  January, 1879.


The Rev. Elijah Guion, Chaplain at the Presidio, San Francisco, California


Clara Maria de los Dolores Marina de Beck Guion



The Rev. Elijah Guion’s tombstone, The Presidio, California


Rev. Elijah Guion burial information


Tomorrow, I’ll begin posting a week of letters from Grandpa, written in 1944. Lad and Marian, in California, continue to wait to find out when and where Lad will be sent. Dan is in London, and possibly France, surveying and making maps for the Army.Ced continues to repair airplanes and deliver people and goods as a bush pilot in Alaska. Dick is in Brazil, working in the Citizen Personnel Office and liking it. Dave has joined a new company and is still in training in Missouri. Grandpa continues to take care of the Old Homestead and keep everyone in the loop about what is happening in Trumbull.

Judy Guion

Voyage to California (30) – John Jackson Lewis – January to March, 1851

(1) John Jackson Lewis, (2) Edith May (Lewis) Rider, (3) Marian Faith (Rider) Irwin, (4) Marian Dunlap (Irwin) Guion, (5) Judith Anne Guion.

The following are transcriptions of John Jackson Lewis’s diary and journal of his voyage to California in 1851. He was travelling  from New York to visit his older brother William in San Jose.


The steamer held up last night, for a time, to avoid passing the entrance to the harbor of San Diego in the dark.  Arrived at San Diego about 7 o’clock.  The passengers were not permitted to land, the object in stopping, being to deliver the U.  S. mail and obtain some provisions.  The Bay of San Diego looked very beautiful in the stillness and brightness of a quiet, bright, Sabbath morning.  Numerous whales were spouting lazily about the entrance, and a multitude of seagulls were hovering above the ship, or floating on the smooth surface of the bay.  There were but few houses near where the steamer stopped, the principal town being at another and distant part of the bay.  The attempt to fire the cannon on entering the harbor  resulted in a “flash in the pan” and it is reported that on examining the weapon afterwards, it was found to be well shotted with grape.  It is probably that no harm would have resulted from a discharge but the experiment was an unwise one.  The scanty supply, at breakfast created general dissatisfaction; complaint was made to the Captain.  The cook and butcher overhauled, and the result was, the butcher was ordered to furnish pork steak and the cook to prepare it until all were satisfied.  This and a fresh supply of potatoes from San Diego restored the equality of the hungry ones.  Lights were prohibited in the steerage after bedtime, consequently, there was no more gambling.  The voyage was resumed about 10 o’clock A.M.


The monte bank was not opened last night, but gambling with cards was substituted, and continued until 3 o’clock this morning.  The opponent of the banker then discovered, or professed to have discovered, that the other had cards concealed in his bosom, to be used as occasion required.  He instantly seized the handkerchief of money, but the banker scraped it out of his hands upon the cabin floor, and secured all he could find of it.  The unfortunate young man was very wroth, but he received little sympathy from his fellow passengers, and was obliged to bear his loss as best he could.  The result of this row was a complaint to the mate, and to day a notice appeared that no lights would be permitted in the steerage after 9 o’clock, without the permission of the captain.  The mate says the gambling shall be stopped.

For fear of passing San Diego in the darkness, the steamer lay to for two or three hours, but when daylight appeared, proceeded, and arrived in San Diego at 8 o’clock.  The attempt to fire the cannon was made while we were at breakfast, but owing to the powder having taken some moisture, produced nothing more than a fizzing at the touch- hole.  One of the passengers sarcastically suggested that they were short of powder too, and didn’t put enough in to make a loud report.  To understand this sarcasm it is necessary to know that the potatoes had given out, that we are stinted in our supply of water, that when mush or duff comes on the table, there is never enough for all, that there are rarely cups of any kind sufficient to allow all tea or coffee, and some 4 or 5 are always left un-supplied with knives or forks.  Sometimes some would find a knife and no fork at their plate, and others a fork and no knife, while others might congratulate themselves on their good fortune if they succeeded in obtaining a spoon to eat the meat and potatoes with.  While the potatoes lasted, we have them, hard bread, and beef roasted or fired at almost every meal.  In addition to these we frequently had codfish or shad for breakfast, boiled rice for dinner, and cold salt pork for supper.  Twice a week mush for breakfast and duff for dinner was the rule, and occasionally we had pork steak for breakfast and roast pork for dinner.  Coffee for breakfast and tea for supper, with sugar plenty to sweeten it with, was an everyday rule, and the table was plentifully supplied with molasses at every meal. This sounds like fare sufficient for reasonable men, but as I have before intimated, there were some drawbacks.  The bread was good of its kind, but it comes in flat, hard cakes, without rising or shortening, is not half as good as crackers, and I soon became very tired of it.  The beef was always the rough parts of the beef, very poor, and frequently very tough.  The rice was always exceedingly dirty, and full of husks.  The coffee and tea were frequently very poor, and made of water that wouldn’t have been hurt by straining or filtering, and served up in tin cups that needed scouring pretty badly.  The potatoes were pretty good, and luckily were boiled with the skins on; it kept the dirt on the outside.  The water that we had to drink was kept in an iron tank, and whenever the sea was rough, became stirred up so as to be colored pretty deeply with iron rust.  The mush and pork did not show dirt, and were very good, what there was of them.  Duff is a kind of light flour pudding, pretty well filled with dried currants.  Having never met with the article before, I was no judge of the quality, but one of my companions assured me that it was poorly made.  Our table accommodates about 30 persons at a time, and there are about 70 steerage passengers.  This morning, mush and pork steak was the chief attraction.  My seat was at one end of the table.  I secured a reasonable portion of mush, but the dish of pork steak only reached within about 6 feet of me, when the steak disappeared as if by magic.  There were but two common-sized dishes of steak furnished for 30 men, so I concluded, perforce, to contend myself with mush and molasses.  By the time the third table was set, neither mush nor steak could be obtained, and some of the hungry ones proceeded to make complaint to the head steward and purser.  The mate attempted to talk to the steerage cook, but received only abusive language in return.  The captain was called, the cook received a scolding, the butcher was ordered to furnish plenty of steak and the cook to cook it immediately, and a number of us soon sat down to a second breakfast, and had pork steak in abundance.  The unusual abundance at dinner was very gratifying, nor have we suffered from scarcity since.  It may be mentioned here that an additional supply of potatoes was obtained at San Diego.

The vessel only stopped at San Diego to leave the mail, and we were not permitted to land.  The bay is small but quite handsome, and had a curious sand-bank which forms a natural breakwater.  The town contains about 15 buildings, dwelling houses and sheds all counted.  They looked very bare and exposed to the sun, without a solitary tree to make a particle of shade.  3 small vessels lay at anchor near the town.  Whales were quite numerous at the entrance of the harbor, and birds that I suppose to be sea gulls were very numerous in the bay.  Altogether the scene was one of considerable beauty.  We left the place at 10 o’clock, and proceeded up the coast.  During the afternoon we passed several mountains, crested with snow, the first that we have seen.  Owing to illness among the steerage passengers, the lights were not extinguished as we expected, but the gambling was not attempted, and a watch was set by the mate, and kept up throughout the night.

Tomorrow, another post entitled My Ancestors. This one is about my great-grandfather, Alfred Beck Guion. He was the ninth child and fifth son of Elijah and Clara Maria de los Dolores Marina de Beck Guion. He was also the father of Grandpa.

Slight change of schedule – the post about Alfred Beck Guion will be posted next Sunday. Tomorrow, I’ll be posting pictures of Elijah Guion and Clara Maria de los Dolores de Beck Guion.

On Monday, I’ll spend a week posting sections of the Reminiscences of Alfred D Guion, Grandpa’s memories of his early life.

Judy Guion

My Ancestors (30g) – Rev. Elijah and Clara Maria de los Dolores Marina de Beck Guion – The Family in California

Last June I  read about a Challenge, 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, and I was intrigued. I decided to take up the challenge. Some Ancestors may take more than one week, but I still intend to write about 52 Ancestors. I hope you enjoy reading about My Ancestors as much as I am looking forward to researching and writing about them.

(1) Clara Maria de los Dolores Marina de Beck Guion; (2) Alfred Beck Guion; (3) Alfred Duryee Guion; (4) Alfred Peabody Guion; (5) Judith Anne Guion


Rev. Elijah Guion


Clara Maria de los Dolores Marina de Beck Guion


The Family in California

Rev.  Elijah Guion’s loss of his important pulpit meant the end of the New Orleans era for his family.  At 56 he was still in his prime, and he had his admirers.  For a time he served as Chaplain of the First New Orleans Volunteers.  The war had ended, the nation again was one, and on July 28, 1866, my grandfather became Chaplain of the 41st infantry, United States Army.

He was an Army Chaplain for the remaining 13 years of his life.  Military life suited him, and it also suited my grandmother, who queened it in Army circles.  In 1870, on December 31, Chaplain Guion was transferred to the Tenth Regiment of Cavalry, and it was at this time that he and my grandmother came West.  Guion was Chaplain at the Presidio in San Francisco.

Excepting in the case of my own parents, it was, and has been seen, the Army that brought the Guions to California.  Three sons, with whom this story does not deal, remained in New Orleans and married there. (This has proven to be incorrect. One son, Alfred Beck Guion, my great-grandfather, moved to New York City, became a stock broker, married and had a son and daughter  – Grandpa, Alfred Duryee Guion and his sister, Elsie May Guion. I believe the other sons also came north.)  But my grandfather the Army Chaplain, his sons-in-law, the Army Colonel and the Army Major-Doctor, and their wives and growing families, were transferred West by stages during the 1870’s, all ultimately reached the Presidio.  My Aunt Clara came West to be with her mother and sisters.

The  Rev. Elijah Guion died on January 17, 1879.  He was buried in the Presidio Cemetery, and my grandmother, who outlived him by 17 years, later was buried beside him

So here is where we came in, in the firstt pages of this study — with the four transplanted Guion sisters and their growing families all living around San Francisco Bay and constituting Clan Guion of California, with at first their parents and after 1879 with my grandma Guion alone as center and head of the Clan.  I am the wrong person to write of this final stage of the story, for, as I stated to begin with, I was the youngest Guion grandchild and remember nothing prior to 1891. The Clan broke up in 1896 and even before that the fun was evidently waning — I never sat in on one of the Guion sisters’ evening “high-jinxes”, when everyone, including my grandmother, would perform a stunt, with Aunt Clara not participating but quietly smiling.  All during the 1880s the thing was at its height, and the California phase had begun, as stated, in 1870 or not long thereafter.

At the beginning of this narrative I tried, not too successfully, to convey some idea of this family as I remember it — Grandma Guion in her 70s, her widowed daughters, and the daughters’ daughters and sons, the eldest of whom had been born in the South, the middle and younger in the West.  I tried to give some idea of their incorrigible gaiety and gift of laughter, the love of music and anecdote, their underlying heads-up courage, their gayness in contrasting their girlhood memories of pre-Civil-War New Orleans with the lusty crudities of the still-half-pioneer Western life.  Even after Grandma Guion died and the various children set out on their own paths, the aging Southern girls never lost their fragile, humorous, sturdy quality, and the pictures of my mother fighting her cracked old wood stove in a primitive mining camp, of my Aunt Lizzie striving to make out money-orders and keep the stamp-account straight in the Army post office on Angel Island, are vivid to me after 50 years.  Nothing ever licked a Confederate.


          In diversity of occupation, this generation to which I belong may seem extreme; but in almost every case a heritage is evident, and the diversity is that of the Guion-Marshall-Beck family itself.


COLONIAL ORIGINS of the CALIFORNIA GUIONS, An Informal Genealogical Study by Ernest Jerome Hopkins, finished in 1952.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin posting letters written in 1943. Lad and Marian re getting closer in California, even though he doesn’t mention her, Dan is in London, Ced is still in Alaska, Dick is in Brazil and Dave is still in training.

Judy Guion