The Beginning – REMINISCENCES of Alfred D. Guion (5) – The Insides Sort of Erupted – 1890’s


Alfred D. Guion - Lincoln Avenue House

      Alfred D. Guion at the Lincoln Avenue House

          In the top drawer of my father’s dresser, where among other things he kept a pomade stick for his hair, brilliantine for his mustache, Orris root, etc., he had a small 22-cal. Chased pearl-handled revolver as well as a Harrington and Richards five shooter for safety sake because our house was on the outskirts of town and was occasionally visited by tramps looking for a handout. The fancy little firearm intrigued my boyish fancy and while I had been repeatedly told never to touch either of those revolvers, one day, when my idle hands found nothing else to do, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to take it apart to see how it worked.

So down to the coal cellar, where I wouldn’t be observed, I went, with it and a screwdriver. I got the faceplate off without much trouble when suddenly something snapped and the insides sort of erupted. I had planned to take each part out carefully observing the order, so there would be no trouble in assembling them again, but this scattering of parts all over the place was a tragedy. What a hopeless feeling! I tried frantically to fit parts in again but it couldn’t even get the side plate back. Now, what to do?

I knew I was in for a good spanking. Disobedience did not set very well with “Papa”. I thought of not putting it back and hiding it somewhere but knew it would be missed and lying would only make matters worse. With shame and trembling I sought out my mother and told her the whole sad story. She decided the only thing to do was to wait until my father came home from the office that night and make a clean breast of things. What a long, fearsome afternoon that was! We children, Elsie and I, always rushed to the door with mother for the homecoming kiss as soon as we heard his key in the lock, but my greeting that night somehow lacked enthusiasm. Perhaps because my mother interceded I escaped a spanking that time, or perhaps they decided I had learned my lesson, which I had.

My parents did not believe in frequent or promiscuous spankings but we knew we would get one when we deserved it, and then not a slap or two, but pants taken down in my case, and the back of a hair brush vigorously applied enough times to create a healthy respect for the punishment. I recall one time I deserved it and so reported to my father some months later. I had done or said some minor thing which was wrong, in a fit of ill nature, and was warned if I did it again I’d get a spanking. Feeling ugly and defiant I deliberately did it again. Down came my britches, whack when the hairbrush, and I can remember the strange feeling of all the ugliness and ill-nature completely evaporating during the process. I knew I had deserved it and felt it had done me good. I often thought of this episode in bringing up my own children, and never since have agreed with those who think it is wrong to spank children under any circumstances. The old Bible admonition, “spare the rod and spoil the child” is still true.

Tomorrow, the next segment in the Voyage to California by John Jackson Lewis about his trip from New York City to San Jose in 1851.

On Sunday, more of the story of Rev. Elijah and Clara Maria de los Dolores Marina de Beck Guion and their family.

Next week, I’ll begin posting a week of letters written in 1943. Life is getting more interesting for Lad and Marian in California. 

Judy Guion


The Beginning – REMINISCENCES of Alfred D. Guion (4) – Rough Riders and Railroads

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.

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’s 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, Ridley”. 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) 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 it 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 before the train could follow on the same track, and an 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 its 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 or poor landings there were under the circumstances. I’m 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.

I recall keeping a picture album in which I pasted pictures of Mellin’s food (for babies), Baker’s chocolate, Pears soap, Sapolio, Pearline (washing powder). Advertisements in the papers and magazines featured Smith Bros. cough drops, Redways Ready Relief, Sloan’s liniment, Carter’s little liver pills, Lidia Pinkham’s pink pills for pale people, Adam’s chewing gum and a round chip gum called Faultless Pepsin Chips. The Sunday papers were beginning to run conic sections featuring Buster Brown, the Yellow Kid, Mutt and Jeff, etc. Ice cream sodas were a new, delightful treat.

My father seldom drank any alcoholic beverage stronger than beer. One hot summer day both father and mother had beer at the evening meal. It looked so cool and bubbly. I asked for some. My mother said “no” but my father said, “Oh, let him have a taste.” What a disappointment! Instead of a nice sweet taste I had expected it was bitter. To this day I don’t like beer.

As a boy I had frequent colds which worried my mother.  The invariable remedy was Scott’s Emulsion of Cod Liver Oil and I can distinctly recall the label on the bottle depicting an old seafaring man dressed in oilers and hat carrying a huge fish on his back.

Another incident I recall was trying to be kind to a little kitten we had been given.  I heard my mother say that kittens liked to be where it was warm, so I figured the oven of our kitchen coal range would be just right.  Fortunately it was between meals and the fire was low.  My mother heard the meowing and find a located poor little Kitty, none the worse for its experience, and while because of my good intentions I escaped spanking, I learned a lesson in the value of good judgment.  I used to bite my fingernails.  I stuttered.  I was frequently punished for teasing my little sister.  All in all I guess I wasn’t a “sweet little boy”.

Tomorrow, I’ll finish the week with one more installment of REMINISCENCES of Alfred D. Guion.

On Saturday, another section of voyage to California by John Jackson Lewis, about his trip to San Jose in 1851. 

On Sunday, I’ll continue the story of My Ancestors, Rev.  Elijah and Clara Maria de los Dolores Marina de Beck Guion, and the marriage of their two younger daughters. 

Judy Guion

The Beginning – REMINISCENCES of Alfred D. Guion (3) – Alfred Beck Guion, Dell Avenue and Yellow Journalism – 1890’s

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 Beck Guion – 1853 – 1899


My father liked see trips, one summer took me to Nova Scotia and the Bay of Fundy with its tremendously high tides.  On the voyage I saw my 1st whale.  Later he also took me to Newport News and Richmond, Virginia, on the old Dominion Line.

Papa was quite active in Masonic affairs being eminently successful in this as in most other projects that interested him, was generally very popular, a good entertainer and storyteller, prominent in the local Episcopal Church of the Ascension where he was a vestry men.

He worked for a brokerage firm in Wall Street and was quite conscientious, so much so that in years of panic (today we would call it depression) losses of his clients, as well, I suspect, as of his own, worried him to the extent of bringing on heart trouble.  He died in his 40s from angina Peck Taurus, leaving a heavily mortgaged home and comparatively little life insurance.  A Masonic friend of my fathers kindly stepped in and negotiated sale of the Lincoln Avenue house for smaller house on Dell Avenue, with a small cash surplus.  It entailed a considerably lower standard of living.

Dell Avenue House

Dell Avenue House

Alfred D. Guion hamming it up in front of the Dell Avenue House about 1902

My mother, who had a sunny, even-tempered disposition made the best of things.  After my grandfather died, my aunts, Mary, Lillian and Lizzie (who preferred to be called Aunt Betty) came to live with us and helped share in living expenses.  Some years later, their wealthy “Aunt Mary Powers” died and left us some of her household possessions.  My Aunts Mary and Lily later died of a stroke and Aunt Betty got a job in a candy store in New York City, strangely enough just a few doors from where my grandfather had lived in his heyday.  Her boss liked her so much that she eventually became manager of the store, the cashier and finally Manager of Mandel’s Restaurant, the leading one in Grand Central Station.  He afterwards assisted her in setting up a little novelty shop of her own in Grand Central Station which is still running under another name.  After many years she sold out when she became too old to run it.  My sister went into help her run it in later years but they finally decided to sell it and retired to California.  But I am getting ahead of my story.

         Alfred D. Guion at the Lincoln Avenue House taking his own picture using a mirror.

          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 Journa lwas 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 4 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.

Tomorrow and Friday, more REMINISCENCES of Alfred D. Guion.

Judy Guion

The Beginning – REMINISCENCES of Alfred D. Guion (2) – CHILDHOOD MEMORIES – 1880’s

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.


In 1884, the year I was born, that part of Fifth Avenue, New York City, where my parents lived, was “uptown” which meant somewhere above 59th Street.  At that time my mother could recall looking out of their dining room window and seeing cows feeding in a nearby pasture.

My grandfather, Joseph W Duryee, of whom I stood in awe, had only one eye, having lost the other in babyhood through the carelessness of his nurse allowing him to crawl to an open fireplace and falling on a hot coal. He was a lumber dealer during the 1860s and quite wealthy. His residence on 42nd Street, near the present public library, was said to be the first in New York in which a private elevator was installed for his sick wife. He had several brothers, all quite prominent socially, one brother being a General in the Civil War and head of the crack Seventh Regiment. During the “draft riots” in the city my mother recalls looking out of the window and seeing a Negro hanging from a nearby lamppost. My grandfather had a brass cannon mounted at the head of the stairs for protection from mob violence.

As a boy I can remember riding in the big 4-wheel family coach drawn by 2 high-stepping horses, with Dan, the coach man, in uniform on the box, enroute to the Central Park Zoo.  Horse cars in New York then were the only public conveyances outside of “Hansom cabs”although a new “cable car” was being tried out.  I felt very proud when, as a small boy, I was allowed to visit my aunts alone at Grandfather’s house on 97th Street.  This all ended when he was taken sick with the “dropsy”.  By this time also his lumber business had failed which practically wiped out his entire fortune.

From the time I was three years old until I was married, we lived in Mount Vernon, New York,  a small suburb some 13 miles from Grand Central. My only sister Elsie was born there in a house on 11th Ave.

Alfred Duryee and Elsie May Guion – Lincoln Avenue House – about 1895

Soon thereafter we moved into a brand-new house which my father had built in a newer part of town known as Chester Hill. Here I spent most of my childhood. My father, who insisted on having the best, regardless of expense, was quite proud of this house. He had an architect design it. My grandfather, being in the lumber business, was able to procure exceptional lumber for its construction so that each of the rooms was finished differently, one in Cherry, one in Black Walnut, one in Quartered Oak, one in Circassian Walnut, etc., all selected for their beautiful grain. On the ground floor was what we called the “round room” in which even the windowpanes were curved glass. The maid’s room on the top floor was necessary because in those days it was customary to hire a maid.

My cousin Arla and I took a road trip and found the original Lincoln Avenue House. We spent time with the current owner and shared with her the Reminiscences of my Grandpa about the house. She allowed us to take these pictures. This is about all of the original house left.

Exterior of the Round Room on the Lincoln Avenue House

Second-story Stained-glass window, visible only from the exterior of the house .

Marble Fireplace in the Lincoln Avenue House


Detail of the fireplace and tile hearth of the Lincoln Avenue House


         Original wood trim in the living room of the Lincoln Avenue House


Original Tile entryway of the Lincoln Avenue House


Original Front Door of the Lincoln Avenue House

The house was situated on the corner of Lincoln and Fulton Avenues. At the time we moved there it was one of the few houses in the neighborhood, although Mr. Primrose, a famous minstrel of those days, lived about a block away. Lincoln Avenue was a dirt road and Fulton Avenue existed only on the map. Our house was at the end of the stagecoach line from the railroad station and on cold winter days the floor of the stage was covered with straw for warmth. Carson was the name of the driver and he was drunk practically every night, much to my father’s disgust.

A few years later an English family named Chivvis built a house on the opposite corner similar architecturally to ours.  Partitioned off in their cellar was a room for an old retired sailor known as “Uncle Charlie”, a crotchety old fellow and quite moody although occasionally he sang sea shanties and told us some interesting yarns.  “Us” refers to me and Freddie Chivvis, a boy of my own age whom I never liked very much.

Another neighboring family, also English, was named Watkins.  I recall them quite distinctly because they were always so proper and staff the family consisted of an aged mother, about the size and shape and always dressed exactly like the pictures of England’s Queen Victoria, who was then still living.  2 elderly daughters, a middle-aged son, a big mastiff named “Gillid”, and a nasty, snappy, ill-natured little cur named Whoppy made up the rest of the family.  They went to our church until the son, who was the Church Treasurer, absconded with the funds.

We owned a good-sized lot by the side of our house where a group of my boy friends gathered after school to play Association football, tag, prisoners base, Red Rover, etc.

For a few months I attended a private school run by a couple of old maids, later being 1 of the 1st pupils attending the opening of the new grammar school.  Revisiting it in later years, I marveled how the big doors had shrunk in size, and the doorknob, which I had remembered as up so high as to be difficult to reach, had now been lowered considerably.

Tomorrow and for the rest of the week, I will continue posting from Reminiscences of Alfred D. Guion.

Judy Guion

The Beginning – REMINISCENCES of Alfred D. Guion – INTRODUCTION – 1960

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 – 1884 – 1964


It seems logical at the beginning to answer the question why?

First, while I have never felt any particular desire to write an autobiography, believing that such are usually motivated by either a sense of smugness or an egotism based on the premise that one has played a part in some notable achievement important enough to record, there is an offsetting reason attributable to the fact that family records of births, marriages and deaths make a dull reading unless enlivened by a revealing glimpse of an individual’s span, hoping to clarify for the reader the background against which his days are spent. If our ancestors had written their memoirs and handed them down to posterity, how much more interesting our heritage would seem! I have always experienced quite a thrill in reading the Guion family records of past events, and in my small way want to do my share to aid in this continuity.

Second, I do have a strong feeling of family unity. I am gratified that all of my six children are married, have their own families, and are a credit to the nation, to the community, and to themselves. I have high hopes for my grandchildren. As a parent I have had some influence in their molding. It all seems worth recording.

Third, from a plateau of 75 years one can look back with a prospective not possible at a younger age, and see more clearly the important high spots.

Fourth, and perhaps the compelling reason for getting started, at least,  is to supply an answer to the oft repeated request for Grandpa “to tell them a story of when he was a boy”.

The following was written in the spring of 1960 while on it for months “around the world” freighter trip.

The time consumed plying between ports affords plenty of leisure to reminisce and record events, some of which have not been recalled to mind for many years. At such times also, one’s thoughts hark back to the loved ones at home, particularly the grandchildren and their interest to learn about grandpa’s childhood. In this way the idea was born for these bits of personal history, and as I mused more and more on the subject I realized that happenings of fifty years ago now fed to the young folks in history books, might take on an added interest if recorded by one who had actually been a part of them.

Someday I hope one of my children will want to set down on paper for his children’s entertainment, and perhaps for posterity’s sake, recollections of their own childhood, much as I myself have tried to do here for the benefit of my children and grandchildren, being induced to do so partly by realization of the lack I felt of more details of my own father’s youth, he having died when I was too young to really appreciate and evaluate the things he might have told me of his early days, and of his mother, my grandmother, who from all accounts was a truly remarkable woman.

And before I leave this introduction, may I hope that one of my children or grandchildren will feel interest enough in the entire Guion family history to gather what material of this sort is now available and from it compile an orderly record of past and present annals to be preserved for future Guions.

Further, there is the possibility and hope that from it all may eventually grow a GUION FAMILY ASSOCIATION, perhaps meeting annually to further the historical project as the years roll by. We have a good starting base with the six of our own group.

For the rest of the week , I’ll be posting stories and early memories of Grandpa. I think you will find that his life was quite varied and interesting. I hope you enjoy it.

Judy Guion